Sunday, May 29, 2016

Reason And Revelation, Together! #JesusFollowers

There are two witnesses: the witness for God which He has placed in every mind - the revelation of His spirit in the rational and immortal soul of man; and the Reason which we have the capacity of exercising in conformity to His spirit.

Reason can do nothing by itself; therefore, it is only to decide which things are revealed to us by God’s light. Our Reason would be dormant, were it not for revelation. The light of the outward sun is a beautiful index of the Son of heaven, as it reveals all things on our earth; and until it shines upon our earth, Reason lies dormant.

We are thus enabled to speak of things, to regulate things, to add to and diminish from things; and thus, under the operation of Reason, we can make them in a measure useful; in a measure a blessing to us.

Here we see the ability of this Reason; and Reason must always be subject to revelation. It knows nothing till revelation gives it materials, by which the soul can act upon them, and improve them.

Let all our faculties be rightly exercised; let right Reason and Revelation go hand in hand; for Reason is the most noble part of the creature; it gives a distinction between thing and thing. And as it is a gift of God, so we shall find that it is fully so - a gift to the soul.

We are all to attend to our own salvation: and if we are concerned to do this, will we give way to notions that will hinder this salvation? God is to judge of these things; and man is only to judge of the overt acts of his fellow creatures - such as have a tendency to injure his fellow creatures.

But if a brother or sister seeks to do all their duties, consistent with the will of God Almighty, we have no right to judge any farther than this, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

We know that love and good works are the only fruits of the right and good tree: but the contrary fruit is the fruit of thorns and briars always and perpetually.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jesus: A Teacher Unlike Any Other! #JesusFollowers

Jesus stands as a unique figure in world religions. To follow Jesus' teachings is to accept a challenge that is unlike any other religious teacher, because he is unlike any other teacher. 

No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical love - a love that dares equate what we give to our neighbors, to strangers, and even to our enemies, to what we give our SELVES. (Mark 12:31)

No other teacher has called us to live lives of radical service - a service that leads us to think of Others first, to deny our own needs, to care for all who are suffering and in need, and to always do more than is required. (Mark 8:34; 9:35; 10:43-45)

And no other teacher has called us to live lives of radical obedience - serving God completely, repenting of our past sins, seeking Heavenly, rather than Earthly treasure, and striving to live in complete and perfect obedience to God's will. (Matt 4:17; 6:19-20; 28:20)

No other teacher has set himself up as a perfect example for us to follow. Jesus says he always did what was pleasing to God, and he calls us to follow him in all things. (John 8:29; 14:24)

Jesus is a God-anointed teacher, and not "merely" a teacher, though merely a man, like us. Jesus, unlike any other religious figure, calls us to imitate him. He says we can do all that he has done, and calls us to a challenging, active religious life. (Acts 2:22; 13:23; John 13:15; 14:12)

The words he spoke were grounded in his Father and ours, God. God’s moral teachings were shown in Jesus’ teachings more clearly and purely than in any other human being.

To call ourselves his friends and followers, then, is the most important thing we can say, because these teachings of his are the most pure, most Godly and therefore most important teachings ever shared amongst the human race.

Jesus said he shared all things with us, saying, "I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (Matt. 15:15)

And Jesus taught that to preach God's good and beneficial message (Gospel) was the reason he went out to the villages of Judea. It consisted of his entire mission, and that was the only thing he came to do. (Mark 1:38; Luke 4:18-19)

To speak of Jesus' blood saving us in some way apart from obedience to his teachings is meaningless. Unless we honor both the life that his blood sustained, as well as his teachings that revealed God's will for our lives, we are not changed by Jesus and our hearts are not turned back to obeying God's moral Law.

His life and his death serve equally as examples of supreme love and self-sacrifice, because Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," and also, "You are my friends, IF you do as I command you." (John 15:13-14)

Everyone who hears his precious teachings, says Jesus, but does not act on them, "will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand."

The Gospel IS Jesus' teachings. It can be based on nothing else, and no other man's Gospel than the one Jesus preached can be put in its place. We, therefore, have one master, one Gospel and we serve one God, the God Jesus himself worshiped and calls us to love with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

God Has Always Forgiven Sin (And Still Does!) #JesusFollowers

That God pardons us, and is merciful, isn't something new. In fact, it was known long before the time of Jesus.

