Christian Life

Reflection on Mark 9:38-41 (Revisited)

This post was originally published on August 16, 2013. It remains one of the most-frequently read articles on this blog.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41, ESV)

Mark 9, along with its parallels in the other Gospels, has popped up often for me: In my personal devotions, sermons I’ve heard, and books and articles I have read. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. God wants His children—myself included—to confront the conflict between pride and prayer, self-seeking and selfless service, and the other spiritual battles common to growing Christians.

To see the irony of this discussion, one should consider all that had occurred earlier. John had just been one of three disciples to witness the Transfiguration, when Jesus radiated His divine glory while visited by Moses and Elijah on a mountain (Mark 9:2-8). John, more than almost any of the disciples, should have been humbled in Jesus’ presence, having seen first-hand that He was more than a great teacher!

Having come down from the mountain, they found that the other nine disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a boy. The disciples were experienced exorcists, having been sent on a ministry trip for which Jesus empowered them to cast demons out of people (Mark 6:7). Yet, they had failed because, Jesus said, this kind of demon “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).

This incident was followed by other discussions, intended to change the worldly perspective of the disciples: Jesus’ prophecy of His impending arrest, death, and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32); and instruction about the disciples’ need to be humble and childlike, instead of arrogantly seeking status (Mark 9:33-37).

Like many of us, the disciples were slow learners. Despite these instructions and their previous failures, John essentially boasts that some of the disciples had tried to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, simply because he was not part of their travelling party. I can almost imagine the rebuke sounding something like, “Hey! Stop doing that! You don’t have ministry credentials for that. We have certificates, signed by Jesus Himself, saying that WE should do that when He’s not around. Why don’t you just go feed the poor and leave the REAL ministry to us?”

(I am sure that in the back of John’s mind, he was really thinking, “STOP THAT! You’re making us look bad? How dare you cast out a demon after my friends just had trouble with one last week? You’re ruining our credibility!”)

Jesus response calls us to the charity and unity that should draw His followers together. The disciples’ status did not matter. Yes, they enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, gaining in-depth teaching and training that others did not enjoy. Many people admired Jesus and rushed to hear His teaching. I am sure many sought to live by His doctrine, even if they did not have the privilege of travelling with Him. Yet, only 12 spent all their time with the Lord, having many hours to pick His brain.

The disciples had a special privilege and a deeper call to serve the Lord. Yet, they were not expected to claim it as a reason to exclude others. Jesus called them to serve, not to claim offices and titles. Later, Paul would write that their role was to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). John’s response to a common man’s success in casting out demons should have been, “Congratulations! Great job, brother! We need more guys like you in this ministry.”

Modern Christians should focus on service instead of status, on the task instead of the title. We need to recognize the gifts God has given us, and the mission He has called us to, and put that first. We must resist the temptation to let titles, recognition, and prestige distract us from the needs around us and our ability to serve.

We need to recognize, respect, and encourage the gifts God has given to others. The pastor’s job is not to do all the ministry, but to equip the saints for work of service. When somebody shows an aptitude and eagerness for a ministry, that person should be encouraged and trained, not “put in their place.”

Yes, there are times some people will try to exercise spiritual gifts they do not really have. Some churches over-emphasize certain gifts, like prophecy and healing, to a point where people feel like second-rate believers if they do not have those gifts. When a person does not have a particular gift, or is not fully equipped in a particular ministry, he or she should be trained or re-directed.

Finally, the unity of believers is precious to our Lord. Christians have a terrible history of dividing ourselves. We divide over doctrine, denominations, worship styles, etc. We divide ourselves into churches that serve a specific racial or ethnic group. We refuse to fellowship with those who practice certain sacraments or ordinances differently. We even divide within our own congregations, into cliques of clergy vs. laity, of the “in” crowd vs. the outer circles.

Jesus said, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” Let us remember that it is not our denomination or dogma that matters. It is the Lord whom we claim to love and serve. He comes first, and He calls us to serve, even as He came to seek, save, and serve.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Robin Williams, Suicide, and Hope (Revisited)

I originally shared this post on August 12, 2014, a few days after comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. The recent anniversary of his departure seems a good opportunity to consider some of the lessons we can learn from this tragedy.

If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalms 94:17-19)

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Robin Williams, 1951-2014. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Williams.

Over the last 27 hours, I have joined millions of fans around the world who mourn the sudden death of Robin Williams. As I logged onto my computer last night, I saw the shocking “breaking news” alert at the top of my Yahoo! homepage, that the popular comedian/actor had committed suicide.

While I have been a fan of his for many years (“Mork and Mindy” was one of my favorite TV shows during my youth), his death disturbed me more than others. Perhaps that is because “there but for the grace of God go I.” Like Robin Williams, I have battled depression at various times in my life. At times it has cost me dearly. Even in my best moments, I have to think of my depression as being “in remission,” not really “cured.” Thanks be to God, though, even in my worst moments, I could not succeed in ending my life.

It is ironic that a man who devoted his life to bringing happiness to others suffered through so much deep-rooted despair that he eventually surrendered to the lying spirits who told him that death would be better than life. Despite that, maybe it should not come as a surprise. He did not hide his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. He regularly made jokes about his struggles as part of his stand-up act.

Social networking sites have been ablaze lately with posts reminding people that there are millions of people like Robin Williams. There is nothing like front-page news to bring an issue out of the closet and place it before the masses. I can only hope that Williams’ death raises some red flags so that some people get the help they need to avoid his fate.

With this in mind, I would like to offer the following thoughts:

  1. The Body of Christ must do a better job of ministering with compassion and mercy to those who suffer from depression. Some of the most asinine posts I have read recently have come from those who think they are writing in Jesus’ name. Yes, suicide is a horrible act. I do not want to imagine the agony his wife and children will endure for the rest of their lives. For all I know, maybe Williams is in hell. But, I honestly hope I’m wrong about that. I would like to find out some day in eternity that, at some point, Robin Williams came to have a personal relationship with Jesus and is now in heaven, even if he did have to receive forgiveness for the way he arrived there. We Christians should be eager to find ways to populate heaven, not look for excuses to damn people to hell.
  2. Out of that compassion, we should understand the pain of depression and other mental illnesses and reach out with God’s transforming grace. I know churches that do a great job ministering to drug addicts and alcoholics. They recognize that there is a certain physical healing process that must occur alongside the spiritual and emotional healing that accompanies repentance. Yet, when somebody struggles with depression, many a Christian responds that we need to “snap out of it.” We do not need medication or counseling; we need more faith. The fields are white unto harvest, but we bury the crops in condemnation. (Really, you do not need to judge or condemn someone with depression; many of us do that quite well on our own, so we do not need your help.) As I began writing this post, I was thinking of ministries to the emotionally and mentally ill I could endorse. Unfortunately, I could not think of any.
  3. Take note of the warning signs of suicide. A good list is provided at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/learn/warningsigns.aspx.
  4. If you read those warning signs and it reminds you of someone you know and love, do not gossip about them. (That includes sending a prayer request to all of your friends.) First, go talk to them. Be open; be honest. Ask them outright about their feelings. Many suicidal people find hope when a friend allows them to verbalize their feelings. I can think of a few people who are alive today because I or someone else had the guts to actually ask them if they were considering suicide. (Feel free to pray for them before speaking to them, but before asking others to pray, obtain their permission.)
  5. If those warning signs sound like they describe you, get help. I would recommend seeking a godly Christian counselor: preferably one with a strong relationship with Christ, the appropriate spiritual gifts, and adequate training. Suicide is serious business, a life-and-death issue. A quick fix by quoting one or two Bible verses out of context will not solve your problems. It requires compassion, wisdom, insight and TIME.
  6. Finally, even if you are not at high risk for suicide, but have prolonged issues related to depression, seek help. Much research suggests that there is a biochemical aspect to depression which must be addressed. One can debate whether a chemical imbalance causes depression, or depressive thinking causes the chemical imbalance. Nevertheless, a healing process is necessary.

Finally, remember that you are not alone. Even Elijah struggled with despair and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:5). As long as you have breath, you have hope. As long as God is with you, healing and restoration are freely available.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Dressed for Success

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NASB).

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

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In Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams (left) takes his eyes off the finish line briefly, slowing down enough to be passed by Eric Liddell (right). Christians, like runners, cannot afford to be distracted; we need to keep our eyes on the goal.

Americans love sports. Baseball, basketball, football, and hockey are big businesses. Fans watch because we find a way to connect with athletes who savor the thrill of victory. We want to feel victorious with them.

Sports can point us to spiritual truths as well. For one thing, sports can introduce us to champions who “overwhelmingly conquer (or, in the words of the King James Version, who are “more than conquerors). When we see a champion breeze to victory, we can say he is more than a conqueror. He overwhelmingly conquered. He dominated the match. He did not merely struggle to finish—he creamed the competition!

According to Romans 8:37, we should be “overwhelming conquerors.” Yet, many Christians suffer defeat in some area of their lives. Some live in financial despair, unemployed and afraid they may soon sleep on a park bench. Others are overwhelmed by fear about their health. Others worry about the stability of their  families. Still others are enchained by addictions or other sinful habits.

This is not God’s will for you. God declared that He wants you to be more than a conqueror. God did not plan for His children to wallow in defeat, looking forward to the final buzzer (so they could slip off into the locker room, relieved that the game is over). He planned for us to triumph. He equipped us to trample on the heads of our foes (Luke 10:19), not to cower in tears begging them to stop bullying us.

