Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sermon Series Wrap-Up: What If You're Reaping What You Sow?


Most people have heard the term “Karma” before. It’s a concept taken from Buddhism and refers to the belief that karma is something we all amass as a result of our actions in life. Eventually, everyone will have that karma come back to them, and the nature of that karma will be a reflection of how we live our lives. If we live righteously, we will receive good karma. If we live evil lives, our karma will be bad. Most people understand this concept, and even if they don’t really believe in karma itself, many probably believe or want to believe that our actions have corresponding consequences.

As Pastor Pope pointed out in his latest series, that concept is part of Christianity too.
Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. - Galatians 6:7-8
Here we see Paul using the process of planting and harvesting crops as a metaphor to express the same sentiment as the concept of karma. Pastor Pope asks us all how we know we’re not reaping what we’ve sown. Many of us are going through hard times. Maybe they are the consequences of sowing to our flesh. That doesn’t mean that we should stop striving to do what is right. If you have changed your ways and are now sowing good, then you should believe that eventually you will reap good. All Believers should think that way. Jesus gives a clear example of just how far the principle of reaping what you sow can go.
So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life. - Luke 18:29
Jesus made that statement to his disciples following an encounter with a rich man who did not want to sacrifice his worldly goods. Jesus is making a promise that those who sacrifice for God will be rewarded both in the present and for eternity. Those of us who believe in Jesus need to believe in what Jesus said. After all, it was his sacrifice that allows us to reap such a great reward for living according to God’s will.

This concept of reaping what we sow doesn’t mean that if we’ve done bad, we’ll be stuck in a cycle of doing wrong and paying for our wrong. We will have to suffer consequences for the wrong we do, but we can turn our lives around. Pastor Pope used the story of Jacob in the Bible to illustrate that truth. Jacob tricked his brother, Esau, out of both his birthright and blessing, and in turn he was tricked and taken advantage of by his father-in-law, Laban. He sowed wrong and reaped wrong. However, Jacob also sowed goodness by being faithful and obedient to God and struggling both figuratively and literally against an angel to overcome his trials. As a result, he also reaped goodness and was blessed by God.

Most people can probably come to terms with the concept of accepting the consequences for one’s own actions. However, at times, we may have difficulty understanding just how great God’s blessings might be. Doing good will result in good, but that doesn’t mean the good we receive will be the equivalent of what we did. God can and will bless us beyond what we have earned. We just have to believe. Pastor Pope used the stories of Abraham and Mary to illustrate that point. Abraham was obedient when given commands by God, and in turn, he became the father of God’s chosen people. Mary was obedient when she was told about God’s plans for her, and in turn she became the mother to Jesus, the Messiah. Simple obedience resulted in unbelievable blessings from God, but this should not surprise us. As the Bible says:
For with God nothing will be impossible. - Luke 1:37
We Believers have to keep that in mind. When things seem bleak and show no sign of turning around, God can change our fortunes. If we remain faithful and obedient, we will reap goodness because that’s what God wants for us and there is nothing he can’t do for us.

Perhaps, Paul is the Bible’s greatest example of a person reaping what he sowed. He spent much of the earliest part of his life persecuting Jesus’ followers. God could have dispensed with him, but that’s not what God did. Instead, he chose to use Paul. Paul became one of God’s greatest servants, but he didn’t escape reaping the bad he sowed. He served God and at times his life was tough because of it. Suffering for God was the price he had to pay for working against God. Even in the midst of that suffering he found peace and reason for joy even in the midst of his tumult. 
For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. - Romans 8:18
As Pastor Pope said, Paul was “Too Blessed to Be Stressed.” Paul knew that serving God would one day lead to something much greater than anything he had gone through. He trusted God, and we must do the same. He knew that if he gave God his best; God would give him His best. That’s something we all need to take to heart. Too often we put so much of ourselves into the things of the world that God simply becomes an afterthought. We don’t give him the main parts of ourselves. Instead, we give him the leftovers. Then many of us wonder why things aren’t working out the way we’d like. We feel that we’re doing good, but we don’t see our lives impacted the way we want. We have to understand that we can’t give God what is left over and expect our blessings to overflow. If we sow scraps, we will reap scraps. We have to do the best for God and give him our best. Then, we can expect God to give us His best. We will come out as the winners in that exchange because no matter how good we are, we can’t beat God’s goodness.

