Thursday, December 27, 2018

Order of Operation: Self-Control



After the previous topics addressed in this discussion, it should be understood that when we come to our faith, we should seek to move in the direction of goodness. To do that we need to seek knowledge of God so that we truly understand what goodness means. Peter said the next step after obtaining knowledge is to add self-control. It should be easy to understand why self-control comes next. It is true for anything that knowing and doing are not the same. A person’s knowledge of good doesn’t guarantee that a person will always do the right thing nor does that knowledge guarantee that a person will always avoid evil. A person needs self-control to accomplish those goals. Most people who choose to follow Jesus will try to do good things when the opportunities arise. However, even many who are on fire for God find it difficult to avoid sin completely. Getting to that point is a process, and self-control is what makes the process work.

Another word for self-control is discipline. We often associate discipline with soldiers, martial artists, and athletes, all of whom have adhered to strict regimens and have to abstain from things that could inhibit them from performing their job or craft. The Bible uses the same imagery when discussing the trials associated with building discipline and the benefits of it.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. – 1 Corinthians 9:25

Just like an athlete, we may have to deny ourselves many of the things that we’ve come to love because those things only hinder us from achieving our goals. Unhealthy foods, alcohol, nights of partying are all things athletes may have to give up when training because they aren’t good for the body and will work against the mission to reach optimal physical performance. Similarly, acts of sin are bad for our souls. They prevent us from reaching the pinnacle of our spiritual performance. Not to mention, sin leads to death. In the previous step of our journey, we talked about building our knowledge. With that knowledge, we essentially have the foundation for a goodness training regimen. With that regimen, we know exactly what acts to avoid and what acts to make a conscious effort to perform repeatedly. It will take self-control to commit to that regimen, but as we do, we will become more disciplined. Just like an athlete, we are working towards a goal. Our goal is to be like Jesus.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. – Romans 8:29


When training, even the best athletes can come up against a wall. Many need to turn to someone to help keep them in check. That person could be a trainer or a coach or maybe just a loved one who has that person’s best interest in mind. As mentioned in the discussion about goodness, God has provided someone to fill that role for us internally – the Holy Spirit.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

The fact is that we as carnal beings cannot truly rise above sin. We are not capable of the level of self-control needed to accomplish that feat on our own. Thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone. We can lean on the Holy Spirit whenever we face temptation and He will give us the discipline necessary to make the right choice. If we make a point of doing that constantly and consistently, at some point we won’t even be able to tell where the Spirit’s influence ends and our own discipline begins.

This world is full of temptation. It lurks around every corner, and sometimes it seems like certain things exist solely to make us slip and fall. God knows this and He’s there for us. If we are sincere in our efforts on this journey to live according to His will; then He will make sure that nothing stands in our way.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Yes, we call it self-control, but we are not on our own when it comes to developing it. God gives us the help we need to develop our resistance to sin. The road toward righteousness may be a long one with plenty of hurdles in the way. If we condition ourselves accordingly and maintain a disciplined focus on reaching the end, no matter how big those hurdles are, we’ll be able to sail past them like the greatest of Olympians.


Chris Lawyer
Image courtesy of aflc.org

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Order of Operation: Knowledge

 
 
2 Peter 1:5-7 gave us a list of steps we need to take after we’ve come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. The previous blog discussed goodness, the first thing we must add to our faith. As soon as we choose Jesus, we should seek to do the right thing, and with the Holy Spirit inside of us, we can work towards that immediately upon being saved. However, that is just a start. If we truly want to grow, we have to come to a true understanding of what God wants from us, and that requires seeking knowledge. As Paul said to the church in Philippi in one of his letter:
 
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. – Philippians 1:9-10
 
Greater knowledge can enable us to better navigate our paths without falling victim to the obstacles of sin. Think about traveling in a normal sense. Suppose we wanted to travel from Miami to New York City. We all know we’d need to travel north. If we had a compass, we’d always know what direction was north. However, a compass alone wouldn’t get us to our exact destination. If we knew nothing about NYC, how could we know when we had arrived or were in the vicinity? Worse if obstacles during our trip took us off course, we’d have no idea how to correct ourselves. If we wanted to be absolutely sure that we made it to NYC, we’d also need the information provided to us by a map. The Holy Spirit is like the compass. It always points us in the right direction, towards our destination, accordance with God’s will. But, if we don’t have a good concept of what God’s will is, how could we truly know where we are in relation to that destination? Just like if we were traveling in the natural world, we need a map for our spiritual journey.
 
The Bible is that map. In fact, it is better than a map. While a map still requires some manner of interpretation to plot the best course. The Bible contains directions straight from God. Paul speaks on the word of God in one of his letters:
 
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. – Thessalonians 2:13
 
The New Testament, in particular, consists largely of the Gospels and letters written by God’s chosen apostles. The writers were human, but they were inspired by God. As such, the Bible provides all the information that we need to reach the state of being what God wants for us. When we seek out that information and take it in, it becomes the knowledge that we can turn to when we face the trials of life. When it is time to make the good and right decisions, we can do so not just because of prompting from the Holy Spirit, but also because we know exactly what God expects from us.
 
Gaining knowledge alone is not sufficient. Remember, the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better direct our efforts to add goodness to our faith. Simply having the knowledge won’t necessarily move us away from sin. Suppose we were given directions for the trip from Miami to NYC. Those directions would represent the knowledge needed to make the trip, but if we can’t make sense of those directions than we are no better off than before. The same is true for knowledge of God’s will. For us to actually put that knowledge into action effectively, we need understanding. The Bible tells us exactly how understanding relates to avoiding sin.
 
And he said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” – Job 28:28
 
Turning away from sin is a direct consequence of understanding God’s will. Understanding won’t come from cursory glances at the Bible. It can only be developed through a concentrated effort to seek the knowledge the Bible holds and apply it to our lives. The more we dig into the Bible, the more treasures will be found. This is especially true when we involve the Holy Spirit. Paul made this clear when discussing the teachings that he and others at the time brought forth:
 

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. - 1 Corinthians 2:10
 
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. – 1 Corinthians 2:12
 
Those teachings to which he was referring are just a portion of the knowledge that God has given us access to through the compilation of the Bible. We are living in a great time. Despite all the problems this world may have, the accessibility of the Bible and its teachings is greater than it has ever been. The information is there, Believers and nonbelievers alike need only access it. For those who have already established their faith, taking in that information and using it to build a knowledge base will put them one step closer to reaching the state of being that God wants for all who follow him.
 
Knowledge is a gift for sure, but it comes with responsibility to God and to those around us. It is not meant merely for our own benefit but for the benefit of all. As we grow, in our own knowledge, we should do our best to spread the knowledge. However, we must be careful to do so as God intended. That means directing others to His actual word and not our perceptions of the Word. As the Bible tells us:
 
Every word of God is flawless, he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. – Proverbs 30:5-6
 
So let’s take this gift that God has given us and use it to guide us along the path of righteousness. And when we have sufficient understanding of it, let us share it, so that others can be blessed too.

