Sunday, January 31, 2016

#Jesus Models True Meekness. #JesusFollowers

To the true follower of Jesus, whose heart is filled with the love for truth, no other subject can be as fit for imitation as the character of our Master.

In his conduct, we see all the divine precepts of moral duty modeled by his holy life, and he calls on us to join him in living them in our own lives.

"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," he says (Matt. 11:29) And during his Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Matt. 5:5)

Here he echoes the Psalmist, who wrote, "The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

From Jesus, the one God anointed and sent to teach us, we receive perfect examples of moral excellence that show for us the image of God in the human soul. And Jesus lived this life that he called us to emulate, rather than just hearing his teachings. (Matt. 7:24; John 14:21)

But what of Jesus' modern followers? Do they seek to represent the meekness of their Master?

Does a preacher calling on his flock to take over the government and rule in triumph over all others show meekness?

Does calling oneself a "child of the king" (meaning Jesus) and bragging that this means Christians are entitled to reign over the earth because of such a title speak of "meekness"?

Does it build up, or tear down, the Kingdom of God when preachers live in large mansions, have fleets of cars and jets, speak of meekness?

Does it serve God's Kingdom to suggest that the mere mention of Jesus' name "claims" wealth and power and earthly riches, which God is required to give, based on our demands?

Does it speak of meekness to claim that by a few vain words, we may demand that God grant us entrance to Heaven, and that by "electing" ourselves to salvation in this way, it may never be taken away by God?

Luckily, we have Jesus’ life as an example of true meekness to counter these false echoes of the life he led.

The one whom God called out and adopted at this baptism as His only Son had no place to lay his head.

Jesus said God’s Kingdom was spiritual, and "not of this earth," and that Caesar's government was Caesars, but we were to humbly do God’s will regardless of the consequences.

Jesus called his disciples to respond with kindness when attacked, to turn the other cheek, and to be humble, not flashy, when doing the Good Works we are called to do as a light to he world.

Jesus called us actually deny ourselves, and be willing to give up everything, including our homes, our fortunes, our self-centeredness, in order to serve our neighbors for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

His teachings, in fact, as so far from the example of today’s Christendom that it hardly seems like it's based on the same teacher, and of course, it really isn’t. The Church has as many human "fathers" but no room for the One True Father of all, nor for His Son, who actually modeled meekness for us in both word and deed.

Meekness is the result of self-denial, self-knowledge, and self-control. It results from reflecting on the example of Jesus, the only example that can save us eternally.

It keeps us from falling into the trap of self-indulgence and self-worship, focusing instead on the goal of attaining that Godliness that our example Jesus perfectly models for us.

So, let us keep the words of our Savior always in our minds, and by striving to possess the mind which was in Jesus our Master, in humble dependence on God's divine assistance, we shall not be disappointed in the end.

And may God grant that we may drink in so much of his spirit, that that mind which was in him may be also in us; so that, like him, we may be, "meek and lowly in heart."

(Adapted in part from a sermon by Rev. Anthony Forster)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Nature of Virtue #JesusFollowers

Let us always remember that the purpose of religion is to promote the practice of moral righteousness, and to give weight to the eternal duties of morality. This is the one goal of all its doctrines and ordinances, as well as of its precepts. 

In applying its doctrines to ourselves, or addressing them to others, we should therefore inquire to what uses of piety and virtue they are directed, how the heart may be amended, as well as the mind instructed, by them, what lesson were they intended to teach us, and what motives and incitements to godliness do they bring to our minds. 

By thus applying them to their proper goals, and giving them their due force and direction, we shall find them very powerful instruments in the support and advancement of our virtue, of great use and efficacy in spiritualizing our affections, and weaning them from the things of this world. 

But to rest in the belief of opinions, or the practice of ceremonies, as a goal, is to mistake their nature, and to lose their use and benefit. To substitute them in the place of real righteousness, is to pervert them into gross superstition.

If we want to increase in virtue and true piety, let us carefully examine our actions by their true standard, and seek to strengthen and improve the virtuous principle within us. 

Let us remember, that to have kind affections, to be smitten with the beauty and excellence of virtue is not virtue. But to cherish and encourage these within their proper limits, to attend to the reasons for which they were given us, and to enter into the wisdom and purpose of God in giving them - this is virtue. Every attention to improvement, every endeavor after virtue, is virtue itself.

In the same way, to have the most just sense of right and wrong, to have the clearest convictions of duty in the mind, is not virtue; but to seek to improve this sense by reason and reflection, to keep the virtuous principle always awake and active in our hearts, this is virtue, and a duty of the greatest importance. In active life we are exposed to so many temptations, that, if we do not attend to this, our virtue will always be in danger. 

What assurance can we have in our virtue, when it is never called to the trial, unless we frequently examine our hearts, and root the principles of it deep in the mind? 

A life of action is the school and theater of virtue. 

