Christians and Culture

Advent, Christmas, and Parallel Universes

Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Star_Trek_1968

Science fiction characters like Mr. Spock and Capt. Kirk may find themselves in parallel universes. Christians may feel like they are living in parallel universes during Advent and Christmas. Photo from Wikipedia.

A popular theme in science fiction is the parallel-universe story. In one example from the 1960s television series Star Trek, several crew members from the USS Enterprise are accidentally teleported onto a version of their star ship in another universe, populated by more malicious versions of the crew members (meanwhile, their duplicates from the other universe find themselves on the regular Enterprise). The two universes look identical, at first glance, but differences between the two worlds soon become apparent.

Christians can often sympathize with the person who travels between parallel universes. We seem to do it all the time. This is most obvious during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Over the next month, we will be bombarded with “holiday savings” ads, Christmas songs on the radio (ranging from “Oh Holy Night” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”), “Keep Christ in Christmas” social-networking memes, etc. Many of us feel torn between the church’s message (Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus), a secularized variation of that message (the reason for the season is family, friends, love, peace on earth, and good will towards men), and the commercialized brand of Christmas that says we have to max out our credit cards and buy tons of fruitcake to prove that we care about people.

In the coming year, I hope to devote some posts to discussion of significant dates on the church calendar. That calendar started today, with the first Sunday of Advent. The mere mention of Advent highlights the differences between the secular world’s view of Christmas and the Christian view. Yet, Advent is almost totally ignored by the world, and if Christians are easily wrapped up in a worldly brand of Christmas, we will miss the significance of the season. Without Advent, Christians will miss the reason for the season.

For one, most of us are saying that this is the “Christmas season,” but from a historic Christian perspective, that season lasts 12 days, from December 25 (Christmas Day) until January 5. We are currently in Advent. The following chart shows the flow of the 2017–18 Christmas season, from a secular and Christian perspective, to clarify the differences between the two (in each calendar, I provide an American viewpoint; I realize other nations and cultures may differ):

DATE

SECULAR CALENDAR

CHRISTIAN CALENDAR

11/23

Thanksgiving: Americans gather to eat a large feast, watch football, and kick off the “Christmas season.”

Thanksgiving: American gather to eat a large feast and give thanks to God.

11/24-26

Black Friday: The same people who previously “gave thanks” for their blessings will now go on a spending
binge at department stores. (Deals and insanity continue throughout the weekend, including “Small Business Saturday” at small local stores.)

Some radio stations will begin playing non-stop “holiday music.” Televised Christmas specials take over the airwaves and cable.

Nothing special

11/27

Cyber-Monday: Follows up on Black Friday with online shopping.

Nothing special.

11/28-12/2

Shopping, television specials, etc., continue the “Christmas season.”

Nothing.

12/3

See above.

First Sunday of Advent. A new church year begins. Christians are encouraged to begin a time of reflection as we seek a closer relationship with Christ, in anticipation of the Christmas celebration and preparation for His second coming.

12/4-12/23

Continued “Christmas celebration” as we all go into debt. By now, my ears bleed when I hear jingly bells at the beginning of a song.

Some people think the “12 Days of Christmas” begin on December 14 and end on December 25.

Advent continues. Let us continue to reflect on the meaning of the season and our need for a Saviour.

12/24

LAST CHANCE TO BUY PRESENTS. Road rage and hostility reign supreme as we rush to buy THOSE LAST FEW GIFTS.

Christmas Eve. We prepare our hearts for a deeper awareness of the presence of Jesus in our hearts.

12/25

Christmas Day: Open presents and celebrate.

Christmas Day: Also known as “Feast of the Nativity” or the “First Day of Christmas.” Open presents and celebrate. If you really want to keep Christ in Christmas, you go to church.

12/26

Well, that’s it. Christmas is over. No more blasted Christmas music. Radio stations dump Wham’s “Last Christmas” and start playing “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” again.

Second day of Christmas. Also known as the Feast of St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr).

12/27-30

No more Christmas.

Third-sixth days of Christmas. Includes a few more feast days. Still celebrating the birth of Jesus.

12/31

New Year’s Eve. Get drunk, sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Prepare to watch a shiny ball drop.

Seventh day of Christmas.

1/1

New Year’s Day. Nurse hangover.

