Posts Tagged With: spiritual growth

 
 

Merely Human?—1 Corinthians 3:1–4

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4).

In my last two posts (here and here), I discussed the need for Christians to grow up and become mature in our thinking and living. When we are born again, we become “babes in Christ,” but we should eventually grow up. Unfortunately, many Christians remain in a “condition of protracted infancy” (to use the words of nineteenth century pastor Andrew Murray).

The divisiveness we see in the body of Christ is a dangerous symptom of this rampant spiritual immaturity. According to St. Paul, it shows that we are not aware of our identity as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We act like ordinary people. We forget that we are children of God. Instead, we act like we are “merely human.”

What is your spiritual identity? Are you a child of God, made in His image and filled with the Holy Spirit? Or, are you merely human, trying to follow a set of religious teachings in your own strength?

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Andrew Murray

Too often, we justify our sins and shortcomings by saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m only human.” God calls His children to something greater. We are called to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9); in other words, we should look like our heavenly Father, especially in our actions. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore can (and should) bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). We have been adopted as fellow heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17; see here for more on this subject). Despite the clear teaching of the New Testament, many Christians think of ourselves as “only human” and do not experience the full power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. As Andrew Murray says in “Spiritual or Carnal”:

There are thus three states in which a man may be found. The unregenerate is still the natural man, not having the Spirit of God. The regenerate, who is still a babe in Christ, whether because he is only lately converted, or because he has stood still and not advanced, is the carnal man, giving way to the power of the flesh. The believer in whom the Spirit has obtained full supremacy, is the spiritual man.…

All that is carnal and sinful, all the works of the flesh, must be given up and cast out. But no less must all that is carnal, however religious it appears, all confidence in the flesh, all self-effort and self-struggling be rooted out. The soul, with its power, must be brought into the captivity and subjection of Jesus Christ. In deep and daily dependence on God must the Holy Spirit be accepted, waited for, and followed.

This is not a call to perfectionism. We all have our good and bad days. These three groups are a helpful guide, but many of us waver between being carnal and spiritual. We also may be stronger in some areas of our lives than others. I have been commended by some for showing a lot of patience in some circumstances and with some people, only to show that I really lack that fruit when dealing with other circumstances and people.

However, we should stop accepting a lower standard for ourselves than God offers. Are we merely human, or are we filled with the Holy Spirit? If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, are we willing to allow Him to work in our lives, or will we continue to use our humanity as an excuse to live in defeat or worldliness.

We often think a carnal or worldly Christian is one who fails to follow a few rules. We may think carnal or weak Christians are the ones who drink alcohol, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, and listen to rock music. However, Scripture points out some other marks of a carnal Christian.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. 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. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:1–5)

According to James, the brother of Jesus, the marks of a worldly carnal Christian are quarrels, fighting, covetousness, selfishness, etc. Other sins grow out of those. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul lists jealousy, strife, and divisions as a few marks of spiritual immaturity. We often overlook those. Many Christians seem to think these sins are moral or spiritual virtues (“he has strong convictions and he’s passionate about the truth!”).

Throughout First Corinthians, Paul addresses a lot of problems that grew out of this carnal state. A major one was arguing over favorite preachers. The church was being divided by people who bragged that they followed Paul, Apollos (a particularly eloquent teacher), Cephas (Simon Peter), or some other leader. There was even a faction that said, “I follow Christ.” While that sounds most noble, they do not seem to get Paul’s seal of approval. It is possible that they merely boasted, “I do not need to listen to any of the apostles or teachers. I will just follow the spirit of Christ within me. You can’t tell me what to do or think!”

We may not drive around with bumper stickers that say, “I follow Paul”; or wear tee shirts reading, “I follow Apollos” or “Cephas.” But, the church remains divided. We argue over denominations. Some refuse to fellowship with people who say they believe in Jesus, but do not share their views about end-time prophecy, sacraments, or eternal security. We no longer about Paul, Apollos, or Peter (I know some who cling to “my-idea-of-Jesus-and-I-will-listen-to-nobody-else”). Instead, we follow John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, or some other prominent preacher. Whenever we place a human teacher over God’s word, and create division in that person’s name, we have accepted carnal worldly Christianity. We have chosen to be merely human. It is time to grow up.

Growing in Christ is a lifetime commitment. However, God has given us His Holy Spirit. We do not have to accept “merely human” as our standard. We do not have to live the Christian life in our own strength. Let us move beyond being merely human to live as children of God.

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

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

Growing Up in Christ. II: Maturity in Christ—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

jesus_blessing_the_children1In the preceding post, we introduced the subject of carnal Christianity and saw that Jesus calls us to grow into spiritual maturity. This is a life-long journey for us. We begin as babes in Christ; we grow up to become mature men and women of God. The previous article showed that many Christians remain mired in a state of prolonged spiritual infancy, seeking self-gratification instead of thinking and living like mature believers.

To truly achieve spiritual maturity, we must avoid the temptation to stay focused on ourselves and our desires. Many Christians fail to grow up because they bounce from church to church. When asked why they are leaving Church A to find a new congregation, they often complain that “I’m not being fed there.” This is usually a shallow attempt to sound spiritual, when you really mean, “I do not like what the pastor is saying or how the worship band plays. The church is not entertaining me.” (Remember in the preceding article, how infants need to be fed, but adults learn to feed others.)

