Current events

 
 

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).

lightoftheworld1

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.

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Celebrating Freedom (Revisited)

(The following was originally published online in May 2011 in honor of Memorial Day. As we celebrate today, let us remember why we celebrate and, more importantly, the true meaning of freedom.)

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Image via Wikipedia

May ends with a holiday which many of us take too lightly. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as “the unofficial beginning of summer.” Many people view the last Monday in May as little more than a great day to go to the beach, host a barbecue, shop at department store sales, and so on. For many, it is just an extra day off. Like many holidays, we treat it frivolously by giving little thought to its significance. It might be helpful to consider its true significance for Americans. That will also allow us to reflect on some matters of significance to Christians.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. That day was set aside to place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Since World War I, the holiday has been consecrated to honor all who have died in the American armed forces during all of our military conflicts. We should remember that many of these were young men, many of whom never had the opportunity to start families and embark on adult civilian life. While some soldiers were drafted, many volunteered for military service, acknowledging the dangers they would face.

Whatever one may think of the decisions our nation’s leaders make about the military, I cannot criticize the character of our troops. They know it is a dangerous job, but they still consider it worthwhile. They will tell you that they are serving to defend our freedoms or protect our people. They believe it is worth dying for. They believe in committing their lives to a cause and making sacrifices. Someone has said that if you don’t have something to die for, you really do not have much to live for. The soldier’s courage should be an example to all of us.

In a sense, we insult these men, both the veterans who survived the battles and those who died, when we reduce Memorial Day to a day for sales and beginning summertime leisure activities. Even worse, we degrade everything it stands for. By giving more attention to surf and sales than to freedom and sacrifice, we desecrate the blood of our fallen soldiers. This is especially true when we distort the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Most Americans seem to believe that “freedom” means “the right to do whatever you want.” Our nation’s first “freedom fighters,” the men who wrote our Constitution, enshrined in our founding documents the First Amendment. This clause gives us the right to speak our minds, even if our ideas are unpopular, controversial, or harshly critical of our nation’s leaders. It allows us to hold religious views that fall outside the mainstream. I have referred to the First Amendment as “the right to be wrong,” or “the right to make yourself look and sound like a jackass.” Thankfully, it is, more importantly, the right to cling to Truth when everybody around you swallows a lie.

However, this form of liberty can be abused as well. We have freedom of speech, even though it is often abused by those who use it to sell pornography or other vulgar entertainment material. While earlier generations realized that freedom and responsibility walked together, most Americans today seem to believe freedom is more important than morality, ethics, or righteousness, and that such libertinism is more sacred than serving God.

This year, Memorial Day falls about five weeks after Easter, during the season when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the death. It is quite fitting that Memorial Day usually falls at such a time of year. The United States has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument honoring all those anonymous men who gave their lives for our nation. Likewise, Christianity has an empty tomb. As many soldiers have given their lives for our nation, Jesus Christ gave his life for all mankind to set us free from sin, hell, and divine judgment. Few of us give much thought to the fact that our greatest freedom was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. We gladly accept his priceless gift, talk about how it is free for us, and take it for granted. We might say a quick prayer or spend an hour in church every week, but then we ignore the One who gave his life for us.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…. Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32–36, NASB). It is true that our nation was established to seek liberty from tyranny. Yet, we need to remember that the worst tyrant in the universe is Satan, and his cruelest chains are forged with links of sin. Some people believe that following Jesus is a form of bondage. However, as St. Augustine wrote in On the Free Choice of the Will, “This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin.” True freedom is found in submission to the truth. True slavery is found when we loose ourselves from our bonds to our Creator and clamp the chains of sin around our wrists.

Saint Paul adds, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on in that chapter to point out the things that Christ frees us from: the Law (including the righteous wrath of God when we fail to live up its perfect standards) which has been superseded by the forgiveness we receive through the cross of Christ; and sin, which is superseded when we live by the greater law of love (see Luke 10:27–28).

