Seeking Comfort When Mourning (Matthew 5:4)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, New American Standard Bible).

Image created with YouBible app.

Several recent posts have looked at Matthew 5:4 from several angles. When we speak of “mourning,” we can refer to grief over suffering in the world, sorrow for our sins, or the bereavement we endure when we have lost a loved one.

Many people have suffered losses over the last two and a half years. COVID-19 has caused over six million deaths worldwide (over one million in the United States), in addition to the people who died of the illnesses we had before COVID. Suicide has been on the rise as well. Two of my uncles died, and then my mother passed away in November 2021. None of them died of COVID. I cannot help but think that Mom lost interest in living after her brother died, contributing to a rapid decline in health.

As bad as this would sound in ordinary times, I know families who have suffered more during the pandemic. Probably most of us have suffered grief during the age of COVID.

For those who are grieving, do not try to go through it alone. Find a compassionate brother or sister in Christ who will allow you to express your grief without judging. Perhaps you can talk to your pastor. You may also know a mature, caring church member who has a gift for showing mercy. Grief counseling might be necessary. No two grief experiences are identical, so find someone who will not say things like “You should not feel that way,” or “Well, when my mother died…, so you should too.” Just because one person’s grief followed a particular course does not mean it will be identical for you. (Grief experiences will be different even for one individual. My experiences were very different while grieving the deaths of my father, sister, and mother. Relationships, circumstances, and my spiritual condition were different every time.)

Photo courtesy of PxHere

If you are trying to comfort someone who is mourning, do not cut them off with a quick, “He/she was saved and is with Jesus now. Your loved one is in a better place.” Grief hurts, even when you are confident about your loved one’s salvation. It hurts even more if a believer has doubts about the deceased person’s spiritual condition. Too many Christians focus on the spiritual condition of the deceased person as an excuse to avoid the bereaved person’s feelings. Likewise, if you are in mourning, avoid seeking support and compassion from people who try to use the deceased person’s salvation as an excuse not to be sad.

One option worth considering is a ministry called Griefshare. This ministry is available at churches nationwide. Each meeting includes a video discussing different aspects of grief, followed by an opportunity to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a nonjudgmental, confidential environment. You can learn more about Griefshare here and find a group near you here. Some groups meet online and others may meet in person. (This is not a paid advertisement or endorsement. I share this because I believe in the ministry.)

O merciful Father, who has taught us in Your holy Word that You do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of Your servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of Your goodness, lift up Your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer.)

Where have you found comfort and strength during times of grief? What advice would you have for someone who is grieving or for someone who is trying to comfort the bereaved? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Mourning Personal Sin as a Path to Comfort (Matthew 5:4; James 4:7-10)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7-10).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount challenges us to live in a way that contradicts the world’s mindset. He calls His disciples to live paradoxically. Popular culture tells us to seek comfort. Modern Christians follow this mindset, but Jesus calls us to mourn. Like the world, though, we avoid sorrow.

A common response to grief and hard times.

As we saw in previous posts in this series, there are several types of mourning. An obvious one is the grief we experience in response to a significant personal loss, especially when a loved one dies. We may try to bottle it up and pretend everything is well. People expect us to “snap out of it” after a few days and get back to normal life, but grief takes time. Our inner world is chaotic, but we pretend that all is well.

Another form of grief is sorrow when we see evil or suffering in the world. We may mourn the war in Ukraine or the suffering caused by natural disasters. Still, we are often inclined to forget about it. It is easier to pay attention to celebrities’ foibles and fashions than to the pain suffered by strangers in other countries.

Finally, perhaps the grief and mourning Jesus most directly thought of is the mourning and sorrow for our own sins. We may want to ignore the pokes and proddings of conscience. Much modern Christianity ignores biblical teaching about confession and repentance.

We can try to avoid mourning, but it will not work. Reality has a way of catching up to us and overthrowing our feelings and self-delusions. A genuine relationship with Jesus is not always about positive thinking and good feelings. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Repentance is necessary for a holy life and a strong relationship with God. This will bring times of sorrow.

Instead of repenting when sin comes to our attention, many of us make excuses or try to reconstruct the Bible to suit our desires. Last month, many Americans celebrated “Pride Month,” which celebrates homosexuality and other lifestyles that are condemned by the Bible. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Some Christians joined in, having reinterpreted Bible verses to suit their desires instead of accepting their plain meaning and historic church teaching. Unfortunately, we make that mistake with many sins. We prefer to justify our sins or make excuses for them. The response to any sin is confession and repentance, not self-justification or biblical reinterpretation.

