The First Easter Sermons: The Central Theme of the Bible

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:44–47).

Jesus gives His first post-resurrection Bible study, in “The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road,” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His teaching to His disciples took a new focus. In each Gospel account, He told them that He was giving them a message to proclaim to the world. He told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, the significance of these events in God’s plan for mankind, and the disciples’ new role as Jesus’ messengers.

The messages Jesus shared with the two disciples He met on the road to Emmaus (vv. 25–27) and with the other disciples in the upper room later that evening (vv. 44–47) are now our message. This is the central theme of the entire Bible. This is the Good News that He sends us to share with the world.

First, Jesus told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Many people in Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would be a political or military hero who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and bring God’s kingdom to Earth. Jesus did not fulfill that political role, but He showed that His redemptive work was the real message in God’s Word all along. People had seen what they wanted to see in the writings of Moses and the prophets. They missed the core message.

Other authors have written excellent summaries of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Those who are not familiar with these prophecies will benefit by reviewing the chart at http://jesusplusnothing.com/jesus66books.htm which lists messianic prophecies in every book of the Old Testament. A more scholarly discussion about Jesus in the Old Testament, by Bible scholar Walter C. Kaiser, can be found at https://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Jesus-in-the-Old-Testament.cfm. Those prophecies revealed that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise again.

Our response to that miracle should be repentance. While that word sounds holy and spiritual, it simply means a change of mind or life’s direction. We have been walking away from God, trying to do our own thing. Repentance means that we acknowledge that there is sin in our lives and choose to follow Jesus instead. It is the first step in new life with Christ.

Christ’s free gift is forgiveness of sins. This is what we should offer to the lost. It is the message the apostles—a group of Jewish men—were to proclaim to the entire world, beginning from Jerusalem but spreading out too all nations.

Too often, we preach politics, morality, and condemnation. We may be willing to preach forgiveness to people who are like us, but do we preach that same message to “those people?” The New Testaments book of the Acts of the Apostles shows how the early Christians broke free from their cultural biases and proclaimed the Good News to those despicable half-breed Samaritans, those Roman terrorists, and all of those other weird uncircumcised Gentile pagans. Are we ready to preach repentance and forgiveness to homosexuals, transgendered persons, illegal immigrants, Muslims, etc.? Or, do we have a different message for them in the name of “culture warfare?”

Jesus’ message must begin with us. We must remember that the most devout Christians is merely a recovering, repentant, forgiven sinner. In the core of our human nature, we are not better than others. We are merely fortunate and blessed to have found out the Good News that Jesus died for our sins.

This is the message for Easter and every day of the year: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. He suffered and died for our sins. He rose from the grave to conquer sin, hell, death, and Satan. He offers forgiveness of sins to all who will come to Him.

This is the message all Christians are called to proclaim. It is the central theme of the entire Bible. Let us go forth with this word every day, inviting the lost to the new life and forgiveness Jesus offers, so that it may be Easter throughout the year.

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

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: III. How to Read and Meditate on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

How do we diligently apply ourselves to God’s Word? Here are four steps which will allow us to experience God’s blessing through the Bible in our lives.

First, we need to read God’s Word on a daily basis. When I first began to follow Christ, several people urged me to read the Gospel of John first. After reading the Gospel of John, I read the entire New Testament. Then, I went back and read the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. The entire process took about seven months.

The “read John first” advice is very popular in evangelical circles, but I do not think it is appropriate for everybody. People have different personality types, and each of the Gospels speaks more clearly to different personality types. I think many people would actually benefit more by reading Matthew or Luke first.

Perhaps you are not as ambitious a reader as I am. You may prefer to read about three chapters per day, thereby reading the entire Bible in one year. This will require about 15 minutes per day. If you want to try that approach, consider visiting oneyearbibleonline.com. This site provides a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs every day. On some occasions, the Proverbs reading is only one or two verses. This plan will have you reading the entire Bible once and the Book of Psalms twice every year. Print versions of The One Year Bible are available for purchase.

Another option is Our Daily Bread, a devotional guide available as a printed booklet or a website. It contains a through-the-year plan, with one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. It also includes a third short reading (perhaps part of a Psalm, one story, or a paragraph) with a brief devotional and thought for the day. The devotional reading is what Our Daily Bread is famous for. Many people subscribe to the daily devotion to supplement a more thorough Bible reading plan.

With either of these plans, you may start at any time; even if you start in the middle of several different books, you will catch on soon enough. God can speak to you even if you did not begin at page 1. Your mission is not to read the Bible like an ordinary book, but to meet God and His Son Jesus Christ through His Word.

Some churches and denominations recommend other reading plans. Like many people in my denomination, I follow the Daily Office readings in the Book of Common Prayer, which provides several Psalms for morning and evening prayer, with brief readings from the Old Testament, New Testament (Acts, letters, or Revelation), and Gospels. I usually supplement this with additional reading, including the devotion from Our Daily Bread. You can follow the Daily Office, which includes structured prayers with the readings, on the websites of Mission St. Clare or my denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

Next, take some time to understand what the passage means. If you are reading three chapters, you probably do not have time to analyze every verse. That is okay. Bible reading is a lifetime journey. What you do not understand or notice in a passage now may take on meaning when you read it again in a few years. You can consider your Bible reading a success if you can find one key idea or thought in each reading.

As you try to glean the Scripture’s meaning, follow some basic guidelines for interpretation. Seek to determine the natural meaning of the passage to its original hearers or readers. How would the crowd have understood Jesus’ parable? How would the Corinthians have understood Paul’s instructions in his letter? We need to understand what God meant in His Word before we try to determine what He is trying to say to us. Do not try to twist Scripture to mean what you want it to say. Try to determine what God is saying, even if it is uncomfortable or unpopular.

Invest in a few basic reference materials to help you better understand the Bible. A good study Bible will provide reference materials and explanatory notes to help you better interpret God’s Word. Another option is a paid subscription to biblegateway.com, which will provide access to commentaries and study materials.

As you read the Bible, take note of anything that grabs your attention. Meditate on that part throughout the day. It may be one sentence, or one phrase, or one word or idea that was repeated throughout your reading. One of the Hebrew words for “meditate” is related to the word for chew. Like a cow chews the cud, keep chewing on that word. Do not let it depart from your mouth. Ponder it throughout the day. Ask God to make its importance clearer to you. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to do about that word.

Sometimes, during a period of contemplative prayer, I will spend some time in silence simply meditating on Scripture like this. It may be just one word, but I will wait to hear what God wants to say to me.

All of this leads to the entire point of Bible study. Obey what God tells you to do. Is He revealing a sin which you need to repent from? Is He directing you to witness to somebody? Sometimes particular thoughts may pop into your head as you ponder the Scripture. The Bible may not literally say, “Stop watching that TV show,” or “You need to witness to {particular person’s name},” but these thoughts may come to mind as you ponder a verse. If it seems like a logical application of a Bible passage, it is probably the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to you as you meditate on His Word. As God speaks, say yes and do what He has called you to do.

Meditation and study demand balance. Many Christians overemphasize study. They try to dig into every nuance of a passage, trying to figure everything out. They study the Bible as if it is a science or history book and can miss the God Who appears in, with, and under every word. They seek intellectual knowledge, not true faith.

On the other hand, some may be tempted to meditate without study. Grabbing one verse out of context, demanding that it means what you want it to mean, is not biblical meditation. Biblical meditation begins with the objective truth of God’s Word and receives a subjective personal application from His Holy Spirit.

By hearing or reading the word of God, meditating on it, and seeking to obey it, we can succeed in doing God’s will, whether we pastor a church or serve burgers at a drive-through window.

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

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: II. Rightly Handling God’s Word

In our last post, I mentioned some translation issues with 2 Timothy 2:15. Let us look at that entire passage:

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Paul was writing to Timothy primarily in his role as a young bishop and pastor. He was to be diligent, making his best efforts to prove himself as a master craftsman handling the word of truth. Half-hearted Bible juggling would not suffice, since others’ faith and souls were at stake.

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of itself as a weapon, the sword of the Spirit. Do we handle the Bible as carefully as we handle a weapon? Several years ago, I went several times to a gun range with a friend. He showed me that there is a proper way to handle a gun. There are several things you must do to handle a gun safely. You make certain you are not pointing it at another person (unless you are willing to shoot them). You have to hold each gun a certain way if you want your bullet to hit its intended target without injuring yourself. There is a proper way to load your gun, a proper way to hold it, a proper way to fire it, and a proper way to clean it and store it when you are done. Many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse a gun. A wise man will make every effort to diligently properly handle his weapon.

Likewise, many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse God’s Word. People’s faith or spiritual well-being can be harmed or damaged. Paul warned Timothy about a pair of teachers “who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” End-time prophecy pundits can often do much damage to the spread of the Gospel and the faith of their listeners. From time to time, a friend calls me, panicking because someone told him some new prophecy fad: “The government’s going to force everybody to implant a microchip under their skin! It’s the mark of the beast! Donald Trump’s the Antichrist! Pope Francis is the Antichrist!” And so on. Apparently, people tell him that they are experts because they study these things on the internet.

Not everything you read on the internet is true. The internet has given us some great opportunities. I can write this article on Sunday evening, post it online that night, and watch as people all over the world read it by the end of the week. Anybody with an internet connection can have a public platform. That is great, because it frees us to share our thoughts quickly and freely. However, it also gives that privilege to people who may not know what they are talking about. Not every person who claims to be a “Bible scholar” or “prophecy expert” deserves those titles. Any conspiracy theorist or fool can publish a crazy idea. Let us be diligent. Let us know God’s Word so that we can be discerning, especially when somebody says things like “God told me,” “The Bible says,” or “Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes!”

Would you trust a preacher who studies the Bible as well as this community maintains its roads?

More importantly, though, let us be diligent so that we can speak God’s truth carefully and accurately. If you teach a Bible study class, pastor a church, or write a blog, you need to spend time reading God’s Word. You need to learn it and know how to explain it properly to others. The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988) says in a note on 2 Timothy 2:15 that ὀρθοτομοῦντα uses “the image of someone laying out a road.” People are going to walk on that road. It needs to reach its destination safely. It should be able to support its traffic. If you are preaching, teaching, or otherwise sharing God’s Word, others will rely on it to reach their spiritual destination. Be diligent to make certain you are properly guiding them.

The committed child of God should be diligent with God’s Word, just like we expect the people who build and maintain our roads and other infrastructure to be diligent with the tasks set before them. Our own souls demand it. Others’ souls may require it.

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

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: I. Meditating on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com, under Creative Commons CC0 license.

As I was meditating on Joshua 1:8 this week, my wife emailed me a link to an article entitled “If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling Them to Study the Bible.” The author observed that the Bible rarely mentions studying Scripture. Instead, it tells us to “meditate on” or “delight in” God’s Word. Some readers may say, “Wait: Doesn’t 2 Timothy 2:15 tell us to ‘Study to shew thyself approved….’? Doesn’t that command us to study Scripture?” Probably not; that wording in the King James Version is not the most accurate. The Greek word translated “study” in that verse, σπούδασον, is translated “be diligent” or “do thy diligence” wherever else it appears in the King James Version. The KJV also misleadingly translates the word ὀρθοτομοῦντα as “rightly dividing” even though a more accurate translation is “to cut straight.” Just as a carpenter building a house has to cut straight while preparing wood, a man of God has to display proper mastery and expertise in handling God’s Word. Modern translations like the ESV are much more accurate:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We will look more closely at this passage in a forthcoming post. However, let us note for now that God wants us to meditate on His Word.

Joshua 1:8 and 2 Timothy 2:15 share several common features. One feature is that they are both instructions given to men of God in their roles as leaders of God’s people. 2 Timothy 2:15 particularly instructs the young pastor about his role as a teacher of God’s people. Joshua 1:8, on the other hand, guides Joshua in his work as a military commander. The Old Testament verse may be more relevant to most believers than Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Most of us will not be pastors or bishops. We will have to serve God in very secular careers.

Even in that “secular” career as a military ruler of God’s people, Joshua needed God’s guidance to succeed. While God gave His laws to Moses and would give other messages to later prophets, He usually gave Joshua military strategy, administrative guidance, and organizational insight. The same is true for us. God’s Word will tell us how to fulfill our roles as editors, teachers, doctors, restaurant workers, etc. Before you think your career is for some reason detached from God’s call upon your life, consider what God told Moses about a man named Bezalel:

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft’” (Exodus 31:1-5).

This is the first time the Bible speaks of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit. Think about that: a craftsman, not a prophet or priest, is the first person God speaks of as being filled with His Spirit. God wants us to know and do His will even when our careers seem mundane, routine, nonspiritual, or boring.

As Joshua would meditate on God’s Word, he would need to remember God’s promises, wisdom, and rules. God had promised to be with him. God had promised the land to the people of Israel. God’s laws provided wisdom about how Israel should treat other nations, both enemies and foreigners who wished to live peacefully in their land. He also gave them laws which, if violated, would have serious consequences (Joshua 7).

We need the same wisdom Joshua needed. We fact challenges, circumstances, and crises on a regular basis. God offers us the same wisdom. He offers great and precious promises to us. Let us meditate daily on God’s Word, so that we may be careful to do all that He commands and enjoy success and prosperity.

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

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God’s Word, Daily Devotions, and the Family

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

It is not enough to know that the Bible is the Word of God. God gave us His Word so that we could know Him, His will, and how to follow His directions for our lives.

The above passage begins with a verse known as the “shema,” from the Hebrew word for “listen” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Some people call it the “statement of faith” of Judaism, the key verse of their faith. A few websites that call it “the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book” or the most important prayer in Judaism. Jesus referred to the very next verse (Deuteronomy 6:5) as the greatest commandment:

“And one of the scribes … asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31).

Since both Jewish tradition and Jesus Himself consider these verses to be so important, we should take heed to the rest of this exhortation. How can a child of God follow the teachings of Jesus? By knowing God’s Word. To know and follow God’s will for our lives, we must store His Word in our hearts. We also must pass it on to future generations.

We need to read the Bible every day. We should read it alone. We should also teach it to our children.

To grow in your faith, you should read the Bible throughout the week. It is not enough to simply hear the Scripture readings in church on Sunday morning. We need daily reminders of all that He has done for us and all He wants us to know. Also, our children need to hear the Bible throughout the week. The Bible never mentions Sunday school, children’s church, or a children’s sermon, because God commanded parents to teach their children.

Read the Bible every day. Find a good Bible reading plan that will provide a passage for every day. I follow the Daily Office readings from the Book of Common Prayer. Many students of Scripture prefer to follow one of several “through the Bible in one year” plans. The devotional guide, Our Daily Bread, provides readings from the Old and New Testament every day to help you read the entire Bible within one year. It also provides a shorter reading with comments related to the passage.

Train your children in the Word of God whenever you can. Young children (up to seven years of age) learn most from stories. Read Bible stories and explain what they mean to them. As a child gets older, you can read other books of the Bible, such as the New Testament letters, with them and discuss the passage. Teenagers should be encouraged to read on their own, perhaps following a devotional guide or other reading plan.

Find teachable moments with your children. Deuteronomy 6:7 says that we should “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Discuss Bible passages that relate to things they learned in school or situations they or their friends are facing. Some families do a brief Bible study or prayer time while they eat dinner. See what works for your family.

Finally, it is helpful to keep visual reminders about God’s Word and Christian truths around you. My wife will sometimes write a Bible verse on an index card and tape it to the bathroom mirror. That makes it certain that we will see that verse every day. This is especially helpful when the verse speaks about an issue that is important to you at this time in your life. We also have crosses hanging on a few walls in our apartment, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice for us and His perpetual presence in our lives.

If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we will not reserve it for one day of the week. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), not “I am with you one day per week” or “I am with you only when you go to church.” He wants to speak to us every day. He wants us to share His good news with everybody—especially our own families. Seek His Word daily.

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

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God’s Purpose in Scripture

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14–17; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

In recent posts, we looked at the authority of Scripture and its relationship with tradition. Now, let us look at God’s purpose in providing the Bible. What was His aim? What does He intend for us to learn from it?

St. Paul. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Keep in mind that God’s Word leaves out many details. We may be curious and want extra facts. But, God is silent about some things. The late Roman Catholic broadcaster Mother Angelica once said that 91% of Jesus’ life is “hidden.” Think about it: Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation. Yet, the book that preserves His revelation presents only a small fraction of His life. We read a little about the first couple years of His life. Then, we read about one family trip to Jerusalem when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41–52). After that, God says nothing about Jesus’ life until He is about 30 years old. We read nothing about His carpentry career. We do not know what happened to His stepfather, Joseph; most Christians believe he died before Jesus’ ministry began, but we do not know when. God tells us what we need to know for salvation, not what we want to know to satisfy our curiosity.

Likewise, I recently had an online discussion with a seminary friend and his wife about Noah and Methuselah. Methuselah was the oldest man in the Old Testament, dying at the age of 969 years, and Noah was his grandson (Genesis 4:25–27). Genesis 4:25–32 and 7:11 show that he died in the same year as the flood. That raises a few questions: Did Methuselah die several months before the flood or just before the rains came? Did he drown in the flood? If so, why? Did Noah invite Methuselah on the ark, but he refused to come? Or, did God prohibit Noah from inviting Methuselah on the ark? We do not have the answers to these questions. God did not think Methuselah’s fate was important for us to know.

Many Bible stories, including the account of Noah’s ark, leave numerous details out. God focused on what we need to know. “Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat” by Simon de Myle (public domain, via Wikipedia Commons).

The story of Noah raises other questions, as my friend pointed out: How did only four men, with possibly some help from their wives, build such a huge ship long before the development of advanced shipbuilding technology? Did their neighbors help them? If so, how did they tell them, “No, you cannot come on our boat.” Once again, the Bible is silent.

We read with many questions that will never be answered this side of heaven. While the Holy Spirit did not provide all the details, He did reveal what we need to know for salvation. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul wrote that the Scriptures make us “wise to salvation.” They show us what we need to know about everlasting life. The Word of God shows us that it is only through faith in Jesus that we are saved:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:11–12).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Human wisdom has limitations. We need special revelation from God. He gives it in His Word. It shows us why we need to believe in Jesus and what God wants us to know and believe about Him.

Paul concluded 2 Timothy 3 with the following statement about the inspiration of Scripture:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

As we saw in a previous post, these verses—particularly the phrase “breathed out”—provide the term “inspiration” of Scripture. They also list four functions of Scripture: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Interested readers can study these four terms in this blog’s most-frequently read article, published in 2012. To summarize the distinctions between them, we can observe that they are complementary. They address both belief and practice. Teaching instructs the reader about what he needs to know; correction addresses errors and false beliefs. Reproof points out when one is doing something wrong; training in righteousness shows someone how to do the will of God. The mature Christian must have the right beliefs and act based on those beliefs. When learning what is right, we have to unlearn the things we have thought or done that are wrong.

Let us keep God’s purposes in mind when we study the Bible. We do not read His Word only because it is a good story. We read it grow in our knowledge of Him. He will tell us what we need to know for salvation if we read with the proper mindset.

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

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Scripture and Tradition

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Last week’s post began with the title, “The Authority of Scripture,” yet also touched strongly on the role of church tradition. This can be a complicated discussion. It is so complicated that I think many Christians simply avoid it by seeking simple answers. For many, that simple answer is to simply call oneself a “Bible-believing Christian” and reject tradition entirely. The other simple answer is to accept the teachings of one’s church without examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). I think a more moderate stance—accepting the truth of God’s Word, but looking to see how the Holy Spirit has spoken through it in previous eras—is a wiser choice. It may not be feasible to address all that this entails in a simple blog post, but I will do my best in the following paragraphs. (I realize I am treading some controversial waters here: please read this entire post and the previous one before jumping to conclusions.)

Martin Luther. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), via Wikipedia.

There are many conflicting beliefs about the proper interpretation of Scripture. Who do I trust? Do I follow Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley, or some other prominent modern preacher or best-selling Christian author? Do I accept the wisdom of a reputable contemporary theologian like J. I. Packer, or a respected Bible scholar or preacher from previous decades? What about the Reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or later founders of Christian movements like John Wesley? In each of these cases, I am looking to the interpretation or opinion of somebody who lived over 1400 years after Jesus and His disciples. Some of these people had political or other ideological agendas mixed with their theology.