Let every day be a day to remember, celebrate, and cherish the freedom we have been granted, both as Americans and as children of God. Our liberty is a precious jewel to be preserved and nurtured. It is not a cheap toy to be played with carelessly, thrown in a corner, and broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Modern-Day Elijahs IX: Fathers and Families

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

Elijah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shining the Light—John 9:1–5

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”

—John 9:1–5 (NASB)

I took a mini-sabbatical from writing in August. It was an eventful period. There were plenty of events in the news that begged for commentary: the riots in Charlottesville stemming from protests against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee; the ensuing debates in response to that event; the total eclipse of the sun; and finally, Hurricane Harvey and its devastating floods in Texas.

In keeping with the direction I sensed from the Holy Spirit, I did not write a post about any of these (although I did get myself drawn into a few Facebook debates in the aftermath of Charlottesville; maybe my next sabbatical should include restrictions on other social media!). Nevertheless, even though no new posts appeared on Darkened Glass Reflections in August, it set a record for most page views on this blog in a single month.

With those preliminary comments out of the way, I have a few thoughts about Christians’ response to the flood, and to natural disasters in general. Whenever disaster or tragedy strikes, the instinctive response for people of faith is to ask, “Where is God in all of this?” Unfortunately, many approach the question from the wrong angle. We may view the world through the eyes of justice and judgment instead of mercy and grace.

When Jesus and His disciples met a man born blind, the disciples assumed that his ailment was a punishment for somebody’s sins. Jesus’ response points out that they are looking at things the wrong way.

Likewise, whenever there is a natural disaster nowadays, many Christians try to figure out why God is so angry. Who is He punishing? The conclusions can border on absurdity. When a tornado devastated Joplin, MO, in 2011, members of Westboro Baptist Church planned to rally, thanking God for sending judgment on the city because of its acceptance of homosexuality. Having lived in southwestern Missouri for about 8 years, I can assure you this plot is too crazy even for The Twilight Zone. Did God get confused while trying to decide whether to smite San Francisco or Greenwich Village (a neighborhood in New York City with a reputation for welcoming alternative lifestyles) and simply decide to strike someplace about halfway between them?

Now, in the aftermath of Harvey, a few Christians and conservatives have wondered whether God was judging Houston for electing a lesbian mayor. Unfortunately, He was too late; that mayor is no longer in office. Besides, wouldn’t a Joplin-sized tornado have been sufficient? After all, God could have left Corpus Christi and other nearby communities alone if He just sent a twister; tornadoes tend to keep their devastation in a relatively compact area.

These are all the wrong questions. Had the blind man sinned? At some point, yes. So had his parents. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). But, Jesus said their sin was not the issue to consider here. For the disciples, the real question should be, “What is our response? How now shall we live?”

Likewise, when we see disaster now, let us avoid assuming we know what God is doing to the victims, and acknowledge how we should respond to the situation. Where can we see God in Hurricane Harvey?

  • We see the image of God reflected every time concerned people follow the news to find out if the situation has improved at all.
  • We see the heart of God revealed as people volunteer to assist in the rescue efforts.
  • We see the love of God radiating as people freely donate money and resources since they live too far away to help otherwise.

I believe that this is just one manifestation of the image of God in mankind: For some reason, we can care so deeply, even painfully, for total strangers we will never meet when disaster hits them.

Do you want to see God in the midst of a tragedy? Show His love. Live as one who bears His image. Jesus did not encourage His disciples to ponder a theology of suffering when they met a blind man. Instead, He told them that we (not just Himself, but His disciples as well) must do the works of His Father. He did not answer questions about eschatology before His ascension; instead, He gave instructions for His disciples to go forth and be His witnesses. Stop pondering philosophical questions. Instead, do God’s work.

Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” He is still here: His body is His church. We are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). What will we do about that?

If you are looking for a way to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, you may consider donating to Samaritan’s Purse, a reputable Christian relief organization that is sending relief workers and resources.

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

 

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In the World, Not of It (Revisited)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robin Williams, Suicide, and Hope (Revisited)

I originally shared this post on August 12, 2014, a few days after comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. The recent anniversary of his departure seems a good opportunity to consider some of the lessons we can learn from this tragedy.

If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalms 94:17-19)

Robin_Williams_(6451536411)_(cropped)

Robin Williams, 1951-2014. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Williams.

Over the last 27 hours, I have joined millions of fans around the world who mourn the sudden death of Robin Williams. As I logged onto my computer last night, I saw the shocking “breaking news” alert at the top of my Yahoo! homepage, that the popular comedian/actor had committed suicide.

