Renewing the Mind Reflections

Reflecting the Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).

Light is essential to life. Much of our diet hinges on plant life; we mostly eat plants that survive via photosynthesis (using sunlight to create energy) or things that have eaten those plants. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight is necessary for human health; it is how our bodies produce vitamin D, and sunlight deprivation has been linked to depression. We also rely on light to know where we are and the direction in which we are headed.

Thus, when Jesus called Himself “the light of the world,” His audience knew what He meant. Nobody could misunderstand what He was saying. By calling Himself the light of the world, He called Himself God. At the very least, His hearers recognized that He was claiming to be the Messiah:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Natural light allows us to see where we are going. Likewise, spiritual light guides our steps spiritually. Jesus’ audience would have recognized that too:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path (Psalms 119:105).

God’s written Word—the Bible—gives us guidance and direction for our path so that we can know how He wants us to live. Likewise, Jesus is the light of the world and the living Word of God to guide our paths:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:4–5, 9–14).

All of these aspects of Jesus flow together. He is the Word that became flesh to reveal God to us. He is the light of the world, so that we may see. Also, He is life so that we may live. His life is the light of men. His light, His life, and His love guide our steps. We cannot see the path God has prepared for us unless we follow Him.

One of the great lies we deceive ourselves into believing is that we can make it on our own and just call Jesus for backup when things get difficult. We think of Him as our co-pilot (to quote that bumper sticker) when He should be the pilot. We think we can find our way and let Jesus follow us to tweak our efforts. We think we can lead our own lives, yet Jesus tells us that He is the life and that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 14:6; 15:5).

Yet, Jesus is our source of life and light. We need Him first and foremost. But there is another side to this. We do not keep the light to ourselves. We are called to reflect that light to others.

In nature, Earth receives almost all of its light from two sources. During the day, we receive light from our primary source, the sun. However, at night, we receive a little bit of light from the moon. The moon does not create its own light; instead, it reflects light from the sun to us. It takes the light it receives and passes it on to earth.

Likewise, we are called to reflect the light of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).

Clearly, we are not the light of the world in the same sense that Jesus is. But, He calls us to take His light and share it with others. We may want to hide it, keeping it to ourselves, but He calls us to spread His light to others. It is through His followers that He is able to shine His light to the nations. When people see us following the true light, they can see the source of all light and life, give glory to Him, and follow Him themselves.

The apostle Paul could tell the churches under his care to be imitators of God (Galatians 5:1) and also imitate him, as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Can we say the same? Can we tell others that they can imitate Christ by imitating us? Are we reflecting the light, life, and love of God in such a way that people can see the light of Jesus through us?

That is not an impossible idealistic fantasy. That is God’s desire. He wants us to receive His light and reflect it to others. But to do that, we need to first recognize that Jesus is the source of light, life, and love. We cannot create it on our own, but we can reflect His glory as we receive it and follow Him.

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

 

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Wise Men and Wisdom

“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:9–11).

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True wisdom comes from God and directs its attention to God. The wise men worshiped Jesus, because divine wisdom led them to do so. Worldly wisdom would have led them otherwise. “The Adoration of the Magi,” by Paolo Veronese [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

This weekend, many churches celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the wise men who visited Jesus. This feast brings the Christmas season to an end, but it also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the wise men and the nature of biblical wisdom. We can recognize that true wisdom has both a divine source and a divine focus. It comes from God and it directs us to seek our greatest needs and desires from Him.

The wise men sought a meeting with “he who has been born king of the Jews.” While in their homeland (possibly Persia), they had seen a star which led them to believe that a great king had been born for the Jewish people. So, they came to meet this great king. First, the went to the most logical place to find a king of the Jews: the palace of King Herod. There were no newborn princes there. So, they went to Bethlehem where, according to Old-Testament prophecy, the Messiah would be born. The star directed them to the home of a poor young couple and their baby boy. Against common sense, they offered their royal gifts to this working-class poor baby.

True wisdom did not submit to common sense: It followed God’s direction. They found the king of the Jews, not in a royal palace, but in a common family’s home. They worshiped God where He chose to reveal Himself, not where it would seem to make sense.

When we read the Old Testament, we usually associate “wisdom” with King Solomon. First Kings 3:12 tells us that God gave him “a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” Solomon’s wisdom is the fount from which most of the Book of Proverbs flowed.

Although the book does not specifically say it is written by him, Ecclesiastes is also usually ascribed to Solomon. Many Christians believe he wrote it near the end of his life, as he reflected on his greatest accomplishments and deepest disappointments. The passage at the beginning of this post is one of many from that book, reflecting his discovery that his boldest pursuits were “vanity and a striving after wind.”

If you wonder what that phrase means, step outside, catch the wind in your hands, and then bring it indoors and place it on your table. It will not work. You may feel the wind hitting your hand, but when you close your fingers around it, you will realize you have nothing. The air molecules that have pelted your palm immediately float elsewhere leaving you with nothing.

This illustrates how many live our lives. We grasp for something, and we find we have nothing. Or we grab hold of something, and we find that we have gained something worthless. We fool ourselves into believing one of life’s great lies: That happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of personal significance or meaning in life can be found in the things of this world.

Take time to read Ecclesiastes. Although written thousands of years ago, some of Solomon’s temptations and frustrations sound very current. He sought and achieved great wealth. He amassed power and influence. He pursued pleasure. He thought great building projects or other noble accomplishments would bring him satisfaction. Yet, throughout his life, he learned that all of these things could be lost in a moment. He would one day pass his wealth on to his heirs, and may one day be forgotten by his descendants. (I wonder if anybody has ever gone to ancestry.com and traced their family tree back to King Solomon? Probably not.) Those things that seemed to bring joy, satisfaction, and significance all seemed to end in emptiness, vanity, and chasing after wind.

However, this was not a cause for despair:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).

The flaw of worldly wisdom and common sense is that it focuses on everything that happens “under the sun” and does not recognize its source and focus in God Himself. The pleasures, passions, and purposes we often seek are temporary; a focus on God Himself is eternal.

I wonder about the aftermath of the Magi’s visit. Magi were usually employed by their king, so their visit was probably intended to be as much political as spiritual. Yet, they did not find what they expected. They did not cut a political treaty for their king with a powerful ruler. Instead, they left their gifts with a poor family and came back with nothing more than stories about a baby that somehow inspired them to worship. Yet, they had worshiped God incarnate, and Scripture testifies to this day of their faithfulness. We do not remember their names and their homeland is not specified, but we know that God remembers them. He says to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Most importantly, God invites us to seek our joy and significance by worshiping His Son instead of the things of this world.

It is not common sense, but it is wise.

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

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Examining Our Ways in Times of Suffering

“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:40).

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

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Jeremiah lamenting over Jerusalem, by Rembrandt [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of Advent and the “joy of the season,” we cannot ignore the reality of human suffering. In fact, the holiday season often magnifies pain and suffering. The world and the church call us to celebrate Christmas: there are gifts to buy, cards to write, parties to attend, extra worship services at church, etc. Yet, ordinary life’s hardships do not recognize holidays. This season, people close to me have been affected by house fires, death, illness, financial strain, the threat of losing their homes, etc. These trials can happen at any time during the year, yet the Advent/Christmas season demands our extra attention and prohibits us from devoting ourselves to the challenges of everyday life; not only that, but we are expected to feel joyful and happy despite our circumstances.

Pain and suffering are a central part of our earthly existence. Sometimes, it seems unfair, as if God Himself is unjust. We try to make sense of suffering, but it does not always work: When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, many Christians sought a biblical rationale. Perhaps God was using these events to judge American materialism and hubris. But, why did some godly people have to die? If God was judging America’s sins, was He also judging the first responders who raced into the building to rescue total strangers?

The answers are rarely obvious or simple. Jeremiah wrote the book Lamentations around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, in 586 BC. A godly prophet, from a priestly family, he had suffered for many years. He was persecuted by his countrymen for warning them that this day would come. Now, he suffered with them. It seemed as if his nation was destroyed, doomed to become a footnote on the pages of history. The covenant and promises of God seemed forgotten. Through it all, Jeremiah wept and mourned over the city he loved.

In near the middle of his lamentations, Jeremiah wrote the words at the top of this post: “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” He had warned that the nation of Judah would suffer for its unfaithfulness to God. Even when all seemed lost, he believed there was still hope. God had not changed. No matter how bad things seemed, God still loved His people:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

God’s love never ceases. Even when things look bleak, He loves us. At times, bad times come to draw us back to Him. God may be shouting to us, as C. S. Lewis wrote.

What is He trying to say? Often, bad things happen to us as a direct result of our sin. Unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are the natural consequences of sex outside of marriage. If you run into financial problems, the answer may not be to “rebuke the devouring spirit”: you may be spending your money irresponsibly and selfishly.

