Posts Tagged With: fellowship

Rooting Out Pride and Cultivating Humility

To follow up on my recent post about pride and humility, I would like to offer a few biblical suggestions for rooting out pride and cultivating humility. This is not an exhaustive list. The Bible has a lot to say about pride: the word appears about 50 times, depending on which version you are reading. This does not count synonyms (“haughtiness,” “arrogance”) or related vices like self-righteousness or hypocrisy. I guess I should study all of those verses; I had to look up how many times the word appears, so I have a lot to learn!

Prayer: James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated). Prayer prevents pride in two ways. First, it forces us to acknowledge that we need God’s help. Many of my prayers involve situations that are completely out of my control. I cannot control other people’s actions; sometimes I can barely control my own! When I pray for a situation that is beyond my control and the situation turns out okay, I am reminded that Someone greater than me is in control.

Second, when done properly, prayer forces us to face our motives. The Book of Common Prayer contains four daily sessions of prayer known as the “Daily Office.” Three of those include confession of sin near the beginning. Whether you follow a structured form of prayer like the Daily Office or a more freestyle approach, make certain to set aside time at the very beginning for confession of your sins.

Confession sets the tone for our prayers. As we pray, we have to look at ourselves honestly. Where have I fallen short? Where do I continue to fall short? What are the odds that I am going to give in to my weaknesses before I get to the Old Testament reading for this evening? That can set the tone for a related spiritual discipline.

Scripture reading: If I have been forced to focus on my motives during prayer, I am ready to ask myself the hard questions while reading the Bible. What can I learn from this? What is this saying to me? How am I like the person who sinned in this passage? How am I not like Jesus? How am I failing to live by what He said? How can I be more like Jesus, or at least a little bit more like some of the other heroes of the Bible?

If you read a particular passage of Scripture and cannot find a way that you are falling short, thank God for His grace. He is working on you. If you read a passage and can find excuses why you do not have to follow it, admit it for what it is: pride.

Fellowship: Few things will tear down our pride like other people. Fellowship with other believers is a key part of overcoming pride. Other people will annoy you. They will reveal where you lack patience. They will expose your weak spots. Sometimes, this is unintentional; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and they will grind your gears in the process. Sometimes, it is intentional and mean-spirited. Jesus calls us to forgive. This will take humility. Sometimes, it is intentional, but with the best of intentions. When somebody lovingly points out your shortcomings or misguided motives, it is an opportunity to learn, repent, and grow.

Over the years, I have known numerous church-hoppers. They do not remain members of a particular church for a long time, but will move on to a new congregation when they feel like “I am not being fed here anymore.” I have also known several people who stopped going to church, even though they say they are still disciples of Jesus. In both cases, they usually leave when a person or teaching attacks their pride. Rather than learn humility, they run. Don’t run; God is working on you. He is just using people to do it.

Shut up and listen: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). You can always learn something. Do not try to show off that you are your Bible study group’s resident theologian or should be the next pastor. Take some time to listen. Understand why people believe what they believe. See if they have some insight that you need. You will probably learn something and grow closer to the Lord as a result.

Finally, measure yourself against God’s standard: Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God, who has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ, is our standard. I have sinned because I have not lived up to God’s standard. Whether I am better or worse than another person is not the issue. Even though I have not killed as many people as Hitler did, I still need God’s forgiveness. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). You still have room to grow, and that is okay. It is part of being human. God becomes our standard, so we have eternity to learn and grow.

Somebody has said that humility is an elusive quality: As soon as you think you have it, you lose it. However, rooting out pride and cultivating humility is not a one-time event. You cannot schedule it on Google Calendar and seriously hope to complete the task by January 1. It is a crucial part of our lifetime journey of walking with Jesus and growing in grace.

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

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

Of Trees and Tumbleweeds: Rooted in and Nourished by God’s Word

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers (Psalms 1:1–3).

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5–8).

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

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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.

tree_planted_by_streams_of_water

A tree planted by a stream. Photo by Wing-Chi Poon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Nourishment becomes part of the one who receives it. We say “You are what you eat,” because the food people eat becomes part of their bodies. Healthy food produces healthy persons. A tree does not observe water and soil-based nutrients; it absorbs them. It does not look at the sunlight; it absorbs sunlight to begin photosynthesis, thereby producing more nutrients.