God’s prophet Ezekiel spoke of God's attitude towards forgiveness, saying, "I say to the righteous, 'He shall surely live,' but if he trusts in his righteousness, and still does wicked things, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered. Because of the wicked things he has done, he shall die." (Ezekiel 33:14)

And another prophet, Isaiah, says: "Let the wicked man abandon his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YAHWEH, so he may have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely forgive." (55:7)

If the idea that God forgives the sins of those who repent was fully known to the Jewish people before the time of Jesus, how, then, can we say Jesus saves those who sin?

Jesus says: "I am the light of the world:" (8:12) “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And, "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus, whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

When Jesus called people to the hope of eternal life, he said they must change their evil ways, putting behind them all evil things they were doing before. This was to make them qualified for the eternal happiness they would have with God, because God is the opposite of evil.

Jesus’ teaching was practical – telling us what we should DO to attain eternal life, not just what to BELIEVE about it.

The Apostle Peter spoke to his fellow Jews, telling them: “God, having raised up his servant, Jesus, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from evil ways.” (Acts 3:26)

This was how they were to be blessed or saved by Jesus: by listening to the preaching of his Apostles, who spoke in his name, and who urged them to stop sinning.

The Judeans expected great earthly riches from their Messiah. Instead, Jesus and his Apostles said they were to gain great moral blessings by knowing the Gospel, and by becoming holy and good through their actions. THIS was what would qualify them for eternal life with God.

It is THIS way that Jesus saves sinners: by calling them to turn back to God from their misguided ways, towards walking in the holy ways God wishes all of us to walk.

If we learn from Jesus, whose words and example are set before us by his life and teachings, we can begin to work towards virtue and holiness and doing God’s will above self-centered actions and immoral actions. Then, if strive to keep on the narrow road, eternal life may be ours, God willing.

But many aren’t satisfied with this plain and simple way of salvation, which is spelled out by Jesus and the Apostles, who obeyed his teachings. Instead, they want to be saved, but continue to sin. Many want eternal life after death, but wish to live opposed to God while they’re still alive.

So, by twisting a few verses, they fail to see the role of Jesus as a teacher of righteousness who calls us to obey and do good works. They imagine it was his goodness ALONE that allows God to forgive His creatures, and that if we only believe this, we can gain an “instant salvation" that gives us a loophole that lets us continue to sin, but still get a reward from God. They want to pretend that Jesus is the only one who needs to obey God, but not us!

They want to “trust” in another’s righteousness, but continue to do evil things! Didn’t Ezekiel warn us of this very mistake?

This is wrong because our heavenly Father has always been merciful towards his children, and is ready with open arms to receive them to his mercy simply when they repent, without the actions of any other person on their behalf.

The sufferings of our Master, Jesus, he did by obeying God, and this is a powerful example for us, convincing us to change our attitudes and reconcile us to God – but his suffering did not change God’s mind about us, since God was, and remains, always ready to show us kindness and mercy.

It’s foolish to passively expect God to Grant us salvation; and even more foolish to believe we can demand it from a position of laziness – refusing to repent and change our lives, as God requires us to do.

We have to make ourselves ready and qualified for salvation by adopting a holy attitude and actively building virtuous habits.

And these changes can’t happen within us unless we actively want them to happen. It’s this constant striving for moral perfection, to work in goodness, imitating our Master and Example, Jesus, is what Jesus calls us to do.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Jesus’ Religion Is Meant To Be Lived! #JesusFollowers

Christianity is not a mere code of laws, not an abstract system such as theologians frame. It is a living, embodied religion. It comes to us in a human form. It offers itself to our eyes as well as ears; it breathes, it moves in our sight. It is more than precept, it is example and action.

The importance of example, who does not understand? How much do most of us suffer from the presence, conversation, spirit of men 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 decencies and attainments which secure to us among the multitude the name of respectable men.

