Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

Looking Beyond the Hilltop—John 14:1–7

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

John 14:1–7, NASB

For the last few weeks, this blog focused on Lenten themes. Whereas Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, Easter is a season of celebration. Having recognized our need for a Savior, we celebrate the fact that Jesus came to save us and overcame sin, Satan, and the power of death. After several hours at church on Easter Sunday morning, my wife and I visited the cemetery where my father and his parents are buried. It is not only an opportunity to connect with my past, but also to remind myself of the hope that we may be reunited someday. Easter reminds us that the grave is not the end of our existence, but a transition to an everlasting existence, either in heaven or hell.

We tend to lose sight of this in our prosperous American culture. Many view Christianity as a path to self-actualization or self-fulfillment. Even many who reject the prosperity gospel, positive confession movement, or positive thinking philosophy will quickly define their faith by how it makes them feel, or how it makes this life seem easier or more pleasant. This would probably have sounded odd to Jesus’ first disciples, many of whom suffered intense persecution. For the apostles, a “personal relationship with Jesus” led to persecution, prosecution, and (for most of them) execution.

We need to get back to reading Jesus’ promises and the rest of Scripture with an eye on the Bible’s historical context. John 14–17 is a popular and powerful passage of Scripture. These four chapters contain some of the great gems of Jesus’ teaching: His unity with His Father; the promise of the Holy Spirit; the parable that He is the vine and we are His branches; the new command to love one another; the promise that disciples can pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and God will answer; the high priestly prayer; etc.

What many of us forget is that this extensive teaching took place in a very short time period. Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet and eaten the Last Supper with them. Judas Iscariot was in the process of betraying Him to the high priests. Jesus had warned Peter that he would deny Him three times. And all the while, Jesus mentally counted down the minutes until Judas’ return, knowing the fate that awaited Him.

It was in this context that Jesus told His disciples to “believe also in Me.” Some time earlier (perhaps near the beginning of His ministry), Jesus had said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 14:20). Now, as He awaited death, Jesus promised His disciples a dwelling place. Peter had earlier said that he would follow Jesus even unto death; now, Jesus assured them that they would remain with Him in His Father’s house.

The point is this: Jesus’ promises are most completely fulfilled not in this world, but in heaven. Yes, we receive a foretaste of those blessings now, but our eyes need to grab the bigger picture.

When I was in seminary, I would minister once per month with a group from my church, conducting services at a nearby nursing home. We would sing hymns selected by the residents during the song service. Many of their selections focused on the afterlife and heaven. We sang songs like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “Sweet Bye-and-Bye” almost every time. The songs reflected their longings and hopes. Every month, we would pray for the family of a resident who had been present the previous month, but had passed away since then. They knew they could not cling to this world. They realized that their best life is not now, but was just over the hilltop.

We tend to seek our best life now, but Jesus offers us a better life later. His promises are meant to empower us to serve Him today, but the greatest rewards come later. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). May all of us who call on the name of the Lord gain His perspective, rather than trying to force Him to yield to ours.

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

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

The Christian’s True Identity

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2–5, ESV, emphasis added).

Jesus-washing-feet-01-1.jpg

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He could assume the lowliest servant’s role, because He knew His true identity.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a one-day retreat organized by one of the ministry teams at my church. Throughout the day, we reflected upon and discussed several questions about our identity as Christians. “How am I known in heaven? Who do I say I am? Who does God say I am?”

Such questions about identity guide our lives. A person with a distorted, diminished, or deficient understanding of who they are will act on that sense of self-identity. A person who views himself or herself as a “loser” or a victim will expect to fail. (Sadly, many people make the opposite mistake; with a delusional, inflated self-image, they may try to be something they are not and fail at that.)

As Christians observe Holy Week, we note that Jesus had a clear awareness of His identity, which was necessary for Him to complete His mission of redemption. John notes that, as Jesus prepared to eat the Last Supper with His disciples, He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew who He was. He knew He was operating from a place of victory: indeed, even a place of omnipotence.