There is a simple message for those who approach the Christian life like this: It’s time to grow up. For those who think the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are for personal amusement or to show off how spiritual and holy you are: It’s time to grow up. For those who approach their Christian walk as a way to build up your own ego, and not as an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God for Jesus’ glory: It’s time to grow up.

What are some of the marks of spiritual maturity? How do we know we have moved beyond spiritual infancy to maturity in Christ? A few questions will help us answer that question for ourselves:

  • Am I guided by Godly wisdom or the wisdom of the world? (See James 3:13–18.)
  • Am I motivated by the love of God or a desire to put myself first? (See 1 Corinthians 13.)
  • Am I guided by the Word of God or my own opinions? As I wrote several weeks ago, “One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases?” When confronted by one of the “hard teachings” of the Bible, is the Word of God true, or do I know better than He does?
  • Are my values centered around Christ, or are they driven by the culture around me or my own desires?
  • Most importantly, do I make decisions seeking to build others up and draw them closer to Jesus, or am I driven by desires for self-gratification or self-glorification? Do I get excited when I see other people come to know Jesus or grow in their walk with Him? Or, do I try to do things that merely make me feel good? Am I most concerned that I look good to others? Who am I most trying to impress? Myself? God? The people in my church? Or, the unsaved people around me?

Spiritual growth and renewal of the mind is a process. It takes years for a human baby to mature from birth until he or she can effectively nurture his or her own children. Likewise, it may take years from the time you surrender your life to Christ until you achieve spiritual maturity. Indeed, full spiritual maturity—perfection—is a feature of the next life, not this world.

In Ephesians 4, St. Paul describes the purpose of the ministry. It is a good summary of any church’s ministry goals and a guide for measuring our own spiritual growth:

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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16).

God is calling us to think like adults and live like mature men and women of God. What steps can you take to move closer to that goal today?

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Growing Up in Christ. I: Beyond Carnality—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

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Jesus invites us to come to Him like small children, but He calls us to become mature in Him. Picture by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Renewal of the Christian’s mind, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, has a goal. God is seeking to raise us from spiritual immaturity to maturity. The Word of God calls us to mature thinking and living, not immaturity. While Jesus calls us to childlike faith (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:17), He calls us away from childish behavior.

The circumstances that led St. Paul to write 1 Corinthians 14:20 seem to continue to this day. The Corinthian church was driven by an over-emphasis—perhaps it is more accurate to say a misguided emphasis—on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the more dramatic manifestations. They were eager to speak in tongues and prophesy, but failed to show the love of God. Gifts of the Holy Spirit became excuses to show off or claim some kind of spiritual superiority over one another when God intends them to be an opportunity to serve others and build up the church. Egos replaced evangelism and edification. This discussion essentially begins in 1 Corinthians 11:17 (where he discusses abuse of the Lord’s Supper) and continues to the end of chapter 14. On a few occasions, he contrasts spiritual maturity with spiritual childishness. His great discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 culminates as follows:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11).

There is a time for childishness, but as we grow in our faith we should achieve spiritual maturity. Certain shortcomings are acceptable when you are young; as you mature, they should become a thing of the past. When my son was a baby, his mother and I had to feed him: He could not eat unless somebody placed a bottle or food into his mouth. After a few months, we could place food in front of him and he could put it in his own mouth. After a few years, he could go into the kitchen and get his own food. Eventually, he could go to the store and buy his own food. Now, he works for a living and provides food for three children of his own.

It was completely normal for us to spoon-feed him when he was about four months old. Now, he is able to feed himself, and he is able to feed others.

This is not just a physical pattern for maturity, but also a spiritual pattern. As new Christians, we need to be “fed” spiritually. Eventually, we should reach a point where we accept responsibility for our own walk with God. A final stage of spiritual maturity is when we no longer worry about whether the church is “feeding” us and look for ways that we can nurture others in the body of Christ. Andrew Murray refers to this early stage of Christian growth as “carnal Christianity.” In chapter 1 of The Master’s Indwelling, he describes the “carnal state” as follows:

It is simply a condition of protracted infancy. You know what that means. Suppose a beautiful babe, six months old. It cannot speak, it cannot walk, but we do not trouble ourselves about that; it is natural, and ought to be so. But suppose a year later we find the child not grown at all, and three years later still no growth; we would at once say: “There must be some terrible disease;” and the baby that at six months old was the cause of joy to every one who saw him, has become to the mother and to all a source of anxiety and sorrow. There is something wrong; the child can not grow. It was quite right at six months old that it should eat nothing but milk; but years have passed by, and it remains in the same weakly state. Now this is just the condition of many believers. They are converted; they know what it is to have assurance and faith; they believe in pardon for sin; they begin to work for God; and yet, somehow, there is very little growth in spirituality, in the real heavenly life. We come into contact with them, and we feel at once there is something wanting; there is none of the beauty of holiness or of the power of God’s Spirit in them. This is the condition of the carnal Corinthians, expressed in what was said to the Hebrews: “You have had the Gospel so long that by this time you ought to be teachers, and yet you need that men should teach you the very rudiments of the oracles of God.” Is it not a sad thing to see a believer who has been converted five, ten, twenty years, and yet no growth, and no strength, and no joy of holiness?

There is a time for immaturity, but eventually, a Christian should grow beyond that. In the following post, we will look at what spiritual maturity should look like.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Renewal of the Mind by the Holy Spirit

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

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During His farewell discourse to the disciples, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. “Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles” (1308-1311), by Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons].