But, when we have not the opportunity of forming good tendencies into habits by exercise and practice, we may do it in a good degree by contemplation, and especially by the exercises of devotion and religion; which, aside from being duties that are indispensable and necessary in all, are also the direct means to sanctify the heart. In this situation, we ought studiously to embrace and even seek out all opportunities of doing Good. 

Those who are not facing temptation should still be actively doing Good, rather than spending their days in a lazy thoughtlessness, which will weaken the mind, rob it of all its virtue, and leave it exposed in the day of trial. 

Thus, by carefully improving the mind, and by properly governing ourselves, we shall, when we mix with the world, be armed against its temptations, and strengthen and increase the virtuous principle within us. 

And then we shall secure the blessing of God on our endeavors, shall proceed from strength to strength in virtue, shall attain to the things that are more excellent, and go on to perfection!

(Adapted from the sermon, “The Nature and Obligation of Virtue,” by Dr. William Adams, Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, 1754.)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

God Loves Us, And Hopes We Will Love Him Back. #JesusFollowers

Just because you love someone, does that mean you always LIKE them? Did you ever have someone you deeply cared for, who still disappointed you – repeatedly?

This happens in human beings in their relationship with God, too. Jesus assures us that God loves us – all of us; everyone in the entire world.

This echoes down throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and in the words of Jesus.

"For Yahweh is good. His loving kindness endures forever," says the Psalmist, repeatedly (100:5) "God so loved the world," records John. "I have kept my Father’s commandments, and remain in his love," says Jesus.

But while God will always love us, He may still be disappointed in us.

In the same way, a parent may love their children, no matter what, that doesn’t mean they aren’t sometimes disappointed by their actions.

And this is the way it is with God. He may love us with the love of a parent, He also has been disappointed with human beings, and sometimes entire cities and entire nations, throughout history.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matt. 23:37) Jesus says, speaking prophetically, of God's desire to bring His people back to Him.

In one story, Jesus says the Prodigal Son who returns to his father after fleeing his home in disobedience is welcomed back because he turned back to him. (Luke 15:11-32)

This teaches us that God is like a parent, always hoping their child turns back, and is waiting for us when we do.

But we cannot use God's unconditional love to force Him to either accept our violent, immoral or hateful actions here in this life, or require Him to grant us eternal life after this mortal life is over. That’s because His salvation is offered to us conditionally, based upon His own standards.

God indeed has many rooms in His home (John 14:10) and like the Prodigal's father's home, they're prepared for us to return. But God tells us, in a sense, it's "My house, my rules."

Some may try to demand our way into God’s house. Some say, "I said a little prayer, and now there’s NO WAY God can deny me entrance!" Or, "It doesn’t matter HOW I act, God must let me into His house." Really?

It would be as if someone’s parents may not want to let their grown child back come back and live in their house – because they are partying late into the night, taking drugs, or endangering their life or the lives of others. God has every right NOT to let us into HIS eternal home.

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to be with Him – in THIS life as well as the next; it’s that we aren’t willing to conform our lives to His rules.

"I'll LIKE God, but I won’t do what He says," some say.

"I'll love God, but I don’t want to be made to feel UNCOMFORTABLE, and rules do that," another might grant. "I want God’s love – but on MY terms."

Still another says, “God should accept whatever I’m doing NOW and give me eternal life LATER, because I believe the right things, and my behavior doesn’t matter to Him.”

The fact is, our behavior does matter. God wishes us to reform when we turn back to Him. Or do we really believe the Prodigal Son continued to live a riotous and reckless life after he returned to his father’s roof?

There are plenty of people who are willing to be saved eternally so long as they have nothing to actually DO to get there. They recoil in HORROR at the thought that God has Moral Standards, and that we might be actually JUDGED by those standards. How UNFAIR of GOD!

But it's perfectly fair. And God’s prophets, right up through Jesus, have warned us of those Standards. And we know EXACTLY what they are. And we know from them that we will indeed be judged by our WORKS, and not our vain professions.

If someone called you from across the country, and said, “I’m walking to your town, and when I get there, I'm going to stay in your house, because I have told all my friends I was going to do that,” you may or may not agree with his assertion, but if you tell them that they can come, if they EARN their way into their house, and begin to act in a good and decent way, what right would they have to get MAD at you?

If you let them in, but only if they promise to obey your "house rules," from where do they get the right to complain?

God, through His chosen spokesman, Jesus, tells us how we must act in order to gain access to God's house – and even how to begin living in his "yard" (God’s Spiritual Kingdom) even now, while we’re still on this Earth-bound journey!

Jesus (as previous Spokesmen have said) tells us we must repent, which means feel sorry for past misdeeds and falling short of God’s standards – which includes loving God with ALL of our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbors JUST AS we love ourselves.

We must obey God’s Commandments, and seek to follow Jesus in ALL of his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done.

