Posts Tagged With: Christian unity

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).

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

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

Spiritual Warfare III: Standing Firm

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10–13).

centurion_2_boulogne_luc_viatour

An actor dressed like a Roman soldier in full armor. Photo by Luc Viatour (https://Lucnix.be) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

No study about spiritual warfare would be complete without an examination of Ephesians 6:10–20. This passage includes the “whole armor of God,” a set of virtues which Christians wear (in a spiritual sense) to battle Satan. The armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Each of these will be discussed in a forthcoming article. I will also include a discussion about intercessory prayer as a spiritual weapon: Paul mentions this immediately after the whole armor of God (as if it is part thereof), yet most pastors and writers overlook this connection.

It is worthwhile to note, not only what follows the discussion about the armor of God, but what precedes it. Paul is in the “application” part of Ephesians (most of his letters begin with an abstract or theological discussion before he proceeds into a series of practical instructions for living out the Christian life). He was urging his readers to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1) and in the Holy Spirit, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This led to an extensive discussion of personal relationships: marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33), parent/child relationships (6:1–4), and master/slave relationships (6:5–9).

It is within this context, of how to apply Jesus’ teaching to interpersonal relationships, that Paul introduces the whole armor of God. Many Christians seek to engage in spiritual warfare by ourselves. We might think that we can resist Satan’s attacks and temptation on our own. We might assume that “I have a personal relationship with Christ so I can go solo.” That is probably one of Satan’s favorite lying strongholds. If he can keep us fighting as Lone Rangers, he can isolate us. If he can isolate us, he can keep us from living a victorious Christian life.

Greek_Phalanx

Illustration of an ancient (Greek) army marching in formation. From Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Most of the verbs in Ephesians 6 are plural: All Christians are supposed to do them, and we are supposed to do them together. Every Christian is individually responsible to stand firm, but he or she must do so with other believers. The imagery of war calls us into a spiritual army. Our success requires us to engage in battle alongside our fellow spiritual soldiers. Ancient armies usually marched in formation, side by side. They would at times join their shields together so they could protect each other as they advanced.

How do we stand with other believers in spiritual warfare? We must be honest, transparent, trusting, and trustworthy in our fellowship with other Christians. We must share our burdens with each other. If you do not have a few prayer and accountability partners, find them. Find a few mature Christians, whom you can trust. Share your battles with one another. Be honest about your victories, failures, and temptations. Encourage them when they fail; do not gossip nor condemn. When you are able to unite as a spiritual phalanx, you will be able to walk side-by-side to victory over the forces of darkness.

Our first response when Satan attacks is to stand. We must resist him. To do so, we must follow our Commander’s orders:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

If we are standing firm, there are some things we cannot do: We cannot surrender to our enemy. We cannot give in. We cannot quit. We cannot flee like defeated cowards. We cannot yield to temptation. Soldiers win by fighting, not by quitting. Among other things, spiritual warfare demands perseverance.

The battle may be spiritual, but it is real. Our victory is assured as we remain in the Lord’s army, but we must remain strong and resilient if we hope to reap the benefits of that victory:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:8–11).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In One Accord—Acts 1:12–14

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:12–14).

the_bible_panorama2c_or_the_holy_scriptures_in_picture_and_story_28189129_281480489963329

Jesus’ ascension into heaven preceded a ten-day period of prayer by the disciples, leading to Pentecost. By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

This account, of the disciples’ time in the upper room, is often overlooked. It appears immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and begins a brief interlude between that event and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Those ten days seem like a chronological “no man’s land.” But, they were significant. After three years of following Jesus, His disciples began to finally understand Him. He gave them instructions, and they obeyed.

They realized that Jesus wanted them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before beginning the Great Commission. How would they know the Holy Spirit had come, though? Whatever that meant, they knew Jesus was talking about an event they had never seen before, involving a Spirit they would not see. How could they be certain when it happened? I wonder if things happened during those ten days that led one of the disciples to ask, “Was that it? Did the Holy Spirit just arrive?” Even though they were waiting for something they could not explain, they were obedient. They waited. Most importantly, they devoted themselves to prayer.

It is interesting to note who was praying with the disciples. Paul would later mention that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time after His resurrection (First Corinthians 15:6). One might expect several members of that crowd to join the disciples in the upper room. However, Luke mentions only a few people.

One notable group in that upper room was Jesus’ brothers. During Jesus’ preaching ministry, they thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21), and they did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Instead of supporting His ministry or following His teaching, they tried to save Him from Himself. Now, along with their mother Mary (who seems to have also had doubts about her Son’s mental health at that time), they joined the disciples, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection led them to believe. At least two of them, James and Judas, would become leaders in the early church. James would eventually issue the official decision at the council in Acts 15 and write the New Testament’s letter of James. Judas would write the New Testament’s letter of Jude; according to some ancient authorities, his great-grandson would be the last Jewish bishop of Jerusalem (around 150 AD).

Another notable group was “the women.” Readers of the Gospels are usually not surprised by this; women played a prominent role in Jesus’ ministry. Of course, we think of His mother Mary, who remained with Him to the cross. Mary Magdalene also comes to mind, especially as the first person Jesus spoke to after His resurrection. Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, played prominent roles in His ministry as well. We can assume that Jesus wanted these ladies to be active in the fledgling church. However, this was not normative in ancient Judaism. Women were second-class citizens in the synagogue. In the upper room, they were a necessary part of the body that prayed in one accord, awaiting the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, they too would receive the Holy Spirit and glorify God in other tongues (Acts 2:1-4, 17, 18).

Today, many evangelical Christians use the words “Christian” and “conservative” almost interchangeably. Clergy, congregations, and the mass media think they are synonyms. However, this is not always the case. While it is true that the Bible commands certain moral values we would now consider conservative (especially in terms of sexuality), that has not always been the case. The conservative approach would preserve the status quo. It would have been easier for the apostles to tell the women, “Look, ladies, you know women cannot be rabbis or synagogue leaders, so why don’t you just go home? We’ll let you know when the Holy Spirit arrives and then you can just follow us.” That did not happen: The Christian approach was to rise above man-made traditions and cultural expectations, in order to do the clearly revealed will of God. Jesus had spoken; He had commended Lazarus’ sister Mary for choosing to sit at His feet like a disciple (Luke 10:38-42).

Jesus did not call the disciples to rely on their natural abilities or resources. They had already failed many times when they tried to serve Him that way. Pentecost would bring a new beginning. Old expectations were set aside. A renewed people, united in faith and prayer, would proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and kingdom of God to a dying world.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Reflection on Mark 9:38-41 (Revisited)

This post was originally published on August 16, 2013. It remains one of the most-frequently read articles on this blog.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41, ESV)

Mark 9, along with its parallels in the other Gospels, has popped up often for me: In my personal devotions, sermons I’ve heard, and books and articles I have read. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. God wants His children—myself included—to confront the conflict between pride and prayer, self-seeking and selfless service, and the other spiritual battles common to growing Christians.

To see the irony of this discussion, one should consider all that had occurred earlier. John had just been one of three disciples to witness the Transfiguration, when Jesus radiated His divine glory while visited by Moses and Elijah on a mountain (Mark 9:2-8). John, more than almost any of the disciples, should have been humbled in Jesus’ presence, having seen first-hand that He was more than a great teacher!

Having come down from the mountain, they found that the other nine disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a boy. The disciples were experienced exorcists, having been sent on a ministry trip for which Jesus empowered them to cast demons out of people (Mark 6:7). Yet, they had failed because, Jesus said, this kind of demon “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).

This incident was followed by other discussions, intended to change the worldly perspective of the disciples: Jesus’ prophecy of His impending arrest, death, and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32); and instruction about the disciples’ need to be humble and childlike, instead of arrogantly seeking status (Mark 9:33-37).

Like many of us, the disciples were slow learners. Despite these instructions and their previous failures, John essentially boasts that some of the disciples had tried to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, simply because he was not part of their travelling party. I can almost imagine the rebuke sounding something like, “Hey! Stop doing that! You don’t have ministry credentials for that. We have certificates, signed by Jesus Himself, saying that WE should do that when He’s not around. Why don’t you just go feed the poor and leave the REAL ministry to us?”

(I am sure that in the back of John’s mind, he was really thinking, “STOP THAT! You’re making us look bad? How dare you cast out a demon after my friends just had trouble with one last week? You’re ruining our credibility!”)

Jesus response calls us to the charity and unity that should draw His followers together. The disciples’ status did not matter. Yes, they enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, gaining in-depth teaching and training that others did not enjoy. Many people admired Jesus and rushed to hear His teaching. I am sure many sought to live by His doctrine, even if they did not have the privilege of travelling with Him. Yet, only 12 spent all their time with the Lord, having many hours to pick His brain.

The disciples had a special privilege and a deeper call to serve the Lord. Yet, they were not expected to claim it as a reason to exclude others. Jesus called them to serve, not to claim offices and titles. Later, Paul would write that their role was to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). John’s response to a common man’s success in casting out demons should have been, “Congratulations! Great job, brother! We need more guys like you in this ministry.”

Modern Christians should focus on service instead of status, on the task instead of the title. We need to recognize the gifts God has given us, and the mission He has called us to, and put that first. We must resist the temptation to let titles, recognition, and prestige distract us from the needs around us and our ability to serve.

We need to recognize, respect, and encourage the gifts God has given to others. The pastor’s job is not to do all the ministry, but to equip the saints for work of service. When somebody shows an aptitude and eagerness for a ministry, that person should be encouraged and trained, not “put in their place.”

Yes, there are times some people will try to exercise spiritual gifts they do not really have. Some churches over-emphasize certain gifts, like prophecy and healing, to a point where people feel like second-rate believers if they do not have those gifts. When a person does not have a particular gift, or is not fully equipped in a particular ministry, he or she should be trained or re-directed.

Finally, the unity of believers is precious to our Lord. Christians have a terrible history of dividing ourselves. We divide over doctrine, denominations, worship styles, etc. We divide ourselves into churches that serve a specific racial or ethnic group. We refuse to fellowship with those who practice certain sacraments or ordinances differently. We even divide within our own congregations, into cliques of clergy vs. laity, of the “in” crowd vs. the outer circles.

Jesus said, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” Let us remember that it is not our denomination or dogma that matters. It is the Lord whom we claim to love and serve. He comes first, and He calls us to serve, even as He came to seek, save, and serve.

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

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

Reflection on Mark 9:38-41

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41, ESV)

Mark 9, along with its parallels in the other Gospels, has popped up often for me: In my personal devotions, sermons I’ve heard, and books and articles I have read. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. God wants His children—myself included—to confront the conflict between pride and prayer, self-seeking and selfless service, and the other spiritual battles common to growing Christians.
To see the irony of this discussion, one should consider all that had occurred earlier. John had just been one of three disciples to witness the Transfiguration, when Jesus radiated His divine glory while visited by Moses and Elijah on a mountain (Mark 9:2-8). John, more than almost any of the disciples, should have been humbled in Jesus’ presence, having seen first-hand that He was more than a great teacher!
Having come down from the mountain, they found that the other nine disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a boy. The disciples were experienced exorcists, having been sent on a ministry trip for which Jesus empowered them to cast demons out of people (Mark 6:7). Yet, they had failed because, Jesus said, this kind of demon “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).
This incident was followed by other discussions, intended to change the worldly perspective of the disciples: Jesus’ prophecy of His impending arrest, death, and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32); and instruction about the disciples’ need to be humble and childlike, instead of arrogantly seeking status (Mark 9:33-37).
Like many of us, the disciples were slow learners. Despite these instructions and their previous failures, John essentially boasts that some of the disciples had tried to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, simply because he was not part of their travelling party. I can almost imagine the rebuke sounding something like, “Hey! Stop doing that! You don’t have ministry credentials for that. We have certificates, signed by Jesus Himself, saying that WE should do that when He’s not around. Why don’t you just go feed the poor and leave the REAL ministry to us?”
(I am sure that in the back of John’s mind, he was really thinking, “STOP THAT! You’re making us look bad? How dare you cast out a demon after my friends just had trouble with one last week? You’re ruining our credibility!”)
Jesus response calls us to the charity and unity that should draw His followers together. The disciples’ status did not matter. Yes, they enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, gaining in-depth teaching and training that others did not enjoy. Many people admired Jesus and rushed to hear His teaching. I am sure many sought to live by His doctrine, even if they did not have the privilege of travelling with Him. Yet, only 12 spent all their time with the Lord, having many hours to pick His brain.
The disciples had a special privilege and a deeper call to serve the Lord. Yet, they were not expected to claim it as a reason to exclude others. Jesus called them to serve, not to claim offices and titles. Later, Paul would write that their role was to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). John’s response to a common man’s success in casting out demons should have been, “Congratulations! Great job, brother! We need more guys like you in this ministry.”
Modern Christians should focus on service instead of status, on the task instead of the title. We need to recognize the gifts God has given us, and the mission He has called us to, and put that first. We must resist the temptation to let titles, recognition, and prestige distract us from the needs around us and our ability to serve.
We need to recognize, respect, and encourage the gifts God has given to others. The pastor’s job is not to do all the ministry, but to equip the saints for work of service. When somebody shows an aptitude and eagerness for a ministry, that person should be encouraged and trained, not “put in their place.”
Yes, there are times some people will try to exercise spiritual gifts they do not really have. Some churches over-emphasize certain gifts, like prophecy and healing, to a point where people feel like second-rate believers if they do not have those gifts. When a person does not have a particular gift, or is not fully equipped in a particular ministry, he or she should be trained or re-directed.
Finally, the unity of believers is precious to our Lord. Christians have a terrible history of dividing ourselves. We divide over doctrine, denominations, worship styles, etc. We divide ourselves into churches that serve a specific racial or ethnic group. We refuse to fellowship with those who practice certain sacraments or ordinances differently. We even divide within our own congregations, into cliques of clergy vs. laity, of the “in” crowd vs. the outer circles.
Jesus said, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” Let us remember that it is not our denomination or dogma that matters. It is the Lord whom we claim to love and serve. He comes first, and He calls us to serve, even as He came to seek, save, and serve.
Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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