Growing In Godliness Blog

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After Baptism – Temptation

Friday, December 08, 2023

After Baptism – Temptation

By Paul Earnhart

The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan marks the beginning of what is commonly called His personal ministry.  This ministry began with a significant testimony of divine approval; the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and a voice from the Father in heaven acknowledged Him as His Son.  All of this was surely a strong encouragement to Jesus as He embarked on the work for which He had come.

But Satan was not willing to allow Him to begin that work unchallenged.  Just as Satan had tempted Adam and Eve soon after their creation, now he moved to tempt Jesus.  God was willing that this temptation should take place for the scriptures tell us that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  (Mt 4:1).

Why did the Spirit lead Jesus to be tempted?  Two reasons seem clear:

First, Jesus had come to be our priest; that is, our representative before God.  Isaiah had prophesied 700 years earlier that He would make intercession for the transgressors (Isa 53:12).  In order to understand the problems we face in trying to do what is right and to be our priest (or advocate) before God, He had to be tempted.  Hebrews 2:18 mentions this: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”  Hebrews 4:15 states this negatively: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

One other thing may account for His temptation.  Overcoming temptation strengthens us.  James 1:2 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” 

Jesus was human enough to need the strength that comes from successful encounters with temptation.  And so do we!  When we are tempted, we should view it as an opportunity for growth…IF WE RESIST!

“Son…It’s Not Story Time”

Friday, December 01, 2023

“Son…It’s Not Story Time”

By Victor Osorio

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who worships in the northeast. He mentioned that the elders at the church he attends did away with “exhortation/invitation” talks. When I asked why, he matter-of-factly said, “Because no one knows how to do them.”

That conversation reminded me of one of my first exhortation talks. It was in the summer of 1998. I was living in Temple Terrace, Florida and had just graduated after my sophomore year at Florida College. When asked if I would give an exhortation talk, I agreed but neglected to check the calendar. When the duty roster came out, a brother teased, “You’re brave! That will be the first week of school at Florida College. This place will be packed!” After overcoming the initial panic, I had an idea. I was going to challenge all of us college students.

My scripture was 2 Timothy 2:15. Yes, it was scripture, singular – there was only one verse. But at least I used the NIV version which said, “Do your best, rather than “study,” to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” After that, I was off to the races with a great story.

The story was fitting. It was about “Cory Matthews,” a fictional character from the sitcom Boy Meets World. The episode I referenced was when Cory was graduating from high school. Through the entire episode Cory was acting strange and melancholy, which was out of character.  His friends and family were worried about his well-being. The climax was at the end when he revealed what was bothering him. As he came to the end of his high school career and completed an assignment to reflect on his feelings about the moment, he realized he was barely a “C-student.” As he presented the assignment he stated, “I could’ve done better. I could’ve done better. I’m sorry; I could’ve done better. Congratulations to those who did.” In my talk, I then pivoted, not to our lives as academicians, but as Christians. I challenged us students not to look back at the end of the year wishing we could have done better in our service to Christ.

I stepped down from the dais feeling that I did my job. Many encouraging folks agreed. Then I saw dear brother and veteran soldier Harry Pickup, Jr coming up to me. He put his left hand on my right shoulder, and in his slow, low, southern draw said, “Son, you did a nice job. You were prepared. You were articulate. You had a good message. But let me give you some advice.” His voice changed from encouraging coach to admonishing, but loving, father. He added, “Son, remember, this is not story time. You have to start with scripture, end with scripture, and use scripture all in between.”

Oddly enough, as hard as I worked on that lesson, and as much as I thought it was just the right message for the time, I agreed with him. I took the admonishment to heart. And I have tried not to repeat that “mistake” since.

No doubt stories have their place in exhortation and Lord’s supper talks. But our cleverness is not “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16-17).

A brief caveat as hearers of these talks. Let’s not make assumptions on our brothers who perform these talks. When someone reads a story off the Internet, let’s not assume they didn’t prepare and print a story off last minute. Let’s take that as a sign of preparation. When someone has a unique presentation style, let’s not assume they are trying to be theatrical and make it about themselves. Let’s assume it is serious to them, and they wanted to make it memorable and meaningful to us.

The answer to better talks is coaching and demonstration by example. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and do away with them all together. Our young men need opportunities like these to grow their abilities in public settings while being taught to understand the Holy Spirit left enough material in the Bible for a lifetime of sermons, let alone short talks. Let’s encourage our future laborers and leaders to do these talks well.

As for this article, I know I could’ve done better because it’s not story time.

Seven Things to Remember When Dealing with Doubts – Part 2

Friday, November 24, 2023

Seven Things to Remember When Dealing with Doubts – Part 2

By Mark McCrary

Text: Matthew 11:1-14

In our last article, we discussed three things we learned from the event of Mathew 11 where John expressed doubt about the identity of Jesus as the Messiah:

  1. Everyone doubts.  John was strong and faithful, but even he was weak at this moment.  We should not be surprised when we go through moments of doubt as well.
  2. Express your doubts. When John began to question, he took his questions right to the source: Jesus.  Sometimes when we doubt, we are tempted to bottle them up inside. That doesn’t help. We should go to God in prayer and find others whom we trust to talk with.
  3. Circumstances of life cause us to doubt. John’s doubt likely came from his difficult imprisonment.  Our struggles often come in challenging seasons—sicknesses, loss, etc.