Recently, most of the articles on this site have talked about “renewal of the mind.” Romans 12:2 is the keynote verse for this topic. This verse appears in a section where Paul teaches about serving God and His people: offering ourselves as living sacrifices, using the gifts of the Spirit, etc. Verse 2 provides a context for Christian maturity so that we can fulfill that calling.

Before a disciple follows Christ, he is conformed to this world. He clings to worldly ideas about human nature, God, the universe, right and wrong, relationships, and virtually everything else that matters. A significant part of spiritual growth is renewal of the mind, as the Holy Spirit changes your thoughts and perspective. This leads to transformation (also a work of the Holy Spirit). As a result, the disciple can clearly discern the will of God. To stop conforming to this world, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Most disciples came to Christ with many misguided beliefs and an abundance of “stinking thinking.” Changing those ideas takes a lifetime. We have learned deception from our families, our culture, the media, educational and social institutions, etc. For example, many American Christians read the Bible through a lens of individualism. American society glorifies the self-made man. It urges us to put ourselves and our desires first. We may start to believe that the Bible itself teaches individualism. As a result, we hear the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” and are tempted to live as if our faith in Christ is detached from that of every other Christian. We may even try to redefine Jesus in our own image.

The process of mind-renewal takes a lifetime. The disciple of Jesus Christ is always growing throughout his or her life. As the disciple learns to think with the mind of Christ, he or she can more clearly discern the will of God.

Discerning the will of God implies a desire to obey it: not merely to understand or analyze it. Many Christians are trapped by another of Western culture’s lies, the belief that we can understand anything by analyzing it (thus, if I cannot rationalize it, it cannot be true). However, analysis can lead to spiritual paralysis. For example, some Christians approach the description of God’s will in Romans 12:2—“what is good and acceptable and perfect”—by trying to distinguish between different degrees of divine will. They try to distinguish between God’s perfect will and a lower degree of His will (good, acceptable, permissive, or something else). They think that really spiritual Christians should follow God’s “perfect” will, but that there is a lesser “good/acceptable” will that others can get away with.

Let us stop trying to compartmentalize and hyper-analyze God’s will and simply seek to know and obey it. God’s will for our lives is always good, acceptable, and perfect.

Please note, though, that we can distinguish between God’s global will for all people and His particular will for an individual. There are some actions and attitudes that God desires from all of us. However, He may expect each of us to practice them in different ways. We are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. How we manifest that love will depend on our unique personalities and abilities.

God’s will is always consistent with Scripture, but He may call us to live it out in specific ways. For example, a Christian who is capable of attending church should not say, “God wants me to stop going to church and to just worship Him by myself.” That is simply unbiblical (see, e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25). So, if you think God is telling you to stop attending church and cease fellowship with other believers, do not believe it: That is probably Satan posing as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

However, you will not find a clear verse in the Bible telling you which church to attend. Does that leave us completely off the hook? Not at all. Instead, we should try to determine which particular local church God is calling us to attend. The Bible offers principles we can consider while we pray to learn God’s will: For example, if a church is a “good fit” for you, it is one where you will mature spiritually and where you will find opportunities to use your gifts and talents to serve others. It may not be the most entertaining, largest feel-good church.

Finally, let us bear in mind that renewal of the mind and transformation of the soul are works of the Holy Spirit. We can read the Bible for six hours per day, but if the Holy Spirit is not involved in our efforts, we will not mature spiritually. If we try to understand the Bible with our own prejudices and assumptions, without seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, it will not succeed. We must ask Him to speak through us via His word. We should trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in our lives, since spiritual renewal is entirely His work:

“…{He} saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:5).

“…{Put} off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:12-16).

May we be transformed day by day by the renewing of our minds, so that we may have the mind of Christ and know the will of our heavenly Father, through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lent: A Time of Renewal

(This is a slightly updated version of post that I originally wrote in 2011.)

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Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 10 this year, begins the season of the church calendar known as Lent. Many Christians think of Lent as a time of fasting. We may give up a favorite food or hobby. In some churches, people give up eating meat on Fridays during Lent (some churches urge their members to give up meat on Wednesdays as well at this time). However, Lent is not just about fasting. It should not be a season for meaningless ritualized self-denial, but a time when we renew our dedication to Christ. This is a prime time for strengthening our devotion to Christ so that we can walk with him throughout the year.

In the early church, the 40 hours preceding dawn on Easter Sunday were set aside for fasting, to commemorate Jesus’ time in the tomb. This eventually led to the 40-day fast that we now know as Lent. This time period is associated with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2).

In most Western churches (including the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches that observe Lent), the 40 days include only weekdays and Saturdays. Sundays are always considered “feast days” (in celebration of Christ’s resurrection), so fasting is not required on those days.

In the early church, new converts were usually baptized on Easter. Lent served as a time to prepare for baptism, and the Lenten fast was a significant part of that preparation. For mature believers, it is a good opportunity to renew our baptismal vows or reflect on the significance of our new life in Christ. So, even though Lent call us to reflect on our sinfulness, mortality, and need for a Savior, it should also remind us of our new life in Christ and the ways that we are being transformed from glory to glory.

Many Christians receive ashes, in the shape of a cross, on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. This reminds us that we are created from the dust of the earth, and that we will return to dust, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Ash Wednesday reminds us that we needed a Savior to take away the penalty for our sins. Lent reminds us to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we wish to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:34).

It is true that Lent can become a meaningless ritual for some people. Many people give up things that are not important to them. They may give up a food that they enjoy but will probably not miss. For example, I like potato chips…when they are around. However, since I do not buy them too often, I might go weeks without eating any. This would not be a real Lenten fast for me. That might not be as silly as giving up something you do not even like, but it still would not be a genuine fast. There should be some significant sacrifice involved.

On the other hand, we must be careful about legalism in this regard. Observing Lent does not save us, nor does it automatically make someone a better Christian. Although Lent can be a powerful way to seek personal revival and renewal in our walk with the Lord, it is by no means the only way. A Christian who goes on a radical fast during Lent, but neglects his relationship with Christ the rest of the year, is not going to achieve spiritual maturity. Lent is a great time to seek a closer relationship with the Lord, but we must continue to seek that relationship after Easter and throughout the year.

The following are a few suggestions for a meaningful Lent:

First, make your Lenten fast meaningful. Give up a food or activity that will be a real sacrifice. I drink a lot of coffee, so on several occasions I gave that up during Lent. A couch potato might give up watching television for 40 days. Perhaps it will become a permanent lifestyle change. That is not the main goal, though. The goal is to give something up so that we can follow Christ more closely. Ideally, the time that would be spent engaging in a favorite activity can be redirected towards prayer, Bible study, worship, or some other way of drawing closer to Christ.

A helpful Scripture verse in this regard is Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (ESV, emphasis added).

Note that this passage calls us to lay aside both weights and sin. These are two different things. Christians should always be ready to lay aside a sin. If it is a sin (disobedience to a clear command of God, especially spelled out in his Word), we should give it up immediately and permanently. That is not a fast; that is repentance. We should not wait until Ash Wednesday and start again after Easter. However, some things might be a weight on our walk with the Lord, even if they are not necessarily sinful. Many people watch too much television. The nature of the programs may not be bad. They may not be watching vulgar or ungodly programming. But, they might be watching too much television. Television might start to take priority over God and family for them. It weighs down their soul and enchains their time. If you have a weight on your relationship with him, maybe Lent would be a good time to see if you can live without that weight, and to find out what your life would be like if you spent that time serving Christ.

If you choose to fast from a particular food, choose something that will be a realistic sacrifice. OK, maybe you know you will fail if you try to give up coffee for Lent. Maybe chocolate or donuts are more realistic goals for you.

If you are healthy enough, maybe you can consider a more strict fast. Perhaps you may decide to abstain from all solid food for a 24-hour period. Or, you can consider giving up eating anything between breakfast and dinner once or twice per week. One option is a “Daniel fast,” named after the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament. This fast involves abstaining from all animal products (no meat or dairy) and sweets, and drinking only water.

I would advise against going on a strict 40-day absolute fast without food. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah went on such fasts, but those were unique circumstances. Most of us are not preparing to die for the sins of humanity or begin writing the Bible. Unless you have received a clear word from the Lord that you should go on such a fast, do not do it. Even if you do receive such a word, seek counsel from a mature Christian leader (a pastor, or another mature believer who will have the wisdom to tell you whether or not you are hearing from God) and a health care practitioner.

Lent should not be just a time to give something up. During your fast, find ways to add spiritual disciplines or activities to your life. If you have never set aside a consistent time for daily prayer, Lent is an excellent time to begin. It would also be a good time to join a small-group Bible study.

During the Lenten fast, devote some time to self-examination and reflection. Pray that the Lord would point out to you areas where you need to grow. If he brings a certain sin to the surface (including either a sinful habitual activity, a bad habit, or an attitude that displeases him), bring it before him in repentance and confession. Seek God’s guidance and help to find victory over and deliverance from this problem area.

Whatever you do, remember that Lent is only a small fraction of the year, and it is not the sum total of your spiritual growth. Allow Lent to be a time to develop new, healthier habits and activities which will produce growth in your faith, and continue to put them into practice throughout the year. Let Lent be a time of new beginnings for you.

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

Categories: Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Principles of Fasting

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that you fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And you Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18, ESV).

Fasting is probably the spiritual discipline that Christians are most likely to avoid. Many of us are willing to begin our day with a “quiet time,” or to set aside time for prayer, Bible reading, worship, or fellowship. Fasting meets resistance, though. If you invite people to join in a fast, there is a strong likelihood that you will hear some creative excuses for not participating. In fact, many churches completely avoid the subject or present it as little more than a noble exercise for Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles, Jesus, or some wildly ascetic monks. They think that the ordinary Christian is not supposed to fast.

It is important to note, though, that Jesus expects His disciples to fast. In the passage at the top of this article, Jesus did not say, “If you fast.” He clearly said, “When you fast.” For a true disciple, the question is not whether you will fast or not. It is when and how you will fast.

What, exactly, is fasting? A simple definition is: fasting is to abstain from food and/or drink for spiritual purposes. It is not merely to skip a meal, but to consciously commit yourself to self-sacrifice so that you can more fully devote yourself to seeking the Lord.

When we fast, we subdue our physical urges so that our spiritual nature may grow stronger. All humans have several parts to our nature (body, soul, and spirit). We often nourish one part over the others. For example, I might sometimes devote so much attention to caring for my physical well-being that my spiritual life does not get the attention it serves. In fact, human nature being what it is, most of us are much more prone to cherishing our fleshly sides instead of the spiritual. When we fast, though, we put our spiritual needs first. This may be what Paul was speaking of when he wrote, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Some translations substitute words like “buffet,” “beat,” or “subdue” instead of discipline here.

The emphasis during a fast, then, is on spiritual growth, not on weight loss or other physical benefits. During a fast, a Christian should concentrate more attention on his spiritual and moral concerns, giving them higher priority in his life. The person who is fasting chooses to pray, study Scripture, or otherwise connect with the Lord at times when he or she would otherwise be eating. We sacrifice physical strength to learn how to lean on God’s spiritual strength. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Frequently, when people think of fasts, they envision 40 days and nights in the wilderness. Although it is true that Moses (Exodus 34:28), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted in this way, they are the only people in Scripture to do so. None of them made a regular habit of such extensive fasts, either. Jesus went on only one 40-day fast, at the beginning of His public ministry. Elijah went on a 40-day fast at a crisis moment in his ministry and the history of Israel. Moses was the only one who went on two 40-day fasts, both of which were centered around receiving the Law from God. All of these fasts occurred under very unusual circumstances, during true crisis moments in salvation history. Most fasts in Scripture were of a much shorter duration, usually only one or two days.

Many, perhaps most, fasts in the Bible were performed by an entire group, such as the nation of Israel, an army, or a local church. It was not unusual for a spiritual leader to proclaim a fast, and for everybody under his authority to join in.

In addition to the different lengths of time for fasts, there are also different degrees of fasting in the Bible. Some were quite thorough. In many cases, people had only water; in other cases, they had neither food nor drink of any kind. Occasionally, a person or group would abstain from solid foods and drink only liquids.

In Daniel 10:2-3, we read how the prophet fasted for 21 days, abstaining from any “tasty food, meat, or wine. At that time, Daniel probably went on a strict diet of fruit, vegetables, grains, and water. This passage, along with Daniel 1:8-16, provides the biblical foundation for what is known as “the Daniel fast.” [For more information about the Daniel fast, see: Susan Gregory, The Daniel Fast (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2010), or visit her website at www.daniel-fast.com. You can find other excellent resources by searching for “Daniel fast” on any search engine.]

Although not strictly biblical, many traditional churches permit a lighter version of fasting wherein a person abstains from a specific food type during a period of fasting. For example, the Roman Catholic church urges its members to abstain from eating meat on Fridays; fish is permitted, however. During Lent, members may be encouraged to give up one food item. This can be a very good habit to pursue, especially for those who are otherwise uncomfortable or inexperienced with fasting.

When choosing this option of giving up a specific food item, I would urge three specific guidelines: (1) It should be food that you really enjoy. (2) It should be one that you will notice giving up. Do not “give up” something that you rarely eat and will not notice is missing from your diet. (3) Set a goal that is both realistic yet challenging. You should give up a food that you can realistically abstain from for a specific period of time, while ensuring that it involves at least a noticeable (not torturous) sacrifice.

Fasting should be distinguished from other forms of abstinence, which often serve as alternatives to fasting. Such form of abstinence have biblical foundation. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul gave instructions for married couples who decide to abstain from sexual relations for a mutually acceptable period of time, so that they may devote themselves to prayer. This advice could easily be extended to other kinds of leisure activities. Most American Christians would profit immeasurably from a television “fast”!

Finally, I believe that fasting should be a lifestyle choice for all Christians. Early Christians fasted to some degree on Wednesday and Friday, which contributed to the development of the season of fasting known as Lent. Although the New Testament never commands a specific time to fast, the principle of regular fasting is scriptural. Such practices, including both regular weekly fasts and periodic longer ones, would be a blessing to any Christian’s spiritual growth.

All Christians should commit themselves to this challenging means of spiritual growth. If you have a specific medical condition (such as diabetes), you should check with your doctor first. Even if you are unable to commit to an intensive fast, you can at least commit to a Daniel fast or a simple abstaining-from-one-food fast that a medical professional would approve.  (Note: A hearty appetite or lack of self-control is not a “specific medical condition”!)

It may also prove helpful to abstain from a favorite activity during your fast days. That way, you can dedicate much more of your time and energy to the Lord. Spend you free time studying God’s Word and praying. Fasting is a challenge, but for those who persevere, it is also a pathway to greater spiritual growth.

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Repentance: The Flip Side of Faith

With the rapid technological changes of recent decades, including the development of music downloads like MP3s and ITunes replacing records and CDs, I am sure many of today’s youths have never seen an “ancient artifact” which played a major role in my youth: 45-RPM records that had one song on each side. One side was always the “single,” the song that the band and record company hoped would become a hit. That was the song that would be played on the radio. To fill space, another song would appear on the “flip side.” The flip side rarely became a hit, although occasionally it might be a very good song, perhaps a crowd favorite among die-hard fans of the group. The flip side might occasionally be artistically excellent, but not “commercially viable.” I would buy a record because I enjoyed the single, but at times I would find myself enjoying the flip side even more. The single would be incomplete without the flip side.

Many things in the world have two sides, and usually both are necessary. A coin without its “tail” would not be considered legal tender.

Spiritually, many Christians try to walk with a faith that lacks its flip side. When I became a Christian, I heard how I could be born again if I simply believe in Jesus Christ and accept his free gift of salvation. I could simply say a quick prayer and be guaranteed eternal life. Yet, how does this line up with biblical preaching about salvation? As we will see, it is a half-truth with something substantial missing.

