Posts Tagged With: discipleship

Ignatius of Antioch

“Let me be given to the wild beasts, for by their means I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may be like pure bread” (Ignatius of Antioch).

Ignatius, a second-century bishop of Antioch, is commemorated in several traditional churches on October 17.

Ignatius of Antioch. Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Ignatius was an early bishop of Antioch who was killed in the Roman arena around 107 AD (some historians believe it was later, perhaps around 140 AD). We do not know if he ever met any of the apostles. It is possible: He wrote a letter to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who had been a student of St. John. So, he lived early enough to have met or learned from one of the men who wrote the New Testament.

Most of what we know about Ignatius is from the last few months of his life. He wrote several influential letters while being transported to Rome, where he would be executed in the Coliseum. Although facing death, he did not give in to discouragement.

One of the last things he said, while being taken to his execution, was “Now do I begin to be a disciple of my Master, Christ.” Suffering—even torture or death—would not discourage him. He saw it as a vital part of being a disciple of Jesus.

How do we handle hardship? The last seven months have been difficult for most Americans. Many have lost jobs. Most have experienced isolation. Some have suffered severe illness. Many have lost loved ones. Have we complained, grown bitter, or struggled in our faith?

Or, have we seen it as an opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus? The early Christians took Jesus’ words seriously:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24–26, New American Standard Bible).

Jesus calls His disciples to value His kingdom above this world. They sought to glorify Him rather than seek rewards, comfort, and pleasure in this world.

We have been through difficult times, but we have not been thrown to the lions. Actually, some of us have complained like spoiled children when told to wear a mask in a public place, as if that was painful suffering. We have had opportunities for meditation, self-examination, and reflection. We have had time to look at our lives, spend more time praying, study Scripture more, and so on. Have we sought God in our circumstances, or have we ignored Him? Have we avoided Him? Have we put our own comfort ahead of His will?

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Triumphal Entry, Worship, Betrayal, and Abandonment

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:7–10, ESV)

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Scene from a Passion Play in Trafalgar Square, London, UK, on Good Friday in 2010, re-enacting the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Stephen Craven – geograph.org.uk/p/1782823

Most churches celebrate Palm Sunday by distributing palm fronds to the congregation. Some churches may process, marching around either inside or outside their building. Others will simply wave the palm branches while singing a song with “Hosanna!” (a Hebrew word meaning, “Save!”) in the title or lyrics. In doing so, we join our worship with the exuberant celebration of the crowd that greeted Jesus and His disciples as they entered Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover celebration nearly 2000 years ago. We now refer to this as “the triumphal entry,” but we can easily forget how quickly things changed in Jesus’ life within a week.

On Sunday, the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” By Friday morning, many of these people were in a mob shouting, “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:18–21).

Judas Iscariot was part of the group entering Jerusalem with Jesus. Perhaps his cloak was on the colt’s back, providing a saddle for Jesus. By Thursday evening, he would betray Jesus.

Peter was there too. I can imagine him leading the way, announcing that the Messiah Jesus was coming and urging the crowd to cheer for Him as He entered. On Thursday evening, he vowed he would stand by Jesus no matter what happened (John 13:37). A few hours later, he tried to fulfill that vow—relying on his natural impulsiveness and machismo rather than the virtues Jesus had taught for the last three years—by whacking someone’s ear off during Jesus’ arrest. After that, it was all downhill. Probably less than 12 hours after declaring that he would die with Jesus, he denied three times that he even knew Him. In Jesus’ greatest hour of need, His so-called “best friend” left Him hanging (John 18:15–18, 25–27).

Ten of the other disciples, all of whom (like Peter) swore they would remain faithful to Him, ran into hiding as soon as He was arrested. As He stood trial and was crucified, the only disciple who stayed with Him was John. He was accompanied by a few women, including Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene.

Christians know the story so well that we can miss the point. We can learn a lot from the disciples because they are terribly human. They are a lot like us. Sometimes, they show us heroic faith that we hope to imitate. At other times, they show us just how badly we can fail. People were willing to stand by Jesus when things seemed to be going well. When times got tough, they turned on Him or abandoned Him. Sadly, none of us are immune to that temptation.

We may worship Jesus when we are in a crowd with others who are shouting and singing His praises. Do we continue to praise Him when the establishment and the culture revile and reject Him? Or, do we join in rejecting Him: If not in word or deed, do we reject Him in our hearts?

Do we sell Jesus out when financial gain is a possibility? Will we compromise our faith or ignore His commands when there is money to gain.

We can boldly profess our faith and devotion to Jesus in a church or Bible study. Do we continue to do so when surrounded by those who have not accepted Him, or do we suddenly hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:15) and pretend we are not Christians?

Holy Week ends Lent, a season which many Christians devote to self-examination. As Easter approaches, are we ready to share the resurrected Christ with those around us? Are we willing to remain faithful to Him?

Let us prepare our hearts to sing Christ’s praises in good times and bad, when others join in song and when they refuse Him. As we wave our palm branches, let us continue to lift Jesus up so that He may draw all people unto Himself (John 12:32). As we shape our palm branches into crosses, let us take up our crosses to follow Him.

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

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

Resolving to Follow Christ in the New Year

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As I write, the year 2017 is approaching its end. Many people are writing down their New Year’s resolutions. Although I usually quip that my New Year’s resolution is to avoid making New Year’s resolutions, I must admit that there is some value to this tradition. Many of us can think of ways we would like to improve our lives. Maybe we want to eat healthier, exercise regularly, get control of our finances, quit a bad habit, etc. We can make positive changes anytime, but somehow it seems convenient to make major life changes while replacing the calendars that are hanging on our walls.

Have you made New Year’s resolutions? If so, where does God fit into them? How does Jesus affect your resolutions. Resolutions are great. Seeking to be a better person in 2018 than you were in 2017 is wonderful. We should all resolve to live better, be healthier, and improve where necessary. But if Jesus is not the Lord of your resolutions, do you truly confess Him as Lord of your life?

Perhaps a great place to start would be by devoting 2018 to re-evaluate who Jesus is
in your life. Far too many of us try to mold Jesus into our own image. To some, He is the all-American Jesus. To others, He is the Republican conservative Jesus. Others think of Jesus as the great social-activist liberal. Some view Jesus as the perfect boyfriend, or their “best bud.” He might be your motivational life coach. The list goes on. Some of these images of Jesus have an element of truth, but often that becomes exaggerated to the point of ignoring some key aspects of His nature. Others are simply wrong, projecting our own self-image onto Him, creating a god after our image, in our likeness. Let us devote 2018 to seek to know Jesus as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, not as we wish He would be.

Our view of Jesus will affect every aspect of our faith in Him. It will affect how we live our lives, what kinds of decisions we make, and how we pray. My mother has at times referred to what she might call “Monty Hall Christianity,” after the host of a game show entitled “Let’s Make a Deal.” Such people treat their faith as an opportunity to bargain with God: “If You do what I want, then I will follow You. If not, I will do my own thing.”

Perhaps we may see an element of that thinking in Jacob’s prayer, after God appeared to him in the vision of a ladder leading to heaven:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you” (Genesis 28:20–22).

Notice the wording: “If God will” do this, “then the Lord shall be my God” and I will serve Him. Thank God for His grace, since so many of us pray like this. God answered that prayer, and Jacob’s faith grew. However, it contrasts with the perspective of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery
furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18).

In other words, “We know God can protect us and do what we want. But even if He does not give in to our demands, we will continue to worship Him. Case closed!”

Many of us treat God like He is our cosmic butler or servant. We expect Him to fulfill our wishes, give us what we want, and make us feel good about ourselves. We want Him to justify our choices (even when they conflict with the Bible) and bless our goals and plans.

Biblical discipleship recognizes that Jesus Christ is Lord: not butler, boyfriend, bargaining agent, etc. The true disciple of Jesus does not pray, “My will be done,” but instead “Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10; 26:39, 42). The true disciple does not make his plans and then demand that God bless them; instead, he asks God to reveal His will and give wisdom, strength, and direction to accomplish it.

When faced with the opportunity to pray for prosperity or an easy life, the true disciple prays like King Solomon. Solomon could have requested wealth, long life, or the death of his enemies, but he asked God, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people” (I Kings 3:9).

When the early Christians faced threats and persecution, they did not ask God to change the leaders of their government or to make their lives easy. They prayed for the boldness to continue doing what Jesus had told them to do (Acts 4:23–31).

Before we write down our New Year’s resolutions, let us ask God to give us His wisdom:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without
reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5–8).

That is a prayer God is always willing to answer. Instead of making our plans and asking God to bless them, we should ask God to reveal His plans to us.

As we begin the New Year, we have several choices ahead of us. We can continue living as we did in 2017, and will get the same results. We can write out New Year’s resolutions, telling God what we want to do in 2018 and demanding that He bless that, whether it is His will or not. Or, we can begin each day by praying “Thy will be done,” and asking God to give us the wisdom, integrity, and perseverance to seek His will and to fill us anew with the Holy Spirit to guide us throughout the day.

May 2018 be a year when we come to more clearly discern God’s will for our lives.

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

 

Categories: Christian Life, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Elijahs VIII: No Turning Back

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.

(Second Kings 2:1–13, ESV)

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A Russian Orthodox icon depicting several key events in the life of Elijah. At the top, Elijah is carried off in a whirlwind by chariots and horses of fire while an angel takes his cloak and drops it to Elisha. Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

We do not know how long Elisha followed Elijah. The prophet appointed him during the reign of Ahab. After that king died, there was the short (two years) reign of Ahaziah. Elijah would go to heaven during the reign of Jehoram, the next king. Thus, Elisha followed Elijah for at least two years. It was probably not much longer than that, since God had commanded Elijah to anoint Jehu as king of Israel. Elijah never completed that task, but Elisha would fulfill it (2 Kings 9:1–13).

If Elisha seemed hesitant to follow Elijah at first, his devotion was unquestionable after a few years. Not even the prophet himself could discourage him. From 1 Kings 20 through 2 Kings 1, Elisha seems to sit unmentioned in the background. Elijah still spoke on behalf of the Lord to the kings of Israel, but Elisha is not mentioned. We can only assume that he was watching, listening, and learning. The time would come for Elijah to depart from this world, and then Elisha would fulfill his ministry.

By this time, Elisha probably knew that he was “the next great prophet,” the man chosen to replace Elijah. All of the prophets seemed to know that the day had come for Elijah to leave the world. Several times, other prophets approached Elisha and said, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” (As if they thought Elisha was the only one person around who was not aware of this, despite his close relationship with Elijah.) Every time, Elisha responded, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” In other words, “Yes, I know; I really do not feel like talking about it.” Perhaps all of the prophets struggled with their emotions that day. Elisha really did not want to discuss the situation. Perhaps Elijah wanted to face the moment alone: The man who once complained to God that he felt all alone now wanted to meet his Lord face-to-face, one-on-one, with nobody else around.

Elisha illustrates a key principle of discipleship. Disciples follow, and they do not turn back until God tells them to turn back. Not even Elijah could dissuade Elisha. No emotional impulse could hold him back. His mission was to follow Elijah, and he would stay with him until the last possible moment.

Elisha sought one blessing for his faithfulness: “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” The most important lesson Elisha had learned was that a true man of God needs the Spirit of God. He could imitate Elijah all he wanted, but it would be completely worthless if the Spirit was not empowering his works and words. So, he insisted on following. He refused to let anybody—not even Elijah himself—discourage him.

Elijah told him that his request would be a hard thing. Yet, if Elisha persisted and kept watching until the last minute, God would grant his request. So he stayed until the Lord sent a majestic escort to bring Elijah, still alive, up to heaven. Even chariots of fire, horses of fire, and a mighty whirlwind could not distract him. He wanted the blessing and remained until he received it.

Although supernatural drama engulfed Elijah, Elisha stood by as an excited observer. At first, it seemed as if nothing dramatic happened to Elisha. However, as the dust settled, he noticed that Elijah had dropped something while leaving. His cloak had fallen off in the midst of the excitement: The same mantle that the prophet had placed on him several years earlier was now in Elisha’s hands. He immediately performed his first miracle, slapping the waters of the Jordan River and asking, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14). The waters parted for Elisha and all of the prophets knew that the Spirit of God rested on him as He had on Elijah.

The relationship between Elijah and Elisha offers numerous lessons. For a few years, Elisha followed his mentor, learning how to be a prophet. Most importantly though, he learned the character of a man of God. He learned to remain faithful, to refuse to give in to discouragement; to ask, watch, persist, and believe that God will answer even the hardest prayers.

Elijah met Elisha shortly after one of the darkest days in his life. He had gone to Mount Horeb feeling discouraged, alone, and forsaken, and God directed him to anoint his replacement. Elisha would take up Elijah’s mantle and continue to be God’s voice among the Israelites for many years to come.

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Elijahs VII: The Call to Follow

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him (I Kings 19:1921, ESV).

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Elijah and Elisha. Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

We continue where our last post left off. Elijah had become discouraged, feeling like his ministry was in vain and he was the last follower of the Lord. Yet, God wanted to reassure him that he was not alone. As Elijah approached the end of his time on Earth, the Lord directed him to prepare for the next generation. Part of that involved “passing the mantle” to the next great prophet, Elisha.

Like Elijah, we often become discouraged. This happens especially when we feel like an entire ministry’s success revolves around us. We may also falsely assume that we will see positive results quickly. If success does not come quickly enough, we think we have wasted our time and energy doing something that we were not good enough to accomplish.

The key purpose of this series is to remind believers that we can and should live with an “Elijah spirit.” As we will see in the last few posts in this series, the ministry of Elijah did not end in 2 Kings 2. God anointed Elisha with the spirit of Elijah (he requested a “double portion” and received it). He also anointed John the Baptist with the spirit of Elijah. To this day, He continues to raise up men and women with the spirit of Elijah. The world and church still needs people like Elijah.The world and church still needs people like Elijah.

Elijah first met Elisha while he was doing something very ordinary. Elisha was “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen.” He was farming, probably like most men in his community. He was not praying; he was not studying the Bible; he was not doing anything to stand out as a spiritual giant. One would not look at Elisha and expect greatness. Yet, God was ready to impart greatness upon him.

God frequently calls the ordinary and anoints them to do extraordinary things. Consider some of the great men of the Bible: Moses and David were tending sheep before God called them; Joseph was an ordinary carpenter before God told him to raise His Son; Peter, James, and John were fishermen. They all had very ordinary jobs, but God called them to play a part in fulfilling the divine plan.

Elijah chose a simple symbolic gesture to communicate Elisha’s calling. He approached him in the field and placed his mantle (or cloak) on his chosen protégé. The message could not be clearer: The prophet wanted Elisha to follow him. First, he wanted to go home and bid his family farewell.

Centuries later, Jesus would invite a man to follow Him and become a disciple. This man would respond in a way that reminds us of Elisha:

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 12:61–62, ESV).

Clearly, Elisha felt it was necessary to let his parents know why he was abandoning the farm to follow the prophet. But, what did Elijah mean when he responded, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” A recent Bible paraphrase, the Voice Bible, which presents the biblical stories more like television scripts than conventional stories, may shed light on the meaning of Elijah’s vague statement:

Elijah: Go then. Tell them goodbye. What have I done to you?

Elisha realizes that Elijah is questioning his devotion—will he stay with his parents or become a prophet? Elisha demonstrates his devotion to God by destroying his livelihood.

Perhaps Elijah hears the same wavering in Elisha’s voice that Jesus would hear centuries later. The Israelites had been guilty of “hesitating between two opinions” all along, as Elijah pointed out previously on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21). Was Elisha hesitating between two opinions as well? Did he know that God was calling him to a special relationship with the great prophet, yet was afraid or anxious about its effect on his relationship with his family? Was he afraid to take a step of faith into the unknown?

Elijah’s concerns were soon eliminated. Elisha did not simply say good-bye to his family. He made it clear that he would not return. He destroyed the oxen and yoke so he could not longer work the fields. He offered them on an altar as a sacrifice to the Lord. Elisha sacrificed his past and present to the Lord as he surrendered his future.

All who seek to serve the Lord will face the same challenge. Will we cling to the past and present—to our comfortable existence—or will we sacrifice them to God? Will we surrender our future to Him? God may not call us out of our present physical circumstances. He may call us to serve Him while we continue in the ordinary occupation in which He found us. However, He will call us out of the comfort zone in our hearts. He calls us to live by His values and vision, not those of the world around us:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:12, ESV).

As we take this bold step, day by day, we continue the legacy of Elijah and Elisha by bringing God’s presence into our ordinary lives.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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