Posts Tagged With: submission to God

2020: The Year So Far

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:1; all scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).

Four months ago, I shared a New Year’s Day post in which I referred to 2020 as “The Year of Vision.” 20/20 is considered perfect vision in optometry. It seemed to me like 2020 would be a great year to re-examine God’s vision for our lives. What is He calling us to do? What passions has He given us? What is our purpose? I wrote:

As we begin 2020, the Year of Vision, consider these questions:

  • What is God calling you to do in the coming year?
  • Is He calling you to do something differently?
  • What desires has He placed on your heart?

Surely none of us saw the past seven weeks coming! In spiritual matters, 20/20 vision is usually reserved for the past. The future remains cloudy. Many people approach a new year with optimism, hoping the next 12 months will be filled with blessings and lacking the difficulties of the previous year. However, nobody expected “self-quarantine” to become a trendy phrase. Fewer knew what “social distancing” meant. Only armed robbers would have thought “I’d better put a mask on before I walk into that store!”

With that in mind, let us revisit that New Year’s message with the following observations and lessons from the year so far:

Prepare for anything. Expect the unexpected. We have all learned the value of being prepared. Less than two weeks before New York instituted stay-at-home orders, my wife and I bought toilet paper at a wholesale club. This store does not sell standard four- or six-roll packages. There, toilet paper comes in bulk packages of over 20 rolls. We ended up buying a 32-roll package that day. My wife wondered if we really needed it. I figured that since we have room to store it, and it will not spoil, we might as well go for the best price-per-roll package. We had no way of knowing that, two weeks later, many of our friends would be going crazy trying to find toilet paper in the store. I think we are set!

My broken glasses can be seen as a good description of the Year of Vision so far. (Photo by the author.)

Even earlier than that, about a year ago I bought new eyeglasses and decided to keep my old frames with new lenses, as a spare pair for emergencies. That proved to be a wise decision. About one week after “nonessential businesses” were closed, one of my lenses fell out of my glasses. The frame had popped loose (I think one of the screws broke). Unfortunately, eyeglass stores are considered nonessential (although liquor stores are “essential”). Fortunately, though, I have a backup. I can wear my old-frame-with-new-lenses glasses until I am able to get my newer frame repaired or replaced.

In both cases, the lesson is the same: You never know what the future holds. Be prepared for anything.

That does not justify the people who hoarded 6000 rolls of toilet paper, leaving their neighbors trying to figure out how to handle their hygiene needs. That brings us to the next point.

Look out for others. Our choices affect others. Like many other cultural crises, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed divisions in our society. Government regulation vs. individual choice and liberty; the needs of the many vs. the rights of the individual. Economic prosperity vs. public health has become the great conflict now. Many people throw themselves to one side of each issue, but often the best decision addresses both sides.

I can easily make excuses not to wear a mask in public. I am healthy. I do not feel any symptoms. I have not been close to anybody who showed any signs of sickness. I have a pretty strong immune system. Honestly, in a way, I would want to catch this disease already so I can build up antibodies and get it over with!

However, I do not know what kind of risk I would bring to others. I live in an apartment building with about 200 or so other tenants. What if I catch this disease and leave germs on the doors, in the elevators, in the stairwell? I might be okay; what about some of my neighbors with health issues?

Similar questions will come up all of our lives. It may be magnified during a crisis, but we always should remember that we have to balance our perceived rights against the needs of those around us:

“[D]o not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

This time should have allowed most of us some time for self-examination. I have had some extra time: although I am working from home, I do not have my commute to and from work every day (about 45 minutes to an hour each way), and a lot of other activities are canceled. I have had more time to read, pray, and reflect. I suspect of you have had more free time as well I am learning a few lessons:

  • Patience is not one of my strongest attributes. When Advent began in early December, I urged readers to pick out one area of weakness to bring before the Lord for deliverance. Patience has always been one of my weaknesses, and this “shelter in place” order has tested it. As many have said before: be careful about asking God for patience! He will allow circumstances to come your way to test it. What areas of weakness, emotional or spiritual strongholds, or sins have been brought to the forefront at this time? Take a look back at the “One Year, One Thing” challenge and see if there is something God wants to work on in your life.
  • This season has reminded me of the need to serve the Lord in a spirit of obedience and submission. I may not get to do the things I enjoy doing as much. One ministry that has gotten busy has been participating in our emergency prayer chain. It is probably the least visible ministry I am part of, yet it has become busier while most other ministries are essentially on hold. I have also been asked to participate in online-focused ministries. May God’s will be done. There are still ways to worship God, serve His church, and fellowship with other believers. We need to look for opportunities, but they are there. Participate in an online worship service; bring groceries to somebody who cannot get to a store; call a friend who needs to hear another voice.

The coronavirus crisis has been an endurance test for many of us. What have you learned about yourself and about God? Feel free to share a comment!

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

[PS—If you are looking for an online worship service, you can visit my church at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM ET on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

Categories: Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Things Are Possible: Saying Yes to God When That Is Impossible

If “nothing will be impossible with God,” then it is true that “all things are possible” for Him. Jesus declared that all things are possible on two occasions: The first was immediately after the transfiguration, when He healed a boy with an unclean spirit in Mark 9:14–29. After the father has asked Jesus to heal his son, and Jesus saw how the demon afflicted him, we read the following exchange:

Image by “Tookapic,” via pexels.com.

“And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘“If you can!” All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:21–24, emphasis added; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Some time later, Jesus would make a similar statement after meeting a rich young man who could not bring himself to accept Jesus’ terms of discipleship: to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Him.

“And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:23–26, emphasis added).

Salvation is impossible without God. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. However, for God it is possible.

Deliverance from the power of the devil is impossible for the natural man. Only God can win that battle. However, when His Spirit and strength dwells within us, victory is possible.

The Christian life is itself impossible for normal human nature. It goes against all that dwells within us. Several months before I surrendered my life to Christ, I was reading the Sermon on the Mount and was stunned by how much Jesus called His disciples to live above basic human nature. Love your enemies? Turn the other cheek? Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink; instead, seek first the kingdom of God? Such commands go against human nature. It would seem to make as much sense to tell us to flap our arms and fly away.

The ability to repent and surrender to God’s will are gifts that He alone can give. They are not possible without His assistance and empowerment. However, with Him, all things are possible. In His strength, you can do whatever you think is impossible.

Worldly pleasure, material goods, and comfort often hinder us from doing God’s will.

“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18–19).

Christians are often zealous to watch out for the so-called “big sins,” like sexual immorality or drug abuse. However, we can easily be led astray by things like materialism or commercialism, which most do not even consider sinful. These keep us from making sacrifices for the Kingdom of God. They discourage us from giving to the needy in hard times. They keep us from making time for others, since we may be using our time to accumulate more wealth. Perhaps, while many of us are in a state of self-quarantine during the coronavirus outbreak, we may be challenged to examine what is really important to us. Perhaps God has used this time to force many of us into a much-needed solitary spiritual retreat, so that we can gain His perspective on what really matters to Him and what should matter to us. The rich young ruler realized something was missing in his life and asked Jesus what he was lacking spiritually:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:21–22).

Watchman Nee. Photo via Wikimedia (public domain).

Giving up his wealth was too much. He knew he was missing something. He thought he would be willing to do whatever it takes to enter the kingdom of God. However, he did not expect this. He knew Jesus would give him something to do, but he did not expect Jesus to demand “the impossible.”
In his book The Normal Christian Life, Chinese pastor Watchman Nee tells the story of “Mr. Paul,” an American pastor who eagerly wanted to earn a Ph.D. He believed he could bring glory to God by being “Dr. Paul” instead of merely “Mr. Paul.” However, he could never gain the peace that God really approved of his plans. He continued to study—and to bargain with God, trying to convince Him that nothing was really wrong with an advanced degree and that he could do so much more for God’s kingdom with the prestige that came with the title “Dr.” He eventually surrendered to God’s will just before taking his final examination. Prestige, title, relationships, reputation, wealth: All of these things must be surrendered to God’s will.

