The Presidential Election: America’s Mirror

Meme from the Rowdy Conservatives Facebook page

I have said little online about the 2016 Presidential campaign so far. Although I consider myself fairly politically active (I vote in every major election and at one time served in several state and national positions in a minor political party), I have refused to openly endorse either candidate.

This week, the media flared up with reports that Donald Trump made some vulgar boastful comments about things he claimed he could do to women. As usual, controversy erupted. Part of Trump’s appeal has been his tendency to speak his mind, but some people seemed surprised about what was in his mind.

I will not try to defend Trump. Others have, and you can find their rationales all over the Internet. My point in this post is to explain what I believe should have been the Christian response throughout this campaign.

There is a simple reason why I have refused to endorse a candidate. While many of my friends share openly their support of a particular political candidate on Facebook and other online forums, I prefer to focus on principles, not personalities. I am a Christian, pro-life, pro-traditional-family, constitutional conservative. I prefer to focus on such issues and principles. Those may remain stable, and I do not frequently waver on them.

However, people have this terrible tendency of disappointing us. As we saw with Trump’s comments, people will say and do things that I do not agree with, even when I do agree with them on some of their political positions. I prefer to defend my ideology than to try to defend a person. I will always try to ground anything I say about politics on the Constitution and biblical truth. Those are not prone to change, but people are prone to fail.

This particular campaign has been especially troubling. There has never been a perfect Presidential candidate, as far as I can tell. Even those Presidents that I have liked had some flaws that I refuse to excuse. However, in 2016, it seems like we have scraped the bottom of the barrel. I believe we should consider a person’s character when voting; however, the two characters the major parties selected are both devoid of character. (It may have been a scandal about Donald Trump that inspired this post, but I could probably write a book about Hillary Clinton’s ethical shortcomings. Let’s just say that, after years of defending her husband’s harassment of women, she has no business criticizing Trump’s words.)

But, as I have said for years, America gets the candidates and elected officials it deserves. We will elect politicians who reflect our values. Our nation’s value system cherishes celebrities, wealth, greed, pride, and sexual immorality and vulgarity. Well, we can see all of our nation’s idols on display in the current campaign. The fact that many of us are criticizing the candidates for committing the same sins we cherish in our hearts merely multiplies the hypocrisy. Narcissism? Our culture created “the selfie” and thinks it’s an art form. Bigoted hate-filled speech? Both candidates have said some hostile offensive things about each other and their supporters, and the supporters have likewise been guilty. Vulgar comments and sexual misconduct? I call your attention to the above meme; and our TV, movies, and music; and virtually our entire society.

When people ask if God is judging America, I say we have made it too easy for Him. He does not need to send a giant meteor (even if that is the closest I have come to endorsing a candidate this time around). He can just sit back, let us elect our candidates, and then watch us suffer the consequences. I can almost picture God watching us, much as a parent watches a child having a temper tantrum, arms folded, waiting for us to hit our breaking point so He can say, “Have you had enough already?”

Perhaps the fact that our Presidential election has been narrowed down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump serves as a mirror in which America should see its flaws. This is something that the church seriously needs to consider. Many of us continue to hope that God will somehow bring revival to America. However, many Christians expect Him to do it only through a Republican President who can appoint the right Supreme Court justices.

I propose that it is time for American Christians to repent of our political idolatry and begin to talk, think, and act as if God is bigger than our entire political establishment. I am not saying who we should vote for in November to be our next President. However, I will continue to trust that God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Obeying God—1 Samuel 15:22–23

Samuel Cursing Saul, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Samuel pronounces God’s rejection of Saul, woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”

(1 Samuel 15:22–23, ESV)

1 Samuel 15 begins a turning point in the Old Testament’s history of Israel. The Israelites have begged God for a king, so that they could become just like all of the other nations. God chose Saul to be the first king. However, since Saul chose to do things his own way and disobey God, he was rejected as king. In 1 Samuel 15, God declares that He has rejected Saul and will appoint a new king in his place (David, the ancestor of Jesus).

For the sake of brevity, I will simply summarize this chapter (you can read 1 Samuel 15 in its entirety on your own if necessary). God commanded Saul (through the prophet Samuel) to destroy the Amalekite nation. Saul did not fully obey God: he spared some livestock and the king.

God viewed Saul’s partial obedience as full disobedience. The consequences lasted for centuries. Since Saul chose to spare a few Amalekites, more survived. David ended up having to battle them in 1 Samuel 27:8 and 1 Samuel 30. Many commentators believe Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther, was a direct descendant of the Amalekite king.

Some of Saul’s excuses sound similar to excuses we hear nowadays. “I did this for God, even if it goes against His Word” (1 Samuel 15:15). “Everybody else was doing it” (1 Samuel 15:21). “Quit making a big deal about it; you’re making me look bad!” (1 Samuel 15:30).

This verse came to mind recently while I was meditating on another Bible passage. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24, ESV).

Modern-day Christians do not rely on sacrifice, in the Old Testament sense, as an element of our spirituality. We do not slaughter sheep and goats and roast them on an altar. We have other ways of serving God that have replaced sacrifice: evangelism, church ministry, worship, prayer, Bible reading, Bible teaching, tithing, fasting, etc. Yet, Jesus calls us to make healthy interpersonal relationships a higher priority than all of these things.

To obey God is better than sacrifice—or evangelism, or serving in the church, or worship, or prayer, or reading the Bible, or tithing, or fasting, or anything else we say we are doing for God.

To wilfully disobey God defiles the sacrifice or ministry. To do your own thing and ask God to bless it defiles the altar itself. For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matthew 23:19). Far too often, we are tempted to decide to do our own thing and then ask God to bless it. Shortly before He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” We are often tempted to instead pray, “Okay God, this is what I am planning to do. I ask You to bless it and provide what I need to succeed in this.” (Even worse, in some circles they do not ask God to bless or provide: they demand it, bossing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords around by “claiming” the blessing, often by twisting a verse of Scripture to mean what they want it to mean.)

God has called us to obedience and service. He is the Lord, which means our responsibility is to do exactly what He calls us to do. Many live with the desire to one day hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 15:21, 23). That commendation is reserved for those who obey God, not those who look for excuses to do things their way. May we always have a heart willing to hear the will of the Lord and obey.

For a closing thought, I will leave you with this classic song by Keith Green, inspired by this verse:

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Prodigal Son—Luke 15:11–32

Albrecht Dürer - The Prodigal Son - WGA7275.jpg
The younger son in Jesus’ parable fell into hard times when he chose to seek the father’s inheritance without the father’s blessing. Picture by Albrecht DürerWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain,

Due to the length of this passage, I am simply providing a link to this passage online.

Far too often, I measure myself according to what I do, or what I have accomplished in life. This is probably part of the reason why many men my age go through a “mid-life crisis”: We reach a point when we realize we are in the later stages of our lives, and we do not see where we have made great accomplishments that will go down in history. Let’s face it: I know I will never play in a World Cup soccer tournament or have a number one record on the Billboard charts. I probably have a better chance of publishing a bestselling book, but most of my most elaborate dreams will not come true.

This emotional, existential affliction is not limited to 50-year-old men. Men and women of any age make the same mistake. We measure our worth according what we do. However, God is more concerned with who we are than with what we can accomplish.

While reading the parable of the Prodigal Son recently, I realized that both sons made the same mistake. They had a perspective on their relationship with their father that completely contradicted the father’s perspective. As a result, they missed out on much of what their father had to offer them.

The younger son chose to claim his inheritance without preserving his father’s presence. The parable begins with one of the worst insults a son could give his father: He wanted his inheritance, even though the father was still alive! Then, he took the money and ran, making a series of foolish choices and falling victim to misfortune. When he realized his bankruptcy, he decided to ask his father to hire him as a servant.

Many Christians want the privileges of a relationship with Jesus, without the actual relationship. How many want to go to heaven someday, but do not want to pray, or worship God, or serve Him now? “Let me say a sinner’s prayer, and maybe go to church (as long as it entertains me or makes me feel good about myself). Let me enjoy my life as much as possible right now, using God’s blessings to make me happy, and give lip service to Jesus Christ. He will give me everlasting life in heaven when I die, just because I said that sinner’s prayer once. When I go to heaven, maybe they’ll have wide-screen TVs!” (OK, I rarely hear people pondering televisions in heaven, but I think most of us imagine a vacation resort in the clouds, with little thought of Jesus.)

The older son made the opposite mistake. He stayed in the father’s presence, but he viewed himself more as a slave than a son. He measured his relationship with the father as a job, not a privileged position as a family member. In verse 29, he said to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” How does the father respond? “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (verse 31). The father seems to be hinting, “You never asked! I would have let you have a goat so that you could invite your friends over for a party!” This son is willing to work like a slave, but does not realize that his father wants more from him: He wants him to think of himself as a son, with the privileges of that relationship, not as a servant with just a list of obligations.

I have to admit that I relate to this older son more in my relationship with Christ. It is easy for me to turn my faith into a to-do list. Have I prayed enough today? Have I read the Bible enough? Here’s a new ministry at church: I had better get involved, even though I’m already involved in a few other things.

The lesson for all of us is clear: Seek that relationship first. Spend time with your Father: Not out of obligation, but as a chance to build a relationship. When you receive a blessing from God (a better job, a healing, an answer to prayer), stay close to Him. Serve Him out of love, not as a slave, but as a son or daughter.

Both sons in the parable missed a blessing. They both needed to learn that their privileges were gifts from the father: undeserved; freely available if they would seek and ask; and best enjoyed in a relationship with Him.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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A New Heart, A New Life—Ezekiel 36:25–27

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, ESV).


These words come from a prophecy wherein God promises to restore the fortunes of His people, the Israelite tribe of Judah, to their own land after a period of exile. At the same time, though, they find greater fulfillment in the New Covenant.

Many Christians fall into a trap of forcing ourselves to live by man-made rules, trying to do so in our own efforts. “If I just try harder, I will kick this addiction all by myself. If I come up with stricter to rules to follow, I will not be tempted in this area of my life.” Okay, we may not say those exact words. Yet, how often are we tempted to believe that our rules or efforts somehow make us more spiritual, or more holy, or better equipped to be a better person? To some, it is not enough to try to live by the commandments that are clearly spelled out in the Bible; we need to add rules. “Don’t listen to that kind of music! Don’t drink that! Don’t go to movies or watch television!”

God has not called us to follow new rules. He calls us to be a new kind of person: One in whom His Holy Spirit can dwell. These verses provide three elements of the new birth we receive when we surrender to Jesus:

  • Cleansing: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” This is where it begins. We accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus’ death for our sins. God cleanses us. He forgives us for our sins. Cleansing can be a process. At salvation, we are forgiven completely, but we often find ourselves struggling with sin. (Or, at times, not struggling enough: We may just continue to willfully give in to temptation, because we enjoy it.) Forgiveness may be immediate and complete, and not based at all on our performance. Sanctification—the process whereby we become more like Christ—takes a lifetime. But, that is where the other elements come in.
  • Renewal: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Perhaps the greatest challenge we face as believers is that we do not truly believe this promise. Do I still have the same old heart of stone (spiritually dead, hardened against the will of God) or do I have a heart of flesh (in this sense, a living heart, one that has been softened to the will of God; one that beats in tune with the heart of God)?  Do I truly believe that I have a new spirit? Do I identify myself as a child of God, or do I still identify myself by my sins and failings?
    As a Christian, I do not merely have a new lifestyle. I have a new life. I have a new identify as a child of God.
  • Indwelling: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This may be a continuation of the previous promise, but with more detail perhaps. God does not merely give us a new life with a new identity. He gives us the resources we need to live that new life.  The Holy Spirit dwells within those who have received salvation through Christ. He enables us to live the new life.

Part of growing in a relationship with Christ is recognizing what He has done for and in us and trusting Him to do His perfect work in us. At the same time, we have to recognize when the “old me” is popping up again. The old me can take many forms. It can be outright sinful behavior. It can be a bad attitude. It can be fear, worry, or anxiety. It can be bitterness or unforgiveness. When the old me emerges, I must remind myself of who I am in Christ, turn to Him, and allow His Spirit to guide me in the right direction.

When temptation comes, let us learn to lean on our Saviour and seek His strength to live the kind of life to which He calls us.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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The War Within—Galatians 5:16–18

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16–18, ESV)

Many Christians are familiar with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). St. Paul listed them for us, along with a list of deeds of the flesh, to assist us in a spiritual battle that rages within each of us.

Paul writes a lot about the war within. In Romans 7, he spells out his dilemma in great detail. With his mind, he desires to follow the law of God; but his flesh (the NIV translates this as “sinful nature”) seems to drag him in another direction, compelling him to do the things he does not want to do. This theme appears frequently in his writings, since it is a timeless problem. The outward appearance of temptation may change across cultures and time, but the nature of sin and its deceitfulness never change.

We have all been there: Probably every Christian has a besetting sin that causes frustration, anxiety, guilt, or shame. It can range from alcohol or drug addiction, to a bad temper, to a tendency towards irritability or worry, to sexual obsession, etc. We are not alone, though. The apostle who wrote approximately one-half of the New Testament books openly shared his struggle with us. The Gospels share some of the struggles of other apostles, like Peter and John. Even the heroes of the faith suffered this inner conflict.

I wish I could come up with a five- or seven-point plan for “walking in the Spirit,” which is the solution Paul offers. However, one really does not seem to exist. Countless books offer great suggestions: Pray more, read your Bible, listen to worship music. Even my most recent blog posts, including this one, are centered around renewing your mind with Scripture. Each of these suggestions is only part of the solution to walking in the Spirit, but there is no simple plan. Walking in the Spirit is a constant minute-by-minute commitment.

It begins when we come to Jesus, to receive His Holy Spirit within us and give us a new life. We are born again, and we begin the journey of walking in the Spirit.

We then commit ourselves to Him day by day, to acknowledge His presence and ask Him to lead and guide us. For me, that usually involves three times of prayer per day: usually one in the morning before I leave for work, a brief time of prayer during my lunch break, and a third in the evening. However, I cannot afford to just “turn off” the presence of God when my prayers end. I have to continue to acknowledge His presence: I may no longer be praying, but I can remind myself that God is with me even during my secular employment.

Most importantly, we need to RUN TO HIM when we begin to lose a sense of God’s presence. He is always with His children, since the Holy Spirit abides in them. So, when we do not feel the Spirit’s presence, it simply means we have lost that connection, but God is eager to restore it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that, at the moment of temptation, “God is quite unreal to us.” (A great reflection on that quote can be found here.) When we face temptation, we need to run back to Him and not try to face sin in our own strength. Our own self-will (the flesh) is what usually led us into temptation; therefore, self-will cannot deliver us. Only the power of God can do that.

Again, there is no easy formula for walking in the Spirit. It can best be summarized like this: You have been born again as a child of God; now live like a child of God. Remember who you are, and Who lives with you and in you. Most importantly, when you have strayed from God’s best for your life, run back to Him.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Godly Sorrow—2 Corinthians 7:10

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

We all know the repeat apologizer. Over and over, he or she disappoints us, breaks promises, or does things to hurt us (accidentally or intentionally). He or she then apologizes and promises to stop doing it. However, before long, they make the same mistake and repeat the same apologies and promises. He or she might be a friend, spouse or other family member, or co-worker. If we are honest, we are probably that person to somebody else, in some area of our lives. I think all believers, at some point, are such repeat apologizers towards God.

The apologies and promises sound sincere, but after a while one loses faith in them. Is that person truly sorry, or just trying to manipulate feelings?

St. Paul contrasted two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7. The King James Version refers to one of them as “godly sorrow” (or, as the NASB puts it, “sorrow according to the will of God”), which produces a true repentance leading unto salvation. “The sorrow of the world,” on the other hand, leads to spiritual death.

In many cases, the sorrow of the world is primarily being “sorry that I got caught.” From time to time, a politician or celebrity gets caught in a sex scandal. Initial rumors are usually followed by protests of innocence (the alleged adulterer accuses others of false accusations or blackmail), but once the evidence mounts, he publicly apologizes for his wrongdoing, often praising his wife for being such a wonderful woman whom he never intended to hurt. In far too many cases, the cycle is repeated soon thereafter.

It is not only sex. Many people are never sorry for other misdeeds until they are caught: Think of the person who drives while intoxicated until he is finally pulled over by the police, or the co-worker who steals office supplies until the boss figures out where all those pens and reams of printer paper went.

Others may be sorry for the consequences of their actions. A young woman may be sorry that she got pregnant with that guy she just met. Or, the drunk driver is sorry that he totalled his car in the accident.

It is so easy to get angry or frustrated with those people. Yet, how often are we like that with God? We confess our sins during prayer, and it is the exact same set of sins we confessed yesterday. The time, location, circumstances, and other affected or involved persons have changed, but we did the same thing. We tell God we are sorry, but we will probably do it again tomorrow.

Being sorry for getting caught will not bring repentance. It will just train us to find more elaborate ways to avoid getting caught the next time.

Being sorry for suffering consequences may change us for a little while. A few years ago, after a severe gall-bladder attack, I took drastic action to improve my diet: No more doughnuts; no more candy bars; cut back on coffee; avoided fatty foods. However, not long after I recovered from gall-bladder surgery, I was back to my old eating habits. Painful consequences might deter us, but if we can find our way around them, we will go right back to our old ways.

Jesus tell us that the two greatest laws in Scripture are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What kind of sorrow will produce true lasting repentance? Only a sorrow that connects with love. If we love God and love our neighbors, we will lay a foundation for godly sorrow which will lead to true repentance.

  • Love the Lord your God: Recognize who He is and all He has done for you. Acknowledge that His will for your life, especially as revealed in Scripture, is better than anything you can come up with. Then, seek to do His will and live the kind of life that will leave no obstacles between you and Him.
  • Love your neighbor: Biblical love is not just good feelings. It is a sacrificial active pursuit of the other’s best interests. It involves caring enough to seek to improve the other person’s life or situation. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 for a more detailed explanation.) Do we think about how our choices will affect the person we love?

Repentance is the starting point for pursuing a new way of life, and it usually begins with the right kind of sorrow.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Two Sides of Discipleship—Luke 10:38–42

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42, ESV)

Georg Friedrich Stettner (attr) Christus im Hause der Martha
“Christus im Hause der Martha,” by Georg Friedrich Stettner (17th century). © Public domain

Many people are familiar with the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. While Lazarus gives us the most vivid illustration of resurrection (besides that of Jesus Himself), it was Lazarus’ sister Martha who would first hear Jesus’ declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

Lazarus had two sisters: Martha and Mary. Like many siblings, they seem like very opposite personalities. Yet, through them, we see the two sides of a disciple of Jesus.

Martha appears to be pragmatic and active. When Jesus came to town, she did what the woman of the house usually did in those days: Prepared a meal for the guests, provided food, and made certain everybody was comfortable. The men may sit around discussing theology and the great questions of life, or listening to the esteemed rabbi. A woman’s place was in the kitchen, and Martha embraced that role and excelled therein. However, her pursuit of excellence got the best of her; she became distracted, anxious, and troubled, even though she was in the presence of the Prince of Peace.

Mary, on the other hand, chose a different response to Jesus’ visit. She sat at His feet, as a disciple, listening to every word He said. Somehow, we always find Mary at Jesus’ feet [when Jesus arrived to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:32); anointing His feet with expensive ointment (John 12:3; contrary to a common misunderstanding, this was not Mary Magdalene)]. This is the place of submission, where a student seeks knowledge from a teacher, and where a worshipper kneels before God Himself.

Martha had chosen the role of a servant. She followed the normal conventions of society and fulfilled the customary expectations. Mary defied the norms of her day (assuming a position that was normally reserved for men), because in her heart, she was a worshipper. Martha showed her devotion to Jesus by meeting material needs; Mary showed her devotion by showering Jesus with attention, even affection. Mary may have seemed almost brazen in her radical devotion to Jesus, and may perhaps deserve the title of the world’s first “Jesus freak.”

Christian biographer James Kiefer summarizes the sisters by writing, “On the basis of these incidents, many Christian writers have seen Mary as representing Contemplation (prayer and devotion), and Martha as representing Action (good works, helping others); or love of God and love of neighbor respectively.”

Jesus said Mary’s life of contemplation is the better choice. This does not eliminate the need for people like Martha. Perhaps, though, the Marthas of the world should take a cue from the Marys. Contemplation, prayer, and devotion come first, and give direction and momentum to action, good works, and service. Why do we pray? Why do we study the Bible? Why do we worship Jesus? Because, in His presence, we receive direction for our lives. Prayer should not be separated from “real life.” Instead, it should be the foundation on which we build our lives, built upon by works of service to Christ and those whom He loves and came to save. The dichotomy between faith and works (see James 2:14–26) finds cohesiveness when someone begins the day by praying like Mary, and brings the joy and peace of Christ’s love into the rest of their day. Then, one can serve like Martha without becoming distracted, anxious, or troubled. When a Mary rises from the feet of Jesus and brings His presence into the world by serving others like Martha would, discipleship is complete.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Cheap Grace or Transforming Grace?

This post is based on an old sermon I found hidden away in my notes. I do not recall when I preached it, but I am sure that it was over 10 years ago, and I probably preached it while filling in at People’s Church in Long Beach, NY.

The lectionary readings were Isaiah 55:1–9, 1 Corinthians 10:1–13, and Luke 13:1–9. You may want to read those passages at Bible Gateway while reading this post.

The theme of God’s grace permeates Scripture. In First Corinthians 10:113 and Luke 13:19, it is mingled with warnings of judgement. But even there, God’s grace is revealed.

Many people cannot comprehend how one can talk about both God’s grace and judgement in the same breath. This is because many Christians misunderstand grace. Since the New Testament consistently teaches that eternal life is received by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:89), we should understand what God’s grace really is, so that we can understand the foundation of our relationship with Him.

Perhaps you have learned the textbook definition of grace: “unmerited favor.” In other words, grace means that you receive a good thing that you do not deserve; in fact, you might deserve bad instead of good. It is certainly true that we all need God’s grace, because as Romans 3:23 tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We do not deserve eternal life.

Many think grace is the same as an easy ticket to heaven. In many churches, people are invited to the altar at the end of the service to say a sinner’s prayer. Some pray assuming their motives do not matter; they may have gone up only because of a friend nudged them. Some say the prayer after being moved by a really well-preached sermon which they will probably forget tomorrow. I have even heard of people going up to the altar only because they wanted to meet a celebrity preacher.

bonhoeffercheap-graceGerman theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined a phrase for distorted ideas about grace: “cheap grace.” In his classic devotional, The Cost of Discipleship, he spoke of it as preaching “forgiveness without requiring repentance,” offering “communion without confession” and “absolution without contrition.”

Do you treat God’s grace like this? Do you come to church and assume God forgives your sins during the week just because you worshipped for one hour? Do you partake of the Lord’s Supper as a mere ritual, or do you sincerely seek and expect to encounter Christ through communion? Do you expect easy entry into heaven simply because of “decision” or ritual from years ago?

Paul confronted cheap grace when he wrote 1 Corinthians 10. When you read it, note the parallels he drew between baptism and communion and the experiences of the Israelites when they left Egypt. The Israelites were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (v. 2); Christians have been baptized with water in the name of Jesus Christ. They ate spiritual bread from heaven and drank water that flowed miraculously from a rock (vv. 3 and 4). We partake of spiritual food and drink when we participate in communion.

Yet, Paul points out, many of these people who had been delivered from slavery and called to enter the Promised Land did not finish the journey. They assumed they could live like the Egyptians God just judged: they engaged in idolatry and worshipped false gods; they committed acts of immorality; they grumbled against God; they tested Him, daring Him to prove Himself on their terms.

In First Corinthians, Paul mentions such activity in the church and, twice in chapter 10, points out that the judgements upon the Israelites were recorded as examples to us. The Israelites could not point back to the Red Sea and say, “Ha! There you go, God. You won’t judge me after going through all that trouble to deliver me from bondage, will you?” Nor can we say, “Now that I’ve done my religious duty, God can leave me alone for the rest of the week.” Paul warns us: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

But then comes the good news: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (v. 13). God’s grace does not just bring you out of your personal Egypt; it does not merely give you the opportunity to hear the Gospel and believe. Grace provides forgiveness of your sins, along with the means for obtaining victory over your current temptations. When you truly understand grace, you realize that God not only desires to forgive you of your sins, but to help you overcome them. Even though sin shows one’s reckless disregard for God, He still offers to forgive. He realizes how much sin holds you back from the abundant life He intended for you to live, and He is eager to lead you into that abundant life. He is more eager to give it than we are to receive.

Transforming grace provides the way of escape from temptation. Temptation is inevitable in this life. People are going to do things that test your patience. Old habits that you have not given in to for a while will still entice you. But, God will provide a way of escape. Too many Christians think their faith just guarantees forgiveness after they sin. But, it also provides resources for resisting temptation. Many do not realize that things as simple as prayer or memorizing Scripture can help one resist temptation. The spiritual power we receive in the baptism in the Holy Spirit enables us to withstand temptation. And just like the Bible records cases of judgement as examples to us, it also records the lives of godly people and how they faced problems and temptations, so that we can follow their examples when we are tested.

We see God’s transforming grace as He holds back the hand of judgement. A friend of mine once tried to prove there was no God by saying, “Okay God, if you’re there, strike me dead…. See, no God.” Of course, God did not answer that prayer. Just because God did not answer that prayer does not mean He does not exist. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God wishes that none should perish, but that all may come to repentance.

We see this divine patience in Jesus’ parable in Luke 13. What vine dresser would allow a fruitless vine to take up space for three years? But, the vine dresser, in response to the call for destruction, pleads for one more year and more diligent effort on the vine’s behalf. Likewise, God frequently gives fresh opportunities for repentance, even when from a human perspective all hope seems lost.

As long as you have breath, God calls with the invitation to transformation. He invites you, in the words of Isaiah, “Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1). He invites us to eat and drink of the true spiritual nourishment. He invites us to seek the Lord while He may be found; to call upon Him while He is near. He invites the wicked to forsake his way, and the unrighteous man to forsake his thoughts.

Have you been relying on cheap grace? Come to Christ; receive the goodness He offers. He will have compassion and abundantly pardon all your sins as you turn to Him for true, transforming grace.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Have Sinned—Romans 3:21–25

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:21–25, ESV).

Several of my recent posts have addressed the believer’s need for confession and repentance. These do not tell the full story of salvation. However, they lay a firm foundation for one to come to faith in Jesus Christ. True Christian faith must begin from the perspective expressed in Romans 3:23—“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….”

Jesus came, died, and rose again because all of are sinners who need forgiveness. We need redemption; we need propitiation by His blood. Far too many professed Bible-believing Christians have not accepted the biblical Christian gospel, but a heretical distortion of it which some have called moralistic therapeutic deism (or MTD). I gave a more detailed summary of this worldview in Faith and Provision. (I urge readers who are not familiar with this term to read the section of that post which describes MTD; a more detailed description can be found on Wikipedia.) Many Christians talk, think, and live as if Jesus’ purpose was to give us our “best life now,” to offer us purpose and personal satisfaction. They are seeking what humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow called “self actualization.”