So, if I am going to allow a man of God to guide my interpretation of Scripture, is it better to look to one of these people, or to trust the opinion of Irenaeus or Polycarp? Who is this, you ask? Is Polycarp Greek for “a lot of fish” or is it actually a person’s name? Polycarp was an early Christian leader, ordained by none other than St. John, the apostle. He learned the Christian faith from John. He, in turn, taught Irenaeus. Thus, in the writings of these two men, we learn from people who were only one or two steps removed from Jesus Himself! Polycarp did not merely know the Gospel of John; he knew its author. He knew things St. John taught both in spoken and written Word!

Furthermore, the canon—the list of books accepted by the Church as the Word of God—is itself a product of tradition. Why do we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while ignoring the Gospel of Thomas? Jesus is quoted saying some great things in Thomas, but we ignore it. While many say, “Thomas was not really written by the disciple” (I agree with that statement), many scholars question whether the four Gospels we read were actually written by those authors (Matthew’s Gospel gives no direct clues who its author is). We simply accept by faith that those first four Gospels are the Word of God, and the Gospel according to Thomas and similar non-biblical “gospels&rdquo are the words of men. Likewise, we accept Revelation as the Word of God, but have never read the Shepherd of Hermas (although many early Christians preferred that book). Finally, Martin Luther wished he could take the letter of James out of the New Testament. However, the historic early church has spoken: We recognize these books as the Word of God. Other books may be great devotional literature or completely heretical. We accept the early church’s witness without really thinking about it.

Yes, errors have emerged at times in Church history. However, errors and heresies continue to pop up today. Many are merely repackaged versions of false teachings we think we have rejected (the similarities between medieval Catholicism’s sale of indulgences and the modern charismatic teaching about “seed-faith offerings to claim a blessing” are really two heads of the same monster). We can benefit by seeing how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout the ages, rather than jumping on new revelations or radical reinterpretations of the Bible. We have no authority to reshape the meaning of Scripture! Yes, we can reapply its principles to new situations; over the last 20 years or so, Christians have had to learn how to apply biblical principles to social media, blogging, and other aspects of the Internet, even though none of these are mentioned in Scripture. Modern Christians have to learn how to live biblical truth—written in societies usually governed by kings, emperors, and tyrants—in democratic and republican societies. However, the meaning of Scripture has not changed—what has changed is the culture in which we have to apply it.

Unfortunately, some Christians try to modify the Bible’s meaning to adapt it to a changed society. About 15 or 20 years ago, while teaching a Bible study at my church, I said that within a few years even so-called Bible-believing Christians would find themselves considering homosexual marriage “normal.” Most in the congregation doubted at that time, but look what has happened since then. It was legalized in Massachusetts; then in a few other states; and now, by Supreme Court ruling, it is legal in all 50 states. In response, some evangelical Christians have tried to redefine the meaning of biblical words about homosexuality, in an attempt to force the Bible into meaning what they want it to mean. Sorry, folks, you can convince yourself that your sophistry and rhetoric works, but God Himself is not moved: When Scripture lists “homosexuality” as a sin in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Greek term is a compound word which literally means “a man who goes to bed with another man”; it simply does not and cannot mean “pedophile” or “child molester.”

Christians have become afraid to call sin by its biblical name, so many of us try to find ways to reinterpret Scripture to accept lifestyles that the Old Testament calls “abominations,” or to remove the Bible’s clear teaching about hell. I can only wonder how long it is until so-called Bible-believing churches accept transgenderism or polygamy. When we reject the wisdom of past decades of Spirit-led men of God and trust in our own understanding, anything goes. So, if a preacher is bringing a “new revelation” or “deeper truth” that was not taught in previous generations, be suspicious. Every time we ignore the Holy Spirit’s guidance of previous generations and assume He is correcting Himself, we are one step closer to apostasy.

Traditions have failed the Church in the past, but they still serve a valuable purpose. They give us a foundation upon which to interpret the hard questions of Scripture. They keep us connected with the universal Body of Christ throughout the ages. They keep a check on our pride and egotism, which may seek to distort Scripture to suit our own desires.

In my next post, we will take a look at how this relates to the purpose of Scripture and how God can use it to speak to us.

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

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The Authority of Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Our recent study about special revelation (here, here, here, and here) addressed the nature of how God reveals Himself to us and what that tells us about the nature of Scripture. Since the Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to mankind, it is the authority to which all mankind, and especially all Christians and the Church, must yield.

The Bible is not a man-made record of God’s self-revelation. It is a God-breathed record. The Greek word used here, “theopneustos,” is translated in different English Bibles as “inspired,” “God breathed,” or “breathed out by God.” The Word of God was breathed out by the Spirit of God into the hearts and minds of those who recorded it for future generations. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and directed them as they wrote. He guided the apostles to understand truths they were not ready to receive during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 16:12–13), and these now appear in the pages of Scripture. This is not an ordinary book. Sadly, many Christians treat the Bible like an intellectual Lego set, trying to piece it together to suit their desires:

“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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19–21).

This divine inspiration is the source of the Bible’s authority. Since the Bible bears God’s authority, we have an obligation to yield to it: the Bible does not yield to us. This should be self-evident to Christians, but a growing number of believers prefers to exercise their own authority over God’s Word. We have no right to force God’s Word to line up with our convictions. We need to know what it says and means, not what we wish it said and meant. Unfortunately, non-Christians are not alone in their rejections of Scriptural authority. At times, even those who claim to be “Bible-believing Christians” can try to place themselves outside its authority, even while seeking to reject “tradition.” To avoid the errors (or perceived errors) in Roman Catholicism, many choose to read the Bible for themselves and make up their own minds about what it means. While we should seek to know the truth (and avoid falling into the errors others have made), we must not use this as an opportunity to redefine biblical truth.

While Jesus was critical of “the traditions of men,” the concept of tradition is not always rejected in the New Testament:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Note that Paul told the Thessalonians to hold onto the traditions that they learned either via spoken word or letter. The “letter” here could refer to 1 Thessalonians, which shares a place in the Bible with this letter. What about the spoken words, though? It seems that these traditions could be traced directly back through the apostles to Jesus Himself. Until the New Testament was canonized about 300 years later, the Church’s official source of authority was “apostolic teaching.” If a tradition did not come from the apostles, it was not considered authoritative Christian doctrine. That apostolic tradition found its crystallized final form in the New Testament books we read today.

I am not advocating adherence to every tradition that was ever passed down. Some traditions contradict each other, and others that have emerged in church history clearly contradict the Bible. Roman Catholics believe Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, while Eastern Orthodoxy maintains that she was buried in Ephesus (where St. John, the beloved disciple, is also believed to be buried). One of these traditions is not true. However, many other historic traditional teachings remain trustworthy.

I realize I have entered some controversial territory here, but I do not think my stance is unique. Martin Luther (famed for the slogan, “sola scriptura”) did not stray too far from historic Church teaching on many subjects (e.g., the sacraments), and John Wesley balanced his devotion to Scripture with a desire to interpret it in light of tradition, reason, and experience. In a following post, I will add some more thoughts to show why it is important to connect our understanding of Scripture with some level of tradition.

A few final disclaimers: (1) My beliefs about the relationship and role of Scripture and tradition have evolved in recent years. I am still learning and studying, and my thoughts on this subject could change in recent years. (2) I do not guarantee that my thoughts on this subject, in this and the following post, exactly match the teachings of my church or any other denomination. (3) While I welcome comments and discussion, I may not respond to all comments directed to specific doctrines affected by this discussion.

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

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Lent and Fasting

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:1‒12; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

For much of my adult life, I ignored Lent. It seemed to me like a legalistic ritual. I thought it provided nothing for salvation or spiritual growth. You get some ashes smeared on your head one Wednesday; for the next 40 days, you give up chocolate. What makes this spiritual? Where is God in all of this?

The truth is that some people will go through Lent and get nothing out of it. However, that is not because there is a problem with the season or the traditions associated with it. It is a problem with how that particular individual is approaching the situation. We can take legitimate ways of approaching and worshiping God and do them without His presence. Even the holiest acts can be worthlessly mundane if we merely go through the motions.

God is not impressed if we just go through the motions of Lent or fasting. The true worshipers of God will serve Him in Spirit and truth, not merely in outward rituals. What God says about fasting in the above passage is just as true about all spiritual disciplines and practices, including Bible study, prayer, praise, worship, and serving others.

(For those of you who believe fasting is a purely Old-Testament practice that Christians can ignore, I urge you to read my article, “Principles of Fasting,” at https://darkenedglassreflections.com/2011/12/04/principles-of-fasting/. Jesus assumed that His disciples will fast, and in Matthew 28:18‒20 He told them to teach later generations of disciples to obey ALL that He commanded them.)

It is helpful to remember that one goal of any fast is to give up something physical or natural so that we can devote our attention to things that are spiritual. Many people will give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, along with a favorite kind of food and/or hobby for the entire season. Others may be more ambitious (perhaps going on a full no-food fast for a day here and there), while others may do something simpler (perhaps giving up only one food). However, whether we give up a lot or a little, we need to fill the gap with something spiritual. If you give up food, without adding prayer or other spiritual disciplines, you are dieting—not fasting.

So, here are a few suggestions for those who observe Lent:

  • While giving up food, add prayer. The time devoted to preparing and eating food can be used for additional prayer and Bible reading.
  • While giving up a hobby or activity (television, Facebook, etc.), add praise and worship. The time you would normally spend on your hobby can be spent playing favorite worship songs on a musical instrument, or listening to favorite praise and worship music on a CD, Spotify, or Pandora. (Yes, this can include songs you actually enjoy listening to in your favorite musical genre. “Holy and spiritual” does not have to mean “boring, tedious, and painful.”)

Let us take it even further, as Isaiah advises in the above Bible passage:

  • Let us give up anger and develop a lifestyle of patience.
  • Let us give up greed and develop a lifestyle of generosity.
  • Let us give up selfishness and develop a lifestyle of compassion and love.

Okay, I admit: That last list may be a little less fun than perpetually streaming a playlist of your favorite Christian contemporary musicians. However, this is what God is really seeking. He is not interested in creating a club of people who eat fish on Fridays. His goal is to mold us to be more like Him.

Therefore, let Lent be a season of self-examination and reflection. Take some time in the coming weeks to read Galatians 5:19–23. Take a look at the deeds of the flesh: Which of these have the most impact on your life? Where are your weaknesses? Next, take a look at the fruit of the Spirit: Which are most abundant in your life? Which would benefit most by a season of growth.

At its core, Lent is not about meatless Wednesdays, fish on Fridays, or 40 days without chocolate, coffee, or donuts. Like every other day or season of the year, it is a time that the Lord has made for us to worship Him (Psalms 118:24). Let us devote this season to a searching and fearless moral inventory. Let us confess those parts of the carnal worldly life to which we continue to cling, release those defects to God, and yield to Him so that He may manifest His holiness within us. Then shall our light break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up speedily. Our righteousness shall go before us, and the glory of the Lord shall be our rear guard. We shall call, and the Lord will answer.

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

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Special Revelation IV: Recording the Revelation of Jesus

The writers of Scripture were not passive in their writing. I think many Christians treat the Bible as if its writers operated like robots, merely scribbling down thoughts that the Holy Spirit threw into their brains while they did not think. Yet, this is not the case. Especially in the New Testament, the writers of Scripture wrote as they shared their own encounters with Jesus.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (I John 1:1–4; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

The writers of Scripture, including St. Paul, probably used some very normal methods of research and writing as they shared what they knew about Jesus. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne [1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

John was not mindlessly scribbling random thoughts that popped into his head. He wrote what he knew. He had sat by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper. Jesus had entrusted the care of His mother to John. Throughout his Gospel, John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He must have thought of himself as Jesus’ best friend. When he wrote his Gospel and his three letters, he wrote as one remembering some unforgettable moments that he had shared with a real Person, and he wanted his readers to know that Person as well as he did.

Peter likewise wrote his letters based on that experience:

“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” (II Peter 1:16).

Why would Peter write the bold statements in his letters? Because he, along with John and James, had seen Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had denied Jesus, but then he knew Jesus’ forgiveness intimately. He had walked on water with Jesus. “I am not writing cleverly devised myths or clever stories I made up. I saw Jesus’ glory. I saw Him. I know Him! I am just telling you Who and what I experienced and know!”

It is true that some of the biblical authors did not personally know Jesus during His earthly ministry. We do not know if Paul ever met Christ. Perhaps he was one of the Pharisees who challenged or argued with Him in the Gospels. He could have been part of the crowd demanding Christ’s crucifixion. However, we know he did not become a disciple of Jesus until some time after His ascension. Likewise, Luke most likely never met Jesus. While his knowledge about Jesus was more second-hand, it was still thorough and was still guided by the Holy Spirit. Actually, Luke’s approach to writing his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles will sound very similar to the work many authors perform when writing about events we did not personally witness:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).

Luke wanted his reader, Theophilus (Greek for “friend of God”; we are not sure if it was an actual person or just a reference to any friend of God or follower of Christ who may read it), to know for certain about the things he had been taught. Luke wrote 30 or 40 years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Some of the eyewitnesses to the life and death of Jesus were already deceased. Time and distance separated many Christians from the life of Christ. How could they know for certain the truth about Him? How could the faith survive? Luke wanted to make certain that the testimony of those eyewitnesses, apostles, and other ministers of the Word would be preserved so that “friends of God” could remember them later. Like most writers, Luke did his research. He checked the original sources. He tried to assemble his facts so that he could present an orderly account. A lot of human work went into it so that he could accomplish a goal that lay on his heart. It was a very human process, even if it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may have placed the desire in Luke’s heart and guided his research and writing, but I would not be surprised if Luke felt very much like this was his project while he was doing it. Luke’s Gospel did not merely fall from the sky. It bore his sweat and effort as he achieved his goal.

While Luke wanted his readers to be certain of the truth about Jesus, John spelled out his purpose in writing. He had a lot to choose from: As mentioned previously, he was a witness to the life of Christ; he knew everything first-hand, and he had a lot to choose from (in John 21:24–25, he wrote that the entire world could not contain the books if everything Jesus did was recorded). John was consciously selective about what he shared in his Gospel:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

The certainty Luke offered served the same purpose. We should seek to be certain about the truth of Jesus so that we can have life in His name. The Scriptures are intended to make us wise to salvation (2 Timothy 3:16). As we read the Bible, we should seek to look beyond the written word to know the Living Word who spoke to us.

The Bible is a book like no other. It is living and active because it is a divinely-inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Let us read and study that Word not so much to gain intellectual knowledge, but to come to know the Author and Source of all Truth.

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

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Special Revelation III: From the Living Word to the Written Word

Too often, we miss the mark. We make the same mistake that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did. They thought God was trying to force them to do all of the right things, to avoid all the wrong things, and know a plethora of ideas about Him from the Torah and traditions. Yet, God was calling them to know Him. Particularly, He was inviting them to know Him through Jesus. Jesus said they failed to understand the Word of God because they did not recognize who He was:

“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; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

Years later, as St. John reflected on his time with Jesus, he summed it by saying that Jesus Himself was the “logos,” the living word of God:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…. 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 1:1–3, 14).

That phrase, “the Word,” would make his Jewish readers think of the Old Testament Scriptures: the law of Moses, the historical books, the Psalms and poetic books, and the writings of the prophets. This would suggest that the entire written Word of God—the entire revelation of who God is—dwelled in the body, soul, and spirit of Jesus.

Greeks may have had a different perspective on “logos,” but it was likewise a true perspective of Jesus. To the Greeks, the “logos” was the logic, reason, or wisdom that governed the universe. The “intelligent designer” that brings order and structure to the galaxies, whom even some modern scientists acknowledge without associating it with the God of the Bible, is essentially the same as the “logos” whom some Greek philosophers pondered. St. John tells us that this “logos,” the logic and reason that governs the universe, became a man named Jesus. The “logos” whom the Greek philosophers considered was the “God” of whom the Jewish Scripture writers spoke. This “God/logos” was, in fact, Jesus Christ. The written Word of the Old Testament became the Living Word, Jesus. Future generations would be blessed by more written words describing the testimony about people’s encounters with Jesus and what they mean for all mankind.

Many Christians make the mistake of worshipping the written Word of God and losing sight of the Living Word Whom it reveals. The earliest Christians knew that God gave the Scriptures not merely so that we could read, analyze, and argue about them. The written Word of God pointed beyond itself to the One who created everything and the One who came to reveal God to us.

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

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Special Revelation II: God in Christ and Christ in Us

Throughout the ages, God revealed Himself by speaking through prophets and manifesting His power in the lives of the Israelite people. Eventually, He gave the ultimate revelation of Himself by becoming a man like us:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1–4; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Picture by Banksy98 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout the Old Testament, the writers recorded God’s revelation of Himself to the Israelite people. Moses recorded the earliest encounters of men with God and the revelation of God’s laws in the first five books of the Bible. The writers of the historical books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) recorded how God displayed His sovereignty, love, and power to the Israelite people. Prophets spoke for God, revealing His will to the people in various times of crisis.

In the fullness of time (as St. Paul put it in Galatians 4:4), God sent His Son Jesus into the world. Jesus is God in human flesh. He is the most perfect revelation of what God is like. If you want to know what God is really like, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be a man of God, look to Jesus—for He is both God and man. If you want to know how you can be like God, look at Jesus and imitate Him—because He is God who became a man. If you want to see the radiance of the glory of God, look at Jesus as He suffers and dies while hanging on a cross. If you want to see the exact imprint of God’s nature, behold Jesus as He refuses to avenge Himself while He is whipped, scourged, and abused. If you want to see the full power of God, watch Jesus as He rises from the dead and ascends to the right hand of the Father. If you want to experience the full power of that revelation in your life, invite Jesus into your heart and allow His Holy Spirit to empower you.

Jesus Himself tells us that He is God:

“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:7–9).

Many people view Jesus as a great moral teacher, but as C. S. Lewis observes, claims like this prohibit this option. The entire Jewish religion hinged on a simple truth: “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4, NASB). The worship or acknowledgment of any other deities was a violation against the very first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3). If Jesus was not God, His bold claim in John 14:7–9 would be punishable by death under the Old Testament law. Jesus did not give us the option of thinking of Him as a great moral teacher or a mere prophet. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus did not give us the option of admiring Him as a great moral teacher, a prophet, or even as a good man. Others who believed they were God usually proved that they were among the most wicked men on Earth. If we believe Jesus is even a good man, we must accept His claims. To see Jesus is the same as seeing God. If we want to know anything about God, we can simply look at Jesus or learn about Him.

The entire secret of the Christian life is to participate in the unity of the Triune God. Jesus speaks of His connection with the Father as a relationship where they are “in” each other:

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:10–11).

Then, He tells us that this unity extends to our relationship with Him and with other Christians:

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22–23).

Genesis 1:26 tells us that God made mankind in His image. Like us, God is a personal being, not merely a force or an abstract ideal concept. While He is a personal being Who is far greater than anything we can imagine, the most appropriate way to reveal Himself was in a personal form. That form was the man, Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus continues to reveal Himself—not merely through His written Word, but through the people in whom He has chosen to dwell: all who call upon His name for salvation.

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

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Special Revelation: God Reveals Himself!

Recently, I shared some observations about how God reveals Himself through nature. We saw that the created world actually points us to the existence of a Creator.

Yet, some will point out that there is a problem. Many people come to believe that there is a Higher Power or Supreme Being by looking at the world, yet draw very different conclusions about what this entity is like. Is God a brilliant mathematician, as proposed by physicist Michio Kaku? Is His greatest attribute love? Does He delight in chaos and violence to achieve His ends? Is there only one God, or are there multiple equally-powerful Higher Beings battling each other in the cosmos? The questions are numerous, and these are only a few of the notions about the nature of deity that have been proposed throughout the ages.

The Christian faith offers an answer, which we will examine over the next few weeks. We are not left to our own devices. Yes, many begin by “groping for God” hoping to find Him. Speaking to the people of philosophy-frenzied Athens, St. Paul said:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:26–28; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless indicated otherwise).

God does not leave us alone, groping in the dark. He revealed Himself throughout the ages to different people at different times, and this self-revelation is recorded for us in His Word, the Bible. The Bible is not primarily a theology textbook, science text, philosophical treatise, or rule book. At its foundation, it is God’s inspired written record of His testimony to mankind. He calls us to encounter Him through His Son Jesus Christ, whom the Written Word of God reveals as the Living Word of God. This is the nature and focus of divine revelation.

