Growing In Godliness Blog
By Mark McCrary
Studying through the Gospel of John recently, I was struck by just how often and exactly how 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 hours 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 7:30 and 8:20. Jesus had much work ahead of him to fulfill the task given to Him by His Father. However, that changed in 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 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…” (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” (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” (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 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 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 (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” (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” (19:27). Jesus called John to accept in that hour a new, very personal responsibility. What responsibilities does Christ call you to today? Devotion to your 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. It looks to a time to act. 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?
Something Too Precious Not To Share
By Tom Rose
What things are precious to us? They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.
Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks. As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you.
This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”
“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;
Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”
Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss? “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.” I believe that is what this song is suggesting. In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”
However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us? The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,
“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure. I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,
“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”
In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.
“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.
Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”
The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.” That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.
Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning. Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds? Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves? When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative? How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one? When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life? Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway?
Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions. Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith. Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.” From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic. Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously. Two responses give insight into their thinking.
Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group. He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions. He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions. Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart. During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.
Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching. He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”
As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think. It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian. He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.* First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague. Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people. And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).
*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.
What does it Mean to be a Christian?
By Mark McCrary
May I ask you to think about a question—do you consider yourself to be a Christian? May I ask you to consider a follow up question- what does it even mean to be a Christian? To a lot of people, being a Christian is just the idea of going to worship services a few times a month (or year), praying from time to time, or having a generally good idea and feeling about God and believing in Him. But, that’s not the standard that Jesus set.
Jesus said this in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Perhaps the defining trait for the child of God is obeying God and submitting to Him and His will for our lives. It is looking to Him and His word, and taking that study seriously and contemplating when you study, “Am I living this way? Is God first in my life? Am I obeying Him?”
What many do is profess to have faith, but then do whatever they want to do. Jesus said if we want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, we are concerned about what God tells us to do, and we do just that.
Are you living as A Christian?
By Paul Earnhart
Job, out of his wretchedness and deep anguish, once declared, ”Man that is born of women is of few days and full of trouble" (14:1). It may not be the whole story, but it is a significant part of it. Early and late, all of us will face some heartbreaking adversities. The presence of so much pain in life has caused some to question even the existence of God. The trap in that is that we are arguing against God by a standard which cannot exist without Him.
The adversity in human life is real, not imagined. The Bible deals forthrightly with it. Solomon speaks plainly in Ecclesiastes not only of the presence of pain but the absence of justice in life "under the sun." Most all of us have felt that knowing the why of all this suffering and who or what is behind it might help. It is altogether human to probe into such things, but we need to recognize the limitations of our own knowledge (Deuteronomy 29:29).
In the fall of the year before He died, Jesus and His disciples came upon a beggar in Jerusalem which moved the disciples to ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" (John 9:1). They presumed that physical tragedy was always a result of divine judgment on sin. Jesus' answer, "Neither . . . but that the works of God should be revealed in him" opened up a much broader perspective on suffering. This man's suffering had a purpose. The disciples had seen it only as a consequence.
Where does suffering come from? From several sources. It can come from God, in the general suffering and death unleashed in the world after man sinned (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 8:20), or in specific cases to humble or strengthen (Job, Miriam, Numbers 12:1-10, Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, and even Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:7).
It can come from Satan, through God's allowance, as illustrated in the case of the horrific suffering of the righteous Job. Even Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was "a messenger of Satan" which God used for very different purposes than the Tempter intended.
It can come as the inevitable fruit of our own sins. "The way of the transgressor is hard" (Proverbs 13:15). Sin has its temporal consequences--physical, emotional and social.
Yet, at last, unless there is some direct link to our sin, it is very difficult to know the exact origins of our adversity. And that is just as well, for far more important than knowing why we are suffering is our response to it. Adversity, regardless of its source, is one of God's most effective tools to deepen our faith in Him and transform our lives. So said the Psalmist: "Before I was afflicted I went astray. But now I keep Your word . . . It is good that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes" (Psalm 119:67,72). As C. S. Lewis once observed, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, and shouts at us in our pain". And as Scripture observes, "Whom the Lord loves He chastens" (Hebrews 12:6).
