Posts Tagged With: Jesus

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

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VIII: Clothed in Christ’s Righteousness

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.” (Isaiah 11:2–5; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A Roman soldier’s belt, holding a dagger for battle. Photo by Elliott Sadourny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

When we think of righteousness, we should think of Jesus. When we think of justice, we should think of Jesus. Since the fullness of deity dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9) and He dwells in His disciples, we should manifest God’s righteousness and justice, following Christ’s example. A few thoughts about this are worth considering.

First, when Jesus judges, He judges in righteousness, not by appearances. We can say much about this—perhaps too much for a brief article like this. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our motives. He does not make mistakes.

However, most importantly, He does not jump to conclusions. If we want to be like Him, we have to avoid the temptation of allowing our emotions and impulses to guide our reasoning. We allow fear, distrust, suspicion, prejudice, and self-righteousness to guide our thinking. We see that a wrong has been committed, and we assume that we know who caused the problem and what motivated them. We can be wrong, but we will not admit that. This may be part of the reason why Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Even when we think we are helping the other person, we might be working from false assumptions. Christian author Bill Perkins recently wrote the following:

“God never gets angry about a perceived injustice. He never flies off the handle because of an imaginary wrong. We, on the other hand, may do just that. In fact, I suspect we get angry at perceived wrongs or irritations, more often than real ones. That’s why we should anger slowly—as James said, our anger never ‘achieves the righteousness of God’” (Bill Perkins, “Jesus Got Angry Four Times“).

Second, righteousness and justice are not only things Jesus does: They are essential parts of who He is. Jesus could not simply choose to be righteous for a few minutes and then move on to something else. He could not bring Himself to it: His holiness, righteousness, justice, and every other attribute were not things He merely chose to do and be when it was convenient.

In Ephesians 6, Paul spoke of the whole armor of God. You can find an entire series about this topic and the subject of spiritual warfare on this website. Two vital pieces of that armor are the breastplate of righteousness and the belt of truth. As committed Christians, we should wear this armor constantly. We should “put on Christ” and wear Him wherever we go (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Jesus wore righteousness like a belt around His loins. Likewise, we should be armed and ready to bear His righteousness and truth to the world.

How do we stand against temptation? We clothe ourselves in Christ: In His life, His forgiveness and grace for us, His resurrection power, His indwelling Holy Spirit, and the whole armor of God. His righteousness in us will give us victory in life.

How can you manifest Jesus’ righteousness to those around 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, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Word, the Light, and the Lord

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalms 119:105, ESV).

bantry_church_of_st-_brendan_the_navigator_third_north_window_i_am_the_light_of_the_world_detail_2009_09_09

Jesus Christ, the Light of the World and the Word of God incarnate.  Stained-glass window at Church of St. Brendan the Navigator, Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en), CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

A few English translations adapt the wording of Psalm 119:105 to say that God’s Word is a “lantern” instead of a lamp. The Living Bible gets even more contemporary, saying “Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me and keep me from stumbling.”

Whether it is a light, a lamp, a lantern, or a flashlight, this anthem to the glory of God’s Word reminds us that the Bible is intended to shed light on our paths and show us how to walk through life. If we cannot see where we are going, we are likely to get lost, trip over things, or crash into obstacles. As we walk by faith and not by sight (an absolute essential in the spiritual life), a light for our path becomes even more necessary.

 

Growing up on Long Island, I was always surrounded by light. Even at night, street lights or the light from neighboring houses would provide a way to see where I was going. An occasional journey out of the New York metropolitan area would provide a reminder of how dark the world can be without electric lights. Riding a bus to Syracuse during my college days, we would pass through some areas where I could see nothing outside the window. Eventually, there would be a faint glow in the distance ahead of us: That glow was the city of Syracuse. Light becomes more obvious when one is surrounded by darkness.

I remember one time when I lived in Missouri, making a pizza delivery on a dark country road outside the city limits. If I turned off the car’s engine, I might have a hard time finding it when returning from the front door of the house! I can only imagine what life was like for our ancestors before the invention of light bulbs and artificial light sources.

