Christians and Culture

 
 

Judging Judges and Judgmentalism—The Brett Kavanaugh Case as an Illustration of Matthew 7:1

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Public domain photo, from Wikimedia Commons

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed yesterday as the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, following contentious hearings involving accusations that he committed sexual assault while in high school. While Matthew 7:1 was not quoted during the divisive debates I heard, the public response to this controversy gave a clear picture of what Jesus meant.

 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the primary accuser (two more women have since accused Kavanaugh of improprieties, but they did not address the Senate) claimed that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party while in high school. These accusations were made public by Sen. Dianne Feinstein near the end of confirmation hearings. From the moment her accusations were publicized, most Americans split into two visible factions. Conservatives blasted Ford, accusing her of making up false charges and refusing to believe any of the evidence. Liberals immediately assumed Kavanaugh must be guilty of the charges. I suspect that there may have been a faction of Americans who wanted to hear all of the evidence before making a decision, but they seemed silent.

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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, the vast majority of politically concerned Americans seemed to have their minds made up before the Senate heard both parties. Each faction seemed to hear and see what they wanted to believe. When Ford described the assault, liberals saw a sincere, persuasive woman who gave a convincing account of a tragic experience; conservatives saw a bad acting job to exaggerate a pack of unfounded false accusations. When Kavanaugh responded to the charges, liberals saw an angry, stubborn man trying to cover up his guilt; conservatives saw a man of principle boldly defending his honor. Liberals saw a rapist and his wounded victim. Conservatives saw a liar and a persecuted man of integrity.

 

In all of this, the words of Jesus seem to be lost:

“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1, ESV).

5194572He goes on to reasons why we should not judge in vv. 2-5. He does not give exceptions. He does not say, “Well, I guess it’s OK to judge somebody if they hold public office, or thrust themselves into the public eye, or are a celebrity. It’s also good to judge somebody if it will advance your political agenda.”

Jesus says none of this, and I believe the Kavanaugh controversy was a good illustration of what Jesus really meant.

First, He is not saying we should not make clear statements about good and evil. The actions Dr. Ford accused Judge Kavanaugh of committing were evil, plain and simple. You do not force a woman into a sexual act against her wishes. You do not use physical force to make a woman engage in sexual activity. Those are sins.

The question was never, “Is rape or sexual assault illegal or immoral?” The question was, “Did Brett Kavanaugh actually do this?” This was where the public debate was marred. We should not make assumptions about a person’s innocence, guilt, or character to advance our own biases and desires. We the people—and Senators from both parties—should have waited to hear all of the evidence before pronouncing who was innocent and who was guilty. Several Senators declared their decision even before Ford’s claims were presented in a hearing. We would not tolerate such behavior out of a judge hearing a trial before a court; why do we defend similar behavior from our Congressional representatives?

Although Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, this controversy is not behind us. These arguments will reappear for years to come, every time a ruling passes by a 5-4 vote with Kavanaugh siding with the majority.

Likewise, the moral and ethical failure common to so many people will remain, until each of us as an individual truly commits to following the hard sayings of Jesus. It is tempting to make the jump from “That activity is wrong” to “That person must be doing something wrong, because he looks like one of those bad people I do not like.”

In many 12-step programs, there is a slogan: “Principles before personalities.” When dealing with political and social issues, I will expand that to “Principles before personalities and parties.” We must maintain godly principles. We must be eager to take a stand for truth, righteousness, and justice. As Christians, we must be diligent to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We will not succeed if we are driven by prejudices, preconceived notions, and a desire to gain victory for our side that eclipses a desire to see Christ Jesus glorified.

This post copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Choosing Life, Good, and Blessing—Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15–20).

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God calls us to bring His light, life, and love to the world. Photo by Alvinysf (Crossmap) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, which means that President Donald Trump will have the opportunity to appoint his replacement. For many observers, this is significant. Kennedy is usually considered a moderate “swing vote” on the Court. Most believe that Trump will replace him with a strong conservative, like Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch, thereby giving the Supreme Court a distinct conservative majority.

While this has been in the news, a friend asked me, “Do you think Roe vs. Wade (the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States) will be overturned?” My answer may surprise some people: I do not expect a political solution to legalized abortion in the foreseeable future. While many Christians believe there are currently four pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, only one of them has proven it in a ruling. In a ruling upholding a partial-birth abortion ban in 2007, only Clarence Thomas and the now-deceased Antonin Scalia expressed the belief that this ruling should be overturned. The other allegedly pro-life justices did not formally agree to that statement. (See the Wikipedia article about Gonzales v. Carhart for more about that ruling.) So, we may have only one truly pro-life justice right now (I am not aware of any abortion-related cases where Gorsuch has stated his opinion), and I do not think we will have more than three after Trump’s next nominee is approved.

