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Palm Sunday and Expectations

“The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:6-9).

Scene from a Passion Play in Trafalgar Square, London, UK, on Good Friday in 2010, re-enacting the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Stephen Craven – geograph.org.uk/p/1782823

Today begins Holy Week. Between now and next Sunday, churches of most denominations will commemorate Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, last Passover meal with His disciples, betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. Some churches will have extra worship services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday to emphasize each part of the biblical account of Jesus’ final days. Other churches will squeeze the entire passion narrative into the Palm Sunday service, hoping to accommodate church members who will not be able or willing to attend Holy Thursday and Good Friday services.

The entire passion narrative—the biblical account of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection—matters. It is all part of the Gospel message and, thus, is part of every Christian’s salvation testimony. We should not ignore Palm Sunday or the Last Supper to get to the crucifixion.

The sudden change of events between Palm Sunday and Good Friday is a lesson for all Christians. People can be fickle, easily tossed by the winds of popular opinion, current events, or personal circumstances. Our very faith can be shaken when we build it on a weak foundation, and we see this in the Gospels. Although some people think the biblical account describes an unrealistic change of circumstances in Jesus’ life, recent current events remind us that one’s public image can change in the twinkling of an eye.

Recently, actor/rapper Will Smith’s public image took a drastic turn. For decades, he has been a popular entertainer. He came across as a likable person. However, within a few seconds, his popularity disappeared. During the Oscar Awards show, comedian Chris Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife’s appearance. The “Fresh Prince” became enraged, ran onstage, slapped Rock, and angrily shouted and cursed at him. Since then, people who admired him lost all respect for him. I doubt Will Smith changed; it is more likely that the public saw a side of him that he had cleverly hidden from audiences. Nevertheless, within days he went from superstar to pop-culture pariah.

On Palm Sunday, the Jewish people who were in Jerusalem preparing for the Passover feast welcomed Jesus, celebrating Him as the Messiah with shouts of “Hosanna!” “Save us, Lord!” They recognized Jesus as Savior and hailed Him as their King. But five days later, they screamed “Crucify Him!” Many of the same people were in both crowds. People welcomed Him as a hero and savior on Sunday but demanded His execution on Friday morning.

Jesus had not changed. People’s perspectives did, though. Many Jewish people at the time expected a political Messiah. They thought Jesus would march into Jerusalem, cast out the oppressive Roman overlords, and establish a new Israelite empire far more glorious than the kingdoms of His ancestors, David and Solomon. Instead, Jesus chased the money-changers out of the Temple, reminded the religious leaders that the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations (even Romans!?!), and did absolutely nothing about the political situation.

Palm Sunday Church Palms Cross. Photo courtesy of MaxPixel.net under a CCO Creative Commons license.

Jesus did not fulfill their expectations. So, they decided that He must not be the Messiah they expected.

Do we make the same mistake? Do we accept Jesus on His terms, or do we set our own terms and demand that He meets them? He is the Savior, but is He the Savior that we expect and want?

Which Jesus do we worship? Do we come to a Jesus who is supposed to make us feel good about ourselves and help us to accept ourselves just as we are with no need to change? Do we honor a Jesus who winks at our own sins but is ready to pour His wrath out upon those horrible people who sin differently than we do? Do we worship a Jesus who is going to make us rich? Maybe we have an image of Jesus who will give us whiter teeth and fresh breath, making us irresistible to the opposite sex. Perhaps we want a Jesus who will adopt our socio-political agenda, get with our program, and help us establish our ideals for social change. Maybe we want Jesus to help us with the addictions that we are really ashamed about while accepting the sins that we really enjoy. Perhaps we expect Jesus to make us feel good about who we are, soothing our consciences but not expecting us to surrender our worst character defects.

Many people worship a distorted image of Jesus. It is usually a projection of our own ideals, values, and desires. We want Him to get with our program, but that will not work. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is Lord. That means we need to yield to His will, not the other way around. A distorted Jesus, based on our own wishes, will eventually disappoint us.

The true Jesus did not come to grant us three wishes. Instead, He came to do the will of His Father (John 6:38). He came to bring light to the world (John 12:46). He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). He came to give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45) and give us eternal, abundant life (John 10:10). The list goes on. He will not fail to do the things He promised in His Word. However, if we bend His Word to suit our desires, we will be disappointed. You might twist God’s Word, but you will never twist His arm.

Who is Jesus to you? Why do you worship Him? Will you continue to trust Him even when the world does not yield to your expectations and wishes?

What do you expect Jesus to do in your life? How does it line up with Scripture? Have you ever been disappointed by Him? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being God’s Instruments of Peace

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen” (a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, from The Book of Common Prayer).

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Photo courtesy of Pxfuel.com.

As Lent approaches, millions of Christians, especially in traditional churches, are pondering what they can give up during Lent. Many give up a favorite food or hobby for 40 days. Such fasts are voluntary. Christians do this to remember our Lord’s fast in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11) and His sufferings for us, as well as to reflect on our sins and remember why we need a Savior.

Meanwhile, many Ukrainian citizens face the risk of non-voluntary suffering. The Russian army has invaded their country. Civilians have taken up arms to defend their homeland. Thousands have fled the country. Millions will face a lack of food and other resources, destruction of their homes, communities, and infrastructure, and even death. Suffering is not a choice for them; they cannot just take it easy if things get uncomfortable.

Those who will receive ashes on Ash Wednesday will hear the pastor say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent reminds us of our mortality. Millions are facing it every day: not only in Ukraine but also in Congo (where some of my denomination’s churches have been attacked in recent weeks) and in countless nations where the government leaders are more concerned about their power than about the needs and rights of their citizens.

Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

As we fast, we will remember our sins. We will recall that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). We will remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). People in Ukraine are experiencing the full weight of sin now. They are suffering one of the most flagrant expressions of human sinfulness as one nation’s leaders seek to inflict death and despair upon the people of another country.

Many churches will encourage the faithful to take on a positive spiritual discipline to complement the Lenten fast. In addition to giving up cookies or coffee for 40 days, one might pray more or read more chapters in the Bible every day.

Image by Prierlechapelet from Pixabay

Perhaps we can go beyond that. Millions are crying out for peace in 2022. We want the war in Ukraine to end. We pray for peace throughout the world. We cry out for justice. We want to see a better world around us. Many Christians are praying for a spiritual revival in our churches and communities as more people turn to Jesus for salvation, healing, and hope.

We can take St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer above as our guide. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” We need to pray for peace: Few of us can make any direct impact on the situation in Kyiv at this time, but we worship a God who rules all of creation. We can bring the peace of God to our homes, families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. We can take a stand against hatred only by bringing God’s love (1 Corinthians 13) to those we meet. We can share God’s mercy and pardon with those we meet.

Over the next 40 days—and beyond—let us be the answer to our prayers. God is sending us, His children, to bring His love, forgiveness, peace, and hope to this world. That will draw us closer to Him and bring more of His blessings into our lives than any fast we may choose to make.

How can you bring God’s mercy and peace to those around you? Do you have a plan to share God’s peace in the weeks to come? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Palm Sunday: Christ Cannot Be Cancelled

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Last week, Evangel University1 in Springfield, MO, announced it will change its mascot. The athletic teams will no longer be “the Crusaders.” The university’s interim president, George O. Wood, wrote that the image contradicts the school’s mission. The name refers to medieval Christians who waged holy wars against Islam in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, often slaughtering Middle Eastern Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. Since this can offend many of the people to whom Evangel alumni minister and the crusaders’ tactics contradicted many of Jesus’ teachings, university leadership felt it was time to change.

Wood wrote, “Ultimately, this decision was made because I am convinced that our Christ-centered focus requires it. This is not a cultural response to political correctness, but simply the right thing to do.”

Figurine depictions of medieval crusaders in Plassenberg Zinnfiguren Museum, Plassenberg Castle, near Kulmbach, Germany. Photo by Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Evangel is not the first Christian organization to abandon a “crusade” name. In 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ (a college-campus ministry that played an important role early in my walk with Christ) shortened its name to Cru. While Billy Graham referred to his evangelistic events as “Crusades,” his son Franklin prefers the more celebratory term “Festivals.”

Some Evangel alumni support the decision. Others are accusing the school of surrendering to “cancel culture.” It can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between wise caution and surrender to society.

Cancel culture—a movement to ostracize and silence people and institutions that do not support liberal politically correct ideas about morality, race, etc.—has affected both sports and Christians. The Washington Redskins football team recently dropped their nickname (they are now the Washington Football Team); the Cleveland Indians will follow suit after the 2021 season. Some Native Americans felt the names promoted negative stereotypes. Being of Irish and Canadian descent, I wonder when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will drop their nickname. Will the Vancouver Canucks drop their nickname? What about the Yankees, Patriots, Braves, Chiefs, etc.? When will it end?

Perhaps some of the nicknames, mascots, and logos have negative connotations and should be replaced. On the other hand, maybe people are reading their own fears into an image.

Christians have also been “cancelled” for biblical beliefs. Celebrities, ministers, or politicians who believe in traditional heterosexual marriage or that there are only two genders face hostility or censorship in the media.

In 2021, we act surprised by these developments, but followers of Jesus have faced cancellation and censorship since before the crucifixion. The Pharisees tried to cancel Jesus for three years, eventually having Him crucified. On Palm Sunday, as Jesus’ followers shouted His praises while He entered Jerusalem, they ordered Him to silence His disciples. Jesus said, “If these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Six days later, Jesus was dead and buried, and His disciples were silent. However, on Easter Sunday, the stone that blocked the entrance to His tomb cried out by rolling away, proclaiming His glory by clearing a path as He rose and walked out of the tomb. Before long, His disciples could no longer remain silent. Seven weeks later, they began to fulfill His mission to “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Although Caesar and the Sanhedrin tried to silence them, the disciples could not help but proclaim what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Eventually, the Roman Empire fell, the Jewish nation was scattered, and the Gospel spread to every continent. Despite all opposition, the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against the church of Christ, and they never shall.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, icon from the Nativity of the Theotokos Church, Bitola, Macedonia. Photo by Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Satan will always seek to silence the Word of God. The world’s system will try to cancel it. However, God’s Word will not return void. Our mission remains the same: to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God-become-man, and His Kingdom will endure forever. He died to bring forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it. He will come again. No matter who tries to cancel us or how hard they try, we will be victorious.

Holy Week reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle. We proclaim that Jesus is Messiah and King. The world tries to silence this message, but Jesus cannot be contained, stopped, or silenced. His followers will not be silenced either. Yes, we must fight His battles, proclaiming His Gospel instead of the social and political agendas we are often more eager to choose. We must proclaim Him with the same enthusiasm as His earliest followers, who shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord! Renew and empower us by Your Holy Spirit so that we may be Your witnesses now and always.

1Evangel University was formed by a merger of Evangel College (an Assemblies of God liberal arts college, which my wife attended), the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS, where I earned my master’s degree), and Central Bible College. Since Evangel College and AGTS were separate entities when I attended, I do not have a strong emotional attachment to the Crusader mascot, but I can see where the Crusades often conflicted with Christ’s teachings and historic Christian “just war” doctrine.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about cancel culture, evangelism, etc.? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Thanking God on New Year’s Day

Twelve months ago today, I published an article entitled “2020: A Year of Vision.” Think of all the things we did not expect at that time! Even though there were minor rumblings in the media about a new coronavirus, few people anticipated how it would disrupt our lives and set the tone for the year. I usually quip about New Year’s resolutions (I often resolve to make no New Year’s resolutions, thereby ensuring success and failure at the same time), but this year I feel sorry for those who seriously resolved to work out regularly at the gym.

An Irish shillelagh. Too bad we cannot really use it to teach 2020 a lesson! Photo by Schurdl, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

As a result of the chaos, negativity reigned in popular culture and social media throughout 2020. Many people responded to the world with a new breed of sarcastic humor about current events and daily life. I recently saw a meme on Facebook that read, “On New Year’s Eve, an old Irish tradition is to open the door at midnight and let the Old Year out and the New Year in. I think 2020 deserves to have all the doors, windows, and garage door to be open.” I proposed taking it a wee bit further: I should have bought a shillelagh (an Irish walking stick that can also be used as a club) at a local Irish gift shop so I could mercilessly beat 2020 as it left. Let’s make sure 2021 sees this so that it knows we mean business!

However, on a serious note, the Bible offers a better defense against negativity, hopelessness, depression, and despair.

“{In} everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, New American Standard Bible).

Image from YouVersion Bible app.

We do not give thanks for all things but in all things. 2020 brought sorrow, frustration, and even anguish to many. As of December 31, 2020, over 350,000 Americans have died as a direct result of COVID-19. Many others died of “normal” causes this year; perhaps some of those may have survived if the healthcare system was not strained. (My last two uncles died this year of non-COVID-related medical conditions.) Businesses closed their doors for government-mandated shutdowns, never to reopen, and their employees are unemployed.

It was a difficult year, but if we look for positive things, we can find them. There is a slogan in some 12-Step programs that says, “Look for the good.” If we look for it, we will find it. Here are a few examples from my own life:

  • Readership of Darkened Glass Reflections continued to grow. This blog experienced almost a 65% growth in the number of page views over the previous year, and its five biggest months ever took place during the second half of 2020. The “Year of Vision” revealed that I should take a closer look at my writing ministry and ask God where He would like to lead it.
  • My wife and I fared well financially. Since I work for a publishing company, I was able to work full-time from home and earn my full salary while we had lower expenses. I spent a lot less money on gas, car maintenance, and other expenses that accumulate while driving to and from work every day.
  • We are healthy. My wife and I both had minor cases of COVID-19 early in the pandemic but recovered fully. While we continue to respectfully follow social-distancing guidelines and take other reasonable safety precautions, we do not live in fear.
  • We survived the initial shutdown in March and a two-week self-quarantine period after visiting Missouri in August without killing each other. Apparently, our marriage is strong enough to withstand such challenges and equips us to face crises together.
  • Jesus Christ is still King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Savior of my soul.
  • Finally, we were blessed with grandchild #4. Leo was born in May and continues to bring joy to the family and everybody else who knows him.

I share these testimonies while fully aware that some people were less fortunate. Some friends lost jobs. Others faced other hardships. Most found something positive amid the mayhem. However, most people have something to thank God for in 2020. We can find ourselves focusing so much on the negative things that we forget the good things God has done for and in us.

Photo from PxHere.

Yes, there were hard times in 2020. Problems will not disappear overnight merely because we replaced our wall calendars. The virus is still spreading. America is still deeply divided sociopolitically (probably more so than ever). Questions regarding race and justice that emerged after George Floyd’s death remain unresolved. Perhaps 2021 will bring an end to the pandemic and we can improve in the other areas. However, whatever the year may bring, let us look for the good. Let us thank God for the good things that happen in our lives and the lessons and hidden blessings that come with hardship, and let us share them with those who need a word of hope and encouragement.

Happy New Year! Let’s look forward to good things in 2021.

What can you thank God for as we begin a new year? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas: God’s Light in the Darkness

“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:2, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

2020: A year most of us will never forget; a year that will live in infamy. Many of us have encountered death. We have lost loved ones and/or mourned with friends who lost loved ones. We have faced the fear of catching a potentially fatal disease. One year ago, if we washed our hands 20 times per day, it would be considered a sign of a psychological disorder; now, it is an official public health policy. The insanity goes beyond the coronavirus, though: protests against police brutality and racial inequality exploded into violent riots and feeble attempts to create anarchist utopias; the year is ending with a disputed, controversial presidential election; and somehow, we all forgot about the murder hornets. Many of us have prayed that God would intervene (without the hornets).

Image via pixy.org

As we approached the end of the year, it seemed as if God was sending us a sign. During the last week of Advent, Jupiter and Saturn came so near to each other in the night sky that it reminded many people of the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the wise men to find Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12). Since many scholars believe the Star of Bethlehem was actually such an astronomical conjunction, the timing seemed almost prophetic.

When Jesus came into the world, people were looking for hope. Violence, death, and political corruption were rampant. A dictatorial regime ruled the known world and oppressed the Jews. People needed hope.

The names have changed, technology has exploded, but the human condition remains much the same. Perhaps “Star of Bethlehem 2020” was a sign from God. People have been reminded to look to God amid the darkness.

Christmas lights and snow outside my apartment building. Photo copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch.

Even when there are no dramatic astronomical events to grab our attention, God’s light shines. Jesus is the light of the world, and we can look to Him for light, life, healing, redemption, and hope. Christmas reminds us that God became one of us, enduring everyday human hardships, surrounding Himself with suffering, so that He could redeem us and give us eternal life.

“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9–10).

God has been with us throughout the pandemic and every other crisis of 2020, and He is not leaving us. Let us keep looking to His light to guide us through the darkness.

How have you seen God’s light in 2020? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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