Christian Life

Act, Speak, and Pray

“I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy” (Diary of St. Mary Faustina Kowalska).

I recently read these sentences in a daily email devotional. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic, whose diary contains dialogs between the spirit of Jesus Christ and her spirit. The above words are a statement she felt Jesus spoke to her heart. Most of the discourses are about Jesus’ mercy for souls and His call for Sister Faustina to pray for the conversion of sinners. Mercy is the central theme of their conversations.

Perhaps one can substitute other aspects of God’s love here. Where He says “mercy,” you can usually think of God’s love or grace. Here, the Lord calls us to show His mercy and love in three ways: deed, word, and prayer.

Does it seem as though most Christians get this backward? St. Faustina was a woman of prayer, and intercession for souls was her primary calling and ministry. Nevertheless, Jesus says prayer is the third means of showing mercy.

How many of us, though, would put that first? How many would put deeds last? When we encounter someone who is facing trials and hardships, our first instinct is to pray. We are happy to pray for a person who has lost everything he owns or is going through a divorce. We will gladly pray for any person whose life is falling apart.

“Clothing the Naked,” a stained-glass window in St. Mary’s Church, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, UK inspired by Matthew 25:34-36. Photo by Steve Day via Flickr. Published under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

We may also be willing to show God’s love in words. We will tell the addict that God loves him. We will share the gospel with anybody who has wrecked their lives through sin. We love to share our testimony about how God has provided when we hit rock bottom or how He delivered us from addiction.

Deeds, though, do not come easily. Deeds demand action. Action requires effort. It often involves sacrifice. When a friend has lost all of his possessions, are we willing to sacrifice some of our money or help him buy the basic necessities of life? If a friend is going through a divorce, are we willing to help him or her through the crisis? Are we willing to sit and listen while they talk about their problems—without offering advice or quoting Scripture? Just listen? Just care? Maybe offer to babysit their children so that they can run some errands or just go to a movie?

God’s Word calls us to action:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;’ yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18; all Scripture quotations from the World English Bible).

It is easy to say, “I hope God meets your needs.” We can easily assume we have served God when we see such a person and ask God to meet his needs. However, could it be that God sent this needy person to you in answer to someone else’s prayer? Maybe God does not want you to pray; maybe He wants you to be the answer to another person’s prayer.

This thought hits me whenever I read the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, Jesus tells us how He will separate the righteous (sheep) from the unrighteous (goats) when He returns. The sheep will be blessed because they fed Jesus, gave Him something to drink, clothed Him, visited Him in prison or when sick, etc. “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'” (Matthew 25:40).

A sculpture of “homeless Jesus” (his feet are nail-pierced) sleeping on a park bench outside St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, UK. © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The goats, on the other hand, did not feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned. Jesus counted this against them. I often wonder: did the goats pray for these people? Jesus does not welcome the sheep into His joy because they prayed, but because they acted. Jesus condemns the goats because they did not act, even if they prayed.

Of course, I am not saying we should not pray. When we pray, we call God’s power into a person’s situation. However, our prayers should be one part of our faith, one element of our walk with Jesus. Our prayers should motivate our action, not replace it.

Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I had several conversations with a retired Baptist minister. In one of our conversations, he offered this word of wisdom: “I refuse to pray any prayer unless I am willing to be the answer to that prayer.”

Do not use prayer as an excuse. Do not use it as a substitute for loving and serving others. When you pray for others, remember to ask, “God, is there anything you want me to do in this situation?”

Act, speak, and pray. This is how we show the love of God to others.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

2020: A Year of Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB).

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision” (Helen Keller).

A few years ago, several people I knew posted “a word for the year” on Facebook. I doubt there was anything significant to most of the words. I think some of them used a Facebook app that randomly assigned a word and explanation to people’s pages. A few of my friends tried it several times, getting multiple results.

Other people actually thought of their own word for the year. They chose a word that summarized what they wanted to pursue in the coming 12 months or a trait or ideal they wanted to guide their decisions. It bore personal meaning for them. Some of those people were still talking about that word several weeks and months later.

“2020” just begs us to call it “A Year of Vision.” In optometry, 20/20 is the standard for normal healthy vision. It means that objects 20 feet away from you appear as clearly to you as they should. 20/50 vision means such objects look about as clear as something that is 50 feet away. Just for the record, my eyesight in my left eye is worse than 20/50, and my right eye is much weaker. My optometrist is very surprised that I can function as an editor with such bad eyesight, even when wearing glasses.

Of course, I am not talking about eyesight when I speak of a Year of Vision. I am speaking more metaphorically about other things we might associate with vision: foresight; passion; direction. A person with vision is someone who sees where he wants to go in life and has a desire and plan to get there.

