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