Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jesus: Chosen, Adopted and Anointed by God

Who was Jesus? Was he one of many good philosophers throughout history? Was he a violent revolutionary? Was he a counter-culture teacher who preached free love and destroyed "restrictive" rules? Was he God disguised as a man, who came from heaven to die a ritual death and “buy” our souls from Satan? Was he a deity who only appeared to be human?

All of these theories have been preached and taught throughout history. But can all of them be true? Are none? Just who WAS this man? To learn this, we should probably listen to his own words, and to those who knew him.

A few weeks back, we introduced the opening sentence of the Jesus Followers' Statement of Belief, "We follow Jesus Alone." Now, we continue with the second of 13 Statements, which states that Jesus is, "God's Chosen, Adopted, and Anointed Spokesman."

It's clear that God set Jesus apart from other men, adopting and anointing him as a special spokesman at his baptism: chosen by God, anointed by God, and sent by God. Jesus himself is clear about this, the Gospels attest to it, and the Apostles taught it. And yet these truths are shockingly absent from today’s Christian pulpits.

The early church spoke of Jesus as a man, chosen by God. In Peter’s sermons in Acts, he speaks of him as, "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God" (Acts 2:22.) At the Transfiguration, no less than God is quoted as saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" {Luke 9:35).

As the Kings and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) were set apart and "anointed" by God to be his servants and messengers, so, too, was Jesus anointed by God, and in his first sermon, he says specifically, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me." (Luke 4:18) and in Acts, Peter says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth." (Acts 10:38.)

Thus anointed and chosen, this Jesus was adopted by God as His unique "Son." At his baptism, God’s voice says, “This day, I have begotten you,” (Acts 13:33, Luke 3:22 Codex Bezae vers.) thus becoming his father by adoption.

Jesus said himself that it was God who “sent me” (Mark 9:37, Luke 9:48, John 5:37-38) and so also taught the first disciples of Jesus, who went out preaching his words.

Jesus, therefore, isn't merely a philosopher with his own theories, but a spokesman for God. “My teaching is not mine,” he says, “but His who sent me” (John 7:16.) Nor can he be a non-human hybrid, through which we can live with God eternally if we simply believe in Jesus’ death, but ignore his words, which he said would “never pass away” (Matt. 5:18, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33.)

The early Church that gathered in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and his return to God in the resurrection, saw Jesus as a man (Acts 2:22) chosen by God, sent by God and adopted by God at his baptism to proclaim a Good and Beneficial Message to mankind, the Gospel. They recognized this message as calling on all to repent and turn back to God, seeking God’s perfect standards, living meekly and in holiness, and being a light of Righteousness to all the world. We can do no less today if we call ourselves Jesus Followers.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jesus our Example of Meekness

(Guest Sermon by Rev. Anthony Forster)

“Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Matt. 11:29

To the sincere Christian, whose heart is filled with the love of truth, nothing affords so pleasing and so instructive a subject for meditation as the character of our Lord. In his conduct we beheld all his divine precepts of moral duty illustriously exemplified.

So truly was he the light of the world, and so evidently was he a teacher sent from God, that what he taught he practiced; thereby setting an example for his followers, as well as enlightening them by his instruction. A moral glory ever adorned his presence and his conduct; for in him shone "the brightness of his Father's glory."

Surely, then, wisely meditating on his character and conduct is calculated to fill the heart of the pious believer with inexpressible delight. For, from him, must we receive all those examples of moral excellence which constitute the image of God in the soul; and without which, we never can, in any degree, be assimilated to the divine perfection; or be at all prepared for the enjoyment of Heaven.

That trait in our Savior’s character, my friends, of which our text reminds us, and to which I would invite your most serious attention, is one of the happiest and most interesting graces which the Gospel inculcates. It is, indeed, a high attainment in virtue; for the peaceful possession of which, no self-denying sacrifice can be too great.

Meekness is the result of a due self-knowledge and self-control, of wise reflection and pious exertion. It has for its object, the immediate subjection of those turbulent dispositions of our nature, which would urge us to acts of violence. It particularly keeps in view the suppression of the passion of anger; and thereby prevents all those unhappy consequences which would flow from its unbridled indulgence. It guards us against passionate storms without, and unhappy agitations within - against the provocations of others, and the vengeful emotions of our own breasts.

Says Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls.” And, on another occasion, “Blessed are the meek,” he proclaimed, “for they shall inherit the earth.” And, says the Psalmist; “The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” May God grant that we may so far drink in his spirit, that that mind which was in him may be also in us, that, like him, we may be "meek and lowly in heart.”

Let, then, the words of our Savior be ever present on our minds, and by zealously striving thus to possess the mind which was in Christ Jesus our Master, in humble dependence on God’s divine assistance, we shall not be disappointed in the end.

Rev. Anthony Forster (Jan. 11, 1785- Jan. 18, 1820) was a former Presbyterian minister who converted to Unitarianism and was founding pastor of Second Independent Church of Charleston, SC in 1817. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christians Ought to Stop Crossing their Fingers

The practice of "crossing one's fingers" comes from ancient times, when people would do so in order to invoke God's blessing or "hope" things would turn out right, simply by wishing it would be so. Oddly, it's was, and still is, also used (by adults as well as children) to "cover" a bold-faced lie, while it's being told, as if the crossed fingers (like the Cross of Christ Jesus) would "cover" the act of continual sinning.

But many have forgotten, apparently, that Jesus actually called on us to REPENT, which means to STOP sinning, and to follow his example, working towards the goal of moral perfection, which he himself achieved. Relying on God's continual gifts of wisdom, guidance, and strength, we then are called to humbly confess our sins and seek forgiveness. Then, we are assured that we, too, are forgiven our sins and shortcomings.

Is the previous paragraph shocking to you? Is it something you've never heard before from your pastors and other Christian friends? It shouldn't be, but it probably is.

Modern Christianity, encrusted with nearly endless sources of speculation, philosophizing and interpretations, has buried this Truth so deeply that most Christians are shocked to hear it. Most Christians today (especially in the Protestant Tradition) are quick to recite from memory the "proof texts" from Paul of Tarsus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and modern-day evangelists that spell out a clever, but quite anti-Christian message that sets us up for an excuse for perpetual failure and a half-breed version of Jesus' Good and Beneficial Message (what we call the "Gospel.")

They teach that because a snake spoke to one of our original ancestors, and convinced them to sin, WE, therefore, cannot ever do anything but sin. And since we cannot do good, all we must do is believe that Jesus (who was God in disguise) was perfect (which he was) and say a magical prayer, and then we, too - by means of a "free gift" - are INSTANTLY perfect and will be guaranteed a place in Heaven with God forever and ever. Jesus' call for perfect behavior on our part, they say, was just as way to tease us - to show that it cannot be done.

This, of course, is all nonsense, and is contrary to every word Jesus spoke. And if Jesus' words truly do never pass away, they are important enough to believe, and to base our lives and our eternal salvation upon.

While Jesus calls for us to believe, that is only the BEGINNING of faith. He says we must also repent - with no crossing of fingers or hesitation - which means we feel regret for past sins and vow to actively stop sinning. We must then take up our own crosses, bear the yoke of obedience, and follow the example of and teachings Jesus - without hesitation. 

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

These are commands and duties we must perform, and when others stumble, 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.

Perfect fulfillment of these goals is not going to happen overnight. To say we aren't stumbling means we're lying. 

But to assert that we can "claim" perfection in some vague, spiritual sense - without any Good Works or effort on our part - gives us a false sense of security. It allows us to cross our fingers and pretend we have "made it" and have fulfilled all of our obligations. 

Just as the complaining student wishes he or she didn't have to do homework, the teacher knows that by performing the task of doing the work, we become enriched and educated. 

So, too, God in His wisdom knows that by living according to the life and teachings of his servant, Jesus, we become enriched, more perfect, and more spiritually complete, as God wishes us to be, and knows we CAN be.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

We follow Jesus Alone

What if you thought someone was very, very important. Would you think what that important person SAID was important, too? Of course, that follows naturally. 

What if that person said that his words and actions were totally and completely in accordance with God, the creator of the Universe, and that they would last for all eternity? Would those words be important enough for you to consider “important?” Of course. Any reasonable person would consider that to be the case.

As followers of Jesus, we believe, “The words and teachings of Jesus, not any other teacher, savior or man, are the core of our beliefs.”

When we look to Jesus, we believe we see through a glass CLEARLY towards the life God wishes for us. God chose this humble Galilean man, Jesus, to be our model and our example, by which we can know His will for our lives. There is no other person to which we need look as an example – no other person who should be reinterpreting his teachings for us or adding to them, as if they are insufficient or deficient in any way.

Therefore, anyone who calls for us to minimize, ignore, misconstrue, or put aside the teachings of this important person would be asking us to do this to the one whom God has chosen to be our most perfect example.

If Jesus’ words are sufficient for us, no other person’s words, interpretations and examples are required for us to follow him. It’s not “But ____ said…” Instead, it’s “JESUS said…” It can never be said, “Jesus’ teachings CANNOT be followed,” but rather, “Jesus’ teachings MUST be followed, because he said we could, and must, do so.”

For the Jesus Follower, only the true, pure teachings of Jesus, God’s Anointed One (“Christ”) the Prophet whom God sent to us, can Save us and bring us back to God – Who is his Father, and ours.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and DOES them,” says Jesus, “will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Who can then claim that his words are unimportant, or that we cannot do exactly as he commands?

We are called to follow his example, heed his words, do Good Works, and then, and only then, we are told, will we be considered “saved.” There is no magic shortcut, no magic prayer that we may recite, that will allow us to ignore the teachings of Jesus and not ACT upon them, and still call ourselves Followers of Jesus.

The words, example and teachings of this Jesus are, therefore, of utmost importance for us to understand, grapple with, and follow, to the very best of our abilities. If we say we follow him, we ought to follow his example, and walk EXACTLY the way in which he walked. To do, say or preach something less would mean that we don’t REALLY believe that his words would not pass away into history.