Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Necessity of Good Works #JesusFollowers


Jesus has made believers his peculiar people, by giving himself for them, a people zealous, not of rites and ceremonies, but of good works.

When our Lord, and his apostles, have laid such stress upon good works, and have frequently declared them indispensable as a condition of salvation, none, who profess Christianity, can neglect the practice of them, without the extreme peril of their souls.

This being the great end of Christ Jesus’ life and death, none who profess to be preachers of the Gospel can speak of good works with contempt or indifference, without bringing a grievous offense upon the faith of Jesus. Woe will be to them, by whom such offense comes.

After even this brief and imperfect discussion, I hope we see enough in our text to justify the eminent individual, to whom I have alluded, in resting his soul upon it; enough to awaken our minds to hope and duty.

How willing, how desirous is he to reconcile sinners to himself, saying, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die” (Ezek. 33:11) is his expostulation by the prophet. He observes by the prophet Jeremy to the Jews, and through them to all men, “Yet I sent all my servants the prophets to you again and again, saying, ‘Do not do this repulsive thing that I hate.’" (Jer. 44:4)

And in the New Testament, behold God sent out His only Son to seek and save the lost, and the train of the apostles and evangelists; all beseeching us to be reconciled to God. Let our hearts be melted by all this grace; let not one resist all this superabundant mercy.

There being such earnestness on the part of God for our salvation; and the Savior having done and suffered so much for this great end, some seem easy and confident, that salvation for all men and all characters is made certain, without any active concurrence on their part.

Let it be remembered that the very grace of God requires, in order to salvation, a renovation of heart, and purity of life. It teaches, that ungodliness must be denied, worldly lusts renounced and forsaken, that men must live in sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, and be redeemed from all iniquity, purified a peculiar people to Christ, zealous of good works.

It is in vain, then, for any of us to take encouragement from the grace of God, great, wonderful as it is, except, at the same time, we yield ourselves to the condition, on which it brings salvation. We must be divorced from sin, or renounce the hope of salvation. In the Gospel plan, and in the nature of things, sin and salvation cannot go together. 

Let us, then, abandon false hopes, and judge truly, that no step is taken toward salvation, any farther than it is taken in renouncing sin. Judge, then, my dear hearers, judge of your hope and prospect of the great salvation, precisely according to the degree in which you die unto sin and live unto righteousness, are dead to the world, and alive unto God.

From: “Sermons by the Late Rev. Abiel Abbot of Beverly, MA” (1831) by S. Everett.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

We're Responsible To God For Our Own Actions! #JesusFollowers


There is no truth more clearly taught in in the scriptures than this: that God will render to every man according to his deeds. The scriptures contain scores of passages which teach us that God will bring every work into judgement, whether it be good or whether it be evil.

Being accountable to God for our actions, those who set His laws at defiance are justly deserving of a punishment, and can be sure of their reward.

In relation to the native characters of human beings, we all came into the world pure; that is, free from any innate depravity, and are born into the world without a moral character; we neither possess any positive virtue, nor actual vice; but we inherit a nature which is capable of both. We cannot believe a God of infinite mercy would bring His own offspring into being under a load of hereditary guilt. 

We also cannot admit that infants in all ages are "liable to the pains of hell forever," in consequence of the sin of our first parents – a sin committed without their knowledge or agency, and thousands of years before they had a being.

The scriptures teach us that infants are free from moral defilement. Our Savior took up little children in his arms and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. But if they had been totally depraved, filled with all that is evil, would he have taken them up in his arms and blessed them?

Had they been embryos of hell, as they are frequently represented, Jesus would not have pronounced them heirs of his kingdom. Again, our Master says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

With these, and several other passages before us, we are constrained to believe that we are born into the world pure. The doctrine of imputation appears to be cruelly unjust. Every man is accountable for himself, and for himself alone. The scriptures assure us that, "the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." (Ezek. 18:20)

Such passages entirely destroy the doctrine of imputation. All who arrive at years of understanding are depraved in some degree, but their depravity is of their own making.

How is it possible to transfer the guilt of Adam's sin to me? I cannot be criminal, unless I have a consciousness of committing the act, and I cannot have this consciousness of committing the act, unless I have in fact committed it; and if I have in fact committed the sin, it ceases to be Adam's, and becomes my own.

The doctrine of total depravity appears to impeach both the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. If we are the subjects of this total corruption, the revelation which God has given us would be useless.  If God requires all to love him, was it wise of Him to give us a nature which would forever prevent our compliance?

The scriptures assure that God will punish sin. But does it not infringe upon His goodness to say He will punish us for our sins which the nature He gave us compels us to perform? 

There is no truth more sacred than this: that we are accountable for our actions, just as far as we have an ability to perform our duty, and no farther. Whenever you limit our ability to do good, there our accountability ceases.

We must contend for moral virtue. I object to the contemptuous manner in which some speak of morality. Some denounce moral excellence as "dry morality," and insinuate that it is akin to infidelity. If moral goodness is the fruit of infidelity, then give us infidelity in preference to that Christianity which teaches us to slight virtuous actions. 

We may perform good actions from bad motives. In such a case, there is no moral worth in such an act. But if we perform good actions from benevolent motives, they are in the exercise of practical Christianity. Whoever does to others as they desire them to do to him, obeys the requirement of the religion of Jesus.

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father," (James 1:27) consists in gratitude to God, good will to others, and watchfulness over our own conduct. 

If we do not exercise charity one to another; if we do not deal justly with our fellow creatures, our religion is of a spurious kind. As Christians, it is our duty to correct our own faults, rather than point out those of others.

We should so favor excellence of character, so that all preaching ought to be directed to this one object, namely, to make people better. Religion in theory should not be valued as much as in practice. Further, religion has no value unless it effects the conduct and renders people virtuous and good. Not that theoretical religion doesn’t have worth, but its value lies entirely in its influence upon the mind and the heart.

That system of doctrines which does not exert an influence over the person is useless. Every scheme, therefore, which is made up of cold speculations which cannot warm the affections, or of inexplicable mysteries which no mortal can comprehend, is not worth professing.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Charles Hudson, 1795-1881)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Yes, The Words of #Jesus STILL Matter! #JesusFollowers


A world famous preacher likes to say that Jesus did “three day’s work” and that is all he ever did. By this, he means that he died, spent time in a tomb, and then rose to Heaven. That, to him, was all Jesus was good for.

But this ignores the mission of Jesus: to teach and preach. Jesus’ words, in the view of that minister, mean nothing.

But we cannot ignore Jesus' words, because Jesus said his words and teachings would last forever. Anyone teaching people to disregard his teachings, therefore, is misleading us.

Jesus said that to hear and follow his words is like building a house on solid rock (Luke 6:48) and whoever is ashamed of him and his words is the one Jesus will be ashamed of (Mark 8:38.)

He said to the Apostles at one point, "You don't also want to go away, do you?" Peter answered him, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68.)

Peter was right. Where, indeed, and to WHOM would we get better information about eternal life and salvation from sin than Jesus himself? There is no one other than Jesus we need to hear when it comes to this important subject.

The words of Jesus have no expiration date.

Jesus never said that his teachings and words to the Apostles were directed only to those living in Roman Judea. Instead, he says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." (Matt. 24:35) While he did address certain things to his fellow Jews alone, his message and moral teachings are universal. Jesus never told us his words were only meant for a certain time in history.

There are no better teachings than the words of Jesus himself.

Jesus didn't say that after his ministry ended, someone else would be coming to interpret his words or change his teachings. Jesus said, “EVERYTHING that I learned from my Father, I have MADE KNOWN to you." Matt. 15:15. No further revelations are required for us to “learn” about God and God’s Will for our lives.

Jesus spoke on God's authority.

Jesus' words, he said, were not spoken on his own authority, but on God's (John 14:10) and Jesus said his actions always pleased God (John 8:29) making him our perfect example in all things.

If we believe this, then Jesus' words and actions reflect the Will of God, Who chose and anointed Jesus as God's spokesman, sending him out to preach a Good and Beneficial Message ("Gospel".) (Luke 4:18)

There is nothing greater, then, than the teachings of Jesus. They are to be the focus of our lives.

An often overlooked phrase in a popular verse, Jesus calls on us to teach and make disciples of all nations, and also, "teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you." All of his teachings, therefore, have eternal and profound significance, and deserve to be known by all peoples.

His clear teachings, which call on us to perform Good Works, to seek heavenly treasures rather than earthly ones, to pray and act righteously without doing so just to be seen by others, to actively serve others, especially the poor, to turn the other cheek, to love and pray for enemies, and to go the extra mile in all that we do, HAVE NEVER BEEN CHANGED. Nor can we explain them away or minimize their importance, or allow others to do so.

Jesus' words have not been repealed. His teachings remain in effect today. And his words were spoken in order to be followed by those who claim to love him.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

God's Kingdom is Why Jesus Lived and Preached #JesusFollowers


Why was Jesus born? And what was the purpose of his life and ministry?

Was he born simply as a bag of flesh, destined only to later die as a ritual sacrifice that would appease an angry god and "cover" our future sins with his remote and perfect goodness, if we simply believed he existed?

We find nothing in his words to suggest that scenario, despite the popularity of this misguided belief. A very popular minister once said Jesus did only, "Three days' work." meaning that his death and resurrection were all his ministry was worth. Again, Jesus' own words condemn this false belief.

Or, instead, did God choose this righteous man to spread a good and beneficial message and to be our perfect example of how God wishes us to live? Jesus' own words suggest this is the Truth, for example, when he plainly says, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I WAS SENT FOR THIS PURPOSE” (Luke 4:43.)

Jesus' ministry and life's message was entirely focused on this Kingdom of God - the ideal realm of Heaven that Jesus said should be made a reality here on earth, "as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:10.) That this is a spiritual and not a temporal one is also clear from his own words (John 18:36.)

It's a kingdom in which we are called to be righteous, merciful, and complete ("perfect") just as God is (Matt. 5:20, 5:48, Luke 6:36) and just as the man Jesus - whom God chose as his spokesman - modeled for us with the example of his selfless life and death (John 13:15; 1 John 2:6.)

"Seek first the Kingdom of God" he tells us (Matt. 6:33.) He warns us to not store up treasure on earth that can rust or rot away, but to instead seek Heavenly treasure that lasts forever (Matt. 6:19-20.)

He calls us to love our Creator with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and to not only love our neighbors as we love ourselves (12:31) but extend that love and compassion to strangers we encounter on the roadside and to even our enemies (Matt. 5:44.)

Long ignored by Christian ministers as quaint or out-of-date, Jesus' call to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matt. 7:12) summaries his entire ministry and the Hebrew Bible's teaching.

In all of this, we see that our actions matter. We will be judged according to our deeds (Matt. 16:27) and our eternal life in God's presence will be determined by our acts, not our vain words (Matt. 6:7.)

We are called to "remain in his love," and we may do this by obeying him and following after his example.

"If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commandments and remain in his love," he tells us (John 15:10.)

Jesus makes it clear that entrance into this Kingdom is NOT without commitment on our part. It's not a wide gate the entire world will choose (Matt. 7:13.) Only those who DO the will of God, our Father, will gain entry to it (Matt 7:21.)

The teachings Jesus left us are the most valuable legacy we can inherit. His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31.)

The death of Jesus was a continuation of his life – his message of extreme self-sacrifice and love for others, and a voluntary act of devotion to both his "friends" and to God. Who are his friends? Those who do as he commands (John 15:12-14.) Those who would make his death into a magical charm that gives them a "get out of jail free" card so they can continue to sin and forgo Good Works are degrading and spitting on Jesus' cross, not honoring it.

And those who are quick to say "Lord, Lord!" but forget it means "Master, Master!" should remember that by claiming Jesus as our Master and God's representative, we must obey his teachings, not just praise his name.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble yet Righteous, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.

This is a faith worth having and a Master worth serving - a faith that bring us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10.) Those who would throw it away by minimizing and glossing over Jesus' words are throwing God's Kingdom away, and this is one thing all who love God must never do.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Gospel Is Simple #JesusFollowers

The simplicity of the Christian doctrine concerning God and His Christ is a great theme of the Gospel.

