Posts Tagged With: repentance

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Matthew 5:4)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo from PxHere.

My last article looked at mourning in the context of Easter. While all experience grief and mourning at times, Christians are reminded that bodily death is not the final word. Jesus is the first fruits of those who have and will be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We also will live again.

Nevertheless, the pain of bereavement is real. We mourn when our lives have been drastically changed. Despite our mourning, grief, pain, and sorrow, the Lord offers us a promise. We shall be comforted.

Grief takes many forms. The most obvious form is when a loved one dies. We shed tears at the wake, sob at the funeral, and perhaps even wail during the graveside service. When a family member or close friend dies, we can be overwhelmed by unexpected waves of sorrow, perhaps for no obvious reason, for months—maybe even years.

However, other life-changing events can bring on feelings of grief. One can lose their job and have no idea how they will pay their bills. Maybe their entire sense of self-identity was tied to that job, and now they not only need to learn how to do something else: they feel like they have to learn how to be somebody else. A person can suffer a debilitating illness and mourn the loss of mobility, strength, and the ability to do the things they loved. A couple may divorce; they may mourn “what could have been” in their relationship. Likewise, their children mourn the loss of a level of relationship with one or both parents.

Some other kinds of mourning are related to our relationship with God and His creation. Christians can and should grieve over the presence of evil. Over the last few months, the world has watched in shock and dismay as Russia invaded Ukraine. People have fled their home country to seek safety elsewhere. Civilians, including women and small children, have been killed. A nation is being destroyed. Its people are suffering. A tyrant seems hell-bent on killing people until he gets what he wants. I grieve for the Ukrainian people. Sorrow and anger fill our hearts when we see evil destroying people’s lives.

We may also grieve over our own sin. True confession and repentance have an element of grief to them. We mourn over how we have squandered our time and energy. We grieve over those whom we have harmed. We regret that we have not loved others according to God’s will. Even as we rejoice in the promise of God’s forgiveness, we mourn that we have sinned against Him.

We need to mourn over our sins if we want to experience deliverance and freedom from our sins. To truly overcome an addiction, bad habit, or other life-controlling sinful behavior, we need to reach a point where we hate it in our souls. Drug addicts and alcoholics may struggle their entire lives against the craving for their substance of choice: it made them feel good or brought some kind of pleasure. To live drug- or alcohol-free, they need to grieve the harm it caused them and others. When that grief outweighs the good feelings, repentance is possible. But, they have to come to that point of realizing the harm their choices have caused. They have to confess. They have to mourn. Only then can they be comforted with freedom and sobriety. The same is true for any addiction, habit, or pet sin.

A Christian lifestyle of mourning will clash with the values of the world. The world tells us to seek happiness at any cost. It encourages us to pursue pleasure. It says, “If it feels good, do it.” Basically, it tells us to ignore “bad” feelings.

Image from YouVersion Bible app.

Feelings are not necessarily good or bad. Sorrow, grief, and mourning are not wrong or evil. God has given us our emotional side to help us make sense of what is happening to and around us. Sorrow, grief, and mourning remind us that there is something painful that we have to confront. When mourning the loss of a loved one, it may hurt, but it is our opportunity to emotionally say goodbye to the one we loved and learn to live in a “new normal” where that person is no longer with us.

Likewise, Christians cannot ignore the existence of pain, sorrow, and evil in the world. When we weep over the world’s evil, it is as if God weeps through us. He hates to see people who He made in His image suffer. We should share that indignation.

We cannot ignore the twinges of sorrow when we acknowledge our sin. We should mourn it. It is okay to have sorrowful feelings over our sins. It is the first step toward deliverance.

In a few upcoming posts, we will look more at the second half of this beatitude: that they shall be comforted. The Greek word here is “paraklethesontai.” It is a verb form of the word “parakletos” (comforter, helper, counselor, advocate), which is one of the titles Jesus gave for the Holy Spirit. When we mourn, the Holy Spirit is there to help us. We do not have to wallow in pity. We admit the pain that we feel, and we can wait on God to heal us.

God may also use other people to comfort us. This is an important reason to faithfully fellowship with a church of believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). Eventually, after receiving God’s comfort and healing, we may be the people He uses to comfort others.

O merciful Father, who has taught us in Your holy Word that You do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of all who suffer and mourn. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of Your goodness, lift up Your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer.)

What circumstances or experiences have led you into mourning and grief? Has God given you comfort? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

No Sin Beyond God’s Grace

“There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God?” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, quoted in Quotes from Fyodor Dostoyevsky).

“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28-30, NASB).

Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881. Image from Ruthyoel, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, a Facebook friend who lives in an Asian country where Christianity is a minority religion asked me this question: Is there any sin God will not forgive? He was asking this from an evangelistic perspective—he had been sharing the Gospel with somebody who raised this question. However, this question is also important to consider from a personal perspective: Can I commit any sin that God will not forgive? My friend’s acquaintaince or friend gave an example like this: Suppose a man had a car accident and hit a child. Instead of staying around to make certain the child got help, he drove away. As a result, the child died. I believe the legal term for this is “vehicular manslaughter,” but since I am not a lawyer, it might be “vehicular homicide” or murder. Can God forgive such a person?

That is a very different question than “Can the parents of the child forgive the person?” Humans see certain actions and attitudes that we find repugnant. We might call them unforgivable. What we are saying, though, is that we are unable—or perhaps unwilling—to forgive such people. I have addressed this subject in more detail previously.

