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