On the other hand, there is a power (have you not felt it?) in the presence, conversation, and example of a person of strong principle and magnanimity, to lift us, at least for the moment, from our vulgar and tame habits of thought, and to kindle some generous aspirations after the excellence which we were made to attain.

I hardly need say to you that it is impossible to place ourselves under any influence of this nature so inspiring as the example of Jesus. 

This introduces us to the highest order of virtues. This is fitted to awaken the whole mind.

Nothing has equal power to neutralize the coarse, selfish, and sensual influences amidst which we are plunged, to refine our conception of duty, and to reveal to us the perfection on which our hopes and most strenuous desires should habitually fasten.

There is one cause which has done much to defeat this good influence of Jesus’ character and example, and which ought to be exposed. It is this. Multitudes - I am afraid great multitudes - think of Jesus as a being to be admired rather than approached.

They have some vague conceptions of a glory in his nature and character which makes it presumption to think of proposing him as their standard. He is thrown so far from them that he does them little good. 

Many feel that a close resemblance of Jesus is not to be expected; that this, like many other topics, may serve for declamation in the pulpit, but is utterly incapable of being reduced to practice.

This is an error which exerts a blighting influence on not a few minds.

Until men think of the religion and character of Jesus as truly applicable to them, as intended to be brought into continual operation, as what they must incorporate with their whole spiritual nature, they will derive little good from Jesus. 

Men think, indeed, to honor Jesus when they place him so high as to discourage all effort to approach him. They really degrade him.

They do not understand his character; they throw a glare over it which hides its true features. This vague admiration is the poorest tribute which they can pay him.

(From “The Imitableness of Christ’s Character” by Rev. William Ellery Channing, in “Works” Vol. IV, 1888)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Jesus’ Teachings and Life Draw Us to Repent. #JesusFollowers

In no part of the Bible can be found that the justice of God ever stood in the way of pardoning the penitent. Under the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as gracious and merciful, long-suffering and always ready to pardon all who would forsake sin and turn to Him with contrite hearts.

Yet the justice of God always did and always will stand in the way of pardoning the impenitent; for this would be of the nature of approving a sinful character.

To effect, then, the reconciliation and cleansing of the sinner, one thing needed to be done – repentance – so that God might be just in justifying him; and this was the great purpose for which the Messiah was sent out into the world, the purpose of his ministry and example, his life, and his death.

For what is the Sermon on the Mount, but a solemn, lucid, and impressive declaration of the righteousness which God requires of men under the light of the Gospel? 

How careful was Christ in that sermon to correct the false opinions of the Pharisees, and to show his hearers that unless their righteousness would exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, they “would be excluded from the kingdom of heaven!”

How careful he was, to have it understood that the commands and prohibitions of the moral law extend to the heart, as well as to external conduct! How clearly, too, did he show what temper of hear we must possess to be "blessed," to be forgiven, to be the "children" of our Father, Who is in heaven! In other discourses he illustrated similar truths.

Nor did he fail to declare by his own example the righteousness which God requires, by exhibiting in his own conduct the spirit of benevolence, meekness, forbearance, self-denial, and forgiveness, calling on others to learn of him, to take up the cross and follow his steps.

For without thus believing in him as the Light of the world, men could not feel their obligations to obey his precepts and confide in his messages of love.

But the faith which he required was not a barren assent to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah; it was such a cordial and practical belief in him as the anointed Son of the living God, such as would incline us to become his disciples indeed, to obey his commands, to take up the cross and follow his example. 

Hence the faith in Jesus is holy obedience to his precepts, which naturally results from love of his character, and a cordial reliance on him as one invested with divine authority to proclaim to men the glad-tidings of salvation, and the righteousness which God requires for the remission of sins.

But how does the Savior effect his purpose of turning men from iniquity, or purging them from sin? By the influence of the purifying religion which he came to establish, by the efficacy of the truths which he taught, the precepts which he enjoined, the motives be has set before us, by the love and concern which he expressed for us, in laying down his life, and by the example which he gave for our imitation. 

That divine truth has an influence to cleanse men from sin, and turn them to the Lord, was known under the Old Testament. The Psalmist asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9) Jesus said to his disciples, “Now you are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3)

(Adapted from Noah Worcester, 1829)