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
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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
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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Adam

The Bible gives us many stories that feature a variety of characters. Most of us can name several of these characters and tell about their lives or their feats, but sometimes the significance of the people and what they represent gets lost. For that reason, it may be useful to take a look at certain characters in the Bible and think about them not just as they fit in their own stories, but also what role they play in the story that the Bible as a whole is telling.

Let’s start at the beginning with Adam. He was the first human being, and along with Eve, was the progenitor of humanity. He was not the first living thing made though. God made all the animals before Man, but then made Man to rule over all the living things of the Earth. In order for Man to rule over all other things, God had to set us apart, and his way of doing that is interesting.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” - Genesis 1:26
God set us apart from the animals by making us like Him. A little later in Genesis, the Bible clarifies exactly what God did.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. - Genesis 2:7
Anyone who has taken a biology class knows that science tells us that all living things on Earth are made from the same basic building blocks. That’s reasonable. God made all life. The Bible tells us that he made us from the dust of the ground, in other words, the basic elements found in the Earth itself. It’s likely he did that for all the other living things too, but he did something different for Man. He breathed life directly into Adam. God imparted part of His very essence into Man. What does that mean? Some may believe that by “breathing life” directly into Adam, God was imparting what we would call the human soul. The Bible doesn’t specifically say, but we know that when He created Adam, He set him apart from all else residing on the Earth. God favored Adam more, but he also expected more from Adam. Adam and Eve were the only of His Earthly creations to which God gave commands. Adam was instructed not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but we know from the story that Adam and Eve did just that.

You may have heard some jokingly blame Adam and Eve for all the evil in the world, but that misses the point. We are no different than them. Had any one of us been in Adam and Eve’s place, we too would have sinned at some point. Adam wasn’t just the first human. He was the archetype of humanity. Whatever strengths and weaknesses you believe you see in him in the story, also exist in us. For example, just look at his reaction to God’s revelation of his sin.
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” - Genesis 3:11-12
Adam knew what he was and wasn’t supposed to do. His sin was his and his alone, but as soon as he is confronted with his sin, the first thing he tries to do is shift the blame to Eve. Isn’t that just like us? We have no problem enjoying the “fruits” of our sins, but as soon as those sins come to light, we waste no time trying to find someone or something to blame for us falling short.

The story of Adam shows us that weakness was ingrained in us from the start. That begs a question though. Why would God make us flawed? He didn’t. He made us of the Earth and gave us a choice between Him and the Earth, and too often we use our choice to indulge in the things of the Earth. It is easy to lead us astray and difficult to keep us on a righteous path. Adam was the first example of that fact, but we see it reinforced throughout the Bible and, if we’re honest, even in our own lives. So what is the solution?

Well in the Genesis story, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden. Their lives became much more difficult as part of their punishment, but they managed to make a life for themselves in the world as it is, just like we do every day. That was not the last time the Bible mentioned Adam though. His name was actually invoked thousands of years later by Paul.
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. - 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Jesus is the “last Adam” to which Paul is referring. Just as Adam is the model for what we humans are, Jesus was the model for what we can be. Just as Adam was ruled by his Earthly bounds and fell victim to his weakness. Jesus was committed to Heaven, and because of His sacrifice and the imparting of His spirit into everyone that believes in Him, we too, can live according to God’s will.

We have to understand that when we are born, we are all like Adam, living beings given great potential and set apart by God, but ultimately weak and flawed. We are prone to sin, and on our own merits, we cannot escape that. However, the new Adam came to Earth to help rise above that weakness. Even as we accept the new Adam and attempt to move beyond our limitations, let us not forget the story of the first Adam. As the well known saying goes “Those who forget about the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Chris Lawyer
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