Scripture is filled with case of people whom Jesus forgave even though others might consider their sins unforgivable:

  • Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians and was even complicit in the execution of some of them (Acts 7:58-8:1; 9:1-3; 22:1-5; 26:9-12). See this article for a thorough discussion of Saul’s persecution of believers. He was violent and, even though he may not have directly murdered anybody, was an accessory to murder. Nevertheless, Jesus forgave him; we know Saul as St. Paul the apostle, who wrote about one-half of the books in the New Testament.
  • Two men were crucified alongside Jesus. Both are described in the Gospels as “robbers,” and the Roman authorities deemed their crime unforgivable. Both mocked Jesus early into their ordeal (Mark 15:32), but eventually one of them had a change of heart. Jesus forgave him (Luke 23:40-42); He promised that criminal, who perhaps a few minutes earlier may have ridiculed Him, that he would be with Him in paradise.
  • Jesus forgave women who committed adultery.
  • He forgave tax collectors, who usually earned their income by extorting extra money from taxpayers.
  • He forgave others who had willfully and knowingly sinned against the revealed will of God.

Have you committed murder? Have you committed robbery? Have you mocked God or Jesus? Have you committed adultery? Have you used a position of influence as an opportunity to take advantage of others? Have you willingly committed any other sin, knowing that what you were doing was wrong? If so, your sins are forgivable.

Do you know others who have committed these sins? Can you think of people who committed these sins against you? If so, Jesus says these sins are forgivable, whether you like it or not.

Scripture tells us that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) and that God wishes that none should perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). His forgiveness is available to all who will repent and turn to Him by faith, no matter how horrible the sin seems to us.

Photo by form PxHere

What if we repent, ask Jesus into our hearts, and then stumble back into that sin? Suppose the guy who killed a child in a car accident does it again? What if the recovered alcoholic slips and goes on a drinking binge after years of sobriety? What if the adulterer or adulteress stumbles into another immoral relationship? God knows your heart. He knows if you are sincerely repentant and have just fallen back into old habits, or if you are just playing church with no change of heart. Repentance is a change of attitude about sin. It comes from a Greek word, metanoia, which means “change of mind.” When we repent, we turn from a life of sin to a life of following (or, at least, trying to follow) God. Sometimes, we make mistakes even after we repent. Some people repeat really bad sins over and over until they finally repent, ask for forgiveness, and receive salvation. God knows our hearts, and He knows if we have sincerely repented, even if we are continuing to mess up at times.

So, if you are sharing the Gospel and someone asks you if God will really forgive a particular sin, the answer is always “yes.” God wishes for none to perish and for all to come to repentance, no matter how horribly they have sinned in the past.

In your own life: Do not fear that you have committed some unpardonable sin that God will never forgive. You should not go looking for clever new ways to sin so that you can test God’s mercy, but if you do sin, return to Jesus in repentance.

Some readers may wonder about the “unpardonable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is why I included Mark 3:28-30 above. Perhaps you wonder if you have committed it. As I mentioned in the previous post about “unforgivable” sins, there is some debate about what this sin entails. However, one thing seems clear from Scripture: If you are worried or concerned about a particular sin, you have not gone too far. The Holy Spirit is still dealing with you. God has not given up on you. You should not give up on yourself, either. If you have committed this unpardonable sin, you would not know or care about it.

No matter how you have sinned, come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness and a second (or third, or twenty-third, or four-hundred-ninetieth) chance. If someone has hurt you, remember: They are not beyond God’s reach, and He may still forgive them. If someone has committed sins that seem horrendous, bring them to Jesus: He is ready and willing to forgive them and to cleanse them from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

No matter what: Come to Jesus, and invite others to come to Him too.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Love of God | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Baptism of Our Lord: To Fulfill All Righteousness

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

The baptism of Jesus. Image by Ananth Subray, published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. For some time, John the Baptist had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). People came and confessed their sins to him (Matthew 3:6). They did not merely admit that they were sinners: “Nobody’s perfect” is not a confession. The confessed specific sins, and John gave explicit instructions about changes they should make (Luke 3:10-14). In many cases, those sins were common activities: Roman soldiers normally used their power to coerce, manipulate, and rob people; tax collectors used their authority to demand more money from people than the government required. We still excuse our sins by saying “Everybody’s doing it,” but that pretense did not satisfy John the Baptist or God.

Amid John’s ministry, Jesus came for baptism. John immediately recognized Him as the Messiah and realized, “I have need to be baptized by You.” John admitted that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoe (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was here asking to be baptized. Why? “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way: “we must do all that God wants us to do.”

Why would Jesus need baptism for repentance? He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Perhaps this verse points to an answer:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Jordan River. Photo by Jean Housen, published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many think that Jesus fulfilled His entire ministry of atonement on the cross. However, His entire life was a sacrifice for our sins. As John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River, they could imagine their sins being washed, like dirt from their bodies, into the water. Now, here came Jesus: He did not have the dirt of sin on Him. As He went into the water, He began to symbolically take the sins upon Himself. I can imagine Him confessing the sins of all the people present, knowing that He would die for those sins three years later.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:1–7).

He was baptized as one of us. He identified with us, accepted our human nature, and joined us in the waters or repentance in baptism. Now, we join Him in a baptism of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. His baptism in the water began a ministry that culminated in His baptism in death upon a cross. When we come to Him in faith, we receive baptism into His death and resurrection. We accept His death upon ourselves, receive His forgiveness and the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit, and live a new life in resurrection power as we continue to walk with Him.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and the insanity did not end with the beginning of a new year. We will continue to face challenges and tests. Are we willing to be fully immersed in the life of Christ as we face the uncertain times that lie ahead? While our world remains uncertain, Jesus’ life-giving power remains trustworthy and certain.

How are you experiencing baptism into the life of Christ on a daily basis? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, 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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: