Current events

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 Balanced Christian Response to Coronavirus

The previous post looked at some of our responses to Covid-19 and the resulting isolation it created. In the midst of the humor, there are some grim facts to face. As of April 12, 2020, at 2:07 AM GMT, there were 1,780,312 confirmed cases of the disease worldwide, according to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. The United States has the most cases by far (532,879). Over one-third of America’s cases, and more than one-tenth of the confirmed global cases, are in New York State (161,504), and Nassau County, where I live, is currently the hardest-hit area. The official worldwide mortality rate (total deaths per 100 confirmed cases) is over 6% (108,827 deaths), while the mortality rate in the USA is approaching 4% (20,577 deaths). Both percentages will probably be even higher, since the number of confirmed cases includes people who currently have the disease, some of whom will die before all is said and done. In addition, some deaths may not be counted in this tally if the person was not diagnosed while alive, and many more people may be dying from other illnesses, either due to the strain on the healthcare system or sick people’s inability or unwillingness to obtain medical attention. The number of deaths at home has increased by about 200 per day in New York City during the Covid-19 crisis, some of whom may have had undiagnosed cases of the disease, while others did not get the care they needed for other life-threatening conditions.

Such numbers can seem cold and meaningless. It can hit home more clearly when we make it personal. Some experts claimed that Covid-19 would infect 50-70% of the population within a very short period of time without social isolation measures. So, imagine the 100 people you care most about: family, friends, co-workers, etc. Imagine if 70 of them caught this disease. Now, imagine if three or four of them die of it. Imagine that one or two other friends or loved ones do not get the care they need.

A lot of the complaints about social distancing do not consider that. Yes, it is a colossal inconvenience. People have been laid off or even lost jobs. People are going stir-crazy sitting around the house all day. This may set a precedent for future government intervention over a health threat. We should all hope our elected officials do not decide to seek such drastic measures during the next seasonal flu outbreak.

We need to consider all of these factors. We should walk in faith and wisdom, not in fear or carelessness.

We cannot take Covid-19 lightly. The mortality rate in America is high. People are dying, and we cannot ignore that fact.

On the other hand, we should not live in fear, especially as Christians. If I have to step outside, I bring a mask in case I am near other people, and I wash my hands frequently, keeping hand sanitizer with me always. Beyond that, I pray. I ask for the Lord to protect me and those close to me. I have a pretty strong immune system and will probably recover fairly quickly if I do catch the disease, but I do not want to pass it on to others who are less healthy.

Especially as Christians, we need that perspective. We serve a God who humbled Himself, sacrificing His very life for us. Are we willing to sacrifice a brief period of our lives and some comfort and convenience for others? For those of us who consider ourselves to be pro-life Christians, protecting the well-being of others should always be a priority.

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

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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

The Christian’s Mission in a Time of Social Distancing

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1–5; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

Images of coronavirus. From https://www.scientificanimations.com via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons copyright.

It seems ironic that most Americans spent the second half of Lent in self-isolation due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic spreading across the country and around the world. At a time when the church has historically called believers to a season of contemplation and self-examination, many of the other things that occupy our attention—movies, sports, social activities, and even work for many of us—have been stripped away.

However, it was also predictable that, sooner or later, somebody would use this tragedy as an opportunity to proclaim the wrath of God. As with any major disaster, self-proclaimed prophets step forward to tell us that Covid-19 is an “act of God” to judge sin.

Let us be careful there. I personally know only a handful of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 so far. Most of them are committed Christians. My wife has a college friend who, for several weeks, was fighting for his life before beginning to slowly recover. He is a missionary. If God is trying to judge sin, it sounds like He is confused and keeps missing His targets.

Such attempts to pronounce God’s wrath have a terrible habit of backfiring. I saw a headline about an Israeli politician who claimed God sent the disease to judge homosexuals; he has now contracted the disease. Several years ago, one church pronounced that God is judging America because of homosexuality by sending a devastating tornado to Joplin, MO. At the time, I proposed that this must have meant that He could not figure out how to smite both San Francisco and Greenwich Village at the same time, so He just picked a place about halfway between them. Similar claims were made about Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and other natural disasters.

By the “God’s judgment” logic, people with Covid-19 are worse or more evil than those who do not catch it. Perhaps those people who die from it must be in hell. The only other rational conclusion from this logic is that God is an unjust buffoon unworthy of our worship. This is pure nonsense.

Godly Christian wisdom and the love of Christ should prohibit us from making such proclamations. No matter how customary it has become in Christian circles to try to connect current events with end-time prophecy or God’s judgment, this is not our job. The Christian’s calling is not to proclaim God’s wrath but to reveal His mercy.

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:6–8).

Like many Christians in Bible study groups today, the disciples asked the Risen Christ a question that could be rephrased as, “How does all of this tie in with the end times? Is God going to finally judge the Romans?” Jesus’ response was essentially, “That is not your business. Don’t worry about it. Your job is to preach the Gospel.” Around that time, He gave this instruction:

“Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:44–49).