I have often joked about New Year’s resolutions. I usually tell people that my New Year’s resolution is to make no New Year’s resolutions, so I can succeed and fail at the same time. The average New Year’s resolution lasts about 17 days. So, if you are serious about working out at the gym, wait until January 18. By then, most of the people who resolved to work out will have quit, and you can get on the treadmill or exercise bike without delay.

All joking aside, New Year’s resolutions are not all bad. There is never any harm in trying to make a commitment to make better choices, overcome bad habits, or develop healthy habits. However, perhaps you want something more. Maybe, as you are reading this and beginning a new year, you sense that God is calling you to something greater than the usual New Year’s resolutions in 2020. Perhaps He is calling you to bring your hopes, dreams, and visions to Him, align them with His vision for your life, and allow His wisdom to guide you in 2020 and beyond.

Vision provides guidance. It sets you on a path and points you toward a destination. It provides the inspiration and goal which can define any resolutions you choose to make.

King Solomon. Painting by Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Frequently, “vision” in the Old Testament refers to prophetic visions or dreams. The English Standard Version (the translation I usually quote) emphasizes this sense in Proverbs 29:18. Throughout the Old Testament, men of God received divine guidance through trances or dreams. A good example of this is King Solomon. In 1 Kings 3:5-14, the young king had established his throne and went to Gibeon, at that time one of the most prominent places to worship the Lord. During his visit, God visited him in a dream and made a bold offer with no apparent strings attached: “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon’s response showed remarkable maturity. He already had a sense of vision in his life. He knew his purpose. His prayer was driven by that purpose:

“And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?’” (1 Kings 3:6-9, ESV).

Solomon’s mission and vision was to effectively govern God’s great people. That guided his prayer. As God observed, Solomon could have been inclined to pray for riches, long life, honor, or the death of his enemies. However, Solomon wanted to be a successful king. For that, he needed wisdom, and God gave it.

The prayer for wisdom is one that God always wants to answer:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).

Solomon had his own personal sense of vision, one which was consistent with God’s will. God then spoke to him in a dream. God also speaks to us in His Word, the Bible. He always offers wisdom to His people. Are we willing to accept His wisdom to guide us in our pursuit of the goals and dreams He has instilled in our hearts?

As we being 2020, the Year of Vision, consider these questions:

  • What is God calling you to do in the coming year?
  • Is He calling you to do something differently?
  • What desires has He placed on your heart?

You may feel a certain compulsion or desire to pursue a dream or calling. Could it be from God? Can it be devoted to His service?

As you consider these thoughts, you should be able to recognize the vision God has for your life.

Having recognized the vision, seek God’s wisdom. Twelve Step programs offer some necessary insight into prayer. Step 11 states that the recovering addict “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Pray daily for God’s wisdom regarding that vision. Ask Him to reveal His will to you day by day and to give you the power to carry it out. That power includes the courage to do what is right and to persevere when it would be easy to quit.

A New Year is ahead of us. As 2019 ends, I feel some relief and satisfaction in some significant accomplishments. Yet, I do not want to merely coast through the coming year. There is still room to grow. I have dreams and goals to pursue. Perhaps you do too. Let us each commit to making 2020 a year of vision that will allow us to pursue greater goals and dreams in the years to come.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Sunday of Advent: One Year, One Thing

“If every year we would root out one vice, we would soon become perfect men. But now oftentimes we perceive it goes contrary, and that we were better and purer at the beginning of our entrance into the religious life than after many years of our profession” (Thomas a’ Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chap. 11).

By Liesel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year!

No, I am not confused about the date or accidentally posting an article one month early. Today is the First Sunday of Advent, which begins a new year on the church calendar. Over the next few weeks, churches that follow a liturgical calendar will have Scripture readings and songs looking to the coming of Christ, which we will celebrate on Christmas. At the same time, we are reminded that He has already come and He is coming again. We should also remember that He is still with us (Matthew 28:18-20).

Many Americans will wait until January 1 to make New Year’s Resolutions. If the secular world can recommend New Year’s Resolutions, to be announced in a drunken stupor shortly after midnight on January 1, perhaps Christians can make spiritual resolutions on the First Sunday of Advent.

In a recent post, I listed Of the Imitation of Christ as one book that all Christians should read. Brother Thomas’ quote above, found early in the book, really spoke to me. There are areas of my life where, to be honest, I am not as holy or righteous as I was a few years ago. In some areas, my life looked more Christlike before I became a Christian.

