Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

Author: Paul Earnhart

Learning Life’s Obvious Lessons

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Learning Life’s Obvious Lessons

By Paul Earnhart

Some years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a best-seller entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. It has become increasingly evident to me that some of life's most important lessons are exceedingly clear on the face of things. They don't have to be wrung from the depth of mystery and enigma. Yet many seem to wrestle endlessly with them. As someone has observed, the difficult people seem to work out very quickly, the obvious takes them a long time.

It ought to be obvious to the most casual observer that people are far more important than things. Why should we imagine that thinking, feeling, yearning individuals could find as great satisfaction in dead, unfeeling, unthinking, unspeaking objects as in those with whom we share the greatest and fullest association? Whoever imagined that a house makes a home: that all the material comforts in the world, even possessed forever, could fill the emptiness when those we love and who love us are gone? There is no profound philosophy in the fact that things possess no more than momentary utility while people can fill us with delight and joy. Why then do we continue to neglect people in favor of jobs, money, houses, furniture, clothes and cars?

It ought also to be apparent that the spirit of a person is more vital than their body and that what comes from within the heart is more important than the physical. We know that "the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). We have had many painful demonstrations of that. And we know that outward beauty quickly loses its charm in the face of inward ugliness. As Solomon observed, "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a lovely woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22). Why then are we so slow to recognize that a person's life comes out of what he feels and thinks and values, and not from physical superficialities (Proverbs 4:23)?

Finally, perhaps the most evident truth that we are slow to recognize is the fact that God is more important than everything else. If there is a God who created us for His own purposes and ends, it does not require a flash from heaven to tell us that we have no more important duty and necessity in our lives than to know Him and to serve Him (John 17:3; Acts 17:26-28). If there is such a God, we only live, breathe and move by His power, and He alone can tell us why we are here and how we ought to live the life He has given us. So that when Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Mark 12:29), it ought not to come as a shock to our senses. Common sense should have told us long ago that if Jesus is God's Son, we owe Him everything. So, before we can know the mysteries of heaven we must first learn the obvious lessons of earth.

What Does God Want From Me?

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

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.

Why Suffering?

Monday, September 05, 2016

Why Suffering?

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."

Making a Name For Yourself

Monday, June 13, 2016
Making a Name For Yourself
By Paul Earnhart
 
“I charge thee in the sight of God, who giveth life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession…”
(1 Timothy 6:13)
 
The Roman Empire had thousands of provincial officials in the course of the 500 years it ruled the Mediterranean world. Few enough are even known by name, and only one is remembered – Pontius Pilate. Though there is information about this provincial governor in both Josephus (Antiquities, XVIII, iii, 1-3; Wars, II, ix, 2-4) and Philo (Legatio ad Gaium), the largest portion of our knowledge of him comes out of the New Testament gospels.
 
The interesting thing about Pilate is that, hung up in an obscure district of the Empire, he seems to have been an ordinary man out to make his mark in the world. He was a middle class Roman with ambition for better things.
 
Pilate had nothing but contempt for the troublesome people of his district and when they presented him with a virtual ultimatum for the execution of a prisoner they brought to him, he balked. In addition to his stubborn resistance to being manipulated, there remained in him some residual sense of justice. The governor’s examination of the prisoner persuaded him that the charges were empty, based on religious differences, even jealousy (Matthew 27:18), rather than criminal activity. Pilate may have been in many ways a brutal, insensitive man. When his seizure of the sacred (corban) treasury in Jerusalem caused a public clamor, he sent his soldiers to mingle with the crowd in civilian clothes and beat to death the instigators (Luke 13:3). But the case of Jesus was outrageous.
 
The problem was that the Jews were stubbornly insistent. Their threat to report him to Caesar as guilty of harboring anti-government agents was disquieting (John 19:12). Though a bit laughable from the one who murdered the apostle James, Philo quotes Heord Agrippa I as saying that the Jews “exasperated Pilate to the greatest possible degree, as he feared lest they might go on an embassy to the Emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government – his corruptions, his acts of insolence, his rapine…his cruelty and his continual murders…” (Legatio ad Gaium, 38).
 
Prudence would have directed Pilate to protect his office and give the Jews their pound of flesh. But there was the prisoner’s disquieting claim to be the Son of God which the Jews, in exasperation, had finally blurted out to him (John 19:7); and his own wife’s urgent warning to leave this “righteous man” alone (Matthew 27:19). Pilate was a man caught between justice and ambition, between his conscience and his career.
 
If Jesus was a criminal, He should have been summarily executed. If He was innocent, as Pilate confessed, He should have been immediately freed. But the governor did neither. Instead, he tried to escape his dilemma by compromise – a proffered deal, the brutal beating of an admittedly innocent prisoner – yet, nothing worked. He had to choose. He could send Jesus to the cross and save his career plans, but how could he take responsibility for condemning to death a man whom he, himself, had pronounced innocent?
 
Pilate sought refuge in confusion. The issue was complex. How could any mere man be expected to settle such troublesome questions? “What is truth?” (John 13:38). And then, at last, when he could not save his job and justice too, he protected his job and shifted blame for his knowing perversion of justice to the Jews. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said, as he symbolically washed his hands, “It is your responsibility” (Matthew 27:24, NIV).
 
The real irony of Pilate’s story is that he was a man seeking a name for himself. For him, Jesus was a minor, if troublesome, inconvenience on his road to fame and fortune. And yet Pontius Pilate is remembered in history, not because of his own great achievements, but because of his brief encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.
 
It is easy to see and to jump on the moral cowardice and grave miscalculations of a Pontius Pilate. But how do we differ from him? How often do we sell out moral principle, and the Son of God, just to work out our own carnal ambitions? Every man and woman who turns aside his duty to God, to family, and to others, just to hold on to some worldly dream in no way differs from the governor of Judea. We can plead that we tried almost everything to escape being untrue to what was right, but so did Pilate. We can plead confusion, that the issue is not clear, that it is disputed by good people, but so did Pilate. We can blame our moral and spiritual lapse on the wickedness of others, but so did Pilate.
 
What is the lesson in all this? That in trying to make a name for ourselves we can easily wind up like Nabal, with the name of a fool. Worldly ambition can easily blind men to real value. Otherwise, Pilate would have known that Jesus was not his problem, but his salvation.
 
 

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