Posts Tagged With: Advent

Advent: Prepare the Way (Luke 3:3-6)

And {John the Baptist} came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:3-6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A dirt road in Tibet that looks like it would benefit from some preparation. Photo by Tenace10, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A new year begins on the church calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season that culminates with Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation. However, Christians should not prepare for Christmas in the same way that the world does.

The world begins its version of “the Christmas season” with Black Friday. The focus is on sales, great deals, and buying presents: Commercialism is the name of the game. God calls us to preparation through repentance.

Before Jesus began His earthly ministry, John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He did not offer great bargains, two for the price of one, or free shipping. His entire lifestyle rejected the things we value today. He wore a simple wardrobe, ate a simple (and rather repulsive) diet of locusts and honey, and preached a radical message of repentance. It was not a generic message like many preachers share today; he gave specific examples of how people should live, not leaving room for doubt.

When describing John the Baptist, Luke cited the prophet Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled, And every mountain and hill will be brought low; The crooked will become straight, And the rough roads smooth; And all flesh will see the salvation of God.” The King was coming. The road had to be ready for His arrival. If you wanted to welcome the King, you prepared a safe road for his entourage. You would fill in the ditches and clear obstacles so that his horse could trot safely into town.

We still prepare roads like this. When we drive our cars, we do not want obstacles like garbage or other debris in the path. We expect the highway department to fill in the potholes.

Meadowbrook State Parkway on Long Island, NY. Trees line both sides of the road. Similar trees had to be cleared before the road could be built. Photo by Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of our roads required thorough preparation before they could be paved. Here on Long Island, we have several major roads that are frequently flanked by trees. At one time, the trees also stood where cars now drive. Trees and other obstacles had to be removed before construction crews could pave the road.

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there is a stretch where they could not remove all of the obstacles. Several mountains blocked the path. So, they blasted tunnels through the mountains to clear a path for cars to travel.

In Pennsylvania, they could not remove the mountains so they cleared tunnels through four of the mountains along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This tunnel goes through Tuscarora Mountain. Photo by Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

It all seems a little drastic when you think about it. People needed a road. It required thorough preparation. Ruthless removal of obstacles was a vital part of the preparation process.

Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ. He came into the world 2000 years ago. For many readers of this article, He came into your life at some time in the past. Someday, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end” (The Nicene Creed). Advent and Christmas look back to His first coming into the world so we can more clearly look forward and prepare for that second coming.

Are we ready? Have we prepared a path for Him? Are there obstacles in our lives that block the path between our hearts and His Spirit? Are there potholes in our spiritual path? Are there twists and turns in our lives that need to be made straight?

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis added).

There may be sinful attitudes, actions, or habits in your life that are hindering your relationship with Christ. There may be encumbrances (other Bible translations say “weight,” “obstacle,” or something similar) that may be holding us back. They might not be bad in themselves, but they have become a hindrance to your walk with Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these to you in the coming weeks and months. Acknowledge them. Confess them to Him. Lay them down before Him and leave them at the foot of Jesus. Walk away and start anew on a clear path.

May the forthcoming year be a time of restoration as you walk on a newly cleared, restored, repaved, and straightened path in your journey with Jesus Christ.

What are some of the encumbrances you encounter in your walk with Christ? What steps can you take, or have you taken in the past, to clear a path to a closer walk with Jesus? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

God’s Righteousness and Justice. III: Practicing Righteousness

“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Christians should be imitators of our heavenly Father, imitating His righteousness.

The Bible frequently calls Christians “children of God.” He is our Father. We are His sons and daughters. Children resemble their parents. Thus, children of God should be similar to their heavenly Father. One way in which we should do that is by bearing His righteousness.

1 John 2:29 tells us that God is righteous. In its comments about this verse, The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville: Cornerstone Bible Publishers, 1988) says, “God is righteous, meaning that He not only opposes what is evil but is the source of what is right.” The Old Testament even uses it as one of the names of God, when Jeremiah 23:6 calls Him “Jehovah-Tsidkenu,” meaning “the Lord our righteousness.” Many Christians like to quote another of John’s descriptions of the Lord, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), but God’s righteousness is just as essential as His love. We cannot ignore it. We cannot think that God’s love is somehow divorced or detached from His holiness and righteousness.

Image from needpix.com, published under a Creative Commons license.

Likewise, we cannot assume that we are true Christians without resembling some of His attributes. We will not be as holy, loving, righteous, or just as He is, and we will always fall short of Jesus’ standard during our earthly lives. We will not be perfect on Earth. However, if we do not bear some of God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot claim to have His Holy Spirit within us. If we are not practicing righteousness—as defined by Scripture, not by the secular media and pop culture—we cannot claim to be children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a season of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus becoming human; it is also the first day of a new year on the church calendar. The world will wait until January 1 to make its New Year’s resolutions, which most people will give up within three weeks. Last year, on the first Sunday of Advent, I challenged readers to pursue a “One Year, One Thing” challenge, inspired by a quote from Thomas a’ Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ: “If every year we rooted out one vice, we would soon become perfect men.” Take some time over the next few days to look at your life: Is there an area of unrighteousness in your life? Is there an aspect of God’s righteousness that you are lacking? Aim to grow in one attribute, turning from one form of unrighteousness, in the coming year. You can read more about this challenge here.

May the coming year be a time of greater righteousness and justice in your life.

How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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