The Bible often closely associates God with light. It is an essential part of His nature. Jesus said that He is the “light of the world.” According to Genesis 1:3–5, the very first thing that God created was light. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt under Moses, He would send a pillar of fire to lead the way at night.

John (who also told us that “God is love”) tells us first and foremost that God is light:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:5–7).

John would later tell us that the glory of God will be the light of the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb of God (Jesus) will be its lamp for all eternity (Revelation 21:23). Jesus shows us the way to the Father. In fact, He IS the way to the Father (John 14:6–7). If we can see Jesus, we see God, and we see the path to follow as we walk into everlasting life.

The Word of God is the light that leads us to God and shows us the path we should walk in. Jesus is the Word. He is the light. He is God incarnate.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9–14).

As we read the Bible, we should seek the answers to a few questions:

  • What does this tell us about Jesus? First and foremost, we should seek to know Christ through the Word of God. Jesus said to the religious legalists of His day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). How many professing Christians make the same mistake today?
  • What is the path that God is calling me to follow today?
  • What obstacles will I face on that path today? (Temptations, distractions, or challenges will come our way.)
  • How can I avoid these obstacles, or get around them, or walk over them?

We should not read the Bible merely to read a good story or learn theology. As we open the Bible, we should ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us and show us the path through life. God’s Word gives direction. It gives wisdom. It gives life. It reveals Jesus, Who is the very embodiment and personification of that Word and Light.

If you would like to read more thoughts about the light of the world, you can look at this series of posts:

Reflecting the Light of the World

A Prayer Acknowledging Jesus as the Light of the World

Light of the World: Exposing the Deeds of Darkness

Walking in the Light of the World. I: Time and Wisdom

Walking in the Light of the World. II: Filled with the Holy Spirit

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shepherds, Wise Men, and Ordinary People

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:8–16, ESV).

04567_christmas_nativity_scene_at_the_franciscan_church_in_sanok2c_2010

Nativity scene at Franciscan church in Sanok, Poland. Photo by Silar (own work) [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.

The nativity scene (or crèche) is one of the most popular Christmas decorations. Many homes and churches display one throughout Advent and Christmas. According to tradition, it was invented by St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181–1226) as a simple teaching aide to help people remember the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. All the key players are present: The Virgin Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a few shepherds, three wise men, one or two angels, and a bunch of animals. In a society when most people could not read, such a visual aide was necessary to teach a central story of the Bible.

It may not tell the story perfectly. For example, the shepherds came to visit the baby Jesus possibly within 24 hours of his birth, whereas the Magi (who were not kings) came possibly as late as two years later, when the Holy Family was now living in a house. Nevertheless, we can see the main figures in the account of Jesus’ birth together in one location at once. However, it works as an effective story-telling device.

The story of Jesus’ birth has become so familiar to most Christians, though, that many of us miss a few key points. Consider the key characters:

  • Mary was a virgin, but could anybody really believe that? An unwed woman could be pregnant in only one way: via premarital sex. In a very religious society, the punishment could be as severe as stoning. At the very least, she could face rejection by the community, perhaps even her parents and immediate family. The best she could hope for would be a quiet divorce by her husband and a life of shame and rejection (betrothal was legally binding). She actually got better than she hoped for.
  • Joseph was a working-class artisan, probably living day-to-day. Although we think of him as a carpenter, he may have engaged in other skilled work with his hands to build and repair things. Could he really believe Mary’s excuse, that the baby was sent by God and she had not had sex with another man? If he married her, it would suggest to the rest of the community that he must be the real father. One can only imagine how his carpentry business would fare when he is known as the reprobate who could not control himself until his wedding night.
  • The shepherds: We like to think of them as gentle souls who spent their days taking care of cute little farm animals. However, most people in Bethlehem would have a different perspective: a bunch of dirty, uncouth rogues who smell like sheep droppings, among the outcasts of society. They may not be as bad as tax collectors and harlots, but they would still not be likely to get an invitation to celebrate the birth of a King.
  • The wise men or Magi were perhaps some of the worst pagans a Jew could imagine. Tradition refers to them as kings, but they may have been emissaries for a king. Magi were actually astrologers, who made their living engaging in a practice deemed abominable in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Isaiah 47:13–15).

