The Line Dividing Good and Evil

“But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, ‘Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all’” (Acts 3:12-16; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One of the great ironies of the Gospel is that Jesus, the Righteous One, was killed by religious people.

It was not harlots, tax collectors, murderers, drug addicts, sex offenders, or child abusers who led the cries urging Pontius Pilate to “Crucify Him!” It was the chief priests, the teachers of the Jewish Scriptures, and other religious leaders. The people who claimed to know and obey God called for the execution of the Son of God.

Jesus brought life and healing. Religious men brought death.

Jesus brought forgiveness and salvation. Religious men demanded condemnation.

Religious leaders of the people of God mocked Jesus while He died. It took a pagan “godless” centurion to declare, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

Religion, ritual, rules, tradition, and dogma do not guarantee righteousness. The men who demanded Jesus’ death were seeking God, but they sought Him on their terms, based on their finite understanding of God’s Word. When they encountered Jesus—the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature—they could not recognize Him.

It is easy for us to condemn the chief priests and Pharisees. However, is it possible that we can be more like them than we are willing to admit? Do we really hold to the righteousness of God, or do our own biases sometimes get in the way? Do we sincerely love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we truly love our neighbor as ourselves? Or, do we find more entertaining things to lure us away from God? Do we find excuses why the other person might not count as our neighbor?

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

Photo from imgur.

Perhaps most of us struggle with the same challenge. We start our day well. Maybe, like me, you find time to pray and read the Bible before starting your workday. Perhaps you find ways to serve God and His people in ministry, either through your church or other avenues. Maybe you spend most of your day “doing the right things.” At some point, though, temptation takes over and you live more like the devil than like a child of God. The line dividing good and evil had cut through your heart.

The great message of the resurrection is that Jesus lived a righteous life and then died for our forgiveness and salvation. Whatever evil exists in your heart and life, Jesus offers forgiveness and cleansing. He rose from the grave to conquer death, the ultimate evil.

Today, let us bring our entire hearts to Him—the good and bad, the righteous and unrighteous, the religious and profane—and welcome His cleansing power. He came to give us life and to shine His light and glory through us:

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hallelujah! The Lord is Risen Indeed!

Alleluia. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia. (Book of Common Prayer)

Image via pixy.org. Published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

The above prayer, named “Christ our Passover” or “Pascha Nostrum,” is based on three New Testament passages (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Romans 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22). The Book of Common Prayer includes it as part of the morning Daily Office of prayer every day during Easter week. One can also pray it on any mornings between Easter and the Feast of the Ascension (40 days after Easter; in 2021, it will be May 13). If you are interested in praying the Daily Office, you may familiarize yourself with it by following the daily prayers and readings at the website of the Mission of St. Clare.

Many Christians forget that the church calendar views Easter as an entire season. It begins on Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday in some churches) and ends seven weeks later on Pentecost. Easter is not just one day for bunnies, colored hard-boiled eggs, chocolate, new clothes, bonnets, etc. It is the fulcrum of our faith. The entire Christian life hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its assurance of our future resurrection. So, we can celebrate Easter every day. It does not matter whether it is April 4, May 2 (Eastern Orthodox Easter this year), December 25, or any other day. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Because He has risen, He has triumphed over death, and in Him, we can all be made alive forevermore.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about the importance of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Palm Sunday: Christ Cannot Be Cancelled

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Last week, Evangel University1 in Springfield, MO, announced it will change its mascot. The athletic teams will no longer be “the Crusaders.” The university’s interim president, George O. Wood, wrote that the image contradicts the school’s mission. The name refers to medieval Christians who waged holy wars against Islam in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, often slaughtering Middle Eastern Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. Since this can offend many of the people to whom Evangel alumni minister and the crusaders’ tactics contradicted many of Jesus’ teachings, university leadership felt it was time to change.

Wood wrote, “Ultimately, this decision was made because I am convinced that our Christ-centered focus requires it. This is not a cultural response to political correctness, but simply the right thing to do.”

Figurine depictions of medieval crusaders in Plassenberg Zinnfiguren Museum, Plassenberg Castle, near Kulmbach, Germany. Photo by Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Evangel is not the first Christian organization to abandon a “crusade” name. In 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ (a college-campus ministry that played an important role early in my walk with Christ) shortened its name to Cru. While Billy Graham referred to his evangelistic events as “Crusades,” his son Franklin prefers the more celebratory term “Festivals.”

Some Evangel alumni support the decision. Others are accusing the school of surrendering to “cancel culture.” It can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between wise caution and surrender to society.

Cancel culture—a movement to ostracize and silence people and institutions that do not support liberal politically correct ideas about morality, race, etc.—has affected both sports and Christians. The Washington Redskins football team recently dropped their nickname (they are now the Washington Football Team); the Cleveland Indians will follow suit after the 2021 season. Some Native Americans felt the names promoted negative stereotypes. Being of Irish and Canadian descent, I wonder when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will drop their nickname. Will the Vancouver Canucks drop their nickname? What about the Yankees, Patriots, Braves, Chiefs, etc.? When will it end?

Perhaps some of the nicknames, mascots, and logos have negative connotations and should be replaced. On the other hand, maybe people are reading their own fears into an image.

Christians have also been “cancelled” for biblical beliefs. Celebrities, ministers, or politicians who believe in traditional heterosexual marriage or that there are only two genders face hostility or censorship in the media.

In 2021, we act surprised by these developments, but followers of Jesus have faced cancellation and censorship since before the crucifixion. The Pharisees tried to cancel Jesus for three years, eventually having Him crucified. On Palm Sunday, as Jesus’ followers shouted His praises while He entered Jerusalem, they ordered Him to silence His disciples. Jesus said, “If these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Six days later, Jesus was dead and buried, and His disciples were silent. However, on Easter Sunday, the stone that blocked the entrance to His tomb cried out by rolling away, proclaiming His glory by clearing a path as He rose and walked out of the tomb. Before long, His disciples could no longer remain silent. Seven weeks later, they began to fulfill His mission to “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Although Caesar and the Sanhedrin tried to silence them, the disciples could not help but proclaim what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Eventually, the Roman Empire fell, the Jewish nation was scattered, and the Gospel spread to every continent. Despite all opposition, the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against the church of Christ, and they never shall.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, icon from the Nativity of the Theotokos Church, Bitola, Macedonia. Photo by Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Satan will always seek to silence the Word of God. The world’s system will try to cancel it. However, God’s Word will not return void. Our mission remains the same: to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God-become-man, and His Kingdom will endure forever. He died to bring forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it. He will come again. No matter who tries to cancel us or how hard they try, we will be victorious.

Holy Week reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle. We proclaim that Jesus is Messiah and King. The world tries to silence this message, but Jesus cannot be contained, stopped, or silenced. His followers will not be silenced either. Yes, we must fight His battles, proclaiming His Gospel instead of the social and political agendas we are often more eager to choose. We must proclaim Him with the same enthusiasm as His earliest followers, who shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord! Renew and empower us by Your Holy Spirit so that we may be Your witnesses now and always.

1Evangel University was formed by a merger of Evangel College (an Assemblies of God liberal arts college, which my wife attended), the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS, where I earned my master’s degree), and Central Bible College. Since Evangel College and AGTS were separate entities when I attended, I do not have a strong emotional attachment to the Crusader mascot, but I can see where the Crusades often conflicted with Christ’s teachings and historic Christian “just war” doctrine.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about cancel culture, evangelism, etc.? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

God’s Righteousness and Justice. IX: Putting on the New Self

“… {A}nd put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My last article looked at Isaiah 11:2–5, which tells us how Christ bore God’s righteousness and faithfulness like a belt. This verse reminds us of the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14).

The Bible has many images to describe our relationship with Christ. We are members of His body, much like our limbs and other organs are members of our bodies. We are “in Christ,” and He is in us. The whole armor of God, Ephesians 4:24, and several other passages remind us that we are to “put on” Christ or the “new self” in a sense of “clothing ourselves” with Him. The clothing imagery sometimes speaks of clothing ourselves in Christ or clothing ourselves in righteousness.

“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
 My soul will exult in my God;
 For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
 He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
 As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
 And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:12–14).

This clothing imagery appears throughout Scripture. It is an active, conscious choice that we make. For many of us, one of the first decisions we make every day is what to wear. We make a thoughtful decision on what to wear each day; we do not aimlessly walk out the door wearing whatever we wore to sleep. We usually make a decision based on the day’s activities. Even though I work at home, I ask myself whether I will be in a Zoom or other virtual meeting before picking my shirt for the day. My wardrobe decision will be much different for a lazy Saturday morning than for church on Sunday.

