Growing In Godliness Blog
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-
By Megan Berthold
As everyone was talking about resolutions in the New Year, I just couldn’t quit thinking about Star Wars. I am definitely a Star Wars fan, although this has not always been the case. I used to be one of those girls that would confuse Star Wars with Star Trek, not believing there was a difference. All that has changed now – I have seen the light (saber, of course). I can discuss with confidence the plots and characters and which episodes contain which events. What can I say? I’m a Mom of boys.
We recently saw Rogue One, the latest in the series. No spoilers here – promise! As we’re driving home, all discussing the movie, I became astutely aware of some similarities each movie share…more than each having the Death Star. And those similarities seem to translate easily to our walk as Christians.
1 – Rally Scenes. The comrades gather, a speech is given, hope is established, courage is restored, the forces are united to fight, the music swells and you get chills all over as they head to face their foe. In each of the rally scenes, there is a set goal, a definitive cause for which to fight, and they are willing to sacrifice for it. And although our lives certainly aren’t based on scripted plot lines, we are in a fight! Ephesians 6:11 tells us put on the full armor of God. Why? Verse 11 continues, “that you will be able stand firm against the wiles of the devil.”
Are we willing to sacrifice for our fight? Am I willing to “sacrifice” fitting in to the culture around me, and dress modestly? To keep my thoughts and speech pure? To keep my eyes from the vulgar images about me (shields up we could say!)? If I believe in my “cause” as a Christian, I need to make sure my actions prove it. We need to listen to the “rally speeches” from the Word of God, firm up our courage, and resolve to go out and fight for the Lord, whatever the cost.
2 – Reinforcements. The good guys are being closed in upon, hope seems all but lost, and surrender or death appears imminent. But then, reinforcements come in and deliver the back-up needed and the day is saved. When plans are made, they are typically made as a team. Even when Luke flew to Dagobah to find and be trained by Yoda, he took R2D2 (see, I told you I know my Star Wars). Solo missions aren’t as safe, back-up is always a better plan.
The Lord knew we’d need reinforcements as Christians, and we’re blessed with the Church, with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are each other’s back-up, to encourage and lift one another up. First Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “encourage one another and build up each other.” Hebrews 3:13 admonishes us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” We need to ensure that we are “backing up” those around us, but also, be wise enough to know we don’t need to be flying solo.
3 – Good triumphs evil. It takes watching the Star Wars series in its entirety to see the full picture, but the “Force” does indeed overcome. And unlike movie cliffhangers, we know life’s ending. We know God has already won. Sin and death have been defeated. There won’t be any kooky plot twist, or alternate ending. The Lord has conquered, and we have been given the opportunity to be conquerors with Him. But we must do our part. We must put Him on in baptism, follow His Word, and live faithfully.
So join with me in resolving to rally up our faith and zeal for the Lord, in being better reinforcements for our brothers and sisters in the Lord (and being willing to ask for help as well), and in reaffirming our trust in the Lord that He’s got this. No extra “force” required.
By Damien Tucker
The holidays. A time where we exchange memories, gifts, and food in celebration of the season. As many people are reminded, we have family out there – some of whom we want to see, some of whom we do not. For those that we do, we smile and embrace as we welcome them into our homes. However, for the ones we don’t, there is always an air of disappointment. It’s not only with the “In-Laws”, but also with family with whom we have fought verbally and have disagreed with. Yes, it is in every family and, yes, some of our conflicts with them have been drawn out for years. Despite having our differences, be they over minor issues or major, we are still family. All such things should be set aside during this time, as the purpose of this time is not to be reminded of why we may not agree or see eye to eye. Rather, it is for us to come together and embrace what it means to be family.
As we are told in 1 Peter 2:1, things like malice and contempt are to be put aside when we are dealing with anyone in our life. In regards to our spiritual family, we are further called to reconcile our differences with one another before we gather together. “Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:24) This scripture is not only calling us to make peace with our brethren, but to prioritize it over even worship to God. You cannot worship Him excellently if these things beseech your mind and cloud your thoughts. This means we must bear with one another, in accordance with Colossians 3:13, and forgive each other of our transgressions against one another.
It is also wrong for us as Christians, as well as being out of holy character, to hold grudges against our blood brethren. We are called to be like God, always willing to forgive. From this, you can say, as Christians, we are called to be different from the world. Unlike others, who hold on to their anger and scorn, we are commanded by God to let go of such feelings, no matter what the circumstances are or how it has affected you, because God has done the exact same for us.
Therefore, this holiday season, I implore you to emulate Christ and put aside the personal differences you may have among your spiritual and physical families. Eat, exchange gifts, and be merry, for all we have has been given to us by the Lord.
The Power of Two
By Mark McCrary
“If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!” How many times have we heard that? How many times have we said that? Have you ever looked at Luke 10 and wondered why Jesus sent His disciples “two by two?”
One of the things that made the life of Paul so wonderful is the fact he never starred in “The Adventures of Paul the Apostle.” Like the great servants of God who had gone before him—Moses and Joshua, Ruth and Naomi, Elijah and Elisha—he did his work with others. He lived the wisdom of King Solomon, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). He lived “The Power of Two.”
The “Power of Two” in Paul’s life really began with Barnabas in Acts 11, as the church in Jerusalem sent him to Antioch after the “wall of separation” had fallen between Jews and Gentiles. We are told in Acts 11:23 that great things were taking place there. Yet, verse 25 tells us this effective teacher felt, on some level, the need for help and left this blossoming work to find a certain disciple he had defended before the church in Jerusalem less than 10 years before.
Saul joined the side of his old defender, and one of the greatest “teams” in history was formed. Chapters 13-15, spanning a period of some 11 years, show remarkably the “Power of Two.” They traveled together. They preached together. They disputed error together. Together, they left churches in better shape.
What are the lessons preachers and teachers can learn from Paul and Barnabas? First, there is benefit of diversity. Paul, as evidenced in Acts 14:12 and other verses (Acts 13:7, 43, 46; 14:1), seemed to have been the more active orator. While preaching in Lystra, he was believed to be Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods. Barnabas, on the other hand, was thought to be Zeus. F.F. Bruce suggests in his commentary on Acts that he was thus identified because of “his more dignified bearing.” This is, of course, conjecture, but it does illustrate the reality that they were two different men contributing something needed to the same work. Diversity in abilities is sometimes one of the great powers of two. One may have a strength needed in one area of work at a particular moment, while someone else brings strength in other areas and at other times.
There is also the benefit of shared encouragement. How often did Barnabas get tired, yet Paul’s zeal fueled him on? How often did Paul get frustrated, yet Barnabas’ steady temperament settled him down? This is one of our great needs as Christians today—someone to lift us up when we are down; to urge us forward in our task when all we want to do is quit.
Then there is the benefit of shared wisdom. The Bible speaks often of the need of good counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). Paul likely relied upon the “seasoned” advice of Barnabas from time to time. Perhaps at other times Paul’s take on a situation was more accurate and Barnabas benefited. Preachers and teachers would do well to have someone close by for practical wisdom and guidance.
Finally, there is the benefit of a shared harvest. Barnabas left the fields “white for harvest” to make a trip of 300 miles for one reason: he knew two could do more than one. Why is it never recorded that Barnabas became angry over Paul’s more vocal position? When he was considered a “lesser” god than Barnabas, why didn’t Paul get angry? Because they were selfless men, and the harvest was all that mattered. Workers look to the potential of a larger harvest with which to glorify God. What keeps some from never “teaming” with others and discovering the power of shared work is pride and rivalry. How should you feel when another preacher or teacher is thanked for a point well made? Rejoice that the gospel is preached (1 Corinthians 3:5-6; Romans 12:15)! The harvest is our goal, not our place in the harvesting.
What, then, do we learn from Paul and Barnabas? Learn the power of two! Some preachers may preach with another preacher at the same church. Others may find the “Power of Two” in another preacher close by. Some men or women may “team teach” a class. Open your heart to the help of others—and be willing to give it as well.
By Mark McCrary
Interpersonal relationships are crucial to us as human beings. One of the first statements of God regarding us was, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). But, sometimes relationships, as important as they are, are challenging to maintain—even among Christians. There are times when brothers and sisters in Christ don’t get along with one another.
One of the greatest skills necessary in those moments is the very one that is often not found: the ability to actually listen to others in conflict. So often, we formulate preconceived ideas about what someone thinks, what their motivations are, what they are really getting at; then, our reactions are based not on what they are saying or doing, but on our preconceptions of what they are thinking and meaning. As a result, communication stops, and conflict arises. This happens in homes, in churches, in businesses—everywhere there are people.
What can we do about this?
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
Within the context, James is likely addressing our need to listen to God and His instructions to us, but it certainly also has great application in our relationships with one another. How much we would be helped if we slowed down and just listened! Not formulate a rebuttal! Not vent all my frustrations! Not psychoanalyze my opponent at the moment! Not even view the one with whom I am in conflict as my opponent! Saber rattling really does little good in such moment other than encourage the one with whom we disagree to rattle their back at us. Here’s a crazy idea: simply listen. Take it in. Seek to understand. Not necessarily agree; just understand.
Something radical might happen if we would only do this. We might find we don’t disagree. At the least, perhaps we would find we are a lot closer to than we think. God urged Israel in Isaiah 1:18, “Come, let us reason together.” May God help us to have the same attitudes as husband and wives, parents and children, elders and congregations, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
What a wonderful resolution it would be to listen and think about what others are saying more. What a wonderful resolution it would be to stop shaking our fists so much and open our ears more. We would likely find that God’s ways are actually better than man’s wrath at bringing about peace.