Renewing the Mind Reflections

 
 

Spiritual Warfare II: Destroying Strongholds with the Sword of the Spirit

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

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“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Since we are dealing with a spiritual enemy, our weapons are spiritual. In Ephesians 6, Paul refers to the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” He then urges us to pray. Scripture and prayer are our two primary weapons. The sword of the Spirit is particularly useful for destroying strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Many Christians assume that “strongholds” are sins or temptations that are particularly troublesome to a particular individual. They mistakenly believe that it is something that has a “strong hold” on a person, thereby being something that forces them into bondage. However, this is not what Paul is saying.

A “stronghold” (ὀχύρωμα in Greek) is a fortress or place of refuge. This word appears only once in the New Testament but appears elsewhere in ancient literature. While most ancient authors used it to refer to a fortress, some used it to describe a prison (in which case, Paul is engaging in a play on words when he proposes that we destroy strongholds so that we can take every thought captive). A word study on Biblehub.com observes that, in this verse, the word:

… is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks “shelter” (“a safe place”) to escape reality…. In its use here there may lie a reminiscence of the rock-forts on the coast of Paul’s native Cilicia, which were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. Pompey inflicted a crushing defeat upon their navy off the rocky stronghold of Coracesium on the confines of Cilicia and Pisidia.

People seek refuge in all sorts of lies to justify sin or rebellion against God. It was true in Paul’s day; it remains true in ours. Much of what Paul wrote was in response to lies people chose to believe. First and Second Corinthians contain extended illustrations confronting false ideas and values regarding sexuality, the role of the ministry, suffering, family relationships, giving, etc. People would hide behind excuses to live a life that was not consistent with the will of God. Today, we continue to do so. We find clever excuses, including arguments and lofty opinions, for our sins (often secular worldviews baptized into biblical-sounding jargon). We may justify sexual sin because a pop-psychologist offered an excuse, or because we view ourselves as mere animals, the product of random evolution in a godless universe. We may justify greed or financial dishonesty because it seems like good business sense. The Christian must demolish these strongholds. They are castles built of lies, and they must come down. The strongholds of rebellion must come down so that we can bring every thought and action into obedience to Christ.

The battle must begin in our own minds. We must bring our own thoughts captive to obedience to Christ before we can expect to tear down strongholds in anybody else’s mind. As we study the Bible, we must confront our own thinking, recognize where we are not in obedience to God, and submit our thinking to His. If Scripture reveals sin in our lives, we must tear down the strongholds we have accepted and confess, “You are correct, Lord, and I am wrong. Forgive me and strengthen me to do Your will.”

Christians also have an obligation to tear down strongholds in the lives of other believers:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Many people (including some Christians) think we should never suggest that another person is doing something wrong. They claim that is “judgmental.” This is, in fact, just another demonic stronghold. When Jesus told us not to judge others, He was not telling us we can never correct those who are in sin or claim that certain acts are sinful. The modern secular abuse of Matthew 7:1 is purely a demonic stronghold. The church must repent and tear down that stronghold if we expect to advance the kingdom of God. That is especially true in our dealings with other Christians.

Our weapon and enemy remain the same when tearing down the strongholds of non-Christians, but the strategy may be a little different. Church discipline or reproof of believers is very different from evangelism. In evangelism, our goal is to invite a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clean them up. We focus less on specific areas of sin and more on the fact that everybody needs a Savior. We point to Jesus. We wield the sword of the Spirit to bring a person to a proper understanding of who He is and what He has done for our salvation. However, we must still be ready to attack strongholds. Nonbelievers may hide in strongholds that keep a person from following Christ: “I am a good person. I do not need a Savior. I can go to heaven by doing good things, or at least by not doing anything that is too bad.” Or “Everybody will go to heaven anyway.”

The committed Christian must be a good student of the Bible. He must be diligent to attack the strongholds that have been built in his own heart and mind, and then fearless yet gracious in attacking those in other people’s lives. The enemy of God and of our souls is building strongholds to destroy millions. It is our job to tear them down so that we may build a holy edifice on a firm foundation:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Merely Human?—1 Corinthians 3:1–4

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4).

In my last two posts (here and here), I discussed the need for Christians to grow up and become mature in our thinking and living. When we are born again, we become “babes in Christ,” but we should eventually grow up. Unfortunately, many Christians remain in a “condition of protracted infancy” (to use the words of nineteenth century pastor Andrew Murray).

The divisiveness we see in the body of Christ is a dangerous symptom of this rampant spiritual immaturity. According to St. Paul, it shows that we are not aware of our identity as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We act like ordinary people. We forget that we are children of God. Instead, we act like we are “merely human.”

What is your spiritual identity? Are you a child of God, made in His image and filled with the Holy Spirit? Or, are you merely human, trying to follow a set of religious teachings in your own strength?

