Bible meditations

 
 

Rooting Out Pride and Cultivating Humility

To follow up on my recent post about pride and humility, I would like to offer a few biblical suggestions for rooting out pride and cultivating humility. This is not an exhaustive list. The Bible has a lot to say about pride: the word appears about 50 times, depending on which version you are reading. This does not count synonyms (“haughtiness,” “arrogance”) or related vices like self-righteousness or hypocrisy. I guess I should study all of those verses; I had to look up how many times the word appears, so I have a lot to learn!

Prayer: James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated). Prayer prevents pride in two ways. First, it forces us to acknowledge that we need God’s help. Many of my prayers involve situations that are completely out of my control. I cannot control other people’s actions; sometimes I can barely control my own! When I pray for a situation that is beyond my control and the situation turns out okay, I am reminded that Someone greater than me is in control.

Second, when done properly, prayer forces us to face our motives. The Book of Common Prayer contains four daily sessions of prayer known as the “Daily Office.” Three of those include confession of sin near the beginning. Whether you follow a structured form of prayer like the Daily Office or a more freestyle approach, make certain to set aside time at the very beginning for confession of your sins.

Confession sets the tone for our prayers. As we pray, we have to look at ourselves honestly. Where have I fallen short? Where do I continue to fall short? What are the odds that I am going to give in to my weaknesses before I get to the Old Testament reading for this evening? That can set the tone for a related spiritual discipline.

Scripture reading: If I have been forced to focus on my motives during prayer, I am ready to ask myself the hard questions while reading the Bible. What can I learn from this? What is this saying to me? How am I like the person who sinned in this passage? How am I not like Jesus? How am I failing to live by what He said? How can I be more like Jesus, or at least a little bit more like some of the other heroes of the Bible?

If you read a particular passage of Scripture and cannot find a way that you are falling short, thank God for His grace. He is working on you. If you read a passage and can find excuses why you do not have to follow it, admit it for what it is: pride.

Fellowship: Few things will tear down our pride like other people. Fellowship with other believers is a key part of overcoming pride. Other people will annoy you. They will reveal where you lack patience. They will expose your weak spots. Sometimes, this is unintentional; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and they will grind your gears in the process. Sometimes, it is intentional and mean-spirited. Jesus calls us to forgive. This will take humility. Sometimes, it is intentional, but with the best of intentions. When somebody lovingly points out your shortcomings or misguided motives, it is an opportunity to learn, repent, and grow.

Over the years, I have known numerous church-hoppers. They do not remain members of a particular church for a long time, but will move on to a new congregation when they feel like “I am not being fed here anymore.” I have also known several people who stopped going to church, even though they say they are still disciples of Jesus. In both cases, they usually leave when a person or teaching attacks their pride. Rather than learn humility, they run. Don’t run; God is working on you. He is just using people to do it.

Shut up and listen: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). You can always learn something. Do not try to show off that you are your Bible study group’s resident theologian or should be the next pastor. Take some time to listen. Understand why people believe what they believe. See if they have some insight that you need. You will probably learn something and grow closer to the Lord as a result.

Finally, measure yourself against God’s standard: Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God, who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ, is our standard. I have sinned because I have not lived up to God’s standard. Whether I am better or worse than another person is not the issue. Even though I have not killed as many people as Hitler did, I still need God’s forgiveness. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). You still have room to grow, and that is okay. It is part of being human. God becomes our standard, so we have eternity to learn and grow.

Somebody has said that humility is an elusive quality: As soon as you think you have it, you lose it. However, rooting out pride and cultivating humility is not a one-time event. You cannot schedule it on Google Calendar and seriously hope to complete the task by January 1. It is a crucial part of our lifetime journey of walking with Jesus and growing in grace.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Killer Pride

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble…. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you’” (James 4:1–6, 10; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Is there a sin that is worse than all others? Many Christians think homosexuality or abortion is the worst sin of all. Many will say that premarital sex, smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs are really serious. In most cases, when a person defines certain sins as being worse than others, they will choose one that does not tempt them.

Perhaps one of the worst sins is one that almost all of us have, but few confess. We do not notice it in ourselves, but we recoil when we see it in others. That sin is pride. Say the words “gay pride,” and many Christians will point out how they have combined two things that the Bible calls “abominations” (Leviticus 18:22; Proverbs 6:16–17; 16:15). What about pride in my nationality, abilities, accomplishments? Pride in my family?

Perhaps this is the danger in pride. If we see it in ourselves, we usually think of it as a good thing. I am proud of my grandchildren; isn’t that a good thing? I take pride in my work. I can be proud of my country or proud of my heritage. Here is where the danger lurks. Pride is so prevalent and can become so deceitful that we do not recognize when it has gone too far. Pride in one’s country has led to numerous wars. Pride in one’s family may blind us to their shortcomings or tempt us to justify them when they make mistakes.

Humility is one of the most essential Christian virtues, since it preserves us from the dangers of pride. James tells us to humble ourselves before the Lord. God is the source, reason, and focus of our humility.

Pride and faith simply do not mix. A proud man will not seek God’s help. Pride will tempt a person to try to solve problems on his own before seeking God’s help and wisdom. The proud man will seek God’s help only as a last resort. Pride rejects God’s help. Pride will even deny that we need help from God or anybody else. (After all, what do they know? They’re not as smart as me, are they?)

The proud look is counted as an abomination in Proverbs 6:16–17. Sure, we will keep the homosexual from a place of leadership in our churches. However, if a proud man comes in, boasting of his achievements and abilities, we will probably put him in charge of the Sunday school department; we might make him the new pastor or church board chairman; or, we might give him a thriving television ministry.

