Posts Tagged With: relationship with God

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

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

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Personal God Who Makes Himself Known

“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth” (Psalms 145:18, ESV).

As a personal God, the Lord seeks to be personal with His people. Psalm 145 praises God for numerous ways that He reaches out to His people, showing them His mercy and love. Take some time to read the entire psalm when you have a chance.

God intimately cares about the people He created. He did not merely create the universe and sit back to watch the show. He intervenes in the lives of His people. He wants us to reach out to Him in faith so that He can respond to us in love and mercy.

In the Old Testament, He revealed Himself to His people through His mighty acts of deliverance and provision. The Exodus from Egypt is a great example of this. So is the restoration of the Jews following the Babylonian exile. The Old Testament records His miraculous acts by which He revealed Himself to His people, along with laws and prophetic messages that revealed His will.

However, He wanted more. He is a personal God. An invisible God performing visible miracles was not sufficient. God wanted to draw a people to Himself personally and intimately.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV).

The ancient Jews of Jesus’ time would have thought that God’s highest revelation of Himself was the Law of Moses. The Bible did not offer philosophical explanations about God. It contained stories about what He had done in their lives, laws to explain His will, and prophetic messages announcing what He would do in response to people’s choices. However, in Christ, God went beyond that. God most fully revealed Himself by becoming a man and living among humans as one of us. To know what God is really like, we no longer need abstract concepts. We have a living human God/Man. To know what God is like, we can look to Jesus.

When Jesus was born, God the Son became a man so that we can have a relationship with our Creator. “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst (ca. 1622, public domain, via Wikipedia).

Through Christ, God invites us to share in the relationship that exists between the Persons of the Trinity. The Father and the Son live in an eternal relationship. They were united and working together at creation. Jesus upholds the universe by the Word of His power. The Father has appointed Him heir above all things. By becoming part of a human family, living as part of a human society, and uniting Himself with all mankind, Jesus invites us to join in that relationship with Him. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created mankind in His image. Philippians 2:7-8 tells us that Jesus assumed human form and likeness. God and man became one in the person of Christ, so that we can experience the full intimacy with God that He originally intended.

Because of Jesus, we can echo the words of Job:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5, ESV).

Maybe we do not physically see Jesus walking around now, but we have a living human illustration of what God is like. We can leap beyond knowing about God (like some distant celebrity or historical figure), because He wants us to know Him personally (like a family member or friend). A personal God wants to be known personally, and He invites us to come to Him by faith.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | 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)

the_resurrection_day

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

The Prodigal Son—Luke 15:11–32

Albrecht Dürer - The Prodigal Son - WGA7275.jpg
The younger son in Jesus’ parable fell into hard times when he chose to seek the father’s inheritance without the father’s blessing. Picture by Albrecht DürerWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15393280

Due to the length of this passage, I am simply providing a link to this passage online.

Far too often, I measure myself according to what I do, or what I have accomplished in life. This is probably part of the reason why many men my age go through a “mid-life crisis”: We reach a point when we realize we are in the later stages of our lives, and we do not see where we have made great accomplishments that will go down in history. Let’s face it: I know I will never play in a World Cup soccer tournament or have a number one record on the Billboard charts. I probably have a better chance of publishing a bestselling book, but most of my most elaborate dreams will not come true.

This emotional, existential affliction is not limited to 50-year-old men. Men and women of any age make the same mistake. We measure our worth according what we do. However, God is more concerned with who we are than with what we can accomplish.

While reading the parable of the Prodigal Son recently, I realized that both sons made the same mistake. They had a perspective on their relationship with their father that completely contradicted the father’s perspective. As a result, they missed out on much of what their father had to offer them.

The younger son chose to claim his inheritance without preserving his father’s presence. The parable begins with one of the worst insults a son could give his father: He wanted his inheritance, even though the father was still alive! Then, he took the money and ran, making a series of foolish choices and falling victim to misfortune. When he realized his bankruptcy, he decided to ask his father to hire him as a servant.

Many Christians want the privileges of a relationship with Jesus, without the actual relationship. How many want to go to heaven someday, but do not want to pray, or worship God, or serve Him now? “Let me say a sinner’s prayer, and maybe go to church (as long as it entertains me or makes me feel good about myself). Let me enjoy my life as much as possible right now, using God’s blessings to make me happy, and give lip service to Jesus Christ. He will give me everlasting life in heaven when I die, just because I said that sinner’s prayer once. When I go to heaven, maybe they’ll have wide-screen TVs!” (OK, I rarely hear people pondering televisions in heaven, but I think most of us imagine a vacation resort in the clouds, with little thought of Jesus.)

The older son made the opposite mistake. He stayed in the father’s presence, but he viewed himself more as a slave than a son. He measured his relationship with the father as a job, not a privileged position as a family member. In verse 29, he said to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” How does the father respond? “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (verse 31). The father seems to be hinting, “You never asked! I would have let you have a goat so that you could invite your friends over for a party!” This son is willing to work like a slave, but does not realize that his father wants more from him: He wants him to think of himself as a son, with the privileges of that relationship, not as a servant with just a list of obligations.

I have to admit that I relate to this older son more in my relationship with Christ. It is easy for me to turn my faith into a to-do list. Have I prayed enough today? Have I read the Bible enough? Here’s a new ministry at church: I had better get involved, even though I’m already involved in a few other things.

The lesson for all of us is clear: Seek that relationship first. Spend time with your Father: Not out of obligation, but as a chance to build a relationship. When you receive a blessing from God (a better job, a healing, an answer to prayer), stay close to Him. Serve Him out of love, not as a slave, but as a son or daughter.

Both sons in the parable missed a blessing. They both needed to learn that their privileges were gifts from the father: undeserved; freely available if they would seek and ask; and best enjoyed in a relationship with Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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