Sunday, June 4, 2023
The Hebrew Prophets On God's Forgiveness [#JesusFollowers]
Sunday, May 28, 2023
The Important Example of Jesus by Rev. William Ellery Channing
The importance of example, who does not understand? How much do most of us suffer from the presence, conversation, spirit, of people of low minds by whom we are surrounded! The temptation is strong, to take as our standard the average character of the society in which we live,and to satisfy ourselves with attainments which secure to us among the multitude a sense of respectability.
On the other hand, there is a power (have you not felt it?) in the presence, conversation, and example of Jesus, a man of strong principle and magnanimity, to lift us, at least for the moment, from our vulgar habits of thought, and to kindle some generous aspirations after the excellence whivh we were meant to attain.
It is possible to place ourselves under the influence of the example of Jesus. This introduces us to the highest order of virtue. this awakens the whole mind.
Nothing has equal power to neutralize the coarse, selfish, and sensual influences into which we are daily plunged, to refine our conception of duty, and to reveal the perfection our hopes and most strenuous desires should habitually fasten.
There is one cause which has done much to defeat this good influence of Jesus's character and example, and which ought to be exposed. it is the idea of the multitudes that Jesus should be admired but not approached and followed. they have a vague notion of his nature and character that makes it seem presumptuous to think of him as their standard of behavior. He is thrown so far from them that he does them little or no good.Mamy feel that a close resemblance to Jesus is not to be expected, that his teachings are utterly incapable of being put into practice.
I think this is an error that influences many minds. Until human beings think of the faith and character of Jesus as applicable to them, and intended to be brought into continual operation, in cooperation with their whole spiritual nature, they will derive little good from Jesus.
People think to honor Jesus when they place him so high as to discourage all efforts to approach him. they really degrade him by doing this. they don't understand his character; they throw a glare over it, which hides its true fearures. this vague admiration is the poorest tribute with which they can pay him.
I wish to prevent the discouraging influence of the greatness of Jesus, to show that he may indeed be imitated.
His real greatness of character is greatness of the highest order, and far from being discouraging, is fully accessible and imitable by us, and far from severing him from us, makes him our friend and model.
True elevation of mind does not take a being out of the circle of those who are below him, but binds him closer to them, and gives them advantages for a closer attachment and conformity to him.
Sunday, May 21, 2023
A Faith in Jesus That Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers
A few years ago, a young man named Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube and later followed it up with a book, “Jesus [is greater than] Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.” He was wrong on all counts.
Sure, those terms, as today's world defines them, are often a call to join "the rat rat race," and judge others, and ourselves, by material success alone. If that's all this auther had said, that would have been fine. Jesus definitely says God calls us to more than that.
But inherent in the book, and in modern Christendom, is an urge to have faith and then do nothing, an alluring and seductive message the is the very WIDE GATE and easy path of which Jesus warns us. The urge to make excuses for our inability to serve God as Jesus calls us to do is very strong, and it’s a very old message indeed. But it’s a call to half-serve God, and it’s a repudiation of the message God called and anointed Jesus to preach to all humanity.If you are not actively seeking to walk as Jesus walked, you are not a follower of Jesus. You may be an admirer of Jesus, or a flatterer of Jesus, but not a follower. Jesus calls us to a life of holy struggle and humble service, not a life of shallow words and false phrases. He challenges us to be better than we are, not remain as we were before we met him.
Yes, "Come just as you are" to Jesus. But expect to grow and be changed by his words, life and example. He was meant to be followed, not just admired - he urged us to obey God, not to simply shower him with flattery every weekend.
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 be Righteous, to serve God, not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.
Jesus' call for us to count the costs, then pick up a cross, go the extra mile, expand our 'talents' to serve others, and be good Samaritans. And Jesus cannot also have meant for us to seek a life of leisure and ease. He calls us to action. If we say we love Jesus, but don't hear and do what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his Words.
The Gospel that Jesus explicitly taught isn't a call to merely have belief in him, or even in a book about him, but it's a call to serve God, to follow Jesus' teachings, and to love others just as we love ourselves. His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus or even to worship him.
A faith that fails to challenge us to bold, radical service isn't worth having. A free gift is worthless if it's never opened and used as it was designed. Jesus offers us such a faith, such a gift, if we would only open it and act upon it.
Let us, then, act.
Sunday, May 14, 2023
The Nature of The Gospel #JesusFollowers
The Gospel presents us with clear and comprehensive views of the nature and character of the Deity.
