Posts Tagged With: wisdom

Coronavirus, Faith and Fear, Wisdom and Folly

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

The Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the day on the third Sunday in Advent was very fitting this year. As I write this post, Americans are living in anxiety, if not outright fear. People are rushing to stores to buy whatever they can to prepare for quarantine due to the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, known as COVID-19. Good luck finding toilet paper; apparently, some people think you need 666 rolls if you are going to be stuck in your house for two weeks. Hand sanitizer is also hard to find; some online sellers have charged over $100 for one-liter bottles that sold for under $20 not very long ago. One pair of brothers hoarded about 17,700 bottles, clearing out countless stores’ inventories of the products, to sell them at highly inflated prices online. Amazon and Ebay have removed his listings; too bad the local stores did not start limiting sales of these items earlier.

Now, schools are closing: some for two weeks, others for a few months, and a few colleges have ended their spring semesters prematurely. Sports leagues have postponed games or prematurely ended their seasons. We suddenly know the meaning of the new term, “social distancing.” Handshakes and kisses on the cheek during the passing of the peace at my church have been replaced by elbow bumps; I have not banged elbows with so many guys since my days playing youth hockey. Some businesses are closing their doors until further notice; others are encouraging employees to work from home.

Some may say that all of this caution is unnecessary. After all, many more people have died in the USA from the flu this winter than have died worldwide from COVID-19 since it was first identified in December. This is the first time that I recall public health officials going beyond the standard advice (wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, stay home when sick, etc.) to pushing for mass quarantines.

The precautions may seem extreme, but I will do my part to avoid the disease. My greatest concern, though, is about the proliferation of irrational fear in response to this disease. So, here are a few thoughts worth considering:

  • Humanity has survived worse epidemics and pandemics throughout history. The bubonic plague killed perhaps one-fourth to one-half of the population of Europe in just a few years during the fourteenth century. A little over one hundred years ago, the Spanish flu took more lives than any other pandemic in history. (A little trivia for my fellow sports’ fans who are bemoaning cancellations: That flue pandemic forced the cancellation of hockey’s Stanley Cup Finals mid-series after Montreal Canadiens’ star Joe Hall died of the disease and several other players fell ill.)
  • Most people will not catch the virus. China has had a little over 80,000 confirmed cases. While that is a lot, remember that it has over one billion people, and the city where COVID-19 was first diagnosed, Wuhan, has almost nine million. That means that less than 1% of the people of Wuhan have caught the disease. It is possible that the number of cases in China was reduced by aggressive social-distancing practices.
  • Most people who catch the disease will recover. Less than 4% of confirmed cases worldwide have died so far. If you calculate all who have died and those who have fully recovered, the mortality rate is about 7.25% worldwide. The vast majority of deaths have been the elderly and others with underlying health conditions or weakened immunity. Most otherwise-healthy people who catch COVID-19 eventually recover. We should take wise careful precautions, especially for the sake of elderly and unhealthy friends, family, and neighbors. However, we should not act crazy as if the world is about to end.

Christians must avoid the temptation to spread fear and falsehood. Whenever a disaster or possible threat arises, some Christians will claim it is the end of the world and spread extreme, exaggerated, or absolutely untrue statements in the name of “discernment” or “prophecy.” Some have even claimed that Bill Gates owns the patent for this disease and is using it for some diabolical agenda! Such people should be forced to place a dunce cap on their Facebook profile pictures. It is true that Gates’ foundation has funded research involving genetic engineering of coronaviruses. However, there are numerous kinds of coronavirus, and the ones he has funded have been patented as vaccines. (Actually, many viruses and bacteria are genetically engineered and patented for medical purposes.) They are not the same as COVID-19. Christians must repent of their godless practice of spreading falsehoods to promote an end-time agenda. Making up lies about people—even if they are celebrities or politicians, and even if they have promoted questionable or immoral activities like abortion—is a sin. God is not glorified when His people violate the biblical commandment against bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16). If you have joined in sharing or posting such libel, confess your sins and repent.

Likewise, Christians must not join in promoting an environment of fear. Yes, we should take necessary precautions, but we should not instill fear in people. Our mission is always to advance the kingdom of God by sharing His love, grace, and mercy. He calls us to bring hope. He calls us to speak life into the hearts of others. He does not call us to instill fear. Be prepared to minister in faith, hope, and love to those around you.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18, ESV).

“… {F}or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV).

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

Categories: Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2020: A Year of Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB).

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision” (Helen Keller).

A few years ago, several people I knew posted “a word for the year” on Facebook. I doubt there was anything significant to most of the words. I think some of them used a Facebook app that randomly assigned a word and explanation to people’s pages. A few of my friends tried it several times, getting multiple results.

Other people actually thought of their own word for the year. They chose a word that summarized what they wanted to pursue in the coming 12 months or a trait or ideal they wanted to guide their decisions. It bore personal meaning for them. Some of those people were still talking about that word several weeks and months later.

“2020” just begs us to call it “A Year of Vision.” In optometry, 20/20 is the standard for normal healthy vision. It means that objects 20 feet away from you appear as clearly to you as they should. 20/50 vision means such objects look about as clear as something that is 50 feet away. Just for the record, my eyesight in my left eye is worse than 20/50, and my right eye is much weaker. My optometrist is very surprised that I can function as an editor with such bad eyesight, even when wearing glasses.

Of course, I am not talking about eyesight when I speak of a Year of Vision. I am speaking more metaphorically about other things we might associate with vision: foresight; passion; direction. A person with vision is someone who sees where he wants to go in life and has a desire and plan to get there.

I have often joked about New Year’s resolutions. I usually tell people that my New Year’s resolution is to make no New Year’s resolutions, so I can succeed and fail at the same time. The average New Year’s resolution lasts about 17 days. So, if you are serious about working out at the gym, wait until January 18. By then, most of the people who resolved to work out will have quit, and you can get on the treadmill or exercise bike without delay.

All joking aside, New Year’s resolutions are not all bad. There is never any harm in trying to make a commitment to make better choices, overcome bad habits, or develop healthy habits. However, perhaps you want something more. Maybe, as you are reading this and beginning a new year, you sense that God is calling you to something greater than the usual New Year’s resolutions in 2020. Perhaps He is calling you to bring your hopes, dreams, and visions to Him, align them with His vision for your life, and allow His wisdom to guide you in 2020 and beyond.

Vision provides guidance. It sets you on a path and points you toward a destination. It provides the inspiration and goal which can define any resolutions you choose to make.

King Solomon. Painting by Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Frequently, “vision” in the Old Testament refers to prophetic visions or dreams. The English Standard Version (the translation I usually quote) emphasizes this sense in Proverbs 29:18. Throughout the Old Testament, men of God received divine guidance through trances or dreams. A good example of this is King Solomon. In 1 Kings 3:5-14, the young king had established his throne and went to Gibeon, at that time one of the most prominent places to worship the Lord. During his visit, God visited him in a dream and made a bold offer with no apparent strings attached: “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon’s response showed remarkable maturity. He already had a sense of vision in his life. He knew his purpose. His prayer was driven by that purpose:

“And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?’” (1 Kings 3:6-9, ESV).

Solomon’s mission and vision was to effectively govern God’s great people. That guided his prayer. As God observed, Solomon could have been inclined to pray for riches, long life, honor, or the death of his enemies. However, Solomon wanted to be a successful king. For that, he needed wisdom, and God gave it.

The prayer for wisdom is one that God always wants to answer:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).

Solomon had his own personal sense of vision, one which was consistent with God’s will. God then spoke to him in a dream. God also speaks to us in His Word, the Bible. He always offers wisdom to His people. Are we willing to accept His wisdom to guide us in our pursuit of the goals and dreams He has instilled in our hearts?

As we being 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?

You may feel a certain compulsion or desire to pursue a dream or calling. Could it be from God? Can it be devoted to His service?

As you consider these thoughts, you should be able to recognize the vision God has for your life.

Having recognized the vision, seek God’s wisdom. Twelve Step programs offer some necessary insight into prayer. Step 11 states that the recovering addict “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God…, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Pray daily for God’s wisdom regarding that vision. Ask Him to reveal His will to you day by day and to give you the power to carry it out. That power includes the courage to do what is right and to persevere when it would be easy to quit.

A New Year is ahead of us. As 2019 ends, I feel some relief and satisfaction in some significant accomplishments. Yet, I do not want to merely coast through the coming year. There is still room to grow. I have dreams and goals to pursue. Perhaps you do too. Let us each commit to making 2020 a year of vision that will allow us to pursue greater goals and dreams in the years to come.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St. John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul and Knowing God

This post is written for the commemoration of St. John of the Cross (December 14).

“In order to come to union with the wisdom of God, the soul has to proceed rather by unknowing than by knowing” (St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591).

St. John of the Cross. Painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

After posting two recent articles about how our Lord is a personal God who can be known and reveals Himself to us, I found the above quote by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century monk, mystic, and poet. (Some traditional churches commemorate him on December 14.)

Modern people, living in a society powered by science and technology, assume that we can figure everything out. We have questions; we desire answers; we pursue the information we desire (scientists may conduct experiments or perform other controlled observations); and we draw conclusions. We know stuff because we sought information.

However, the Bible tells us that we can know God not because we figured Him out, but because He found a way to reach us. God chose to reveal Himself not as an abstract concept but as a man, Jesus Christ, who lived and died as one of us.

The dark night of the soul is a term that is often associated with St. John of the Cross. The title of one of his most popular poems, it describes the soul’s journey towards knowledge of God. He believed that one comes to know God only through painful experiences and struggles. He had his share. As a member of a strict order—members would not even wear shoes in an attempt to avoid worldly comforts—he faced persecution, opposition, and even torture: sometimes from people who thought his ideas were too radical and at other times by people who thought he was not radical enough.

What is the lesson in all of this? Whatever you are going through, ask “Where is God in this situation?” He is there. What is He doing? What is He showing you about Himself? What is He showing you about yourself? He is always there; He may just be doing something that you are not expecting.

Some writers speak of the dark night of the soul as a struggle with doubt. St. John of the Cross struggled with his faith. St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa), despite decades as one of the world’s most beloved examples of faithful service to people in Jesus’ name, often admitted in private correspondence to decades of doubt. When you face doubts or questions, do not avoid them. Ask God for wisdom and faith. Continue to follow Him, expecting the answers to follow. Faith grows through testing.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:2-6).

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foolish Wisdom

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 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 (1 Corinthians 2:9–16; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Reading Jester.” Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons.

The world thinks Christians are fools. We see that more and more in the media. As I am writing this article, the city where I grew up is hosting a “Pride Festival” as part of a month that many institutions have devoted to celebration of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/etc. lifestyles. Those of us who believe the Bible, and think this is sin, are depicted as haters or ignorant, backwards, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals clinging to old-fashioned misguided morals. According to the world, we are the fools.

This is nothing new. The earliest Christians were considered fools. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 2:9–16 in a segment where he frequently contrasted wisdom and foolishness. The powers of the world thought they were wise and strong and that the Christians were foolish and weak. Yet, Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Paul mentions that the natural man—someone who is not a Christian and therefore lacks the Holy Spirit within—cannot accept the things of God. Yet, many of us spend much of our time arguing moral and social issues with people who cannot understand spiritual truth. We try to explain why homosexuality is a sin to people who cannot understand that marriage is a divine institution mirroring Christ’s relationship with the Church (Ephesians 5:32). (I know some Christians who are vocally anti-homosexuality but are not following God’s will regarding sex and marriage in their own lives.) We try to speak out against abortion to a society that cannot recognize the preborn baby as a distinct human life; a growing number of people question the value of any human lives. The natural man simply cannot understand spiritual truth and godly morality. It is like trying to explain quantum physics to a kindergarten student.

This is why Jesus sent us to preach His Gospel and make disciples instead of winning political and social debates (Matthew 28:18–20). People do not go to heaven by not being gay, not having an abortion, not taking drugs, not voting Democrat, etc. It is only through Christ that we receive eternal life. Let us introduce people to Christ, trust the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives, and pray that they receive forgiveness and salvation by faith in Him. Then, we can begin to see God open their spiritual eyes and give them His wisdom and insight.

Also, Christians need to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our own minds. We need a worldview that is very opposite to that of our unsaved neighbors. Far too many Christians merely baptize secular and worldly values in misinterpreted biblical-sounding jargon and end up looking no different than the world. We justify greed and materialism and get the prosperity gospel. We try to sanctify humanistic pride into the positive thinking theology endorsed by many megachurches and televangelists. Many find the ways that their favorite political party may actually be close to Scripture on some issues, and then we twist Scripture to justify their errors elsewhere, thereby exalting politicians above God Himself. Are we different from the world, or have we found ways to blend in while preserving some of the external features of Christianity? (See here for some other articles about renewal of the mind.)

Paul ends the passage above by saying that “we have the mind of Christ.” As you read the entire book of 1 Corinthians, you will notice that his audience was not a crowd of super-spiritual Christians. In fact, they were usually acting like natural men instead of spiritual people. Much of 1 Corinthians contrasts natural vs. spiritual as well as wisdom vs. folly. Yet, no matter how carnal, worldly, and natural they were acting, Paul says that “WE have the mind of Christ.” Not only Paul, but his carnal Corinthian audience, had the mind of Christ. The Corinthians just did not realize it. They were not using it.

Perhaps modern American Christianity is no better. We have the mind of Christ, but we keep using the mind of the world. We have the Holy Spirit, but we rely on the wisdom and power of the mass media and pop psychology instead of the Spirit, Word, and Power of God Almighty.

Since we have the Spirit and mind of Christ, let us think like Jesus thinks. What would He fill His mind with? What would He read or watch on television? How would He think about a situation? Study His Word to find out.

Let us worship like Jesus worships. See how He worshiped His Father while He was on Earth, and do likewise.

Let us love others as Jesus loves. See how He responded to those who were in bondage to sin. See how He had mercy on those who did not deserve mercy.

Let us forgive as He has forgiven us. I find it really easy to judge those who struggle with sinful habits and addictions until I remember the many sins He has forgiven in my life.

We can embrace the wisdom of God’s Word or the wisdom of the world that has turned its back on God. One form of wisdom will seem like foolishness to the other. Which is really the wiser choice?

“When the crowns of gold all lay before His feet
Then the worthy Lamb of God is the treasure we will keep
Some may call me foolish—some may call me odd
But I’d rather be a fool in the eyes of men
Than a fool in the eyes of God.” (Petra, “Fool’s Gold,” from the album Back to the Street. Watch a video for this song on YouTube.)

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Spirit of Truth and the Necessity of Scripture

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Christians can make several mistakes when trying to find out God’s will for their lives. One is to read the Bible and try to figure things out with their own logic and reason. The other mistake is to expect the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us without the Bible.

The Bible tells us that God determines the number of the stars and calls them by name. Here is just a tiny fraction of them. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Wikipedia.

The Holy Spirit is not constrained by the Bible. God is bigger than His Word. His greatness and glory exceeds anything we can imagine. Psalms 147:4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars and gives names to all of them. Scientists are still estimating the number of stars, know they have not discovered all of them, and have named only a small fraction of them. According to Wikipedia, “Of the roughly 10,000 stars visible to the naked eye, only a few hundred have been given proper names in the history of astronomy.” Some scientists believe the universe contains 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, many more than mankind has seen. Yet, God has given names to all of them. This is just a hint of the greatness of God, but many of us are tempted to think we can contain Him. God is greater than anything we can imagine, even with the help He gives us by revealing Himself in His Word.

Thus, there is an even greater danger when we try to seek God’s will without His Word, like some people do. They rely on their own wisdom. Perhaps they learn something from pop psychology or the latest public-opinion poll, baptize it in religious lingo, and say, “God told me to do this.” If it clearly contradicts God’s Word, God did not speak to you.

“God told me to move in with this woman I barely know so that we can see if we should get married.” (I do not think so.)

“God told me to leave my wife and trade her in for a younger woman. After all, God wants me to be happy!” (No, you want to be happy. God wants you to be holy, but that’s for another article.)

“God thinks it’s OK if I cheat on my tax returns or steal supplies from my job. After all, He wants me to prosper. Besides, everybody does it.” (What part of “Thou shalt not steal” do you not understand?)

(PS: I would like to claim that I was being creative with those three quotes, but that is not the case. I know people who have said things very similar to these. Most of them have claimed that they are deeply committed Bible-believing Christians.)

We cannot know God’s will without the Bible. We also cannot know it without the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives. The two go hand in hand. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, but He will use the Bible to impart wisdom to us, and He expects us to use the Bible to confirm whether He is the One Who is speaking to us.

Knowing God’s will requires both. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the Word of God. The Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through the Word of God. We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to truly understand the Word and will of God.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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