Growing In Godliness Blog
Bearing Fruit Series
The Cross and Me
By: Olivia Shearer
The story of the cross is familiar to Christians. Sometimes this familiarity with the text keeps us from seeing how cruel this event was. I remember a few years back watching The Passion of The Christ (2004) and being overwhelmed by that palatable hatred that surrounded the figure of Jesus. A man the Jews had praised and honored days before was now the center of mocking, shame, and unimaginable pain. I couldn’t fathom hating anyone that much, let alone someone who hadn’t personally done anything to me, but recently I realized that my actions toward God when I sin aren’t so different from the actions of the people who put Christ to death. When you look deeper at the crucifixion story and our own past or perhaps present mentalities toward God the resemblance is unsettling. The cross and the actions taken there are the physical symbol of my sin and what it does to God.
Let’s start early on in the garden. Even before the pain and destruction of the cross I can see similarities between what I do and what Jesus’ disciples did in the garden. In Luke 22:27-48 we see Judas come and kiss Jesus on the cheek. Jesus immediately sees through this supposed friendly act, and God still sees through our acts of supposed friendliness. Are we so different from Judas when we sit in a pew singing and praising God all the while knowing that when we return home or when the next day comes, we plan on sinning? Not all sin is premeditated, but when it is and we pretend like that sin isn’t on our hearts and minds are we any better than Judas kissing the son of God and delivering him over to the Pharisees. Even if we aren’t deliberately betraying Jesus, if we know a
trial or temptation is about to arise in our lives, but we refuse to prepare for it are we any better than the disciples in verse 45 of Luke 22 who Jesus finds sleeping when he asked them to pray. I wish I could say this was the only resemblance I saw, but my similarities and I suspect many others’ similarities with the people and events of the crucifixion don’t end there.
Matthew 26:56 tells us that the disciples fled and abandoned Jesus. I think this is exactly what we do when we sin. We have a friend in Jesus, a companion, a rock, a guide, and a hope, but when we sin, we abandon all of that. We run to another refuge whether that be ourself, riches, or other people, we abandon Christ. We leave him alone as the world looks on and questions and ridicules him (often because of our sinful behaviors while calling ourselves his representatives on earth). We leave him without our support. I think Jesus stands there hurt by our betrayal knowing he will be okay because he has God, but worried for our souls and our next decisions.
When I’ve sinned and sometimes before I’ve sinned, I find that I put God on trial just as the Pharisees did. I come with a motive and agenda already in mind just as the council in Mark 14:55 sis. I come without an open mind and open his word searching for something that will make what I want to do or what I’ve already done okay. I pull scriptures out of context and twist words just as the Pharisees pulled together false witnesses and took Jesus words out of context. I question God and ask him if he really has my best interest at heart, and when I find that God is innocent, I recreate my memories and point out times when I couldn’t see his design for my life or when I felt that he was being unfair, and then I question his deity by sinning and putting myself in a spot of higher prominence and authority.
After I’ve effectively won my case, with the loaded jury in my own mind, I mock his deity further with my sin. I sin and effectively spit on him and his blessings. I thrust a crown of thrones on his head and throw a purple robe over his beaten body like the soldiers in Mark 15:18 and tell him he’s not the king of anything in my life. I make myself a king. I sin and I strike his back and leave pain behind as I use his own love for me against him.
After I’ve mocked and beaten my savior, I hand him the weight of accusations, hatred, pride, and rebellion and say carry it, just as the Jews handed Jesus his cross. Then I try to nail him down to those accusations to keep myself from seeing how I’ve failed and what I’ve become. Meanwhile my fellow Christians stand by and see my life of sin and the pain it causes God just as Mary saw her son hanging on a cross in John 19:25, but I am unmoved by their pain for God and for me.
Then I wait. I watch as my savior struggles under the pressure of my sins, my pride, and my willful ignorance. Christ sits there interceding for me asking God to forgive me and the others who have nailed him there, but one spot in which I differ from the Jews is that unlike the people in Luke 23:34, I do know what I’ve done. I knew it was wrong, but I don’t want to face it.
Then God allows me to have my way. He delivers my world into darkness as his son take his last breath and my world is split into two. It is only there in my darkest moments when I’ve hit rock bottom that I turn back to him and like the centurion in Mark 15:39 declare him to be the innocent Son of God.
It’s frightening to see the parallels between the story of the crucifixion and my own life. Something that once seemed unfathomably evil, now seems all too familiar, and I feel a bit like David in 2 Samuel12:7 as Nathan tells him “You are the Man!” Not all of our sins follow this exact course, but I do find that almost all sins have some variation or combination of the events above in them. I think this calls us all to evaluate our attitudes towards the Jews of Jesus’ day (who may be more like us than we like to admit), towards God when we sin, and towards the deity and sovereignty of God which we call into question anytime we sin.