Biblical authors like King David, who wrote Psalm 19 and many other psalms in the Bible, shared their testimony about how God revealed Himself to them. Painting by Gerard van Honthorst [1592-1656; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A recent post headlined Psalm 19, which describes how God reveals Himself in the created order. That psalm proceeds to describe God’s self-revelation through His Law (which, at the time of the psalmist, was pretty much the only group of books recognized as “the written Word of God” or Bible):

“The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalms 19:7–14)

God’s power and glory can be seen in creation, including the apparent motion of the sun across the sky. Other Old Testament authors would see God’s power and glory in other parts of nature: the wonders of the night sky; the awesome power of a turbulent storm; the gentle rain that allows life to spring forth upon the earth; the diversity of animals and plants that inhabited the land; and so on. Yet, Psalm 19 reminds us to move on. God has spoken. He has given us His Law. He has shown us how to live. His words and wisdom revive the soul, give wisdom, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes. His Word abides forever. It is priceless. It protects us from the consequences of folly. He has given us His Word to preserve and direct us and to draw us to Himself.

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

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Unforgivable? Jesus Says “No”

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31–32; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15).

American media is a bastion of bitterness. In recent weeks, news outlets and the internet fumed over an encounter involving a pro-life high school student from Tennessee (attending the March for Life in Washington, DC, with his classmates) and a Native American activist; their “interaction” generated a myriad of hostile comments with people on both sides accusing the other of committing an act of hate. Some people threatened the student and his school, while others sought other ways to destroy his future.

Sollok29 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Over the past week, Democrat Virginia governor Ralph Northam sat in the hot seat. After a week of controversy, during which he announced his support of late-term abortions (and even infanticide in some cases), a photograph from his medical-school days emerged, purportedly showing him posing either as an African American (wearing blackface) or as a Ku Klux Klan member. After initially claiming to be the one wearing blackface, he later denied being either person, although he admitted that he once darkened his face to dress like Michael Jackson in a talent contest.

Congratulations, Governor. You found a way to enrage most of America in one week. Conservatives were eager to drag your name through the mud after you expressed extreme pro-abortion views. Now, even many liberals were calling for your resignation. I think President Donald Trump most accurately expressed a prevailing view among the American public when he called your actions “unforgivable.”

I decided to address this topic for a few simple reasons. A big reason is that many conservative Christians defend or parrot everything President Trump says. Some seem to use Scripture merely to defend their political party’s platform, instead of weighing the platform against Scripture. With all due respect to the president, the word “unforgivable” is biblically unwarranted here. The Word of Jesus trumps the word of the president, the Republican Party, the Democrat Party, and all news organizations and websites. The Word of Jesus even supersedes the word of any church or denomination that claims His name.

We the people of the United States have become very good at vilifying those we oppose. We have become masters of criticism and judgment. We have become experts at demonizing those whose actions, lifestyles, and beliefs run contrary to our own. Yet, Jesus calls us to become masters of love and forgiveness. He wants us to become experts at shining His light in a dark world.

There is a difference between “unrighteous” or “inexcusable” and “unforgivable.” Abortion is unrighteous; it is inexcusable. It is evil to kill babies inside or outside the womb. “You shall not murder.” Racism is also evil, unrighteous, and inexcusable.

Several months ago, Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh (still a nominee at that time) was accused of committing sexual assault while he was in high school. Although legally exonerated, many people think he was guilty. Most will agree that the things he was accused of doing are evil, unrighteous, and inexcusable; the great debate is whether he actually committed those acts or was falsely accused. (Kavanaugh’s actions are covered by another of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” which later Scripture expands to other forms of sexual immorality. False accusations are condemned by the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”) Some still call them “unforgivable.”

Again, these sins are inexcusable and unrighteous. They are wrong. Abortion, murder, sexual assault, racism, and lying are wrong. However, they are not unforgivable. Reasonable persons—especially reasonable Christians—should be appalled when we are ready to destroy a person’s life because we disagree with them, or because they were accused of doing something wrong, or even if we have ironclad evidence that they are guilty of doing something wrong. This is especially true when we go on witch hunts to find stupid things people did in their youth. Many of us did embarrassing, stupid, or bad things in our youth that we regret later. Do we know for certain that there has been no repentance, or at least an attempt at self-improvement, since the moment of stupidity?

Jesus said there is only one sin that is “unforgivable.” While many sincere Christians disagree about what “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” means, most agree that it is one that will keep a person from coming to saving faith in Jesus. It seems to be a level of such utter opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit that it prohibits faith in Jesus. (Note to those who think they may have committed the unpardonable sin, let me assure you that if you are even giving it any thought, it has not happened yet. As long as you are concerned about your sins, the Holy Spirit is still working on you!)

Is racism evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is abortion evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is sexual assault evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is creating false accusations and committing slander evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Some of you may have suffered horrible mistreatment at some time in your life. Forgiveness may be difficult. It can be the hardest thing God calls you to do. But, forgiveness is necessary. Spiritually, it is a life-and-death decision. Make the decision to forgive those who have hurt you. You may not feel like you have forgiven them initially; you may have to resist the temptation to continue harboring bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment. Forgiveness does not make the abuser’s behavior right, nor does it mean you have to allow yourself or others to be hurt again. It does mean that you leave judgment to God Almighty, who is able to forgive all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

Jesus said that only one sin is “unforgivable.” Remember that the next time someone tells you another person’s actions are “unforgivable.” Remember that the next time you tell yourself or others that you will never forgive another person. Oh yes, remember that the next time you refuse to accept God’s forgiveness for you.

This post copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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God, Nature, Science, and Revelation

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18–20; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat” (Psalms 19:1–6).

The “pillars of creation.” Photo by NASA, Jeff Hester, and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University) [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In my last post, we saw that there is something of an instinct to believe in a higher power. Some might argue that this really does not prove the existence of God. In fact, many will claim that science disproves His existence. Some will claim that no serious scientist really believes in God. I invite those readers to consider these quotes:

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Photo from Cristiano Sant´Anna/indicefoto.com for campuspartybrasil [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence…. To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance…. The final solution resolution could be that God is a mathematician” (Michio Kaku, https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/world-famous-scientist-god-created-universe).

“The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it.’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan” (Henry F. Schaeffer III, https://www.azquotes.com/quote/587238).

“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all…. It seems as though somebody has fine tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe…. The impression of design is overwhelming” (Paul Davies, https://www.azquotes.com/author/3690-Paul_Davies).

I could go on. Early in my career in scientific publishing, when I was a proofreader, I occasionally worked on papers written by Juan Maldacena, a famed string theorist who has compared the universe with a giant hologram. He ended some manuscripts “In Jesus’ name” (this one-sentence paragraph would be deleted by the copy editor, as per editorial policy of the journal).

These are big names in science. Kaku has become virtually a household name by appearing on countless television shows about astronomy and physics. Schaeffer is one of the most respected chemists in the world, publishing numerous articles in both chemistry and physics journals. Maldacena, likewise, is one of the world’s top theoretical physicists. While atheists and agnostics, like Stephen Hawking and Neil de Grasse Tyson, are more well-known to the general public, Kaku, Schaeffer, and Maldacena are in their league in terms of respect within the scientific community.

I say this merely point out that these highly influential men believe in a higher power or intelligent designer. Schaeffer and Maldacena have openly professed their faith in the biblical God and Jesus Christ. Kaku and Davies acknowledge a designer or creator who may not be the God of Scripture (in his book, The Mind of God, Davies essentially states that he does not believe the creator is the same as the God of any religion). Other scientists who profess faith in some kind of God include NIH Director Francis Collins and Nobel Prize winner Werner Arber. Prominent scientists who openly profess faith in Jesus Christ include Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Ertl, Freeman Dyson, among others. This is a very brief list. One can visit this page to see a more thorough listing of scientists who profess to be Christians. While not all may be strictly biblical Christians (few of the men and women on this list believe in literal seven-day creationism), they profess belief in God in some sense.

Thus, the notion that educated people are atheists is simply not true. Tyson, Dyson, Schaeffer, Davies et al. have all placed their faith in a particular world view. Their faith guides their science just as much as their science informs their faith. Some scientists are atheists; some are agnostics; some believe there is some kind of God who created the universe, but they cannot bring themselves to believe in any specific religion; and some have come to know Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world.

With this in mind, we come to the place where theology and nature intersect. “Natural revelation” is the belief that God reveals Himself through nature. We see this as a central theme in the Bible itself:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

The Bible does not begin by trying to figure out where God came from (some ancient religious texts tried to explain the births of their deities, often in ways that would seem weird or repulsive to most of us). It begins by stating that God created the heavens and the earth. As Psalm 19:1 points out, the heavens declare God’s glory. All of creation reveals His splendor. The vision beheld by the eyes of faith grows in the face of greater revelation. The prophet Isaiah saw God as one who sat enthroned above the “circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22—no, Christianity has never taught a “flat Earth,” contrary to a notion popularized by fiction author Washington Irving). The modern Christian, informed by modern science, realizes that our universe is so much bigger than the heavens that the biblical authors could see. As we look at the universe, we merely recognize that God is even bigger than we previously imagined, merely because the universe itself is so incomprehensibly huge.

We can look within our hearts and come to have faith that there is a God who loves us because we want to believe in this Being. We can look to the world and universe around us, see the intricate order, and know for certain that there is a wise Creator behind it all. In the words of Davies:

“It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion science offers a surer path to God than religion” [Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 9].

God has not left us alone. He displays His glory and power in creation. He reveals some of His nature within our hearts since He has created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-28). But, He does not leave us to figure it out alone. He also reveals His mind and wisdom to us in His Word, the Bible. Most importantly, He reveals His love, grace, compassion—the very essence of His being—to us through His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

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Hard-Wired to Seek God

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent….” (Acts 17:22-30; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.)

How can we know God? How can we know that there is a God? And, if there is a God, how can we know what He/She/It is like?

These are important questions, from which many of the other great questions of life spring forth. These questions lay below the surface of many of our cultural debates. Later this week, I will attend the March for Life, because I believe abortion is immoral and should be illegal. Likewise, I believe homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, murder, stealing, and racism are sins. I believe that such actions and attitudes are completely opposed to God’s will for humanity. I believe they contradict the two great commandments spelled out by Jesus Christ: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). If there were no God, then perhaps survival of the fittest, as described in the theory of evolution, would be the greatest virtue. In that case, it might be okay to murder anybody who brings inconvenience into our lives, to have sex with anybody or anything (whether they are willing participants or not), or to pursue our own desires regardless of how it affects other people.

Likewise, if God was different from how I believe He is, my moral values would be different. What if the Lord of the entire universe was more like what the Bible calls “Satan” or a being from Norse or Greek mythology? Would my ideas about right and wrong be different?

Thus, the existence and nature of God are among the most essential questions all people must face. I will share a few thoughts in the next few posts about this. In a blog like this, it may not be possible to give a perfectly satisfactory answer that will address every possible proof or objection. Entire volumes of theology and philosophy have been devoted to this subject, yet great minds find themselves disagreeing about the existence and nature of God.

However, I will state from the beginning that I believe it is possible for a rational, intelligent human to believe in God. We can know God through a process that theologians call “revelation” or “illumination.” There are two broad kinds of revelation. General revelation is available to all mankind and allows us to know that there is a God. Special revelation (particularly, God’s Word, the Bible) lets us know what that God is like; it assures us that the One True God is the one revealed by Jesus Christ, not something similar to Satan or pagan deities.

Nevertheless, I will begin where C. S. Lewis began his proof for God’s existence. He and several other authors believe that human instinct can lead us to believe in God. In his classic book, Mere Christianity, Lewis began by showing that humans tend to believe in notions of justice, fairness, righteousness, and other moral and ethical ideals. We seem to assume that there are certain ideals that all people should accept (whether different cultures or religions agree about those ideals is a different question). We even cling to certain ideals when evidence might lead us to doubt them:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (Mere Christianity, p. 6)

Why do we believe in notions like kindness and cruelty, justice and injustice? Why do we think one is better than the other? Why do we believe that everybody should accept our conviction as the one true ideal? I mentioned the two great commandments of Matthew 22:37-40 a few paragraphs ago. Modern American culture has replaced Jesus’ command with a new value to cherish over all others: tolerance. We are told that you must tolerate diverse viewpoints and lifestyles, and it seems like most Americans cannot comprehend how someone can think other values take precedence over “tolerance.” In fact, they simply cannot tolerate anybody who will not worship at the altar of tolerance! Even when rejecting the biblical “intolerant” God (or, at least, rejecting the intolerant people who say they worship Him), they offer a godlike idea in His place.

Such craving for an object of faith seems essential to our being. It seems “hard-wired” into our psyches. In Acts 17:22-30, St. Paul observed that this instinctual spiritual craving had driven the residents of Athens to build an altar “to the unknown god” (apparently the numerous ones they already had names for and myths about did not seem sufficient). In 2004, geneticist Dean Hamer claimed to have discovered that humans carry a “God gene” which predisposes us to spirituality and mysticism. While it was a controversial theory—religious thinkers like theologian/physicist John Polkinghorne believe faith cannot be reduced to genetics and biochemistry—Hamer claimed his theory is consistent with the possible existence of God. In an article in the Washington Post, he said:

“Religious believers can point to the existence of God genes as one more sign of the Creator’s ingenuity — a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence.”

(Before you jump to the conclusion that Dr. Hamer is a Christian, I must point out that he is also partially responsible for promoting the common belief that homosexuality is a genetic trait. In the coming weeks, I may quote scientists whose statements suggest the possible existence of a supreme being or creator; not all of them believe that supreme being is the God of the Bible.)

Is the ability to believe in God or the desire to know Him hard-wired into our nature? It seems that humans by nature are disposed to religious conviction. Most human cultures have a religious tradition. Although Western society is drifting from a common belief in the biblical God and traditional religious faith, seeds of religiosity abide. I mentioned the almost religious deification of “tolerance” earlier. in addition, many people have adopted a faith in “the universe” as their higher power. Others adopt a faith inspired by the spirituality of the Star Wars movies, worshiping an impersonal “Force” that manifests itself in a light and dark side. In an age when many people claim humanity has become “too enlightened for faith in God,” many merely replace the God of Scripture with other “gods” of our choosing. We cannot seem to escape it. To quote lyricist Kerry Livgren from the 1970s progressive-rock band Kansas, “Everyone needs something to believe in” (from the song, “On the Other Side“).

This religious instinct helps inspire many people to seek Christ. I know many Christians (myself included) who say they came to faith in Jesus as a result of a spiritual-searching phase. Something inside us compelled us to seek answers to questions like, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of {my} life? Is there a God? Can I know Him?” I cannot honestly say that I chose to seek God; rather, I felt something compelling me to ask these questions. The Bible tells us that nobody comes to Christ without being drawn by God (see John 6:44). Perhaps He does that by somehow tapping into Hamer’s “God gene.”

In a way that might be difficult to understand or explain, God seems to find a way to reveal Himself to people even when they have no knowledge of His Name or Scripture:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16)

Something inside all of us gives us the opportunity to seek God. Another aspect of general revelation helps us to see His hand in action. We will see His witness in creation in a forthcoming post.

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

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Writing With Purpose Part 2

In my previous post, I shared some thoughts about Luke and John’s reasons for writing their Gospels. They were not alone in their mission and purpose. Peter likewise wrote with a mission. After reminding his readers about some characteristics associated with spiritual growth, he wrote:

And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (II Peter 1:15–21)

First, he wanted them to be able to recall the things he taught them. Second, he assured them that his teaching was grounded in facts, not opinions or guesses. Jesus was not just an abstract concept, an idealized character to represent noble virtues. Peter knew this Man. He had seen Him. He had a personal relationship with Him. He knew Jesus was the Son of God because the Transfiguration was a real, unforgettable experience. Peter had experienced the humanity of Jesus, and he had beheld His divinity. He had denied Jesus, and he had received words of forgiveness from Him. Peter’s teaching was genuine and real because it was grounded in a historical experience with a real God-Man, not a fantasy.

Such an orderly, structured understanding of Scripture remains as necessary as ever. It has been nearly 2000 years since someone walked on planet Earth who could say with absolute certainty, “I knew Jesus when He was ministering in the villages of Galilee.” We are left with His Word, the Holy Spirit, and the teachings that have been passed down through the church over the ages. In 2018–19, it is tempting to replace certain, orderly biblical truth with opinions and feelings. Many Christians say they follow the Bible, but they choose to follow only those parts that they like. Or, they use the Bible to justify their feelings, opinions, biases, and desires.

Over 20 years ago, I began to compile a concise summary outline for Bible studies that would guide people from the basics to a more in-depth knowledge of Scripture. That outline has evolved over time and is now about 20 pages long, summarizing 25 major topic sections, each with multiple subsections. (Each of those subsections may require several blog posts to cover.) I think it will take years to complete it, but if I succeed, readers will be able to learn about some of the key teachings of Scripture and see them in a broader context.

I say “if I succeed,” since life, ministry, and the Holy Spirit can be full of surprises. I may find myself led by circumstances or passion to change directions and cover a different topic. Also, after years out of pastoral ministry, I am in postulancy to be considered for ordination as a deacon in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Seminary classes and other studies may take priority. I may share insights from such studies on these pages.

One can spend a lifetime studying God’s Word. I have been a follower of Jesus for almost 35 years, reading the Bible heavily all of those years. I am still learning. There is a lot to learn, a lot to reflect upon, and a lot to study.

I look forward to sharing this journey through 2019. May God’s Word and these meditations bless you as we continue along this journey together. Over the next few weeks, we will examine what it means to know God, how we can know Him, and the Bible’s role in this.

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

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Writing With Purpose

Writing has been a hobby for me since I was very young. I wanted to be an author since I was in elementary school. In college, I majored in journalism, since that would be one career where I could make a living by writing. Although I did not become a reporter, words and writing have been the center of much of what I do: I work as a content editor at a scientific publishing company, and I grab opportunities to write whenever they appear in ministry. When I was in pastoral ministry, I would often write my sermons word-for-word (mainly to avoid that horrible habit of punctuating my main points with such theological mumbo-jumbo as “um,” “like,” and “you know”).

A page from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

This blog serves as an important outlet for my writer’s itch. It also gives me an incentive to continue studying the Bible so that I can share its insights with anybody who takes the time to read the articles I post. Writers put pen to paper or finger to keyboard for a purpose. Here on Darkened Glass Reflections, one of my goals is to ensure that the purpose and intent of my writing coincide with that of the biblical authors:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1–4; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Two words jump out in that last verse: orderly and certainty. Luke had a mission as he wrote: He wanted to make sure his reader (or readers) knew the truth about Jesus. He lived before mass media. The Gospel was spread by word of mouth, not by websites or 24-hour cable news channels. It is possible that conflicting accounts about Jesus may already have sprung up. Speculation, fantasy, and myth may have mingled with true accounts about the Messiah. Rather than relying on rumors, Luke wanted to pass on what he learned from eyewitnesses and others who had direct knowledge of Jesus. (The first two chapters strongly suggest that one of those eyewitnesses was Jesus’ mother Mary.)

He wanted his readers to be certain about what they had learned. Scholars disagree about the identity of “Theophilus.” Was he a Christian? Was he a government official who wanted to know whether Christianity was a threat to Roman rule? Could “Theophilus” have been a code name Luke made up for an entire church, to avoid problems with any Roman authorities who might intercept his document? All we know is that his name means “lover of God,” so all true Christians can accept it as our code name. Luke wants the lovers of God to know for certain the truth about Jesus and what He taught. Whether Theophilus was an actual person or not, the Holy Spirit ensured that this Gospel would be preserved in the Bible so that all lovers of God could have certainty about the things we have been taught.

Other New Testament writers agree that they wrote with a similar motive:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)

Some people wrestle with the fact that John’s Gospel does not overlap much with Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Most of the stories he shares do not appear in the other Gospels. But, he makes it clear that he was very selective about what he wrote. Perhaps he thought, “You have heard those parables and about those miracles. Jesus did and said a lot more than I can fit on this scroll. Here are some important teachings by Him.” The teachings and signs John recorded were gathered for a clear purpose: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Luke and John were not writing history for history’s sake. They wanted to make sure people knew Jesus and received salvation through faith as a result. They wanted their readers to have confidence and certainty in their faith.

Ancient writers always wrote with a purpose. As a writer, I need to remind myself frequently that everything I write—whether on this blog or elsewhere—should pursue a goal (even if that goal is “I am bored and want to write something silly just for laughs”). This post has a purpose. That will be more clear as we follow up in the next article.

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

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

Spiritual Warfare XVIII: Concluding Thoughts

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:7–13; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated)

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Demonic threats forced Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt early in Jesus’ childhood. Spiritual warfare is very much a part of the life of Christ, including the Christmas narrative. Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, ca. 1423, from Uffizi Gallery [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When we began this series on spiritual warfare in September, I had no idea that we would reach the end just before Christmas. Yet, here we are: Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Tuesday, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. I have a few friends who may refer to Santa Claus as “Satan Claus.” Other than that, most Christians do not want to talk about demons and spiritual warfare. The feel-good “holiday movies” on Hallmark Channel and UP TV are more pleasant.

