Posts Tagged With: faith

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

No Easy Way—James 1:2–4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, ESV).

Comedian Yakov Smirnoff would tell a story about the joy of finding instant products in stores when he came to America. One could buy products in powdered form and prepare them instantly by adding water at home. In one aisle he found powdered milk: just add water and you have milk. In another aisle, he found powdered orange juice; again, he could just add water to have orange juice. Then he came to another aisle and saw a package that really excited him. It said “baby powder.” What a country!

We live in a society that craves quick solutions to everything. We have not found a way to speed up the baby-making process by just adding water to a powder, but scientists are probably working on it. One or two generations ago, most housewives would spend hours preparing dinner every night, but that is no longer the case. Now, we eat food purchased at fast-food drive-through windows. If we eat at home, it is often heated quickly in a microwave, or it might be an “instant” meal that can be cooked quickly. We expect instant gratification everywhere: entertainment, health, relationships, etc.

2010/365/77 That Old Semi Instant Gratification

An early Polaroid instant camera, which was not as “instant” as today’s cameras. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

When I was growing up, one popular new technology was the instant camera: You no longer need to send a role of film to a developer or spend hours in a darkroom. Instead, the photograph would develop within one or two minutes. Now, with digital cameras and cell phones, we can enjoy our pictures mere seconds after taking them, and freely delete the blurry shots. Instant is not fast enough!

The same instant-gratification urge prevails in Christian circles. Many of us expect instant everything. Forgiveness and salvation may be immediate, but spiritual growth takes time. We want instant sanctification, or instant deliverance from sin, bad habits, and addictions, but this does not exist.

In recent weeks, I have come across the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17–27; Matthew 19:16–30) several times during my Bible reading. He wanted an instant fix to his spiritual dilemma. “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). The Greek could be more directly translated as “Teacher, what one good deed can I do to immediately have eternal life?” Jesus’ offered no quick fix. It would be a complete change of his life’s direction from that day forth. He could make an instantaneous decision to follow Jesus, but it would have to continue for the rest of his life.

The Bible offers no easy spiritual growth. James 1:2–4 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. These trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness, making us mature and complete in Christ. Most Christians would prefer something instantaneous. Maybe we can go forward for prayer at church, and the pastor or evangelist can lay hands on us, and voila! We are now perfect and complete, lacking nothing, within five minutes. You do not even need to add water!

Others may realize this instant fix does not exist, but we still hope for an easy way. We think that if we just pray, read our Bibles, and go to church, we will become holy and spiritual. It is true that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), but Scripture speaks much more about how that faith is forged, purified, and strengthened in fiery kiln of trials and temptations:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).

There is really no way around it. If you want to grow spiritually, you will have to go through something that will test, stretch, and expand your faith, forcing you to trust God to work in your life. That may not be popular in our instant-gratification society, but it is how God works.

During Lent, I have been praying specifically for growth in three of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23–24): gentleness, patience, and self-control. Patience is an area where I definitely need to grow, but praying for it leads to opportunities to exercise it. For example, I try to be a safe and careful driver, but as a typical New Yorker, my to and from work can drive me bonkers! I can become Boanerges on the highway, ready to call down fire from heaven upon those who tailgate me or cut me off, and calling people idiots as they drive like NASCAR racers to the next traffic jam. My drive time is a good opportunity to determine if there is any growth in my patience.

I have to admit that, while I pray for patience, the other drivers are not changing. They may not have gotten any worse, but they have not improved either. However, I am becoming more aware of temptation. As I pray for the fruit of the Spirit, God seems to allow the same temptations to come: but with the temptation He provides the way of escape, reminding me to pray again for gentleness, patience, and self-control. (Sometimes, He has to remind me to ask for immediate forgiveness.)

Count it pure joy when God allows trials and temptations to come your way. It is your opportunity to experience true growth in the fruit of the Spirit.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | 1 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.

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

Faithfulness in Hard Times

This is a revised and updated version of an article I originally published on my blog in 2010.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if {anyone suffers} as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For {it is} time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if {it} {begins} with us first, what {will be} the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:12-19.)

