Monthly Archives: January 2016

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Genesis 17:1–6

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.” [Genesis 17:1–6. 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.]

This week, the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office readings have guided readers through the story of Abraham. Abraham’s life was a turning point in God’s dealings with humanity. Beginning with Abraham, God chose a people to whom He would reveal Himself. Through that group of people (the children of Israel), God would bless the world (Genesis 12:1–3). That blessing would culminate in the coming of the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through that covenant, God took a “nobody” and transformed him into a “somebody” whose life and faith still impact our world.

Genesis 17 is the third time God called Abraham (originally named Abram) into covenant relationship with Him. Each calling was not so much a new covenant; it was, instead, a reminder or a clarification of the covenant. In Genesis 12, God promised to make Abram into a great nation. In Genesis 15, God promised that this great nation would be his own descendants. However, since Abram’s wife Sarai (or Sarah) was already past child-bearing, they assumed that he needed to take matters into their own hands; instead of believing that God could do the impossible, Sarai suggested that Abram marry a second wife to bear children.

In Genesis 17, God reaffirmed the covenant. Abram was basically a nobody: a Middle-Eastern nomad wandering through the world he knew. Countless nomads wandered the lands of the Middle East throughout the centuries, herding sheep and surviving as he did, only to be forgotten by history. In many ways, he was not the kind of person we may view as a “hero”: at times dishonest, sometimes doubting God. In spite of all that, God chose to establish His covenant with Abram.

Three key thoughts are worth considering regarding this covenant. First, God initiated the covenant. Abram was not a great philosopher or wise man who could ponder his way to an awareness of the divine nature. Left to himself, Abram probably would have wandered around the ancient world, herding sheep, fighting feuds over watering holes, and worshipping his father’s idols. Abram would not have found God; instead, God found him. Let us always remember that we do not find Jesus; the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us. He finds us.

Second, God defined the covenant. God determined how He would bless Abram. The blessings of the covenant were decided by God. Abram did not bring God a list of terms, proposals, or counter-offers. God offered the blessing, the terms of the covenant, and the sign of the covenant. God called Abram to accept circumcision as a sign of the covenant; I’m sure Abram could have thought of some less-painful options, but he obeyed without offering a compromise suggestion.

We, too, should accept the call to follow God on His terms. Faith in God is not like dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet (take what you like and leave the rest). God calls us to accept a relationship with Him on His terms, grounded in faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Lord—not our motivational therapist, buddy, or just someone we can call when we think we need a little help.

Finally, God chooses the recipient. We do not earn salvation. He calls us. Salvation begins with conviction by the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to get your life in order before coming to Jesus, you are wrong. He is calling you (even if it is through something as simple as this blog post), come to Him. He will start a work in your life and bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).

God found Abram, an anonymous nomad whom history should have forgotten, and called him into a covenant relationship with Him. He transformed that nobody into Abraham, the father of many nations, patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, and ancestor of our Saviour. If we recognize God’s invitation and choose to obey, He will guide us to a destiny far beyond our expectations.

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

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

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Matthew 16:13–19

The Holy Bible

 

During the Blogging 101 course I recently completed on WordPress, one of our assignments was to take part in a “blogging event”; another was to create a regular feature on our blogs. So, to kill two birds with one stone, today I am introducing what I hope will be a weekly feature. Participating in the “Scripture Sabbath Challenge,” I will share some thoughts on a Bible passage that spoke to me during the week. I pray that these meditations will be a blessing to all who read them.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–19. 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.)

This is one of those verses that generates much controversy between Christians and churches, because many people do not read it in its context. We need to remember that Jesus speaks as a first-century Jew, not as a 21st-century American. Particularly, many Christians misunderstand what Jesus means by “binding and loosing.” In many churches, we talk about “binding Satan” and “loosing God’s blessings” or “loosing healing” upon ourselves or those we care for.

In rabbinic Judaism, “binding and loosing” meant essentially “forbidding and permitting” (see the Jewish Encyclopedia). As Lonnie Lane observes, “The people to whom {Jesus} spoke understood that He was talking about what was consistent with Torah and what wasn’t. This matter of binding and loosing wasn’t unique to Yeshua. It was entirely familiar to them all because it was how the rabbis would sanction something or ban it according to the teachings in Torah.” For example, the Old Testament law told Jews that they cannot boil a kid in its mother’s milk; rabbis, by binding and loosing, extended this rule to prohibit eating cheeseburgers.

