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.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Humility is the Key


Love God above everything and love others as we love ourselves. What God wants from us can be stated pretty simply. Still, no matter how easy it is to state what God wants from us, it’s not nearly so easy to actually do what he wants. That’s evidenced by the fact that even the best of us slip and fail sometimes. God understands this, so much so, that it’s even pointed out in the Bible.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10
The path of righteousness is a hard road to walk, but that doesn’t mean we can just give up and go another way. We have to be diligent, and we have to be proactive in finding the things in our path that will cause us to stumble, so that we can remove them. There are many different pitfalls, and to make matters worse, each of us is susceptible to different temptations. So what can we do?

Well, as a start, we can humble ourselves. Humility is vital to our walks with God because often we are the ones that inhibit the growth of our relationships with God. Our desires to do the things we want to do, go to the places where we want to go, associate with the people with whom we want to associate, etc… are what make it impossible for us to truly live the way God wants us to live. Without humility, it is almost impossible for us to pull back and realize that what we want is not paramount and is not always the answer. Many of us seek to rise above our stations and some believe the best way to do that is through our own efforts, but the Bible says different.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. – James 4:10
The Bible clearly tells us that if we want to become more than we are, if we want to reach our full potential, we need to first lower ourselves. Trying to puff ourselves up to achieve more is the exact opposite of what we should do.
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted – Luke 14:11
Jesus preached humility, but beyond that, his life was a testament to humility. He was God in human form, but he lived as a common person avoiding all the trappings of the world. Therein lies the problem for many of us. We don’t understand the degree to which we’re influenced by the world. When we read the Bible, and see that it speaks about the dangers presented by the world, we always get stuck thinking about the little things we may have to give up for the Lord. While it’s true that following God’s way may require sacrificing certain worldly pleasures, the Bible’s warnings against the trappings of the world go deeper than that.

Just think about American society. Consider how much importance is put on personal achievement. Everybody is conditioned to want to be Somebody. That means gaining wealth, status, and fame. Those of us who are able to achieve those things on a high level are often praised, idolized, and held up as the standard that everyone should want to meet. Even though most of us won’t reach those levels, we all do our best to try and emulate what we see to some degree and that leads to us celebrating ourselves or looking for others to celebrate us for everything we accomplish. It gets to be so bad that much of what we do is motivated by our need to be lauded. The Bible warns against that way of being.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3
The interesting thing about Paul’s statement is that applying it to our lives doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to change our pursuits. You want to be rich? That’s fine, but do you seek wealth so that you can have all the fanciest things for yourself, or do you seek it so that you can help others who have nothing? You want to be famous? Ok, but do you want that so you can bask in the adoration of your fans, or do you want it so that you’ll have a bigger platform to spread the Word of God? You see, living humble and Godly lives doesn’t mean you have to live life as a nobody. Moses was well respected and held in high regard, but he didn’t let that go to his head. He understood that no matter how important he might have been, God was still supreme. Living humbly also doesn’t mean you have to live life as a pauper. David was massively wealthy, but he understood that all his riches came from God, and, ultimately, were given to bring glory to God. Living humbly simply means understanding that we aren’t the end all and be all. Whether we are world famous or relatively unknown, rich or poor, we are just people, and none of us is any better than the others. In the end, only God deserves to be praised.

This should be easy for Believers. We understand the greatness of God, so we, of all people, should have no problem prostrating ourselves before something or someone greater. The problem is that we let a lack of humility affect everything, even the way we attempt to encounter God. Many people want to out-pray each other, out-sing each other, out-give each other, etc…, but not because they want God to be glorified that much. They do it because they want to be recognized for their goodness, and, in some cases, that mindset flows down from the pulpit to every seat in the congregation. Unfortunately, that is the exact wrong way to be if we are trying to please God. Jesus laid that fact out for us clearly (Matthew 6:1-18).

It is important that we take what Jesus said to heart. It should be the foundation of our humility. When we learn to serve and interact with God humbly, then we can learn to interact humbly with our fellow humans. When we learn to present ourselves to those around us in a humble manner, then we can learn to put humility at the center of all of our motivations. When we’ve come to really live with humble hearts and minds, then being obedient, faithful, and loving become that much easier. Walking a righteous path won’t seem so difficult once we’ve learned humility because it is the key to removing one of the biggest obstacles in our way – ourselves.


Chris Lawyer

Image Courtesy of Rav Dror Souncloud Page

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Abraham



Perhaps nothing could speak to the importance of a person more than having a religion named after them. So what does it say about Abram, later and more commonly known as Abraham, whose name is attached to the world’s three major religions?  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are often referred to as the Abrahamic faiths because of Abraham’s significance in all three. It was Abraham’s bloodline that the Bible followed throughout its narrative, particularly in the Old Testament. What kind of person must Abraham have been for God to use him as the patriarch for His Chosen People?

First and foremost, he was obedient. God gave Abraham instructions with a promise attached:
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3
So many of us would hear such a promise and believe it to be outlandish or wonder why we had to leave our homes behind for it to be fulfilled. We would hesitate and protest even in the face of being promised something great, but Abraham did not. Even at the ripe age of 75, he took Sarah (his wife), Lot (his nephew), and the people attached to him and promptly left to go where God instructed.

Some might argue that anybody would uproot their lives the way Abraham did if they were promised such great things. If we’re being honest, that’s not true. Everyday people miss out on blessings for lack of obedience, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say that was true. The Bible includes a greater example of the extent of Abraham's obedience. Perhaps the most well-known story involving Abraham concerned his son Isaac. God blessed him with a son against all odds. The idea of Abraham having a son by his wife at that point in their lives seemed so absurd that Sarah laughed when she heard it (Genesis 18:11-12). But God’s initial promise of making a nation through Abraham required that Abraham have an heir, so God made a way for that to happen, and Isaac was born as promised.

Abraham cherished Isaac, so imagine what it must have felt like when God instructed Abraham to kill Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22). Abraham received no promise of greatness or anything special along with that particular command. It was simply a duty given to him. Abraham treated it the same way he treated all the other commands given to him and was prepared to fulfill that duty. Through his actions, Abraham showed that whether God promised him riches or requested the sacrifice of something precious, he would obey without question. Few others in the Bible could say they did the same, and certainly such obedience to God is rare in today’s world.

On the other hand, maybe it was not just obedience. Abraham believed God. He believed God’s promise and that God knew what was best. He had faith that God would never steer him wrong. Maybe that faith is what fueled his obedience. Abraham didn’t know what God had planned. He didn’t know that he was simply being tested. What he knew was that God was good and had already provided so much, so he believed that if God asked anything of him, there was a good reason for it. That turned out to be true, there was a good reason indeed.

Skeptics may ask why God would test Abraham with something as barbaric as killing his son. Why was it necessary to torture him by putting him on the precipice of doing something so unthinkable? No one can truly say what’s in God’s mind, however, questions like these often miss a key point. God never intended events in the Bible to serve solely as moments in the lives of the Biblical characters. It was always his plan to use the events to serve as lessons and examples for the people that followed. God didn’t burden Abraham with this test solely to determine whether or not Abraham loved him. God already knew Abraham’s heart. He had already seen Abraham’s obedient actions. God had already promised to build a nation through Abraham, so he already knew Abraham would pass the test. The test was given to Abraham, but it was for our benefit. God wanted us to understand the nature of the relationship he seeks with us. He wanted us to know that he has no desire to take away the things that we love when we properly prioritize them under Him. He wanted us to know that in all circumstances, he will provide for us. He also wanted us to see what kind of sacrifice true love can require.

Love in its purest form can come with pain. Out of his love and faithfulness to God, Abraham had to be prepared to endure the pain of losing his son. God knew in his heart that Abraham loved Him above all and spared Abraham undo pain. Abraham did not have to make that sacrifice, but God did. God didn’t ask Abraham to do anything that God himself wasn’t willing to do. God expected Abraham to love God more than his own son. So what does it mean that God sent Jesus to Earth to die for us? Drawing a parallel to Abraham, doesn’t that mean that God’s sacrifice of his Son proves his great love for us? Think about how powerful a revelation that is, and it was all foreshadowed through Abraham’s story.

Does it sound far fetched that God was using Abraham to set the stage for Jesus’ coming and sacrifice? Consider this, in Genesis 18:1-13 Abraham meets the Lord, who we know to be God in the form of a man otherwise known as the Son. This means that Abraham actually met Jesus, and it was Jesus that helped introduce us to what Abraham would become. Of course, this wasn’t Jesus as we know him in the New Testament. He had not yet become a human being and was instead just taking on that form to interact with Abraham. Christophany is the technical term for examples of Jesus showing himself before his advent in the New Testament. It was Jesus that revealed to Abraham that Sarah would give birth to Isaac. In other words, Jesus set the stage for Abraham to foreshadow His own advent. God set quite an intricate lesson for us didn’t he?

Abraham’s story is full of important moments and lessons. As Believers we can’t just read the Bible as a book of stories. We have to recognize it for what it is, the Word of God, meant to teach and enlighten us. Through his obedience and faithfulness, Abraham was able to serve as the instrument for many lessons that God wanted to teach, and for that he received everything God promised and his name has stood the test of time.

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of sdajournal.today

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sermon Series Wrap-up: Empty Your Cup



Over the course of the month of July and part of August, Pastor Pope gave a series of sermons all connected to the theme Empty Your Cup. We as human beings and as Christians tend to pick up a lot of things, both physical and figurative, as we move through life, and we carry those things with us whether we know it or not. We may not think that such a habit affects us, but it does, often more significantly than we understand. Everybody can understand that if you are burdened by things, releasing that burden may free you from undue strain on your life. So the concept of emptying your cup or freeing yourself is something that can be universally accepted. However, as Pastor Pope pointed out, from the standpoint of a Believer, emptying your cup has a deeper meaning. It can mean throwing off your burdens, but it also requires taking things a step further. Sometimes we need to release, not only our burdens and the things we don’t like, but also the things we like and cling to so much that we put them before our pursuit of God. Philippians 3:9 says:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
Paul is saying that he lost everything in his pursuit of Jesus, but in that pursuit he realized that everything that he lost was like trash compared to what is gained by coming to know the Lord. So we don’t need to empty our cups solely to unburden ourselves, we must do it to make space in ourselves and our lives for Jesus and Godly things.

Most Believers probably understand the truth of this to some extent, still even Believers have difficulty letting go of the things of the world and giving in completely to Jesus. Why is that? Pastor Pope gave a few reasons. The first was pride. Pride leads to a stronger belief in ourselves than in Jesus. What reason would someone have to give up anything if they believe they have already reached perfection? Pastor Pope used the story about the praying Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) to highlight the point. The Pharisee believed that he was “holier than thou,” and it showed in his prayer. His pride allowed him to think that he was better than the tax collector and that he was safe from reproach, but Jesus thought something different.
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14
Being able to empty your cup requires humility, and that is the antithesis of pride. Another problem is that we often don’t understand the value of the gifts Jesus gives us. We cling to the other things in our life because we know what those things bring to our lives. We know the Bible says following Jesus brings us eternal life, but that can be a concept that’s hard to grasp especially when we know Believers die physical deaths every day. We also know that following Jesus doesn’t necessarily make our lives in this world simpler or easier all the time. Sometimes it may actually make things harder for us. So it’s easy to see why some rather drag along their worldly attachments rather than trading them for the things of God. However, as believers we need to be more spiritually minded. The joys of this world are fleeting. God promises more. He promises life after the physical death. He promises us a peace beyond understanding. Most importantly, he promises us a relationship with Him that opens the door to all those other gifts. As we mature spiritually, we should come to see that when we empty our cups of their worldly fillings, we aren’t losing anything. We are making a way for ourselves to be filled by everything that a relationship with God can provide. The best thing about all of this is that if we don’t understand what making that space for God can do, all we have to do is open ourselves to the possibility, and God will show us what we need to know.
Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind: if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal this even to you. – Philippians 3:15
By emptying our cups and accepting a relationship with God we can be fulfilled in a way that exceeds anything that we can find in this world. We all seek peace in this world and the next. As Pastor Pope noted, a Christian based definition of peace reads:
Peace is a tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ and therefore fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort it is.
That’s what emptying your cup can do for you. It can put you in a state where you are content and unworried no matter what your circumstances. What in this world can do that for you? Is there anything else you can carry with you that will provide for you in such a way? If not, then why wouldn’t you be willing to get rid of all the things that can’t give you such amazing peace in exchange for the one thing that can, a pure and sincere relationship with God.