While I have been a fan of his for many years (“Mork and Mindy” was one of my favorite TV shows during my youth), his death disturbed me more than others. Perhaps that is because “there but for the grace of God go I.” Like Robin Williams, I have battled depression at various times in my life. At times it has cost me dearly. Even in my best moments, I have to think of my depression as being “in remission,” not really “cured.” Thanks be to God, though, even in my worst moments, I could not succeed in ending my life.

It is ironic that a man who devoted his life to bringing happiness to others suffered through so much deep-rooted despair that he eventually surrendered to the lying spirits who told him that death would be better than life. Despite that, maybe it should not come as a surprise. He did not hide his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. He regularly made jokes about his struggles as part of his stand-up act.

Social networking sites have been ablaze lately with posts reminding people that there are millions of people like Robin Williams. There is nothing like front-page news to bring an issue out of the closet and place it before the masses. I can only hope that Williams’ death raises some red flags so that some people get the help they need to avoid his fate.

With this in mind, I would like to offer the following thoughts:

  1. The Body of Christ must do a better job of ministering with compassion and mercy to those who suffer from depression. Some of the most asinine posts I have read recently have come from those who think they are writing in Jesus’ name. Yes, suicide is a horrible act. I do not want to imagine the agony his wife and children will endure for the rest of their lives. For all I know, maybe Williams is in hell. But, I honestly hope I’m wrong about that. I would like to find out some day in eternity that, at some point, Robin Williams came to have a personal relationship with Jesus and is now in heaven, even if he did have to receive forgiveness for the way he arrived there. We Christians should be eager to find ways to populate heaven, not look for excuses to damn people to hell.
  2. Out of that compassion, we should understand the pain of depression and other mental illnesses and reach out with God’s transforming grace. I know churches that do a great job ministering to drug addicts and alcoholics. They recognize that there is a certain physical healing process that must occur alongside the spiritual and emotional healing that accompanies repentance. Yet, when somebody struggles with depression, many a Christian responds that we need to “snap out of it.” We do not need medication or counseling; we need more faith. The fields are white unto harvest, but we bury the crops in condemnation. (Really, you do not need to judge or condemn someone with depression; many of us do that quite well on our own, so we do not need your help.) As I began writing this post, I was thinking of ministries to the emotionally and mentally ill I could endorse. Unfortunately, I could not think of any.
  3. Take note of the warning signs of suicide. A good list is provided at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/learn/warningsigns.aspx.
  4. If you read those warning signs and it reminds you of someone you know and love, do not gossip about them. (That includes sending a prayer request to all of your friends.) First, go talk to them. Be open; be honest. Ask them outright about their feelings. Many suicidal people find hope when a friend allows them to verbalize their feelings. I can think of a few people who are alive today because I or someone else had the guts to actually ask them if they were considering suicide. (Feel free to pray for them before speaking to them, but before asking others to pray, obtain their permission.)
  5. If those warning signs sound like they describe you, get help. I would recommend seeking a godly Christian counselor: preferably one with a strong relationship with Christ, the appropriate spiritual gifts, and adequate training. Suicide is serious business, a life-and-death issue. A quick fix by quoting one or two Bible verses out of context will not solve your problems. It requires compassion, wisdom, insight and TIME.
  6. Finally, even if you are not at high risk for suicide, but have prolonged issues related to depression, seek help. Much research suggests that there is a biochemical aspect to depression which must be addressed. One can debate whether a chemical imbalance causes depression, or depressive thinking causes the chemical imbalance. Nevertheless, a healing process is necessary.

Finally, remember that you are not alone. Even Elijah struggled with despair and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:5). As long as you have breath, you have hope. As long as God is with you, healing and restoration are freely available.

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

Categories: Character and Values, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Why I March for Life

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “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 1:5-6, ESV).

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The view from within the March for Life as we paraded up Constitution Avenue. Photo by Michael E. Lynch

I joined a contingent from my church and several hundred thousand others in the March for Life in Washington, DC, on Friday, January 27.

Why would I march in this event? Although my company provides adequate vacation time, it is still finite and some people may think I could use my days having more “fun.” Spending nearly 12 hours on a bus (round trip), praying outside the Supreme Court while a small handful of protestors taunt us, and then walking down a street in cold winter weather (the real feel temperature was around 32° that day, which was better than some other years) may be rewarding, but it is not always fun.

