Monthly Archives: December 2016

New Year’s Day: A Time for Change?

This post is an updated version of an article I wrote on December 31, 2009.

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

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2).

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

Revelation 21 speaks of a time of transition in the cosmos. The world as we know it is superseded—perhaps overthrown—by the eternal millennial reign of Christ. Granted, that is a much more drastic transition than the one we celebrate tonight. For me, New Year’s Day is a day to change calendars; in the days to come, I look forward to remembering to write the correct year on checks. But, except for the last digit of the date, there is little substantial difference between December 31, 2016 and January 1, 2017.

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

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

However, all the hype about New Year’s Day has forced me to look back at the last year. As a writer, it has been a year of revived output. This post will be my 50th post of 2016. While I follow some blogs whose writers post one or more articles per day, I consider 50 to be a great accomplishment. A few years ago, my output had declined to a point where I posted only eight articles in a three-year period. Near the end of last year, though, I noticed that one of my posts (an article that I did not consider particularly significant when I wrote it) was generating a lot of “hits” several years after it was published. Writers need to recognize that we are privileged to see our work bear fruit over time. We make our best effort to write a good story/article/essay; we publish it; then, it is up to the readers whether they will take it in. On the Internet, those hits may come later.

This is a lesson for all of us in the Christian life, particularly those in ministry. Sometimes, we are tempted to “play God” and try to control the outcome. Our job is to be faithful and give God our time, talents and treasures. It is His job to decide whether it is used to bring people to salvation, or to encourage new believers, etc. The fact that people from 81 different countries visited my blog this year is encouraging. When I see a country where Christians are a small minority (or even persecuted) on that list, I take a few minutes to pray for the reader. God knows who he or she is.

I will not say that I will make a “New Year’s Resolution.” I have some goals for this blog, for other writing projects (including a book or two), and for other areas of my life (exercise more, eat better, manage my finances better—all the usual stuff). However, these are all things I have thought about throughout the year, and will have to actively pursue in the future. Most people blow their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, and then repeat them the following year. However, if one makes realistic goals, re-assesses them throughout the year, and is willing to improve and grow regardless of the month, progress is attainable.

Lasting change only comes when we make a daily commitment to it. Speaking of the hope of Christ’s return, St. John wrote, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). January 1, 2017 will arrive about two hours after I post this online, and will dissolve into history 24 hours later. The hope of eternity with Christ lasts forever, and provides a lasting incentive for real transformation in our lives. I hope and trust that, as I yield my life more to His Lordship, He will mold me to be the man he wants me to be.

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

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

Keeping Christ in Christmas—Colossians 3:17

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, ESV)

img_20161217_171037009

Is this a holiday tree or a Christmas tree? Or, is it just a really big tree with lots of pretty lights? (Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch, at RXR Plaza, Uniondale, NY, December 17, 2016.)

Writing teachers urge their students to avoid clichés, especially in the title. However, “keep Christ in Christmas” has become such a familiar slogan that we should give it some thought, especially as the holiday approaches.

Every year, Christians use the phrase “keep Christ in Christmas” in response to a “war against Christmas” in society. Frequently, the enemy’s weapon is the phrase “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” (instead of “Merry Christmas”), and the great outrage is when stores and other nationally known businesses talk about “the holidays” instead of Christmas. In 2015, some complained when Starbuck’s used a  seasonal coffee cup with a snowflake instead of a distinctive Christmas symbol. Previous outrages involved department store chains selling “holiday trees” or refusing to say “Merry Christmas” to their customers.

I would suggest that the so-called war against Christmas is really just a symptom of a greater cultural war against Christianity and traditional Christian values. Furthermore, the battlefield where this war must be decided is not in store circulars, but rather in the church and in the hearts of people.

I found it interesting that some Christians were upset about a secular symbol on Starbuck’s cups, but were not offended by the non-Christian, and at times anti-Christian, values the company promotes year-round. I am more concerned when a company donates to organizations and causes that oppose biblical values (abortion, same-sex marriage) than when it uses secular symbolism in its “holiday” marketing campaigns. The same can be said about other outcries: We may want to boycott major corporations when they fail to mention Christmas in advertising, but we overlook questionable or immoral advertising campaigns, policy positions, social-issue stances, and business ethics the rest of the year. (I have to wonder: Are we as upset by unethical or immoral business practices as we are by “Season’s greetings”?)

I remain convinced that the real war against Christmas is a world-view perspective among Christians. Several weeks ago, I wrote in a post about Advent that “Most Americans—even devout Christians—allow the materialistic mindset of commercialism to define Christmas for them.”

This is the real issue of the war on Christmas. What is the real meaning of the holiday? Is it to celebrate the fact that God became a human being—Jesus Christ, a.k.a. Emmanuel, “God with us”—so that He could redeem us? Or, is it just a chance to celebrate winter? Will we sing joyfully about snow, even though many of us will consider it a different kind of four-letter word after a few weeks?

Is Christmas about commercialism? I think that, despite our outspoken protests to the contrary, Christmas has been reduced to a state of commercialism, even in the Church. In a recent post, Orthodox Christian priest-blogger Fr. Stephen Freeman observed that American culture is grounded in a worldview of consumerism (which defines a person’s significance by what he purchases), which we bring into our celebration of the Christmas feast. He writes, “But the Orthodox understanding of the feast is not grounded in consumerism. We do not believe people were created to consume. We are created to commune.” I would suggest that the Orthodox understanding he speaks of should be the de facto Christian understanding, but our churches often try to baptize secular worldviews rather than confront them with a biblical perspective. (His thoughts on this topic are definitely worth reading and reflecting upon.)

The war on Christmas is not new; it has raged since Jesus was a baby. In Matthew 2:12-18, Herod tried to eradicate Christmas by seeking to kill the baby who was born King of the Jews. The war has taken new twists throughout the ages, but it has always been grounded in an opposition to Christ’s Lordship, and this opposition lasts 12 months per year.

One of the masterpieces of Christmas entertainment is Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. Most readers are familiar with the story of how the greedy miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is drawn by three spirits to have a new attitude about Christmas. But, his new holiday joy is actually what we would normally speak of as a conversion experience. Rather than just beginning to like Christmas, he began to live by godly values in all areas of his life. This is more apparent in the last two paragraphs of the book than it is in most film adaptations of the tale:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One! (Charles Dickens, “Stave 5: The End of It,” in A Christmas Carol.)

As we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, may He live in and through us every day. May God bless us, every one!

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Scripture Sabbath | 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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: