Growing In Godliness Blog
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.
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.