Sunday, January 28, 2024

What We Really Need #Jesus Followers


 "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

"And I Will Give You Rest" #JesusFollowers

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

To come unto Jesus is to believe in his Divinely appointed mission and Authority; to believe in his promises, and to make use of such assistance as his religion offers. 

By giving rest is meant, either deliverance from the sorrows which before afflicted us, or the aid of such encouragements and motives to bear them, that the pain and weight which before distressed might be lightened, and ease of mind take place of former disturbance; and that it is our object, to show what these encouragements and motives are, and what is the nature of the relief which his religion may be expected to give.

The burdens under which we labor, from which the Gospel may be expected to relieve, are chiefly those of a moral nature, arising from a consciousness of guilt, and fear of the Divine displeasure; from a sense of the dominion and power of sin, the prevalence of temptation, and the strength of evil habits; or from a sense of the weakness of already-formed resolutions, and the too frequent defects in our duty.

Some persons who are yet awakened to a sense of sin are still oppressed with the weighty burden of moral uneasiness and distress from the dominion and power of sin, the prevalence of temptations, and the strength of their vicious habits.

When the eyes are opened to a conviction of guilt, and liableness to the righteous judgments of God, Conscience then begins to be uneasy at the view of the present tyranny and absolute possession which sin retains over it. It then begins to feel the truth of our Savior's words (John 8:34) “Whosoever commits sin " (that is, habitually) the same is the servant, or slave, of sin." 

We know that God has declared that He will reject all who continue to sin, and though we are taught to hope that He will forgive sins that are past, it is only on our sincere repentance; and no repentance can be admitted as sincere, which is not followed by newness of life.

As, then, we cherish any hopes of the mercy, acceptance, and favor of God, we must necessarily see all the reason in the world to be uneasy at the continuance of the power and dominion of sin in ourselves; because it puts an effectual bar in the way of all our hopes, both of the pardon of sins past, and of the final acceptance of God.  

Let us then enquire what means Jesus has provided to deliver those from the dominion and power of sin, who come unto him, by a steady faith in his Divine Mission, and an attitude to submit to his authority and government.

First, His holy laws give us a clear and full view both of sin and duty; they leave us at no uncertainty concerning either the one or the other. They represent sin in all its odiousness and deformity, and duty in all its genuine beauty and loveliness.

And it must be obvious how great a help it is towards a right conduct, to have a clear knowledge of what is right and wrong - and that it is a happy step towards a recovery from what is evil, to have a knowledge of what is evil, and conviction of the happiness of what is good.

Jesus did not fail to give us light and instruction. So let not us fail ourselves by not making use of his assistance to turn from away from darkness and towards God. Let's fortify ourselves with all those holy doctrines and precepts which are particularly levelled against those sins which most easily afflict us.

The religion of Jesus furnishes us with many ways to assist us to overcome the dominion and power of sin. The chief cause of the prevalence of temptation, and the support of the dominion of sin, is the neglect of cultivating the habit of reflection, and patient serious consideration. We are not lacking sufficient light to inform us of moral evil, or of motives to dissuade us from the commission of it.

The Gospel furnishes us with both in great abundance. Jesus has offered to us every instruction and every motive calculated to produce the most desirable effects. There lacks nothing but our own attention and sincere belief.

He assures us that God has now established His own Kingdom among us, and calls us to be subjects of it; that the goal of this Kingdom is to make us a holy people.

That though He has promised the pardon of sin to the penitent, yet this by no means encourages us to continue in sin, but that, on the contrary, the mercy of God is of no use unless it leads us to repentance and a new life.

Let us, therefore, come to Jesus by a diligent inquiry into his precepts: let us cultivate a teachable attitude; and with it, diligently search his will.

Let his word be the subject of our frequent enquiry, and let it dwell in us by frequent recollection and meditation. Let us by this means get his laws written, not only on the leaves of our Bibles, but on our memories, and the tables of our hearts; that we may always have them at hand on every emergency, to be able to confront every temptation with an appropriate command of Jesus.

(Adapted from the collected sermons of Rev. William Turner, Jr., 1839)

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Evidence of The Truth of Jesus's Gospel [#JesusFollowers]

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

A Faith That Works #JesusFollowers

 


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.