Growing In Godliness Blog
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.
The Planned Death of Jesus
By Tom Rose
One of the ways in which pseudo-scholars, critics, and skeptics attack our Lord is by denying that His sufferings were planned and purposeful. His death, they insist, resulted from a miscalculation; it was a noble attempt to bring goodness into the world, but ended in an unplanned disaster. But nothing could be further from the truth. The whole trajectory of His life was prophesied 700 years before and included every aspect of His career as the Messiah, Servant of Jehovah in the book of Isaiah. Indeed, He came into the world “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38)…and the Father’s will was for Him to die. Jesus was not a well-intentioned victim of a plan that surprised Him when it went horribly wrong. No, He knew exactly how His life would end, down to the minutest detail, and had know it since before the foundation of the world when the plan of salvation was formed.
Luke 18:31-34 is the third and most complete of Christ’s specific predictions concerning His death as recorded by Luke— the first is found in Lk 9:21-22; and the second in Lk 9:44. Jesus was on His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. So that there would be no misunderstanding, He takes the twelve aside to remind them, with specific details, what was about to happen to Him was God’s plan. Yet, despite Jesus’ clear teaching, the disciples failed to perceive the meaning of what He had taught them. The threefold repetition in v. 34 says, 1) they understood none of these things, 2) this saying was hidden from them; and 3) they did not know the things that were spoken.
But there was a perfectly good reason that the disciples failed to grasp the Lord’s teaching about His suffering and death; it failed to fit their messianic theology. They expected the Messiah to be a king, who would defeat Israel’s enemies and establish His kingdom. (Recall Bro. Pope’s reference to Acts 1:6 this morning.) They were looking for a coronation, not a crucifixion; for a messiah who killed His enemies, not one who was killed by His own people, and (even more unthinkable) willing to forgive His enemies as they did so. The idea of a crucified Messiah was an absurdity to them; it was so ridiculous that they could not even comprehend it. “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18. Thus, “Christ crucified” was “to Jews a stumbling block” (v. 23) a massive barrier that they could not get past.
After His resurrection Christ reaffirmed the veracity of the O.T. teachings and gently rebuked two of his disciples, on the road to Emmaus, for their failure to understand it (Luke 24:23-25).
Eventually, His disciples came to understand it, to believe it, and to preach it…beginning in the first century and continuing down to the present time.
Never allow anyone to discount or minimize the importance of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for as the hymn says, “Without Him, how lost I would be.”
By Mark McCrary
“And a man shall leave his father and mother…”
Though the above quote from Genesis 2:24 is written in the context of marriage, it assumes the necessity of children leaving their parents and establishing their own lives. This is not to say parents no longer have any influence over their lives; simply that that influence is diminished. To paraphrase John the Immerser, they increase while their parents decrease.
The painful truth of parenting is we raise our children to let them go. If you think about it, this ultimate goal of God for those children He has entrusted to us is really counter to everything we have done! We love, protect, and guide them over the course of 18+ years; we wake them up, get them ready, check on them at night, watch who their friends are, make sure they are eating right, that they brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, clean their rooms, bandage their skinned knees, doctor their ills, comfort their sorrows, etc. All these actions and more entwine our lives together closer and closer.
Yet, there comes a time God expects us to let them go— to send them out into the world. How could God require such a thing? Does He not understand how frightening of a prospect and how emotionally painful this is?
God knows letting go is necessary. At some point, training wheels must come off and our children must decide for themselves what they will value in life. They must discover who they will be. They cannot do that while under the wings of their parents. Children need to be let go. To some degree, the faith of a child is imposed on them. But, saving faith is not imposed; rather, it is chosen and embraced.
God understands this first hand. After giving instruction through the Law of Moses and giving them Canaan, God let the children of Israel go. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). Deuteronomy is another great text on the necessity of God’s children needing to choose. The constant story of the Bible is that of a Father expressing His love, instructing His children, then “sending them off” to decided if they will honor Him and His guidance. Many did and do; many didn’t and don’t.