In other words, Jesus is giving Peter divine authority to speak and proclaim God’s will on His behalf. Jesus extended much of this authority to the rest of the disciples later, in Matthew 18:15–20: There, “binding and loosing” is directly connected with fellowship in the church. It is as if Jesus is telling the disciples, “When someone shows no sign of remorse or repentance, treat them like they don’t know Me.”

It is true that this can be abused. Some will use Matthew 18 as an excuse to decide that other people are going to hell. Some will follow Matthew 18’s prescriptions as a checklist: you followed these steps, now you are free to excommunicate this person, to ostracize them, and to call them heretics and pagans.

However, we should always consider the full context of the mission Jesus gave His disciples: “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).

Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples involved authority to proclaim the Gospel to the world. In Matthew 28:18–20, He authorizes them to make disciples and baptize. In John 20:21–23, it is an offer of authority to forgive sins: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’”

This is the believer’s authority: To offer God’s forgiveness to a lost and dying world. To proclaim to sinners that Jesus died for them and offers eternal life to all who will come to Him. We are not called to proclaim condemnation, but to offer life and hope.

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

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

Learning and Teaching

With_His_Disciples020

Jesus teaches His disciples.

As I continue to take the Blogging 101 course on WordPress, today’s task was to write a post based on a prompt from the Daily Post. Today’s prompt asked us to write about our learning styles:

What’s your learning style? Do you prefer learning in a group and in an interactive setting? Or one-on-one? Do you retain information best through lectures, or visuals, or simply by reading books?

I will write about this in two ways: First, by answering the question briefly; second, by discussing how this relates to Jesus’ teaching methods and the Bible itself.

My learning style is simple: I am very much a solo self-teaching type of student. I can learn well in a group, but I tend to thrive when I am allowed to follow my own curiosity wherever it may lead. I thrive most with books, although web pages work as well. (For me, web pages work best if I am looking for step-by-step instructions for completing a task or troubleshooting a problem, like when I recently bought a new printer and needed to connect it to my computer. Books are ideal for gathering information or learning about a topic.)

Like I said, that is my learning style. Yours may be completely different.

An in-depth discussion of learning styles can cover a lot of other territory. Some people learn best by pondering abstract concepts. Others learn best by following step-by-step instructions. Others enjoy stories.

Our learning styles evolve throughout our lives. Small children learn best by hearing stories or being given strict rules. You might tell a six-year-old boy, “It’s not nice to hit other children” (rule) or remind him how he felt when another child hit him (story). Ethical and philosophical discussions about the just use of violence and force (abstract concepts) should be saved for a few years later, when the child is more mature. (This is why most Sunday-school curricula for younger children focus on Bible stories. Discussion of broad application of the Book of Proverbs are best saved for the older grades.)

This may seem trivial, but it is a lesson we need to remember when studying the Bible. Several years ago, I wrote an article about how to study the Bible. One of the key points I made was that we must “{i}nterpret the Bible wisely,” and I pointed out the importance of recognizing a passage’s genre. History, poetry, prophecy (especially apocalyptic literature, like Revelation), laws, and letters teach different things, use different “rules,” and should be interpreted differently. The person who treats every symbol in Revelation literally, as if it is a historical book, will make mistakes as silly as the person who thinks a Peanuts cartoon is reporting current events since it is in the newspaper.

Thank God that He has provided diverse means of speaking to us through His Word. Some days, we will need to hear from a parable. Other days, He may need to set the law down for us. Let us embrace the grace He has shown by meeting us at our various points of need.

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Words: The Writer’s Tools

For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2, NASB).

To revitalize my blogging, I have been taking a course on “Blogging 101” on WordPress this month. This post is in response to a pair of assignments in that class: A few nights ago, we were instructed to comment on a few other blogs; now, we should write a post related to one of our comments.

Recently, the author of “Ramblings of a Writer” posted about bloggers and other writers who use profanity. In the anarchy of the Internet, it was a refreshing observation. She had decided against following a fellow blogger because of his use of coarse and foul language in his posts.

The Internet has sparked a revolution in publishing. When I attended college, becoming a published writer was an accomplishment. You had to get hired by a newspaper, or have your book accepted by a publishing house, etc. You did not just wake up one morning, decide “I’m going to be a writer,” and make it happen by the end of the day. You might think you are a talented writer, or that you have something important to say; but if you could not find an editor or publisher who recognized your viability as a writer, too bad.

Today, anybody with an Internet connection can publish a blog. That opens new doors for authors: professional writers can have another outlet for their work; people like myself, whose training has brought them into careers where they work “behind the scenes” of publishing can find an arena to share their thoughts and ideas; creatively-minded people looking for a chance to be heard can find an audience.

Unfortunately, it also means that shallow persons with big egos and no talent can put words on a page. It also means that some writers operate without a sense of professionalism or class.

In response to the post on “Ramblings of a Writer,” I wrote the following:

I feel the same way. I think that profanity is not only unnecessarily offensive: It’s just plain lazy speech. It’s easy to pull one of George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television” out of the hat to express an emotion: It’s more clever to choose a unique combination of words that people will remember.
REAL WRITERS are artists who use words as their medium. Potty-mouth profanity perpetrators sound like overgrown children trying to convince the world that they should be heard.

You would not hire an auto mechanic who does not know the difference between a lug wrench and a screwdriver. You should flee a medical doctor who does not know how to use a stethoscope. You expect a professional or skilled laborer to know how to use the tools of his trade.

Writers use words. These are our tools. We craft them into sentences, ideas, paragraphs, chapters, and articles. On a good day, we can agonize over five different synonyms, trying to find the one that most effectively expresses our thoughts and emotions.

I understand that some writers may have a valid use for profanity. An author of fiction wants to make his characters sound real. There are some people in literature who will not sound believable if the worst thing they say is “Fiddle-diddle-dee.”

As a Christian writer, my goal is to use words as a gift from God. One of my goals should  be to write in a way that honors Christ. That goes beyond avoiding George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television” (a few of which have found their way onto network programming). Saint Paul writes,

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6, NASB).

Words matter. The spirit and heart behind the words matter. I admit, I can do better in my choice of words, especially in conversation when I’m under stress. As a writer, though, my goal is to build people up with the gift God has given me, not to use my tongue (or my pen, or computer keyboard) as a weapon to harm others.

Categories: Character and Values | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

God With Us, and Us With God

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1:22-23, NASB).

Seven days into the New Year, and I am finally writing my first new blog post of the year. I wish I could find more time to write, but other responsibilities can crop us: my last post was Part II of my series, “Modern-Day Elijahs.” That series may be delayed, but it has not been cancelled: the rest of the series is in the works.

Many people view the new year as the chance to make a fresh start. Some people make “New Year’s Resolutions.” On January 1, my Facebook feed reminded me that, about six years ago, I resolved to publish a book by the end of the year. It did not happen: Since then, my only New Year’s resolution is to avoid making New Year’s resolutions. Every now and then, I will take some time for self-examination, seeing where my life is and how my relationship with Christ is developing. While that often occurs around the changing of the years, it is not limited to that.

Still, it is hard to avoid making new starts with a new year. At work, we begin establishing goals for the new year. Why? Because it is January. In fact, part of the reason I took a few minutes to write tonight is because I signed up for an online course, “Blogging 101,” which offered the opportunity to kick-start a year of writing. Once again, I think there is only one reason why the organizers thought now would be a good time to have this course: It’s January.

For many Americans, New Year’s Day signals the end of the “holiday season,” which begins around Thanksgiving and climaxes on Christmas. However, the Christmas season proper does not end until Epiphany (January 6), ending the “12 days of Christmas.”

In some ways, this makes it a fitting time to consider ways that your life can change in the coming months and year. We commemorate a time when God became human, so that He could redeem us and restore us.

Over the last two weeks, I have been brought back to the verse at the top of this post several times. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the proclamation that Mary’s baby would be Immanuel, God-with-us. It ends with Jesus’ promise that He will remain with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He came to become a man, to live among us, so that we could abide with Him and His Father forever. He promised to stay with us. The only question that remains is this: Will we stay with Him?

Jesus is “God-with-us.” My mission in 2016 is to be “Mike-with-God.” I hope to write more in 2016. I would love to finally publish that book. I have other goals and dreams for the coming year. However, all of that depends on where God leads me. If I remain “Mike-with-God,” I can be certain that “God-with-us” will lead me to accomplish His perfect will.

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

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

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