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
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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
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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
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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