So, why are we in defeat? How can we escape defeat and race to victory? Again, the sports world reminds us of a lesson from Scripture.

When I was a teenager, I ran in many long-distance races. I ran expecting to bring home awards. To do so, I dressed for success. I travelled light. I would not wear blue jeans or a button-down shirt to a race. Instead, I would wear lightweight shorts and a sleeveless tee-shirt. My clothes were not designed to keep me warm. They were supposed to keep me comfortable without adding weight or hindering my range of motion. Also, I would wear racing shoes: I had a special pair of shoes set aside for races, designed to provide maximum support for my feet without adding unnecessary weight.

These are the keys to any runner’s uniform: his clothes must weigh as little as possible; they must provide protection where it is needed; and they must allow him to move freely (nothing should hinder his ability to move his limbs freely).

Some sports demand such light uniforms: Swimmers, like runners, wear very light outfits (bathing suit, goggles, and a swim cap) to compete. Other sports, like football and hockey, demand extra padding for protection, so their uniforms are heavy. Imagine an Olympic swimmer wearing a hockey uniform during a race. He would lose miserably! Hockey equipment is not designed to float: it would drop to the bottom of the pool, dragging the person wearing it along. Hockey equipment is helpful when you are being body-checked or while blocking a slap shot, but it is worthless in a pool during the 100-meter backstroke.

So, how does this relate to the Christian walk? Many Christians fail to run or swim triumphantly through life because we overburden ourselves. We carry the weight of another lifestyle and expect to live successfully as Christians. Living victoriously in Christ, while clinging to worldly values about finances, relationships, etc., is like trying to swim in a hockey uniform. You will drown!

Hebrews 12:1–2 says “[L]et us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here we see several principles for overcoming in Christ.

First, we must lay aside every encumbrance AND the sin which so easily entangles us. Some of us do well to avoid committing the big sins. We may not violate any of the Ten Commandments. We avoid smoking and drinking. However, that is where we stop. We lay aside the sin, but we hold onto the encumbrances. We watch TV when we should be praying. We surf the Internet when we should be reading our Bibles. Even harmless entertainments can become encumbrances when they take priority in our lives.

Many worldly values encumber us. We are eager for more money so that we can buy more luxuries. Instead, Scripture instructs us to learn contentment and use whatever God gives us for His glory (1 Timothy 6:6–10). We allow society to define our needs, instead of seeking that information from God’s Word. We seek Dr. Phil’s guidance about marriage and relationships, rather than following God’s guidebook. We cannot triumph in the 100-meter backstroke if we try to play by a different sport’s rules.

Second, we must run with endurance. Victory is not easy. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team—perhaps one of the most memorable gold medalist squads in Olympic history—did not cruise easily to victory. They had to grind our victory day after day and overcome fierce competition. The Soviet team was not willing to give the USA a gold medal on a silver platter. They had to earn victory.

The apostle Paul did not write Romans 8 to armchair theologians who sat around drinking Perrier and discussing abstract ideas while growing rich off the stock market. When he wrote that “we overwhelmingly conquer,” he wrote it to people who endured trials and persecution. Few were wealthy. Some would be slaughtered for their faith. They did not overwhelmingly conquer by this world’s standards. They triumphed by the Kingdom of God’s standards.

Therefore, we must focus on our goal. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Also, we must keep our eyes on our goal in heaven.

In a memorable scene in the film Chariots of Fire, two sprinters, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, are racing for the first time. As they approach the finish line, Abrahams glances to see where Liddell is. At that moment, Liddell passes him and wins the race. Instead of looking to the finish line, Abrahams looked away, thereby slowing his pace, and he regretted that simple mistake.

We will not triumph spiritually if we focus on what others are doing. Neither will we triumph if we keep glancing over our shoulders at the past. We must keep our eyes on the finish line, focussing on Jesus and our reward in heaven.

Look at the battles you are losing today. You can be victorious if you play by God’s rules. Maybe you are losing because you keep fighting the wrong battles. Maybe you are losing because you keep looking back at the lifestyle God called you out of. Maybe you are losing because you carry excess emotional weight (fear, bitterness, regret). Lay down your excess weights. Tear off the heavy clothes that keep you from running as you ought. Dress for victory and claim your place on the champion’s platform.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Keeping the Trolls Under the Bridge

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9, NASB).

The internet has brought many benefits to society. Thanks to social media, we can keep in touch with old friends whom we would probably never see again if not for Facebook or similar sites. If you need information quickly (or are just mildly curious about something), a quick Google search will provide links to numerous articles about the subject.

Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to publish a book or article, I would have to submit it to a publisher and hope they accept my work. If they agreed to publish my work, it could take months before anybody could read it. Today, I can write an article on this blog and watch it reach people across the globe within a few days.

