Author Archives: Michael E. Lynch

About Michael E. Lynch

A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).
 
 

Recognizing Idolatry

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, emphasis added; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

In a recent post, I mentioned idolatry four times. Ezekiel 36:25–27 mentioned that God would cleanse us of our idolatries.

It may say “In God We Trust,” but money is an idol for many Americans. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

After posting that article, I realized some people may not realize that this verse speaks directly to them. Many Christians think, “I don’t have a statue of Buddha or some other image of a pagan religion. I’m not an idolater.” Others think they are off the hook because they do not have crucifixes, rosary beads, or pictures of the Virgin Mary.

The New Testament teaches that idolatry is more than just praying to a statue or image. Colossians 3:5 says covetousness and/or greed (some English translations use the latter term) is idolatry. We desire things more than we desire God. Many of us have forgotten what Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

The Apostle Paul adds to this by saying:

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).

While the Second Commandment tells us that we must not make or worship a graven image, the New Testament reveals that there is a deeper spiritual aspect to this commandment. To fully obey it, we must avoid building spiritual idols in our hearts that keep us from drawing closer to God. In its catechism, the Book of Common Prayer says we fulfill this commandment when we “put nothing in the place of God.”

So, how can we know if we are guilty of idolatry? Here are a few questions you may ask yourself:

Do I buy things that I cannot afford? If you own things you do not need (besides food, clothing, and shelter) and are going into debt to buy them, you probably have an idol. Incidentally, going into debt includes the use of credit cards. Too many people do not know the difference between “needs” and “wants” and fall into a snare as a result. First Timothy gives us God’s perspective on this:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness…” (1 Timothy 6:6-11).

You need food. You need clothes (not necessarily expensive, trendy, or flashy clothes). You need a roof over your head (not necessarily a mansion). You do not need a brand-new luxury sports car, the latest $500 cell phone, cable television package with all the premium channels, etc. Recognizing the difference between needs and wants is necessary for overcoming idolatry.

Do I have things that I do not really need, but I do not give to the Lord and His work? If you spend your money on yourself and ignore the needs of God’s people and the needy, you have an idol. Sincere Christians may disagree whether we are obligated to tithe. Personally, I believe we should give 10% to the Lord, His Church, and the advancement of His kingdom. Others believe that we should be generous without specifying a percentage of our income:

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

I could add countless verses where God’s Word says that His children should be generous. You cannot justify greed by saying, “I won’t give because I’m not cheerful about it.” Remember, it says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Scripture never says that “God loves a greedy grouch.”

Do I disobey God’s Word or compromise my faith to get what I want? If you are willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want, you are probably an idolater.

Do I pray for what I want more than I pray to be fruitful for God?

“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” (James 4:3–4).

It is not always about money. In a society blessed with wealth and ease, we can become idolaters about things besides money. I have known people who say they are Christian, but never attend church between September and January: football comes first to them. Others worship their political party, musicians (it is no accident that a popular TV show is called “American Idol”), actors, other entertainers, hobbies, etc. Anything that keeps you from worshiping God and doing His will can be an idol. Here is a little project you can try to see if you might be an idolater in a nonfinancial area of your life:

  1. Ask a few friends who are not in your church or Christian circles what they think are the three things you value most. You can ask family members if they are not Christians. If your faith does not come up regularly (i.e., people are not mentioning “God,” “Jesus,” “Christianity,” “church,” “your faith,” etc.), take note of the things people do mention. There might be an idol there. You may need to remove it completely from your life.
  2. Ask the same people who they think are the three people you admire most. If Jesus is not mentioned, but someone else usually is, you might have an idol.
  3. Consider what you have learned. Are there idols that you have to remove from your life? Take the proper steps to remove them. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or other mature follower of Christ if necessary.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

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

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New Heart, New Spirit, New Life

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A fresco from St. Mary’s Church, Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, with the words of Ezekiel 36:26. Image from Wikimedia, under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

When Jesus raised the cup at the Last Supper and called it “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), the disciples should have recognized the words. God’s covenant with Israel was sealed in the blood of sacrifices. The prophets, especially Ezekiel and Jeremiah, had proclaimed God’s intention to make a new covenant with Israel. Jesus was saying that the new covenant was about to come, and His blood would be the sacrificial offering.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34).

Some believers have been taught that Jeremiah spoke these words to Israel and, therefore, they do not apply to the church. However, Hebrews 10:16–17 quotes this passage directly and states that this is speaking of the New Covenant brought about by Jesus’ blood and death. While the Jewish people before Christ may have experienced part of the blessing foretold by Ezekiel, the fulfillment was found in Christ.

The Old and New Covenants have several similarities and a few differences. In this post, we will look strictly at the new heart and new spirit that are part of the New Covenant. An in-depth comparison and contrast of the two covenants would be too extensive for a single post.

The passage from Ezekiel 36 is a key part of a prophecy regarding the restoration of the Jewish people. They were exiled in Babylon as God’s judgment for idolatry and other sins. The New Covenant prophecies of the Old Testament usually come in this context: Israel has sinned but will be restored. Related to that glorious restoration, God would write His laws in their hearts, giving them new hearts and new spirits. Whereas the Old Covenant was primarily external and physical (people of a particular nationality required to follow specific rules, regulations, and rituals), the New Covenant would be primarily internal and spiritual.

In this New Covenant, God cleanses His people from our sins and idolatries. Then, He gives us a new heart and new spirit, inspiring us to live by His will.

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7).

“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31).

The two greatest differences between the Old and New Covenants are the role of Jesus as the One who fulfills the Law and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who gives the new heart and new spirit to the follower of Jesus. He will reveal our sins and idolatries to us, giving us a spirit of repentance and a desire to do God’s will. He will pour out the love of God in our hearts, so that we can obey the two greatest commandments, to love God and love our neighbors (Matthew 19:37–40).

Only by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can we really understand God’s word, will, and ways. One of the most common errors Christians commit is trying to obey God on our terms, in our strength. We try to figure out His will by using our own logic or listening to current public opinion. We may try to do His will based on the same motives as someone who does not have a relationship with Christ—fear of being rejected by God if we sin, trying to impress others, seeking approval from others. Even when we figure out God’s will, we try to do it in our own strength and timing.

We need the Holy Spirit within us. We need His power to strengthen us. We need God’s word and His own life-force within us to live the life that pleases Him. If you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, pray that He may give you the strength you need. Ask Him to let you know when you have wandered from His leadership and started trusting in your own wisdom and strength. Let Him be your guide and strength.

Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).

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

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Ascension, Visitation, Pentecost: A Pro-Life Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taste, See, and Sing! Loving and Craving God’s Word

“Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way” (Psalms 119:97–104; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

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

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. This anthem to the glories of God’s Word has more verses (176) than 18 entire books of the Bible. Some commentators have called it a “love song” about the Word of God. Imagine if someone wrote a love song to the United States Constitution. Many patriotic songs, like “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America,” laud our country’s land, culture, and ideals; I know of no song, though, that swoons with passion over the Bill of Rights, Commerce Clause, or other elements of our nation’s laws. However, the psalmist felt it was worth writing an epic about God’s laws.

I could have posted any of the 22 eight-verse stanzas in Psalm 119 above. I have to admit that it is quite repetitive, and I have not read the entire psalm in a single sitting in several years. Usually, I will read one to three stanzas during my devotions.

However, its repetitiveness may be one of this chapter’s greatest strengths. Several words or themes are repeated frequently. God’s Word is referred to as His law, commandment, testimonies, precepts, rules, words, promises, etc. God gives us His law, precepts, rules, and commandments, to show us how to live. He offers His promises. He gives us His testimonies, which prove that He is faithful and able to fulfill those promises.

This psalm challenges us to consider some hard questions about our faith. Do I really love God’s law? Do I read the Bible because I think I have to do it? Do I read it because somebody said, “Real Christians read the Bible 15 minutes per day, or three chapter per day”? Am I afraid that God will get really angry if I do not read it?

Do I read God’s law so that I can win arguments about what it means? Do I read it so that I can show off how smart I am at the next Bible study, or look super-spiritual at church?

Or, do I crave God’s Word the same way I crave my daily food? Do I read God’s Word because I have an insatiable desire to know Him more and experience the full abundant life He offers?

When we come to Christ, God writes His Word upon our hearts. It is part of the New Covenant that He promised to His people:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33–34).

As a result of this, the child of God will crave His Word:

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3).

Dig in! Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalms 34:8). As you seek Him, you will find that God and His Word are truly worth singing about!

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

The Spirit of Truth in the Life of the Believer

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

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

The Holy Spirit will speak to us as a reflection of His nature. He is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16–17; 16:13). This is who He is. His very essence is truth. God’s Word is true because the Spirit of Truth inspired it and illuminates it to us.

As the Spirit of Truth, He dwells within us and guides us as our helper or counselor. In John 14:26, Jesus calls Him the “parakletos,” a Greek word meaning “the one called alongside to help.” It has a broad meaning, which no single English word translates adequately. The ESV translates it as “helper.” Other translations say “counselor” or “advocate,” all of which seem to emphasize one part of the Holy Spirit’s work. He helps us. He counsels us, guides us, and gives us wisdom and insight. He serves as an advocate for us. Some will say He does this by defending us before God the Father, like an attorney defends a suspected criminal before the court. Perhaps, more importantly, He defends us against the lies of Satan. When the accuser of the brethren seeks to condemn us by reminding us of our sins, the Holy Spirit will remind us that there is no condemnation for us, since we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

The Holy Spirit also speaks to us out of His relationship to us and to the rest of the Trinity. He dwells within us, perfecting our relationship with Christ:

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

The Holy Spirit takes the things of God—the blessings available to us in Christ Jesus—and bestows them to us. He imparts the life of Christ to us by living within us. John 14:20 suggests that the Christian’s union with Christ is somehow connected with Christ’s union with the Father. While we may not be exactly like Jesus in this life, the Holy Spirit is imparting that life to us. As He lives within us, He gives us the wisdom of Jesus. We do not have to accept second-rate Christianity. We can receive the fullness of God’s blessings to us through the Holy Spirit.

God is always speaking, always revealing His love and life to us. His Word offers us great promises of life and hope. The Holy Spirit within us is holding these blessings out to us. As we read God’s Word, let us hear the voice of God empowering those words to bring spirit and life to our souls.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

The Spirit of Truth and Scripture Memorization

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse. Painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

During the night before He was crucified, Jesus gave one of His longest recorded teachings, “The Upper Room Discourse,” which appears in John 14–17. It contained His final instructions before death for His disciples, and one of its key themes was the role of the Holy Spirit in the disciples’ lives. Jesus had taught His disciples for three years. After He was gone, His Holy Spirit would continue that work. He would teach the disciples “all things.” Some of that teaching would inspire some of them to write the New Testament. Since then, the Holy Spirit continues to teach us.

An important aspect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching is that He brings Christ’s words to our remembrance. Remembrance means that one recalls something they had already learned. We have to hear God’s Word before the Holy Spirit can bring it to our remembrance. This is why a committed Christian should read the Bible daily. Perhaps a verse of Scripture may seem unimportant while we are reading. Later, though, it may take on a life of its own as a problem arises and the Holy Spirit reminds us of that verse. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The Word of God does not lie dead in the pages of a book. It is not a lifeless set of thoughts and ideas. It is spirit and life. It imparts life to us as we need it. When problems and temptations arise, the Holy Spirit will bring the Scriptures that we have read, meditated upon, and heard to our remembrance. He will show them how they relate to our circumstances and how God wants us to respond.

