Sunday, February 25, 2024
Sunday, February 18, 2024
Jesus, the man chosen by God, is our example that we are challenged to actively follow with our deeds to become like, not a risen, distant and mystical "Christ figure."
One is human like us, the other is a Magically born, inhuman DemiGod created by men, who isn't at all someone we can become like.
Jesus says we can become morally perfect like God. The Hebrew Bible said we can be Holy like God is. So who's right, man's theologians, or God's chosen Prophets?
All of us initially fail once we start, that's a truism that is often thrown up as a huge failure of our Natures, but it's not.
The temptation to choose a "wide gate" and easy religion is difficult for many to resist, but not for those who followv the words of Jesus as a guide to both life and eternity.
If we simply decide we can "claim" his righteousness as our own (denying his requirement of us to do Good Works) and "claim" to be instantly "saved" by our mere words of adoration of this Christ - a belief "on him" without following him daily as our God-annointed Master - we deceive ourselves and demean God and Jesus, His chosen one.
But millions do this. Why? Because Jesus isn't their only Master - he's not their final arbiter of Truth, including what Salvation is, and how it is obtained. In truth, Jesus himself says God our Father is our final judge. And our eternal destination is determined by our deeds, tempered by God's vast mercy.
If we doubt it, we doubt Jesus, and it's him we are second guessing. They are changing it into "Another Gospel."
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus teaches us that we are to rejoice and be accepting of those among us who return after wronging us. The parable also teaches us that God is ready and waiting for those who return to the path of righteousness.
In the parable, a son asks for his inheritance early and goes away, only to squander it on lustful living. He exhausts his money and returns to his father's house, seeking a job as a servant. But the father, even before he reaches his gate, runs out to greet him, and immediately forgiving him, prepares a feast for him.
In this way, Jesus teaches us to endlessly and without hesitation forgive others, in the same way God forgives those who return to him in repentance. When asked how many times we must forgive others, Jesus said "70 times 7 times."
Our repentance for our sins - just as the boy who return to his father - satisfies any Justice God requires for transgressing his moral Law, because God is not a monster, but a loving Parent who wants us to live in peace with Him and with our fellow human beings.
Mercy is given by God to those who ask for forgiveness and accept it. That's the contract; that's the "price" to be paid, just as the price the Prodigal Son paid was returning to his father in humility.
The first and most solemn declaration of God to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) is that of "God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering - forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." David constantly prays for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and finds forgiveness for his sins upon repentance, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.) In the story of Jonah, that God is shown to be merciful to Nineveh if only they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)
But the way that Forgiveness, Justice and Mercy are understood by many Christians would force us to radically re-tell the parable, because, like Jonah, some Christians are very angry that God so easily forgives.
Seeking inspiration not from Jesus' teachings, but from angry medieval lawyers and kings, they have created, and spread, a doctrine of God's Justice that is the enemy of God's Mercy. It is a doctrine in which God CANNOT simply forgive without a blood sacrifice - someone MUST pay the "price" for a sin.
But God's mercy is NOT the enemy of God's forgiveness. Both exist in equal measure in the heart of our loving God, Who is eager to forgive us upon our repentance alone.
In their telling of the story, it must be re-written, so that the Prodigal Son's vengeful father would stop the boy at his gates and then demand that his eldest son be slaughtered in order to satisfy the sins of the youngest who sinned against his father. Only then, when the elder son's blood was spilled, would the payment be accepted.
This may have been a perfectly reasonable way to achieve justice in the ancient world, but if we put our belief solely in Jesus' teachings, and not in other mens', we know that this is not how God shows Mercy OR Justice. While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.⁰
"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Exodus 33:19)
In the parable, even when the son "was yet a great way off," the father ran to meet him, and "fell upon his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20.) When Jesus calls us to forgive others as God has forgiven us, does that mean we have a duty to exact a blood payment from those whom WE wish to forgive? The opposite is true. We must forgive 70x7 times, joyfully and without hesitation.
God cannot be held to our human standards of how Justice and Mercy should work. And we should be extremely grateful for that.
Sunday, February 11, 2024
"Love" is one of those words in the English language that can leave us easily confused.
As we prepare to celebrate Valentine's Day Tuesday, let's examine the various ways in which this word is being used in contemporary society, and how Jesus used the word.
Love can mean a strong attachment to pancakes or pickles, a deep emotional attachment to another person like a spouse, parent or neighbor, it can express a deep “fan” relationship with a movie franchise like Star Wars, or it can mean lust for a drug, a person, an object, or a stranger.
This imprecise definition didn’t exist in the oldest manuscripts of the words of our Master, Jesus, which were preserved in Greek.
