Posts Tagged With: faith

In the World, Not of It (Revisited)

This month, I am reposting a few favorite articles from the past. This article was originally published on July 25, 2015.

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.”]

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

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

Through a Glass Darkly (Revisited)

The following is an article I originally posted on August 9, 2010, at https://michaelelynch.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/through-a-glass-darkly. During this month, I will share a few favorite articles from previous Augusts. This article provides the inspiration for the blog title, “Darkened Glass Reflections.”

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB).

When I began following Christ, I dreamed of becoming a Christian rock musician. I have often thought that the perfect debut-album title would be “Through a Glass Darkly” (inspired by the King James version’s wording of the verse above). I recently tried to create a new blog here on WordPress with that name but, alas, others beat me to it. Maybe I will find a good alternative soon enough.

The concept that believers see “through a glass darkly” should encourage us. Questions often assault our faith: “Why? What are you doing to me, God? When will you do what I thought You would?” These are the questions that shake our faith, perhaps more so than the intellectual or philosophical challenges to our faith. The fact that we worship an unseen God, Who usually chooses to work in subtle ways, is perhaps the greatest challenge to our faith.

Faith grows as we go from knowing about God to knowing Him personally. This forces us to stretch and strengthen our spiritual muscles as we seek to see Him “through a glass darkly.”

Knowledge is Not Power, but the Love of God is Powerful

The last few years have been a long lesson in learning to accept the fact that, no matter how smart I think I am or how much I study the Bible, my knowledge will always be deficient. I am learning to accept that as a blessing. God is not looking for knowledge as much as He is looking for His holiness to be manifested in my life. Any knowledge about Him is intended to foster a relationship with Him. For example, I grow more by discerning Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, than I do by trying to analyze how the bread and wine can be His body and blood.

First Corinthians 13:12 appears near the end of one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, Paul’s famous discourse on love. In that passage, Paul emphasizes that love is much more important than many of the “marks of spirituality” to which some Christians cling.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit? It is a blessing to speak in tongues, and one can be a blessing if he has the gift of prophecy or can reveal the deep mysteries of the faith to others. But, without love, it is just a lot of noise.

Faith? We need it for salvation; if we do not have faith in Jesus, we are lost. It is wonderful to have the sort of mountain-moving faith that tears down strongholds and prays miracles of healing and other supernatural blessings down from heaven. Without love, though, I am nothing.

What about a self-sacrificing spirit? We should be eager to give sacrificially to those in need, and I admire those great men and women of faith who were willing to give their lives for the sake of the Gospel. But, without love, it profits them nothing.

Paul goes on to describe love (vv. 4-7). Next, he shows that it will last until the end of the age, and even into heaven, although other marks of spirituality will pass away (vv. 8-10).

When we get to heaven, there will be no seminaries: no job openings for theologians or philosophers. In fact, I am sure that theological debates and reflection will look pretty silly when Jesus is seated just a few feet away, right next to His Father. We will see them both in all of their glory. Philosophical discourse will be done. Exegesis and analysis of biblical passages will come to an end. Our deepest questions could probably be answered by turning to the throne and saying, “Excuse me, Jesus, I was wondering….” Just wait for the audible voice of God to answer.

Instead of debate, there will be devotion: eternal worship and praise to God, and direct fellowship with Him. Love will endure.

We Bear the Image of God, but It Is a Marred Image

In June 2010, Joyce and I were on a flight from New York to Florida, where we sat with a man from Italy. He was quite a talkative fellow, so we had a long conversation, which lasted most of the flight. On a few occasions, Joyce guided the conversation to spiritual matters. During a few of those discussions of God and faith, he referred to “the divine within us.” The belief in such a “divine within us” is quite common today, and is accepted by many who profess to be Christians. But, it is not a biblical or Christian notion: certainly not in the manner it is usually defined.

The Bible teaches that we are made in the image of God. Yet, that image is marred. It is like looking at a severely weather-beaten picture. Imagine finding an ancient fresco, buried under thousands of years of rubble and dirt in an ancient Roman village, depicting the face of a local dignitary. The image may show you what the man looked like, but you would have to scrape away centuries of dirt. A major restoration project would be required to restore the man’s image. Perhaps parts of the image are missing, and we have to guess what the rest of the image looks like.

Or, perhaps, we should imagine looking at our own image in a mirror. However, the mirror is hundreds of years old: cracked and covered with rust and dirt. We can glimpse a reflection in the mirror, but it is a dim reflection.

The great danger, when we try to understand God by relating to “the divine within us,” is that we are basing our awareness of God on a dim reflection, or a marred image. It is an image with pieces missing: a reflection that has  been beaten, cracked, and distorted by the rust and grime of sin.

Our Perspective Is Limited By Our Imperfections

In addition to the corruption of our “image of God,” there is the limitation of our perspective. God is eternal; He existed before the beginning of time. We are not eternal; although we will live forever, each of us has an existence that began at a specific moment in time. God is omniscient (all-knowing). We are not, although sometimes we act like know-it-alls.

