Monday, December 30, 2019

The Winter Star



Winter has long been associated with death. There are likely a number of reasons for that. It could be due to the fact that we see plants fade away and animals disappear during the season. The increased length of the night and the early fading of day during the season could also be reasons, especially considering how much uncertainty and fear the night brought to people in the past. Maybe the answer is something as simple as the cold that the winter brings, which is also something associated with death. Whatever the reason, Winter is often seen as the season where life slows down and waits until Spring comes along to bring a rebirth.

Many scholars actually believe that Jesus was born during the Spring. Luke 2:8 says about the time of Jesus’ birth:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
The verse refers to an activity that typically happened in the springtime. So where did December 25th come from?  Some scholars believe that date was chosen for Christmas in an effort to replace Saturnalia, a holiday celebrated by many pagan converts to Christianity earlier in the faith’s history. Whatever the reason for the transition, the irony associated with Christmas should be evident. The birth of Jesus isn’t a story associated with death like the Winter season. Instead, for Christians, Jesus’ birth and life mean the defeat of death and the potential for receiving the gift of eternal life.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. - 1 John 2:17
Looking at it that way, it definitely would seem more fitting to celebrate Jesus’ birth in the Spring. Just as the arrival of Spring means an escape from the Winter and whatever cold and misery might have come along with it. Jesus’ birth meant the promise of an escape from God’s wrath and the death that would come as a result of that wrath.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. - John 3:36
For Believers, Jesus' birth brought forth the chance for a rebirth, a baptism in the Holy Spirit that renews all who believe in Him and turns us all into new people just like Spring seemingly recreates the world into something new from the barren setting that’s present during Winter in many places.

Looking at the dynamic that way, it seems clear that Spring would definitely be a more suitable time to celebrate Jesus’ coming, but there is another way to look at it. Yes, Jesus’ birth meant that the world would eventually gain a way of rising above sin and obtaining eternal life, however, sin and the trouble it brings didn’t just disappear from the world after Jesus was born. Similarly, when we accept Jesus as our savior, temptation and our tendencies toward sinfulness don’t just disappear either. Jesus and the Holy Spirit give us a way to rise above sin, but it’s still something in which we’re all immersed. Yes, Believers will have an unending spiritual life, but even those that believe in Jesus will still die in a physical sense (outside of those selected immediately during the Rapture). Therefore, Jesus’ birth didn’t necessarily push away sin and death in the same way that Spring pushes away the Winter. Instead, Jesus gives us hope in the midst of the somber season. He is like the bright star shining through a gloomy winter night. Maybe celebrating Jesus in the winter is perfect because during this cold and dark season, Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on the one light that can cut through any darkness we may face.
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” - John 8:12
A good reason for not celebrating Jesus’ birth in the Spring is the fact that we already celebrate his death in that season. While the birth of our savior might seem like a much more joyous event to celebrate than his death, in some ways, his death is the more important day to celebrate. Jesus’ life was certainly a blessing to this world, so his birth was important. However, his death and resurrection are what actually unlock the door to eternal life.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. - 1 Peter 1:3
As great as Jesus’ birth might have been, it was his death that created the opportunity for us to rise above death. His resurrection is the Spring that beats back the Winter that is sin.  

In the end, the season we celebrate a particular event in Jesus’ life doesn’t really matter. What is important is that we remember Jesus and what he means for us all. Whether it’s Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, Jesus should be just as important to us. What’s absolutely vital is that we not only celebrate Him, but integrate Him into our lives in a way that allows us to rise above the evils of the world around us.

To some extent, Jesus, even for some that don’t believe, is definitely the celebrity of this season. We have Christmas to thank for that. Because of this holiday, Jesus is and has been the Winter Star. As we prepare to celebrate Him and his birth, let us be sure to remember why it is that his birth was so important in the first place. If we do that, then maybe we can grow to a point where in our hearts, every day is Christmas. If he is the light that conquers death, then his light should be able to shine out even when the season associated with death ends.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of videoblocks.com


 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Only God Can Judge



“Only God Can Judge Me” - That’s a phrase that we hear thrown around a lot, usually after someone has done something unseemly or wrong. The invoking of God means that people who say this believe to some extent that the sentiment is Biblical. They are not wrong.
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? - James 4:12
The Bible is clear that we should leave judgement to God. The problem (as is often the case when people try to turn God’s Word into trendy sayings) is that the way this saying is used is often out of place. Yes, it is true that only God can pass judgement on anyone, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t to be held accountable for our actions by those around us. It doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want with the expectation that no one has the right to say anything to us about our actions. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that helping people move away from their sin isn’t just the duty of Believers, it is an action that can save lives.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. - James 5:19-20
Living righteously can be difficult, especially when we are left to our own devices. We often fool ourselves into believing we are justified in our bad actions even when we know we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t even feel the need to lie to ourselves in that way. Sometimes we are so committed to our sin that we simply do not want to give it up. That’s why some choose to throw around a saying like “only God can judge me.” By taking that saying to heart, people come to believe they can ignore their transgressions and those who would attempt to correct them are actually the ones that are in the wrong.

It’s not always easy to accept when we are wrong, and sometimes it only furthers our guilt and shame when others point out our wrongs. This is the reason why humility is such an important part of our Christian walks. We have to learn to get over ourselves and focus on what is important: living righteously and being obedient to God. God will forgive us and help us to move past our shortcomings, but we have to repent for our sins.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9
Therein lies the problem with attempting to sidestep our wrong doing. If we are more concerned with people knowing our wrongs and calling attention to our wrongs than we are with actually correcting those wrongs, we’ll never seek atonement. We’ll never walk away from our sinfulness. We’ll never repent. If we want to truly live righteously, we have to be willing to take hard looks at ourselves even if it takes someone else to force us to do so. Yes, it’s true that only God can judge us, but it’s also true that others can help us remain on the right side of His judgement.

Of course, there is another side to this issue. Sometimes this phrase about God’s judgement is thrown out because we as Christians are too judgmental. Yes, we are directed to hold each other accountable for our actions, but that is not the same as passing judgement on others. It is not our place to say whether other people are good or bad. It is not our place to say what should happen to people or how they should be treated because of their transgressions. It is our duty to remind each other of God’s will and what he wants from us, and we are to do that in a loving way, not a judgmental one.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:1-2
Truthfully, it can be tough straddling the line between being lovingly corrective and overly judgmental, but as we find again and again, doing the right thing is not always easy. It is, however, important. Keeping the Christian family together means keeping the bonds strong between everyone in the family. We cannot do that if we are constantly grating against each other. Further, if we hope to win more people to the Faith, we have to show them the benefits of believing. People have to understand that Believers only want the best for everyone. Again, this is where humility comes into play. If we are only interested in correcting others because we want to feel superior or better about our own moral standing, then we are, of course, acting improperly. Our attempts to hold others accountable should have nothing to do with ourselves. We should be motivated solely by the desire to see our brothers and sisters be at their best. We also always have to be aware of the fact that none of us are perfect. Being heavy handed when approaching people about their sin is hypocritical knowing that you have sin of your own. That is a lesson Jesus taught those around him.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. - Matthew 7:1-5
One day, God will judge us all, and it is true that only He has the right to do that. However, we should not use that fact as a rallying cry to justify or excuse our bad actions. We should also not make others feel like they need such a rallying cry. The goal is to live righteous lives, and that is not a goal any of us can achieve alone. Let us all do our best to help and be helped in achieving that common goal.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of wycovintage.com 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sermon Series Wrap-Up: What If You're Reaping What You Sow?


Most people have heard the term “Karma” before. It’s a concept taken from Buddhism and refers to the belief that karma is something we all amass as a result of our actions in life. Eventually, everyone will have that karma come back to them, and the nature of that karma will be a reflection of how we live our lives. If we live righteously, we will receive good karma. If we live evil lives, our karma will be bad. Most people understand this concept, and even if they don’t really believe in karma itself, many probably believe or want to believe that our actions have corresponding consequences.

As Pastor Pope pointed out in his latest series, that concept is part of Christianity too.
Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  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. - Galatians 6:7-8
Here we see Paul using the process of planting and harvesting crops as a metaphor to express the same sentiment as the concept of karma. Pastor Pope asks us all how we know we’re not reaping what we’ve sown. Many of us are going through hard times. Maybe they are the consequences of sowing to our flesh. That doesn’t mean that we should stop striving to do what is right. If you have changed your ways and are now sowing good, then you should believe that eventually you will reap good. All Believers should think that way. Jesus gives a clear example of just how far the principle of reaping what you sow can go.
So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life. - Luke 18:29
Jesus made that statement to his disciples following an encounter with a rich man who did not want to sacrifice his worldly goods. Jesus is making a promise that those who sacrifice for God will be rewarded both in the present and for eternity. Those of us who believe in Jesus need to believe in what Jesus said. After all, it was his sacrifice that allows us to reap such a great reward for living according to God’s will.

This concept of reaping what we sow doesn’t mean that if we’ve done bad, we’ll be stuck in a cycle of doing wrong and paying for our wrong. We will have to suffer consequences for the wrong we do, but we can turn our lives around. Pastor Pope used the story of Jacob in the Bible to illustrate that truth. Jacob tricked his brother, Esau, out of both his birthright and blessing, and in turn he was tricked and taken advantage of by his father-in-law, Laban. He sowed wrong and reaped wrong. However, Jacob also sowed goodness by being faithful and obedient to God and struggling both figuratively and literally against an angel to overcome his trials. As a result, he also reaped goodness and was blessed by God.

Most people can probably come to terms with the concept of accepting the consequences for one’s own actions. However, at times, we may have difficulty understanding just how great God’s blessings might be. Doing good will result in good, but that doesn’t mean the good we receive will be the equivalent of what we did. God can and will bless us beyond what we have earned. We just have to believe. Pastor Pope used the stories of Abraham and Mary to illustrate that point. Abraham was obedient when given commands by God, and in turn, he became the father of God’s chosen people. Mary was obedient when she was told about God’s plans for her, and in turn she became the mother to Jesus, the Messiah. Simple obedience resulted in unbelievable blessings from God, but this should not surprise us. As the Bible says:
For with God nothing will be impossible. - Luke 1:37
We Believers have to keep that in mind. When things seem bleak and show no sign of turning around, God can change our fortunes. If we remain faithful and obedient, we will reap goodness because that’s what God wants for us and there is nothing he can’t do for us.

Perhaps, Paul is the Bible’s greatest example of a person reaping what he sowed. He spent much of the earliest part of his life persecuting Jesus’ followers. God could have dispensed with him, but that’s not what God did. Instead, he chose to use Paul. Paul became one of God’s greatest servants, but he didn’t escape reaping the bad he sowed. He served God and at times his life was tough because of it. Suffering for God was the price he had to pay for working against God. Even in the midst of that suffering he found peace and reason for joy even in the midst of his tumult. 
For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. - Romans 8:18
As Pastor Pope said, Paul was “Too Blessed to Be Stressed.” Paul knew that serving God would one day lead to something much greater than anything he had gone through. He trusted God, and we must do the same. He knew that if he gave God his best; God would give him His best. That’s something we all need to take to heart. Too often we put so much of ourselves into the things of the world that God simply becomes an afterthought. We don’t give him the main parts of ourselves. Instead, we give him the leftovers. Then many of us wonder why things aren’t working out the way we’d like. We feel that we’re doing good, but we don’t see our lives impacted the way we want. We have to understand that we can’t give God what is left over and expect our blessings to overflow. If we sow scraps, we will reap scraps. We have to do the best for God and give him our best. Then, we can expect God to give us His best. We will come out as the winners in that exchange because no matter how good we are, we can’t beat God’s goodness.

It's not Karma that we exude, but we reap what we sow. As the Bible says, don't be deceived God will not be mocked, whatever a person sows, they will also reap.  Let's do our best to both sow and reap the fruits of God's will.

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 1
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/2337659336331315/

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 2
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/256709085243407/

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 3
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/979842805689080/

Too Blessed to Be Stressed
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/2591755487574845/

Don't Give God Your Leftovers
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/1485605151618067/


Chris Lawyer
Sermons By Pastor Everett Pope


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Moses Part 1



The Bible is full of important people who did significant things in service to God. Many of the people mentioned in the Bible are well known both by those who believe in God and those who don’t. Moses is one such character. He is likely one of the most prominent figures out of everyone in the Bible, potentially second only to Jesus himself. Like Jesus, Moses’ story is told through multiple books. However, the most well known portion of his story is probably the part that takes place in the book of Exodus. Due to multiple movies and other cultural references, the story of Moses leading the Israelites away from bondage in Egypt has transcended the pages of the Bible and become part of the greater culture of the world at large.

In some ways, it is good that a Biblical story has become so famous. Through the telling of the story, people who may not otherwise be exposed to the Faith can come to learn something about God. However, a drawback is that sometimes God’s place in the story can become watered down and seen as something not to be taken seriously. As Believers we have to remember that these stories are more than tales meant for entertainment. They teach us important lessons about God and what we need to know to live godly lives.

After the events in Joseph’s story, many of the Israelites had found a home in Egypt. When a new Pharaoh rose to power, the goodwill that Joseph had built for the Israelites in Egypt was lost. The Pharaoh saw the Israelites, who had grown substantially in number, as potential enemies and felt that he needed to do something to curb the threat that he felt they represented. He took drastic measures by giving an order to have all male Israelite children killed immediately after birth. Those were the conditions under which Moses was born. Right away, we see that God was with him from the start. 

In a desperate attempt to save her son, Moses’ mother tried to hide him, and when she realized she could not continue to do that, she sent him down a river. There are many ways that action could have gone wrong. Instead, it worked out in the best possible way. Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. She saved him, allowed his real mother to nurse him, and raised him as her own son. Moses went from being a child in danger of being killed before he even got a real shot at life to being put in one of the most privileged positions imaginable at the time. This change in fortunes is pretty similar to what happened in Joseph’s story, but Moses was a very different person than Joseph.

Both were principled people, but where Joseph was more thoughtful and reliant on God, Moses was impulsive and acted on his own accord. He could have clung to his acceptance in Egyptian society and looked down on his fellow Israelites who had been enslaved. He didn’t though, and that is a testament to his character. Still, his decision making was not always the best. When seeing an Egyptian abuse one of his fellow Israelites, Moses decided to kill the Egyptian and hide the evidence. His attempt at getting away with his crime failed. The Pharaoh found out about what Moses had done and sought to have Moses killed. Moses fled to a place called Midian to escape the Pharaoh. There, he met two young women. The way they described him after that encounter is interesting.
When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” - Exodus 2:18-19
Moses was an Israelite, and he was loyal enough to that heritage to kill over it. However, outsiders did not see him as such. They saw him as an Egyptian. Even his fellow Israelites did not necessarily see him as kin. That was demonstrated through some of his earlier interactions with them. Neither of those things stopped God from using Moses to save his people. The Pharaoh that ordered Moses be killed eventually died, and Moses was living in peace in Midian married to one of the young women that he had first encountered upon arrival there.  Moses was not necessarily living as a Hebrew when God contacted him. It is unclear to what extent Moses even followed God at that point. However, when God called, Moses immediately recognized Him. God informed Moses that Moses would be the instrument that God would use to save the Israelites. As many of us would, Moses questioned God’s decision. He wanted to know how he could be expected to address the mighty Pharaoh. He wanted to know how he could convince the Israelites to listen to him. God answered the questions and told him that he would take the Israelites out of Egypt and they would be gifted with much by the Egyptians.

Given the reality of the circumstances at the time, what God promised might have seemed crazy. We have probably all been in situations where God’s promises seem unrealistic, but as Believers we have to trust that God will fulfill those promises no matter how unlikely it may seem. This story is a good demonstration of God’s faithfulness. After all, God’s tasking of Moses was itself a fulfillment of the promise he made to Abraham.
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. - Exodus 2:23-25
We should also understand that God’s promises aren’t necessarily fulfilled with ease for us. If the promise seems like it would be difficult to achieve, then it very well may require much from us for it to be fulfilled. When God first told Moses that he would have to deal with Pharaoh and would free the Israelites, God didn’t mention anything about Moses (with Aaron) having to upstage Pharaoh’s sorcerers or Moses having to be the harbinger for the 10 plagues or Moses having split a sea down the middle so that the Israelites would have a path to safety. Yet, we all know from the story that all those things took place before the Israelites were free.

Moses’ story teaches us that we don’t have to be perfect for God to use us. It also teaches us that we can never be sure just how He will use us. However, if we have faith in Him, we can accomplish the biggest feats in the most amazing ways. If Moses’ story had ended there, it would have already been suitable to give Believers perspective on what it means to believe in and follow God, but his story was not finished. In some ways it was just beginning. There is plenty more from Moses to be put under the spotlight.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of ABC News

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

No More War



This month we celebrated Veteran’s Day. The day is meant to celebrate the work and lives of those that have served in the U.S. military. The need for a military in this world is unfortunate and undeniable. Conflict and violence have been a part of the human experience for nearly as long as humanity has existed. In the Bible, it goes as far back as the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain slew his brother out of jealousy and envy. While wars may be fought between nations and not individuals, the truth is they often begin because of the same things that cause petty fights between people. Greed, jealousy, hatred or to put it all more simply, sin. Our sinful nature doesn't just put us at odds with God. A lot of the time, it puts us at odds with each other, and all too often we allow our conflicts to devolve into the worse actions and people die as a result.  God hates violence. The violent nature of people was what angered God enough to want to destroy most of humanity. 

God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. - Genesis 6:12-13
As we know from the story, God stopped short of completely wiping out humanity. Because of Noah’s goodness, the human race was given an avenue to continue, but it wasn’t long before the violence of Man reared its head again. In fact, much of the Old Testament revolved around war. War was such a central part of human society that in guiding the Israelites, God had no choice but to essentially support the Israelites in war. War was unfortunately necessary for the Israelites to claim their promised land. It was necessary for them to protect themselves from enemies. And on the flipside, it was often used as punishment for the sin of the Israelites. To be more accurate, more than once, because of their sin, the Israelites found out how bad war could be when they didn’t have God’s support.

One might point out that it was mainly the Old Testament that was so violent. The New Testament had no wars and the violence was relatively limited in comparison with the exceptions of what was directed to Jesus and many of the Christians that followed. The New Testament focused more on love and the Christian directive to spread love along with the truth about Jesus. Still, make no mistake, even in the New Testament, it was made clear that mankind had not moved past its violence and probably would not in the near future. Jesus himself made that much clear. When he spoke of the things that would happen before he returned, he said:
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. - Matthew 24:6
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t expect an end to the madness. Ironically, the Old Testament gives us one of the clearest indications that one day, we can expect to move beyond the violence. When Isaiah told his vision of the time when the Lord comes back, he said:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. - Isaiah 2:4
That day has not yet come, and no one alive knows when it will come. So for right now, we have to expect that the horrors of war will continue, and we will need brave people that will stand and fight. Those people should be honored. We all have values, faith in something, and a nation in which we live, but not all of us are expected to fight and potentially die for those things. It takes courage to do so even when you have God on your side.

We can’t stop with just honoring them. We must also pray for them. We need to pray for their safety and lives. We need to pray for their families who share their sacrifices and hardships. We need to pray that even when they engage in the violence that God abhors, that they carry Him with them and do all things in his name according to his will. We need to pray that those who lead and are in command of the military make the right choices and use war to protect and save and not simply to destroy. Most of all, let us pray and thank God for his love in spite of our violent tendencies. We should all look forward to the promised time when we will no longer need to honor veterans because there will no longer be a need for people to live their lives preparing for and fighting wars.



Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of TeePublic

Monday, November 11, 2019

God Hates



God is a loving creator and ruler. As Believers, that is central to our desire to follow him. It’s something the Bible tells us pretty specifically.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. - 1 John 4:16-18
God is the source of love and we are instructed to follow his example and also be loving. That being the case, the idea that God can hate may seem like a contradiction. However, under careful consideration, most Believers should find that there is no conflict in this revelation. After all, we all understand that God hates sin. We’ve all heard the saying “God hates the sin not the sinner.” That sounds nice, but is it really true? Does God really not hate sinners?

Like most popular sayings attributed to the Bible, that saying is not actually Biblical and is not completely faithful to what the Bible says. What some might find to be an unfortunate truth is that God actually does hate sinners. The Bible tells us so. Proverbs 6:16-19 says:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
This set of verses is written in an interesting way. It draws a distinction between what God hates and what he finds detestable. Most of us would probably believe those feelings to be the same thing. The other somewhat odd thing about the verse is that it doesn’t specifically state which of the seven things named is simply something God finds detestable and not something he flat out hates. So, there is some ambiguity there. Five of the things listed are the body parts that are used to commit certain sins. One may argue that in those cases, the Bible is speaking symbolically and is talking more about the tendency to commit certain sins or the mechanism behind what causes us to sin. However, two of the things named are more specifically called out to be types of people - those that lie and falsely accuse others of wrongdoing and those who cause discord within communities. We know based on the numbers given, God finds both of those types of people to be detestable. However, we also have to acknowledge that God also hates at least one of those types of people.

Some may look at that set of verses and say the meaning seems a bit unclear. Maybe there is some room for interpretation there, but other verses are more clear.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest. - Psalms 5:4-6
The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 16-5 
In the Psalms verse, David is clearly proclaiming that God hates everyone who sins, and both verses repeat the theme that God particularly despises violent, dishonest and proud people. So where does this put us with God? We all sin from time to time. Does God hate all of us? Not exactly. Notice that all of the above verses come from the Old Testament, the part of the Bible the precedes a very important series of events - the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

At that time, sin separated humanity from God. God held wrath towards us and our relationship with Him was anything but friendly.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! - Romans 5:10
Paul is telling us that, at one point, God viewed us as enemies because of our sin. Is it so surprising to think that he may have hated those that indulged in sin? Most people understand what an enemy is, and most can understand the feeling of hate one might feel towards his or her enemies. That said, we have to be careful when equating God’s feelings to ours. Yes, the Bible tells us that God hated sinful human beings. Still, there is a silver lining. The Old Testament tells one story after another about how the Children of Israel indulged in wrongdoing, yet God was always with them. Even if he hated the evildoers, he never fully abandoned them. And yes, all of us humans are born in sin, and that makes us God’s enemies, but instead of just being done with us, he devised a plan to save us that involved the sacrifice of his Son.

You see God’s hate isn’t like ours. No matter what negative feelings he had towards us, he couldn’t help but want the best for us and do the best for us. That’s love. Even when hating, God loves. What if we were like that? People will always rub each other the wrong way from time to time. We will always fall short not only in how we live according to God’s wishes but also in how we interact with each other. We will get mad with each other, and honestly, depending on what happens, we may even come to hate others. But will we have the typical human hatred where we want nothing but the worst for those that we oppose, or will we hate like God and use our negative feelings to open up an opportunity to save? That’s a question that each of us has to answer for ourselves. However, before we even get there, we have to make sure that we truly accept salvation, the gift that God gave us. He gave us a way to escape his hatred and go from being his enemies to his beloved children. Make sure you’re on the right side of that, and do your best to help others get there too. If God’s love is unbelievable in its greatness, what must his hatred be like? It’s best not to find out.
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of Challies.com


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Joseph


Joseph was the son of Jacob, and like his father, he had an interesting life. However, unlike his father, Joseph did not get put on a strange path because of the wrong that he had done. Joseph was portrayed as being good from the start. Maybe he was a little too good, at least, that’s how those around him might have thought. The first thing we learn about Joseph is that he was known to snitch on his brothers.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. - Genesis 37:2
Maybe telling on his brothers the way he did was the right thing to do, but right away we see that Joseph had to learn a lesson that many of us have also learned. When you do the right thing, it might gain you some allies, but it can most certainly also gain you some enemies. The story goes on to tell us that Jacob (now known as Israel) loved Joseph more than his other sons, and that Jacob’s other sons hated Joseph because of it. Side note: It seems people in the Bible were pretty open about showing favoritism for certain children and it almost always resulted in bad consequences. So, while the parenting wasn’t exactly the focus of these stories, maybe that’s a little extra lesson parents can learn from these stories. Don’t show favoritism. Love your children.

Joseph’s relationship with his brothers was exacerbated when he told them about a dream he had that suggested that one day his brothers would bow to him. The Bible doesn’t say whether or not he understood these dreams were messages from God. Still, it was no secret that God could communicate in that way. After all, God had chosen to communicate with Jacob in the same way. However, Joseph rushing to tell his brothers about the dream suggests that maybe Joseph was a little naive.  If he understood that his brothers didn’t care for him, he should have known that him bragging about such a dream would rub them the wrong way. Yet, he told them anyway, and when he had another dream that delivered a similar message, he told his brothers again even though the Bible tells us that they had a bad reaction to the news of the first dream. He also told his father after the second dream, and even his father was unhappy with the revelation.

When the story continues and we find that Joseph’s brothers plot on him and eventually sell him to some merchants, many of us might think ‘he should have seen that coming.’ His brothers convinced his father that Jacob had been killed, and, at the time, they believed that was the end of Joseph’s story as far as it related to them. On the contrary, his story was just beginning, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, Believers should know that if God tells you something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.

Joseph found himself in Egypt and was purchased by one of the Pharaoh’s officials, a man named Potiphar. Unlike Joseph’s brothers, Potiphar recognized Joseph’s goodness and appreciated it. Being an Egyptian, it was unlikely that he was a follower of God, but even he was able to recognize that Joseph was favored by God.
When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. - Genesis 39:3-4
The story goes on to tell us that Joseph was propositioned by Potiphar’s wife. As expected of a man like Joseph, he did the right thing and turned her down. In response, she lied on him out of spite, and Joseph found himself in prison. Once again, someone, this time the prison warden, was able to recognize God in Joseph and treated him with favor. Eventually, we find out that, Joseph is not only blessed with dreams that portend the future, but he is also blessed with the ability to interpret dreams. This time dreams didn’t lead to misfortune for Joseph. Quite the opposite, his ability to interpret dreams got him out of prison and into the service of the Pharaoh. Joseph was able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams when all of his advisors had failed. Pharaoh was so impressed by God’s revelation through Joseph that Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt second only to Pharaoh in authority.

Take a moment to understand how amazing that is. Joseph went from slave to the second most powerful man in Egypt all because of God working through him. If that isn’t uncanny enough, then also consider the fact that Pharaoh, a man considered to be a living god by his people, elevated Joseph in such a way because he recognized God in Joseph.
The Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” - Genesis 41:39-40
With God’s favor and the authority given to him by Pharaoh, Joseph was able to do some very important things like preparing Egypt for a coming famine that devastated much of the world. Joseph’s status also put him in a position where he had the choice to either punish or forgive his brothers. He chose to forgive them, and just as his dreams foretold, they wound up bowing to him. Fortunately for them, the dreams were never meant to show that Joseph would lord over them in a bad way. The truth is that the dreams were a sign that one day Joseph would be his family’s salvation. In the end, things turned out great for Joseph and his family all because he made a point to live righteously and because God was pleased with him for his righteousness.

There are so many lessons we can take from this story. As Believers, we are set apart from the other people of the world in some ways, and we are expected to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing. Like Joseph, living that way can send us through a multitude of ups and downs. Doing good doesn’t mean that every part of our lives will be good, but whether we are at a high or a low, God is with us. If we know that, then we should do our best to make sure that everyone else knows it too. God being in us saves us, but His presence in us can also change the hearts of those around us. It can also save those, who at one time, were against us. In some ways, Joseph’s life is like a blueprint for the lives of Believers. We may not reach the highs that he did or sink to the same lows. However, we can all expect similar dynamics in our lives. We just have to remember that if we live as God commands and always keep him at the head of our lives, like Joseph, we and many that we encounter along the way will win in the end.
Chris Lawyer
 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Sermon Series Wrap-up: Make Room


In his last series (Empty Your Cup), Pastor Pope spoke about unburdening ourselves of many of the things we cling to and carry in order to gain a greater relationship with God. This series, Make Room, is a natural progression from the last series. In general, when we get rid of clutter, it frees up space that can be filled with things with more value and purpose. Pastor Pope used an example found in Luke 12:13-21 to set the stage for the discussion. In those verses, Jesus tells a parable about a man who had a great harvest and was about to tear down his barn and build something larger so he could hold onto his bounty. God told the man that he was foolish for putting so much into caring for possessions that will not serve him once he was dead.

The point of Jesus’ story was that we shouldn’t fill our lives with things that don’t matter. Instead, we should focus on the things of God. Sometimes it seems hard to get rid of the things taking up the space in our lives that should be occupied by God. We feel that we need earthly things and can’t live without them. In Philippians 4:10-13, Paul addresses the state of being able to do without even when in a state where there is need. It all comes down to faith in Christ. If you truly believe that God will take care of you, then you should also believe that God can empower you to overcome any obstacle.

So once we’ve equipped ourselves with the faith necessary to step away from the clutter in our lives and make room for God, what should we replace the clutter with? The first thing Pastor Pope identified was truth.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. - John 8:32
The truth is important because when it comes to spiritual matters, it is unchanging and absolute. Pastor Pope used a scale to illustrate the importance of truth. Scales are used to weigh things, and when used they give you the truth. If you want to lose weight, you need to use a scale to monitor your progress. You need to know the truth of your current status to know how if you're moving towards your goal. The same goes for our Christian walks. We need to apply something like a scale to our faith and actions. We need to know the truth about where we are in our Christian walks, so that we can properly assess our progress towards our goal, a better relationship with God. We also need to recognize that Jesus represented the truth. He delivered the Gospel, which is also truth delivered from heaven. We need to strive to apply Jesus’ truth to our lives. Since Jesus’ truth came from heaven, we need to take our minds away from the things of the earth to really understand it. Once again, we see why it is necessary to empty our cups and make room.

The second thing we want to make room for is prayer. 
Confess your trespasses to another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. - James 5:16
Contrary to what some may believe, prayer isn’t empty like meditation. We don’t do it simply to focus or center ourselves. We pray with purpose and cause. Christians need to make room for prayer because it serves a real function in our daily lives. Prayer is communication with God, and through that communication we seek to do many things. We pray to ask him to fulfill our needs. We ask Him to help us and others through our trials and tribulations. We pray to confess and repent for our sins. We pray out of obedience, hope, and a desire to grow closer to God. We have an abundance of reasons to pray, but unfortunately many of us do not do it enough, and some do not do it at all. Prayer is a spiritual act, and is necessary for spiritual growth. 

Prayer is also a privilege. It is what gives us a direct relationship with the true God. If our goal is a closer relationship with God, prayer is the means by which we commune with Him. If there is anything in our lives that holds us back from entering that commune, it needs to be removed. We need to clear up the time and space in our lives to speak to God regularly. Otherwise, a true relationship with God will be impossible.   With prayer, we speak and God hears. He answers our prayers, and we should continue to pray in gratitude and thanksgiving. That is how it should be. That is how we can develop past having an idea of who we believe God to be, and instead come to a point where we know exactly who God is.

The last thing mentioned in the series for which we need to make room is fellowship. When we make room for prayer we allow for growth in our relationship with God, but He doesn’t just want us to have a relationship with Him. He wants us to have relationships with each other. God made us social beings, and that affects all parts of our lives including our Christian walks. Our attempts to live righteous lives affects how we interact with each other. Pastor Pope pointed out that many of us are nicer to each other because we are trying to live godly lives. We become better at interacting with people because of our desire to live righteously. However, the dynamic works in the other direction too. Good social interaction with other people of God helps us to live righteous lives. As the James verse above noted, we are to confess to others and pray for others. These are acts of fellowship. The Bible instructs us to do those things and more because they are important to our growth. 

As Believers, our fellowship should be based on our mutual belief in Jesus and his resurrection. That common belief acts as a strong foundation for our relationships that allows us to positively influence each other and keep each other on the narrow path. Perhaps, most importantly, our fellowship in the name of Jesus brings glory to God.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. - Hebrews 10:19
Jesus died for us and every time we gather with others who believe as we do, we are providing a living testimony of our faith in our savior.
The things Pastor Pope named are certainly not the only things for which we should make room, but if we start with these things, then we will have given ourselves a strong foundation and a clear path to a better relationship with God.

Make Room
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/621245455066101/

Make Room for Truth
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/434946127142726/

Make Room for Prayer
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/538235736980051/

Make Room for Fellowship
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/462690994459769/

Chris Lawyer
Sermons By Pastor Everett Pope

Monday, October 14, 2019

Forgiveness Revisited

 



Normally, we wouldn’t really go back to a topic so soon after covering it, but an interesting case study in forgiveness took place recently and has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Last year, a white off-duty police officer named Amber Guyger entered the home of Botham Jean, a black man, and killed him. According to Guyger, she had mistaken Jean’s apartment for her own, and upon entering and finding him there, she pulled her gun and killed him in what she claimed to be self-defense. Her account of the incident didn’t hold water for many who took this incident to be just another example of police officers killing black men unjustly. This incident was particularly egregious because the victim in this case was completely innocent of any wrongdoing and was, by all accounts, a very good person.

Guyger was found guilty of murder, which surprised those who had come to expect the police to always get away with killing blacks. However, her sentencing of only 10 years for the murder angered many, who believed that 10 years was far too short for the killing of an innocent man. At least one person, did not seem enraged by the short sentence. Brandt Jean, Botham Jean’s teenage brother, sparked a debate of sorts when he took the opportunity in court to forgive Guyger and gave her a hug. To some, the act was a shining example of Christian principles. Young Brandt had done something many people could not. He had chosen to forgive the person that had taken a loved one away from him and his family. Many applauded him for the act and pointed to his act as an example of the kind of humanity this world needs to see more. As discussed in the Forgiveness: Hard But Necessary blog entry, forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian walk.

However, many did not agree with what Brandt did. In fact, many were maddened by it and saw it as an example of what was wrong with the Black community and Black Christians specifically. They argued that such forgiveness was always one-sided and pointed out several cases where black people were convicted of similar or even lesser crimes and did not receive the same forgiveness. Many of the critics believe the tendency of Blacks to forgive to be a weakness and that Brandt’s action could only hurt the Black community by giving the impression that no matter what is done to Blacks, they will just roll over and take it. The criticism is harsh, but, to some extent it is true. Christian forgiveness is not guaranteed to turn enemies to friends, and some will look at the tendency to forgive as a sign of weakness. However, much of the criticism seems to be born from a lack of understanding about Christian motivation.

First, Christians don’t forgive because they are naïve enough to believe that their forgiveness will automatically change the ones being forgiven or the world at large. As we discussed before, we forgive out of obedience to God (Luke 17:3-4). We forgive as an acknowledgement that we ourselves are also guilty of sin and were forgiven by God (Colossians 3:13). Yes, some acknowledge the possibility that by forgiving someone, you may change that person’s heart, but hardly anyone believes that change is a guarantee. Few believe that an act of forgiveness, even one as public as Brandt Jean’s, will rid the world of racism and its other ills. The critics seem to be hung up on the idea that Brandt forgiving Guyger was somehow a gift to Guyger. They don’t realize that forgiveness can benefit the person doing the forgiving as much as it does the person being forgiven (Mark 11:25).

That’s part of the reason those critics can look at Brandt’s action as one born of weakness. They think that he gave something to the person that murdered his brother. In reality, it is more likely that he unburdened himself. His brother was murdered. He probably felt a mixture of emotions as an example – pain, anger, and even hatred. He knows exactly who committed the injustice, so Guyger likely acted as the target for all those emotions. Anyone who has experienced such emotions knows they can be like weights that can hold a person back and keep that person from moving forward. Guyger was basically the tether that tied Jean to those weights. By forgiving her, Brandt may have been able to cut that tether and give himself the chance to leave those weights behind. Maybe his actions will help Guyger deal with what she’s done and grow as a person. Maybe she doesn’t care about the forgiveness. Either way it doesn’t really matter, if Brandt’s actions allow him to recover from the trauma that resulted from the loss of his brother, then clearly his actions were beneficial.

Blacks have been and still are brutalized in this country. Often, Blacks have found themselves having to be the ones to accept wrong doing and move forward without compensation or even contrition from those guilty of the misdeeds. It certainly does seem unfair for one group in particular to be put in that position especially when the same understanding and forgiveness is rarely offered in the opposite direction. Still, Christians shouldn’t aim to do what is right out of the belief that we will be treated in kind. In fact, the Christian expectation should be that our good acts won’t be returned in kind. After all, Christ spent his whole life doing good and was thanked by being beaten and murdered. Being Christlike doesn’t mean being weak though. A weak man couldn’t have endured what Jesus went through before reaching the cross. A weak man wouldn’t have used his dying breaths to advocate for those that put him in that position. That was the example Jesus set for Christians. That was the example young Brandt chose to follow. It wasn’t easy or fair for Jesus, and it probably wasn’t for Brandt either. The truth is that doing the right thing is hardly ever the easiest thing to do. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and if people only do the right thing in times where there they can expect it to be reciprocated, it’s unlikely anyone would ever do the right thing. So it is on Christians to take the hard step, and even if there is no reward or recompense in this world, we will have pleased God and that will matter when we move on to the next world.

Nonbelievers may not ever understand or agree with what Brandt did. When Christians point out that what Brandt did was what Christians are supposed to do, some nonbelievers take that as proof that Christians are naïve and problematic. The harsh criticisms that Brandt has received demonstrate that. Christians have to learn a lesson from this. Christianity is about love, faith, and righteousness. One would think that exhibiting those things would endear others to you, but that is often not the case. Sometimes doing what you feel is right as a Christian will only turn people against you and gain you enemies. That doesn’t mean Christians should walk around with a persecution complex as some do, but Christians do need to understand that following Christ may leave you alienated and at odds with those around you, especially if you are surrounded by nonbelievers.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted - 2 Timothy 3:12
The above verse sounds dire, and one might wonder why it has to be true, but Jesus explained clearly why it is so.
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. – John 15:19
Unfortunately, what Brandt Jean did was not typical in our society. It was an aberration. In this world, we’re led to believe that we should be angry and hateful and vengeance seeking, and anyone who doesn’t fall in line is either aiding the enemy or is also an enemy. As Christians, we have been given a set of principles and we have to stand on those principles whether everyone applauds us for it or hates us for it. That’s what Christ did, and who’s a better example than him?

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.heavy.com

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Christian Culture Wars



Culture is defined as the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. Cuisine, language, literary works, style of dress – these all act as elements of a culture and, in many cases, are clear indicators of a particular culture. If you see a person Hula dancing, you’d probably immediately think of Hawaii and the natives of that island. That’s just how strong the influence of cultural elements can be. Everyone who sees or partakes in them knows exactly which culture they represent. Christians as a group have an associated culture too. Does the culture that is associated with Christianity fairly represent Christ? That’s an important question because if the answer to that question is anything less affirmative than “absolutely,” we are doing something wrong.

For example, music is arguably one of the most important elements of any culture. Music is universal and almost every culture has its own style of music, which is easily identified as being representative of that particular culture. Christianity is certainly covered in that area. Whether it’s through contemporary Christian music or Gospel rooted in the slave customs of the past, Christians have definitely found a way to use music to praise and worship God, spread the Gospel, encourage other Believers, and accomplish a number of other tasks. The use of music in service of God was well established in the Bible.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. – Psalms 100:1-2
These verses from Psalms make it clear that we are expected to use music in our worship and praise of God. In fact, the inclusion of Psalms in the Bible is proof of just how important music is to the Christian experience. After all, Psalms is largely a collection of songs about God and dedicated to God. They aren’t solely just for praise either. Consider the many songs from David like Psalms 56.
Be merciful to me, my God, for my enemies are in hot pursuit; all day long they press their attack. My adversaries pursue me all day long; in their pride many are attacking me. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? – Psalms 56:1-4
David isn’t just praising God in the song. He’s explaining the goodness of God. He’s giving a testimony. Maybe some of the musicality of the song has been lost in translation and with the lack of the accompanying melodies, but the meaning is still crystal clear. Religious songs are a dime a dozen these days, but are they all really like those that David wrote? Does your favorite Christian song truly capture who God is and what he's done? Does it really put into perspective how important Jesus is? We have to be careful that we don’t allow the culture to be watered down. Anything put out there to represent Christianity should do that in a truly substantive way and not just in name. That isn’t just true for Christian music but also for any other element of Christian culture whether it be Christian movies, liturgical dance, or Bible influenced clothing.

Culture isn’t just about artistry and works though. The customs and values held by a group of people are also elements of its culture. For example, the term “Southern Hospitality” is often used to describe the customs of the people in the southern states. Friendliness is considered to be part of southern culture. In contrast, indifference to the needs and circumstances of others is often associated with more urban places like NYC. So, depending on the customs associated with a particular culture, that culture can be seen in either a positive or a negative light. To make things more complicated, a group might seem to have a singular culture from the outside, but in truth be made of a bunch of smaller subcultures. That’s how America is. As suggested above American culture includes both southern and urban subcultures among others.  The various American subculures are easily recognized by people that live in the country. However, people outside of the country may not recognized the distinction. What happens when different subcultures exhibit opposing characteristics? In those cases, we see intracultural wars – battles for the spirit of the larger culture. This is a problem we see in America today. Unfortunately, it is also a problem facing Christianity. It shouldn’t be though. The difference between America as a group of people and Christians as a group of people is that there is no core guidance that defines what American culture should be and what characteristics Americans should portray. Christians, on the other hand, have the Bible, which defines Christian culture and identifies what characteristics are fitting of the people within the culture.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:12-15
In those verses, Paul is explaining what characteristics should define Christians and by extension Christian culture, but are they the characteristics that those outside of the faith would attribute to Christians now? Or would they say that Christians are mean spirited, judgmental, unforgiving, and cruel? Maybe only a few people who claim to be Christians portray those negative traits, unfortunately, in today’s world the actions of a few often unfairly reflect on everyone in a group. So, your bad actions might not just be attributed to you. They might be seen as being reflective of all Christians and even Jesus himself. The last thing any true Believer should want is to badly represent Jesus.

Today, we Christians are in the middle of a culture war. On one side are the people who seek to ensure that Christian culture reflects what’s in the Bible and does Jesus and his teachings justice. On the other side are people who call themselves Christians but indulge in a culture that is anything but Christ-like. We must do everything we can to ensure that we are on the right and winning side of this battle. We must win for ourselves and for the Lord because our job as Christians is to bring others to Him, but if we are associated with a culture that makes Christ seem like someone that should be avoided, we can’t fulfill our mission. So, let us be sure to indulge in the music and other works that glorify God, but let us also strive to only engage in the customs that represent what God expects of us. Because if Christian culture doesn’t reflect Christ then we’ve already lost the war.
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.evangel-temple.org

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Jacob




As we know, Abraham’s son Isaac survived God’s test of Abraham. He grew up and, just as God promised, Isaac became Abraham’s heir. He inherited Abraham’s power and estate and carried on Abraham’s legacy. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation. Of course, that is a promise that would take generations to come to fruition. Isaac represented the first generation in the growth of Abraham’s nation, and he in turn contributed to the fulfillment of God’s promise by having children of his own. One of his children was named Jacob. Jacob had an interesting and, what some might consider, bizarre life.

Jacob knowingly lied to his father and stole his brother, Esau’s, birthright (Genesis 26:34 -28:9). That was one of the first notable things that happened in his life. Right away, we see that Jacob isn’t one of the blameless characters like Noah or Abraham who had been instrumental in the Bible’s story up to this point. From the very beginning of his story, we know he’s flawed. What’s curious is that God’s reaction to Jacob isn’t necessarily what we might think. Instead of immediately punishing Jacob, God sends Jacob a dream that confirms that, despite how he came to it, he would inherit Isaac’s blessing and carry on Abraham’s legacy (Genesis 28:11-20). Jacob winds up serving his uncle, Laban, who gives Jacob his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. In our modern society, such a thing would be considered a completely foreign concept. To make matters stranger, his two wives engage in a child bearing competition of sorts that comes to involve their servant women. Jacob finds himself making many children with several women, all in the confines of what is allowed through his marriages (Genesis 30). Jacob eventually leaves Laban’s employ and returns back home escaping his brother’s wrath and claiming what God promised him.

In that abbreviated version of the story, it seems like Jacob got away with his original transgression. After all, in the end, he received the blessing that he originally stole. While that is true, to only acknowledge that part of the story is to make a mistake that we often make in life. We see the beginning and end points of certain incidents and storylines and miss everything in between. To modify a popular saying, "God is in the details." Jacob had to leave home to escape his brother. He fell in love with Rachel and had to work hard to earn her hand in marriage, but that only came after he was first forced to take Leah as his wife even though, at the time, he did not want her. He ran afoul of Laban and had to flee with his family. The fact is Jacob’s life was complicated. God rewarded him in the end, but claiming his reward was not easy. Maybe God always intended for Jacob to carry on Abraham’s legacy, but Jacob’s underhanded way of receiving that blessing may have been what led to his life being harder than necessary.

People who only look at the endpoints of Jacob’s story may miss another important point. Despite being flawed, he was still faithful and obedient to God. When God gave Jacob his dream, Jacob accepted it as truth without question and marked the land God promised. When Jacob was hiding from Laban, God told him to go back home, and Jacob obeyed right away. When God told Jacob to go to Esau, Jacob did so even though he was afraid of what Esau might do to him. God was with Jacob at every point in his life, and whenever God spoke Jacob obeyed. Jacob wasn’t rewarded in the end because he tricked Isaac into giving him Esau’s birthright. Jacob was rewarded because despite the troubled beginning to his story, he still kept God at the head of his life and doing that always pays off.

Jacob’s story is surprisingly easily applied to our own lives. While the details may differ, we all go through ups and downs in our lives. Our lives take turns that we don’t expect and leave us in circumstances that we sometimes don’t know how to handle. We all seem to wrestle with daily problems, the people around us, and even God. Well, Jacob did the same, both figuratively, oddly enough, literally. Yes, Jacob actually physically wrestled with an angel representing God and won...sort of. 
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." - Genesis 32:38
The encounter was symbolic of Jacob's life.  God acknowledged that Jacob had been through trials and declared that Jacob had come out of them triumphant. 
We have to learn how to be like Jacob and trust God in and out of our trials.  We have to let God navigate us through life. Like Jacob, we are all flawed, but sometimes it may even be the wrong that we do that starts us down the path to righteousness. No matter where our lives take us, if we keep God at the head, we’ll end up just where he wants us to be, and that’s always just the right place for us to be.
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.biblicalarchaeology.org



Monday, September 23, 2019

Forgiveness: Hard But Necessary



What does it mean to live a Christian lifestyle? That’s a topic that’s been broached many times on this blog. It’s unfortunate but true that many people who call themselves Christians believe that living a Christian life means cherry picking commands from the Bible to live by and then chastising others for not living in the same way. That’s not a Christian lifestyle. Yes, as Christians, we acknowledge that God gives us commands in the Bible that we are supposed to follow. However, we can’t just pick and choose the commands we want to follow. In fact, it does not benefit us at all to overemphasize the importance of adhering to the Law as written in the Old Testament. Paul addresses this:
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. - Galatians 3:10-14
Paul makes it clear that attempting to live by the Law is problematic. If you’re going to live by the Law, you have to live by all the laws without fail. Paul points out the folly in that line of thinking. None of us can obey the Law without falling short. That is why Jesus had to die for us. As Christians, we are supposed to live by our faith in Jesus. We aren’t supposed to try and force nonbelievers into doing what we think is right. We are supposed to share the Gospel and give them the information necessary to make an informed choice to choose Jesus. After that, it is up to them whether or not they want to give themselves to the Lord.

That’s not to say that the actions of Christians don’t matter. They do. Jesus instructed his followers to live righteously to serve as examples to the people of the world around them.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:16
When Jesus said “let your light shine,” he wasn’t just talking about following laws. He was talking about living a righteous life. That means following the example Jesus set with his life and following his teachings. Jesus covered many topics with his teachings, so it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start when attempting to live life more righteously. In a previous blog entry (Humility is the Key), we identified humility as the place to start when trying to live a righteous life.  However, you don't become humble just by speaking it.  You may have to change yourself in many ways, and adding a spirit of forgiveness to your character should be one of the first changes you make. It may sound like an odd thing to start with, but it’s not.

Learning to forgive can help us keep ourselves in line along the righteous path. It can help us refine our thinking. When talking about forgiveness, most of us naturally come to a question of how much forgiveness is enough. Jesus addressed that.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” - Matthew 18:21-22
Jesus is essentially telling us not to worry about how much we should forgive. He’s telling us that our focus should simply be to forgive. He followed that answer with a parable (Matthew 18:23-35). That parable tells a story about a servant that was forgiven by his master but refused to forgive another servant. The master finds out about the lack of forgiveness from the first servant and punishes him for it. That parable describes us perfectly. Every Christian should accept that God has forgiven the sins of those that believe. If we move through life cognizant of God’s forgiveness of ourselves, then it becomes easier for us to act with forgiving spirits. In doing that we will be following Jesus’ example and also humbling ourselves in a way that is necessary to add all the other important traits like faithfulness and obedience to our characters.

When you really think about it, Jesus’ life and death boil down to a story about forgiveness. God sent him to die for us, so that we could be forgiven for our sins.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. - Ephesians 4:32
So, if we are to follow Jesus’ example, wouldn’t it make sense for us to start with the concept that brought Jesus to us in the first place. We as humans make mistakes that hurt others. Sometimes, we even intentionally hurt others. We are also hurt by others. Depending on what is done to us, it can be very hard to forgive, but doing the right thing is often hard. Forgiving someone when everything and everyone in the world would tell you not to is probably one of the most striking examples possible for what it means to be Christlike. Have you ever seen a story where someone whose loved one was murdered forgave the killer? What kind of strength must that take? How strong a statement does it make when that person turns around and says that they were able to forgive because of Jesus. What about when our loved ones wrong us? It might be easy for us to push them away or treat them differently because of what they’ve done, but isn’t forgiving them and finding a way to move forward the more loving thing to do? Maybe by forgiving when reason tells us not to, we can be more effective in bringing people to God than we ever could by trying to force laws on them. 

If a spirit of forgiveness can help us live more righteously and also help bring more people to the Lord, then isn’t it paramount that we strive to add it to our characters no matter how difficult that might be? Jesus would certainly say so, and that alone should be reason enough to do it.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.theapopkavoice.com

Saturday, September 14, 2019

You Don't Work, You Don't Eat



Sometimes, it is easy to get a false impression of how Believers should conduct themselves in this world. The Bible is a big book and packs a lot of information. It offers instruction for virtually every aspect of our lives. At times, it can even seem like the instructions contradict each other, but usually those contradictions come from a misunderstanding of what the Bible is actually saying or a lack of context with regards to what one passage may be saying versus another. A lot of times scripture is presented in one or two verse segments to highlight a point someone wants to make. While using scripture in that way isn’t necessarily wrong, sometimes such usage can work against true understanding of what God is trying to present to us. When focusing on those one or two verses, we may miss the greater point made by all the surrounding verses. For example, let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 3:10:
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
Like with many Bible verses, this one has entered common lexicon and been simplified even further. Everyone has heard the statement If you don’t work, you don’t eat. In today’s world, there is almost a constant debate about what responsibility we as people have to each other. How much are we supposed to help those who are down on their luck, out of work, sick, etc…? The shortened version of the Thessalonians verse is often thrown out as a means of dismissing the idea that we should help certain people. Unfortunately, that is another example of the all too common misuse of Biblical scripture.

The Bible gives us clear instruction to help those in need.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16
Our first inclination should not be to find a loophole that allows us to escape our responsibility towards our fellow human beings. That’s a distortion of what God wants from us. Ultimately, as Christians, we are supposed to be spreading the Word of God. We are supposed to be living examples of the goodness that was first represented in Jesus. Sure, conmen and grifters exist, but if we simply dismiss them and move along, how can we introduce them to the Word? How can we allow them to see what a godly person looks like? Maybe we can’t reach people like that. That’s certainly a possibility, but we weren’t commanded to pick and choose who we treat with love. We were just commanded to love. Jesus, during his travels, certainly encountered unsavory people, but he did not treat them any differently than anyone else. He spread the Word to the good, the bad, and everyone in between. That is how we should be too, and if that means sometimes funding people who are just looking for a handout, so be it, as long as God’s will is done.

All that said, even if the Thessalonians verse is being misused, there is no question, it is a real verse, so if we’re saying here that many of the common uses of this verse are wrong, what is the real purpose of the verse? You can only understand that by digging deeper into the Word. Let’s look at the whole passage instead of just that one tidbit.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10
We must remember that, at this time, Christianity was still a growing faith. It is the mission of all who believe to spread the Gospel, however, at this time it was even more important because most people in the world had never even heard of Jesus. As you can imagine, organizing a new religion was a busy endeavor, and Paul was right in the midst of it. In this passage, he is giving instructions to those that he has had a part in bringing into the Faith. He is telling them to avoid people who have no desire in working to benefit the greater effort, and he’s also using himself as an example for how the people should have behaved. He was diligent in his work, and he expected that from everyone else that professed to serve the Lord. Paul was certainly not telling his followers to ignore the needs of the less fortunate or to treat those who have fallen on hard times as if they were useless and undeserving of care.

Of course, the Spirit can always lead you to take something from this passage that is outside of the literal explanation. For example, it’s fair to say that this passage is making the deeper point that our faith should be active and not passive. That if we truly consider ourselves to be Christians, we should be actively doing God’s work. We should not think that because we have been saved through our faith that we can just sit idly by and wait for the rewards.

Yes, the Bible is rich with wisdom, and it is absolutely possible that different people can read the same verse and gain different insights. Still, any understanding of the Word that does not come from God is bound to be flawed. When we read the Bible, we need to rely on the Spirit and genuinely seek enlightenment. We can try to take from the words what we want them to say. However, reading in that fashion can lead to pushing Biblical rhetoric that actually contradicts God’s will. It’s His Word, so let’s take it in and send it out His way.

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of Sean Bradford's Pinterest page.