Christians and Culture

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.

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Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Current events, Family, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a 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)

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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.

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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).

The_Holy_Bible

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.

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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.

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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

The Presidential Election: America’s Mirror

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Meme from the Rowdy Conservatives Facebook page

I have said little online about the 2016 Presidential campaign so far. Although I consider myself fairly politically active (I vote in every major election and at one time served in several state and national positions in a minor political party), I have refused to openly endorse either candidate.

This week, the media flared up with reports that Donald Trump made some vulgar boastful comments about things he claimed he could do to women. As usual, controversy erupted. Part of Trump’s appeal has been his tendency to speak his mind, but some people seemed surprised about what was in his mind.

I will not try to defend Trump. Others have, and you can find their rationales all over the Internet. My point in this post is to explain what I believe should have been the Christian response throughout this campaign.

There is a simple reason why I have refused to endorse a candidate. While many of my friends share openly their support of a particular political candidate on Facebook and other online forums, I prefer to focus on principles, not personalities. I am a Christian, pro-life, pro-traditional-family, constitutional conservative. I prefer to focus on such issues and principles. Those may remain stable, and I do not frequently waver on them.

However, people have this terrible tendency of disappointing us. As we saw with Trump’s comments, people will say and do things that I do not agree with, even when I do agree with them on some of their political positions. I prefer to defend my ideology than to try to defend a person. I will always try to ground anything I say about politics on the Constitution and biblical truth. Those are not prone to change, but people are prone to fail.

This particular campaign has been especially troubling. There has never been a perfect Presidential candidate, as far as I can tell. Even those Presidents that I have liked had some flaws that I refuse to excuse. However, in 2016, it seems like we have scraped the bottom of the barrel. I believe we should consider a person’s character when voting; however, the two characters the major parties selected are both devoid of character. (It may have been a scandal about Donald Trump that inspired this post, but I could probably write a book about Hillary Clinton’s ethical shortcomings. Let’s just say that, after years of defending her husband’s harassment of women, she has no business criticizing Trump’s words.)

But, as I have said for years, America gets the candidates and elected officials it deserves. We will elect politicians who reflect our values. Our nation’s value system cherishes celebrities, wealth, greed, pride, and sexual immorality and vulgarity. Well, we can see all of our nation’s idols on display in the current campaign. The fact that many of us are criticizing the candidates for committing the same sins we cherish in our hearts merely multiplies the hypocrisy. Narcissism? Our culture created “the selfie” and thinks it’s an art form. Bigoted hate-filled speech? Both candidates have said some hostile offensive things about each other and their supporters, and the supporters have likewise been guilty. Vulgar comments and sexual misconduct? I call your attention to the above meme; and our TV, movies, and music; and virtually our entire society.

When people ask if God is judging America, I say we have made it too easy for Him. He does not need to send a giant meteor (even if that is the closest I have come to endorsing a candidate this time around). He can just sit back, let us elect our candidates, and then watch us suffer the consequences. I can almost picture God watching us, much as a parent watches a child having a temper tantrum, arms folded, waiting for us to hit our breaking point so He can say, “Have you had enough already?”

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

I propose that it is time for American Christians to repent of our political idolatry and begin to talk, think, and act as if God is bigger than our entire political establishment. I am not saying who we should vote for in November to be our next President. However, I will continue to trust that God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

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

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

Endure to the End—Matthew 24:9-14

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9-14, NASB)

Apocalyptic passages like this one get a lot of attention. Many Christians are almost obsessed with the end times. Interest in Christ’s return is not a bad thing: After all, Jesus Himself taught about His return. He wants us to keep His ultimate triumph over evil and eternal reign in mind. He wants us to live with an eternal perspective, not acting as if this world is all that matters.

However, it can become an obsession. Some preachers and authors have devoted their entire careers to analyzing current events, with the King James Version in one hand and the New York Times in the other. They continually rewrite their end-times scenarios, trying to discern32249775 who the antichrist is, when the Rapture will occur, and which countries are the beasts of Revelation. Some have set dates, promising that Jesus would return by a particular date. Many of those dates have passed already, inspiring some Grumpy Cat fans to declare it to be the “worst apocalypse ever.” I think I must have already lived through about 50 Raptures and 75 Second Comings.

Grumpy Cat’s cynicism notwithstanding, I am sure that Jesus will return someday. It may not be in our lifetime, but it will occur when God decides the time is right.

Far too often, we look at end-times prophecies the wrong way. Many of these prophecies paint a bleak picture. Just look at Matthew 24:9–12: Tribulation is happening. Christians are dying for their faith in other countries. It seems like the entire world has turned against Jesus and the church. Christians are falling away. People are betraying us. They hate us. False prophets are deceiving Christians. Lawlessness and immorality are rampant. It sounds like Jesus is talking about 2016. Many people will look at that and say one of the following:

  • It can mean only one thing: Jesus is coming back really soon! Any day now!
  • Yes, all of that is true, but it has been going for centuries. It’s all just symbolic of the cosmic war between God and Satan, between good and evil.
  • It has been going on for centuries, and it will continue to happen. But, one of these days, Jesus will return.

I admit, I adhere to the third view. Whatever happens, Jesus calls us to continue to advance His kingdom until He returns. The Bible does not describe the end so that we can try to figure out when the Rapture will occur or live in fear. God’s Word calls us to perseverance:

  • The one who endures to the end will be saved. Why does the Bible paint such a bleak picture of the last days? In part, it is because life is difficult. The world, flesh, and the devil wage war against the Christian, the Holy Spirit, and the things of God. Following Jesus is not easy. It will wear you out. You will be tempted to stop living for Jesus, or at least to stop serving Him in any active way. We must prepare to persevere.
  • Before Christ comes, the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to the whole world. We are not to cower in fear. The world and the devil are daring us to be silent. God calls us to speak out. When the disciples asked Jesus if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel, He simply told them that they should just prepare to receive the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Do not grow discouraged. Yes, we live in difficult times. Lawlessness is rampant: In our culture, in our government, and even in the church. Persecution seems to be creeping in, even in the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Christians have probably never been more marginalized in America than they are now. False prophets are leading believers astray. Yet, God is still on the throne. Even if America is in rebellion, Christ’s kingdom will last forever. We need courage and faithfulness to endure.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Facebook: Fellowship or Fantasy Friendships?

This is a revised and updated version of an article I originally published on my blog in 2010.

I love the Internet. Some people might say I spend too much time online. That may be true. The Internet can be a dangerous place. Even if you stay on safe websites, it can become an escape from the real world.

I especially enjoy spending time on Facebook. It has become an efficient way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. I can get regular updates from ministries or organizations in which I am interested (sometimes daily or several times per day). My church very effectively uses it to broadcast announcements and updates, and our church’s online group is a great place to share prayer requests.

Yet, some people have an exaggerated positive idea about Facebook and other social media. I have known several Christians who claim it is their primary source of fellowship. I have also read blogs where people talk about having online accountability partners. It sounds good, but it is wrong.

Facebook, or any other Internet resource, is not a valid source for friendship, fellowship, or any other kind of close relationship. It is an excellent supplement, but it should be secondary to real-world face-to-face relationships. Getting your fellowship online is like taking vitamins or nutritional supplements. Taking vitamins and supplements is a great idea, as long as you also eat healthy food, get regular exercise, and take other steps to care for your health. Likewise, social media can be a great way to supplement your real-world relationships. However, it is emotionally and spiritually dangerous to build your entire social life around the Internet.

I currently have 383 friends on Facebook. (Maybe I should cut a few out; according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, most people can only maintain about 150 casual friendships.) There are a few whom I have never met in person. There are also several whom I would probably have no, or extremely limited, contact with now, if not for the social-networking site (including distant cousins or friends from school and college). Then, there is a group of people I see in person on a regular basis: family members, a handful of co-workers, people from church, and close friends.

Despite having so many opportunities to stay in touch with  all of these people online, I cannot think of Facebook as “fellowship.” A good supplement to fellowship, but not the real thing. Here is why.

Most studies find that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Suppose you see me in church; you say, “Hi, Mike, how are you?” I might say, “I’m OK.” Do you believe me? The tone of my voice, my facial expression, and my posture will tell you if I mean, “I am doing quite well, thank you. Everything in my life is good,” or “I am miserable, I feel lousy, but I really do not want to talk about it.”

Online, you will not get those nonverbal queues. I can continue to pretend all is well. I can edit myself online to make certain I project the image I want you to see, not necessarily the one that is true. If you see me in person, you are more likely to know if I am being honest or if I am hiding something.

If you see me in person on a regular basis, you have a chance to know the real me. Once you know me in person, you can know more of the background of my life when you read my posts, either on this blog or elsewhere online.

With people who know you in the real world, you cannot create a fake persona. Online, you can pretend to be the person you want people to think you are. That can be very different from who you really are. You can hide your real hobbies and interests online. You can pretend you have it all together, when in fact, you are crying inside. The people who see you on a regular basis know if something is wrong. The people who only know about you through the Internet might think you are a spiritual giant, when in fact you are living in emotional, spiritual, or moral defeat.

So, if you have been relying on Facebook, Twitter, or any other online service to provide “fellowship” for you, step away from your computer and turn off your cell phone. Get around people who live near you. To my Christian readers: Get more involved in church. Find people who will care for you and spend time for you IN PERSON, not merely online. You may even need to consider taking a fast from the Internet, if it has become an obsession.

It is great to be able to keep in touch with people who live far away or whom you can only see once or twice a week due to your busy schedules. But, make time to be with with other people, in person. Find real friendship and fellowship in the real world, not in the virtual universe of the Internet.

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

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

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