In the same way, as parents we do what we can for 18+ years, then let them (hopefully) put into practice what we have taught them. In reality, the letting go is most of the time not a one-time action, but more of a letting the rope out slowly until we come to the end of it. We hold our breaths and pray with each decision that they make. We hurt when they choose poorly; we delight when they choose properly. But, we must let them go, for they cannot truly find God unless they find Him for themselves. This is God’s plan.
Does the Holy Spirit Call A Sinner to Salvation?
By Mark McCrary
Do you believe in Holy Spirit conviction? That the Holy Spirit comes upon a person personally and convicts that person of their sin? Are you waiting—should you be waiting—for such an event? Does the Holy Spirit call a sinner to salvation?
The answer is an unquestionable “Yes!” the Holy Spirit calls sinners to salvation. Perhaps the real question is, “How does the Holy Spirit call sinners to salvation?” The manner, we will see as we examine scripture, is not an overwhelming burden of guilt put upon us in a miraculous way, but rather the overwhelming burden of guilt which comes through the message of the Bible delivered by the Holy Spirit.
The message of the writers of the New Testament was not conjured up on their own, but it was given to them by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, before His crucifixion, said to His apostles, “When He [the Holy Spirit—MM] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come,” John 16:8-14. This passage tells us several things: First, that the Holy Spirit indeed convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. He shows what sin is, what righteousness is, and because of the deliverance of His message, the world stands in judgment. Second, His message came from the Father and was delivered to the apostle-- they would have “all truth”—and they in turn translated that truth to mankind (1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Galatians 1:11-12). What is promised here is the conviction of the world through the message delivered by the Holy Spirit to God’s messengers.
Now, if the Holy Spirit personally came onto a person and convicted them, Acts would be the logical place to find such a thing—it is, after all, the book of conversion. However, this is not what we see. What convicted the Jews on the day of Pentecost when the first sermon after the resurrection of Christ was preached (Acts 2)? We are not told that the Holy Spirit came and moved these listeners in a unique or individual way. They were convicted of their sins when they heard the message of the apostles. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). When Cornelius was converted (Acts 10), it was due to the preaching of the gospel once more by Peter. While we are told the Holy Spirit fell on them, it was not to change their hearts, but to confirm to the listening Jews that this was the will of God (v. 45; 11:15-18). When Lydia was converted, God opened her heart not through a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on her, but through the preaching of Paul (Acts 16:14). In each the conversions took place because the message was preached.
Notice what Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” From this passage, how is it that one learns the “glad tidings of good things”? Does the Holy Spirit come upon one and convict them of the truth of it all? No, one hears what is preached reacts—just as those did in Acts.
One final passage should cement this idea. Paul speaks of us being “called” in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, but this calling is not a personal calling from the Holy Spirit to the individual. “…To which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The calling of an individual, according to the inspired apostle Paul, is one through the preaching of the gospel.
“What is the big deal?” one may ask. The big deal is if you are waiting for the Holy Spirit of God to personally call you, you are waiting for something God has never promised in scripture, and you are waiting for something that will never happen. If you are a sinner and are reading this now, understand: The Holy Spirit is calling you through the message of the Bible. This is your invitation! God is in fact calling you right now by the message penned by his disciples some 2000 years ago-- He is calling you with the Bible. Let’s stop waiting for something He has not promised and let’s start listening to what He has given. The gospel of Jesus Christ given by the Holy Spirit is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and it is powerful enough to convict those who are ready to receive it.
Does the Holy Spirit convict people of their sin? He certainly does, but it is through the message of the Bible. We encourage you to listen to that message today.
Something Too Precious Not To Share
By Tom Rose
What things are precious to us? They are generally objects: a favorite dress, sweater or perhaps a wedding gown; an old pair of sneakers or perhaps a baby’s first shoes; a special locket, pin, or ring; maybe a record, scrapbook or a special book or Bible possibly with a flower in it; certificates, trophies and plaques; collections of coins, stamps or rocks; books, letters, newspaper clippings, and of course, the pictures.
Mentally take yourself up in the attic and let me join you as you open the boxes, open the trunks. As I watch the way you handle and linger over the contents, and listen to you tell your memories about their meaning, and watch your facial expressions, I’ll tell which ones are precious to you.
This sentiment was expressed by Amy Grant in her song, “Heirlooms.”
“Up in the attic…down on my knees,
Lifetimes of boxes…timeless to me;
Letters and photographs…yellowed with years,
Some bringing laughter…some bringing tears;
Time never changes…the memories, the faces,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious family is more than an heirloom to me.”
Isn’t that the sentiment we hear survivors of a house fire or natural disaster tell us after their devastating loss? “Well, even thought we lost everything, at least no one lost their life.” I believe that is what this song is suggesting. In this life people, and our relationships with one another, are more valuable than “things.”
However, there is something of even greater worth to consider – one’s soul.
In our everyday lives, do we ever think of our spiritual (i.e. non-material) life as being precious to us? The apostle Peter in explaining how Jesus redeemed His believers from a life of sin, sets up another contrast of values by saying,
“…Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
The price of our freedom was not perishable possessions, it was the life-blood of the Son of God, a far more costly gift than any amount of earthly treasure. I Cor. 6:19-20 emphasizes this point by noting,
“You are not your own, for you have been bought at a price.”
In the second verse of this song, we find the writer is telling us that spiritual and eternal concerns are truly more important than earthly matters.
“Wise men and shepherds…down on their knees,
Bringing their treasures…to lay at His feet;
Who was this wonder…Baby yet King,
Living and dying…He gave life to me.
Time never changes…the memory, the moment,
Of loved ones…who bring to me…All that I come from,
And all that I live for, And all that I’m going to be…
My precious Savior is more than an heirloom to me.”
The Puritan Thomas Watson thoughtfully observed, “Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us – in the one there was but the speaking of a Word, in the other the shedding of Christ’s own blood.” That thought gives the word precious a whole new meaning.
Perhaps, however, this song has yet a deeper meaning. Do we view our faith and our salvation as just another “heirloom” to be left in the “attic” of our minds? Looking honestly at our daily actions, do we rather than sharing with others our love for the Lord, just keep our memories from the past to ourselves? When was the last time we spoke of the events of our own baptism or that of our friend or relative? How often do we speak of the ideas expressed at a Gospel meeting, or mention to someone the words of a prayer or hymn at the funeral of a loved one? When was the last time we talked with a friend about what the Bible says it takes to inherit eternal life? Do we ever treat Jesus as just another object along life’s pathway?
Let me share with you some recent research to highlight the importance of these questions. Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith. Over the past two years, he launched a nationwide campaign to interview groups of college students who belong to the atheist equivalent of Campus Crusade (e.g. Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies). The rules were simple: “Tell us your journey to unbelief.” From several hundred subjects, a composite sketch of the American college-aged atheists began to emerge, and it would challenge our assumptions about this demographic. Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. These students had heard plenty of messages encouraging: “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. They were serious-minded, but often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. Although, students would often begin by telling the researcher they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons, the results of their testimonies made it clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. Finally, and perhaps most poignant, they showed a deep respect for those teachers and ministers who took the Bible seriously. Two responses give insight into their thinking.
Phil was once the president of his church’s youth group. He loved his church when they weren’t just going through the motions. He recalled Jim, one of his Bible teachers, did not dodge the tough chapters or difficult questions. Although he didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart. During my junior year in high school, the church in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, and attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil “Didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.
Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he was drawn to Christians that unashamedly embraced Biblical teaching. He added, “I can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”
As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual among non-believers as one might think. It finds resonance in the comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian. He says, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
In summary, three points clearly stand out from a thoughtful study of the scriptures coupled with a reflection of the above research.* First, most young atheists come out of churches whose mission and message is vague. Second, one must never confuse a desire for people to accept the gospel, with creating a gospel that is acceptable to people. And third, Christianity, when taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it (Mk 16:15-16).
*Taunton, Larry Alex “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity,” The Atlantic, June 3, 2013.