Growing In Godliness Blog

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Journeying With Jesus

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Journeying With Jesus

By Matt Hennecke

Have you ever noticed the number of journeys spoken of in Scripture? We have Abraham’s journey from Ur to Haran to Canaan and on to Egypt and back. We have the exodus story as Israel journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. We have the many evangelistic journeys of Paul. In fact, the more I think about it the more I see the entire Bible as a travelogue – a book of journeys. In some cases, the journeys are physical as people travel, sometimes as captives – as when God’s people went into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity – but, perhaps in more cases, they are journeys of discovery as people learn about their sinful selves and a loving God seeking their redemption. It’s not surprising, then, that God’s people are often referred to as wayfarers, weary travelers, or pilgrims inroute to a heavenly City.

Amidst all of the stories of journeys described in the Bible, there is one that surpasses them all. It is the longest, the most arduous, and difficult journey ever undertaken. It is a journey without maps or mileage that lasted for 33 years. Of what journey do I speak? It is Jesus’ journey of humility from heaven to earth and back again. It is a journey that reveals his heart of humility. The story of his journey is told in Philippians 2:3-11. There Paul writes. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be            grasped….” Then Paul tells us the stages of Jesus’s journey of humility when he says Jesus 1) emptied himself, 2) took the form of a servant, 3) humbled himself, and 4) then died on a cross.

Has there ever been a longer more challenging journey? Jesus was (and is) God, but he travelled to earth and went from the very highest place to a tomb. Thankfully his journey wasn’t over, for then “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Here's the thing. The journey Jesus took is similar to the journey faithful Christians should be taking. We are to empty ourselves, become servants, be humble, and die to sin so we might be servants of God and exalted by Him. How’s your journey going? When the path ahead seems unclear, be sure to consult the road-map frequently (your Bible) and always consider the Pathfinder (Jesus) who showed us how to find our way Home.

Why the Prophets are Crucial Reading for Christians

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Why the Prophets are Crucial Reading for Christians

By Brock Henry

If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus.

Based on the number of prophets Jesus quoted and the number of times He quoted them, it seems safe to assume that Jesus spent significant time studying the prophets. Contrary to our shying away from them, Jesus apparently immersed Himself in the prophets.

Why are these ancient texts so crucial, though? Why should we (and why did Jesus) spend so much time in them? 

The overarching answer lies in the text of Ephesians 2:19-20: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone…”

If Christ is the cornerstone of the building of which we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5), then the apostles and the prophets are the foundation on which the building is grounded. The prophets undergird the very structure in which Christ is the defining feature.

Therefore, the prophets are not incidental to who we are as Christians; they are foundational.

Consider, though, two additional reasons for us to dive deep into the messages of the prophets: First, they teach us about God, the Creator. Second, they teach us about ourselves as created beings.

Here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about God:

  • God is faithful. We will wander away from God, but He will never wander away from us. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

  • God is patient and long-suffering. In large part, God repeated the same messages over and over to His people, because He wanted to give them time to repent and to come home. “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them” (Jeremiah 7:25). God has demonstrated a willingness to endure significant rejection and great personal agony in order to give people continued opportunity to come home.

  • God is willing and able to punish obstinate sinners. God is merciful, yes, but He is also just. And a just God punishes those who willfully refuse to obey. “For I solemnly warned your fathers...yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant…” (Jeremiah 11:7-8). If we are punished by God, we will deserve it, and it will be in spite of the fact that He provide us with ample opportunity to repent. 

Second, here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about ourselves:

  • We want to go our own way even when it’s not in our best interest. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...” (Isaiah 53:6). And as we know from the Proverbs, our own way can lead us straight to disaster: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

  • We are not sufficiently wise to direct our own steps. No matter how much we think we know and understand, we do not have sufficient perspective to appropriately choose a path for ourselves. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Insisting that we have sufficient wisdom to direct our own steps is equivalent to a blind man insisting he has sufficient sight to drive a car.

  • Our thoughts and ways are infinitely lower than God’s. Because of our insolent pride, our egos may be as high as the heavens, but our abilities are not. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

To recap, the prophets are crucial to us as twenty-first century Christians for at least three reasons:

  • They are foundational to our Christianity.

  • They teach us about the Creator.

  • They teach us about ourselves as created beings.

But, let’s finish where we started...with Jesus (and us).

