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)