Mary- A Modern Day Mentor
By Kim Davis
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is worshipped by some religions. There are churches, statues, and prayers dedicated to her. While none of this is supported in the Bible, one cannot deny that Mary was a remarkable woman that we can look to as an example for us today.
Luke 1:30 tells us that Mary had favor with God. Out of all the women living during her time, God handpicked her to be the mother of His perfect, only begotten Son. This alone says a lot about Mary. The Lord knew He would need a strong woman who could bear the burdens that came with being the mother of the Lord. We all like to think our kids are perfect even though we know better. But Mary truly had a perfect child. Can you imagine how wonderful that would have been? No breaking curfew, no backtalk, but complete obedience. But on the other hand, imagine the heartache she felt watching her son be prepared for the cross, and hanging there in front of her in pain, as sweat and blood dripped down His body as He was being tortured. Sometimes we watch a child face the consequences of his/her actions and even though it hurts to watch, we know that facing those consequences will help build their character and hopefully teach them a lesson. But Mary’s child was suffering because of our sins. Have you ever seen a child punished unjustly for something that another child had done? It makes us angry as parents. It’s not fair and we want things to be handled justly. I can’t help but wonder if Mary experienced those same feelings, even though she knew it was God’s plan and she trusted in God.
Luke 1:34 tells us that Mary was a virgin. We know she was engaged to Joseph but yet she had kept herself pure for her husband. So let’s be honest here, is it possible to remain a virgin until marriage? Yes. Is it easy? No, it takes a great deal of determination and resolve. Many Christians have failed here but Mary did not. Sometimes we forget that people in the first century struggled with the same sins that we deal with today. All the way back to the Old Testament, the Bible is riddled with infidelity, multiple wives, and concubines. Controlling ourselves in the midst of physical passion is not harder today than it was for Mary and Joseph. We don’t always equip our young ladies with the tools and confidence they need to preserve their purity for their husbands. But Mary stayed strong and preserved herself for her husband and the Lord was pleased with this.
Luke 1:39 tells us that Mary confided in an older woman, Elizabeth. Imagine Mary’s state of shock after the angel dissipates, perhaps pacing the floor or staring out into space processing this visit she just experienced. Then, jumping up and looking for her shoes and grabbing her purse, jumping on a donkey and heading toward the hills of Judah. Her mind was probably going 90 miles an hour as she was trying to process everything the angel had just told her. Can you imagine the anxiety that she must have felt? She had been chosen to give birth to the Lord, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Have you ever received great, unexpected news and the first thing you wanted to do was share it with someone? She needed to talk to someone, to share in her excitement. I think it’s fair to say she was excited from reading Luke 1:46-55. She reached out to share the news with her trusted friend and relative, knowing her reputation could be at stake.
Luke 1:38 tells us that Mary trusted in God. We know she was afraid because Luke 1:30 tells us that Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid. However she didn’t let her fear stop her from trusting in God. She believed what the angel said and she didn’t try to run away like Jonah or convince God otherwise like Moses. How many times do we let our lack of faith get in the way of doing what God tells us to do? Even though Mary’s reputation was at stake and she didn’t understand all the details, she knew enough and trusted in the Lord and her faith got her through the rest.
The Lord selected two women from the same family to bear the Lord and his forerunner, John the Baptist. There were likely some very special predecessors guiding them in the ways of God as they endured hardships and experiences which cultivated self-discipline, kindness, love, and deep seated faith for God.
Are we preparing our self (and our children) so that God will find favor in us? Are we teaching the importance of purity, the blessing of friendship and the peace that comes with trusting in God? If we are looking for a modern day mentor, Mary is a great example.
Our Spiritual Heritage
By Kim Davis
Where are you from?
It is a common question we ask one another when making new acquaintances. The answer provides a little insight into one’s past. Maybe the question is asked because one is looking for a commonality, or wants to understand the background behind another’s dialect, or perhaps it is pure curiosity.
I research genealogy as a hobby. I am captivated by it and can spend hours in front of the computer looking at census records, immigration records, ship passenger lists, and other ancestral information. I often think about the time I spend reflecting upon the past. Does it really matter who my ancestors were? Of course, our salvation does not hinge upon it. But in many respects, our individuality is a direct reflection of our ancestor’s and their decisions.
Our ancestors decided whether or not to believe in God. If so, how and where would they worship God? They made decisions about what type of values they would instill in their children. They determined how hard they would work at their marriage. They decided how to teach their children to respect and serve others.
