Sunday, May 19, 2019

Don't Worry


Most people, Believers and nonbelievers alike, understand that believing in and following God requires faith. Jesus spent much of his time instilling the importance of faith into his disciples. Therefore, building and demonstrating faith have always been central parts of the Christian experience. As Christians, we all have likely been exposed to a wide variety of examples of Believers demonstrating or speaking on their faith. Some of those examples may have been relatively routine such as the testimonies we often hear where Believers explain how God rewarded their faith or provided in a way that strengthened their faith. We’ve also seen or heard about examples of faith that sound almost miraculous such as with the faith healers that claim they are able to heal infirmities and sickness through their faith in Jesus, just as was done by the apostles in the Bible. You may have even heard or seen more extreme examples of displays of faith like the church services of the snake handlers in West Virginia. Part of their worship experience often involves dancing and praising God while handling live poisonous snakes. They believe that God keeps them from being bitten or will save them even in the event that they are bitten.

In all those cases, if the people are sincere, the acts they perform certainly do demonstrate faith in an undeniable way. However, as is often the case, we Christians have a tendency to overcomplicate things. The snake handler example is certainly proof of that. While exercising faith in God and acting according to His will may expose us to danger at times, the Bible does not tell us to go around needlessly putting ourselves in danger just to show that God will keep us safe. In fact, at least one example in the Bible suggests such acts are wrong for putting God to the test. When Satan tests Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), one of his challenges was as follows:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
- Matthew 4:5-7
The truth is that we don’t have to perform death defying acts to show that we have faith in God. Our faith also doesn’t have to revolve around isolated incidents where God seemed to really shine for us. Living every day in Christ is and should be considered an act of faith. Our lives are full of ups and downs and, at times, those downs feel far more prominent and numerous. It is at those low times when we are most able to demonstrate our faith. For many of us, our natural response is to worry and fret when faced with challenges, especially in the case of those that seem insurmountable. God understands that tendency in us and Jesus himself addressed it.
“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 you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matthew 6:25-27
Jesus was letting his followers know that God takes care of his people and that is something of which anyone who follows Him can be certain. Whenever we face hardship, we need to have the faith to move forward knowing that God will take care of us and keep us no matter what. Of course that’s easier said than done. Facing challenges such as bills you can’t pay, a troubling medical diagnosis, or wayward children (just to name a few) and not worrying might seem like an impossible task. That’s where faith comes into play. When you truly believe that God will take care of you, those things simply won’t bear the same weight. To some that may sound far-fetched, but is it really? Every day we put ourselves in precarious positions and do not even think about the dangers associated because of the faith we put into a variety of things.

Most of us find ourselves in a car at some point, either driving or riding. It is commonplace, and we don’t fret or worry about the possibility of dying in an accident every time we hit the road. Instead, we put our faith in the ability of the driver, in the attentiveness of others on the road, and in the safety measures installed in today’s vehicles. We know for a fact that every single one of those things can and do fail. We know that people are injured and even killed in car accidents. We know that every time we get into a car, we will be facing some degree of danger. Still, we accept it because commuting is something that most of us have to do, and our faith in those things mentioned before is strong enough to alleviate most of our fears. Why is the same not true with our faith in God? Why is it so difficult for us to go through our lives without worry despite knowing the troubles that lay around the corner? Maybe our faith in seat belts is stronger than our faith in God. We can see seat belts and touch them. Most of us have even felt them pull tight when we’ve had to stop short for some reason or another. Some would say we have proof that seat belts work. Do you not also have proof that God works? Haven’t you been in situations where you did not see a way out only for God to deliver you? Haven’t you had needs that you didn’t know how you’d meet only for God to provide? In the times when God comes through for us, we are often quick to give him credit, but our memories are short. Instead of giving him credit in advance as we encounter the next crisis we worry instead. Those are the times when our faith should shine the most. Even when there is no sign of movement toward resolution of our problems our faith in God shouldn’t waver. After all, according to the Bible, faith at its purest exists precisely when we don’t see those signs.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. - Hebrews 11:1

If we truly want to build and demonstrate faith, we don’t need to dance with snakes. Sometimes the simplest methods are the best methods. Just live. Live your life in obedience and free of worry knowing that God will make a way. When people see you face challenge after challenge undaunted, they will ask you how you do it.  Make sure to give God the credit. At that point, you can consider your faith demonstrated.
Chris Lawyer
Image courtesy of lapostexaminer.com

