Monthly Archives: July 2016

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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Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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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

Repentance Brings God Joy—Luke 15:7

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

The Lord is my Good Shepherd
“The Good Shepherd,” by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Luke 15 centers around three parables about repentance. Each story focuses on something or somebody that was lost, but which is eventually found. The most famous part of this chapter is the parable of the prodigal son (vv. 11–32). However, the parable of the lost sheep deserves special attention. This is the first parable in the series, when Jesus responds to complaints by religious leaders, who think it is inappropriate for Him to eat and drink with “sinners”:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4–7, ESV).

The story is simple enough: A man has 100 sheep. He loses one of them; most likely, the sheep has wandered away. Think about it, though: Is it worth the risk to look for that one sheep? It may already be dead, eaten by a wolf or another predator. Many more may wander off while he is looking for the lone sheep. Nevertheless, he goes off looking for his sheep, finds it, and then invites his neighbors to a party to celebrate the return of the lost sheep. (The party would probably cost more than the sheep would be worth.)

This is a picture of the grace of God. It is radical. It defies logic. It assumes a great risk when it seeks to save the lost. Most importantly, it cares about an unworthy individual.

Jesus tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than there is over ninety-nine righteous people. God is not satisfied with those who are already following Him. He is seeking more lost souls to add to His kingdom and welcome into His family. When one child of God backslides, He is seeking to draw them back. No matter how many people are living in fellowship with Him and on their way to heaven, it is not enough.

No matter how far any of us may stray from Him, it is not far enough to draw us away from His care. Your sins are not bad enough to bring God’s love to an end. If you have strayed from Him, or if you have never entered a relationship with Jesus Christ, He still loves you; no sin will change that.

This parable also speaks against self-righteousness. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, were asking, “What kind of great religious leader spends time with people like these guys? Jesus, do you know what that guy over there does for a living? Do you know how many crimes that one has committed? Do you know what that one is smoking, or drinking? Do you know who that woman is sleeping with?” It does not matter to Jesus: He came to seek and save that which was lost. These are the people He came to receive: People who know they need forgiveness and salvation. He came for those who know that they deserve eternity in hell, instead of salvation and the love of God.

When Jesus speaks of the ninety-nine who have no need of repentance, it is sort of like a trick statement. Nobody is truly righteous. To another leader, Jesus would say “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So, in reality, we all need repentance. Some of us have been fortunate enough to realize that and come to Jesus already. Others need to repent of sins that have become socially acceptable, or that many churches think are “not so bad.” We may look good and moral to others, but we still need the grace of God.

It does not matter how far you have wandered, or in what kind of mire you have soiled your soul. Forgiveness is available. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking you. Run into His arms for protection and preservation. He is looking for a reason to celebrate.

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: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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