Christians and Culture

Ascension, Visitation, Pentecost: A Pro-Life Perspective

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’” (Luke 1:39–45; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

This article is based on a homily I shared yesterday at my church’s monthly Liturgy for the Preborn outside Planned Parenthood in Hempstead, NY. On the first Saturday of every month, a group of us gather to pray for an end to abortion. The liturgy includes prayers from a funeral service, recognizing that the facility’s “medical services” include the murder of helpless preborn children.

An artist’s depiction of the visitation, ca. 1410. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This weekend’s liturgy came during a busy time on the church calendar. Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians commemorate Christ’s return to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Although many Christians overlook this date, my church believes it is important enough for all Christians to acknowledge, so we celebrate it on the following Sunday. Friday was the Feast of the Visitation, when the newly-pregnant Mary visited her relative Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). A little over one week later we will celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the first followers of Jesus and empowered them to fulfill His Great Commission. Thus, we have three feasts within ten days to honor significant events in the life of Christ and His Church.

It is easy to see the connections between Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, ascended to heaven. He brought something with Him that He did not have before coming to earth: a human body. A part of humanity now dwells in heaven. Ten days later, He sent the third person of the Trinity to dwell in and empower His disciples. Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, divinity dwells within you! You are now a partaker of the divine nature! The very life of God dwells within you.

This thought brings us to the Feast of the Visitation. Whereas this feast celebrates an event while Jesus was in the womb (before He was born), Pentecost celebrates an event after He returned to heaven. Although they occurred at opposite ends of His earthly ministry, they are intertwined. In each event, we can see the life and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people.

The first person to have a member of the Trinity dwelling within her was Mary, when she was carrying Jesus in her womb. The first person the New Testament speaks of as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is Elizabeth. This infilling is closely intertwined with the fact that her preborn son, John the Baptist—somewhere between the third and sixth months of pregnancy—is the first person to testify that Jesus is the Son of God. Somehow, when he heard Mary’s voice, he recognized the Son of God within her and leaped with such excitement that Elizabeth knew something miraculous was happening.

The Bible declares the personhood of the fetus in the mother’s womb. John the Baptist began his ministry before he was even born. The Holy Spirit was at work in him. As miraculous as that sounds, he was not the first prophet whom God called before birth. The prophet Jeremiah said,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

This is why Christians speak out against abortion. If it were merely a medical procedure, we could be silent. Some of us may dislike tattoos, but that really affects only the person receiving the tattoo; no innocent lives are lost because of them. Some medical procedures, like cosmetic surgery, may feed on the sins of pride and vanity. Yet, we remain silent, since it does not affect other lives. However, true Christians cannot be silent about murder.

Many of our “political” issues are really spiritual issues which have been hijacked by politicians and the media. Abortion is just one of many social ills that have arisen as America has rejected God and ignored the deity of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, our mission remains the same as that of John the Baptist and the apostles. We must proclaim the kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ; we must live by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who empowers us to proclaim His kingdom and continue His work; and we must reveal His presence and power until He comes again. Christ has filled us with His Holy Spirit. He lives in us as He did in Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. May we always serve Him and share His love with those around us. May it always be our goal for our lives and words to testify to the presence of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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