Thus, a political solution is not likely in the near future.

A political solution would be a quick fix. If we could just get one President to support Christian moral values and have five people in black robes issue an edict for us, things would be so easy. Americans like easy, quick solutions. Why should Mom spend an hour or more cooking a healthy, nutritionally balanced dinner when countless fast-food drive-through windows will satisfy our cravings with little effort? If that seems excessive, the grocery store sells plenty of meals that can be zapped in a microwave oven in less than five minutes. We want quick/easy/painless solutions to all of our problems, and we hope somebody else will take care of them for us.

The Christian should not seek political solutions to spiritual problems. In Deuteronomy 30:19 (a popular verse at pro-life rallies), God calls His people to “choose life.” He presents two paths before us: life vs. death; good vs. evil; blessing vs. cursing. Those who walk in His ways choose life, good, and blessing. Those who rebel against Him walk in death, evil, and cursing.

The Gospel of John tells us that the light and life of God are found in Jesus: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). Thus, three of the core features of God’s nature are life, light, and love. We are called to share His life and love with those around us. We are called to be the light of the world, reflecting Jesus’ light to others (Matthew 5:14; John 8:12). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). With God as our Father, we can be witnesses for Him with our words and life.

It is not an easy solution. God calls His children to the mission of changing our world: one heart, soul, and mind at a time; one day at a time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 52 weeks per year. But, it is God’s way. He does not call upon us to wait for others to solve this world’s problems. He calls on us to change our world by living a lifestyle of life, good, blessing, light, and love.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

New Reformation or Personal Reformation

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 16:25).

This post concludes a two-part series. Please read part one first.

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King Solomon said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Those who call for a new Reformation are correct to recognize that there are problems in the Body of Christ. God’s people are perishing due to a lack of knowledge. The problems that led Hosea to make that statement thousands of years ago linger. People choose to sin. Many of those whom God has called to lead His people are neglecting their duties. Many preachers preach what they want to believe, not what they read clearly in Scripture.

Sometimes God’s people lack knowledge because they lack education. They have not read, studied, or learned enough. There is a simple solution to that. Read your Bible daily. Study the Word in-depth. Find a church that believes and preaches the Word of God, listen to the preaching and teaching, and learn.

Sometimes, though, the ignorance is more willful. Many Christians get their theology from the wrong places. They listen to preachers who are eager to tickle itching ears (see 2 Timothy 4:3). Many will reinterpret the Bible when it goes against their biases. (In part 1, I chose the two examples of hell and homosexuality because these have been two doctrines that have been frequently trampled with faulty reinterpretation and distortion of Scripture.) Others profess to be Christians but do not seek to learn what Jesus taught. They avoid the truth entirely. They learn their doctrine from Facebook memes; they are too busy following sports, music, movies, politics, and current events to take the time to read their Bibles.

Sometimes the ignorance is simply full-blown stiff-necked rebellion. People know what the Bible says. They know what it means. But, they choose not to believe or obey it.

How can we respond? First, every one of us should search our own hearts. Where do we stand? Do we trust Jesus at face value and believe what He says, or do we try to find a way around His message?

Next, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us see what we can do to correct the situation. How can we grow in the knowledge of God and His Word? How can we grow in obedience and trust in Him? What can we do to positively influence those within our sphere of influence?

As a Christian blogger, I can make a greater commitment to include in-depth teaching in my posts. I can continue to study and grow in my knowledge of God’s Word so that my life can more clearly reflect His glory and be a greater witness. When I read something in the Bible that confronts an area of sin in my life or a way that I can grow, I can accept it by faith and stop making excuses.

Perhaps the Church does not need a New Reformation. The problems within the church are problems with human nature. New church structures will not eradicate them. Rethinking theology may actually multiply them. Each of us, as individual believers in Christ, need our own personal New Reformation. We need to daily recommit ourselves to saying “yes” to God and “no” to our own preconceived notions and preferences.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

New Reformation or Right Teaching?

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4:6).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 16:25).

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Martin Luther led a Reformation in the Church 500 years ago. Do we need a new Reformation? Picture from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Is it time for a New Reformation? From time to time, a Christian preacher or teacher (perhaps claiming the authority of an apostle or prophet) will claim that the church has grown so lukewarm or apostate that we need a new reformation. They would say that, just as the Protestant Reformation (spearheaded by Martin Luther around 1517) revitalized the church, the modern church needs radical reform. A quick Google search revealed three very different reformation movements here, here, and here. There are probably numerous others. In fact, almost every new denomination grows out of a belief that the church is lacking something substantial.

