Monthly Archives: April 2016

Modern-Day Elijahs V: Time for a Spiritual Retreat

Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [1 Kings 19:1–13. 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.]

Having won a mighty battle for the soul of his nation, Elijah had to fight a battle in his own soul. The servant of God must always remember that, if Satan cannot defeat you through the things around you, he will try to conquer you from within. The man who could call fire and rain down from heaven would find himself ready to surrender when Jezebel uttered a verbal threat.

Elijah had taken his stand for God, and God proved that He is greater than the idols the Israelites had been worshipping. On matters of faith conviction, though, some people will not surrender. Jezebel was one such woman. Even if everybody else acknowledged Yahweh as the only true God, she would continue to worship Ba’al.

Even in the face of defeat, Jezebel would not yield: Not to her husband, not to Elijah, and not to a God she refused to worship. She refused to recognize the limits of her authority. No other queen in the Bible was as  bold as her, as quick to usurp the king’s authority. The king was supposed to submit to God, and the queen was supposed to let the king do his job.

In the face of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah was tempted to despair. He was ready to quit, and to give up on life itself. “Now, O Lord, take my life.” He was almost ready to commit suicide, but thankfully he left his life and death in the hands of God. Elijah was ready to quit, but God was not done with him yet.

One might expect God to be angry at a believer—especially a mature believer who should “know better”—for wanting to die, but God chose mercy over wrath. Instead of answering his prayer, God allowed Elijah to take a nap. Then, He sent an angel with food. “Elijah, I understand. You are frightened. You are stressed out. You are tired. You are hungry. But, you’re not finished. Eat and get some rest. I want to meet with you on the same mountain where I first met with Moses (Exodus 3:1) and gave him the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2).”

The journey was long, so God gave Elijah two supernatural meals, since the prophet would go 40 days without food. Elijah faced a turning point in his ministry. Just as Israel had needed a miraculous revelation of God’s power a few days earlier, now Elijah needed a miraculous sign of God’s mercy and provision now.

Elijah also needed a new perspective on God. Up until this time, his ministry had focused on God’s total power over the world. This is a God who can hold back rain as long as He chooses. He is a God who can feed those whom He chooses. He can send fire from heaven whenever He desires. But, Elijah was discouraged. That all-powerful God seemed too overwhelming. So, when God appeared to Elijah on the mountain, He did not come in the mighty, rushing wind storm; or the earthquake; or the fire. Instead, He came in a gentle whisper, a still small voice. It was  the sound a loving parent makes when comforting a crying baby who wakes up terrified in the middle of the night.

Elijah had served long enough. He had been busy doing God’s work, being the man God used to reveal Himself to Israel. He may have reached a point where he worked in his own strength. It was no longer a calling; it had degenerated into a mundane job: one with little or no wages, no apparent benefits, but plenty of hostility and disappointment. Elijah needed time away from the action so that he could bring his needs before the Lord. He needed to acknowledge how this ministry has worn him out. He needed a chance to admit his doubts, his frustrations, and his fears. As God’s top spokesman, he felt that he could not let other people know what was running through his mind. But, God knew already. He gave Elijah an opportunity to bare his soul.

This journey into the wilderness was Elijah’s opportunity to stop ministering to others, and to allow God to take care of him. He needed a fresh dose of God’s power in his life. To continue as God’s prophet, he needed to recover.

The modern-day man or woman of God needs that renewal also. Some of us (particularly myself) can be very task- and goal-oriented. We feel like we have to stay busy, and if we stop being busy, we get restless or (even worse) we feel like failures. However, God wants us to come aside and get some rest. In the midst of our busyness, let us not forget to spend time simply enjoying a relationship with the God who loves us and wants to bless us. How can we do that?

