Christians and Culture

Chaos and Pentecost: A Christian Response to George Floyd’s Murder and the Public Outcry

Yesterday afternoon, two astronauts lifted off in a SpaceX rocket, the world’s first commercially-operated spacecraft, for a trip to the International Space Station. Today, I continue to quote the words of an old Randy Stonehill song: “Stop the world, I want to get off.”

The last few weeks have been an emotional whirlwind. On a personal level, my family has mourned the death of my uncle, who succumbed to cancer about two weeks ago, about 25 years after he was first diagnosed. We have also celebrated the birth of my fourth grandchild. There have been other ups-and-downs in our lives recently. It has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

But then, there is the global scene. Probably most Americans are riding through a cultural house of horrors. Our lives have been upended for about two months by the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to slow the disease’s spread. Now, as things are settling down and communities are starting to return to normal, we hear of an all-too-familiar tragedy: an unarmed African American man named George Floyd died while being arrested by a white police officer, who restrained him by forcing his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck. For a few days, the vast majority of Americans spoke out against Derek Chauvin’s actions, mourning Floyd, who was being arrested for allegedly buying merchandise with a counterfeit $20 bill. (Take note of the charge: Floyd died over a small amount of money, and we may never know if he even knew the bill was counterfeit.)

The news over the last few days has shown horrific footage of riots, including people setting fire to police vehicles and buildings, looting stores, etc. What started as protests to demand justice for Floyd’s murderer has been overtaken by rioting, thuggery, and insurrection. On the third day of rioting, an African American federal security officer was murdered in a riot-related shooting. Apparently some people think “Black Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter,” and “All Lives Matter” cannot all be true. This is no longer about justice or the value of human life.

This travesty occurs while Christians should be celebrating Pentecost. On the fiftieth day since we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It should be a time to remember the fact that Jesus sent His disciples to preach salvation to all nations:

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).

This Gospel should create unity, removing cultural and ethnic boundaries of hostility. For Jesus’ first disciples, the clash between Jews and Gentiles was huge, perhaps as serious as the conflicts between Americans of different racial backgrounds. One outgrowth of the Gospel was to tear down those boundaries:

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household…” (Ephesians 2:14-19).

Christians need to recognize that the horrific images splattering across our television scenes are visible reflections of the spiritual state of our society. When we look at the news reports, what do we see? Racism; hatred; vengeance; greed (nobody sincerely makes a statement about police brutality by stealing a flat-screen TV from a ransacked electronics store). Much of what we see in the media reports should remind us of those sinful attitudes which St. Paul referred to as “deeds of the flesh”:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

I highlighted a few terms that seem especially apparent in this case. As I mentioned in an earlier post, “idolatry” can refer to greed, covetousness, or putting things before God. Some of the other highlighted sins can be seen on both sides of the cultural debate. While most Americans agreed a few days ago that Officer Chauvin committed a crime and should be published, Americans are now arguing: Some blame Democrats who govern in the riot-riddled cities and states; others blame President Trump and his policies; others blame institutional racism by white people; others blame African American leaders. Many Christians are tempted to rationalize their political stance even when it conflicts with Scripture.

The blame, violence, and hostility will not bring healing to our nation or justice for Floyd’s death. The only true antidotes are the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christians must remember Pentecost as we see tongues of fire engulfing our cities. The earliest Christians shook the world with the power of the Gospel and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Having come through their own whirlwind (the Triumphal Entry, Last Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension), they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and immediately began preaching the Gospel. The Church has always had its greatest impact when it relied on spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles.

The Holy Spirit has torn down the barriers which divide us. As Christians, it is our responsibility to step across the demolished barriers and share the love, mercy, and righteousness of God with a sin-sick world. We have the weapons to conquer hate and bigotry. Let us use them while we share the good news of salvation with people of all nations.

Please share your thoughts about the recent events by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below and letting me know what you think.

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

[If you do not have a place to worship, you may visit Cathedral Church of the Intercessor at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Holidays, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Look Back at Lent: Coronavirus and Perspective

A recent post on this blog said “Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.” After several years of attending at least two church services between Holy Wednesday and Good Friday, in addition to Easter Sunday, this year’s church activity was reduced to watching live-streamed or taped services for my church, followed by drive-up curbside communion on Sunday morning. Most Americans—indeed, people in many countries—have been through a strange few weeks. The last few weeks have given us a most unusual Lent.

Americans have been urged to follow the above advice for most of Lent. Christians can use it as an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord. Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Many Christians give something up for Lent, perhaps a favorite food or activity. I usually give up donuts, cakes, and pastries. However, beginning on March 16, my company’s CEO told us to give up coming into the office; we would work from home until further notice. Within a few days, President Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered and/or advised all citizens to take more strict measures to stay at home. I have started to joke that I could have given up wearing pants instead of eating donuts. (I realize that is not practical. Apparently, most businesses that sell donuts expect you to be fully clothed.)

Many people have used humor to cope with the anxiety caused by Covid-19 and social distancing. If you are on Facebook, your news feed probably contains a medley of memes joking about the situation interspersed with politically-oriented rants about whom to blame, fears and worries about possible exposure, prayer requests for those battling the disease, etc. I admit that I have joined in sharing some of the amusing memes. However, I feel for those who have lost jobs or loved ones or are battling illness.

It can be easy to give in to fear, paranoia, panic, and worry. Satan loves to fill our hearts with anxiety. Humor gives us a chance to remind ourselves that there is something positive even in the worst moments. It also allows our minds a few moments of escape from the fear. There is a famous, albeit controversial, scene at the end of the movie Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The film is a spoof of Bible-based about a man named Brian, who was born next door to Jesus on the same day, who throughout his life is mistaken for the Messiah. At the end of the movie, while Brian is being crucified, the man hanging next to him breaks into a perky, upbeat song entitled “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Optimists will find something positive in any situation. I tend to see the ironic, the absurd, or the silly in almost everything I see, which is usually my best defense against seeing every setback as a catastrophe. Recently, after using a bandana in lieu of a face mask while buying food, I posted on Facebook that “I never thought I would see the day that I would wear a bandana over my face in a convenience store!” The humorous irony, that this protective measure would have been considered an armed robber’s modus operandi just a few weeks ago, makes it a bit easier for me to accept this inconvenience.

While seeking comic relief, perhaps we could also have used our season of isolation as a time for reflection. I believe it is no accident that many of us were quarantining ourselves during a season when the Church invites us to contemplation and self-examination. We have had an opportunity to examine ourselves. Have we done that successfully? Has our perspective on Covid-19 been guided by Christian faith and a biblical worldview, or has it been guided by personal biases, selfishness, fear, anger, etc.?

We hope and pray that the spread of the virus will slow down soon and people can return to work and other activities that have been canceled. In the meantime, let us use this season of solitude as a chance to examine ourselves and renew our faith and devotion to Jesus. Lent is over; Covid-19 is still here. Jesus is still on the throne, and we still have time to seek Him and use this time as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Him.

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

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

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

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