Eight day of Christmas. Also known as the “Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus” since, as a Jewish boy, he would have been circumcised and “officially” named on the eighth day.

1/2-1/5

Nothing. Life is back to normal, until credit card statements arrive.

Ninth-twelfth days of Christmas.

1/6

Nothing special.

Feast of the Epiphany. Celebrates the coming of the wise men. Begins a new season on the church calendar.

As you may notice, there are only a few dates in that stretch where the Christian and secular “calendars” coincide at all: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. The world thinks “the Christmas season” runs from Thanksgiving until December 25. The church recognizes most of that time as Advent, beginning shortly after Thanksgiving and ending on Christmas Eve. The “12 days of Christmas” run from December 25 until January 5, although the secular world acts as though Christmas ends when midnight arrives on December 26.

So, here is the challenge for Christians, many of whom are trying to live in two parallel spiritual universes at the same time. How can I devote myself to reflection, perhaps even renewed repentance, while the world calls us to commercialism and celebration without spiritual preparation?

For those seeking to “keep Christ in Christmas,” a renewed appreciation of the meaning of Advent and the church’s rhythm of the holidays will transform the holidays. Anticipation through Advent will lead to a climax on Christmas, gradually transitioning to a new spiritual norm while the world crashes away from Christmas with more material accumulation, greater financial debt, and minimal spiritual impact.

Adventskranz 3. Advent

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

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

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Modern-Day Elijahs XI: A Nature Like Ours

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:1318, ESV).

our_day_in_the_light_of_prophecy_and_providence_28192129_281479762434329

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:17–18). By Spicer, William Ambrose, 1866- [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

As we come to the end of this series about Elijah, the brother of Jesus reminds us of an important fact: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” We can look at that another way: We have a nature like Elijah’s.

Sometimes, we are tempted to think the heroes of the Bible are somehow so different from us that we can never dream of accomplishing what they did. That argument may be true when speaking of Jesus, since He was God in human flesh: We Christians are human flesh with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but there is an understandable difference there. However, the other heroes of the faith were ordinary men and women. None of them were like comic-book superheroes: They did not come from a distant planet with superhuman powers, or develop such powers by being bitten by a radioactive spider, exposure to gamma radiation, etc. They were ordinary men and women who had encountered God. God worked through them. The same God lives today to work through us.

Thus, Elijah’s prayers could alter the weather pattern over Israel for three-and-a-half years. The same God who heard Elijah’s prayers is alive today. If He could bring drought or downpour in response to the prophet’s petitions, He can and will answer your prayers for healing, deliverance, restoration, forgiveness, provision, etc. A modern-day Elijah will expect God to act in response to our prayers, or to accomplish whatever He said He would do. The faith of an Elijah recognizes God as a living, active, all-powerful Sovereign over all creation, not as an abstract concept confined within the covers of a book.

Elijah’s life and ministry can be summed up in four activities: He prayed; he listened; he proclaimed; and he obeyed. Almost everything he did in the Bible can be summarized by those four activities. His prayers were not a monologue, reciting a personal wish list to a galactic Santa Claus. Instead, they were a dialogue: He told God what was on his mind (especially during the Mount Horeb meeting, when he complained about his woes), but he also heard what God wanted to tell him. Upon hearing from God, he would proclaim His message to those who needed to hear it (especially those who did not want to hear it), and he would do what God told him to do. Sometimes God told him to hide; sometimes He told him to step out and confront the powerbrokers in society; on another occasion He called Elijah to a meeting on a distant mountain, or to bring other people into the ministry. Whatever Elijah did, though, was connected to his relationship with God. He prayed to God; he listened to God’s instruction; he proclaimed God’s message to the people; and he obeyed God’s instructions for his life.

These are the marks of a man or woman who is eager to impact the world for the glory of God. Our society needs modern-day Elijahs, just like Israel needed a man of his stature 3000 years ago. Twenty-first century America is a post-Christian society where values and morals are guided by pagan beliefs, commercialism, materialism, and unbridled hormones. The Christian, guided by the Word of God, the teachings of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit is a counter-cultural outsider in modern society. Many believers pray for revival in America, but then seek to obtain it through political activism, commercialized church programs, or other means. Only by pursuing revival God’s way—the way He worked through Elijah—will we see a continuing move of God in our world.

