Monthly Archives: November 2016

Advent: A Season of Waiting and Preparation

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalms 27:14, ESV).

Advent wreath 4

By SolLuna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The secular world tells me the Christmas season has begun. I turned on my favorite radio station on Friday, and Christmas songs were playing. After all, Santa Claus had made his grand arrival at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

The world says Christmas is here. The church calendar says otherwise. I choose to follow God’s will, not the ways of the world.

Most Americans—even devout Christians—allow the materialistic mindset of commercialism to define Christmas for them. In the retail world, the Christmas season apparently begins shortly before Halloween, when the first Christmas decorations begin to creep onto the shelves of the stores. My first Black Friday email arrived on November 10. (Just for the record, I refuse to shop on Black Friday: It sounds too much like Black Plague and I hate getting caught in the middle of a riot over flat-screen TVs.) However, many Christians think “the Christmas season” begins on the day after Thanksgiving. (We are not even waiting that long anymore; since many stores begin their Black Friday sales one day early, Thanksgiving will soon become “Black Friday Eve.” Future generations will learn that the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower, seeking an open Wal-Mart.) Using this secular commercial calendar, the Christmas season ends on December 25, sometime around 10:00 PM. We may continue saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” until January 1, but that is only because we cannot wait to get drunk or watch a shiny ball drop.

I would like to challenge that thinking by urging my brothers and sisters in Christ to use the traditional church calendar as a guide. Instead of allowing mass-marketing to guide your life, allow the timeless truths of the Christian faith to shape your paths. By refusing to allow the secular worldview to drag us in its directions, we can take some time to learn God’s lessons for us.

The Christmas season did not begin yet. From a Christian standpoint, Black Friday is nothing (maybe it is the “highest unholy day” of commercialism). Advent began today. This season begins four Sundays before Christmas, and it is a time of waiting and preparation.

During Advent, we remember how the ancient Jews waited for centuries for their promised Messiah. We commemorate how Mary and Joseph prepared for the coming of Jesus during her miraculous pregnancy. However, we do not simply look back and remember these events as detached observers. We join them, as we too are in a season of waiting and preparation. While the ancients were waiting for the first coming of the Messiah, we await His second coming in glory. As we await the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we train ourselves to wait for His return.

This connection between the two comings of Christ can be seen in the song, “Joy to the World.” Read those lyrics carefully. This song is not about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; it is about His eternal glorious reign. It is a song about His second coming, but we so easily recognize its connection to His arrival 2000 years ago.

Americans are not very good at waiting. We are used to instant everything. We have microwave ovens, because conventional cooking takes too long. We go to fast-food restaurants, because we do not want to wait for (or prepare) our food; and then, we rush through the drive-through, because we are too impatient to wait online in the store. We demand instant entertainment, instant information, instant gratification.

However, although society demands everything instantly, God calls us to wait. Psalm 27 ends with an exhortation to “wait for the Lord.” The psalmist was being harassed by his enemies; his own family had turned their backs on him. He knew God was ready to bless him, but he knew he had to wait to see the full evidence of protection and restoration. God considers waiting important; He commands us many times in the Bible to wait on Him. Furthermore, patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit. A mature Christian willingly waits for God to act, and he also waits to see what God wants to do in his life.

Take the time to prepare your heart and mind for Christmas. Devote time to prayer, praise, worship, and fellowship. While the world tries to pull you into holiday sales at every store, devote your time and talents to help those who are less fortunate. As the world invites you to “holiday” parties, take some time to attend special services and outreach events at church (yours or other local congregations) where Jesus’ life will be the center of attention. While friends and family try to increase your weight by feeding your fruitcake, take some extra time to increase your love for God by developing more of the fruit of the Spirit.

May this Advent be a season of waiting and preparation for whatever good God seeks to do in your life.

By the way, Christmas season is coming: but that begins on December 25 and lasts 12 days.

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

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Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

At Jesus’ Right Hand

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:20–28

One might expect that Jesus’ closest friends would be seated at His right and left hands in His kingdom. After all, that is how kingdoms operated in Jesus’ day. The king decided who held the places of honor and influence in His kingdom. He could appoint his best friends to those posts if he so decided. Historians have claimed that the first-century emperor Caligula, who reigned a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, even appointed his horse to a high-ranking office.

Jesus, however, never endorsed the world’s leadership style. He would not award special status for the same reasons many rulers would. His approach opposes the world’s system, mainly because the world itself has been in rebellion against His kingdom since the first humans bit into the forbidden fruit.

Who can claim the place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom? James and John seem like legitimate candidates, from the world’s view. They were among Jesus’ earliest and most loyal followers. Were they able to drink the cup of suffering Jesus would soon face? Perhaps; they believed they could, and James would become the first apostle to be executed for his faith.

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At the Last Supper, John was seated by Jesus’ side (John 13:23). Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper depicts John at Jesus’ right hand, with James at His left.

However, it was not a matter of accomplishments or desire. It would be God’s decision who would sit at Jesus’ right hand in the Kingdom. Scripture tells us that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, which means the Father sits at the Son’s left hand. What can we know about the person who may sit at Jesus’ right hand? Who can it be?

Can it be St. Stephen, the first martyr who saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God? (Acts 7:55–56; maybe Jesus was rising to welcome him home.)

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Icon showing Christ (center) bringing Dismas (left) into Paradise. At the right are the Gates of Paradise, guarded by a seraph (Solovetsky Monastery, 17th century).

Can it be the penitent thief (Luke 23:40–43) who recognized that he deserved his condemnation and that Jesus would soon enter His kingdom? St. Dismas (the name ascribed to the “good thief” according to ancient church tradition) was one of the two thieves hung next to Jesus at the crucifixion. Jesus promised him that he would soon join our Lord in paradise. Thus, St. Dismas can possibly be the first person to enter heaven by grace through faith in Christ. Could his faith, willingness to confess his sinfulness, and ability to see that Jesus was still the King, have earned him that seat of honor? After all, St. Dismas is the last person known to be next to Jesus before His death.

Christians can debate this question until the end of time. Perhaps there are only two people enthroned in the kingdom—God the Father on the left, and Jesus on the right. (This may be the most likely scenario, since if Jesus was in the middle, He would have greater prominence than the Father. This seems unlikely.)

Perhaps the greatest question is not who receives the sat of honor. Jesus does not answer that question. The real question is, “What kind of person receives honor in the Kingdom of God?” In the Church and the Kingdom, honor does not belong to those who boast of their achievements and accomplishments, to those who seek to elevate their power and prestige.  It certainly does not belong to those who try force their own will upon others. Rather, it is the person who claims the role of a servant. The person who is willing to lay down his life for Jesus, take up his cross and follow him, seeking to serve rather than be served. This is the person God honors.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Happens After the Election?

In a recent post, I suggested that the current presidential campaign reflects the state of American culture. God does not have to send judgement to America: He can simply sit back and allow us to face the consequences of our rebellion, including the candidates we choose and the officials we elect to hold government office:

Perhaps the fact that our Presidential election has been narrowed down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump serves as a mirror in which America should see its flaws. This is something that the church seriously needs to consider. Many of us continue to hope that God will somehow bring revival to America. However, many Christians expect Him to do it only through a Republican President who can appoint the right Supreme Court justices.

How can Christians in America respond to our current situation? I still refuse to openly endorse either candidate because, as I wrote in that post, “God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.” This truth has an impact that will continue far beyond November 8.

First, I believe that even those Christians who have claimed that one of the two candidates is “God’s choice” must continue to pray beyond November 8. I know of several Christian groups who have been praying and fasting for Donald Trump to win. Even if he is “God’s man for the job,” a successful election does not mean the spiritual battle for the soul of our nation is over. Politicians see Election Day as the finish line at the end of a race, because winning the election is their goal. A Christian’s goal should be to see God’s glory radiating in our world (this may include revival within the nation). America will be no more of a Christian nation on November 9 than it was one day earlier. For us, an election triumph is not the same as crossing the finish line first in a race. It is more like scoring a single two-point field goal in a basketball game. It may count as part of the actual victory, but it is only a small part of it.

I ask those of you who are praying for the election: Will you continue to pray beyond November 8? Will you pray for more people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Will you pray for a culture where all life is cherished, from conception to natural death, where the very thought of abortion or euthanasia would be as repulsive as cannibalism? Will you pray for a society that cherishes family and upholds a truly biblical perspective thereof? The game is not over when the final vote is tallied this week. It is over when Revelation 11:15 is fulfilled: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Evangelism will likewise be an important part of our task. We have tried for too long to persuade our “opponents” without seeking a change of heart. We are trying to convince those who do not know Jesus that abortion is murder, that homosexuality is a sin, etc., without first seeking to bring them to faith in Jesus. We forget that “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” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Explaining scriptural morality and spiritual truth to someone who does not have the Spirit of God within them is like trying to explain quantum physics to a three-year-old. If you do not recognize the Triune God as the source of all truth and Creator of all, you can avoid spiritual truth. If there is no God, any form of sexual expression is equally valid. If there is no God, we can decide who is “alive enough” to have a right to life.

We need to bring people to a personal relationship with Christ so that spiritual truth will make sense to them. That is when we will see transformation, and that is something only the people of God can do. A Christian’s primary responsibility has always been evangelism. Our job is to bring people to Jesus Christ, not to convert a nation to a political ideology.

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

Categories: Current events, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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