Christian Life

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 Instruments (St. Francis of Assisi)

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life” (a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226).

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo courtesy of Pxfuel.com.

Several denominations commemorate St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. He was born to a wealthy family, but soon found that his devotion to Christ put him at odds with his family. On one occasion, he was in church and felt that Jesus was saying to him, “Francis, repair my falling house.” Francis took this literally, sold a bale of silk from his father’s warehouse, and used to proceeds to make repairs to the church building. Maybe Francis should have asked for his father’s permission first. His father was enraged and, after a confrontation, disowned Francis. Francis, in turn, renounced his family’s wealth. Some accounts say that he not only handed any money that he had back to his father, but that he also removed his clothes, gave them to his father, and walked away naked.

He devoted the rest of his life to serving Christ by ministering to the poor. Taking a vow of poverty, he continued to make repairs to the local church building, cared for the sick, and ministered to the poor. Eventually, others joined him in his endeavors. Today, the Franciscan order of monks continues his work, and ministries in other denominations follow in his footsteps as well.

Francis and his brothers/colleagues followed Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 10:7-10:

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support” (Matthew 10:7-10, NASB).

One important lesson we can learn from Francis’ life is to be God’s instruments. Francis’ famous prayer asks God to “make me an instrument of Your peace,” that we might bring His glory and blessings wherever darkness, evil, sorrow, and suffering dominate. He asked to be used by God to bless others, instead of seeking blessings for himself.

  • When we see something wrong, ask what we can do to change it.
  • Instead of seeking blessings, ask God to show us how to be a blessing to others.
  • Seek joy by making others’ lives better instead of seeking personal comfort.

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

Wine or the Spirit: Part 2

Last week’s article shared the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. In a state of desperation and discouragement, she prayed at the temple, but the priest assumed she was drunk. She was so consumed with her desire to receive God’s blessing, she did not seem to care how she appeared to people.

This should be our attitude. Hannah was not the last person of faith to be accused of drunk and disorderly conduct because of her zeal for God. The same accusation was leveled against the apostles on the first Pentecost.

“But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’ But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day…’” (Acts 2:13-15; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Tongues of fire rest upon the apostles on Pentecost; then, things got a little wild. Image  from Science Museum Group, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The disciples were willing to look foolish and drunk as they proclaimed the Gospel. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit came mightily upon them: a mighty rushing wind filled the room; tongues of fire rested upon the disciples, who proceeded to speak in diverse tongues; and Peter preached a bold sermon, after which 3000 people were baptized. However, the audience’s initial response was not a sense of conviction for sin or a desire to repent and be baptized. Their initial response was, “Look at those guys! They’re drunk!”

The earliest Christians were not considered wise by their peers. The Gospel seems like foolishness to the world. We believe a baby was born to a virgin and grew up to save the world by dying to conquer death. Just like His birth, His death defied the laws of science, since He rose from the grave. To many people, it sounds irrational:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

The wisdom of God seems foolish to mankind. However, it is not foolish, irrational, or illogical. It is super-rational and hyper-logical. It is beyond human comprehension. It demands spiritual discernment:

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

It is beyond standard human logic and demands a spiritual approach. Perhaps part of the reason why the church seems so impotent against the cultural chaos surrounding us is that many Christians, pastors, and churches are trying to be relevant: to fit in, to look respectable, trendy, and distinguished.

Photo by John Snyder, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Until we are willing to look foolish for God, we will not display His wisdom. We must return to the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen our individual lives. We must return to the Word of God—not pop culture or pop psychology—to guide our pursuit and proclamation of truth. We must become less concerned about looking distinguished, respectable, and “normal” and return to the radical foolish zeal that guided the earliest Christians.

Many people are willing to surrender control of their life and senses to alcohol—all too often, for a lifetime. Are we willing to look drunk to the world because we have surrendered control of our lives and are allowing the Holy Spirit to control us? Are we prepared to become Holy Ghost addicts? Are we zealous for God to control our lives?

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…” (Ephesians 5:15-20).

May the true wisdom of God override the world’s ideas of wisdom as we are filled with the Spirit and zealous to do His will.

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, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wine or the Spirit: Part 1

“Then Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you’” (1 Samuel 1:14; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo by form PxHere

I attend a church that celebrates communion every Sunday. We include actual wine, not grape juice, which might trouble people from more conservative Christian traditions. After one service, my then-teenaged son joked about ways this could create trouble; for example, what if a young child grabbed the chalice out of the deacon’s hands and drank it all? This led us to a more serious discussion about the parallels and differences between alcohol and the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in an alcoholic home. For most of my youth, my father drank heavily; he became sober while I was in high school, and his life dramatically changed. I saw the impact of alcohol. If you drink a large amount of alcohol, it changes your behavior. If you stick with it, it changes your character. Alcohol becomes an obsession. It takes control of the alcoholic’s passions, desires, and goals. (This is true of many forms of addiction.) In this case, it is not a good thing.

However, when God comes into your life, He also changes you. He changes your behavior and character. Instead of performing the deeds of the flesh, we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:19-23).

As this fruit grows, God can become an obsession that takes control of our passions, desires, and goals. Alcoholism is destructive, but the abundant life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are productive and life-giving.

However, such a passion for the Lord can look foolish to non-believers. Scripture tells several stories of people of faith whose zeal for God made them appear silly and drunk to observers.

First Samuel 1 introduces us to a woman named Hannah. In ancient Israel, polygamy was an accepted practice, and Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. The other wife had borne him several children, but Hannah was childless. Such barrenness was embarrassing in those days, and the other wife abused her about it. Driven to desperation, Hannah prayed at the doorpost of the temple. In her shame and agony, she did not speak out loud but just moved her lips as she expressed her burden to the Lord.

The priest, Eli, saw her quivering lips, assumed she was drunk, and scolded her. When she explained herself, he relented and pronounced a blessing: “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:17). God did answer her prayer; she bore a son, named him Samuel, and dedicated him to the Lord’s service. As a child, he ministered at the temple in Shiloh (a prominent place of worship before the temple was built in Jerusalem) and became one of Israel’s greatest prophets, bridging the gap between the rule of the judges and the reigns of Israel’s kings. He is considered the last judge, and he coronated the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.

Samuel’s birth came about because his mother was desperate enough to seek God’s blessing even if it made her look like a drunken fool to a leader of God’s people. Once a failure who looked like a fool, she became a role model for mothers everywhere.

I will share more about this subject from the New Testament next week. Stay tuned….

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, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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