If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus. He knew the prophets, because He studied the prophets, and He studied the prophets, because they were important.

In the end, though, Jesus studied the prophets not simply because they were important, but because they were central to His very mission: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

If that is the case, we must study the prophets then, because Jesus is central to our mission.

Controlling The Tongue

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Of Rudders and Bits James 3:3-5

There is a battle we all fight every day: conquering our tongues.  James 3:8  But no human being can tame the tongue.   Our tongues are powerful.  A Google search revealed 19 pages of scriptures that refer to the tongue and its power for good or  destructiveness !!!!  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21)   Proverbs 12:18   “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts…”  James chapter three details the power of the tongue for good and bad.  James 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

The Battles We Fight

1.We make assumptions sometimes and tell them to others. In Acts 21:37-41  we read that Paul was the subject of a widely communicate false assumption that could have cost him his life.

2.The Lying Tongue  Acts 5:3     Proverbs 6:16-19

3.The Boasting Tongue Luke 18:9-14 

4.The Gossiping Tongue    Proverbs 20:19   

5.The Critical Tongue   Ephesians 4:29

6.The Double Tongue   James 3:9

7.The Hateful  Tongue  Ephesians 4:31-32 

8.The Retribution Tongue   1 Peter 3:9

9. The Explosive Tongue  James 3:8

10.The Correcting Tongue  Ephesians 4:29    Matthew 18:15-17

 

The Right Uses of the Tongue

There are many ways to constructively use our tongues:

1. To praise God (take time to read through Psalms 148, 149 and 150!)

2.To pray to God 1 Peter 5:7

3.To sing to the Lord (Read Psalm 96).

4.To encourage and help others (So many good ways to do this!)

5.Also consider these scriptures:  Mark 9:50    Romans 12:10    Galatians 6:2    Ephesians 4:32    Colossians 3:16   1 Thessalonians 5:11  Hebrews 3:13    Hebrews 10:24     James 5 :16

Rethinking Tradition

Monday, March 06, 2017

Rethinking Tradition

By Susanna Cornett

I grew up attending a small congregation in Kentucky that often did not have a dedicated preacher. We relied on preachers in the area, and our meetings were usually with preachers from the Athens area of north Alabama. My mom & I joked that we were in the Athens Conference – that our speakers, doctrine, and traditions tracked with what was usual in north Alabama.

It was a joke, but also served a useful purpose: to remind us not to affiliate with a set of traditions devised by men, but rather to keep Scripture paramount.

Traditions are useful tools to create order and familiarity, to serve as shorthand in understanding a situation. They are not wrong in themselves; Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold the traditions (2 Thess. 2:15). But those are the traditions of the Scripture, of God’s word. We must be careful that we don’t allow the traditions of worship and service that have evolved for order and preference to become in our minds equal with the will of God. Paul speaks out against this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 12:15.

Any reasoning, honest, seeking person who obtains a Bible without access to other Christians and their traditions has all he needs to serve and obey God fully. He will develop his own traditions that work in his situation. If he is in a Muslim country, Sunday will be another work day. He may gather with fellow Christians for a short service in the late evening, rather than having two services during the day. If he moves to the United States, would he be wrong to continue in his own tradition rather than adjust to the common traditions here?    

We are commanded to teach the world, but much of the world does not look or sound or live as many of those in our churches do. Would all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis feel comfortable coming to worship with you? If not, why?

We don’t have to change our traditions, dress differently, or compromise our faith in any way to be open to living in harmony with those who think and live differently, as long as together we are worshipping our Lord in the ways He commands. We do have to discern between the comfort of our traditions and the truth of Scripture that makes room for any traditions not in conflict with its teachings.

Showing Brotherly Affection

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Showing Brotherly Affection

By Tom Rose

It has always been that way.  You dress up in your best to go to church.  Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away.  Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.”   Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before?  “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.”

But the scriptures show a different picture.  Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4).  Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20.  If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.

Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him.  Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him.  Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love.  In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us.  However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!

Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10).  Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts.  Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time.  A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome.  When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days.  However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him.  Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns.  Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.

Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly.  Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department?  Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?”  And why is that?  One writer offers this observation:

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1

I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity.  “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet.  He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant.  It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else.  He was born so we could be born again.  He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2

Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort.  Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright.  That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did.  Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837.  Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels.  In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy.  On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests.  At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle.  After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.”  She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils.  The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.

Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us.  For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).

1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in

            Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.

2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-

            47.

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