Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

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Rethinking Our Walk in Christ

Saturday, July 02, 2016
Rethinking Our Walk in Christ
By Tom Rose
 
Christians desperately need to know how we can have a positive, optimistic, spiritual future while living in a disintegrating, chaotic and increasingly non-Christian society that threatens to take us down with it. A second urgent challenge concerning the Christian life is that it is so daily. It seems we never get a break because the world never stops its relentless, daily attempts to squeeze us into its mold. Both of these chronic issues can be solved by understanding Roman 12:1-2.
 
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to
God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed
to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect
will of God.”
 
Let’s begin by looking at the term sacrifice. We have been trained by our culture not to believe in sacrifice, but rather to believe instead that we can have it all. Indeed, we have everything we need at our finger tips with the touch of an app or a nearby shopping mall where we can get it instantly just by sliding a plastic card. However, Paul reminds these Roman Christians that when they were baptized into Christ, they chose to turn their body into a “living sacrifice” – one where the old man of sin is dead and buried and a new creature arises to live a new kind of life in sacrifice to God (Rom 6:3-11).
 
The concept of self-sacrifice is a prerequisite to the second idea in this passage: the renewing of our minds. The kind of sacrifice God requires comes from a renewal, a transformation, of one’s mind and life. Indeed, one cannot separate the idea of sacrifice from the concept of renewal as it is the transformation of our minds that will keep us from being conformed to the world in which we live.
 
But why did these First Century Christians entertain such a radical idea? The answer lies in the term “therefore.” In chapters 9 through 11 of Romans, Paul develops a sweeping view of God’s redemptive plan for Jews and Gentiles showing both are saved by the mercy of God. In those three chapters, which immediately precede the word “therefore,” the word mercy occurs nine times, and yet it occurs not a single time in chapters 1 through 8. In 12:1, Paul makes the connection between God’s mercy and our self-sacrifice by proposing: in view of the mercy God has offered, sacrifice yourself to Him, kill your old sin-infested self, and open yourself to a new life He offers by His loving mercy. He even adds that it is reasonable, logical, and credible to do so!
 
Although some of my readers are probably saying to themselves, “Yes, I’ve got all this, but what about this crazy world and all of its relentless pressures?” Return to the text where Paul lays out a twofold challenge in 12:2 to every child of God: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). To better understand these two options, let us look at the meaning of these two words.
 
Be Conformed – Gk. Suschematizo, to become together with (like) another figure or shape. Only found twice in the New Testament where the word refers to “conformity to the world” in Romans 12:2, and “conformity to the lusts of the world and flesh” in 1 Peter 1:14.
 
Paul commands believers in Rome not to allow the world to conform them to its agenda, values, culture, norms, priorities, or expectations. The influences pushing at us from those external forces is powerful and unrelenting. In essence, it is loud, powerful and unstoppable. Perhaps two translations of this passage will help us get a better understanding:
 
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”
J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it
without even thinking.” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from
The Message
 
The phrase “without even thinking” illustrates that the pressure to conform is so constant, so ongoing, so pervasive that it becomes part of the environment and thus, we no longer notice it.
 
Be Transformed – Gk. Metamorphoo, to form with. This compound word comes from our familiar word metamorphosis which is the process whereby a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
 
What is most revealing about these two words is that both are always rendered in the passive voice. This means no one independently conforms or transforms himself, but rather is conformed or transformed by a process initiated by a power outside himself. In this verse, God has given Christians two commands, obeying the second gives us the power to obey the first.
 
DO NOT be conformed by the power of the world around you;
that power which comes from Satan.
DO submit to the process of transformation. The power to do
that comes from God and His Word.
 
It is vital to comprehend that it takes both an external and an internal effort to accomplish the renewing of one’s mind. The external dimension is exposure to the Word while the internal dimension is a cultivated heart and mind that want to be renewed.
 
What we learn from God’s Word and submission to Him does not change anything about our external circumstances. The world may still deteriorate; we may be persecuted or otherwise suffer. But what will change can be our minds, and that makes all the difference. The apostle Paul was one of the most abused, persecuted, and oft-imprisoned men who ever lived (see 2 Cor 11:23-28). Yet Paul was one of the most chronically joyful souls regardless of his circumstances or state of need (Phil 4:11). His joy and confidence came from his renewed mind and its strong connection to God.
 
We as Christians are to be a source of inspiration, making a difference in this world. In His first sermon Jesus urged His believers to be “salt” and “light.”
 
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how
shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown
out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot
be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but
on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mt. 5:13-16
 
If we dare live our faith in open and transparent ways, the rest of the world could well see Christ living in us (Gal 2:20). In pre-refrigeration days, if a slab of salt-cured pork went bad, nobody blamed the pork. They blamed the quality, amount, or application of the salt. Salt and light radically impact everything they touch. People were attracted to Jesus because He was different. In Him they saw something that neither the Romans nor the established Jewish religion had to offer. Today, every time the world comes in contact with a Christian, a transference of hope, love, and relevancy should occur. If we are being transformed by that same Christ, people will be attracted to Him through our manifestation of His righteousness, His purpose, His love, and His unchanging ways.
 
Finally, we must address the daily struggle that confronts us living a faithful life as God’s children. In another reference to renewal Paul says, “The inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Here, just like in Romans, the words are present-tense verbs, showing that it is a continuing, ever-present, never-ending reality that requires our “day-by-day” diligence.
If we will allow our minds to be renewed continually by the Word of God, we will spot immediately when we, or the world, have gone off course and need correction. We will not drift slowly, carried along by the winds of change. Rather, we will implement corrections in our course countless times each day – and that is why keeping the faith is such a daily occurrence.
 
A Christian who is transformed will learn the will of God, live the will of God, and love the will of God. Is it any wonder that a great Bible teacher, D.L. Moody exclaimed, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.”

Making a Name For Yourself

Monday, June 13, 2016
Making a Name For Yourself
By Paul Earnhart
 
“I charge thee in the sight of God, who giveth life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession…”
(1 Timothy 6:13)
 
The Roman Empire had thousands of provincial officials in the course of the 500 years it ruled the Mediterranean world. Few enough are even known by name, and only one is remembered – Pontius Pilate. Though there is information about this provincial governor in both Josephus (Antiquities, XVIII, iii, 1-3; Wars, II, ix, 2-4) and Philo (Legatio ad Gaium), the largest portion of our knowledge of him comes out of the New Testament gospels.
 
The interesting thing about Pilate is that, hung up in an obscure district of the Empire, he seems to have been an ordinary man out to make his mark in the world. He was a middle class Roman with ambition for better things.
 
Pilate had nothing but contempt for the troublesome people of his district and when they presented him with a virtual ultimatum for the execution of a prisoner they brought to him, he balked. In addition to his stubborn resistance to being manipulated, there remained in him some residual sense of justice. The governor’s examination of the prisoner persuaded him that the charges were empty, based on religious differences, even jealousy (Matthew 27:18), rather than criminal activity. Pilate may have been in many ways a brutal, insensitive man. When his seizure of the sacred (corban) treasury in Jerusalem caused a public clamor, he sent his soldiers to mingle with the crowd in civilian clothes and beat to death the instigators (Luke 13:3). But the case of Jesus was outrageous.
 
The problem was that the Jews were stubbornly insistent. Their threat to report him to Caesar as guilty of harboring anti-government agents was disquieting (John 19:12). Though a bit laughable from the one who murdered the apostle James, Philo quotes Heord Agrippa I as saying that the Jews “exasperated Pilate to the greatest possible degree, as he feared lest they might go on an embassy to the Emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government – his corruptions, his acts of insolence, his rapine…his cruelty and his continual murders…” (Legatio ad Gaium, 38).
 
Prudence would have directed Pilate to protect his office and give the Jews their pound of flesh. But there was the prisoner’s disquieting claim to be the Son of God which the Jews, in exasperation, had finally blurted out to him (John 19:7); and his own wife’s urgent warning to leave this “righteous man” alone (Matthew 27:19). Pilate was a man caught between justice and ambition, between his conscience and his career.
 
If Jesus was a criminal, He should have been summarily executed. If He was innocent, as Pilate confessed, He should have been immediately freed. But the governor did neither. Instead, he tried to escape his dilemma by compromise – a proffered deal, the brutal beating of an admittedly innocent prisoner – yet, nothing worked. He had to choose. He could send Jesus to the cross and save his career plans, but how could he take responsibility for condemning to death a man whom he, himself, had pronounced innocent?
 
Pilate sought refuge in confusion. The issue was complex. How could any mere man be expected to settle such troublesome questions? “What is truth?” (John 13:38). And then, at last, when he could not save his job and justice too, he protected his job and shifted blame for his knowing perversion of justice to the Jews. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said, as he symbolically washed his hands, “It is your responsibility” (Matthew 27:24, NIV).
 
The real irony of Pilate’s story is that he was a man seeking a name for himself. For him, Jesus was a minor, if troublesome, inconvenience on his road to fame and fortune. And yet Pontius Pilate is remembered in history, not because of his own great achievements, but because of his brief encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.
 
It is easy to see and to jump on the moral cowardice and grave miscalculations of a Pontius Pilate. But how do we differ from him? How often do we sell out moral principle, and the Son of God, just to work out our own carnal ambitions? Every man and woman who turns aside his duty to God, to family, and to others, just to hold on to some worldly dream in no way differs from the governor of Judea. We can plead that we tried almost everything to escape being untrue to what was right, but so did Pilate. We can plead confusion, that the issue is not clear, that it is disputed by good people, but so did Pilate. We can blame our moral and spiritual lapse on the wickedness of others, but so did Pilate.
 
What is the lesson in all this? That in trying to make a name for ourselves we can easily wind up like Nabal, with the name of a fool. Worldly ambition can easily blind men to real value. Otherwise, Pilate would have known that Jesus was not his problem, but his salvation.

Choosing to Adopt

Saturday, June 04, 2016
 
Choosing to Adopt
By Jerid Gunter
 
Since becoming a father seven short months ago, I’ve started to learn about the love of a father firsthand. I’m certainly in the beginning stages. Still yet, I love having the title “daddy”, and I wouldn’t trade my baby girl for anything in the world. I find myself mesmerized by my daughter every day. Simply stated, I love being a dad. Really, in many ways, I think it’s pretty natural for me to feel the way I do about my daughter, as she’s my “flesh and blood.”
 
What about for those who adopt children? At least from the outside looking in, the kind of love from an adoptive parent to an adoptive child seems to have a different layer (or maybe multiple layers). I’m certainly not suggesting the love I have for my daughter or any parent for their own biological child is any less, but with all of the additional elements of an adoption, there are hurdles that must be crossed, which isn’t quite the case for biological parents. Let’s just consider a few of the obvious ones:
 
1. The child may not resemble you.
This has to be one of the most fundamental challenges that potential adoptive parents have to come to terms with. Perhaps the child has different colored hair or eyes than you. Not really that big of a deal. However, maybe the child is a different race than you. That’s a bit more obvious isn’t it? For some parents, it’s not an issue at all. However, others are very self-conscious about this, and even put in special requests for not just the same race, but the same hair color and eye color as the parent(s) too. They want the child to resemble them as much as possible.
 
2. The cost to adopt is expensive.
Another fundamental obstacle with adoption is that the cost to adopt a child can be extremely expensive. According to americanadoptions.com, the average cost of an adoption from 2012-2013 through an agency was nearly $40,000, while an independent adoption was only about $6,000 less. That’s quite a price to pay to provide an innocent child, who didn’t choose to be in this situation, a home.
 
3. You don’t have to do it.
While adoption is most definitely an incredibly selfless and compassionate act, the bottom line is: you don’t have to do it. As noted in the previous point, adoption is very expensive. Let alone, the psychological hoops you may have to jump through before deciding to go through with it. The truth is, you’d be taking on a responsibility that you don’t have to take on if you don’t want to. There’s no firing squad waiting outside your door if you choose not to adopt.
 
OK, now take all of those points and apply them from the vantage point of God and His willingness to adopt you, me, and anyone else who wants to be part of His family. When you really think about it, it’s incredible to consider:
 
1. We didn’t/don’t resemble Him.
I’m sure most of us know Romans 3:23 by heart, and in some ways we may take comfort in that passage, knowing that all of us have sinned. Certainly, we all resemble each other in a spiritual sense, but we don’t resemble God. Even in the flesh, Christ was sinless (1 Peter 2:22). God cannot and will not associate with sin. He hates it (Proverbs 6:16-19). He is holy (Isaiah 6:3).
 
We couldn’t look any more different from God in our sin. How comfortable do we feel about Romans 3:23 now?
 
2. The cost to adopt us was incredibly steep.
While the adoption of a child is most certainly a costly endeavor, there’s no dollar amount that can convey the price God paid in order to adopt us. To consider the fact that God hates sin, yet still loves the people who have committed the sins (directly transgressing His will) is just incredible itself. We all know John 3:16, that He loved/loves the world (mankind – His creation) so much, that He gave His only Son to die for us. As Paul stated in Romans 6:23, the payment for sin is death, yet God freely offers eternal life through Christ. If anything, we should be making payments to God for this adoption to take place, but He’s already paid for it.
 
As any adoptive parent would expect to receive their child’s love, appreciation, and obedience, God certainly expects the same of His adopted children, because the bottom line is…
 
3. He didn’t have to do it.
As much as we may say it from the Lord’s Supper table or from the pulpit or in our songs, I’m afraid I might (perhaps you do too) have an issue with entitlement. We live in a “hand-out” society and really the only thing we need to have our hand out for is to be smacked…hard. Shame on any of us if we live our lives believing we’re entitled to anything, and most especially salvation. As Christians, how quickly we may forget that we didn’t resemble God at all when we came to Him with our sin. He didn’t have to make His Son available and Jesus always had a way out (Matthew 26:53), but God’s love exceeded it all (Romans 5:8).
 
Christian, take joy in your adoption! Find humility, knowing that it’s obvious we didn’t resemble God in any way. But at the same time, have resolve, knowing that through the blood of Christ, we can work towards resembling Him in the way we live our lives for our Father each day. What a loving Father we have, who by adopting us, not only calls us His children, but heirs unto salvation (Romans 8:12-17)! “Praise the Lord, I am His child!”

Be Careful of the Small Slips

Friday, May 27, 2016
Be Careful of the Small Slips
By Megan Berthold

I took a fall recently. Well, a stumble really.  I’m not certain of all the technicalities between falls and stumbles, but it was a small slip of the feet.  The irony was that our family had just hiked almost three miles up the side of a mountain, around “cliffy” edges, and then back down around rocks and slippery stones - all safe and sound.  Thankfully, it wasn’t until I was near the safety of the trailhead that I had my slip.

My slip on the safe ground got me thinking.  It seems in life that it can be easy to pass the “big tests”, but it’s often times the little ones that can entangle us.  It’s amazing that when you’re hiking, even near dangerous edges, there oftern aren’t guardrails.  There aren’t park rangers at the rough turns rationing out warnings.  Lots of times there aren’t even signs!  And it’s not necessary because it’s overwhelmingly apparent - there is danger around you. Carefulness, awareness and safety are demanded.

In our spiritual lives, it’s no different.  We don’t need the “ warning signs” around the big issues.  We can often handle the "biggie" issues of fornication, drinking, regular attendance at Worship, using the Lord’s name in vain, etc.  But just as I’m feeling confident in hiking through the weighty matters of life, the phone rings and gossip is flowing from my lips, or my child disobeys me and my anger flares, or I’m praised for a job completed well and my heart starts harboring pride, or my spouse and I have words and all of the sudden submission to my husband is out the door.  Look at all the slipping!  And it wasn’t falling over the cliff on adultery, or stealing, or lying; it was slipping on the "little" things, the things not many people see.

This isn’t new by the way.  Look at Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26).  Somehow she had lived in Sodom and actually made it out alive; she truly made it to the safe ground.  But then she turned.  One little look cost it all.  Then of course there’s Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:3-8).  I feel for Uzzah.  He didn’t make the cart, he was just guiding it; but he touched it.  God couldn’t have made that rule any plainer, don’t touch the ark.  There’s no ambiguity on that point; no way to wonder how God really felt about that one.  "No touchy", as we say in our house.   And then there is Moses, who was quite the man really.  He stood up to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and to the Israelites too actually, on their many occasions of back peddling.  He parted the Red Sea, he saw a burning bush, he received the Ten Commandments, the list just goes on and on.  And in Numbers 20:7 the Lord tells him to speak to the rock to bring forth water.  So he and Aaron jaunt on down to the assembly of the people before the rock, and he hits the rock.  Hits it!  Not just once mind you, he strikes that rock twice.  When I look at Moses I can really feel better about myself (oops, there is the pride again), but really, here is a man who struck his staff over the Red Sea, which is no creek by the way, and it parts.  But he can’t listen and obey when God told him to speak to the rock to bring forth water.

Ok, so what is the take home?  We need to make sure we’re getting it right on the “little” things, just like we do on the big ones.  What does it really matter if I’m in my pew Sunday at 9am, 5pm, and Wednesday at 7:30, if I’m not truly living as a vessel of Christ in my words, in my example, and in my heart?

We need to ensure that what we perceive as “safe ground” really is secure.  

A Lesson of Life

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Lesson of Life
By Matt Hennecke

I used to think myself quite the ping-pong player. My skill level was sufficient to decimate most of my family members. My brother-in-law was my only real competition, and though he would deny it, I won many more of our battles than I lost.

My favorite opponent was my young nephew, Andy. He was always ready to play, and played with total, reckless abandon. His skills fell far short of my own. I was a “spin” master. I could put such “English” on the ball that when it landed on Andy’s side of the table it would bounce crazily in an unanticipated direction. I took great glee in running Andy into the half-filled, cardboard boxes lining the basement wall as he dove vainly to return one of my crazy, spinning shots. He’d collapse into the boxes but always came up wanting more. Time and again I laughed uproariously as his contorted body lay sprawled across the boxes after I’d hit one of my spectacular shots.

When I went off to college I enjoyed taking on new opponents and showing them my “stuff.” I honed my skills and relished taking on new opponents who’d never seen ping-pong balls bounce at such weird and awkward angles. I was good – no doubt about it. And I was full of myself.

When I was about twenty-years-old a couple joined the local congregation where I attended with my family when home from college. Jerry was about thirty and possessed many talents. He could play the piano beautifully. He was a great Bible teacher, and he could make friends easily because of his engaging social skills. As the summer progressed I came to know him better, and I also learned he thought himself a pretty good ping-pong player. I still remember, thinking, “Ah, fresh meat,” but I purposefully kept my interest in the game hidden, waiting for the perfect moment to “show” him what a real ping pong player could do.

Judgment day presented itself one day in early August when Jerry and I, and several other people from church, happened to be at a member’s home for a potluck. The homeowner had a ping-pong table in the basement. I remember thinking the time had come to reveal my skills and slay yet another victim. “Hey, want to play some ping-pong?” I not-so-innocently asked as Jerry and I found ourselves in the basement after eating. Those who knew me from church realized I was circling my prey and watched with amusement as Jerry took the bait. “Sure, let’s play,” he replied.

     Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
     The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
     And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
     But there was no joy for me that day – I ingloriously lost the bout.
                -  Adapted from “Casey At the Bat,” by Ernest Thayer

21 to 0.

Yes, zero. I never score a point. I never even came close to scoring a point.

A life lesson took root and bloomed that day: the lesson of humility. Of course I’d been humbled before, but never so profoundly and in the presence of so many witnesses. That day I realized I had been naively comparing my skills to others who were far less skilled than I. Clearly there were others who far exceeded me in ping-pong prowess. “Pride goeth before a fall,” echoed the words of the Proverb writer (Prov. 16:18). That day I fell hard. Jerry cleaned my clock and in doing so taught me about pride: Pride made me cocky. It made me feel invincible and self reliant. But the lesson of humility wasn’t yet over. Two weeks later, Jerry – who had so soundly thrashed me – entered a ping pong tournament in downtown Chicago and lost to a seven-year-old boy. And he lost badly. Imagine how I felt. Not only wasn’t I skilled, but I was lightyears behind some nameless seven-year-old.

Such are the lessons of life. They often come along and slap us upside the head, and if we let them, they shape us, mold us, and change us – for the better. So it is when it comes to spiritual matters. Perhaps because of that ping pong lesson I’m inclined to listen to Paul’s spiritual advice when he says we shouldn’t “dare to classify or compare ourselves with others,” and that when others “measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). He also tells us “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). The conclusion is pretty clear: I’m imperfect; I’m a sinner; and I’d be doomed except for Jesus Christ. I shouldn’t think myself better than anyone. Want a dose of humility? Compare yourself to Christ.

Over the years I’ve learned I’m not very good at ping pong, and sadly I’m not very good at righteousness. But He is: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Without Him I’m nothing. Only He is perfect. Only He can save.

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