It's not Karma that we exude, but we reap what we sow. As the Bible says, don't be deceived God will not be mocked, whatever a person sows, they will also reap.  Let's do our best to both sow and reap the fruits of God's will.

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 1
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/2337659336331315/

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 2
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/256709085243407/

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 3
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/979842805689080/

Too Blessed to Be Stressed
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/2591755487574845/

Don't Give God Your Leftovers
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/1485605151618067/


Chris Lawyer
Sermons By Pastor Everett Pope


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Moses Part 1



The Bible is full of important people who did significant things in service to God. Many of the people mentioned in the Bible are well known both by those who believe in God and those who don’t. Moses is one such character. He is likely one of the most prominent figures out of everyone in the Bible, potentially second only to Jesus himself. Like Jesus, Moses’ story is told through multiple books. However, the most well known portion of his story is probably the part that takes place in the book of Exodus. Due to multiple movies and other cultural references, the story of Moses leading the Israelites away from bondage in Egypt has transcended the pages of the Bible and become part of the greater culture of the world at large.

In some ways, it is good that a Biblical story has become so famous. Through the telling of the story, people who may not otherwise be exposed to the Faith can come to learn something about God. However, a drawback is that sometimes God’s place in the story can become watered down and seen as something not to be taken seriously. As Believers we have to remember that these stories are more than tales meant for entertainment. They teach us important lessons about God and what we need to know to live godly lives.

After the events in Joseph’s story, many of the Israelites had found a home in Egypt. When a new Pharaoh rose to power, the goodwill that Joseph had built for the Israelites in Egypt was lost. The Pharaoh saw the Israelites, who had grown substantially in number, as potential enemies and felt that he needed to do something to curb the threat that he felt they represented. He took drastic measures by giving an order to have all male Israelite children killed immediately after birth. Those were the conditions under which Moses was born. Right away, we see that God was with him from the start. 

In a desperate attempt to save her son, Moses’ mother tried to hide him, and when she realized she could not continue to do that, she sent him down a river. There are many ways that action could have gone wrong. Instead, it worked out in the best possible way. Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. She saved him, allowed his real mother to nurse him, and raised him as her own son. Moses went from being a child in danger of being killed before he even got a real shot at life to being put in one of the most privileged positions imaginable at the time. This change in fortunes is pretty similar to what happened in Joseph’s story, but Moses was a very different person than Joseph.

Both were principled people, but where Joseph was more thoughtful and reliant on God, Moses was impulsive and acted on his own accord. He could have clung to his acceptance in Egyptian society and looked down on his fellow Israelites who had been enslaved. He didn’t though, and that is a testament to his character. Still, his decision making was not always the best. When seeing an Egyptian abuse one of his fellow Israelites, Moses decided to kill the Egyptian and hide the evidence. His attempt at getting away with his crime failed. The Pharaoh found out about what Moses had done and sought to have Moses killed. Moses fled to a place called Midian to escape the Pharaoh. There, he met two young women. The way they described him after that encounter is interesting.
When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” - Exodus 2:18-19
Moses was an Israelite, and he was loyal enough to that heritage to kill over it. However, outsiders did not see him as such. They saw him as an Egyptian. Even his fellow Israelites did not necessarily see him as kin. That was demonstrated through some of his earlier interactions with them. Neither of those things stopped God from using Moses to save his people. The Pharaoh that ordered Moses be killed eventually died, and Moses was living in peace in Midian married to one of the young women that he had first encountered upon arrival there.  Moses was not necessarily living as a Hebrew when God contacted him. It is unclear to what extent Moses even followed God at that point. However, when God called, Moses immediately recognized Him. God informed Moses that Moses would be the instrument that God would use to save the Israelites. As many of us would, Moses questioned God’s decision. He wanted to know how he could be expected to address the mighty Pharaoh. He wanted to know how he could convince the Israelites to listen to him. God answered the questions and told him that he would take the Israelites out of Egypt and they would be gifted with much by the Egyptians.

