Posts Tagged With: prayer

Modern-Day Elijahs VIII: No Turning Back

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.

(Second Kings 2:1–13, ESV)

russian_-_prophet_elijah27s_fiery_ascension_-_walters_372748

A Russian Orthodox icon depicting several key events in the life of Elijah. At the top, Elijah is carried off in a whirlwind by chariots and horses of fire while an angel takes his cloak and drops it to Elisha. Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

We do not know how long Elisha followed Elijah. The prophet appointed him during the reign of Ahab. After that king died, there was the short (two years) reign of Ahaziah. Elijah would go to heaven during the reign of Jehoram, the next king. Thus, Elisha followed Elijah for at least two years. It was probably not much longer than that, since God had commanded Elijah to anoint Jehu as king of Israel. Elijah never completed that task, but Elisha would fulfill it (2 Kings 9:1–13).

If Elisha seemed hesitant to follow Elijah at first, his devotion was unquestionable after a few years. Not even the prophet himself could discourage him. From 1 Kings 20 through 2 Kings 1, Elisha seems to sit unmentioned in the background. Elijah still spoke on behalf of the Lord to the kings of Israel, but Elisha is not mentioned. We can only assume that he was watching, listening, and learning. The time would come for Elijah to depart from this world, and then Elisha would fulfill his ministry.

By this time, Elisha probably knew that he was “the next great prophet,” the man chosen to replace Elijah. All of the prophets seemed to know that the day had come for Elijah to leave the world. Several times, other prophets approached Elisha and said, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” (As if they thought Elisha was the only one person around who was not aware of this, despite his close relationship with Elijah.) Every time, Elisha responded, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” In other words, “Yes, I know; I really do not feel like talking about it.” Perhaps all of the prophets struggled with their emotions that day. Elisha really did not want to discuss the situation. Perhaps Elijah wanted to face the moment alone: The man who once complained to God that he felt all alone now wanted to meet his Lord face-to-face, one-on-one, with nobody else around.

Elisha illustrates a key principle of discipleship. Disciples follow, and they do not turn back until God tells them to turn back. Not even Elijah could dissuade Elisha. No emotional impulse could hold him back. His mission was to follow Elijah, and he would stay with him until the last possible moment.

Elisha sought one blessing for his faithfulness: “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” The most important lesson Elisha had learned was that a true man of God needs the Spirit of God. He could imitate Elijah all he wanted, but it would be completely worthless if the Spirit was not empowering his works and words. So, he insisted on following. He refused to let anybody—not even Elijah himself—discourage him.

Elijah told him that his request would be a hard thing. Yet, if Elisha persisted and kept watching until the last minute, God would grant his request. So he stayed until the Lord sent a majestic escort to bring Elijah, still alive, up to heaven. Even chariots of fire, horses of fire, and a mighty whirlwind could not distract him. He wanted the blessing and remained until he received it.

Although supernatural drama engulfed Elijah, Elisha stood by as an excited observer. At first, it seemed as if nothing dramatic happened to Elisha. However, as the dust settled, he noticed that Elijah had dropped something while leaving. His cloak had fallen off in the midst of the excitement: The same mantle that the prophet had placed on him several years earlier was now in Elisha’s hands. He immediately performed his first miracle, slapping the waters of the Jordan River and asking, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14). The waters parted for Elisha and all of the prophets knew that the Spirit of God rested on him as He had on Elijah.

The relationship between Elijah and Elisha offers numerous lessons. For a few years, Elisha followed his mentor, learning how to be a prophet. Most importantly though, he learned the character of a man of God. He learned to remain faithful, to refuse to give in to discouragement; to ask, watch, persist, and believe that God will answer even the hardest prayers.

Elijah met Elisha shortly after one of the darkest days in his life. He had gone to Mount Horeb feeling discouraged, alone, and forsaken, and God directed him to anoint his replacement. Elisha would take up Elijah’s mantle and continue to be God’s voice among the Israelites for many years to come.

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a 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

The Holy Name of Jesus

“‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’
(which means, God with us).” (Matthew 2:21-23, ESV).

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21, ESV).

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The Greek letters in the familiar “ichthys” symbol represent Jesus’ name and titles: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”

Today (January 1) is New Year’s Day. We think of it as a day for new beginnings, a chance to make resolutions to start anew in different areas of our lives. On some church calendars (e.g., in the Book of Common Prayer), it is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Since it is the eighth day since we celebrated our Savior’s birth, we commemorate the day that He was circumcised and His name became “official.”

 

Names matter. They are perhaps the most important part of our identity. If you want to insult somebody effectively and quickly, make fun of their name. Parents usually give much thought to the names for their children. We may name our children after family members, thereby emphasizing the link to previous generations; or, we may name our children after someone we admire (perhaps a hero of the Bible, or a historical figure we respect). We do not name our children after someone whom we dislike or disrespect (I do not know too many people named “Adolf” these days, thanks to one particular scoundrel).

It is thus important to consider the significance of the name of Jesus. His name tells us who He is and why He came into the world. It is the English transliteration of His Hebrew name, “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation.” He came, first and foremost, to “save his people from their sins,” as the angel told Joseph.

This is who He is, what He does, and what we can expect from Him. Jesus came to save us from our sins. His entire life—including His teaching ministry as well as His death and resurrection—was designed to save us from the kingdom of sin and darkness and bring us into the kingdom of God.

In addition to this name above all names (Philippians 2:9-10), the Bible ascribes numerous titles to Jesus: Immanuel, Son of God, Lamb of God, Prince of Peace, etc. If you are interested in an in-depth study of the names and titles of Jesus, an extensive podcast series by theologian Thomas Hopko is available here.

Much has been written about the power of Jesus’ name and the promises in His name. Our eternal condition is closely tied to His name: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Someday, every sentient creature (including every demon in hell, every atheist, and every Islamic terrorist) will bow before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The authority of that name is undeniable, and someday all mankind will acknowledge that.

Those who acknowledge the authority of Jesus’ name can be assured that He will be faithful to His promises. Jesus said, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).

This does not mean (as some misguided Bible teachers claim) that we can force God to give us something simply by ending our prayers with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name.” His Holy Name reflects His authority and power, much as a police officer’s badge reflects his authority to demand that you stop driving and present your license and registration. We do not try to exercise authority over God; rather, we acknowledge Jesus’ authority over our lives and all creation, and on the basis of that authority, we pray with confidence that God will do exactly what He promises. In John 14:13-14, Jesus clearly says that our prayers in His name will be answered so that “the Father may be glorified in the Son.” We pray in Jesus’ name to fulfill God’s will, not to baptize His will into our will or subjugate God to our desires.

The name of Jesus is the springboard to the greatest “new beginning” of all. God’s blessings and promises are intertwined with the name, authority, and character of Jesus, our Savior: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; the God who is always with us. May 2017 be a year in which we all gain a greater appreciation and awareness of who Jesus is and what He seeks to do in our lives.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Happens After the Election?

In a recent post, I suggested that the current presidential campaign reflects the state of American culture. God does not have to send judgement to America: He can simply sit back and allow us to face the consequences of our rebellion, including the candidates we choose and the officials we elect to hold government office:

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

How can Christians in America respond to our current situation? I still refuse to openly endorse either candidate because, as I wrote in that post, “God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.” This truth has an impact that will continue far beyond November 8.

First, I believe that even those Christians who have claimed that one of the two candidates is “God’s choice” must continue to pray beyond November 8. I know of several Christian groups who have been praying and fasting for Donald Trump to win. Even if he is “God’s man for the job,” a successful election does not mean the spiritual battle for the soul of our nation is over. Politicians see Election Day as the finish line at the end of a race, because winning the election is their goal. A Christian’s goal should be to see God’s glory radiating in our world (this may include revival within the nation). America will be no more of a Christian nation on November 9 than it was one day earlier. For us, an election triumph is not the same as crossing the finish line first in a race. It is more like scoring a single two-point field goal in a basketball game. It may count as part of the actual victory, but it is only a small part of it.

