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
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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
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