There are four other helpful things to remember from this lesson, however.  Let’s dive into them.

Number four: Jesus is Understanding When We Doubt

This is comforting.  Jesus didn’t say, “What in the world is wrong with John?  He saw the Spirit and heard the voice of God!”

We feel that way when we doubt, right? Surely God is disappointed in me. He must be thinking, “What in the world is wrong with them? They go to church! They’ve read the Bible! They’ve prayed and taught others about Me!”  But, how did Jesus respond?  Jesus turns to the crowd and lifts him up.  Jesus understood the stresses John was in and sought to reassure him. And, if anyone was prone to judge John for this “momentary” lapse in faith, He defends John (Mt. 11:7-10).

Isn’t that wonderful? I need to hear that! Doubts from the circumstances of life don’t undo a life of faith expressed in service.  And though faith may be suppressed because of circumstances, that suppression doesn’t mean it is dead. God sees it still!

Number Five: Jesus Doesn’t Want Us to Remain in Doubt

As understanding as He was, though, He did not want John to continue to question.  He wanted to assure him to hold on to what he knew, not let go because of what he felt.

Jesus wants the same from us.  While understanding of our doubts, He wants us to move past those and regain confidence in Him.

Number Six: Listen to Witnesses

There’s great power in a personal testimony; when a person says, “I saw this. It happened to me.” Jesus didn’t just tell John to trust Him.  He performed miracles in front of John’s disciples and said, “Go tell him what you have seen Me do.”

Who are our witnesses? Who tells us when we doubt of what they have seen and experienced personally? Certainly, the apostles would be the first we should turn to.  They witnessed the teachings, the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-11; 1 Jn. 1:1-4). History tells us that except for John, all died for their faith. None renounced Jesus or claimed what they taught was a clever lie designed to bring them power and fame. No, they all died confessing Jesus is indeed Lord—even in the face of death. Listen to those witnesses!

But perhaps there are other witnesses we can turn to. People whom we know whose faith remained even through challenges in life.  Brothers and sisters who persevered through cancers, pain, disappointments, and even death.  Though they may not be witnesses exactly the way the apostles were, they are still witnesses to us that faith can be held on to even when difficult.

This brings us to our last lesson…

Number Seven: Hold on to What You Know

The message to John from the witnesses was enough to strengthen him.  John could know these things.  They were to be certain to him.  Jesus’ message: imprisonment isn’t going to end for John well.  Jesus knew he felt uncertain.  But he could face what lay before him with confidence that Jesus was indeed the promised One—Jesus was doing what Isaiah said the Messiah would do.  He would indeed accomplish the work of God’s Messiah and usher in God’s eternal kingdom.  John, hold on to what you know—not what you feel.”

That is our call today.  When you begin to feel doubt, go back to what you know. What are the proofs of God, His word, and His Son that are undeniable for you?

Here is an example to contemplate: The tomb of Jesus was empty, and none have been able to give a credible explanation other than the Bible.  If the leaders took the body to keep it from the disciples, they could have produced it easily when the church started in the book of Acts and ended Christianity very quickly. They could not. If the disciples took the body to begin a movement intended to bring them fame and wealth, they would have admitted so when faced with certain death. They did not.  The apostles knew whether they were telling the truth or lying, yet to a man they gave their lives as a testimony to what they saw and knew to be truth.

Whether it is the above or some other truth you cannot shake, hold on to it.  Don’t define your faith by your doubts, but your doubts by your faith.  That’s what Jesus was calling John to do. That’s what He is calling us to do as well.

Doubts sometimes occupy the minds of those who are not omniscient, thus are a part of our human journey.  Don’t feel ashamed of those moments.  Let’s learn from this story of our Savior and a faithful servant and press on.

Seven Things to Remember When Dealing with Doubts - Part 1

Friday, November 17, 2023

Seven Things to Remember When Dealing with Doubts - Part 1

By Mark McCrary

Text: Matthew 11:1-14

He was a voice "crying out in the wilderness" (Isa. 40:3; Mt. 3:3).  He boldly confronted community and civic leaders—and paid a price for doing so (Mt. 3:1-12; 14:1-12).

He sat in prison in Herod’s Fortress, Macherus, near the Dead Sea.  At some point, he received word about his cousin, Jesus. While John was in prison, certainly He must have taken up and added to John’s work; after all, John’s work was merely a precursor to the Messiah’s work.  John must have been anxious to hear who Jesus had rebuked and confronted; the trouble Jesus had gotten into up to this point.

What he heard must have shocked him.  Jesus not only wasn’t in trouble with legal authorities (at this point) but was rather popular with the people and ignored by authorities (at this point). What was going on? Was he wrong about Jesus? Had he imagined what he heard and saw when he baptized Him (Mt. 3:13-17)?