Given the reality of the circumstances at the time, what God promised might have seemed crazy. We have probably all been in situations where God’s promises seem unrealistic, but as Believers we have to trust that God will fulfill those promises no matter how unlikely it may seem. This story is a good demonstration of God’s faithfulness. After all, God’s tasking of Moses was itself a fulfillment of the promise he made to Abraham.
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. - Exodus 2:23-25
We should also understand that God’s promises aren’t necessarily fulfilled with ease for us. If the promise seems like it would be difficult to achieve, then it very well may require much from us for it to be fulfilled. When God first told Moses that he would have to deal with Pharaoh and would free the Israelites, God didn’t mention anything about Moses (with Aaron) having to upstage Pharaoh’s sorcerers or Moses having to be the harbinger for the 10 plagues or Moses having split a sea down the middle so that the Israelites would have a path to safety. Yet, we all know from the story that all those things took place before the Israelites were free.

Moses’ story teaches us that we don’t have to be perfect for God to use us. It also teaches us that we can never be sure just how He will use us. However, if we have faith in Him, we can accomplish the biggest feats in the most amazing ways. If Moses’ story had ended there, it would have already been suitable to give Believers perspective on what it means to believe in and follow God, but his story was not finished. In some ways it was just beginning. There is plenty more from Moses to be put under the spotlight.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of ABC News

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

No More War



This month we celebrated Veteran’s Day. The day is meant to celebrate the work and lives of those that have served in the U.S. military. The need for a military in this world is unfortunate and undeniable. Conflict and violence have been a part of the human experience for nearly as long as humanity has existed. In the Bible, it goes as far back as the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain slew his brother out of jealousy and envy. While wars may be fought between nations and not individuals, the truth is they often begin because of the same things that cause petty fights between people. Greed, jealousy, hatred or to put it all more simply, sin. Our sinful nature doesn't just put us at odds with God. A lot of the time, it puts us at odds with each other, and all too often we allow our conflicts to devolve into the worse actions and people die as a result.  God hates violence. The violent nature of people was what angered God enough to want to destroy most of humanity. 

God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. - Genesis 6:12-13
As we know from the story, God stopped short of completely wiping out humanity. Because of Noah’s goodness, the human race was given an avenue to continue, but it wasn’t long before the violence of Man reared its head again. In fact, much of the Old Testament revolved around war. War was such a central part of human society that in guiding the Israelites, God had no choice but to essentially support the Israelites in war. War was unfortunately necessary for the Israelites to claim their promised land. It was necessary for them to protect themselves from enemies. And on the flipside, it was often used as punishment for the sin of the Israelites. To be more accurate, more than once, because of their sin, the Israelites found out how bad war could be when they didn’t have God’s support.

One might point out that it was mainly the Old Testament that was so violent. The New Testament had no wars and the violence was relatively limited in comparison with the exceptions of what was directed to Jesus and many of the Christians that followed. The New Testament focused more on love and the Christian directive to spread love along with the truth about Jesus. Still, make no mistake, even in the New Testament, it was made clear that mankind had not moved past its violence and probably would not in the near future. Jesus himself made that much clear. When he spoke of the things that would happen before he returned, he said:
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. - Matthew 24:6
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t expect an end to the madness. Ironically, the Old Testament gives us one of the clearest indications that one day, we can expect to move beyond the violence. When Isaiah told his vision of the time when the Lord comes back, he said:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. - Isaiah 2:4
That day has not yet come, and no one alive knows when it will come. So for right now, we have to expect that the horrors of war will continue, and we will need brave people that will stand and fight. Those people should be honored. We all have values, faith in something, and a nation in which we live, but not all of us are expected to fight and potentially die for those things. It takes courage to do so even when you have God on your side.