However, Satan does not care about our calendar. He will attack whenever it is convenient for him. Life and hardship continue in spite of Christmas.

In fact, we cannot remove Satan or the demonic from the Christmas story. The passage above appears right after a vision that looks back on the birth of Jesus (Revelation 12:5). The passage focuses on Satan’s attempts to keep Him from coming into the world and fulfilling His mission of redemption. Whether the “woman” is Mary (as many Catholic commentators say) or the entire nation of Israel, the main point is that this is part of the war between the dragon (Satan) and the male child (Jesus). The “woman” is involved in the battle because of her relationship with Jesus, and so is anybody else who has a connection to Him.

In Matthew 2, we read how Jesus was threatened with death even as an infant or toddler. When the magi came seeking the newborn “king of the Jews,” Herod wanted to kill him. He viewed Jesus as a threat to his throne. When the magi did not cooperate with him by telling him exactly where Jesus was, Herod sought drastic measures. Joseph, as Jesus’ guardian, had to take drastic measures as well:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:13–16)

Satan, working through the paranoid heart and mind of Herod, would kill all of the babies in Bethlehem if that was what it took to kill Jesus. Revelation 12 may speak in very symbolic language, but Matthew 2 reminds us that spiritual warfare manifests in raw, real-world, life-and-death situations. People suffer; some die; families’ lives are uprooted and thrown into chaos.

So, with that in mind, I offer a few final thoughts about spiritual warfare:

First, to win the battle, we must be ready to believe God’s truth and not the lies of the world and the enemy. The entire account of Jesus’ birth, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is about people who were willing to take unprecedented leaps of faith and trust God, believe His Word, and accept the call to be part of His plan to redeem mankind. Mary had to believe that God could bring forth life in her womb without the intervention of a human father; she also had to trust that He would take care of her so that all would succeed. Who would really believe her story that she was still a virgin, even though obviously pregnant? The sentence for adultery (including sex before marriage by a betrothed person) in the Old Testament was death by stoning; people might show even less compassion for a pregnant unmarried woman telling unbelievable stories accusing God of having sex with her (as her story would sound). Joseph had to believe the angel’s message, which came to him in a dream, was really the word of God and not his own made-up wishful thinking. Why should he risk his reputation and life for a baby that he knew was not his? Since he married Mary in spite of her pregnancy, people might have suspected that he was really the father, and was sexually immoral himself, thereby risking his own reputation. Was it worth it?

They could only accomplish their calling by believing God, even when the message defied all logic and the mission came with great risks and sacrifices. Make no mistake: Joseph and Mary were drafted into spiritual warfare from the moment of Christ’s conception. They had to do battle against their own doubts, their egos, the suspicions and accusations of their neighbors (and perhaps even families), and Satan himself.

Second, to believe God, we have to accept some uncomfortable inconvenient truths. The Bible says that there is a literal hell and people will suffer there for eternity. It speaks of a literal, real being named Satan. If you call yourself a Christian, you have to believe in hell and Satan. Not only are they taught in the Bible, but also most of what we know about them comes from the New Testament. Most of it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself! To not believe in a literal hell, real eternal damnation, or a personal entity named Satan is to accuse Jesus of being a liar.

This is a major reason why many Christians are living defeated lives, Christianity’s influence on American culture is in decline, and many young people are flocking to false religions like paganism and the occult. Many Christians and churches are spiritually impotent because they do not believe the truth about their enemy. They think spiritual warfare is about fighting their own personal apathy or fear. They think the devil is just a symbol representing evil. Before long, people mistake “evil” as a synonym for “discomfort or displeasure.” They think something is evil because it hurts their feelings, not because it is contrary to the will and nature of God. For them, spiritual warfare is a form of emotional shadow-boxing against an imaginary opponent.

In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis makes the following observation about demons:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

As we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, and as we prepare for the New Year that awaits us, let us renew our resolve to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–2) and, like Him, resolve ourselves to destroy the works of the enemy. The battle is real, but we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) as we remain faithful to Him.

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

 

Categories: Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Spiritual Warfare, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XVII: The Necessity of Faith

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14–20).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

Spiritual warfare cannot be merely a pastime or activity. It must be a lifestyle. However, it is not a lifestyle of looking for demons lurking around every corner or hiding beneath every rock. It is about walking by faith moment by moment, ready to stand with Jesus against the wiles of Satan whenever necessary. The key lesson of Matthew 17:14–20 is our need to walk in faith and saturate our lives in prayer.

The whole armor of God is not a costume we put on for special occasions. One of the ministries I serve on at my church is the prayer team at a special monthly service. We can expect to rebuke demons who are afflicting some of the people who come up for prayer. However, I cannot just strap on the armor of God when I arrive at church at 7:30 and take it off at the end of the service. Spiritual warfare demands that I wear the whole armor of God 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 52 weeks per year.

How do we keep the armor of God on? The same way we receive it: by walking in faith in Jesus.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, wearing the whole armor of God is synonymous with clothing ourselves in Christ. “So, as we seek to put on the whole armor of God, we are clothing ourselves in the very life of Christ.” Every piece of the whole armor of God is a facet of Jesus’ nature. We have the belt of truth; Jesus is the Truth. We have the breastplate of righteousness; Jesus is our righteousness. We have the shoes of peace. Jesus is our peace. We have the shield of faith; Christians walk by faith in Jesus. We wear the helmet of salvation; Jesus’ name is the only name under heaven by which men must be saved. We carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. As we walk with Jesus, every element of the spiritual armor protects us, because Jesus is with us.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus performed numerous miracles: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, etc. It can seem as though nothing would stop Him from performing miracles. However, the Bible mentions one obstacle which could reduce the number of miracles Jesus could perform:

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mark 6:5).

When Jesus visited Nazareth, people would not believe that Joseph and Mary’s son was now a great man of God. Their doubt limited Jesus’ power. Faith is essential for those who wish to see a move of God. Sometimes, lack of faith will prohibit you from receiving the blessing God is offering. At other times, it will keep you from being effective in spiritual warfare. When the people of Nazareth would not believe, they could not receive the blessings of Jesus’ miraculous power. When the disciples could not believe, they could not perform the miracles Jesus had empowered and authorized them to perform (Matthew 10:1).

People may blame the disciples’ failure on several things. Some say that the disciples failed because they were not yet baptized in the Holy Spirit. This would not occur until Pentecost, 10 days after the resurrected Jesus had ascended into heaven. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples could perform some miracles, but they did not have the full blessing of the Holy Spirit’s lasting presence and power within them. This is at least part of the problem. The baptism in the Holy Spirit will help increase our faith.

Another factor many may mention is a lack of prayer and fasting. A few preachers will point to Matthew 17:21, which does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Gospel: “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” Many English Bible translations leave this verse out or place it in a footnote since it seems possible that it was added by a later scribe and not written by Matthew himself. Whether Jesus actually said this or not, it is secondary to the main point of this passage: The disciples’ lack of faith prohibited the child’s deliverance. Prayer and fasting are important: They are valuable tools to help a believer’s faith to grow. Christians are commanded elsewhere in the New Testament to pray, and we are urged strongly to fast. But, the key is to grow in faith.

Faith empowers us to walk in the miraculous power of God. Earlier, when Jesus walked on water, Peter asked for permission to join Him:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:28–32).

Have you ever noticed that, for a while, Peter actually walked on water, just like Jesus? In fact, it was not only a few steps: Jesus was far enough from the boat that the disciples were not sure it was really Him. Yet, Peter walked all the way from the boat and came to Jesus. While walking to Jesus, Peter was probably thinking, “I’m walking to Jesus. If He can walk on water, He can help me walk on water.” While returning to the boat, he changed his perspective and thought, “Wait a minute. What am I doing out here? Look at the size of those waves! That wind is insane! How did I get so far from the boat? This is impossi…glub…glub…glub.” While he kept his eyes on Jesus, Peter could walk in the miraculous power of our Lord. When he looked at the circumstances and took his eyes off of Jesus—even though He was right next to him—he fell out of supernatural power and back into the normalcy of the natural life, as if God was not present.

The point of this is that we must walk by faith. Spiritual warfare is a battle of faith. Faith is not just intellectual knowledge (in fact, head knowledge can be an obstacle to true faith). We keep our eyes on Jesus, marching with Him into battle to reveal His life-giving power to a world in bondage to darkness and death.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XVI: Perseverance and Watchfulness

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Jesus’ life was marked by persevering watchful prayer, as illustrated in this statue representing Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch at the Malvern Retreat House, Malvern, PA.

Attitude matters as we pray in the Spirit. As we saw in the previous post, we must remain thankful even as we ask God to do something new. Sometimes, the answer to prayer does not come immediately. As we engage in prayerful spiritual combat, we must persevere and keep alert:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…. Brothers, pray for us (I Thessalonians 5:16–18, 25).

(I included verse 25 here to remind the readers about the importance of praying for our spiritual leaders.) Is it possible to pray too much? According to I Thessalonians 5:17, the answer is “no.” In fact, it seems that few of us can pray enough. In recent years, as the Lord has led me more deeply into a ministry of prayer and intercession, I find that my prayer list keeps growing. There is always something and somebody to pray for. Sometimes, particular needs and burdens can become so overwhelming that my mind can become obsessed with them. There is only one solution: keep praying. Philippians 4:6–7 reminds us that we should pray if we feel anxious. If you think it is something to worry about, you should pray.

A subtle lie persists among some Christians who claim that we should pray only once for a need. They believe we should claim God’s promise, believe we have received it, and never pray for it again. They assume that, if we pray a second time, we are showing unbelief. There is simply no biblical basis for this claim. Prayer persists. We can see this in an Old Testament passage, which illustrates the spiritual battle that often coincides with earthly circumstances. After the prophet Daniel had prayed and fasted for 21 days, an angel appeared:

Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia… (Daniel 10:12–13).

The answer to Daniel’s prayer had been dispatched on Day One. However, “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (apparently a demonic principality) withstood the angel for 21 days. While Daniel persisted in prayer, an unseen spiritual battle raged. This is why Jesus told His disciples “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). God is able, eager, and willing to answer speedily. Are we willing to contend in spiritual battle on His behalf until the answer to our prayers is manifested? When Jesus returns, will He find this kind of persevering faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?

Being alert in prayer is related to perseverance. Paul wrote, “Keep alert with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:19). We need to keep our spiritual eyes open, watching to discern the spiritual climate. Where is God moving in our lives and our world? Where is Satan seeking to interrupt God’s will? What are the great needs to advance God’s kingdom right now?

One Latin word for watchfulness, wakefulness, or alertness is “vigilia,” from which we derive our English word “vigil.” A vigil often refers to an extended period of prayer. Many monastic orders wake up in the middle of the night for a prolonged period of prayer, beginning around 2:30 AM. Some churches may use the word “vigil” in a less-formal sense for a prolonged period of watchful prayer.

Sometimes, we need a vigil. We occasionally need to devote extra time to intense prayer for a situation. God may call us to wakeful, watchful focus on the needs of His people and the circumstances of His world. A devoted spiritual warrior will be
committed to such vigilance.

As we clothe ourselves in the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit, God will lead us to devote our lives to prayer. The battles we face are too great for normal solutions. We need to come against our unseen enemy with the supernatural power that comes only from God. Let us use that power by praying in the Spirit.

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

 

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XV: Thanksgiving, Prayer, and Spiritual Warfare

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

As we pray in the Spirit, our attitude matters. Although one can list a host of proper attitudes for prayer (submission to God’s will, obedience, forgiveness of others, faith, and so on), one is especially important to mention in the context of spiritual warfare: thanksgiving.

Supplication often leads us to focus our attention on a problem. We pray for more finances because we cannot pay our bills. We pray for healing because we are ill. Financial problems, illness, strife, or other problems can easily become the center of our attention. The very attack of Satan—yes, even Satan himself—can suddenly become our focus. Prayer should not focus on Satan. It should focus on God and His goodness and against Satan and his attacks. Thanksgiving brings God back into our focus.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2–4).

Even as we intercede on behalf of others, we pray with thanksgiving. The command to connect prayer and worship with thanksgiving occurs several times in the New Testament:

{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 5:18–20).

{Do} not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7).

These are just a few examples. Thanksgiving is essential to prayer. Yet, sometimes, it is not easy. Perhaps we need to know how to find reasons to be thankful. Sometimes, it is tempting to merely thank God that “It could have been much worse.” While that is often true, we usually need more encouragement than that when in the midst of battle.

We can thank God for what He has done in the past. If your current dilemma is a physical illness, you can thank God for times He has healed you in the past. If it is a financial crisis, you can thank Him for times He has provided in the past. If it is a problem with a relationship, you can thank Him for the good relationships and positive people He has placed in your life.

Next, we can thank God for who He is. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God Who has answered prayer in the past—or may even have blessed you when you did not pray—has not changed. He is the same loving, merciful, forgiving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present Lord and Father. He is always able and willing to bless, preserve, save, heal, restore, and empower His children. You can thank Him for being Who He is. As the psalmist says,

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalms 100:5).

This is praise not so much for what He has done for us, but for Who He is. We can trust Him because He is now and always will be faithful, loving, and good. Keep thanking Him for Who He is. If we forget how good God is, Satan will have the upper hand in our lives. To win our victories in spiritual battle, we must remember that the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever, and that His faithfulness never ends.

Next, we can thank Him that He is able to accomplish what we ask Him to do. If you are in a financial crisis, you can thank God that He is able to meet your needs. You can thank Him that He is able to heal you when you are sick.

Finally, we can thank Him for His promises. God has promised to answer certain prayers for His people:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

God has promised to provide wisdom to those who ask Him for it by faith.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Can you believe that promise? Are you willing to believe that God can meet your needs? Will you thank Him in advance that He has promised to do so, and then thankfully pray and trust until He brings it to fruition?

Life can bring discouragement and disappointment. As we fix our eyes on God, learn to give Him thanks and praise as we pray for our needs, and trust in His love and mercy, we can see Him answer our prayers and protect us from every spiritual attack.

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

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XIV: Interceding for the Church

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

In the previous post of this series, we discussed intercessory prayer as a vital part of the Christian’s impact on the world around him. This post will look at the important need to pray for the Body of Christ, especially those who have devoted their lives to preaching and teaching the Word of God. They are often the enemy’s main targets in spiritual battle.

Unlike the modern American church, the first-century believers had no political influence and minimal certainty of legal rights to worship as they saw fit. Freedom of speech and religious liberty are very modern concepts, unheard of only a few centuries ago (and still absent in much of the world today). However, the early church had one thing we have lost: a spirit of prayer. When trials came, they believed God was greater than Caesar.

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:23–31).

Instead of cowering in fear, deciding to “play it safe,” or imitating the surrounding culture in response to persecution, the church decided to pray. They did not ask God to change other people’s attitudes or to protect them from wicked rulers. Instead, they asked Him to empower them to preach with boldness and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prayer provided a foundation for evangelism; it was not an alternative to action. Prayer gave them the power to do the work God had called them to do and to confront the enemy in spiritual battle.

Later, in Acts 12, the church would endure another period of persecution. James would become the first apostle to die as a martyr (Acts 12:1). Peter was also arrested, and Herod hoped to execute him as well. “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). This time, God miraculously intervened to release Peter from prison (vv. 6-17) and judge Herod (vv. 20-23). “But the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24) as Christians continued to share the Gospel. When hardship came, God’s people attacked it with prayer, received divine power, and continued to accomplish God’s will.

Likewise, Paul urged the disciples in the churches he established to pray for him during his imprisonment. After describing how his imprisonment had given more opportunities for the Gospel to be preached, he expected the prayers of the saints to lead to his release:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:19–20).

Paul expected prayer to have an impact. He did not see it as a psychological relaxation technique, merely giving a person peace of mind, mental focus, or emotional serenity. Paul expected prayer to somehow affect how God would intervene in the situation. He expected it to change the hearts and minds of people he prayed for. He expected prayer to change the situation in the spiritual dimension, thereby having a visible impact in the natural realm. It was not just a way to change the state of his own mind, but of circumstances beyond his control.

Therefore, we should always pray for our spiritual leaders, especially those whom God has called to proclaim His Gospel. All of the apostles emphasized their need for the prayers of the people:

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (II Corinthians 1:10–11).

This is why I refer to prayer as a spiritual intercontinental ballistic missile in an earlier post. Our prayers can have a global impact. Believe it. Launch it. Watch it work.

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

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Spiritual Warfare XIII: Interceding for All People

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

The previous post in this series introduced the concepts of praying in the Spirit and supplication. I find that many Christians are tempted to view spiritual warfare as a means to address discomfort or difficulty in their own lives. However, spiritual warfare always looks beyond our own comfort zone and seeks to advance the kingdom of God. It is God-centered, seeking to see His will done not only in our lives, but throughout the world, the church, and in the lives of those whom we love (and, often, those whom we wish Jesus had not told us to love).

Although supplication may sometimes focus on our needs, God calls us to pray for all people, both inside and outside the church. We should pray for all kinds of people, especially if they have any influence over our lives:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (I Timothy 2:1–2).

We need to remember that Paul wrote these things within a hostile culture, where the government persecuted Christians. Americans are eager to pray for our leaders as long as they belong to our party, or endorse our definition of Christianity. However, when New Testament authors told their audience to obey, respect, and pray for their political officials (see Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, I Peter 2:13), they were speaking about officials who could easily decide to execute them. American Christians often refuse to pray for elected officials who do not agree with them. Yet, we have no excuse: If Paul could urge his readers to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions,” we can pray for pro-abortion Presidents, anti-traditional-marriage judges, and Congressmen who have publicly mocked Christian values. We are called to make supplication “for all people.” “I don’t like him” is not an excuse.

Many Christians want to change the culture. Prayer is a crucial element of that. Living out our Christianity day by day is vital. Evangelism is essential. Many Christians believe voting and political activism are the top priority, but if we want to change society, those are actually lower on the list:

{If} my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (II Chronicles 7:14).

Spiritual warfare, exercising our spiritual weapons, is what we need. As we saw earlier in this series, we are not fighting natural enemies. Our real enemies are the forces of Satan—not another political party, Islamic extremists, or illegal immigrants. These are at most tools or pawns whom Satan has deceived and manipulated to achieve his agenda. We need to attack the source of wickedness, not merely the visible symptoms. Prayer and other aspects of spiritual warfare are our major tactics. We should expect God to answer prayer and empower us to proclaim His Gospel and change the world. This is how the early church responded after the apostles had been arrested and persecuted.

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

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Spiritual Warfare XII: Intercessory Prayer

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

silhouette-light-people-girl-woman-mystical-745052-pxhere.com

Photo from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/745052. Creative Commons.

Most studies and sermons about the whole armor of God end with the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17. However, Paul’s sentence does not end there, so it is apparent that these comments on praying in the Spirit are at least closely intertwined with the whole armor of God. The only reason many preachers and authors do not count this as part of the armor is because the military imagery is missing. However, the thoughts are connected. Even if we do not consider intercessory prayer in the Spirit as a part of the whole armor of God, it is an essential part of spiritual warfare.

As we saw in Part IX of this series, we can think of the sword of the Spirit as the weapon for close-range combat, whereas praying in the Spirit is effective for long-range combat. Prayer in the Spirit can impact the entire world.

To understand this, we need to consider a few terms. First, what do we mean by “prayer in the Spirit?” Some of my fellow charismatic Christians will claim that this means “praying in tongues.” While that is one way that we can pray in the Spirit, I do not believe Paul is limiting it to this practice. Any Christian who has the Spirit of God dwelling within him or her can pray in the Spirit. When we consider prayer as one element of worship, this becomes somewhat more obvious:

Jesus said to {the Samaritan woman}, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).

What can we learn about worshiping (and, by extension, praying) in the Spirit from this passage? A lot, especially when we see the opposite of worship in the Spirit. The Samaritan woman had raised a question about where the true worshipers of God will meet. Jesus said it was not a matter of location. As a related question, it was not a matter of form or liturgy. It did not matter whether one prayed at the Samaritan temple, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or a synagogue. It does not matter whether you pray at church, home, or elsewhere. Likewise, it did not matter whether one followed Samaritan or Jewish prayer forms. Formulas and location are not as important as some might think.

What does matter, according to Jesus, is that we are worshiping One whom we know. Our prayers and worship should grow out of a direct intimate knowledge of God. We pray in the Spirit, Who dwells within us and guides us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26–27).

Sometimes, our burdens can be so great that we do not even know what we need; if we think we know what we need, we do not know how to express it. The Holy Spirit knows our needs. Whether we express them in a heavenly language, groans, sighs, sobs, or jumbled pleas of “Oh, God, please help me!”–The Holy Spirit knows our need and expresses it to the Father, even when we cannot find the thoughts or words.

Next, it is helpful to consider the word “supplication,” simply because it appears throughout Scripture, but most of us do not use the word normally. I might make requests or ask for things, but I do not usually talk about making supplication in everyday life. Therefore, it is easy to think the Bible is commanding something complicated or unusual, even when it is not.

According to biblehub.com, the Greek word is δέησις (deesis), meaning “supplication, prayer, entreaty.” It has its roots in another Greek word which means “to be in want or need.” Thus, when we are making supplication, we are “praying for a specific, felt need,” making a “heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need.” Although Paul expands this to prayer for the needs of others here, our spiritual warfare prayers must be heart-felt, seeking God to meet deep needs. We feel the urgency of a need, so we pray for it.

As you pray, recognize that it is not just a ritual or an obligation. It is even more significant than starting your day well or ending it peacefully. Prayer is a battle. As we bring our requests before the Lord, we are not merely bringing a shopping list. We are fighting a battle against the forces of hell.

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

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Spiritual Warfare XI: Final Thoughts About the Sword of the Spirit

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“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we conclude our discussion of the sword of the Spirit, I believe it is important to remind ourselves how to properly wield it. It is easy to misuse the sword of the Spirit, and such abuse can be devastating. Therefore, I offer a few final thoughts.

Remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, Satan is our enemy: not other people. Even if the other person seems to be our enemy (for example, we disagree with them on political issues, they belong to a false religion, or they are even part of a group that is persecuting believers), the real enemies are Satan and his demons. We should actually view the human “enemy” as a prisoner of war, enslaved by deception.

It is one thing to attack Satan, his demons, and their lies with the word of God. However, that does not justify using the Bible to attack another human being.

Therefore, when wielding the sword of the Spirit in encounters with other people—or even with ourselves—we approach the situation with mercy and grace, not hostility or condemnation.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV).

Our goal when dealing with people—whether they are fellow believers, unbelievers, or ourselves—is redemption and restoration, not rejection or damnation. We are looking to draw unbelievers into the kingdom of God, not to find opportunities to speed them into hell. We are looking to assist believers as they obtain the blessings of God’s kingdom, not to force them out or discourage them. We also need to pay attention to our own hearts. It is easy to condemn and judge ourselves. Years ago, I started reading the writings and theology of nineteenth-century holiness authors, many of whom preached on Christian perfection and entire sanctification (see Matthew 5:48). However, there was a problem: I was still struggling with some sinful habits. Ironically, a claim that believers could be delivered from all sin often led me into discouragement and self-condemnation, which led me even further from the holiness these preachers promised.

Now, over 30 years after becoming a follower of Christ, I am still not perfect. I still sin. However, wise men of God have taught me to remember that I am saved by God’s grace. He is working on me. For most of the last 15 years, I have sat under the ministry of a bishop who would close almost every service by saying, “Remember the Gospel, the good news: That God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting your sins against you. God loves you. God has forgiven you. God is not angry with you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Yes, I have that memorized!) Take that word to heart (it merely paraphrases several key statements from the New Testament). Believe it, and let it guide you as you share God’s Word with other people or apply it to your life.

Second, be bold with the sword, but know your boundaries. You are part of an army. There are some battles that do not belong to you. Do not be a busy-body, trying to fix every person you see. Do not take on battles that other soldiers of the cross should be fighting.

Some immature believers think it is their job to reprimand everybody whom they see faltering. However, there are times when it is best to leave the battle to other people. Maybe the pastor is already offering counsel and advice to the person who is struggling. If you think you need to start swinging the sword of the Spirit in another Christian’s life, make certain you have their trust and respect first. If a person has not requested your advice, do not force it on them (no matter how biblical or profound it may seem to you).

When ministering to people who do not have a relationship with Christ, always focus on Jesus and salvation. Our job is to lead people to Christ. Once they come into a faith-focused relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will straighten them out. Too often, we try to get sinners to start acting like Christians. Sinners sin—it is what they do. They need to first become Christians; then we can expect them to begin the process of acting like children of God.

In all, use the sword of the Spirit with wisdom. Do not swing it around like a maniac. Be bold, be direct, but be wise.

Many posts on darkenedglassreflections.com discuss proper use of the Word of God. I invite you to go to the search bar on this page and search “word of God” for more articles and guidance. Two popular posts are “Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness” and “Proverbs 7:1-5—Internalizing God’s Word and Wisdom.”

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

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Spiritual Warfare X: Using the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in the previous post, Paul was not the first writer of Scripture to think of the word of God as a weapon. Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (who provided inspiration for some of the other elements of the armor of God), Jeremiah, and Hosea likewise spoke of Scripture as a weapon. Paul and other early Christian writers recognized this theme and expanded upon it throughout the New Testament:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

It is helpful to see this verse in its context. The inspired author has reminded his readers (who were probably Hebrew believers in Jesus who are tempted to step back from the commitment to Christ and return to Judaism) that they are called to enter into the rest that God has provided. He mentions that the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership is a preview of the Christian’s opportunity to enter into the rest that Christ provides:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8–10).

The Israelites took their physical swords and, under Joshua’s leadership, claimed the land in response to the promises of God. They claimed “rest” by being able to settle down and end 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Now, the Christian takes hold of a double-edged sword. The link to Joshua is important. We are supposed to use that sword to claim and cling to the privileges of the kingdom that God has invited us to enter. We enter the rest He provides in Christ. We use the sword of the Spirit to claim that rest. When Satan seeks to steal God’s promises from us, the sword of the Spirit is our lethal weapon.

However, we do not use it against Satan only. The word of God pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. So, we do not use it only against Satan.

We apply it to our own lives. As we read God’s Word, we should allow it to dig deep inside us. Let it reach into our soul, spirit, joints, and marrow. Let it dig out any impurity that may bring death and decay within us. Let it discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Let it bring us to self-examination, asking God to search our hearts and reveal our condition to us:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

We use it to free the lost from Satan’s power. Evangelism must be centered in God’s Word. When we invade Satan’s domain to invite his captives to freedom in Christ, we must use it properly. God’s Word proclaims the saving work of Jesus: How He lived, died, rose, ascended, and sits at the right hand of the Father. It tells us how we can be saved. We preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name (Luke 24:46–47).

Finally, we use the sword of the Spirit to claim release for our brothers and sisters who remain in the devil’s chains. Be prepared to counsel, advise, admonish, and encourage your fellow believers with the Word of God. The sword of the Spirit is mighty. It is more powerful than the gospel of Dr. Phil or Oprah. Only God’s Word can dig can pierce to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Use the sword of the Spirit to help your fellow believers know discern whether the thoughts and intentions of their hearts are guided by the Holy Spirit or still directed by the lies of the enemy. Help them to tear down the strongholds so they can make their freedom more certain.

In a sword duel or fencing match, the fighter uses the sword both offensively and defensively. He must use it to block the opponent’s attacks. However, he must also use it to gain a victory. Soldiers fight to win. We must fight to win. The sword of the Spirit will bring us victory.

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

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Spiritual Warfare IX: Introduction to the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all verses ESV unless otherwise specified).

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“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we have seen earlier in this series, most of the Christian’s armor is defensive. However, we now come to a vital offensive element: The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Many preachers will claim that this is the only offensive weapon we have. However, as we will see in forthcoming posts, Paul immediately discusses intercessory prayer right afterward (as part of the same sentence). We can view the sword of the Spirit as the divine weapon for close combat, whereas intercessory prayer is our weapon for long-distance combat. If the word of God is our sword, then intercessory prayer is our arrow, catapult, cannon, or intercontinental ballistic missile. Although Paul did not continue the imagery to associate prayer with a specific part of the centurion’s armor, the intent is present. We will come back to this thought later in this series.

I will lead off by pointing out a mistake many Christians make with the sword of the Spirit. Although it is an offensive weapon, many use it only defensively. Early in my Christian walk, I had a pocket New Testament which I would carry with me almost everywhere. In the back, it had an index of verses addressing different needs: When you face this problem, turn to this verse. If you are being tempted, read this passage. It was helpful, but it can make somebody think that the sword of the Spirit is merely for self-defense: If Satan tempts you this way, quote this verse to him. However, for an army to triumph, it must advance. You do not fight to “not lose;” you fight to win. Jesus tells us that the gates of hell will not stand against the church (Matthew 16:18). Is Satan throwing gates at us? Of course not; the Kingdom of God should be advancing against the forces of darkness. Satan should be cowering behind the gates, while we smash them down, set the captives free, and occupy until Christ returns.

We do not wield the sword of the Spirit only to defend ourselves: we brandish it against our enemy as we march forth to claim victory. We should be on the offensive, not the defensive, when we draw our sword from its sheath.

The Bible describes the word of God as a weapon several times. Paul learned this image from the Old Testament. Like several other elements of the armor of God, we find a hint of it in the writings of Isaiah the prophet:

“He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2).

This verse begins the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah, where the prophet occasionally speaks in the first person (as if he is talking about himself), but his words prophesy the future ministry of Jesus (reaching a climax around Isaiah 53). The Word of God is a double-edged sword eternally coming forth from the mouth of Jesus:

“In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).

Make no mistake: The word of God that flows from the mouth of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:1–3, 14), is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He did not come to coexist with or tolerate Satan; He came to boot his butt to the abyss. Jesus is merciful and compassionate to all who call upon Him for salvation, but He is ruthless to the thief who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy those whom He has redeemed (John 10:10). The sword of the Spirit strikes at the root of sin to bring Christ’s judgment against wickedness and rebellion:

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4–6).

God sends His prophetic word to strike against false religion, worldliness, carnality, and all forms of sin. He slays by the words of His mouth. He sends forth judgment.

Take note: you cannot conduct spiritual warfare if you are afraid to confront sin and warn about God’s judgment against sin. Yes, God is love. He is holy. That means He is absolutely opposed to hatred, sin, unholiness, impurity, wickedness, etc. The sword of the Spirit is a sword of judgment. It is a sword that we use to strike at Satan.

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

Indeed, God’s word is a weapon. We do not trifle with it. It is not a toy. We must not manipulate or misuse it, but we must use it boldly in battle. We should expect it to powerfully accomplish its purpose, either to build up or to tear down. It is a vital tool in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

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

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Spiritual Warfare VIII: The Helmet of Salvation

“… {A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17).

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A Roman soldier’s helmet. Photo by Sailko, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sports fans know how important helmets can be. They are required at all levels of American football. Baseball players wear a helmet when batting, just in case a pitcher’s off-target throw hits them in the head. A few professional soccer players wear lightweight helmets (goalkeeper Petr Cech is a familiar example). Nowadays, all professional hockey players wear helmets, although they did not become mandatory until 1979. However, a single body check in January 1968 helped pave the way for helmets to go from rarities (usually worn by players who were recovering from major injuries) to a requirement.

Bauer BHH2100L ice hockey helmet

Modern hockey players protect their heads with a helmet. Photo by Santeri Viinamäki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Bill Masterton was a center on the Minnesota North Stars during their first season in the National Hockey League. During a game against the Oakland Seals in January 1968, he was checked by two opposing defensemen. It was a clean check, but still proved to be lethal. While it was originally assumed that he suffered the fatal concussion when his head hit the ice, it was more likely the result of a head injury from a previous game; the body check exacerbated that injury, knocking him unconscious before he fell. Seals defenseman Ron Harris, who delivered the hit, claimed that Masterton briefly regained consciousness while on the ice and said, “Never again”: possibly suggesting that he refused to play another game without a helmet (since these were probably his last words, we can only guess what he meant). He is the only NHL player ever to die as a direct result of an on-ice injury.

In the years following Masterton’s death, many players rejected the macho mentality that rejected helmets, deciding personal safety took priority. After several years of gradually increasing usage, the NHL made them mandatory for all new players.

As Masterton said, “Never again”: Let none of us ever play the game of life without a helmet. Head injuries are among the most lethal things that can happen to the human body, so athletes protect it. Spiritually, we must protect ourselves with the “helmet of salvation.”

Athletes, of course, are not the only people who wear helmets. Whether in sports, building construction, or military service, head protection can be vital. Most helmets cover the vulnerable top, back, and sides of the head. Roman soldiers’ helmets would also provide protection for the cheekbones.

In the Christian’s spiritual battle, the thoughts, will, and emotions are a major target. If Satan can hit us there, he can take us out of the battle. However, from the moment of salvation, we have protection available.

Many Christians mistakenly assume that salvation is a one-time experience. We think “I got saved when I said this prayer.” However, the Bible usually speaks of salvation as a continuing state for believers. However it begins, “salvation” brings us into a state of eternal life that begins in this world:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Salvation is eternal life, and eternal life is fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).

If we want to remain under God’s protective covering, we need to stay connected to the Lord and His people. Fellowship with God’s people, study of His Word, and prayer ensure our connection to God so that we may be sanctified in His truth (John 17:17–19).

If Satan can distract us away from God’s truth, he can lure us into sin and out of submission and service to God. Many of his attacks will be subtle. Notice that when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread; he did not tempt Him to rob a bagel shop or visit a prostitute. Likewise, Satan will probably try a more subtle attack against your heart and mind. Some of his weapons that he will launch at your head include:

  • Negative thinking: Do you believe God can bring any good out of your circumstances, or do you assume nothing can work out? The negative thinker expects bad things to happen; he does not expect God to act. True biblical thinking will look for God in any situation, believe He can act, and trust that He will bring His glory in any circumstance if we are willing to seek it.
  • False ideas about sin: Are you willing to believe what God’s Word says about sin, or do you allow pop psychology and modern social commentators to determine your ideas about right or wrong? Do you acknowledge that something is sin even if the entire culture decides morality is obsolete? Too many Christians accept the mainstream media’s views about sexuality, marriage, money, and other ethical and moral questions. If Satan can convince you that “Everybody is doing it,” “It’s not really that bad,” “At least I am not doing …,” etc., he will have you under his influence.
  • False ideas about your identity in Christ: Most Christians do not really their identity in Christ. We think, “I am a wretched sinner.” However, the Bible tells us that this is the Christian’s past identity, not his current status. After listing a litany of heinous sins that many of the Corinthians had committed in their lifetimes, Paul said, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, emphasis added). Whatever you were before you came to Christ, you are now a child of God. Even if you still struggle with that sin, it is no longer your identity. Claim your status as God’s child. Do not let the lies of the enemy drag you away from God.

Guard your head. Guard your thoughts and mind. Bring every thought captive to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). As long as we remain under God’s protection, wearing His armor, we can remain in the battle. We will not merely survive; we will triumph. Victory comes when we can withstand the onslaught and counterattack with a spiritual assault.

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

 

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Spiritual Warfare VII: The Shield of Faith

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16).

scutum_in_kelin_28129

A replica of a Roman shield. Photo by Dorieo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we will usually either be responding to an attack or we will face a counter-attack by our enemy. We must be prepared to fight, but we must also be prepared to defend ourselves.

The enemy’s counter-attack may be subtle, but sometimes it will be an all-out barrage. Satan may blast us from multiple directions. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul compares the Christian to a Roman soldier who is facing a barrage of flaming arrows. A direct hit can be deadly. You need full-body protection.

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Depiction of a 3rd-century BC Macedonian soldier holding a thyreos shield. From Istanbul Archaeology Museums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

For a Roman soldier, that protection would include a shield. The Roman shield was similar to one developed centuries earlier by the Greeks, called a thyreos, whose name was derived from the word for “door.” It was large, shaped like a door, and provided ample coverage when an enemy would launch a barrage of arrows or javelins towards them.

The Christian may not face literal arrows. The “flaming darts of the evil one” (some translations say “arrows” instead of “darts”) are not physical flying sticks with sharp pointy ends to puncture the skin. Satan’s arrows take other forms. Instead of darts and arrows, Satan and his demons may fire temptations at us. They may entice others to discourage us or drag us into depression. They may find our greatest weakness and turn it against us. Sometimes, his attacks may be constant, steady, but moderate. At other times, a period of relative peace may be interrupted by a sudden barrage of multiple attacks from diverse directions (imagine a person whose marriage breaks up within weeks of a job loss and a house fire, while struggling to overcome a drug addiction).

Spiritual warfare is ugly. Do not assume that you are too unimportant to be a target in the battle. Even the newest believer is involved in spiritual warfare. Whether Satan can rob you of your salvation or not, he will do whatever he can to keep you from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Some of his tactics, according to Matthew 13:19–22, are the following:

  • To steal the word of God from our hearts. If he can convince us to doubt God’s Word or His promises to us through Jesus Christ, Satan can keep us from following the Lord, experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life, and advancing the kingdom of God.
  • To bring persecution into our lives. If we have not produced deep roots in our faith, trials and temptations will convince us to give up. The antidote to this is to know, believe, and obey the Word of God (Matthew 7:24–27). Hearing the Word of the Lord and living by it produces the firm foundation and deep roots we need when the winds of trial and temptation blow.
  • To distract us with the cares of this world. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God. If we are too busy trying to make money, to attain prestige and popularity in this world, or have fun and comfort, we may not find time to do God’s will. If we put the cares of this world first, we will not take a stand for God’s kingdom.

Faith is the shield that protects us. It is more than the gateway to salvation. It is also much more than knowledge about the Bible or correct beliefs [even the demons believe, but they tremble in fear (James 2:19)]. Faith is the spiritual power within us that continually brings us under God’s covering protection. Faith draws us to God’s Word and then nourishes itself and our souls with greater faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith equips our hearts and minds to trust God and lean on Him when life becomes difficult.

Faith looks beyond our current circumstances to see the reward of our spiritual battles. After the beloved “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, the biblical author writes how Jesus triumphed on the cross by looking beyond His present circumstances:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

As we walk by faith, we emulate Jesus. The heroes of the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, which Christ accomplished. Jesus looked beyond the agony and shame of the cross to “the joy that was set before Him” (which included our eternal fellowship with Him) to triumph over sin, hell, and death. We emulate Jesus as we run with endurance, looking beyond our present battle to the ultimate victory we will enjoy forever.

When Satan attacks, we can wield a shield that protects us under the assurance that we are already fighting from a position of victory. As we remain faithful to Him even in hard times, we gain a victory in spiritual warfare. It is not even a close battle. Scripture tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Faith does not give us a tiny victory; it empowers us to kick the devil’s butt!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4–5).

Through faith, we are triumphant. When Satan attacks, we do not run away in fear. We raise our shield of faith and continue advancing. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against His body. Think about that for a second: Do you think demons are throwing gates at us? No, gates (like shields) are for hiding and protection. God’s children are called to advance His kingdom. We do not do so cowardly. We raise our shields and continue to advance. As we continue the battle, the demons flee behind their gates! However, those gates will not stand against us. We will overwhelmingly triumph over them as we march by faith and raise the sword of the Spirit in victory.

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

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Spiritual Warfare VI: The Shoes of Peace

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14–15, ESV).

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A Roman soldier’s boot. Photo by Matthias Kabel, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

According to an article on a shoe company’s website, the average man owns 12 pairs of shoes, whereas the average woman owns 27. Both numbers seem extravagant to me: I own about seven pairs (if you count two pairs of winter boots and a very old pair of sneakers that I only wear while at home). Yet, most people can see the purpose of owning multiple pairs. Both fashion and functionality matter with footwear. I may wear a pair of black dress shoes to church or other occasions where more formal wear is expected. Sneakers or athletic shoes are acceptable for more casual settings; they are essential for athletic activity. If you participate in several sports, you may need different kinds of footwear for different activities: track shoes, tennis shoes, soccer cleats, basketball shoes, etc. We can probably count ice skates as “shoes” for playing hockey.

A Roman soldier’s boots (“caligae”) were, in some ways, similar to a modern cleat. They were designed to provide traction and stability while allowing the soldier to walk, run, or march comfortably and quickly. His shoes or boots were designed for warfare. They were intended to help him stand firmly in battle. As Christians serve in the army of God and engage in spiritual warfare, we need to wear the shoes or boots that provide “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

We wage war to advance that gospel of peace. We should be viewed as a threat in the spiritual realm, overthrowing the powers of darkness, confident that the gates of hell will not stand against us (Matthew 16:18). However, as we wage our warfare, we should treat the people around us like prisoners of war, to whom we have come as a liberating army that has overpowered their oppressors. Certainly, many we encounter will view us as the enemy; as the father of lies, Satan has deceived them into thinking that they are free when he really has them in chains of deception. We have come to break those chains with the truth of the gospel of peace.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14–17).

The gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation. Paul says that Jesus Himself is our peace. He is the one who has broken down the wall of hostility between us and God. Through Christ, we have peace with God.

Jesus also brings peace to people of all nations, races, and tongues who will call upon His name for salvation. The Old Testament Law is broken down so that it no longer divides Jews from Gentiles. The love of God should tear down the walls that separate us along racial and ethnic lines; the fact that Sunday morning can still be called “the most segregated time of the week in America” should give us cause for concern. It should propel us to our knees in prayer and repentance so that we are fit to march forth in victory. When addressing the temptation to seek revenge, Paul writes:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

We are called to pursue peace even with those who have hurt or offended us. How much more should we live at peace with those who are merely different from us?

We are called to show the peace of God in our relationships with others and to march forth with the good news of deliverance in Jesus Christ. Quoting Isaiah 52:7, Paul writes:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14–15).

God has given us our marching orders. The gospel we believe is also the pair of boots we wear as we march forth to proclaim liberty to the captives. Christ has already won the war. We march forth against a defeated foe (Satan and his demons) as they maintain their final futile effort at resistance. We have received the gospel of peace, with which we can join Jesus in His mission of destroying the works of the devil and advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Let us march forth today to let people know that freedom and life are available to them in Christ Jesus. Like cleats on a soccer field, the gospel of peace will keep us standing securely as we march forth.

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

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Judging Judges and Judgmentalism—The Brett Kavanaugh Case as an Illustration of Matthew 7:1

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Public domain photo, from Wikimedia Commons

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed yesterday as the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, following contentious hearings involving accusations that he committed sexual assault while in high school. While Matthew 7:1 was not quoted during the divisive debates I heard, the public response to this controversy gave a clear picture of what Jesus meant.

 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the primary accuser (two more women have since accused Kavanaugh of improprieties, but they did not address the Senate) claimed that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party while in high school. These accusations were made public by Sen. Dianne Feinstein near the end of confirmation hearings. From the moment her accusations were publicized, most Americans split into two visible factions. Conservatives blasted Ford, accusing her of making up false charges and refusing to believe any of the evidence. Liberals immediately assumed Kavanaugh must be guilty of the charges. I suspect that there may have been a faction of Americans who wanted to hear all of the evidence before making a decision, but they seemed silent.

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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, the vast majority of politically concerned Americans seemed to have their minds made up before the Senate heard both parties. Each faction seemed to hear and see what they wanted to believe. When Ford described the assault, liberals saw a sincere, persuasive woman who gave a convincing account of a tragic experience; conservatives saw a bad acting job to exaggerate a pack of unfounded false accusations. When Kavanaugh responded to the charges, liberals saw an angry, stubborn man trying to cover up his guilt; conservatives saw a man of principle boldly defending his honor. Liberals saw a rapist and his wounded victim. Conservatives saw a liar and a persecuted man of integrity.

 

In all of this, the words of Jesus seem to be lost:

“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1, ESV).

5194572He goes on to reasons why we should not judge in vv. 2-5. He does not give exceptions. He does not say, “Well, I guess it’s OK to judge somebody if they hold public office, or thrust themselves into the public eye, or are a celebrity. It’s also good to judge somebody if it will advance your political agenda.”

Jesus says none of this, and I believe the Kavanaugh controversy was a good illustration of what Jesus really meant.

First, He is not saying we should not make clear statements about good and evil. The actions Dr. Ford accused Judge Kavanaugh of committing were evil, plain and simple. You do not force a woman into a sexual act against her wishes. You do not use physical force to make a woman engage in sexual activity. Those are sins.

The question was never, “Is rape or sexual assault illegal or immoral?” The question was, “Did Brett Kavanaugh actually do this?” This was where the public debate was marred. We should not make assumptions about a person’s innocence, guilt, or character to advance our own biases and desires. We the people—and Senators from both parties—should have waited to hear all of the evidence before pronouncing who was innocent and who was guilty. Several Senators declared their decision even before Ford’s claims were presented in a hearing. We would not tolerate such behavior out of a judge hearing a trial before a court; why do we defend similar behavior from our Congressional representatives?

Although Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, this controversy is not behind us. These arguments will reappear for years to come, every time a ruling passes by a 5-4 vote with Kavanaugh siding with the majority.

Likewise, the moral and ethical failure common to so many people will remain, until each of us as an individual truly commits to following the hard sayings of Jesus. It is tempting to make the jump from “That activity is wrong” to “That person must be doing something wrong, because he looks like one of those bad people I do not like.”

In many 12-step programs, there is a slogan: “Principles before personalities.” When dealing with political and social issues, I will expand that to “Principles before personalities and parties.” We must maintain godly principles. We must be eager to take a stand for truth, righteousness, and justice. As Christians, we must be diligent to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We will not succeed if we are driven by prejudices, preconceived notions, and a desire to gain victory for our side that eclipses a desire to see Christ Jesus glorified.

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

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Putting on the Armor of God: St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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Stained glass image of St. Patrick. By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after posting the recent article about the breastplate of righteousness, I began thinking about one of my favorite prayers: St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

This is an ancient prayer for divine protection. Although some scholars think it is more recent, tradition claims that St. Patrick wrote this prayer in the fourth or fifth century. As he was preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, he knew he needed God’s protection. According to one legend, the soldiers of a hostile king sought to ambush St. Patrick and his companions while they traveled through a forest. The men of God were transformed in deer while they prayed the Breastplate, thereby passing the soldiers unnoticed. Yes, it is a far-fetched tale, and St. Patrick himself never mentions this event in his writings. Still, it is a great story.

Some people pray this prayer in the morning to claim Christ’s presence and God’s protection for the coming day. I know other people who may have no rote traditional prayer, but while they pray in the morning, they claim each part of the whole armor of God onto themselves during the day. However you go about it, do not start a day without seeking God’s presence and protection to follow you.

Here is a brief excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate. You can read it in its entirety at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/st-patricks-breastplate-poem:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” traditionally attributed to St. Patrick, is in the public domain.

 

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Spiritual Warfare V: The Breastplate of Righteousness

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Ephesians 6:14).

Greek_PhalanxA Roman soldier’s breastplate was essential. Some of the most important organs in the body are located in the chest. Wounds to the heart and lung could cause rapid death. Other vital organs, including the liver, stomach, and pancreas, are in the same general area. The chest and abdominal region of the body are vulnerable. Along with the head, they are some of the most important body areas to protect from injury.

The soul needs protection as well. The ancient Israelites would think of the heart in two ways, much like we do now. Both they and we acknowledge the physical organ. The Israelites thought of the heart as having a function for the soul as well, as the seat of the will. If you want to do good, it is because your heart is drawing you to do so. If you desire evil, it is because you have a bad heart. Incidentally, they associated some other internal organs with other elements of the inward part of people. The intestines were the seat of compassion: The Greek word for “to have compassion” could literally be translated “to have bowels for someone or something.” The kidneys were viewed as the seat of emotion. Nowadays, we symbolize all of these with the heart. When we have compassion for someone, we do not say, “I am bowelized over this.” Instead, we say something like, “My heart breaks for him.”

Whether it is the heart, the lungs, the liver, the small intestines, or any of the other organs behind the breastplate, it needs protection. Likewise, every element of our souls needs protection. This is why we need the breastplate of righteousness.

Paul was not the first biblical author to associate righteousness with a breastplate. Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in one of his Messianic prophecies

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isaiah 11:5).

One can readily see the connection between the first line and the breastplate of righteousness, with a belt that protects the lower abdomen. Likewise, “the belt of his loins” is faithfulness, which the Hebrew writers frequently use as a synonym for truth. Thus, this verse prefigures the first two pieces of the whole armor of God. It also reminds us that the whole armor is found entirely in our connection with Jesus.

Later, Isaiah describes the Lord God’s response to injustice. When He could find no man who was willing or able to accomplish His righteous will:

“He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17).

The Lord God did this as He took on human flesh as the Son, Jesus Christ. As mentioned in the previous article in this series, putting on the whole armor of God is akin to clothing ourselves in Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Thus, we do not clothe ourselves in our own righteousness. The Word of God tells us that our own attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). We need to clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ, to allow His righteousness to cover us and emanate from us.

Elsewhere, Paul describes it as a breastplate of faith and love:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8).

Faith, hope, and love are essential elements of relationship with Christ. Faith and love are intertwined with the righteousness of God. We protect our hearts—our will, emotions, desires, and entire souls, so to speak—by covering them with the righteousness, faith, and love of God in Christ Jesus.

We cannot ignore the opportunity to clothe ourselves in the breastplate of righteousness. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it option. It is a choice between being clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a slave to righteousness or being a slave to sin:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:15–22).

Each of us must make a decision. Do I want to be a slave to sin or a slave to the righteousness of God? “None of the above” is not an option. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody / Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Will you remain in the army of the Lord, or will you be taken captive as a prisoner? Will Satan hold you captive and bound in sin, or will the Lord release you with His power to serve Him with the gifts and talents He has given you?

As we clothe ourselves in Christ, He empowers us to walk by faith in Him and display His love to those around us. This is the breastplate of righteousness in action, guiding us to walk as He walked. Most importantly, this breastplate guards our hearts by guiding our wills to remain in sync with His will. As long as we keep our hearts guarded by Jesus, He will protect us from the temptations to turn our hearts to the lures of Satan that bind us in slavery to sin. Even when we do sin, the righteousness of Christ is available to us:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

This verse appears after John reminds us that Jesus is merciful and just to forgive and cleanse us if we confess our sins (I John 1:9). As we follow Jesus, trust in His sacrifice on the cross for our salvation, and turn to Him in regular confession and repentance, He will guard our hearts and protect us from the attacks of the enemy. Jesus will be our breastplate of righteousness.

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

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

Spiritual Warfare IV: The Belt of Truth

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…” (Ephesians 6:13–14).

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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 describing the whole armor of God, Paul begins by speaking of the “belt of truth.” This seems like an odd place to begin a description of battle armor. We barely think of belts as clothing, let alone armor. In most people’s wardrobes, they are considered “accessories.” Their main purpose is to keep our pants up, although some people wear a belt as a fashion statement (if it has a decorative buckle).

However, belts are not merely for modesty or fashion. In liturgical church traditions, priests, deacons, or monks (along with people in other vocations) wear loose-fitting robes while performing their ministries. A belt or cincture (a rope tied around the waist) enables the man of God to walk comfortably, by securing the robe so that it does not hang too loosely. It is too easy to trip over the hem when wearing a liturgical robe without a belt or cincture.

As Paul describes the armor of God, he associates each spiritual virtue or weapon with a natural military piece of Roman armor. Thus, he associates “truth” with a belt. A Roman soldier’s belt not only held his clothing in place. It also held some weapons, such as a dagger, much like a Wild-West gunslinger would hold his pistol in a holster connected to his belt. In Ephesians 6, the “belt of truth” secures the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Truth and God’s Word belong together. The belt that enables us to march into battle holds the weapon that enables us to fight.

So, a belt can help a soldier to advance safely in battle. Most of the armor that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:13–17 is primarily defensive. Some (especially the sword of the Spirit) is primarily offensive. The belt and shoes are primarily designed to allow us to advance into battle easily and safely.

The prominence of defensive features in the armor of God is significant. Our primary focus when engaging in spiritual warfare should be defensive. Some Christians, in the name of spiritual warfare, spend too much time on the offensive, seeking demons to attack. On a 1982 song entitled “Judas’ Kiss,” Christian rock band Petra included the following introduction, recorded backward (as a satiric response to preachers who claimed that all Christian rock music is satanic): “What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?” The message is clear; our focus should be on Jesus, not Satan:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

However, when demons attack, we should be ready to stand firm and fight. We cannot afford to be caught unprepared for battle. We must be ready to stand our ground, defend when necessary, and advance offensively when the time is right. Our goal in spiritual warfare is not merely to survive, but to overcome. As the body of Christ and army of God, we must advance the Kingdom of God and reclaim territory that Satan has usurped.

The spiritual virtue depicted by this belt is truth. Truth holds the rest of the armor in place. It enables us to stand comfortably and to advance unhindered. It holds the sword of the Spirit that enables us to fight. What is this truth?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

Jesus tells us that He is the Truth. All truth finds its fulfillment in Him. The Bible itself relies on Jesus Himself to ensure its faithfulness. If we miss Jesus, we miss truth:

“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).

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

So, as we seek to put on the whole armor of God, we are clothing ourselves in the very life of Christ:

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Clothe yourself in Jesus Christ. By faith, acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior. Commit yourself to Him, that He may live in you and guide your life. Allow His Holy Spirit to baptize and fill you, so that the life of Christ may abide within you. As you clothe yourself in Christ, you will have the foundation of the whole armor of God upon you. To stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil, you must be clothed in Christ by His Spirit.

As we come to know Jesus as the Truth, we will be eager to learn the truth as it is found in His Word:

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32).

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13–14).

Jesus Christ is the truth. He is the one who girds our loins for battle. He holds and empowers the sword that enables us to fight. All of our strength is in Him. We must never make the mistake of going out to face the temptations and trials of life without His truth to hold us together.

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

 

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Spiritual Warfare III: Standing Firm

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10–13).

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An actor dressed like a Roman soldier in full armor. Photo by Luc Viatour (https://Lucnix.be) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

No study about spiritual warfare would be complete without an examination of Ephesians 6:10–20. This passage includes the “whole armor of God,” a set of virtues which Christians wear (in a spiritual sense) to battle Satan. The armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Each of these will be discussed in a forthcoming article. I will also include a discussion about intercessory prayer as a spiritual weapon: Paul mentions this immediately after the whole armor of God (as if it is part thereof), yet most pastors and writers overlook this connection.

It is worthwhile to note, not only what follows the discussion about the armor of God, but what precedes it. Paul is in the “application” part of Ephesians (most of his letters begin with an abstract or theological discussion before he proceeds into a series of practical instructions for living out the Christian life). He was urging his readers to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1) and in the Holy Spirit, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This led to an extensive discussion of personal relationships: marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33), parent/child relationships (6:1–4), and master/slave relationships (6:5–9).

It is within this context, of how to apply Jesus’ teaching to interpersonal relationships, that Paul introduces the whole armor of God. Many Christians seek to engage in spiritual warfare by ourselves. We might think that we can resist Satan’s attacks and temptation on our own. We might assume that “I have a personal relationship with Christ so I can go solo.” That is probably one of Satan’s favorite lying strongholds. If he can keep us fighting as Lone Rangers, he can isolate us. If he can isolate us, he can keep us from living a victorious Christian life.

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Illustration of an ancient (Greek) army marching in formation. From Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Most of the verbs in Ephesians 6 are plural: All Christians are supposed to do them, and we are supposed to do them together. Every Christian is individually responsible to stand firm, but he or she must do so with other believers. The imagery of war calls us into a spiritual army. Our success requires us to engage in battle alongside our fellow spiritual soldiers. Ancient armies usually marched in formation, side by side. They would at times join their shields together so they could protect each other as they advanced.

How do we stand with other believers in spiritual warfare? We must be honest, transparent, trusting, and trustworthy in our fellowship with other Christians. We must share our burdens with each other. If you do not have a few prayer and accountability partners, find them. Find a few mature Christians, whom you can trust. Share your battles with one another. Be honest about your victories, failures, and temptations. Encourage them when they fail; do not gossip nor condemn. When you are able to unite as a spiritual phalanx, you will be able to walk side-by-side to victory over the forces of darkness.

Our first response when Satan attacks is to stand. We must resist him. To do so, we must follow our Commander’s orders:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

If we are standing firm, there are some things we cannot do: We cannot surrender to our enemy. We cannot give in. We cannot quit. We cannot flee like defeated cowards. We cannot yield to temptation. Soldiers win by fighting, not by quitting. Among other things, spiritual warfare demands perseverance.

The battle may be spiritual, but it is real. Our victory is assured as we remain in the Lord’s army, but we must remain strong and resilient if we hope to reap the benefits of that victory:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:8–11).

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

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Spiritual Warfare II: Destroying Strongholds with the Sword of the Spirit

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

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“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Since we are dealing with a spiritual enemy, our weapons are spiritual. In Ephesians 6, Paul refers to the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” He then urges us to pray. Scripture and prayer are our two primary weapons. The sword of the Spirit is particularly useful for destroying strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Many Christians assume that “strongholds” are sins or temptations that are particularly troublesome to a particular individual. They mistakenly believe that it is something that has a “strong hold” on a person, thereby being something that forces them into bondage. However, this is not what Paul is saying.

A “stronghold” (ὀχύρωμα in Greek) is a fortress or place of refuge. This word appears only once in the New Testament but appears elsewhere in ancient literature. While most ancient authors used it to refer to a fortress, some used it to describe a prison (in which case, Paul is engaging in a play on words when he proposes that we destroy strongholds so that we can take every thought captive). A word study on Biblehub.com observes that, in this verse, the word:

… is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks “shelter” (“a safe place”) to escape reality…. In its use here there may lie a reminiscence of the rock-forts on the coast of Paul’s native Cilicia, which were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. Pompey inflicted a crushing defeat upon their navy off the rocky stronghold of Coracesium on the confines of Cilicia and Pisidia.

People seek refuge in all sorts of lies to justify sin or rebellion against God. It was true in Paul’s day; it remains true in ours. Much of what Paul wrote was in response to lies people chose to believe. First and Second Corinthians contain extended illustrations confronting false ideas and values regarding sexuality, the role of the ministry, suffering, family relationships, giving, etc. People would hide behind excuses to live a life that was not consistent with the will of God. Today, we continue to do so. We find clever excuses, including arguments and lofty opinions, for our sins (often secular worldviews baptized into biblical-sounding jargon). We may justify sexual sin because a pop-psychologist offered an excuse, or because we view ourselves as mere animals, the product of random evolution in a godless universe. We may justify greed or financial dishonesty because it seems like good business sense. The Christian must demolish these strongholds. They are castles built of lies, and they must come down. The strongholds of rebellion must come down so that we can bring every thought and action into obedience to Christ.

The battle must begin in our own minds. We must bring our own thoughts captive to obedience to Christ before we can expect to tear down strongholds in anybody else’s mind. As we study the Bible, we must confront our own thinking, recognize where we are not in obedience to God, and submit our thinking to His. If Scripture reveals sin in our lives, we must tear down the strongholds we have accepted and confess, “You are correct, Lord, and I am wrong. Forgive me and strengthen me to do Your will.”

Christians also have an obligation to tear down strongholds in the lives of other believers:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Many people (including some Christians) think we should never suggest that another person is doing something wrong. They claim that is “judgmental.” This is, in fact, just another demonic stronghold. When Jesus told us not to judge others, He was not telling us we can never correct those who are in sin or claim that certain acts are sinful. The modern secular abuse of Matthew 7:1 is purely a demonic stronghold. The church must repent and tear down that stronghold if we expect to advance the kingdom of God. That is especially true in our dealings with other Christians.

Our weapon and enemy remain the same when tearing down the strongholds of non-Christians, but the strategy may be a little different. Church discipline or reproof of believers is very different from evangelism. In evangelism, our goal is to invite a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clean them up. We focus less on specific areas of sin and more on the fact that everybody needs a Savior. We point to Jesus. We wield the sword of the Spirit to bring a person to a proper understanding of who He is and what He has done for our salvation. However, we must still be ready to attack strongholds. Nonbelievers may hide in strongholds that keep a person from following Christ: “I am a good person. I do not need a Savior. I can go to heaven by doing good things, or at least by not doing anything that is too bad.” Or “Everybody will go to heaven anyway.”

The committed Christian must be a good student of the Bible. He must be diligent to attack the strongholds that have been built in his own heart and mind, and then fearless yet gracious in attacking those in other people’s lives. The enemy of God and of our souls is building strongholds to destroy millions. It is our job to tear them down so that we may build a holy edifice on a firm foundation:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

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

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Spiritual Warfare I: The Battle Is Real

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

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The archangel Michael battling Satan. We may not use natural swords, but we still fight a real enemy. Guido Reni [1575–1642, public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spiritual warfare is a popular topic in many churches. At times, it can be over-emphasized. Some Christians will blame and rebuke the devil for everything! If they sin, they blame the devil (even though James 1:14–15 suggest we are to blame for our sins). If they run out of money, it must be the devil’s fault (even if they were financially irresponsible). To them, everything from their own sin to the consequences of their ill-advised choices becomes the devil’s fault. Instead of confessing their sins and choosing to walk in obedience to God, they blame the devil and simply rebuke him in an attempt to solve their problems.