The Father and Mother by Boardman Robinson (1876-1952). Anti-war cartoon depicting Greed and Pride as the father and mother of War. First published circa 1915. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Pride is not dangerous merely because it is the absence of humility. Pride is dangerous because it leads to other sins. As James writes, pride leads to greed: I think I deserve something more than you do. This may lead me to go out of my way to fulfill my selfish desires. Suddenly, pleasure-seeking leads to the sin of covetousness, which leads to fighting, quarreling, and eventually murder. Many of humanity’s bloodiest wars were fought over nations’ craving for more land and resources. World War II began when Germany invaded Poland seeking Lebensraum (area to live). Ethnic pride led Hitler and others to believe that they deserved that land more than the people who were already there; tragedy followed.

Pride may also tempt us to seek friendship with the world, thereby creating enmity with God. We might think we deserve to be liked more than other people are, so we seek their approval. We try to convince others to like and admire us. We can become so convinced that we deserve people’s respect and approval that we might compromise our convictions to fit in. We think we deserve the things of the world and the admiration of others, so pride leads us to avoid God as the source of all that matters.

Do not be fooled. Pride is deadly. It will destroy your relationships. It will lead you away from God. It will kill your soul. Seek to cultivate humility instead.

“The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Foolish Wisdom

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9–16; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Reading Jester.” Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons.

The world thinks Christians are fools. We see that more and more in the media. As I am writing this article, the city where I grew up is hosting a “Pride Festival” as part of a month that many institutions have devoted to celebration of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/etc. lifestyles. Those of us who believe the Bible, and think this is sin, are depicted as haters or ignorant, backwards, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals clinging to old-fashioned misguided morals. According to the world, we are the fools.

This is nothing new. The earliest Christians were considered fools. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 2:9–16 in a segment where he frequently contrasted wisdom and foolishness. The powers of the world thought they were wise and strong and that the Christians were foolish and weak. Yet, Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Paul mentions that the natural man—someone who is not a Christian and therefore lacks the Holy Spirit within—cannot accept the things of God. Yet, many of us spend much of our time arguing moral and social issues with people who cannot understand spiritual truth. We try to explain why homosexuality is a sin to people who cannot understand that marriage is a divine institution mirroring Christ’s relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:32). (I know some Christians who are vocally anti-homosexuality but are not following God’s will regarding sex and marriage in their own lives.) We try to speak out against abortion to a society that cannot recognize the preborn baby as a distinct human life; a growing number of people question the value of any human lives. The natural man simply cannot understand spiritual truth and godly morality. It is like trying to explain quantum physics to a kindergarten student.

This is why Jesus sent us to preach His Gospel and make disciples instead of winning political and social debates (Matthew 28:18–20). People do not go to heaven by not being gay, not having an abortion, not taking drugs, not voting Democrat, etc. It is only through Christ that we receive eternal life. Let us introduce people to Christ, trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives, and pray that they receive forgiveness and salvation by faith in Him. Then, we can begin to see God open their spiritual eyes and give them His wisdom and insight.

Also, Christians need to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our own minds. We need a worldview that is very opposite to that of our unsaved neighbors. Far too many Christians merely baptize secular and worldly values in misinterpreted biblical-sounding jargon and end up looking no different than the world. We justify greed and materialism and get the prosperity gospel. We try to sanctify humanistic pride into the positive thinking theology endorsed by many megachurches and televangelists. Many find the ways that their favorite political party may actually be close to Scripture on some issues, and then we twist Scripture to justify their errors elsewhere, thereby exalting politicians above God Himself. Are we different from the world, or have we found ways to blend in while preserving some of the external features of Christianity? (See here for some other articles about renewal of the mind.)

Paul ends the passage above by saying that “we have the mind of Christ.” As you read the entire book of 1 Corinthians, you will notice that his audience was not a crowd of super-spiritual Christians. In fact, they were usually acting like natural men instead of spiritual people. Much of 1 Corinthians contrasts natural vs. spiritual as well as wisdom vs. folly. Yet, no matter how carnal, worldly, and natural they were acting, Paul says that “WE have the mind of Christ.” Not only Paul, but his carnal Corinthian audience, had the mind of Christ. The Corinthians just did not realize it. They were not using it.

Perhaps modern American Christianity is no better. We have the mind of Christ, but we keep using the mind of the world. We have the Holy Spirit, but we rely on the wisdom and power of the mass media and pop psychology instead of the Spirit, Word, and Power of God Almighty.

Since we have the Spirit and mind of Christ, let us think like Jesus thinks. What would He fill His mind with? What would He read or watch on television? How would He think about a situation? Study His Word to find out.

Let us worship like Jesus worships. See how He worshiped His Father while He was on Earth, and do likewise.

Let us love others as Jesus loves. See how He responded to those who were in bondage to sin. See how He had mercy on those who did not deserve mercy.

Let us forgive as He has forgiven us. I find it really easy to judge those who struggle with sinful habits and addictions until I remember the many sins He has forgiven in my life.

We can embrace the wisdom of God’s Word or the wisdom of the world that has turned its back on God. One form of wisdom will seem like foolishness to the other. Which is really the wiser choice?

“When the crowns of gold all lay before His feet
Then the worthy Lamb of God is the treasure we will keep
Some may call me foolish—some may call me odd
But I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of men
Than a fool in the eyes of God.” (Petra, “Fool’s Gold,” from the album Back to the Street. Watch a video for this song on YouTube.)

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

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

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