Fortunately for me, the person who led me to Christ spoke both of my need to be “born again” and to become a “new creature in Christ.” These concepts have led me to recognize the need for repentance. However, the early Christians did not force their listeners to make that leap of logic. Let us look at the very first “altar call” in church history, reported in Acts 2:37–38:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Note that Peter did not promise that the people would get saved by repeating
a quick prayer or merely listening and agreeing while somebody else prayed. The first step to salvation was simple and clear: “Repent.” Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostles often called their listeners to repentance (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 3:8, and Acts 3:19). Hebrews 6:1 places repentance from dead works at the beginning of a list of foundational principles of the Christian faith.

One observation that clearly underscores this point is that, although Paul’s letters and John’s Gospel emphasize faith’s role in salvation, other New Testament writers do not mention faith as often. In fact, if you removed the writings of Paul and John from the New Testament, you would most probably reach the conclusion that repentance is the key to salvation! These books all suggest that a holy life, grounded in a spirit of repentance, is central to the Christian faith. This fact leaves us with two options:

  1. We can assume that the Bible contradicts itself. Some liberal theologians would even claim that Paul and John taught a completely different theology than the other New Testament authors did.
  2. We can conclude that repentance and faith go together. This is really the only biblical option.

So, what is repentance? It is much more than feeling sorry about our sins or ashamed that we were caught. It is also not a state of moral perfection. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “repentance” is “metanoia,” which literally means “change of mind.” When a person repents of his sins, he changes his attitude about sin. He agrees with God about the wickedness of sin and acknowledges that God must judge it. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, true repentance includes the following elements: a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness; apprehension of God’s mercy (Psalm 109:21–22) in Christ; hatred of sin, leading one to turn from it and to follow God (Psalm 119:128; 2 Corinthians 7:10); and a persistent endeavor to live a holy life and walk with God, obeying his commandments.

True repentance, then, is a spiritual transformation that leads to changed attitudes and changed actions. The Bible shows that repentance is a gift from God (Acts 11:18) as the Holy Spirit convicts a person about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). From there, our attitudes change as we develop a disdain for sin, which leads us to live holier lives. Although repentance is in one sense often an immediate decision (around the time of salvation), it is one a believer must repeat throughout his life. The believer may be convicted of sins that he was not previously aware of. For certain habitual sins, one may need to repent repeatedly until a stronghold is finally broken.

Repentance must be distinguished from remorse or guilt. In 2 Corinthians 7:9–10, Paul writes:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

True repentance brings us into a closer walk with God and personal holiness, producing lasting change. Worldly sorrow brings guilt, shame, and despair. It might lead a person to make temporary changes until the guilt wears off. However, it ultimately ends in spiritual death and can lead a person to self-destructive despair. In Judas Iscariot’s case, it led to suicide (Matthew 27:3–5).

Finally, even though we may repent of our sins generally around the time of salvation, repentance from particular sins is an ongoing process throughout the Christian life. James told already-saved people to cleanse their hands and purify their minds (James 4:8), referring to the need to repent both in action
and attitude. First John 1:8–10 points out that Christians need to confess their sins throughout their lives:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John was speaking to Christians. They were saved, but there was still sin in their lives. We have no reason to live in denial about our sin. We merely need to confess our sins so that Jesus (who is faithful and justice) will forgive our sins AND purify us from all righteousness. It is important to break this down so we can see all that is promised in this statement. First, we need to confess our sins: We begin by confessing our sins, which is itself one aspect of repentance. When we confess our sins, we agree with God that we have engaged in an act, word, or thought, and that this activity was wrong. Second, Jesus responds by doing two things for us. He forgives us (removing the guilt and punishment of sin). He also purifies us, cleansing us of our tendency to continue sinning. Confession is essential because we must acknowledge the particular sins in our lives so that we know what we need to repent of.

When we become aware of sin in our lives, we should repent immediately. Since Jesus commanded us to be perfect, even as his Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), we know that we will always have room for repentance and growth. Occasionally, we may need to fast and pray as we seek victory in a particular area. At times, we may need to seek the prayers and guidance of spiritual leaders (pastors, for example) to help us receive deliverance.

It is encouraging to note, though, that God is the one who draws us to repentance and who gives us the victory as we submit to him. Let us joyfully lay our souls bare before him, that he may reveal our hidden sins to us and bring us to repentance and personal revival.

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Cheap Grace or Transforming Grace?

This article is based on a sermon I delivered several years ago at People’s Church, Long Beach, NY. This is an almost verbatim transcript of my sermon, published in my church’s (Nassau International Assembly) newsletter shortly thereafter.

(Please read: Isaiah 55:1–9; 1 Corinthians 10:1–13; Luke 13:1–9)

The theme of God’s grace permeates each of these Bible passages. In First Corinthians and Luke, it is mingled with warnings of judgment. But even there, God’s grace is revealed.

I realize many people cannot comprehend how you can talk about a gracious God and a God of judgment in the same breath. This is because many Christians misunderstand grace. Since the New Testament consistently teaches that eternal life is received by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9), we should understand what God’s grace really is, so that we can understand the foundation of our relationship with Him.

In seminary I learned the textbook definition of grace: “unmerited favor.” In other words, grace means that you receive a good thing that you do not deserve; in fact, you might deserve bad instead of good. It is certainly true that we all need God’s grace, because as Romans 3:23 tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We do not deserve eternal life.