If we don't believe this is true, then we need to stop following him, because we are liars, not Jesus Followers. (1 John 2:4-6)

When we turn back to God in this way, we are asking God's forgiveness for our past actions. Doing this sincerely will wipe out the memory of these past deeds, and we will move forward "Born Anew," and we are born again, but with a purpose: to continuously live seeking to act in a righteous, obedient and God-like manner, seeking God's will and to build up God's Spiritual Kingdom here on earth.

In this way, we are "at home" with our God already, and we may have higher hopes that we might live in His presence forever.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

We Are Able To Obey God! #JesusFollowers

Jesus calls us to do Good Works, not as a measure by which we judge OURSELVES worthy of eternal life, or to judge others as UNworthy of Heaven, but because they please God, and they are the means by which we will be judged at the end of our earthly existence.

These Truths are simple, and easily grasped.

The one whom God sent to us, Jesus, calls on us explicitly to turn to God and live Godly lives, patterned on the life of Jesus, the one God sent to be our example.

Jesus taught in a parable that we had been given “talents” – a measure of money in the ancient world, but also coincidentally meaning gifts of God in our modern world. We are called upon to use these God-given talents, these gifts given to us from our birth, to make the world a better place. (Matt. 25:13-30)

If we don’t use our talents, our gifts, or if we use them badly, and to hurt others, who’s fault is that? Not God’s, since he gives us natural gifts at birth, and expects us to use them. Not heredity, because we are told in the Hebrew Scriptures that we cannot blame our Father’s for our mistakes, or our sins; the sins of the fathers are accounted to THEM, not us. (Ezek. 18:20)

We are fully accountable to God for our own acts, and God has given us all a great head start in life, and God offers us more if we ask Him in prayer. (Matt. 7:7; James 1:5)

The prophets – along with God’s chosen spokesman, Jesus, all assure us that God LOVES the world (John 3:16) and wishes all to be united with Him.

Jesus, the man God chose because his life pleased God in every way. "Whoever does not love me does not keep my words," says Jesus "And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s, Who sent me." (John 14:24)

And as a man, when we follow him, he becomes in a very real way our pattern, our example, and our teacher. That example is yet another reason why we have no excuse but to seek God’s righteousness.

We know that we have the ability to choose to repent, turn to God, or do any of what God and God’s son Jesus calls us to do, because Jesus DID IT.

Jesus tells us to stop sinning, and preached that sinners should repent of their sins and seek to live good, holy and righteous lives. (Luke 5:32; John 8:11) Do we believe him?

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever DOES NOT OBEY the Son shall not see life." (John 3:36)

Jesus taught that we have the ability to obey God and the example of His servant Jesus, and are required to do so if we hope to reside with God eternally.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God assures human beings that His commandments are, "not too hard for you," and "The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU CAN DO IT." (Deut. 30:11, 14) Isaiah writes, "Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." (1:16) Who would doubt today that we can do this?

"Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth." (Psalms 58:11)

Without the ability of all people to turn and to seek to obey God, these would all just be suggestions, unworthy of our attention.

And we could easily say “it’s too hard for human beings” or claim (as some do) that we have a natural, in-born or inherited inability to do good as an excuse to do sinful acts. But that would be contrary to Jesus’ explicit teachings, contrary to the wisdom of the Scriptures, and contrary to God.

Jesus calls us to repent, obey, and do Good Works that are pleasing to God. Let’s go out and do just that!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Personal Virtue Alone Secures Heaven! #JesusFollowers

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

The ingenuous simplicity which recommends the doctrines and precepts of Jesus Christ forms very pleasing evidence of his plan to reform the world. 

Should an impartial stranger consider the history of his religion at its most favorable periods, he could hardly imagine that it had so pure an origin that his simple precepts of life - inspired by a hope of immortality - could produce various and contending sects, who had lost all affection for each other, had neglected the best virtues of life, and had built their hopes of glory on zeal and contention.

Still, the melancholy proof of such conduct have not prevented the belief that nothing could be more benevolent than the character of Jesus.

Everything kind flowed from his lips. He was born in humble life, and never rose in his distinctions beyond what humble life could suggest and comprehend. Affection was recommended in every discourse; points never debated with passion the history of his religion, so offensive to his countrymen, intimated in parables; and every idea of limited salvation was excluded from his heart.

Is it not time to recur to the instructions of this wise friend of mankind, and to accept them uncorrupted by traditions, creeds or councils?

What could he have intended, in saying that many would say, “Lord, Lord?” The words fully explain his intention. He who does the will of my Father, shall be preferred; And the pretensions of such persons are cited in the next verse are considered as in itself unavailing.

Heaven and happiness were not designed by God as the exclusive rights of learned priests, or ingenious doctors; they are the end which God has proposed for all mankind, and are therefore, by the same means, attainable by all men.

Riches and honors cannot ensure the purchase; neither can learning, pompous titles, respect, nor dignity. Virtue alone is the moral happiness of the world, and personal virtue alone secures heaven.

(Adapted from a sermon given in Boston on Sept. 12, 1790 by Rev. William Bentley, 1759-1819)