Growing In Godliness Blog
Be Like Christ
By Randy Case, Jr.
The life of Christ is almost incomprehensible to the mere human. Leaving Heaven, a place where we strive to go, Jesus came to earth to fulfill God's plan. He took the form of a servant and fully obeyed the Father, humbly being put to death (Philippians 2:3-8).
We must follow Christ, imitating God and walking in love (Ephesians 5:1-2). We should WANT to fully comply with this command, after all it was Christ who 'gave Himself for us' (Ephesians 5:1). He willingly endured the pain of the cross for us to be reconciled to God upon our obedience to His plan.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and in doing so became the greatest servant...to God and to others. This was exemplified during His life even with the words He spoke while on the cross. A servant's mentality is one of seeking out the needs of others and doing what he can do to meet those needs.
Scripture records seven statements of Jesus on the cross. Looking at the order of these, we gain further insight about His character. The first statement is in Luke 23:34, where Jesus asks God to forgive those who persecuted Him. As He hung on the cross, Jesus was focused on others, showing a love and concern for them. The second statement is in Luke 23:43, where Jesus told the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. Again, a love and concern for this person. The third statement is in John 19:26-27, where Jesus addresses His mother. He made provisions for her to be taken care of by John. Jesus wasn't so preoccupied with His own suffering and death that He neglected the needs of His mother. In the fifth statement, Jesus said 'I am thirsty' (John 19:28). The humanity of Jesus is evident here and throughout the New Testament, having traits that we have (hunger, fatigue, sorrow, etc). Now, He makes a personal request.
In looking at these words, we gain insight into Jesus' priorities. Serving God and being fully obedient to His word took precedence in His life. God must be our main priority (Matthew 6:33), not family, friends or the world. Second, He was concerned with others. Even in the face of death and horrific pain, He expressed a concern for others. We should be concerned about our brethren, the sick, the shut in and those who are struggling spiritually and do what we can to help.
Being a servant is a great honor. It involves humility, obedience, joy and loyalty. In a me-first society, we should learn that we come last. Matthew 20:16 tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first. It's not all about us. A man's pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain him honor (Proverbs 29:23).
Self is the root of many problems. Selflessness is a characteristic that Christians must develop and maintain if we are to be pleasing to God. Jesus was the greatest example of a servant, lowly and humble, giving to others all that He could.
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.
Spiritual SWOT Analysis
By Mike Cox
Companies sometimes utilize a tool called SWOT analysis to assist in determining a strategy or to gain a better idea of the condition and/or the potential condition of the company. This tool can also be used to assist us in determining our spiritual condition. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
For our purposes we will evaluate our strengths from a spiritual standpoint. Have we grown spiritually year to year? What helped us to grow? How is our prayer life? Has that progressed, regressed, or maintained? How active are we in the work of the Lord? Whether it be in an assembly, taking care of the church building, taking advantage of the opportunities that may come our way to talk to someone about things pertaining to God. We can pose the same questions in relation to the weaknesses portion of the SWOT analysis. What are we doing to promote the cause of Christ? Can we do more, do we want/seek to do more?
What about our opportunities? What opportunities do we have to grow spiritually? We can think about what additional duties we might participate in. Are there opportunities to spend time encouraging others, primarily from a spiritual standpoint? (Galatians 6:2, Philippians 1:3-8) What about additional studies? Are there any opportunities to serve as a co-teacher or substitute?
What threats to our spirituality are there? Could it be our lack of growth? (Mark 4:19,20) Could it be the friends or other influences that surround us? Do we believe in the word of God and the promise of Heaven that awaits us if we are obedient? What level of desire to serve God do we have?
Sometimes analyzing where we stand and putting it in writing can help us visualize the condition of our spirituality. It can also help to us create a plan that will help us to grow. The planning can be easy, but the execution is often times difficult. Just as not every plan or strategy will work for every business or company, the same applies to each individual Christian. Our plans have to be such that it is fitting for us and one that we can achieve. Therefore, we must look at what we can do; we all may not be able to do the same things (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12). We also will have different weaknesses. In either case, we need to prepare ourselves to grow and to protect us from the snares of the devil. We can do this by putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) and evaluating the condition of the armor on a regular basis. If there is a crack in our armor (spiritual weakness) we need to fix that crack. Performing a SWOT analysis of our spirituality is one way that we can identify what we are doing a good job in and what we can improve on.
By Megan Berthold
As everyone was talking about resolutions in the New Year, I just couldn’t quit thinking about Star Wars. I am definitely a Star Wars fan, although this has not always been the case. I used to be one of those girls that would confuse Star Wars with Star Trek, not believing there was a difference. All that has changed now – I have seen the light (saber, of course). I can discuss with confidence the plots and characters and which episodes contain which events. What can I say? I’m a Mom of boys.
We recently saw Rogue One, the latest in the series. No spoilers here – promise! As we’re driving home, all discussing the movie, I became astutely aware of some similarities each movie share…more than each having the Death Star. And those similarities seem to translate easily to our walk as Christians.
1 – Rally Scenes. The comrades gather, a speech is given, hope is established, courage is restored, the forces are united to fight, the music swells and you get chills all over as they head to face their foe. In each of the rally scenes, there is a set goal, a definitive cause for which to fight, and they are willing to sacrifice for it. And although our lives certainly aren’t based on scripted plot lines, we are in a fight! Ephesians 6:11 tells us put on the full armor of God. Why? Verse 11 continues, “that you will be able stand firm against the wiles of the devil.”
Are we willing to sacrifice for our fight? Am I willing to “sacrifice” fitting in to the culture around me, and dress modestly? To keep my thoughts and speech pure? To keep my eyes from the vulgar images about me (shields up we could say!)? If I believe in my “cause” as a Christian, I need to make sure my actions prove it. We need to listen to the “rally speeches” from the Word of God, firm up our courage, and resolve to go out and fight for the Lord, whatever the cost.
2 – Reinforcements. The good guys are being closed in upon, hope seems all but lost, and surrender or death appears imminent. But then, reinforcements come in and deliver the back-up needed and the day is saved. When plans are made, they are typically made as a team. Even when Luke flew to Dagobah to find and be trained by Yoda, he took R2D2 (see, I told you I know my Star Wars). Solo missions aren’t as safe, back-up is always a better plan.
The Lord knew we’d need reinforcements as Christians, and we’re blessed with the Church, with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are each other’s back-up, to encourage and lift one another up. First Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “encourage one another and build up each other.” Hebrews 3:13 admonishes us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” We need to ensure that we are “backing up” those around us, but also, be wise enough to know we don’t need to be flying solo.
3 – Good triumphs evil. It takes watching the Star Wars series in its entirety to see the full picture, but the “Force” does indeed overcome. And unlike movie cliffhangers, we know life’s ending. We know God has already won. Sin and death have been defeated. There won’t be any kooky plot twist, or alternate ending. The Lord has conquered, and we have been given the opportunity to be conquerors with Him. But we must do our part. We must put Him on in baptism, follow His Word, and live faithfully.
So join with me in resolving to rally up our faith and zeal for the Lord, in being better reinforcements for our brothers and sisters in the Lord (and being willing to ask for help as well), and in reaffirming our trust in the Lord that He’s got this. No extra “force” required.
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.