It teaches that there is but one God: by this simple principle, expressed in every way which is necessary to make it fully understood and cordially received, putting an end to heathen idolatry, which was so fruitful in practices of the most disgraceful and baneful nature, and which led to the most extreme corruption of morals.
It teaches us that this great Being is a Spirit; possessed of every natural and moral excellence in an infinite degree; almighty, all-wise, all-just, all-holy, and all-gracious; exercising a righteous moral administration over His creatures; rewarding the righteous, and punishing the wicked.
In short, that He is perfect goodness, pure and unlimited Love, our Friend and our Father; yet at the same time a Being of perfect rectitude, our Sovereign and our Judge.
The Gospel teaches us what the requirements of this great and gracious Being are.
It instructs, by precept and by example, that we should love Him with supreme affection; that we should exercise a steady faith and a devout and holy communion with Him; and that we should make it our first and highest concern to do His will.
It requires that we should exercise a careful government over our own hearts; that we should suppress all inordinate affections and all high thoughts of ourselves; that we should be sober, temperate, and chaste in all things.
We should be humble and watchful, earnestly desirous to be, as well as to do, what God commands. In short, the religion that is pure and undefiled before God is to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
Jesus is never represented as the cause, but as the effect of the Father's love: and to imagine that God was not disposed to be merciful to mankind till Jesus wrested pardon from him (as it has sometimes been expressed), is to contradict the simple but all-important assertion of the Gospel, that "God so loved the world…" (John 3:16)
It is nowhere stated in the Scriptures that God could not forgive sins without the death of Jesus, or without some other full satisfaction.
But many passages prove that though perfectly just, God is also essentially merciful; and which supply us with Divine declarations of pardon to the repentant sinner, and examples of the extension of it, without any reference to the death of Jesus.
The justice of God, as far as we have the means of knowing, consists in the due distribution of rewards and punishments according to the moral condition and character of the objects of His justice.
Jesus had to suffer for the completion of his spiritual excellence, and it was for the welfare of his followers that he should set them an example that they should follow in his steps – an example of meekness, of fortitude, of patience, of gentleness and mercy, of firm endurance and self-denial, of boundless love to man, and of obedience unto death.
When considering the effects and purposes of the death of Jesus, it should never be forgotten that they were all in view in the apostles' minds, as a whole, as they should be in ours; and then we cannot fail to perceive, that the effects on the spiritual excellence of our Master’s character, and the perfecting of his example, and all their blessed influences in the hearts of his disciples, are among the purposes of his death.
The death of Jesus is of service to only those who through the work of Jesus are redeemed from all iniquity; and its efficacy in effecting our salvation depends on its producing, through the influence of his sufferings, his precepts, doctrines, spirit and example, that spiritual sanctification, and eternal purification, which will make us dead to sin, and alive to God.
If neither our Master himself, during his ministry on earth, nor his apostles whose preachings are recorded in the book of Acts teach the doctrine that the death of Jesus was a propitiatiary sacrifice for the sins of men, is it reasonable to conclude that it cannot be essential to salvation?
There is no passage in support of the doctrine that the death of Jesus had some mysterious, unknown, immediate efficacy in obtaining from God the pardon of sin.
Persons who entertain this very doctrine of atonement, should shrink from the notion that Jesus was in any strict sense punished for the sins of men, or that he was substituted for them to bear the Father's displeasure, or that he thus made satisfaction for their sins.
Still less should they allow that the death of Jesus appeased the wrath of God, and made him merciful.
Of such a doctrine, often taught by theologians, I do not hesitate to declare that it is not Christianity, that it is not Judaism, that it is heathenism.
Abridged from a sermon by Lant Carpenter (1843)
Sunday, May 7, 2023
Human Beings: Created To Advance! [#JesusFollowers]
We must not allow everything else to move on, while we remain stationary. When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment of Nature, let not us, who alone are capable of voluntary obedience, alone be unfaithful.
When even the all-wise Creator, in unfolding His ways and purposes to His children, observes this rule of constant progression, let not us, with wisdom only of yesterday, children in understanding, think that we may rest where we are, and refuse to move forward.
Our very capacity of progress is itself a further reason for striving after perpetual improvement. The plants and animals around us have limits set to their advancement which they can never pass.
They go forward by a prescribed course to their maturity, and there they necessarily stop. The voice which spake to the sea, “Thus far shall you go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial except us.
From that mandate our spirit is exempted. The tree has its growth, and the bird its instinct, and they can add to themselves nothing beyond it. Human beings, reasoning, immortal, immaterial beings, to whom the inspiration of the Almighty has given understanding, has received the power of expansion. Our souls may grow - not like the body, which is to perish in about a hundred years, and therefore becomes perfect in twenty; but, as it is never to perish, it never reaches a perfection beyond which it may not pass.
If the soul's duration were bounded by a thousand years, or a hundred thousand centuries, then we might anticipate the day when its growth should be completed. But since it shall exist through eternity, since it can never approach the termination of its existence, neither can it approach the termination of its progress. It must enlarge, extend itself, and continue to advance.
So, other creatures may stop growing, and become stationary; for they are to come to an end. But not human beings, for we are to know no end. Others may be satisfied with a perfection which earth can understand and contain; for they are of the earth, and shall return to its bosom.
But human beings are children of the Most High, our spirit a ray from the fountain of unquenchable light, made capable of attainments which earthly beings cannot hardly imagine. Let us not dream that any present attainment is our perfection; let us press forward to that mark - that something immense and infinite - which Jesus has set before us as the prize of our high calling.
For us to be stationary would be rebellion against our nature, a willful forfeiting of our birthright, and should subject us to the harsh reproaches of our own minds, and to the deserved scorn of all higher and lower beings.
This great progress of the human soul is only begun upon earth. But it is begun. The desire of purity, the love of excellence, the habits of holiness, the relish for spiritual pleasures, are begun here below; and ones who have made the greatest advances in these during their mortal lives, are doubtless best fitted for entering into a future state. This thought suggests to us another reason for improvement.
The degree of happiness and glory to which the soul shall be admitted at death, must depend on the progress which it has made on Earth. In our Father's house are many mansions; differing unquestionably in order offense. And how are they to be assigned? What says the Scripture? “According to their works,” for “He that has been faithful in little, shall be placed over few cities; he that has been faithful in much, shall be placed over many cities.” (Luke 16:10; Matt. 25:23)
Happiness and honor shall be rendered to every person according to their preparation for them and their capacity to receive them. And our capacity to receive will be just in proportion to the state of advancement at which we have arrived on leaving the present scene.
And the soul that issues from its mortal tabernacle a trembling, anxious penitent, - just "assured" that its sins are forgiven, but without any confirmed religious experience, or spiritual maturity of character - cannot enter at once into the fulness of bliss which awaits the faithful servant of God, who has toiled for duty during a long life, and become almost spiritualized before laying aside the body.
Therefore let us strive to be found, at our death, so far advanced in holiness, that we may join the company of those who stand nearest to the throne; that we may be ushered into the light of the highest heaven.
(Adapted from a Sermon by Henry Ware, Jr.)
Sunday, April 30, 2023
The Costly Faith #Jesus Calls Us To Follow! #JesusFollowers
What does Jesus mean when he says, "Counting the costs?"
Too many people are willing to believe in a God that requires nothing – no work, to time, no money, no effort, and no works of love; a religion that’s made easy, that requires less effort than is required to heat a meal in a microwave.
They're more than ready to go to Heaven, as long as God carries them there without any requirement that they move their feet a single step.
But the inconvenient problem for those who believe this, and wish to continue to call themselves "Christian" or followers of Christ Jesus, is that this is not the religion that Jesus preached. It's not the path he calls us to walk. It's not the life he wishes us to lead on the Earth. And, according to Jesus, it doesn't even lead to eternal salvation with God, our Father!
If people really put faith in God at the center of their lives, and believed that Jesus himself lays out this religion in his words, then they would find no work for God too hard, no self-denial too severe, and no offering of service in the name of God’s chosen Son, Jesus to be enough.
Jesus spoke about costly, righteous obedience that would cause people to hate us, and a Godly kingdom here on earth that requires us to act righteously, loving even our enemies. God would then reward us with Heaven based only on our deeds.
That’s a salvation that is not easy, lazy or cheaply obtained with our vain words and lengthy prayers (Matt. 6:7; 7:21.)
That which we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly. A gift freely given, a gift unwrapped and unused, is a worthless gift, regardless of the cost. Teachings by a supposed master, if unused and unapplied to our own lives, are exactly the same - useless.
Jesus never said that salvation would come without cost. He never said it would require no effort, or that it cannot or must not be "earned." In fact, he said just the opposite. Repeatedly.
His parables, including this one about the costs involved in building a tower, all point to a costly faith – a faith that requires us to give all we have to serving God by loving and serving both Him and our fellow human beings.
If faith costs nothing, and salvation can be achieved without effort, what "costs" must we count?
If effort and self-sacrifice is not required of us by God, then of what "costs" does Jesus speak regarding the tower in this parable?
If the wide and easy path is the path condemned by Jesus, why do so many seek it?
Those who don't plan, or don't count the costs, or don’t believe there ARE costs in achieving eternal salvation deserve to be mocked, just as those who would build a tower without considering the costs would deserve to be mocked, says Jesus.
And those who don’t consider ALL they have to be on the line when following Jesus should reconsider calling themselves by his name. We must be willing to share all, give all, and do all in order to follow the Paths of Righteousness and, ultimately, eternal Salvation Jesus calls us to follow.
"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48.) Does this sound like the words of someone advocating and approving an easy, lazy faith, to be rewarded by God with a cheaply obtained eternal life?
God said at Jesus' baptism, when He adopted Jesus as his anointed Son and appointed him as our Example and Savior, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." (Matt. 17:15.) We should, then, listen to and believe Jesus’s words, both here and elsewhere, when he says we must obey God's commands and follow his own example, doing all things he has done in obedience to our Creator.
God chose this perfectly obedient human being to be our example in all things. We therefore must make every effort to humbly and honorably seek to follow Jesus in obedience to his life's pattern, which pleased God so much.
Sunday, April 23, 2023
What #JesusFollowers Believe
Many Christians throughout the ages have spoken aloud and put down in writing what they believe. And it is good to know what one believes, if you believe it strongly and actually care about what you believe. And it makes sense to let others know what you believe, as well.
But many Christians today can no longer believe what was believed in darker ages, in creeds written by men influenced by their previous pagan philosophies and by men and teachings other than those of Jesus. Requiring millions of faithful people to believe these words has led millions of them to abandon God and turn their backs on Jesus. That's a tragedy!
The emerging #JesusFollowers organization has been seeking for a while now to lay out an alternative path, one that follows the teachings of Jesus alone, influenced only by the moral teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, which had been the prime influence on his teachings.
So, let’s take a moment to lay out some principles on which a new Church can be founded, and one in which Jesus is put ahead of all others.
Following Jesus, we love God and Serve Others, Working Righteousness.
We follow Jesus Alone – The words and teachings of Jesus, not any other teacher, savior, preacher, or theologian, are at the core of our beliefs.
Jesus is God's Chosen, Adopted, and Anointed Spokesman – God set Jesus apart from other men, Anointing and Adopting him as a special spokesman at his baptism.
Jesus teaches us to repent from sin, and follow God – Repentance (turning away) from actions that separate us from God was the core of Jesus' teachings and ministry.
Jesus is our perfect moral example in life and death – The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.
Jesus teaches us to selflessly love God and others completely – Love of God and love of Others is the core of Jesus' teaching on Love, and summarized the teachings of the Jewish prophets and Law.
Jesus challenges us to do Works of Righteousness – We are called upon by Jesus to do Righteous deeds, by which we will be judged by God, and which bring about God's Kingdom on earth. The Gospel challenges us to do better, be more than what we were, to seek Righteousness through Good Works of service.
And to seek God's forgiveness when we stumble – We will not immediately become perfect when we start (and continue) to follow Jesus' example and teachings. But when we forgive others who sin against us, we are forgiven by God for falling short of His goals.
God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him – Reason is a God-given gift we use to discern His will, and we are fully able to follow Jesus' challenge to live our lives for God. We have no excuses with this moral ability.
God, Our Father, is One God – God (the God of Israel and of Jesus) is One God, not many – eternal and completely indivisible. God’s spirit comforts us but is not a separate Being to be worshiped.
God speaks through Jesus and the wisdom of Hebrew Scriptures – The Hebrew Bible and the words of Jesus, interpreted through Reason, faith and discernment, are our guide and comfort, and God speaks to us through these writings.
God gives us spiritual gifts: wisdom, love and moral strength – When we speak to God, God encourages us to obey Him and the one whom He sent, Jesus. God does not promise material wealth or perfect health, but gives freely His wisdom, love and moral and spiritual strength.
To build God's Kingdom here on Earth, as in Heaven – We are called to build up God's Kingdom here on earth, as it is in Heaven.
We yearn to live with God forever – When we persevere in our Faith, doing what we are called to do by God and His Servant, Jesus, and humbly rely on God's forgiveness when we falter, we may live with God eternally, but this is God’s decision to judge us, not for us to judge ourselves, nor that others should judge us.