Sometimes, it is not easy to apply certain passages of the Word of God to our daily lives. For example, exhortations like this one do not really relate too heavily with American culture. Sure, a Christian might be accused of being intolerant, backwards, a religious fanatic, or something like that. I’ve been called all of those and more. However, I have never been arrested for my faith. I have never gone to church wondering if the police would barge in and drag people to prison because we were praying.

In many ways, we are blessed. However, we still face trials and temptations. Circumstances explode into our lives, turning our world upside down, and shaking us to the very core of our souls. Although this may not be persecution in even the broadest sense of the word, it is still a trial. Peter’s words of encouragement can guide us through the trial.

It is easy to say, “Why me? Why are You picking on me, Lord? Don’t You have anything better to do with Your time?” It might not be a good attitude; it is probably not a fair appraisal of the situation, and it is an even worse description of God. However, it is how we feel.

As the apostle points out, we should not be surprised when a fiery ordeal bursts into our lives, “which comes upon you for your testing.” American Christians suffer pretty bland trials. We will probably not starve (even the poorest people in America usually have access to food); at this time, we do not face true religious persecution (although, thanks to some of the laws which Congress has passed in recent years, I do not know if I will be able to say that five years from now). To quote a song by Christian rock band Daniel Amos, “Our trial is which car to buy, temptation is that extra dessert.”

When we face trials, the Bible tells us to “keep on rejoicing.” That is one of the hardest commandments in Scripture, but when you go through trials, it is the most important thing to do. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” If I do not rejoice or give thanks, I focus my attention on the problem and magnify it in my mind. I see only the negatives. However, when I rejoice and give thanks, I start to see the ways that God is already answering my prayers. It encourages me to keep on praying and expect God to work in my circumstances.

In February 2010, my car caught fire while I was driving to work. As you can imagine, that was a scary moment, but the trial lasted longer than the fire. It would have cost too much to repair the car (with no guarantee that it could be made safe), so my wife and I had to start shopping. It would have been easy to yell at God and ask, “Why did You permit a freak fire in my car? Couldn’t You pick on somebody who deserves to get torched?”

Yes, it did cost us money that we could have used for other things. But, as I would thank God and rejoice in spite of my circumstances, I could see God at work. We were able to borrow a car so that I could continue to drive to and from work. We were able to pay for another car. At the time of the fire, a volunteer fireman was in a nearby vehicle, and he was able to stop and put the fire out quickly. Most importantly, I was not seriously injured; I still have a few scars on my hand, but those burns were my only injuries.

Notice that I am not thanking God for the fire, or rejoicing because of the fire. I am rejoicing and thanking God in spite of the fire. God has done other things in my life; the fire is just one thing. I focus on the good things in my life, thereby minimizing the impact of the bad things. I am not pretending that the fire was good. I am merely acknowledging that it is just one part of my life.

As I pray, I have to remember the words of Jesus: “yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). I may pray for specific things, and I usually ask for a specific resolution to the problem. However, when I pray, I must remember that God decides how to resolve this situation. While I have needs and desires, and I think I know what is best for me, I must acknowledge that God is in control and has a better plan for my life than I can imagine.

Far too many Christians grow discouraged during a trial because of one of two errors with prayer: (1) We want God to answer our prayers exactly the way we want them answered; and (2) we refuse to do our part. How often do we pray for a financial breakthrough, and then blame God because we wasted the money He gave us! Instead, we should bring our burdens to God, seek His wisdom about our situation (He might direct us to a resolution, but we may need to do something), and allow Him to work things out in His time, according to His will.

First Peter 4:15 reminds us that there is no virtue if we suffer as a murderer, thief, evildoer, or a troublesome meddler. A Christian should suffer as a Christian. If he is persecuted, it should be because he is living by Christ’s values, which conflict with the world’s system. Likewise, we should not allow trials to draw us into sin. Maybe you will not resort to murder or stealing. However, it is easy to be tempted to stop going to church, or fall back into a sinful habit, or just give up in despair, deciding not to do the things God has been leading you to do.

