Monthly Archives: January 2020

Act, Speak, and Pray

“I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy” (Diary of St. Mary Faustina Kowalska).

I recently read these sentences in a daily email devotional. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic, whose diary contains dialogs between the spirit of Jesus Christ and her spirit. The above words are a statement she felt Jesus spoke to her heart. Most of the discourses are about Jesus’ mercy for souls and His call for Sister Faustina to pray for the conversion of sinners. Mercy is the central theme of their conversations.

Perhaps one can substitute other aspects of God’s love here. Where He says “mercy,” you can usually think of God’s love or grace. Here, the Lord calls us to show His mercy and love in three ways: deed, word, and prayer.

Does it seem as though most Christians get this backward? St. Faustina was a woman of prayer, and intercession for souls was her primary calling and ministry. Nevertheless, Jesus says prayer is the third means of showing mercy.

How many of us, though, would put that first? How many would put deeds last? When we encounter someone who is facing trials and hardships, our first instinct is to pray. We are happy to pray for a person who has lost everything he owns or is going through a divorce. We will gladly pray for any person whose life is falling apart.

“Clothing the Naked,” a stained-glass window in St. Mary’s Church, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, UK inspired by Matthew 25:34-36. Photo by Steve Day via Flickr. Published under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

We may also be willing to show God’s love in words. We will tell the addict that God loves him. We will share the gospel with anybody who has wrecked their lives through sin. We love to share our testimony about how God has provided when we hit rock bottom or how He delivered us from addiction.

Deeds, though, do not come easily. Deeds demand action. Action requires effort. It often involves sacrifice. When a friend has lost all of his possessions, are we willing to sacrifice some of our money or help him buy the basic necessities of life? If a friend is going through a divorce, are we willing to help him or her through the crisis? Are we willing to sit and listen while they talk about their problems—without offering advice or quoting Scripture? Just listen? Just care? Maybe offer to babysit their children so that they can run some errands or just go to a movie?

God’s Word calls us to action:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;’ yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18; all Scripture quotations from the World English Bible).

It is easy to say, “I hope God meets your needs.” We can easily assume we have served God when we see such a person and ask God to meet his needs. However, could it be that God sent this needy person to you in answer to someone else’s prayer? Maybe God does not want you to pray; maybe He wants you to be the answer to another person’s prayer.

This thought hits me whenever I read the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, Jesus tells us how He will separate the righteous (sheep) from the unrighteous (goats) when He returns. The sheep will be blessed because they fed Jesus, gave Him something to drink, clothed Him, visited Him in prison or when sick, etc. “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'” (Matthew 25:40).

A sculpture of “homeless Jesus” (his feet are nail-pierced) sleeping on a park bench outside St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, UK. © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The goats, on the other hand, did not feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned. Jesus counted this against them. I often wonder: did the goats pray for these people? Jesus does not welcome the sheep into His joy because they prayed, but because they acted. Jesus condemns the goats because they did not act, even if they prayed.

Of course, I am not saying we should not pray. When we pray, we call God’s power into a person’s situation. However, our prayers should be one part of our faith, one element of our walk with Jesus. Our prayers should motivate our action, not replace it.

Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I had several conversations with a retired Baptist minister. In one of our conversations, he offered this word of wisdom: “I refuse to pray any prayer unless I am willing to be the answer to that prayer.”

Do not use prayer as an excuse. Do not use it as a substitute for loving and serving others. When you pray for others, remember to ask, “God, is there anything you want me to do in this situation?”

Act, speak, and pray. This is how we show the love of God to others.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Baptism: Deeper than the Water

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, by David Zelenka via Wikimedia Commons, posted under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

The first Sunday after the Epiphany (usually the third Sunday after Christmas) commemorates the baptism of our Lord by John the Baptist.

Jesus’ baptism often brings up questions. A big one is, “Why was He baptized?” After all, John preached a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11). If Jesus had no sin (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21), He did not need to repent. Why would He participate in a baptism of repentance? Some say that He was simply making a public statement, identifying Himself with us. As a result, they say, when we are baptized we are simply making a public profession of faith.

I believe there is something more spiritual—I would call it a mystery, a spiritual truth beyond human understanding—in Jesus’ baptism and ours. After all, if we want to make a public profession of faith, we can always buy a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus, a clever saying, and Bible passage on Amazon and keep our hair dry. However, the Bible seems to say quite a few things about baptism; it says nothing about t-shirts. Baptism is important to God.

Throughout His earthly life, even though He was God, Jesus identified Himself with mankind. The Creator of the universe spent the first nine months of His earthly existence in a uterus. Then, He endured childbirth, which was a dangerous process for mother and baby in those days. Next, He lived through the challenges of childhood before spending almost 20 years as a carpenter. In many ways, He chose an ordinary life with all its difficulties. What better way to transition from the ordinary life of a small-town craftsman to the extraordinary ministry of taking our sins upon us, than by joining sinful humanity in the river of repentance?

Romans 6 sheds some more light on this subject.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Jesus’ baptism was not just a little ceremony. It was a prelude to His death and resurrection. He went under the water, and then He rose up from the water. It was not just a little show to prepare for His work of redemption; it was actually a preliminary part of the redemption process.

Likewise, we identify with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus died for our sins. He died in our place. In the eyes of the Father, we were with Him on that cross. He was buried and descended into hell. He rose again. He is the resurrection and the life: Our resurrection and eternal life are in Him.

