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 Lion IS the Lamb

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:5-6, ESV).

This post concludes a three-part series, inspired by a Facebook discussion, about Isaiah 11:6, the verse many misquote as “The lion shall lie down with the lamb.” That passage actually says that wolf will dwell with the lamb, and I offered a few thoughts about that last week.

This week, I will conclude this series by answering a concern some people have about that difference in meaning. Some people object that they do not want the verse to talk about wolves and lambs. Besides the fact that Scripture often depicts wolves as evil (see, e.g., Matthew 7:15), there is the fact that Jesus is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. They fit so perfectly together: If the Bible said, “The lion shall lie down with the lamb,” then not only do we get a beautiful pastoral image of supernatural peace, we get a picture of Jesus Himself. (Incidentally, like wolves, the Bible often describes lions as symbols of evil; see 1 Peter 5:8.)

Take heart; the Bible brings the images of Jesus as both lion and lamb together. In fact, it does so much more emphatically than the misreading of Isaiah 11:6 does. Furthermore, it does this the only time that the Bible calls Jesus the Lion of Judah.

In Revelation 5, an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Only one person in the universe is eligible: The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. But then, it turns out that this Lion is “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”

Why is Jesus a lion? Why is He a lamb? And, how can He be both at the same time? They are very different animals. I’ve fed lambs at petting zoos; they are harmless creatures. However, I will keep my hand away from lions’ mouths. If they bite, it hurts.

While Revelation 5:5 is the only time that Jesus is called “the Lion of {the tribe of} Judah,” it is not the first time Scripture associates Jesus’ ancestral tribe with the king of the beasts. When Jacob blessed his sons, shortly before dying, he said:

“Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:9-10).

Jacob compared his son to a lion. Jacob had a lion-like spirit that would make his lineage ideal to rule. On several occasions, Judah showed a natural gift for leadership. Eventually, that gift developed a spiritual, godly dimension that points to the ministry of Jesus.

The first time Judah displayed leadership is described in Genesis 37. When Joseph’s older brothers decided, in a fit of jealousy, to throw him in a well and leave him to die, Jacob thought of a shrewd way to avoid the guilt of murder while making some extra money: “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him” (Genesis 37:26-27). Thanks to Judah’s planning and influence, Joseph lived (although he was sold into slavery) and the brothers made a few extra shekels. This was not Judah’s finest hour, but it showed that he knew how to influence people and effect change. He was a leader.

Let us fast-forward a few decades. Joseph had been a slave in Egypt for a while and, by the grace of God, emerged as a leader in the Egyptian government. His spiritual discernment and wisdom elevated him so, in response to a prophecy of severe famine, Pharaoh appointed him to manage food collection and distribution. When famine struck, Egypt had food to spare. Jacob’s ten oldest sons, including Judah, came to buy food from Joseph. Jacob kept his youngest son, Benjamin, home. Joseph warned them not to return unless Benjamin was present. Eventually, Judah persuaded his father to send all of the sons, by agreeing to take full responsibility for his youngest brother’s safety. In the end, he showed that he was willing to accept a role of slavery in place of his youngest brother. (See Genesis 43 and 44 to read this very detailed story.)

At first, Judah could influence people to act out of greed. In the end, he would influence people by acting in the interest of others. He would place his own life and freedom on the line to save his brothers. The Lion had learned to lead through sacrifice.

About 1800 years later, Judah’s descendant would prove Himself to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah by offering Himself as the Lamb of God. As the lion is the king of the beasts, Jesus is the King of Kings. He does not rule by acting selfishly. Nor does He rule by throwing His weight around violently. He rules through self-sacrifice. He showed His most lion-esque leadership not by devouring or conquering, but by offering Himself for our sins. The Lion of Judah was most lion-like when He displayed His lamb-like gentleness as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Wolf and the Lamb—Isaiah 11:6

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, ESV).

el_buen_pastor

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them. “El Buen Pastor” (The Good Shepherd) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650.

 In my previous post, I shared some observations regarding the above passage. Most of us have heard the phrase, “The lion shall lie down with the lamb,” so often that we think it is biblical. It seems to be a misquotation of Isaiah 11:6, though.

When we realize that we have misunderstood a passage of Scripture, or we thought it said something different from what it actually says, we need to take action. We need to find out what the Bible actually says and what the Holy Spirit is actually teaching us. Some people are taken aback by this passage, since the lion and the lamb are two aspects of Jesus’ character. They think that a prophecy of Jesus has been taken away if this verse does not say the lion and the lamb lie down together. This verse remains incredibly messianic. It speaks of the coming kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, although not exactly as many people expect. (Jesus’ nature as the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God are brought together in Revelation 5:5-6, and I intend to share about that passage in a forthcoming post.)

Isaiah 11:6 is a key point in a memorable messianic prophecy in the book of Isaiah. It is a lengthy prophecy, one that begins a few chapters earlier, where Isaiah said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6); it is a follow-up to Isaiah’s prophecy of Emmanuel, who would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matthew 1:23).

The prophecy continues, speaking of God’s judgment on the Assyrians and eventual restoration of the people of Israel. Then, in Isaiah 11, we see a glorious promise of the Messiah:

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isaiah 11:1-5, ESV).

I highlighted the word “branch” in there; the Hebrew word is “netzer,” the root of the town name “Nazareth.” When Matthew 2:23 quotes the prophets by saying, “He shall be called a Nazarene,” he is paraphrasing this passage. The “branch of Jesse” was the son of David and son of God, raised in the “town of the branch,” Nazareth. Students of bible prophecy will recognize many of the other attributes of this stump/branch of Jesse as attributes of our Lord, particularly when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

This is the context of Isaiah 11:6 and the verses that follow:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9, ESV).

To be honest, from a lamb’s perspective, it does not matter whether it is a wolf or a lion. In the natural realm, both animals would have the same opinion about a lamb: It must be delicious! The wolf does not dwell with the lamb; he eats it. If a lion lies down with a lamb, he eats it. In the natural realm, neither a wolf nor a lion lives peacefully with lambs; given the opportunity, they are both the gentle farm animal’s mortal enemy. The same can be said about the relationship between the leopard and the young goat, or the lion and the calf.

However, the Bible promises a coming age when the suffering that is a normal part of life will be no more: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Scripture describes death and suffering as the symptoms of a sin-soaked creation, but Isaiah 11 points to a time when suffering will be no more.

Mankind continues to try to solve the world’s problems by purely secular means. We see this especially in politics and social activism. Another mass shooting? Gun control will solve that. Another terrorist attack? Let’s declare a war on terror. Another epidemic? Surely we can eradicate this disease so nobody ever suffers again. We make grand plans to create a better world. Some of them have limited or even great success. But few, if any, have perfect success. Despite our best efforts, there will be wars, there will be crime, and there will be poverty and disease.

Someday, Jesus will return and wipe every tear from our eyes. And then, the wolf will lie down with the lamb (and I would not be surprised if a lion joins them, and they all enjoy one another’s company). And the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who came as a child born of a virgin, shall lead them.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Did the Lion Lie Down with the Lamb?—Isaiah 11:6

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, ESV).

1

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Talk about a learning experience. I pride myself on being a committed student of God’s Word. I have a seminary degree and have read the Bible many times over the last 32-plus years. Isaiah 11:6 comes up several times per year in the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office readings, so I should know this verse. Well, as Proverbs 16:18 tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

But recently, the wife of one of my church’s pastors urged her friends on Facebook to read this verse more closely. So, I did, and was surprised. I thought it should say that “the lion lies down with the lamb.” I have always heard that phrase. Surely, I thought, it is in the Bible, and this is the verse. How did I miss this? Perhaps, while reading Isaiah 11, I saw this passage, and thought, “Oh, that sounds like the verse about the lion and the lamb,” but did not check the cross-references to find it. (Or perhaps, maybe my coffee did not kick in yet. I think I’m usually only about halfway through my first cup when reading the Old Testament passage.)

Did I miss something? Some of my King-James-only friends might suggest that I was reading one of “those corrupt modern English translations” that are part of a conspiracy to distort God’s Word and deceive believers. But, the King James Version says essentially the same thing as my English Standard Version:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

All of the English translations I read depict the same two animals: a wolf dwelling with the lamb. (Wait a minute: He’s not lying with lamb, he’s dwelling with it!) Even Martin Luther’s German translation, published about 70 years before the KJV, said “wolf.” So did the Hebrew. If there was a conspiracy to change God’s Word, it goes back many centuries.

So, what is the lesson here? Christians need to read their Bibles. We need to be wise, discerning, and diligent. Sometimes, we can grow so accustomed to thinking the Bible says something, because we have always heard it that way, that we miss what God is really trying to teach us.

Some of the mistakes committed by students of Scripture are minor. Is theology affected if Matthew 2:1-12 does not specifically say that three wise men visited the baby Jesus when He was born? (It does not tell us the exact number. Tradition assumes there were three, based on the number of gifts. By the way, Jesus could have been a toddler already by the time they arrived.) Many people think that the Red Sea parted instantly when Moses prayed, even though Exodus 14:21 says it took all night for the wind to blow it apart. (I have to admit, that would not have looked quite as cool in the classic movie, The Ten Commandments.)