Let me emphasize that this is frequently, but not always, the case. Sometimes, we suffer the fallout of other people’s mistakes or other circumstances affect us negatively. However, when we face such suffering, we would be wise to examine our ways. Spend some time in prayer, and ask God:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

Ask honestly, “Is there anything I did to contribute to this situation? Is there anything I can learn from this?” It is true that you may be an innocent victim of circumstances. Or, perhaps, you contributed at least partially to it. Perhaps hardship is entirely the result of your mistakes or sins. Admit it to God (confession), ask for His forgiveness, and seek His wisdom and power to live a better life (repentance).

Many people today say that “All things happen for a reason.” However, God’s reasons are never unreasonable, irrational, or capricious. He has a redemptive purpose when bad things happen to us. He is not seeking to destroy us, but rather, to heal us.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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Understanding the Deep Waters of the Heart

“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).

When studying the topic of “renewal of the mind” and its impact on a believer’s life, it is easy to think of Christianity as something that goes on purely within one’s brain, disconnected from the rest of the world. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Renewing our minds is simply one part of the Christian life, intertwined with other aspects. Our minds are renewed not only through Bible study and prayer, but also through corporate worship, ministry to others, and fellowship.

Proverbs 20:5 is a difficult Scripture to understand, mainly because we are forced to begin with this question: Is the man in the first part of the verse the same as the “man of understanding” in the second part? I believe they are two different persons, and will write from that perspective. (While the ESV uses the word “man” both times, it might be better to say “person”; we can just as accurately speak about the purpose of a woman’s heart and a woman of understanding.) Even great men need wise counselors, and King Solomon (to whom God gave wisdom and understanding “beyond measure,” according to 1 Kings 4:29) realized he needed such counsel.

The Amplified Bible translates this verse slightly differently, hoping to make the first half of the passage more clear:

“A plan (motive, wise counsel) in the heart of a man is like water in a deep well,
But a man of understanding draws it out.”

The Hebrew word “etzah” (“purpose” in the ESV) is usually translated “counsel,” but can also mean “plan” or “advice.” It refers to what a person hopes to accomplish, including his goals and strategies. These are closely intertwined with one’s motives. What one hopes to do, how he hopes to do it, and why he wants to do it are important questions.

However, such things are often “deep water.” John Wesley said this means that such things are “secret and hard to be discovered.” The Amplified Bible envisions someone who trying to water from a deep well.

 

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Hirondella gigea, a native of the Mariana Trench. By Daiju Azuma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mariana Trench is the deepest underwater location on Earth. In the Pacific Ocean, it is 36,000 feet below sea level (more than a mile deeper than the height of Mount Everest!) and hosts some of the most unique lifeforms on Earth. Until scientists could develop equipment capable of descending to that depth (the water pressure would crush most undersea probes), we had no idea what kind of creatures were there. Men needed understanding and wisdom to find out what lived there.

A person of understanding will draw these depths out of your soul. He can give good advice. He can hear what seems to be lacking in your explanations and ask you the tough questions that you need to think about while you pursue your goals.

I remember a time when I was in college, when I ran into a friend at a Christian group’s meeting. I asked how she was doing, and she began to talk about a situation in her life that had her troubled. I asked her a few questions; she kept talking about the problem. I asked something else; she talked further. After a few minutes, she said something like, “You know what? I think I should….” Then, she thanked me for my advice. At no point did I give her actual advice or tell her what I thought she should do. I had simply asked a few questions and listened. As she thought about her situation while speaking, she realized what she needed to do. (I can think of a few times when I have been on the receiving end of such “advice that was not really advice,” when I encountered someone who was willing to listen and care.)

Often, that is all that a person needs. We are tempted to tell people what they must do, when instead we simply need to ask questions, listen, and silently ask the Holy Spirit to give wisdom. The person of understanding may ask questions about why they want to do something, how the situation developed, who will be affected by its outcome, or what options they have considered. The list can go on. We can often look back at our own experiences to provide wisdom, not by telling people what to do, but simply by remembering what a similar situation was like for us.

Finally, “deep water” can make us think of one of Jesus’ images for the Holy Spirit:

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37–39).

The deep water reminds us of the “rivers of living water” flowing with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, which we often have difficulty discerning. Some Christians are particularly gifted with wisdom and can help others discern exactly what the Holy Spirit is saying to them. We would be wise to seek such counsel, even when we think we have heard from the Holy Spirit. A person of understanding can provide clarity and perspective, and help us see when we are allowing our own selfish carnal thinking to pollute divine guidance.

This is why “renewal of the mind” must occur within the context of fellowship. Left to our own devices with the Word of God, we can be tempted to simply reinforce harmful thought patterns, plans, and motives by distorting Scripture to suit our agendas. However, a trusted person of understanding can help us confront the negative thinking and fine-tune our perspective.

