Monthly Archives: July 2021

Diversity and Ministry

“The devil studied the nature of each man, seized upon the traits of his soul, adjusted himself to them and insinuated himself gradually into his victims’ confidence—suggesting splendors to the ambitious, gain to the covetous, delight to the sensuous, and a false appearance of piety to the pious—and a winner of souls ought to act in the same cautious and skillful way” (Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556).

from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), whose feast day is on July 31. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Some churches try to make “one-size-fits-all” Christians. They dress alike. They all listen to the same kinds of music. They all avoid the same “worldly pleasures.” Perhaps you know the kind of church I am talking about. Perhaps you currently attend a church like that.

One positive feature of such churches is their ability to take a united stand against certain sins. However, they run the risk of being blind to their own sins. Almost 30 years ago, I visited a church where the pastor delivered a sermon about addictions. He ranted against probably 15 or so addictions: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, television, etc. The congregation shouted “Amen!” each step of the way (I do not think anybody went outside to smoke right after the service). However, the pastor was noticeably overweight, and did not mention food addictions. There are plenty of Bible verses that address gluttony, but that might be uncomfortable to confront in some churches.

Humans are comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who are like ourselves. It is easy to get comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who share our interests, habits, and opinions. As 16th-century theologian Ignatius points out in the quote above, Satan often has us beaten. He welcomes diversity in his domain. He will ensnare people in sin any way he can. Some of us have absolutely no interest in drugs: You can offer me all the cocaine in the world, and I would not be interested. It would be no temptation at all. However, it is an overwhelming stronghold for some. It has destroyed many lives. (Don’t worry; I have my own temptations to deal with, but I will do my personal confession elsewhere.)

Satan is thrilled to ensnare us however he can. If he can lure us through drugs, he is happy. He will gladly grab us with sex, alcohol, money, success, popularity, food, entertainment–anything that will keep us from seeking God’s will for our lives.

As we minister to others, recognize that there is some wisdom there. God has created each of us with a unique blend of strengths and attributes. Some are naturally outgoing; others are more reserved and introverted. Some are relationship-oriented and want to spend time with people; others are task-oriented and want to accomplish goals and projects. Some are leaders; some prefer to be told what others expect them to do. None of these qualities are necessarily “right” or “wrong”; they are part of who we are and how God has molded us. Satan might manipulate them for his own purposes.

Let us recognize that God has made each of us unique. Let us embrace that uniqueness and yield it to be used for His glory and the benefit of His people.

Stained glass window at Dublin Christ Church Cathedral (Ireland). Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is in the middle. The seven surrounding figures depict different Bible characters, representing a variety of Christian virtues. A complete description appears here. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

Let us also recognize the strengths, interests, passions, gifts, and other qualities that God has instilled in our brothers and sisters and encourage them to be all that God has called them to be. They do not have to be like us; God is calling them to minister to those whom we cannot reach, to share the Gospel with those who will not hear us, and to do the work we are not capable of doing.

Let us reach out to the lost as they are. Some are seeking peace; introduce them to Jesus, the Prince of peace, who offers the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Some are seeking a reason to live; others are asking, “What is truth?”; some are seeking a sense of direction in their lives; they need to know Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). While He is the only name under heaven by which people may be saved (Acts 4:12), He invites us to Himself by whatever means draws us to Him.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (First Corinthians 12:4-13, New American Standard Bible).

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Jesus, Family, and Grandparents

The parents of Mary, traditionally believed to be named Joachim and Anne, are commemorated in traditional churches on July 26.

This blog have been extra quiet for the last few weeks. Every year, my wife and I take a road trip from our home on Long Island to visit my son and his family in Springfield, Missouri for about one or two weeks. That vacation occurred during the first two weeks of July, and we are still trying to get back into a normal routine since we returned. However, normalcy is a little hard to accomplish, since my wife’s family is visiting from Florida and Oregon. We still have plans to visit my mother in a couple months. It may take a while before we can settle back into a routine, but family is important to us.

Family is also important to God. He came up with the idea of having a man and a woman come together to bear and raise children. When He became man, as Jesus Christ, He became part of a family with Joseph and Mary, along with the children they had after Him (I believe in the traditional Protestant belief that the brothers and sisters of Jesus, mentioned in Mark 6:3, were born after Jesus and conceived in the usual way). In fact, Jesus even had grandparents.

The child Mary with her parents. At Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We usually do not think about Jesus’ grandparents. Their only mention by name in the Gospels occurs in the two genealogies of Jesus, where two different people are named as the father of Joseph. Some people think one of those two—either Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Eli (Luke 3:23)—is actually Mary’s father. That theory would require some real acrobatics with the words of Scripture. I believe Joseph could have been adopted; perhaps his parents died when he was young and he was raised by another family. Although I am not aware of any theologians who share this view, I think it resolves the discrepancy between the two different genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke without trying to twist the plain wording that both list Joseph’s lineage or assuming that one is incorrect, while accepting a plausible set of circumstances allowing for Joseph to have two “fathers.”

The Roman Catholic Church believes that Mary’s parents were named Joachim (derived from a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh prepares”) and Anne (the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Hannah,” which means “grace”). The Book of Common Prayer commemorates them on July 26 simply as “The Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Whatever their names were, perhaps they deserve a day of commemoration. Joseph and Mary must have been remarkably godly people. Mary had found favor with God (Luke 1:30), so much so that He trusted her to bear His Son. Joseph was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19), one who would make the difficult, probably scandalous, decision to raise a child who was not really his own simply because God told him to do so. Such persons are a testimony to their upbringing. I believe Joseph and Mary were fully prepared to raise the Son of God because their own parents had successfully raised them to be people of faith and servants of God.

So, although we cannot be certain of their names, we know their legacy. We can be certain of the impact they had on the world.

Whether you are a parent, hope someday to become a parent, are already a grandparent, or play an active role in helping friends or family members raise their children: Remember the legacy of Jesus’ grandparents. We may not know for certain who they were, but God does. We may not know all we would like to know about them, but we know how their children and their Grandson changed the world. Build your legacy. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NASB), and continue to build your legacy to future generations.

Family is important to God. Perhaps eternity will measure your impact not so much by what you accomplished, but by what was accomplished by those whose lives you molded.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Wine or the Spirit: Part 2

Last week’s article shared the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. In a state of desperation and discouragement, she prayed at the temple, but the priest assumed she was drunk. She was so consumed with her desire to receive God’s blessing, she did not seem to care how she appeared to people.

This should be our attitude. Hannah was not the last person of faith to be accused of drunk and disorderly conduct because of her zeal for God. The same accusation was leveled against the apostles on the first Pentecost.

“But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’ But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day…’” (Acts 2:13-15; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Tongues of fire rest upon the apostles on Pentecost; then, things got a little wild. Image  from Science Museum Group, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The disciples were willing to look foolish and drunk as they proclaimed the Gospel. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit came mightily upon them: a mighty rushing wind filled the room; tongues of fire rested upon the disciples, who proceeded to speak in diverse tongues; and Peter preached a bold sermon, after which 3000 people were baptized. However, the audience’s initial response was not a sense of conviction for sin or a desire to repent and be baptized. Their initial response was, “Look at those guys! They’re drunk!”

The earliest Christians were not considered wise by their peers. The Gospel seems like foolishness to the world. We believe a baby was born to a virgin and grew up to save the world by dying to conquer death. Just like His birth, His death defied the laws of science, since He rose from the grave. To many people, it sounds irrational:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

The wisdom of God seems foolish to mankind. However, it is not foolish, irrational, or illogical. It is super-rational and hyper-logical. It is beyond human comprehension. It demands spiritual discernment:

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

It is beyond standard human logic and demands a spiritual approach. Perhaps part of the reason why the church seems so impotent against the cultural chaos surrounding us is that many Christians, pastors, and churches are trying to be relevant: to fit in, to look respectable, trendy, and distinguished.

Photo by John Snyder, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Until we are willing to look foolish for God, we will not display His wisdom. We must return to the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen our individual lives. We must return to the Word of God—not pop culture or pop psychology—to guide our pursuit and proclamation of truth. We must become less concerned about looking distinguished, respectable, and “normal” and return to the radical foolish zeal that guided the earliest Christians.

Many people are willing to surrender control of their life and senses to alcohol—all too often, for a lifetime. Are we willing to look drunk to the world because we have surrendered control of our lives and are allowing the Holy Spirit to control us? Are we prepared to become Holy Ghost addicts? Are we zealous for God to control our lives?

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…” (Ephesians 5:15-20).

May the true wisdom of God override the world’s ideas of wisdom as we are filled with the Spirit and zealous to do His will.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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