Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

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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.

Forgive and Be Forgiven

Friday, May 13, 2016

Forgive and Be Forgiven

By Mike Cox

When someone has said or done something to hurt you, are you quick to forgive? Does forgiveness ever occur or is revenge the preference? “Someone did wrong to me and I want to see them suffer.”  A synonym for someone “wronging” us is the word trespass. Maybe someone is in debt to us but there is no end in sight for the debt to be paid. Matthew 18:21-35 describes two servants. One servant begs their master for forgiveness of his debt and the master has compassion on him and forgives the debt. However, this servant turns around and doesn’t have compassion on his servant. When the master of the first servant heard what had been done, he was angered and delivered his servant to the torturers (v. 34).

There are things that link all humans together - make us similar. The one thing that links everyone is the fact that they have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). While the debtors mentioned had a financial debt, all humans have a figurative debt to God for the sins they’ve committed. This is when everyone needs the compassion of God to wipe our debts clean. When we are baptized, our debt is wiped clean - our sins are forgiven.  If someone has done wrong towards us we are to forgive them; we are to show mercy. If we don’t, how can we expect to be forgiven our debt? Verse 35 says, “So, My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you from his heart does not forgive his brother his trespasses”. Matthew 18:21-22 tells us that we should forgive someone up to “seventy times seven”. The point of this isn’t a quantified number of times to forgive someone, but to constantly forgive.

Everyone needs to forgive and everyone has need to be forgiven. Jesus died on the cross to wipe our sins away. Even so, after we come to the Lord we are to ask forgiveness of our sins. If we ask and strive to do God’s will, we will be forgiven. Nonetheless if we refuse to forgive someone, the Lord knows.

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