Sunday, February 18, 2018

#Jesus, Teacher of Wisdom #JesusFollowers


Jesus of Nazareth has forever impressed upon the human race a whole series of truths which Millions regard as normative for life. This fact rates him as one of the world's pre-eminent thinkers. Should he then properly be called a philosopher?

Certainly not in the modern technical sense of the term philosopher common or in the ancient sense of the term as the Greeks understood and used it.

Philosophy is esteemed as the gift of the Greeks to civilization. But there is an important difference between Jesus, and Plato and Aristotle. These latter men, as typical philosophers, were primarily interested in an intellectual understanding of the universe in which we live and of which we are a part. Jesus shared that interest, certainly, but speculation was not his primary concern.

His primary interest was morality and religion, and about these, his thinking was not abstract, but concrete and practical.

In its literal meaning, philosophy means "love of wisdom." Philosophy is not merely the "love of wisdom," it is the best wisdom of the lovers of wisdom. The Jewish people, in New Testament times, had their lovers of wisdom.

They were known variously as wise men, the wise, sages, or teachers of wisdom. They were the educators of their day, men whose special interest lay in knowing and producing the kind of thought which is technically termed Wisdom.

Such sages were usually men of professional scribal training, but a Jew, such as Jesus, might gain a knowledge of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Scriptures outside of a formal School.

The Jewish sages did not form Schools of thought as the Greeks did. But they were differences among them, especially in regard to the nature of the divine government of the world, and regarding the dignity and possible happiness of human life.

From the Seventh to Second Centuries, BC, there was growing an increasing body of Jewish wisdom teaching. Among these can be classed the Book of job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, The Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and 4th Maccabees.

While the Greek philosopher sought to read the riddle of the universe by the investigation of natural phenomena, the Hebrew philosopher already held in his hand the key of Revelation, and with the help of this, sought a closer understanding of the ways of God and the duty of man.

Jewish Wisdom, therefore, was not a view of the universe distinct from God much less a view of God distinct from the universe it was a view of the universe with God dwelling in it.

Jesus’s thinking likewise was built on the same fundamental Axiom of Jewish thought. No doubt about the existence of God ever crossed his mind. He never argued about or sought to prove the reality of God. He was too much profit to feel the need for any such proof. Nor did he attempt a systematic presentation of the idea of God. Jesus assume the existence of God, not because it was traditional to do so but because of his own inner experience of God.

Like every prophet, Jesus was a man of insight and action. "Not learning, but doing, is the chief thing," was a basic principle of Jewish wisdom teaching. That principle set the motive for Jesus. Life was something to be lived, rather than something about which to speculate or construct a systemic Theory.

Jesus thought and taught Jewish wisdom. The spirit of the wise was in him. To consider Jesus as a teacher has long been commonplace. What kind of teacher he was has not been so clearly pointed out. Jesus is properly to be integrated with the wisdom teachers of Judaism. This interpretation not only does not modernize Jesus, emphatically orients him, historically.

In Galilee, Jesus's Ministry was primarily that of a prophet and a teacher. The most certain fact that we know about Jesus is that he was a teacher. As the Fourth Gospel quite fittingly ascribes to Jesus this self-appraisal: "You call me Teacher, and Master, and rightly so, for such I am." (John 13:13)

His ethical teaching shines through every account of his life. In Mark, he says, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason." (Mark 1:38)

Mark records that Jesus was saluted as a rabbi by his disciples. Mark refers to the long, tasseled, teacher's robe which Jesus wore, on which some in the crowd tried to grab.

This picture of Jesus as a teacher is not one that Mark would have invented. It was not a role that was expected of the Messiah.

Here then, Jesus is understood as a man of Wisdom. He is depicted as an itinerant teacher. He preached in the synagogues, for example in Nazareth, Capernaum, and elsewhere. He addressed people in the villages; not only in synagogues, but on the streets. He taught them in the countryside wherever he met them, by the lake, in the field, or on the hillside.

This method of Jesus is characteristically that of the Wisdom teachers. Jesus pursued his ministry in the manner of friendship and intimate personal relationship. He deliberately chose this method rather than any other for his work, for it was a customary method with Jewish teachers.  

Such itinerant teachers are popularly called philosophers. The whole emphasis of philosophy in the first century was ethical, its aim was the formation and guidance of moral character.  But Jesus did not write down his Wisdom, instead, he embodied the living spirit of his teaching in his life.



(Adapted from "The World-View of Jesus," by Elmer W. K. Mould, 1941)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#Jesus: A Practical Preacher And Fitting Example #JesusFollowers


Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.

In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)

When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)

He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.

But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.

(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

God Has Done Much For Us; And Gives Us Much To Do #JesusFollowers


Jesus has, with the utmost propriety, taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” That God is the giver of our daily bread, we cannot hesitate a moment to admit.