People in Twelve-Step programs often speak of “sharing our experiences, strength, and hope with others.” May we each find people who can compassionately share their experience, strength, hope and wisdom with us so that that we can grow in our knowledge of Christ. Furthermore, may we all find the wisdom that we can share with others. This is how we grow as believers and become transformed by the renewing of our minds.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Guarding Your Heart

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).

27489072214_02bc4c08ac_bOne of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the temptation to focus on rules rather than on the relationship with Jesus Christ. We think rules will keep us from sin. Often, they can lead us into sin, because we focus on what we cannot do rather than how a particular area of our life is related to our walk with Christ.

Much of the book of Proverbs contains wisdom that King Solomon sought to pass on to his children. One of his key instructions is, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.”

Keep your heart: Not your activities. Everything we think, say, and do flows from our hearts. When our hearts are in the right place, we will do the will of God.

John Wesley wrote that heart means “thy thoughts, will and affections.” It sums up our inner life. What do I choose to think about? What do I want or try to do? What spurs my emotions? Define these, and you have described your heart in this biblical sense. Wesley writes that the second part of this verse means “From thence proceed all the actions, as of the natural, so of the spiritual life, which lead to eternal life.”

If we do not guard our hearts, our outward behavior can suffer. Many Christians focus heavily on rules rather than this heart-protection, and as a result they may approach life trying to see how close they can get to sin without actually falling into it. The unmarried couple can try to see how far they can go without actually falling into sexual sin—and then their hormones take over, driving their emotions to take charge and forcing their intellectual agreement with the Bible into the background. The person who is struggling to overcome alcohol addiction may decide, “I can go to the bar if I don’t drink”; but, his desire to fit in and be accepted overtakes his desire for sobriety and he falls off the wagon. Similar examples can be given for a host of human weaknesses.

What are some ways to guard our hearts, so that we do not fall into this trap?

First, change your standard. Numerous churches have a canon of moral and ethical rules they demand of their members. Some are biblical (“do not commit adultery; do not lust; do not steal”); some are logical extensions of biblical rules (“don’t spend time alone with a woman to whom you are not married”); some are man-made rules (“don’t dance; don’t listen to rock music; don’t smoke”). Rules tell us what we can get away with.

The New Testament standard is different: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (I Corinthians 10:23). Instead of asking, “What can I get away with?” we can ask, “What will strengthen me spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, etc.? What is the best way to use my time and resources? How can I best glorify God and build up his people?”

Proverbs 4 adds a few other ways to guard our hearts. Take charge of what you say and hear. Proverbs 4:24 tells us, “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.” Do not allow yourself to give in to dishonest, perverted, negative, or hate-filled speech. To do that, one has to avoid listening to such speech. We will end up treasuring the things we focus on in our hearts: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

This should probably be the real guiding principle in our entertainment choices. Many preachers talk about the sensuality and vulgarity in popular music, movies, and television. These are serious issues; they influence the values of their audiences. But, what about the anger and negativity on many talk and news shows? What about the quick rushes to judgment whenever a rumor pops up about a celebrity or politician? We seem to think the command to “not bear false witness against your neighbor” does not apply if it involves bad news we want to believe about a celebrity we have never met. However, that constant barrage of negativity into our ears is bound to corrupt our thoughts and feelings and come out in our attitudes and speech.

Finally, let us keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in His direction:

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and 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” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Renewing the mind is all about learning to think like Jesus and know Him better. To do that, we must keep our eyes on Him. We do that by reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping Him. He should be the vision that we place directly before us and, as we follow Him, we must choose not to deviate to the right or to the left.

Following Jesus should adjust our priorities. When we place our eyes on Him, we know the most profitable way to use our time and abilities. It becomes easier to say “No” to good options when we know God’s best plan for our lives. I could easily overburden myself, making more commitments than I can fill. Before I take on a responsibility, I bring it to the Lord in prayer and ask, “Is this Your will? How does this tie in to Your mission for my life? Have you equipped me with the abilities to pull this off?” Being overburdened leads to burnout, which leads to tiredness, depression, and discouragement, along with other negative attitudes that leave one open to temptation.

Temptation hits us hardest when we do not guard our hearts. When we allow Satan to nail us with negativity and discouragement, or hit us in our weak spots, we open ourselves up to temptation, sin, discouragement, and defeat. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we can play with fire without getting burned. Guard your heart!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Self-Sufficiency or Gratitude

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them…” (Deuteronomy 11:13–16, ESV).

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A plaque on a church thanks God for protection during World War II. By Acabashi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During the past year, a new phrase has gained popularity: “fake news.” The term has been around for a while, but it now permeates the Internet. If one does not want to believe something that has been reported, they will claim it is fake news. While President Donald Trump may be most responsible for the phrase’s popularity, no side of the political spectrum holds a monopoly on it. Indeed, some websites and media outlets are generally untrustworthy and deserve to be called “fake news,” but many will invoke that term to avoid investigating claims that go against their presuppositions, regardless of the source.

Like I said, fake news has been around for some time. In a very real sense, it is just the newest synonym in a family of words and phrases related to untruth, dishonesty, deception, etc. It is the newest twist on “lie.” People are prone to believe lies, especially in the spiritual realm. In my previous post, I addressed a few of the lies that we can overcome through confession of sin. No single short article can address all of the spiritual lies people believe, but we will look at some of the big ones in the next few weeks.

Perhaps the greatest lie of all is self-sufficiency, and God’s Word warns His people against it frequently in His Word. A false belief that “I accomplished something great and do not need God’s help” is the entry point onto the shortcut to idolatry. Deuteronomy 11:13–16 reminds the reader of a similar warning earlier in that book:

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you…” (Deuteronomy 6:10–14).

Similar warnings appear elsewhere in Scripture. In Revelation 3:14–22, Jesus reprimanded the Laodicean church for its lukewarm faith. Most Christians will read their own pet peeve into that passage: Did Jesus think their worship songs were boring? Were they praying too mechanically? Maybe they enjoyed the same hobbies and entertainment as their heathen neighbors did. Actually, none of those were the real problems. Laodicea was a very wealthy community, prospering from a nearby hot spring and other successful industries. We see Jesus hinting at these blessings throughout His rebuke, beginning with the hot springs: Once the water cooled off, it was lukewarm and unpleasant. The city was famous for an eye salve and textiles, both of which are called unprofitable in this warning. Their lukewarm faith was not so much a matter of worship or morals: They thought they could make it on their own and did not need Jesus in their daily lives. Thus, He ends up outside the church, asking to be invited in. Laodicea thus becomes a picture of many Christians: lukewarm, self-sufficient, leaving our Saviour out in the cold.

Despite God’s warnings, the lie of self-sufficiency is one that people love to believe. American culture exalts the “self-made man.” We celebrate the man who rose from humble means to become a great success in business, politics, or some other field. We create a myth about how he achieved greatness by the sweat of his brow and his own ingenuity and inspiration, with little or no help from others. Those who guided or assisted him can be readily forgotten. The Frank Sinatra song that declares “I did it my way” may very well be the anthem of the self-made man.

To such people, Jesus declares, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God had placed those healing waters close to Laodicea. He gave each of us the talents, insight, and resources that lead to our success. He surrounded us with the people who helped us succeed. With every victory we achieve, or every goal we accomplish in life, we should give thanks to God first and foremost. He made it possible.

The lie of self-sufficiency is a step towards idolatry. For the ancient Israelites, that could be idolatry in the most literal sense. They might decide, “I had a great harvest. Yahweh didn’t do this; I did it! Maybe I can shop around for other gods who will allow me to do things my way to prosper.” The all-powerful God of all things, who provided the soil and weather that made a produced a bountiful harvest, may be rejected in favor of idols whom the self-made man seeks to manipulate for greater gain.

Today, we may choose other idols. In its broadest sense, an idol can be anything that we choose to focus on instead of God. We can make our own ideas an idol. We can idolize money (Ephesians 5:5 equates idolatry with covetousness or greed), political parties and systems, self-help gurus, financial advisors, etc. Anything or anybody who takes our eyes off God and claims to offer peace, pleasure, and prosperity can be an idol.

The answer to the lie of self-sufficiency is gratitude. It is tempting to give ourselves a pat on the back whenever we accomplish something. However, before we exalt ourselves, let us take some time to think of three ways that God made your success possible. What obstacles to success were not present because He removed them even before you began? Why or what helped you succeed? How did you obtain the resources to succeed? How did you develop the skills to succeed? The answer to almost all of these questions will point back to God’s grace. He remains the source of all our blessings, and He deserves to be thanked and worshiped because of His goodness.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Confession: Resisting the Lies of the Enemy

“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” (I John 1:8–10, ESV).

The Holy Bible

The Bible is the Christian’s guide for confession and for distinguishing between God’s truth and Satan’s lies

St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1–2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” Much of our spiritual warfare takes place in the mind. The Christian’s bloodiest battlefield is usually the space between their ears. If we want to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, to offer Him true spiritual worship, and to avoid being conformed to this sinful world, we must let our minds be renewed. This is crucial to transformation.

One reason our minds need renewal is because we often believe lies. Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. He is, in some way, responsible for every idea, philosophy, or world view that contradicts the Bible; for example, we may say that Satan is the father of atheistic evolution, false religious cults, and postmodern sexual morals. However, his cleverest lies deceive us about who we are in relation to Him. Once Satan can trap us in a spiritual identity crisis, he can plant the seeds of greater deception.

1 John 1:8–10 hints at two closely related lies that many Christians fall for: “We have no sin” and “We have not sinned.” The first implies that one has achieved a state of moral perfection; the other claims that either we were always in that state of moral perfection or that some people really have not sinned. “We have not sinned” may have several other lies attached to it:

  • “There really is no such thing as sin. Morality and ethics are relative, so there is no such thing as objective right and wrong.” This is one of Satan’s most commonly believed lies in our time.
  • “Our actions are heavily directed by our biology (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.), so defining something as ‘sin’ is really just trying to force a cultural norm on another person.”
  • “There are some sins out there, but only really horrible people (note: people who have done bad things that we have never tried) are actually sinners. Adolf Hitler is a sinner, because he murdered so many people. Since I’ve never killed anybody, I am not as bad as him, so I am not a sinner.”

“We have no sin” (the present tense lie) includes a few other possible deceptions:

  • “Well, I used to be a sinner, but since I became a Christian, my sins are all forgiven. Therefore, what I do does not matter anymore.”
  • “I have an excuse for any sin: My carnal nature (or flesh) committed the sin, but my spirit had nothing to do with it. Or, the devil made me do it. Or, it’s always someone else’s fault: I lost my temper because my father was an alcoholic, or the other person pushed my buttons, or other people hurt my feelings.”
  • These other two lies can combine into a false view of entire sanctification: The believer claims to have experienced a crisis moment of sanctification after salvation and is now totally free from sin. Therefore, if they do something that looks like sin, either (a) there is some exception to the normal rules about sin here or (b) it is the other person’s fault.

Some Christians believe this because they have accepted Satan’s shrewdest lie of all: The belief that “God is harsh and you need to earn His love.” His justice and righteousness demand that we get our acts together. If we believe that is true, we have only two options: Make excuses to convince ourselves that we have met God’s standards, or beat ourselves up for failure. Somehow, we can convince ourselves about this even when we know that Jesus died for our sins and we are forgiven. We may intellectually believe that God gracious and forgiving, while our emotions convince us that God is like the judgmental, harsh, or abusive people in our lives. It is hard to believe that our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally when we were never quite “good enough” for our earthly parents.

God’s justice, though, is intimately bound with His grace and mercy. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them. We have no need to make excuses. When we realize we have sinned (or, perhaps, we even think we might have sinned), we can go to Him, admit our wrongs, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing. Repentance means that we admit we were wrong and ask God to help us turn from the sin in the future. Sanctification means that He will give us the victory over that sin. It may not happen overnight. You might confess the same sins every day, and He will forgive you again and again. If you are sincere in your confession, the day will come when you cannot think of a reason to confess that same sin again. (“Wait a minute, God: Did I just go the entire day without committing XXX? Hallelujah!”)

Forget the devil’s lies. Have you sinned? Yes: The Word of God says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Does that mean that God hates you? No; like a loving parent, He is there to pick us up no matter how often we fall, and to clean us up whenever we make a mess. Confess your sin; admit you need His help; and believe He will do it.

If you are a Christian, take some time daily to confess your sins and lay hold of a renewed awareness of forgiveness. I say the following prayer twice a day to keep my “sin account” short (feel free to replace “We” with “I”):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

from The Book of Common Prayer

You can make up your own prayer of confession or find some online. A few good confession prayers are available at http://thirdmill.org/files/english/html/worship/pray.confess.html.

If you have never surrendered your life to Jesus and invited Him to be Lord of your life, you may prayer for forgiveness and new life in this way (from PeaceWithGod.net)

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Let us not allow fear to hold us back from approaching God to receive forgiveness. We may confidently approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy, whenever we need it!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Christian’s True Identity

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2–5, ESV, emphasis added).

Jesus-washing-feet-01-1.jpg

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He could assume the lowliest servant’s role, because He knew His true identity.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a one-day retreat organized by one of the ministry teams at my church. Throughout the day, we reflected upon and discussed several questions about our identity as Christians. “How am I known in heaven? Who do I say I am? Who does God say I am?”