Take heart, though. Jesus said that the gates of hell (or Washington, DC; or CNN; or Hollywood; or ISIS; etc.) will not stand against His church (Matthew 16:18). The same God who worked through Elijah to keep His name and worship alive in ancient Israel will continue to manifest His name in America and throughout the world. As He preserved 7000 faithful persons who did not kneel to Ba’al, He will preserve a remnant who will continue to follow Him faithfully today. The questions we must each ask ourselves are, “Will I be part of that radical remnant doing God’s will? Will God speak and work through me? Will I be a modern-day Elijah, or will I stand on the fringes of God’s kingdom, as a spectator watching His glory manifested and people come to Christ while having no direct impact?” The opportunity to say “Yes” is available to all who are born of the Spirit through faith in Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Elijahs X: Elijah, John the Baptist, and You and Me

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:19–27, ESV).

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:11–14, ESV)

john-the-baptist-by-tiffany

Stained glass picture of John the Baptist, by John Stephen Dwyer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout this series, I have spoken of men and women of God who shared in the “Elijah spirit.” The first to earn this status was his protegé, Elisha, who received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit when he was taken into heaven. Elisha would continue Elijah’s prophetic ministry after him. While the Old Testament speaks of many prophets after them, none shared Elisha’s close association with Elijah.

Then, John the Baptist came. In the last book written in the Old Testament, Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). This inspired a spirit of expectancy among the Jewish people. By Jesus’ time, they were eagerly awaiting the coming of Elijah, since they though that would signal the coming of a Messiah who would put the Romans in their place. So, when John the Baptist rose to prominence, the logical question in their minds was, “Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Are you the Messiah? Who are you?”

John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah. Yet, Jesus said he was. This seems like a contradiction, but it is really two sides of the truth. The two men were essentially answering different questions about John the Baptist’s connection with Elijah.

John was essentially saying, “No, I have never been taken into heaven in a whirlwind by chariots of fire and angels. I have not descended miraculously from heaven. I am an ordinary man, who was born about 30 years ago by natural means to normal parents.” The religious leaders were wondering if John the Baptist was Elijah according to their expectations. “No,” he said, “I’m not what you are expecting.”

In Jesus’ mind, though, John the Baptist walked in the Elijah spirit more than any man who ever lived. As far as He was concerned, John the Baptist fulfilled that prophecy exactly as God intended. He was the forerunner, sent to proclaim the coming of the “great and awesome day of the Lord.”

How did John the Baptist manifest the Elijah spirit? More specifically, how can we, like John, manifest that spirit?

First, John the Baptist preached a message of repentance. Much as Elijah called the people of Israel back to the worship of the true God and away from idols, John the Baptist called the people of his day to obey the revealed will of God in all areas of their lives (Luke 3:7–14). This is also the message that we are called to proclaim. The Gospel of salvation is a message that calls people to turn from an old life of sin to a new, abundant life.

Second, John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus, just like Elijah pointed people to worship the one true God. Neither man sought his own glory. In fact, at the height of John’s popularity, he would tell his disciples, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Likewise, we are called to point people to Jesus—not to our denomination or organization, to another man, to a system of thought, or to ourselves.

Third, both men were engaged in spiritual warfare against the forces of wickedness. Both took their lumps for the kingdom of God because they took a stand against the kingdoms of this world. Elijah’s shining moment was the battle on Mount Carmel, but he spent most of his career taking a stand against an idolatrous king and queen. John the Baptist would lose his head because he had the boldness to say that even the earthly king was subject to the demands of God Almighty.

The man or woman of God in 2018 must be bold to take a stand against the world’s system. Sadly, I think most American Christians are as devoted to a political party or ideology as they are to Jesus. We will overlook, and even justify, the sins of our favorite politician. Instead, we should be bold to look to Jesus as the answer to our world’s problems.

Elijah is considered one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Though his story appears in the New Testament, John the Baptist was the last great prophet of the Old Covenant. He stood as the forerunner of Christ’s ministry. Today, as we follow Christ, we have the legacy of Elijah and John the Baptist.

Luke 1:15 tells us that John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” When we speak of the “Elijah spirit,” it is simply the spirit that empowered Elijah to accomplish his ministry. That spirit is, in fact, the Holy Spirit of God who empowered Elijah and Elisha, filled John the Baptist, and fills and dwells in all who have received Jesus Christ as Lord. The Christian already has the Holy Spirit—the “Elijah spirit”—dwelling within him or her. Are we ready to walk in that Spirit? Are we ready to let every person we meet, and indeed every angel and demon, see that the spirit of God is at work in us?

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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Modern-Day Elijahs IX: Fathers and Families

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:56, ESV).

Elijah

By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Elijah ascended into heaven, but his legacy remains. Few biblical prophets share his prominence. Although he did not write any of the books of the Bible, he is considered one of the greatest prophets in Judaism. Only Moses holds higher esteem. When Jesus was transfigured, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him (Matthew 17:1–8).

Part of the reason I called this series “Modern-Day Elijahs” is because God is still seeking men and women to share the “Elijah spirit.” As we will see in the last two articles in this series, the Elijah spirit would reappear in John the Baptist. Yet, all Christians can share the Elijah spirit; James 5:17 shows that all Christians can share Elijah’s prayer power, since he was a “man with a nature like ours.”

Many students of end-time prophecy believe Elijah will return during the great tribulation before Christ returns. They believe he and Moses are the two witnesses in Revelation 11, mainly because the miraculous powers listed in that chapter are similar to theirs. The fact that they have power to shut the sky to prohibit rain (Revelation 11:6) points to some connection with Elijah.

So, do we need the Elijah spirit today? Yes! Malachi 4:56 points out a major area where restoration is needed. This especially relates to Christianity in America.

“He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

We continue to see a radical breakdown of the biblical pattern for family, and Christians are often as guilty as the rest of society. Here are a few examples of this trend:

Let me emphasize that the final point refers to a general trend: Most single parents are doing the best they can. Many do a great job raising their children, and in some cases the children benefit (especially if one parent was abusive). Also, some people who grew up in seemingly healthy two-parent households end up making bad choices leading to addiction, crime, etc. Nevertheless, the statistics point to some disturbing cultural trends. A restoration of a biblical emphasis on family is necessary.

It is no accident that the Old Testament ends with a promise that Elijah will restore the relationship of fathers and children. Our society needs this restoration: Churches should empower fathers to take a more active role in raising their children. When a father is not present in the home, mature men of God can assume a greater role as mentors and role models. The decline of the family will affect society for generations to follow. Strong men of God should do their part to restore the family as the basic foundation of society.

In his time, Elijah stood up against the greatest sin in his culture: idolatry, from which numerous other evils sprang forth. The modern-day Elijah will have to stand against the modern-day idol of selfishness, which lies at the root of much of the family breakdown. It will require the moral courage of an Elijah, willing to stand even when he feels alone in the world; bold to defy the dominion of darkness that speaks through the voices of politicians, media, entertainment, etc. Without bold men and women of God, though, the future of the nation and society can be very grim.

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Current events, Family, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the World, Not of It (Revisited)

This month, I am reposting a few favorite articles from the past. This article was originally published on July 25, 2015.

In a recent post, I shared my thoughts about how Christians should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing gay marriage. This ruling reflected the state of our society: we cannot consider America a “Christian nation” at this time. Likewise, our response to the ruling should be a reflection of our faith. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor the Church’s response, occurs in a vacuum.

Christians should not be surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Neither should we be surprised that a growing majority of Americans have come to favor legalizing same-sex marriage in recent years and, as a corollary, have come to view pro-traditional-family Christians as bigoted, hateful homophobes. Jesus warned us that Christians would always find themselves as “outsiders” in the world:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:13-22, NASB).

Most American evangelicals have lived comfortably in a society that has been at least courteous to, and at times even supportive of, our faith. However, as the above passage and countless other Bible verses show, Christians should not really be surprised that society is growing increasingly hostile towards us. We should be surprised that we have enjoyed a somewhat favorable status in American society for so long. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them.

As the world’s hostility becomes more visible, how should Christians respond?

First, I would urge Christians to begin reading the Bible from a different perspective. We have grown accustomed to reading the Bible as if it were written to people with a socio-cultural experience similar to our own. We imagine Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of working-class guys—like the working-class guys we know from our jobs. However, American comforts would have been foreign to them. When Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” they probably took it literally: Pray for food for the day. They did not think long-term, budgeting a two-week paycheck so that you can buy several weeks worth of groceries and make your car payment. Their idea of “prosperity” was probably having leftovers after dinner. The so-called gospel proclaimed by some preachers—those who claim that faith in God will bring us health, wealth, success, and comfort—would seem odd to the first Christians. To them, faith meant that you would still call yourself a Christian and believe you had eternity with Jesus as the executioner’s sword was coming toward your throat.

The Bible was written primarily to oppressed people. The Old Testament was written to a small country, which was frequently threatened by the great empires of its day. The New Testament was written to members of a fledgling religious sect, considered extremist by many and treasonous (after all, they claimed that Jesus was their King) by the government. Their neighbors probably thought the early Christians were as odd as the Amish, as wacky as the Heaven’s Gate flying-saucer cult, and perhaps as dangerous to society as an Islamic terrorist organization.

As you read the Bible, take time to remember that Jesus is speaking to “outsiders.” Paul is writing to people who may have to sneak to church (the church in Ephesus did not run newspaper ads), whereas we casually arrive, carrying our big Bibles for all to see.

The Bible is speaking to people who hear the word temptation and think, “The Romans might threaten to throw me into an arena with lions if I say ‘Jesus is Lord.'” They probably did not equate “temptation” with an ice cream sundae.

We need to repent of a world view guided by the secular culture:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

Scripture should renew our minds, transforming us so that we may no longer be conformed to this world. Many Christians are shocked when the Supreme Court determines that marriage should be defined by whatever makes some people happy. Yet, how many Christians base their life choices on personal happiness instead of the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God? How often do we try to “baptize” sinful attitudes (pride, self-righteousness, greed) and try to make them seem spiritual?

Perhaps more can be written on this topic. I expect that future posts will be written from this perspective, as it has begun to shape how I read Scripture during my daily devotions.

I will conclude by saying that the standard American brand of Christianity will not be adequate to stand against the most recent onslaughts against our faith. We need to reclaim the faith that recognizes that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

[PS: In my previous post, I proposed that the church should “eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body).” I would like to clarify that this was not intended as approval of redefinition of marriage. Rather, it should be seen as more of an example of resistance against the ruling: Christians and other religious groups should never have allowed the secular government to define marriage for us, and we have reached a point where a state-issued marriage license no longer means what true Christian churches mean when we speak of “marriage.”]

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

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Robin Williams, Suicide, and Hope (Revisited)

I originally shared this post on August 12, 2014, a few days after comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. The recent anniversary of his departure seems a good opportunity to consider some of the lessons we can learn from this tragedy.

If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalms 94:17-19)

Robin_Williams_(6451536411)_(cropped)

Robin Williams, 1951-2014. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Williams.

Over the last 27 hours, I have joined millions of fans around the world who mourn the sudden death of Robin Williams. As I logged onto my computer last night, I saw the shocking “breaking news” alert at the top of my Yahoo! homepage, that the popular comedian/actor had committed suicide.

While I have been a fan of his for many years (“Mork and Mindy” was one of my favorite TV shows during my youth), his death disturbed me more than others. Perhaps that is because “there but for the grace of God go I.” Like Robin Williams, I have battled depression at various times in my life. At times it has cost me dearly. Even in my best moments, I have to think of my depression as being “in remission,” not really “cured.” Thanks be to God, though, even in my worst moments, I could not succeed in ending my life.

It is ironic that a man who devoted his life to bringing happiness to others suffered through so much deep-rooted despair that he eventually surrendered to the lying spirits who told him that death would be better than life. Despite that, maybe it should not come as a surprise. He did not hide his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. He regularly made jokes about his struggles as part of his stand-up act.

Social networking sites have been ablaze lately with posts reminding people that there are millions of people like Robin Williams. There is nothing like front-page news to bring an issue out of the closet and place it before the masses. I can only hope that Williams’ death raises some red flags so that some people get the help they need to avoid his fate.

With this in mind, I would like to offer the following thoughts:

  1. The Body of Christ must do a better job of ministering with compassion and mercy to those who suffer from depression. Some of the most asinine posts I have read recently have come from those who think they are writing in Jesus’ name. Yes, suicide is a horrible act. I do not want to imagine the agony his wife and children will endure for the rest of their lives. For all I know, maybe Williams is in hell. But, I honestly hope I’m wrong about that. I would like to find out some day in eternity that, at some point, Robin Williams came to have a personal relationship with Jesus and is now in heaven, even if he did have to receive forgiveness for the way he arrived there. We Christians should be eager to find ways to populate heaven, not look for excuses to damn people to hell.
  2. Out of that compassion, we should understand the pain of depression and other mental illnesses and reach out with God’s transforming grace. I know churches that do a great job ministering to drug addicts and alcoholics. They recognize that there is a certain physical healing process that must occur alongside the spiritual and emotional healing that accompanies repentance. Yet, when somebody struggles with depression, many a Christian responds that we need to “snap out of it.” We do not need medication or counseling; we need more faith. The fields are white unto harvest, but we bury the crops in condemnation. (Really, you do not need to judge or condemn someone with depression; many of us do that quite well on our own, so we do not need your help.) As I began writing this post, I was thinking of ministries to the emotionally and mentally ill I could endorse. Unfortunately, I could not think of any.
  3. Take note of the warning signs of suicide. A good list is provided at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/learn/warningsigns.aspx.
  4. If you read those warning signs and it reminds you of someone you know and love, do not gossip about them. (That includes sending a prayer request to all of your friends.) First, go talk to them. Be open; be honest. Ask them outright about their feelings. Many suicidal people find hope when a friend allows them to verbalize their feelings. I can think of a few people who are alive today because I or someone else had the guts to actually ask them if they were considering suicide. (Feel free to pray for them before speaking to them, but before asking others to pray, obtain their permission.)
  5. If those warning signs sound like they describe you, get help. I would recommend seeking a godly Christian counselor: preferably one with a strong relationship with Christ, the appropriate spiritual gifts, and adequate training. Suicide is serious business, a life-and-death issue. A quick fix by quoting one or two Bible verses out of context will not solve your problems. It requires compassion, wisdom, insight and TIME.
  6. Finally, even if you are not at high risk for suicide, but have prolonged issues related to depression, seek help. Much research suggests that there is a biochemical aspect to depression which must be addressed. One can debate whether a chemical imbalance causes depression, or depressive thinking causes the chemical imbalance. Nevertheless, a healing process is necessary.

Finally, remember that you are not alone. Even Elijah struggled with despair and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:5). As long as you have breath, you have hope. As long as God is with you, healing and restoration are freely available.

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

Categories: Character and Values, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Freedom in Submission to the Truth

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:4–5, ESV).

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31–32, ESV).

“Freedom is found in submission to truth” (St. Augustine, Concerning the Freedom of the Will II 13:37).

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In my last post, I shared some of my thoughts about abortion after March for Life 2017. A former high-school classmate responded on Facebook to my post by stating that the Constitution prohibits “making legal decisions on religious grounds.” Our online discussion reflects something at the root of the culture wars in modern times. Christians are speaking to a culture that is thinking from a very different worldview. The friend is a lawyer, who does not profess faith in Jesus Christ, and who was approaching this issue from that perspective. I write primarily as a seminary-trained theologian and Bible teacher. While we both speak English, he approached abortion as mainly a legal and political question; I approach it as primarily as spiritual matter. We have very different ideas about who has the ultimate authority about this issue.

Christians follow Jesus, who declared that He is the Truth (John 14:6). Most Americans today join with Pontius Pilate, asking “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Many will even claim that there is no truth, that all people can claim their own truth, or that nobody can really know what is true.

Likewise, we find ourselves at odds against the culture regarding the concept of freedom. Christians and non-Christians, conservatives and liberals, all claim to value freedom or liberty, yet have very different definitions of this term. A Christian will claim that the preborn baby is entitled to the right to life, yet many others in our society will say that this conflicts with a woman’s freedom to make her own choices about her body. Both groups claim to value freedom, yet they reach very opposite decisions about abortion. We face similar conflicts over other social issues in America (for example, gay marriage).

I suggest that the most popular concept of freedom in American today—even among many Christians—is something I would call functional Satanism. Other authors have popularized the notion of functional atheism, “the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me,” to describe religious people whose lives do not reflect a belief that God is actively involved in their lives. Functional Satanism holds that freedom of choice, or the right to choose one’s own system of right and wrong, is a divine gift. The functional Satanist essentially believes that he can make his own life choices and expect God to bless them.

This is an outgrowth of the lie that the serpent (Satan) introduced in the Garden of Eden. He told Eve that, if she ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” The Hebrew word for “knowing” includes the ideas of deciding or making choices, and I believe this is the greatest part of Satan’s lie. It is not so much that Eve would be able to discern God’s preferences between right and wrong; it would be that Eve could make her own decisions about right and wrong.

This lie pervades human cultures and prevails even in the Church. We can fall into two extremes as a result. On the one hand, many Christians will think that, as long as I believe in Jesus, I can just do whatever I want. Almost anything goes; we can make excuses for adultery, dishonesty, etc. We can break all of the Ten Commandments, as long as we devise a clever justification for our notions about good and evil. In response to this, some Christians go to the other extreme: They come up with rules and regulations God never sanctioned and preach them as if they are biblical.

Jesus offers us true freedom, but it is not the freedom that the world proclaims. The world’s idea of freedom implies a rejection of all restraint. Many drug addicts and alcoholics can testify that a life without restraint does not equal freedom, but actually binds one in spiritual chains. The One who created us, the Lord and Giver of Life, knows the Truth (and IS the Truth). By following Him, we can find true freedom.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I March for Life

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5-6, ESV).

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The view from within the March for Life as we paraded up Constitution Avenue. Photo by Michael E. Lynch

I joined a contingent from my church and several hundred thousand others in the March for Life in Washington, DC, on Friday, January 27.

Why would I march in this event? Although my company provides adequate vacation time, it is still finite and some people may think I could use my days having more “fun.” Spending nearly 12 hours on a bus (round trip), praying outside the Supreme Court while a small handful of protestors taunt us, and then walking down a street in cold winter weather (the real feel temperature was around 32° that day, which was better than some other years) may be rewarding, but it is not always fun.

First, let us dispense with the standard liberal accusation about why we march: We do not want to oppress women. Probably about one-half (maybe even more) of the participants are female. Some admit that they had babies aborted when they were younger and they now regret that decision. The “women’s rights” argument for abortion would make sense only if another human begin is not involved. Saying abortion is only about women’s rights is like saying that the American Civil War was only about the properly rights of white southerners.

However, another life is involved. When a woman becomes pregnant, her body becomes a sanctuary for another life: A life God has entrusted to her, to nourish, protect, love, and nurture. I can think of no more noble calling than that. The Bible tells us that God speaks of the preborn as if they are alive, calling some to fulfill His purposes while still in the womb [Jeremiah 1:5-6; see also the stories of Jesus, John the Baptist, and Judah (the father of the nation of Israel)].

My son was born two months premature in 1990. After a few rough days when his fate seemed questionable, his condition started to improve. While his mother and I rejoiced about his healing, a very different scene unfolded at the incubator across the aisle from my son. A pair of twins had also been born prematurely, and one’s condition was deteriorating. The parents were saying their good-byes to the smaller boy as he was dying. Tears streamed down the father’s face (he was a tall, rugged-looking guy who I cannot imagine being normally prone to tears). We could not bear to watch. I know we had one thing in common with that couple: We loved our newborn babies, had awaited their births eagerly, and I am sure we would willingly give anything to have healthy children. I am sure none of us could put a price tag on our babies’ lives.

While we prayed for our son and watched that family mourn theirs, I could not help but realize how precious our children were to us. Yet, in much of the country, debate raged (and continues to rage) over whether it would be legal to kill these babies in the womb at that stage of development. Society says that these babies’ value is determined by their mothers. If Mommy wants to keep the baby, he or she is a precious gift from God; if Mommy does not want to keep the baby, he or she is an inconvenience, “growth,” or parasite.

The world becomes dangerous when we determine a person’s value based purely on personal opinions. In the early days of our nation, people of African descent were considered somewhat less-than-human and could be bought or sold with no regard to their best interests. In Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, “ethnically inferior” persons and people with handicaps were considered a cancer upon society, so any means deemed necessary was used to cleanse the nation. The list goes on.

So, I stand and march for life in defense of the most vulnerable in our society. I march to preserve the dignity and value of all human life, from conception until natural death. Last of all, I march in memory of those children whose parents, against their wishes and for reasons known only by God, did not have the pleasure of watching their children grow up in this world.

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

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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)

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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

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