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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.

Worldliness vs. Godliness

Friday, March 03, 2017

Worldliness vs. Godliness

By Brock Henry

“You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.” (C.S. Lewis)

Few distinctions are more clearly delineated in Scripture than the one between worldliness and godliness. In no uncertain terms, Scripture indicates that the character promoted by the world is diametrically opposed to the character promoted by God.

This does not stop us from blurring the lines, though.

As Christians, we often swallow, with ravenous enthusiasm, the poisonous lie promulgated by Satan himself that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We delude ourselves into thinking that piety and frivolity are symbiotic.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Godliness and worldliness are not parallel paths; they are wholly divergent. And so we stand at a crossroads every time we make a decision.

Either we will take the path that leads to life and godliness, or we’ll take the path that leads to death and worldliness. (cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15)

There is no middle ground. Only life or death. Only hot or cold. God will vomit out of His mouth those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).

At The Heart of the Distinction

When you boil it all down, there is one defining feature that distinguishes the worldly character from the godly one: Motive.

Worldliness, at its core, is selfish. Godliness, on the other hand, at its core, is selfless. One looks inward, the other looks outward. One says, “my will be done.” The other says, “Your will be done.”

3 Biblical Analogies

Scripture uses multiple analogies to describe the drastic nature of the distinction between godliness and worldliness. Consider three of them:

Light vs. Darkness: possibly the most vivid analogy Scripture uses to describe the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of light and darkness.

John describes Christ as the “true Light” (John 1:9), and Jesus later confirms this epithet as valid when He simply states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

It’s important to note that Christ did not say that He has the light of the world; He says that He is the light of the world. Thus, light is a defining feature of Christ Himself, not just His message. (And as Christ is one with God, it’s not surprising that John later writes of God the Father, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NKJV).)

As a result, it only makes sense then that those who call themselves by Christ’s name should also be described as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and as “having the light of life” (John 8:12).

Because God defines Himself as light, and bestows this light upon all who faithfully follow Him, everything that stands in opposition to Him must necessarily be described as darkness:

• 1 John 1:6 draws a distinction between fellowship with God and “walking in darkness.”

• Christ indicates that those who follow Him “shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12, NKJV).

• Paul indicates that we should, “Walk as children of light...and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8-13, NKJV).

• Paul also writes that the godly have been “...delivered...from the power of darkness...” (Colossians 1:13, NKJV).

• To the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NKJV).

• Peter writes that the godly “...were called...out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In the end, godliness and worldliness are as different as day and night.

Truth vs. The Lie: a second analogy that Scripture uses to illustrate the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of truth and a lie.

Just like Christ defines Himself by light, He also defines Himself by truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” (John 14:6, NKJV). Similarly, Jesus prays to the Father that He would, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, NKJV). Again, it isn’t that God’s word has truth, it’s that God’s word is truth.

Accordingly, those who align themselves with the Creator are described as “walking in truth” (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4) and as “obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7).

Because God is truth, everything that stands against Him is described as the opposite of truth. Whereas Scripture indicates that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), it describes Satan as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).

Thus, those who choose an ungodly character are described as being “...of [their] father the devil...” (John 8:44) and as “wandering from the truth” (James 5:19, NKJV). When man opts for worldliness over godliness, he “...exchanges the truth of God for the lie...” (Romans 1:25).

So, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day, they are also as different as truth and a lie.

Purity vs. Defilement: a third analogy that Scripture uses to highlight the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of purity and defilement.

Purity is yet another defining feature of God Himself (1 John 3:3). As a result, everything that emanates from Him is also pure, including His words (Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140), His commandments (Psalm 19:8), and His wisdom (James 3:17).

Who then is qualified to associate with God? Those who have adopted a godly character and have purified their hearts (Psalm 24:4; cf. James 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:22). Jesus reiterates this when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

If the godly character is described as pure, then the worldly character is described as defiled:

• Jude describes certain apostates as having “...defiled the flesh...” (Jude 8).

• The Hebrew writer equates “falling short of the grace of God” with bitterness, trouble, and “becoming defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, NKJV).

• Paul, in his letter to Titus, makes a marked distinction between the “pure” and the “defiled” (Titus 1:15).

• Jesus speaks of “...evil coming from within and defiling a man” (Mark 7:23, NKJV).

Thus, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day and truth and a lie, they are also as different as purity and defilement.

The Bottom Line

If we are to be people of godly character, we cannot even so much as dabble in worldliness. Godliness and worldliness are not opposite sides of the same coin, they are in fact two entirely distinct monetary systems. What works in the kingdom of this world is not even recognized by God as valid currency in His kingdom.

“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). It’s not that doing so is a bad idea, it’s that doing so is impossible. Because we cannot be both godly and worldly, we must make a choice. No other decision has more gravity than this, as what we select will do no less than determine our eternal destiny.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Cursed are the defiled in heart, for they shall not see God.

Be Like Christ

Thursday, March 02, 2017

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

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

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.

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

Friday, September 30, 2016

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

By Tom Rose

Author, Philip Yancey, describes a friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter.  He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all.  The parents had tried various forms of punishment, to no avail.  The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them saying, “It’s your fault for being so strict!”

Yancey recalls his friend telling him, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home.  I felt such rage, I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate her mother and me and twist the knife to hurt us.  And, of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone.  I understood the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger.  The people knew how to wound Him, and God cried out in pain.”

“And yet I must tell you,” said my friend, “When my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, and to tell her I wanted the best for her.  I was a helpless, lovesick father.”

When I think about God, I hold up that image of the lovesick father, which is miles away from the stern monarch I used to envision.  I think of my friend standing in front of the plate-glass window gazing achingly into the darkness.  I think of Jesus’ depiction of the Waiting Father of the Prodigal, heartsick, abused, yet wanting above all else to forgive, to begin anew, and to announce with joy, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Compassionate forgiveness is at the heart of extending grace.  C. S. Lewis exclaimed, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  Indeed, ‘forgive and forget’ are easy words to say, but can be difficult to do!  Yet, if we fail to do so, bitterness, rather than the Lord, will rule our hearts.  For a moment, let us look at what it means to forgive.  Forgiveness is not ignoring those who wrong us, ignoring the sin, nor putting the offender on probation – promising to “forget” if no other offenses occur.  Rather, genuine forgiveness means halting the cycle of blame and pain; breaking the cycle of ungrace. 

What blocks forgiveness; it’s not God’s reticence – but ours.  It may be our attitude toward the offender always wanting to put “conditions” on our efforts such as: 1) I am unable to forgive you – at this time; 2) I’m going to forgive you, but in the future I’m not going to have anything to do with you; 3) I’ll do it, but consider it a favor from me to you; and 4) I’m going to forgive you, but I’ll never forget it!  However, none of these actions are supported by the scriptures.  Mt. 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  On the other hand, it may be our attitude toward our own sins that contribute to our inability to accept forgiveness. Weighted down by repeated failures, lost hope, and a sense of unworthiness, we pull a shell around ourselves that makes us almost impervious to grace.  Like the friend’s  daughter’s refusal to listen to wide and loving admonitions of grace, so we stubbornly turn away as well.  And like a spiritual defect encoded in the family DNA, ungrace is easily passed on in an unbroken chain to others.

We as humans also struggle with two types of hoarding.  First, we are often unable to forgive ourselves as old memories clog our lives and Satan reminds us of our failures by bringing that junk that was once tossed to the curb back inside.  Secondly, we fail to forgive others as sometimes we feel we have a right to carry a grudge and thereby not only stack up our own junk, we haul in someone else’s too!  If the cycle of ungrace goes uninterrupted, in time it will lead to resentment – a word that literally conveys the idea of “to feel again.”  Resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over just as one would pick each fresh scab off a wound so that it never heals.

In our everyday interactions, ungrace behavior can cause cracks to fissure open between parents, parent and child, siblings, brethren, best friends, business partners, prisoners, tribes and races.  Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail “rope-bridge” of forgiveness.  One can best understand forgiveness by observing what God does when He forgives us our sins.  He removes the notation from the record (Mica 7:18-19).  He forgets, putting it out of His memory (Heb 8:12).  He then treats us just like He did before we sinned, receiving us back wholeheartedly (Lk 15:20-24). 

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith.  By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.  By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out.  I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.  And yet I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying.  Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain.  I have to approach God again and again, yield to Him the residue of what I thought I had committed to Him long ago.  But I do so, because Jesus instructed us in His model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In 1984 Charles Williams has said of this prayer, “No word in the English language carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word as.”  Why?  Because Jesus plainly linked our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of our fellow man.  In a world that runs by the laws of ungrace, Jesus requires – no demands – a response of forgiveness.  So urgent is the need for forgiveness, that it even takes precedence over “religious duties” (see Mt. 5:22-24). 

Thus, God granted us a terrible agency: by denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God’s forgiveness, and thus so are we.  In some mysterious way, our own divine forgiveness depends on us.

But God took the initiative and shattered the inexorable law of sin and retribution by invading earth, absorbing the worst we had to offer, crucifixion, and then fashioning from that cruel deed the remedy for the human condition.  Calvary broke the logjam between justice and forgiveness.  By accepting onto His innocent Self all the severe demands of justice, Jesus broke forever the chain of ungrace.  And we as His children must do likewise.

Allow me to close with a true story of grace in action.  As 2013 came to a close, Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of such bestsellers as The Tipping Point and Outliers, spoke publicly about his own rediscovery of faith.  He credits a visit with a Mennonite couple in Winnipeg, Canada, who lost their daughter to a sexual predator.  After the largest manhunt in the city’s history, police officers found the teenager’s body in a shed, frozen, her hand and feet bound.  At a news conference held at the family’s home just after her funeral, the father said, “We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.”  The mother added, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” stressing the phrase at this point.  “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to.”

The response of this couple, so different from a normal response of rage and revenge, pulled Gladwell back toward his own Mennonite roots saying, “Something happened to me.  It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith.  But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary.  Their daughter was murdered.  And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at a press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness.”  He adds, “Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the Spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage.  But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

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