The broad variety of ideas expressed by these movements reveals the very problem that creates the call for a new Reformation. These movements contradict each other on several key points. They cannot agree on the key teachings of Christianity, the main problems in contemporary Christianity, or what a “New Reformation” church will look like. This is nothing new; we currently have at least three primary branches of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, (Eastern) Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Within Protestantism, we have denominations that are as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. All of this arises from disagreements about doctrine, proper worship, church government, etc. Every branch of Christianity claims to know the truth, and they contradict one another.

A key element of Martin Luther’s Reformation was an emphasis on right teaching or doctrine. He believed the great error within the Christianity of his era was the way it chose tradition over Scripture. Although Luther never totally abandoned church tradition, he challenged his contemporaries to re-examine doctrine in the light of Scripture.

Every generation has its own heresies and false teachings. Modern American Christianity has a few that come to mind. Many of them stem from people’s desire to believe their feelings instead of the facts of the faith. We believe what makes us feel comfortable, or what makes it easy to claim a strong relationship with Christ without a radical change in our lives.

One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases? When we encounter a teaching we do not like or understand, what do we do? Do we say “yes” to Jesus, or “yes” to our own opinions? Do we believe that God knows what He is talking about, or do we assume that we know better?

Here are two examples. First, I wish the Bible did not mention hell. Universal salvation—the belief that everybody eventually goes to heaven—sounds much more comforting. I wish it was true. Otherwise, the belief in the annihilation of the soul (that people who do not go to heaven just disappear out of existence without any suffering) would sound nice. However, there is a problem: The Bible teaches that there is a hell. I cannot claim to be a Bible-believing Christian and reject the reality of hell. I cannot even hide behind the Old vs. New Testament dichotomy that applies to some other teachings. I can say I do not believe in stoning adulterers to death because that was in the Old Testament, but I cannot say the same about hell. Most of what the Bible teaches about hell is found in the New Testament (much from the very words of Jesus!), with very little in the Old.

A part of me wishes the Bible did not consider homosexuality a sin. I know some very kind, generous, friendly homosexuals. Some of them are better people than many of the Christians I know. If I had written the Bible, the passages against homosexuality would not be there. I am left with a choice: Do I accept what God says in His word, or do I accept what modern American culture says?

Do you say “yes” to God, or do you say “yes” to sin, the devil, the world, and your own desires? Whom do you choose? If there is a need for a New Reformation, it is because we choose not to obey and believe our Lord.

In the following post, we will look at the cause of this problem and what we can do to resolve it.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Parkland, FL School Shooting: An Opportunity for American Soul-Searching?

February 14, 2018 should have been a pleasant oddity. Ash Wednesday (a day to reflect on one’s mortality and to begin a season of fasting, self-examination, and soul-searching) occurred on the same day as Valentine’s Day (when we celebrate romantic love).

In the midst of this blend of somber reflection and joyous celebration, the news gave us reason for national self-examination: A young man entered his former high school in Parkland, FL and murdered 17 people. Every few months, Americans try to wrap our heads around another mass murder. We grieve yet another shooting at a school. In the words of baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again” as a sickening cycle continues. A mass shooting shocks, grieves, and angers us. Liberals say stricter gun-control laws would have kept the killer from getting weapons. Conservatives say that gun control will not solve the problem and innocent civilians need to be able to protect themselves. Arguments break out on social media and elsewhere. Politicians make pious and profound statements. But then, nothing happens, life returns to normal, and we find something new and trivial to obsess about, until it happens again.

Perhaps it is fitting that this shooting occurred on that odd date. America (especially American Christians) can use it as an opportunity for serious self-examination and soul-searching. American Christians can consider how Jesus’ great commandments—to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself—impact this issue.

Let me state from the beginning that I am not offering hard-and-fast solutions below. Much of what follows is merely food for thought. I am asking questions. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, additional questions, etc., in the comments section at the bottom of this post. (Please keep it civil: If you want to defend your Second Amendment rights, please prove that you can exercise your First Amendment rights in a mature, responsible manner! While conflicting viewpoints are welcome, comments that are vulgar, hostile, or rude will be blocked.)

As an American with conservative political leanings, I believe our nation should adhere to its Constitution. However, as a Christian, I believe the teachings of Jesus Christ must take precedence over any political party’s platform or governmental document. As a grandfather with two grandsons in elementary school, a granddaughter who will soon enter kindergarten, and a wife who works in a school setting, I find myself asking “What if this happened at one of their schools?” I can no longer defend unproven hypotheses, Facebook memes, and clichés if evidence and reason finds them lacking.

