Monthly Archives: March 2016

Modern-Day Elijahs IV: Battling for the Soul of the Nation

(I usually begin my posts about Scripture by reproducing the entire passage at the top of the page. However, this is a lengthy account. Please read 1 Kings 18 before proceeding to this article.)

For three and a half years, Elijah has hidden as a refugee, mostly boarding in the home of a widow in a pagan city. Eventually, though, God would call him back to Israel.

When Elijah prophesied the drought upon the land, he told King Ahab that there would be no rain, “except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1). God planned for Elijah to one day call for rain upon the land. When God disciplines His people, His goal is to bring them closer to Himself, to call for repentance. God’s plan was not to starve Israel out of existence: It was to prove to the people that He, not Ba’al or one of the other false deities of the neighboring lands, controlled the elements.

Elijah would return to Israel to culminate this key purpose of his ministry. The drought, and the upcoming battle of God vs. Ba’al on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20–40) would be the battle for Israel’s soul. God’s redemptive plan for the world hung in the balance, because He had determined centuries earlier that it would be through the seed of Abraham, the people of Israel, that the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3).

In times of trial, there can be three results. The righteous may rise up and become more diligent in serving the Lord. Obadiah, a servant of the royal family, protected a handful of prophets while Jezebel continued to kill as many servants of God as she could. Some who are not following God may repent and become believers (I believe this was the case with the widow in Zarephath). Others, though, may become even more hardened against God. When Ahab finally saw Elijah, after three years of drought, he blamed the prophet for the nation’s hardships:

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals” (1 Kings 18:17–18).

Who is the true troublemaker? The one who rejects God, demands that others follow in his rebellion, and brings condemnation upon himself and his followers? Or, the person who warns of the danger?

The answer to those questions hinged on a more foundational question: Is there a true God and, if so, who is He? Elijah served Yahweh, the LORD, the God who had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants (the nation of Israel) and gave His law to Moses. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, believed Ba’al was the greatest god (but, not the only one). The prolonged drought was Yahweh’s method of showing that He was the one true God. Even though the people thought Ba’al was a nature deity, who controlled the weather, Yahweh had held back any rain that Ahab sought from his god.

It was time for a battle for the soul of the nation. The people of Israel must repent and return to their God. Their calling, to be a blessing to all the world (by bringing forth its Messiah, Jesus) hinged on this moment.

The battle seems pretty bizarre, but it was designed to make certain that only a real God could win. Elijah (who thoughts he was the last of the Yahweh-worshippers) would place a sacrifice on an altar. Four-hundred fifty prophets of Ba’al would also. Then, they would each call on their God and ask him to “come and get it.” Let the true God set his offering on fire.

I think that, if any event in the Bible warranted a hilarious YouTube video, it was this “pray-off.” Elijah allowed the prophets of Ba’al to pray all day. They prayed from morning until it was almost time for the evening sacrifice. They danced; they leaped; they screamed; they started cutting themselves. All they heard was Elijah teasing them, suggesting that maybe Ba’al was occupied in the outhouse or taking a long nap.

After a full day of their shenanigans, Elijah decided to take his turn. After dousing the ox and altar with probably the last available water, he said a brief, simple prayer. God answered with a bang. Elijah did all he could to make burning the offering impossible, but nothing is impossible for God.

Modern-day servants of God will usually not be called to engage in quite as dramatic a confrontation against false religion. We are in a battle, though. Like Elijah, modern American Christians find ourselves in the midst of a daily battle for the soul of our nation.

Until recently, Ba’al worship seemed a thing of the past to modern people of faith (this has changed recently, though). While the idols of the ancient world may be a thing of the past, new idols have emerged to war against faith in the one true God of Scripture. Islam, particularly its most radical forms, is committed to world domination and the eradication of all other religions. Secular humanism and other atheistic ideologies stand opposed to Christianity, but often find their way into the church to distort its faith.

Today, some of those false religions proclaim a message of “tolerance.” While certain elements of tolerance are noble and in fact central to the Gospel (we should welcome people of different racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds into our churches; we should welcome people regardless of their past; we should forgive), it is proclaimed in a way that denigrates the teachings of Jesus. Biblical tolerance means we accept people despite their flaws and backgrounds, and we exercise grace; it does not mean we pretend that sin does not exist. It does not mean we accept all “ways to God” as equally valid. Jesus said that He is the way, truth, and life, and that nobody comes to the Father except through Him. Biblical tolerance—particularly that taught by Jesus—does not contradict an exclusive claim to absolute truth. (If you have an issue with that, you may bring it up with God.)

The modern-day Elijah is called to pray for God’s kingdom to come, and His will to be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. He is called to proclaim the absolute nature of God’s revelation. He is called to stand for God even when the odds are stacked against him. Finally, he is called to trust God to do the impossible when the entire world has apparently turned its back on Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—John 20:21–23

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.” (John 20:21–23, NASB)

The_Holy_Bible

The four Gospels give different accounts about Jesus’ last days on Earth. While there are some apparent differences between them, these highlight the whirlwind of activity surrounding His death and resurrection. The Gospels agree on a few key issues: Christ died on the cross; He rose; He was seen alive by His apostles; and now, He has ascended to heaven and lives forever. Jesus is still alive, and He is still active on Earth, although now He acts through His body, the church.

John 20:21–23 recounts Jesus’ visit with the disciples on the evening following His resurrection. It was Sunday night, and while a few people have seen Jesus alive, this was the first time He met with 10 of the 11 remaining apostles. (Judas Iscariot had committed suicide, and Thomas was not present.) The disciples remained fearful and confused.

The focus of Jesus’ teaching turned in a new direction after His resurrection. For three years, He taught the disciples the gospel and principles of the kingdom of God. After His resurrection, He focused on how they would proclaim that gospel throughout the world.

Several key themes occur repeatedly throughout Jesus’ post-resurrection preaching. I will not cover all of those themes, but will address four that appear in the above passage:

  • First, He was truly, fully alive. The disciples were not seeing a ghost. They could feel His breath when He breathed upon them. One week later, He would invite Thomas to touch His hands and side. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that Jesus is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20), so His resurrection is a preview of our own resurrection and eternal life. “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19) is His promise that we too will live in resurrected glorified bodies someday, not as amorphous spirits floating around in cosmic nothingness.
  • Second, disciples are called to continue the ministry of Jesus. As the Father had sent Jesus, He was now sending them. He would later tell the apostles to go into all the world, teaching people to observe all that He had commanded them (Matthew 28:18–20). We are called to continue His ministry—not to cast it aside and create something new. Although we may need to adapt to new circumstances, the core message and mindset of Christ’s ministry should permeate the post-resurrection disciple’s ministry.
  • To fulfill that ministry, we need the Holy Spirit within us to empower us. Jesus assured His disciples that He would be with them until the end of the age. His presence is revealed through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. “Receive the Holy Spirit right now, and cling closely with Him. Only three days ago, you received the bread which I identified as My body. In the same manner, receive now the Holy Spirit within you, to permeate every corner of your being. As My Holy Spirit has lived within Me the whole time I have been with you, He will now live in you. Receive it! Believe it! Live by it!”
  • Finally, our ministry and message is good news of forgiveness of sins. The apostles repeated this message constantly, because it was the message He gave them (Luke 24:46–49; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:43). Our message should be good news, assuring our hearers that a free gift of forgiveness of sins is available to all who believe. We are not called to push people away from God with our dogmas, doctrines, and new rules. We are called to invite people to come to Jesus, to receive His forgiveness, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to transform their lives.

The resurrection was more than an event that makes a great story for Easter Sunday services. It is the moment when Jesus conquered sin, hell, and death. He invites us to share that victory. If you have not entered a personal relationship with Jesus, this is a great day to become a partaker of His life and victory. If you already know Him, it is a reminder to continue His earthly ministry by sharing the good news of salvation with those who need to hear it.

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

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

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

Disciples During Jesus’ Passion

IMG_20160304_173852827Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch, at Graymoor Retreat Center, Garrison, NY, March 2016

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.'” (John 13:36-38, NASB).

My church has an interesting service every year on Good Friday. It is a lengthy service (scheduled to last about three hours). Four people share their personal testimonies, focusing on the theme, “What the cross means to me.”

Church is probably the easiest place to take our stand for Christ. (If it is not, you need to find another church.) But, when the temptations of everyday life strike, we find out how strong we really are.

As I reflect on the cross this year, I wonder which disciple am I most like. Which disciple do you imitate most?