Simplicity is in itself a beauty and excellence. It gives us clear ideas, and assists our comprehension of a subject. The simplicity of the Gospel corresponds and agrees with the works of nature; in which there is no vain show or useless magnificence; though there is united with it, through the whole creation, a wonderful sublimity and grandeur.

The simplicity of the Gospel combines the belief in the unity of God and contemplation of His supreme, unrivaled perfection with the belief in the humanity of Christ, his authority as the Divine’s prophet and universal Savior, and his awesome dignity as the judge of all men.

Concerning the person of Christ, is it not a clear and satisfactory conclusion, that his perfect humanity is as essential and fundamental an article of our faith, as that there is one God, the Father, announced under the Old Testament as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then as Yahweh, of the Jews; and in the New Testament, as the God and Father of our Master, Jesus Christ?

The simplicity of the Gospel, in its doctrine concerning the humanity of Christ, helps the imagination to contemplate the man Christ Jesus living and dying like us, which is calculated to affect the senses, and move the heart. It is more adapted to our feelings and condition, it is more encouraging and consolatory than can be any idea of him being an abstract invisible object, a creature in his powers and dignity placed at an immeasurable height above us.

The simplicity of the Gospel, with respect to the rule of life it lays down, and the doctrine of another life, is suitable to its nature. It is designed to be the religion of the unlearned as well as the learned, to be preached to the poor and the wayfaring man.

The consideration that Jesus was a man, in a word, makes the whole history of his ministry clear and consistent: it gives energy and beauty to his example, as that of our elder brother, one in our nature, tempted as we are.

It shows the propriety and value of his reward; not as a recovery of glory that had been laid aside, nor as a reinstatement in former dignity, but as an acquisition of new honor and power: and its usefulness, as a model of the reward promised to us, if, as he overcame, we also overcome the temptations that try us.

The appropriate dignity and authority of Jesus Christ, in his relation to the human race, arises not from his having been the Creator of the world, or from having possessed super-angelic perfection and glory before all ages, but from his being chosen and sent by God to be the minister of divine mercy, and the Messiah.

Persevere in your efforts to serve the cause of pure Christianity. Let, however, your endeavors to promote the spread and reception of doctrinal truths, be always accompanied with, and be always subservient to, an ardent zeal in the cause of vital religion and pious virtue.

What is speculation without practice? What are the clearest notions in the head without virtue in the heart arid life? What is the knowledge of God, and of his Christ, without obedience? Let us be ourselves exemplary in the Christian temper and conduct.

Adapted from the writings of Rev. Joshua Toulmin, 1810

Sunday, May 12, 2019

How Can We Know What Is Good? #JesusFollowers


On the first day of his class, a college professor announced they would be tested that very day. The subject of the test would be all the material they were going to learn.

Not only would the test cover material from the upcoming semester, said the professor, but these freshmen students would be tested on senior-level material - four years of information, none which they had been taught.

Now, clearly, such a test would be unfair, and the results of such a test would be predictable - most students would be unable to answer most of the question. Why should a student without knowledge of a subject be able to know it enough to pass such an advanced test?
One might also ask why babies are not able to read or write, or why no eight-year-olds are experts in constitutional law.

The answer to all of these, as well, is that they lack the knowledge and experience to do so.

And yet, people have no problem asking why there is so much evil and even simple badness in the world. The answer, of course, is the same as in the previous examples: People act badly in many cases because they are simply unaware of what is Good. (And yes, there are many who do know, and choose to do evil.)

The question of Good and Evil is often a religious one. And that is appropriate. God, our creator, has standards of behavior that, if we adhere to them, will make us far better and even more spiritually perfect beings.

If one follows Jesus, and believes that God chose this man to be the example of how all of us should be living, then knowledge of what he taught and preached is essential to knowing what is Good.

When we believe that this Chosen One of God is the very best example of the Good that God wishes us to pursue, we have been saved from the ignorance of what is Good. That is the first step towards the Goodness God wishes for us, bt it is not the final step.