Do not give in. “[T]hose…who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). When we suffer through trials, our job remains the same: we entrust our lives to God; and we continue to obey Him.

We serve an eternal God who created infinite space and a vast universe. Yet, we often have the audacity to think we can dictate or define the outcome of our obedience. We should try to know and do His will, not try to coerce Him into surrendering to ours.

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

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Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Mark 8:34–38

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, NASB)

As I continue this year’s Lenten journey, and as I observe what is happening in America and within the American church, one thing seems clear to me: Jesus’ message would seem very foreign to much of modern American Christianity. Many Christians and churches have merely adopted the secular worldview of American culture, perhaps rejected a few more blatantly unacceptable elements thereof, and baptized the rest of it in biblical jargon.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves. We claim the right to find self-fulfillment and to boost our self-esteem through the Gospel.

Jesus calls us to take up or cross and follow Him. We welcome the opportunity to follow Him, but to take up a cross? No thank you, I have too much faith to take up a cross: I rebuke that cross! Get behind me, Satan!

Jesus tells us we should lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel in order to find it. We have decided that Jesus offers us “your best life now.”

Throughout the New Testament, we are called to join our lives with Christ’s. St. Paul says frequently that we are “in Christ” (as well as having Christ in us). He took up a cross: We carry a cross, because we are in Him. Our assurance of resurrection is tied to that cross.

Jesus offers eternal life to us, but many times we hang on to the life to which we have grown accustomed. We are afraid to step out in real faith, walking in His footsteps, since that is only natural when He lives in us.

The life Jesus offers is beyond what we can request or imagine. The opportunity to enjoy its full blessing demands that we lay down our old life and boldly follow Him in faith.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

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

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Modern-Day Elijahs III: Healing and Hope

Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, “What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!” He said to her, “Give me your son.” Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. He called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, have You also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s life return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” [1 Kings 17:17–24. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.]

Elijah has been obedient to God’s will. When God had a message of judgement, Elijah delivered it. He had relied on God for his provision and protection. However, even the man of God and the widow whom God had appointed to meet his needs could face misfortune. They faced difficulties like everybody else. Even the great man of God would find his faith tested. However, through those trials, he would be reminded that God is able to answer prayers.

The drought lasted three and a half years (James 5:1718). It seems as if Elijah, the widow, and her son were getting by. They were surviving the drought, even though the woman thought she and her son were on the brink of starvation when they met the prophet.

All that would change. After a while, the widow’s son became sick so that “there was no breath left in him.” In that moment of trial, the widow did something many people do. She forgot how, although once on the brink of death, she and her son had survived thanks to the prophet’s presence. Instead, she blamed Elijah and God for this illness.

How easy it is to blame God when sickness or other trials come. Many Christians blame God for their financial problems when they have failed to wisely manage the money He has given them. They may blame problems on Him when they have acted irresponsibly. Some people say, “Everything happens for a reason,” implying that all of their experiences were God’s plan. A few months ago, a meme found its way around social media that responds to this claim: “Everything happens for a reason: Sometimes the reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions.”

Sometimes, the reason for misfortune is not clear. The best explanation may simply be this: We live in a fallen, imperfect world. Even though God is just, life is not always fair. We may not understand why God allows things to happen, but He is with us even in the midst of our suffering, whether we brought it upon ourselves or it just happened to us. In spite of that, even the person of faith may be tempted to ask, “Why, God? Why?”

When accused and blamed, Elijah did not argue. He did not try to defend himself. He simply brought their need to God. At first, he seems to have wondered if God was punishing them. The widow may have blamed Elijah, and Elijah initially blamed God. Yet, he moved beyond blaming, and to prayer.

God answered by restoring the child’s life. The boy was healed. The widow’s faith grew. Keep in mind, Zarephath was pagan territory. This was not a Jewish widow who had learned the Torah her entire life. She may have worshipped idols her entire life, and hosting Elijah may have been her first exposure to Israel’s faith in the one true God. Yet, because she saw the healing power of God, who provides sustenance to His servants and restores life to the dead, she could say, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Calamity gave way to a miracle. Death was destroyed by life. Despair was conquered by hope. Doubt and blaming God were eradicated and replaced by hope.