  • Schedule regular Sabbath-rest times. God commands His people to take a Sabbath-day’s rest every week (Exodus 20:8–11). He never told us to stop. Jesus merely told us that the Sabbath is meant for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). God created the Sabbath to be a blessing to His people.
  • Spend some time daily in prayer and Bible reading. Let this be a time when God speaks to you. As much as you may be tempted to read your prayer list to God, remember that your first priority is to receive direction, encouragement, strength, guidance, etc., from Him.
  • Set aside time for personal retreats. In addition to some corporate ministry retreats I attend annually (one or two with the members of an order in which I am a brother, and a church men’s retreat), I will usually have one or two solitary retreats a year: 24 hours where I am alone with God. I can come back with new perspective and insight into His will for my life.

Take that time to hear the still, small voice of God whispering to you. The greatest prophet in the Old Testament needed it. So do you.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fulfillment of the Law—Matthew 5:17-20

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20, NASB.)

Christians seem to have many different opinions about the relationship between followers of Jesus and the Old Testament law.

Many live and talk as though we are still bound by a series of rules and regulations. Even though they may believe that some of the rules no longer apply to us (e.g., eating pork, observing the Sabbath), they find new rules which they believe all Christians should follow (for example, thou shalt not listen to rock music or anything that sounds like it; thou shalt not dance; thou shalt not drink even the tiniest sip of alcohol). When someone violates one of those rules, these people may assume that this person does not know Jesus.

Then there are those people who believe that since we are no longer under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14–15), we can just ignore the entire Old Covenant. In fact, we can even ignore those passages in the New Testament that sound like commands straight from the mouth of God.

Clearly, neither is correct. Paul’s teaching in his letters, as well as much of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, proves that rules and regulations do not save us. But, when Jesus says that those who annul even the smallest stroke of the pen are least in the kingdom of heaven, it is clear that we cannot simply live as we like.

How do we answer this paradox? I will suggest a few basic principles that we can learn from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:17–20, which will help us balance our relationship with Jesus and our obligation to rules and regulations in Scripture.

First, remember that Jesus has fulfilled the law. The central message of the Gospel is that God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus died for you! You are forgiven! That forgiveness is a gift, freely received by faith! You do not earn it by trying harder, or by paying God back. Stop beating yourself up if you fail: All of your sins, whether by failure to resist temptation or by open rebellion against God, are forgiven when you confess Jesus as Lord of your life.

Second, the entire law is summed up in loving God and loving your neighbor. In Matthew 22:37–40, Jesus defined the greatest law of Scripture by saying:

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

The love Jesus speaks of is not just a warm feeling. It can hurt. Remember John 3:16—God so loved the world that He did something drastic and sacrificial for us. In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus sums up the two great laws, He taught the parable about the Good Samaritan: In that story, a man went out of his way to take care of a crime victim who probably hated him, surrendering his own time, money, and energy to care for somebody in need.

Because of this, in some ways the New Covenant calls us to a higher standard. We can no longer face ethical dilemmas or personal decisions based purely on the questions, “Is there a rule against this? Am I allowed to do this?” Instead we must ask ourselves deeper questions:

  • Since Jesus dwells in me and I am part of His body, how would He act?
  • What would He do about this?
  • How can I show love for this person in this situation?
  • Not only is it allowable, but also, is it profitable? Is this the best way to seek the best for other people?

These are challenging questions to ask ourselves as we face the daily challenges of life.

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

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

The Mercy Seat—Exodus 25:21–22

“You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:21–22, NASB).

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NASB).

 holman_the_mercy_seatThe “mercy seat” was basically the “lid” on the Ark of the Covenant in ancient Israel’s tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem. For brevity’s sake, I will not address all of the details about the tabernacle; if you are interested in getting a big-picture view, you may review this article on Wikipedia.

However, I would like to focus on the importance that it is the mercy seat. It is interesting that mercy was seated at the center of Old Testament worship. When the children of Israel came into God’s presence seeking forgiveness, they sought His mercy. When they sought any opportunity to worship and praise God, it was because of His mercy. The two tablets of the Ten Commandments were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant: Thus, the very laws of God were given under His mercy. When God spoke to Moses, it was from the seat of mercy.