The Christian life cannot be reduced to yelling at the devil. Some believers go overboard with a false notion of spiritual warfare, reducing it to a habit of rebuking Satan. However, this does not mean Christians should avoid spiritual warfare entirely. It is mentioned throughout Scripture: biblical writers frequently use battle imagery to describe our conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. However, we must approach this topic with a balanced view, recognizing its relationship to the rest of Scripture.

It seems particularly appropriate to me that this subject would come up in the midst of an extended series about “renewal of the mind” and immediately after writing an article that addresses the lies of the prosperity gospel. Many of the people who endorse the false teachings that claim great earthly blessings for Christians will also usually “rebuke Satan” when they do not get what they want. A false view of the blessings of the Gospel seems to coincide with an extremely unbalanced view about spiritual warfare.

Over the next few posts, I will share a few thoughts on this subject. I hope to address what it is, what it is not, and how we engage in such a battle.

Second Corinthians 10:4–6 seems to be an ideal place to begin our study. It reminds us of several key facts: First, that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual because the real battle is spiritual. Second, that spiritual warfare is integrated with the renewal of the mind, since much of the spiritual battle is emotional and intellectual. Third, spiritual warfare should lead us to obedience to Christ. Spiritual warriors will immediately recognize that some of these points overlap with Ephesians 6:10–18, where Paul introduces us to the whole armor of God.

First, we must remember that spiritual warfare is exactly what it claims to be: Spiritual warfare. We use spiritual weapons against a spiritual enemy. We do not use the weapons of our world. They are not “of the flesh,” because our real enemy is not a physical being. Ephesians 6:12 says that our enemies are spiritual: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” When Christians say that our real enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are not talking about natural physical entities. The “world,” in this sense, is a cultural (or inter-cultural) way of thinking and living that is contrary to God. The “flesh” is that part of ourselves that seeks self-gratification, without regard to the will of God. The devil, of course, is a personal spiritual entity in rebellion against God.

These are our enemies. Our enemies are not that political party that we did not vote for in the last election, nor the politician we do not like. They are not even members of non-Christian religions (although, I believe most people who have not accepted Christ are deceived by the devil, but that makes them victims in the spiritual battle). Our greatest enemies are Satan and his demons. Our greatest threats are their lies and deception, because Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). We need to recognize who our enemy is so that we can maintain our focus. Far too many Christians are fighting the wrong battles, using the wrong weapons.

In Part II of this series, we will look at the sword of the Spirit, which is our primary weapon in waging war against the enemy. We will also see what it means to “destroy strongholds.”

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

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Your Best Life, NOT Now—Second Corinthians 4:16–18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (Second Corinthians 4:16–18).

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The first time the Bible mentions St. Paul, he is participating in the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, who was not experiencing his “best life now.” Painting by Rembrandt (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey by posting an article claiming that Joel Osteen sailed his luxury yacht through the flooded streets of Houston after that storm, distributing free copies of his bestselling book, Your Best Life Now. Another recent gem from that site imagined a Christian humanitarian relief organization responding to famine in East Africa by dropping crates of prosperity-gospel books into Ethiopia. Both articles highlighted an unfortunate irony of a popular brand of Christian thinking, that believes that faith in Jesus Christ guarantees health, wealth, and comfort in this world.

Let me begin by stating that my purpose in this article is not merely to attack Osteen’s book. To be honest, I have not read any of his books. My grievance is against the school of thought that believes Christians can experience “your best life now.” This is an unbiblical worldview that would sound absurd to the writers of both the Old and New Testaments and their initial readership. Ancient Israel was a small nation with a troubled history, frequently under foreign oppression. The early church was viewed as a radical fringe sect within Judaism, during a particularly repressive period of Israel’s history. Early Christians would not believe they were experiencing their best life now.

American Christianity has bought into many of the ideals of modern commercialism. We buy cars that we think will make us look prosperous. We buy cologne, perfume, clothing, and alcoholic beverages because commercials promise that this particular brand will make us popular with the opposite sex. Then, we baptize this mentality into a watered-down gospel, believing that the promises of Jesus include not only forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, but also financial wealth, perfect health, whiter teeth, fresh breath, and sex appeal. Since we want the best things in life, we demand that God offer us His best blessings in this world.

Early in my Christian walk, I learned a method of evangelism that involved sharing “The Four Spiritual Laws” with people. This was a tract, providing a brief summary of the gospel and inviting the reader to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It was a great little booklet, written by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. According to Bright, the first law was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” To support this claim, he quoted John 3:16 and John 10:10—

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Fortunately, Bright kept a proper biblical balance here, emphasizing spiritual blessings and everlasting life. However, many modern people read our own hopes and desires into that first law. We are thrilled to hear that God has a wonderful plan for our life, but that does not mean that His plan is our plan! God’s wonderful plan for your life recognizes that we are eternal beings. After our earthly bodies die, our spirits will live on. It is in that life next phase of life—heaven or hell—where God will bring His wonderful plan for our lives to fruition.

My self-made plan for my life includes health, happiness, comfort, and wealth. Instead, like most people, I experience hard times. There are days when I am not healthy. Sometimes, the universe does not submit to my personal agenda. There are times when unexpected expenses arise and I wonder how I can pay those bills. Clearly, if God has a wonderful plan for my life, it is not “Sit around all day, taking it easy, while millions of dollars just roll in from nowhere.” Today, I know deeply-committed Christians, men and women with deep faith in Christ, who are struggling with illness, affliction, and suffering, and some who are facing imminent death. I would hope that today’s circumstances are not their best life.

When St. Paul listed his accomplishments and proof of his genuine anointing as an apostle, it read like this:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23–29).

Many Bible scholars believe Paul also endured problems with his eyesight and would be considered legally blind today. Several Bible verses hint at this possibility, including the fact that the Galatians would have gouged out their own eyes to give them to him (Galatians 4:15): judging from what he says elsewhere in his letter to that church, one cannot imagine him commending such self-mutilation unless it would have served a meaningful purpose.

Thus, one can safely say that St. Paul did not expect his best life in this world. God loved Paul and had a wonderful plan for his life—but His plan was not one of ease and comfort. Likewise, God loves each of us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but it does not match the plans we devise when we put ourselves first.

God’s plan for us does include this world, but it is not what we can take out of it. Instead, it is the legacy we can leave behind. God’s plan for our lives includes our faith in Him. It includes the people to whom we witness, who will join us when we see Him face to face in heaven. It includes the people we disciple, minister to, encourage, and exhort. It includes all of the lives that are changed for the better when we live in obedience to Him.

We will experience hardship in this world. But, that hardship is creating for us an “eternal weight of glory.” Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can take on the eternal weight of glory that God is preparing for us. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. We do not see it now, but we will see it when we behold Jesus face to face. We do not live our best lives now, but we can behold our best life by faith as we look to those things that are unseen.

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

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Merely Human?—1 Corinthians 3:1–4

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4).

In my last two posts (here and here), I discussed the need for Christians to grow up and become mature in our thinking and living. When we are born again, we become “babes in Christ,” but we should eventually grow up. Unfortunately, many Christians remain in a “condition of protracted infancy” (to use the words of nineteenth century pastor Andrew Murray).

The divisiveness we see in the body of Christ is a dangerous symptom of this rampant spiritual immaturity. According to St. Paul, it shows that we are not aware of our identity as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We act like ordinary people. We forget that we are children of God. Instead, we act like we are “merely human.”

What is your spiritual identity? Are you a child of God, made in His image and filled with the Holy Spirit? Or, are you merely human, trying to follow a set of religious teachings in your own strength?

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Andrew Murray

Too often, we justify our sins and shortcomings by saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m only human.” God calls His children to something greater. We are called to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9); in other words, we should look like our heavenly Father, especially in our actions. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore can (and should) bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). We have been adopted as fellow heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17; see here for more on this subject). Despite the clear teaching of the New Testament, many Christians think of ourselves as “only human” and do not experience the full power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. As Andrew Murray says in “Spiritual or Carnal”:

There are thus three states in which a man may be found. The unregenerate is still the natural man, not having the Spirit of God. The regenerate, who is still a babe in Christ, whether because he is only lately converted, or because he has stood still and not advanced, is the carnal man, giving way to the power of the flesh. The believer in whom the Spirit has obtained full supremacy, is the spiritual man.…

All that is carnal and sinful, all the works of the flesh, must be given up and cast out. But no less must all that is carnal, however religious it appears, all confidence in the flesh, all self-effort and self-struggling be rooted out. The soul, with its power, must be brought into the captivity and subjection of Jesus Christ. In deep and daily dependence on God must the Holy Spirit be accepted, waited for, and followed.

This is not a call to perfectionism. We all have our good and bad days. These three groups are a helpful guide, but many of us waver between being carnal and spiritual. We also may be stronger in some areas of our lives than others. I have been commended by some for showing a lot of patience in some circumstances and with some people, only to show that I really lack that fruit when dealing with other circumstances and people.

However, we should stop accepting a lower standard for ourselves than God offers. Are we merely human, or are we filled with the Holy Spirit? If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, are we willing to allow Him to work in our lives, or will we continue to use our humanity as an excuse to live in defeat or worldliness.

We often think a carnal or worldly Christian is one who fails to follow a few rules. We may think carnal or weak Christians are the ones who drink alcohol, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, and listen to rock music. However, Scripture points out some other marks of a carnal Christian.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:1–5)

According to James, the brother of Jesus, the marks of a worldly carnal Christian are quarrels, fighting, covetousness, selfishness, etc. Other sins grow out of those. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul lists jealousy, strife, and divisions as a few marks of spiritual immaturity. We often overlook those. Many Christians seem to think these sins are moral or spiritual virtues (“he has strong convictions and he’s passionate about the truth!”).

Throughout First Corinthians, Paul addresses a lot of problems that grew out of this carnal state. A major one was arguing over favorite preachers. The church was being divided by people who bragged that they followed Paul, Apollos (a particularly eloquent teacher), Cephas (Simon Peter), or some other leader. There was even a faction that said, “I follow Christ.” While that sounds most noble, they do not seem to get Paul’s seal of approval. It is possible that they merely boasted, “I do not need to listen to any of the apostles or teachers. I will just follow the spirit of Christ within me. You can’t tell me what to do or think!”

We may not drive around with bumper stickers that say, “I follow Paul”; or wear tee shirts reading, “I follow Apollos” or “Cephas.” But, the church remains divided. We argue over denominations. Some refuse to fellowship with people who say they believe in Jesus, but do not share their views about end-time prophecy, sacraments, or eternal security. We no longer about Paul, Apollos, or Peter (I know some who cling to “my-idea-of-Jesus-and-I-will-listen-to-nobody-else”). Instead, we follow John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, or some other prominent preacher. Whenever we place a human teacher over God’s word, and create division in that person’s name, we have accepted carnal worldly Christianity. We have chosen to be merely human. It is time to grow up.

Growing in Christ is a lifetime commitment. However, God has given us His Holy Spirit. We do not have to accept “merely human” as our standard. We do not have to live the Christian life in our own strength. Let us move beyond being merely human to live as children of God.

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

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Growing Up in Christ. II: Maturity in Christ—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

jesus_blessing_the_children1In the preceding post, we introduced the subject of carnal Christianity and saw that Jesus calls us to grow into spiritual maturity. This is a life-long journey for us. We begin as babes in Christ; we grow up to become mature men and women of God. The previous article showed that many Christians remain mired in a state of prolonged spiritual infancy, seeking self-gratification instead of thinking and living like mature believers.

To truly achieve spiritual maturity, we must avoid the temptation to stay focused on ourselves and our desires. Many Christians fail to grow up because they bounce from church to church. When asked why they are leaving Church A to find a new congregation, they often complain that “I’m not being fed there.” This is usually a shallow attempt to sound spiritual, when you really mean, “I do not like what the pastor is saying or how the worship band plays. The church is not entertaining me.” (Remember in the preceding article, how infants need to be fed, but adults learn to feed others.)

There is a simple message for those who approach the Christian life like this: It’s time to grow up. For those who think the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are for personal amusement or to show off how spiritual and holy you are: It’s time to grow up. For those who approach their Christian walk as a way to build up your own ego, and not as an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God for Jesus’ glory: It’s time to grow up.

What are some of the marks of spiritual maturity? How do we know we have moved beyond spiritual infancy to maturity in Christ? A few questions will help us answer that question for ourselves:

  • Am I guided by Godly wisdom or the wisdom of the world? (See James 3:13–18.)
  • Am I motivated by the love of God or a desire to put myself first? (See 1 Corinthians 13.)
  • Am I guided by the Word of God or my own opinions? As I wrote several weeks ago, “One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases?” When confronted by one of the “hard teachings” of the Bible, is the Word of God true, or do I know better than He does?
  • Are my values centered around Christ, or are they driven by the culture around me or my own desires?
  • Most importantly, do I make decisions seeking to build others up and draw them closer to Jesus, or am I driven by desires for self-gratification or self-glorification? Do I get excited when I see other people come to know Jesus or grow in their walk with Him? Or, do I try to do things that merely make me feel good? Am I most concerned that I look good to others? Who am I most trying to impress? Myself? God? The people in my church? Or, the unsaved people around me?

Spiritual growth and renewal of the mind is a process. It takes years for a human baby to mature from birth until he or she can effectively nurture his or her own children. Likewise, it may take years from the time you surrender your life to Christ until you achieve spiritual maturity. Indeed, full spiritual maturity—perfection—is a feature of the next life, not this world.

In Ephesians 4, St. Paul describes the purpose of the ministry. It is a good summary of any church’s ministry goals and a guide for measuring our own spiritual growth:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16).

God is calling us to think like adults and live like mature men and women of God. What steps can you take to move closer to that goal today?

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

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Growing Up in Christ. I: Beyond Carnality—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

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Jesus invites us to come to Him like small children, but He calls us to become mature in Him. Picture by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Renewal of the Christian’s mind, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, has a goal. God is seeking to raise us from spiritual immaturity to maturity. The Word of God calls us to mature thinking and living, not immaturity. While Jesus calls us to childlike faith (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:17), He calls us away from childish behavior.

The circumstances that led St. Paul to write 1 Corinthians 14:20 seem to continue to this day. The Corinthian church was driven by an over-emphasis—perhaps it is more accurate to say a misguided emphasis—on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the more dramatic manifestations. They were eager to speak in tongues and prophesy, but failed to show the love of God. Gifts of the Holy Spirit became excuses to show off or claim some kind of spiritual superiority over one another when God intends them to be an opportunity to serve others and build up the church. Egos replaced evangelism and edification. This discussion essentially begins in 1 Corinthians 11:17 (where he discusses abuse of the Lord’s Supper) and continues to the end of chapter 14. On a few occasions, he contrasts spiritual maturity with spiritual childishness. His great discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 culminates as follows:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11).

There is a time for childishness, but as we grow in our faith we should achieve spiritual maturity. Certain shortcomings are acceptable when you are young; as you mature, they should become a thing of the past. When my son was a baby, his mother and I had to feed him: He could not eat unless somebody placed a bottle or food into his mouth. After a few months, we could place food in front of him and he could put it in his own mouth. After a few years, he could go into the kitchen and get his own food. Eventually, he could go to the store and buy his own food. Now, he works for a living and provides food for three children of his own.

It was completely normal for us to spoon-feed him when he was about four months old. Now, he is able to feed himself, and he is able to feed others.

This is not just a physical pattern for maturity, but also a spiritual pattern. As new Christians, we need to be “fed” spiritually. Eventually, we should reach a point where we accept responsibility for our own walk with God. A final stage of spiritual maturity is when we no longer worry about whether the church is “feeding” us and look for ways that we can nurture others in the body of Christ. Andrew Murray refers to this early stage of Christian growth as “carnal Christianity.” In chapter 1 of The Master’s Indwelling, he describes the “carnal state” as follows:

It is simply a condition of protracted infancy. You know what that means. Suppose a beautiful babe, six months old. It cannot speak, it cannot walk, but we do not trouble ourselves about that; it is natural, and ought to be so. But suppose a year later we find the child not grown at all, and three years later still no growth; we would at once say: “There must be some terrible disease;” and the baby that at six months old was the cause of joy to every one who saw him, has become to the mother and to all a source of anxiety and sorrow. There is something wrong; the child can not grow. It was quite right at six months old that it should eat nothing but milk; but years have passed by, and it remains in the same weakly state. Now this is just the condition of many believers. They are converted; they know what it is to have assurance and faith; they believe in pardon for sin; they begin to work for God; and yet, somehow, there is very little growth in spirituality, in the real heavenly life. We come into contact with them, and we feel at once there is something wanting; there is none of the beauty of holiness or of the power of God’s Spirit in them. This is the condition of the carnal Corinthians, expressed in what was said to the Hebrews: “You have had the Gospel so long that by this time you ought to be teachers, and yet you need that men should teach you the very rudiments of the oracles of God.” Is it not a sad thing to see a believer who has been converted five, ten, twenty years, and yet no growth, and no strength, and no joy of holiness?

There is a time for immaturity, but eventually, a Christian should grow beyond that. In the following post, we will look at what spiritual maturity should look like.

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

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Setting Your Mind Where It Belongs—Romans 8:5–6

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6).

The Holy Bible

What do you think about, when your mind has room to wander? What do you talk about, when you get the opportunity to speak your mind? Jesus said that “Out of the abundance of the heart {the} mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Your words reveal who you really are. Your thoughts guide your words, your decisions, your actions, and ultimately your destiny.

In the modern world of social media, many of us have a platform to publicize our thoughts constantly. Go to your friend’s Facebook page, and you know what matters to him or her. Does your friend post Bible verses? Devotional readings? Sports news? Music videos? Dirty jokes? Photos of family and friends? If you have a social media account, take a look at the things you post. What does it say about you?

When discussing Romans 12:2, the verse that introduces the concept of “renewal of the mind” that this blog frequently addresses, we saw that this renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit. As we come to Christ and His Spirit dwells in us, He transforms us by renewing our thinking.

Romans 8 contrasts two lives: The life “according to the Spirit” (the life of a true follower of Jesus) and the life “according to the flesh” (the life of one who does not have a real relationship with Him). It is interesting to place these two lives side-by-side (items in italics on the right side of this chart are implied by the context; God has more to say to His children than He does about the rest of the world here):

Christian Life

Non-Christian Life

No condemnation (sin is condemned in the flesh of Christ) Condemnation
Law of the spirit of life Law of sin and death
Walk/live according to the Spirit Walk/live according to the flesh
Set their minds of the things of the Spirit

—Life and peace

Set their minds on the things of the flesh

—Death

—Hostile to God

—Cannot submit to God’s law

—Cannot please God

In the Spirit; Spirit of Christ dwells within Does not have the Spirit; does not belong to Him
Body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies The Spirit will not give eternal life to our mortal bodies. When they die due to sin, that’s it
Spirit is life because of righteousness Death because of unrighteousness

Notice a few key words that characterize the Christian life: Spirit; life; peace; righteousness. Now, notice some that characterize the non-Christian life: condemnation; sin; death; flesh; hostility. Which do you prefer? Now, ask yourself: Which list characterizes your thought life?

Many Christians spend too much time refusing the blessings we have available to ourselves. We say our prayers and read our Bibles, but then we may run off and do our own thing the rest of the day. We set our minds on the things of the Spirit for half an hour before work, but then we spend the rest of the day on the things of the flesh.  It is an easy trap to fall into, with all of the messages and images that bombard our brains throughout the day.

Some even try to baptize their fleshly thinking in Christian jargon, but it does not work: Hostility and anger are usually not “righteous indignation”; what some people call “naming and claiming the promises of God” is usually greed, materialism, and consumerism with a blasphemous pseudo-Christian label slapped on it. True life, true joy, and true peace are found when we yield our thoughts to the leading of the Holy Spirit, not when we try to coerce God to surrender to our program.

When you finish reading this blog, take some time to read your Bible and talk to Jesus (especially if you have not done so yet today!). Then, ponder the truths He revealed to you through His Word. God is always speaking to His children, but we need to listen. Think about what God is trying to say to you. Let it guide your thoughts, desires, and plans above all else. The world, flesh, and devil seek to derail you through a flood of voices and visual presentations. God wishes to speak His gentle peace to your heart. It comes quietly and subtly, but it brings great peace, joy, life, and righteousness. Set your mind on the things that bring God’s blessing into your life.

