Parkland, FL School Shooting: An Opportunity for American Soul-Searching?

February 14, 2018 should have been a pleasant oddity. Ash Wednesday (a day to reflect on one’s mortality and to begin a season of fasting, self-examination, and soul-searching) occurred on the same day as Valentine’s Day (when we celebrate romantic love).

In the midst of this blend of somber reflection and joyous celebration, the news gave us reason for national self-examination: A young man entered his former high school in Parkland, FL and murdered 17 people. Every few months, Americans try to wrap our heads around another mass murder. We grieve yet another shooting at a school. In the words of baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again” as a sickening cycle continues. A mass shooting shocks, grieves, and angers us. Liberals say stricter gun-control laws would have kept the killer from getting weapons. Conservatives say that gun control will not solve the problem and innocent civilians need to be able to protect themselves. Arguments break out on social media and elsewhere. Politicians make pious and profound statements. But then, nothing happens, life returns to normal, and we find something new and trivial to obsess about, until it happens again.

Perhaps it is fitting that this shooting occurred on that odd date. America (especially American Christians) can use it as an opportunity for serious self-examination and soul-searching. American Christians can consider how Jesus’ great commandments—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself—impact this issue.

Let me state from the beginning that I am not offering hard-and-fast solutions below. Much of what follows is merely food for thought. I am asking questions. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, additional questions, etc., in the comments section at the bottom of this post. (Please keep it civil: If you want to defend your Second Amendment rights, please prove that you can exercise your First Amendment rights in a mature, responsible manner! While conflicting viewpoints are welcome, comments that are vulgar, hostile, or rude will be blocked.)

As an American with conservative political leanings, I believe our nation should adhere to its Constitution. However, as a Christian, I believe the teachings of Jesus Christ must take precedence over any political party’s platform or governmental document. As a grandfather with two grandsons in elementary school, a granddaughter who will soon enter kindergarten, and a wife who works in a school setting, I find myself asking “What if this happened at one of their schools?” I can no longer defend unproven hypotheses, Facebook memes, and clichés if evidence and reason finds them lacking.

So, here are just a few thoughts on this subject:

Our society as a whole is not getting more violent, but there are more mass murders. From the mid-1960s until 1980, the homicide rate in the USA gradually increased, until it peaked at 10.1 murders per 100,000 population in 1980.1 By 2014, it was about half that amount. Even though it has increased slightly since then, it is still far below the rates we saw from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

Christians usually point to mass shootings as a sign that our society is on the decline due to various moral and spiritual deficits. Yet, it may not be that simple. Murder and violent crime are not increasing as a whole, but we are seeing more large-scale violent attacks. While the perpetrators of mass shootings are not exhibiting godly Christian character, it is a fallacy to say that society at large has become more violent. The situation seems much more complicated than most people realize.

On the other hand, American society remains more violent than comparable developed nations. According to United Nations homicide statistics, the US’s murder rate is below the global average: 4.88 as of 2015, as compared to the global average of 6.2 and a staggering 16.3 for the Americas. However, as a friend pointed out to me, this puts the US in company with many less-developed (and often politically unstable or repressive) nations like Sudan (6.45), Somali (5.56), Cuba (4.72), and North Korea (4.41). When compared with other prosperous nations with democratic traditions (the ones we think of as being more like us), we do not fare as well: Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a homicide rate of 1.68; that is even higher than Australia (0.98), the United Kingdom (0.92), New Zealand (0.91), Germany (0.85), Ireland (0.64), the Netherlands (0.61), and Japan (0.31). Even though our own homicide rate has declined over the last 37 years, we need to improve more to compare with these nations.

These numbers may bring us closer to the root of our problem. If you eliminate all gun-related murders (73% of American murders involve a gun), the US homicide rate drops to 1.32. That means that America’s non-gun-related homicide rate exceeds those of almost all of the developed nations in that list. Whether one agrees that we have a gun problem or not, we have a murder problem in America. We have a problem with violence, hatred, and sin.

I will add that many of those developed nations, with lower homicide rates than the US, also are less religious than we are. We say that a “return to God” will simply solve the problem, but majority-atheist countries are more peaceful than we are! I cannot find a justification for this in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we should take a look at the American brand of Christianity. Have we bought too heavily into the American culture, baptizing the Gospel in the waters of individualism, commercialism, and materialism? Can our adoption of such self-centered values, in the name of Christ, be contributing to the problem?

Finally, I do not believe that gun control is a cure-all for this situation. In 2012, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, I compared rankings of gun-control laws (from most lenient to strictest) with the rates of violent crimes in those states, and found that there does not seem to be a strong correlation between the two. Even if gun control can reduce the amount of violent crime, there are a host of other factors contributing to the crime rate: social, economic, political, cultural, and other influences must be acknowledged. This job is simply too big to be left only to the politicians. All areas of society (including the family and religious institutions) must play their part to make shootings like the recent one in Parkland, FL, a thing of the past.

Christians cannot afford to spout clichés or rely on simplistic responses. We cannot cling to the political partisanship that continues to divide America. Christians must ground our faith, our behavior, our beliefs, and our world view in the Word of God—not in a political party’s platform nor public-opinion polls. Jesus has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we must resist the culture of death whenever it rears its ugly head.

1In the following, “homicide rate” always refers to the average number of murders per 100,000 persons per year.

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

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Transfiguration, Glorification, and the Christian Life

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:2–9).

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,… (II Peter 1:16–21).

brooklyn_museum_-_the_transfiguration_28la_transfiguration29_-_james_tissot_-_overall

“The Transfiguration,” by James Tissot (1836–1902).

Some denominations celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday (others do not observe it at all, whereas in some churches it falls on August 6). As I have recently reflected on the Christian’s call to reflect the light of Jesus (see my recent posts here, here, here, and here), I believe this can provide a good focal point for my Lenten observances this year.

Christians in many denominations commit to some kind of low-grade fast during Lent. Many will abstain from meat (allowing themselves fish) on Wednesdays and Fridays. They may also give up a favorite food and/or hobby during the season. Ideally, we should find a way to fill that void with things that will draw us closer to Christ: Perhaps we will devote more time to prayer, Bible study, worship, or service to others in Jesus’ name.

The goal, however, is not to lose weight or go on a self-improvement program. (Those may be secondary benefits, but not the primary goals.) The goal is to draw closer to Jesus, removing some of the obstacles that keep the life, glory, and light of Jesus from shining through in our lives.

It is easy to focus on the fast itself. Many of us can obsess about what we will not eat until Easter. Let us look deeper, though: We have been called to live as partakers of the divine image (2 Peter 1:4) and the seed of God abides in us (1 John 3:9). Those who have come into a living relationship with Jesus Christ by faith have the Holy Spirit within them. We hear this so often that it can almost sound trite or insignificant. Perhaps this Lent can be the time when some of us begin to more intimately comprehend what God is truly offering us.

Instead of a detailed discussion of the Scripture, I will just take this opportunity to encourage each of you, between now and Easter, to reflect on God’s promises to glorify His children. Perhaps the great lesson of Lent is that we miss out as we continue to devote our time, resources, and energy to trivial things, when God is eager to pour out His blessings upon us and conform us to His likeness. We are His children: may we come to look more like Him as we lay aside the things of the world and grasp a foretaste of our inheritance in Him.

I encourage you to reflect on some of the following passages in the weeks to come:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:11–14).

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). (Better yet: Just read the entire book of 1 John. It is a short letter of exhortation, but it has a lot to say about walking in the light of Jesus and living as children of God.)

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

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

Renewal of the Mind by the Holy Spirit

“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 12:2).

christ_taking_leave_of_the_apostles

During His farewell discourse to the disciples, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. “Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles” (1308-1311), by Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons].

Recently, most of the articles on this site have talked about “renewal of the mind.” Romans 12:2 is the keynote verse for this topic. This verse appears in a section where Paul teaches about serving God and His people: offering ourselves as living sacrifices, using the gifts of the Spirit, etc. Verse 2 provides a context for Christian maturity so that we can fulfill that calling.

Before a disciple follows Christ, he is conformed to this world. He clings to worldly ideas about human nature, God, the universe, right and wrong, relationships, and virtually everything else that matters. A significant part of spiritual growth is renewal of the mind, as the Holy Spirit changes your thoughts and perspective. This leads to transformation (also a work of the Holy Spirit). As a result, the disciple can clearly discern the will of God. To stop conforming to this world, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Most disciples came to Christ with many misguided beliefs and an abundance of “stinking thinking.” Changing those ideas takes a lifetime. We have learned deception from our families, our culture, the media, educational and social institutions, etc. For example, many American Christians read the Bible through a lens of individualism. American society glorifies the self-made man. It urges us to put ourselves and our desires first. We may start to believe that the Bible itself teaches individualism. As a result, we hear the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” and are tempted to live as if our faith in Christ is detached from that of every other Christian. We may even try to redefine Jesus in our own image.

