Bible meditations

Advent: Prepare the Way (Luke 3:3-6)

And {John the Baptist} came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:3-6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A dirt road in Tibet that looks like it would benefit from some preparation. Photo by Tenace10, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A new year begins on the church calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season that culminates with Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation. However, Christians should not prepare for Christmas in the same way that the world does.

The world begins its version of “the Christmas season” with Black Friday. The focus is on sales, great deals, and buying presents: Commercialism is the name of the game. God calls us to preparation through repentance.

Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He did not offer great bargains, two for the price of one, or free shipping. His entire lifestyle rejected the things we value today. He wore a simple wardrobe, ate a simple (and rather repulsive) diet of locusts and honey, and preached a radical message of repentance. It was not a generic message like many preachers share today; he gave specific examples of how people should live, not leaving room for doubt.

When describing John the Baptist, Luke cited the prophet Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God.” The King was coming. The road had to be ready for His arrival. If you wanted to welcome the King, you prepared a safe road for his entourage. You would fill in the ditches and clear obstacles so that his horse could trot safely into town.

We still prepare roads like this. When we drive our cars, we do not want obstacles like garbage or other debris in the path. We expect the highway department to fill in the potholes.

Meadowbrook State Parkway on Long Island, NY. Trees line both sides of the road. Similar trees had to be cleared before the road could be built. Photo by Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of our roads required thorough preparation before they could be paved. Here on Long Island, we have several major roads that are frequently flanked by trees. At one time, the trees also stood where cars now drive. Trees and other obstacles had to be removed before construction crews could pave the road.

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there is a stretch where they could not remove all of the obstacles. Several mountains blocked the path. So, they blasted tunnels through the mountains to clear a path for cars to travel.

In Pennsylvania, they could not remove the mountains so they cleared tunnels through four of the mountains along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This tunnel goes through Tuscarora Mountain. Photo by Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

It all seems a little drastic when you think about it. People needed a road. It required thorough preparation. Ruthless removal of obstacles was a vital part of the preparation process.

Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ. He came into the world 2000 years ago. For many readers of this article, He came into your life at some time in the past. Someday, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end” (The Nicene Creed). Advent and Christmas look back to His first coming into the world so we can more clearly look forward and prepare for that second coming.

Are we ready? Have we prepared a path for Him? Are there obstacles in our lives that block the path between our hearts and His Spirit? Are there potholes in our spiritual path? Are there twists and turns in our lives that need to be made straight?

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis added).

There may be sinful attitudes, actions, or habits in your life that are hindering your relationship with Christ. There may be encumbrances (other Bible translations say “weight,” “obstacle,” or something similar) that may be holding us back. They might not be bad in themselves, but they have become a hindrance to your walk with Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these to you in the coming weeks and months. Acknowledge them. Confess them to Him. Lay them down before Him and leave them at the foot of Jesus. Walk away and start anew on a clear path.

May the forthcoming year be a time of restoration as you walk on a newly cleared, restored, repaved, and straightened path in your journey with Jesus Christ.

What are some of the encumbrances you encounter in your walk with Christ? What steps can you take, or have you taken in the past, to clear a path to a closer walk with Jesus? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

“Love One Another” (John 13:34-35)

I dedicate this post to the memory of my mother, Rosemarie Lynch, who went to her eternal rest on November 6. Mom overcame many challenges in her life, but still found ways to be a blessing to others.

Photo by Wingchi Poon, under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Jesus told His disciples that the mark of a true disciple would be love for others. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”: not if you have great theology, preach to a lot of people, can quote the Bible in your sleep, listen to gospel music, etc. Love for other people, especially other Christians, proves our love for Jesus. (A sad indictment of many Christians is their eagerness to say “They’re not real Christians” about people they disagree with.)

Romans 12:10 says the following:

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor….”

Genuine Christian love places the needs of others above oneself, particularly above one’s wants and convenience.

Christian love is sacrificial. Jesus said we should love one another as He has loved us. How did He love us? Most notably, by dying for our sins. He gave everything for us. Our need for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life superseded His desire for earthly comfort. We do not show our love just by enjoying the company of others when it is convenient. True Christian love demands that we go out on a limb, care for the needs of those who are hurting, even when it means we may have to forego some of our desires. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, provide clothing to the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners. Are we answering His call with loving action, or do we just pray for these people, hoping God will send someone else to make real sacrifices?

Christian love upholds the dignity of others. Some people obsess about power, control, and authority in relationships. One person is “higher up” than another. Too often, sermons about family focus on a hierarchy: The husband is the head of the wife, the parents are over the children, and so on. The Bible justifies some of this. However, it is an incomplete perspective. Without love, it can be dangerous. Husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands. Love your children; do not embitter them. Give preference to one another. Show compassion.

Love, respect, and dignity should guide our relationships, not control. Such guidelines should govern all of our relationships, whether in the family, the church, or elsewhere.

Christian love is not always easy. Jesus does not call us to love those who are easy to love; almost anybody can do that! We are called to imitate God and His Son, Jesus Christ. This calls us to love others as Jesus loved us: completely, sacrificially, imparting life and hope to others.

I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

God’s Unstoppable Love (Romans 8:35-39)

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo by Wingchi Poon, under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

God’s love is eternal. God’s love is infinite. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Some days may make us doubt that truth. Have you ever gone through a time in your life where you felt like every imaginable crisis was hitting you at once? Perhaps you felt like screaming at God, “What is going on? Do I have a ‘kick me’ sign on my spirit’s butt? Why don’t you just leave me alone?” Job probably said it with a little more class:

“What is man that You magnify him, And that You are concerned about him, That You examine him every morning And try him every moment? Will You never turn Your gaze away from me, Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle? Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?” (Job 7:17-20).

When life seems out of control, God is still with you. Even when He seems most distant, He walks beside you. Many are going through hard times over the last 19 months as the pandemic has continued and social, economic, and political turmoil has raged.

Even when we experience injustice, the just and righteous God loves us and stands beside us. When we endure hatred or bigotry, God loves us because He is the one who made us. When we experience droughts, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, or other natural disasters, God is only a prayer away, ready to bless, heal, strengthen, and restore us.

The forces of hell cannot overpower us. If you are a disciple of Jesus, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). God is greater. The political powers of this world cannot overpower the love of God, no matter what they think, secular society demands, or the media proclaim. We should not live in fear of anything or anybody that stands opposed to the love of God.

Even if we think our sins caused our problems (sometimes that is the case), we should not flee away from God. He still loves and forgives us. It is at these times, when life is difficult, that we most need to cling to God. He will not reject us.

Nothing and nobody can separate us from the love of God. Hold on, believe, and trust Him, and He will bless us through our hard times.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

God’s Everlasting Love (Jeremiah 31:3)

“The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

How would you answer if someone asked, “What is the opposite of love?” You might say “hatred.” Some people will call “anger” the opposite of love.

Anger is not the opposite of love. There is something crueler than that: apathy. Love cares; apathy, by its very definition, does not care and could not care less. Love will inspire deep emotion. When we love somebody and see them destroying themselves, we cannot help but get angry. However, if we do not care, we can simply ignore that person. We might try to ignore the strange person we see wandering down the street, obviously stoned or drunk out of his mind, and hope he does not bother us; however, if he is our son, brother, or someone else we care for, we will not be able to look the other way.

Some people think that the idea of “the wrath of God” contradicts the notion of a loving God. If God is love, how can He get angry? The answer is that, because God is love, He does not ignore sin. He will not mindlessly sit on the sidelines and ignore our antics while we destroy our lives, the lives of other people He loves, or the world He created. He is love. He must care. Because He cares, He has to act, and sometimes it hurts.

The prophet Jeremiah served God during a time of national calamity. The northern kingdom of Israel was already in exile, having been overrun by Assyria around 740-733 BC. About 150 years later, Jeremiah watched as the nation of Judah continued to spiral into idolatry and immorality. The people ignored prophetic warnings of divine judgment even after the Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem. Jeremiah would see the nation’s leaders dragged into exile as Jerusalem and the rest of Judah were destroyed.

Stained glass window of Jeremiah the prophet at Cologne Cathedral, Germany. Photo by Gmihail at Serbian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 RS https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/rs/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

It would be easy to think that God had given up on His people. The land looked God-forsaken. The people seemed abandoned by God. Some were ready to give up on God, thinking He had given up on them.

Even in that time of judgment, God still loved His people. Many of Jeremiah’s prophecies urged the people to remain faithful to God wherever He placed them, because He had not given up on them. We often think of judgment as being eternal damnation, but often what looks like divine judgment is divine discipline. God was preparing His people for repentance, renewal, and restoration:

“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart’” (Jeremiah 29:10-13).

God assured His people that He would bless them again. His discipline was an expression of His love for them. His heart has not changed. He will still work the same way in our lives.

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

It is tempting to feel abandoned by God when life seems unfair or painful. However, He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Sometimes, suffering or sorrow is a form of discipline. Instead of asking, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we should ask the following questions:

  • What can I learn from this?
  • What are You trying to teach me?
  • Have I wandered from Your will?
  • How do I get back into Your will?
  • How can I follow You faithfully during this hard time?

God’s love is eternal. It outlasts hardship. It endures beyond pain and suffering. God remains faithful and continues to love us when we may not be sure we can love ourselves. No matter what you are going through or how far you have wandered from His will, He is still just a prayer away.