Who is missing from this story? The Roman emperor with his appointed regional vassal King Herod, the wealthy, the religious elite, the powerful, etc. The people whom we would most likely include in a strategy to save the world from certain doom are not in the nativity scene. God chose to send His Son into the world through the womb of an ordinary woman, one whose family would never appear in the historical records otherwise, into a very ordinary family, in a small town within a politically insignificant occupied territory within in a pagan empire. He chose to reveal His Son first to people from the outer fringes of society and pagan astrologers who found out about Him via a condemned occult practice of observing omens.

However, you do not need to be left out of the nativity scene. Jesus came to invite you to have eternal life with Him and His Father. While the world worships at the altar of materialism and Santa Claus, join the shepherds and wise men to bow before the Son of God in the manger. Invite Jesus to take His place at the center of the most ordinary aspects of your life, so that Christmas can remain with you every day.

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

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who Are You and Who Am I?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rockI will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19, ESV).

In this Gospel reading, Jesus confronts the disciples with a question every believer must ask. “Who do you say that I am?”

The question seems simple enough to Christians today, because we can look to the Bible, church creeds, statements of faith, and 2000 years of church history for guidance and wording. Yet, before asking this question, Jesus asked a more generic question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

“What are people saying about me?” The responses were diverse: People compared Jesus to (and probably confused him with) some of the great prophets of Israel’s history. Any Jew would be honored to be compared with Elijah. Jeremiah was also a hero of the faith. John the Baptist was a recent superstar of the spiritual scene. All great role models.

Many people today will have seemingly noble descriptions of Jesus. “A great moral teacher.” “One of the greatest spiritual and religious leaders of all time.” “A great philosopher.” Once again, most of us would be flattered by such monikers.

Yet, as Peter realized, Jesus was more than that! “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Numerous men throughout history have earned some of the other titles people have ascribed to Jesus. Yet, only Jesus can be called the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Only Jesus can be called the Son of the living God. Only Jesus is God in human flesh.

Revelation 19:11-20 give us a few more titles of Jesus. This passage, describing Jesus’ second coming in glory, tells us that he is also named or called:

  • Faithful and True
  • The Word of God
  • King of kings and Lord of lords

Ah, yes, and Jesus even has a name written that nobody knows but himself (Revelation 19:12)!

Those names and titles tell us about Jesus. Like Peter, we are blessed by God if we know who Jesus is and what his name means.

Although Peter does not verbalize it, Jesus answers a question many of us ask ourselves. “Who am I?” Perhaps this is more of a challenge for modern Western man. After all, in Jesus’ day, most people accepted a destiny from birth. Peter was a fisherman because his father was one, most likely. Most men simply accepted the career and calling of their fathers. However, just as Jesus has many names and titles, he now bestows a new name, a new title, on his friend. In the process, Jesus tells Peter who he is, and declares his calling in life.

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). You are more than Simon Bar-Jonah, humble fisherman from an insignificant little town on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. You are Peter: a rock of strength. Jesus recognized Peter as a man with inner strength, who could be a leader for the church he would leave behind.

When Peter recognized Jesus’ divinity, he could discover his own dignity. When he could rightly discern the truth about Jesus, he was able to hear from Jesus about who he was.

It is the same for all of us. First, we must come to know the truth about Jesus. He asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” Can you tell him the truth about who he is? Your answer should be something like this: “You are the Christ, the Son  of the living God. You are Faithful and True. You are the Word of God, King of kings and Lord of lords. You are my savior, the only way into heaven.” He is not just a great role model or wise teacher. He is more than that.

As God, he is able to reveal to you the truth about who you are. Too many of us wander through life, trying to decide who we are. We spend our lives in a perpetual identity crisis. Acknowledge Jesus as he truly is. Then, ask him who you are. What is his purpose for your life? He will never steer you wrong.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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