First, let us dispense with the standard liberal accusation about why we march: We do not want to oppress women. Probably about one-half (maybe even more) of the participants are female. Some admit that they had babies aborted when they were younger and they now regret that decision. The “women’s rights” argument for abortion would make sense only if another human begin is not involved. Saying abortion is only about women’s rights is like saying that the American Civil War was only about the properly rights of white southerners.

However, another life is involved. When a woman becomes pregnant, her body becomes a sanctuary for another life: A life God has entrusted to her, to nourish, protect, love, and nurture. I can think of no more noble calling than that. The Bible tells us that God speaks of the preborn as if they are alive, calling some to fulfill His purposes while still in the womb [Jeremiah 1:5-6; see also the stories of Jesus, John the Baptist, and Judah (the father of the nation of Israel)].

My son was born two months premature in 1990. After a few rough days when his fate seemed questionable, his condition started to improve. While his mother and I rejoiced about his healing, a very different scene unfolded at the incubator across the aisle from my son. A pair of twins had also been born prematurely, and one’s condition was deteriorating. The parents were saying their good-byes to the smaller boy as he was dying. Tears streamed down the father’s face (he was a tall, rugged-looking guy who I cannot imagine being normally prone to tears). We could not bear to watch. I know we had one thing in common with that couple: We loved our newborn babies, had awaited their births eagerly, and I am sure we would willingly give anything to have healthy children. I am sure none of us could put a price tag on our babies’ lives.

While we prayed for our son and watched that family mourn theirs, I could not help but realize how precious our children were to us. Yet, in much of the country, debate raged (and continues to rage) over whether it would be legal to kill these babies in the womb at that stage of development. Society says that these babies’ value is determined by their mothers. If Mommy wants to keep the baby, he or she is a precious gift from God; if Mommy does not want to keep the baby, he or she is an inconvenience, “growth,” or parasite.

The world becomes dangerous when we determine a person’s value based purely on personal opinions. In the early days of our nation, people of African descent were considered somewhat less-than-human and could be bought or sold with no regard to their best interests. In Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, “ethnically inferior” persons and people with handicaps were considered a cancer upon society, so any means deemed necessary was used to cleanse the nation. The list goes on.

So, I stand and march for life in defense of the most vulnerable in our society. I march to preserve the dignity and value of all human life, from conception until natural death. Last of all, I march in memory of those children whose parents, against their wishes and for reasons known only by God, did not have the pleasure of watching their children grow up in this world.

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

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

What Happens After the Election?

In a recent post, I suggested that the current presidential campaign reflects the state of American culture. God does not have to send judgement to America: He can simply sit back and allow us to face the consequences of our rebellion, including the candidates we choose and the officials we elect to hold government office:

Perhaps the fact that our Presidential election has been narrowed down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump serves as a mirror in which America should see its flaws. This is something that the church seriously needs to consider. Many of us continue to hope that God will somehow bring revival to America. However, many Christians expect Him to do it only through a Republican President who can appoint the right Supreme Court justices.

How can Christians in America respond to our current situation? I still refuse to openly endorse either candidate because, as I wrote in that post, “God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.” This truth has an impact that will continue far beyond November 8.

First, I believe that even those Christians who have claimed that one of the two candidates is “God’s choice” must continue to pray beyond November 8. I know of several Christian groups who have been praying and fasting for Donald Trump to win. Even if he is “God’s man for the job,” a successful election does not mean the spiritual battle for the soul of our nation is over. Politicians see Election Day as the finish line at the end of a race, because winning the election is their goal. A Christian’s goal should be to see God’s glory radiating in our world (this may include revival within the nation). America will be no more of a Christian nation on November 9 than it was one day earlier. For us, an election triumph is not the same as crossing the finish line first in a race. It is more like scoring a single two-point field goal in a basketball game. It may count as part of the actual victory, but it is only a small part of it.