Ask yourself: What do you think “I cannot live without?” That is the thing you most need to surrender to God’s will. In many cases, that is the thing you need to give up. Whatever seems to be impossible must be given to God.

Surrendering to God’s will is impossible for all people. It is especially impossible for those who have become accustomed to comfort and luxury, who do not know what it means to go without food, clothing, or shelter. It is impossible for us, but not with God. With Him, all things are possible. We need to rely on His strength when we face what seems impossible.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Annunciation: Saying “Yes” to God

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

pierre_paul_rubens_-_l27annonciation

“The Annunciation,” by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Many churches will observe the Feast of the Annunciation on April 9, 2018. This is usually observed on March 25 (nine months before Christmas) but, since that date fell during Holy Week this year, it was moved to the first available day after Holy Week and Easter Week. On this date, we commemorate the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary, announcing that she has been appointed to be the mother of the Son of God.

Some churches, in reaction against Roman Catholicism’s emphasis on Mary, choose to downplay her. This is unfortunate. She and Joseph had been entrusted with a mission like no other: to bear and raise the Son of God. God the Father entrusted His Son to their care. To those who think Mary was nobody special, let me ask when God entrusted anything that important to their care!

Christians are so familiar with the story of Gabriel’s appearance to Mary that it seems so simple and sweet. An angel appears to Mary. He tells her that she will be with child, and the baby will be the Son of God. Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin.” The angel responds that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, so that she will be pregnant with this holy Child.

The story sounds so sweet and spiritual. But, let us imagine this from Mary’s perspective. First, we do not know what she is doing at the time, but it seems like she is alone. Nowadays, teenage single girls might get uncomfortable if some strange man pops up out of nowhere and starts talking to them, but that was even more unacceptable in her society. While Gabriel was speaking to her, she probably thought, “Who is this creep? How did he get in here? How can I get rid of him? I should probably call Dad, but he might hurt me if I scream.” At some point, Mary must realized he was an angel. Still, his announcement made no sense. How can she become the mother of God’s Son while she is a virgin? The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37).

It sounds like this clinched it for Mary, but I am sure it was not that easy. She had already raised her question about how this was possible for a virgin. Even after being persuaded that God could do what seems impossible in her life, other questions must have run through her mind. “What will Joseph think? We have never been intimate. He will know it’s not his baby. He will most likely assume that I have cheated on him and slept with another man. Everybody else will think I slept with somebody. They’ll blame Joseph if I do not say it was somebody else and tell them who that is. Nobody’s going to believe me that God is the father! If I say that, they’ll stone me for adultery AND blasphemy!”

Somehow, Mary found the faith and courage to say yes: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The Bible does not tell us how she found the courage to say yes to God. It does not tell us how she and Joseph were able to handle the whispers and gossip, even though it seems such suspicions persisted about Jesus’ birth continued throughout His lifetime. In John 8:41, some members of His audience said, “We were not born of sexual immorality,” possibly taking an accusatory pot-shot at Him.

In spite of risk, uncertainty, potential shame and danger, Mary had the courage to say “Yes” to God and devote her life to His will. The last quote we read from her in the Bible is at the wedding at Cana, where she enlists Jesus’ help when the wine runs out. She tells the servants to “Do whatever He tells you.”

We might be tempted to treat Mary’s words as if they related only to her situation. However, in speaking to the angel, she speaks FOR all true disciples of Jesus: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Let this be our prayer: That we can be faithful to God, obeying Him and doing His will regardless the circumstances and risk, trusting Him to work all things out. In speaking to the servants at the wedding, she speaks TO all true disciples: “Do whatever He tells you.” As she has surrendered herself to the will of God, we can now entrust ourselves to His will. When God speaks, we listen, obey, and trust Him. Then, we can be called blessed, even as all generations now call her blessed (Luke 1:48).

Today and every day, let us join Mary and say “Yes” to Jesus, willing to do whatever He tells us.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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