Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

Author: Mark McCrary

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The Hope of Spring

Friday, June 07, 2024

The Hope of Spring

By Mark McCrary

Spring is a time of renewal.  After a dark and cold winter, life begins to emerge once more.  Warmth returns, trees blossom, and flowers bloom.  Along the journey of our lives, there are moments that echo the vibrant glories of spring.  Just as the earth emerges from its winter rest, so we also encounter similar moments of awakening and potential for lasting transformation.

Spring is a time of renewed life.  Similarly, this moment in one’s life holds the potential for newfound hope and possibilities.  It may follow a period of uncertainty, when faith has been tested … but resilience forged.  Like the arrival of spring, there is a stirring within the soul – a gentle whisper of hope speaking of brighter days ahead.

Biblically, hope is not merely wishful thinking but a confident expectation rooted in the promises of God (Romans 15:13).  As the psalmist declares, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  So too we trust that God’s faithfulness will usher in a season of renewal.

As spring unfolds its petals, so too can our faith unfold as well.  Just as seeds planted eventually emerge as vibrant flowers, our faith matures and flourishes through seasons of growth and cultivation.  It is a time to nurture our relationship with God, to deepen our trust in His providence, and to surrender to His will.  As we lean into our faith, we are reminded that God can breathe life into the most barren of landscapes, bringing beauty and abundance beyond our wildest imagination.

Finally, spring is a time when the earth is invigorated with fresh energy and purpose.  Similarly, this moment in life holds the potential for renewed purpose.  New opportunities and dreams beckon before us. God’s servant, Paul, stated confidently, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  As we align our hearts with God, we align ourselves to His divine plan – a plan that is marked by hope, abundance, and fulfillment.

Look around as your drive about and pay attention to the new life springing out around you.  So too God can draw new life out of you.  You can experience the blessings that spring forth from a life nourished by God’s loving care.

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.

The Desperate Need for Love

Friday, May 12, 2023

The Desperate Need for Love

By Mark McCrary

The world is in desperate need of love. A lack of love and compassion is at the very heart of most of the problems plaguing us today—war, racism, mass shootings… the list goes on and on. In a time where there seems to be so much division, hatred, and fear, it is more important than ever to embrace love as the answer to our problems. The Bible tells us that love is not only important, but it is also essential to our well-being as individuals, as a church, and as a society.

In 1 John 4:8, the Bible tells us that "God is love." Love is not just something God does; it is who He is. It is the very essence of His nature. The Bible also tells us we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26). That entails many things, but certainly that we need to reflect Him to the world around us.  Therefore, if He is love, we must be love as well; we need to love as He loves. Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). In John 13:34-35, He tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love has the power to overcome hate, to heal wounds, and to bring people together. When we love others, we are showing them the same grace and mercy that God has shown us. We are breaking down the barriers that divide us and building bridges of understanding and compassion. Love allows us to see people for who they are, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or background.

In 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the "love chapter," the Bible describes what love looks like in action. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

This kind of love is what we need more of in our world today.  And beloved, it is our duty as Christians to model it.  Our families, friends, and coworkers need to see this love alive in us.

Am I showing this kind of love? To people who make me angry? To sinners? Let’s ask God to help us accept the words of the apostle John while examining our hearts: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

The world needs love right now because love has the power to transform lives and bring about positive change. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to love others as He loves us. We need to be agents of love, showing kindness, compassion, and understanding to those around us. If we all choose to love one another, we can make a difference in our world and bring hope to those who need it most.

“Hour”

Saturday, February 25, 2023

"Hour"

By Mark McCrary

Studying through the Gospel of John recently, I was struck by the frequency and ways 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 “hour” 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 Jn. 7:30 and Jn. 8:20.  Jesus had much work ahead of him to fulfill the task given to Him by His Father.  However, that changed in Jn. 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 Jn. 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…” (Jn. 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” (Jn. 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” (Jn. 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 Jn. 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 Jn. 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 (Jn. 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” (Jn. 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” (Jn. 19:27).  Jesus called John to accept in that hour a new, very personal responsibility.  What responsibilities does Christ call us to accept today? Devotion to our 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.   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?

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