Each generation processes what they have or have not learned from their parents, grandparents, or other important figures, while also considering additional outside influences to then face the same decisions.
Generation after generation of imperfect Christians will face struggles, heartaches, disappointments, and discouragement. Each generation will stumble along the way but they must continue to follow Christ to the best of their ability. Each generation has a responsibility to learn, to grow in knowledge and faith, and to teach others about Christ. This is the only way the perfect law can be spread to the next generation. Deut. 6:5-7 says “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
We cannot let Satan derail us. I do not want to be the person in my family tree who decides to stop following Christ. I want to do everything in my power to continue this tradition of worshipping God and serving him faithfully and influencing my children to do the same. We often hear “it does not matter where you came from, what matters is where you are going?” Where we come from determines our starting point in life but what truly matters is the point where we end. Are we ready to meet our Redeemer when our time comes?
At Douglass Hills, we teach our children about their spiritual heritage. When you think back to Abraham and the unbroken lineage that brought us our Savior, it is a marvelous wonder that certainly was planned.
“Our children are a heritage from the Lord,” Psalm 127:3. I believe the Lord shares John’s sentiment written in III John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
How are we individually contributing to our own children’s spiritual heritage, or to the spiritual heritage of other children at Douglass Hills? It is the single most important thing in their life and demands our full attention. Providing for our families is important. Leisure activities are important. Family time is important. Let us all make sure we are not letting the important things crowd out the most important, which is Christ. Knowing Him. Teaching Him. Loving like Him. Trying our best to be like Him.
By Susanna Cornett
I grew up attending a small congregation in Kentucky that often did not have a dedicated preacher. We relied on preachers in the area, and our meetings were usually with preachers from the Athens area of north Alabama. My mom & I joked that we were in the Athens Conference – that our speakers, doctrine, and traditions tracked with what was usual in north Alabama.
It was a joke, but also served a useful purpose: to remind us not to affiliate with a set of traditions devised by men, but rather to keep Scripture paramount.
Traditions are useful tools to create order and familiarity, to serve as shorthand in understanding a situation. They are not wrong in themselves; Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold the traditions (2 Thess. 2:15). But those are the traditions of the Scripture, of God’s word. We must be careful that we don’t allow the traditions of worship and service that have evolved for order and preference to become in our minds equal with the will of God. Paul speaks out against this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 12:15.
Any reasoning, honest, seeking person who obtains a Bible without access to other Christians and their traditions has all he needs to serve and obey God fully. He will develop his own traditions that work in his situation. If he is in a Muslim country, Sunday will be another work day. He may gather with fellow Christians for a short service in the late evening, rather than having two services during the day. If he moves to the United States, would he be wrong to continue in his own tradition rather than adjust to the common traditions here?
We are commanded to teach the world, but much of the world does not look or sound or live as many of those in our churches do. Would all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis feel comfortable coming to worship with you? If not, why?
We don’t have to change our traditions, dress differently, or compromise our faith in any way to be open to living in harmony with those who think and live differently, as long as together we are worshipping our Lord in the ways He commands. We do have to discern between the comfort of our traditions and the truth of Scripture that makes room for any traditions not in conflict with its teachings.
Fair Feathered Friends
By Sherry Hennecke
"Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26)
During one cold, snowy Kentucky morning, compassion for my backyard, fair-feathered friends--cardinal couples, cheery chickadees, whooshing woodpeckers, jovial jays, and assorted Aves-- led me to leave the warmth of my comfy afghan and hot cocoa to fill the backyard feeder with their favorite sunflower seeds. All morning long, the birdfeeder was a frenzy of activity, as the birds first cautiously approached to nearby tree branches and then, trusting in safety, came in close to be well-fed and to sustain their lives during the raging storm.
When the snowfall ceased, there was little activity at the feeder even though the same good food was there in abundance, safe and close by, freely available, good life-sustaining seed. Where did all my hungry, fair-feathered friends go? Was there better food in the forest? Were they filled and content? Had they migrated on to another feeder? Were they no longer in need of the nourishing, life sustaining seed? Throughout the afternoon, brief snow squalls would again populate my feeder with brisk activity; periods of calm weather would turn their attention away from my feeder.
These observations cause me to consider if I am sometimes a fair-weather friend to my Jesus. Why and when do I come to my Savior for the bread of life and living water that he so freely provides for me? Do I only come to my Friend in the “snowy” times of life? Am I too often self-reliant and content? Is my attention focused on other “feeders?” Am I a picky eater or do I feast on His word? His life-sustaining seed is free, bountiful, and always available. All I need do is trust my Lord, come in close, be well fed and sustain my life in Him—every day—stormy or clear.
HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW
By Civilla Martin
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.