  • Judas Iscariot: He followed Jesus, and was even chosen as one of the twelve disciples. All of them had their issues to deal with. For Judas, a big one was greed: John 12:4-6 tells us that, as the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry team, he would frequently help himself to some of their money. His greed eventually drove him to sell Jesus out for 30 silver pieces.
    By the time he realized the error of his ways, the grief was greater than he could handle. When he could not correct his mistake, he committed suicide.
    I often wonder what would have happened if he had not killed himself: I am sure that, despite his horrible sin, Jesus would have forgiven him and restored him to ministry.
    Do I, like Judas, love the things of this world more than Jesus. Am I willing to sell Him out, to compromise—to risk losing my fellowship with Him—for the things of this world?
  • Peter: Here is a man who could always talk like a spiritual giant. Even until the end, he promised that he would be the last man standing with Jesus, even if it meant dying with him. Anyone with a Sunday school education knows how that story played out. Within a few hours, while Jesus was standing trial before a court that had already rendered its verdict before his arrest, Peter pretended he did not know who Jesus was. He would not testify in His defense. He would not even present himself as a friend offering moral or emotional support during Jesus’ darkest hour.
    Am I like Peter? Can I talk like a holy spiritual giant when I am around other Christians, but then clam up and shy away when surrounded by those who are hostile to the things of God?
  • John and Mary: Only a small handful of Jesus’ disciples stood by Him until the end. John 19:25-27 gives us a brief list. Jesus’ mother was there; so were a few other women who had travelled with His entourage. Only one man remained: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Peter may have been the strongest leader amongst the disciples, but John may very well have been Jesus’ closest friend. When everybody else fled, John stayed with Him.
    The photo at the top of this page depicts a famous image from Christian art. Mary holding the dead body of Jesus immediately after it was removed from the cross. The woman who 33 years earlier held a baby, who she knew would be the Saviour of the world, now grieved as all of her hopes, dreams, and expectations seemed to have been destroyed.
    Jesus’ dying request was that His buddy, John, take care of his widowed mother now. Not only was he to become one of the people assigned to proclaim the Gospel to all the world; John was also entrusted with a task that truly marked him as part of Jesus’ family.
    Am I like Mary and John, willing to follow Jesus, even when it gets hard? Am I willing to stay with Him when my expectations are nailed to the cross? Can Jesus trust me, like He trusted John, with those ministries that lie closest to His heart?

In the midst of the physical sufferings of His scourging and the cross, Jesus must have faced the unbearable pain of emotional and relational turmoil: The friend who betrayed Him; the friend who denied Him; those who abandoned Him. Even the pain of seeing His mother and closest friend grieve must have broken His heart. For the joy set before Him, though, He endured the cross and despised the shame (Hebrews 12:1-2), so that we can be forgiven for those times that we betray, deny, and abandon God.

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

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

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

1-corinthians-10-13-1024x768This verse does not say that your temptations are easy. It just promises us that God will provide the way of escape out of your temptations. I share that observation right from the beginning, because there are times when I have been discouraged by temptation. If this verse is true, why did I fail? Did God actually allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able to handle?

The temptations Paul’s audiences faced were, at times, incredible. Corinth has been called “the Las Vegas of the Ancient World,” due to the prevalence of brothels, saloons, and other forms of wickedness and immorality. With top-flight athletes competing nude at the Isthmian Games, a temple devoted to the worship of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, etc., sin was rampant. A committed Christian would find it difficult, if not impossible, to walk out of his or her house without being offered the sinful pleasures of this world.

Actually, as I wrote that last paragraph, I thought, “That sounds like New York!” Professional athletes here may not compete naked: We have the Internet and cable TV to provide that temptation. So, we do not even need to leave our houses; debauchery can get pumped directly into our homes if we are not careful.

In addition to such moral challenges, Christians in Paul’s day faced other temptations. Christianity was viewed by many as a threat to the social order, so persecution was a real concern. Christians were not only tempted to drink excessively, engage in sexual immorality, or things like that. They were tempted, by public pressure and government force, to denounce Jesus and return to their pagan roots.

In spite of that, Paul told them that they had not encountered any temptation except those that are common to people, and that God would provide the way of escape. That does not mean the temptation will be easy: Some temptations are ruthless, and we cannot face them alone or in our own strength. A few of our escape routes from temptation may be:

  • Flee the temptation: 1 Corinthians 6:18 urges us to flee sexual immorality, but the “flee” principle applies to a host of other sins. Are you tempted by internet pornography? Get away from the computer: Go for a walk (leave your smartphone home, if necessary). Are you tempted to get drunk? Do not stick around in a bar or at a party where there is a lot of alcohol.
  • Phone a friend: In Galatians 6:1-2, we are told to restore a person who is caught in a transgression “in a spirit of gentleness.” I will take it one step further: Find that gentle fellow believer—someone you can trust—and ask them to pray with you. Perhaps you know someone who has struggled with your temptation in the past and found victory. (Do not look for the person who will tear you down and treat you poorly: Look for the person who understands your temptation, knows how to overcome it, and will love you through it all.)
  • Renew your mind: James 1:14 tells us that a person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own evil desire. Before we blame the devil, we need to remember that he will only use the ammunition we have placed in our own minds. Therefore, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Studying Scripture and prayer are a great place to begin. As we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds (transforming our thinking) through the Word of God, we defuse some of the ammunition that Satan will try to use against us.

I would love to hear some other suggestions for resisting temptation. Feel free to share your spiritual resources and escape routes in the comments.

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

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

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

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

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