So, here are just a few thoughts on this subject:

Our society as a whole is not getting more violent, but there are more mass murders. From the mid-1960s until 1980, the homicide rate in the USA gradually increased, until it peaked at 10.1 murders per 100,000 population in 1980.1 By 2014, it was about half that amount. Even though it has increased slightly since then, it is still far below the rates we saw from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

Christians usually point to mass shootings as a sign that our society is on the decline due to various moral and spiritual deficits. Yet, it may not be that simple. Murder and violent crime are not increasing as a whole, but we are seeing more large-scale violent attacks. While the perpetrators of mass shootings are not exhibiting godly Christian character, it is a fallacy to say that society at large has become more violent. The situation seems much more complicated than most people realize.

On the other hand, American society remains more violent than comparable developed nations. According to United Nations homicide statistics, the US’s murder rate is below the global average: 4.88 as of 2015, as compared to the global average of 6.2 and a staggering 16.3 for the Americas. However, as a friend pointed out to me, this puts the US in company with many less-developed (and often politically unstable or repressive) nations like Sudan (6.45), Somali (5.56), Cuba (4.72), and North Korea (4.41). When compared with other prosperous nations with democratic traditions (the ones we think of as being more like us), we do not fare as well: Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a homicide rate of 1.68; that is even higher than Australia (0.98), the United Kingdom (0.92), New Zealand (0.91), Germany (0.85), Ireland (0.64), the Netherlands (0.61), and Japan (0.31). Even though our own homicide rate has declined over the last 37 years, we need to improve more to compare with these nations.

These numbers may bring us closer to the root of our problem. If you eliminate all gun-related murders (73% of American murders involve a gun), the US homicide rate drops to 1.32. That means that America’s non-gun-related homicide rate exceeds those of almost all of the developed nations in that list. Whether one agrees that we have a gun problem or not, we have a murder problem in America. We have a problem with violence, hatred, and sin.

I will add that many of those developed nations, with lower homicide rates than the US, also are less religious than we are. We say that a “return to God” will simply solve the problem, but majority-atheist countries are more peaceful than we are! I cannot find a justification for this in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we should take a look at the American brand of Christianity. Have we bought too heavily into the American culture, baptizing the Gospel in the waters of individualism, commercialism, and materialism? Can our adoption of such self-centered values, in the name of Christ, be contributing to the problem?

Finally, I do not believe that gun control is a cure-all for this situation. In 2012, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, I compared rankings of gun-control laws (from most lenient to strictest) with the rates of violent crimes in those states, and found that there does not seem to be a strong correlation between the two. Even if gun control can reduce the amount of violent crime, there are a host of other factors contributing to the crime rate: social, economic, political, cultural, and other influences must be acknowledged. This job is simply too big to be left only to the politicians. All areas of society (including the family and religious institutions) must play their part to make shootings like the recent one in Parkland, FL, a thing of the past.

Christians cannot afford to spout clichés or rely on simplistic responses. We cannot cling to the political partisanship that continues to divide America. Christians must ground our faith, our behavior, our beliefs, and our world view in the Word of God—not in a political party’s platform nor public-opinion polls. Jesus has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we must resist the culture of death whenever it rears its ugly head.

1In the following, “homicide rate” always refers to the average number of murders per 100,000 persons per year.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Advent, Christmas, and Parallel Universes

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Science fiction characters like Mr. Spock and Capt. Kirk may find themselves in parallel universes. Christians may feel like they are living in parallel universes during Advent and Christmas. Photo from Wikipedia.

A popular theme in science fiction is the parallel-universe story. In one example from the 1960s television series Star Trek, several crew members from the USS Enterprise are accidentally teleported onto a version of their star ship in another universe, populated by more malicious versions of the crew members (meanwhile, their duplicates from the other universe find themselves on the regular Enterprise). The two universes look identical, at first glance, but differences between the two worlds soon become apparent.

Christians can often sympathize with the person who travels between parallel universes. We seem to do it all the time. This is most obvious during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Over the next month, we will be bombarded with “holiday savings” ads, Christmas songs on the radio (ranging from “Oh Holy Night” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”), “Keep Christ in Christmas” social-networking memes, etc. Many of us feel torn between the church’s message (Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus), a secularized variation of that message (the reason for the season is family, friends, love, peace on earth, and good will towards men), and the commercialized brand of Christmas that says we have to max out our credit cards and buy tons of fruitcake to prove that we care about people.

In the coming year, I hope to devote some posts to discussion of significant dates on the church calendar. That calendar started today, with the first Sunday of Advent. The mere mention of Advent highlights the differences between the secular world’s view of Christmas and the Christian view. Yet, Advent is almost totally ignored by the world, and if Christians are easily wrapped up in a worldly brand of Christmas, we will miss the significance of the season. Without Advent, Christians will miss the reason for the season.

For one, most of us are saying that this is the “Christmas season,” but from a historic Christian perspective, that season lasts 12 days, from December 25 (Christmas Day) until January 5. We are currently in Advent. The following chart shows the flow of the 2017–18 Christmas season, from a secular and Christian perspective, to clarify the differences between the two (in each calendar, I provide an American viewpoint; I realize other nations and cultures may differ):

DATE

SECULAR CALENDAR

CHRISTIAN CALENDAR

11/23

Thanksgiving: Americans gather to eat a large feast, watch football, and kick off the “Christmas season.”

Thanksgiving: American gather to eat a large feast and give thanks to God.

11/24-26

Black Friday: The same people who previously “gave thanks” for their blessings will now go on a spending
binge at department stores. (Deals and insanity continue throughout the weekend, including “Small Business Saturday” at small local stores.)

Some radio stations will begin playing non-stop “holiday music.” Televised Christmas specials take over the airwaves and cable.

Nothing special

11/27

Cyber-Monday: Follows up on Black Friday with online shopping.

Nothing special.

11/28-12/2

Shopping, television specials, etc., continue the “Christmas season.”

Nothing.

12/3

See above.

First Sunday of Advent. A new church year begins. Christians are encouraged to begin a time of reflection as we seek a closer relationship with Christ, in anticipation of the Christmas celebration and preparation for His second coming.

12/4-12/23

Continued “Christmas celebration” as we all go into debt. By now, my ears bleed when I hear jingly bells at the beginning of a song.

Some people think the “12 Days of Christmas” begin on December 14 and end on December 25.

Advent continues. Let us continue to reflect on the meaning of the season and our need for a Saviour.

12/24

LAST CHANCE TO BUY PRESENTS. Road rage and hostility reign supreme as we rush to buy THOSE LAST FEW GIFTS.

Christmas Eve. We prepare our hearts for a deeper awareness of the presence of Jesus in our hearts.

12/25

Christmas Day: Open presents and celebrate.

Christmas Day: Also known as “Feast of the Nativity” or the “First Day of Christmas.” Open presents and celebrate. If you really want to keep Christ in Christmas, you go to church.

12/26

Well, that’s it. Christmas is over. No more blasted Christmas music. Radio stations dump Wham’s “Last Christmas” and start playing “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” again.

Second day of Christmas. Also known as the Feast of St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr).

12/27-30

No more Christmas.

Third-sixth days of Christmas. Includes a few more feast days. Still celebrating the birth of Jesus.

12/31

New Year’s Eve. Get drunk, sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Prepare to watch a shiny ball drop.

Seventh day of Christmas.

1/1

New Year’s Day. Nurse hangover.

Eight day of Christmas. Also known as the “Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus” since, as a Jewish boy, he would have been circumcised and “officially” named on the eighth day.

1/2-1/5

Nothing. Life is back to normal, until credit card statements arrive.

Ninth-twelfth days of Christmas.

1/6

Nothing special.

Feast of the Epiphany. Celebrates the coming of the wise men. Begins a new season on the church calendar.

As you may notice, there are only a few dates in that stretch where the Christian and secular “calendars” coincide at all: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. The world thinks “the Christmas season” runs from Thanksgiving until December 25. The church recognizes most of that time as Advent, beginning shortly after Thanksgiving and ending on Christmas Eve. The “12 days of Christmas” run from December 25 until January 5, although the secular world acts as though Christmas ends when midnight arrives on December 26.

So, here is the challenge for Christians, many of whom are trying to live in two parallel spiritual universes at the same time. How can I devote myself to reflection, perhaps even renewed repentance, while the world calls us to commercialism and celebration without spiritual preparation?

For those seeking to “keep Christ in Christmas,” a renewed appreciation of the meaning of Advent and the church’s rhythm of the holidays will transform the holidays. Anticipation through Advent will lead to a climax on Christmas, gradually transitioning to a new spiritual norm while the world crashes away from Christmas with more material accumulation, greater financial debt, and minimal spiritual impact.

Adventskranz 3. Advent

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

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

Categories: Christians and Culture, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Modern-Day Elijahs XI: A Nature Like Ours

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:1318, ESV).

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“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:17–18). By Spicer, William Ambrose, 1866- [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

As we come to the end of this series about Elijah, the brother of Jesus reminds us of an important fact: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” We can look at that another way: We have a nature like Elijah’s.

Sometimes, we are tempted to think the heroes of the Bible are somehow so different from us that we can never dream of accomplishing what they did. That argument may be true when speaking of Jesus, since He was God in human flesh: We Christians are human flesh with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but there is an understandable difference there. However, the other heroes of the faith were ordinary men and women. None of them were like comic-book superheroes: They did not come from a distant planet with superhuman powers, or develop such powers by being bitten by a radioactive spider, exposure to gamma radiation, etc. They were ordinary men and women who had encountered God. God worked through them. The same God lives today to work through us.

Thus, Elijah’s prayers could alter the weather pattern over Israel for three-and-a-half years. The same God who heard Elijah’s prayers is alive today. If He could bring drought or downpour in response to the prophet’s petitions, He can and will answer your prayers for healing, deliverance, restoration, forgiveness, provision, etc. A modern-day Elijah will expect God to act in response to our prayers, or to accomplish whatever He said He would do. The faith of an Elijah recognizes God as a living, active, all-powerful Sovereign over all creation, not as an abstract concept confined within the covers of a book.

Elijah’s life and ministry can be summed up in four activities: He prayed; he listened; he proclaimed; and he obeyed. Almost everything he did in the Bible can be summarized by those four activities. His prayers were not a monologue, reciting a personal wish list to a galactic Santa Claus. Instead, they were a dialogue: He told God what was on his mind (especially during the Mount Horeb meeting, when he complained about his woes), but he also heard what God wanted to tell him. Upon hearing from God, he would proclaim His message to those who needed to hear it (especially those who did not want to hear it), and he would do what God told him to do. Sometimes God told him to hide; sometimes He told him to step out and confront the powerbrokers in society; on another occasion He called Elijah to a meeting on a distant mountain, or to bring other people into the ministry. Whatever Elijah did, though, was connected to his relationship with God. He prayed to God; he listened to God’s instruction; he proclaimed God’s message to the people; and he obeyed God’s instructions for his life.

These are the marks of a man or woman who is eager to impact the world for the glory of God. Our society needs modern-day Elijahs, just like Israel needed a man of his stature 3000 years ago. Twenty-first century America is a post-Christian society where values and morals are guided by pagan beliefs, commercialism, materialism, and unbridled hormones. The Christian, guided by the Word of God, the teachings of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit is a counter-cultural outsider in modern society. Many believers pray for revival in America, but then seek to obtain it through political activism, commercialized church programs, or other means. Only by pursuing revival God’s way—the way He worked through Elijah—will we see a continuing move of God in our world.

Take heart, though. Jesus said that the gates of hell (or Washington, DC; or CNN; or Hollywood; or ISIS; etc.) will not stand against His church (Matthew 16:18). The same God who worked through Elijah to keep His name and worship alive in ancient Israel will continue to manifest His name in America and throughout the world. As He preserved 7000 faithful persons who did not kneel to Ba’al, He will preserve a remnant who will continue to follow Him faithfully today. The questions we must each ask ourselves are, “Will I be part of that radical remnant doing God’s will? Will God speak and work through me? Will I be a modern-day Elijah, or will I stand on the fringes of God’s kingdom, as a spectator watching His glory manifested and people come to Christ while having no direct impact?” The opportunity to say “Yes” is available to all who are born of the Spirit through faith in Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Elijahs X: Elijah, John the Baptist, and You and Me

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:19–27, ESV).

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:11–14, ESV)

john-the-baptist-by-tiffany

Stained glass picture of John the Baptist, by John Stephen Dwyer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout this series, I have spoken of men and women of God who shared in the “Elijah spirit.” The first to earn this status was his protegé, Elisha, who received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit when he was taken into heaven. Elisha would continue Elijah’s prophetic ministry after him. While the Old Testament speaks of many prophets after them, none shared Elisha’s close association with Elijah.

Then, John the Baptist came. In the last book written in the Old Testament, Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). This inspired a spirit of expectancy among the Jewish people. By Jesus’ time, they were eagerly awaiting the coming of Elijah, since they though that would signal the coming of a Messiah who would put the Romans in their place. So, when John the Baptist rose to prominence, the logical question in their minds was, “Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Are you the Messiah? Who are you?”

John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah. Yet, Jesus said he was. This seems like a contradiction, but it is really two sides of the truth. The two men were essentially answering different questions about John the Baptist’s connection with Elijah.

John was essentially saying, “No, I have never been taken into heaven in a whirlwind by chariots of fire and angels. I have not descended miraculously from heaven. I am an ordinary man, who was born about 30 years ago by natural means to normal parents.” The religious leaders were wondering if John the Baptist was Elijah according to their expectations. “No,” he said, “I’m not what you are expecting.”

In Jesus’ mind, though, John the Baptist walked in the Elijah spirit more than any man who ever lived. As far as He was concerned, John the Baptist fulfilled that prophecy exactly as God intended. He was the forerunner, sent to proclaim the coming of the “great and awesome day of the Lord.”

How did John the Baptist manifest the Elijah spirit? More specifically, how can we, like John, manifest that spirit?

First, John the Baptist preached a message of repentance. Much as Elijah called the people of Israel back to the worship of the true God and away from idols, John the Baptist called the people of his day to obey the revealed will of God in all areas of their lives (Luke 3:7–14). This is also the message that we are called to proclaim. The Gospel of salvation is a message that calls people to turn from an old life of sin to a new, abundant life.

Second, John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus, just like Elijah pointed people to worship the one true God. Neither man sought his own glory. In fact, at the height of John’s popularity, he would tell his disciples, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Likewise, we are called to point people to Jesus—not to our denomination or organization, to another man, to a system of thought, or to ourselves.

Third, both men were engaged in spiritual warfare against the forces of wickedness. Both took their lumps for the kingdom of God because they took a stand against the kingdoms of this world. Elijah’s shining moment was the battle on Mount Carmel, but he spent most of his career taking a stand against an idolatrous king and queen. John the Baptist would lose his head because he had the boldness to say that even the earthly king was subject to the demands of God Almighty.

The man or woman of God in 2018 must be bold to take a stand against the world’s system. Sadly, I think most American Christians are as devoted to a political party or ideology as they are to Jesus. We will overlook, and even justify, the sins of our favorite politician. Instead, we should be bold to look to Jesus as the answer to our world’s problems.

Elijah is considered one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Though his story appears in the New Testament, John the Baptist was the last great prophet of the Old Covenant. He stood as the forerunner of Christ’s ministry. Today, as we follow Christ, we have the legacy of Elijah and John the Baptist.

Luke 1:15 tells us that John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” When we speak of the “Elijah spirit,” it is simply the spirit that empowered Elijah to accomplish his ministry. That spirit is, in fact, the Holy Spirit of God who empowered Elijah and Elisha, filled John the Baptist, and fills and dwells in all who have received Jesus Christ as Lord. The Christian already has the Holy Spirit—the “Elijah spirit”—dwelling within him or her. Are we ready to walk in that Spirit? Are we ready to let every person we meet, and indeed every angel and demon, see that the spirit of God is at work in us?

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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Modern-Day Elijahs IX: Fathers and Families

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:56, ESV).

Elijah

By 18 century icon painter (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Elijah ascended into heaven, but his legacy remains. Few biblical prophets share his prominence. Although he did not write any of the books of the Bible, he is considered one of the greatest prophets in Judaism. Only Moses holds higher esteem. When Jesus was transfigured, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him (Matthew 17:1–8).

Part of the reason I called this series “Modern-Day Elijahs” is because God is still seeking men and women to share the “Elijah spirit.” As we will see in the last two articles in this series, the Elijah spirit would reappear in John the Baptist. Yet, all Christians can share the Elijah spirit; James 5:17 shows that all Christians can share Elijah’s prayer power, since he was a “man with a nature like ours.”

Many students of end-time prophecy believe Elijah will return during the great tribulation before Christ returns. They believe he and Moses are the two witnesses in Revelation 11, mainly because the miraculous powers listed in that chapter are similar to theirs. The fact that they have power to shut the sky to prohibit rain (Revelation 11:6) points to some connection with Elijah.

So, do we need the Elijah spirit today? Yes! Malachi 4:56 points out a major area where restoration is needed. This especially relates to Christianity in America.

“He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

We continue to see a radical breakdown of the biblical pattern for family, and Christians are often as guilty as the rest of society. Here are a few examples of this trend:

Let me emphasize that the final point refers to a general trend: Most single parents are doing the best they can. Many do a great job raising their children, and in some cases the children benefit (especially if one parent was abusive). Also, some people who grew up in seemingly healthy two-parent households end up making bad choices leading to addiction, crime, etc. Nevertheless, the statistics point to some disturbing cultural trends. A restoration of a biblical emphasis on family is necessary.

It is no accident that the Old Testament ends with a promise that Elijah will restore the relationship of fathers and children. Our society needs this restoration: Churches should empower fathers to take a more active role in raising their children. When a father is not present in the home, mature men of God can assume a greater role as mentors and role models. The decline of the family will affect society for generations to follow. Strong men of God should do their part to restore the family as the basic foundation of society.

In his time, Elijah stood up against the greatest sin in his culture: idolatry, from which numerous other evils sprang forth. The modern-day Elijah will have to stand against the modern-day idol of selfishness, which lies at the root of much of the family breakdown. It will require the moral courage of an Elijah, willing to stand even when he feels alone in the world; bold to defy the dominion of darkness that speaks through the voices of politicians, media, entertainment, etc. Without bold men and women of God, though, the future of the nation and society can be very grim.

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Current events, Family, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the World, Not of It (Revisited)

This month, I am reposting a few favorite articles from the past. This article was originally published on July 25, 2015.

In a recent post, I shared my thoughts about how Christians should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing gay marriage. This ruling reflected the state of our society: we cannot consider America a “Christian nation” at this time. Likewise, our response to the ruling should be a reflection of our faith. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor the Church’s response, occurs in a vacuum.

Christians should not be surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Neither should we be surprised that a growing majority of Americans have come to favor legalizing same-sex marriage in recent years and, as a corollary, have come to view pro-traditional-family Christians as bigoted, hateful homophobes. Jesus warned us that Christians would always find themselves as “outsiders” in the world:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:13-22, NASB).

Most American evangelicals have lived comfortably in a society that has been at least courteous to, and at times even supportive of, our faith. However, as the above passage and countless other Bible verses show, Christians should not really be surprised that society is growing increasingly hostile towards us. We should be surprised that we have enjoyed a somewhat favorable status in American society for so long. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them.

As the world’s hostility becomes more visible, how should Christians respond?

First, I would urge Christians to begin reading the Bible from a different perspective. We have grown accustomed to reading the Bible as if it were written to people with a socio-cultural experience similar to our own. We imagine Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of working-class guys—like the working-class guys we know from our jobs. However, American comforts would have been foreign to them. When Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” they probably took it literally: Pray for food for the day. They did not think long-term, budgeting a two-week paycheck so that you can buy several weeks worth of groceries and make your car payment. Their idea of “prosperity” was probably having leftovers after dinner. The so-called gospel proclaimed by some preachers—those who claim that faith in God will bring us health, wealth, success, and comfort—would seem odd to the first Christians. To them, faith meant that you would still call yourself a Christian and believe you had eternity with Jesus as the executioner’s sword was coming toward your throat.

The Bible was written primarily to oppressed people. The Old Testament was written to a small country, which was frequently threatened by the great empires of its day. The New Testament was written to members of a fledgling religious sect, considered extremist by many and treasonous (after all, they claimed that Jesus was their King) by the government. Their neighbors probably thought the early Christians were as odd as the Amish, as wacky as the Heaven’s Gate flying-saucer cult, and perhaps as dangerous to society as an Islamic terrorist organization.

As you read the Bible, take time to remember that Jesus is speaking to “outsiders.” Paul is writing to people who may have to sneak to church (the church in Ephesus did not run newspaper ads), whereas we casually arrive, carrying our big Bibles for all to see.

The Bible is speaking to people who hear the word temptation and think, “The Romans might threaten to throw me into an arena with lions if I say ‘Jesus is Lord.'” They probably did not equate “temptation” with an ice cream sundae.

We need to repent of a world view guided by the secular culture:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

Scripture should renew our minds, transforming us so that we may no longer be conformed to this world. Many Christians are shocked when the Supreme Court determines that marriage should be defined by whatever makes some people happy. Yet, how many Christians base their life choices on personal happiness instead of the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God? How often do we try to “baptize” sinful attitudes (pride, self-righteousness, greed) and try to make them seem spiritual?

Perhaps more can be written on this topic. I expect that future posts will be written from this perspective, as it has begun to shape how I read Scripture during my daily devotions.

I will conclude by saying that the standard American brand of Christianity will not be adequate to stand against the most recent onslaughts against our faith. We need to reclaim the faith that recognizes that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

[PS: In my previous post, I proposed that the church should “eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body).” I would like to clarify that this was not intended as approval of redefinition of marriage. Rather, it should be seen as more of an example of resistance against the ruling: Christians and other religious groups should never have allowed the secular government to define marriage for us, and we have reached a point where a state-issued marriage license no longer means what true Christian churches mean when we speak of “marriage.”]

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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