We may never have the privilege of bringing a dead child back to life, but Christians are always called to minister as intercessors. Especially when others blame us or question our faith, we should stand as mediators between God and others. It is not our job to prove that we are right; it is our job to bring people before God and trust that He will prove Himself worthy to be trusted.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the World, Not of It

In a recent post, I shared my thoughts about how Christians should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing gay marriage. This ruling reflected the state of our society: we cannot consider America a “Christian nation” at this time. Likewise, our response to the ruling should be a reflection of our faith. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor the Church’s response, occurs in a vacuum.

Christians should not be surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Neither should we be surprised that a growing majority of Americans have come to favor legalizing same-sex marriage in recent years and, as a corollary, have come to view pro-traditional-family Christians as bigoted, hateful homophobes. Jesus warned us that Christians would always find themselves as “outsiders” in the world:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:13-22, NASB).

Most American evangelicals have lived comfortably in a society that has been at least courteous to, and at times even supportive of, our faith. However, as the above passage and countless other Bible verses show, Christians should not really be surprised that society is growing increasingly hostile towards us. We should be surprised that we have enjoyed a somewhat favorable status in American society for so long. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them.

As the world’s hostility becomes more visible, how should Christians respond?

First, I would urge Christians to begin reading the Bible from a different perspective. We have grown accustomed to reading the Bible as if it were written to people with a socio-cultural experience similar to our own. We imagine Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of working-class guys—like the working-class guys we know from our jobs. However, American comforts would have been foreign to them. When Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” they probably took it literally: Pray for food for the day. They did not think long-term, budgeting a two-week paycheck so that you can buy several weeks worth of groceries and make your car payment. Their idea of “prosperity” was probably having leftovers after dinner. The so-called gospel proclaimed by some preachers—those who claim that faith in God will bring us health, wealth, success, and comfort—would seem odd to the first Christians. To them, faith meant that you would still call yourself a Christian and believe you had eternity with Jesus as the executioner’s sword was coming toward your throat.

The Bible was written primarily to oppressed people. The Old Testament was written to a small country, which was frequently threatened by the great empires of its day. The New Testament was written to members of a fledgling religious sect, considered extremist by many and treasonous (after all, they claimed that Jesus was their King) by the government. Their neighbors probably thought the early Christians were as odd as the Amish, as wacky as the Heaven’s Gate flying-saucer cult, and perhaps as dangerous to society as an Islamic terrorist organization.

As you read the Bible, take time to remember that Jesus is speaking to “outsiders.” Paul is writing to people who may have to sneak to church (the church in Ephesus did not run newspaper ads), whereas we casually arrive, carrying our big Bibles for all to see.

The Bible is speaking to people who hear the word temptation and think, “The Romans might threaten to throw me into an arena with lions if I say ‘Jesus is Lord.'” They probably did not equate “temptation” with an ice cream sundae.

We need to repent of a world view guided by the secular culture:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

Scripture should renew our minds, transforming us so that we may no longer be conformed to this world. Many Christians are shocked when the Supreme Court determines that marriage should be defined by whatever makes some people happy. Yet, how many Christians base their life choices on personal happiness instead of the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God? How often do we try to “baptize” sinful attitudes (pride, self-righteousness, greed) and try to make them seem spiritual?

Perhaps more can be written on this topic. I expect that future posts will be written from this perspective, as it has begun to shape how I read Scripture during my daily devotions.

I will conclude by saying that the standard American brand of Christianity will not be adequate to stand against the most recent onslaughts against our faith. We need to reclaim the faith that recognizes that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

[PS: In my previous post, I proposed that the church should “eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body).” I would like to clarify that this was not intended as approval of redefinition of marriage. Rather, it should be seen as more of an example of resistance against the ruling: Christians and other religious groups should never have allowed the secular government to define marriage for us, and we have reached a point where a state-issued marriage license no longer means what true Christian churches mean when we speak of “marriage.”]

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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