Growing In Godliness Blog
What Makes Christianity Unique?
By Mark McCrary
Of all the world’s religions, what makes Christianity unique? Why should it be considered above all others?
Like most religions that revolve around a concept of a singular God, Christianity emphasizes the holiness of God. But Christianity’s take is somewhat different than many others; it is not simply that He is a good God, but His holiness means He is a perfect God - there is no sin in Him. Because He is holy, if we are to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well (“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’”). God is so perfect, in fact, He cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Such holiness demands that God be just. Unlike the teachings of some religions, He can’t look at our lives and, if there is more good than bad, wave away that bad as if it didn’t happen. It did; and His holiness can’t ignore it. There must be a price paid for those wrongs (“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22).
But, Romans 3:26 tells us something beautiful: because God is holy, He must be just; to be less than just would make Him less than holy. But—importantly— He is also the justifier (Rom. 3:26, “…To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”). What makes Christianity unique, ultimately, is Jesus Christ—God coming down in the form of man to pay the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:22) and reconcile us to the Holy God.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” Rom. 5:6-11.
Christianity presents a God who is so holy He cannot tolerate sin. Yet, for some reason He paid the price for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. Why would He do such a thing? Because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That’s what makes Christianity unique.
The Transforming Power of the Word
By Matt Hennecke
The Word of God is an amazing, life changing tool. Consider for a moment the apostle Paul. When we are first introduced to him he is described as “young” (Acts 7:58). His youth may have contributed to what seems to be a certain cockiness. He seems to have been a self assured young man that seemingly “knew it all.” It’s not unusual for young men (and women too, I guess) to see everything as black and white, right and wrong. Paul (or Saul as he was then called) was certain Christianity – like Christ – had to be eliminated. Acts 9:1-2 reveals Saul was obsessed with threats and murder: Self assured. Cocky. A know-it-all. And flat out wrong. As he journeyed to Damascus he had his first dose of humility. A light and a voice cast doubt where before there had been none. For three days he ate and drank nothing. His journey of humility had begun. He was baptized into the very Body that he had sought to destroy. Talk about eating crow. Imagine the shame and the dawning realization of just how wrong he’d been. But Paul’s journey of humility had only begun. His own writings reveal the transformative power of the Word. The Word – amazing for it first convicts us and then lifts us. Paul’s transformation – indeed his journey of humility – is seen in his writings. Note the progression: In 1 Corinthians 15:9 written about 56 AD he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” That was still an elite group of men. The least of twelve is still pretty good company. It would almost be like saying I’m the least of the Super Bowl champion team. But, then note what he writes five years later in Ephesians 3:8: He says he is “the very least of all saints.” The circle of comparison has gotten larger – much larger, but is still comprised of a minority. Then two years later he writes: “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim 1:15). In his own words we learn that Paul has been completely humbled. How did this journey of humility come to be? By exposure to the Word. By the constant contact with the inspired Word Paul was changed – he was transformed. Such is the transforming power of the Word. If we will let it, it will change us and transform us so that we will have our high self opinion replaced with total gratitude for Jesus Christ; and thus humbled we will become, as Paul did, vessels of service to our 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.
What does it Mean to be a Christian?
By Mark McCrary
May I ask you to think about a question—do you consider yourself to be a Christian? May I ask you to consider a follow up question- what does it even mean to be a Christian? To a lot of people, being a Christian is just the idea of going to worship services a few times a month (or year), praying from time to time, or having a generally good idea and feeling about God and believing in Him. But, that’s not the standard that Jesus set.
Jesus said this in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Perhaps the defining trait for the child of God is obeying God and submitting to Him and His will for our lives. It is looking to Him and His word, and taking that study seriously and contemplating when you study, “Am I living this way? Is God first in my life? Am I obeying Him?”
What many do is profess to have faith, but then do whatever they want to do. Jesus said if we want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, we are concerned about what God tells us to do, and we do just that.
Are you living as A Christian?
Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?
By Tom Rose
Followers of Jesus Christ don’t have children merely for companionship or to avoid loneliness in their later years or so they can pass on property and the family name. They view parenting as an opportunity to invest themselves fully in the life of a child who will someday become an irresistible manifestation of God’s grace. A child who will grow up to make a difference by exercising his or her unique talents and gifts, and thereby leave his corner of the world more kind and gentle, more spiritual and righteous. That’s our motivation for bearing and raising children – and our challenge.
However, when images of the whole world’s cruelest realities – war, abuse, violence of all kinds – are instantly accessible at the touch of a button or the flip of a page, it’s hard for parents to remain idealistic, hopeful and positive. When the dark side of human nature – the stormy, troubled side – is the pervasive picture of former heroes and heroines of politics, entertainment, and sports, it’s hard to feel supportive and trustful of our fellow human beings. And when our media makes sure nothing is left to the imagination, it’s hard to share the beauty of love and faithfulness within a marriage to the fresh, untouched territory of a teenager’s mind. All these problems seem so big, the people in charge so far away, so powerful, so wealthy, so far removed from our living rooms, our offices, and our schools, one might be tempted to exclaim, “Why even try?”
Feelings of helplessness plague us as parents when we see our younger children – even toddlers – being taught the very lessons that we don’t want them to learn from their peers, the media, and fallen heroes. Yet we know from daily living that the only thing to do when there’s a mess is to clean it up. This cleaning-up must be an everyday task in the way we treat ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, indeed, everybody.
That is precisely why God’s divine plan has parents in charge of preventing and/or cleaning-up the mess of our character-starved, immorally littered world and sees children as honoring and obeying their parents (see Eph 6:1-4).
Although the home is the primary place for establishing virtues as well as a good understanding of God’s Word, parents often look to the church for assistance in teaching and instilling spiritual values. Therefore, Bible classes must be perceived by children and young people as preparation for life as they really experience it and for developing a faith that has personal meaning. Unfortunately, sometimes teaching – both at home and in church - falls short of these goals. Thus, it is important to ask, are we giving our young people ‘cut flowers,’ when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants? The result may be that we are training another generation to be keepers of the aquarium, rather than educating fishers of men.
I once knew of a teacher who invited a whole group of people to study the Bible. He told them that he had discovered the most marvelous Truths from God’s Word, and he wanted to share them. He began to describe in minute detail the delights of the Scriptures without ever letting class members ask questions or participate in any way. He told and told and told. Although some teachers (and parents) believe that one will listen to what is being taught and automatically assume responsibility for a desired behavior or virtue, we really know better because “telling” – or handing out ‘cut flowers’ is not “teaching.”
Consider, for example, Susan, a third grader, completing in Bible study class her illustration of the good Samaritan (see Lk. 10:25-37). Her face suddenly takes on a reflective look as she turns toward her teacher and asks, “Does this story mean that I am supposed to help Judy with her math? She always comes to school dirty and wearing a torn dress and nobody wants to be with her.” “Yes, Susan,” the teacher replies, “If you are going to be the kind of neighbor Jesus wants you to be, you need to care for those who are less fortunate than you are.” Susan considered what her teacher had said, then responded, “I don’t want to, but I guess nobody in my class wants to either, so I’ll be a good Samaritan.”
Learners need to sort out and try on their ideas in a safe setting with a caring parent or teacher. That’s really what Susan was doing in the conversation with her teacher. She was actually questioning her understanding of what was required to being a “good Samaritan” and then determining a course of action by seeking the affirmation of the adult. When one realizes, after studying this parable, that there are personal applications for these ideas, they are usually ready to make some changes in their own behavior toward others.
In the above case, Susan learned that this lesson was for her and that there were some things she could do to apply it to her life. This example shows Susan is searching for ways to act on her learning and to do so she must do more than simply talk to her teacher about her discovery. Moreover, she is beginning to assume responsibility for her own learning by living it out on the playground, the classroom, and the neighborhood. Indeed, Susan will find that there are several ways in which she can be a good Samaritan to Judy. She could give her some of her clothes, she could talk to her about brushing her hair and washing her face before coming to school, she could tutor her in math, she could defend Judy when others put her down, and she could work at becoming a friend to Judy.
To write meaningfully on tablets of the human heart, Christians need to allow students both to discover and to internalize Biblical truths - for herein lies the long-term power for committed servanthood. If our instruction fails to excite and to involve our learners, it will likely yield a people trained to be passive observers rather than active participants in learning and in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). As young people develop, if structured opportunities for practice and application of one’s faith are weak or non-existent, any commitment to the Christian life may be only superficially formed, and devoid of the pleasure and enthusiasm found in sharing their faith with others.
Parents who truly understand this goal of parenting – to draw out the spiritual potential of each child – will become fully engaged in the challenge. They no longer just live to advance their career and their material possessions. Rather, they seek to build character, value, and vision into young lives. They no longer treat their children as inconveniences to be handed off to anyone who will tend them. Instead, these leaders of the home see the “season of parenting” as the ultimate spiritual challenge, worthy of their best efforts, most fervent prayers, and largest investments of time. In essence, they are parents who will do anything they can to encourage authentic Christian growth in their children. And in so doing, these parents choose to develop a garden with ever-renewing blossoms, instead of handing their child a vase of cut flowers. They know that molding a runny-nosed little bandit into a God-honoring difference-maker is the most stretching, demanding, and, ultimately, fulfilling challenge they face. So they earnestly devote themselves to it.
If we at the Douglass Hills church of Christ can be of help or encouragement to you in such an endeavor, please take the time to reach out and ask us. As God’s Word ever reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old - he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6