Photo by form PxHere

James, the half-brother of Jesus, offers some guidance to move from sin to sorrow to joy. He begins by telling us to “Humble yourselves.” To begin the journey to repentance, we have to lay aside our pride. This applies to all sin, not only those that have adopted “pride” as a slogan. If we choose self-righteousness, we will continue to stumble and miss out on God’s perfect will for our lives.

James goes on: “Submit therefore to God.” Submission means we acknowledge that He is in charge and we accept His will, even when we do not understand it.

“Resist the devil.” Modern people choose not to believe in the devil. Many who call themselves Christians do not believe in him. However, Scripture tells us he is real. We should not ignore him. The devil is real. Sin is real. Evil is real. Believers in Jesus have authority over him in Jesus’ name, but we must resist him. We cannot be passive. He will not go away just because we pretend he is not around.

Resisting the devil and submitting to God go hand-in-hand. We cannot resist the devil or sin in our own strength. We must rely on God’s strength. We must submit to God, and then Satan will flee from us.

Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Take a personal spiritual inventory. Spend time before God measuring your life against His Word and ask Him to cleanse and purify you. It might get uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit may point out attitudes and activities that lie at the root of your problems, which you think are harmless. Be prepared to meet your dark side.

God calls us to be single-minded and completely devoted to Him. There may be corners of your life that you have tried to hide from Him. He wants His best for you, but you may have to surrender some things to experience His blessing. However, when we give up those things that are holding us back, we find He has greater blessings available to us. We may begin by mourning our sins, grieving the sacrifices He calls us to make, and even wrestling with Him until it hurts (see Genesis 32:24-31). However, deliverance, spiritual maturity, and growth—comfort—await us when we yield to Him.

Image from YouVersion Bible app.

Mourning and weeping precede comfort and joy. Let us acknowledge our sins, confess them to God, and ask Him for the power to follow Him. Then, He will draw near to us, offer us His comfort, and empower us to speak words of comfort and faith into the lives of those around us.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died so that we can live with You. Give us courage and strength to submit ourselves to You, confess our sins, repent, resist the evil within us and around us, and live so that we may glorify You and experience Your comfort, joy, and love. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

How have you been comforted and healed by Jesus? How have you comforted others in His name, or how can you do so in the days ahead? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John the Baptist, Jesus, and Justices: Some Thoughts Regarding the Supreme Court’s Abortion Ruling

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:41-44).

A ten-week-old fetus. Photo by Suparna Sinha, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. The timing seems like a coincidence: On the church calendar, June 24 is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. It is the birthday of the prophet whom God appointed to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. I do not know if any of the Roman Catholic justices who wrote the decision were aware of this and consciously picked this date for that reason. Still, the timing is interesting at the very least.

John’s first prophetic act occurred in the womb. Upon hearing Mary’s voice, he leaped in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth knew there was something special about this leap. John’s jumping and kicking convinced Elizabeth that her relative was carrying the Messiah in her womb. John the Baptist was not just a clump of cells. He was a person, filled by the Holy Spirit, chosen by God to minister as a prophet, and he was already doing his work. He recognized the presence of Jesus, who likewise was more than a mere clump of cells. Though still in their mothers’ wombs, they were already acting as persons.

The fetus’ personhood is the essence of the abortion debate for prolife Christians. While pro-choice advocates emphasize a woman’s right to choose, viewing abortion as a medical procedure, Christianity has historically recognized the baby in the womb as a living person. The essential question is, “When does life begin?” Does it begin when the sperm fertilizes the egg to create a new single-celled entity, with a brand-new genetic code combining the parents’ DNA? Does life begin when that single-celled zygote has grown to become an embryo with its own heartbeat (several weeks after conception)? Does life begin when the fetus’ movements can be felt by the mother? Does it begin when the baby exits the mother’s body at birth or sometime thereafter? The Christian church, under the guidance of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, has always held that the baby in the womb is a person whose life should be preserved. The Didache, written ca. 100 AD, referred to those who commit abortion as “child-murderers, who go the way of death, who slay God’s image in the womb.” It adds, “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”

Fourth-century bishop Basil the Great expressed this view:

“A woman who intentionally destroys a fetus is guilty of murder. And we do not even talk about the fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed.”