Our finiteness gives us a limited view of God and His purposes. I can think of no greater example of this than Job. The Old Testament book of Job tells  the story of a man who served God faithfully. As a result, Satan accused God of being unjust: after all, Satan reasoned, Job only served God because He blessed him. To prove that Job’s faith was genuine, the Lord allowed the devil to afflict Job. In one day, Job lost almost everything that mattered to him: his possessions, children, and a host of other things. Next, Satan took his health. It seemed like all Satan left for Job was a nagging wife and some self-righteous judgmental friends.

After Job and his friends had engaged in a prolonged argument about why God allowed this suffering, God decided to answer Job’s questions:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
“Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?
Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who enclosed the sea with doors When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
When I made a cloud its garment And thick darkness its swaddling band,
And I placed boundaries on it And set a bolt and doors,
And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’?” (Job 38:1-11).

Job felt God was treating him unfairly and wanted God to explain  why He was doing this. His friends had other suggestions for his suffering: perhaps Job was harboring a secret sin which God needed to judge; or Job was proud and needed a swift kick in the butt.

God did not answer Job’s questions directly. Instead, He pointed out that He has a much broader perspective than Job could even imagine. When our faith is shaken by unanswered questions, we should take comfort that, even if we do not understand everything, God knows all. God’s answer to Job lasts several chapters, during which He points out how He is concerned with the intimate details in the lives of all His creatures. God is concerned about the most mundane creatures on our planet. He is also concerned about the most mundane details of our lives. Does He care? Yes, He does. Can He answer our questions? Yes, He can. Are we ready to hear the answers? We might think we are, but since we have such a limited perspective, maybe we should just trust Him.

After God pointed out how little Job understood, Job had his chance to respond:

Then Job answered the LORD and said,
“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-5).

How often we need to hear Job’s confession and make it our own! How often we Christians, in our attempts to understand the Bible, twist it into something we can explain. Instead, we should say, “This is what it says. I cannot explain everything in there, but I know God is true. Someday, when I see Him face to face, I will understand.

How often do we try to explain God’s ways, but we do so in a way that justifies our own actions! How often we place God in a box that we can carry.

Instead, we should seek to know God as Job came to know Him. Instead of seeking to know about God, let us just come to Him by faith. Faith enables us to see through the glass darkly, glimpsing a shadow of God’s glory, with the assurance that there is more to love than we can imagine.

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

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Few Thoughts About the Trinity

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:16–20, NASB

Shamrock

Legend claims that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Happy Trinity Sunday! Sorry I did not buy anybody a card.

On the liturgical calendars of several denominations, Trinity Sunday occurs one week after Pentecost. Having celebrated the resurrection of the Son of God and His ascension to the right hand of the Father over the past few weeks, the church commemorates its birthday on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the earliest believers. One week later, it devotes a day to reflect on the Triune nature of God.

Falling on the heels of such an active time on the church calendar, Trinity Sunday can easily be lost in the mix. Many denominations, even those that believe in the Trinity, do not observe the day. Perhaps the biggest reason for this oversight may be the nature of the doctrine. How many pastors want to devote a Sunday to teaching a doctrine they have a hard time explaining? It is tempting to avoid what we do not fully understand.

So, with that in mind, I will not try to prove the Trinity. I merely seek to affirm my belief that this is true: there is one God who eternally exists in three persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Just for the record, I think that term “persons” may create some of the confusion: it does not precisely describe their nature, but we really do not have a better word to use in its place.

We see the Trinity mentioned in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:16–20. First, Jesus told His disciples that “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” Who else could have all authority in heaven except God?

They are mentioned together in Jesus’ last instruction in Matthew; they also appeared together at the beginning of His ministry, when He was baptized:

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

—Matthew 3:16–17

The Son had been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and the Father proclaimed His approval of Jesus. Three persons were present, yet it was the one God worshiped by the Jewish people. Jesus Himself, who (as we saw earlier) claimed to be God, reaffirmed the Jewish belief in monotheism by referring to Judaism’s statement of faith, the “Shema,” as the greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29–30).

Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, believers have wrestled to explain how one God can be three persons. Tertullian wrote the following:

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (from Early Trinitarian Quotes).

Perhaps nobody can explain the mystery of how one God can be three persons. Some have attempted to illustrate it by pointing to three-in-one objects in nature. For example, an egg contains a yolk, a white, and a shell. Legend claims that St. Patrick used a three-leafed clover, a shamrock, to illustrate the Trinity (one clover, three leaves).

This is part of walking by faith: We trust God and believe Him to be Who He says He is, even when we do not fully understand it. When I was a small child, I had faith that my mother and father were my parents, long before I learned what that meant or how we all ended up in that relationship. Likewise, I can trust and worship God even though He is beyond my comprehension, trusting that someday I shall see Him as He is and understand more fully than I can in this life.

Some doubt the truth about the Trinity because it defies our understanding. They claim it is irrational or illogical. I believe it would be more appropriate to call it super-rational or super-logical: It exceeds our ability to comprehend.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

We serve a God who is beyond our comprehension, and that gives us even more reason to worship and praise Him with awe.

 

The doctrine of the Trinity...is truth for the heart. The fact that it can not be satisfactorily explained, instead of being against it, is in its favor. Such a truth had to be revealed; no one could imagine it. - Aiden Wilson Tozer
Quote by A. W. Tozer. Image from http://www.azquotes.com.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 1 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

SonRoyalHeal

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

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