Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

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The BE-Attitudes

Friday, March 31, 2023

The BE-Attitudes

By Victor A. Osorio

Many of us in the congregation are studying the Sermon on the Mount in various groups. The Sermon on the Mount is the best sermon ever preached. Jesus said in 10-15 minutes more than what the volumes of books that have been written on the sermon ever could.

Jesus begins the sermon with a grabbing introduction – what we call the “beatitudes.” The introduction has emphatic repetition about being “blessed.” It presents eight character traits we should possess, followed by eight promises that will follow if we do.

But what is “blessed”? Most say, “happy.” And, well, so does the Greek. But what do we mean by “happy”? A passage that drives home this concept well is in Luke 11:27-28. “Happy” is the concept of knowing where we stand at all times because we are “God approved” (Psa. 1).

The first four beatitudes correspond to our relationship with God. They are vertical.

Take the first, poverty of spirit (Mt. 5:3). It is a personal acknowledgement of our spiritual bankruptcy before God. We know we are empty before God, and bring nothing of value to the relationship. It is the attitude displayed by the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 and confirmed in Isa. 64:6.

The second builds on the first – those who mourn (Mt. 5:4). The Greek word “mourn” here is a passionate lament. It is the strongest word for “mourn.” We mourn over our sins when we realize the deficiencies that make us so bankrupt before God. We are aware that we are not what we need to be and mourn for what is missing. It is how Isaiah and Paul felt in Isa. 6:3-5 and Rom. 7:21-25, respectively. While it is humbling, notice the result is comfort – both in this age and the one to come.

Third to be blessed are the meek (Mt. 5:5). Meek are not the weak. After all, Moses was said to be the meekest man alive (Num. 12:3). And the only time we have recorded where Jesus explains his temperament, He said He was meek (Mt. 11:28-30).  Meekness is when we allow another’s interest to advance over our own, even when we do not have to (e.g., Abraham with Lot on choosing the land). It is strength under control. Just because a wild horse is broken, does not mean it loses the great strength that once fueled its wild nature. But it chooses to give up to the reins.

Fourth, highlighted are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt. 5:6). It is only when we realize that tending to our spiritual needs is more important than our physical needs of eating and drinking that we will be truly satisfied.

The first four characteristics are followed by our relationship with our fellow man. These are horizontal.

It is the merciful who will receive mercy by God. Grace is a loving response to someone who does not deserve it (Barnabas with Saul). Mercy is a loving response to someone who does not deserve it, and cannot do anything about it (e.g., the story of the good Samaritan). But we cannot just recognize others’ needs, we must do something about them (James 2:5; 1 Jn. 3:17).

To see God, we must be pure in heart (Mt. 5:8). That is, we must be free of duplicity and hypocrisy. Our faith must be authentic.

With others, we must also be peacemakers (Mt. 5:9). That does not mean we compromise truth. Or, we are for peace at any price. It means we are people who relieve the tension, not intensify it. We seek solutions, and do not just focus on problems. We calm the waters, not stir them up. We seek win/win without compromising God’s word. The result is that people will know we are believers.

Finally, blessed are those who are persecuted or reviled (Mt. 5:10). It is not a matter of if, but when. The world will despise our godly beliefs and lifestyle, because through these we shame the world and convict it.  Just as the world persecuted Jesus, it will do so to us (Jn. 5:20+). We must have soft hearts, but tough hides.

So, can we be “happy”? We certainly can. Knowing we possess the characteristics that make us approved by God can deliver us happiness, regardless of our circumstances.

A Shattered Foundation

Saturday, March 25, 2023

A Shattered Foundation

By Kim Davis

                    Men I once considered wise and good,

                    Women I once watched as examples,

                    Christians who I held close to my heart,

                    It’s strange how people change and tear us apart.

 

                    A church once united, steadfast, and full of love;

                    One, surely God smiled upon from above.

                    Now I feel I can say with a great deal of ease,

                    That Satan is the one who is ever so pleased.

These words are an excerpt from a poem called “A Shattered Foundation,” written in September of 1988.  I was nineteen years old when these words were penned as I was attempting to process the division that occurred earlier that year at the church where I worshipped with my family. 

