Monday, April 22, 2019

Do We Want God's Response

Reliance on God is an important part of the Christian experience and, for many, one of the hardest things to do as a believer. We, initially, find it easier to rely on ourselves even though we know ourselves to be flawed and capable of failure. We also find it easier to rely on others, such as family and friends, even though they too may fail from time to time. It’s a matter of accessibility. It is easier and more intuitive for us to reach out to those that we can see and touch. However, as we mature in our relationships with God, we gain greater understanding of the importance of prayer and communing with God. We use prayer to repent. We use it to thank God for his blessings. And we use it to lean on God in our time of need. Prayer is important. As Paul instructed in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. - Ephesians 6:18
At some point, we all learn to, at least, bring our requests to God. When we need something or want it very badly, we ask God to help us get it. When we are unsure about the correct course of action we need to take, we ask God for his guidance. When there is some lack of understanding or insight about life that we just can’t seem to get past, we ask God for the answer. We are correct to go to God in those ways, but making a request is only one side of an interaction. To truly complete the interaction, we have to give God a chance to respond, and, if we are truly relying on Him, we have to proceed based on that response.

How often do we actually do that? When we make a request of God, do we wait for a response from Him or do we just proceed the same way we would if we had never asked in the first place. Many of us are quick to take verses like Matthew 11:24 to heart.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Scripture doesn’t lie. God gives us what we request, but when we move on it without waiting for God’s response, we may miss Him warning us that what we requested was not what we need. What about that person that wanted a new job badly, thinking only of the extra money it would bring, and then being miserable once they got that new position? Or what about that person dead set on entering a relationship with a crush only to see that relationship turn toxic soon after it is initiated. We’ve all heard about or even experienced situations like this, and in those cases, we might be tempted to wonder why God would put us in such positions. You hear some describe those trials as tests from God, when the reality is that we often go through those trials because we already failed the test. God warned us not to take those courses of action, but we were too caught up in our own desires to recognize it.

What about when we come to a barrier in our lives? We keep bumping up against that barrier hoping the outcome will be different, but nothing seems to change. We have no problem asking God for a sign for what we should do or asking him if a particular path is for us, but do we truly ever want his answer? The fact is that if you ask God a question, there is a very real possibility that the answer could be “No.” In cases where we have our hearts set on something, that’s often an answer that we don’t want to hear. So, we keep asking God the same question and keep proceeding without waiting for an answer wondering why things aren’t working out.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. - Proverbs 3:5-6
Prayer in itself is a demonstration of both trust in God and acknowledgement of Him. However, if we only pray to give voice to what we want, then it is only a half measure. If we fully trust God, then we can’t just make requests, we have to accept whatever way he chooses to grant those requests. If we want to genuinely acknowledge God, we can’t just ask things of him, we have to accept his answers recognizing that they may not always be what we want to hear. If any of that sounds too difficult, just take inventory of the various decisions you made in your life without him. Would anything that God would do really hurt you more than some of the things you’ve done to yourself? If not, then doesn’t He deserve to be heard? Next time you pray to God for something, don’t just make your request, also ask for the wisdom and will to receive His response. Maybe then, you’ll see your faith rewarded in a brand new way.
Chris Lawyer
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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Christianity Is Not Sexist

March was Women’s History Month. With some of the movements taking place in today’s world, it is now more important than ever to acknowledge and understand the contributions that women have made to our society. It is vital that we encourage our girls and let them know that they are free to aim for and capable of achieving any goals that God wills for them. As Christians, it is also important that we set the record straight about the role of women in the Christian faith.

Some have pushed the idea that women are to be seen as second class citizens in the Faith and that the Christian God somehow sees women as lesser beings. That is simply not true. Yes, the Bible makes it clear that men are supposed to play a leading role. Paul taught:
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. - Ephesians 5:23
That can be hard for many women to hear in this world where independence is pushed so hard. However, we have to remember that, as Christians, none of us, man or woman, are truly independent. We all have to submit to God. Still, it is undeniable that some statements in the Bible seem to relegate women to a lesser position. For example, Paul’s instructions on how women should behave in church may lead some to believe that insight from women is not valued in Christianity.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. - 1 Timothy 2:11-15
That passage seems to be very condescending. Is it Christian belief that women should be seen and not heard? Not exactly. Paul was specifically speaking about the hierarchy of leadership in the church. He was not making absolute statements about how God will use faithful women. The Bible shows us that God uses women in ways that require them to speak up and take on roles of influence and even leadership. Several of the people called out in the early ministry were women. The Book of Acts mentions Lydia, an early convert to Christianity.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. - Acts 16:13-15
In this case, it was Lydia, a woman, that God used to save the members of her household. It was also Lydia that invited Paul and company to her house to stay.

Then there is the example of Priscilla, one of Paul’s trusted associates and part of a two person team alongside her husband, Aquila. The Bible always discusses the two as a pair, never giving one any more credit than the other. For example:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. - Romans 16:3-4
On top of that, when the two had to confront a fellow Christian, Apollos, the Bible describes them as doing it together. The scripture does not imply that Priscilla was silent.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. - Acts 18:24-26
The story of this husband and wife team is a good example of how we should behave. We should be working in one accord to bring people to God and keep them on the right path.

Lastly, Paul also mentions another early Christian named Phoebe.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. - Acts 16:1-2
Paul says that Phoebe was a deacon or servant (depending on translation) in the church meaning she held some authority among the Believers. Paul clearly holds her in high regard. We should hold the same respect for all women who work towards fulfilling God’s plan. No matter which testament of the Bible you read, God uses women to perform great deeds and demonstrate exceptional faith. God loves man and woman alike, and the Faith should reflect that.

Chris Lawyer and Pastor Everett Pope
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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Jesus Died...Then He Came Back

This Easter you will undoubtedly hear about how Jesus was tortured after being arrested. And you should, after all, it is important for us to understand that He suffered on our behalf. You’ll definitely hear about how Jesus died on the cross. And you should, after all, we all must remember that He sacrificed himself in our place for our sin. You will likely hear about how Jesus rose from the grave three days later. And you should, after all, that act was a testament to His power over death and opened up the possibility for us to rise above death too. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are indeed crucial parts of the story of his life as a man on Earth. It is vital that we understand their significance and what they mean to us. However, there is one thing that tends to get glossed over when we discuss the end of the story told in the Gospels. Jesus didn’t just die, rise, and then go to heaven. He didn’t just leave the world and the people he had lived amongst behind. He came back.

Maybe that part isn’t as important as some of the others, but it is still something we should remember. After all, we refer to Jesus as the “True and Living God” for a reason. He didn’t just die and become some ethereal spirit that humanity couldn’t perceive. He didn’t trade his ability to relate with us on the most basic level for a stature far beyond us. He made a point of coming back as he was to be among those that he loved. He had a purpose for coming back, and it was important for those he left behind. Consider his interaction with Peter in John 21:15-18:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter didn’t see it at the time, but Jesus was redeeming him. Prior to Jesus’ death, Peter had denied Jesus three times. Here Jesus gave Peter a chance to symbolically walk back his sin. Jesus didn’t chastise or humiliate Peter for the latter’s betrayal. He simply gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for Him as strongly as he had previously denied his association with Jesus. That is a good parallel for how God treats us. He could lord our sins and mistakes over us, but he doesn’t. He just requires that we acknowledge our sins, and then He gives us the chance to move past them. That’s not to say there won’t be consequences for our sins, but God certainly does not give us the punishment we deserve.

Jesus also gave Peter direction on what he should do going forward. This also parallels God’s general plan for us. Peter was instructed to lead Jesus’ people and build the church. Our marching orders aren’t quite the same, but they are important. As Jesus later instructed his disciples:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. - Acts 1:8
Those same instructions apply to us. As Believers we have accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit, and now that we have that gift, we should be using it to spread word about Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus spent forty days with his disciples after the resurrection (Acts 1:3). He ate with them. He continued to teach them. Most important of all, he made it clear to everyone that he was still alive and there for them. He’s still here for us too. We serve an all-powerful God that could make himself inaccessible to us, but he doesn’t do that. He gave himself to the world in the form of a human being; a man that interacted with those around Him in a way that they could understand.  He also loved them in a way that we are expected to love those around us. Jesus was and still is the perfect example of who we should be. God used that human form to open the door for the invocation of his spiritual form, which now resides in all Believers and gives access to Him in a deeper way. The Bible tells us that Jesus will return to this world again to save those who follow Him (Hebrews 9:28). That’s a promise we know will be kept. After all, there was a time before when it looked like Jesus had left behind those that loved him, but he came back for them. That return made all the difference in the world for those followers just as his next return will make all the difference in the world for us.

Chris Lawyer
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