The choice to commit abortion is very different from the choice to get a tattoo, nose job, or some other medical procedure.

So, now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, has the culture war against abortion ended? Not at all. The ruling merely returned the issue to the states. Some states may ban it entirely, whereas others will introduce a few new restrictions. Some states may even reduce the number of restrictions and offer greater access to abortion than before.

Furthermore, Plan B “emergency contraceptives” may become more readily available. These medications prohibit a conceived zygote from implanting in the uterus to begin development. They do not prevent conception; they merely stop the zygote from developing after the new life has begun. It is, essentially, abortion earlier in the process. Plan B may remain available nationwide by mail order, even in states where its sale in pharmacies is banned or restricted. Women will continue to find ways to end a pregnancy, either through legal means or by finding a way around the system.

So, the prolife movement cannot rest on its laurels. Overturning Roe v. Wade was only one part of the battle. Abortion is primarily a moral and spiritual issue. The Body of Christ must remain completely prolife. Are we willing to take a stand on biblical standards regarding sex: not only homosexuality but premarital sex as well? Will we cherish the family? Are we willing to consider children to be a blessing from God? Will we take a stand for life from conception until natural death for all humans?

We need to consider some of the challenges raised by pro-choice advocates. We are willing to defend the child in the womb. Will we continue to fight for the child after birth? Will we meet the needs of single mothers who have limited resources? Will we feed the poor? Will we donate money and clothing to organizations that serve low-income families? Will we actively assist single mothers that we know: to go beyond praying for them to help them with their financial needs or offer to babysit when the mother needs help?

The Church must assist and actively love single mothers. Will we meet the needs of mothers who have limited resources? Will we feed the poor? Will we provide clothing? Will we help the single mothers in our sphere of influence to ensure that they can provide for their children? “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

What are your thoughts regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling? Can you think of ways that the prolife community can minister to families and continue to witness in a post-Roe world? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Ascension, Visitation, Pentecost: A Pro-Life Perspective Revisited

I published the following article three years ago, at which time the three feasts of Ascension, Visitation, and Pentecost coincided much as they do this year. This article seems particularly timely as recent news leaks suggest that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion may soon be overturned.

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’” (Luke 1:39–45; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

This article is based on a homily I shared yesterday at my church’s monthly Liturgy for the Preborn outside Planned Parenthood in Hempstead, NY. On the first Saturday of every month, a group of us gather to pray for an end to abortion. The liturgy includes prayers from a funeral service, recognizing that the facility’s “medical services” include the murder of helpless preborn children.

An artist’s depiction of the visitation, ca. 1410. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This weekend’s liturgy came during a busy time on the church calendar. Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians commemorate Christ’s return to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Although many Christians overlook this date, my church believes it is important enough for all Christians to acknowledge, so we celebrate it on the following Sunday. Friday was the Feast of the Visitation, when the newly-pregnant Mary visited her relative Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). A little over one week later we will celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the first followers of Jesus and empowered them to fulfill His Great Commission. Thus, we have three feasts within ten days to honor significant events in the life of Christ and His Church.

It is easy to see the connections between Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, ascended to heaven. He brought something with Him that He did not have before coming to earth: a human body. A part of humanity now dwells in heaven. Ten days later, He sent the third person of the Trinity to dwell in and empower His disciples. Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, divinity dwells within you! You are now a partaker of the divine nature! The very life of God dwells within you.

This thought brings us to the Feast of the Visitation. Whereas this feast celebrates an event while Jesus was in the womb (before He was born), Pentecost celebrates an event after He returned to heaven. Although they occurred at opposite ends of His earthly ministry, they are intertwined. In each event, we can see the life and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people.

The first person to have a member of the Trinity dwelling within her was Mary, when she was carrying Jesus in her womb. The first person the New Testament speaks of as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is Elizabeth. This infilling is closely intertwined with the fact that her preborn son, John the Baptist—somewhere between the third and sixth months of pregnancy—is the first person to testify that Jesus is the Son of God. Somehow, when he heard Mary’s voice, he recognized the Son of God within her and leaped with such excitement that Elizabeth knew something miraculous was happening.

