Sunday, December 27, 2015

#Jesus Is Our Perfect Example #JesusFollowers

The life, teachings and death of Jesus inspire us to follow Jesus' example.

Jesus had the fullness of his Father’s spirit; and we have also a portion of the same. This puts all the children of men on equal ground, and makes Jesus our Pattern.

His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.

Jesus was made a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.

We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.

What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.

Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.

He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.

(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Don't Celebrate #Jesus' Birth - Unless You Celebrate His Teachings! #JesusFollowers

We have grown up to love this time of year. The carols, the presents, and the pageantry of the arrival of the "Christ child," the one who will one day die, allowing us an easy path into heaven.

We check in for his miraculous birth: his mother impregnated by God, the story of wise men following wandering stars, an evil king who kills an entire town's children in order to destroy him. And then we ignore him until we are ready for him in the spring - when he is slaughtered on the cross so that we can be saved eternally merely believing in these stories about him.

In fact, many Christians believe his death is the only act for which he was born.

But lost in all the anticipation of this "easy" salvation is the fact that this man was not only a baby, and not only one who was killed, but in between, he taught. He was a teacher, and the chosen prophet of God, who actually said things, and told us that those things, those words, will never pass away.

And yet, his teachings are often ignored or even openly disparaged by modern Christians and Christian Pastors, as if they were irrelevant and meant for another time.

Christians love the baby Jesus, love the dying Jesus, but ignore the teacher and Prophet Jesus. Why?

The teachings are difficult, and we seek the easy way - the WIDE GATE, as Jesus called it.

Jesus calls us to take the Narrow Gate, and says few will choose it. He was right.

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, and defeat them with kindness. Today, we're told to hate our enemies and make cultural or literal war on them.

Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek if we're struck on the cheek. We are told today to be "prayer warriors" and fight back.

Jesus tells us to go into a closet and pray in secret, and not be ostentatious when we pray amongst others. But we like those long prayers that are performed in pulpits and stages for show before 10,000-member congregations.

Jesus says riches on this earth are meaningless, and we should instead act righteously to store up treasures in Heaven. Christians today pray to God to make them rich, and deny that we must act righteously at all.

Jesus tells us we will be persecuted and cursed for performing righteousness, for believing in the Gospel, and for serving God Christians today expect to receive "favor" from God - including riches and perfect health - simply because they utter Jesus' name when they pray to God.

And Jesus tells us we must perform Good Works in order to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven, and that mere words will not gain us Heavenly rewards. Christians today blatantly deny this, and ministers teach the opposite - that a "Sinner's Prayer" magically forces God to give us eternal life because we've said it.

Yet, When the teachings of Jesus are the center of our faith, we begin to live the life that God knows we can achieve. His words and commands are challenges - challenges for us to live up to our God-given potential.

Through the life and teachings and death of Jesus, we see through a glass CLEARLY towards what God intends for our lives.

We ought not celebrate this teacher's day of birth if we aren't willing to celebrate and follow his teachings throughout the year.

This Jesus, God's Anointed Prophet, challenges us to rise up higher and higher in our Righteousness, performing Good Works and acts that please God, all the while relying on God for forgiveness when we fail to live up to God's high standards, and relying on God's Grace to strengthen us and help us become spiritually complete.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Nature of Gospel Salvation. #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.

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, He is perfect goodness, pure and unlimited Love, our Friend and our Father; yet at the same time a Being of perfect Righteousness, 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; that 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 suffered 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 preaching is recorded in the book of Acts teach the doctrine that the death of Jesus was a substitutionary 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 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.

(Adapted from an 1843 sermon by Rev. Lant Carpenter)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Value of Repentance #JesusFollowers

It has been obvious to every serious mind, in all ages, that the will of the gracious Power that gave us our being, must be the rule and guide of the actions of His creatures, so far as they can discover it.

This is a natural obligation and deference which we owe to, and cannot but think it a duty and our happiness to pay to, that wisdom and goodness of our Maker to which we are so much and so continually indebted, and by whose power we are every moment, sustained.

We cannot conceive that He Who is the most perfect goodness could have any other aim in creating reasonable beings, than to make them happy suitable to their Natures. And we gather from this that it must be our duty to follow this great direction and example, and to contribute to the happiness of each other to the utmost extent.

And in attending further to what we can know of the perfections of our Maker, of His will concerning us, and especially in our obeying His primary design of creation and rule of duty to us, we are unavoidably led to see the fitness and the necessity of restraining our passions and appetites, of giving up our own ease and taking pains for the good of others, and of learning what is right, and fair, and just, and pure, and kind, and holy, and virtuous.

And, by doing this, we frame our conduct so that we may approve ourselves to Him Who placed us here for a short time, but Who has further views for us, which extend to endless time, if we seek not to defeat His designs.

But we are too often drawn to do wrong, to forget our duty to God and man, and to disturb the government and violate the laws of He Who made us, and by doing this, we lay a foundation of lasting misery to ourselves; because there can be no real happiness in opposition to His will; and we have reason to dread the consequences of His displeasure, while we violate His laws.

For He has made us capable of governing ourselves by that rule of life and knowledge of His will, of what is good, and just, and pure, with which He has made us acquainted.

And we find that, by attending to or resisting those motives to our duty which He lays before us, we have it in our power to choose and pursue that virtue and holiness which he has prescribed, or the contrary; our conscience tells us, that while we act upon evil principles, and cherish unholy and unrighteous dispositions, we must be odious to Him, the object of His dislike; and what He dislikes must be miserable.

It is therefore matter of unspeakable comfort and joy to be made acquainted with the Gospel call of Repentance, the glad tidings from Heaven, made known indeed to mankind from the first, but in a special manner delivered by Jesus and his apostles, declaring the forgiveness of all past offenses, and a restoration to the divine favor, to all who turn to God in true repentance, and bring forth works worthy of this repentance.

But we must be careful not to make things worse by abusing God’s mercy, and turn the remedy for sin into an excuse for continued sinning. For many sin and repent, and repent and sin again; their attitude and conduct remaining the same and unchanged.

This has arisen from a perversion of the Gospel, and inattention to the doctrine of repentance delivered within it.

For Repentance signifies a change of mind, together with a secret condemnation of ourselves for past misconduct, which points out its durable nature.

We are to be followers of Jesus; to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, renouncing all ungodliness and worldly lusts, all the hidden ways of dishonesty; to be holy in all our conversation, fruitful in every good work, perfecting holiness in the name of God.

May you take comfort that you have truly repented, that you are the disciples of Jesus. For what is Heaven itself, but it an enlightened mind, a purified conscience, a sanctified benevolent heart, full of God and good works, desiring earnestly nothing but to please Him and promote the common happiness. And whoever possesses these attitudes already has a foretaste of Heaven's bliss.

All may know their inner attitudes; how far they love and prefer what is pious, honest, sober, just, charitable; whether their chief delight is in the thought of God and his goodness to them, and their most prevailing desire to know him more, that they may still love and serve him better, and live before him forever.

And happy are all those who have attained these pious, holy, and virtuous attitudes, or who are in earnest seeking to attain them! Their lives will be pleasant, and their end peace.

(Adapted from a 1778 sermon by Rev. Theophilus Lindsey)