Saturday, July 28, 2018

Out of the Chrysalis

A chrysalis is a sublime symbol of the mystery of change. It’s an enchanting environment that not only provides caterpillars with a place to become butterflies but also provides thoughts with the means to become realities. This amazing metamorphosis demonstrates a renewing of the mind that leads to different behaviors and habits that then make us new creations (like a caterpillar to a butterfly).

Within a caterpillar the process of metamorphosis is regulated by two hormones (juvenile and ecdysone). The juvenile hormone delays the metamorphosis throughout the larva stage. It works by blocking the genes in the imaginal discs- tiny disc shaped bags of cells that activate when a caterpillar wraps itself in the chrysalis.

As people, our growth and change comes through strife and affliction. The strife we face comes when our beliefs and values clash with reality then alter our perceptions. Through this, we adapt to our situations and circumstances but can find ourselves blind to the things that lay outside of the range of our beliefs and values. Sadly, this ignorance can shut us off from the amazement of life, more importantly from the grace and love of God.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. - 2 Corinthians 10: 4-6

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore, put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. - Colossians 3: 2-11

Right before a caterpillar forms a chrysalis, strange things happen. Cells in its muscles, gut, and salivary glands are digested and act as spare parts for the soon-to-be butterfly. Each cell is programmed to self-destruct through the activation of enzymes called caspases. The caspases tear through the cell’s proteins, releasing prime butterfly-making material. Were it not for the juvenile hormone, this could’ve happened at any time, killing the caterpillar. Instead, God programmed the juvenile hormone to lower its levels at the right moment for metamorphosis. The ecdysone hormone then takes over, driving the caterpillar to form a chrysalis.

For people, this brings us to the work of affliction. These moments of mental or physical pain either encourage us to go further on in faith with hope or dishearten us toward wanting to escape a reality that imprisons us. Having a true relationship with God allows us to make sense of the things that happen to us and use those experiences to benefit others. God knows the cause and the purpose for our pain. Once we begin to trust in and submit to God we begin to notice the cause and purpose as well and are able to experience true freedom in the Lord. Let's encourage one another as we each work our way out of our chrysalis and into freedom in Jesus.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1: 6-9
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. - James 1: 2-8
Darnell Sheffield

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Enemy Within

Most people that call themselves “Christian” understand that following Jesus means that we will be faced with persecution for our beliefs. The Bible itself tells us as much (2 Timothy 3:12). Our efforts to spread the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done for us will be met with resistance. Forces will try to prevent us from getting that truth to those who truly need it. Who represents the greatest foe for the Christian mission? Is it truly non-believers like the atheists or the agnostics? Or is it groups like the Jews and Muslims that supposedly believe in our God, but don’t believe in Jesus as the divine Savior? Could it be that we Christians are our own worst enemies?

Such a suggestion may seem out of line, but it may indeed be the truth. It certainly isn’t unprecedented. The existence of Christianity is a testament to that itself. After all, Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He was a Jew.  The birth of Christianity came about because most of the Jews  at the time rejected and persecuted the followers of Jesus.  During his life, Jesus' greatest enemies were not those that believed in false gods or no god at all. Even a cursory read of the Gospels will make it clear that his greatest enemies were other Jews like the Pharisees that did not want to embrace the truth.

In Matthew 23:15 Jesus said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Jesus was chastising the Pharisees for their evil ways while also making it clear that false teachers can foil the mission of bringing people to God. Thankfully, we now have access to the Holy Spirit, and through that Spirit we each have our own personal connection to God. While we all may benefit from good spiritual leaders, those leaders do no decide our salvation. That doesn’t mean that people who misrepresent the Faith are not a problem. Our mission is to reach those who do not know Jesus. Who can harm that goal more than those who claim to be on the same mission, but spread misinformation? Jesus warned his followers about false prophets, those that would portray themselves as his followers, but would be against his efforts (Matthew 7:15). Do we not see people who purposely or unwittingly play that role every day?

The Bible tells us to love those around us, but we constantly see people who claim to be Christians and preach hate. The Bible tells us that the wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and that all sins can be forgiven (1 John 1:9). Still, we constantly hear so-called Christians judge and condemn gays while embracing and accepting the liars, adulterers, and bigots all around them. The Bible tells us that we should not focus on building wealth and riches on earth (Matthew 6:19-21), but we constantly hear about supposed leaders in the Faith using the Faith to enrich themselves. They even go so far as to suggest that God is responsible for their ill-gotten gains. Many of us see these things, know they are wrong, but do not want to speak out against brothers and sisters in the Faith. However, we must understand that we are not the only ones that see the problems in those actions. Nonbelievers, the ones we are supposed to reach, also see those bad actions. How much harder is it for Christians to convince non-believers to follow Jesus when those non-believers do not believe that Christians truly follow Jesus themselves?

We must be careful not to be false prophets that lead would-be believers astray. However, perhaps more importantly, we must not allow a distorted religion to deter people from wanting to know Jesus. If we do not practice what we preach or reveal false teachings and actions for what they are, we will be the ones interfering with our own mission, and, as a result, become our own worst enemies.

Chris Lawyer

Monday, July 16, 2018

Give God Your Vote

We just wrapped up another wave of voting, and once more many of us found ourselves playing our parts in selecting leaders in a variety of positions in our governments. Some of the races will be won by candidates we selected. Others will go to the opposition. Once those winners take their positions, you can bet that the reactions to what they do once they are in office will run the spectrum from disgust to elation. This is the nature of our system of government, and at this point, there seems to be little that can be done about it.

As believers, we always have a trustworthy option. We can count on our true leader, God. However, the truth is, we don’t do that nearly enough. Even when we do, it tends not to be our first instinct. This was true even in the Bible. Initially, the Children of Israel had no kings. They were either led directly by God or through a prophet that led as God’s earthly proxy. However, in 1 Samuel 8:5, we learn that Israel wasn’t satisfied with that.  They said to Samuel: 

You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.

The people wanted a king just like other nations. They desired to come under the authority of humans even though they had the best possible leadership, and God granted their wish. What resulted was a mixed bag of good and bad results from human leaders. Even renowned kings like David fell short and hurt their people at times. Such is the nature of humanity. Now, in today’s society, we are firmly entrenched with human leadership, but God is still in the equation. Romans 13:1 says:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

This passage has caused consternation for both believers and nonbelievers alike. All want to know what happens when we are in a situation where our leadership is taking us down a wrong or even evil path...a situation in which many currently believe us to be. Would God truly send us such leaders? The answer is “yes.” He did so in the Bible and he continues to do so now. We must remember that he always has a purpose. We may not always know what it is and we have to accept that sometimes it’s not always what we’d want. Still, God may be trying to teach us lessons, and we simply are refusing to learn.

Before complaining about the leadership in place, ask yourself if you truly involved God in your voting process? Did you sincerely pray to him for guidance in your vote? Or, did you just vote down party lines or for the candidate that seemed the most familiar to you as you always do? Maybe you instantly gravitated towards the candidate that invoked God’s name thinking that’s what he would want. Did you actually listen to that candidate’s message? Did that “godly” candidate want to get rid of social services that aid the needy even though the Bible warns against not helping the poor (1 John 3:17)? Does that candidate want to destroy our enemies through endless war even though the Bible tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45)? It takes more than hearing God’s name in the lip service of a candidate to involve God in the process.

What if horrible leadership is in place? How do you react to that? Do you just complain about and curse the bad actions of those leaders, or do you pray that God guides those leaders and helps them to make the right decisions? Do you pat yourself on the back for not voting for those leaders and wallow in your own self-righteousness, or do you ask God for the clarity to see where you may have failed? Do you dismiss the society that has embraced such a system, or do you pray that God will use you in some way to be a light to cut through society’s darkness? Do you truly believe that God is with us no matter what man or woman is in charge, or do you despair over every political action that doesn’t go your way? We all need to ask ourselves these questions, and if you can’t honestly give the right answers to those questions, then maybe God’s lessons at this point in time are for you.

Chris Lawyer

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Food for Thought (7/06/16)

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. - Albert Einstein

In thinking about all the truths present in 2 Peter chapter 1, the ideas of maturity and complacency come to mind. Maturity can be understood as what happens when a person gains perspective through their experiences.

Maturity is when you stop complaining and making excuses in your life; you realize everything that happens in life is a result of the previous choices you’ve made and start making new choices to change your life. - Roy T. Bennett

To mature is to take responsibility. Responsibility involves accountability and commitment. In other words, you become a part of something and that something becomes a part of you. When you feel responsible you begin to operate by or act on the beliefs and values of what you feel responsible for (spiritual growth, family, career or any other group you feel that you are a part of or represent), and when that happens you want the best for whatever you feel responsible.

Philippians 2: 12-15

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

Galatians 6: 6-10

Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 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. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Ephesians 4: 1-6

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

1 Peter 5: 8-11

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Maturity and the responsibility involved also help us fight off complacency. We can become complacent after we believe something has become routine for us. When something becomes routine for us we no longer spend time thinking about the task, like riding a bike or driving a car, and we go into auto-pilot. In auto-pilot we are no longer attentive to the task at hand and do not see the risks and dangers involved because we are not fully paying attention.

It is possible for us to fall into sin if we do not pay attention to the things we do. When in auto-pilot we can drift down the river of life and find ourselves in situations we never thought we would be in.

Galatians 6: 1-5

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.

2 Peter 1: 5-11

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us consider how much responsibility we take in our lives. Does the responsibility we choose to take honor the God we serve?

Darnell Sheffield

Love Your Life

At times Christians can be very self deprecative. We are born in sin, and when we give our lives to God, our awakening to the truth can shed a light on our lives that makes us feel ashamed. Often times we conflate our hatred for our past sins with a disdain for our physical lives. Some go so far as to devalue their physical lives by looking past this life and seeking only what awaits in the afterlife. While it is true that for believers in God, the afterlife will be something far greater than anything we could ever experience here on Earth, we should be careful not to devalue the lives we are given here. After all, our lives are gifts from God, and he has a plan for each of us.

Even Jesus valued his physical life. For example, take his time in Gethsemane right before he was apprehended. Up to that point, Jesus had warned his disciples on several occasions that he would soon be killed. When he was on the precipice of the fate that awaited him, he did not rejoice in his coming demise. From Matthew 26:36-43

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Jesus begged the Father to take away the cup, which represented the suffering he would face, three different times. His physical existence was important and in His humanity, he felt the need to escape pain as we all do. Prior to taking on a human form, Jesus had all the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent glory that we normally associate with God. Simply becoming human was a sacrifice on his part, and no one could have blamed him for being anxious to be rid of the flesh and all its weaknesses. Yet he was still hesitant to drink the cup of God’s wrath and die even knowing it was what was best. If Jesus was hesitant to face what the Father laid before him, how can we, who know no existence other than this one, be so quick to devalue and be rid of our lives? We should value our lives on Earth and even love them because our lives give us a unique opportunity to glorify God.

However, as with most things, there is a catch. You have to ask yourself a couple questions. How valuable is your life? Are you living a life worth loving? Jesus spent his life executing the Father’s will. His Earthly existence was dedicated to spreading the Gospel, standing against evil, and caring for his fellow man. Even when begging the Father to take away his burden, he still acknowledged that the Father’s will was more important. We understand the importance of his death, but truly, Jesus’ life was valuable too. None of us can be God in the flesh like Jesus, but God has plans for all of our lives. Just as Jesus’ adherence to the Father’s will gave his life value, so too will our lives be given value if only we follow God’s will and live according to his plan. 1 John 2:5 says:  

But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him. 

What if we spend our lives obeying God and following his will? Our very lives will then be reflections of our love for God. Lives that are defined by the love of God and love for God are truly lives worth loving. Love your life and live it in a way that demonstrates your love for God. You never know who is watching. You just might be teaching them how to love God and themselves too.

Chris Lawyer

Inspiration from Wakanda

We’re in the season of the Black Panther, and people are taking inspiration from the movie in a variety of ways. I’m not saying that the movie was made with any deep religious meaning in mind. However, if we keep our minds on God in all we do, HE can speak through whatever we do. The same goes with this movie. When we look at it, there are a lot of similarities between Wakanda and the Body of Christ A.K.A Christians.

Wakanda is a nation made from a merging of disparate tribes united by the importance they saw in Vibranium, a “gift” sent to the earth from the heavens via a meteor. We Christians come from all walks of life, and we are united by our faith and trust in God and acceptance of HIS Great Gifts (HIS Love, Grace unto salvation, and the advent of the Holy Spirit) sent from Heaven. In the movie, Vibranium is the greatest metal in the world. It is strong and versatile and is the basis for a science that is able to solve a variety of problems, and even bring someone back from the verge of death. God’s Gifts are the most valuable Gifts anyone could ever receive. God’s Word contains the knowledge and wisdom that when read using the insight of the Holy Spirit can get us through any problem. And Jesus’ sacrifice (death, burial, and resurrection) offers us salvation from sin and ultimately death. The Wakandans grew arrogant because of their advancement due to the presence of Vibranium. They believed themselves to be above those around them and closed themselves off from the world to keep the great gift and all that came with it to themselves. Sometimes we as Christians believe our acceptance of God’s Gifts makes us “different” from others and raises us above them. Sometimes we spend more time praising ourselves and each other for accepting those Gifts than we do spreading those Gifts to those outside of our group.

Now we get in to spoiler territory, but the desire by the Wakandans to maintain the status quo led to the creation of an enemy (Killmonger) that came back to sow discord among the people of Wakanda and even attempt to enact a plan to weaponize Vibranium for the purpose of waging war on the world. We too have an enemy, sin, that, at times, is purely of our own creation, and it can cause discord within the Body of Christ. That sin can also lead us to misuse God’s Gifts. Haven’t we all seen examples of people weaponizing the Word of God and using it to tear down and attack nonbelievers rather than to uplift them and help them to see the Love of GOD?  Ultimately, the Wakandans overcame their enemy. They regained their unity and made the right choice to open up and share Vibranium with the world in an attempt to make it a better place. Will we do the same? Will we put aside the petty differences that may separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ and commit ourselves more fully to sharing God’s Gifts in an attempt to save the world? Or will we continue to cling to our status quo and leave those around us to the deaths brought on by sin? The Bible is clear. Ezekiel 33:8 says:

When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 

The passage is telling us that we can save our fellow man from the death brought by sin. God’s Gifts are the keys to their salvation, but if we do not share those keys, their blood will be on our hands. Let’s make the Wakandan choice and make a more concerted effort to open up and get God’s Gifts out to the world.

Chris Lawyer