Growing In Godliness Blog
Author: Mark McCrary
The Desperate Need for Love
By Mark McCrary
The world is in desperate need of love. A lack of love and compassion is at the very heart of most of the problems plaguing us today—war, racism, mass shootings… the list goes on and on. In a time where there seems to be so much division, hatred, and fear, it is more important than ever to embrace love as the answer to our problems. The Bible tells us that love is not only important, but it is also essential to our well-being as individuals, as a church, and as a society.
In 1 John 4:8, the Bible tells us that "God is love." Love is not just something God does; it is who He is. It is the very essence of His nature. The Bible also tells us we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26). That entails many things, but certainly that we need to reflect Him to the world around us. Therefore, if He is love, we must be love as well; we need to love as He loves. Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). In John 13:34-35, He tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love has the power to overcome hate, to heal wounds, and to bring people together. When we love others, we are showing them the same grace and mercy that God has shown us. We are breaking down the barriers that divide us and building bridges of understanding and compassion. Love allows us to see people for who they are, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or background.
In 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the "love chapter," the Bible describes what love looks like in action. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
This kind of love is what we need more of in our world today. And beloved, it is our duty as Christians to model it. Our families, friends, and coworkers need to see this love alive in us.
Am I showing this kind of love? To people who make me angry? To sinners? Let’s ask God to help us accept the words of the apostle John while examining our hearts: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
The world needs love right now because love has the power to transform lives and bring about positive change. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to love others as He loves us. We need to be agents of love, showing kindness, compassion, and understanding to those around us. If we all choose to love one another, we can make a difference in our world and bring hope to those who need it most.
By Mark McCrary
Studying through the Gospel of John recently, I was struck by the frequency and ways 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 “hour” 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 Jn. 7:30 and Jn. 8:20. Jesus had much work ahead of him to fulfill the task given to Him by His Father. However, that changed in Jn. 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 Jn. 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…” (Jn. 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” (Jn. 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” (Jn. 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 Jn. 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 Jn. 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 (Jn. 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” (Jn. 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” (Jn. 19:27). Jesus called John to accept in that hour a new, very personal responsibility. What responsibilities does Christ call us to accept today? Devotion to our 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. 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?
God's Purpose for Sexuality
By Mark McCrary
Sex. It's everywhere. It’s at the mall, the movies, the grocery store, the local park, on billboards, the radio, turn on your TV… yep, everywhere.
Culturally, sex outside of marriage, adultery, and homosexuality have been hidden realities of life (some more so than others). Battles have been fought (and skirmishes still pop up here and there), but it looks like Gay Marriage is here to stay. Transgenderism is the latest issue culturally contested. Polyamory seems to be next. Sex only between a husband and wife in marriage? That just seems too vanilla in the 21st century.
So many of our questions about sex and sexuality today arise from a failure to understand the divine purpose for sex. If there is no divine purpose, sex can be whatever we want. But, if it has a divine purpose, then it is for what the Divine purposed it—and nothing else.
Genesis 1:26-28 tells us this purpose, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
Let’s notice several things and build upon them to see God’s purpose, and why sex works the way it does in human beings.
Biological reproduction is the way humans are created. This requires a male and a female.
But, God doesn’t just want males and females having children. Genesis 2:24 tells us the first couple was committed to one another. This is marriage, and it is the only place where God approves of sexual activity (Hebrews 13:4). Why? Malachi 2:14-15 tells us, “Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” The best place to produce “godly offspring” is in a home with a married husband and wife “faithful” to their “companion.”
Finally, if a committed marriage is so important in producing godly children, then something needs to keep the married male and female together. Why stick it out in hard times? God built into each of us a drive for sex. We have a biological need for it. It brings us pleasure. Notice Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2-6, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Let’s pull this together. God designed sexual expression to be between a man and a woman to populate the earth (and a man and woman only). He wants this to be within the context of a committed relationship. To accomplish this, He created a drive for sex that can only be satisfied (in a God-approved manner) with the person we’ve committed ourselves to—no one else. That makes one’s spouse very important. They provide something no one else has the right to provide.
Sexual sins arise when we appropriate what God ordained for our own purpose instead of His.
Homosexuality casts aside the male/female model for a male/male or female/female one. It cannot produce children. In this situation, sex is for our purposes, not God’s.
Transgenderism casts aside the importance of biological gender in God’s purposes. It is for our purposes, not God’s.
Bestiality cannot produce children. It is for us.
Self-pleasure casts aside the role of the opposite sex. It cannot produce children; it is for us.
Sex outside of marriage can produce children, but not in the committed relationship of marriage. Again, it is for our purposes.
Polyamory can produce children, but it cast aside the male/female model God ordained in favor of a male/female/male, female/male/female model (or multiple others). These do not help generate a stable home to produce godly offspring. Our purposes.
Incest destabilizes the home and threatens to corrupt godly offspring. It is selfish.
Adultery is wrong because it seeks sexual satisfaction outside of a committed relationship. It destabilizes the home. Again, selfish.
Several questions may arise from this discussion: Are children produced outside of the Biblical model unable to be godly? No; but it does mean the best environment for raising children to serve God is in a married male, female home.
What about a male/female couple that cannot have children? Some couples are unable to do so for various reasons. But, they are in a male/female relationship God has ordained and God is pleased.
Is it wrong for a male/female couple to choose not to have children? Other couples—also for various reasons—choose not to have children for a period of time. Maybe for their whole marriage. They, too, are still in a male/female relationship that God has ordained. Sometimes children show up anyway.
Is the sexual expression between a husband and wife only for the production of children? Can it not be enjoyed simply for what it is? Certainly, it can be—that is the point of 1 Corinthians 7:2-6.
Endless possibilities exist when sexual expression is about us. Understanding God’s purpose for sex gives much-needed clarity to the struggles gripping society around us.
The big question is: will we follow God or not?
Trust and Faith in Hard Times
By Mark McCrary
Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others. Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”
The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44. In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.
But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn. The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied. And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).
Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.
There is no answer. There is only trust and faith.
Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26). Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to. It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by and by.” Then we will know that, though we didn’t understand our problems at the moment, God got us through—and that will be enough.
What Makes Christianity Unique?
By Mark McCrary
Of all the world’s religions, what makes Christianity unique? Why should it be considered above all others?
Like most religions that revolve around a concept of a singular God, Christianity emphasizes the holiness of God. But Christianity’s take is somewhat different than many others; it is not simply that He is a good God, but His holiness means He is a perfect God - there is no sin in Him. Because He is holy, if we are to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well (“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’”). God is so perfect, in fact, He cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Such holiness demands that God be just. Unlike the teachings of some religions, He can’t look at our lives and, if there is more good than bad, wave away that bad as if it didn’t happen. It did; and His holiness can’t ignore it. There must be a price paid for those wrongs (“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22).
But, Romans 3:26 tells us something beautiful: because God is holy, He must be just; to be less than just would make Him less than holy. But—importantly— He is also the justifier (Rom. 3:26, “…To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”). What makes Christianity unique, ultimately, is Jesus Christ—God coming down in the form of man to pay the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:22) and reconcile us to the Holy God.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” Rom. 5:6-11.
Christianity presents a God who is so holy He cannot tolerate sin. Yet, for some reason He paid the price for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. Why would He do such a thing? Because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That’s what makes Christianity unique.