But in vain would the sun shine and the rain descend, if we were not to prepare the ground, sow the seed, and gather in the produce, which would otherwise be scattered and lost.

Everything the hand of the Almighty has bestowed with the utmost liberality and profuseness – light, air, water, fire, minerals, metals – all require the labor and ingenuity of man to be productive of their greatest benefits.

And with respect to ourselves, the preservation of our bodies in health depends in no small degree upon our own care, caution, and prudence.

But in these calls upon the industry, care, and attention of humanity, there is no coercion - no absolute uncontrollable necessity; strong motives are indeed presented, but we may, if we will, counteract them. If we do so, we become culpable, and suffer in consequence.

Nothing can be more evident than that we are to work together with God; and it is equally clear that all this would have no meaning, if we were not endued with liberty of acting.

Let us then inquire whether he be not possessed of freedom as a moral agent. Our moral, as well as our rational faculties, are the gift of our Creator. By our moral faculties, it would be understood to mean our perception of the intrinsic difference between moral good and evil. Being thus given, it is ours for the time we are to exercise it.

Revelation, and particularly the Gospel revelation given to us by Jesus, is that influence under which the moral principle fully unfolds itself, and, like the ripening sun and fructifying showers of heaven, assisting and co-operating with human industry, attention and culture, exhibits it in all its beauty, fragrance and utility.

But as is true in Nature’s system, it is also true in the moral system: in vain may the sun of righteousness arise, in vain may divine instruction and assistance be offered, if we will not accept and improve; in vain may the hand of divine mercy be stretched out, if we will be disobedient. Almighty God has, by the laws He has established, put it out of His own power to save the obstinate and rebellious from the consequences of their misconduct.

As He spoke to Israel, saying, “Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live-turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31; 33:11)

It was as if He says, “I cannot help you if I would, if you will not help yourselves."

Indeed, the power of humanity to obey or disobey, to accept or refuse, is, like the unity of God, so clearly legible in every page of revelation, that it is so abundantly confirmed by every reasoning and feeling faculty, that to doubt of it would be to doubt of our existence. 

As little also can we doubt of the nature and reality of that influence and assistance which is imparted to us from above. Like the light that visits our eyes, it is present if we will but open them to see. Like the air that surrounds us, it is every moment ready to be inhaled, if we do not willfully obstruct the organs of respiration.

At any moment we please, we may have recourse to God’s word, which He has given us, as a good parent gives his children an estate. At first view, and on its very face, it is a generous gift, an ample patrimony, capable of supplying our most pressing demands, with a small degree of attention.

But we are not to satisfy ourselves with this. We are to dig into it to find the treasure it contains - we are to ascertain, by study and experiment, how it is to be made capable of producing the greatest possible benefit; and, if we are wise, shall hear and compare the different opinions of others before we finally decide upon our plan.

God has made us with such capacities for happiness as suited the plans of his infinite benevolence. A state of inaction on our part does not enter into those plans.

God has done much for us, but He has given us much to do; and if we neglect or refuse to fall in with His intentions, our interest and our happiness suffer in proportion, for His laws are not to be disregarded with impunity.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ralph Eddowes, 1817)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Our Teacher, #Jesus, Says: Follow Me! #JesusFollowers


A new year is a time to take stock of our lives, to examine ourselves, and our place in the world.

It's also a good time to re-examine our faith, and our attitude towards God.

Is our faith in God strong? Can it withstand criticism? Can it withstand scrutiny by others, and ourselves? Do we view God as OUR servant, doing OUR bidding, or are we see ourselves as God's servants on this earth?

Is our faith reasonable? Is it wrapped in confusion, mystery, and illogical doctrines? Does it call us to excuse our inaction, claiming that as human beings, we can do nothing to advance God's Kingdom on earth?

Is our faith effective? Does it serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and eternal security, or does it instead call us to sacrifice ALL for others?

Is our faith built on strong, reasonable and effective doctrines? Or does it leave us confused, mystified by man-made beliefs that make Jesus into something remote, inhuman and one whom we cannot truly follow?

Let's not be deceived by what popular preaching tells us. In truth, Jesus challenges us to a Works-centered, Other-centered faith, one that is joyous and worthwhile.

Jesus calls us to completely give up selfishness, and fully live for God and tirelessly serve the other human beings around us.

Jesus wants us to be clear-eyed and understand exactly what he calls us to do, which means knowing that God's Will for our lives is simply this: seek to do Righteousness, love God completely, and serve others fully.

A faith built on working for others cannot be a faith of false pride, or a faith that keeps score. God must be the One who is proud, and God is the One who keeps score and will reward our deeds, according to His mercy.

Jesus says, "FOLLOW ME!" He teaches us to take up a burden of service, love and struggle, just as he did. This, he says, is why he came: to build God's Spiritual Kingdom on this earth.