Are we as decisive with our spiritual wardrobe? Do we conscientiously choose to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or do we just mindlessly go through our day?

Many Christians, myself included, observe Lent. This is a season of prayer and fasting, offering us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with Christ. This year, I have felt convicted about how easy it is to slip into a neutral gear in my spiritual life. Having focused on the fast itself, it is easy to lose sight of how it points me to Christ.

The focus of Lent should be on Christ, not solely on the fast. This year, I have caught myself getting lazy about one of my fasts. While I have avoided donuts and cakes pretty well, I have not kept my word to God that I would abstain from playing computer games during Lent.

Does God really care that much if I play solitaire on my computer? Probably not: people do far worse things online. However, I have found myself playing games when I could be reading the Bible or devotional books. Sure, I can make excuses: Lent has been particularly challenging the last two years. The pandemic has forced many of us to forego human interaction and social activities—even in-person church events—while also giving up favorite foods or hobbies. The battle is real, and it is intense, but as the “whole armor of God” imagery reminds us—Christians are always at war. You cannot afford to get lazy when the enemy is ready to attack.

Let us avoid complacency. Let us renew our commitment for the next few weeks. Lent is not merely about giving up chocolate, cookies, donuts, video games, etc. It is a time to deepen our focus on Jesus. It is also a war game to prepare ourselves for the real battle: to lay aside the deeds of darkness and the old nature so that we can put on Christ. It is a conscious decision. Fasting in specific areas of our lives during Lent can be a form of practice for facing real battles. It will be easier to battle hardcore sin when we have triumphed over the Boston crème donut.

When all is said and done, we should be clothed in Christ so that His glory is revealed through us. Let that be our goal.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about clothing yourself in Christ? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VIII: Clothed in Christ’s Righteousness

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.” (Isaiah 11:2–5; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A Roman soldier’s belt, holding a dagger for battle. Photo by Elliott Sadourny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

When we think of righteousness, we should think of Jesus. When we think of justice, we should think of Jesus. Since the fullness of deity dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9) and He dwells in His disciples, we should manifest God’s righteousness and justice, following Christ’s example. A few thoughts about this are worth considering.

First, when Jesus judges, He judges in righteousness, not by appearances. We can say much about this—perhaps too much for a brief article like this. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our motives. He does not make mistakes.

However, most importantly, He does not jump to conclusions. If we want to be like Him, we have to avoid the temptation of allowing our emotions and impulses to guide our reasoning. We allow fear, distrust, suspicion, prejudice, and self-righteousness to guide our thinking. We see that a wrong has been committed, and we assume that we know who caused the problem and what motivated them. We can be wrong, but we will not admit that. This may be part of the reason why Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Even when we think we are helping the other person, we might be working from false assumptions. Christian author Bill Perkins recently wrote the following:

“God never gets angry about a perceived injustice. He never flies off the handle because of an imaginary wrong. We, on the other hand, may do just that. In fact, I suspect we get angry at perceived wrongs or irritations, more often than real ones. That’s why we should anger slowly—as James said, our anger never ‘achieves the righteousness of God’” (Bill Perkins, “Jesus Got Angry Four Times“).

Second, righteousness and justice are not only things Jesus does: They are essential parts of who He is. Jesus could not simply choose to be righteous for a few minutes and then move on to something else. He could not bring Himself to it: His holiness, righteousness, justice, and every other attribute were not things He merely chose to do and be when it was convenient.

In Ephesians 6, Paul spoke of the whole armor of God. You can find an entire series about this topic and the subject of spiritual warfare on this website. Two vital pieces of that armor are the breastplate of righteousness and the belt of truth. As committed Christians, we should wear this armor constantly. We should “put on Christ” and wear Him wherever we go (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Jesus wore righteousness like a belt around His loins. Likewise, we should be armed and ready to bear His righteousness and truth to the world.

How do we stand against temptation? We clothe ourselves in Christ: In His life, His forgiveness and grace for us, His resurrection power, His indwelling Holy Spirit, and the whole armor of God. His righteousness in us will give us victory in life.

How can you manifest Jesus’ righteousness to those around you? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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