Many Christians think grace means they can somehow buy an easy ticket to heaven. In many churches, people are invited to the altar at the end of the service to say a sinner’s prayer. Many pray assuming their motives do not matter; they might have gone up only because of a friend’s nudging. Some say the prayer after being moved by a really well-preached sermon which they will probably forget tomorrow. I once knew a guy who went forward at an altar call simply because he wanted to meet this well-known preacher!

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined a phrase for such a distorted understanding of grace. He called it “cheap grace.” In his classic devotional, The Cost of Discipleship, he spoke of it as preaching “forgiveness without requiring repentance,” offering “communion without confession” and “absolution without contrition.”

I ask you: do you treat the means of grace in this manner? Do you come to church and assume God forgives your sins during the week just because you worshipped for one hour? Do you partake of the Lord’s Supper as a mere ritual, or do you sincerely seek and expect a meeting with Christ through communion? Do you expect easy entry into heaven someday just because a priest or minister sprinkled or poured water on your head when you were younger, or because you said “amen” to the prayer at the end of a Billy Graham broadcast one night?

This cheap grace mentality was the issue Paul was confronting when he wrote 1 Corinthians 10. Perhaps as you read you noticed the parallels he drew between baptism and communion and the experiences of the Israelites when they left Egypt. They were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (v. 2); we have been baptized with water in the name of Jesus Christ. They ate the spiritual food, manna, and drank a spiritual drink of water that flowed miraculously from a rock (vv. 3 and 4). We partake of spiritual food and drink when we participate in communion. Yet, Paul points out, many of these people who had been delivered from slavery and called to enter the Promised Land did not finish the journey. They assumed they could live like the Egyptians God just judged: they engaged in idolatry and worshipped false gods; they committed acts of immorality; they grumbled against God; they tested Him, daring Him to prove Himself on their terms. In First Corinthians, Paul mentions such activity in the church and, twice in chapter 10, points out that the judgments upon the Israelites were recorded as examples to us. The Israelites could not point back to the Red Sea and say, “Ha! There you go, God. You won’t judge me after going through all that trouble to deliver me from bondage, will you?” Nor can we say, “Hey, now that I’ve done my religious duty, God will ignore all my sins for the rest of the week.” Paul warns us: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

But then comes the good news: “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” (v. 13). God’s grace does not just bring you out of your personal Egypt; it does not merely give you the opportunity to hear the Gospel and believe. Grace provides forgiveness of your sins, along with the means for obtaining victory over your current temptations. When you truly understand grace, you realize that God not only desires to forgive you of your sins, but to help you overcome them. Even though sin shows one’s reckless disregard for God, He still offers to forgive. He realizes how much sin holds you back from the abundant life He intended for you to live, and He is eager to lead you into that abundant life. He is more eager to give it than we are to receive.

Transforming grace provides the way of escape from temptation. Temptation is inevitable in this life. People are going to do things that test your patience. Old habits that you have not given in to for a while will still entice you. But, God will provide a way of escape. Too many Christians think their faith just guarantees forgiveness after they sin. But, it also provides resources for resisting temptation. Many do not realize that things as simple as prayer or memorizing Scripture can help one resist temptation. The spiritual power we receive in the baptism in the Holy Spirit enables us to withstand temptation. And just like the Bible records cases of judgment as examples to us, it also records the lives of godly people and how they faced problems and temptations, so that we can follow their examples when we are tested.

We see God’s transforming grace as He holds back the hand of judgment. A friend of mine once tried to prove there was no God by saying, “Okay God, if you’re there, strike me dead…. See, no God.” Of course, God did not answer that prayer. Just because God did not answer that prayer does not mean He does not exist. It only proves that He means everything He says in the Scriptures: 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God wishes that none should perish, but that all may come to repentance.

We see this divine patience in Jesus’ parable in Luke 13. What vine dresser would allow a fruitless vine to take up space for three years? But, the vine dresser, in response to the call for destruction, pleads for one more year and more diligent effort on the vine’s behalf. Likewise, God frequently gives fresh opportunities for repentance, even when from a human perspective all hope seems lost.

As long as you have breath, God calls with the invitation to transformation. He invites you, in the words of Isaiah, “Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1). He invites us to eat and drink of the true spiritual nourishment. He invites us to seek the Lord while He may be found; to call upon Him while He is near. He invites the wicked to forsake his way, and the unrighteous man to forsake his thoughts.

Have you been relying on cheap grace? Come to Christ; receive the goodness He offers. He will have compassion and abundantly pardon all your sins as you turn to Him for true, transforming grace.

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New Year’s Day sermon

Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets” (Numbers 28:1-2, NASB).

The ancient Israelites had two calendars: a religious calendar and a secular one. This seventh month, on the religious calendar, was the first month from a secular standpoint and, thus, made this feast the Jewish New Year. Today, we refer to it as Rosh Hoshanah, which literally means “Head [or beginning] of the Year.”

There are some similarities between an American New Year’s Day celebration and Rosh Hoshanah. Many get January 1 off from work (primarily because most revelers are in no shape to work, after the antics of the previous evening). And, many people blow noisemakers at midnight instead of the ram’s-horn trumpet (“shofar” in Hebrew) that is still used in Jewish synagogues.