Jesus came down from His throne in heaven, took on human flesh, encountered every temptation that is common to mankind (without sin), died for our sins, and rose again. Because of this, we have the privilege to boldly approach the throne of grace. Since a “throne” is a special kind of seat, and “grace” is another aspect of God’s love (similar to mercy), I do not find it unreasonable to propose that the “throne of grace” is the Christian’s spiritual mercy seat.

While we no longer speak of a physical seat, placed upon a physical Ark of the Covenant and hidden in an exclusive Holy of Holies in an earthly temple, this throne of grace—this mercy seat—is available to all who have entered into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. His mercy remains at the center of our worship and faith. We enter God’s presence through mercy. We receive forgiveness through mercy. God’s grace and mercy should inspire our worship and praise. Our obedience to God’s Word and will is an outgrowth of His mercy. Even when His word tells us to avoid sin, it is not out of a legalistic control-freak attempt to spoil our fun: It is because God is guiding us by His mercy.

Come to Jesus as a recipient of His mercy and grace. None of us deserves to come to Him, but He offers us salvation as a free gift. We cannot earn it, but we can receive it boldly by faith.

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

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

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

Facebook: Fellowship or Fantasy Friendships?

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

I love the Internet. Some people might say I spend too much time online. That may be true. The Internet can be a dangerous place. Even if you stay on safe websites, it can become an escape from the real world.

I especially enjoy spending time on Facebook. It has become an efficient way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. I can get regular updates from ministries or organizations in which I am interested (sometimes daily or several times per day). My church very effectively uses it to broadcast announcements and updates, and our church’s online group is a great place to share prayer requests.

Yet, some people have an exaggerated positive idea about Facebook and other social media. I have known several Christians who claim it is their primary source of fellowship. I have also read blogs where people talk about having online accountability partners. It sounds good, but it is wrong.

Facebook, or any other Internet resource, is not a valid source for friendship, fellowship, or any other kind of close relationship. It is an excellent supplement, but it should be secondary to real-world face-to-face relationships. Getting your fellowship online is like taking vitamins or nutritional supplements. Taking vitamins and supplements is a great idea, as long as you also eat healthy food, get regular exercise, and take other steps to care for your health. Likewise, social media can be a great way to supplement your real-world relationships. However, it is emotionally and spiritually dangerous to build your entire social life around the Internet.

I currently have 383 friends on Facebook. (Maybe I should cut a few out; according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, most people can only maintain about 150 casual friendships.) There are a few whom I have never met in person. There are also several whom I would probably have no, or extremely limited, contact with now, if not for the social-networking site (including distant cousins or friends from school and college). Then, there is a group of people I see in person on a regular basis: family members, a handful of co-workers, people from church, and close friends.

Despite having so many opportunities to stay in touch with  all of these people online, I cannot think of Facebook as “fellowship.” A good supplement to fellowship, but not the real thing. Here is why.

Most studies find that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Suppose you see me in church; you say, “Hi, Mike, how are you?” I might say, “I’m OK.” Do you believe me? The tone of my voice, my facial expression, and my posture will tell you if I mean, “I am doing quite well, thank you. Everything in my life is good,” or “I am miserable, I feel lousy, but I really do not want to talk about it.”

Online, you will not get those nonverbal queues. I can continue to pretend all is well. I can edit myself online to make certain I project the image I want you to see, not necessarily the one that is true. If you see me in person, you are more likely to know if I am being honest or if I am hiding something.

If you see me in person on a regular basis, you have a chance to know the real me. Once you know me in person, you can know more of the background of my life when you read my posts, either on this blog or elsewhere online.

With people who know you in the real world, you cannot create a fake persona. Online, you can pretend to be the person you want people to think you are. That can be very different from who you really are. You can hide your real hobbies and interests online. You can pretend you have it all together, when in fact, you are crying inside. The people who see you on a regular basis know if something is wrong. The people who only know about you through the Internet might think you are a spiritual giant, when in fact you are living in emotional, spiritual, or moral defeat.