I frequently revisit memories of that church as I have continually tried to diagnose where things went so wrong.  Based on the memories of my nineteen-year-old mind, the church was active and vibrant.  Individuals were experiencing spiritual growth.  The church was full of loving people across all age groups totaling about two hundred souls. 

Talented and truthful preachers and teachers were present, the bible classes were full, the teenagers were active at services and outside of the building, and many families gathered regularly in one another’s homes to build and develop deeper relationships. 

This was my tribe, my family.  When I was in the building among the brothers and sisters, it was just like being at home, totally comfortable and unguarded.  When the division hit, it forever changed me and every member there.  Some rebounded and others regressed.  Personally, I was devastated, shocked, lost, and spiritually and mentally paralyzed for a period of about fifteen years.  My foundation was shattered and my world turned upside down at a formative time in my life.

Outside of my experience, the impact of division was far-reaching for all ages.  New converts quickly became like the seed on thorny ground.  Young teenagers lost their friends as families scattered.  Mature, middle-aged couples who seemingly had a solid faith fell into denominational doctrines.  Sons and daughters witnessed men slinging accusations toward their parents, and their perceptions of “Christian” ways were forever tarnished to the point where they no longer wanted to be affiliated with such a group. 

Families were uprooted as they traveled around the area looking for another congregation where they could recover, re-engage and re-establish a support system rooted in Christ’s teachings.  The recovery period for such a traumatic event can be lengthy especially when the relationships are ten, twenty or thirty plus years deep.  It’s difficult to basically start over.  It takes years to build new relationships and develop the same level of trust, especially after feeling betrayed by other Christians. 

You may be wondering why I’m sharing this with you.  The positive attributes of the church described above may sound familiar in many aspects.  There is some paranoia present in me that wants to fire off an alert for my brothers and sisters to continue to safeguard and preserve the unity in their church family by remembering three simple things. 

First, unfortunately church division is not a unique scenario.  There may be new brothers and sisters sitting in the pews among you who have shattered foundations.  They should be welcomed with open hearts and an offering of grace and comfort as they find their place within their new church family.  Perhaps it’s also helpful for them to know there are others among them with a similar experience who understand the anguish in the decisions that led to the necessity of finding a new place to worship.

Secondly, it’s important to remember that even when a local church is flourishing, we can never forget that Satan is always lurking among us, looking for ways to destroy churches.  It only takes one disagreement handled improperly to start a division that will have a lasting impact.

Lastly, adults need to understand the downstream impacts that division can have on the entire congregation.  It can change the trajectory on someone’s life.  While we are all accountable for our own choices and actions, we are also influencing our fellow brothers and sisters in ways we do not always realize. 

I’ll close with some thoughts from Romans 12:9-18 “Let love be genuine…love one another with brotherly affection...outdo one another in showing honor...rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality…bless those who persecute you…live in harmony with one another...repay no one evil for evil...give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all…live peaceably with all.”

Help for Parents When They have Friction with their Sons and Daughters

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Help for Parents When They have Friction with their Sons and Daughters

By Gary Watson

Many scriptures demand that a Christian live a moral life:

  • “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).        
  • “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22; 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:11).
  • “Flee from all evil” (2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Tim. 6:11; 1 Cor. 6:18).      
  • “Put off the old man of sin” (Eph. 4:22, 24).

Historically speaking, when children fall away, there is usually a pattern which could be described as follows:

           Four Generation Fade

  1. Parents don’t make church a high priority for their kids
  2. Kids grow up & make it less of a priority for their kids
  3. Those kids grow up & make it no priority for their kids
  4. Those kids grow up with no concept of God

In other words, priorities today impact generations!

Many Scriptures call for parents to raise their children to be good people.

God spoke of Abraham, saying, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him" (Gen. 18:19)

One prime example of effective parenting comes from the New Testament:

“I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, that without ceasing, I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2 Tim. 1:3-5).

At many points in their history, the children of Israel turned away from God. One such instance is recorded in the second chapter of the book of Judges.   "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals" (Judg. 2:10-11).   The previous generation's failure to properly teach its children about the effect of God's guiding hand on the nation of Israel is doubtlessly a major contributing factor in the latter generation's departure from God.

Parents can make mistakes in raising their children instead of following the clear teaching in Ephesians 6:4. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Some examples are:

  • Cruel and harsh punishment.
  • Unjust punishment.  Sometimes children are punished when they do not deserve to be spanked or to have privileges taken from them. Sometimes the parent comes home from a bad day at work totally frustrated. To vent his anger, the parent will spank his children for things for which they would not be punished on any other day of the week. The children can detect this; they know that they were punished unjustly and will grow up hating the parent who habitually acts this way. Parents should not punish their children because they (the parents) do not feel good; that is not the purpose of punishment.
  • Inconsistent punishment.  Parents will say to their children, "If you do that again, I am going to give you a spanking." The child does it again and nothing happens. The child learns that mom or dad really do not mean what they say.
  • Showing partiality.  The story of Jacob and Esau shows the sorry results which occur in a family when one or both parents show partiality to their children.

God's word gives priceless guidance for broken hearts, including the broken hearts of parents with wayward children. Their hearts throb with anguish and pain as they struggle with the question, "What can we do to please God and to rescue our children as we pass through this fiery trial?“  David prayed, "Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught… But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice" (Ps. 55:1-2, 16-17).

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (Jas. 1:5).

Following are four suggestions to help parents in this situation:

1. Put God First. 

Jesus warned that exaggerated fear for the material needs of life can divert our attention from life's first priority (Matt. 6:24-34). Nothing must be allowed to interfere with our focus on a right relationship with God. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). We must not let excessive anxiety over our children's bad choices and conduct obscure our faith in God.

We must determine to obey God no matter what our children may do. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Sympathizing with our children's sinful conduct, enabling them to continue in it, or joining with them in sin will harden their hearts. As Paul said, "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). Our children must know we love them, but we love God more!

2. Put Our Trust in God

How could any good result from the tragedy of wayward children? Let us learn to trust that God will bring spiritual good out of our trials as He promises. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Jas. 1:2-4)

3. Remove Stumbling Blocks and Correct Sin

There are cases where parents have committed sins, even sins against the child, which are a stumbling block to the wayward child. Such parents should openly confess their sins, seek reconciliation, and change their conduct. Jesus said our worship is not accepted until we do so (Matt. 5:23-24). Failure to do so will bring the wrath of Jesus on us on the Judgment Day: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt. 18:6).  Confessing and correcting our sins against other people opens a door for healing to begin.

4. Press on in Serving God

Let us focus on growing spiritually and on the future reward of heaven, not on our past mistakes or the sins of our children. "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14).

We must not be embittered, demoralized, or paralyzed by the sinful attitudes and actions of our wayward children. Every lost soul is wayward from God. If we cannot help our own children, we must remember that every soul is equally precious to God, and we can help someone.

Giving First to the Lord (Part 1)

Friday, March 10, 2023

Giving First to the Lord (Part 1)

By Larry Coffey

Introduction

My experience has been that the subject of giving is not discussed as much today as in the past. That may not be the case in all churches, but it seems preachers are more reluctant to preach on this subject. It may be because they do not want people to feel they are seeking more funds personally, or it may be because they know people are uncomfortable hearing this subject discussed. Surveys do show that the percent people gave of their income did decline in the last half of the 20th century. There are a number of issues involved in this subject that will be addressed in this article.

Ancient Giving

V. P. Black wrote a booklet entitled “My God and My Money” in 1964 in which he shows the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans gave 10% of their income. It appears their reasons for doing so was to avert or appease the divine anger, or to secure the divine favor. The question is why did they choose 10% rather than some other percent? It probably goes all the way back to the family of Adam. We read in Genesis 4:3-4, “And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat.  And the Lord respected Abel and his offering.” 

While we don’t have a percent mentioned in Cain and Abel’s case, we do have 10% mentioned as early as Genesis 14:20 where Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he received when he rescued Lot from the five kings who had taken him captive. See also Hebrews 7:4, “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.”

Then we read concerning Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, that he made a vow to give a tenth back to God of all he received, Genesis 28:20-22, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my  father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set  as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’.”

Giving in the Jewish Age

We often hear the Jews were to tithe and thus we conclude they were to give 10% of their income. A closer look at the Law of Moses indicates the faithful Jew gave well more than 10%. They were to give to the poor and needy.

“When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:9-10)

“When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.” (Deut. 24:19-20)

We read of other annual giving requirements placed upon the children of Israel.  “You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The first-born of your sons you shall give to Me.” (Ex. 22:29)

“ that you set apart to the Lord all that open the womb, that is, every firstling that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord’s.” (Ex. 13:12)

From these verses we learn they were to give—

1. First of the fruits

2. First of the cattle

3. First born of their children—redeemed money payment (Num. 3:46-48).

Then there were freewill offerings where the amount was not specified such as the Feast of Weeks in Deut. 16:10-11, “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.”

Israel had three tithes, two annual and one every third year. The first tithe was for the priests and is recorded in Lev. 27:30-33, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the  tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it.  And concerning the tithe of the herd or the  flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.  He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

The second annual tithe recorded in Deut. 14:22-27 consisted of the yearly increase of the Lord. It was to be eaten by the offerer, his household and the Levite with the firstlings of the herd and the flock in the place the Lord would choose. This tithe might be converted into money at home to be expended at the place for sacrifice and feasting. It involved a stay of at least a week each at the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as a shorter period at the Feast of Weeks.

The third tithe required every three years is recorded in Deut. 14:28-29. One tenth of every third year’s increase was to be laid up at home and was to be shared by the local Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.

V. P. Black estimates that a devout Jew gave at least one third of his total earnings to God. This is far greater than the 10% we always hear about.

Nothing of God Dies

Friday, March 03, 2023

Nothing of God Dies

By Victor A. Osorio

Change in life is inevitable. We know that. We understand the importance of flexibility and resilience. However, change is often challenging…and the church is not immune.

The Israelites were struggling with change as we begin reading in the book of Joshua. Moses had just died. The people were in shock. Leadership was paralyzed. Followership was stunned. Then God speaks. In Joshua 1:2, God tells Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them…”

It seems subtle. But do you wonder why God told Joshua “Moses My servant is dead”? After all, in Deuteronomy 34:8, we read, “So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.” So, the Israelites, including Joshua, were well aware Moses was dead. This makes one wonder – did God tell Joshua this fact plainly for Joshua to begin to accept reality and move on?

It was at this point we see Joshua begin the transformation into the mighty man we quote in Joshua 24:15, and revere for leading God’s people in battle. But he didn’t seem to be completely that way at first. Four times in the first chapter of Joshua he is commanded or encouraged to “be strong and courageous” – three times by the Lord (Joshua 1:6, 7, and 9) and once by the people (Joshua 1:18).

We, too, in the local outpost of the Lord’s army, can become disoriented when a leader moves on. The history of God’s people is, unfortunately, riddled with stories of churches who struggled when an elder, preacher, or beloved member passes on, becomes incapacitated, or moves away. The story of Joshua tells us that ought not to be so. The Lord’s church is greater than any one person.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies.” How true is that!? While Moses passed on, God was still sovereign. When the people were mourning, God’s care was still omnipresent. When Joshua’s vision of what to do next was disoriented by death, God’s omniscience was unclouded. When the people went into battle with an unproven commander, God was still omnipotent. When God’s people are in a period of change – God is unchanging. And we are His church.

Kerry Keenan is a great man of God. I remember vividly as a new convert back in 1997 when a beloved leader of the congregation passed on. Kerry, with His godly heart and strong leadership, while not the full-time preacher at the time, got up and challenged us young men to “fill the gap.” After recapping all the fallen leader had done and how he would be missed, he didn’t end there. Rather, Kerry focused on all the work of God that needed to be filled – by someone. I was reminded of this recently when I read that at Winston Churchill’s funeral, by his request, one bugler played “Taps” as another simultaneously played “Reveille.” Churchill wanted the people of Britain to know his death was by no means England’s last note, but a call for others to stand up for action.

No doubt, our church will face seasons of change. Those seasons may include losing people we love, look up to, and who will leave large gaps in the work. God’s message to us then will be the same, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!” In those times, true leaders will have to emerge and fill the gap, even if the gap is so large it takes two, or even three, to fill. We will have to have the wisdom to know when to insist the bugler change the tune, or courage to take the instrument from his hand. Most importantly, we will have to remind each other of Tozer’s words – nothing of the great God we serve is dead.     

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