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

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In One Accord—Acts 1:12–14

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:12–14).

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Jesus’ ascension into heaven preceded a ten-day period of prayer by the disciples, leading to Pentecost. By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

This account, of the disciples’ time in the upper room, is often overlooked. It appears immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and begins a brief interlude between that event and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Those ten days seem like a chronological “no man’s land.” But, they were significant. After three years of following Jesus, His disciples began to finally understand Him. He gave them instructions, and they obeyed.

They realized that Jesus wanted them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before beginning the Great Commission. How would they know the Holy Spirit had come, though? Whatever that meant, they knew Jesus was talking about an event they had never seen before, involving a Spirit they would not see. How could they be certain when it happened? I wonder if things happened during those ten days that led one of the disciples to ask, “Was that it? Did the Holy Spirit just arrive?” Even though they were waiting for something they could not explain, they were obedient. They waited. Most importantly, they devoted themselves to prayer.

It is interesting to note who was praying with the disciples. Paul would later mention that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time after His resurrection (First Corinthians 15:6). One might expect several members of that crowd to join the disciples in the upper room. However, Luke mentions only a few people.

One notable group in that upper room was Jesus’ brothers. During Jesus’ preaching ministry, they thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21), and they did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Instead of supporting His ministry or following His teaching, they tried to save Him from Himself. Now, along with their mother Mary (who seems to have also had doubts about her Son’s mental health at that time), they joined the disciples, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection led them to believe. At least two of them, James and Judas, would become leaders in the early church. James would eventually issue the official decision at the council in Acts 15 and write the New Testament’s letter of James. Judas would write the New Testament’s letter of Jude; according to some ancient authorities, his great-grandson would be the last Jewish bishop of Jerusalem (around 150 AD).

Another notable group was “the women.” Readers of the Gospels are usually not surprised by this; women played a prominent role in Jesus’ ministry. Of course, we think of His mother Mary, who remained with Him to the cross. Mary Magdalene also comes to mind, especially as the first person Jesus spoke to after His resurrection. Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, played prominent roles in His ministry as well. We can assume that Jesus wanted these ladies to be active in the fledgling church. However, this was not normative in ancient Judaism. Women were second-class citizens in the synagogue. In the upper room, they were a necessary part of the body that prayed in one accord, awaiting the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, they too would receive the Holy Spirit and glorify God in other tongues (Acts 2:1-4, 17, 18).

Today, many evangelical Christians use the words “Christian” and “conservative” almost interchangeably. Clergy, congregations, and the mass media think they are synonyms. However, this is not always the case. While it is true that the Bible commands certain moral values we would now consider conservative (especially in terms of sexuality), that has not always been the case. The conservative approach would preserve the status quo. It would have been easier for the apostles to tell the women, “Look, ladies, you know women cannot be rabbis or synagogue leaders, so why don’t you just go home? We’ll let you know when the Holy Spirit arrives and then you can just follow us.” That did not happen: The Christian approach was to rise above man-made traditions and cultural expectations, in order to do the clearly revealed will of God. Jesus had spoken; He had commended Lazarus’ sister Mary for choosing to sit at His feet like a disciple (Luke 10:38-42).

Jesus did not call the disciples to rely on their natural abilities or resources. They had already failed many times when they tried to serve Him that way. Pentecost would bring a new beginning. Old expectations were set aside. A renewed people, united in faith and prayer, would proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and kingdom of God to a dying world.

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

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Choosing Life, Good, and Blessing—Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15–20).

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God calls us to bring His light, life, and love to the world. Photo by Alvinysf (Crossmap) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, which means that President Donald Trump will have the opportunity to appoint his replacement. For many observers, this is significant. Kennedy is usually considered a moderate “swing vote” on the Court. Most believe that Trump will replace him with a strong conservative, like Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch, thereby giving the Supreme Court a distinct conservative majority.

While this has been in the news, a friend asked me, “Do you think Roe vs. Wade (the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States) will be overturned?” My answer may surprise some people: I do not expect a political solution to legalized abortion in the foreseeable future. While many Christians believe there are currently four pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, only one of them has proven it in a ruling. In a ruling upholding a partial-birth abortion ban in 2007, only Clarence Thomas and the now-deceased Antonin Scalia expressed the belief that this ruling should be overturned. The other allegedly pro-life justices did not formally agree to that statement. (See the Wikipedia article about Gonzales v. Carhart for more about that ruling.) So, we may have only one truly pro-life justice right now (I am not aware of any abortion-related cases where Gorsuch has stated his opinion), and I do not think we will have more than three after Trump’s next nominee is approved.

Thus, a political solution is not likely in the near future.

A political solution would be a quick fix. If we could just get one President to support Christian moral values and have five people in black robes issue an edict for us, things would be so easy. Americans like easy, quick solutions. Why should Mom spend an hour or more cooking a healthy, nutritionally balanced dinner when countless fast-food drive-through windows will satisfy our cravings with little effort? If that seems excessive, the grocery store sells plenty of meals that can be zapped in a microwave oven in less than five minutes. We want quick/easy/painless solutions to all of our problems, and we hope somebody else will take care of them for us.

The Christian should not seek political solutions to spiritual problems. In Deuteronomy 30:19 (a popular verse at pro-life rallies), God calls His people to “choose life.” He presents two paths before us: life vs. death; good vs. evil; blessing vs. cursing. Those who walk in His ways choose life, good, and blessing. Those who rebel against Him walk in death, evil, and cursing.

The Gospel of John tells us that the light and life of God are found in Jesus: “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” (John 1:4–5). Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). Thus, three of the core features of God’s nature are life, light, and love. We are called to share His life and love with those around us. We are called to be the light of the world, reflecting Jesus’ light to others (Matthew 5:14; John 8:12). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). With God as our Father, we can be witnesses for Him with our words and life.

It is not an easy solution. God calls His children to the mission of changing our world: one heart, soul, and mind at a time; one day at a time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 52 weeks per year. But, it is God’s way. He does not call upon us to wait for others to solve this world’s problems. He calls on us to change our world by living a lifestyle of life, good, blessing, light, and love.

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

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Walking in Faith or Reacting in Fear—Numbers 20:10–13

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy (Numbers 20:10–13).

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“Moses Striking Water from the Rock,” by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

You would think the Israelites had learned by this time. God had parted the waters of the Red Sea to guide them safely out of Egypt. He had miraculously provided food and water before. Somehow, with each crisis, God met their need. After a few difficult situations, the Israelites should have realized that they merely had to point out their need to Moses, ask him to pray, and wait for the miracle. Instead, they would complain, regret their decision to leave Egypt, threaten to return to Egypt, blame Moses, and so on. God was trying to teach them to walk by faith, but they continued to react in fear.

This was a repeat occurrence. Almost immediately after they crossed through the Red Sea, the Israelites threatened to stone Moses, since there was no water. God told him to strike a rock to bring forth water. This was the first miracle of divine provision after the escape from Egypt (Exodus 17:1–7).

However, that event began a pattern from which the Israelites did not seem to learn. They had a need; they complained; they blamed, accused, and threatened Moses; Moses prayed to God; God provided.

This time, though, the pattern took a tragic turn. Instead of following God’s instructions fully, Moses obeyed halfway: God told him where to go to receive the water, but Moses chose to vent his frustration. God gave him simple instructions: Take his staff, walk over to the rock, and command the rock to give the people its water. Moses decided to change the instructions a little: Take the staff, walk over to the rock, insult the crowd, and then beat the rock with the staff.

In spite of rebellion, God still provided. God’s blessings are based on His mercy, not on perfect performance by His people. However, Moses would suffer the consequences. Not too long before this, the Lord had decreed that almost the entire adult generation that left Egypt would die before reaching the Promised Land. They would wander for 40 years until all, except for Caleb and Joshua, had died; then their children would inherit the land. Until now, Moses had every reason to expect that he would enter with them. But now, God decided that Moses’ failure was serious enough to exclude him from the Promised Land.

We often overlook an important part of the story. Shortly before this incident, Moses’ sister Miriam had died. It would be tempting to make excuses for Moses’ behavior. “He’s in mourning. It’s been a rough time for his family. God understands. He sees the heart.”

God understands, but He also requires obedience from His children. He expects us to uphold Him as holy in the sight of the people.

As I reflect on this passage, I am reminded that this is not merely a story about Moses. In a very real way, it is about me too. Perhaps you see yourself in it as well.

We should have learned by now. God has met our needs and answered our prayers so many times. We should know the correct response: Realize there is a problem, bring our problem before the Lord in prayer, and expect Him to meet our needs. How often do we choose instead to complain, gripe, or blame the nearest scapegoat for our problems? How often do we act like God is not paying attention? How often do we blame God? How often do we obey God halfway, while venting our anger and frustration on others? How often do we make excuses for ourselves and others when obedience to God is lacking?

When will we learn?

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

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

New Reformation or Personal Reformation

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 16:25).

This post concludes a two-part series. Please read part one first.

Solomon

King Solomon said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Those who call for a new Reformation are correct to recognize that there are problems in the Body of Christ. God’s people are perishing due to a lack of knowledge. The problems that led Hosea to make that statement thousands of years ago linger. People choose to sin. Many of those whom God has called to lead His people are neglecting their duties. Many preachers preach what they want to believe, not what they read clearly in Scripture.

Sometimes God’s people lack knowledge because they lack education. They have not read, studied, or learned enough. There is a simple solution to that. Read your Bible daily. Study the Word in-depth. Find a church that believes and preaches the Word of God, listen to the preaching and teaching, and learn.

Sometimes, though, the ignorance is more willful. Many Christians get their theology from the wrong places. They listen to preachers who are eager to tickle itching ears (see 2 Timothy 4:3). Many will reinterpret the Bible when it goes against their biases. (In part 1, I chose the two examples of hell and homosexuality because these have been two doctrines that have been frequently trampled with faulty reinterpretation and distortion of Scripture.) Others profess to be Christians but do not seek to learn what Jesus taught. They avoid the truth entirely. They learn their doctrine from Facebook memes; they are too busy following sports, music, movies, politics, and current events to take the time to read their Bibles.

Sometimes the ignorance is simply full-blown stiff-necked rebellion. People know what the Bible says. They know what it means. But, they choose not to believe or obey it.

How can we respond? First, every one of us should search our own hearts. Where do we stand? Do we trust Jesus at face value and believe what He says, or do we try to find a way around His message?

Next, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us see what we can do to correct the situation. How can we grow in the knowledge of God and His Word? How can we grow in obedience and trust in Him? What can we do to positively influence those within our sphere of influence?

As a Christian blogger, I can make a greater commitment to include in-depth teaching in my posts. I can continue to study and grow in my knowledge of God’s Word so that my life can more clearly reflect His glory and be a greater witness. When I read something in the Bible that confronts an area of sin in my life or a way that I can grow, I can accept it by faith and stop making excuses.

Perhaps the Church does not need a New Reformation. The problems within the church are problems with human nature. New church structures will not eradicate them. Rethinking theology may actually multiply them. Each of us, as individual believers in Christ, need our own personal New Reformation. We need to daily recommit ourselves to saying “yes” to God and “no” to our own preconceived notions and preferences.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

New Reformation or Right Teaching?

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 16:25).

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Martin Luther led a Reformation in the Church 500 years ago. Do we need a new Reformation? Picture from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Is it time for a New Reformation? From time to time, a Christian preacher or teacher (perhaps claiming the authority of an apostle or prophet) will claim that the church has grown so lukewarm or apostate that we need a new reformation. They would say that, just as the Protestant Reformation (spearheaded by Martin Luther around 1517) revitalized the church, the modern church needs radical reform. A quick Google search revealed three very different reformation movements here, here, and here. There are probably numerous others. In fact, almost every new denomination grows out of a belief that the church is lacking something substantial.

The broad variety of ideas expressed by these movements reveals the very problem that creates the call for a new Reformation. These movements contradict each other on several key points. They cannot agree on the key teachings of Christianity, the main problems in contemporary Christianity, or what a “New Reformation” church will look like. This is nothing new; we currently have at least three primary branches of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, (Eastern) Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Within Protestantism, we have denominations that are as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. All of this arises from disagreements about doctrine, proper worship, church government, etc. Every branch of Christianity claims to know the truth, and they contradict one another.

A key element of Martin Luther’s Reformation was an emphasis on right teaching or doctrine. He believed the great error within the Christianity of his era was the way it chose tradition over Scripture. Although Luther never totally abandoned church tradition, he challenged his contemporaries to re-examine doctrine in the light of Scripture.

Every generation has its own heresies and false teachings. Modern American Christianity has a few that come to mind. Many of them stem from people’s desire to believe their feelings instead of the facts of the faith. We believe what makes us feel comfortable, or what makes it easy to claim a strong relationship with Christ without a radical change in our lives.

One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases? When we encounter a teaching we do not like or understand, what do we do? Do we say “yes” to Jesus, or “yes” to our own opinions? Do we believe that God knows what He is talking about, or do we assume that we know better?

Here are two examples. First, I wish the Bible did not mention hell. Universal salvation—the belief that everybody eventually goes to heaven—sounds much more comforting. I wish it was true. Otherwise, the belief in the annihilation of the soul (that people who do not go to heaven just disappear out of existence without any suffering) would sound nice. However, there is a problem: The Bible teaches that there is a hell. I cannot claim to be a Bible-believing Christian and reject the reality of hell. I cannot even hide behind the Old vs. New Testament dichotomy that applies to some other teachings. I can say I do not believe in stoning adulterers to death because that was in the Old Testament, but I cannot say the same about hell. Most of what the Bible teaches about hell is found in the New Testament (much from the very words of Jesus!), with very little in the Old.

A part of me wishes the Bible did not consider homosexuality a sin. I know some very kind, generous, friendly homosexuals. Some of them are better people than many of the Christians I know. If I had written the Bible, the passages against homosexuality would not be there. I am left with a choice: Do I accept what God says in His word, or do I accept what modern American culture says?

Do you say “yes” to God, or do you say “yes” to sin, the devil, the world, and your own desires? Whom do you choose? If there is a need for a New Reformation, it is because we choose not to obey and believe our Lord.

In the following post, we will look at the cause of this problem and what we can do to resolve it.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments
 
 

Pure Passion—Psalms 119:131

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments (Psalms 119:131, ESV).

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“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalms 42:1). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Are the things of God just an obligation or chore to you? Or, are they a hobby, something you enjoy doing every now and then? Are they an addiction, passion, or obsession? Are you drawn to prayer, Scripture, and worship like an alcoholic to beer or an addict to his drug of choice?

Far into the longest chapter of the Bible, the Anthem to God’s Word (Psalm 119), the writer tells us that he pants because he longs for God’s commandments. We envision someone who is feeling dehydrated in the desert heat, whose sole obsession at that moment is for a refreshing drink of water. A similar image appears earlier in the Psalms:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival (Psalms 42:1–4).

The psalmist compares himself to a deer who pants thirstily for cool waters. As a world-weary deer in need of sustenance and safety seeks water to survive, the Psalmist seeks God, through His Word and worship. When one is dehydrated, only one thing satisfies: a drink that will restore fluids to the body. When one is weary from the hardships of this world, only God will satisfy.

Panting is one of the ways the human body expresses craving. A long-distance runner competing in a marathon may start panting as his body craves extra oxygen to complete the race. (Highly trained competitive runners learn to control their breathing so that they can preserve their energy.) Panting may also signal other kinds of craving, such as sexual arousal.

How do prayer, God’s Word, and worship relate to all of this? The two passages in Psalms suggest that God’s Word and presence should be such an obsession for us. Do we desire the things of God like that, though? Do you truly crave God’s blessings, or do you crave the things of this world? What is your passion?

Many Christians miss out on God’s blessings because we do not crave them with this addicted passion. We are torn between Christianity as a hobby and passion for the things of this world. We may be drawn to the heavy weights of this world and the sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). These things drag us down so that we do not pant after the things of God. However, it should not be this way. God desires our hearts to be completely committed to Him and dead to the things of this world:

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24–25).

So, I ask you (and I ask myself these questions as well): What is your passion? What do you desire more than anything? What do you crave? What do you pursue with a single-minded focus? Does your heart cry out to God in prayer, hungry until you are assured that He has heard you? Does your soul pant thirstily to hear His Word? Do you impulsively and compulsively charge into God’s presence in praise and worship? If the answer to these questions is “No,” let each of us confess those obsessions that take first place in our lives. Let us admit them to God and ask Him to remove those desires, replacing them with a pure passion for His holy presence in their place.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:11–13).

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Celebrating Freedom (Revisited)

(The following was originally published online in May 2011 in honor of Memorial Day. As we celebrate today, let us remember why we celebrate and, more importantly, the true meaning of freedom.)

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Image via Wikipedia

May ends with a holiday which many of us take too lightly. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as “the unofficial beginning of summer.” Many people view the last Monday in May as little more than a great day to go to the beach, host a barbecue, shop at department store sales, and so on. For many, it is just an extra day off. Like many holidays, we treat it frivolously by giving little thought to its significance. It might be helpful to consider its true significance for Americans. That will also allow us to reflect on some matters of significance to Christians.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. That day was set aside to place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Since World War I, the holiday has been consecrated to honor all who have died in the American armed forces during all of our military conflicts. We should remember that many of these were young men, many of whom never had the opportunity to start families and embark on adult civilian life. While some soldiers were drafted, many volunteered for military service, acknowledging the dangers they would face.

Whatever one may think of the decisions our nation’s leaders make about the military, I cannot criticize the character of our troops. They know it is a dangerous job, but they still consider it worthwhile. They will tell you that they are serving to defend our freedoms or protect our people. They believe it is worth dying for. They believe in committing their lives to a cause and making sacrifices. Someone has said that if you don’t have something to die for, you really do not have much to live for. The soldier’s courage should be an example to all of us.

In a sense, we insult these men, both the veterans who survived the battles and those who died, when we reduce Memorial Day to a day for sales and beginning summertime leisure activities. Even worse, we degrade everything it stands for. By giving more attention to surf and sales than to freedom and sacrifice, we desecrate the blood of our fallen soldiers. This is especially true when we distort the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Most Americans seem to believe that “freedom” means “the right to do whatever you want.” Our nation’s first “freedom fighters,” the men who wrote our Constitution, enshrined in our founding documents the First Amendment. This clause gives us the right to speak our minds, even if our ideas are unpopular, controversial, or harshly critical of our nation’s leaders. It allows us to hold religious views that fall outside the mainstream. I have referred to the First Amendment as “the right to be wrong,” or “the right to make yourself look and sound like a jackass.” Thankfully, it is, more importantly, the right to cling to Truth when everybody around you swallows a lie.

However, this form of liberty can be abused as well. We have freedom of speech, even though it is often abused by those who use it to sell pornography or other vulgar entertainment material. While earlier generations realized that freedom and responsibility walked together, most Americans today seem to believe freedom is more important than morality, ethics, or righteousness, and that such libertinism is more sacred than serving God.

This year, Memorial Day falls about five weeks after Easter, during the season when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the death. It is quite fitting that Memorial Day usually falls at such a time of year. The United States has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument honoring all those anonymous men who gave their lives for our nation. Likewise, Christianity has an empty tomb. As many soldiers have given their lives for our nation, Jesus Christ gave his life for all mankind to set us free from sin, hell, and divine judgment. Few of us give much thought to the fact that our greatest freedom was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. We gladly accept his priceless gift, talk about how it is free for us, and take it for granted. We might say a quick prayer or spend an hour in church every week, but then we ignore the One who gave his life for us.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…. Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32–36, NASB). It is true that our nation was established to seek liberty from tyranny. Yet, we need to remember that the worst tyrant in the universe is Satan, and his cruelest chains are forged with links of sin. Some people believe that following Jesus is a form of bondage. However, as St. Augustine wrote in On the Free Choice of the Will, “This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin.” True freedom is found in submission to the truth. True slavery is found when we loose ourselves from our bonds to our Creator and clamp the chains of sin around our wrists.

Saint Paul adds, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on in that chapter to point out the things that Christ frees us from: the Law (including the righteous wrath of God when we fail to live up its perfect standards) which has been superseded by the forgiveness we receive through the cross of Christ; and sin, which is superseded when we live by the greater law of love (see Luke 10:27–28).

Let every day be a day to remember, celebrate, and cherish the freedom we have been granted, both as Americans and as children of God. Our liberty is a precious jewel to be preserved and nurtured. It is not a cheap toy to be played with carelessly, thrown in a corner, and broken.

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

Categories: Current events, Holidays, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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