So, if you have been relying on Facebook, Twitter, or any other online service to provide “fellowship” for you, step away from your computer and turn off your cell phone. Get around people who live near you. To my Christian readers: Get more involved in church. Find people who will care for you and spend time for you IN PERSON, not merely online. You may even need to consider taking a fast from the Internet, if it has become an obsession.

It is great to be able to keep in touch with people who live far away or whom you can only see once or twice a week due to your busy schedules. But, make time to be with with other people, in person. Find real friendship and fellowship in the real world, not in the virtual universe of the Internet.

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

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Judge Not

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NASB)


In last week’s Scripture Sabbath challenge, I discussed Philippians 4:13, particularly considering how many believers claim this verse without considering its context. This week, I would like to take a few minutes to look at a verse that is probably abused even more frequently by ignoring its context. Jesus’ instruction, “Do not judge,” is abused even more frequently, since the misapplication comes from those who are in open rebellion against God. Regrettably, many Christians have swallowed the bait of falsehood that has been presented to them.

Every Christian has fallen victim to this lie of the devil. (Yes, I will go so far as to call it demonically-inspired.) You say, “I believe in the sanctity of all human life and believe abortion is a sin.” The response: “Remember, Jesus said, ‘Do not judge.’” Or, you might say, “I believe in traditional marriage, between one man and one woman.” You hear the same response.

Do those who tell us that we cannot judge really believe it is an absolute rule that we can never say that something is immoral or wrong? Many of the same people who tell Christians that Jesus told us not to judge are quick to judge certain actions: Do they believe an adult should have sexual relations with a five-year-old? Do they think we should abuse animals? Do they think history has been too hard on Adolf Hitler, and maybe we should just assume he was doing what he thought was best for his nation? Can we murder? Can we steal? Is it wrong to own slaves, or to force teenage girls to be sex slaves? Many of the same people who will accuse Christians of being judgemental can get pretty vocal about these things.

It is a form of demonic deception. In Genesis 3, we read how the serpent (Satan) tempted Eve. He tricked her into believing that God’s command (you shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) was not true, or that it meant something different from what God had said. (Note that, in Genesis 3:3, Eve says that God forbade them from even touching the tree. God only said they could not eat its fruit. Adam and Eve were probably allowed to pick the fruit and throw it at the serpent’s head.)

Today, Satan has hijacked Matthew 7:1 away from Jesus and the church, and Christians have abdicated their authority to proclaim God’s word to the world. It has reached a point where many ministers are afraid to even confront sin amongst Christians, thereby failing to fulfill the last part of the Great Commission (“teaching {disciples} to observe all” that Jesus commands).

To understand the passage more clearly, let us look at the context (Matthew 7:1–6):

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

How does this passage affect how we speak about sin?

  • First, although Jesus came to forgive our sins, that does not mean He ignores them. Sin is still sin. The one who said, “Do not judge” and proclaimed forgiveness also told an adulterous woman, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:10). Sin still exists, and it would be a lie to pretend that it does not.
  • Immediately after saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus tells His disciples not to give holy things to dogs, and not to cast pearls before swine. How do we obey Jesus if we do not discern that we cannot give them what is holy or pearls? (This is an entire subject in itself!)
  • We should apply a consistent measure for ourselves and others. We commit the sin of judgementalism when we condemn others for a sin that we have in our own lives. We also sin if we commit a similar sin. For example, someone who is hooked on pornography really cannot look down on somebody who is having sex outside of marriage.
  • Before looking at other people, we need to look at our own lives. We are tempted to point out other people’s sins, but our responsibility is to deal with our own struggles.
  • Our job is to make disciples and teach them to observe all Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18–19). It is a ministry of reconciliation, which grows out of Christ’s work of redemption. Ours is not a ministry of condemnation.

It is true that some Christians go too far and focus too heavily on the sins of others. However, we have an obligation to proclaim God’s word, to show people their need of a Saviour, and to invite people to repent and come to Jesus for salvation. Let us fulfill Christ’s calling and not surrender our authority to the father of lies.

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

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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