 
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of http://vuelloadd.weebly.com

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Order of Operation: Goodness



When we make the decision to follow Jesus and live according to God’s will, we understand that we need to give up on our sinful ways and many of our earthly desires. For most of us, that transition is easier said than done. If our faith is true and we rely on the Holy Spirit that resides in us, no change is too great. Still, as people, we often need a plan, checklist, or something that might allow us to stay on track and understand what we’re working towards. The Bible provides some insight that could be helpful in 2 Peter 1:5-7.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
The pathway to salvation is the development and profession of faith. The above scripture provides an ordered list of the attributes we should seek after we’ve come to the Faith. To some extent, we can use this list as a measuring stick for how far we’ve moved along God’s way, but first we need to understand what each trait means from a Biblical standpoint.

The first trait identified is goodness. That sounds simple enough. We all understand that we should be good, but what does it mean to be good as a Christian. From, a worldly standpoint, the definition of goodness is hard to pin down. For some it might just mean following society’s laws. For others, it might mean being kind to others and treating everyone with respect. Still others, might equate goodness to being charitable and caring for others. From a Biblical standpoint, goodness means all of that and more. So where do we start?

God gave us laws and commandments in the Bible. Most of us have heard the commandments and know, at least, some of what God expects from us. Making a more concentrated effort to obey God’s commandments is certainly a good start towards goodness.
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. – Romans 2:13
That said, as discussed in a previous blog (2 vs 10), complying with God’s will is about more than following a checklist of rules. It really is only fulfilled as we move through the order set in the verse from 2 Peter. Adding goodness is just the first step, and that step is not about reaching for perfection. That comes later. So what should we do to truly add goodness to our faith?
Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. – Psalm 34:14
Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21

For Believers goodness is the tendency to act according to God’s will or conversely, the tendency to move away from things that are not of God’s will. Adding goodness to our faith means beginning our transition of moving away from evil and sin i.e., the things not of God. Everyone has their own path. For some, it may be an easy task to accomplish. For others, this stage may be long and arduous. For all of us, it requires a conscious effort to acknowledge what is right and what is wrong, and to consistently choose to do what is right. We will make mistakes, but doing good is like anything else. Practice makes permanent. If we want to master some skill or craft, we work at it through repetition until we master it. We train so that performing that skill or craft becomes second nature. The practice of doing good is no different. If we constantly make a point of doing what is right and avoiding what we know to be wrong, eventually doing right will become reflexive. We’ll find ourselves making the good choice without even having to consider it. When we think about such training in a physical sense, we know that it can be tough. Most people who choose to take on such a task often need support in the form of personal trainers. The good thing about being a Believer is that when it comes to moral training, we have a built-in personal trainer – the Holy Spirit.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. - Galatians 5:16

With the Holy Spirit in us, adding goodness to our faith is more than possible, it’s expected. We have everything we need to move towards goodness. We may not always make the right choices, but with our first step after salvation we should at least trend in the direction of righteousness.

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of https://everynationgta.org 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Christmas Testimony





Typically, I try to stay away from writing anything too personal in this blog. For one, it is not my blog, it is the United Baptist Church blog (so please UBC family feel free to contribute to it as God leads you), and second, I tend to be more private in my thoughts. However, sometimes God lays things on your heart and directs you to go against the norm, so I’m breaking tradition a little with this entry.

This year hasn’t been the best for my family financially. Thank God that our bills have always been paid and we haven’t had to suffer any true hardship. Still, a number of things just didn’t go our way and others didn’t work out the way we expected or would have liked. As a result, both my wife and I have felt frustrated numerous times throughout the year. Despite those frustrations, I feel like we did a better job of turning to God and putting our faith in him, and both my wife and I have found ways to be even more active in his service. While that has resulted in us being more fulfilled spiritually, it didn’t lead to any noticeable changes in the financial situation.

Recently, Pastor Pope charged the church with giving $250 above normal offerings for this month. Given all the financial obligations for us for this season, I knew that would be tough, but I also know that I haven’t been able to give the way I’ve wanted this year. I rarely ask God for money or anything of that nature, but I did sincerely ask him for something to shake loose so that I could contribute to the church. A couple days after I made that prayer, I got an email at work informing us that we’d all be getting a medical insurance holiday this year, which means that we would not have to pay our premium this month. About $280 comes out of each one of my checks for medical insurance, so between my two checks for this month, this random medical insurance holiday that I’ve never received before the entire time I’ve worked for the company just happened to cover the $250 I wanted to give to the church and the ~$300 we just spent on gifts for our girls. I immediately thanked God upon seeing that email and knew I had to share. This blog gives me the perfect opportunity to do just that. However, God also led me to use this story to make a couple of points about making requests of him and testimonies.

With regards to making requests of God, I think all Believers understand that if we want something, we should ask God for it. Matthew 7:7-12 clearly tells us just that. Matthew 7:7-8 in particular says:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. - Matthew 7:7-8

However, God is not a genie, and there is a little more nuance to requesting of Him than just the “Ask and ye shall receive” that some like to quote.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

Part of the reason I felt so strongly that God had granted my prayer was because I had faith that he would and alongside my request I was sure to give him thanks for everything he’s already done. In the midst of hardships, that can be hard, but we have to remember that even when we are going through low points, he’s still helping us along. Further, he knows our hearts. I only asked him for the money to contribute to the church, but he gave me beyond that and addressed what I truly wanted. What we ask and how we ask for it matters. Asking out of selfish desire versus genuine need makes a difference. Asking for something that will glorify ourselves versus what will glorify Him makes a difference. Either way He just might give us what we request, but in some cases we may find that what we wanted wasn’t what we needed. In other cases, we may find that what God gives is exactly what we wanted and needed.

We usually give testimonies as an act of gratitude to God for what He’s done for us and as a way of sharing God’s goodness with others. However, I think sometimes we forget how much our own faiths can benefit from our testimonies. We can never fully share with others the impact of what God does specifically for us. People might see the good in what we share, but they might not fully understand what it truly meant to us. For example, with my testimony, it’s difficult to describe how what God did addressed what I’ve been feeling for a while or how the timing of it all was so significant to me. If I had won $10,000 randomly, I would have been ecstatic and thanked God, of course, but that may not have impacted me the same way. While that would have been a great blessing and much more money than I actually received, it may not have spoken to me in quite the same way. It wouldn’t have come off as direct a response to my prayer as what He actually did, and I may not have thought to write this in response. Maybe that’s something that no one but me could fully understand, or maybe it’s the exact thing that someone else has had happen to them. I don’t know. That’s the funny thing about God’s blessings, we never know what form they will take or how they will impact us. Our testimonies are reflective of that, we never know what effect they will have on others or ourselves. We just need to give them freely and happily for God’s glory.

So in this holiday season, let’s make sure to be mindful of how we approach God and what we ask of Him. Let’s also remember to be free with our sharing of what He’s done for us, whether it’s the most major thing he could have done or something relatively small.

This season you may hear the question: “What do you get for the person who has everything?” That question is truly fitting when it comes to God, the ruler and owner of everything. However, if nothing else, we always have our gratitude to give.

in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Let’s make sure to give that in abundance.

Chris Lawyer

Monday, November 26, 2018

What is Belief?