Andrew_Murray

Andrew Murray

Too often, we justify our sins and shortcomings by saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m only human.” God calls His children to something greater. We are called to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9); in other words, we should look like our heavenly Father, especially in our actions. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore can (and should) bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). We have been adopted as fellow heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17; see here for more on this subject). Despite the clear teaching of the New Testament, many Christians think of ourselves as “only human” and do not experience the full power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. As Andrew Murray says in “Spiritual or Carnal”:

There are thus three states in which a man may be found. The unregenerate is still the natural man, not having the Spirit of God. The regenerate, who is still a babe in Christ, whether because he is only lately converted, or because he has stood still and not advanced, is the carnal man, giving way to the power of the flesh. The believer in whom the Spirit has obtained full supremacy, is the spiritual man.…

All that is carnal and sinful, all the works of the flesh, must be given up and cast out. But no less must all that is carnal, however religious it appears, all confidence in the flesh, all self-effort and self-struggling be rooted out. The soul, with its power, must be brought into the captivity and subjection of Jesus Christ. In deep and daily dependence on God must the Holy Spirit be accepted, waited for, and followed.

This is not a call to perfectionism. We all have our good and bad days. These three groups are a helpful guide, but many of us waver between being carnal and spiritual. We also may be stronger in some areas of our lives than others. I have been commended by some for showing a lot of patience in some circumstances and with some people, only to show that I really lack that fruit when dealing with other circumstances and people.

However, we should stop accepting a lower standard for ourselves than God offers. Are we merely human, or are we filled with the Holy Spirit? If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, are we willing to allow Him to work in our lives, or will we continue to use our humanity as an excuse to live in defeat or worldliness.

We often think a carnal or worldly Christian is one who fails to follow a few rules. We may think carnal or weak Christians are the ones who drink alcohol, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, and listen to rock music. However, Scripture points out some other marks of a carnal Christian.

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”? (James 4:1–5)

According to James, the brother of Jesus, the marks of a worldly carnal Christian are quarrels, fighting, covetousness, selfishness, etc. Other sins grow out of those. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul lists jealousy, strife, and divisions as a few marks of spiritual immaturity. We often overlook those. Many Christians seem to think these sins are moral or spiritual virtues (“he has strong convictions and he’s passionate about the truth!”).

Throughout First Corinthians, Paul addresses a lot of problems that grew out of this carnal state. A major one was arguing over favorite preachers. The church was being divided by people who bragged that they followed Paul, Apollos (a particularly eloquent teacher), Cephas (Simon Peter), or some other leader. There was even a faction that said, “I follow Christ.” While that sounds most noble, they do not seem to get Paul’s seal of approval. It is possible that they merely boasted, “I do not need to listen to any of the apostles or teachers. I will just follow the spirit of Christ within me. You can’t tell me what to do or think!”

We may not drive around with bumper stickers that say, “I follow Paul”; or wear tee shirts reading, “I follow Apollos” or “Cephas.” But, the church remains divided. We argue over denominations. Some refuse to fellowship with people who say they believe in Jesus, but do not share their views about end-time prophecy, sacraments, or eternal security. We no longer about Paul, Apollos, or Peter (I know some who cling to “my-idea-of-Jesus-and-I-will-listen-to-nobody-else”). Instead, we follow John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, or some other prominent preacher. Whenever we place a human teacher over God’s word, and create division in that person’s name, we have accepted carnal worldly Christianity. We have chosen to be merely human. It is time to grow up.

Growing in Christ is a lifetime commitment. However, God has given us His Holy Spirit. We do not have to accept “merely human” as our standard. We do not have to live the Christian life in our own strength. Let us move beyond being merely human to live as children of God.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Growing Up in Christ. II: Maturity in Christ—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

jesus_blessing_the_children1In the preceding post, we introduced the subject of carnal Christianity and saw that Jesus calls us to grow into spiritual maturity. This is a life-long journey for us. We begin as babes in Christ; we grow up to become mature men and women of God. The previous article showed that many Christians remain mired in a state of prolonged spiritual infancy, seeking self-gratification instead of thinking and living like mature believers.

To truly achieve spiritual maturity, we must avoid the temptation to stay focused on ourselves and our desires. Many Christians fail to grow up because they bounce from church to church. When asked why they are leaving Church A to find a new congregation, they often complain that “I’m not being fed there.” This is usually a shallow attempt to sound spiritual, when you really mean, “I do not like what the pastor is saying or how the worship band plays. The church is not entertaining me.” (Remember in the preceding article, how infants need to be fed, but adults learn to feed others.)

There is a simple message for those who approach the Christian life like this: It’s time to grow up. For those who think the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are for personal amusement or to show off how spiritual and holy you are: It’s time to grow up. For those who approach their Christian walk as a way to build up your own ego, and not as an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God for Jesus’ glory: It’s time to grow up.

What are some of the marks of spiritual maturity? How do we know we have moved beyond spiritual infancy to maturity in Christ? A few questions will help us answer that question for ourselves:

  • Am I guided by Godly wisdom or the wisdom of the world? (See James 3:13–18.)
  • Am I motivated by the love of God or a desire to put myself first? (See 1 Corinthians 13.)
  • Am I guided by the Word of God or my own opinions? As I wrote several weeks ago, “One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases?” When confronted by one of the “hard teachings” of the Bible, is the Word of God true, or do I know better than He does?
  • Are my values centered around Christ, or are they driven by the culture around me or my own desires?
  • Most importantly, do I make decisions seeking to build others up and draw them closer to Jesus, or am I driven by desires for self-gratification or self-glorification? Do I get excited when I see other people come to know Jesus or grow in their walk with Him? Or, do I try to do things that merely make me feel good? Am I most concerned that I look good to others? Who am I most trying to impress? Myself? God? The people in my church? Or, the unsaved people around me?

Spiritual growth and renewal of the mind is a process. It takes years for a human baby to mature from birth until he or she can effectively nurture his or her own children. Likewise, it may take years from the time you surrender your life to Christ until you achieve spiritual maturity. Indeed, full spiritual maturity—perfection—is a feature of the next life, not this world.

In Ephesians 4, St. Paul describes the purpose of the ministry. It is a good summary of any church’s ministry goals and a guide for measuring our own spiritual growth:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16).

God is calling us to think like adults and live like mature men and women of God. What steps can you take to move closer to that goal today?

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Growing Up in Christ. I: Beyond Carnality—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

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Jesus invites us to come to Him like small children, but He calls us to become mature in Him. Picture by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Renewal of the Christian’s mind, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, has a goal. God is seeking to raise us from spiritual immaturity to maturity. The Word of God calls us to mature thinking and living, not immaturity. While Jesus calls us to childlike faith (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:17), He calls us away from childish behavior.

The circumstances that led St. Paul to write 1 Corinthians 14:20 seem to continue to this day. The Corinthian church was driven by an over-emphasis—perhaps it is more accurate to say a misguided emphasis—on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the more dramatic manifestations. They were eager to speak in tongues and prophesy, but failed to show the love of God. Gifts of the Holy Spirit became excuses to show off or claim some kind of spiritual superiority over one another when God intends them to be an opportunity to serve others and build up the church. Egos replaced evangelism and edification. This discussion essentially begins in 1 Corinthians 11:17 (where he discusses abuse of the Lord’s Supper) and continues to the end of chapter 14. On a few occasions, he contrasts spiritual maturity with spiritual childishness. His great discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 culminates as follows:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11).

There is a time for childishness, but as we grow in our faith we should achieve spiritual maturity. Certain shortcomings are acceptable when you are young; as you mature, they should become a thing of the past. When my son was a baby, his mother and I had to feed him: He could not eat unless somebody placed a bottle or food into his mouth. After a few months, we could place food in front of him and he could put it in his own mouth. After a few years, he could go into the kitchen and get his own food. Eventually, he could go to the store and buy his own food. Now, he works for a living and provides food for three children of his own.

It was completely normal for us to spoon-feed him when he was about four months old. Now, he is able to feed himself, and he is able to feed others.

This is not just a physical pattern for maturity, but also a spiritual pattern. As new Christians, we need to be “fed” spiritually. Eventually, we should reach a point where we accept responsibility for our own walk with God. A final stage of spiritual maturity is when we no longer worry about whether the church is “feeding” us and look for ways that we can nurture others in the body of Christ. Andrew Murray refers to this early stage of Christian growth as “carnal Christianity.” In chapter 1 of The Master’s Indwelling, he describes the “carnal state” as follows:

It is simply a condition of protracted infancy. You know what that means. Suppose a beautiful babe, six months old. It cannot speak, it cannot walk, but we do not trouble ourselves about that; it is natural, and ought to be so. But suppose a year later we find the child not grown at all, and three years later still no growth; we would at once say: “There must be some terrible disease;” and the baby that at six months old was the cause of joy to every one who saw him, has become to the mother and to all a source of anxiety and sorrow. There is something wrong; the child can not grow. It was quite right at six months old that it should eat nothing but milk; but years have passed by, and it remains in the same weakly state. Now this is just the condition of many believers. They are converted; they know what it is to have assurance and faith; they believe in pardon for sin; they begin to work for God; and yet, somehow, there is very little growth in spirituality, in the real heavenly life. We come into contact with them, and we feel at once there is something wanting; there is none of the beauty of holiness or of the power of God’s Spirit in them. This is the condition of the carnal Corinthians, expressed in what was said to the Hebrews: “You have had the Gospel so long that by this time you ought to be teachers, and yet you need that men should teach you the very rudiments of the oracles of God.” Is it not a sad thing to see a believer who has been converted five, ten, twenty years, and yet no growth, and no strength, and no joy of holiness?

There is a time for immaturity, but eventually, a Christian should grow beyond that. In the following post, we will look at what spiritual maturity should look like.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Setting Your Mind Where It Belongs—Romans 8:5–6

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6).

The Holy Bible

What do you think about, when your mind has room to wander? What do you talk about, when you get the opportunity to speak your mind? Jesus said that “Out of the abundance of the heart {the} mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Your words reveal who you really are. Your thoughts guide your words, your decisions, your actions, and ultimately your destiny.

In the modern world of social media, many of us have a platform to publicize our thoughts constantly. Go to your friend’s Facebook page, and you know what matters to him or her. Does your friend post Bible verses? Devotional readings? Sports news? Music videos? Dirty jokes? Photos of family and friends? If you have a social media account, take a look at the things you post. What does it say about you?

When discussing Romans 12:2, the verse that introduces the concept of “renewal of the mind” that this blog frequently addresses, we saw that this renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit. As we come to Christ and His Spirit dwells in us, He transforms us by renewing our thinking.

Romans 8 contrasts two lives: The life “according to the Spirit” (the life of a true follower of Jesus) and the life “according to the flesh” (the life of one who does not have a real relationship with Him). It is interesting to place these two lives side-by-side (items in italics on the right side of this chart are implied by the context; God has more to say to His children than He does about the rest of the world here):

Christian Life

Non-Christian Life

No condemnation (sin is condemned in the flesh of Christ) Condemnation
Law of the spirit of life Law of sin and death
Walk/live according to the Spirit Walk/live according to the flesh
Set their minds of the things of the Spirit

—Life and peace

Set their minds on the things of the flesh

—Death

—Hostile to God

—Cannot submit to God’s law

—Cannot please God

In the Spirit; Spirit of Christ dwells within Does not have the Spirit; does not belong to Him
Body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies The Spirit will not give eternal life to our mortal bodies. When they die due to sin, that’s it
Spirit is life because of righteousness Death because of unrighteousness

Notice a few key words that characterize the Christian life: Spirit; life; peace; righteousness. Now, notice some that characterize the non-Christian life: condemnation; sin; death; flesh; hostility. Which do you prefer? Now, ask yourself: Which list characterizes your thought life?

Many Christians spend too much time refusing the blessings we have available to ourselves. We say our prayers and read our Bibles, but then we may run off and do our own thing the rest of the day. We set our minds on the things of the Spirit for half an hour before work, but then we spend the rest of the day on the things of the flesh.  It is an easy trap to fall into, with all of the messages and images that bombard our brains throughout the day.

Some even try to baptize their fleshly thinking in Christian jargon, but it does not work: Hostility and anger are usually not “righteous indignation”; what some people call “naming and claiming the promises of God” is usually greed, materialism, and consumerism with a blasphemous pseudo-Christian label slapped on it. True life, true joy, and true peace are found when we yield our thoughts to the leading of the Holy Spirit, not when we try to coerce God to surrender to our program.

When you finish reading this blog, take some time to read your Bible and talk to Jesus (especially if you have not done so yet today!). Then, ponder the truths He revealed to you through His Word. God is always speaking to His children, but we need to listen. Think about what God is trying to say to you. Let it guide your thoughts, desires, and plans above all else. The world, flesh, and devil seek to derail you through a flood of voices and visual presentations. God wishes to speak His gentle peace to your heart. It comes quietly and subtly, but it brings great peace, joy, life, and righteousness. Set your mind on the things that bring God’s blessing into your life.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

The Truth Will Set You Free

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

“The truth will set you free” is one of the more familiar quotes from the Bible. Even non-believers know it, and sometimes quote it without realizing that it was originally spoken by Jesus. Yet, many of us saying it without thinking about the context. As a result, we come away with only half of the message, or perhaps a completely incorrect message.

Jesus was speaking to a group of “Jews who had believed him.” Yet, the conversation rapidly deteriorated. Whereas they initially believed Him (verse 31), by the end of the conversation they questioned and challenged Him, then apparently made accusations about His parents’ marital status when He was conceived (John 8:41), accused Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan (verse 48), and eventually started preparing to stone Him to death (verse 59). Within maybe only five minutes, they went from being almost ready to become disciples to trying to kill Him.

Such is the situation when sin is mentioned. Jesus Christ and His true followers reveal sin so that it can be confessed, leading to repentance and freedom. Yet, many people respond with hostility and hatred.

When Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” his listeners responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33). I can almost picture Jesus staring back at them incredulously, saying, “Um, WHAT? Do you even hear what you’re saying?” The Jewish people were under foreign oppression by the Romans at that time. Their history, recorded in their Old Testament scriptures, was filled with repeated episodes of oppression and exile. A core element of their cultural identity was their deliverance from slavery in Egypt through Moses. For a first-century Jew to say “We have never been enslaved” would be as preposterous as an African-American (particularly, one whose family has been in America since before 1860) making the same claim.

Such is the neurosis of denial. When confronted about sin, we pretend we do not have a problem. We may say that it is not really a sin. Many people today would say that Jesus and the writers of the Bible really did not know what they were talking about; we know better. Science and Oprah have opened our eyes. Or, some people will claim that their circumstances justify an exception to the rules: “I know the Bible says we should not have sex before marriage, but our situation is different because….”

We might admit that it is sin, but not admit that it involves bondage. The Son of God
disagrees: He said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The apostle Paul would later expand upon this thought by saying:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15–18).

Sin brings slavery. Many addicts have come to this awareness. They may have once thought they felt free by drinking alcohol, shooting up heroine, snorting cocaine, or getting whatever “fix” they desired. Eventually, though, as it became a life-controlling obsession, what once felt like freedom proved to be emotional and spiritual shackles, chaining them to a cycle of self-destruction. However, other kinds of sin bring similar bondage. Although many kinds of sin do not involve an obvious chemical dependency, they may become habitual, creating an emotional connection to the sin, and leading to destructive consequences. Even what we think are “little sins” involve some degree of bondage. The shackles may be looser, but they are still there.

Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free. This begins with confession. Many people associate “confession” with a private booth, where you whisper your secrets to a priest, but that is only one aspect of the word. “Confess” merely translates a Greek word, “homologeo,” which could literally be translated as “say the same thing as” or “acknowledge.” It means to admit something is true. In the context of sin, confession involves admitting that something is a sin and that one is guilty of it. To find freedom, we must confess the truth.

We must confess the truth about ourselves. We must acknowledge our shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, and needs. We have to admit that there is some kind of chain holding us back. We must admit that we need something. In confession, we acknowledge that we have sinned and we stop looking for other people to blame. The Book of Common Prayer contains a prayer of confession that begins like this (as I recall, the Roman Catholic liturgy has a very similar prayer):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We admit that we have sinned: not that it is someone else’s fault, or “the devil made me do it,” or I am a victim of other people’s plots. Even though all of us have fallen victim to others at some time, there are ways that we have sinned. We need forgiveness. We need freedom. We tighten our own chains when we keep pointing at others’ mistakes while ignoring our own.

But, we cannot stop by confessing our sins. That is a beginning, but if it is all we do, it will lead to despair. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. However, it goes on to tell us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). We must confess the truth about Jesus. Jesus’ listeners in John 8 had a hard time accepting that one. They could not accept the notion that He could possibly be greater than their ancestor, Abraham. How could they take the leap to believe that He is the Son of God. Yet, this is essential. We must believe that Jesus is God incarnate. We must believe that through His death on the cross, we have received forgiveness of our sins. We must believe that He is holy, righteous, merciful, and gracious. We must believe that He is love. When we believe these truths, we are free to break free from our chains and run to Him for forgiveness, freedom, and life.

Likewise, we must believe the truth about God and His Word. We must believe that God’s Word is true and that it shows us the way to live in a way that pleases Him.

Finally, we must abide in that truth. We do not use the word “abide” very often nowadays, but it is the basis of our word “abode.” We must live in Jesus’ Word, staying there. To experience freedom and abide in that freedom, we should read and study Jesus’ teachings, meditate upon the Word of God, being doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

This is the foundation of freedom. We must admit that we are sinners, accepting the fact that it brings spiritual slavery. However, having admitted that truth, we should acknowledge the truth about Jesus, His Father, and His Word, trusting in Christ’s forgiveness and building our new lives on His Word. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). If you are in bondage, seek freedom in Christ today. If you have found His forgiveness and freedom, continue to walk in it.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Proverbs 7:1–5—Internalizing God’s Word and Wisdom

My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words (Proverbs 7:1–5, ESV).

The_Holy_Bible

Much of Proverbs is King Solomon’s advice to his sons. One day, they would be rulers and leaders in Israel, and Solomon wanted to make certain they were ready. Proverbs addresses many issues: family, other relationships, how to treat the rich or poor, how to use your words wisely, money, work, time management, etc. If you can think of a life issue, it is probably addressed somewhere in Proverbs. (Unfortunately, I doubt Rehoboam, who would replace Solomon as king, was paying attention.)