Our spiritual journey is a lifelong one. Jesus calls us to follow him, not to merely recognize him as our morally perfect example, and certainly not to simply admire his perfection.

Knowledge of the teachings of Jesus is the first step in our journey toward spiritual perfection. Committing to following those teachings is what brings us closer to the goal he sets for us.

That we cannot instantly achieve spiritual maturity does not say anything about human nature. As in the examples above, it's unreasonable to demand that we will learn any skill or even any Behavior instantly.

That is not a flaw. It is built into our Nature. The brother of Jesus, James, wrote that when we are tested with trials, we become stronger. This is because we learn from them, and they teach us.

So too, with the lessons Jesus teaches us. As a follower of Jesus, we learn not only from trials, but from the perfect example of the one God chose for us.

Having such a perfect example always before us is an amazing and beautiful gift from our creator. That we have this example, and that Jesus himself said we may do as he did, means that our nature is perfectible, and that we may indeed do good in a way that pleases God.

These teachings, therefore, should be our guidepost, our template, our goal in life.

To love God with all that we have and all that we are, and to love our neighbor exactly as we love ourselves, are the epitome of what it means to be a human being. This we learn from the teachings of Jesus, the one whom God anointed to be our Master.

To seek after this spiritual completeness, this maturity, this perfection, is therefore our goal in life.

That we know what is Good and what is evil means that we have an obligation to seek the Good and avoid the evil and, by our actions alone, not by our condemnation, to demonstrate this and share it with the world.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

God Forgives Us #JesusFollowers


God's infinite forgiveness is revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus, whom we are called to emulate.

God's love is truly infinite. It has always existed.

God’s prophet Isaiah, says: "Let the wicked man abandon his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YAHWEH, so he may have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely forgive." (55:7)

God, is said to be, “merciful and gracious, long-suffering – forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin." (Exodus 34:6-7)

King David constantly prayed for the pardon of sin, for God's "mercy's sake," (Psalms 44:26) and found forgiveness for his sins when he repented, living thereafter with "clean hands" before God (2 Samuel 22:21.)

In the story of Jonah, that God is portrayed as being forgiving and merciful to Nineveh when they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.)

The forgiveness of God is powerful and strong because the challenge God gives us through his chosen son, Jesus is also powerful and strong.

We are called by Jesus to perform acts of Righteousness, to treat others like we would wish to be treated, to "go the extra mile" and not return evil for evil.

We must seek always to love God completely and obey God's commandments, we must not be hypocrites in doing so, we must not pray just to be seen by others, and should not seek after earthly riches, but instead seek after Heavenly riches.

That is the Good News Jesus preached. Nothing more, nothing less. It is at the core of his teachings.

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:5-12)

When the Scribes told Jesus that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7) Jesus corrected them, and by example, taught that all of us should forgive others’ sins and trespasses.

In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the King (God) calls out the wicked servant, saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33.)

Jesus calls us to be merciful to others, just as God is merciful (Luke 6:36)

When Peter asks how many times we must forgive others, Jesus replies, “Seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18-21-22.) In other words, continually and without end.

These are commands and duties we are called to perform in our lives. When we falter, and fail to live up to these Godly deals, we seek forgiveness from God, and always obtain it.

When others around us stumble and hurt us, and fail to live up to God's high standards, we must forgive them, as a condition of our being forgiven by God when WE fall short of the duties we've taken on by agreeing to follow his anointed one, Jesus. (Mark 11:25, Matt. 6:14-15)

By demonstrating, by his own example, the forgiveness God requires, and by exhibiting in his own conduct the spirit of benevolence, meekness, and self-denial, Jesus calls on us to learn from him, to take up the cross and follow his steps.

If Jesus can, in his dying breath, forgive those who murdered him (Luke 23:34) we can forgive those who offend us with their gossip. 

Our God, revealed to us by Jesus, is a God of high expectations, and believes that we are able to meet and exceed them (John 14:12.) Let us forgive others in the same spirit of forgiveness offered to us by our Eternal Father.