I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Love of God | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Sin Beyond God’s Grace

“There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God?” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, quoted in Quotes from Fyodor Dostoyevsky).

“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28-30, NASB).

Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881. Image from Ruthyoel, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, a Facebook friend who lives in an Asian country where Christianity is a minority religion asked me this question: Is there any sin God will not forgive? He was asking this from an evangelistic perspective—he had been sharing the Gospel with somebody who raised this question. However, this question is also important to consider from a personal perspective: Can I commit any sin that God will not forgive? My friend’s acquaintaince or friend gave an example like this: Suppose a man had a car accident and hit a child. Instead of staying around to make certain the child got help, he drove away. As a result, the child died. I believe the legal term for this is “vehicular manslaughter,” but since I am not a lawyer, it might be “vehicular homicide” or murder. Can God forgive such a person?

That is a very different question than “Can the parents of the child forgive the person?” Humans see certain actions and attitudes that we find repugnant. We might call them unforgivable. What we are saying, though, is that we are unable—or perhaps unwilling—to forgive such people. I have addressed this subject in more detail previously.

Scripture is filled with case of people whom Jesus forgave even though others might consider their sins unforgivable:

  • Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians and was even complicit in the execution of some of them (Acts 7:58-8:1; 9:1-3; 22:1-5; 26:9-12). See this article for a thorough discussion of Saul’s persecution of believers. He was violent and, even though he may not have directly murdered anybody, was an accessory to murder. Nevertheless, Jesus forgave him; we know Saul as St. Paul the apostle, who wrote about one-half of the books in the New Testament.
  • Two men were crucified alongside Jesus. Both are described in the Gospels as “robbers,” and the Roman authorities deemed their crime unforgivable. Both mocked Jesus early into their ordeal (Mark 15:32), but eventually one of them had a change of heart. Jesus forgave him (Luke 23:40-42); He promised that criminal, who perhaps a few minutes earlier may have ridiculed Him, that he would be with Him in paradise.
  • Jesus forgave women who committed adultery.
  • He forgave tax collectors, who usually earned their income by extorting extra money from taxpayers.
  • He forgave others who had willfully and knowingly sinned against the revealed will of God.

Have you committed murder? Have you committed robbery? Have you mocked God or Jesus? Have you committed adultery? Have you used a position of influence as an opportunity to take advantage of others? Have you willingly committed any other sin, knowing that what you were doing was wrong? If so, your sins are forgivable.

Do you know others who have committed these sins? Can you think of people who committed these sins against you? If so, Jesus says these sins are forgivable, whether you like it or not.

Scripture tells us that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) and that God wishes that none should perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). His forgiveness is available to all who will repent and turn to Him by faith, no matter how horrible the sin seems to us.

Photo by form PxHere

What if we repent, ask Jesus into our hearts, and then stumble back into that sin? Suppose the guy who killed a child in a car accident does it again? What if the recovered alcoholic slips and goes on a drinking binge after years of sobriety? What if the adulterer or adulteress stumbles into another immoral relationship? God knows your heart. He knows if you are sincerely repentant and have just fallen back into old habits, or if you are just playing church with no change of heart. Repentance is a change of attitude about sin. It comes from a Greek word, metanoia, which means “change of mind.” When we repent, we turn from a life of sin to a life of following (or, at least, trying to follow) God. Sometimes, we make mistakes even after we repent. Some people repeat really bad sins over and over until they finally repent, ask for forgiveness, and receive salvation. God knows our hearts, and He knows if we have sincerely repented, even if we are continuing to mess up at times.

So, if you are sharing the Gospel and someone asks you if God will really forgive a particular sin, the answer is always “yes.” God wishes for none to perish and for all to come to repentance, no matter how horribly they have sinned in the past.

In your own life: Do not fear that you have committed some unpardonable sin that God will never forgive. You should not go looking for clever new ways to sin so that you can test God’s mercy, but if you do sin, return to Jesus in repentance.

Some readers may wonder about the “unpardonable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is why I included Mark 3:28-30 above. Perhaps you wonder if you have committed it. As I mentioned in the previous post about “unforgivable” sins, there is some debate about what this sin entails. However, one thing seems clear from Scripture: If you are worried or concerned about a particular sin, you have not gone too far. The Holy Spirit is still dealing with you. God has not given up on you. You should not give up on yourself, either. If you have committed this unpardonable sin, you would not know or care about it.

No matter how you have sinned, come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness and a second (or third, or twenty-third, or four-hundred-ninetieth) chance. If someone has hurt you, remember: They are not beyond God’s reach, and He may still forgive them. If someone has committed sins that seem horrendous, bring them to Jesus: He is ready and willing to forgive them and to cleanse them from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

No matter what: Come to Jesus, and invite others to come to Him too.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Love of God | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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