We can’t stop with just honoring them. We must also pray for them. We need to pray for their safety and lives. We need to pray for their families who share their sacrifices and hardships. We need to pray that even when they engage in the violence that God abhors, that they carry Him with them and do all things in his name according to his will. We need to pray that those who lead and are in command of the military make the right choices and use war to protect and save and not simply to destroy. Most of all, let us pray and thank God for his love in spite of our violent tendencies. We should all look forward to the promised time when we will no longer need to honor veterans because there will no longer be a need for people to live their lives preparing for and fighting wars.



Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of TeePublic

Monday, November 11, 2019

God Hates



God is a loving creator and ruler. As Believers, that is central to our desire to follow him. It’s something the Bible tells us pretty specifically.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. - 1 John 4:16-18
God is the source of love and we are instructed to follow his example and also be loving. That being the case, the idea that God can hate may seem like a contradiction. However, under careful consideration, most Believers should find that there is no conflict in this revelation. After all, we all understand that God hates sin. We’ve all heard the saying “God hates the sin not the sinner.” That sounds nice, but is it really true? Does God really not hate sinners?

Like most popular sayings attributed to the Bible, that saying is not actually Biblical and is not completely faithful to what the Bible says. What some might find to be an unfortunate truth is that God actually does hate sinners. The Bible tells us so. Proverbs 6:16-19 says:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
This set of verses is written in an interesting way. It draws a distinction between what God hates and what he finds detestable. Most of us would probably believe those feelings to be the same thing. The other somewhat odd thing about the verse is that it doesn’t specifically state which of the seven things named is simply something God finds detestable and not something he flat out hates. So, there is some ambiguity there. Five of the things listed are the body parts that are used to commit certain sins. One may argue that in those cases, the Bible is speaking symbolically and is talking more about the tendency to commit certain sins or the mechanism behind what causes us to sin. However, two of the things named are more specifically called out to be types of people - those that lie and falsely accuse others of wrongdoing and those who cause discord within communities. We know based on the numbers given, God finds both of those types of people to be detestable. However, we also have to acknowledge that God also hates at least one of those types of people.

Some may look at that set of verses and say the meaning seems a bit unclear. Maybe there is some room for interpretation there, but other verses are more clear.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest. - Psalms 5:4-6
The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 16-5 
In the Psalms verse, David is clearly proclaiming that God hates everyone who sins, and both verses repeat the theme that God particularly despises violent, dishonest and proud people. So where does this put us with God? We all sin from time to time. Does God hate all of us? Not exactly. Notice that all of the above verses come from the Old Testament, the part of the Bible the precedes a very important series of events - the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

At that time, sin separated humanity from God. God held wrath towards us and our relationship with Him was anything but friendly.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! - Romans 5:10
Paul is telling us that, at one point, God viewed us as enemies because of our sin. Is it so surprising to think that he may have hated those that indulged in sin? Most people understand what an enemy is, and most can understand the feeling of hate one might feel towards his or her enemies. That said, we have to be careful when equating God’s feelings to ours. Yes, the Bible tells us that God hated sinful human beings. Still, there is a silver lining. The Old Testament tells one story after another about how the Children of Israel indulged in wrongdoing, yet God was always with them. Even if he hated the evildoers, he never fully abandoned them. And yes, all of us humans are born in sin, and that makes us God’s enemies, but instead of just being done with us, he devised a plan to save us that involved the sacrifice of his Son.

You see God’s hate isn’t like ours. No matter what negative feelings he had towards us, he couldn’t help but want the best for us and do the best for us. That’s love. Even when hating, God loves. What if we were like that? People will always rub each other the wrong way from time to time. We will always fall short not only in how we live according to God’s wishes but also in how we interact with each other. We will get mad with each other, and honestly, depending on what happens, we may even come to hate others. But will we have the typical human hatred where we want nothing but the worst for those that we oppose, or will we hate like God and use our negative feelings to open up an opportunity to save? That’s a question that each of us has to answer for ourselves. However, before we even get there, we have to make sure that we truly accept salvation, the gift that God gave us. He gave us a way to escape his hatred and go from being his enemies to his beloved children. Make sure you’re on the right side of that, and do your best to help others get there too. If God’s love is unbelievable in its greatness, what must his hatred be like? It’s best not to find out.
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of Challies.com


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Joseph


Joseph was the son of Jacob, and like his father, he had an interesting life. However, unlike his father, Joseph did not get put on a strange path because of the wrong that he had done. Joseph was portrayed as being good from the start. Maybe he was a little too good, at least, that’s how those around him might have thought. The first thing we learn about Joseph is that he was known to snitch on his brothers.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. - Genesis 37:2
Maybe telling on his brothers the way he did was the right thing to do, but right away we see that Joseph had to learn a lesson that many of us have also learned. When you do the right thing, it might gain you some allies, but it can most certainly also gain you some enemies. The story goes on to tell us that Jacob (now known as Israel) loved Joseph more than his other sons, and that Jacob’s other sons hated Joseph because of it. Side note: It seems people in the Bible were pretty open about showing favoritism for certain children and it almost always resulted in bad consequences. So, while the parenting wasn’t exactly the focus of these stories, maybe that’s a little extra lesson parents can learn from these stories. Don’t show favoritism. Love your children.

Joseph’s relationship with his brothers was exacerbated when he told them about a dream he had that suggested that one day his brothers would bow to him. The Bible doesn’t say whether or not he understood these dreams were messages from God. Still, it was no secret that God could communicate in that way. After all, God had chosen to communicate with Jacob in the same way. However, Joseph rushing to tell his brothers about the dream suggests that maybe Joseph was a little naive.  If he understood that his brothers didn’t care for him, he should have known that him bragging about such a dream would rub them the wrong way. Yet, he told them anyway, and when he had another dream that delivered a similar message, he told his brothers again even though the Bible tells us that they had a bad reaction to the news of the first dream. He also told his father after the second dream, and even his father was unhappy with the revelation.

When the story continues and we find that Joseph’s brothers plot on him and eventually sell him to some merchants, many of us might think ‘he should have seen that coming.’ His brothers convinced his father that Jacob had been killed, and, at the time, they believed that was the end of Joseph’s story as far as it related to them. On the contrary, his story was just beginning, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, Believers should know that if God tells you something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.

Joseph found himself in Egypt and was purchased by one of the Pharaoh’s officials, a man named Potiphar. Unlike Joseph’s brothers, Potiphar recognized Joseph’s goodness and appreciated it. Being an Egyptian, it was unlikely that he was a follower of God, but even he was able to recognize that Joseph was favored by God.
When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. - Genesis 39:3-4
The story goes on to tell us that Joseph was propositioned by Potiphar’s wife. As expected of a man like Joseph, he did the right thing and turned her down. In response, she lied on him out of spite, and Joseph found himself in prison. Once again, someone, this time the prison warden, was able to recognize God in Joseph and treated him with favor. Eventually, we find out that, Joseph is not only blessed with dreams that portend the future, but he is also blessed with the ability to interpret dreams. This time dreams didn’t lead to misfortune for Joseph. Quite the opposite, his ability to interpret dreams got him out of prison and into the service of the Pharaoh. Joseph was able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams when all of his advisors had failed. Pharaoh was so impressed by God’s revelation through Joseph that Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt second only to Pharaoh in authority.

Take a moment to understand how amazing that is. Joseph went from slave to the second most powerful man in Egypt all because of God working through him. If that isn’t uncanny enough, then also consider the fact that Pharaoh, a man considered to be a living god by his people, elevated Joseph in such a way because he recognized God in Joseph.
The Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” - Genesis 41:39-40
With God’s favor and the authority given to him by Pharaoh, Joseph was able to do some very important things like preparing Egypt for a coming famine that devastated much of the world. Joseph’s status also put him in a position where he had the choice to either punish or forgive his brothers. He chose to forgive them, and just as his dreams foretold, they wound up bowing to him. Fortunately for them, the dreams were never meant to show that Joseph would lord over them in a bad way. The truth is that the dreams were a sign that one day Joseph would be his family’s salvation. In the end, things turned out great for Joseph and his family all because he made a point to live righteously and because God was pleased with him for his righteousness.

There are so many lessons we can take from this story. As Believers, we are set apart from the other people of the world in some ways, and we are expected to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing. Like Joseph, living that way can send us through a multitude of ups and downs. Doing good doesn’t mean that every part of our lives will be good, but whether we are at a high or a low, God is with us. If we know that, then we should do our best to make sure that everyone else knows it too. God being in us saves us, but His presence in us can also change the hearts of those around us. It can also save those, who at one time, were against us. In some ways, Joseph’s life is like a blueprint for the lives of Believers. We may not reach the highs that he did or sink to the same lows. However, we can all expect similar dynamics in our lives. We just have to remember that if we live as God commands and always keep him at the head of our lives, like Joseph, we and many that we encounter along the way will win in the end.
Chris Lawyer
 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Sermon Series Wrap-up: Make Room


In his last series (Empty Your Cup), Pastor Pope spoke about unburdening ourselves of many of the things we cling to and carry in order to gain a greater relationship with God. This series, Make Room, is a natural progression from the last series. In general, when we get rid of clutter, it frees up space that can be filled with things with more value and purpose. Pastor Pope used an example found in Luke 12:13-21 to set the stage for the discussion. In those verses, Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a great harvest and was about to tear down his barn and build something larger so he could hold onto his bounty. God told the man that he was foolish for putting so much into caring for possessions that will not serve him once he was dead.

The point of Jesus’ story was that we shouldn’t fill our lives with things that don’t matter. Instead, we should focus on the things of God. Sometimes it seems hard to get rid of the things taking up the space in our lives that should be occupied by God. We feel that we need earthly things and can’t live without them. In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul addresses the state of being able to do without even when in a state where there is need. It all comes down to faith in Christ. If you truly believe that God will take care of you, then you should also believe that God can empower you to overcome any obstacle.

So once we’ve equipped ourselves with the faith necessary to step away from the clutter in our lives and make room for God, what should we replace the clutter with? The first thing Pastor Pope identified was truth.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. - John 8:32
The truth is important because when it comes to spiritual matters, it is unchanging and absolute. Pastor Pope used a scale to illustrate the importance of truth. Scales are used to weigh things, and when used they give you the truth. If you want to lose weight, you need to use a scale to monitor your progress. You need to know the truth of your current status to know how if you're moving towards your goal. The same goes for our Christian walks. We need to apply something like a scale to our faith and actions. We need to know the truth about where we are in our Christian walks, so that we can properly assess our progress towards our goal, a better relationship with God. We also need to recognize that Jesus represented the truth. He delivered the Gospel, which is also truth delivered from heaven. We need to strive to apply Jesus’ truth to our lives. Since Jesus’ truth came from heaven, we need to take our minds away from the things of the earth to really understand it. Once again, we see why it is necessary to empty our cups and make room.

The second thing we want to make room for is prayer. 
Confess your trespasses to another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. - James 5:16
Contrary to what some may believe, prayer isn’t empty like meditation. We don’t do it simply to focus or center ourselves. We pray with purpose and cause. Christians need to make room for prayer because it serves a real function in our daily lives. Prayer is communication with God, and through that communication we seek to do many things. We pray to ask him to fulfill our needs. We ask Him to help us and others through our trials and tribulations. We pray to confess and repent for our sins. We pray out of obedience, hope, and a desire to grow closer to God. We have an abundance of reasons to pray, but unfortunately many of us do not do it enough, and some do not do it at all. Prayer is a spiritual act, and is necessary for spiritual growth. 

Prayer is also a privilege. It is what gives us a direct relationship with the true God. If our goal is a closer relationship with God, prayer is the means by which we commune with Him. If there is anything in our lives that holds us back from entering that commune, it needs to be removed. We need to clear up the time and space in our lives to speak to God regularly. Otherwise, a true relationship with God will be impossible.   With prayer, we speak and God hears. He answers our prayers, and we should continue to pray in gratitude and thanksgiving. That is how it should be. That is how we can develop past having an idea of who we believe God to be, and instead come to a point where we know exactly who God is.

The last thing mentioned in the series for which we need to make room is fellowship. When we make room for prayer we allow for growth in our relationship with God, but He doesn’t just want us to have a relationship with Him. He wants us to have relationships with each other. God made us social beings, and that affects all parts of our lives including our Christian walks. Our attempts to live righteous lives affects how we interact with each other. Pastor Pope pointed out that many of us are nicer to each other because we are trying to live godly lives. We become better at interacting with people because of our desire to live righteously. However, the dynamic works in the other direction too. Good social interaction with other people of God helps us to live righteous lives. As the James verse above noted, we are to confess to others and pray for others. These are acts of fellowship. The Bible instructs us to do those things and more because they are important to our growth. 

As Believers, our fellowship should be based on our mutual belief in Jesus and his resurrection. That common belief acts as a strong foundation for our relationships that allows us to positively influence each other and keep each other on the narrow path. Perhaps, most importantly, our fellowship in the name of Jesus brings glory to God.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. - Hebrews 10:19
Jesus died for us and every time we gather with others who believe as we do, we are providing a living testimony of our faith in our savior.
The things Pastor Pope named are certainly not the only things for which we should make room, but if we start with these things, then we will have given ourselves a strong foundation and a clear path to a better relationship with God.

Make Room
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/621245455066101/

Make Room for Truth
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/434946127142726/

Make Room for Prayer
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/538235736980051/

Make Room for Fellowship
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/462690994459769/

Chris Lawyer
Sermons By Pastor Everett Pope

Monday, October 14, 2019

Forgiveness Revisited

 



Normally, we wouldn’t really go back to a topic so soon after covering it, but an interesting case study in forgiveness took place recently and has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Last year, a white off-duty police officer named Amber Guyger entered the home of Botham Jean, a black man, and killed him. According to Guyger, she had mistaken Jean’s apartment for her own, and upon entering and finding him there, she pulled her gun and killed him in what she claimed to be self-defense. Her account of the incident didn’t hold water for many who took this incident to be just another example of police officers killing black men unjustly. This incident was particularly egregious because the victim in this case was completely innocent of any wrongdoing and was, by all accounts, a very good person.

Guyger was found guilty of murder, which surprised those who had come to expect the police to always get away with killing blacks. However, her sentencing of only 10 years for the murder angered many, who believed that 10 years was far too short for the killing of an innocent man. At least one person, did not seem enraged by the short sentence. Brandt Jean, Botham Jean’s teenage brother, sparked a debate of sorts when he took the opportunity in court to forgive Guyger and gave her a hug. To some, the act was a shining example of Christian principles. Young Brandt had done something many people could not. He had chosen to forgive the person that had taken a loved one away from him and his family. Many applauded him for the act and pointed to his act as an example of the kind of humanity this world needs to see more. As discussed in the Forgiveness: Hard But Necessary blog entry, forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian walk.

However, many did not agree with what Brandt did. In fact, many were maddened by it and saw it as an example of what was wrong with the Black community and Black Christians specifically. They argued that such forgiveness was always one-sided and pointed out several cases where black people were convicted of similar or even lesser crimes and did not receive the same forgiveness. Many of the critics believe the tendency of Blacks to forgive to be a weakness and that Brandt’s action could only hurt the Black community by giving the impression that no matter what is done to Blacks, they will just roll over and take it. The criticism is harsh, but, to some extent it is true. Christian forgiveness is not guaranteed to turn enemies to friends, and some will look at the tendency to forgive as a sign of weakness. However, much of the criticism seems to be born from a lack of understanding about Christian motivation.

First, Christians don’t forgive because they are naïve enough to believe that their forgiveness will automatically change the ones being forgiven or the world at large. As we discussed before, we forgive out of obedience to God (Luke 17:3-4). We forgive as an acknowledgement that we ourselves are also guilty of sin and were forgiven by God (Colossians 3:13). Yes, some acknowledge the possibility that by forgiving someone, you may change that person’s heart, but hardly anyone believes that change is a guarantee. Few believe that an act of forgiveness, even one as public as Brandt Jean’s, will rid the world of racism and its other ills. The critics seem to be hung up on the idea that Brandt forgiving Guyger was somehow a gift to Guyger. They don’t realize that forgiveness can benefit the person doing the forgiving as much as it does the person being forgiven (Mark 11:25).

That’s part of the reason those critics can look at Brandt’s action as one born of weakness. They think that he gave something to the person that murdered his brother. In reality, it is more likely that he unburdened himself. His brother was murdered. He probably felt a mixture of emotions as an example – pain, anger, and even hatred. He knows exactly who committed the injustice, so Guyger likely acted as the target for all those emotions. Anyone who has experienced such emotions knows they can be like weights that can hold a person back and keep that person from moving forward. Guyger was basically the tether that tied Jean to those weights. By forgiving her, Brandt may have been able to cut that tether and give himself the chance to leave those weights behind. Maybe his actions will help Guyger deal with what she’s done and grow as a person. Maybe she doesn’t care about the forgiveness. Either way it doesn’t really matter, if Brandt’s actions allow him to recover from the trauma that resulted from the loss of his brother, then clearly his actions were beneficial.

Blacks have been and still are brutalized in this country. Often, Blacks have found themselves having to be the ones to accept wrong doing and move forward without compensation or even contrition from those guilty of the misdeeds. It certainly does seem unfair for one group in particular to be put in that position especially when the same understanding and forgiveness is rarely offered in the opposite direction. Still, Christians shouldn’t aim to do what is right out of the belief that we will be treated in kind. In fact, the Christian expectation should be that our good acts won’t be returned in kind. After all, Christ spent his whole life doing good and was thanked by being beaten and murdered. Being Christlike doesn’t mean being weak though. A weak man couldn’t have endured what Jesus went through before reaching the cross. A weak man wouldn’t have used his dying breaths to advocate for those that put him in that position. That was the example Jesus set for Christians. That was the example young Brandt chose to follow. It wasn’t easy or fair for Jesus, and it probably wasn’t for Brandt either. The truth is that doing the right thing is hardly ever the easiest thing to do. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and if people only do the right thing in times where there they can expect it to be reciprocated, it’s unlikely anyone would ever do the right thing. So it is on Christians to take the hard step, and even if there is no reward or recompense in this world, we will have pleased God and that will matter when we move on to the next world.

Nonbelievers may not ever understand or agree with what Brandt did. When Christians point out that what Brandt did was what Christians are supposed to do, some nonbelievers take that as proof that Christians are naïve and problematic. The harsh criticisms that Brandt has received demonstrate that. Christians have to learn a lesson from this. Christianity is about love, faith, and righteousness. One would think that exhibiting those things would endear others to you, but that is often not the case. Sometimes doing what you feel is right as a Christian will only turn people against you and gain you enemies. That doesn’t mean Christians should walk around with a persecution complex as some do, but Christians do need to understand that following Christ may leave you alienated and at odds with those around you, especially if you are surrounded by nonbelievers.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted - 2 Timothy 3:12
The above verse sounds dire, and one might wonder why it has to be true, but Jesus explained clearly why it is so.
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. – John 15:19
Unfortunately, what Brandt Jean did was not typical in our society. It was an aberration. In this world, we’re led to believe that we should be angry and hateful and vengeance seeking, and anyone who doesn’t fall in line is either aiding the enemy or is also an enemy. As Christians, we have been given a set of principles and we have to stand on those principles whether everyone applauds us for it or hates us for it. That’s what Christ did, and who’s a better example than him?

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.heavy.com