Such questions about identity guide our lives. A person with a distorted, diminished, or deficient understanding of who they are will act on that sense of self-identity. A person who views himself or herself as a “loser” or a victim will expect to fail. (Sadly, many people make the opposite mistake; with a delusional, inflated self-image, they may try to be something they are not and fail at that.)

As Christians observe Holy Week, we note that Jesus had a clear awareness of His identity, which was necessary for Him to complete His mission of redemption. John notes that, as Jesus prepared to eat the Last Supper with His disciples, He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew who He was. He knew He was operating from a place of victory: indeed, even a place of omnipotence.

He had lived His entire life with this keen awareness that He was the Son of God and that He had been sent from heaven. Luke 2:41–51 tells the story of Jesus, when He was 12 years old. After celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary started the journey home, only to realize later that Jesus was not with them. Finally, they found Him in the temple, discussing theology with the pre-eminent rabbis of their day. Mary reprimanded Him for causing them to worry. Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 12:49). Approximately 13 years after angels told Mary and Joseph that they would raise the Son of God, they seemed to forget. However, Jesus remembered Who He was, Who His Father is, and what His purpose would be.

Without knowing His true identity, Jesus probably would have been happy to open a carpentry shop and build stuff for the people of Nazareth until He was old and gray. However, He knew He was sent for something more significant. Because He knew Who He was, He could accept the most mundane, demeaning task of a household servant and wash the disciples’ feet. Knowing that He was the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, He could endure the cross, despise its shame, and obtain eternal life for all who would follow Him.

What about us? Do we truly know our true identity as Christians? Perhaps most Christians have a false spiritual self-image. After church today, a few men from our church’s drug and alcohol recovery program addressed the congregation during the post-worship coffee hour. At one point, one of the men said, “Well, I’m no saint, but….” A member of the congregation responded that none of us are. Scripture says they were both wrong.

The Bible says that we are saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” It is true that the Corinthians Christians were imperfect; much of the letter corrected them for their shortcomings. However, he still called them saints along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus. As Christians:

  • We are saints.
  • We are holy and blameless in God’s sight (see Ephesians 1:4).
  • We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17): In other words, we are Jesus’ little brothers and little sisters, loved by God the Father.
  • We are alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The list goes on, much longer than I can include in a single blog post. We once were sinners—that was our identity before we came to know Jesus—but that is no longer our true identity. Even though we struggle with sin,  it is no longer how God sees us. He does not define us by our sins, our failures, our defeats, our mistakes, or the mistakes of our parents. He defines us as His children, saints who are blameless because we are alive in Christ.

Let us each claim our true identity in Christ, believe it, and live by it. This is a major element of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is e a lifelong journey. I expect to devote many hours of prayer, Bible study and reflection to learning more about my new identity in Christ. A one-day retreat is a great place to start, but habitually embracing one’s identity in Christ takes a lifetime.

As we observe Holy Week, I will remember that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ, so that I may live in the power of His resurrection (see Romans 6:6–11). This is the privilege and identity of all true saints who call upon the name of Jesus.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Honesty and Unity—Ephesians 4:25–27

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25–27).

ephesians-4-26-27.jpgIn December, I posted an article entitled “Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24.” This article follows up on that post, in part because the verses cited above immediately follow those. Furthermore, having your mind renewed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will not only empower you to live like the “new man” God says you are when you come to Christ: This leads to a transformation in your relationships with others.

Our relationships with other Christians should especially be affected. Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This should especially occur in our relationships with other Christians. Paul says each of us should “speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Whether we like it or not, we are united with other Christians, and this should affect how we live. Paul writes that we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

This spiritual unity should guide our entire Christian walk. We do not go to church: We are the church. We are members of the body of Christ and, as such, members of one another. If I attack or abuse my brother or sister in Christ, I attack or abuse Jesus and, in the process, I abuse myself.

Many evangelical Christians speak of having “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, while the relationship is personal, it is not individualistic. It is a familial relationship. My relationship with Christ unites me with other people who are part of the family of God, the same way other family relationships unite us with others.

This relationship with Christ demands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we love ourselves, because God is love. It also calls us to live honestly and truthfully with other Christians, because Jesus is the Truth.

This does not mean we must admit every sin and struggle to every other person in the church. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect, and some believers can be terribly critical or judgmental, and may be horrible gossips. However, we should be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others: Particularly, we should not deceive anybody, and we should find those mature brothers and sisters with whom we can be completely honest. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

james-5-16

In some churches, you may be able to go to a member of the clergy for sacramental confession. The priest or minister is required to hear your confession, remind you of Christ’s forgiveness, and never mention your sin again. They should model forgiveness, so that you may be empowered to live a holy life.

If your church does not have sacramental confession, find a mature believer whom you can trust: Someone who will listen to you without demeaning or judging you, who will remind you that you are forgiven, and who will guard your darkest secrets as if they are his own.

We should be honest about our emotions and our conflicts as well. “Be angry and do not sin” does not mean we should look for opportunities to get ticked off. Rather, it means we will get angry eventually. People will say or do things that hurt our feelings. However, that does not mean we should act out sinfully to resolve a situation. We should not bottle up our feelings. However, when we express our anger, we should do it in such a way that we work toward restoration of the relationship as quickly as we can. Do not give the devil an opportunity to inspired bitterness, grudges, hostility, or conflict within the church, the family, or the social circle. Speak up, speak honestly, speak the truth in love, and allow the God of truth to work in your life and heart.

Christian unity is not based on our feelings. It is a supernatural result of our unity with Christ. Because we are members of His body, we are united with other believers. Because of this, love and sincerity should characterize our relationships one with another.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to 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 4:17–24, ESV)

The Holy Bible

Over the past few months, I have tagged several of my articles as “Renewing the Mind Reflections.” I encourage you to visit that link under “Categories” on my page for more articles on this subject. One blog post cannot cover it all.

Paul uses the term “renewing the mind” or something like it several times in his letters. He also speaks of the “new self” or new man frequently. Here, they come together. The old man—the person who is not “in Christ” or born again—needs an attitude adjustment. Because they are darkened in their understanding, ignorant, and hard-hearted, they are alienated from the life of God. This is why they engage in sensuality, greed, and impurity. We should not be surprised when non-believers live, think, and act like non-believers: It is who they are.

Yet, many of us (most? all?) continue to struggle with sin even years after turning to Jesus. We can shrug it off by saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” Yet, there is a way to win greater victories than we have experienced before.

Paul tells his readers “to 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.” In other words, there are several elements of this change: (1) Put off the old self; (2) be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and (3) put on the new self.

At first glance, it sounds like we have to be renewed in the spirit of our minds before we can put on the new self. If we understand putting on the new self as salvation, this can be discouraging. After all, I turned my life over to Jesus over 30 years ago, and I still see areas where I need my mind renewed. I would propose, though, that Paul is not talking about chronological order here. He is emphasizing that these experiences are intertwined: As a child of God, one who is no longer alienated from the life of God (because I have, or continue to, put off the old self and put on the new), I will renew my mind.

Renewal of the mind is a process, but it is essential. When I struggle with sin or other hindrances to my walk with the Lord, there is often some “old self thinking” involved. I may be accepting Satan’s lies about a certain sin (everybody else does it; you really have to do this to make it in today’s world; it’s not so bad) or lies about who I am in Christ. There may be some other lies involved as well.

Paul writes in another verse of Scripture:

“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).

It is easy to recognize that a renewed mind would take on God’s perspective about sin, righteousness, and holiness: for example, the renewed Christian mind recognizes that adultery and fornication are sins, even if the modern world says they don’t really hurt anybody. Reading the Bible may help us to recognize that activities we thought are acceptable may be sinful. However, renewal of the mind goes even further. In Romans 12, Paul follows the previous verse by writing:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).

Too often, we think Bible reading and its related “renewal of the mind” is only about sin, morality, or perhaps some basic biblical theology. But, it is more: renewing the mind includes gaining a new perspective about who you are. It is also important to gain a new perspective about who God is.

Over 20 years ago, I was struggling with deep depression. One of the tools I used to find remission (I will not claim I am fully healed of depression; it can rear its ugly head when I least expect it) was a new approach to Bible meditation. As I would read the Bible, I would take note of verses that talk about a believer’s status or identity in Christ. I would write those verses on index cards, personalizing if appropriate (e.g., inserting my name in place of generic term for Christians). Then, I would keep that stack of index cards handy; if I had a free moment (for example, stopped at a red light while driving), I would read the next verse and think about for the next few minutes.

My goal was to stop thinking of the Bible as only a book of rules, regulations, and ideas I must believe. It was also God’s message, telling me who He is and who I am. I had to not only believe some doctrines. I had to believe that God is my Father, that He loves me, and that the things He says about His children are (or can be) true specifically about me.

Friends, allow God to renew your minds. Read the Bible. Meditate on it. Recognize what it says about you, and pray that God will make those truths visible in your life. As you allow Him to renew your mind, eventually your perspective will change and your life will follow.

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

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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