What do we mean when we say we believe in Jesus? That’s a strange question to ask at this point in the discussion, but in some ways it is reflective of how we behave when it comes to our Faith. Many of us grow up in the church or are, at least, exposed to Christianity at an early age. We believe we know who Jesus is and what he represents, but don’t always ask if that belief is true to what the Bible teaches. Is it just conditioning devoid of true understanding? Consider the concept of Christian Atheism. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals the concept as such:
Christian atheism is a form of cultural Christianity and an ethics system drawing its beliefs and practices from Jesus’ life and teachings as recorded in the New Testament Gospels and other sources, whilst rejecting the supernatural claims of Christianity.
In other words, Christian Atheists treat Jesus as if he is a character like Paul Revere or Johnny Appleseed. They likely believe he existed, but look at the New Testament as a series of tall tales meant to illustrate a particular philosophy. While it may be admirable that people who do not believe in God can read the New Testament and still see the value of Jesus’ teachings, is their belief the kind that saves? No, it is not.

The kind of belief that saves cannot discount the supernatural elements of the Bible. The kind of belief that saves has to acknowledge that Jesus is divine and that he rose from the dead. Dissecting the philosophy of Jesus’ teachings from an intellectual standpoint may have its value. Through God’s guidance, this study may even lead to greater understanding of the teachings, which would certainly be helpful when sharing the Gospel with a variety of people. However, belief in God is not an intellectual endeavor. It must be based in faith. Aspects of the Bible and Christian belief are fantastic and not based in worldly logic or reason. Belief in Jesus won’t make sense to people who are not willing to look past their own “wisdom.”
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent, I will frustrate.” – 1 Corinthians 1:19
True faith in God and Jesus, in particular, means accepting the full story told in the Bible. We must believe there is value in the parts of it that make sense to us as well as the parts that may seem a little far-fetched. Part of salvation involves a confession of belief in Jesus. That doesn’t just mean acknowledging that he existed. It means professing that he is Lord and that he came to this world not solely as a man but as God in the flesh.

There is another side to this discussion. What does belief look like? Many say they believe, and maybe to some extent they are telling the truth, but how can anyone know if such a claim is true? Some opponents of Christianity have claimed that Christians believe that sinning is acceptable. They say that Christians think repenting erases all sin and therefore we can live our entire lives in a loop of sinning and repentance with no consequences. This is a gross misrepresentation or misunderstanding of Christian principles. It is true that when we believe in Jesus as Lord, God forgives us. This belief should be accompanied with sincere repentance and turning away from our sins. It is also true that Christians don’t immediately cease all sinning when turning to God. However, the belief that Christians can use repentance to remove mistakes like an eraser on a pencil is wrong. The writer of Hebrews says:
“But my righteous one shall live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. - Hebrews 10:38-39
True belief in Jesus leads to the saving of the soul. True belief leads to God living inside of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Once the Spirit is in us, He doesn’t just lie dormant. He is active. He convicts us when we do wrong. He works to move us away from the sin that plagued us. No one can develop true belief in Jesus and remain the same. A Believer may not change completely overnight, but a transition must take place. If a person claims to believe in Jesus, but they live their lives exactly the same after coming to that belief as they did before, then that belief is likely false or maybe that person has just not bought into it fully. Either way, it is not representative of the type of belief that has been discussed in this blog over the last few entries.

If our belief is genuine, it should show in our behavior. It’s true that our good works and adherence to the Law have no part in us receiving salvation. However, it would be a mistake to believe that the actions of a Believer, good or bad, do not matter. The Bible tells us that as children of God and followers of Jesus, we are meant to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Your works cannot save you, but your salvation should result in a desire to do good. Your faith is only truly fulfilled when it’s exhibited through action.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. – James 2:20-22

Ultimately, belief isn’t just something we say we do; it’s supposed to be a way of life. So if you say you believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, do your best to live your life in a way that reflects that belief. If it seems overly difficult to do that, then take a moment to reflect on what you truly believe and pray to God to show you the way. One sure way to exercise your faith in God is to reach out to him and submit to his guidance.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.lifenub.com

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Brief Word on Marriage

 

Our marriages are a picture of the gospel. The greatest place to look for a picture of the gospel is the cross. The cross is an instrument of torture. People die by way of crucifixion. Jesus died on the cross. However it was not suffocation or lung collapse or asphyxia that caused the death of our Lord. He willingly gave His life up (John 10:18).
17 "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.
18 "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."

(John 10:17-18 NKJ)
Therefore in marriage someone MUST die. Not murder lol...but willingly laying down your life for your spouse. When one person dies for the other, true love is experienced. Greater love has no man than this than to lay down one's life for his spouse. Okay, the Bible actually says "his friend" (John 15:13).
13 "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
(John 15:13 NKJ)
What if you laid down your life for your spouse? What salvation would result? Remember our marriages are pictures of the gospel. Lets remember the CROSS. Resurrection is coming!

 
Pastor Everett Pope
Image Courtesy of clipartimage.com

Don't Be Discouraged By Disbelief


Many believe that Christians are tasked with getting people saved. That’s not exactly true. As Believers, we are supposed to spread the Gospel. Ideally, upon hearing the Word, non-believers will come to God. However, things do not always work like that. In fact, many have no desire to even hear about Jesus, and will quickly shut down any attempt by a Believer to raise the subject of Jesus. In those cases, it is easy for us to feel like we have failed, especially for those who are particularly passionate about spreading the Good News and converting people to the Faith. What happens when people simply do not want to believe?

First, we have to understand that we spread the Gospel, but the process of a person being saved is not really about us. It’s all about God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

We may feel a sense of rejection when we try to speak about Jesus and are met with rolled eyes, raised hands, or laughter, but ultimately none of that has anything to do with us. We should not personalize the reactions we receive from some people or use hurt feelings from those reactions to prevent us from sharing the Gospel. After all, rejection of God is nothing new. In fact, it precedes Jesus’ birth and life on Earth. When God directed prophets to take instructions directly from Him to the people, the people still desired a human king. Samuel, one of God’s prophets, was unhappy with the people and their desire. God made it clear that the failure was not with Samuel.
And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. – 1 Samuel 8:7

When we serve the Lord and people resist, they are not acting in opposition to us. They are acting against God and His will. We can’t allow ourselves to take that personally because doing so would only inhibit us from continuing to fulfill our roles. Jesus understood this very well. When he sent out his 12 disciples to spread the Gospel, he gave them the following instruction:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. – Matthew 10:14

Jesus had already experienced rejection firsthand. He knew what it was like to do the Father’s work and be rejected for it. In a previous blog (Even the Devil Must Submit), the story of Legion was discussed. In that story, Jesus freed a man who had been possessed by a multitude of demons. Jesus freed that man from their hold causing a miraculous change in the man’s life. One would think everyone who witnessed would celebrate. However, that’s not what happened.
Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. - Mark 15:16-17

Imagine performing such an amazingly good act for someone, only to be turned away by the people that bore witness. Even when Jesus went home to Nazareth where people knew him the best, the disbelief from the people who witnessed what he did and said persisted. He tried to teach and change lives, but was met with resistance and offense. Even Jesus was surprised by the level of disbelief he encountered.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. – Mark 6:4-6

Ultimately, we know the world rejected Jesus in the worst way. As far as the people knew, Jesus’ life was spent doing nothing but serving God and putting people on the right track, and they killed him for it. If, after everything Jesus did, he still had to deal with such strong disbelief, how could we believe that we’d face any less? If, even after being rejected as he was, Jesus was still willing to lay down his life for mankind, how can we allow anything to discourage us from continuing to tell others about Him?