He wants us to seek the narrow gate, not the easy path. Jesus wants us to avoid the simple, self-centered faith of the religious elites, and follow the righteous and difficult path of costly service.

Jesus teaches us that God has extremely high goals for us, but assures us that God knows we will fall short. God's forgiveness and mercy - absent from man-made doctrines of condemnation and God's alleged wrath - are ever-present and sufficient when we seek them from our Creator.

Jesus refused to make excuses for the difficult path he was called to follow as God's chosen exemplar for all humanity. Nor must we blame distant ancestors, weak spirits, or physical limitations. All of us are born capable of doing something Good, and God's spirit and Jesus' example refresh and inspire us to grow and do even more. 

A new year is dawning. Let it be a new era in which Jesus is known once again as one whom we may truly follow.

On every day of this new year, let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our God-appointed teacher.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Perfection: #Jesus' Most Misunderstood Teaching #JesusFollowers


"You must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt.  5:48) says Jesus. His life demonstrates the self-denial and sacrifice that leads to this moral perfection, and he calls us to follow his example.

And the Perfection of our Character is what he meant here. Jesus doesn't require us to be the fastest runner, the snappiest dresser, or the most perfect speakers in the world. Perfection doesn't mean we all should seek to look alike, or that we must be able do every mundane task perfectly, without mistakes.

These misunderstandings about what Perfection means is why some claim that we cannot "be perfect" in all things. And if these physical examples were the perfection Jesus demanded, all reasonable people could easily reject such a thing as impossible.

But how DO we achieve it?

Jesus simply asks us to daily seek Godly perfection in all we think, say, and do. Through service and self-sacrifice, we are perfected. This is the cross, the burden, Jesus bids us to take up in our daily journey.

Those who too quickly condemn the idea of obtaining moral perfection are therefore in conflict with Jesus' teachings, and deny that he spoke the truth during his ministry about our ability to follow him.

Jesus offers to us his lessons, his experiences, and his life as a perfect example of one who lived in perfect harmony with God, whom Jesus said was his and our Father. Jesus calls us to follow his example, doing exactly as he did, and to be perfect and holy, just as God is perfect and holy.

This Jesus, who said he was perfectly in accord with the Father, always doing what pleased Him (John 8:29) said that we could do all things that he did, and that if we loved him, we would do all that he taught us (John 14:21; 15:10) and would teach others to do the same. (Matt. 28:20)

The moral perfection of our character is the goal we are called to seek - growing into the people God wishes us to become. By taking up Jesus' challenge to seek perfection, we become part of God's Spiritual Kingdom Jesus established with his ministry of Good Works.

Jesus calls us to forgive, just as God forgives, and be merciful, just as God is merciful. Seeking to be Godly people is never labeled as "impossible" for us by Jesus. On the contrary, as a fully human man, just as we are, he demonstrated that God's commands are neither unreasonable, nor impossible.

Jesus calls us to fail more perfectly each time we try. Which, if we're humble about it, isn't "failure" anymore. We are called by Jesus to "Fail upward" on this journey towards this Godly perfection he calls us to.

Jesus calls us to serve one another, to love one another, and to fill our neighbors’ physical and spiritual needs – feeding, clothing, comforting one another –  just as we would want ourselves to be cared for. This the core of his teaching, and the core of God’s Kingdom.

By seeking to live according to the Will of God, as shown in the life, teachings and death of God's chosen spokesman, Jesus, we grow into the likeness of God, growing more perfect each day.

Jesus' challenging calls to be merciful and live lives of Moral Perfection teach us that we must avoid a lazy, easy religion, and instead seek to be better, more holy, joyful, and Spiritually Complete! (Luke 6:36, Matt. 5:48, John 15:11.)

So, let’s keep striving towards the Perfection Jesus modeled for us to live; a Godly ideal worth striving for!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

God Gives Us The Ability To Choose! #JesusFollowers


We can never enter upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and companion and if every effort expended in seeking something is nullified by despair of ever finding it.

The best incentive for the mind consists of teaching it that it is possible to do anything which one really wants to do.

We ought to measure the good of human nature by reference to its creator (I mean God, of course.) If it is He who, as report goes, has made all the works of and within the world good, exceedingly good, how much more excellent do you suppose that He has made mankind?

And before actually making us, He determines to fashion us in His own image and likeness and shows what kind of creature He intends to make us.

The Lord of Justice wished mankind to be free to act and not under compulsion; it was for this reason that, “He left him free to make his own decisions” (Sir. 15:14) and set before him life and death, good and evil, and he shall be given whatever pleases him (ibid. 17). Hence, we read in the Book Deuteronomy also: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you may live.” (30.19).

It is on this choice between two ways, on this freedom to choose either alternative, that the glory of the rational mind is based, it is in this that the whole honor of our nature consists; it is from this that its dignity is derived, and all good men win others' praise and their own reward.

Nor would there be any virtue at all in the good done by the one who perseveres, if they could not at any time cross over to the path of evil.

It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in us the possibility of choosing either alternative, that he made it his peculiar right to be what he wanted to be, so that with his capacity for good and evil he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction, too.

He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition, unless he were the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil.

No one knows better the true measure of our strength than He Who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than He who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has He who is just wished to command anything impossible or He who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid doing.

Come now, let us approach the secret places of our soul, let everyone examine themselves more attentively, let us ask what opinion our own personal thoughts have of this matter, let our conscience itself deliver its judgement on the good of our nature.


(Adapted from “A Letter to Demetrias” by Pelagius, AD 413)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Service: The Secret of Success in Life, and The Church #JesusFollowers


“Whoever would be first among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27)

As the great fountain of beneficence, we see God with lavish hand pouring forth bounty and blessing upon His creatures and children, ruling the universe with the divine principle of service. As a loving Father, He seeks His children, ever ready to bless. We learn to love Him because He first loves us, as forever our best Friend.

By this principle Jesus rises to the throne of a true lordship, becomes leader and prince in the realm of religion, his church supreme and enduring amid the religions of the world. In darker days, worshiped as Deity, far away and above human experience, the example of Jesus was lost from sight, his mission deemed a sacrifice to pay the penalty of human guilt. 

Later days begin to see him more truly as the Gospels portray him, loving Friend and Helper. Because by life and word he served humanity, he is lovingly enshrined in millions of hearts. Our practical world and time are fast coming to care little for dogmatic opinions and dead debates of his nature. That Jesus brings a power of blessing for today welcomes and enthrones him in high place as divine example and best spiritual leader.

Walking in his footsteps and cherishing his spirit, our lives become unselfish and helpful with a loving service that renders the humblest Christ-like and God-like.

All legitimate business is a mutual service, with both parties benefited. As commerce runs its lines around the globe, civilization is tending to bind into one brotherhood the whole human family, fulfilling the sentiment of the fine Swiss motto, "Each for all, and all for each."

Everywhere and forever genuine service is the supreme secret of true success. Whatever best serves human need will win the glad homage of the human heart, will go to the front, will conquer and command. This is true alike for persons and peoples, nations and churches.

June days of every year are sending forth from academies, seminaries, and colleges a great host of young men and women, graduated to start upon their life career. As they enter upon the busy arena of practical affairs, comes to each the sharp summons: Do some good work or get out of the way!

By this ruling life principle, each speedily becomes weighed and measured, tested and judged. Does one ask supremely for some soft place of easiest work and largest pay, to settle down in selfish indulgence, ignoble comfort and content? He is speedily ignored and forgotten.

Whomever asks supremely for the greatest opportunity, open field for best work for which their ability is adequate, nobly consecrates themselves, unselfishly does their best, doors speedily open to them. Higher opportunities seek them. People love and honor them. Living or dying, they go in, on, and up to heights of usefulness and renown.

The law of service applies equally to institutions. It is true of the Church.

Soon after the death of Jesus and his apostles, the pure, simple, practical gospel they preached became obscured by heathen traditions that still linger in popular theology. The flowing stream has gathered sediment.

We seek to filter it, and get the pure, living water, to restore and apply to life the original gospel preached by Jesus.

We seek to welcome and keep pace with advancing intelligence. It offers no mystical or miraculous plan of salvation, but by practical righteousness would turn the wilderness into a garden.

But the better day among us is dawning, the missionary spirit awakening, and pushing its way into every open door of opportunity for service. Primarily we come hither for worship, for inspiration and guidance, for friendly fellowship, for comfort in sorrow and good cheer in daily living.

 The church’s larger purpose is not only for worship, but for work; not only to get good, but to do good. While old dogmas and forms are passing away, the ideal church of the future we hope here to realize.

The true church is not a concert or lecture hall of luxurious surroundings, with an audience of passive hearers to be entertained with sweet music and eloquent preaching. 

It is a congregation, a coming together, a union of souls joining hearts and hands for good work. The true church is not an aristocratic club, composed of a few select, superior saints, but, as in Galilee, a company of the common people who heard Jesus gladly.

We here today start afresh to work for and realize the ideal coming church. Every blessing to our own souls we would send out as blessing to others in life's sore struggle. Personal consecration crowned by zealous purpose to bless the world would make ours the church of the helping hand. Only by practical service can we hope to win.

Without this, the Master does not need us, and the world has no place for us. The logic of events issues the edict, "Do some good work, or better close the doors and disband."

Only as practically we serve this community can our church live or hope to win success.


(Adapted from a 1910 sermon by Rev. Russ R. Shippen)