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)

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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
 
 

Children of God and Siblings of Jesus

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

(John 20:17–18)

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Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. By Heinrich Hofmann, published on bible card (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart27.htm) [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday morning, a new day had dawned. The old order of God’s relationship with mankind ended as Jesus breathed His last on Friday evening. Sunday brought a new beginning. Mary Magdalene would be the first Christian to hear the good news about our new relationship with God. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers obtain the right to be called children of God (John 1:12–13).

“Go to my brothers,” Jesus said. Mary seems to have immediately understood what Jesus meant here. She did not seek James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, who were apparently His biological brothers (Mark 6:3). She realized that Jesus meant the disciples.

A few days earlier, He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). At one time, they were servants or disciples; they had become His friends. Now, they were family. They were His brothers.

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father.” For three years, the disciples have heard Jesus refer to God as “My Father” and “the Father.” Now, He sends Mary to emphasize to them that God is their Father. Every disciple of Jesus could now call God “my Father” with the same certainty Jesus expressed when He used those words. It is now deeper than “Our Father who art in heaven.” He is now “my Father”–in an immediate and personal, not generic or abstract, sense. (I imagine that Mary Magdalene ran off thinking, “That means God is my Father too, and I’m Jesus’ sister!)

Jesus had mentioned this family relationship before. From the cross, He told John, “Behold, your mother;” to Mary, He referred to John as “your son” (John 19:26–27). With His final dying wish, He instructed John to care for her as his own mother; He accepted John as His brother, not merely a friend.

Many Christians do not grasp the full significance of our relationship with Jesus. We think that Jesus died merely to purchase fire insurance for us. We may assume that He is thinking, “Okay, I’m keeping you out of hell. I hope you’re happy. It really ticks me off when you keep doing the sort of stuff that should put you there. Better get yourself in line or else!”

No, Jesus is not our insurance agent, looking for a loophole in the policy that will nullify our coverage. He is our big brother, ready to stand by us. He died and rose so that we may be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Who is usually the heir in a will? The family of the deceased, particularly his or her children. A “fellow heir” receives a share of the inheritance. Jesus has inherited a kingdom from His Father. We are his fellow heirs; we have inherited a share of that kingdom!

This Easter, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us gain a greater vision of our identity as members of Jesus’ family. Many of us are tempted to accept the labels that Satan and society place upon us. We may view ourselves as failures, sinners, or “worms.” We may think of ourselves as mere animals with an exaggerated self-image. We claim these negative titles, but as children of God we are so much more.

Satan loves it when we label ourselves according to our greatest weaknesses or past mistakes. Yes, you have sinned. There is probably some sin or shortcoming you still struggle with. It may at times bring incredible guilt and grief. However, that is not your identity. You are God’s child. Jesus is your big brother. You are Jesus’ brother or sister. If you are a follower of Jesus, believe those statements, because Jesus Himself said that is who you are.

If you are not a disciple of Jesus, let this be the day that you are born anew and adopted into the family of God as one of His beloved children. The good news about the Christian’s identity belongs only to those who have received His free gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. Those who are not Jesus’ disciples cannot claim to be children of God, even though He created them and loves them. They cannot claim the other privileges of the Christian life. However, they should not despair. Jesus’ arms remain open, inviting all to come to Him. You may pray a prayer like this one to begin your new life as a child of God:

Lord Jesus Christ, I need You. I admit that I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. There is nothing I can do to save myself. Please come into my life and heart, forgive me of all my sins, and make me the person You want me to be. Thank You for dying on the cross for me and inviting me to be a child of Your Heavenly Father. Amen.

Let us go forth to live as children of God eager to see Him glorified in our lives. Let us rejoice in the new life we receive through Christ’s death and resurrection.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Thank God It’s (Good) Friday

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24–26).

Many who work a Monday–Friday, 40-hour workweek know the feeling. If we greet our co-workers with “Happy Monday,” it must be sarcasm. At 9:15 AM on Monday morning, many workers feel like the weekend was too short. However, by the end of the week, “Happy Friday” is almost a holiday greeting. We have borne the pain and suffering of the week and look forward to the weekend. We work for five days, but we act as if our real life takes place during the weekend.

Music and pop culture celebrate the weekend as if it is the center of our existence. The late 1970s gave us the disco-craze movies “Saturday Night Fever” and “Thank God It’s Friday.” A popular 1980s song declared that “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.” We act as if the weekend is a grand festival and Friday is its major kickoff event.

Now, we come to Good Friday, and we wonder why we call it good. Most Fridays can be highlighted by happy hour. Those who do not drink still find it to be a good opportunity to go out for dinner or see the newest movie. However, the Friday before Easter emphasizes Jesus’ death. The shadow of death hovers over Good Friday.

Good Friday reminds us that the world’s idea of good conflicts with God’s idea of good. The world views Friday as the victory of leisure and pleasure over labor and drudgery. Good Friday reminds us that the true victory is Christ’s victory over hell and Satan, of life’s victory over death, and the victory of God’s mercy and forgiveness over sin and condemnation.

As we observe Good Friday today, I invite you to join in some of the prayers that the Book of Common Prayer links to Friday:

On Friday mornings:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On Friday evenings:

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.

For Good Friday:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch, at Graymoor Retreat Center, Garrison, NY, March 2016

A prayer of the Holy Cross, especially suitable for Fridays:

Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I admit none of these prayers ooze the enthusiasm of a celebratory dance-party song. However, in each prayer, the shadow of the cross points us to the light of the Resurrection—both Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday and the believer’s resurrection to eternal life when his life on earth is over. Good Friday is good because it points to Christ’s victory: A victory which all believers in Christ Jesus may share:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1–3).

Happy Good Friday, one and all! May it be a reminder of the celebration we anticipate as we prepare for our ultimate rest in heaven.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Triumphal Entry, Worship, Betrayal, and Abandonment

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:7–10, ESV)

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Scene from a Passion Play in Trafalgar Square, London, UK, on Good Friday in 2010, re-enacting the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Stephen Craven – geograph.org.uk/p/1782823

Most churches celebrate Palm Sunday by distributing palm fronds to the congregation. Some churches may process, marching around either inside or outside their building. Others will simply wave the palm branches while singing a song with “Hosanna!” (a Hebrew word meaning, “Save!”) in the title or lyrics. In doing so, we join our worship with the exuberant celebration of the crowd that greeted Jesus and His disciples as they entered Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover celebration nearly 2000 years ago. We now refer to this as “the triumphal entry,” but we can easily forget how quickly things changed in Jesus’ life within a week.

On Sunday, the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” By Friday morning, many of these people were in a mob shouting, “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:18–21).

Judas Iscariot was part of the group entering Jerusalem with Jesus. Perhaps his cloak was on the colt’s back, providing a saddle for Jesus. By Thursday evening, he would betray Jesus.

Peter was there too. I can imagine him leading the way, announcing that the Messiah Jesus was coming and urging the crowd to cheer for Him as He entered. On Thursday evening, he vowed he would stand by Jesus no matter what happened (John 13:37). A few hours later, he tried to fulfill that vow—relying on his natural impulsiveness and machismo rather than the virtues Jesus had taught for the last three years—by whacking someone’s ear off during Jesus’ arrest. After that, it was all downhill. Probably less than 12 hours after declaring that he would die with Jesus, he denied three times that he even knew Him. In Jesus’ greatest hour of need, His so-called “best friend” left Him hanging (John 18:15–18, 25–27).

Ten of the other disciples, all of whom (like Peter) swore they would remain faithful to Him, ran into hiding as soon as He was arrested. As He stood trial and was crucified, the only disciple who stayed with Him was John. He was accompanied by a few women, including Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene.

Christians know the story so well that we can miss the point. We can learn a lot from the disciples because they are terribly human. They are a lot like us. Sometimes, they show us heroic faith that we hope to imitate. At other times, they show us just how badly we can fail. People were willing to stand by Jesus when things seemed to be going well. When times got tough, they turned on Him or abandoned Him. Sadly, none of us are immune to that temptation.

We may worship Jesus when we are in a crowd with others who are shouting and singing His praises. Do we continue to praise Him when the establishment and the culture revile and reject Him? Or, do we join in rejecting Him: If not in word or deed, do we reject Him in our hearts?

Do we sell Jesus out when financial gain is a possibility? Will we compromise our faith or ignore His commands when there is money to gain.

We can boldly profess our faith and devotion to Jesus in a church or Bible study. Do we continue to do so when surrounded by those who have not accepted Him, or do we suddenly hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:15) and pretend we are not Christians?

Holy Week ends Lent, a season which many Christians devote to self-examination. As Easter approaches, are we ready to share the resurrected Christ with those around us? Are we willing to remain faithful to Him?

Let us prepare our hearts to sing Christ’s praises in good times and bad, when others join in song and when they refuse Him. As we wave our palm branches, let us continue to lift Jesus up so that He may draw all people unto Himself (John 12:32). As we shape our palm branches into crosses, let us take up our crosses to follow Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Joseph in God’s Leadership Training Program

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:18–21, ESV).

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Joseph’s story did not start well, as he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, via Wikimedia Commons.

The last fourteen chapters of Genesis focus mainly on the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob (also known as Israel). Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins by describing the origins of the human race, before focusing in on the birth of the nation of Israel. It also chronicles the faith journeys of several key patriarchs, particularly Abraham and Jacob. With Joseph, it describes his development as a man of God and as a leader.

Genesis depicts Joseph as the first Israelite to emerge as a world leader. As a youth, he dreamed that his brothers and parents would one day bow before him (Genesis 37:5–11). By the time that actually happened, he was a changed man, equipped by God to lead. He started with dreams and ambition. He developed through God’s leadership training program, and found himself in a place where he could serve others for God’s glory. This should be the pattern for all Christians who seek to become leaders, whether in the church or in secular institutions.

At the beginning of his story, Joseph did not look like he was destined for greatness. Since he was the eleventh of twelve sons, it would be assumed in his culture that he would rank near the bottom of the family’s social order. His status in the family took a downward spiral as sibling rivalry gave way to complete hatred. Joseph brought a “bad report” about four of his brothers to his father after they had pastured their flock together. Did he have to bring the bad report, or was he trying to score points with Dad to get special treatment? If Joseph was trying to win his father’s favor, he succeeded. Jacob gave him a robe of many colors (Genesis 37:3), which showed Joseph’s status as “dad’s favorite.” (A note to the fathers and grandfathers out there: It is one thing to treat your children differently because they are unique individuals; it is not OK to play favorites.) Before long, all of the brothers conspired to sell Joseph to slave traders (who eventually sold him to an officer of Egypt’s Pharaoh), telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was not off to a good start on the path to power and prestige. Playing off of favoritism to build yourself up by tearing others down tends to backfire. It may bring short-term benefits, but it usually backfires in the long term.

Now, let us fast-forward many years. Joseph began to show some genuine potential while in Egypt, but he cycled between opportunities and setbacks. His master promoted him to be head of all his household slaves. Then, he was falsely accused of sexual assault and imprisoned. He earned the respect of the jailer, who put him in charge of the other prisoners. He interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants, thereby showing that he had divinely inspired wisdom. Finally, after years of hardship and disappointment, Pharaoh needed someone to interpret dreams for him. Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered the gifted dream-interpreter and recommended him to Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams (a warning that a severe famine would come upon the land), but proposed a way to prepare for it so that the people would survive. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to administer his economic programs.

Joseph had endured a turbulent journey: from favorite son and despised bratty tattle-tale brother; to slave; to prisoner; to the top of an empire’s government. The man who was exalted by Pharaoh was not like the boy who had been rejected by his shepherd brothers. Pharaoh may have ordered people to bow before Joseph, but Joseph was more concerned about serving those God had placed under his care.

His brothers would bow before him several times, but that was not Joseph’s big concern. In Genesis 50, after Joseph had brought the family to Egypt so he could provide food for them, his father died. His brothers though he might seek revenge, now that he had power and nobody could not stop him. However, Joseph had learned God’s design for leadership. He did not need them to bow before him. His title did not matter. He did not see himself as the Egyptian ruler who could seek revenge: He was God’s servant, called to serve others.

Joseph’s focus was on God’s purposes: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph no longer thought about how he could gain power and how others would honor him. Instead, he wanted to know God’s will. What was God doing? How can God bring good out of this situation? What could he do to manifest God’s will? These are the questions every leader should ask when facing difficult circumstances.

Instead of seeking his brothers’ respect, Joseph was committed to providing for his brothers and their families. True leaders look for ways to build others up and make sure their needs are met.

Most importantly, Joseph forgave his brothers. Great leaders are not so obsessed with their feelings or what others have done to them that they forget their mission. God had entrusted Joseph with an important job, which would ensure that his family would fulfill the covenant God had made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). Christ calls His disciples to forgive others, and leaders—especially Christian leaders—must exercise patience and not allow insults or offenses to derail them from God’s plan:

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).

Joseph had grown beyond the pride and impulsiveness of youth to become the prototypical servant leader. He could remain focused on his mission, seek to provide for those below him, and forgive others so that negativity would not derail his mission. This is God’s call for all who seek to be leaders or make a positive impact on their world.

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

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Judging Others or Examining Ourselves

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5, ESV).

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

5194572I wrote at some length about Matthew 7 about two years ago. This week, I have given it some more thought. During a season when many churches encourage a time of self-examination, this passage deserves a little more thought. Since I have written extensively on this passage previously, I offer the following as an addendum to that previous meditation.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer with several of his students, ca. 1932. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Although Jesus forbids judging others, and the other New Testament writings agree with this commandment (see, for example, Romans 14:1–12), He never commands us to approve of evil. Sin is sin. The Bible clearly defines certain attitudes and activities as sinful. “Judge not” does not mean we should accept sinful behavior.

However, there is an unusual irony when we quote Jesus’ command to others: If we tell someone else to “judge not,” are we not in fact judging them by accusing them of the sin of judgmentalism? Or, if they tell us to “judge not,” are they judging us? It seems hypocritical and ironic, but perhaps that is the point.

“Judge not” is not something Jesus tells us to say to others. It is something He tells us to say to ourselves when we interact with other people. Are they going to sin? Yes. Might it get on our nerves? Perhaps. Will they commit sins we would never commit? Possibly. Does that mean we are in a position to judge them? No. Our pride deceives us into thinking that others’ sins, the ones we would never commit (or so we think), are worse than ours. How often does the glutton look down upon the smoker or alcoholic? How often does the heterosexual who views pornography or has sex outside of marriage look down on the homosexual? We think their sin is worse, but God does not share our sliding scale:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10–11).

When I look at the sins of others, it is easy to minimize my own sins and shortcomings. I can easily ignore my own failings, or make excuses or justify my own sins, if I can accuse the other person of committing abominations. However, as I examine my own conscience and measure my own life against the teachings of Jesus, I am able to confess, repent, and seek a more holy life. My goal should never be to be a better Christian than the next person: It should be to have a closer relationship with Jesus than I do now, and to reflect His glory more today than I did yesterday.

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

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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).

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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.

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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

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

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Jesus fasting and praying: “Christ in the Wilderness,” by Ivan Kramskoi [1837-1887, Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Those who fast during Lent reflect on Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism in the Jordan River. As Jesus prepared to begin His public ministry, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and ate nothing for 40 days. At the end of those 40 days, Satan tempted Him to use His divine power for personal gain, daring Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded, as He would to each temptation, by quoting Deuteronomy, responding to the first challenge by saying “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

That verse highlights one of the lessons learned during fasting, a lesson God taught the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering after they escaped from Egypt. Fasting calls our attention back to God, and reminds us of our need and His provision.

The wilderness wanderings were a time for the Israelites to learn how to live out their covenant relationship as the people of God. It did not start well. Even though God protected them during a series of plagues, until Pharaoh let them leave, they grew fearful as soon as they saw the Egyptian chariots chasing them at the Red Sea. Despite God’s previous signs, they would not believe that He would rescue them this time.

After God parted the Red Sea so they could escape, they complained at the waters of Marah, believing God would not provide clean drinking water. He provided it anyway (Exodus 15:22–27).

Soon thereafter, they complained that they did not have enough food, and accused Moses of leading them into the wilderness to starve. God provided bread from heaven, “manna” (Exodus 16). Before long, a miraculous (and free) supply of bread was not good for them; they demanded meat, so God provided quail (Numbers 11:1–15, 31–35). However, the quail came with divine discipline, as God sent a plague among the people while they were eating.

Much of this was probably on Jesus’ mind as Satan tempted Him. Jesus answered all three temptations by quoting from chapters 6 or 8 of Deuteronomy. He probably spent a lot of time during those 40 days meditating on the first few chapters of that book.

God had tested the Israelites, to give them a chance to trust Him. They failed each test. Every time, God provided opportunities to remember how He had provided for them in the past. Every time, they failed.

Many Christians can relate. How often do we immediately worry when a problem arises? Do we have faith to cast all of our cares upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)? Do we remember the times He has been faithful in the past: the times He answered our prayers, healed our illnesses, or provided for our needs? Or, do we anticipate a catastrophe and forget that He even exists?

God wanted His people to learn to look to Him for all their needs, and to recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). The testing was designed to prepare them to remain grateful all of their days (Deuteronomy 8:11–18), so that they would remember to thank Him for all that He provides.

Yet, they failed the gratitude test. Manna was not good enough for them; they demanded meat. God’s provision was not sufficient: It was too boring, the same thing day after day. They wanted something exciting, something new, a change of pace. So, they told Moses that God could do better.

Ingratitude, distrust, and disbelief showed they were not ready to claim the promised land. God extended a trip that should have taken less than two weeks and forced them to wander for 40 years.

As Jesus prepared for His ministry, He must have reflected on these lessons. He had to remember who He was, why the Father had sent Him, and what He would do. He would look to the Father to protect, provide, and direct over the next few years. Every step in His ministry would be guided by the Father and would bring Him glory. At no point could Jesus afford to grow impatient or seek an easy way out.

For those of us who participate in a Lenten fast as we follow Jesus, the following questions are significant. Let us each reflect on them:

  • When difficulties arise, do I trust God or gravitate towards doubt, unbelief, fear, distrust, and anxiety?
  • When has God met my needs in the past?
  • Are the things He provides sufficient for me, or do I crave more? Do I demand more from God than He provides?
  • What mission, passion, ministry, or calling has God placed on my life? How can I pursue it His way, rather than trying to do things in my own strength?
  • Will I be grateful for His goodness?
  • Will I remember God’s mercy in good times, or will I forget about Him when life gets easy or comfortable?

Not long after His season of fasting and temptation, Jesus would travel with His disciples through Samaria, where He would minister to a woman with a troubled past and, most likely, a questionable reputation (John 4). When His disciples arrived with food, He did not have much of an appetite. It was as if He had already enjoyed a feast. He knew a satisfaction in the soul that natural food could not meet.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

As Jesus’ soul was nourished by doing the work that His Father required, may we be satisfied in His blessings, provision, and the joy of serving Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parkland, FL School Shooting: An Opportunity for American Soul-Searching?

February 14, 2018 should have been a pleasant oddity. Ash Wednesday (a day to reflect on one’s mortality and to begin a season of fasting, self-examination, and soul-searching) occurred on the same day as Valentine’s Day (when we celebrate romantic love).

In the midst of this blend of somber reflection and joyous celebration, the news gave us reason for national self-examination: A young man entered his former high school in Parkland, FL and murdered 17 people. Every few months, Americans try to wrap our heads around another mass murder. We grieve yet another shooting at a school. In the words of baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again” as a sickening cycle continues. A mass shooting shocks, grieves, and angers us. Liberals say stricter gun-control laws would have kept the killer from getting weapons. Conservatives say that gun control will not solve the problem and innocent civilians need to be able to protect themselves. Arguments break out on social media and elsewhere. Politicians make pious and profound statements. But then, nothing happens, life returns to normal, and we find something new and trivial to obsess about, until it happens again.

Perhaps it is fitting that this shooting occurred on that odd date. America (especially American Christians) can use it as an opportunity for serious self-examination and soul-searching. American Christians can consider how Jesus’ great commandments—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself—impact this issue.

Let me state from the beginning that I am not offering hard-and-fast solutions below. Much of what follows is merely food for thought. I am asking questions. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, additional questions, etc., in the comments section at the bottom of this post. (Please keep it civil: If you want to defend your Second Amendment rights, please prove that you can exercise your First Amendment rights in a mature, responsible manner! While conflicting viewpoints are welcome, comments that are vulgar, hostile, or rude will be blocked.)

As an American with conservative political leanings, I believe our nation should adhere to its Constitution. However, as a Christian, I believe the teachings of Jesus Christ must take precedence over any political party’s platform or governmental document. As a grandfather with two grandsons in elementary school, a granddaughter who will soon enter kindergarten, and a wife who works in a school setting, I find myself asking “What if this happened at one of their schools?” I can no longer defend unproven hypotheses, Facebook memes, and clichés if evidence and reason finds them lacking.

So, here are just a few thoughts on this subject:

Our society as a whole is not getting more violent, but there are more mass murders. From the mid-1960s until 1980, the homicide rate in the USA gradually increased, until it peaked at 10.1 murders per 100,000 population in 1980.1 By 2014, it was about half that amount. Even though it has increased slightly since then, it is still far below the rates we saw from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

Christians usually point to mass shootings as a sign that our society is on the decline due to various moral and spiritual deficits. Yet, it may not be that simple. Murder and violent crime are not increasing as a whole, but we are seeing more large-scale violent attacks. While the perpetrators of mass shootings are not exhibiting godly Christian character, it is a fallacy to say that society at large has become more violent. The situation seems much more complicated than most people realize.

On the other hand, American society remains more violent than comparable developed nations. According to United Nations homicide statistics, the US’s murder rate is below the global average: 4.88 as of 2015, as compared to the global average of 6.2 and a staggering 16.3 for the Americas. However, as a friend pointed out to me, this puts the US in company with many less-developed (and often politically unstable or repressive) nations like Sudan (6.45), Somali (5.56), Cuba (4.72), and North Korea (4.41). When compared with other prosperous nations with democratic traditions (the ones we think of as being more like us), we do not fare as well: Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a homicide rate of 1.68; that is even higher than Australia (0.98), the United Kingdom (0.92), New Zealand (0.91), Germany (0.85), Ireland (0.64), the Netherlands (0.61), and Japan (0.31). Even though our own homicide rate has declined over the last 37 years, we need to improve more to compare with these nations.

These numbers may bring us closer to the root of our problem. If you eliminate all gun-related murders (73% of American murders involve a gun), the US homicide rate drops to 1.32. That means that America’s non-gun-related homicide rate exceeds those of almost all of the developed nations in that list. Whether one agrees that we have a gun problem or not, we have a murder problem in America. We have a problem with violence, hatred, and sin.

I will add that many of those developed nations, with lower homicide rates than the US, also are less religious than we are. We say that a “return to God” will simply solve the problem, but majority-atheist countries are more peaceful than we are! I cannot find a justification for this in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we should take a look at the American brand of Christianity. Have we bought too heavily into the American culture, baptizing the Gospel in the waters of individualism, commercialism, and materialism? Can our adoption of such self-centered values, in the name of Christ, be contributing to the problem?

Finally, I do not believe that gun control is a cure-all for this situation. In 2012, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, I compared rankings of gun-control laws (from most lenient to strictest) with the rates of violent crimes in those states, and found that there does not seem to be a strong correlation between the two. Even if gun control can reduce the amount of violent crime, there are a host of other factors contributing to the crime rate: social, economic, political, cultural, and other influences must be acknowledged. This job is simply too big to be left only to the politicians. All areas of society (including the family and religious institutions) must play their part to make shootings like the recent one in Parkland, FL, a thing of the past.

Christians cannot afford to spout clichés or rely on simplistic responses. We cannot cling to the political partisanship that continues to divide America. Christians must ground our faith, our behavior, our beliefs, and our world view in the Word of God—not in a political party’s platform nor public-opinion polls. Jesus has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we must resist the culture of death whenever it rears its ugly head.

1In the following, “homicide rate” always refers to the average number of murders per 100,000 persons per year.

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

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Transfiguration, Glorification, and the Christian Life

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:2–9).

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,… (II Peter 1:16–21).

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“The Transfiguration,” by James Tissot (1836–1902).

Some denominations celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday (others do not observe it at all, whereas in some churches it falls on August 6). As I have recently reflected on the Christian’s call to reflect the light of Jesus (see my recent posts here, here, here, and here), I believe this can provide a good focal point for my Lenten observances this year.

Christians in many denominations commit to some kind of low-grade fast during Lent. Many will abstain from meat (allowing themselves fish) on Wednesdays and Fridays. They may also give up a favorite food and/or hobby during the season. Ideally, we should find a way to fill that void with things that will draw us closer to Christ: Perhaps we will devote more time to prayer, Bible study, worship, or service to others in Jesus’ name.

The goal, however, is not to lose weight or go on a self-improvement program. (Those may be secondary benefits, but not the primary goals.) The goal is to draw closer to Jesus, removing some of the obstacles that keep the life, glory, and light of Jesus from shining through in our lives.

It is easy to focus on the fast itself. Many of us can obsess about what we will not eat until Easter. Let us look deeper, though: We have been called to live as partakers of the divine image (2 Peter 1:4) and the seed of God abides in us (1 John 3:9). Those who have come into a living relationship with Jesus Christ by faith have the Holy Spirit within them. We hear this so often that it can almost sound trite or insignificant. Perhaps this Lent can be the time when some of us begin to more intimately comprehend what God is truly offering us.

Instead of a detailed discussion of the Scripture, I will just take this opportunity to encourage each of you, between now and Easter, to reflect on God’s promises to glorify His children. Perhaps the great lesson of Lent is that we miss out as we continue to devote our time, resources, and energy to trivial things, when God is eager to pour out His blessings upon us and conform us to His likeness. We are His children: may we come to look more like Him as we lay aside the things of the world and grasp a foretaste of our inheritance in Him.

I encourage you to reflect on some of the following passages in the weeks to come:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:11–14).

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). (Better yet: Just read the entire book of 1 John. It is a short letter of exhortation, but it has a lot to say about walking in the light of Jesus and living as children of God.)

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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