The process of mind-renewal takes a lifetime. The disciple of Jesus Christ is always growing throughout his or her life. As the disciple learns to think with the mind of Christ, he or she can more clearly discern the will of God.

Discerning the will of God implies a desire to obey it: not merely to understand or analyze it. Many Christians are trapped by another of Western culture’s lies, the belief that we can understand anything by analyzing it (thus, if I cannot rationalize it, it cannot be true). However, analysis can lead to spiritual paralysis. For example, some Christians approach the description of God’s will in Romans 12:2—“what is good and acceptable and perfect”—by trying to distinguish between different degrees of divine will. They try to distinguish between God’s perfect will and a lower degree of His will (good, acceptable, permissive, or something else). They think that really spiritual Christians should follow God’s “perfect” will, but that there is a lesser “good/acceptable” will that others can get away with.

Let us stop trying to compartmentalize and hyper-analyze God’s will and simply seek to know and obey it. God’s will for our lives is always good, acceptable, and perfect.

Please note, though, that we can distinguish between God’s global will for all people and His particular will for an individual. There are some actions and attitudes that God desires from all of us. However, He may expect each of us to practice them in different ways. We are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. How we manifest that love will depend on our unique personalities and abilities.

God’s will is always consistent with Scripture, but He may call us to live it out in specific ways. For example, a Christian who is capable of attending church should not say, “God wants me to stop going to church and to just worship Him by myself.” That is simply unbiblical (see, e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25). So, if you think God is telling you to stop attending church and cease fellowship with other believers, do not believe it: That is probably Satan posing as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

However, you will not find a clear verse in the Bible telling you which church to attend. Does that leave us completely off the hook? Not at all. Instead, we should try to determine which particular local church God is calling us to attend. The Bible offers principles we can consider while we pray to learn God’s will: For example, if a church is a “good fit” for you, it is one where you will mature spiritually and where you will find opportunities to use your gifts and talents to serve others. It may not be the most entertaining, largest feel-good church.

Finally, let us bear in mind that renewal of the mind and transformation of the soul are works of the Holy Spirit. We can read the Bible for six hours per day, but if the Holy Spirit is not involved in our efforts, we will not mature spiritually. If we try to understand the Bible with our own prejudices and assumptions, without seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it will not succeed. We must ask Him to speak through us via His word. We should trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in our lives, since spiritual renewal is entirely His work:

“…{He} saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:5).

“…{Put} off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:12-16).

May we be transformed day by day by the renewing of our minds, so that we may have the mind of Christ and know the will of our heavenly Father, through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

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

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15–20, ESV).

Adventskranz 3. AdventThe previous post in this series discussed several priorities for walking in the light of Christ, spelled out in  Ephesians 5:15–20. This is essentially how we can reflect the light of Jesus, exposing the darkness around us and radiating Christ’s love to those who need it. We are called to make wise use of the time and opportunities that God gives us, and to seek His will in every area of our lives.

God is relational. He does not merely give us a list of tasks and obligations, demanding that we do our job right. He draws us into relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. A major element of that relationship is the presence  of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot walk in the light without being led by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, to effectively shine the light of Jesus around us, we must allow the Holy Spirit to overflow in our lives. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Some people think this is mainly an injunction against alcohol abuse. However, it goes deeper than that.

Most adults are only mildly affected by a single alcoholic beverage. One 12-ounce bottle of beer or a single glass of wine has little impact on most people’s behavior; they might feel more relaxed, but that may be all. However, after several drinks, things change. When a person is heavily intoxicated, the alcohol essentially takes control of their behavior, and they may do things that would never do while sober. Frequent abuse can lead to alcoholism, which essentially negatively alters the drinker’s personality.

The Holy Spirit can and should have an opposite effect. Many Christians are willing to invite Him to have just a mild impact on them; they will pray and worship God until they feel good, and then leave His presence. God wants more, though. He wants to fill us with the Spirit, immersing us in His presence and power. He wants the Holy Spirit to alter our behavior; indeed, He wants His Spirit to transform our personalities and lives.

This is not accomplished all at once. God wants us to enjoy landmark occasions in our lives where the Holy Spirit makes a memorable impact. We should seek a baptism in the Holy Spirit as a defining moment in our lives. However, after that experience, we should tap into His presence and power on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute encounter. There are several ways to experience that power in our lives. The above passage provides a short list of ways to experience the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Foremost is praise and worship: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Music affects our souls in unique ways. The unified blend of melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics has a way of grasping our emotions and drawing our minds in, emotionally transporting us to distant times and places. Earlier this week, I was singing along with a song on a CD and felt emotionally transported to a time in my life nearly 20 years ago. The song grasped me in ways that a conversation never could. Good music has a way of doing that to a listener.

Nowadays, Christians can enjoy a wide variety of spiritual music. The musical genres range from traditional hymns, to southern gospel, black gospel, rock, pop, folk, rap, and virtually every other musical genre imaginable. Find some music that you enjoy, with lyrics that glorify our Lord and draw your entire soul into an awareness of His presence. A spiritual song that stirs your soul will keep the Lord’s presence at the forefront of your attention.

This should not be restricted to your time alone. Ephesians 5:19 tells us to “{address} one another” in song. We often treat music as only a source of entertainment. Many churches seem to use music to make people feel good. Music should encourage, admonish, and teach us. It should be a tool by which we minister one to another. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Corporate worship is important. It is virtually impossible to consistently walk in the power of the Holy Spirit without it. We do not sing in church merely to feel good. We are there not for entertainment, but to encourage and bless one another. Good worship music is part of that.

Finally, we should remain thankful in all circumstances, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” True biblical thankfulness does not deny reality. Instead, it views all of reality from the perspective that God is always working in our lives (Romans 8:28).

Even in difficult circumstances, we should give thanks. Times may be difficult, and things may not go as you planned, but the Spirit-filled believer seeks to know how God is at work through the problems. Even if we cannot see what God is doing, we can acknowledge that He is working all things together for our good. We can trust Him to bring forth a result that exceeds our expectations and brings forth His fruit in our lives. For that, we can and should be thankful. For more thoughts on the subject of thankfulness, see this post from several years ago.

Jesus calls His disciples to be the light of the world, even as He is the light of the world. We are called to reflect His light into the darkness around us. Our lifestyle, worship, and witness can be His vessels to draw those who have been lost in darkness into the glorious abundant light and life He gives. We have a noble calling as His servants. Let us go forth in His name to conquer the darkness of sin and death with the light and life He alone can give!

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15–20, ESV).

lightoftheworld1Recent articles on this blog spoke of the Christian’s calling to reflect the light of Jesus to the world and about how this lifestyle exposes the deeds of darkness. Paul’s discussion about exposing the deeds of darkness in Ephesians 5:6–14 is immediately followed by the above passage.

In the New American Standard Bible, the phrase “Look carefully then how you walk” is translated as “Therefore be careful how you walk.” A former pastor of mine would often say, “Whenever you see ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you need to figure out what it’s there for,” because it closely links the following passage with the one preceding it. Ephesians 5:6–14 tells us that we can expose the deeds of darkness by walking as children of light. Ephesians 5:15–20 gives us several priorities for walking in the light. The former passage tells us what happens when we reflect the light of Christ to a dark world; the latter tells us a few ways to accomplish this.

I will discuss two of these priorities in this post. A companion post will follow in a few days, discussing a few aspects of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s first priority in this passage is to make wise use of the time and opportunities God gives us. “{Make} the best use of the time,” (some translations say “Redeem the time”) “because the days are evil.” Time is short. Evil and darkness surround us. The mature man or woman of God should be a wise steward of his or her time. We should give God the first fruits of our time, placing ministry in His name as a top priority in our lives. Readers who are interested in this subject can read a post that I shared several years ago.

Furthermore, we should make it a priority to seek the Lord’s will in every area of your life. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” This should be a daily priority, acknowledging God’s authority over area of your life. Many are willing to acknowledge Him as Lord of our Sundays, and to commit to a time of prayer and Bible reading every day. However, Jesus is not merely Lord of the religious sphere of our lives; He is Lord of every area of our lives. He is as concerned about our careers, families, relationships, hobbies, leisure time, etc., as He is about what book of the Bible we are reading, how much time we spend in prayer, and which church we attend.

There are numerous ways to discern God’s will for your life, but the most important is the Bible. Too many people rely on other things—including their feelings and circumstances—to determine God’s will. The Bible will often tell us to do things that pull us out of our comfort zone, but that is largely because many of us are comfortable with sin.

The alternative to understanding the will of the Lord is foolishness. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If we wish to be wise, not foolish, we will be eager to know the will of the Lord.

Walking in the light demands wisdom: Wise use of our time, resources and opportunities; and wise choices guided by clear discernment and obedience to God’s will. It does not always happen easily. We have to be committed to serving our Lord. We should also be filled, empowered, and guided by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. This will be the focus of our next reflection.

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

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Light of the World: Exposing the Deeds of Darkness

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:6–14, ESV).

A recent post shared how we are called to be the light of the world, by reflecting the true Light, Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to reflect His light, saying, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

How do we reflect that light? Is it enough to wear t-shirts with religious sayings, post Bible verses on Facebook, talk about Jesus and church wherever you go, and slap a Christian bumper sticker on your car? Several years ago, my friend confessed that although he had several Christian bumper stickers on his car, his driving was definitely not glorifying God. Therefore, he did what he thought was reasonable: he removed the stickers. That misses the point, though. All of these forms of “Christian advertising” are great ways to begin a conversation about the Gospel and what Jesus has done in one’s life. However, when there is a conflict between our bumper stickers or Facebook statuses and our lifestyles, the answer is not to hide the light. The answer is to tap more deeply into the light of Christ.

Paul begins Ephesians 5 by writing, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2). Thus begins a chapter where he frequently refers to light: that word appears five times in Ephesians 5:6-14 in the ESV. Some translations have an additional occurrence, in verse 14, saying something like “Christ shall give you light” (RSV) instead of “Christ will shine on you.” The light of Christ is intimately intertwined with the love of God. It does not blend well with sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (which, Paul says, is a form of idolatry), filthiness, foolish talk, or crude joking (Ephesians 5:3–5). He refers to these as “unfruitful works of darkness,” which should be exposed.

Why do we expose the deeds of darkness? Not to judge the world, nor to act like we are better than them, nor to act “holier than thou.” We expose the deeds of darkness because the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience (verse 6). If we are walking in the light and love of Christ, we realize that our friends and neighbors are in danger of eternal judgment if they continue on that path. We expose the deeds of darkness to reveal their need for a Saviour and invite them to join us as we follow Christ.

How do we expose the deeds of darkness? Declaring the Word of God is one way. Speaking out against different forms of sin is another. However, perhaps the most important way is through our lifestyle. We expose the deeds of darkness by walking in the light of Christ. The Christian’s lifestyle should expose the darkness of sin.

Take a stand to live a life separate from sin. “Do not become partners with them.” If others are heading into a sinful situation, do not join them. For example, if a conversation deviates in dirty jokes or gossip, walk away; do not sit around listening and laughing. We do not shine God’s light by being part of the darkness; we do more to shine the light by saying, “I’m sorry, folks, but as a follower of Christ I cannot be part of this.”

Always seek to discern the will of God and live by it. One important effect of regular prayer and Bible study is the ability to recognize God’s will for our daily lives. We spend too much time trying to figure out when Christ will return or how free will and divine sovereignty can be balanced, and far too little time trying to figure out what God wants us to do throughout the day.

It is not merely enough to avoid sin, though. Our lives should be positive. Seek to bless others. James 2:15–16 gives an example of a person who thinks it is enough to pray for a needy person. In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus tells a parable contrasting the sheep (those who took sacrificial action to care for those in need and crisis) and the goats (who did nothing to help the needy—I wonder if they just prayed for them like the person in James 2). The life that reflect Christ’s light is not merely one that avoids doing bad things; it is the life that proactively seeks to do good, to glorify Christ by revealing His love in action to those who need to see it.

Too often, we try to witness for Christ by acting like the world. Instead, we should live in such a way that people can clearly see Christ in us and recognize that there is something different about Him and His people. Let us live as though we truly believe that the life He offers is abundant (John 10:10) and surpasses all that the world offers. This is an important place to begin drawing people to Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Prayer Acknowledging Jesus as the Light of the World

lightoftheworld1Shortly after posting my recent article, Reflecting the Light of the World, I noticed that one of the prayers for this week in the Book of Common Prayer specifically refers to Jesus as the light of the world. Since the essence of this prayer relates to the thoughts I shared in that article, I thought I would share that prayer with my readers:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Perhaps you may feel led to say this prayer as part of your daily devotions. May God bless you as you bask in His light and share it with those around you.

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Reflecting the Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).

Light is essential to life. Much of our diet hinges on plant life; we mostly eat plants that survive via photosynthesis (using sunlight to create energy) or things that have eaten those plants. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight is necessary for human health; it is how our bodies produce vitamin D, and sunlight deprivation has been linked to depression. We also rely on light to know where we are and the direction in which we are headed.

Thus, when Jesus called Himself “the light of the world,” His audience knew what He meant. Nobody could misunderstand what He was saying. By calling Himself the light of the world, He called Himself God. At the very least, His hearers recognized that He was claiming to be the Messiah:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Natural light allows us to see where we are going. Likewise, spiritual light guides our steps spiritually. Jesus’ audience would have recognized that too:

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

God’s written Word—the Bible—gives us guidance and direction for our path so that we can know how He wants us to live. Likewise, Jesus is the light of the world and the living Word of God to guide our paths:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. 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 1:4–5, 9–14).

All of these aspects of Jesus flow together. He is the Word that became flesh to reveal God to us. He is the light of the world, so that we may see. Also, He is life so that we may live. His life is the light of men. His light, His life, and His love guide our steps. We cannot see the path God has prepared for us unless we follow Him.

One of the great lies we deceive ourselves into believing is that we can make it on our own and just call Jesus for backup when things get difficult. We think of Him as our co-pilot (to quote that bumper sticker) when He should be the pilot. We think we can find our way and let Jesus follow us to tweak our efforts. We think we can lead our own lives, yet Jesus tells us that He is the life and that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 14:6; 15:5).

Yet, Jesus is our source of life and light. We need Him first and foremost. But there is another side to this. We do not keep the light to ourselves. We are called to reflect that light to others.

In nature, Earth receives almost all of its light from two sources. During the day, we receive light from our primary source, the sun. However, at night, we receive a little bit of light from the moon. The moon does not create its own light; instead, it reflects light from the sun to us. It takes the light it receives and passes it on to earth.

Likewise, we are called to reflect the light of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

Clearly, we are not the light of the world in the same sense that Jesus is. But, He calls us to take His light and share it with others. We may want to hide it, keeping it to ourselves, but He calls us to spread His light to others. It is through His followers that He is able to shine His light to the nations. When people see us following the true light, they can see the source of all light and life, give glory to Him, and follow Him themselves.

The apostle Paul could tell the churches under his care to be imitators of God (Galatians 5:1) and also imitate him, as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Can we say the same? Can we tell others that they can imitate Christ by imitating us? Are we reflecting the light, life, and love of God in such a way that people can see the light of Jesus through us?

That is not an impossible idealistic fantasy. That is God’s desire. He wants us to receive His light and reflect it to others. But to do that, we need to first recognize that Jesus is the source of light, life, and love. We cannot create it on our own, but we can reflect His glory as we receive it and follow Him.

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

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wise Men and Wisdom

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:9–11).

adoration_of_the_wise_men-veronese-mba_lyon_a79-img_0315

True wisdom comes from God and directs its attention to God. The wise men worshiped Jesus, because divine wisdom led them to do so. Worldly wisdom would have led them otherwise. “The Adoration of the Magi,” by Paolo Veronese [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

This weekend, many churches celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the wise men who visited Jesus. This feast brings the Christmas season to an end, but it also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the wise men and the nature of biblical wisdom. We can recognize that true wisdom has both a divine source and a divine focus. It comes from God and it directs us to seek our greatest needs and desires from Him.

The wise men sought a meeting with “he who has been born king of the Jews.” While in their homeland (possibly Persia), they had seen a star which led them to believe that a great king had been born for the Jewish people. So, they came to meet this great king. First, the went to the most logical place to find a king of the Jews: the palace of King Herod. There were no newborn princes there. So, they went to Bethlehem where, according to Old-Testament prophecy, the Messiah would be born. The star directed them to the home of a poor young couple and their baby boy. Against common sense, they offered their royal gifts to this working-class poor baby.

True wisdom did not submit to common sense: It followed God’s direction. They found the king of the Jews, not in a royal palace, but in a common family’s home. They worshiped God where He chose to reveal Himself, not where it would seem to make sense.

When we read the Old Testament, we usually associate “wisdom” with King Solomon. First Kings 3:12 tells us that God gave him “a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” Solomon’s wisdom is the fount from which most of the Book of Proverbs flowed.

Although the book does not specifically say it is written by him, Ecclesiastes is also usually ascribed to Solomon. Many Christians believe he wrote it near the end of his life, as he reflected on his greatest accomplishments and deepest disappointments. The passage at the beginning of this post is one of many from that book, reflecting his discovery that his boldest pursuits were “vanity and a striving after wind.”

If you wonder what that phrase means, step outside, catch the wind in your hands, and then bring it indoors and place it on your table. It will not work. You may feel the wind hitting your hand, but when you close your fingers around it, you will realize you have nothing. The air molecules that have pelted your palm immediately float elsewhere leaving you with nothing.

This illustrates how many live our lives. We grasp for something, and we find we have nothing. Or we grab hold of something, and we find that we have gained something worthless. We fool ourselves into believing one of life’s great lies: That happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of personal significance or meaning in life can be found in the things of this world.

Take time to read Ecclesiastes. Although written thousands of years ago, some of Solomon’s temptations and frustrations sound very current. He sought and achieved great wealth. He amassed power and influence. He pursued pleasure. He thought great building projects or other noble accomplishments would bring him satisfaction. Yet, throughout his life, he learned that all of these things could be lost in a moment. He would one day pass his wealth on to his heirs, and may one day be forgotten by his descendants. (I wonder if anybody has ever gone to ancestry.com and traced their family tree back to King Solomon? Probably not.) Those things that seemed to bring joy, satisfaction, and significance all seemed to end in emptiness, vanity, and chasing after wind.

However, this was not a cause for despair:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).

The flaw of worldly wisdom and common sense is that it focuses on everything that happens “under the sun” and does not recognize its source and focus in God Himself. The pleasures, passions, and purposes we often seek are temporary; a focus on God Himself is eternal.

I wonder about the aftermath of the Magi’s visit. Magi were usually employed by their king, so their visit was probably intended to be as much political as spiritual. Yet, they did not find what they expected. They did not cut a political treaty for their king with a powerful ruler. Instead, they left their gifts with a poor family and came back with nothing more than stories about a baby that somehow inspired them to worship. Yet, they had worshiped God incarnate, and Scripture testifies to this day of their faithfulness. We do not remember their names and their homeland is not specified, but we know that God remembers them. He says to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Most importantly, God invites us to seek our joy and significance by worshiping His Son instead of the things of this world.

It is not common sense, but it is wise.

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

 

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

The Blood and the Name of Jesus

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25).

juan_de_roelas_-_adoration_of_the_name_of_jesus_-_wga19648

“Adoration of the Name of Jesus,” by Juan de las Roelas (ca. 1604) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

January 1 is a day of new beginnings. In western culture, we begin a new year. On the traditional church calendar, it is the eighth day of Christmas, celebrating yet another new beginning in salvation history.

On the eighth day since the birth of Jesus, we commemorate the circumcision of Christ, at which time He was formally given the name “Jesus.” On the eighth day, Jewish boys would be circumcised (Leviticus 12:3), and it is during this ceremony that the baby received his name. One can essentially say that Jesus shed His “first blood” at that time. James Keifer writes:

On January 1st, we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. Since we are more squeamish than our ancestors, modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but the other emphasis is the older. Every Jewish boy was circumcised (and formally named) on the eighth day of his life, and so, one week after Christmas, we celebrate the occasion when Our Lord first shed His blood for us. It is a fit close for a week of martyrs, and reminds us that to suffer for Christ is to suffer with Him.

Since commercialism tends to silence the spiritual aspects of Christmas, few of us give serious thought to all twelve days. Therefore, January 1 becomes a secular holiday and we overlook the message of Christ’s circumcision. As He receives “the name that is above all names,” He sheds His blood for the first time: a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of His mission to save us from our sins and of His eventual glorification:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Instead of clinging to His divine majesty, Jesus took on human flesh, lived a life that was in many ways quite ordinary, so that he could live, suffer, and die as one of us. This is the essence of His entire incarnation and of the Gospel.

Many Christians will speak of the power of the name of Jesus, and others will speak of the power of His blood. Here, at the beginning of His earthly life, the two are united. At the end of His life, He shed His blood completely for the forgiveness of our sins, and in the last days we will all kneel before Him because He has the name that is above all names.

This post copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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