However, the similarities generally end there. Too many people treat the New Year as an excuse to get drunk and carouse. However, the new year provides special spiritual opportunities. The trumpet of Rosh Hoshanah gives us glimpses into God’s plan for Christians at the New Year. The ancient Israelites used the shofar for a number of reasons. Some of those functions are quite meaningful to consider as we enter a New Year.

One is confession and repentance. Joel 2:15 says, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly,” and the following verses indicate that all God’s people were to plead for God’s forgiveness. Earlier in the same chapter, God says, “Even now…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Christians should take every opportunity to look at our lives and discern if there are any areas where God desires change in us. The new year is certainly a good time to set spiritual goals for yourself, and to examine yourself and see if there are any sinful habits from which to seek deliverance.

The trumpet was used to call people to war. Throughout the Old Testament, armies blew trumpets to signal the beginning of a battle (e.g., Judges 7:19). As Christians, we are engaged in spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons. We should commit ourselves anew at this time to battling Satan as he assaults us with temptations to sin and despair. We should also commit ourselves to engaging in spiritual warfare for the sake of our families, our communities, our nation, and our world. Let us each declare war against the forces of wickedness (see Eph. 6:12) in every area of our lives and world.

The trumpet is a symbol of divine judgment. In Revelation 8, seven angels were given trumpets with which to herald judgment. Throughout the Bible, trumpets were used to warn people of coming danger (see 1 Corinthians 14:8; Ezekiel 33:5). Have you ever considered the thought that every new day brings us one day closer to the return of Christ? Every new year is one less year before Jesus Christ returns; one less year before we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Let us take that seriously. At this time, how much have you done to spread the Gospel? How many people have heard from you the good news of everlasting life? Are you trying to prepare people to stand before the judgment seat?

Sadly, many Christians argue about when Christ will return, while ignoring the fact that millions, who are on Earth now, will die before that time. They do not have another seven or 700 years to make up their minds. Let us each evaluate our lives and see what we can do to spread the Gospel in this new year.

In a related sense, the trumpets also call us to look forward to the return of our Lord. “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31; see also 1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

New Year’s Day is not just a time to change calendars. It is a time to look back and consider what we have done with the year God has given us. It is a time to look ahead, to make the necessary changes that will redeem the time God has given us. It is a time to remember where our lives have taken us so far, and to prepare for what God is offering us in our future.

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New Year’s Day: A Time for Change?

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2).

These two passages are among the recommended readings for tonight from the Book of Common Prayer. These verses seem quite appropriate for an evening when the world focuses on transition.

Revelation 21 speaks of a time of transition in the cosmos. The world as we know it is superceded—perhaps overthrown—by the eternal millennial reign of Christ. Granted, that is a much more drastic transition than the one we celebrate tonight. For me, New Year’s Day is a day to change calendars; in the days to come, I look forward to remembering to write the correct year on checks. But, except for the last two numbers of the date, there is little substantial difference between December 31, 2009 and January 1, 2010.

However, we tend to make a big deal about New Year’s Day. People are willing to stand out in the freezing cold in Times Square (in a crushing throng, with little access to restrooms or other comforts) just to watch a ball drop. Every media outlet seems to have its “year in review” presentation. There will be a big change when Christ returns, but many of us seek to make a big deal when the clock strikes midnight tonight.

The greatest hope for real change on New Year’s Day is something that can become so trite, I have virtually given up on it: New Year’s resolutions. The change of calendars reminds us to reflect on our lives, see which direction we have been heading in, and change the course of our life where necessary. Personally, I have stopped making New Year’s resolutions. They simply become a reason for self-criticism by December 31. I cannot think of a New Year’s resolution that I have successfully accomplished. The closest I have come has been those years when I resolved not to make any New Year’s resolutions.

However, all the hype about New Year’s Day has forced me to look back at the last year. It has been a milestone year, when my family went through many changes. My son Daniel got married, and he and his wife Tanielle gave birth to my grandson, James. The family has grown. Some family has moved away. 2009 is a year that I will not soon forget.

Spiritually, it has been a time of transition as well. My involvement in the Brotherhood of St. Joseph has compelled me to a deeper commitment to prayer and to serving God by ministering to others. My relationship with Jesus Christ has taken on a new level of stability and consistency.

Now, if only my financial situation would improve as well! At least I have developed a new level of contentment.

I hope and pray that my spiritual life grows further in the coming year. I have enjoyed growth, but spiritual growth always seems to reveal areas in our lives that demand greater attention. The more you allow God’s light to shine on your life, the more hidden junk comes to your attention.

I can think of ways that my personal relationships can change in the coming year. I have some ideas for ways that I would like to eat better, or exercise more, or spend more quality time with my wife, or build relationships with my friends. As always, I want to devote more time to writing. I cannot merely look back at the past year, pat myself on the back for any improvements I see, and forget about it. There is still room to grow.

However, these are all things I have thought about throughout the year, and will have to actively pursue in the future. Most people blow their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, and then make the same ones the following December.

Lasting change only comes when we make a daily commitment to it. Speaking of the hope of Christ’s return, St. John wrote, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). January 1, 2010 will arrive about two-and-a-half hours after I post this online, and will dissolve into history 24 hours later. The hope of eternity with Christ lasts forever, and provides a lasting incentive for real transformation in our lives. I hope and trust that, as I yield my life more to His Lordship, He will mold me to be the man he wants me to be.

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