Posts Tagged With: faith

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

Sacrifices of Praise

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (First Thessalonians 5:16-18; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created by the YouVersion Bible app.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Praise God in all circumstances. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard these words of counsel. Maybe you have given this advice to others. It sounds like a few simple steps to become a spiritual giant.

That is not how Paul meant it. This was not advice for prosperous people with great health, social standing, high-paying jobs, and a comfortable lifestyle. This was written for people facing persecution. Some Thessalonians probably wondered if God had abandoned them. These were the people whom Paul urged to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance.

The Thessalonian church had a brief but colorful history before Paul wrote his two letters to it. It was formed when Paul visited the city, with his partner Silas, on his second missionary journey. Not long before, they had been imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). Their ministry in Thessalonica got off to a good start: Paul preached in the local synagogue, and several people received the good news. Soon thereafter, though, persecution broke out against the young church, and the new Christians persuaded Paul and Silas to flee for their lives to Berea (Acts 17:1-10).

The church continued to grow, but persecution continued. Furthermore, false teaching arose in the church as some preachers claimed that the second coming of Jesus had already occurred. Some scholars think they were teaching that Jesus was not literally coming back and that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was His “second coming.” It would be easy to lose heart.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Even when times are hard. Even when you are suffering. Even when tempted to think God has forgotten about you. Do not give up.

I recently published my wife’s healing testimony on this site. In that, she shared how she had developed a habit of “memorizing scripture about healing, spending time praising God, thanking Him, and praying.” While her church was having a prayer meeting devoted to her healing, she was at home “worshipping and praying while listening to praise music.”

We might be tempted to think that 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a message to act upon when life is going well. That is not correct. It is easy to be happy when life is going well; rejoicing takes effort when sickness controls your life. It is easy to pray regularly when God seems to be taking care of you; it is difficult when marital difficulties and financial problems linger for years. It is easy to give thanks when your refrigerator and bank account are overflowing; it takes a lot of effort when you do not know how you will get your next meal or feed your children.

A statue of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus did not give in to despair or depression, but He prayed fervently during the hardest night of His life. Statue at the Malvern Retreat House, Malvern, PA. Photo by Michael E. Lynch.

Yet, this is when 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 becomes a power passage. This is when it becomes spiritual warfare. The real blessing and real spiritual power are when we follow these instructions when our circumstances and emotions tell us it is time to quit.

There are times when it is easy to get angry at God. Do not deny it. If you are angry, tell Him so. Feel free to yell at Him. Tell Him how furious you are. Tell Him how you really feel. Be honest. Be brutal. God knows how you feel. In fact, the Book of Psalms has several prayers/songs that are perfect for times like this. David and the other writers did not avoid expressing their anger, fear, or dismay in their songs and prayers. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). He probably recited the entire psalm, including its expression of faith at the end (Psalm 22:25-31). When we bring our burdens to God—even when we think He is the burden—He takes our cares from us and brings comfort, hope, and healing.

No matter what happens, do not avoid Him. No matter how angry you are, God is big enough to handle it. He is also merciful enough to forgive you.

When your life hits bottom, it may be at that point that you will realize that God is all you have to hold onto. No matter what you are going through, hold onto Him with all that is within you. He will hold onto you with all of His power.

Rejoice always, and soon your joy will not just be an act of the will; it will be genuine and unstoppable. Pray without ceasing, and eventually, it will flow as you see God turning your life around. In everything give thanks: Before you know it, you may realize that you have had reasons to be thankful all along.

Scripture often urges us to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 50:23). Sacrifices can hurt. True faith worships God not only when it is easy, but even more so when it is a sacrifice—when we choose to worship God when it would be easier to ignore Him.

I would like to hear from you. How do you worship God in hard times? What helps you to worship Him when it is not easy to do so? 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, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith, Righteousness, Rights, and Hard Times

“For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:37–38; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

When faith is genuine, it governs our lives. When we have true faith, God’s righteousness will grow in us. We will live by God’s standards of righteousness and justice.

While Christians should be eager to see God’s justice manifested, we cannot afford to make our rights our top priority. Americans stand up for our rights. However, God calls us to do what is right, no matter what. Sometimes, we may need to place God’s glory ahead of our rights.

This is one of the main themes of the letter to the Hebrews. The original readers were presumably Jewish converts to Christianity. When persecution hit, some were tempted to return to Judaism. Returning to their former, more “acceptable,” faith offered a better chance of keeping their homes, jobs, possessions, etc., instead of suffering persecution. The author (probably not Paul, but one of his ministry partners or companions) urged them to remain faithful to Jesus. The rewards of everlasting life are far greater than any earthly possessions or privileges.

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” (Hebrews 10:32–34).

The early Christians did not expect “your best life now.” While Jesus had promised innumerable blessings to His followers, He said they would not come cheaply. The Christian life begins with repentance. It leads to self-sacrifice. Suffering frequently follows.

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first’” (Mark 10:28–31, emphasis added).

How do we measure up? The COVID pandemic has shown how weak we are. People thought some of the restrictions—including mask requirements—were the mark of the beast. Many ranted that we are approaching the Great Tribulation because officials urged us to wear masks in public for the past year and to get a vaccine. Jesus told us that there would be great tribulation in the end times, “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matthew 24:21). COVID-related restrictions are minor compared to the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany, Black slaves in the pre-Civil-War south, or countless other oppressed people throughout history. The restrictions of the past 15 months do not qualify as signs of the end times.

The original readers of Hebrews showed us how to respond to difficult times. They joyfully accepted the loss of their property. If they were not the direct victims of reproaches and tribulations, they stood by their brothers and sisters who were. Instead of cowering in fear, they stood with their brethren. When trials came, they accepted them.

Christians today must learn again how to sacrifice. We must learn how to endure trials and tribulations and how to identify and sympathize with those who are suffering persecution or injustice. We should be ready to speak out for justice for all, but we must also be courageous enough to face persecution without a spirit of self-righteousness, rebellion, bitterness, or revenge.

We do not prove our faith by twisting Scriptures to explain why we should be comfortable. Faith is validated when we persevere during trials, tribulations, and persecution. We do not prove our faith when life is easy, claim our blessings, attend church, post Bible verses online, or celebrate our comforts. We show our faith when we remain faithful to God despite hardship.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). If we grow discouraged or turn our backs on Him when things get tough, we do not have faith. The readers of Hebrews were tempted to give up—they had not done so yet—under pressures that would have destroyed most American Christians.

Are we strong enough to stand firm in Christ? Can we follow the example the writer of Hebrews sets before us? If not, what can we do to grow in true faith that can withstand hardship?

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, Christians and Culture, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith and the Trinity

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

A 16th century attempt to depict the Trinity by Guillaume Le Rouge. Image from the Cleveland Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday in Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, and many other Western liturgical churches.

The Trinity is a mystery. In a sense, it is also a paradox. The Father is God; the Son also is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. They are distinct, separate entities, so they are three Persons. Yet, there is only one God. Attempts to explain how one God can be three Persons are usually unsatisfactory. Most people who think they can explain the Trinity usually end up describing either modalistic monarchianism (the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same person who merely manifests Himself in different ways at different times) or full-blown polytheism. Both are false teachings.

Illustrations and examples usually seem flawed. One illustration is the egg (shell, white, and yolk are all different parts, but they make one egg). My seminary systematic theology professor tried to use coffee as an example (water, sugar, and the juice of the coffee beans). Every such example falls a little short. Another professor, Stanley Horton, explained it best: God is the only real Trinity in existence; we will not understand it fully until we see Him in the fullness of His glory.

That is all we need to know. We are saved by faith, not by knowledge. Even when our understanding falls short, we merely have to trust God.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

All three Persons in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are intimately involved in our salvation and spiritual growth. 1 John 2:23-24 tells us that “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is identical to a relationship with God the Father; they are intertwined. The person who has a relationship with Jesus has the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

If we do not understand it, we merely have to trust Jesus, and He will guide us—with the help of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VI: Righteous Men—Cornelius the Centurion

“They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you’” (Acts 10:22, New American Standard Bible).

St. Cornelius Window, Chapel of St. Cornelius, Governors Island, New York. From Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Some recent posts on this blog have considered the righteousness and justice of God. Here, we meet a Gentile who is described by his servants as “a righteous and God-fearing man.” Acts 10 is devoted to his conversion.

The New Testament teaches that one can only be righteous by having faith in Jesus Christ and being clothed in His righteousness. So, the above verse raises a question: How could Cornelius be righteous if he was not yet a Christian?

Can a person be clothed in the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus before placing their faith in Him? Is it possible to be saved before one comes to know Jesus? Some preachers and theologians believe that God might count someone as having faith in Jesus even if they did not know who He was because their life and attitude suggest they would gladly receive Christ if they knew who He was. This concept of “inclusivism” is illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, the finale of The Chronicles of Narnia. The Christ-like lion king Aslan welcomes Emeth, a soldier in the enemy army who recognizes Aslan as the rightful ruler, into his kingdom, stating that any righteous acts Emeth had done in the name of his false god would be accepted as having been done for Aslan.

This teaching appeals to many Christians who think about the billions who have lived and died without hearing the Gospel. It is painful to imagine that billions of people could be in hell simply because they were born in an area where no Christians brought the Gospel. I would find it comforting to think that there could be nice people from pagan societies in heaven even though they never knew Jesus’ name. However, Christians must take our guidance from God’s Word:

“… ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13–14).

Paul began his letter to the Romans by arguing that nobody is righteous and that all people deserve God’s wrath (culminating in a litany of bold Old Testament statements in Romans 3:9–18). It might be comforting to believe people can be saved without hearing about Jesus, but let us not leap to that assumption. Jesus told us to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20). It is our responsibility to preach His Word, and it is God’s responsibility to decide how He will exercise His mercy.

Can God call somebody “righteous” before they accept Christ? Perhaps Cornelius was one of the elect, predestined to become a Christian, and that is why he is called righteous. I am not aware of any passages of Scripture that would guarantee such a possibility. However, since we know that God predestined those whom He foreknew to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29), we can safely say that Cornelius ended up being righteous by His standards.

Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers were misguided, thinking in merely human terms. It is human nature to think of some people as “good people” or “righteous individuals.” We all know people whom we think of as good people. They try to do the right thing and treat other people well, so despite the litany about human depravity in Romans 3:9–18, we think of them as “good people,” even if they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. When Paul says, “There is no righteous person, not even one” (Romans 3:10), we assume our unsaved-but-really-nice friend is an exception to that rule. Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers thought like that: He tried to treat people well; he used his influence as a centurion to help people instead of taking advantage of them; he gave to those in need. By human standards, he seemed righteous.

A “god-fearer” in the New Testament was a Gentile who had come to believe in One True God. Often, they saw a lot of truth in the Jewish religion and tried to follow many of its laws. They might try to live by Old Testament standards of justice, righteousness, and morality. However, they did not take the leap to fully convert to Judaism by being circumcised and may not have followed all of the ceremonial laws and traditions.

However, God had begun a work in Cornelius’ life before the angel appeared to him. Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11). Cornelius had been convicted. He wanted to follow the one true God. God honored that desire by directing him to one who could help him find the right path by faith in Jesus Christ.

God was working in Cornelius’ life before he knew about Christ. Looking back at my own life, I can see how He was drawing me before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but by the time I was a teenager I wandered from that faith. Nevertheless, I could never bring myself to thinking about “God” without associating Him with “Jesus.” So, in my late teens, when I entered a phase of spiritual searching (including dabbling in the occult and studying a few non-Christian ideologies), that foundation stayed with me. One night, I found myself reading the Sermon on the Mount and was impressed that Jesus’ teachings were very practical but also seemed humanly impossible. It occurred to me that Jesus did not come to form a new religion but to create a new kind of person. A few months later, some people shared the Gospel with me, and my heart and mind were ready to receive the truth.

Could I be called righteous before I ended my spiritual search by accepting Christ? I would not have used that phrase then, and I still do not think of my pre-Christian self as a righteous person. (I have enough trouble thinking of myself as righteous after 37 years of following Jesus!) Perhaps one cannot think of Cornelius as completely righteous before he met Peter. Nevertheless, the seeker and the God-fearer are both drawn and inspired by the righteousness of God. This is what draws us to Him, and it should be what inspires us to continue walking with Christ every day.

What do you think? How can one be “righteous” before salvation? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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