Thus, baptism is not just a matter of how much water we use. It is a rite of identification. “Baptize” is derived from a Greek word, “baptizo,” which is derived from another Greek word, “bapto,” which means “to immerse.” Yet, it’s not a matter simply of dunking something under water. Some ancient examples of the word “baptizo” from outside the Bible might help us understand it better.

One way the word “baptizo” was used was in the context of dyeing cloth. If you take a white cotton shirt and “baptize” it in red dye, you get a red shirt. It is no longer considered white, but red. Its identity has changed.

Another context was an ancient pickle recipe. It instructed the person to “bapto” a cucumber in boiling water. Then, the cucumber would be “baptized” in vinegar. It was the baptism in vinegar that turned the cucumber into a pickle.

When we accept baptism or reaffirm our baptismal creed, we are making a radical statement of identification with Christ:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

It is more than a bath. It is deeper than the water. Baptism makes visible our union with Christ. He takes our sin upon Himself. He pours His resurrection power, Spirit, and life upon us. We are united with Him. Scripture speaks frequently of the believer being “in Christ” and of Christ being in the believer.

Lord Jesus, immerse my life in Yours. I drown to my past, submerged in the cleansing power of your blood. Immerse me in You and immerse me in Your Holy Spirit. Amen!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2020: A Year of Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB).

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision” (Helen Keller).

A few years ago, several people I knew posted “a word for the year” on Facebook. I doubt there was anything significant to most of the words. I think some of them used a Facebook app that randomly assigned a word and explanation to people’s pages. A few of my friends tried it several times, getting multiple results.

Other people actually thought of their own word for the year. They chose a word that summarized what they wanted to pursue in the coming 12 months or a trait or ideal they wanted to guide their decisions. It bore personal meaning for them. Some of those people were still talking about that word several weeks and months later.

“2020” just begs us to call it “A Year of Vision.” In optometry, 20/20 is the standard for normal healthy vision. It means that objects 20 feet away from you appear as clearly to you as they should. 20/50 vision means such objects look about as clear as something that is 50 feet away. Just for the record, my eyesight in my left eye is worse than 20/50, and my right eye is much weaker. My optometrist is very surprised that I can function as an editor with such bad eyesight, even when wearing glasses.

Of course, I am not talking about eyesight when I speak of a Year of Vision. I am speaking more metaphorically about other things we might associate with vision: foresight; passion; direction. A person with vision is someone who sees where he wants to go in life and has a desire and plan to get there.

I have often joked about New Year’s resolutions. I usually tell people that my New Year’s resolution is to make no New Year’s resolutions, so I can succeed and fail at the same time. The average New Year’s resolution lasts about 17 days. So, if you are serious about working out at the gym, wait until January 18. By then, most of the people who resolved to work out will have quit, and you can get on the treadmill or exercise bike without delay.

All joking aside, New Year’s resolutions are not all bad. There is never any harm in trying to make a commitment to make better choices, overcome bad habits, or develop healthy habits. However, perhaps you want something more. Maybe, as you are reading this and beginning a new year, you sense that God is calling you to something greater than the usual New Year’s resolutions in 2020. Perhaps He is calling you to bring your hopes, dreams, and visions to Him, align them with His vision for your life, and allow His wisdom to guide you in 2020 and beyond.

Vision provides guidance. It sets you on a path and points you toward a destination. It provides the inspiration and goal which can define any resolutions you choose to make.

King Solomon. Painting by Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Frequently, “vision” in the Old Testament refers to prophetic visions or dreams. The English Standard Version (the translation I usually quote) emphasizes this sense in Proverbs 29:18. Throughout the Old Testament, men of God received divine guidance through trances or dreams. A good example of this is King Solomon. In 1 Kings 3:5-14, the young king had established his throne and went to Gibeon, at that time one of the most prominent places to worship the Lord. During his visit, God visited him in a dream and made a bold offer with no apparent strings attached: “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon’s response showed remarkable maturity. He already had a sense of vision in his life. He knew his purpose. His prayer was driven by that purpose:

“And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?’” (1 Kings 3:6-9, ESV).

Solomon’s mission and vision was to effectively govern God’s great people. That guided his prayer. As God observed, Solomon could have been inclined to pray for riches, long life, honor, or the death of his enemies. However, Solomon wanted to be a successful king. For that, he needed wisdom, and God gave it.

The prayer for wisdom is one that God always wants to answer:

“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, ESV).

Solomon had his own personal sense of vision, one which was consistent with God’s will. God then spoke to him in a dream. God also speaks to us in His Word, the Bible. He always offers wisdom to His people. Are we willing to accept His wisdom to guide us in our pursuit of the goals and dreams He has instilled in our hearts?

As we begin 2020, the Year of Vision, consider these questions:

  • What is God calling you to do in the coming year?
  • Is He calling you to do something differently?
  • What desires has He placed on your heart?

You may feel a certain compulsion or desire to pursue a dream or calling. Could it be from God? Can it be devoted to His service?

As you consider these thoughts, you should be able to recognize the vision God has for your life.

Having recognized the vision, seek God’s wisdom. Twelve Step programs offer some necessary insight into prayer. Step 11 states that the recovering addict “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Pray daily for God’s wisdom regarding that vision. Ask Him to reveal His will to you day by day and to give you the power to carry it out. That power includes the courage to do what is right and to persevere when it would be easy to quit.

A New Year is ahead of us. As 2019 ends, I feel some relief and satisfaction in some significant accomplishments. Yet, I do not want to merely coast through the coming year. There is still room to grow. I have dreams and goals to pursue. Perhaps you do too. Let us each commit to making 2020 a year of vision that will allow us to pursue greater goals and dreams in the years to come.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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