Chris Lawyer
Sermons By Everett Pope
Image Courtesy of www.markhowelllive.com


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lessons from John the Baptist



As I'm studying, I have realized John the Baptist has to be second to Moses in being in being the humblest man of all time. Just look at his life. He didn't want for anything to be specifically known about him, and he lived that way until the end. He lived in the wilderness, homeless. Consider that his main mission was to make the way for Christ. He was a forerunner; he had to pave the way for someone else. When Christ arrived, John the Baptist continued to stay his pace. He knew that as Christ increased, he needed to decrease. John faded into the background. He even lost his own disciples and he encouraged them to follow Jesus. Not only that he was beheaded, and then after all that, Jesus said paraphrasing, it said in Mattew 11:11 that no one born a woman is greater than John yet the least in the kingdom is greater than he...What!!We would look at that say that John's life didn't mesh up to anything, but it did as he shows us a perfect example of what it looks like to be selfless. It means if nothing good has to come your way from all the work you've done, and you still have nothing in the end. Imagine losing your friends, knowing that the least in the kingdom is more worthy than you, and dying by yourself in the hands of those who oppose you. John experienced all that, but he understood that you run your race and give glory to God. John's life shows he was willing to give up everything literally for the cost of Christ. Absolutely everything. Be like John the Baptist. Praise God today and be selfless.
Written By Colby Stewart
Edited By Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of bibleblender.com

How to Have the Peace of God



With so many tragedies around us, we are in desperate need of a word from God as it relates to today's topic. The media is seemingly consumed by stories of mass murders, political unrest, daily and senseless violence, health scares, and many other generally bad reports.  There is a word from God that can calm the raging sea of worry that comes with being flooded with so much negativity. To know God is to know peace, but without God there is No peace.

What is peace? Peace can be defined as: the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is. We all have people we love right now who are in situations that cause us to be a little more than concerned. We know that it can’t always be that way.  Eventually circumstances will change, but, in the meantime, that moment of struggle may as well be an eternity. When faced with such circumstances, we tend to do the only thing we know to do, and that is let anxiety flood our hearts and minds. We are overly concerned about the things that are not going our way. The scoffer might say,”Can there really be peace? Is it realistic? Is it attainable?” This kind of questioning can rob us of our joy. But, this is also why we choose joy. JOY is what the Bible commands us to display in Philippians 4:4-9 and the following verses.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

6 Be anxious for nothing,

but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,
Let your requests be made known to God;

7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
In this passage, peace is promised to us by God. God, who cannot lie, has promised the believer peace. Not only is peace promised, but there is also the promise that our hearts and minds will be guarded through Christ. Think of the goalie in soccer or hockey. If Jesus were the goalie, his teammates need only concentrate on scoring a goal. Why? Because with Jesus on guard, the opponents must get past him to score, and we know that's not possible. If He is guarding your hearts and minds then what could infiltrate your heart and mind that would lead you to worry?  The answer is in this command, “Be anxious for nothing!” Nothing?  Nothing.  Nothing! These are the levels of emotions we go through as we think on this grand idea about not having to worry. Let's move to the next verses.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever

things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever

things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything

praiseworthy-- meditate on these things.


9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me,

these do, and the God of peace will be with you
The peace of God is maintained when we continuously acknowledge the presence of God. Once we believe that God is always with us, then we can begin to think the thoughts that He would have us think. Those are all positive thoughts. However, compliance with the command to "meditate on these things" requires more than mere positive thinking. It means taking on a mindset that focuses on the things above. For example the things that are really noble, just, pure, lovely and praiseworthy are all things that come with focusing on God.

The peace of God is possible, but it is only possible when we have peace with God. Peace with God gives us access to the peace of God. Peace of God is promised and can be maintained by practice. If you have peace with God through Jesus you can have the peace of God in your life. You do not have to worry. Are you a worrier or a warrior? God does not want you to worry. He wants you to depend on Him and trust Him. God wants you to experience peace that is supernatural and not understood by the world. You must prioritize joy, humility, prayer and meditating on things that are praiseworthy. You must become a doer of the word and not only a hearer. The God of peace will be with you! Today, you must seek God for this peace, especially if you are worried at all that your trials are not His will for you.
 
Everett Pope
Image Courtesy of www.natestevens.net




Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Comforter



With everything happening in the world today, it is understandable that some might come to despair. The recent events in El Paso and Dayton may cause some to believe that we really aren’t safe anywhere. That is a disturbing idea with which to wrestle. While such thoughts may be a little exaggerated, it cannot be denied they bear some truth. As humans, our lives are fleeting. Mass shootings are scary, but the truth is that people lose their lives every day with far less spectacle. That is how it’s always been, and we have to understand and appreciate just how short and fragile life can be. These big events do force the masses to contend with mortality in a way that differs from the deadly car accidents or the all too common homicides that happen every day, and those rooted in the Lord can see that there are lessons to be learned from all of it.

When events, big or small, raise feelings of fear and hopelessness in us, where can we turn for refuge? For Believers, God’s Word should always be seen as a viable option. The Bible is packed with knowledge and information that we should find of use in nearly every situation. However, even then, one must temper expectations. If someone is expecting the Bible to give an easy answer and simply say “Everything will be alright,” that person might be disappointed. Jesus told his followers that things would get much much worse before they got better.
For then there will be great distress unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again. “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. – Matthew 24:21-22
A whole book in the Bible, Revelation, is dedicated to the prophecy that describes what has been called the “End Times,” the period in time to which Jesus alluded. None of this should be surprising to seasoned Believers. People have been acutely aware of the doom and gloom portended in parts of the Bible for generations. Throughout the years, every cataclysm, every war, every great source of misery have all led many to wrongly conclude that those end times had finally arrived. If none of those great trials and tribulations were what Jesus was warning about, then how bad must the future events be? If the great plagues of the past, the world wars, genocides, and extreme natural disasters that have claimed so many over the years do not rise up to the level of what Jesus spoke, how dire will humanity’s situation be when the chosen time finally comes?

To dwell on such questions in the midst of hardship and trauma would certainly not help the psyches of anyone trying to contend with the harsher elements of our world, and truthfully too often in the history of our Faith people have gotten bogged down in obsessing over the negativity promised in the Bible. There was a time in the U.S. when many of the most prominent Christian figures focused almost solely on the promised bad. These so-called “Fire and Brimstone” preachers did their best to scare their parishioners into righteousness.

While what they preached may have been Biblically sound, they were misguided in the message they were sending. No one who believes in Jesus should ever dwell in fear or worry. Yes, Jesus spoke of a time to come when things would get bad, but he also pointed out that those who follow God will always have his protection and care. Jesus warned of impending doom so that we would be prepared not because he wanted us to live our lives paralyzed by fear over what is to come. In fact, Jesus made it clear that worrying over what tomorrow holds is a pointless endeavor.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of your by worrying add a single hour to your life? – Matthew 6:25-27
Jesus wasn’t just telling us not to worry about the big things to come. He was telling us to not even worry about the things we have to contend with from day to day. We are to understand that God will provide for us and will ensure that whatever happens will work out for the best for all of those who follow him. Still, it takes a tremendous amount of faith to throw off the worries and concerns of the world. The pursuit for needs like food, clothing, and shelter is ingrained in us. Rising above that would be a difficult task indeed. Still, over the course of our lives, if we remain faithful and observe what happens around us through the light of that faith, we will be able to see God at work, and his great works should only serve to strengthen our faith.

Not only that, but God understands how we feel. That’s part of the reason why he sent Jesus to us. Jesus was a human and went through everything humans do. So, while he never succumbed to fear, doubt, and worry, he knew what those things felt like. He knew how to rise above them, and he knows how to help us do the same. He is our advocate. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose for us, and even now his Spirit is inside of everyone who believes. When the time of his sacrifice approached, he knew what his fate would mean to his followers. He knew the worry it would cause for his disciples. He was the one about to be tortured and killed, but he still took the time to comfort them.
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. - John 16:19-22
Jesus said those words to comfort those that loved him, and though they were spoken a couple thousand years ago, they still ring true today. The Lord understands that there is much in this world that grieves us, but there will be a time when that grief ends. Jesus will come back for those that love and believe in him. From that day the miseries of this world will be just a thought of the past, and that should be a comfort to all who believe.
Chris Lawyer
Image courtesy of christiantruthcenter.com

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Proverbial Wisdom


The Bible isn’t just a book of fables and tall tales as many see it. Those who want insight, particularly Believers, should view it as a presentation of practical knowledge that we can apply to our everyday lives. It’s common today for people to want small and easily digested tidbits of content. So reading some portions of the Bible does not appeal to them. Those parts are important and we should all strive to delve deep into the Bible to really begin to understand everything it has to offer. That said, the Bible does have little tidbits of information that can be readily applied to anybody’s life to make a difference. In fact, it has a whole book of such bits of insight – Proverbs.

Many of the proverbs are not overly spiritual in nature. For example:
The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper. – Proverbs 19:8
That certainly can apply to how we deal with the Bible. After all, wisdom can be obtained through the consumption of the information within the Bible, and understanding of what God is trying to tell us will certainly lead to spiritual prosperity at the very least. However, that particular saying works just as well when considering more worldly matters. If we seek to learn and gain insight in our world and understand the things around us, then we can probably expect to see a positive impact in our lives.
Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. – Proverbs 13:10
The danger of pride is something of which we should all be wary. As this proverb suggests, pride is the cause of much of the discord we experience in our lives. However, the second part of the proverb is just as important. Those of us who think we know everything and can’t be told anything are foolish. As this proverb tells us, being open to advice from others with good insight is wise.
Let someone else praise you and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. – Proverbs 27:2
We probably shouldn’t get caught up in seeking praise at all, but this verse makes it clear that praise should come from others, particularly outsiders or strangers (in other translations) not ourselves. This is useful insight. Someone we don’t know is more likely to give us unbiased feedback, so praise we receive from them is likely trustworthy. Further, if we spend all our time patting ourselves on the back, we can lose perspective, and it becomes much harder to avoid that pride mentioned in the previous proverb.

Proverbs is full of useful sayings, and many of them, whether we realize it or not, have entered our common vernacular. However, we have to be careful. Not everything that sounds wise or invokes God comes from the Bible. For example, we’ve all heard the saying “God helps those who help themselves.” Well, no Biblical figure ever said that. It’s actually a quote from Benjamin Franklin. While Franklin was certainly a great man in many ways, imparting Biblical wisdom was not his specialty. Many of us have tossed this saying around because it appeals to our need to feel in control. We like to believe that goodness will come from our actions and any help God gives us will come as a result of the good work that we’ve already done. However, that actually flies in the face of what the Bible teaches us. God actually wants us to come to him with our requests and desires.
“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 the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7
Based on what the Bible actually says, a more accurate stating of Franklin’s quote would be “God helps those who ask for his help.”

Not all of the Bible’s wise sayings are from Proverbs. Jesus gave us more than his fair share in the Gospels. One in particular, often called the Golden Rule, is especially important.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. – Luke 6:31
Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone lived by that simple rule. Surely, there are some sadistic and masochistic people out there that would endure pain just to see others suffer, but for the most part, people would be much more inclined to treat others well when they consider how they want to be treated.

The idea of reciprocity in how we all interact with each other wasn’t a new concept at that point in the Bible, but the perspective was a bit different. We saw it as far back as Exodus.
But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. – Exodus 21:23-25
That way of looking at things has typically appealed to us as humans very well. We seem to like the idea of bad being done to those who have done bad to us. Many of the world’s justice systems seem to be built on the concept. If someone kills one of our loved ones, we execute them. That’s only fair right? Well, Jesus commented on that too.
“You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also. – Matthew 5:38-39
Jesus changed the narrative a bit and turned the concept on its head. He wasn’t telling us that we should just let people beat us up as is often said by those that seek to misrepresent his meaning. He was moving us away from our need to seek vengeance for every slight we receive and telling us we should not seek to do something that is wrong because we were wronged. With the Golden Rule, Jesus is forcing us to turn the concept back on ourselves. Instead of solely seeking to force others to experience the bad they have perpetrated on us. We should put the good on others that we would like to experience. This should be an easier thing to do. After all, we can’t control the actions of others, but we can control our own actions.

Whether your mind is on getting to Heaven or simply navigating through the world about your daily business, God’s Word can be of service. Sure, there are commandments we need to follow and doctrine we must apply to our faith, but there are also simpler and more concise truths that may be just as important. In the end, it’s all meant to bring us closer to God’s will. Whether it’s the most complicated parable Jesus told or the Bible’s smallest gilded nugget of insight, we should embed it all in our hearts and minds.

Chris Lawyer
Image courtesy of joshuanhook.com

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Into the Wild



Recently, our church partook in ViBES, our version of vacation bible school. As with most other VBS events, it was a summer week dedicated to learning more about God and seeking his presence. The theme this year was “Into the Wild” where our world was compared to the wilderness, and Jesus was revealed as the one who could help us navigate through it. It is an apt metaphor. The nature of our sin-filled society can certainly be described as wild. Despite us referring to it as civilization, at times, there seems to be very little civil about it. Danger seems to lurk around every corner. No, it is usually not lions, tigers, or bears that we have to fear, but the peril is real all the same. Sin represents the primary hazard in our modern wilderness. Sometimes, it’s the wrongdoing of others that puts us at risk. Many times it’s our own sinfulness that represents the greatest threat to us. Either way, sin is what should keep us on high alert as we stroll through the wild.

Thankfully, God has provided for us as he always does. With the sacrifice of His Son, God made it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins. Because of that, it is no longer inevitable that we will be caught unaware and die as sin’s victim. Our ViBES memory verse makes that much clear with regard to the truth revealed in the Bible.
But these were written that you maybe believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have Life in his name. – John 20:31
By believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died and was resurrected for us, we can be absolved of sin and claim everlasting life with the Father. God didn’t just stop there. Not only did he use Jesus’ death to provide a defense for us against the perils of the wild. He also provided for us a guide that can help us navigate and find our way to safety. That guide is the Holy Spirit.
"But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. - John 16:13
By leaning on the Holy Spirit, we can live the kind of lives God desires for us, and no matter how savage the world around us might be, we can be confident that there will always be a refuge for us.

Jesus didn’t just die for us though. He lived for us too, as an example of how we should live our lives. He was part of human society, the metaphorical wilderness that we’re discussing. What’s interesting is that he also spent time in a very literal wilderness as well. The story of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) shows us that despite the differences in the life that Jesus lived compared to what we experience, there is still plenty we can learn from the example He set. We look around our world today and temptation seems to exist everywhere. We want to live righteously, but something always seems to be nearby ready to pull us back into the wild. When Jesus spent time in the wilderness he was tempted more directly than many of us may ever experience. The Devil went to him and tried to find a way to bring him down, to make him forget who he was and his purpose. Lucky for us, Jesus stood strong. He was resolute and determined to stay committed to fulfilling the Father’s will. He left the wilderness victorious. He triumphed over his trials in the wild.

In all things, Jesus should be our example. We should know that God has a purpose and a desire for us. If we focus on fulfilling that purpose, then we need not worry about the temptations and distractions that exist to draw us away from the beaten path. If we heed our guide and remain mindful of our purpose, our trip through the wild won’t seem so harrowing. Instead, it will be just like a safari, a safe journey through an unsafe land. The difference being that with a safari, the journey to the wild is the purpose, but for us, it’s just the route we’re taking on our way to paradise.

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of https://worldchallenge.org

Monday, July 22, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Noah



Water is an interesting substance. It is essential for life on this planet. We humans use it for a variety of things from drinking to cleaning to recreation. It has been one of the most vital things for our existence, but ironically, it has also been one of the most dangerous things that we’ve encountered in this world. One need only look to the stories of flooding caused by great tsunamis or as a result of large storms to see the kind of destruction and death that water can cause. There is no wonder that ancient flood stories are so common. People from virtually every region of the world have stories about great floods that came and nearly destroyed the world, or at least their part of it. Without question, the most well-known of all these stories is the Biblical account, and the star of that story is Noah.

Noah’s story was even the subject of a movie in 2014. Of course, no one should ever look to Hollywood for Biblical accuracy. That movie took a wealth of liberties with the story. One major problem with it was how it mulled over the reason God sent the flood. In the movie, God’s reasoning was somewhat ambiguous. In the Bible, there was no confusion. God was going to take that action because of one thing – wickedness. The Bible is clear on how sinful humans were at the time.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. – Genesis 6:5
Noah’s story takes place many generations after the time of Adam. Just look how far humanity had fallen in that time. Humans went from eating a fruit against God’s will to allowing sin to become the centerpiece of their existences. Imagine how God must have felt to see his creation fall so far. He created us out of love and we repaid that by rejecting him and everything he desired for us. We don’t have to wonder too much about how he felt. The Bible tells us.
The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. – Genesis 6:6
There is some debate about what it means when the Bible says that God regretted making humanity. Some take the statement as its presented meaning that God saw his creation of humanity as a mistake. Others would argue that God is omnipotent and does not make mistakes, so regret for him is not quite what it would be for humanity. Either way, his feelings about humanity were so dire that for a moment he considered wiping all life from the planet. That’s where Noah comes into the picture. He was literally the only thing that saved us from extinction. He pleased God. He was the one person that stood out to God. In a sea of sin, he was the island of righteousness.
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.  This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. -- Genesis 6:8-9
God could have snapped his figurative fingers and destroyed everyone on the planet but Noah, but that’s not how He operates. Destruction was humanity’s destiny because of the ways and actions of people. God set it up so that salvation would also depend on the actions of a man. He gave Noah the command to create a great ship called an ark to carry him, his family, and two of all animals on the Earth. God literally gave Noah the responsibility of creating the salvation for life on Earth. That’s a heavy burden and creating the ark had to be an arduous task. Any one of us might have questioned God if given such a task, but Noah did not. He simply did what God commanded and, as a result, humanity still exists to this day.

Noah’s story demonstrates to us just how important it is for us to obey God and strive to live righteous lives. Yes, if we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ we will be rewarded with everlasting life in Heaven, but as Noah showed, living according to God’s will doesn’t have to be limited to simply saving oneself. Living a righteous life and obeying God’s commands can save your family, your friends, and everyone that comes after you. If you live in a way that rightly represents God and brings other people to him, those people will be saved from destruction the same way Noah’s righteousness saved his family and every human that came after.

We must remain vigilant. Jesus spoke of another event to come that he compared to the great flood.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. - Matthew 24:36-39
One day, which no one but the Father knows, the world will be judged again. If you are truly a Believer, you have nothing to fear. The real question is will you only save yourself, or will you be like Noah and live in a way that saves multitudes.


Chris Lawyer


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Wonder Why They Hate Us?





It’s not uncommon to hear Christians complain about feeling persecuted when featured on TV or other public forums. They rattle off a bunch of reasons why they feel like they are being attacked or discriminated against because of their faith. Some of those are valid. For example, Christians believe marriage is a union entered into at God’s will. So, it stands to reason that Christians would be against gay marriage, since the Bible tells us homosexuality is a sin. While it may not be the job of Christians to force the rest of the nation into believing that, it should certainly be the right of Christians to not hold an inherently sinful act such as a gay wedding inside God’s house. Others outside the Faith believe that stance is discriminatory on the part of Christians and use it as a reason to rail against Christianity. Other complaints Christians make are not so valid. For example, teaching Christian doctrine is not why public grade schools exist, so Christians have no reason to feel slighted because those schools don’t teach things like creationism alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The idea that Christians will be persecuted for their faith is Biblical. Jesus told his disciples as much.

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. - Matthew 10:22
More than that, Jesus told his disciples that their relationship with Him will be the source of that hate and persecution.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 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. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. - John 15:18-20
If you read the New Testament, you’ll see that Jesus’ words came true. His followers were attacked, imprisoned, and in some cases killed solely for spreading the Gospel. It’s easy to read the Bible and believe that dynamic has persisted until today, and in some ways it has, but we must be careful. In the Bible, Christians were seen as a cult of heretics by most other groups. Christianity has come a long way since then. At times Christians have been the dominant power in the world, and those Christians weren’t always the loving followers of God that Jesus said they should be. In some ways, things haven’t changed today. That raises the question. Do people hate modern Christians because we are too much like Jesus, or is the problem now that we are not enough like Jesus? Sensitive Christians may think the very question is insulting, but it’s one that needs to be asked.

Just look at the things Christians are associated with now. Many vocal Christians are ok with what is happening in the camps at the U.S. southern border. Regardless of your feelings about the politics of immigration, no Christian should be happy with the abuse and poor treatment that many people, particularly children are facing. Jesus also had strong instructions about how children should be treated (Matthew 18:10). Yet, many Christians are very vocal about defending the camps, and some even go so far as to invoke Jesus’ name when they do it. Take your pick from the issues that we face today whether it be the legality of abortion, wars with various nations, or the fight over healthcare, and you will certainly find Christians that boldly take the side on the issue that is devoid of love and far from the philosophy that Jesus spread. Those people aren’t taken simply as representatives for themselves. They are seen as spokesmen and spokeswomen for Christianity in general. Whether that is fair or not, it doesn’t change the fact that Christians are becoming more and more associated with callousness and hatred, which are the exact opposite of the qualities that Christians should show.

The problem isn’t just the words Christians speak or the stances they take. Many times it is about things Christians do. Consider a recent incident with Taylor Burch, a blind man that was kicked out of a church in South Carolina because he brought a service animal. The very idea that a church would remove a disabled person should seem ridiculous to any Christian. That certainly isn’t the way Jesus treated people who came to him with infirmities, but apparently such an act is not unthinkable to some Christians in today’s world. Unfortunately, even if every Christian doesn’t think Mr. Burch’s treatment was repulsive, many non-Christians do. A website titled the Friendly Athiest reported on the incident and ended the article with the following:

Jesus healed the blind, but this church kicks them out.

Hell, the service dog was doing more to help the blind that the staff at that church.

The only good news is that Burch found out within five minutes that this church wasn’t worth his time. Some people spend years in a congregation before they figure that out.

Those words should feel like a punch to the gut for any real Christian. We are supposed to be representatives of Jesus. Our lives and actions should bring people to him. The idea that we may be the very thing that is driving people away from Christianity should convict us to the core.




Yes, there may be backlash against Christianity today, but some of it just might be deserved. If you consider yourself a Christian, then be careful about what you say and do. The Bible tells us that people hating you because of your association with Jesus is a good thing. However, people hating Jesus because of his association with you is most certainly not.

Chris Lawyer

Monday, July 1, 2019

Armor of God



In our attempts to live according to God’s way, we are often put to the test by a variety of things that, at times, seem almost designed to pull us away from Him. To some extent, the effort to live right is comparable to a battle. So, it is fitting that when Paul explains how we are equipped to deal with the things set against us, he describes the tools given to us in terms of armament. If we are to have any chance in the fight against the things that oppose us, we must put on the Armor of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. – Ephesians 6:10-13

Paul didn’t leave the meaning of the metaphor unclear. He explained which spiritual tool makes up each piece of the armor. It would be beneficial for all of us to understand which tool given to us is meant to play what role.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:14-17

Going out of order a little, let’s start with the helmet. The singular function of a helmet is to protect the head. Our heads are where our brains are located. As a result they are the most vital parts of our body and also the parts where the most crucial damage can be done if attacked. Paul compares the helmet to salvation. He is telling us that our salvation is what protects us from the most dangerous opposition, the opposition that can literally mean the end for us. Salvation is what wards off the things that would drag us straight to Hell if we aren’t properly equipped.

While attacks to our heads would be the most devastating, the head is a small target and hard to hit. You may have seen action movies where the heroes are always landing perfect headshots that instantly end the battle. That’s not reality. There is a reason soldiers and police are trained to aim for the torso. It’s a bigger target and thus where we are most vulnerable. The breastplate is the part of the armor that protects the torso. Paul says that righteousness is what plays that role. Righteousness is what protects us where we are most vulnerable. That vulnerability may be different for each person. For some it could be sexual lust or susceptibility to drugs and alcohol. For others, it may be rage or dishonesty. For most of us, we are highly vulnerable to a mixture of sins. The Bible is telling us that seeking righteousness is how we rise above those things. As we cling to righteousness, we find something that allows us to rise above the sinful things that threaten to pull us down.

A foot soldier may find himself traversing a variety of different terrains, some very harsh. For that reason, sturdy footwear is also an important part of a soldier’s armament. Our lives may take us many different places and put us in a variety of different situations, some good and some that may be dangerous to us. Paul tells us that the Gospel, particularly the readiness that comes from it, protects us in the same way footwear protects the soldier. No matter what the environment in which we find ourselves placed, if we are being led by the Gospel we will be able to walk through it without fear of injury or impedance.

A belt may seem like an odd thing for Paul to call out, but remember belts are used to hold the different pieces of armor together and to provide a means for holding things that need to be carried. Paul says the belt represents truth. Truth ties everything together. All the different pieces work as a unified defense only if we accept and promote the truth, which is that Jesus was the Son of God and He died for our sins so that we may live.

The last two pieces are bonuses of sorts. Technically, they aren’t armor, but they are essential for anyone who wants to be fully armed. The first is the shield. Like the armor, its primary use is for defense. However, whereas armor acts passively, the shield can be used to actively defend against attacks. According to Paul, the shield represents faith. Our faith isn’t something that just rests on us like armor. It is something we have to be proactive about using. We must make intentional use of faith as we live our lives, and when we do we will be able to defend ourselves from the attacks launched at us from both near and far.

Lastly, there is the sword. A sword is a weapon and typically associated with offense more than defense, however, in truth, it can play both roles. Sure it can be used to strike out at an enemy, but it can also be used to parry and block the incoming strikes from the enemy. Paul says the sword is the word of God. This actually isn’t the only time that the Bible compares God’s word to a sword. Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The Hebrews verse also shows the duality of the word as a sword. Knowledge and understanding of the word can equip us to block out the sinful things that could lead us astray from our walk with God. However, by sharing the word with others, we are effectively using it to cut down the evil influences around us. When we wield the word, we protect ourselves from without and within.

Historically, armor and weapons were expensive, so only nobles and other wealthy warriors were able to afford and carry the best weaponry and armor. When it comes to the armament provided to us by God, it’s all free. Once we decide to follow Him, the greatest armor in the world becomes standard issue. The world is full of wickedness. Do yourself a favor, strap on the full armor of God and wear it wherever you go. Only then can you be confident that you’ll be protected from everything the world has to throw at you.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.billosborne.com

Monday, June 24, 2019

Our Father



We recently celebrated Father’s Day. All the Believers that went to church on Father’s Day undoubtedly heard some reference to God being our heavenly father. There is good reason for that. The Bible makes it clear that we are to look at God in that way. It’s no surprise that Jesus, the Son of God, referred to him almost exclusively as Father. However, that relational term was never limited to his use. When he instructed others on how they should speak to God, he recited what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). The first part of that prayer is an acknowledgement of God as our father. Again, for Believers, that connection shouldn’t be hard to see. We understand that God is supposed to be at the head of our lives just as the Bible says the father is supposed to be the head of the family (Ephesians 5:23). God provided commandments for our betterment just like the Bible says fathers set the rules that are intended to set the children on the right path (Ephesians 6:4). When those commandments are broken God will correct out of love, just as the Bible says a father is expected to be the primary disciplinarian (Proverbs 13:24). The parallels go on and on, and that’s no accident. The writers of the Bible purposefully gave us verses that detail what a father should be, and that role is supposed to be largely reflective of the role God plays for us.

For nonbelievers, God as a father might not be easy to see. From their standpoint, even if God does exist, he doesn’t make himself visible to us in an obvious way. To them, at best, he is an absentee father. How can one believe in a father they can’t see, hear, or touch? Truthfully, we see that every day in the natural world. Many of us for some reason or another are forced into a position where we aren’t able to interact in a direct way with our earthly fathers either. Maybe work has taken the father away. Maybe that father has fallen on hard times and isn’t able to be present as desired. Maybe that father has passed on and can no longer be a physical presence in the lives of his children. The severing of the bond between father and child is particularly final in that last example, at least from an earthly standpoint. Still, even in that case, the children are able to hold their fathers in their hearts. Those men may no longer be present, but for good fathers, the remnants of their love and dedication to their children should be everywhere. They live on in the memories created, the lessons taught, and the paths opened up for their children.

The same is true for God. Although, we don’t see Him, he’s right there providing for us. We may not hear Him, but he still managed to provide instructions for us on how to live the right way. We can’t touch Him, but he’s still able to carry us and provide support just when we need it most. God may not be here with us in the physical, but just as with an earthly father that has passed on, if we look around in our lives, we can easily see the signs of his presence and love. Still, there is no question that belief in our heavenly father requires faith. Otherwise, we may not be able to see those signs.

Is that really so different from how we deal with our earthly fathers? Of course, we need no faith to acknowledge the physical existence of our earthly fathers. Even in the case of so-called “deadbeat daddies,” the children are confident their fathers exist even if they’ve never met those fathers. That is different than the dynamic that exists between ourselves and God. Still, we put a lot of faith in our earthly fathers. We believe they will always be there for us. We believe they will love and support us no matter what. We believe they will make the right decisions when it comes to our lives, particularly when we are children. We believe all of that even knowing that our earthly fathers are fallible, and we’ve see them fall short. Fatherhood is difficult, and we understand that enough to allow for the shortcomings of our earthly fathers, as we should. That is an act of faith. If we can give such faith to people that we know can fall short, we should be able to extend some of that faith to a father that will never fail and won’t just be there to guide us in this life but into the next one as well.

The willingness to sacrifice for his children is perhaps the most important trait of a good father. God sent Jesus, his very own earthly image, to this world to live amongst us, suffer for us, die for us, and take on all of our sin into himself. If that’s not sacrifice, what is? Every Believer wants a closer relationship with God. We acknowledge Him as our risen Lord and Master, as we should, but if we only think of Him in those terms, then we may be robbing ourselves. He wants a more personal and intimate relationship with us, the kind like what only exists between parent and child. We can all have that kind of relationship with Him when we realize that before everything else, He is our father.



Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of  www.crosspointchurchonline.org

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Don't Look Back


The Bible is full of stories that, at some times, seem too incredible to be true. As Believers, we know that God is capable of anything, so there is nothing that should be off the table as far as what’s possible. Still, when we go through our daily lives and fail to see anything as miraculous as some of what appears in the Bible, it can, inevitably, lead us to question whether certain things are true. Take the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-28). Given the horrors that we know have been perpetrated in this world, the idea of a city where the people are so immoral and wicked that God would want to destroy the whole city may not be all that unbelievable. Still, you’d probably be hard pressed to come up with a city quite as bad as Sodom or Gomorrah in today’s world.

We’ve all heard news reports that give us a glimpse into how far into wickedness humanity can sink. If not for rule of law and some of the authorities in place, who’s to say just how bad things could get. There are certainly cities in today’s world that it would be wise for outsiders to avoid. Such was the case for Sodom and Gomorrah. Some, in an effort to push their own beliefs, try to use the story to attack homosexuals claiming that the cities were destroyed because of homosexual activity within them. While it is true, that homosexuality was one of the sins practiced by the citizens of the doomed cities, the Bible makes it clear that the city was rife with more than just one set of bad actions.
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” - Genesis 18:20-21
Still, as bad as the two cities might have been, it’s still hard for many of us to accept that God destroyed both cities overnight. Whole cities being snuffed out so suddenly? Such a thing must be far too incredible to be true, or is it? Truthfully, cities being destroyed seemingly overnight shouldn’t be unbelievable to anyone. It’s happened more than once throughout history. We have archaeological evidence showing that an ancient Greek city called Helike was almost instantly swallowed by the earth due to an earthquake. Neapolis was a Roman colony in North Africa and was sunk by a tsunami. You might have heard of Pompeii, which was destroyed overnight by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Did you know that another city, Herculaneum, was also destroyed by the same exact eruption at the same time? Suddenly, what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah doesn’t seem too far fetched.

What may be more important than believing all the details of a Biblical story, is understanding what God is trying to tell us with the story. The most obvious lesson from this story is that sinfulness ultimately leads to death and destruction. Truthfully, that is one of the underlying themes of the Bible itself. We see the grounds for it laid down as early as the story of Adam and Eve where their sin results in them being expelled from the Garden of Eden. That theme continues all the way to the end of the Bible in Revelation where the people that refuse to walk towards Christ and away from their sinful ways are given their final judgement. That second example also mirrors the other major lesson from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah - when we are moving away from sin, we should never look back.
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” - Genesis 19:16-17
God allowed Lot and his family to escape destruction. They were instructed not to look back. His wife couldn’t help herself and did not heed the warning. She looked back and lost her life as a result. Right away, one thing to learn is that when God sends instructions to you, it’s best to heed them. Your very life may depend on it. However, the deeper point is that when we are moving away from stages in our lives where we were immersed in sin, we should keep our eyes on the salvation that we are moving towards and not look back at the destruction we are escaping. Walking a righteous path can be difficult. As we attempt it, we will encounter more than enough temptations that threaten to take us off that path. The last thing we want to do is make our walk more difficult. However, when we look back at what we’re leaving, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We sinned in the past because part of us enjoyed it, and while the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to move beyond that sin, our flesh still attempts to pull us back towards it. The last thing any of us should want to do is add extra temptation to our lives by exposing ourselves to things we’ve been blessed enough to move past. It’s often said that addicts are never really cured, so they should never get too comfortable being in the vicinity of the source of their addictions. In many ways, we are addicted to sin, so if we have managed to move away from it, then we should keep that distance. For some, that’s hard because moving away from sin may mean losing things we hold dear. Following Jesus may cost us favorite pastimes, friends, family, and other worldly sources of joy. Those things and people may be hard to give up, but we have to remember that whatever space is opened in our lives by removing the sinful influences can be filled by adding Godly influences. Ultimately, whatever we lose is nothing compared to what we’ll gain when God rewards us for our choice to follow Jesus. It’s just as Paul said:
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14
If you’ve managed to put some of your sinful ways behind you, then make sure you do what is necessary to ensure that’s where they stay, and your trip towards your true goal will be that much easier.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of https://me.me