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Do Not Love the World



On this blog, we have talked a lot about love. We have good reason for that given the importance that the Bible puts on love. Along with faith, love is a fundamental part of every Believer’s walk. However, the Bible does not just put a lot of emphasis on what and who we should love. It is also clear about what we should not love.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. – 1 John 2:15-16
These are strong words from John and they have led some to take strong measures in the way they live their lives. We see sects of Christianity where people live very simplistic and basic lifestyles in an effort to avoid the things that John mentions in this scripture. While such measures are certainly valid and fair, are they what God expects from all of us? The world has a lot to offer from music to art to sports and, for many, life might seem pretty empty if it meant abstaining from all those things. Believers should understand that life can never be empty if it is filled with God, but even still, many believers like and indulge in much the world has to offer. Is that wrong? Not exactly, but it may be worthwhile to explore what it means to love the world so that we understand where the line should be drawn. To truly love something or someone requires a number of things. Two of the most prominent are prioritization and commitment.

When we love, we inevitably give the subject of that love a higher priority in our lives. Most people would do things for their family that they would not necessarily do for a stranger. That is because most people love the members of their family and thus care more about the well-being of those family members. Even the Bible speaks about love in relational terms. For example it commands us to love God above all and love our fellow people as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). In other words, we should be giving God the highest priority and giving others the same priority that we give ourselves. For many, keeping those two commandments is hard enough. Learning to prioritize serving, praising, and obeying God over everything else in our lives takes effort. Overcoming our own selfishness enough to give the needs and desires of others equal priority to our own also takes work. How much more difficult would it be to do those things if we also loved the things of the world? Each of those worldly things would also require their priority. For example, Sunday is the primary day of worship for Christians. It is also the main day for NFL football. If a person loves football, how much more difficult is it for that person to give that day to the Lord? If a person loves acquiring and hoarding wealth, how much more difficult is it to give that wealth away to others who may need it more? The problem is not that we can’t enjoy some of the things the world has to offer. There is nothing wrong with liking some of the things the world offers, however when ‘liking’ is elevated to ‘loving’ then those worldly things become competition for that which is truly important – God and our fellow people.

Commitment is something that also coincides with love. When we hear that word we may think of weddings and other ceremonies that show our intent to commit ourselves to someone or something. However, committing to something doesn’t require such an overt display. At its base, commitment means investing some portion of ourselves into that to which we commit. When we are committed to something we stick with it even when such a course of action proves to be difficult. When we come to love something, we naturally commit to it in a way that we may not for other things. Going back to the football example, there are some who love the sport, so without fail they park themselves in front of the TV every Saturday and Sunday catching all the games they can. If anything or anyone gets in between them and watching those games, there may be problems. When you’ve committed yourself to something that strongly, it can be hard to break away to do anything else. That is troublesome when, as noted above, other things should be given greater priority.

However, there is another problem with committing ourselves to worldly things. As the verse from 1 John explained, sin is born from the things of the world. What if we’ve committed ourselves to something that causes us to sin? Jesus already told us how we should treat things that lead us to sin.
If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. - Matthew 5:29-30
That sounds gruesome, but Jesus’ point is that if there is anything in our lives that threatens to draw us away from walking a righteous path, we should remove that thing from our lives. That sounds easy, but it certainly isn’t for things that we love. Having a glass of wine everyday with dinner or for celebrations isn’t inherently sinful, but some of us can’t leave it there. Some of us love to drink. One glass inevitably leads to another and another may lead down a path to drunkenness. Drunkenness itself is a sinful state, but it can also lead to further sins. If you can’t drink without falling victim to that sin, then you shouldn’t drink, but anyone who loves alcohol and loves the feeling it gives knows how hard it is to give it up. When it comes to worldly things, we should not indulge in anything that we cannot give up immediately if that is what God wills. That requires us to never commit to any of those worldly things. Since commitment comes with love, it also means we can’t love any of those things.

Part of the difficulty associated with bringing people to the faith is the idea that Christians are against fun and can’t enjoy themselves. That is not true. The Bible doesn’t tell us to avoid everything the world has to offer. In fact, Paul suggests that we have to be flexible and sometimes engage those we want to reach on their own terms (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). That may mean walking a line of engaging in a worldly activity while avoiding sin all to reach someone in need of the Gospel. We Christians can enjoy some of the things this world has to offer, but we do have limits for that engagement. And there are things from which we have to abstain. That is a reality of living a Christ centered life versus a world centered life. It is also a reality that as we give up worldly things, we can happily replace them with godly things, and those are things that we can feel free to love to our heart’s content.

Chris Lawyer

 Image Courtesy of gotquestions.org

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The True Superhero



If you’ve watched the TV or surfed the internet at all in the last couple of weeks, you know that another Marvel movie is in the theatres. This one, Avengers: Endgame, is the culmination of all the story telling that Marvel Studios has been doing over the past 11 years. What they have accomplished is unprecedented in cinematic history. They have told 21 different stories while building a shared world full of interesting characters and concepts. Endgame is the 22nd and it is supposed to tie together everything that has come before it and give this era of stories a conclusion.

While, what Marvel Studios, has done is impressive as far as movies go, it’s not quite as rare in the world of literature. In fact, we all know of an example where a similar feat is captured in a single book – the Bible. If we look, we can see some interesting parallels between Marvel’s work and superhero movies in general to what’s done with the Bible. Much of this is likely unintentional. However, the influence of the Bible even on works of fantasy such as the Marvel stories cannot be denied. For example, Spiderman is one of Marvel’s most popular heroes and the heart of his story is built on a Biblical foundation. We’ve all heard the “With great power comes great responsibility” tagline. It is essentially just a restatement of a portion of Luke 12:48: “To everyone who has been given much, much will be expected. (NIV)”

The Marvel movies have told many stories that have varied in genre from run-of-the-mill superhero flicks to space epics to heist films. Similarly, the Biblical stories cover a variety of genres. For example, we get an origin story (Adam and Eve), a disaster story (Noah and the Ark), a story of ill-fated romance (Samson and Delilah), and likely one of the greatest rags to riches stories ever (King David). What’s, perhaps, more interesting than the individual stories themselves is the underlying narrative that connects them together. With the Marvel stories, we see characters of varying powers and capabilities rise to stand for what they believe is right and to serve the greater good. They are eventually driven together by the actions of a great enemy, Thanos, who is acting in the background. The Biblical stories are much the same. We learn about a number of characters empowered by God to varying degrees that stand up to execute His will and serve all that is good. All the while, they are battling against sin, an underlying force that has proven to be mankind’s greatest enemy.

Eventually, the Marvel heroes had to take a stand against their foe. That confrontation happened in the Infinity War movie and Thanos proved to be an enemy that seemed almost impossible for the heroes to overcome. In fact, Dr. Strange, one of the heroes, states that out of more than 14 million possible outcomes of their confrontation, the heroes only had one chance for victory. For us, sin is just that great of an enemy. At times, it seems almost impossible for us to overcome. Matthew 7:13-14 tells us:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Jesus is saying something similar to Strange here. There are plenty of outcomes that lead to destruction, but only one to salvation, and that path is opened to us by the one true superhero – Jesus Christ. The story of him as a man on Earth is told through the Gospels, and in them he exhibits all the typical traits of a superhero. He has many powers including telepathy (Matthew 2:6-8), weather control (Mark 4:35-41), and matter manipulation (Matthew 14:13-21). He was an unerring symbol of good. He was willing to sacrifice everything including his life for the well-being of others. Most importantly, like any good superhero he never gave up. Even when it seemed like the enemy had him beaten and he died on the cross, he returned showing that he had dominion over death itself. He spent his whole life selflessly trying to help people and save them from impending doom. What is more characteristic of a hero than that? Jesus is the superhero than can give us lasting victory against sin, and unlike the Marvel heroes, he can not only save our physical lives but our very souls too.

We may not have the powers of the Marvel heroes, and we certainly can’t be the superhero that Jesus was and still is. However, we can be his trusty sidekicks. We can live faithfully by his teachings showing the world what righteousness looks like. We can do good works and love our fellow people. We can share the Word and knowledge of Jesus’ greatness. All these things would be blows against sin and Satan, its greatest perpetrator.

Like with this era of the Marvel movies, the Biblical storyline has an end. Many have tried to read the signs given by the Bible and have declared that we are now in our own endgame. The Bible tells us that no one knows when the end will come (Matthew 24:36). Still, it would be wise for us all to behave as though we are close. The end of the Biblical story has already been spoiled. We know that God and his forces will prevail over the Devil and sin. Only one question remains. When the endgame does come, which side will you be on?

Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of the Heroes Overcome ministry