One of the first verses I memorized after becoming a Christians was Proverbs 17:22:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Having suffered depression for much of my life, verses like this are lifelines. I will not claim that I am totally healed of depression, only that it is in remission. If I am not careful, I can slip back into self-destructive thought patterns. At times, I may be tempted to wallow in the mire of negativity. The Spirit, speaking through the Word, will remind me to pursue a joyful heart. Get outside! Go for a walk! Listen to worship music! If that does not work, find someone who has an encouraging personality to spend time with.

During a particularly difficult time in my life, I wrote 50 or more Bible verses on index cards to carry with me. Some spoke of the joy of the Lord; others spoke of God’s promises to His children; still others reminded me of who I am in Christ. I would pull the cards out and read one whenever I had a chance. Stopping for a red light became an opportunity to hear from the Holy Spirit. Eventually, those verses would come to my mind whenever I needed them.

Those of you who struggle with depression or other emotional illnesses may try the same approach. Go to author Neil T. Anderson’s website at https://ficm.org/free-downloads/. Scroll down to “Truth About Me.” Download the PDF file. Memorize and meditate upon the Bible verses that are listed. Let those words seep into your soul. Then, the Holy Spirit will bring those words to your remembrance as you need them. You may try a similar approach for whatever temptation or besetting sin causes you the most difficulty. There are similar resources available with Bible verses about other life-controlling problems. Meditate on the Word of God so the Spirit of God can bring it to your remembrance when you need it.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation, Revelation and Scripture, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

The Spirit of Truth and the Necessity of Scripture

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Christians can make several mistakes when trying to find out God’s will for their lives. One is to read the Bible and try to figure things out with their own logic and reason. The other mistake is to expect the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us without the Bible.

The Bible tells us that God determines the number of the stars and calls them by name. Here is just a tiny fraction of them. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Wikipedia.

The Holy Spirit is not constrained by the Bible. God is bigger than His Word. His greatness and glory exceeds anything we can imagine. Psalms 147:4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars and gives names to all of them. Scientists are still estimating the number of stars, know they have not discovered all of them, and have named only a small fraction of them. According to Wikipedia, “Of the roughly 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye, only a few hundred have been given proper names in the history of astronomy.” Some scientists believe the universe contains 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, many more than mankind has seen. Yet, God has given names to all of them. This is just a hint of the greatness of God, but many of us are tempted to think we can contain Him. God is greater than anything we can imagine, even with the help He gives us by revealing Himself in His Word.

Thus, there is an even greater danger when we try to seek God’s will without His Word, like some people do. They rely on their own wisdom. Perhaps they learn something from pop psychology or the latest public-opinion poll, baptize it in religious lingo, and say, “God told me to do this.” If it clearly contradicts God’s Word, God did not speak to you.

“God told me to move in with this woman I barely know so that we can see if we should get married.” (I do not think so.)

“God told me to leave my wife and trade her in for a younger woman. After all, God wants me to be happy!” (No, you want to be happy. God wants you to be holy, but that’s for another article.)

“God thinks it’s OK if I cheat on my tax returns or steal supplies from my job. After all, He wants me to prosper. Besides, everybody does it.” (What part of “Thou shalt not steal” do you not understand?)

(PS: I would like to claim that I was being creative with those three quotes, but that is not the case. I know people who have said things very similar to these. Most of them have claimed that they are deeply committed Bible-believing Christians.)

We cannot know God’s will without the Bible. We also cannot know it without the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives. The two go hand in hand. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, but He will use the Bible to impart wisdom to us, and He expects us to use the Bible to confirm whether He is the One Who is speaking to us.

Knowing God’s will requires both. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the Word of God. The Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through the Word of God. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to truly understand the Word and will of God.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

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.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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