Love most often was conveyed in the Gospel books with a word, agape [agapaō] which means a pure, all-consuming love.
It’s this word that is used when Jesus calls us to, "Love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
It was not limited to our friends, or to those who love us, because it’s agape that is used when Jesus says “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:43)
The Fourth Gospel records, “For God so loved the world,” using that same word, agape, showing that God has deep, abiding and unlimited love for us. God chose and sent out Jesus as our special example to us, so that we might not live in darkness, but in light
But it’s not just God than can show this love, however. We are called by Jesus to “Love one another; JUST as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
The fact that we are to love “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” is a powerful calling to us. We are told by Jesus that we may indeed love just as he loved; act just as he acted; serve just as he served. Our love is to have no bounds, just as Jesus’ love had no bounds.
This is all important to understand, given the many misconceptions about “love” – even among those who attend the churches of Christendom today – and even among those who do not.
"Love" having so many meanings, many today believe the love we are called to show is the shallow love we have for food, movies and other things with which we have a strong emotional attachment.
It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that ALL we must do is express a light, shallow Love towards God and towards others. "Love is All You Need" is the name of an awesome Beatles song about emotional attachment between two lovers, not the imperative that Jesus calls us to embrace.
The Power of Love, the kind of Love that God shows us through His son, Jesus, is the kind of Love that is deep, unattached to emotions. It’s not an erotic love, or a shallow love, or a "love" that has no meaning or caring behind it, but it is instead the deepest and most pure Love there is.
This kind of Love must be the cornerstone of our faith. Love of God and love of our neighbors is what Jesus calls us to actively show in our daily lives.
The faith that Jesus teaches challenges us to love God so much that we love others just as God does, and show it by doing Good Works in the service of others.
And we are called to love and obey God and serve others, using Jesus' perfect example as our guide, and then we are to accept that GOD ALONE is our judge, and our God is a God of mercy, if we ask for it.
"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)
"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
Sunday, February 4, 2024
Be Blameless, Upright Says The Psalms [JesusFollowers Weekly Message]:
PSALM 37:37 "Mark the perfectly blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for those who seek peace."
In this psalm, as indeed in many passages of scripture, we find a variety of contrasted characters, interspersed with much serious observation on the different circumstances that await them in the future world. As we generally form the best judgment from comparison , this is a method frequently adopted in the sacred text.
The good and the bad are exemplified and described . To each is the mirror held up in turn, that every man may discover his own form and features, and learn to distinguish what manner of person they are. By such means we see more distinctly what is good and what is evil; which actions to studiously pursue, and which to strongly avoid.
We perceive more clearly that sin is odious and disgraceful, as goodness is amiable and engaging; engaging, that impiety is full of misery and danger, that to walk in the way of sinners is to expose ourselves to the displeasure of omnipotence, to an infinity of anguish and remorse.
On the other hand, if we choose the better, God, Himself will be our portion, and the lot of our inheritance. The tranquillity of an unruffled spirit will support us in all the trials and troubles of life; and when called to leave the world , we shall sink into eternal rest " Mark the perfect human being, and behold the upright , for the end of that one is peace. "
The word Perfect may at first sight appear strange when applied to a human character ; but it is certainly not improper if rightly understood. To be perfect absolutely and without exception or limitation, is indeed no attribute of humanity, nor can belong to any but those who dwell in light, to which no mortal can approach. But to every creature belongs a perfection proper to itself.
There is a perfection in excellence , in capacity , and in usefulness, according to itsrespective rank in the scale of being, which may be applied to every race of creatures upon earth.
There is therefore, of course, a moral , or to speak more properly, a Christian perfection, which everyone who wishes it may attain, and to which it is his duty to aspire . And this consists in the cultivation of the Christian attitude in the imitation of Jesus; in such a way that is acceptable to God, and will have a constant tendency to prepare us for the happiness of the life to come, as well as good and useful citizens of the Kingdom here and now.
The first thing I shall notice in this character of a perfect human is the principle of integrity, that upright conscientious Spirit which is essential to the Christian a ttitude, and without which there can be no religion.
I must here remind you how often this is mentioned in scripture with marks of particular approbation . In describing one of the first and most exemplary characters of ancient times, it is said that he was " perfect and upright ," the very description in the text ; a man who “ feared God and eschewed evil. "
Then we may observe, that according to this representation of things, it is impossible for a human to fear God and to depart from evil, except he be at the same time a sincere and upright character. These must go together.
The tree must be good if we look for excellence in the fruit. practice must partake the quality of the principle.
Adapted from a sermon PREACHED IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF SUNDERLAND, Sunday, November the 9th, 1800. BY JOHN HAMPSON , M. A.
Sunday, January 28, 2024
"Take what belongs to you and go." - Matt. 20:14; "Your Father knows what you need befre you ask him." Matt. 6:8
There is a large number of things in the world which we can get by on very well without. There is also a large number of things which we covet because we think they're necessary to our happiness, but which we really do not need. Lastly, there are a few things, but only a few, which we must have in order to make our lives what God intended they should be.
A large part of our discontent comes from not having what we ourselves think we ought to have, but what God evidently regards as unnecessary to our development. This difference of opinion between us and the Almighty is the fruitful source of much human misery. We demand that He shall agree with us, whereas it is clearly our duty to agree with Him. Our ignorance is the standard by which we measure His.
Yet if one of our children took the same attitude toward us, it would nearly break our hearts. Instead of accepting what comes and making the best of it, we constantly pray that God will do what we want to have done, and because the prayer is not answered we not only grow spiritually cold, but open the door to a great many doubts, which literally freeze the nobler part of our natures.
If a trainee should come into our warehouse or manufacturing plant and ask us to conduct our business on the basis of his inexperience rather than on that of our hard-earned knowledge, the difference between us and God is that we should indignantly eject him, whereas God pities us for doing precisely the same thing.
The forbearance of the Almighty with our wilfulness and conceit, His everlasting patience with us under such circumstances, is one of the most wonderful facts of the universe, and one of the most thrilling and startling.
Human life may be reverently compared to an opera. God is the author of the music, and He gives each person a part to take. Religion is simply the drill-master, who constantly enjoins upon us the necessity of strictly following the score, and constantly insists that we cannot make changes in the score without injuring the unity of the production. Of course I do not refer to the formulas of religion, but to its essence.
The formulas are simply certain men's opinions of religion, or possibly their prejudices, while its essence is contained in the statement that the author of the opera knows better how it should be rendered than you do.
But suppose each singer should insist on singing in accordance with his own interpretation, and suppose further that you had the impression that these various and discordant interpretations represented the author and not the personal peculiarities of the singers, what a strange piece of music it would all be, and what a queer idea of the author the listener would have!
Well, that is precisely what we are doing all the time in matters of religion, and that is why we make of it such a jumble and jangle. Sing the music as it was written, and it is exquisitely beautiful and uplifting; but let it be sung as each individual thinks it ought to be sung, and the discord becomes deafening and disheartening.
Our real wants are very few, though we are apt to think they are very many. We can be happy - this is true of at least nine tenths of the world - with what we have if we know how to make the most of it and the best of it. It takes but little to make the soul content if we do not try to make our avarice and our envy contented also.
When we begin to count the things we ought to have, we begin to be miserable, but when we begin to be thankful for the things we really possess, we begin to be happy. You do not need wealth, nor yet fame, nor a palace, nor a park.
If you have a shelter and have made that shelter a home, if you have dear ones whose love is trustful and confiding, whose lives are woven into yours by threads of steel, pray what more is there to ask for?
If you are not happy here, then, you can hardly expect to be happy in heaven, for heaven has only love to offer, thru heavenly treasures we have built up on the earth, not Earthly treasures, which we cannot take with us there. (Matt. 619-20.)
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. George Hughes Hepworth (1833-1902), in the 1894 book, "Herald Sermons")
Sunday, January 21, 2024
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
Sunday, January 14, 2024
The study for many years of the internal evidence of the truth of the Gospels has resulted in a conclusion as to their truth, which my aim now is to set before you to the best of my ability.
I confidently trust that it will be accepted by you all, however skeptical you may be, as to the truth in regard to the contents and origin of the four Gospels. This most satisfactory conclusion is simply this:
The Religion for which Jesus lived and suffered death was, in all respects, perfectly natural, as natural as the rising of the sun.
What he is recorded in the Gospels to have said is in close conformity to the laws of Nature. His works were extraordinary natural facts. He declared they were done by God. And as explicitly he said that they were wrought as God always works, by a law of Nature, by the highest law of Nature, the law of the Supremacy of mind over matter, of Spirit over the flesh.
Humans are naturally possessed of reason and conscience, enabling us to know the right from the wrong, to hate the one, and to love the other. He is possessed also of instinctive sympathies, which bind men to mutual help by the ties of kindred, of family, and of a common nature.
Thus are we provided with the instruments and opportunities for that Humane Spirit: the Spirit of Love, for which Jesus lived and died, the Holy Spirit of God, the Divine Force, present in us as in everything that exists.
But in this world, we are in our infancy. In the earliest times, although the highest and best in us was only feebly developed, he saw, indeed, that there were invisible Powers over all.
The manifold evils of life, physical, moral, intellectual; earthquakes, inundations, evils terrible in their consequences, sweeping away thousands of creatures, appalled him, and his startled imagination saw in these convulsions of Nature and in the devastation of the mystery of death, the power of unseen gods, expressing their wrath and cruelty, just as men do. Thus what was named religion was polytheistic and anthropomorphic.
Amidst the teeming mysteries of Being, one thing, however, is discernible. Throughout the Universe there is apparent a purpose, or tendency, out of good to evolve a better, even the worst working to the same end, slowly, indeed, but in the Supreme Power's own good time.
Accordingly, it has come to be thought that man has descended (or rather ascended) from well-nigh the lowest forms of being-from the ascidian and the ape. In the primitive, prehistoric ages, reason and conscience being very feebly developed in them, men became the victims of an inflamed imagination.
And they saw in the terrible mysteries of suffering and death, the agency of a multitude of invisible Powers, wreaking upon man their wrath and vengeance. Thus he created gods after his own likeness.
Among the ancient nations the Hebrews believed in only one Supreme God, the Sovereign Power over all. Prophets and seers among them caught flashes of great truths of the duties of man. In their Scriptures a sense of justice and humanity appears.
At last, two thousand years ago, there appeared the Man of Nazareth. The religion of his country had then become a thing of childish rites and traditions, passing over Justice and the Love of God.
It was insisted that eating with unwashed hands, or with people of other nations, was sinful in the sight of God. It taught that it was a more sacred duty to give money for the support of the temple worship and of the priests than to honor and support one's aged parents.
Jesus had penetrated to the heart of the old Hebrew faith, and had found in it the two great Commandments, enjoining the supreme love of the Highest and Best, and the love of one's neighbor as of oneself.
He was thus enabled to distinguish what he conceived to be the essential soul of the religion of his country, not by any miraculous illumination from Heaven, but by his native, original insight into the human soul.
Human beings are variously gifted, in greater or less degree. Jesus was thus endowed by God with an extraordinary religious genius, so to speak. He saw the Spirit of God in every human being the undying Life of the Creator, distinguishing humanity from every other created being of which we have any knowledge.
-Adapted from, "A Washington Address," (1895) by Rev. William Henry Furness (1802-1896)
Sunday, January 7, 2024
Without action, nothing is achieved. Jesus told a parable in which a king left a group of servants in charge of some money. The ones who invested and used it were praised upon his return. Those who did nothing and hid the money were scolded.
The same is true with our Faith in God, Whom Jesus reveals to us through his teachings, life and death. We are saved from sin in this life, and eternally, only by the teachings and example of Jesus.
A Faith that rests in smug complacency and pride fails. A Faith that puts our talents to work and tests us makes us spiritually stronger.
Jesus calls us to run, to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better, to seek out truth, to be righteous, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.
And our works have eternal consequences, as well as being of great benefit to others around us right now.
This is a world desperately in need of a deep, loving faith that can work righteousness in the heart as well as in the mind. It needs a Kingdom of Godly men and women who actively feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, bind up the broken-hearted and tend to the ill. This is the very mission Jesus tells us he was sent to proclaim by his, and our, Creator.
Mere platitudes and a religion based upon “instant salvation,” which leaves our neighbors unloved, unserved, and falsely assured of eternity, cheats both them and us out of experiencing the Kingdom that Jesus announced as his mission.
Jesus taught clearly that we are saved eternally by God according to our works (though not by others' opinions of our works, nor by our high opinion of our own works, nor by how loudly we perform our works.)
God alone judges our Works, but it's clear from Jesus' teachings that mere good intentions alone do not save us, nor do they bring about God's Kingdom on earth.
There is no other teaching claiming the name ‘Christianity” that leads to salvation other than the words of Jesus, our Master. All we need to know about God’s Will for us was revealed in the words and example of Jesus, the one God adopted, chose and commissioned to preach to us.
So, when we encounter what is claimed to be the Gospel, if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide and false gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.
That's because Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. It's a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING. It leads to a spiritually complete life and to eternal life.
Jesus is a teacher who challenges us, his students, to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.
“For I have given you an example,” says our Master, “that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
Jesus preached in order to challenge us to seek spiritual completeness, and calls us today to be examples in his name. And he, as a human being, demonstrated that we can follow him in all things.
To imagine Jesus teaches anything less is to make him and his teachings into something small, and his Faith into something light, unimportant, and easy to obtain.
We must not degrade Jesus' teachings and the Faith that he proclaimed to the world in this way. And we should not settle for a Faith that doesn't Work Righteousness in this world, which desperately needs it.