I know I am not alone. I know people who admit that they have developed bad habits after becoming disciples of Jesus. Perhaps they overcame a drug or alcohol addiction and got hooked on pornography. Maybe they stopped cursing and became self-righteous, judgmental gossips. If this sounds like you (maybe your sins are different from mine), let’s take a stand together in the coming church year.

Take a look at that quote. Imagine if you could overcome one sinful habit per year. Maybe you have five or six sins that you keep falling back into. Can you imagine overcoming those five or six sins within five or six years?

So, here’s the challenge I am placing before anybody who desires to draw closer to Jesus:

  • Pick one sin that you struggle with. Ideally, it will be the one that causes you the most difficulty. Maybe there is an addiction that is destroying your health and family. Maybe you have a bad temper that has gotten you into trouble. Write that sin down.
  • Bring that sin before Jesus in prayer. Thank Him that He has already forgiven you. Confess that it is sin. Ask Him to give you victory by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of those fruit is the most direct antidote for your sin? Pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest and grow that fruit in your life.
  • Believe and expect God to do this! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit already dwells within you. The fruit of the Spirit is already available to you. If you are not living in victory, it is because you have neglected some fruit that is available to you. Claim it!
  • If there are resources available for addressing your sin, use them. You may want to follow the Twelve Steps, originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous but adapted by numerous other organizations to address other life-controlling problems. A copy of the Life Recovery Bible, available from https://www.tyndale.com/p/nlt-life-recovery-bible-second-edition/9781496425751, will help you work the steps over your struggle.
  • As part of the Twelve Steps, you will be challenged to conduct a personal moral inventory. Do not be afraid: It can be intimidating to dig up all that dirt, but it will bring freedom. Recovering addicts will often say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Share your findings with someone you can trust: a priest (if your church has sacramental confession), sponsor (if you are in a Twelve-Step Program), or a close friend or mentor whom you can trust to keep your confession private. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23-24, English Standard Version).

Throughout the coming year, we will come back to this challenge from time to time. I may mention it within other posts, or I may devote special posts to it. This may be in conjunction with other special days on the church calendar (I will follow the calendar of my denomination, the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church).

May we all find victory in the coming year. Let’s find that one sin that holds us back and cast it aside as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Imagine if we can find victory over one sin per year, without taking on a new one. Where will we be in our walk with Christ one year, five years, or ten years from now?

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

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

Five Books Every Christian Should Read (Besides the Bible)

After almost 20 years in our current residence, my wife and I are preparing to move. We have already filled a lot of boxes (I have lost count) with some of our belongings. Quite a few of those boxes are filled with books (again, I have lost count). We are only a fraction of the way through our books. We realized we have books in almost every room of our apartment.

A few books from my collection.

We love books. When we first met, we hit it off over the fact that we are both fans of C. S. Lewis. I think my wife and I both love reading almost as much as I enjoy writing (maybe more so). Books have played a major role in my life and great Christian authors have shaped my faith significantly.

With that in mind, I would like to offer the following list of five books, besides the Bible, that have influenced my relationship with Christ. I would encourage all Christians to read them at some point:

  • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis—Lewis is one of my favorite authors. Early in my relationship with Christ, several people encouraged me to read this book. Lewis provides a simple, concise, intelligent defense and explanation of the essentials of the Christian faith. For someone who prides himself on being an intellectual and independent thinker, it was refreshing to read a book that shows that you do not have to lock your brain in a corner when you become a Christian. You can be a thinking Christian and a sincere believer.
    • Honorable mention: Another of my favorite books is The Screwtape Letters, which imagines a series of letters where a senior demon tries to mentor his protege. A few other great Lewis books include The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia children’s books. Lewis wrote in numerous genres, so you are likely to find something by him that suits your style.
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence—I found this little book among my father’s belongings after he passed away. I still have his copy. Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth-century monk who concluded that a committed Christian life primarily involved a continual acknowledgment of God’s presence at all times. Whatever you do, wherever you are: Keep your mind on the Lord, remember He is always with you, and rejoice in His love for you. It is a very brief book; each of its chapters (my copy contains 26: four conversations, 16 letters, and six brief “spiritual maxims”) can be read in less than five minutes. A book like this is best read by reading one chapter at a time and then allowing yourself time to reflect on its message throughout the day.
  • Of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a’ Kempis—Another monastic spiritual classic. Kempis was a fifteen century monk with a view of the Christian life that complements Brother Lawrence’s. As the title suggests, Kempis urges his readers to imitate Christ. Is book is somewhat longer than Lawrence’s, but the chapters are likewise very brief, allowing the reader to devote time to reflection and meditation on their truths throughout the day. It is actually four books, with a total of 114 chapters: “Admonitions Useful for Spiritual Life,” “Admonitions Pertaining to Inward Things,” “Internal Consolation,” and “A Devout Exhortation to the Holy Communion.” While both Brother Lawrence and Thomas a’Kempis write from the perspective of men cloistered in ancient monasteries, their writings will provide insight and encouragement for those of us living twenty-first century lives.
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—“When Christ calls a man, He bids him ‘come and die.’” Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, and seminary professor whose ministry coincided with the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Cost of Discipleship is probably his most easy-to-read book, most of it being a devotional commentary about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Living at a time when it was impossible to be a committed Christian and a loyal supporter of one’s government, Bonhoeffer could relay some of the conflict between Jesus’ teachings and the mindset of the world. He would eventually be executed for his involvement with “Valkyrie,” an attempt to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime.
    • Honorable mention: Bonhoeffer wrote prolifically during his brief life. I have not read his Letters and Papers from Prison but understand that this book is quite popular. Life Together examines Christian fellowship and the church from the perspective of his seminary, which was forced to live and study “underground” after it was outlawed by the Nazis.
    • I strongly recommend the biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. It examines Bonhoeffer’s writings and thoughts in the context of German history at that time. One would be wise to read it to see the conflict a Christian may face as his nation gravitates toward tyranny. I believe there are lessons there that modern American Christians need to learn quickly.
  • Anything by Andrew Murray—I have read many of Andrew Murray’s books; all of them have blessed, inspired, and challenged me; and I really cannot pick a favorite. I have quoted him several times on this blog, most recently when The True Vine inspired parts of my recent series on “Abiding in the Vine.” Some of this nineteenth-century South African pastor’s other works include Abide in Christ, The Deeper Christian Life, The Master’s Indwelling, The Ministry of Intercession, The Spirit of Christ, and The Power of the Blood. All of Murray’s writings are full of wisdom and zeal for the power of the Holy Spirit to be seen in the lives of Christians. Most of his writings address the subjects of prayer and the Spirit-filled Christian life. His books are generally brief, written to an audience of ordinary churchgoers. They are not overly complicated or hard to read, but they are spiritually deep. Read thoughtfully and be challenged to go deeper with Christ.

These are just a few of the books that hold a permanent place on my bookshelf. I would love to hear some of your favorite picks. What would you count as “books every Christian should read”? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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

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

Abiding in the Vine: II. Staying Connected to Christ and His People

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned”
(John 15:3–6; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless indicated otherwise).

Image courtesy of Max Pixel.

Part I of this series introduced four key lessons of Jesus’ teaching about the vine and branches. In the words of Andrew Murray, they are the lessons of entire consecration, perfect conformity, absolute dependence, and undoubting confidence.

All of these lessons flow from the fact that the branch abides as part of the vine. The branch draws its life from the vine. If you remove a branch from a vine or tree, it will die. If you remove an organ or limb from the human body, it will die.

Jesus tells us that we are His branches. He is the vine. If you are separated from Jesus, you do not have spiritual life within you. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Vines and trees have numerous branches, all of which play a role in the life of the plant. One branch does not make up the entire vine. It needs the vine, and it needs the other branches. Christians need to be connected with the vine, which will create a living connection with other branches:

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

To partake of the life of Christ, we must remain connected to Him, and that requires a connection to His people, the Church. An important starting point for a Christian to abide in the vine is to abide with other believers. One of Satan’s most effective ways to remove Christians from a living connection with Jesus is to persuade them to disconnect from the Body of Christ. The life of Christ flows through the Church. We need one another.

We will not grow if we choose to remove ourselves from the rest of the vine. Humans are social beings who need relationship. One of God’s first observations about the first man, Adam, was that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Marriage grew out of the very social nature that God crafted within us. Our need for relationship was mentioned immediately after God addressed man’s need for food.

We are not the only beings on Earth with a social need. Many animal species rely on a social network to survive. In fact, the need to connect may spread beyond the animal kingdom. A recent, controversial theory proposes that even trees might socialize with each other. Not only does a tree rely on its branches, and the branches rely on the rest of the tree. Trees may, in a way similar to human families and animal groups, rely on each other.

How much more do we need one another to survive spiritually. Our gifts, joys, trials, victories, defeats, and other life experiences, shared among people who are seeking to follow Christ, knit us together like the branches of a vine or the trees of an orchard. We grow together.

Our connection with other Christians is one of the most important ways to strengthen our connection with Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Source of Life, and we need to remain connected to our brethren and to Him if we seek to have life abundantly (John 10:10).

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

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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