The anguish of Christ on the cross reflects the influence of God (Isaiah 53:6), and Satan (Luke 22:3,4) and our own sins (1 Peter 2:24). Yet it was our Savior's trusting response to this awful suffering that enabled God to work by it something transcendently wonderful. So it will be with us, if we choose our response to suffering wisely--especially when we don't understand why. "For our light affliction, which is for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). At last, like that ancient blind man, what we suffer here is in order that "the works of God may be revealed in us."
A Lesson of Life
By Matt Hennecke
I used to think myself quite the ping-pong player. My skill level was sufficient to decimate most of my family members. My brother-in-law was my only real competition, and though he would deny it, I won many more of our battles than I lost.
My favorite opponent was my young nephew, Andy. He was always ready to play, and played with total, reckless abandon. His skills fell far short of my own. I was a “spin” master. I could put such “English” on the ball that when it landed on Andy’s side of the table it would bounce crazily in an unanticipated direction. I took great glee in running Andy into the half-filled, cardboard boxes lining the basement wall as he dove vainly to return one of my crazy, spinning shots. He’d collapse into the boxes but always came up wanting more. Time and again I laughed uproariously as his contorted body lay sprawled across the boxes after I’d hit one of my spectacular shots.
When I went off to college I enjoyed taking on new opponents and showing them my “stuff.” I honed my skills and relished taking on new opponents who’d never seen ping-pong balls bounce at such weird and awkward angles. I was good – no doubt about it. And I was full of myself.
When I was about twenty-years-old a couple joined the local congregation where I attended with my family when home from college. Jerry was about thirty and possessed many talents. He could play the piano beautifully. He was a great Bible teacher, and he could make friends easily because of his engaging social skills. As the summer progressed I came to know him better, and I also learned he thought himself a pretty good ping-pong player. I still remember, thinking, “Ah, fresh meat,” but I purposefully kept my interest in the game hidden, waiting for the perfect moment to “show” him what a real ping pong player could do.
Judgment day presented itself one day in early August when Jerry and I, and several other people from church, happened to be at a member’s home for a potluck. The homeowner had a ping-pong table in the basement. I remember thinking the time had come to reveal my skills and slay yet another victim. “Hey, want to play some ping-pong?” I not-so-innocently asked as Jerry and I found ourselves in the basement after eating. Those who knew me from church realized I was circling my prey and watched with amusement as Jerry took the bait. “Sure, let’s play,” he replied.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there was no joy for me that day – I ingloriously lost the bout.
- Adapted from “Casey At the Bat,” by Ernest Thayer
21 to 0.
Yes, zero. I never score a point. I never even came close to scoring a point.
A life lesson took root and bloomed that day: the lesson of humility. Of course I’d been humbled before, but never so profoundly and in the presence of so many witnesses. That day I realized I had been naively comparing my skills to others who were far less skilled than I. Clearly there were others who far exceeded me in ping-pong prowess. “Pride goeth before a fall,” echoed the words of the Proverb writer (Prov. 16:18). That day I fell hard. Jerry cleaned my clock and in doing so taught me about pride: Pride made me cocky. It made me feel invincible and self reliant. But the lesson of humility wasn’t yet over. Two weeks later, Jerry – who had so soundly thrashed me – entered a ping pong tournament in downtown Chicago and lost to a seven-year-old boy. And he lost badly. Imagine how I felt. Not only wasn’t I skilled, but I was lightyears behind some nameless seven-year-old.
Such are the lessons of life. They often come along and slap us upside the head, and if we let them, they shape us, mold us, and change us – for the better. So it is when it comes to spiritual matters. Perhaps because of that ping pong lesson I’m inclined to listen to Paul’s spiritual advice when he says we shouldn’t “dare to classify or compare ourselves with others,” and that when others “measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). He also tells us “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). The conclusion is pretty clear: I’m imperfect; I’m a sinner; and I’d be doomed except for Jesus Christ. I shouldn’t think myself better than anyone. Want a dose of humility? Compare yourself to Christ.
Over the years I’ve learned I’m not very good at ping pong, and sadly I’m not very good at righteousness. But He is: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Without Him I’m nothing. Only He is perfect. Only He can save.