Jesus did not come into this world, live, die, and rise again so that we could achieve self actualization. He did not come to give us a sense of self-satisfaction. He came because all of us have sinned in some way. We all need forgiveness, justification, and redemption.

Let us emphasize that all have sinned. We may be tempted to think that “I am not so bad because I have not committed sin X or sin Y.” For example, I may not be a murderer, child molester, rapist, terrorist, or some other big-league sinner. Maybe my sins are less controversial, more common, or more socially acceptable. The Scripture reminds us that we have fallen short of the glory of God: That is our standard. God is our standard of righteousness: not Adolf Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or Osama bin Laden. Although I may not be as bad as Hitler, I am not as good as Jesus. Therefore, I need His forgiveness.

May God give each of us the courage to recognize that each one of us is a sinner, and we need His forgiveness to receive the eternal life that He offers us. If we can begin from that perspective, we will be open to receiving the free gift of salvation on God’s terms. For those of who are followers of Christ, we must remember day-by-day that He came to save us from our sins, not from our low self-esteem or sense of purposelessness.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Endure to the End—Matthew 24:9-14

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9-14, NASB)

Apocalyptic passages like this one get a lot of attention. Many Christians are almost obsessed with the end times. Interest in Christ’s return is not a bad thing: After all, Jesus Himself taught about His return. He wants us to keep His ultimate triumph over evil and eternal reign in mind. He wants us to live with an eternal perspective, not acting as if this world is all that matters.

However, it can become an obsession. Some preachers and authors have devoted their entire careers to analyzing current events, with the King James Version in one hand and the New York Times in the other. They continually rewrite their end-times scenarios, trying to discern32249775 who the antichrist is, when the Rapture will occur, and which countries are the beasts of Revelation. Some have set dates, promising that Jesus would return by a particular date. Many of those dates have passed already, inspiring some Grumpy Cat fans to declare it to be the “worst apocalypse ever.” I think I must have already lived through about 50 Raptures and 75 Second Comings.

Grumpy Cat’s cynicism notwithstanding, I am sure that Jesus will return someday. It may not be in our lifetime, but it will occur when God decides the time is right.

Far too often, we look at end-times prophecies the wrong way. Many of these prophecies paint a bleak picture. Just look at Matthew 24:9–12: Tribulation is happening. Christians are dying for their faith in other countries. It seems like the entire world has turned against Jesus and the church. Christians are falling away. People are betraying us. They hate us. False prophets are deceiving Christians. Lawlessness and immorality are rampant. It sounds like Jesus is talking about 2016. Many people will look at that and say one of the following:

  • It can mean only one thing: Jesus is coming back really soon! Any day now!
  • Yes, all of that is true, but it has been going for centuries. It’s all just symbolic of the cosmic war between God and Satan, between good and evil.
  • It has been going on for centuries, and it will continue to happen. But, one of these days, Jesus will return.

I admit, I adhere to the third view. Whatever happens, Jesus calls us to continue to advance His kingdom until He returns. The Bible does not describe the end so that we can try to figure out when the Rapture will occur or live in fear. God’s Word calls us to perseverance:

  • The one who endures to the end will be saved. Why does the Bible paint such a bleak picture of the last days? In part, it is because life is difficult. The world, flesh, and the devil wage war against the Christian, the Holy Spirit, and the things of God. Following Jesus is not easy. It will wear you out. You will be tempted to stop living for Jesus, or at least to stop serving Him in any active way. We must prepare to persevere.
  • Before Christ comes, the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to the whole world. We are not to cower in fear. The world and the devil are daring us to be silent. God calls us to speak out. When the disciples asked Jesus if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel, He simply told them that they should just prepare to receive the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Do not grow discouraged. Yes, we live in difficult times. Lawlessness is rampant: In our culture, in our government, and even in the church. Persecution seems to be creeping in, even in the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Christians have probably never been more marginalized in America than they are now. False prophets are leading believers astray. Yet, God is still on the throne. Even if America is in rebellion, Christ’s kingdom will last forever. We need courage and faithfulness to endure.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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