Everyone has a choice. God has given us that. Each person has to choose God for himself or herself. Believers can provide non-believers with the knowledge they need to make an informed choice. We can give them the encouragement they need to make the choice. We can set examples that allow non-believers to understand why following God is the right choice. However, even after we’ve done all we can, it is still a choice that only they can make. We can’t coax or coerce them into making the decision we desire. We can’t force them into doing the right thing through laws. We have to let them make the choice on their own, and whatever they decide is between them and God. If they choose to follow him, then we will have gained new siblings in the Faith. If they choose to reject Him, then He will deal with them as He sees fit. Either way, God has given us a job to do, and we should continue to do it joyfully regardless of the results.
Chris Lawyer


Friday, November 9, 2018

Coming to Belief Isn't Always Easy


As discussed in the previous blog, the Holy Spirit can help us to remain strong in our belief no matter what we encounter. However, that begs an important question. “What about those who don’t already believe?” One must profess belief in Jesus Christ to be gifted with the Holy Spirit, so those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior do not have access to the Holy Spirit in the same way. We, as Believers, are tasked with spreading the Gospel and bringing souls to God, but how do we convince someone who simply does not believe? A story about God taking the form of a man and then coming down to earth living as one of us, dying, and being resurrected to save us all from our sins might be a hard pill for some to swallow. Jesus and his apostles encountered the same problem. They had to convert people who did not believe. Some reading this might immediately point out that they were able to win people by performing miracles. It is true that miracles played an important part in helping people come to belief. Consider the Day of Pentecost as depicted in Chapter 2 of Acts. The Holy Spirit descended on the Disciples with the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Everyone gathered bore witness as the Disciples were able to miraculously communicate with everyone ignoring the language barriers present in the city. Verses 40 and 41 reveal the result of the miracle.
With many other words he [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. - Acts 2:40-41

That is a good story, but how does it help us? It’s unlikely any of us will cure a serious disease with a touch, bring someone back from the dead, or cast out an evil spirit. If those that God chose to start the Faith had difficulty combatting disbelief without such miracles, how can we do it? That seems like a fair question, but it misses one important truth. We are the miracles. Jesus dying and coming back from the grave was indeed miraculous, but so is the advent of the Holy Spirit when a person comes to belief.

If we understand the miracle that God worked in our lives when we chose to follow Jesus, then we know we have a tool for winning people over. We just have to make use of that tool, and there are couple ways to do that.

The first is straightforward. We need to talk about how we came to Christ. Testimonies are a common part of the Christian experience. Many people who feel like the Lord has done something for them like to talk about it. We often hear about deliverance from financial hardships, disease, toxic relationships, and a host of other pitfalls. Those types of testimonies are good, but they are most useful for invigorating the faiths of people who already believe. For those still trying to find their way to God, testimonies from Believers about how they found God would be more helpful. Maybe that testimony involves some type of deliverance. Maybe for some walking towards God meant walking away from drugs and alcohol. Maybe for others embracing God meant letting go of people that brought strife to their lives. Those are great testimonies, but so are accounts from people who simply found peace through a developed relationship with God. Or, revelations from others about how they were able to right their moral compasses by learning to adhere to God’s Word. Paul is a good example of the latter category. He often spoke about how he came to follow Jesus, and what that choice could mean for those around him.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. - 1 Timothy 1:15-17

The Bible shows us that simply telling people about how we were saved opens the door for others to be saved.

The second way we can make use of our belief to help others believe is to simply behave like we believe. This is perhaps the more important of the two ways. This world has no shortage of people willing to pay lip service to what they supposedly believe, but that number decreases when we talk about people who actually put actions to those words. Sadly, this is true even within the Body of Christ. Hypocrisy is rampant. Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, but sometimes Christians are often anything but loving. Furthermore Christianity is not a mere religion. We have a relationship with God through the finished work of Jesus. What if we always behaved consistently with Jesus’ instruction? What if we always responded to ill treatment from others with a loving attitude? What if we exhibited a joyful faith, not just when things were going well, but also when they were going badly? What if we spent less time judging others for what they do wrong and more time helping them do right? Wouldn’t many non-believers wonder what it was that allowed Believers to act in such a way? If we were able to visibly live our lives doing good even when we are surrounded by bad, wouldn’t many non-believers want to find a way to do the same? Sometimes the best testimonies aren’t the ones people hear from us but instead the ones people see in us. Many people have become accustomed to the corruption and maliciousness in this world. If members of a particular group were able to consistently rise above those ways, stand tall, and continue to follow God, others would likely notice and inquire. Peter certainly believed that simply living righteously would have an effect on those that witnessed.
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. - 1 Peter 2:12
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. - 1 Peter 2:15
This world has no shortage of people desperate to believe in something. It also has no shortage of forces trying to convince people that Jesus is not worthy of belief. However, as Believers, we have been empowered with everything we need to serve God and bring people to him. Let’s do our best to help them see the value and worth of believing in Jesus. God will do the rest!

Chris Lawyer

Image Courtesy of depositphotos.com

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Believing Isn’t Always Easy



A pervasive misconception exists regarding the Christian concept of salvation. If you ask several different people, Believers or non-believers, how you get to Heaven, you’re likely to get several different answers. In truth, only one answer is correct. Christian salvation requires belief in Jesus. This means to confess him as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). Essentially it is to believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). That’s all there is to it.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. - Romans 10:10

Of course, salvation leads to new things in your life. The Holy Spirit will enter you, and your life will change accordingly. Walking the road on which salvation sets you may not always be easy. Still, the pass that gets you on that road is simply belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. That sounds simple, but realistically we know it isn’t. If belief is what saves, then the world is trending towards destruction. Looking at the trends in today’s world, we see that Atheism is increasing. An article in Scientific American noted that polls show that in the eight years between 2007 and 2015, the number of people in America who claimed no religious affiliation rose from 36.6 million to 55.8 million. Members of the newest generation are particularly less likely to believe in God. What is responsible for this shift away from belief in God? If the key to paradise is as easy as believing in the Savior, why is it so difficult for us to do? It’s not lack of information. The Gospels are more accessible to a wider range of people in today’s world than they have ever been. Non-believers might point out that God doesn’t make it easy. They may question why, if he wanted us to believe in him, doesn’t he make himself known through more overt actions (in other words, on our terms)?

That’s a fair question, but when we read the Bible, we know that even when he did make himself known to his people, their faith wavered constantly. Consider the story of Moses and his efforts to lead the children of Israel. God used him to deliver the people of Israel from bondage. Over the course of that transition, God sent plagues to assault the Egyptians (Exodus 7:14-11:10), guided the people with columns of fire (Exodus 13:21-22), empowered Moses to split the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-28), rained food from the sky (Exodus 16), and performed a number of other miracles. After witnessing all of that, none of Israel should have ever doubted God, right? Well, Moses left for little more than a month to receive God’s commandments, and that’s all it took for the people to forget all God had done and turn to a false god of their own creation (Exodus 32).

To us as readers, that story may sound a little ridiculous. We can’t conceive of witnessing such miraculous events. Many who’ve read that story probably proclaimed that there was no way they would have turned away from God after witnessing such spectacles. Maybe the actions of the children of Israel do seem ridiculous, but are we really so much more steadfast? Is it really uncommon to hear a person give a testimony where they are sure God delivered them from one trial only to see them despair the very next time hardship arises? Humans in general seem to have short memories when it comes to what God does for us.

In truth, we have an advantage over the Israelites. Yes, they were witnesses to many great miracles. The problem is that miracles always end, and when you are in the midst of hardship today, yesterday’s miracle may not be of any comfort. We have access to something miraculous that does not fade. When we choose to follow Jesus, we gain access to the Holy Spirit. God takes up residence in us and we gain something that can help us to never doubt God again. Whenever our faith is tested we need only lean on the Holy Spirit and God’s presence and love will become unquestionable.
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. - Romans 5:5

Despite all believers having access to the Holy Spirit, many of us do not make use of his presence when we are at our worst. Something blocks us from turning towards God for help and comfort. That ‘something’ could be our own misguided perceptions of what belief in God means. A common misconception about following God seems to persist amongst both believers and non-believers alike. Many think that believing in and following God is supposed to lead to prosperity and an end to life’s difficulties. Unfortunately, that is not the truth, and often when we’re faced with reality, the faith that we expressed when we first turned to Jesus is shaken. No matter how strong our faith in God is, we will all still face trials in life, be it financial woes, sickness, loss of loved ones, or any number of other hardships. Those are the times when our faiths are tested the most. They are also the times when we should let our faiths shine brightest. For example, when parents have to look into the eyes of a dying child knowing they can do nothing to stop what’s coming, turning to God is often little more than a last ditch effort. If God miraculously heals that child, then of course everyone will be overjoyed and their faith will stand strong. However, we know such an outcome is not always in His will. Sometimes that child will die, and the faith of those parents and others around will likely waiver. “Why would God take a child?” many will ask. We can all understand that reaction, but how much more amazing would it be if those parents were able to find and express solace through their faith in God? Many of us have questioned God at some point in our lives, particularly when we face losing someone or something important here in this world. That’s why the Bible warns us against seeing things from an earthly standpoint (Colossians 3:2).

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to love our families or enjoy some of the pleasures this world has to offer. He absolutely does. The problem comes when we begin to love things down here more than Him. When we do that, we have trouble accepting His will. As Jesus taught, you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). It’s impossible for us to maintain a strong faith in God when we put so much above him. Those parents in the previously mentioned example can only understand the pain of losing their child. It’s difficult for them to accept that God’s will might be right under such circumstances.  For them, praising him for that will being done is hardly a thought. As we grow as Believers, as hard as it may be, we have to learn to maintain the same attitude towards God through our ups and downs. Life can be hard, but if we allow the hardships to turn us to God rather than let them lead us to questioning Him, things may be easier for us. When Stephen was being stoned to death, he could have let the fact that he was being subjected to such a horrible fate lead him to doubt. Instead, he turned to God at that most dire time, and God put him to sleep sparing him the pain that would come with his death (Acts 7:54-59). We need to understand that hard times give us a chance to strengthen our faith. When we are going through the worst situations, we have a opportunity to put everything in God’s hands and let him pull us through. He may not always work things out the way we expect, but he will do what’s best for us, and he’ll do it in a way that brings Himself glory. As Believers, God being glorified is something we should always desire. Maintaining a strong faith in God is not always an easy thing, but if we hold onto the Holy Spirit and learn to trust God through the good times and the bad, we will be able to remain steadfast in our beliefs regardless of our circumstances. What does not kill us makes us stronger.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.skipprichard.com

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Even the Devil Must Submit



We now find ourselves in the Halloween season. It is a holiday that many Believers choose not to celebrate. As with many things, the Christian railing against Halloween is a bit misguided due to a lack of understanding about the history behind the holiday. With that said, it is undeniable that much of what has come to be associated with the holiday is not what most would consider to be of God. Still, God can use anything to make his will realized, even things that we may consider to be dark or scary. Anyone who has ever read the book of Revelation can attest to that. With a casual reading one might see this book to be the Bible’s version of a horror story, filled with monsters, death, and destruction. Even against such a dismal backdrop as is painted in Revelation, we are able to see the glory of God. This book is really about Jesus being fully revealed as the Savior and judge of the Earth. It is in this book that we get our best look at Jesus’ promised return.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. - Revelation 19:11-16
All good horror stories have some malevolent entity or force that is pitted against the protagonist. The Bible, while not a horror story, has such an antagonist that is present from beginning to end. Lucifer, Satan, the Devil…he’s called many names, and we know him as the Enemy. He was there to help mankind stumble in the Garden of Eden, and when this world comes to its end, the Devil will play his part in bringing about its ruin. If there ever was a boogeyman to fear, Satan would appear to be the one. He’s powerful in his own right and has many other demons or evil spirits working towards his cause. It’s no wonder that popular culture has taken him and the rest of the demons and turned them into the fodder for scary stories and nightmares.

While such stories might be good for a fun fright, they don’t bear much resemblance to truth. And while Satan may seem to be an appealing villain, his story has already been written, and SPOILER: he loses.
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. - Revelation 20:10
The fact is that the threat the Devil and his demons represent has been greatly exaggerated. If you believe some modern representations, you might think that Satan is God’s antithesis…an equal but opposing force. The Bible makes it clear that Satan plays no such role. God has no equal and nothing can oppose his will. Whether it be the story of Job or the temptation of Jesus, we see that Satan cannot even act without God’s permission. We also see that the other demons cower before the Lord. There are many examples of this, but perhaps the encounter between Jesus and Legion is the most telling (Mark 5:1-20). Legion was a faction of hundreds maybe thousands of demons that had possessed a man causing him to act in a crazed fashion that frightened those that encountered him. When this great horde of demons came into contact with Jesus, they did not taunt or attempt to stand against Him. They begged to be casted into a herd of pigs, and only did left the man after being given permission by Jesus. In this story, it was the monsters that ran away in fear.

That is the Lord we serve. Satan could not tempt him. Evil spirits could not resist his commands. As Believers, we know that Jesus is with us and His Spirit resides within us. With Him on our side, we have nothing to fear. Romans 8:31 is a common exhortation that affirms that fact.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against?