On the other hand, the internet has its downsides. It used to be easy to know which sources were trustworthy; now, it has become so hard to discern serious journalism from fake news, that most people merely put their faith in whatever websites reaffirm their presuppositions. Also, while blogs and other websites give almost everybody a platform, it has provided an opportunity for trolls to stop hiding under bridges.

When I was growing up, “trolls” were creatures in fairy tales. Many of the memorable ones were big scary ones who lived under bridges or hid in the woods, pouncing on unsuspecting travelers. The term has now been applied to persons who pounce on people across the internet. In a recent post on publishing-industry blog The Scholarly Kitchen, Kent Anderson describes them as follows:

“A sad hallmark of the Internet Age has been the emergence of what have become known as ‘trolls’ — individuals or bots that aim to derail or dominate conversations with shocking, inflammatory, ad hominem, profane, and/or hateful attacks.”

There seem to be several kinds of trolls. Some jump at any opportunity to respond to an online article with a full-fledged verbal assault. They may hate the writer, or those who share his worldview, so much that they will simply bully and harass total strangers with demonic hatred. Others may just have a personal agenda they are trying to push, and will try to lure people into arguments. Maybe they just like arguing. Maybe they think they have stumbled upon some truth that they must share, and will hijack anybody’s platform to get their point across. Some may simply have too much free time on their hands and want to waste their time showing off how smart they think they are online.

Christians circles are not devoid of trolls. Far too often, the discussion about an article on a Christian website deteriorates rapidly: a few people thank the author for his wisdom, encouragement, or insight; another shares how the subject relates to a crisis he/she endured in the past or recently; another politely challenges one or two of the author’s points, citing Scripture verses and asking how the author responds; another attacks the author, or one of the commenters. Before you know it, people accuse one another of blatant heresy, and at least three evangelists have damned one another to hell. The author of the blog is trying to glorify God and draw his readers to Christ, but some of his followers have given spiritual seekers very valid reasons to go looking elsewhere for truth and give up on Christ. The most hostile commenters, of course, do it supposedly “to the glory of God.”

Such trolling has no place in the Kingdom of God. In his pastoral epistles, Paul warned Timothy and Titus to avoid arguments and controversies. Titus 3:9 (at the top of this post) is just one example of this instruction:

“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:23–25).

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth…” (1 Timothy 6:3–5).

While I welcome discussion, I have no time for arguments or fights. I have better ways to use my time and am not interested in wasting it on debates. I can devote only a few hours per week to blogging and refuse to waste my precious time.

With this in mind, I have adjusted a setting on this blog to require moderation for all comments before they appear “live.” To ensure that your comment is approved, please follow these guidelines:

  1. Your comment must be directly related to the post at hand or comments related to it. Irrelevant comments will not be approved. If you try to hijack one of my posts to use it as a soapbox to begin a an unrelated discussion, it will be rejected.
  2. Please keep your comments courteous and polite. If they seem insulting, offensive, unnecessarily confrontational, etc., they will be rejected.
  3. If you disagree with one or more of my points, feel free to express your opinion politely.
  4. If you are going to challenge me to back up or defend a statement (i.e., you are challenging me to a debate), keep it brief. Recently, somebody chose to bombard me with an excessive number of points he wanted to argue about, including terminology in the Greek New Testament. Again, I have a job, family, life, and ministry: I refuse to be cornered into wasting my limited spare time arguing. There are web forums that welcome arguments and fights. Please take it there.

By sharing these guidelines with you, I am binding myself to live by them as well. I hope this will encourage discussion, thoughts, and feedback whereby we may all grow in God’s grace. I hope I am able to bless those who read this blog, and look forward to being blessed and exhorted by you as well.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Remaining Alert—Luke 21:34–36

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36, NASB).

 

A few weeks ago, I was concluding a blog post when a friend called on the phone. To allow myself time to finish my article, I let the call go to my answering machine. We spoke a night or two later, and he asked a question he has asked several times in the past: Someone told me that Sharia law is coming to America. Do you think that will happen? (On other occasions, he has asked questions like “Do you think ________ is the antichrist? My friend said he is.”)

In response to such questions, I usually repeat my belief that Sharia law will not come to America in the foreseeable future. I also express my doubts that the evil-politician-of-the-month is the antichrist. During my 33 years as a disciple of Jesus, I have lived through too many second comings, raptures, and antichrists. Numerous “prophecy experts” has made false pronouncements. This is a major reason why I generally avoid getting involved in debates about end-times prophecies. They can be divisive, and people get passionate about things that end up never occurring.

Such conjecture also distracts believers from the here-and-now. We can be overly concerned about living through the Great Tribulation, but first we need to survive the temptations of today. If we cannot overcome sin and Satan in today’s small conflicts, how can we overcome if full-blown persecution comes to our country?

Christians in America have enjoyed an unusual history. Unlike many of our brethren throughout the world, we have experienced limited hardship. The New Testament was written by and for people who were familiar with persecution. John the Baptist was beheaded; Jesus was crucified; almost all of the apostles died violent deaths for the faith; and many ordinary Christians faced death because of their beliefs. The Christian life was not easy by any means.

To this day, Christians throughout much of the world face many of the same dangers. While American preachers sell books promising “your best life now,” followers of Christ in many countries remain steadfast in their faith realizing that their best life will come beyond the grave. In America, though, we are complacent.

We face numerous temptations that may lure us away from Jesus. He warned his disciples that they must be on guard so that they will not be weighed down by “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life.”

The Greek words for dissipation and drunkenness (κραιπάλη and μέθῃ) have similar meanings. Some Greek lexicons suggest that they are essentially two different words for “drunkenness.” Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s commentary describes “surfeiting, and drunkenness” (the KJV’s translation for these two words) as “All animal excesses, quenching spirituality.” Jesus may have emphasized overuse of alcohol or other intoxicating substances here, but He frequently warned against the misuse of any natural pleasures. Many people who would never abuse drugs or alcohol may be lulled into complacency by sports, music, television, social media, or a host of other earthly pleasures. Even though they may be essentially harmless in moderation, they can become addictions that distract us from following Christ.

We can also be distracted by the “cares of this life.” We have bills, responsibilities, and needs. We need money to meet our basic daily necessities, and this usually requires work. However, some people get caught up in workaholism or other drastic approaches to solve their problems in their own strength. Some may become so concerned about paying their bills that they work two or three jobs, neglecting their relationships with God and their family. Their marriage may collapse and faith may be shipwrecked. Our obsession with our pleasures and problems can distract us from following Christ and doing His will.

Christ urges us to remain on our guard, to keep alert at all times, and to pray. Trials and temptations will come. The earliest disciples did not avoid hardship by becoming Christians. In fact, the life of faith brought extra problems. They prayed, not for the problems to go away, but for the strength to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of crises. (See Acts 4:24–31, where we see how the disciples prayed when they were threatened.) We should pray, not to avoid problems, but to have the strength to endure and persevere.

Hard times and trials will come. We will face them in our daily lives. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Give us this day our daily bread.” That same one-day-at-a-time urgency applies also when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We will face temptation and evil today. Let us face today’s temptations before focusing on the trials and tribulations that may (or may not) come in the future. God will give us the strength to persevere in the trials we face today. As we develop faithfulness and perseverance, we will be prepared if and when harder times come.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Imitating the Father

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NASB).

be_imitatorsThe traditional church calendar usually schedules its feast days with little or no consideration for secular holidays. Christian holy days sometimes clash with secular celebrations (like when Pentecost Sunday falls during Memorial Day weekend), while sometimes a secular holiday never seems to coincide with a particularly appropriate religious celebration. So, I was pleased that Fathers’ Day fell one week after Trinity Sunday this year. Having commemorated Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and then acknowledging the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, it seems appropriate to consider the Fatherhood of God.

As with last Sunday’s post about the Trinity, this will not be an in-depth analysis of God the Father. In this case, I would like to focus on how we can be imitators of the Father.

Most men imitate their fathers, sometimes without realizing it. Sometimes, I will notice one of my brothers saying things, or making gestures, that reminded me of our father. Even more peculiar was the time that I saw my son giving his son “the look” my dad would give mewhen he was angry. My father died when my son was very young, so he does not have such specific memories of his grandfather. Did he learn that expression from me (was I imitating Dad without realizing it), or is it genetic? We may find ourselves imitating positive or negative traits we learned from our parents.

This site’s tagline (just below the Darkened Glass Reflections title at the top of the page) is “Living today with an eye on eternity.” One way to do that is by imitating God, as Ephesians 5:1 urges. But, how do we do that? After all, we cannot see Him.

God the Father gave us His best self-portrait when He sent His Son to show us who He is and what He is like:

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power…” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

God could reveal Himself, at least partially, through the preaching of the prophets or through the Old Testament law. However, it was an incomplete image. This could reduce God to a mere concept or idea, instead of a personal Being. Such an impersonal revelation gives a distorted view of God and dysfunctional form of faith. Take the law alone as your image of God, and you get legalism. Rely on the prophets alone, and you can become judgemental, too focused on circumstances, etc. The same dangers arise if we read the New Testament as a set of rules or dogmas, without recognizing that it is a revelation about a person, Jesus. We can discard fellowship with Christ and replace it with a list of rules to obey, doctrines to comprehend, and intellectual concepts to defend. Jesus Himself can be easily forgotten. Hebrews begins by telling us that Jesus is the ultimate revelation about who God is; near the end it reminds us to fix our eyes upon Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Jesus emphasized that He imitated His Father. After healing on the Sabbath, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). Why did Jesus heal? Because that is what the Father would do. Why did He do it on the Sabbath? Again, this is what His Father would do. Later, He would add, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28). Every time He spoke or acted, He imitated His Father, showing us what God would do in human circumstances.

So, as we face the challenges of life, we can look to Scripture to see how Jesus responded to people and situations. He has given us His example. He has also given us the example of people who knew Him. The Bible tells us their stories so that we can learn from them. St. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Furthermore, we can learn from mature believers that we know how best to imitate God. This is part of the reason why we should be active in and committed to a local church. Do you want to improve your prayer habits? Find a disciplined prayer warrior and imitate his or her habits. Do you want to be a better Bible student? Study with a knowledgeable Bible student and find out how he or she reads and studies. Do you want to learn evangelism? Find someone who shares the Gospel frequently, follow them, and learn their techniques. Do you want to break free from a life-controlling sinful habit? Find someone who has found freedom in Christ in that area and find out how they win their battle against this particular sin.

There is a saying that imitation is the highest form of flattery. It can also be one of the most effective tools for spiritual growth. Our Father wants us to be like Him: “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

The Faith of the Centurion—Luke 17:2–10

And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

—Luke 17:2–10

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The Centurion Kneeling at the Feet of Christ, by Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809), via Wikimedia Commons

Many Christians are familiar with the account of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. His faith impresses us, as he reached out to Jesus despite the cultural barriers of his time. Roman Catholics and others from liturgical backgrounds recognize his confession of unworthiness in verses 6 and 7—“I am not worthy for You to come under my roof … but just say the word, and my servant will be healed”—as the inspiration for the last prayer recited by the congregation before receiving communion.

 

Many overlook how the centurion’s claim of unworthiness contrasts with the elders’ claim that he was worthy. We can learn a lot about faith from the centurion in this context.

There were probably few centurions whom Jewish leaders would consider worthy of any blessing. Centurions were high-ranking officials in the occupying Roman army. Few Jews knew any centurions who loved the Jewish nation: These were the people who would force the Jews to submit to Roman domination. When Jesus was scourged and crucified, it was probably a centurion giving the orders.

This centurion, though, apparently developed some kind of admiration and respect for the Jewish people and their faith. He had even provided the funds to build a local synagogue. This was particularly rare, since in many towns the synagogue met in someone’s home, much like a modern-day house church. The elders concluded that this man, unlike most Romans, deserved to be blessed.

Jesus did not argue about that point. He had come to destroy the works of the devil and to seek and save the lost. He needed no further explanation: There was a sick servant; his master requested healing; so Jesus, driven by His divine love and mercy, responded to the request by heading toward the centurion’s home.

Meanwhile, the centurion was having second thoughts about his decision to invite this man of God into his home. The elders thought he was worthy: the centurion knew he was unworthy. He knew his sins, mistakes, and shortcomings. He knew how he had failed to live up to the standards of the one true God, Whom the Jews honored and Whose local house of worship he had bankrolled. More than that, judging from what the centurion said, he recognized that he was not inviting just any holy man into his home. Jesus was not just any faith healer.

The centurion recognized that Jesus had a kind of authority unlike anything else he had ever seen. Military people understand authority. They know their rank, and they know which officers have more authority than they, and which ones have less. The centurion was a man under authority. Higher ranking officials could give him orders at any time. Caesar could send a letter ordering him to return to Rome without delay. If he received orders from Caesar or any other superiors, the centurion knew his duty: He had to obey. His wants and desires did not matter.

Likewise, those under his authority understood their obligation. If the centurion gave an order, there was only one valid response: “Yes, sir!” They would not respond, “Are you certain? Have you considered another option? I have a better idea. Can you get somebody else to do this? I don’t feel like doing this.” The centurion was a man under authority, and he had men under his authority. Perhaps he considered all social relationships in terms of authority.

Somehow, he recognized that Jesus had a kind of authority unlike anything he had ever seen. The centurion could order soldiers and civilians around. However, Jesus had been ordering demons and diseases out of people. When the centurion spoke, people listened and obeyed. When Jesus spoke, demons listened, trembled, and obeyed.

The centurion’s authority was bound by space and time. Jesus’ authority was unbounded. He realized that Jesus did not need to enter his home to heal the servant. He did not need to touch or even see him. “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The servant would not even need to hear Jesus speak. The centurion understood that Jesus’ word could be trusted. As the centurion’s word carried the authority of the Roman government, Jesus’ words bore the full authority of the Kingdom of God, the Creator of the universe.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need that faith! Let us resist the temptations to assume that Jesus’ power and authority are limited. He still heals. He still gives new life. He is not restricted by space or time. He is not limited by our failures, sins, or limitations. His love, mercy, and sovereignty are limitless. We can trust Him to speak life into our difficulties so that we may be healed and restored.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Valiant Warrior?—Judges 6:11–14

Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

—Judges 6:11–14, NASB

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An ancient Israelite wine press, like the one Gideon used to thresh wheat [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The angel’s greeting to Gideon may be one of the most peculiar in all of Scripture. He finds a man who is hiding fearfully in a wine press and calls him a “valiant warrior.” Then, he tells Gideon to “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” At the beginning of his story, Gideon does not seem like a valiant warrior, and he seems to lack strength. One could wonder if the angel came to the wrong wine press.

Gideon can be an encouragement to all of us. God called him to step out in faith with strength he did not know he had, to accomplish a mission for which he seemed ill-equipped. Most of the heroes of the Book of Judges are like us. They have flaws. Their human frailties rise to the surface along with their greatest accomplishments. Most of us can relate to that. We are painfully aware of our weaknesses even in our noblest moments. Many of us would like to be heroic like James Bond, but realize we are often more like Maxwell Smart. Gideon was kind of like that too.

Gideon had a few strengths that God could use. For one, he knew Israel’s heritage, and he knew about his God. He knew God had delivered his ancestors from slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea for them, and fed them miraculously for 40 years in the wilderness. But now, they were a defeated nation, oppressed by the Midianites. Regardless of Israel’s present situation, Gideon knew—at least intellectually—that God could deliver them. He just did not know why the Lord was not acting on their behalf.

Second, Gideon had initiative and creativity. As soon as he knew what needed to be accomplished, he would act and he was not afraid to think outside the box to get things done. We see this at the beginning of his story: The Midianites would frequently raid their fields and take all of Israel’s grain. Therefore, Gideon was beating out the wheat in a wine press. This was probably the last place the Midianites would expect to find grain! This knack for initiative and creativity would serve Gideon well as he mustered an army to conquer their enemies.

Gideon had his shortcomings as well. Although he knew God could deliver Israel, he initially looked at his present circumstances. At first, he assumed God had forsaken Israel. He also underestimated himself. He believed he was too low on the social ladder to play a pivotal role in Israel’s deliverance (Judges 6:15). Finally, he needed repeated affirmations that God was with him: miraculous consumption of an offering was not enough to fully persuade him (Judges 6:19–23); he also demanded two omens involving dew and a fleece to be certain of his calling (Judges 6:36–40).

However, eventually Gideon claimed his status as a “valiant warrior.” At first, only God saw him that way. Before long, Gideon accepted this as his identity: demolishing a pagan altar, mustering an army, defeating the Midianites and executing their leaders. When he accepted God’s perspective, he could lead his people with the strength God had given him.

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

The Christian’s True Identity

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2–5, ESV, emphasis added).

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Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He could assume the lowliest servant’s role, because He knew His true identity.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a one-day retreat organized by one of the ministry teams at my church. Throughout the day, we reflected upon and discussed several questions about our identity as Christians. “How am I known in heaven? Who do I say I am? Who does God say I am?”

Such questions about identity guide our lives. A person with a distorted, diminished, or deficient understanding of who they are will act on that sense of self-identity. A person who views himself or herself as a “loser” or a victim will expect to fail. (Sadly, many people make the opposite mistake; with a delusional, inflated self-image, they may try to be something they are not and fail at that.)

As Christians observe Holy Week, we note that Jesus had a clear awareness of His identity, which was necessary for Him to complete His mission of redemption. John notes that, as Jesus prepared to eat the Last Supper with His disciples, He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew who He was. He knew He was operating from a place of victory: indeed, even a place of omnipotence.

He had lived His entire life with this keen awareness that He was the Son of God and that He had been sent from heaven. Luke 2:41–51 tells the story of Jesus, when He was 12 years old. After celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary started the journey home, only to realize later that Jesus was not with them. Finally, they found Him in the temple, discussing theology with the pre-eminent rabbis of their day. Mary reprimanded Him for causing them to worry. Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 12:49). Approximately 13 years after angels told Mary and Joseph that they would raise the Son of God, they seemed to forget. However, Jesus remembered Who He was, Who His Father is, and what His purpose would be.

Without knowing His true identity, Jesus probably would have been happy to open a carpentry shop and build stuff for the people of Nazareth until He was old and gray. However, He knew He was sent for something more significant. Because He knew Who He was, He could accept the most mundane, demeaning task of a household servant and wash the disciples’ feet. Knowing that He was the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, He could endure the cross, despise its shame, and obtain eternal life for all who would follow Him.

What about us? Do we truly know our true identity as Christians? Perhaps most Christians have a false spiritual self-image. After church today, a few men from our church’s drug and alcohol recovery program addressed the congregation during the post-worship coffee hour. At one point, one of the men said, “Well, I’m no saint, but….” A member of the congregation responded that none of us are. Scripture says they were both wrong.

The Bible says that we are saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” It is true that the Corinthians Christians were imperfect; much of the letter corrected them for their shortcomings. However, he still called them saints along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus. As Christians:

  • We are saints.
  • We are holy and blameless in God’s sight (see Ephesians 1:4).
  • We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17): In other words, we are Jesus’ little brothers and little sisters, loved by God the Father.
  • We are alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The list goes on, much longer than I can include in a single blog post. We once were sinners—that was our identity before we came to know Jesus—but that is no longer our true identity. Even though we struggle with sin,  it is no longer how God sees us. He does not define us by our sins, our failures, our defeats, our mistakes, or the mistakes of our parents. He defines us as His children, saints who are blameless because we are alive in Christ.

Let us each claim our true identity in Christ, believe it, and live by it. This is a major element of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is e a lifelong journey. I expect to devote many hours of prayer, Bible study and reflection to learning more about my new identity in Christ. A one-day retreat is a great place to start, but habitually embracing one’s identity in Christ takes a lifetime.

As we observe Holy Week, I will remember that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ, so that I may live in the power of His resurrection (see Romans 6:6–11). This is the privilege and identity of all true saints who call upon the name of Jesus.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Seek Jesus—John 6:26–27

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

John 6:26–27, ESV

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“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,” by Lambert Lombard (1505/06–1566)

Only two miracles are mentioned in all four Gospels. Jesus’ is one of them. The other is the feeding of the multitude with five loaves and two fish. The fact that these two miracles share that distinction shows that they are both very significant. In John’s Gospel, the miraculous multiplication of a meal precedes Jesus’ in-depth teaching the following day about the bread of life.

Jesus had spent an entire day teaching the multitude. After a long day in the wilderness, the crowd was hungry, and Jesus did not want to send them home like that. Having only five loaves of bread and two fishes available, He multiplied the food to feed the entire crowd, leaving more leftovers than they began with. Then, He dismissed the crowd, sent the disciples off by boat to the other side of the lake, spent several hours in prayer, and walked on the water to catch up with His disciples.

The next day, the crowd searched for Jesus. They eventually found Him on the other side of the lake, and asked Him how got there. This led to Jesus’ response, which we see in the verses above.

They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They had seen the disciples leave in the boat without Him. How could He get to the other side of the lake so quickly without a boat? Jesus did not directly answer their question. He knew they were only mildly curious about that. He went straight to what they really wanted to know. Jesus knew why they were really there.

Throughout His ministry, many people sought Jesus because He performed miraculous signs. It must have been amazing when Jesus came to town. The sick would be healed. The lame would stand up and walk. People who had been blind for years would suddenly be able to see. Then, as now, people would be impressed with showmanship, drama, and extravagance. Sudden, dramatic, and unusual displays of indescribable power will always draw a curious audience.

Jesus performed signs and wonders to display God’s love, not to entertain. He often criticized those who came to Him seeking miraculous signs. On at least two occasions, He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4; cf. Matthew 12:39).

At least the present did not seem as interested in the miracle itself. They may have noticed that He used such a small amount of food to feed them. They might have been impressed if Jesus told them how He crossed the lake overnight (by suspending the laws of physics so that He could walk across the lake during a violent storm). But apparently, they were more interested in the fact that Jesus actually fed them. Perhaps people thought, “He did not actually have to feed us. He only had one meal. Isn’t it wonderful that He cared enough to share a meal with us?”

Jesus thought this was a step in the right direction, but He urged them to move to the next level in their pursuit of Him. It was great that they were not seeking signs and wonders, and were grateful to Him for meeting their earthly needs. However, all of this merely points to His desire to meet their eternal spiritual needs.

Even today, many ministries settle for second best. Some “healing ministries” make dramatic healing the center of their mission. They are satisfied only if people are instantaneously healed of physical ailments or delivered from life-controlling addictions. It must be dramatic and exciting: something that will work on television. Some ministries do not want God to begin to gradually remove an illness, or to guide an addict to a recovery ministry. It has to be instantaneous, so that the crowd can be impressed with how God is working in the ministry.

Others emphasize that God meets our worldly needs. Some claim that Jesus died so that we can enjoy material prosperity. Some churches and ministries preach about how we can be free from depression, discouragement, and despair, or how Jesus can give us purpose and meaning in life. While all of these have some truth—Jesus will answer our prayers for bless our finances, or to give us joy and peace—there is something more that He wants us to seek.

“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” We want earthly blessings. Jesus offers us eternal blessings. We want daily bread to fill our bellies. Jesus offers us that, but He also offers us the bread of heaven to nourish our souls and the living water of His Holy Spirit to well up to eternal life.

Some seek miracles; others seek Jesus because He meets a worldly need. He rejoices when we seek Him because He offers life. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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