I ask those of you who are praying for the election: Will you continue to pray beyond November 8? Will you pray for more people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Will you pray for a culture where all life is cherished, from conception to natural death, where the very thought of abortion or euthanasia would be as repulsive as cannibalism? Will you pray for a society that cherishes family and upholds a truly biblical perspective thereof? The game is not over when the final vote is tallied this week. It is over when Revelation 11:15 is fulfilled: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Evangelism will likewise be an important part of our task. We have tried for too long to persuade our “opponents” without seeking a change of heart. We are trying to convince those who do not know Jesus that abortion is murder, that homosexuality is a sin, etc., without first seeking to bring them to faith in Jesus. We forget that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Explaining scriptural morality and spiritual truth to someone who does not have the Spirit of God within them is like trying to explain quantum physics to a three-year-old. If you do not recognize the Triune God as the source of all truth and Creator of all, you can avoid spiritual truth. If there is no God, any form of sexual expression is equally valid. If there is no God, we can decide who is “alive enough” to have a right to life.

We need to bring people to a personal relationship with Christ so that spiritual truth will make sense to them. That is when we will see transformation, and that is something only the people of God can do. A Christian’s primary responsibility has always been evangelism. Our job is to bring people to Jesus Christ, not to convert a nation to a political ideology.

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

Categories: Current events, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Patrick: Honoring the Man Behind the Legends

Saint Patrick (window)

St. Patrick is one of my favorite saints. Most people probably associate him with the revelry of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (green beer, Irish jigs, McDonald’s shamrock shakes, etc.), leprechauns, and some of the legends that have emerged about his life (like the belief that he drove the snakes out of Ireland).

For me, St. Patrick’s Day is a chance to reflect on the message of his life. As a teenager, he had been kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold into slavery, where he was forced to work as a shepherd. After six years, he escaped. However, he returned to Ireland years later, to offer the message of eternal life to a nation where he had once suffered oppression. His is a tale of deliverance, divine guidance, forgiveness, and perseverance.

As we come to the end of another St. Patrick’s Day, I invite you to get to know the man behind the legends a little more. Take the time to read and pray St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Many historians question whether he actually wrote it, but it reflects the same heart and soul that wrote the two books that we know are his [his spiritual autobiography (The Confessio) and The Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus]. If possible, read the Breastplate aloud. Some people find a great blessing reading it every day as they clothe themselves in the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–18).

I close today’s post with St. Patrick’s Prayer,  from http://www.ourcatholicprayers.com/st-patricks-prayer.html:

May the Strength of God pilot us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Host of God guard us.
Against the snares of the evil ones.
Against temptations of the world
May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Salvation, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and evermore. Amen.

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

Categories: Christian Life, Current events | Tags: , , | Leave a 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—Luke 18:9–14

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9–14, NASB)

The prayer of the Pharisee is more common than most of us are willing to admit. I have said it a few times. That is not easy to admit. We Christians have learned over the years that, when you see the Pharisees in the Gospels, you know they are the “bad guys.” Therefore, whatever they are doing must be wrong.

However, there is a sense in which the Pharisee’s prayer makes a lot of sense. Everything that he says about himself is Scriptural. God does not want us to be swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or crooked. Fasting and tithing are noble activities, commended and commanded elsewhere in Scripture (even in the New Testament). In fact, if you can make the Pharisee’s bold claims, you should thank God (as he does).

So, what is wrong with his prayer? Why does Jesus say that the tax collector went home justified, but not the Pharisee? We could stop by simply saying “he exalted himself,” but what does that mean? The Pharisee’s prayer was flawed on several counts.

For one, he made other people his standard of righteousness. “I thank You that I am not like other people…or even this tax collector.” Romans 3:23 tell us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, not the glory of another person. We can all find another person who is worse than us in some way. “I have killed less people than Hitler” is not exactly a reason to brag.

The Pharisee assumed the worst about the tax collector. Granted, first-century Jewish tax collectors often earned their bad reputation due to corruption and greed. However, the Pharisee could not see what went through the other man’s heart. For some reason, the tax collector was begging for God’s mercy. His life and conscience were troubling him. Why had he chosen this career? What temptations did he find irresistible once employed by Rome? How many corrupt things had he done, which he had initially promised himself he would avoid? Maybe other questions like these kept him awake at night. The tax collector knew his own heart, and so did God. Perhaps all of us bear some shame or regret known only to ourselves. Other people may know the rumors, and maybe they know the facts. They may not know why you have followed a certain path in life, or made some of your choices.

