Monthly Archives: January 2021

Thomas Aquinas on Prayer

Stained glass window at St. Joseph Catholic Church (Somerset, OH) depicts Thomas Aquinas conversing with the crucified Christ. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

“It is clear that he does not pray, who, far from uplifting himself to God, requires that God shall lower Himself to him, and who resorts to prayer not stir the man in us to will what God wills, but only to persuade God to will what the man in us wills” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

quoted from Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Catholic priest, scholar, theologian, and philosopher. His masterpiece, the Summa Theologia, is considered one of the most influential works in Western thought. Many churches commemorate him on January 28.

The quote above provides timeless guidance for all Christians as we examine our motives in prayer. Do I seek to draw closer to God by allowing Him to lift me higher spiritually, or do I try to bring Him down to my level? Do I ask to know God’s will? Do I seek wisdom and courage from Him to do what He desires? Or, do I decide what I want to do, without considering God’s will, and then ask Him to bless my self-centered choices?

“Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1).

Share your thoughts about prayer by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

New Beginnings

“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:18–21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

In a recent article, former Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady asked his readers, “Have You Set Your ‘GPS’ for 2021?” In this case, GPS stands for Goals, Prophetic word, and Special prayer.

I generally do not make New Year’s resolutions. I believe Christians should be ready to make changes any time that God directs them. Lent and Advent are good times to seek His will in a way that can change our plans and purposes. Yet this article—especially the part about the prophetic word—spoke to me:

“Sometimes God gives me a verse from the Bible. Other times I get a phrase or simply one word. As I was praying for 2021, for example, the Lord said, ‘This will be a year of reaping.’ He also spoke to me from Habakkuk 3:17–18 that I must rejoice even when I don’t see fruit.”

Grady is not urging us to just pick a word or phrase that we like and “claim” it for ourselves. Instead, I am sure that he means that we should listen to the Spirit of God to speak while we read the Bible and pray. If God has a word for us, He will speak to our hearts while we study Scripture and seek Him in prayer, praise, and worship.

The phrase the Lord spoke to my heart was “new beginnings.” Several passages of Scripture guided me to this even before reading Grady’s article. The article simply confirmed and reinforced that I should recognize this as a word from God to me for 2021. Perhaps God may be speaking a similar message to you as well.

Many of us saw our lives flipped upside-down in 2020. My church held all worship services online for several months, with drive-up curbside communion available. When we could finally meet again, with limited attendance, I found that some friends had experienced drastic life changes as a result of the state’s stay-at-home order: Some were forced into early retirement; others were unemployed; others had their hours and wages severely cut; some who were self-employed had to make significant adjustments in how they conducted their business; some, including myself, were able to continue working full-time jobs with full-time pay while working from home. With all of the changes in our lives, it was easy to feel like we were exiles in a foreign land while locked up in our own homes.

For me, there were other changes in 2020. All of my church activities were placed on hold when we ceased worshiping in person. Most of them have not resumed as we have limited attendance due to social distancing. As a former assistant pastor who has been very active in the church for his entire adult life, this has been a painful change.

Personal habits also changed for me in 2020. When my company initially closed the office and ordered everybody to work at home, we thought it could be for only two weeks. Like many others, I treated it like a semi-vacation: Continued working but slept later, relaxed, stopped working out, etc. Although we have been home for 10 months (and my company will not return to the office until July at the earliest), I have not resumed normal activity. I used to go to the gym at my company’s building two or three times per week, but exercise has fallen by the wayside. Social life has declined. In-person midweek church activities have ceased, as well as Saturday brunch with a few longtime friends I have known since high school or earlier.

I am sure each of you has similar stories about how life has changed. Maybe the details are different, but most people I know can list ways their work, social activities, church involvement, and other aspects of their lives were disrupted in 2020.

Life may return to some form of normal in 2021. Vaccines are available, and many experts are optimistic that the new coronavirus will cease to be a major public health threat soon. Perhaps social distancing restrictions will relax soon. Maybe restrictions on public gatherings will relax and churches can fill to capacity again. Maybe we will be allowed into stores without wearing masks.

Photo by form PxHere.

Some things will not return, though. Some people’s pre-coronavirus jobs are gone forever. Companies went out of business when they were forced to close “temporarily.” We may have adopted new habits, good and bad. Temporary changes in worship format or ministries may become permanent.

Instead of viewing such changes as a loss, we can see them as open doors for new beginnings.

The future remains uncertain, but it does not have to be gloomy. Old opportunities have ceased, but God is the Lord of new beginnings. I am currently in training to serve in a pastoral caregiving ministry. I will remain open to any other new doors God may open for me. This can include seeking new avenues as a writer.

Life will continue to change for all of us in 2021, but we do not have to be caught unprepared. We can prepare ourselves for the new beginnings God has planned for us. Perhaps you can prepare yourself by spending time in prayer and asking God to search your heart and life with the following questions:

  • What have I stopped doing since the pandemic began? Did it cause changes in your home life, work, social activities, church involvement, etc.?
  • How many of these changes were voluntary and how many were forced upon me by others? I cannot choose to return to the office next week, but I can find a new way to exercise without the gym. I have a kettlebell and exercise video that can provide a suitable replacement for treadmills and weightlifting machines.
  • Which activities can I resume doing exactly as I did before the coronavirus lockdowns? Which can I resume with some simple adjustments? Some of my friends are not comfortable gathering at a diner on Saturday morning. Would they be open to scheduling a Zoom session so that we can have a few laughs and catch up with each other online while enjoying our coffee and bagels?
  • What new things is God calling me to do? Let us each remain open to hearing His voice and seeking new opportunities throughout the year.

The ancient Jews endured 70 years of exile in Babylon around 2500 years ago. Eventually, God returned them to their homeland, but life was never the same. Synagogue worship and the ministry of rabbis grew out of the aftermath of that exile. It created the religious environment into which Jesus was born and raised. His ministry would have been very different if His ancestors had not endured that exile. Likewise, our lives will be different after the current pandemic ends, but that does not mean we will be worse off. This can be an opportunity for new and better things. God is leading us into a season of new beginnings. Are we ready to follow Him?

How has life and your relationship with God changed in the last ten months? What new beginnings do you think God has in store for you? Does God has a prophetic word for your life in 2021? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

The Baptism of Our Lord: To Fulfill All Righteousness

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

The baptism of Jesus. Image by Ananth Subray, published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. For some time, John the Baptist had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). People came and confessed their sins to him (Matthew 3:6). They did not merely admit that they were sinners: “Nobody’s perfect” is not a confession. The confessed specific sins, and John gave explicit instructions about changes they should make (Luke 3:10-14). In many cases, those sins were common activities: Roman soldiers normally used their power to coerce, manipulate, and rob people; tax collectors used their authority to demand more money from people than the government required. We still excuse our sins by saying “Everybody’s doing it,” but that pretense did not satisfy John the Baptist or God.

Amid John’s ministry, Jesus came for baptism. John immediately recognized Him as the Messiah and realized, “I have need to be baptized by You.” John admitted that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoe (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was here asking to be baptized. Why? “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way: “we must do all that God wants us to do.”

Why would Jesus need baptism for repentance? He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Perhaps this verse points to an answer:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Jordan River. Photo by Jean Housen, published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many think that Jesus fulfilled His entire ministry of atonement on the cross. However, His entire life was a sacrifice for our sins. As John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River, they could imagine their sins being washed, like dirt from their bodies, into the water. Now, here came Jesus: He did not have the dirt of sin on Him. As He went into the water, He began to symbolically take the sins upon Himself. I can imagine Him confessing the sins of all the people present, knowing that He would die for those sins three years later.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:1–7).

He was baptized as one of us. He identified with us, accepted our human nature, and joined us in the waters or repentance in baptism. Now, we join Him in a baptism of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. His baptism in the water began a ministry that culminated in His baptism in death upon a cross. When we come to Him in faith, we receive baptism into His death and resurrection. We accept His death upon ourselves, receive His forgiveness and the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit, and live a new life in resurrection power as we continue to walk with Him.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and the insanity did not end with the beginning of a new year. We will continue to face challenges and tests. Are we willing to be fully immersed in the life of Christ as we face the uncertain times that lie ahead? While our world remains uncertain, Jesus’ life-giving power remains trustworthy and certain.

How are you experiencing baptism into the life of Christ on a daily basis? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Epiphany: Finding Jesus in Unlikely Places

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
“Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’ After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1–11; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo from PxHere. Published under a Creative Commons license.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the wise men’s visit with Jesus. The word “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearance,” and the feast reminds us how God manifested Jesus to “the nations of the world” for the first time.

The magi’s persistence and faith grab my attention. They followed the star to the most likely place to find a future king of the Jews. If you are looking for a future king, you go to the capital and speak to the current king.

However, this was not the correct place. King Herod probably did not have any young sons. He suspected it could be the Messiah. So, he sent them to the place where the Bible said the Messiah would be born—Bethlehem.

The Magi followed the star to Bethlehem, and it led them to a small home. (Contrary to most depictions of Jesus’ birth, the Magi did not arrive until some time after Christmas; the holy family was living in a house and Jesus was no longer in a manger. He may have already been a toddler.) Upon finding this poor, working-class family with a very little boy, they worshiped Him, confident that they had found the future King whom they sought, giving extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They kneeled in a radical leap of faith. How could they know that this child was the King of the Jews, being raised by a poor young mother whose husband was a mere carpenter? It could only be faith: Logic and reason were eclipsed by the wisdom of certain faith—they just knew in their hearts that they had come to the right place and the correct child, even if they would never be able to explain this to the other magi back home.

When they did not find Jesus in the place of power, Jerusalem, they sought Him in the house of simplicity and necessity: Bethlehem (the city’s name means “house of bread”).

Are we willing to keep seeking God when He does not manifest Himself in the most obvious place or when we do not find Him in the circumstances that are most convenient for us? Do we insist on seeking the Lord’s presence only in the places of glory, drama, excitement—only where it feels good and exciting? Are we willing to keep seeking Him until we find Him in the mundane, simple, ordinary parts of life—miles from places of power, hidden in houses of bread?

Many of our lives changed drastically in 2020. We had to live, travel, socialize, work, and worship differently. We had to pray and fellowship in new ways. Social distancing separated us from expressions of faith that were familiar, comfortable, or exciting. Now, our small-group fellowships meet over Zoom or other virtual-meeting platforms. Many people attend worship services via online live-stream. We must worship God in new ways, and they might not be comfortable or entertaining.

Jesus came into a mundane, ordinary village. He meets us now in the ordinary, even the boring and uncomfortable, places of our lives. True worship is a sacrifice, so it is not always easy or fun. Let us continue to kneel before Him, offering extravagant sacrifices of praise and worship:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

The wise men offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let us offer Him our bodies, souls, and spirits as living sacrifices, as we make a radical leap of faith toward the One who has manifested Himself to us.

In which unlikely places are you finding Jesus these days? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

God’s Righteousness and Justice. V: The Birth and Life of Christ

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The LORD our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from needpix.com, published under a Creative Commons license.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on the justice and righteousness of God. They were key elements of the Jewish people’s Messianic hopes and essential to Jesus’ reasons for coming into the world. (Take some time to read Mary’s song of praise, traditionally known as The Magnificat, in Luke 1:46–55, and you will see her hope of God’s judgment and mercy.)

The Jewish people suffered oppression throughout their history. The nation of Israel had grown as slaves in Egypt before Moses led them forth. By the time Jeremiah prophesied, the northern tribes of Israel had been overthrown by Assyria and taken into exile, and the southern kingdom of Judah was beginning to experience the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah proclaimed God’s promise that, someday, the Jews would receive deliverance. They would return to their homeland. Eventually, God would send a great King, a descendant of David that would reign in God’s righteousness. Anticipation of this coming King, the Messiah, comforted and inspired the Jews throughout the centuries that followed.

Even after returning from Babylonian exile, the Jewish people would experience more oppression: the Medo-Persian empire, then the Greeks, and later the Romans. When Jesus was born, Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, ruled by Roman governors or puppet kings.

Jesus’ birth brought the promised “Lord our righteousness” to Earth. The fullness of God dwelled within Him (Colossians 2:9). Jeremiah, recalling Isaiah 11:1, called Jesus “a righteous Branch” of David; the name of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, is derived from the Hebrews word netzer, which means “branch.” The Branch of David, the Messiah, grew up in the town of the branch.

When He came that time, Jesus brought spiritual salvation, not only to the Jewish people, but to all humanity. The Bible repeatedly tells us that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). The fullness of God’s righteousness will appear when Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end,” as the Nicene Creed says.

Christmas reminds us that God sent His Son to be our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). He has brought God’s righteousness to us. We can and should trust in no savior except Jesus Christ, who is The Lord our Righteousness. No religious or political leader can bring God’s righteousness and justice to us. Nobody else is worthy of our praise.

Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, Holidays | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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