However, diligence is in order because some mistakes affect biblical morality and core teachings necessary for salvation. In 1631, a print run of the Bible contained an egregious typographical error in Exodus 20:14, leaving the crucial word “not” out of the verse, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The Bibles were immediately recalled after the error was discovered, but a few copies are still in existence. If such an error can get past the proofreaders, think of the errors we can make when we do not study the Bible accurately. (See here and here for some of my previous posts on this subject.)

In a forthcoming post, I will reflect more on the actual meaning of this verse.

(PS: Regarding the picture of the wolf at the top of the page. I generally try to honor copyright laws when selecting pictures for my post. Unfortunately, any pictures depicting a wolf lying with a lamb, in relation to Isaiah 11:6, were protected by copyright. Therefore, I selected the above picture which is under US Government copyright, and therefore is free for reuse with proper acknowledgment. Wolves are beautiful creatures, but I would not try to pet this one!)

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

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

Why I March for Life

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

16298603_10212035007139674_3212416600503029340_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Now—Matthew 6:34

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34, ESV).

reloj_despertador

By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was confronted several times today by the notion of living “in the moment” or “in the now.” Such terms popped up in a tourism commercial for Ireland (a visit to my ancestral homeland remains high on my “bucket list”), an article I read in a newsletter, a conversation with a friend, etc. (Furthermore, as a Bee Gees’ fan, I could not resist the opportunity to use the title of Barry Gibb’s recent solo album in a blog post.)

This concept permeates the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. Matthew 6:34 tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Ephesians 5:16 tells us to make the best use of the time, “because the days are evil.”

I value my time and place a high priority on time management. I keep a to-do list handy so that I can keep up with my diverse responsibilities and accomplish a few hobbies. I plan ahead; but do I make the best use of this present time?

I am not trying to discourage anybody from using good time-management skills. Like everything else in life, time is a limited resource, and we should be good stewards of it. However, I think too many of us fall into one of two extremes with time management. One person can be too spontaneous and fail to plan ahead; he might let friends and loved ones down, break promises, and squander life and opportunities by being guided by the feelings of the moment, with no long-term view. Another may focus so much on what is on the agenda tomorrow, or next week, or ten years from now that today slips away.

How can we live most effectively in the now? This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but a few thoughts come to mind:

  1. Make your plans, but keep them flexible. Being good stewards of our time requires some planning. I usually write a to-do list every day, but it is not unusual for my plans to hit a brick wall. What happens when I was planning to do some writing one night, but a last-minute change of plans occurs? Or, I have a rough day at work and am too mentally exhausted to write? I often record 20 items on my to-do list every day. I know I will not accomplish all of them; some items must be done and take top priority. There are items I would like to accomplish; and sometimes, there is a group of little things to do if I am not able to accomplish any important tasks. Some days, I merely cross a few small items off my list at the end of the day, but it is enough.
  2. Welcome opportunities to be a blessing to others. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned a “last-minute change of plans.” For me, such distractions often involve other people: my wife agrees to watch her brother’s children one night, a friend calls me on the phone with a problem that is really troubling him, etc. It is tempting to complain about the distractions, but what if they are God’s way of saying, “I want you to bless this person tonight”? Matthew 25:31-46 shares Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment. The sheep are rewarded for feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick and prisoners; whereas the goats are condemned for doing none of these. Jesus says that whatever we did for the “least of these” had been done for Him. [I cannot help but wonder if the “goats” had prayed for these people (James 2:16). God wanted action.]
    We probably do not have to make an effort to find people to bless. If we are willing to surrender our time and efforts to God, we will see opportunities. There are people all around us who need a blessing; we just have to be alert to their presence and willing to recognize the distractions they bring as a mission from God.
  3. Keep it simple! We often overcomplicate our lives by thinking we need more than we actually do. Matthew 6:34 ends a teaching where Jesus urges His listeners not to worry; God will take care of their needs. The average American, though, has all of his needs met and is now worrying about his luxuries. We often work to buy products we cannot afford and do not need, adding excessive stress. Keep it simple: thank God when He has met all of your needs; entrust your cares to Him in prayer; and make the best use of your current time, realizing there is only so much you can do in one day.
  4. Avoid procrastination. Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Our lives are short. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey wrote that we should “begin with the end in mind.” We should think of what kind of legacy we would like to leave behind.
    Do not waste your time on trivialities! Think about those things that you would like people to remember about you when you are gone, and set time aside to do them.

Time is a precious commodity. While we often need to keep a long-term, eternal perspective, we have to remember that we can only live in the now. Make the best use of today, whether it is by taking a few steps closer to a life-long dream, recovering from a rough day, or responding to an unexpected request for help.

As a parting thought, you may want to take about three-and-a-half minutes to enjoy this song by David Meece about living in the present moment, “Once in a Lifetime.”

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

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

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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: