Monthly Archives: February 2020

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Divine Sovereignty. IV. Bringing Perspective to Problems

“All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations” (Psalms 22:27–28; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Brooklyn Museum and Wikimedia Commons

God’s dominion extends to all nations. It extends to all people. It guides the perspective of His people. When we know God is in control and loves us, it allows us to see our circumstances from an eternal perspective.

Some of the Old Testament psalms illustrate this. Many believers read Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm. They look at all of the ways this psalm prefigures or reminds us of Jesus. However, it is also helpful to read it from King David’s perspective. When he wrote Psalm 22, he was thinking about his own difficulties and conflicts. Like many similar psalms, it begins with a negative, almost complaining tone. One could think he lost all faith in God:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalms 22:1–2).

These verses should look familiar. Jesus repeated the first line while He was dying on the cross (Matthew 27:46), and it is possible that He recited the entire psalm. Whether David was consciously prophesying the coming Messiah or not, Jesus definitely found the psalm appropriate and relevant to His circumstances while on the cross. Yet, even though it could feel like His Father had forsaken Him, Jesus did not give in to despair. He kept a perspective of faith and trust, finally committing His Spirit to His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). He looked beyond the pain, agony, and humiliation of the cross to the perfect divine will it would accomplish:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

When David wrote this psalm, he was thinking of his own problems. We do not know when he wrote it. It could have been during his youth, when King Saul was pursuing him and trying to kill him. Or, it could have been later in his life, when his son Absalom tried to overthrow the government, forcing David to flee for his life. Whatever the circumstances, at the beginning of the psalm, he felt totally abandoned by God.

God is always present and in control even when He seems to be absent. Jesus knew this, and was able to surrender His Spirit into the hands of His Father. David realized this. Even though he began the psalm by expressing doubts about God’s love and presence, he proceeded to pray from faith. He would describe his pain and the abuse he was suffering (e.g., vv. 6–8), but intersperse reminders of God’s care, power, and protection throughout (vv. 3–5, 22–31).

God had watched over David since his childhood.

“Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help” (Psalms 22:9–11).

David knew that God had protected and provided for him so far. He could still trust Him. We can still trust Him. He is always present and always in control:

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18, 20).

God preserved David. He rescued him from King Saul’s murderous plots. He restored him to the throne after Absalom had grabbed control. David would eventually die of old age.

God resurrected Jesus. Even when everything seemed finished, God raised Him from the dead.

God is in control of your circumstances too. Even when things look hopeless, He is able to restore you. Bring your complaints to God like David did. He can handle it. Be brutally honest about your feelings. At the same time, though, remember how He has helped you in the past. He is sovereign over all of your days.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Divine Sovereignty. III. Success Despite Our Failures

“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8–11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“The Flight of the Prisoners” by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Babylonian exile. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Divine sovereignty grows out of God’s unique status as the self-existent One, the ground of all being, the Creator of all. He is all-knowing, able to tell the entire story from the beginning, including events that have not taken place as though they already have. He can accomplish all of His plans and use whomever He chooses to fulfill His will.

Isaiah 46 describes God’s judgment upon the Babylonians and their gods. Even though Babylon was the world power of his day, God maintained His authority over that nation. All who rejected His laws—whether the acknowledged Him as Lord and God or not—would be deemed “transgressors.” He counted them as rebels whether they believed He was God or not, no matter how sincerely they believed in something.

A popular lie today claims that “All roads lead to God.” Many believe that God is at the top of a spiritual “mountain” with numerous paths, each one a different religion, leading to Him. This contradicts Scripture. In fact, it is contrary to most religions. I invite you to subscribe to weekly prayer alerts at Voice of the Martyrs’ https://www.icommittopray.com/ website. This ministry mobilizes people to pray for Christians throughout the world who face persecution—disowned by families, attacked by mobs, arrested, assassinated, executed, etc. The perpetrators are not only government officials. Sometimes, they are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist monks, etc. They do not see Christians as “fellow travelers climbing different roads to seek the same God.” Instead, they see Christians as a threat to be silenced and punished. These religions do not believe we are worshiping their deities. Christians should not assume they are worshiping our God under different names. Exodus 20:2, “You shall have no other gods before me,” prohibits this. Either our God is true and all other gods are false, or our God is not true. Because He is the One True God, having revealed Himself in the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, He is able to judge all creation. His sovereignty extends to all.

(I realize some people will claim Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, since “Allah” is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew “Elohim” and Arab Christians also call the biblical God “Allah.” However, the nature of the Muslim Allah is very different from the biblical God. Despite the name, they are very different beings.)

We can trust God even when He executes His judgment. He knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah’s prophecies warned of an impending Babylonian exile. In 587 BC, approximately 100 years after the prophet died, the nation of Judah was conquered by Babylon, and its leaders were taken captive into exile. One would expect that the people of Israel would cease to exist. The words “Israelite,” “Jew,” and “Israel” would slip into the archives of history, joining the Hittites and Midianites as peoples of the past. Think about it—When is the last time you met a Hittite? Do you know anybody whose DNA test says they are 25% Midianite? The same fate should have met the Jews and other Israelites.

However, God had chosen to use this superpower to discipline His people. Even though, humanly speaking, the Babylonians could have wiped Israel out of the history books, God knew the end from the beginning. He knew how things would turn out. He knew how to intervene to ensure that the Jewish nation would survive, revive, and one day fulfill their mission to be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3), which He would accomplish by sending His Son as our Savior.

He not only knows the end from the beginning. He knows us inside and out. He knows we are sinners. He knew before we were born which sins would become our greatest temptations and how we would fail. He is not shocked by our sin. No matter how horrible your sins sound to you and others, He will not scream, “You did WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? How could you do that?” (Incidentally, if your sin has a name, then somebody else committed it before you did. You have created no new sins. God has forgiven it before.)

White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson, ca. 1969. White House photo, Nixon Presidential Library via Wikimedia Commons.

Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, God can bring good and blessing out of our mistakes. Chuck Colson was a member of President Richard Nixon’s staff who was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. One could easily have assumed that his life was a failure and he would be remembered as nothing more than Nixon’s disgraced henchman. However, through his criminal trial and eventual conviction, Colson came to know Jesus Christ and started sharing his faith with fellow prisoners. After his release he continued to minister to them. He formed Prison Fellowship, a ministry sharing the love of Christ with prisoners and their families, which also touched the lives of many other Christians. His sins and eventual repentance paved the way for a life of ministry and blessing to God, His people, and countless transgressors.

Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and sold into slavery as a shepherd, which he often believed was a punishment for some sin committed in his youth. Seven years later, he escaped and returned to his family. However, during his bondage, he learned to love the Irish people and eventually returned to his land of captivity to spread the Gospel to a nation bound by idolatry and superstition. His greatest low point, his time as a shepherd, which should have destroyed his life, became God’s opportunity to use him to change a nation and history.

These were ordinary men, not comic-book superheroes. God worked through their misfortunes, mistakes, and even their rebellion to accomplish His will. Nevertheless, God’s will was not thwarted. His will cannot be thwarted in your life either. He can turn our rebellious behavior around to accomplish His will. Even when we think we have completely destroyed our lives, He can turn our circumstances around and bring good and blessing out of our lives. He will succeed in accomplishing His will. “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” He will not fail.

Let us each surrender our will and lives to the care of God, knowing that He can bless us and others with His abundant life, no matter what we have done before. He will not be defeated by our past, present, or future. He will always be in control.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Happy SAINT Valentine’s Day

From time to time, I like to share some thoughts on this blog related to a saint’s day on the traditional church calendar. So, for this day, Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few years ago, a friend posted a rant on Facebook about people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Part of his argument was that he thinks Christians should not celebrate saints’ days, because (in his opinion) it means we are giving people the worship that belongs to God alone.

I could have answered him on the subject of whether we actually worship the saints. I admire St. Patrick. I find a blessing looking at the lives of great men and women of God, seeing what I can learn about following Jesus from them, and using their lives as a means to draw closer to the Lord. But, instead, I reminded him that only about five weeks earlier, he had posted an enthusiastic post about his wife, referring to her as his “Valentine.”

He could not see the connection. Most people, including my friend, have forgotten that the day is Saint Valentine’s Day. My desk calendar refers to it simply as “Valentine’s Day.” On the other hand, it has not dropped the “saint” part from the holiday that occurs on March 17.

Sadly, much of the world has dropped saintliness from St. Patrick’s Day, even if we kept the name. A feast day to commemorate the “apostle to the Irish” became a celebration of Irish culture, which has devolved for many into an alcoholic drinking orgy with a smattering of pre-Christian paganism (leprechauns, for example): I suspect the real St. Patrick would not have liked how his name is commemorated. Patrick is forgotten in all of the shenanigans. Personally, I usually read St. Patrick’s Confession and Letter to the Servants of Coroticus and pray the Breastplate of St. Patrick on that day. (By the way, I do enjoy an Irish dinner on that day, but I usually commemorate Patrick by eating shepherd’s pie instead of corned beef and cabbage.)

We may have dropped “Saint” from Valentine’s Day. Let us not forget what the man stood for. On Valentine’s Day, most of us celebrate love. We devote extra time to our spouses or other romantic partners, along with our families and friends. We should be able to connect the God that Valentine served to our celebration:

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, ESV).

Not too much seems to be known about St. Valentine. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop who was martyred on February 14, 269. Beyond that not much is known. Some accounts claim he was executed for performing weddings for Christian couples despite laws prohibiting it. Christian biographer James Kiefer wrote:

“There are several stories making the rounds that try to explain the connection between valentines and Valentine. Every one that I have heard sounds like an explanation made up after the fact, probably by a Victorian clergyman lecturing to children. There are other explanations attempting to connect it with various pagan festivals of the early spring. Again, I am not impressed. That young men should send romantic messages in the springtime both in 90 BC and in 1990 AD does not require a conspiracy theory to explain it.”

We may know little about St. Valentine, but we can know a lot about the love of God. If Valentine was a priest or bishop, and if he died as a martyr for the faith, we can make the following assumptions: (1) He loved God and (2) his love was a sacrificial, self-surrendering love. He is also considered the patron saint of epilepsy; I have not studied why this is so, but it is a good reminder that God calls us to love those whose health problems can be a challenge not only to them, but to those around them.

Let us show God’s sacrificial love to all, not just on February 14 but every day:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV).

PS—This post is dedicated to my wife Joyce, who is my Valentine every day!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Divine Sovereignty. II. Ruler of the Nations—Whether You Like it or Not!

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated). The words are so familiar that we rarely think about what they mean. A good paraphrase may be, “May Your kingdom come and your will be done—to the same degree it is done in heaven, let it be done here on earth.” By extension, perhaps we should add, “Since I’m praying for Your kingdom to come and Your will be to be done fully on earth, let it be done in my heart and life. I’m on earth, but let Your will be done in me just like it is in heaven!”

When we speak of divine sovereignty, we acknowledge that God is King, Lord, and Ruler. We acknowledge that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). He hold all rule and authority, and that includes in our own lives.

God’s Word tells us that He rules over our lives:

“The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

This rule extends not only to individual people, but even to all nations—even those that refuse to acknowledge His authority:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
    Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne” (Psalms 47:6–8).

God is in control and He holds all authority. Are we willing to believe it, accept it, and submit to it?

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Even when we think that we are in control, God has the ultimate control. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that people often make their own plans, but God has a way of overturning them. A friend of mine used to paraphrase this verse by saying, “Man makes plans but God laughs.” I have a small mini-plaque on my desk that reads, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Much of what we call coincidence, luck, chance, etc., is really God acting behind the scenes. Sometimes, He acts in spite of our decisions. Perhaps you can recall a time when you planned to do something, but then some unexpected event kept you from completing it. I think of people I know who worked at the World Trade Center, but called in sick or missed their morning train on September 11, 2001. “Coincidence” or “luck,” in the form of illness or unexpected lateness, saved these people from the terrorist attack that day. God was in control of their fate.

Even when we choose not to follow God’s will, He has the final decision. He is not hindered by our disobedience or unbelief. Whether we are Christians or unbelievers, faithful or faithless, God is sovereign over our lives. The only differences are that those who follow Him reap the blessings of God’s rule, and those who believe in Him will recognize when He is involved in their situations.

When Psalms 47 said that “God is the King of all the earth” and “God reigns over the nations,” it did not draw a distinction between faithful and faithless nations. In the Old Testament, “the nations” usually referred to the Gentile nations who did not believe in Israel’s God, those who worshiped idols and did not follow His laws. “All the earth” covered all nations, not only the tiny Israelite region. While God was recognized as the Great King in Israel, He was also the Great King over those nations who rejected Him or never even heard of Him.

God is the King—whether you acknowledge His rule or not. God reigns over the nations—whether you obey Him or not. God’s kingdom will come, and His will shall be done, whether you want it or not. Believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and worship Him. He will be King, God, and Sovereign Ruler of your life whether you follow Him or not; but, if you follow Him, His rule will be gracious and bring blessing to your life.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God will accomplish His perfect will. Will it work together for good in your life or not? The choice to follow Him is yours to make.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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