Spiritual reflections

Thoughts on spiritual themes, not strictly tied to a particular Bible passage

Pure Passion—Psalms 119:131

I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments (Psalms 119:131, ESV).

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“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalms 42:1). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Are the things of God just an obligation or chore to you? Or, are they a hobby, something you enjoy doing every now and then? Are they an addiction, passion, or obsession? Are you drawn to prayer, Scripture, and worship like an alcoholic to beer or an addict to his drug of choice?

Far into the longest chapter of the Bible, the Anthem to God’s Word (Psalm 119), the writer tells us that he pants because he longs for God’s commandments. We envision someone who is feeling dehydrated in the desert heat, whose sole obsession at that moment is for a refreshing drink of water. A similar image appears earlier in the Psalms:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival (Psalms 42:1–4).

The psalmist compares himself to a deer who pants thirstily for cool waters. As a world-weary deer in need of sustenance and safety seeks water to survive, the Psalmist seeks God, through His Word and worship. When one is dehydrated, only one thing satisfies: a drink that will restore fluids to the body. When one is weary from the hardships of this world, only God will satisfy.

Panting is one of the ways the human body expresses craving. A long-distance runner competing in a marathon may start panting as his body craves extra oxygen to complete the race. (Highly trained competitive runners learn to control their breathing so that they can preserve their energy.) Panting may also signal other kinds of craving, such as sexual arousal.

How do prayer, God’s Word, and worship relate to all of this? The two passages in Psalms suggest that God’s Word and presence should be such an obsession for us. Do we desire the things of God like that, though? Do you truly crave God’s blessings, or do you crave the things of this world? What is your passion?

Many Christians miss out on God’s blessings because we do not crave them with this addicted passion. We are torn between Christianity as a hobby and passion for the things of this world. We may be drawn to the heavy weights of this world and the sin which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). These things drag us down so that we do not pant after the things of God. However, it should not be this way. God desires our hearts to be completely committed to Him and dead to the things of this world:

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24–25).

So, I ask you (and I ask myself these questions as well): What is your passion? What do you desire more than anything? What do you crave? What do you pursue with a single-minded focus? Does your heart cry out to God in prayer, hungry until you are assured that He has heard you? Does your soul pant thirstily to hear His Word? Do you impulsively and compulsively charge into God’s presence in praise and worship? If the answer to these questions is “No,” let each of us confess those obsessions that take first place in our lives. Let us admit them to God and ask Him to remove those desires, replacing them with a pure passion for His holy presence in their place.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:11–13).

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

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Celebrating Freedom (Revisited)

(The following was originally published online in May 2011 in honor of Memorial Day. As we celebrate today, let us remember why we celebrate and, more importantly, the true meaning of freedom.)

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Image via Wikipedia

May ends with a holiday which many of us take too lightly. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as “the unofficial beginning of summer.” Many people view the last Monday in May as little more than a great day to go to the beach, host a barbecue, shop at department store sales, and so on. For many, it is just an extra day off. Like many holidays, we treat it frivolously by giving little thought to its significance. It might be helpful to consider its true significance for Americans. That will also allow us to reflect on some matters of significance to Christians.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. That day was set aside to place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Since World War I, the holiday has been consecrated to honor all who have died in the American armed forces during all of our military conflicts. We should remember that many of these were young men, many of whom never had the opportunity to start families and embark on adult civilian life. While some soldiers were drafted, many volunteered for military service, acknowledging the dangers they would face.

Whatever one may think of the decisions our nation’s leaders make about the military, I cannot criticize the character of our troops. They know it is a dangerous job, but they still consider it worthwhile. They will tell you that they are serving to defend our freedoms or protect our people. They believe it is worth dying for. They believe in committing their lives to a cause and making sacrifices. Someone has said that if you don’t have something to die for, you really do not have much to live for. The soldier’s courage should be an example to all of us.

In a sense, we insult these men, both the veterans who survived the battles and those who died, when we reduce Memorial Day to a day for sales and beginning summertime leisure activities. Even worse, we degrade everything it stands for. By giving more attention to surf and sales than to freedom and sacrifice, we desecrate the blood of our fallen soldiers. This is especially true when we distort the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Most Americans seem to believe that “freedom” means “the right to do whatever you want.” Our nation’s first “freedom fighters,” the men who wrote our Constitution, enshrined in our founding documents the First Amendment. This clause gives us the right to speak our minds, even if our ideas are unpopular, controversial, or harshly critical of our nation’s leaders. It allows us to hold religious views that fall outside the mainstream. I have referred to the First Amendment as “the right to be wrong,” or “the right to make yourself look and sound like a jackass.” Thankfully, it is, more importantly, the right to cling to Truth when everybody around you swallows a lie.

However, this form of liberty can be abused as well. We have freedom of speech, even though it is often abused by those who use it to sell pornography or other vulgar entertainment material. While earlier generations realized that freedom and responsibility walked together, most Americans today seem to believe freedom is more important than morality, ethics, or righteousness, and that such libertinism is more sacred than serving God.

This year, Memorial Day falls about five weeks after Easter, during the season when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the death. It is quite fitting that Memorial Day usually falls at such a time of year. The United States has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument honoring all those anonymous men who gave their lives for our nation. Likewise, Christianity has an empty tomb. As many soldiers have given their lives for our nation, Jesus Christ gave his life for all mankind to set us free from sin, hell, and divine judgment. Few of us give much thought to the fact that our greatest freedom was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. We gladly accept his priceless gift, talk about how it is free for us, and take it for granted. We might say a quick prayer or spend an hour in church every week, but then we ignore the One who gave his life for us.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…. Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32–36, NASB). It is true that our nation was established to seek liberty from tyranny. Yet, we need to remember that the worst tyrant in the universe is Satan, and his cruelest chains are forged with links of sin. Some people believe that following Jesus is a form of bondage. However, as St. Augustine wrote in On the Free Choice of the Will, “This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin.” True freedom is found in submission to the truth. True slavery is found when we loose ourselves from our bonds to our Creator and clamp the chains of sin around our wrists.

Saint Paul adds, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on in that chapter to point out the things that Christ frees us from: the Law (including the righteous wrath of God when we fail to live up its perfect standards) which has been superseded by the forgiveness we receive through the cross of Christ; and sin, which is superseded when we live by the greater law of love (see Luke 10:27–28).

Let every day be a day to remember, celebrate, and cherish the freedom we have been granted, both as Americans and as children of God. Our liberty is a precious jewel to be preserved and nurtured. It is not a cheap toy to be played with carelessly, thrown in a corner, and broken.

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

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A Prayer Acknowledging Jesus as the Light of the World

lightoftheworld1Shortly after posting my recent article, Reflecting the Light of the World, I noticed that one of the prayers for this week in the Book of Common Prayer specifically refers to Jesus as the light of the world. Since the essence of this prayer relates to the thoughts I shared in that article, I thought I would share that prayer with my readers:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Perhaps you may feel led to say this prayer as part of your daily devotions. May God bless you as you bask in His light and share it with those around you.

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Give Thanks In All Circumstances

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV). Sometimes, this can be the hardest command in Scripture to obey. Thankfulness can easily drown in a whirlpool of self-pity when life’s circumstances cloud our view.

About 15 years ago I was in a meeting where everybody wrote a “gratitude list.” We all brainstormed things for which we were thankful, trying to see how many blessings we could write. As I recall, I filled a page rather quickly and was making substantial headway on the other side of the sheet of paper. There were not too many glamorous or exotic items on that list; it was mostly rather basic, ordinary things to appreciate, like health, family, a job, etc. Although fame and fortune were not on the list, there were many little things that I was grateful to have in my life.

About nine months later, I stumbled upon that list again. It still said  “Gratitude List” at the top of the page, but this time the title should have read “Emotional Kick in the Face.” Almost every item on that list was gone. Marriage? My wife and I were going through a bitter separation, child custody battle, and divorce. My son? I had not seen nor spoken to him in months. My job? Nah; I only found the list because I had just been fired.

I realize this is not the standard lead to an article about thanksgiving. However, thankfulness demands a right perspective. If we base our sense of security on things that can change or disappear, we have little reason for gratitude. We need to cherish things that last instead of those that are temporary or unreliable.

Saint Paul wrote often about the attitude of gratitude in his New Testament letters. Yet, he did not have an easy life. When he would discuss his credibility as a minister of the Gospel, he did not whip out a diploma from an esteemed seminary or point to his popular television show and huge megachurch. Instead, he validated his apostolic ministry by writing, “I am a better one—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea” (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). It does not sound like he had much reason to give thanks, but his perspective was vastly different from that of most men. He had written, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Situations and circumstances are temporary. If your life and joy are tied to things that are temporary, your gratitude will lack security. There will be no foundation. Temporary blessings bring temporary gratitude. However, the opposite is true as well: temporary hardships bring temporary sorrow: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

This life is temporary, but eternal life last forever. People may change, fail, or betray, but Jesus will never fail us.

Within five years of that gratitude list experience, I could write a newer, better one. In 2000, I celebrated Thanksgiving with a new wife, who has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. I have spent the last 14 years working in publishing (I had always wanted to do something with books or magazines; scientific journals will do). While the workplace has been stressful in recent years, thanks to economic challenges in the publishing industry, it still beats every other job I had before. A few months after finding the gratitude-list-turned-kick-in-the-face, I gained some fairly generous visitation rights with my son. Today, I enjoy chatting with him once or twice per week over the phone, and during part of those conversations I get to talk to my 2-year-old grandson (the 7-month-old is usually too busy to chat). I have obtained some great blessings over the years, but I had to go through some painful times before I received them.

Perhaps it was the hard times that enable me to appreciate the good things I have now. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God often prepares us to receive a blessing by allowing us to grow through trials. Even on Thanksgiving Day in 1996, when I felt like my entire world was collapsing around me, I could thank God that He still had a plan and purpose for my life.

When I was an assistant pastor, our church would occasionally sing a worship song with these lyrics: “Give thanks with a grateful heart / give thanks to the Holy One / give thanks, for He has given Jesus Christ, His Son.” No matter what else God may give us, He has already given us a great blessing by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He has given us a gift that allows us to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved (Romans 10:9,13). No job, earthly blessing, or human relationship can compete against such a great gift.

Thanksgiving is a very appropriate climax to the month of November, as it leads to the conclusion of the church year. We begin November by observing All Saints’ Day. This feast day, observed by most traditional denominations, gives us the opportunity to thank God for the example of great men and women who served Christ faithfully. It encourages us to follow their example, which included maintaining an eternal perspective. It also reminds us that, like the great saints and martyrs of ages past, we have been offered an eternal home that far surpasses anything we have on earth. We end the month by thanking God for all the blessings He bestows on us throughout the year. Immediately after Thanksgiving, we begin the season of Advent, as we thank God for sending His Son Jesus into the world for our salvation.

Categories: Bible meditations, Holidays, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who Are You and Who Am I?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rockI will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19, ESV).

In this Gospel reading, Jesus confronts the disciples with a question every believer must ask. “Who do you say that I am?”

The question seems simple enough to Christians today, because we can look to the Bible, church creeds, statements of faith, and 2000 years of church history for guidance and wording. Yet, before asking this question, Jesus asked a more generic question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

“What are people saying about me?” The responses were diverse: People compared Jesus to (and probably confused him with) some of the great prophets of Israel’s history. Any Jew would be honored to be compared with Elijah. Jeremiah was also a hero of the faith. John the Baptist was a recent superstar of the spiritual scene. All great role models.

Many people today will have seemingly noble descriptions of Jesus. “A great moral teacher.” “One of the greatest spiritual and religious leaders of all time.” “A great philosopher.” Once again, most of us would be flattered by such monikers.

Yet, as Peter realized, Jesus was more than that! “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Numerous men throughout history have earned some of the other titles people have ascribed to Jesus. Yet, only Jesus can be called the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Only Jesus can be called the Son of the living God. Only Jesus is God in human flesh.

Revelation 19:11-20 give us a few more titles of Jesus. This passage, describing Jesus’ second coming in glory, tells us that he is also named or called:

  • Faithful and True
  • The Word of God
  • King of kings and Lord of lords

Ah, yes, and Jesus even has a name written that nobody knows but himself (Revelation 19:12)!

Those names and titles tell us about Jesus. Like Peter, we are blessed by God if we know who Jesus is and what his name means.

Although Peter does not verbalize it, Jesus answers a question many of us ask ourselves. “Who am I?” Perhaps this is more of a challenge for modern Western man. After all, in Jesus’ day, most people accepted a destiny from birth. Peter was a fisherman because his father was one, most likely. Most men simply accepted the career and calling of their fathers. However, just as Jesus has many names and titles, he now bestows a new name, a new title, on his friend. In the process, Jesus tells Peter who he is, and declares his calling in life.

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). You are more than Simon Bar-Jonah, humble fisherman from an insignificant little town on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. You are Peter: a rock of strength. Jesus recognized Peter as a man with inner strength, who could be a leader for the church he would leave behind.

When Peter recognized Jesus’ divinity, he could discover his own dignity. When he could rightly discern the truth about Jesus, he was able to hear from Jesus about who he was.

It is the same for all of us. First, we must come to know the truth about Jesus. He asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” Can you tell him the truth about who he is? Your answer should be something like this: “You are the Christ, the Son  of the living God. You are Faithful and True. You are the Word of God, King of kings and Lord of lords. You are my savior, the only way into heaven.” He is not just a great role model or wise teacher. He is more than that.

As God, he is able to reveal to you the truth about who you are. Too many of us wander through life, trying to decide who we are. We spend our lives in a perpetual identity crisis. Acknowledge Jesus as he truly is. Then, ask him who you are. What is his purpose for your life? He will never steer you wrong.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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