No one can. Not the Devil, not the evil people that walk among us, not even our own fleshly natures. So, during this holiday season where fear and the things that go bump in the night are celebrated, let us subvert the theme. Let us instead celebrate the comfort that comes with putting our faith and our very lives in the hands of the living God. We need not worry about the Devil’s tricks. Instead, we should continue to do our part to make sure that everyone partakes of salvation, the treat that comes with faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of barbarasreality.com

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Make God's House a Home



Take a moment to honestly ask yourself a question. Where is your favorite place to be? What popped into your mind first? Was it the mall or a shopping center? Was it a favorite bar, lounge, or other social spot? Maybe it’s the gym, golf course, or other sports related venue. Was it church? For many of us, the honest answer to that question is “No.” Does church at least make your top 3? Top 5? Sure, as Believers, most of us are committed to going to church. Many of us take on responsibilities, sing along with the songs, and fellowship with our fellow congregation members. We do what we feel is required of us. We treat church the same way we treat our jobs, and though we are thankful for our jobs, they probably weren’t the answer to the questions posed above either. Why do we look at church as something akin more to work than recreation? Our relationships with God and the mission given by him are serious business for sure, but should we approach going to the House of the Lord as an obligation or should our attitudes be something else? David certainly didn’t believe that going to church should be a grind.
I rejoice with those who said “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” - Psalm 122:1 
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. - Psalm 84:10

Going to church shouldn’t be done because we believe we have to do it. We aren’t required to do it, at least not for salvation. Ironically, many people who don’t want to go to church use that reasoning to excuse their lack of attendance. “Church doesn’t save you,” some say. They are right. Believing that Jesus is Lord and that he died and was resurrected for us is what saves us. Your confession can be proclaimed anywhere. There is no designated site for giving your life to God. However, that is not a good reason not to go to the House of God. So, what is the truth?

Being fair, it must be noted that some of us understand that the Church is not a building, but, in truth the Body of Christ. Any place where the Lord’s people gather to commune with him can serve the purpose of church.
For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them. - Matthew 18:20

If a group of God’s people want to assemble at the local coffee shop and dig into his Word and praise him, then they are effectively “having church.” Such gatherings certainly have merit. For one, not everyone at that coffee shop will be a Believer. Perhaps, seeing God’s people gathered and enjoying fellowship with the Lord and each other will raise a nonbeliever’s interest and set them on the path towards finding God. In the past, many churches began as gatherings at the homes of Believers. The church members would rotate between the homes of its members, and they would hold services dedicated to praising and learning about the Lord. Such a setup would certainly foster good relationships between the church members and demonstrate definitively that the homes of those church members welcomed the presence of the Lord. So do we really need a church building? Is attending such a venue really necessary? Yes, it is. We should be willing to fellowship with other Believers in public and at our homes, but those places aren’t the “House of God.” Can you really go to your local coffee shop and praise God without restriction? Are the average Believers really willing to dedicate their homes to God’s work 24/7/365?

Having a site dedicated to serving the Lord, where his people can learn about Him, praise Him, conduct His work, and ultimately seek Him without distraction is necessary. The sheer number of churches that exist everywhere are a testament that Believers understand the importance of God’s House. So, why is it that we don’t always enjoy attending the way we should? If you aren’t entering God’s house with joy, there are probably a couple things that need to change.

The first thing that may need to change is your outlook or attitude. At some point in all our lives, we went to school to learn and we went to a job to work. Even in the cases where we like our school or job, we don’t always like the obligation of having to labor, day in and day out. We treat going to church the same way, as an obligation that we have to fulfill 1, 2, 3, etc… times a week. We shouldn’t look at it like that. We should be treating the church more like our homes, where we have the pleasure of spending time with our parents, siblings, children, or other family members. Sure you may have chores or work around the house that you have to do, but does that make you enjoy being home any less? When you think about all the love and happiness your family brings you, don’t you enjoy serving them? The same should be true with God, your heavenly Father. He created you, protects you, and loves you.  How can you know that and not want to spend time in his presence? Our problem is that we look at going to church as part of our weekly grind, when in reality, we should be looking at it as an escape from that grind. We can shed our worries about our financial woes, family troubles, sickness, or whatever else is weighing on us. For a few hours, we can concentrate on God and his glory knowing that when we have the right relationship with him and have faith in him, some way and somehow he will help us work through our other concerns. Jesus instructed us not to worry because God loves us (Matthew 6:25-34). Church is the best place to practice that instruction.

The second thing that may need to change is your church. The truth is that our problem with attending church is not always our fault. Sometimes we have bad experiences that deter us from attending. Some of us lose faith, not so much in God, but in his people and the concept of the Body of Christ. To some extent, this is understandable. Not every church is truly about God’s business, and not all that call themselves Christians truly follow Christ. However, conflict does not always arise because the people of the church are not truly of God. Humans are flawed, so every human enterprise will have its problems. Running a church is no different. Paul’s letters are a testament to this fact. 2 Corinthians 2:1-11 shows us an example of such a conflict within the church at Corinth that led to a conflict between the church and Paul. He was grieved by the conflict and, as a result, had to pass on an opportunity to visit the church. In the end, by leaning on God, they were able to work through the problem and much of the rest of the letter consists of Paul restoring his relationship with the people of that church. It should be the same with us. If a church is not of the Lord, we should leave it. However, if we just see the problems that appear amongst every family, we should look to the Lord for guidance and work through those problems. Overcoming adversity is often what brings a family closer, and the closer you become with your familymembers, the more you want to be among them.

The issue is not always conflict within or wrongdoing by a church. Sometimes a church is just not the right fit. The Bible gives plenty of instruction for how churches should be conducted from a moral standpoint, but it does not put much, if any, attention on style. I believe this was intentional. God understands that differences abound amongst Believers. As a result, the same mode of operation won’t work to serve or appeal to everyone. We have different tastes in music, style of dress, manner of speech, form of praise, etc… It would be nice if every church could serve anyone, but the truth is, things do not always work like that. For some Believers going to a particular church might seem like fitting a square peg into a round hole no matter how much everyone involved loves God. It’s not that the Believer is wrong or that the church is bad, simply that the church does not appeal to the needs of that particular Believer. That’s why the Body of Christ, like any other body, has multiple parts. It’s important that you find the part for you. Be careful, though, when searching for the church that best fits you. Let God guide you. Do not get caught in the cult of personality of a particular preacher or religious movement. Such things might seem to appeal to Believers on a spiritual level, but are often hollow and serve only to breed conflict or spread misinformation. Paul had to deal with this too. In 1 Corinthians 3, he had to address a church getting bogged down in loyalties towards certain leaders rather than concentrating on the message. No matter how good a preacher or pastor is, no church leader can get you into Heaven. That requires developing your own faith, and you should choose the church that puts you in the best position to do that. The right church will excite you about the prospect of serving God and give you the opportunity to do it. The right church will not only teach you about God but also instill a hunger in you to learn more on your own. The right church will not only be filled with praise for God, but also lead you to praise God. When it comes to our earthly dwellings, we don't just look for houses; we look for homes. The right house for one person might not be home for another, but make no mistake, God has a place for everyone.

The Bible cautions us against giving up on attending church.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching - Hebrews 10:24-24

Unfortunately, many of our spiritual journeys take us off the path to God and away from the church. God has ways of bringing back lost sheep, and, if we are willing, we can find our way back to the right path. Just remember that path likely passes right through a church of some kind. God is with you everywhere, but what better place is there to spend time in his presence than in His house and your very own spiritual home?

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.vanguardchurch.org

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Trinity



Humans have subscribed to a variety of belief systems over our history. Some systems like the Greek mythology that many know from stories was pantheistic, meaning the people worshipped many gods. The Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are all monotheistic. We believe in one supreme God. However, even among the Abrahamic faiths, most forms of Christianity are unique in that we believe that God presents himself to us in three aspects, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The concept of a single God in three persons is one of the more difficult concepts presented to us in the Bible. The New Testament expounds upon the idea the most, but the plurality of God was evident from the beginning.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, an over all the creatures that move along the ground.” - Genesis 1:26

Despite valiant efforts by many teachers, it’s doubtful that anyone has been able to provide an analogy or other comparison that fully encapsulates what God is. Such is the nature of the dilemma. God is simply too big to be described so easily. Still, we must try to understand him and all three of his aspects because all play an important role as it relates to us as Believers.

While as flawed as any other comparison, it may be useful to look at God the way we look at ourselves. The Bible leads us to believe that humans are made of three primary components: soul, body, and spirit. We may be able to gain some understanding by comparing the aspects of God to these components of Man.

The Father

Webster’s dictionary defines the spirit as the force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power. Similarly, the Father acts as the foundation for what God is. No one has ever seen him in his true form (John 1:18), but every Christian must believe he exists. While all three aspects of God are part of one being, the Father reigns supreme.
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Ephesian 4:6
 
Essentially, the soul is what defines us as conscious beings. Just as the soul might be considered to be at the head of what makes a human, the Father is clearly at the head of God’s hierarchy. This is denoted by his very title, “Father,” which is used throughout the Bible to identify the lead of the family and other communal organizations. The Father’s authority is such that the Bible often uses his title and the term “God” interchangeably, and the other aspects of God are defined in relation to him (i.e., the Son of God and the Spirit of God).

We can’t see or touch the soul, but we all believe that every human has one. Just as our lives are often guided by what we feel in our souls, everything in the universe occurs at the direction and will of the Father.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will - Ephesians 1:11

We communicate with God through prayer, and Jesus, himself being deity, instructed us to direct our prayers to the Father (Matthew 6:6-7). The Father is the one above all, it is important that we understand and acknowledge that fact.

The Son

Colossians 1:15-16 provides an interesting view of Christ.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.

Jesus is the Son, and the universe is his inheritance and birthright. He is Lord both in the sense of being creator of all (John 1:3), and the standard sense to which we are accustomed, a sovereign ruler. As the verse implies he is the ruler of rulers and Lord of lords.

God, who existed before the universe, is too big to be contained by the universe. Jesus is God’s projection into this physical world. He is to God what our physical bodies are to us. Just as our physical bodies give us the ability to connect with the things and people around us on the most basic level. Jesus as God does the same thing. If we see someone down on the ground, we would extend our hand to them to help them up. Jesus is the “hand” that God extended to us to raise us above sin and its wages.

We’ve all heard the old saying “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked in their shoes.” Well, God has done that and more. Just as our body provides the avenue for us to see, hear, and feel things around us, Jesus allowed God to feel the human experience right up until his death. Our bodies are also the parts of us that we can and often do sacrifice for those we love. Similarly, Jesus acted as God’s sacrifice when he took on all the world’s sin and all of God’s wrath and died for us.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. - 1 Peter 2:24

Jesus’ story did not end there. He was resurrected and maintained the form of a human as best illustrated in his interaction with Thomas (John 20:24-29). Eventually, he went back to heaven, but the Bible promised us he will be back not to serve, but to save (Hebrews 9:28). Jesus died and he was resurrected in glory. The Bible tells us that the same will be the case for us.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. - 1 Corinthians 15:42-44

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, also referred to as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, might be the most difficult to understand. Like the Father, it cannot be seen or otherwise felt in a traditional sense. However, like the Son, its purpose is to connect God to Man. Whereas, Jesus was the example of God becoming more like us, the Holy Spirit is what allows us to become more like God.

The Holy Spirit is God’s essence. It encapsulates who and what God is and can interact with us beyond the physical. We have spirits that play the same role for us. In this sense, the comparison between the Holy Spirit and the spirits of humans is more literal than the other two parts of the analogy. Even many non believers accept a concept of spirituality for humans. We all feel things that impact us more deeply than what we recognize on a mental or intellectual level. We know when we are doing wrong, but just because we know our weaknesses doesn’t mean we can always rise above them. Sometimes we need help on a more fundamental level. That is exactly what the Holy Spirit does for us. When we accept Jesus as our savior, the Holy Spirit becomes part of us.
Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. - 2 Timothy 1:14

Salvation through Christ means a part of God, his Spirit, takes residence in our very being in commune with our spirit. We can then learn to move according to the desires of the Holy Spirit and, by extension, the will of God.

If our spirit knows everything that we are, then when we allow the Holy Spirit to connect with our spirit we can begin to act through the Spirit and not just because of him. That relationship is the lynchpin to God’s plan for us.
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’ thought except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. - 1 Corinthians 2:10-12

If the Son’s death and resurrection are what opened the path to salvation, the Spirit is the vehicle that carries us along that path to our destination. Ultimately, that destination is eternity with the Father. The Father engineered the creation. The Son carried out the design. The Spirit applies the finished work to those who believe. If all three aspects of God can work for us, how can we not put all three parts of ourselves, soul, body and spirit, to work for Him?

Chris Lawyer and Pastor Everett Pope
Image Courtesy of www.saintc.org

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Born to Sin




We all know the story of Adam and Eve. God created paradise and then created the first two humans to live in it. Upon facing their first temptation in the form of Satan’s trickery, they made a bad choice and disobeyed God. As a result of their action, paradise was lost, not just for them but for all of humanity (Genesis 2:4-3:24). To some that might have seemed like a harsh punishment for a first offense, but when we come to understand what the Word is telling us, we realize that it was not just a simple punishment. Because of the actions of Adam and Eve, humanity was tainted. We were no longer worthy of paradise because every generation after Adam and Eve has been born in sin.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned - Romans 5-12

Born in sin – that’s a concept discussed several times in the Bible, but what does it truly mean? Adam and Eve tasted fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil. Good, evil, and sin are words we toss around a lot within the Faith, but do we really understand what they mean?
Good - that which is morally right; righteousness

Evil - profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity

Sin - an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law
In a Christian context, anything that is of God is inherently good. Conversely, anything that is not of God may lead to evil. Any action that goes against the will of God is a sin. It follows that sins are inherently evil actions. One could then infer that being born in sin means that we come into this world with a natural tendency towards evil. Most of us probably understand this to some extent. After all, we know that children have to be taught and conditioned to do the “right thing.” From the very beginning of our lives, in many cases, our inclination is to do the selfish and self-serving things. However, leaving the explanation here is not really beneficial. It begs some reasonable questions. For example, Adam and Eve committed their actions a long time ago. Why should we still be on the hook for their actions?
Let’s take a step back and consider one of the greatest gifts given to us by God. Many call it “Free Will.” In truth, it is the ability to choose. God could have created us as automatons that existed only to serve him without question, but he didn’t. From the very beginning, we’ve had the ability to choose and even at the very beginning we made the wrong choice. One could argue that Adam and Eve were innocent like children. They did not understand the graveness and consequences of their actions. That is likely true. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of us. Since they ate the fruit, every human after them was born with an intrinsic understanding of good and evil. When we sin, we aren’t acting out of innocence like Adam and Eve. On a fundamental level, we understand that we are acting in a way that is not of God. We know that we are actively rejecting him. When reading the Bible, we see time and time again what happens when people reject God. In response to one of the many times the Children of Israel turned against God, he said:
“You have rejected me,” declares the Lord. “You keep on backsliding. So, I will reach out and destroy you; I am tired of holding back.” - Jeremiah 15:6
 
God wants us to choose him, and it grieves him when we don’t. What creator wouldn’t want his creation to choose him? What creation wouldn’t choose the being that gave it life? The answer to the latter question is humanity. The Old Testament serves as proof of this. No matter what God did, whether it be interacting directly with people, giving laws for our own protection, or sending prophets to lead in his name, humans still used their ability to choose to reject God seemingly whenever the opportunity arose. What a disappointment they must have been.
What do we do to creations that fail to live up to our expectations? More often than not, we scrap them. God could have done that with us, and he came close at least once (Story of Noah - Genesis 6:1-8:22). Ultimately, he went another route, a much better route for us. He gave us Jesus.
 
being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God - Romans 3:25
 
He wrapped himself in human flesh to interact with us on our level, to die for us as an atonement for all the sins that had come before his coming, and to assuage God’s wrath. Jesus’ death and the advent of the Holy Spirit made a way for us to definitively choose God. Without Jesus, we’d always be inclined to use our ability to choose to reject God to some extent. However, when we make the overt and intentional choice to follow Jesus. We also make the choice to accept God and find salvation from his wrath. That choice comes with the acceptance of the finished work of Jesus.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” - Romans 10:9-10 
 
Upon believing, we are given the Holy Spirit and become new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our reformations aren’t always instant, but the more we indulge in our choice to follow Jesus, the greater our connection to the Holy Spirit becomes. As that connection grows stronger, we find that we naturally move away from rejecting God. The Bible tells us that ultimately, if we continue to grow, we can overcome sin.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. - Galatians 5:16-17
 
Truthfully, many of us will not make it to that point before we leave this world, but in God’s goodness, he made it so that we don’t need to be perfect to be saved. We need only choose Jesus and our salvation is ensured. That does not mean that we should not strive to rid ourselves of the urges to sin. If we truthfully choose Jesus and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit we will constantly feel the conviction to avoid sinful acts.
We are fully responsible for our choices. Have you made the right choice, the best choice you could ever make? If so, that’s good. Many haven’t. Remember all good choices can only be made when the right information is available, so we must do our part to make sure that everyone has access to the truth. In doing so, we can help others to find salvation and honor God by ensuring that more of his creation chooses him.
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of childrenschapel.org

Thursday, September 27, 2018

2 vs 10

 
 
As Believers we know that we are supposed to obey God’s commands and take the Bible as his Word. Still, it can be difficult understanding how some of the Bible applies to us given how different our world is from the one in which the Bible was written. However, when we read the Bible, we see that even in Jesus’ time, some had that same problem. God in his wisdom, through the Bible, has provided answers whose relevance does not fade with time. Consider the question, which was posed to Jesus about which commandments we should follow.
 
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-40
 
Jesus tells us the Law can be fulfilled in the two commandments he provided, which suggests that if we follow those two, we can fulfill all the others. Is that really true? The 10 Commandments brought down to the people by Moses are perhaps the most famous commandments from the Bible, and they are important enough that many believe them to be the inspiration for our current legal system. The 10 Commandments as listed in Exodus 20:2-17 are paraphrased below:
 
 
  1. You shall have no other gods before God.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below for the purpose of worship.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy meaning you can work on six days of every week, but one should be kept for rest just as God did.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow people.
  10. You shall not covet that which belongs to your fellow people.
 
What can we learn from comparing these two sets of commandments? Right away, we see that both are arranged similarly in that the first of Jesus’ commandments and the first four of the Mosaic Commandments define how we should relate to God. Jesus’ commandment is vague in a sense. It tells us only that we should love God, but what does it mean to love God, a being capable of creating the universe and everything in it from nothing? The first two Mosaic Commandments pertain to the practices in the past of worshipping false gods and objects fashioned into gods. From this we can infer that part of loving God with everything we have means acknowledging him as the Supreme Being and treating him as such. According to the 10 Commandments, loving God also means respecting his name and what it means to call on that name and him by extension. Lastly, we are to honor the Sabbath. We can look at this as a commemoration of God’s great work. He spent a week creating everything, and moved from creating to sustaining. He changed his activity. We might say he took time to relax and reflect on his creation. If we love God, the least we can do is dedicate a day every week to reflect on him and everything he’s done for us starting with the Creation and up to the present.
 
Jesus’ second commandment and the last six of the Mosaic Commandments relate to how we treat each other. Again, Jesus kept it general and directed us to love each other. The 10 give us an idea of what it means to love our fellow man. We are to respect our parents and forebears. They, through the process God created, brought our physical beings into this world. If nothing else, our parents deserve to be honored for that. How can we truly show the proper reverence to our Spiritual Father, who we can’t see, if we cannot do that for our physical parents who are down here with us? The 10 also tell us that loving each other means respecting everyone’s right to live. God gave us our lives. We have no right to unlawfully take those gifts. The next of the 10 relates to our spouses, those that we have professed our love for and commitment to in front of God. Loving that person means remaining faithful and true to them. The eighth and tenth Mosaic commandments both relate to respecting that which belongs to other people. We should not take from others nor should we obsess over or envy that which is not our own. Loving others means understanding that God has blessed others according to his will and their own efforts. We have no right to take those things from them, nor do we have the right to look at those things and feel like they should be ours. The Bible directs us not to be overly concerned with worldly treasures(Colossians 3:2), but these commandments direct us to respect that whatever worldly treasures a person has belongs to that person as long as God wills it. The ninth commandment has often been simplified to “You shall not lie.” While the Bible does tell us not to lie(Colossians 3:9), this commandment is more specific than that. It tells us that we should not accuse people of wrongdoing that we know they did not commit. Loving other people means knowing that their reputations are important, and such false accusations can greatly hurt those reputations and in turn those people. God knows all, but we humans do not. False accusations can lead to the downfall of others as it relates to placement in our society. Love does not destroy in that way.
 
It’s easy to see from this comparison that the two do in fact encapsulate the ten. It should also be obvious that despite the two being more succinctly stated than the ten, they are far more difficult to fulfill. While the ten provide a good foundation for proper behavior, they are limited in a way that the two are not. Loving God and the rest of humanity cannot be broken down to so simple a list. 1 Corinthians 13 gives a good assessment of what love is and what love will do. Verses 4-7 in particular are pertinent to this discussion:
  
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 
Love is more than a set of restrictions. Loving God with your whole being doesn’t just mean refraining from worshipping trinkets ahead of him. It means putting him above everything including family, work, and ourselves. Loving your fellow people as you love yourself doesn’t just mean refraining from killing or taking from them. If we love ourselves, then loving our fellow people means caring and doing for them to the same degree that we would do for ourselves. Yes, Jesus’ two commandments may be the simpler set, but he did not make things easier for us by simplifying the commandments. There is no checklist of rules that we can mark off to be sure we are obeying Jesus, and to be honest, for us alone, those two commandments are impossible to follow. We need God’s help. We have to pray for his guidance and rely on the Holy Spirit that resides within each of us. With God’s backing and Jesus’ teaching, two or ten won’t matter. We’ll be in-line with God’s will, and ultimately guiding us to that end is the only reason commandments exist in the first place.
 
 
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.catholictothemax.com