He had lived His entire life with this keen awareness that He was the Son of God and that He had been sent from heaven. Luke 2:41–51 tells the story of Jesus, when He was 12 years old. After celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary started the journey home, only to realize later that Jesus was not with them. Finally, they found Him in the temple, discussing theology with the pre-eminent rabbis of their day. Mary reprimanded Him for causing them to worry. Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 12:49). Approximately 13 years after angels told Mary and Joseph that they would raise the Son of God, they seemed to forget. However, Jesus remembered Who He was, Who His Father is, and what His purpose would be.

Without knowing His true identity, Jesus probably would have been happy to open a carpentry shop and build stuff for the people of Nazareth until He was old and gray. However, He knew He was sent for something more significant. Because He knew Who He was, He could accept the most mundane, demeaning task of a household servant and wash the disciples’ feet. Knowing that He was the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, He could endure the cross, despise its shame, and obtain eternal life for all who would follow Him.

What about us? Do we truly know our true identity as Christians? Perhaps most Christians have a false spiritual self-image. After church today, a few men from our church’s drug and alcohol recovery program addressed the congregation during the post-worship coffee hour. At one point, one of the men said, “Well, I’m no saint, but….” A member of the congregation responded that none of us are. Scripture says they were both wrong.

The Bible says that we are saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” It is true that the Corinthians Christians were imperfect; much of the letter corrected them for their shortcomings. However, he still called them saints along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus. As Christians:

  • We are saints.
  • We are holy and blameless in God’s sight (see Ephesians 1:4).
  • We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17): In other words, we are Jesus’ little brothers and little sisters, loved by God the Father.
  • We are alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The list goes on, much longer than I can include in a single blog post. We once were sinners—that was our identity before we came to know Jesus—but that is no longer our true identity. Even though we struggle with sin,  it is no longer how God sees us. He does not define us by our sins, our failures, our defeats, our mistakes, or the mistakes of our parents. He defines us as His children, saints who are blameless because we are alive in Christ.

Let us each claim our true identity in Christ, believe it, and live by it. This is a major element of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is e a lifelong journey. I expect to devote many hours of prayer, Bible study and reflection to learning more about my new identity in Christ. A one-day retreat is a great place to start, but habitually embracing one’s identity in Christ takes a lifetime.

As we observe Holy Week, I will remember that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ, so that I may live in the power of His resurrection (see Romans 6:6–11). This is the privilege and identity of all true saints who call upon the name of Jesus.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

No Easy Way—James 1:2–4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, ESV).

Comedian Yakov Smirnoff would tell a story about the joy of finding instant products in stores when he came to America. One could buy products in powdered form and prepare them instantly by adding water at home. In one aisle he found powdered milk: just add water and you have milk. In another aisle, he found powdered orange juice; again, he could just add water to have orange juice. Then he came to another aisle and saw a package that really excited him. It said “baby powder.” What a country!

We live in a society that craves quick solutions to everything. We have not found a way to speed up the baby-making process by just adding water to a powder, but scientists are probably working on it. One or two generations ago, most housewives would spend hours preparing dinner every night, but that is no longer the case. Now, we eat food purchased at fast-food drive-through windows. If we eat at home, it is often heated quickly in a microwave, or it might be an “instant” meal that can be cooked quickly. We expect instant gratification everywhere: entertainment, health, relationships, etc.

2010/365/77 That Old Semi Instant Gratification

An early Polaroid instant camera, which was not as “instant” as today’s cameras. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

When I was growing up, one popular new technology was the instant camera: You no longer need to send a role of film to a developer or spend hours in a darkroom. Instead, the photograph would develop within one or two minutes. Now, with digital cameras and cell phones, we can enjoy our pictures mere seconds after taking them, and freely delete the blurry shots. Instant is not fast enough!

The same instant-gratification urge prevails in Christian circles. Many of us expect instant everything. Forgiveness and salvation may be immediate, but spiritual growth takes time. We want instant sanctification, or instant deliverance from sin, bad habits, and addictions, but this does not exist.

In recent weeks, I have come across the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17–27; Matthew 19:16–30) several times during my Bible reading. He wanted an instant fix to his spiritual dilemma. “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). The Greek could be more directly translated as “Teacher, what one good deed can I do to immediately have eternal life?” Jesus’ offered no quick fix. It would be a complete change of his life’s direction from that day forth. He could make an instantaneous decision to follow Jesus, but it would have to continue for the rest of his life.

The Bible offers no easy spiritual growth. James 1:2–4 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. These trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness, making us mature and complete in Christ. Most Christians would prefer something instantaneous. Maybe we can go forward for prayer at church, and the pastor or evangelist can lay hands on us, and voila! We are now perfect and complete, lacking nothing, within five minutes. You do not even need to add water!

Others may realize this instant fix does not exist, but we still hope for an easy way. We think that if we just pray, read our Bibles, and go to church, we will become holy and spiritual. It is true that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), but Scripture speaks much more about how that faith is forged, purified, and strengthened in fiery kiln of trials and temptations:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).

There is really no way around it. If you want to grow spiritually, you will have to go through something that will test, stretch, and expand your faith, forcing you to trust God to work in your life. That may not be popular in our instant-gratification society, but it is how God works.

During Lent, I have been praying specifically for growth in three of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23–24): gentleness, patience, and self-control. Patience is an area where I definitely need to grow, but praying for it leads to opportunities to exercise it. For example, I try to be a safe and careful driver, but as a typical New Yorker, my to and from work can drive me bonkers! I can become Boanerges on the highway, ready to call down fire from heaven upon those who tailgate me or cut me off, and calling people idiots as they drive like NASCAR racers to the next traffic jam. My drive time is a good opportunity to determine if there is any growth in my patience.

I have to admit that, while I pray for patience, the other drivers are not changing. They may not have gotten any worse, but they have not improved either. However, I am becoming more aware of temptation. As I pray for the fruit of the Spirit, God seems to allow the same temptations to come: but with the temptation He provides the way of escape, reminding me to pray again for gentleness, patience, and self-control. (Sometimes, He has to remind me to ask for immediate forgiveness.)

Count it pure joy when God allows trials and temptations to come your way. It is your opportunity to experience true growth in the fruit of the Spirit.

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

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

Feasting Daily on God’s Word

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV).

The Holy Bible

The Book of Common Prayer‘s Daily Office readings leading up to Ash Wednesday this year included the above passage from Deuteronomy. Reflection on passage can remind us that, as we fast during Lent, we should feast upon the God’s Word and His love. If we fast without feasting on the things God has for us, it is truly an empty ritual.

Let us take that term “feast” seriously. We are not supposed to merely look at or ponder food. We are supposed to eat it. It is supposed to become part of us. The same is true of God’s Word. We read it in such a way that we are ingesting it, receiving it in our hearts so that it becomes a core part of who we are.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as the first and most important commandment:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

Every other commandment God gave, in the Old and New Testaments, is an outgrowth of these two commands. To show us how to develop and manifest that love, God gave instructions regarding His Words in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. God’s Word should come into our minds, go down into our hearts and fill our souls, so that it guides our might and strength to righteous action. God’s Word must move beyond our minds and into our hearts to accomplish God’s will.

How does this happen? First, we feast on God’s Word in fellowship with others. Moses instructed the Israelites to teach God’s Word to their children, and to discuss it wherever they went. Those who do not teach the faith to their children suggest, by their actions, that Jesus is not important, so that the next generation does not follow Him. We should keep God’s Word and presence central in our homes, providing a link that keeps our families connected. As we discuss it with other believers (through informal conversations, Bible study groups, etc.), we can benefit from their study, meditation, insight, and experience. Those who read the Bible on their own, without connection to other believers, are prone to begin worshipping a false Jesus of their own making, formed in their own image.

Second, we feast frequently. Moses said we “shall talk of {God’s words} when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Scripture is not restricted to just one day of the week, or to a quick “quiet time” in the morning. We receive God’s Word into our hearts every day, throughout the day.