A person is not nourished by studying or thinking about food. We need to eat it. It is eventually absorbed into the cells of the body to become part of the person.

Likewise, we do not merely look at God’s Word to gain intellectual knowledge. We absorb it through reading, learning, studying, and meditating upon it. Eventually, it becomes part of who we are and comes out in action. Jesus said the difference between the wise and foolish builders in His parable (Matthew 7:24–27) was that the wise heard His word and obeyed it, while the foolish heard it and did not obey. The foolish builder is like the believer who hears the Word of God, plays around with it, and then decides to follow the advice of unbelievers.

Christians must choose to be guided and nourished by God’s Word, not by worldly influences. “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). If we spend too much time listening to the secular media, entertainment industry, pop psychology, and our unbelieving friends and family, we can easily cut ourselves off from the spiritual nourishment of God’s Word.

Thus, in addition to reading the Bible and praying on our own, we need fellowship with committed fellow followers of Jesus. Instead of walking in the counsel of the wicked, let us seek the counsel of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Instead of standing in the way of sinners, let us walk arm-in-arm with our brothers and sisters in Christ, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Instead of sitting in the seat of scoffers, let us kneel in prayer along with those who join in intercession for the souls of the lost. Fellowship with other committed believers will keep us rooted by the streams of God’s living water. We need mature, divinely anointed and ordained men of God who will share their experience and wisdom to keep us grounded in God:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11–14).

The voices we hear will determine the thoughts we think, the ideas we believe, the attitudes we express, and the lives we live. Let us seek to hear the voice of God. To confirm that we are hearing the voice of God, and not one that leads us away from Him, let us remain close to those who are also listening to hear His voice.

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

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

Understanding the Deep Waters of the Heart

“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).

When studying the topic of “renewal of the mind” and its impact on a believer’s life, it is easy to think of Christianity as something that goes on purely within one’s brain, disconnected from the rest of the world. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Renewing our minds is simply one part of the Christian life, intertwined with other aspects. Our minds are renewed not only through Bible study and prayer, but also through corporate worship, ministry to others, and fellowship.

Proverbs 20:5 is a difficult Scripture to understand, mainly because we are forced to begin with this question: Is the man in the first part of the verse the same as the “man of understanding” in the second part? I believe they are two different persons, and will write from that perspective. (While the ESV uses the word “man” both times, it might be better to say “person”; we can just as accurately speak about the purpose of a woman’s heart and a woman of understanding.) Even great men need wise counselors, and King Solomon (to whom God gave wisdom and understanding “beyond measure,” according to 1 Kings 4:29) realized he needed such counsel.

The Amplified Bible translates this verse slightly differently, hoping to make the first half of the passage more clear:

“A plan (motive, wise counsel) in the heart of a man is like water in a deep well,
But a man of understanding draws it out.”

The Hebrew word “etzah” (“purpose” in the ESV) is usually translated “counsel,” but can also mean “plan” or “advice.” It refers to what a person hopes to accomplish, including his goals and strategies. These are closely intertwined with one’s motives. What one hopes to do, how he hopes to do it, and why he wants to do it are important questions.

However, such things are often “deep water.” John Wesley said this means that such things are “secret and hard to be discovered.” The Amplified Bible envisions someone who trying to water from a deep well.

 

hirondellea_gigas

Hirondella gigea, a native of the Mariana Trench. By Daiju Azuma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mariana Trench is the deepest underwater location on Earth. In the Pacific Ocean, it is 36,000 feet below sea level (more than a mile deeper than the height of Mount Everest!) and hosts some of the most unique lifeforms on Earth. Until scientists could develop equipment capable of descending to that depth (the water pressure would crush most undersea probes), we had no idea what kind of creatures were there. Men needed understanding and wisdom to find out what lived there.

A person of understanding will draw these depths out of your soul. He can give good advice. He can hear what seems to be lacking in your explanations and ask you the tough questions that you need to think about while you pursue your goals.

I remember a time when I was in college, when I ran into a friend at a Christian group’s meeting. I asked how she was doing, and she began to talk about a situation in her life that had her troubled. I asked her a few questions; she kept talking about the problem. I asked something else; she talked further. After a few minutes, she said something like, “You know what? I think I should….” Then, she thanked me for my advice. At no point did I give her actual advice or tell her what I thought she should do. I had simply asked a few questions and listened. As she thought about her situation while speaking, she realized what she needed to do. (I can think of a few times when I have been on the receiving end of such “advice that was not really advice,” when I encountered someone who was willing to listen and care.)

Often, that is all that a person needs. We are tempted to tell people what they must do, when instead we simply need to ask questions, listen, and silently ask the Holy Spirit to give wisdom. The person of understanding may ask questions about why they want to do something, how the situation developed, who will be affected by its outcome, or what options they have considered. The list can go on. We can often look back at our own experiences to provide wisdom, not by telling people what to do, but simply by remembering what a similar situation was like for us.

Finally, “deep water” can make us think of one of Jesus’ images for the Holy Spirit:

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37–39).

The deep water reminds us of the “rivers of living water” flowing with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, which we often have difficulty discerning. Some Christians are particularly gifted with wisdom and can help others discern exactly what the Holy Spirit is saying to them. We would be wise to seek such counsel, even when we think we have heard from the Holy Spirit. A person of understanding can provide clarity and perspective, and help us see when we are allowing our own selfish carnal thinking to pollute divine guidance.

This is why “renewal of the mind” must occur within the context of fellowship. Left to our own devices with the Word of God, we can be tempted to simply reinforce harmful thought patterns, plans, and motives by distorting Scripture to suit our agendas. However, a trusted person of understanding can help us confront the negative thinking and fine-tune our perspective.

People in Twelve-Step programs often speak of “sharing our experiences, strength, and hope with others.” May we each find people who can compassionately share their experience, strength, hope and wisdom with us so that that we can grow in our knowledge of Christ. Furthermore, may we all find the wisdom that we can share with others. This is how we grow as believers and become transformed by the renewing of our minds.

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

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

Facebook: Fellowship or Fantasy Friendships?

This is a revised and updated version of an article I originally published on my blog in 2010.

I love the Internet. Some people might say I spend too much time online. That may be true. The Internet can be a dangerous place. Even if you stay on safe websites, it can become an escape from the real world.

I especially enjoy spending time on Facebook. It has become an efficient way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. I can get regular updates from ministries or organizations in which I am interested (sometimes daily or several times per day). My church very effectively uses it to broadcast announcements and updates, and our church’s online group is a great place to share prayer requests.

Yet, some people have an exaggerated positive idea about Facebook and other social media. I have known several Christians who claim it is their primary source of fellowship. I have also read blogs where people talk about having online accountability partners. It sounds good, but it is wrong.

Facebook, or any other Internet resource, is not a valid source for friendship, fellowship, or any other kind of close relationship. It is an excellent supplement, but it should be secondary to real-world face-to-face relationships. Getting your fellowship online is like taking vitamins or nutritional supplements. Taking vitamins and supplements is a great idea, as long as you also eat healthy food, get regular exercise, and take other steps to care for your health. Likewise, social media can be a great way to supplement your real-world relationships. However, it is emotionally and spiritually dangerous to build your entire social life around the Internet.

I currently have 383 friends on Facebook. (Maybe I should cut a few out; according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, most people can only maintain about 150 casual friendships.) There are a few whom I have never met in person. There are also several whom I would probably have no, or extremely limited, contact with now, if not for the social-networking site (including distant cousins or friends from school and college). Then, there is a group of people I see in person on a regular basis: family members, a handful of co-workers, people from church, and close friends.

Despite having so many opportunities to stay in touch with  all of these people online, I cannot think of Facebook as “fellowship.” A good supplement to fellowship, but not the real thing. Here is why.

Most studies find that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Suppose you see me in church; you say, “Hi, Mike, how are you?” I might say, “I’m OK.” Do you believe me? The tone of my voice, my facial expression, and my posture will tell you if I mean, “I am doing quite well, thank you. Everything in my life is good,” or “I am miserable, I feel lousy, but I really do not want to talk about it.”

Online, you will not get those nonverbal queues. I can continue to pretend all is well. I can edit myself online to make certain I project the image I want you to see, not necessarily the one that is true. If you see me in person, you are more likely to know if I am being honest or if I am hiding something.

If you see me in person on a regular basis, you have a chance to know the real me. Once you know me in person, you can know more of the background of my life when you read my posts, either on this blog or elsewhere online.

With people who know you in the real world, you cannot create a fake persona. Online, you can pretend to be the person you want people to think you are. That can be very different from who you really are. You can hide your real hobbies and interests online. You can pretend you have it all together, when in fact, you are crying inside. The people who see you on a regular basis know if something is wrong. The people who only know about you through the Internet might think you are a spiritual giant, when in fact you are living in emotional, spiritual, or moral defeat.

So, if you have been relying on Facebook, Twitter, or any other online service to provide “fellowship” for you, step away from your computer and turn off your cell phone. Get around people who live near you. To my Christian readers: Get more involved in church. Find people who will care for you and spend time for you IN PERSON, not merely online. You may even need to consider taking a fast from the Internet, if it has become an obsession.

It is great to be able to keep in touch with people who live far away or whom you can only see once or twice a week due to your busy schedules. But, make time to be with with other people, in person. Find real friendship and fellowship in the real world, not in the virtual universe of the Internet.

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

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

1-corinthians-10-13-1024x768This verse does not say that your temptations are easy. It just promises us that God will provide the way of escape out of your temptations. I share that observation right from the beginning, because there are times when I have been discouraged by temptation. If this verse is true, why did I fail? Did God actually allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able to handle?

The temptations Paul’s audiences faced were, at times, incredible. Corinth has been called “the Las Vegas of the Ancient World,” due to the prevalence of brothels, saloons, and other forms of wickedness and immorality. With top-flight athletes competing nude at the Isthmian Games, a temple devoted to the worship of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, etc., sin was rampant. A committed Christian would find it difficult, if not impossible, to walk out of his or her house without being offered the sinful pleasures of this world.

Actually, as I wrote that last paragraph, I thought, “That sounds like New York!” Professional athletes here may not compete naked: We have the Internet and cable TV to provide that temptation. So, we do not even need to leave our houses; debauchery can get pumped directly into our homes if we are not careful.

In addition to such moral challenges, Christians in Paul’s day faced other temptations. Christianity was viewed by many as a threat to the social order, so persecution was a real concern. Christians were not only tempted to drink excessively, engage in sexual immorality, or things like that. They were tempted, by public pressure and government force, to denounce Jesus and return to their pagan roots.

In spite of that, Paul told them that they had not encountered any temptation except those that are common to people, and that God would provide the way of escape. That does not mean the temptation will be easy: Some temptations are ruthless, and we cannot face them alone or in our own strength. A few of our escape routes from temptation may be:

  • Flee the temptation: 1 Corinthians 6:18 urges us to flee sexual immorality, but the “flee” principle applies to a host of other sins. Are you tempted by internet pornography? Get away from the computer: Go for a walk (leave your smartphone home, if necessary). Are you tempted to get drunk? Do not stick around in a bar or at a party where there is a lot of alcohol.
  • Phone a friend: In Galatians 6:1-2, we are told to restore a person who is caught in a transgression “in a spirit of gentleness.” I will take it one step further: Find that gentle fellow believer—someone you can trust—and ask them to pray with you. Perhaps you know someone who has struggled with your temptation in the past and found victory. (Do not look for the person who will tear you down and treat you poorly: Look for the person who understands your temptation, knows how to overcome it, and will love you through it all.)
  • Renew your mind: James 1:14 tells us that a person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own evil desire. Before we blame the devil, we need to remember that he will only use the ammunition we have placed in our own minds. Therefore, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Studying Scripture and prayer are a great place to begin. As we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds (transforming our thinking) through the Word of God, we defuse some of the ammunition that Satan will try to use against us.

I would love to hear some other suggestions for resisting temptation. Feel free to share your spiritual resources and escape routes in the comments.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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