Monthly Archives: July 2017

Sabbaths, Sabbaticals, and Seasons of Refreshing

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:10-12, ESV).

God gave Israel Ten Commandments. Most Christians will at least verbally acknowledge nine of them. (We say coveting is a sin, but most Americans treat it like a sacrament.) God said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” but many of us will say, “That was just for the Jews. Let’s go shopping after church! Why is Chick-Fil-A closed?”

Hard work is part of the American ideal, but we do not value rest. Americans work more hours than people in most countries, yet we are not legally entitled to any paid vacation or holidays. Many of our employers provide these benefits—some are quite generous—but I wonder how many Americans actually receive the 38 paid vacation days and holidays that are mandatory in Austria.

It is easy for us to fall into the burnout trap. We can even allow things we love doing to become an obligation. When burnout hits, we can just begin to coast along, with no sense of direction or clarity.

God commanded the Jews to rest on the Sabbath. Every Saturday, they were commanded to rest: They were not allowed to do any work; they could not make their servants work. They were supposed to relax, worship God, and get refreshed.

He also commanded the Jews to take a “Sabbath rest” every seven years. After seven years, farmers were not supposed to plant anything: during that resting year, they could eat whatever grew on its own. According to God, even the land needed to rest. (From what I understand, this is the inspiration behind the modern agricultural practice of crop-rotation; it allows part of the field to recover after years of usage, and avoids depleting it by varying the crops grown in a particular area.)

As a writer, every now and then I find my well running dry. I try to post something every Sunday, but some weeks I have no fresh ideas. Other times, I lose motivation.

Although we are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14), we can learn a lot from the Old Testament. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Even though Jesus freed His disciples from the burden of legalism regarding the Sabbath, He acknowledged that it should be a blessing.

With that in mind, inspired (in principle, if not in time-span) by Exodus 23:10, I will begin instituting some Sabbath months into my writing ministry. Every seven months, beginning in August 2017, I will take some time away from writing blog posts. This will allow me time to weigh ideas for series or other ways to keep readers interested.

During my Sabbath months, I intend to repost older articles, with minimal updating. I plan to have them finished in my drafts folder before the month begins, so that I can just click “publish” and move along.

When I return in September, I plan to begin writing several series of posts. They would be based on ideas I have had for books, which may not have the commercial demand for traditional publication. The blogosphere is not affected by exactly the same set of market forces that drive the religious-book-publishing industry. Topics that have been covered by other authors in the past, or that may be too long for an article but too brief for an entire book, often find life online.

For my friends and family who have encouraged me to publish a book: I have a few other more unique ideas for books. I plan to write those, separate from this blog, and pursue more traditional publishing routes for them. More news as those projects develop.

For those of you with whom I have connected through the world of blogging: Thank you for your words of encouragement, comments, and for clicking the “Like” button.

It may not be a completely perfect approach. But, perhaps all of us should consider looking at our commitments and ask God, “Should I take some time away from this? Do I need a season of refreshing?”

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

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

Dressed for Success

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NASB).

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

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In Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams (left) takes his eyes off the finish line briefly, slowing down enough to be passed by Eric Liddell (right). Christians, like runners, cannot afford to be distracted; we need to keep our eyes on the goal.

Americans love sports. Baseball, basketball, football, and hockey are big businesses. Fans watch because we find a way to connect with athletes who savor the thrill of victory. We want to feel victorious with them.

Sports can point us to spiritual truths as well. For one thing, sports can introduce us to champions who “overwhelmingly conquer (or, in the words of the King James Version, who are “more than conquerors). When we see a champion breeze to victory, we can say he is more than a conqueror. He overwhelmingly conquered. He dominated the match. He did not merely struggle to finish—he creamed the competition!

According to Romans 8:37, we should be “overwhelming conquerors.” Yet, many Christians suffer defeat in some area of their lives. Some live in financial despair, unemployed and afraid they may soon sleep on a park bench. Others are overwhelmed by fear about their health. Others worry about the stability of their  families. Still others are enchained by addictions or other sinful habits.

This is not God’s will for you. God declared that He wants you to be more than a conqueror. God did not plan for His children to wallow in defeat, looking forward to the final buzzer (so they could slip off into the locker room, relieved that the game is over). He planned for us to triumph. He equipped us to trample on the heads of our foes (Luke 10:19), not to cower in tears begging them to stop bullying us.

So, why are we in defeat? How can we escape defeat and race to victory? Again, the sports world reminds us of a lesson from Scripture.

When I was a teenager, I ran in many long-distance races. I ran expecting to bring home awards. To do so, I dressed for success. I travelled light. I would not wear blue jeans or a button-down shirt to a race. Instead, I would wear lightweight shorts and a sleeveless tee-shirt. My clothes were not designed to keep me warm. They were supposed to keep me comfortable without adding weight or hindering my range of motion. Also, I would wear racing shoes: I had a special pair of shoes set aside for races, designed to provide maximum support for my feet without adding unnecessary weight.

These are the keys to any runner’s uniform: his clothes must weigh as little as possible; they must provide protection where it is needed; and they must allow him to move freely (nothing should hinder his ability to move his limbs freely).

Some sports demand such light uniforms: Swimmers, like runners, wear very light outfits (bathing suit, goggles, and a swim cap) to compete. Other sports, like football and hockey, demand extra padding for protection, so their uniforms are heavy. Imagine an Olympic swimmer wearing a hockey uniform during a race. He would lose miserably! Hockey equipment is not designed to float: it would drop to the bottom of the pool, dragging the person wearing it along. Hockey equipment is helpful when you are being body-checked or while blocking a slap shot, but it is worthless in a pool during the 100-meter backstroke.

So, how does this relate to the Christian walk? Many Christians fail to run or swim triumphantly through life because we overburden ourselves. We carry the weight of another lifestyle and expect to live successfully as Christians. Living victoriously in Christ, while clinging to worldly values about finances, relationships, etc., is like trying to swim in a hockey uniform. You will drown!

Hebrews 12:1–2 says “[L]et us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here we see several principles for overcoming in Christ.

First, we must lay aside every encumbrance AND the sin which so easily entangles us. Some of us do well to avoid committing the big sins. We may not violate any of the Ten Commandments. We avoid smoking and drinking. However, that is where we stop. We lay aside the sin, but we hold onto the encumbrances. We watch TV when we should be praying. We surf the Internet when we should be reading our Bibles. Even harmless entertainments can become encumbrances when they take priority in our lives.

Many worldly values encumber us. We are eager for more money so that we can buy more luxuries. Instead, Scripture instructs us to learn contentment and use whatever God gives us for His glory (1 Timothy 6:6–10). We allow society to define our needs, instead of seeking that information from God’s Word. We seek Dr. Phil’s guidance about marriage and relationships, rather than following God’s guidebook. We cannot triumph in the 100-meter backstroke if we try to play by a different sport’s rules.

Second, we must run with endurance. Victory is not easy. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team—perhaps one of the most memorable gold medalist squads in Olympic history—did not cruise easily to victory. They had to grind our victory day after day and overcome fierce competition. The Soviet team was not willing to give the USA a gold medal on a silver platter. They had to earn victory.

The apostle Paul did not write Romans 8 to armchair theologians who sat around drinking Perrier and discussing abstract ideas while growing rich off the stock market. When he wrote that “we overwhelmingly conquer,” he wrote it to people who endured trials and persecution. Few were wealthy. Some would be slaughtered for their faith. They did not overwhelmingly conquer by this world’s standards. They triumphed by the Kingdom of God’s standards.

Therefore, we must focus on our goal. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Also, we must keep our eyes on our goal in heaven.

In a memorable scene in the film Chariots of Fire, two sprinters, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, are racing for the first time. As they approach the finish line, Abrahams glances to see where Liddell is. At that moment, Liddell passes him and wins the race. Instead of looking to the finish line, Abrahams looked away, thereby slowing his pace, and he regretted that simple mistake.

We will not triumph spiritually if we focus on what others are doing. Neither will we triumph if we keep glancing over our shoulders at the past. We must keep our eyes on the finish line, focussing on Jesus and our reward in heaven.

Look at the battles you are losing today. You can be victorious if you play by God’s rules. Maybe you are losing because you keep fighting the wrong battles. Maybe you are losing because you keep looking back at the lifestyle God called you out of. Maybe you are losing because you carry excess emotional weight (fear, bitterness, regret). Lay down your excess weights. Tear off the heavy clothes that keep you from running as you ought. Dress for victory and claim your place on the champion’s platform.

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

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Keeping the Trolls Under the Bridge

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9, NASB).

The internet has brought many benefits to society. Thanks to social media, we can keep in touch with old friends whom we would probably never see again if not for Facebook or similar sites. If you need information quickly (or are just mildly curious about something), a quick Google search will provide links to numerous articles about the subject.

Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to publish a book or article, I would have to submit it to a publisher and hope they accept my work. If they agreed to publish my work, it could take months before anybody could read it. Today, I can write an article on this blog and watch it reach people across the globe within a few days.

On the other hand, the internet has its downsides. It used to be easy to know which sources were trustworthy; now, it has become so hard to discern serious journalism from fake news, that most people merely put their faith in whatever websites reaffirm their presuppositions. Also, while blogs and other websites give almost everybody a platform, it has provided an opportunity for trolls to stop hiding under bridges.

When I was growing up, “trolls” were creatures in fairy tales. Many of the memorable ones were big scary ones who lived under bridges or hid in the woods, pouncing on unsuspecting travelers. The term has now been applied to persons who pounce on people across the internet. In a recent post on publishing-industry blog The Scholarly Kitchen, Kent Anderson describes them as follows:

“A sad hallmark of the Internet Age has been the emergence of what have become known as ‘trolls’ — individuals or bots that aim to derail or dominate conversations with shocking, inflammatory, ad hominem, profane, and/or hateful attacks.”

There seem to be several kinds of trolls. Some jump at any opportunity to respond to an online article with a full-fledged verbal assault. They may hate the writer, or those who share his worldview, so much that they will simply bully and harass total strangers with demonic hatred. Others may just have a personal agenda they are trying to push, and will try to lure people into arguments. Maybe they just like arguing. Maybe they think they have stumbled upon some truth that they must share, and will hijack anybody’s platform to get their point across. Some may simply have too much free time on their hands and want to waste their time showing off how smart they think they are online.

Christians circles are not devoid of trolls. Far too often, the discussion about an article on a Christian website deteriorates rapidly: a few people thank the author for his wisdom, encouragement, or insight; another shares how the subject relates to a crisis he/she endured in the past or recently; another politely challenges one or two of the author’s points, citing Scripture verses and asking how the author responds; another attacks the author, or one of the commenters. Before you know it, people accuse one another of blatant heresy, and at least three evangelists have damned one another to hell. The author of the blog is trying to glorify God and draw his readers to Christ, but some of his followers have given spiritual seekers very valid reasons to go looking elsewhere for truth and give up on Christ. The most hostile commenters, of course, do it supposedly “to the glory of God.”

Such trolling has no place in the Kingdom of God. In his pastoral epistles, Paul warned Timothy and Titus to avoid arguments and controversies. Titus 3:9 (at the top of this post) is just one example of this instruction:

“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:23–25).

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth…” (1 Timothy 6:3–5).

While I welcome discussion, I have no time for arguments or fights. I have better ways to use my time and am not interested in wasting it on debates. I can devote only a few hours per week to blogging and refuse to waste my precious time.

With this in mind, I have adjusted a setting on this blog to require moderation for all comments before they appear “live.” To ensure that your comment is approved, please follow these guidelines:

  1. Your comment must be directly related to the post at hand or comments related to it. Irrelevant comments will not be approved. If you try to hijack one of my posts to use it as a soapbox to begin a an unrelated discussion, it will be rejected.
  2. Please keep your comments courteous and polite. If they seem insulting, offensive, unnecessarily confrontational, etc., they will be rejected.
  3. If you disagree with one or more of my points, feel free to express your opinion politely.
  4. If you are going to challenge me to back up or defend a statement (i.e., you are challenging me to a debate), keep it brief. Recently, somebody chose to bombard me with an excessive number of points he wanted to argue about, including terminology in the Greek New Testament. Again, I have a job, family, life, and ministry: I refuse to be cornered into wasting my limited spare time arguing. There are web forums that welcome arguments and fights. Please take it there.

By sharing these guidelines with you, I am binding myself to live by them as well. I hope this will encourage discussion, thoughts, and feedback whereby we may all grow in God’s grace. I hope I am able to bless those who read this blog, and look forward to being blessed and exhorted by you as well.

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

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Remaining Alert—Luke 21:34–36

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36, NASB).

 

A few weeks ago, I was concluding a blog post when a friend called on the phone. To allow myself time to finish my article, I let the call go to my answering machine. We spoke a night or two later, and he asked a question he has asked several times in the past: Someone told me that Sharia law is coming to America. Do you think that will happen? (On other occasions, he has asked questions like “Do you think ________ is the antichrist? My friend said he is.”)

In response to such questions, I usually repeat my belief that Sharia law will not come to America in the foreseeable future. I also express my doubts that the evil-politician-of-the-month is the antichrist. During my 33 years as a disciple of Jesus, I have lived through too many second comings, raptures, and antichrists. Numerous “prophecy experts” has made false pronouncements. This is a major reason why I generally avoid getting involved in debates about end-times prophecies. They can be divisive, and people get passionate about things that end up never occurring.

Such conjecture also distracts believers from the here-and-now. We can be overly concerned about living through the Great Tribulation, but first we need to survive the temptations of today. If we cannot overcome sin and Satan in today’s small conflicts, how can we overcome if full-blown persecution comes to our country?

Christians in America have enjoyed an unusual history. Unlike many of our brethren throughout the world, we have experienced limited hardship. The New Testament was written by and for people who were familiar with persecution. John the Baptist was beheaded; Jesus was crucified; almost all of the apostles died violent deaths for the faith; and many ordinary Christians faced death because of their beliefs. The Christian life was not easy by any means.

To this day, Christians throughout much of the world face many of the same dangers. While American preachers sell books promising “your best life now,” followers of Christ in many countries remain steadfast in their faith realizing that their best life will come beyond the grave. In America, though, we are complacent.

We face numerous temptations that may lure us away from Jesus. He warned his disciples that they must be on guard so that they will not be weighed down by “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life.”

The Greek words for dissipation and drunkenness (κραιπάλη and μέθῃ) have similar meanings. Some Greek lexicons suggest that they are essentially two different words for “drunkenness.” Jamieson-Fausset-Brown’s commentary describes “surfeiting, and drunkenness” (the KJV’s translation for these two words) as “All animal excesses, quenching spirituality.” Jesus may have emphasized overuse of alcohol or other intoxicating substances here, but He frequently warned against the misuse of any natural pleasures. Many people who would never abuse drugs or alcohol may be lulled into complacency by sports, music, television, social media, or a host of other earthly pleasures. Even though they may be essentially harmless in moderation, they can become addictions that distract us from following Christ.

We can also be distracted by the “cares of this life.” We have bills, responsibilities, and needs. We need money to meet our basic daily necessities, and this usually requires work. However, some people get caught up in workaholism or other drastic approaches to solve their problems in their own strength. Some may become so concerned about paying their bills that they work two or three jobs, neglecting their relationships with God and their family. Their marriage may collapse and faith may be shipwrecked. Our obsession with our pleasures and problems can distract us from following Christ and doing His will.

Christ urges us to remain on our guard, to keep alert at all times, and to pray. Trials and temptations will come. The earliest disciples did not avoid hardship by becoming Christians. In fact, the life of faith brought extra problems. They prayed, not for the problems to go away, but for the strength to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of crises. (See Acts 4:24–31, where we see how the disciples prayed when they were threatened.) We should pray, not to avoid problems, but to have the strength to endure and persevere.

Hard times and trials will come. We will face them in our daily lives. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say “Give us this day our daily bread.” That same one-day-at-a-time urgency applies also when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We will face temptation and evil today. Let us face today’s temptations before focusing on the trials and tribulations that may (or may not) come in the future. God will give us the strength to persevere in the trials we face today. As we develop faithfulness and perseverance, we will be prepared if and when harder times come.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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