Monday, December 30, 2019

The Winter Star



Winter has long been associated with death. There are likely a number of reasons for that. It could be due to the fact that we see plants fade away and animals disappear during the season. The increased length of the night and the early fading of day during the season could also be reasons, especially considering how much uncertainty and fear the night brought to people in the past. Maybe the answer is something as simple as the cold that the winter brings, which is also something associated with death. Whatever the reason, Winter is often seen as the season where life slows down and waits until Spring comes along to bring a rebirth.

Many scholars actually believe that Jesus was born during the Spring. Luke 2:8 says about the time of Jesus’ birth:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
The verse refers to an activity that typically happened in the springtime. So where did December 25th come from?  Some scholars believe that date was chosen for Christmas in an effort to replace Saturnalia, a holiday celebrated by many pagan converts to Christianity earlier in the faith’s history. Whatever the reason for the transition, the irony associated with Christmas should be evident. The birth of Jesus isn’t a story associated with death like the Winter season. Instead, for Christians, Jesus’ birth and life mean the defeat of death and the potential for receiving the gift of eternal life.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. - 1 John 2:17
Looking at it that way, it definitely would seem more fitting to celebrate Jesus’ birth in the Spring. Just as the arrival of Spring means an escape from the Winter and whatever cold and misery might have come along with it. Jesus’ birth meant the promise of an escape from God’s wrath and the death that would come as a result of that wrath.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. - John 3:36
For Believers, Jesus' birth brought forth the chance for a rebirth, a baptism in the Holy Spirit that renews all who believe in Him and turns us all into new people just like Spring seemingly recreates the world into something new from the barren setting that’s present during Winter in many places.

Looking at the dynamic that way, it seems clear that Spring would definitely be a more suitable time to celebrate Jesus’ coming, but there is another way to look at it. Yes, Jesus’ birth meant that the world would eventually gain a way of rising above sin and obtaining eternal life, however, sin and the trouble it brings didn’t just disappear from the world after Jesus was born. Similarly, when we accept Jesus as our savior, temptation and our tendencies toward sinfulness don’t just disappear either. Jesus and the Holy Spirit give us a way to rise above sin, but it’s still something in which we’re all immersed. Yes, Believers will have an unending spiritual life, but even those that believe in Jesus will still die in a physical sense (outside of those selected immediately during the Rapture). Therefore, Jesus’ birth didn’t necessarily push away sin and death in the same way that Spring pushes away the Winter. Instead, Jesus gives us hope in the midst of the somber season. He is like the bright star shining through a gloomy winter night. Maybe celebrating Jesus in the winter is perfect because during this cold and dark season, Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on the one light that can cut through any darkness we may face.
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” - John 8:12
A good reason for not celebrating Jesus’ birth in the Spring is the fact that we already celebrate his death in that season. While the birth of our savior might seem like a much more joyous event to celebrate than his death, in some ways, his death is the more important day to celebrate. Jesus’ life was certainly a blessing to this world, so his birth was important. However, his death and resurrection are what actually unlock the door to eternal life.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. - 1 Peter 1:3
As great as Jesus’ birth might have been, it was his death that created the opportunity for us to rise above death. His resurrection is the Spring that beats back the Winter that is sin.  

In the end, the season we celebrate a particular event in Jesus’ life doesn’t really matter. What is important is that we remember Jesus and what he means for us all. Whether it’s Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, Jesus should be just as important to us. What’s absolutely vital is that we not only celebrate Him, but integrate Him into our lives in a way that allows us to rise above the evils of the world around us.

To some extent, Jesus, even for some that don’t believe, is definitely the celebrity of this season. We have Christmas to thank for that. Because of this holiday, Jesus is and has been the Winter Star. As we prepare to celebrate Him and his birth, let us be sure to remember why it is that his birth was so important in the first place. If we do that, then maybe we can grow to a point where in our hearts, every day is Christmas. If he is the light that conquers death, then his light should be able to shine out even when the season associated with death ends.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of videoblocks.com


 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Only God Can Judge



“Only God Can Judge Me” - That’s a phrase that we hear thrown around a lot, usually after someone has done something unseemly or wrong. The invoking of God means that people who say this believe to some extent that the sentiment is Biblical. They are not wrong.
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? - James 4:12
The Bible is clear that we should leave judgement to God. The problem (as is often the case when people try to turn God’s Word into trendy sayings) is that the way this saying is used is often out of place. Yes, it is true that only God can pass judgement on anyone, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t to be held accountable for our actions by those around us. It doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want with the expectation that no one has the right to say anything to us about our actions. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that helping people move away from their sin isn’t just the duty of Believers, it is an action that can save lives.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. - James 5:19-20
Living righteously can be difficult, especially when we are left to our own devices. We often fool ourselves into believing we are justified in our bad actions even when we know we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t even feel the need to lie to ourselves in that way. Sometimes we are so committed to our sin that we simply do not want to give it up. That’s why some choose to throw around a saying like “only God can judge me.” By taking that saying to heart, people come to believe they can ignore their transgressions and those who would attempt to correct them are actually the ones that are in the wrong.

It’s not always easy to accept when we are wrong, and sometimes it only furthers our guilt and shame when others point out our wrongs. This is the reason why humility is such an important part of our Christian walks. We have to learn to get over ourselves and focus on what is important: living righteously and being obedient to God. God will forgive us and help us to move past our shortcomings, but we have to repent for our sins.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9
Therein lies the problem with attempting to sidestep our wrong doing. If we are more concerned with people knowing our wrongs and calling attention to our wrongs than we are with actually correcting those wrongs, we’ll never seek atonement. We’ll never walk away from our sinfulness. We’ll never repent. If we want to truly live righteously, we have to be willing to take hard looks at ourselves even if it takes someone else to force us to do so. Yes, it’s true that only God can judge us, but it’s also true that others can help us remain on the right side of His judgement.

Of course, there is another side to this issue. Sometimes this phrase about God’s judgement is thrown out because we as Christians are too judgmental. Yes, we are directed to hold each other accountable for our actions, but that is not the same as passing judgement on others. It is not our place to say whether other people are good or bad. It is not our place to say what should happen to people or how they should be treated because of their transgressions. It is our duty to remind each other of God’s will and what he wants from us, and we are to do that in a loving way, not a judgmental one.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:1-2
Truthfully, it can be tough straddling the line between being lovingly corrective and overly judgmental, but as we find again and again, doing the right thing is not always easy. It is, however, important. Keeping the Christian family together means keeping the bonds strong between everyone in the family. We cannot do that if we are constantly grating against each other. Further, if we hope to win more people to the Faith, we have to show them the benefits of believing. People have to understand that Believers only want the best for everyone. Again, this is where humility comes into play. If we are only interested in correcting others because we want to feel superior or better about our own moral standing, then we are, of course, acting improperly. Our attempts to hold others accountable should have nothing to do with ourselves. We should be motivated solely by the desire to see our brothers and sisters be at their best. We also always have to be aware of the fact that none of us are perfect. Being heavy handed when approaching people about their sin is hypocritical knowing that you have sin of your own. That is a lesson Jesus taught those around him.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. - Matthew 7:1-5
One day, God will judge us all, and it is true that only He has the right to do that. However, we should not use that fact as a rallying cry to justify or excuse our bad actions. We should also not make others feel like they need such a rallying cry. The goal is to live righteous lives, and that is not a goal any of us can achieve alone. Let us all do our best to help and be helped in achieving that common goal.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of wycovintage.com 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sermon Series Wrap-Up: What If You're Reaping What You Sow?


Most people have heard the term “Karma” before. It’s a concept taken from Buddhism and refers to the belief that karma is something we all amass as a result of our actions in life. Eventually, everyone will have that karma come back to them, and the nature of that karma will be a reflection of how we live our lives. If we live righteously, we will receive good karma. If we live evil lives, our karma will be bad. Most people understand this concept, and even if they don’t really believe in karma itself, many probably believe or want to believe that our actions have corresponding consequences.

As Pastor Pope pointed out in his latest series, that concept is part of Christianity too.
Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. - Galatians 6:7-8
Here we see Paul using the process of planting and harvesting crops as a metaphor to express the same sentiment as the concept of karma. Pastor Pope asks us all how we know we’re not reaping what we’ve sown. Many of us are going through hard times. Maybe they are the consequences of sowing to our flesh. That doesn’t mean that we should stop striving to do what is right. If you have changed your ways and are now sowing good, then you should believe that eventually you will reap good. All Believers should think that way. Jesus gives a clear example of just how far the principle of reaping what you sow can go.
So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life. - Luke 18:29
Jesus made that statement to his disciples following an encounter with a rich man who did not want to sacrifice his worldly goods. Jesus is making a promise that those who sacrifice for God will be rewarded both in the present and for eternity. Those of us who believe in Jesus need to believe in what Jesus said. After all, it was his sacrifice that allows us to reap such a great reward for living according to God’s will.

This concept of reaping what we sow doesn’t mean that if we’ve done bad, we’ll be stuck in a cycle of doing wrong and paying for our wrong. We will have to suffer consequences for the wrong we do, but we can turn our lives around. Pastor Pope used the story of Jacob in the Bible to illustrate that truth. Jacob tricked his brother, Esau, out of both his birthright and blessing, and in turn he was tricked and taken advantage of by his father-in-law, Laban. He sowed wrong and reaped wrong. However, Jacob also sowed goodness by being faithful and obedient to God and struggling both figuratively and literally against an angel to overcome his trials. As a result, he also reaped goodness and was blessed by God.

Most people can probably come to terms with the concept of accepting the consequences for one’s own actions. However, at times, we may have difficulty understanding just how great God’s blessings might be. Doing good will result in good, but that doesn’t mean the good we receive will be the equivalent of what we did. God can and will bless us beyond what we have earned. We just have to believe. Pastor Pope used the stories of Abraham and Mary to illustrate that point. Abraham was obedient when given commands by God, and in turn, he became the father of God’s chosen people. Mary was obedient when she was told about God’s plans for her, and in turn she became the mother to Jesus, the Messiah. Simple obedience resulted in unbelievable blessings from God, but this should not surprise us. As the Bible says:
For with God nothing will be impossible. - Luke 1:37
We Believers have to keep that in mind. When things seem bleak and show no sign of turning around, God can change our fortunes. If we remain faithful and obedient, we will reap goodness because that’s what God wants for us and there is nothing he can’t do for us.

Perhaps, Paul is the Bible’s greatest example of a person reaping what he sowed. He spent much of the earliest part of his life persecuting Jesus’ followers. God could have dispensed with him, but that’s not what God did. Instead, he chose to use Paul. Paul became one of God’s greatest servants, but he didn’t escape reaping the bad he sowed. He served God and at times his life was tough because of it. Suffering for God was the price he had to pay for working against God. Even in the midst of that suffering he found peace and reason for joy even in the midst of his tumult. 
For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. - Romans 8:18
As Pastor Pope said, Paul was “Too Blessed to Be Stressed.” Paul knew that serving God would one day lead to something much greater than anything he had gone through. He trusted God, and we must do the same. He knew that if he gave God his best; God would give him His best. That’s something we all need to take to heart. Too often we put so much of ourselves into the things of the world that God simply becomes an afterthought. We don’t give him the main parts of ourselves. Instead, we give him the leftovers. Then many of us wonder why things aren’t working out the way we’d like. We feel that we’re doing good, but we don’t see our lives impacted the way we want. We have to understand that we can’t give God what is left over and expect our blessings to overflow. If we sow scraps, we will reap scraps. We have to do the best for God and give him our best. Then, we can expect God to give us His best. We will come out as the winners in that exchange because no matter how good we are, we can’t beat God’s goodness.

It's not Karma that we exude, but we reap what we sow. As the Bible says, don't be deceived God will not be mocked, whatever a person sows, they will also reap.  Let's do our best to both sow and reap the fruits of God's will.

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 1
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/2337659336331315/

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 2
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/256709085243407/

What If You're Reaping What You Sowed, Part 3
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/979842805689080/

Too Blessed to Be Stressed
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/2591755487574845/

Don't Give God Your Leftovers
https://www.facebook.com/WEDForLife/videos/1485605151618067/


Chris Lawyer
Sermons By Pastor Everett Pope


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bible Character Spotlight: Moses Part 1



The Bible is full of important people who did significant things in service to God. Many of the people mentioned in the Bible are well known both by those who believe in God and those who don’t. Moses is one such character. He is likely one of the most prominent figures out of everyone in the Bible, potentially second only to Jesus himself. Like Jesus, Moses’ story is told through multiple books. However, the most well known portion of his story is probably the part that takes place in the book of Exodus. Due to multiple movies and other cultural references, the story of Moses leading the Israelites away from bondage in Egypt has transcended the pages of the Bible and become part of the greater culture of the world at large.

In some ways, it is good that a Biblical story has become so famous. Through the telling of the story, people who may not otherwise be exposed to the Faith can come to learn something about God. However, a drawback is that sometimes God’s place in the story can become watered down and seen as something not to be taken seriously. As Believers we have to remember that these stories are more than tales meant for entertainment. They teach us important lessons about God and what we need to know to live godly lives.

After the events in Joseph’s story, many of the Israelites had found a home in Egypt. When a new Pharaoh rose to power, the goodwill that Joseph had built for the Israelites in Egypt was lost. The Pharaoh saw the Israelites, who had grown substantially in number, as potential enemies and felt that he needed to do something to curb the threat that he felt they represented. He took drastic measures by giving an order to have all male Israelite children killed immediately after birth. Those were the conditions under which Moses was born. Right away, we see that God was with him from the start. 

In a desperate attempt to save her son, Moses’ mother tried to hide him, and when she realized she could not continue to do that, she sent him down a river. There are many ways that action could have gone wrong. Instead, it worked out in the best possible way. Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. She saved him, allowed his real mother to nurse him, and raised him as her own son. Moses went from being a child in danger of being killed before he even got a real shot at life to being put in one of the most privileged positions imaginable at the time. This change in fortunes is pretty similar to what happened in Joseph’s story, but Moses was a very different person than Joseph.

Both were principled people, but where Joseph was more thoughtful and reliant on God, Moses was impulsive and acted on his own accord. He could have clung to his acceptance in Egyptian society and looked down on his fellow Israelites who had been enslaved. He didn’t though, and that is a testament to his character. Still, his decision making was not always the best. When seeing an Egyptian abuse one of his fellow Israelites, Moses decided to kill the Egyptian and hide the evidence. His attempt at getting away with his crime failed. The Pharaoh found out about what Moses had done and sought to have Moses killed. Moses fled to a place called Midian to escape the Pharaoh. There, he met two young women. The way they described him after that encounter is interesting.
When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” - Exodus 2:18-19
Moses was an Israelite, and he was loyal enough to that heritage to kill over it. However, outsiders did not see him as such. They saw him as an Egyptian. Even his fellow Israelites did not necessarily see him as kin. That was demonstrated through some of his earlier interactions with them. Neither of those things stopped God from using Moses to save his people. The Pharaoh that ordered Moses be killed eventually died, and Moses was living in peace in Midian married to one of the young women that he had first encountered upon arrival there.  Moses was not necessarily living as a Hebrew when God contacted him. It is unclear to what extent Moses even followed God at that point. However, when God called, Moses immediately recognized Him. God informed Moses that Moses would be the instrument that God would use to save the Israelites. As many of us would, Moses questioned God’s decision. He wanted to know how he could be expected to address the mighty Pharaoh. He wanted to know how he could convince the Israelites to listen to him. God answered the questions and told him that he would take the Israelites out of Egypt and they would be gifted with much by the Egyptians.

Given the reality of the circumstances at the time, what God promised might have seemed crazy. We have probably all been in situations where God’s promises seem unrealistic, but as Believers we have to trust that God will fulfill those promises no matter how unlikely it may seem. This story is a good demonstration of God’s faithfulness. After all, God’s tasking of Moses was itself a fulfillment of the promise he made to Abraham.
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. - Exodus 2:23-25
We should also understand that God’s promises aren’t necessarily fulfilled with ease for us. If the promise seems like it would be difficult to achieve, then it very well may require much from us for it to be fulfilled. When God first told Moses that he would have to deal with Pharaoh and would free the Israelites, God didn’t mention anything about Moses (with Aaron) having to upstage Pharaoh’s sorcerers or Moses having to be the harbinger for the 10 plagues or Moses having split a sea down the middle so that the Israelites would have a path to safety. Yet, we all know from the story that all those things took place before the Israelites were free.

Moses’ story teaches us that we don’t have to be perfect for God to use us. It also teaches us that we can never be sure just how He will use us. However, if we have faith in Him, we can accomplish the biggest feats in the most amazing ways. If Moses’ story had ended there, it would have already been suitable to give Believers perspective on what it means to believe in and follow God, but his story was not finished. In some ways it was just beginning. There is plenty more from Moses to be put under the spotlight.


Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of ABC News