About 25 years ago, I preached for the first time about a concept I called “three spiritual meals.” Most Americans eat three meals per day, and Jesus compared God’s Word to bread (Matthew 4:4); therefore, one can suggest it is wise to partake of God’s Word three times per day. Since then, I have been introduced to the Book of Common Prayer and its four Daily Offices of prayer [morning, noon, evening, and compline (night-time prayer, shortly before going to bed)]. This provides a structure for starting and ending my day with prayer, taking a brief intermission during noon to recharge spiritually, and ending my night with prayer. Whatever it takes to keep God’s Word on your mind throughout the day, do it.

Finally, we feast with focused reminders: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Some Christians keep Scripture reminders present throughout the day: a Bible verse taped to the bathroom mirror; a cross over the door; plaques, posters, and other decorations with Scripture verses, pictures of Biblical stories or persons, or other reminders of the faith.

So, if we want to please God by loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we need to feast on His Word. Read and reflect on God’s Word with family and faith-filled friends. Ingest it into your heart and soul frequently, throughout the day, every day. Keep it present before you.

I would like to close with a final thought about end-time prophecy. Some Christians focus heavily on the second coming of Christ. They may fixate on the “mark of the beast” described in Revelation 13:16-17. This is some kind of “mark” on the right hand or forehead. Keep in mind that the book of Revelation alludes frequently to the Old Testament, and this is one of those cases. The mark of the beast is actually a demonic counterfeit of the Word of God, which is a mark of our covenant relationship with God; God’s Word should be like a sign on the hand or frontlets between the eyes (Deuteronomy 6:8). If we have God’s Word in our hearts and we are living in that full love for Christ, we will not be led astray by Satan, no matter how cunning his deceptions may be. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus.

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

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

Ash Wednesday: Fasting to Celebrate Christ

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, ESV).

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (from the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, from the Book of Common Prayer).

I have posted several articles about Ash Wednesday and Lent on this blog over the years. I find this season helpful in my spiritual journey. It is easy to grow complacent and just go through the motions of the Christian life: go to church, read the Bible, pray every day, and try not to get caught doing anything too bad.

Lent is a season of fasting with a purpose. The ceremony of imposing ashes on a believer’s forehead imitates the ancient Jewish custom of covering oneself in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning or penance (Jonah 3:6; Job 42:6). While using the ashes to mark a cross on the forehead, the priest or minister will usually say, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This statement reminds us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death.

That soul-destroying sin is washed away through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and death is conquered in His resurrection. While Lent begins with acknowledgment of our sin and need of forgiveness, it ends with Good Friday and Easter, when we celebrate our new life in Christ. From repentance to rejoicing; from sin to salvation; from death to new life.

I expect Lent to take a slightly new angle in 2017. I can get into a rut with spiritual disciplines and lose focus on a greater goal. I have pretty much done the same things every Lent over the last few years, but in addition to “more prayer” and things like that, I hope to renew some aspects of my relationship with God that may have been pushed aside by busyness in recent years.

Fasting works best when it goes beyond denying oneself of food or pleasure and opens one up to drawing closer to God. I will cut back significantly on Facebook (I spend too much time online these days, and it has become a virtual wasteland). I will also add some activities that have slipped by the wayside: My guitar and bass have been collecting dust lately, so I plan to spend some time worshipping the Lord through song. Instead of focusing only on things to give up for 40 days, I will also look for renewed ways to spend time with my Lord during this season.

If you have never observed Lent before, I urge you to give it a try. For 40 days (not counting Sundays—most traditional churches recognize Sunday as a day to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, not to fast) between March 1 and Easter Sunday, make the following simple commitments:

  • Give up one food-related pleasure. In the past, I have given up coffee (that was a tough one!), Snicker’s bars, or other favorite snacks.
  • Perhaps devote one or two days per week to a more intense fast. Many Catholics abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. You can go that route, or choose one or two days a week for a more extensive fast that works for you.
  • Give up a hobby, or an activity that really has become an unproductive waste of time for 40 days. Most of us have something that weighs us down. I mentioned Facebook. Some people may benefit from giving up sports, or television. If you are willing to be honest, you will think of something that you would benefit from giving up for a while.
  • Do it in communion with others. If your church does not observe Lent, perhaps you can find some friends (such as a Bible study or prayer group) to embark on the fast together. Accountability and camaraderie have a way of strengthening us.
  • Most importantly, in the midst of “giving stuff up,” fill the empty space with more of God’s presence. As you abstain from physical bread, feast upon the bread of life, which is Jesus Himself. Spend extra time in prayer and Scripture reading. Read some of the devotional classic writings that will renew your zeal for the Lord. Find new ways to worship and serve God.

If you are thinking that it’s too late to commit to Lent: do it anyway. The Ash-Wednesday-to-Easter schedule is purely traditional. Feel free to do a 40-day (or whatever length) Lenten-type fast whenever the Spirit moves you. God is not bound by the calendar, but we are freed to experience His blessings and power when we surrender our hearts, souls, minds, strength, and time to Him.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Holy Name of Jesus

“‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’
(which means, God with us).” (Matthew 2:21-23, ESV).

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21, ESV).

256px-ichthys-svg

The Greek letters in the familiar “ichthys” symbol represent Jesus’ name and titles: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”

Today (January 1) is New Year’s Day. We think of it as a day for new beginnings, a chance to make resolutions to start anew in different areas of our lives. On some church calendars (e.g., in the Book of Common Prayer), it is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Since it is the eighth day since we celebrated our Savior’s birth, we commemorate the day that He was circumcised and His name became “official.”

 

Names matter. They are perhaps the most important part of our identity. If you want to insult somebody effectively and quickly, make fun of their name. Parents usually give much thought to the names for their children. We may name our children after family members, thereby emphasizing the link to previous generations; or, we may name our children after someone we admire (perhaps a hero of the Bible, or a historical figure we respect). We do not name our children after someone whom we dislike or disrespect (I do not know too many people named “Adolf” these days, thanks to one particular scoundrel).

It is thus important to consider the significance of the name of Jesus. His name tells us who He is and why He came into the world. It is the English transliteration of His Hebrew name, “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation.” He came, first and foremost, to “save his people from their sins,” as the angel told Joseph.

This is who He is, what He does, and what we can expect from Him. Jesus came to save us from our sins. His entire life—including His teaching ministry as well as His death and resurrection—was designed to save us from the kingdom of sin and darkness and bring us into the kingdom of God.

In addition to this name above all names (Philippians 2:9-10), the Bible ascribes numerous titles to Jesus: Immanuel, Son of God, Lamb of God, Prince of Peace, etc. If you are interested in an in-depth study of the names and titles of Jesus, an extensive podcast series by theologian Thomas Hopko is available here.

Much has been written about the power of Jesus’ name and the promises in His name. Our eternal condition is closely tied to His name: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Someday, every sentient creature (including every demon in hell, every atheist, and every Islamic terrorist) will bow before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The authority of that name is undeniable, and someday all mankind will acknowledge that.

Those who acknowledge the authority of Jesus’ name can be assured that He will be faithful to His promises. Jesus said, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).

This does not mean (as some misguided Bible teachers claim) that we can force God to give us something simply by ending our prayers with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name.” His Holy Name reflects His authority and power, much as a police officer’s badge reflects his authority to demand that you stop driving and present your license and registration. We do not try to exercise authority over God; rather, we acknowledge Jesus’ authority over our lives and all creation, and on the basis of that authority, we pray with confidence that God will do exactly what He promises. In John 14:13-14, Jesus clearly says that our prayers in His name will be answered so that “the Father may be glorified in the Son.” We pray in Jesus’ name to fulfill God’s will, not to baptize His will into our will or subjugate God to our desires.

The name of Jesus is the springboard to the greatest “new beginning” of all. God’s blessings and promises are intertwined with the name, authority, and character of Jesus, our Savior: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; the God who is always with us. May 2017 be a year in which we all gain a greater appreciation and awareness of who Jesus is and what He seeks to do in our lives.

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

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

New Year’s Day: A Time for Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Christ in Christmas—Colossians 3:17

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

img_20161217_171037009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent: A Season of Waiting and Preparation

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

Advent wreath 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: