Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

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Trust and Faith

Friday, October 01, 2021

Trust and Faith in Hard Times

By Mark McCrary

Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others.  Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”

The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44.  In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.

But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn.  The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied.  And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant.  Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).

Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.

There is no answer.  There is only trust and faith. 

Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26).  Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to.  It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by an

What Does God Want From Me?

Friday, September 24, 2021

What Does God Want From Me?

By Paul Earnhart                                                                                       

In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road wearing someone else's hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense, the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question.  The question is built in; the answer is not.

In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that.  Human beings, being creatures, cannot answer such questions.  American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:

            "I close my eyes to see,

            I bleed my bones their marrow to bestow

            Upon that God who knows what I would know.”

Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces us to utter meaninglessness.  Accepting by faith that God exists and wants us to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities.  It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.

It is evident from the Bible's beginning that man, created in the image of God, was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence and worship Him in a divinely prescribed way.  Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5).  Not everything goes.  The foundation of worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4).  King Saul learned that lesson when he presumed to worship God in a way that violated His will.  Samuel's rebuke tells the story:  "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..." (1 Samuel 15:22).

The Old Testament prophets speak to our question often.  When Israel sought to placate God with the multitude of their sacrifices, Micah told them straight out that God wanted more - "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8).  To the hypocritical shallowness of their worship Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah say the same (Isa. 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:21-23).  Jesus echoes the prophets by His frequent quoting of Hosea:  "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7).  What Jesus and the prophets were saying was not that the sacrificial offerings of the law (Leviticus) were unnecessary but that God's desire was for far more than that.

What is the lesson here?  Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants from us by offering the part for the whole -- even actions that God has clearly required -- frequent attendance at church assemblies (Heb. 10:24,25), regular eating of the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 2:42), communal prayers and spiritual singing (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19,20) et. al.  All these are to lead to a higher purpose -- our transformation into the image of God's Son (Rom. 8:29).  What God wants is you and me, that which is expressed in the first and greatest commandment:  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:28-29).  In short, God wants all there is of us, given gladly and freely in the same measure that He has poured Himself out on us.

Hour

Friday, September 17, 2021

“Hour”

 By Mark McCrary

 

Studying through the Gospel of John recently, I was struck by just how often and exactly how the word “hour” is used.  In John, an “hour” stands for a time of action, consequence, and sometimes decision.  In Jn. 16:21, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”  With that in mind, what are some of the different lessons found about hours in the Gospel of John?

Jesus had an “hour.” This is the most prevalent idea.  Jesus’ hour was His time to face the cross and die as a sacrifice for the world. Until halfway through the gospel, John speaks of Jesus’ hour as something not yet present for Him.  In John 2:4, when asked by his mother to do something about the wine shortage at a wedding, Jesus responded, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  This message is reaffirmed in 7:30 and 8:20.  Jesus had much work ahead of him to fulfill the task given to Him by His Father.  However, that changed in 12:23 when Philip brought some Greeks to meet Jesus.  Jesus then said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  In 13:1, before eating the Passover meal with His disciples, we are told, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father….” This was the hour of His glorification. Before His death, He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify you Son that the Son may glorify you…” (17:1). Jesus’ hour was the fulfilling of His purpose by dying on the cross for the salvation of all who would come to Him.

There is an “hour” of worship.  Since the creation in the Garden, humanity has always been purposed with worshipping God.  However, Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (4:21-23).  Jesus promised a time when worship would not revolve around a mountain of some kind, or any particular place.  It would be a spiritual activity enabled by truth. We need to take advantage of this every first day of the week.  But, not just then; we need to remember this all the time.  Our “hour” of worship is any hour, any time, and any place.

There is an “hour” Christ heals. “So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household” (4:52-53).  This healing is sometimes physical healing, but more importantly, it is the promise of spiritual healing for those who come to Him.

There is an “hour” of resurrection. In 5:25,28, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,” then “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice….”  The ultimate time of consequence lays before us all.

There is an “hour” of clear revelation.  Jesus promised in 16:25, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” This likely references the events after His resurrection when the apostles moved from uncertainty to confidence in their preaching and boldness. What was the source of this change? The coming of the Holy Spirit to reveal all of God’s truth (16:12-13).  We live in this hour today.  But, perhaps there’s another application for us: the hour we really start understanding what God expects from us.  Call it the hour we transition from immaturity to maturity; from being unaccountable to being accountable.  That hour waits for each of us.

There is also an “hour” of fear and betrayal.  “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (16:32).  That hour came quickly for the disciples as their rabbi was killed and their world shaken.  Time was spent in hiding.  Yet, the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 reminded them that they were not without help— “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” God was with them through the course of their lives, through the good and the bad.  When Paul’s world seemed to be falling apart around him, he found comfort in the Lord’s presence (2 Tim. 4:17). There are hours that we face that change our lives—times that are both good and bad.  We sometimes traverse the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4)—but we never traverse it alone.  If we are faithful, God is with us in this hour.

Finally, there is an “hour” of responsibility.  At the foot of the cross, the disciple John stood next to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  The dying Son looked down and said to John, “Behold, your mother!” The text follows with, “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (19:27).  Jesus called John to accept in that hour a new, very personal responsibility.  What responsibilities does Christ call you to today? Devotion to your parents? Spouse? Children? How about a greater responsibility to our brethren? Maybe even our society around us?

“Hour” is an important concept in John’s gospel.  It looks to a time to act.  What is the hour before you now? Is it the hour to believe? To serve? To confront? To endure? Is it still in front of you? Has it arrived? Or, has it passed without action from you?

Something too Precious Not To Share

Friday, August 27, 2021

Something Too Precious Not To Share

By Tom Rose

What things are precious to us?  They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.

Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks.  As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you. 

This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”

“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;

Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”

Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss?  “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.”  I believe that is what this song is suggesting.  In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”

However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us?  The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,

“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure.  I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,  

“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”

In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.  

“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.

Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.”  That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.

Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning.  Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds?  Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves?  When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative?  How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one?  When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life?  Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway? 

Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions.  Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith.  Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”  From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity.  These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.  They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant.  Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously.  Two responses give insight into their thinking.

Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group.  He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions.  He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions.  Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either.  The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.  During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more.  Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal.  He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.”  The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew.  But it lost Phil.

Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching.  He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think.  It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian.  He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.*  First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague.  Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people.  And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).

*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.

What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

Thursday, August 12, 2021

What does it Mean to be a Christian?

By Mark McCrary

May I ask you to think about a question—do you consider yourself to be a Christian? May I ask you to consider a follow up question- what does it even mean to be a Christian? To a lot of people, being a Christian is just the idea of going to worship services a few times a month (or year), praying from time to time, or having a generally good idea and feeling about God and believing in Him.  But, that’s not the standard that Jesus set.

Jesus said this in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”

Perhaps the defining trait for the child of God is obeying God and submitting to Him and His will for our lives.  It is looking to Him and His word, and taking that study seriously and contemplating when you study, “Am I living this way? Is God first in my life? Am I obeying Him?”

What many do is profess to have faith, but then do whatever they want to do.  Jesus said if we want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, we are concerned about what God tells us to do, and we do just that.

Are you living as A Christian?

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