Solomon taught his proverbs to his sons. God has given His entire Word, the Bible, to His sons and daughters. Are we listening? Or, are we like Rehoboam? When Rehoboam succeeded his father on the throne of Israel, he rejected the wisdom of Solomon and his advisers, and opted for the opinions and advice of his peers with whom he had grown up. The results were disastrous (see 1 Kings 12:1–23). Do we hear and obey God’s Word? Or, like Rehoboam, do we ignore God’s wisdom and choose to follow the opinions and values of current pop culture, the media, the latest Gallup poll, etc.?

Many people hear God’s Word every Sunday, but do not take it to heart. They read it daily, but it does not change their lives. Perhaps they prefer to critique it, or add it to the variety of options from which to choose when a decision must be made. “Will my decisions be based on that Bible passage I read this morning, or that song I heard on a top-40 radio station on my way to work? Maybe I should base my decisions on what I saw on CNN, MSNBC, and/or Fox News last night? Why don’t I just turn on ‘The View’ and see if they can help me decide?”

It is one thing to read God’s Word and store it in your memory. Solomon called his sons to go deeper, and God gives us the same admonition: Don’t just think about it. Absorb it! Write God’s Word “on the tablet of your heart.” Engrave it in your heart, not just in your memory banks.

“Treasure up my commandments with you.” Do we treasure God’s Word? “Treasure” is something we value. It might have monetary value; perhaps it has sentimental value. Maybe it is just a favorite object or item. The things we treasure get special treatment; I might throw junk mail on a table and forget about it until it is time for the paper shredder or trash can. However, my wife and I will make sure that a paycheck, birthday card, picture of our grandchildren, or favorite music CD does not get mixed in with the junk mail. Some things are worth treasuring, while other things are worth running through a paper shredder. If we treasure God’s Word, it will be engraved on our hearts, not shredded in the same corner of our brain where we remember boring television commercials. We will cherish and protect it like the apple of our eyes, the irises; just as we instinctively blink to protect our eyeballs when anything comes near them, we would instinctively cherish and preserve the place God’s Word holds in our hearts.

Do we “bind them on our fingers?” We do not need to do this literally. I remember hearing of people who would place a rubber band on their finger to remember something. However, do we find ways to keep God’s Word on our minds throughout the day?

Is wisdom our sister, or our intimate friend? Or is it just an acquaintance? Are we merely aware of its existence, or do we feel a genuine connection with God’s wisdom, which we are eager to pursue?

God does not want us to simply know His Word. He wants us to internalize it. He wants it to become such a part of our innermost being. As God’s Word abides in us, Jesus abides in us, and we abide in Him. Then, our lives will bear fruit showing that we are God’s children. When His Word is engraved on our hearts, it will flow out in our words, actions, and attitudes:

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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (John 15:5–8).

Let us cherish God’s Word and wisdom, preserving it in our hearts that it may preserve us. Let us internalize it, absorbing and digesting it so that it becomes part of who we are.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

The Word, the Light, and the Lord

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalms 119:105, ESV).

bantry_church_of_st-_brendan_the_navigator_third_north_window_i_am_the_light_of_the_world_detail_2009_09_09

Jesus Christ, the Light of the World and the Word of God incarnate.  Stained-glass window at Church of St. Brendan the Navigator, Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en), CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

A few English translations adapt the wording of Psalm 119:105 to say that God’s Word is a “lantern” instead of a lamp. The Living Bible gets even more contemporary, saying “Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me and keep me from stumbling.”

Whether it is a light, a lamp, a lantern, or a flashlight, this anthem to the glory of God’s Word reminds us that the Bible is intended to shed light on our paths and show us how to walk through life. If we cannot see where we are going, we are likely to get lost, trip over things, or crash into obstacles. As we walk by faith and not by sight (an absolute essential in the spiritual life), a light for our path becomes even more necessary.

 

Growing up on Long Island, I was always surrounded by light. Even at night, street lights or the light from neighboring houses would provide a way to see where I was going. An occasional journey out of the New York metropolitan area would provide a reminder of how dark the world can be without electric lights. Riding a bus to Syracuse during my college days, we would pass through some areas where I could see nothing outside the window. Eventually, there would be a faint glow in the distance ahead of us: That glow was the city of Syracuse. Light becomes more obvious when one is surrounded by darkness.

I remember one time when I lived in Missouri, making a pizza delivery on a dark country road outside the city limits. If I turned off the car’s engine, I might have a hard time finding it when returning from the front door of the house! I can only imagine what life was like for our ancestors before the invention of light bulbs and artificial light sources.