The Bible declares the personhood of the fetus in the mother’s womb. John the Baptist began his ministry before he was even born. The Holy Spirit was at work in him. As miraculous as that sounds, he was not the first prophet whom God called before birth. The prophet Jeremiah said,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

This is why Christians speak out against abortion. If it were merely a medical procedure, we could be silent. Some of us may dislike tattoos, but that really affects only the person receiving the tattoo; no innocent lives are lost because of them. Some medical procedures, like cosmetic surgery, may feed on the sins of pride and vanity. Yet, we remain silent, since it does not affect other lives. However, true Christians cannot be silent about murder.

Many of our “political” issues are really spiritual issues which have been hijacked by politicians and the media. Abortion is just one of many social ills that have arisen as America has rejected God and ignored the deity of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, our mission remains the same as that of John the Baptist and the apostles. We must proclaim the kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ; we must live by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who empowers us to proclaim His kingdom and continue His work; and we must reveal His presence and power until He comes again. Christ has filled us with His Holy Spirit. He lives in us as He did in Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. May we always serve Him and share His love with those around us. May it always be our goal for our lives and words to testify to the presence of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Bringing Comfort (Matthew 5:4; Isaiah 61:1-2)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn…” (Isaiah 61:1-2; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created with the YouVersion Bible app.

Isaiah preached these verses to Jews facing hardship. His audience had been through traumatic times. The people needed hope and comfort, and Isaiah spoke to those needs. Many of the prophecies in the second part of Isaiah forecast the coming of the Messiah as assurance that God will always be faithful to restore and heal His people.

The Jews of Isaiah’s day were oppressed by foreign powers, including Babylon and Assyria. Seven hundred years later, during Jesus’ lifetime, the Roman Empire ruled over the Jews and most of the known world. Political corruption marred Israel’s religious leaders at both times. Some things never change. Eighty years ago, European Jews experienced perhaps the worst oppression of their history. Political corruption still oppresses the poor and the people of God. There are still wolves in sheep’s clothing pretending to minister to God’s people, abusing and manipulating them in Jesus’ name. Sin has enslaved people throughout history. Isaiah announced that a Messiah would come as the answer to our deepest needs. Today, we look back on Jesus’ ministry and seek to reap its blessings.

So, it should be no surprise that Jesus Himself preached from Isaiah’s prophecy early in His ministry:

“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in several ways. First, He was the Messiah whose coming was announced by the prophet. His very life—His very presence in their town and synagogue—fulfilled a promise God had made 700 years earlier.

Second, He came to fulfill that calling to the people He met. The Holy Spirit was upon Him, as God had proclaimed when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. He came to proclaim good news to the poor: those who lacked financial means as well as those who were “poor in spirit.” He came to proclaim release to the captives: those who were bound both by Roman oppression and by Satan’s domination. He brought sight to the blind, both those who could not see physically and those who could not see God’s presence in their lives. He came to set free those who were oppressed, particularly those who were controlled by sin.

This was the focus of His ministry. Jesus spoke words of comfort and restoration. He miraculously healed the blind, the sick, and the demon-possessed. He instructed, trained, and commissioned His disciples to minister to these needs in His name.

This should still be the focus of our ministry. Christ calls His disciples to go forth in His name and to make disciples of all nations. How do we make disciples? By condemning? By pretending we are better than others because we do not commit the same horrible sins that they do? By quoting Bible passages and assuming people’s lives will turn around if they simply give their lives to Jesus and “snap out of it?”

We make disciples by imitating Jesus and showing His love to others. He sends us to bring good news to the poor (physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually), those who have lost hope, and those who do not know how to get out of their ruts. We proclaim release to the captives, showing them the way out of the chains of bondage that hold them. We offer sight to the blind by revealing the Light of the World, Jesus, to them. We set the oppressed free by letting them know that they no longer need to live in self-condemnation, for Jesus has released them with His forgiveness.

Part of our mission is to offer hope and comfort. As I mentioned in a previous post, mourning and grief can be a response to any kind of loss. We have all suffered. All Christians have been forgiven; we have all received Jesus’ comfort and mercy. Now, it is our turn to bring that comfort and mercy to others.

Lord, when You lived among us, You brought good news to the afflicted; You healed the brokenhearted; You brought liberty to captives and freedom to those who were imprisoned by sin and shame; You gave sight to the blind; and You comforted all who mourn. Heal us in our time of need, comfort us in our times of sorrow, and anoint us to go forth and comfort others as You have comforted and healed us. In Your name, we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

How have you been comforted and healed by Jesus? How have you comforted others in His name, or how can you do so in the days ahead? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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