This was their mission. As we conclude Lent, celebrate Easter, and continue to face the challenges posed by Covid-19, our mission as Christians is the following:

  1. To continue in self-examination: Instead of seeing God’s hand of wrath in Covid-19, I am more inclined to take notice that God allowed this to happen in America during Lent. Many of us were cloistered in our homes. Even most essential workers who continued to go to work 40 hours a week were forced to spend more time at home than normal. This was a prime time to devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, a personal moral inventory, etc. Did we do that? Did we spend more time with God, or more time with Facebook and Netflix?
  2. To proclaim the Gospel: That Gospel is summarized by Jesus in Luke 24:44–49. He has died and risen from the dead. We proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations in His name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we were on Facebook, did we share this Gospel, or did we try to find somebody to blame for this disease (perhaps an entire ethnic or racial group)?
  3. To serve others in whatever ways we can: If you are able to go to a store, have you purchased or delivered food or other essentials to people who are unable to leave their homes? Have you called friends or family who could be in need to make sure they are okay? When there is a natural disaster, epidemic, or pandemic, we must commit to serving those who are afflicted; we do not have the right or authority to judge them or analyze what God is doing to them. Perhaps there is little you can do at this time. If you cannot serve others right now, it is a good time to ask God, “How can I help others when life begins to return to normal?”

It is not wise to try to figure out where God is whenever misfortune strikes. Instead, we should make sure that we remain in the center of God’s will, no matter what the circumstances are. Our mission is simple: To proclaim the Gospel at all times and to use words when necessary. Those words should be words of grace. In a world where people are living with fear and anxiety, words of judgment and condemnation bring no relief. Those who are bound by fear need to know that there is a God who loves them even when the entire world seems to have turned against them.

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

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

Holy Week and Social Distance

Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.

Easter is one of the two biggest days of the year for attendance in most churches, and many churches normally have several special services in the week leading up to it. Palm Sunday can be particularly festive: church members receive palm branches, which we wave in celebration, perhaps singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” My church has a special service on Holy Wednesday, called Tenebrae. Then, there is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday in some churches, when we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of holy communion. My church has two services on Good Friday, including a three-hour afternoon service where four members share personal testimonies of “What the Cross Means to Me” and we reflect on how Jesus took our sins upon Himself by dying for us. The week’s worship can be very intense, ranging from celebratory and joyful to somber and repentant to reflective and meditative.

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Then comes Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration in most churches. While every Sunday should be a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (indeed, every day should be), Easter is especially glorious. Some people come to church only twice per year, on Christmas and Easter. My church can be standing-room-only on Easter.

However, this year will be different. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled services throughout the country. Here in the New York City metropolitan area, “ground zero” of the outbreak in America, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently prohibited. Instead of a packed house, our pastor and a small group of worship leaders will have a service with no congregation, to be streamed online for those who choose to watch. It will be one of the few churches on Long Island to provide communion: congregants will drive up to the front of the church to receive the bread and a blessing. We will also receive our palms with communion today, and will also live-stream the other Holy Week services. Our church includes a foot-washing ceremony as part of the Maundy Thursday evening service: I am not sure how that will play out online!

Many churches are live-streaming their worship services like we are, but few are offering communion. Some churches may find it difficult to minister to their people at all.

Holy Week will have a big hole in it without corporate worship. I feel like an online video worship service with curbside communion is better than nothing, but it is not the full worship experience. There is something about being in the church, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting in praise and worship, especially when some of us are going through hard times and need to be surrounded by friends.

While many of us are used to speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus, social distancing reminds us that it really is more of a familial relationship with God. My relationship with God is not separated from others’ relationships with Him. While it is true that we can worship God alone, there is an added benefit when we worship Him with the rest of the family of God.

We need each other. We inspire each other. We challenge each other. We pray for each other. In spite of our differences, and sometimes especially because of those differences, we gain a blessing through corporate worship.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The biblical account of Jesus’ last week reminds us that humans are social beings. We live, worship, eat, and survive in a group. Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples. He cleared the money changers from the temple as His disciples looked on. He spent almost every moment of His final week with those 12 men, including that Last Supper. Perhaps a particularly painful part of His crucifixion was that fact that He died almost alone. One disciple betrayed Him, one denied knowing Him, and most of the rest scattered into hiding and left Him alone. Only His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John stayed with Him until the end.

Jesus’ last week also reminds us that we can be powerfully influenced by our social group, for good or ill. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Five days later, the crowd would change its tune and shout, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22-23). We can only wonder how many people were in both crowds, inspired by the disciples on Sunday but swayed in the opposite direction by the chief priests and Pharisees on Friday. We think of peer pressure as a problem that affects only young people, but all of us can be affected by those around us, for good or ill.

As we approach Holy Week altered by social distancing, we must each decide how we will remain connected to the Body of Christ. Perhaps you can call a friend on the phone or set up a Skype session so that you can encourage one another during this stressful time and pray together. Some people are using Zoom or other online apps to gather a group virtually. Social distancing may force us to adapt how we fellowship, but it does not have to force us into spiritual and emotional isolation. It may change how we worship during Holy Week, but it does not have to keep us from worshiping God at a time when we really need Him most.

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




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

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