John sent several of his disciples to meet with Jesus, asking if Jesus was indeed who John thought Him to be, or should they instead be looking for another.  Jesus responded by highlighting particular miracles John’s disciples saw Jesus perform.  These were not random; rather they were spoken of as works of the coming Messiah in Isaiah’s message (Isa. 29:18; 31:1; 61:1). Jesus, it seems, did those works precisely to assure John.  Jesus concludes with this admonition to his cousin, “Blessed is the one who isn’t offended (or, “tripped up”) by Me” (Mt. 11:6). In other words, the one who continues to trust and lets go of doubt.

John, the stalwart proclaimer, was doubting.  From this account, we can draw several helpful lessons:

Number one: Everyone doubts

John wasn’t a weakling.  He was tough and brave. Guess what? Everyone doubts.  Elders doubt (Are we leading properly? What do we do about…?). Preachers doubt (“Am I teaching truth? Am I too loose? Am I too stern?” [these are actual doubts, btw-mm]). Parents doubt (“How do I raise my child? Should I homeschool? Put them in private school? Public school? What do I do?”). The strong and the weak at times wavier in their commitment.  Maybe we wonder if God really exists? Or, is the Bible really reliable? Is a particular doctrine I hold actually true? We may sometimes have the idea that if we are doubting, we just aren’t strong enough and we are weak.  That kind of thinking not only isn’t helpful, it isn’t biblical! Abraham doubted! Thomas doubted! No one, no matter how spiritually strong, is above doubting.

Number two: Express Your Doubts

If we aren’t careful, we can get so caught up in our church culture that we perpetuate the myth that “everyone is perfect.” The last thing we want to do is honestly pull back the curtain and reveal our struggle (because we must be the only ones with questions, right? Nope, see the previous point).  Often, either we will keep our doubts to ourselves and move farther away from God, or we will express them to the wrong people who may reinforce those doubts. What we should do is exactly what John did—take them to God (or Jesus, in this case).  Express your questions to God—He’s big enough to take them! Let him know your frustrations.  Also, seek out godly, spiritual people you trust and know want the best for you.  Be honest with them— you will likely find they’ve had similar wonderings. 

Number three: The Circumstances of Life Cause Us to Doubt

Where was John at the moment? In a plush hotel? His private home? He was in prison. And, what type of prison? One with cable, high-speed internet, a gym, and a library? No, he was likely in a stone room, either hot or cold without any ventilation. No toilet (and everything that goes along with that). He may have been beaten and in need of medical attention.  He was physically and mentally weak. That, in turn, leads to spiritual weakness.

Often, life doesn’t go the way we plan.  Sometimes that’s good; other times, it's bad.  We know there’s no assurance in scripture that our lives will go smoothly, and we read of the faithful whose lives certainly did not.  But still, when the bills can’t be paid, when the doctor gives a bad diagnosis, when our loved one’s lives aren’t going well, when we are praying and serving but still struggling, we naturally ask, “Why?”

Life causes doubts.

That’s all for this week. Next week, we will consider four other things to remember. They are:

            Number four: Jesus is understanding when we doubt…

            Number five: Jesus doesn’t want us to remain in doubt…

            Number six: Listen to witnesses, and…

            Number seven: Hold on to what you know.

See you next week.

Former Days

Friday, November 10, 2023

Former Days

By Larry Coffey

We read in Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Say not, why were the former days better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Yet, we often speak of the good old days as though life was much better in past years. While there will be things we remember with great fondness, we tend to overlook how much our lives have improved. Of course, older folks may think about their former health and strength, but are living conditions really not as good as former days?

Christians will remember that more people seemed to be interested in spiritual matters, and the number of people who attend church services has been declining over the last 50 years. We have also seen a decline in morals. Abortion and homosexual marriage would have never become law in the 1950’s.

In Christianity Magazine’s September/October, 1996 issue, Ed Harrell said this: “The past was never as good as we remember it being. There is bad and good in every time. The present is probably better than we are able to admit. I see more fine young people in the universities today than ever before in my career as a teacher.”

Going way back to the days of Noah, we read in Gen. 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The Lord allowed life to continue until only eight people in the whole world were faithful. Move forward several hundred years, and the Lord told Abraham he would not destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if he could find 10 faithful people there, but Abraham couldn’t even find 10.

Today we have many more than eight or 10 people serving the Lord at the Douglass Hills church alone. And just think of the thousands and thousands of churches in this country and around the world with people serving God. I hear members of the church say times are getting so bad the Lord may return soon to end life here. Of course, neither I or anyone else knows when Christ may return, but based on history, it is going to be a long time before that happens.

According to my notes from a Wednesday night talk I gave at DH in 1998, I made these comments: “I want to praise the young people we have here at DH. In my opinion, we now have as good a group of young people as we have ever had. They are involved in our worship, and they are involved in visiting and helping others outside our assemblies.” And I believe today, 25 years later, we have a great group of young people. They are involved in our work and their interest was further demonstrated by their participation in our recent Youth Forum.

So, former days are not always better than present days. And I believe there is a lot to look forward to in our future days.

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