Posts Tagged With: Advent

First Sunday of Advent: One Year, One Thing

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

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

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examining Our Ways in Times of Suffering

“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:40).

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_-_jeremia_treurend_over_de_verwoesting_van_jeruzalem_-_google_art_project

Jeremiah lamenting over Jerusalem, by Rembrandt [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of Advent and the “joy of the season,” we cannot ignore the reality of human suffering. In fact, the holiday season often magnifies pain and suffering. The world and the church call us to celebrate Christmas: there are gifts to buy, cards to write, parties to attend, extra worship services at church, etc. Yet, ordinary life’s hardships do not recognize holidays. This season, people close to me have been affected by house fires, death, illness, financial strain, the threat of losing their homes, etc. These trials can happen at any time during the year, yet the Advent/Christmas season demands our extra attention and prohibits us from devoting ourselves to the challenges of everyday life; not only that, but we are expected to feel joyful and happy despite our circumstances.

Pain and suffering are a central part of our earthly existence. Sometimes, it seems unfair, as if God Himself is unjust. We try to make sense of suffering, but it does not always work: When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, many Christians sought a biblical rationale. Perhaps God was using these events to judge American materialism and hubris. But, why did some godly people have to die? If God was judging America’s sins, was He also judging the first responders who raced into the building to rescue total strangers?

The answers are rarely obvious or simple. Jeremiah wrote the book Lamentations around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, in 586 BC. A godly prophet, from a priestly family, he had suffered for many years. He was persecuted by his countrymen for warning them that this day would come. Now, he suffered with them. It seemed as if his nation was destroyed, doomed to become a footnote on the pages of history. The covenant and promises of God seemed forgotten. Through it all, Jeremiah wept and mourned over the city he loved.

In near the middle of his lamentations, Jeremiah wrote the words at the top of this post: “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” He had warned that the nation of Judah would suffer for its unfaithfulness to God. Even when all seemed lost, he believed there was still hope. God had not changed. No matter how bad things seemed, God still loved His people:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

God’s love never ceases. Even when things look bleak, He loves us. At times, bad times come to draw us back to Him. God may be shouting to us, as C. S. Lewis wrote.

What is He trying to say? Often, bad things happen to us as a direct result of our sin. Unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are the natural consequences of sex outside of marriage. If you run into financial problems, the answer may not be to “rebuke the devouring spirit”: you may be spending your money irresponsibly and selfishly.

Let me emphasize that this is frequently, but not always, the case. Sometimes, we suffer the fallout of other people’s mistakes or other circumstances affect us negatively. However, when we face such suffering, we would be wise to examine our ways. Spend some time in prayer, and ask God:

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

Ask honestly, “Is there anything I did to contribute to this situation? Is there anything I can learn from this?” It is true that you may be an innocent victim of circumstances. Or, perhaps, you contributed at least partially to it. Perhaps hardship is entirely the result of your mistakes or sins. Admit it to God (confession), ask for His forgiveness, and seek His wisdom and power to live a better life (repentance).

Many people today say that “All things happen for a reason.” However, God’s reasons are never unreasonable, irrational, or capricious. He has a redemptive purpose when bad things happen to us. He is not seeking to destroy us, but rather, to heal us.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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

Advent: A Season of Waiting and Preparation

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalms 27:14, ESV).

Advent wreath 4

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

The secular world tells me the Christmas season has begun. I turned on my favorite radio station on Friday, and Christmas songs were playing. After all, Santa Claus had made his grand arrival at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

The world says Christmas is here. The church calendar says otherwise. I choose to follow God’s will, not the ways of the world.

Most Americans—even devout Christians—allow the materialistic mindset of commercialism to define Christmas for them. In the retail world, the Christmas season apparently begins shortly before Halloween, when the first Christmas decorations begin to creep onto the shelves of the stores. My first Black Friday email arrived on November 10. (Just for the record, I refuse to shop on Black Friday: It sounds too much like Black Plague and I hate getting caught in the middle of a riot over flat-screen TVs.) However, many Christians think “the Christmas season” begins on the day after Thanksgiving. (We are not even waiting that long anymore; since many stores begin their Black Friday sales one day early, Thanksgiving will soon become “Black Friday Eve.” Future generations will learn that the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower, seeking an open Wal-Mart.) Using this secular commercial calendar, the Christmas season ends on December 25, sometime around 10:00 PM. We may continue saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” until January 1, but that is only because we cannot wait to get drunk or watch a shiny ball drop.

I would like to challenge that thinking by urging my brothers and sisters in Christ to use the traditional church calendar as a guide. Instead of allowing mass-marketing to guide your life, allow the timeless truths of the Christian faith to shape your paths. By refusing to allow the secular worldview to drag us in its directions, we can take some time to learn God’s lessons for us.

The Christmas season did not begin yet. From a Christian standpoint, Black Friday is nothing (maybe it is the “highest unholy day” of commercialism). Advent began today. This season begins four Sundays before Christmas, and it is a time of waiting and preparation.

During Advent, we remember how the ancient Jews waited for centuries for their promised Messiah. We commemorate how Mary and Joseph prepared for the coming of Jesus during her miraculous pregnancy. However, we do not simply look back and remember these events as detached observers. We join them, as we too are in a season of waiting and preparation. While the ancients were waiting for the first coming of the Messiah, we await His second coming in glory. As we await the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we train ourselves to wait for His return.

This connection between the two comings of Christ can be seen in the song, “Joy to the World.” Read those lyrics carefully. This song is not about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; it is about His eternal glorious reign. It is a song about His second coming, but we so easily recognize its connection to His arrival 2000 years ago.

Americans are not very good at waiting. We are used to instant everything. We have microwave ovens, because conventional cooking takes too long. We go to fast-food restaurants, because we do not want to wait for (or prepare) our food; and then, we rush through the drive-through, because we are too impatient to wait online in the store. We demand instant entertainment, instant information, instant gratification.

However, although society demands everything instantly, God calls us to wait. Psalm 27 ends with an exhortation to “wait for the Lord.” The psalmist was being harassed by his enemies; his own family had turned their backs on him. He knew God was ready to bless him, but he knew he had to wait to see the full evidence of protection and restoration. God considers waiting important; He commands us many times in the Bible to wait on Him. Furthermore, patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit. A mature Christian willingly waits for God to act, and he also waits to see what God wants to do in his life.

Take the time to prepare your heart and mind for Christmas. Devote time to prayer, praise, worship, and fellowship. While the world tries to pull you into holiday sales at every store, devote your time and talents to help those who are less fortunate. As the world invites you to “holiday” parties, take some time to attend special services and outreach events at church (yours or other local congregations) where Jesus’ life will be the center of attention. While friends and family try to increase your weight by feeding your fruitcake, take some extra time to increase your love for God by developing more of the fruit of the Spirit.

May this Advent be a season of waiting and preparation for whatever good God seeks to do in your life.

By the way, Christmas season is coming: but that begins on December 25 and lasts 12 days.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting Ready

After Superstorm Sandy

After Superstorm Sandy (Photo credit: NJ Tech Teacher)

 But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36, NASB).

Life here on Long Island took some unexpected twists over the last five weeks. On October 29, Hurricane Sandy (aka “Superstorm Sandy” or “Frankenstorm”) slammed into the northeastern coastline, inflicting unprecedented damage on Long Island, New York City, New Jersey, and surrounding areas. For decades, residents have been warned to make the necessary preparations for such a natural disaster: buy enough nonperishable food and bottled water, fill your cars with gas, and so on. This time, many of us were urged to evacuate.

Most Long Islanders–myself included–do not take these warnings seriously. I made a few minor preparations; I bought some bottled water, batteries for flashlights and a radio, and some food. But, it seemed silly to waste time at a gas pump; after all, I was sure there would be gas stations open after the storm, and I had half a tank left. This, however, proved to be a hard lesson. Be prepared: Today may not be the day, but eventually those preparations will be necessary.

It did not take too long before I regretted my apathy about gasoline. Automobile fuel became a precious commodity in the days after the storm, as lines at gas stations were often eight or more hours long (yes, we measured them in hours). Sometimes, people would spend hours in a gas line, only to find the station had nothing to offer.

While my house did not lose power or other utilities for any significant amount of time, many of my friends learned the value of those other preparations. About 90% of Long Islanders lost electricity for at least one day, and in some communities running water or sewer service were lacking. I feel sorry for those who chose to stay, and did not buy bottled water or adequate food.

Luke 21 reminds us that we need to be ready for Christ’s return. Luke 21:36 warns us to stay awake, or be alert, at all times, so that we are always ready for the return of the Lord. Jesus warned us not to be weighed down by “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life” (Luke 21:34). It is tempting to allow the things of this world (both the good and the bad, the necessities and luxuries of life) to weigh us down and distract us from Him. However, the times when we are most distracted, or Christ seems most unnecessary, are the times when we need to be most ready to spend time with Him.

Advent is a time when we can be most prepared or most distracted. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has given way to the maniacal materialism of “Black Friday” and “holiday shopping.” After weeks of abundant charity in the Long Island area, people are resuming their normal lives, which is not always a good thing.

While the world calls us to stores and sales, Christians need to focus more on the coming of the Lord, and His current abiding presence in our lives. That is the message of Advent, as we await the joyous celebration of Christmas. Let us not be swept away by the storm of secularism and materialism as we await the celebration of the coming of Christ.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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