Renewing the Mind Reflections

 
 

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.

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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.

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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

Renewal of the Mind by the Holy Spirit

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

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During His farewell discourse to the disciples, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. “Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles” (1308-1311), by Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons].

Recently, most of the articles on this site have talked about “renewal of the mind.” Romans 12:2 is the keynote verse for this topic. This verse appears in a section where Paul teaches about serving God and His people: offering ourselves as living sacrifices, using the gifts of the Spirit, etc. Verse 2 provides a context for Christian maturity so that we can fulfill that calling.

Before a disciple follows Christ, he is conformed to this world. He clings to worldly ideas about human nature, God, the universe, right and wrong, relationships, and virtually everything else that matters. A significant part of spiritual growth is renewal of the mind, as the Holy Spirit changes your thoughts and perspective. This leads to transformation (also a work of the Holy Spirit). As a result, the disciple can clearly discern the will of God. To stop conforming to this world, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Most disciples came to Christ with many misguided beliefs and an abundance of “stinking thinking.” Changing those ideas takes a lifetime. We have learned deception from our families, our culture, the media, educational and social institutions, etc. For example, many American Christians read the Bible through a lens of individualism. American society glorifies the self-made man. It urges us to put ourselves and our desires first. We may start to believe that the Bible itself teaches individualism. As a result, we hear the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” and are tempted to live as if our faith in Christ is detached from that of every other Christian. We may even try to redefine Jesus in our own image.

The process of mind-renewal takes a lifetime. The disciple of Jesus Christ is always growing throughout his or her life. As the disciple learns to think with the mind of Christ, he or she can more clearly discern the will of God.

Discerning the will of God implies a desire to obey it: not merely to understand or analyze it. Many Christians are trapped by another of Western culture’s lies, the belief that we can understand anything by analyzing it (thus, if I cannot rationalize it, it cannot be true). However, analysis can lead to spiritual paralysis. For example, some Christians approach the description of God’s will in Romans 12:2—“what is good and acceptable and perfect”—by trying to distinguish between different degrees of divine will. They try to distinguish between God’s perfect will and a lower degree of His will (good, acceptable, permissive, or something else). They think that really spiritual Christians should follow God’s “perfect” will, but that there is a lesser “good/acceptable” will that others can get away with.

Let us stop trying to compartmentalize and hyper-analyze God’s will and simply seek to know and obey it. God’s will for our lives is always good, acceptable, and perfect.

Please note, though, that we can distinguish between God’s global will for all people and His particular will for an individual. There are some actions and attitudes that God desires from all of us. However, He may expect each of us to practice them in different ways. We are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. How we manifest that love will depend on our unique personalities and abilities.

God’s will is always consistent with Scripture, but He may call us to live it out in specific ways. For example, a Christian who is capable of attending church should not say, “God wants me to stop going to church and to just worship Him by myself.” That is simply unbiblical (see, e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25). So, if you think God is telling you to stop attending church and cease fellowship with other believers, do not believe it: That is probably Satan posing as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

However, you will not find a clear verse in the Bible telling you which church to attend. Does that leave us completely off the hook? Not at all. Instead, we should try to determine which particular local church God is calling us to attend. The Bible offers principles we can consider while we pray to learn God’s will: For example, if a church is a “good fit” for you, it is one where you will mature spiritually and where you will find opportunities to use your gifts and talents to serve others. It may not be the most entertaining, largest feel-good church.

Finally, let us bear in mind that renewal of the mind and transformation of the soul are works of the Holy Spirit. We can read the Bible for six hours per day, but if the Holy Spirit is not involved in our efforts, we will not mature spiritually. If we try to understand the Bible with our own prejudices and assumptions, without seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it will not succeed. We must ask Him to speak through us via His word. We should trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in our lives, since spiritual renewal is entirely His work:

“…{He} saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:5).

“…{Put} off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:12-16).

May we be transformed day by day by the renewing of our minds, so that we may have the mind of Christ and know the will of our heavenly Father, through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15–20, ESV).

Adventskranz 3. AdventThe previous post in this series discussed several priorities for walking in the light of Christ, spelled out in  Ephesians 5:15–20. This is essentially how we can reflect the light of Jesus, exposing the darkness around us and radiating Christ’s love to those who need it. We are called to make wise use of the time and opportunities that God gives us, and to seek His will in every area of our lives.

God is relational. He does not merely give us a list of tasks and obligations, demanding that we do our job right. He draws us into relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. A major element of that relationship is the presence  of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot walk in the light without being led by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, to effectively shine the light of Jesus around us, we must allow the Holy Spirit to overflow in our lives. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Some people think this is mainly an injunction against alcohol abuse. However, it goes deeper than that.

Most adults are only mildly affected by a single alcoholic beverage. One 12-ounce bottle of beer or a single glass of wine has little impact on most people’s behavior; they might feel more relaxed, but that may be all. However, after several drinks, things change. When a person is heavily intoxicated, the alcohol essentially takes control of their behavior, and they may do things that would never do while sober. Frequent abuse can lead to alcoholism, which essentially negatively alters the drinker’s personality.

The Holy Spirit can and should have an opposite effect. Many Christians are willing to invite Him to have just a mild impact on them; they will pray and worship God until they feel good, and then leave His presence. God wants more, though. He wants to fill us with the Spirit, immersing us in His presence and power. He wants the Holy Spirit to alter our behavior; indeed, He wants His Spirit to transform our personalities and lives.

This is not accomplished all at once. God wants us to enjoy landmark occasions in our lives where the Holy Spirit makes a memorable impact. We should seek a baptism in the Holy Spirit as a defining moment in our lives. However, after that experience, we should tap into His presence and power on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and minute-by-minute encounter. There are several ways to experience that power in our lives. The above passage provides a short list of ways to experience the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Foremost is praise and worship: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Music affects our souls in unique ways. The unified blend of melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics has a way of grasping our emotions and drawing our minds in, emotionally transporting us to distant times and places. Earlier this week, I was singing along with a song on a CD and felt emotionally transported to a time in my life nearly 20 years ago. The song grasped me in ways that a conversation never could. Good music has a way of doing that to a listener.

Nowadays, Christians can enjoy a wide variety of spiritual music. The musical genres range from traditional hymns, to southern gospel, black gospel, rock, pop, folk, rap, and virtually every other musical genre imaginable. Find some music that you enjoy, with lyrics that glorify our Lord and draw your entire soul into an awareness of His presence. A spiritual song that stirs your soul will keep the Lord’s presence at the forefront of your attention.

This should not be restricted to your time alone. Ephesians 5:19 tells us to “{address} one another” in song. We often treat music as only a source of entertainment. Many churches seem to use music to make people feel good. Music should encourage, admonish, and teach us. It should be a tool by which we minister one to another. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Corporate worship is important. It is virtually impossible to consistently walk in the power of the Holy Spirit without it. We do not sing in church merely to feel good. We are there not for entertainment, but to encourage and bless one another. Good worship music is part of that.

Finally, we should remain thankful in all circumstances, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” True biblical thankfulness does not deny reality. Instead, it views all of reality from the perspective that God is always working in our lives (Romans 8:28).

Even in difficult circumstances, we should give thanks. Times may be difficult, and things may not go as you planned, but the Spirit-filled believer seeks to know how God is at work through the problems. Even if we cannot see what God is doing, we can acknowledge that He is working all things together for our good. We can trust Him to bring forth a result that exceeds our expectations and brings forth His fruit in our lives. For that, we can and should be thankful. For more thoughts on the subject of thankfulness, see this post from several years ago.

Jesus calls His disciples to be the light of the world, even as He is the light of the world. We are called to reflect His light into the darkness around us. Our lifestyle, worship, and witness can be His vessels to draw those who have been lost in darkness into the glorious abundant light and life He gives. We have a noble calling as His servants. Let us go forth in His name to conquer the darkness of sin and death with the light and life He alone can give!

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15–20, ESV).

lightoftheworld1Recent articles on this blog spoke of the Christian’s calling to reflect the light of Jesus to the world and about how this lifestyle exposes the deeds of darkness. Paul’s discussion about exposing the deeds of darkness in Ephesians 5:6–14 is immediately followed by the above passage.

In the New American Standard Bible, the phrase “Look carefully then how you walk” is translated as “Therefore be careful how you walk.” A former pastor of mine would often say, “Whenever you see ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you need to figure out what it’s there for,” because it closely links the following passage with the one preceding it. Ephesians 5:6–14 tells us that we can expose the deeds of darkness by walking as children of light. Ephesians 5:15–20 gives us several priorities for walking in the light. The former passage tells us what happens when we reflect the light of Christ to a dark world; the latter tells us a few ways to accomplish this.

I will discuss two of these priorities in this post. A companion post will follow in a few days, discussing a few aspects of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s first priority in this passage is to make wise use of the time and opportunities God gives us. “{Make} the best use of the time,” (some translations say “Redeem the time”) “because the days are evil.” Time is short. Evil and darkness surround us. The mature man or woman of God should be a wise steward of his or her time. We should give God the first fruits of our time, placing ministry in His name as a top priority in our lives. Readers who are interested in this subject can read a post that I shared several years ago.

Furthermore, we should make it a priority to seek the Lord’s will in every area of your life. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” This should be a daily priority, acknowledging God’s authority over area of your life. Many are willing to acknowledge Him as Lord of our Sundays, and to commit to a time of prayer and Bible reading every day. However, Jesus is not merely Lord of the religious sphere of our lives; He is Lord of every area of our lives. He is as concerned about our careers, families, relationships, hobbies, leisure time, etc., as He is about what book of the Bible we are reading, how much time we spend in prayer, and which church we attend.

There are numerous ways to discern God’s will for your life, but the most important is the Bible. Too many people rely on other things—including their feelings and circumstances—to determine God’s will. The Bible will often tell us to do things that pull us out of our comfort zone, but that is largely because many of us are comfortable with sin.

The alternative to understanding the will of the Lord is foolishness. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If we wish to be wise, not foolish, we will be eager to know the will of the Lord.

Walking in the light demands wisdom: Wise use of our time, resources and opportunities; and wise choices guided by clear discernment and obedience to God’s will. It does not always happen easily. We have to be committed to serving our Lord. We should also be filled, empowered, and guided by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. This will be the focus of our next reflection.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Light of the World: Exposing the Deeds of Darkness

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:6–14, ESV).

A recent post shared how we are called to be the light of the world, by reflecting the true Light, Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to reflect His light, saying, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

How do we reflect that light? Is it enough to wear t-shirts with religious sayings, post Bible verses on Facebook, talk about Jesus and church wherever you go, and slap a Christian bumper sticker on your car? Several years ago, my friend confessed that although he had several Christian bumper stickers on his car, his driving was definitely not glorifying God. Therefore, he did what he thought was reasonable: he removed the stickers. That misses the point, though. All of these forms of “Christian advertising” are great ways to begin a conversation about the Gospel and what Jesus has done in one’s life. However, when there is a conflict between our bumper stickers or Facebook statuses and our lifestyles, the answer is not to hide the light. The answer is to tap more deeply into the light of Christ.

Paul begins Ephesians 5 by writing, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2). Thus begins a chapter where he frequently refers to light: that word appears five times in Ephesians 5:6-14 in the ESV. Some translations have an additional occurrence, in verse 14, saying something like “Christ shall give you light” (RSV) instead of “Christ will shine on you.” The light of Christ is intimately intertwined with the love of God. It does not blend well with sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (which, Paul says, is a form of idolatry), filthiness, foolish talk, or crude joking (Ephesians 5:3–5). He refers to these as “unfruitful works of darkness,” which should be exposed.

Why do we expose the deeds of darkness? Not to judge the world, nor to act like we are better than them, nor to act “holier than thou.” We expose the deeds of darkness because the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience (verse 6). If we are walking in the light and love of Christ, we realize that our friends and neighbors are in danger of eternal judgment if they continue on that path. We expose the deeds of darkness to reveal their need for a Saviour and invite them to join us as we follow Christ.

How do we expose the deeds of darkness? Declaring the Word of God is one way. Speaking out against different forms of sin is another. However, perhaps the most important way is through our lifestyle. We expose the deeds of darkness by walking in the light of Christ. The Christian’s lifestyle should expose the darkness of sin.

Take a stand to live a life separate from sin. “Do not become partners with them.” If others are heading into a sinful situation, do not join them. For example, if a conversation deviates in dirty jokes or gossip, walk away; do not sit around listening and laughing. We do not shine God’s light by being part of the darkness; we do more to shine the light by saying, “I’m sorry, folks, but as a follower of Christ I cannot be part of this.”

Always seek to discern the will of God and live by it. One important effect of regular prayer and Bible study is the ability to recognize God’s will for our daily lives. We spend too much time trying to figure out when Christ will return or how free will and divine sovereignty can be balanced, and far too little time trying to figure out what God wants us to do throughout the day.

It is not merely enough to avoid sin, though. Our lives should be positive. Seek to bless others. James 2:15–16 gives an example of a person who thinks it is enough to pray for a needy person. In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus tells a parable contrasting the sheep (those who took sacrificial action to care for those in need and crisis) and the goats (who did nothing to help the needy—I wonder if they just prayed for them like the person in James 2). The life that reflect Christ’s light is not merely one that avoids doing bad things; it is the life that proactively seeks to do good, to glorify Christ by revealing His love in action to those who need to see it.

Too often, we try to witness for Christ by acting like the world. Instead, we should live in such a way that people can clearly see Christ in us and recognize that there is something different about Him and His people. Let us live as though we truly believe that the life He offers is abundant (John 10:10) and surpasses all that the world offers. This is an important place to begin drawing people to Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reflecting the Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).

Light is essential to life. Much of our diet hinges on plant life; we mostly eat plants that survive via photosynthesis (using sunlight to create energy) or things that have eaten those plants. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight is necessary for human health; it is how our bodies produce vitamin D, and sunlight deprivation has been linked to depression. We also rely on light to know where we are and the direction in which we are headed.

Thus, when Jesus called Himself “the light of the world,” His audience knew what He meant. Nobody could misunderstand what He was saying. By calling Himself the light of the world, He called Himself God. At the very least, His hearers recognized that He was claiming to be the Messiah:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Natural light allows us to see where we are going. Likewise, spiritual light guides our steps spiritually. Jesus’ audience would have recognized that too:

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

God’s written Word—the Bible—gives us guidance and direction for our path so that we can know how He wants us to live. Likewise, Jesus is the light of the world and the living Word of God to guide our paths:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. 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 1:4–5, 9–14).

All of these aspects of Jesus flow together. He is the Word that became flesh to reveal God to us. He is the light of the world, so that we may see. Also, He is life so that we may live. His life is the light of men. His light, His life, and His love guide our steps. We cannot see the path God has prepared for us unless we follow Him.

One of the great lies we deceive ourselves into believing is that we can make it on our own and just call Jesus for backup when things get difficult. We think of Him as our co-pilot (to quote that bumper sticker) when He should be the pilot. We think we can find our way and let Jesus follow us to tweak our efforts. We think we can lead our own lives, yet Jesus tells us that He is the life and that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 14:6; 15:5).

Yet, Jesus is our source of life and light. We need Him first and foremost. But there is another side to this. We do not keep the light to ourselves. We are called to reflect that light to others.

In nature, Earth receives almost all of its light from two sources. During the day, we receive light from our primary source, the sun. However, at night, we receive a little bit of light from the moon. The moon does not create its own light; instead, it reflects light from the sun to us. It takes the light it receives and passes it on to earth.

Likewise, we are called to reflect the light of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

Clearly, we are not the light of the world in the same sense that Jesus is. But, He calls us to take His light and share it with others. We may want to hide it, keeping it to ourselves, but He calls us to spread His light to others. It is through His followers that He is able to shine His light to the nations. When people see us following the true light, they can see the source of all light and life, give glory to Him, and follow Him themselves.

The apostle Paul could tell the churches under his care to be imitators of God (Galatians 5:1) and also imitate him, as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Can we say the same? Can we tell others that they can imitate Christ by imitating us? Are we reflecting the light, life, and love of God in such a way that people can see the light of Jesus through us?

That is not an impossible idealistic fantasy. That is God’s desire. He wants us to receive His light and reflect it to others. But to do that, we need to first recognize that Jesus is the source of light, life, and love. We cannot create it on our own, but we can reflect His glory as we receive it and follow Him.

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

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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