The Bible often closely associates God with light. It is an essential part of His nature. Jesus said that He is the “light of the world.” According to Genesis 1:3–5, the very first thing that God created was light. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt under Moses, He would send a pillar of fire to lead the way at night.

John (who also told us that “God is love”) tells us first and foremost that God is light:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:5–7).

John would later tell us that the glory of God will be the light of the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb of God (Jesus) will be its lamp for all eternity (Revelation 21:23). Jesus shows us the way to the Father. In fact, He IS the way to the Father (John 14:6–7). If we can see Jesus, we see God, and we see the path to follow as we walk into everlasting life.

The Word of God is the light that leads us to God and shows us the path we should walk in. Jesus is the Word. He is the light. He is God incarnate.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9–14).

As we read the Bible, we should seek the answers to a few questions:

  • What does this tell us about Jesus? First and foremost, we should seek to know Christ through the Word of God. Jesus said to the religious legalists of His day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). How many professing Christians make the same mistake today?
  • What is the path that God is calling me to follow today?
  • What obstacles will I face on that path today? (Temptations, distractions, or challenges will come our way.)
  • How can I avoid these obstacles, or get around them, or walk over them?

We should not read the Bible merely to read a good story or learn theology. As we open the Bible, we should ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us and show us the path through life. God’s Word gives direction. It gives wisdom. It gives life. It reveals Jesus, Who is the very embodiment and personification of that Word and Light.

If you would like to read more thoughts about the light of the world, you can look at this series of posts:

Reflecting the Light of the World

A Prayer Acknowledging Jesus as the Light of the World

Light of the World: Exposing the Deeds of Darkness

Walking in the Light of the World. I: Time and Wisdom

Walking in the Light of the World. II: Filled with the Holy Spirit

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Storing Up God’s Word—Psalm 119:9–11

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

(Psalm 119:9–11, ESV)

The_Holy_Bible

I first encountered Psalm 119:9 early in my relationship with Christ, while in college. At first, I found Psalm 119 incredibly boring: It contains 176 verses, almost all of them include some mention of God’s Word, and after a while they seem to be repeating themselves a lot. The fact that this is the longest chapter in the Bible made it difficult to read in one sitting; I usually felt like I had just read for 15 minutes and gained nothing from it. However, a few of my friends had favorite verses in that psalm. One of my friends had even adopted Psalm 119:9 as his life verse. It was a motto or slogan that guided his heart and life.

Years later, my earlier dislike for Psalm 119 has dissipated. I rarely try to read it in one sitting. Usually, I limit myself to one to three of the eight-verse stanzas. This allows particular verses to take greater prominence. A passage like Psalm 119:9–16 is pretty easy to digest. I can usually find at least one nugget of wisdom in each stanza.

Although it refers to “young men,” this passage is not reserved for a certain age group. All can benefit from this wisdom. Young men, young women, old men, and old women all need to keep our ways pure, and the answer is true for all of us.

So, why did the psalmist specifically refer to “young men” here? Probably a major reason is the fact that young people are setting the trajectory for their lives. Lessons learned and habits developed early in life will guide one’s future path. Young people face new temptations as they enter puberty. They make major life decisions as adolescents. They may choose a career and remain with it for 50 years. Sometimes, they begin to pursue a career and modify their decisions as they grow; someone may begin college wanting to become a lawyer, only to find that they are more interested in, and have more of the skills for, a career as a psychologist. Others make poor or ill-advised choices early in life, and spend decades trying to recover from bad decisions.

Many think of youth as a time when we face especially unique challenges. However, many of the temptations and trials we face continue throughout life. I remember a college psychology professor pointing this out. During a lecture, he asked us to list some of the ways teens and young adults surrender to peer pressure. Then, he got us thinking about the ways peer pressure would affect us in an adult working environment. He helped us realize that even as working adults, we would face the temptation to fit in, to go along with the crowd. While teenagers risk being “uncool” if they do not drink or smoke with their friends, a working adult can risk missing out on job promotion and raises, or may even lose their job, if they do not go along with the crowd at the office.

We do not outgrow temptation or difficulties. They merely take new forms throughout our lives. That is why it is important to develop a habit of guarding ourselves with God’s Word early in life.

Wherever you are in life, develop a habit now of storing up God’s Word in your heart so that you may not sin against Him. If you are not reading the Bible regularly now, start reading. Set a time every day and devote it to reading. If you never read the Bible outside church, maybe you should start by reading a chapter per day. If you are reading a chapter per day, consider increasing it to two chapters.

Over the years, I found consistency was a challenge. About 10 years ago, I started trying to pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) at least once per day. The BCP provides four Daily Offices: one in the morning, one at noon, another in the evening, and a final “compline” prayer before bedtime. I usually consistently pray three times per day, and would like to get into the habit of including compline as well. It did not come easily, but over time the Daily Offices became a more consistent part of my life. Having a regular goal and plan, and setting time for prayer and Bible study, has enabled me to be more consistent and seek more growth in this area. For those who are interested in trying the Daily Office, you can visit The Mission of St. Clare’s website.  Every day, it will guide you through a Daily Office of prayer, using recommended Bible readings from the Book of Common Prayer.

However you choose to seek God’s wisdom through the Bible, be proactive. Do not wait for hard times to come; start learning God’s Word now. Build a habit of prayer and Bible reading now. Learn to meditate on God’s Word. Allow it to become a central part of your psyche. When trials and temptations come, you will be ready to face them with the Word of God.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Of Trees and Tumbleweeds: Rooted in and Nourished by God’s Word

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers (Psalms 1:1–3).

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5–8).

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

tumbleweed_about_a_meter_tall

A tumbleweed, approximately one meter tall. It has no roots and simply blows wherever the wind takes it.  Photo by Renji Shino [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In many western movies, a tumbleweed can be seen blowing across the desert. The tumbleweed is a strange plant. It grows like a normal plant for a while, but eventually breaks away from its roots and blows away, tumbling wherever the wind may lead. Most of the plant dies quickly, but the giant batch of dead branches carries seeds, which may eventually land in soil to produce a new plant. At their best, they are an ugly annoyance to humans. At their worst, they can create a public safety risk; being made mostly of dry dead wood, they can easily catch fire and spread disaster wherever the wind blows them.

A plant that remains grounded with its roots can produce its life-imparting fruit while providing beauty and security. It is no accident that Psalms 1 and Jeremiah 17 compares blessed godly people with trees planted by the water. Securely rooted and grounded in a life-giving source, they impart life and fruit to others. Separated from that secure foundation, they are like a shrub of the desert or a tumbleweed.

A “spiritual tumbleweed” believes that he can find stability and success by trusting in the false and fleeting wisdom of the world rather than the eternal wisdom of God. He walks in the counsel of the wicked. He stands in the way of sinners. He sits in the seat of scoffers. He trusts in human wisdom and strength. He turns away from God. Such a person will be tossed by every wind of doctrine and deceit, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6–7; Ephesians 4:14).

However, the emphasis on the passages cited at the head of this article is not on the tumbleweed. It is on the person who is rooted and grounded. Such a person is grounded in God’s Word. That person delights in God’s Word. He or she does not read the Bible simply out of obligation, but truly enjoys it. The Bible is a blessing. It is a source of wisdom, guidance, strength, and encouragement. It is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16–17). The child of God is nourished by God’s Word, just like a tree near a stream is nourished by the life-giving water and the nutrients in the soil.

tree_planted_by_streams_of_water

A tree planted by a stream. Photo by Wing-Chi Poon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Nourishment becomes part of the one who receives it. We say “You are what you eat,” because the food people eat becomes part of their bodies. Healthy food produces healthy persons. A tree does not observe water and soil-based nutrients; it absorbs them. It does not look at the sunlight; it absorbs sunlight to begin photosynthesis, thereby producing more nutrients.

A person is not nourished by studying or thinking about food. We need to eat it. It is eventually absorbed into the cells of the body to become part of the person.

Likewise, we do not merely look at God’s Word to gain intellectual knowledge. We absorb it through reading, learning, studying, and meditating upon it. Eventually, it becomes part of who we are and comes out in action. Jesus said the difference between the wise and foolish builders in His parable (Matthew 7:24–27) was that the wise heard His word and obeyed it, while the foolish heard it and did not obey. The foolish builder is like the believer who hears the Word of God, plays around with it, and then decides to follow the advice of unbelievers.

Christians must choose to be guided and nourished by God’s Word, not by worldly influences. “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). If we spend too much time listening to the secular media, entertainment industry, pop psychology, and our unbelieving friends and family, we can easily cut ourselves off from the spiritual nourishment of God’s Word.

Thus, in addition to reading the Bible and praying on our own, we need fellowship with committed fellow followers of Jesus. Instead of walking in the counsel of the wicked, let us seek the counsel of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Instead of standing in the way of sinners, let us walk arm-in-arm with our brothers and sisters in Christ, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Instead of sitting in the seat of scoffers, let us kneel in prayer along with those who join in intercession for the souls of the lost. Fellowship with other committed believers will keep us rooted by the streams of God’s living water. We need mature, divinely anointed and ordained men of God who will share their experience and wisdom to keep us grounded in God:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11–14).

The voices we hear will determine the thoughts we think, the ideas we believe, the attitudes we express, and the lives we live. Let us seek to hear the voice of God. To confirm that we are hearing the voice of God, and not one that leads us away from Him, let us remain close to those who are also listening to hear His voice.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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