However, the Pharisee’s greatest mistake was that he did not search his own heart to find out where cleansing was necessary. We ought regularly pray, as the psalmist did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23–24). The Pharisee knew what he was doing right. What was he doing wrong, though? Maybe his sins were not as obvious as the tax collector’s. Sinful attitudes, including pride, greed, and hatred, can cause as much damage as sinful actions. It is easy for us to condemn the sins that do not ensnare us. Unfortunately, it is even easier to make excuses for our own mistakes, to make it sound like our sins are somehow acceptable. At the very least, we often pretend our sins are not as bad as those committed by the other guy.

May we always ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our own sin to us. He can work in our hearts as well as the hearts of others. However, we have to open our hearts to Him. May He do His perfect work in our hearts, as we trust Him to deal with other people’s hearts in His own time.

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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Scripture Sabbath Challenge—James 1:26–27

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27, NASB).

Beginning Lent, I am reminded that the traditions, rituals, and liturgy of the Church are valuable only to the extent that they bring us closer to Jesus. The best way to know whether we are close to Jesus is to measure how much we are reflecting His love to the world.

I have found that there are, essentially, four kinds of Christians.  One kind prays only for themselves and makes no pretext that they care about the needs of others. The second group will say they will pray for you, but they probably will not. The third group will pray for you. The fourth group will seek to be God’s answer to your prayers.

The passage above does not tell us that “pure and undefiled” religion is praying for widows and orphans, but rather actually visiting them. It is easy to pray for for those who are hurting. It is a lot harder to join them in their pain, to become the first pair of ears all week to listen to their sorrows. It is not easy to help them.

This should be the challenge of Lent. Prayer and fasting are wonderful things. They can bring us closer to Christ. However, if they have accomplished that goal, you will go beyond prayer and fasting to active spiritual service.

We see this throughout Scripture. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God says through the prophet, “‘What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ Says the LORD. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats'” (Isaiah 1:11). He calls  their sacrifices—many of which were commanded in the Torah—”worthless” and “abominations.” Instead, what is the “fast” that He desires? “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16–17).

It is easy to pray for the downtrodden, and to hope that somebody else will minister to them. But, God is calling each of us to a mission field. It is not enough to pray for the orphans and widows. Each of us must reach out to them.

Placing it in a more contemporary environment, it is not enough for us to pray for the salvation of “those people” from the wrong side of the tracks. We are called to share the love and mercy of Jesus directly with them.

As I was reflecting on this week’s post, I heard the song, “Jesus is a Friend of Mine,” by Aaron Neville. His testimony is amazing: His lengthy music career was interrupted by struggles with drug addiction (including a few prison sentences) before he found deliverance through his faith in Christ. A few thoughts come to me as I listen to this song: remember that God has saved me from sin; remember that “those people” need to hear that same message of grace that saved me; and remember to reach out to them with the love of God. You can find that song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rN05ClD3vA.

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

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

Lent: A Time of Renewal

(This is a slightly updated version of post that I originally wrote in 2011.)

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Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 10 this year, begins the season of the church calendar known as Lent. Many Christians think of Lent as a time of fasting. We may give up a favorite food or hobby. In some churches, people give up eating meat on Fridays during Lent (some churches urge their members to give up meat on Wednesdays as well at this time). However, Lent is not just about fasting. It should not be a season for meaningless ritualized self-denial, but a time when we renew our dedication to Christ. This is a prime time for strengthening our devotion to Christ so that we can walk with him throughout the year.

In the early church, the 40 hours preceding dawn on Easter Sunday were set aside for fasting, to commemorate Jesus’ time in the tomb. This eventually led to the 40-day fast that we now know as Lent. This time period is associated with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2).

In most Western churches (including the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches that observe Lent), the 40 days include only weekdays and Saturdays. Sundays are always considered “feast days” (in celebration of Christ’s resurrection), so fasting is not required on those days.

In the early church, new converts were usually baptized on Easter. Lent served as a time to prepare for baptism, and the Lenten fast was a significant part of that preparation. For mature believers, it is a good opportunity to renew our baptismal vows or reflect on the significance of our new life in Christ. So, even though Lent call us to reflect on our sinfulness, mortality, and need for a Savior, it should also remind us of our new life in Christ and the ways that we are being transformed from glory to glory.

Many Christians receive ashes, in the shape of a cross, on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. This reminds us that we are created from the dust of the earth, and that we will return to dust, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Ash Wednesday reminds us that we needed a Savior to take away the penalty for our sins. Lent reminds us to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we wish to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:34).

It is true that Lent can become a meaningless ritual for some people. Many people give up things that are not important to them. They may give up a food that they enjoy but will probably not miss. For example, I like potato chips…when they are around. However, since I do not buy them too often, I might go weeks without eating any. This would not be a real Lenten fast for me. That might not be as silly as giving up something you do not even like, but it still would not be a genuine fast. There should be some significant sacrifice involved.

On the other hand, we must be careful about legalism in this regard. Observing Lent does not save us, nor does it automatically make someone a better Christian. Although Lent can be a powerful way to seek personal revival and renewal in our walk with the Lord, it is by no means the only way. A Christian who goes on a radical fast during Lent, but neglects his relationship with Christ the rest of the year, is not going to achieve spiritual maturity. Lent is a great time to seek a closer relationship with the Lord, but we must continue to seek that relationship after Easter and throughout the year.

The following are a few suggestions for a meaningful Lent:

First, make your Lenten fast meaningful. Give up a food or activity that will be a real sacrifice. I drink a lot of coffee, so on several occasions I gave that up during Lent. A couch potato might give up watching television for 40 days. Perhaps it will become a permanent lifestyle change. That is not the main goal, though. The goal is to give something up so that we can follow Christ more closely. Ideally, the time that would be spent engaging in a favorite activity can be redirected towards prayer, Bible study, worship, or some other way of drawing closer to Christ.

A helpful Scripture verse in this regard is Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (ESV, emphasis added).

Note that this passage calls us to lay aside both weights and sin. These are two different things. Christians should always be ready to lay aside a sin. If it is a sin (disobedience to a clear command of God, especially spelled out in his Word), we should give it up immediately and permanently. That is not a fast; that is repentance. We should not wait until Ash Wednesday and start again after Easter. However, some things might be a weight on our walk with the Lord, even if they are not necessarily sinful. Many people watch too much television. The nature of the programs may not be bad. They may not be watching vulgar or ungodly programming. But, they might be watching too much television. Television might start to take priority over God and family for them. It weighs down their soul and enchains their time. If you have a weight on your relationship with him, maybe Lent would be a good time to see if you can live without that weight, and to find out what your life would be like if you spent that time serving Christ.

If you choose to fast from a particular food, choose something that will be a realistic sacrifice. OK, maybe you know you will fail if you try to give up coffee for Lent. Maybe chocolate or donuts are more realistic goals for you.

If you are healthy enough, maybe you can consider a more strict fast. Perhaps you may decide to abstain from all solid food for a 24-hour period. Or, you can consider giving up eating anything between breakfast and dinner once or twice per week. One option is a “Daniel fast,” named after the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament. This fast involves abstaining from all animal products (no meat or dairy) and sweets, and drinking only water.

I would advise against going on a strict 40-day absolute fast without food. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah went on such fasts, but those were unique circumstances. Most of us are not preparing to die for the sins of humanity or begin writing the Bible. Unless you have received a clear word from the Lord that you should go on such a fast, do not do it. Even if you do receive such a word, seek counsel from a mature Christian leader (a pastor, or another mature believer who will have the wisdom to tell you whether or not you are hearing from God) and a health care practitioner.

Lent should not be just a time to give something up. During your fast, find ways to add spiritual disciplines or activities to your life. If you have never set aside a consistent time for daily prayer, Lent is an excellent time to begin. It would also be a good time to join a small-group Bible study.

During the Lenten fast, devote some time to self-examination and reflection. Pray that the Lord would point out to you areas where you need to grow. If he brings a certain sin to the surface (including either a sinful habitual activity, a bad habit, or an attitude that displeases him), bring it before him in repentance and confession. Seek God’s guidance and help to find victory over and deliverance from this problem area.

Whatever you do, remember that Lent is only a small fraction of the year, and it is not the sum total of your spiritual growth. Allow Lent to be a time to develop new, healthier habits and activities which will produce growth in your faith, and continue to put them into practice throughout the year. Let Lent be a time of new beginnings for you.

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

Categories: Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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