I ask those of you who are praying for the election: Will you continue to pray beyond November 8? Will you pray for more people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Will you pray for a culture where all life is cherished, from conception to natural death, where the very thought of abortion or euthanasia would be as repulsive as cannibalism? Will you pray for a society that cherishes family and upholds a truly biblical perspective thereof? The game is not over when the final vote is tallied this week. It is over when Revelation 11:15 is fulfilled: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Evangelism will likewise be an important part of our task. We have tried for too long to persuade our “opponents” without seeking a change of heart. We are trying to convince those who do not know Jesus that abortion is murder, that homosexuality is a sin, etc., without first seeking to bring them to faith in Jesus. We forget that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Explaining scriptural morality and spiritual truth to someone who does not have the Spirit of God within them is like trying to explain quantum physics to a three-year-old. If you do not recognize the Triune God as the source of all truth and Creator of all, you can avoid spiritual truth. If there is no God, any form of sexual expression is equally valid. If there is no God, we can decide who is “alive enough” to have a right to life.

We need to bring people to a personal relationship with Christ so that spiritual truth will make sense to them. That is when we will see transformation, and that is something only the people of God can do. A Christian’s primary responsibility has always been evangelism. Our job is to bring people to Jesus Christ, not to convert a nation to a political ideology.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Presidential Election: America’s Mirror

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Meme from the Rowdy Conservatives Facebook page

I have said little online about the 2016 Presidential campaign so far. Although I consider myself fairly politically active (I vote in every major election and at one time served in several state and national positions in a minor political party), I have refused to openly endorse either candidate.

This week, the media flared up with reports that Donald Trump made some vulgar boastful comments about things he claimed he could do to women. As usual, controversy erupted. Part of Trump’s appeal has been his tendency to speak his mind, but some people seemed surprised about what was in his mind.

I will not try to defend Trump. Others have, and you can find their rationales all over the Internet. My point in this post is to explain what I believe should have been the Christian response throughout this campaign.

There is a simple reason why I have refused to endorse a candidate. While many of my friends share openly their support of a particular political candidate on Facebook and other online forums, I prefer to focus on principles, not personalities. I am a Christian, pro-life, pro-traditional-family, constitutional conservative. I prefer to focus on such issues and principles. Those may remain stable, and I do not frequently waver on them.

However, people have this terrible tendency of disappointing us. As we saw with Trump’s comments, people will say and do things that I do not agree with, even when I do agree with them on some of their political positions. I prefer to defend my ideology than to try to defend a person. I will always try to ground anything I say about politics on the Constitution and biblical truth. Those are not prone to change, but people are prone to fail.

This particular campaign has been especially troubling. There has never been a perfect Presidential candidate, as far as I can tell. Even those Presidents that I have liked had some flaws that I refuse to excuse. However, in 2016, it seems like we have scraped the bottom of the barrel. I believe we should consider a person’s character when voting; however, the two characters the major parties selected are both devoid of character. (It may have been a scandal about Donald Trump that inspired this post, but I could probably write a book about Hillary Clinton’s ethical shortcomings. Let’s just say that, after years of defending her husband’s harassment of women, she has no business criticizing Trump’s words.)

But, as I have said for years, America gets the candidates and elected officials it deserves. We will elect politicians who reflect our values. Our nation’s value system cherishes celebrities, wealth, greed, pride, and sexual immorality and vulgarity. Well, we can see all of our nation’s idols on display in the current campaign. The fact that many of us are criticizing the candidates for committing the same sins we cherish in our hearts merely multiplies the hypocrisy. Narcissism? Our culture created “the selfie” and thinks it’s an art form. Bigoted hate-filled speech? Both candidates have said some hostile offensive things about each other and their supporters, and the supporters have likewise been guilty. Vulgar comments and sexual misconduct? I call your attention to the above meme; and our TV, movies, and music; and virtually our entire society.

When people ask if God is judging America, I say we have made it too easy for Him. He does not need to send a giant meteor (even if that is the closest I have come to endorsing a candidate this time around). He can just sit back, let us elect our candidates, and then watch us suffer the consequences. I can almost picture God watching us, much as a parent watches a child having a temper tantrum, arms folded, waiting for us to hit our breaking point so He can say, “Have you had enough already?”

Perhaps the fact that our Presidential election has been narrowed down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump serves as a mirror in which America should see its flaws. This is something that the church seriously needs to consider. Many of us continue to hope that God will somehow bring revival to America. However, many Christians expect Him to do it only through a Republican President who can appoint the right Supreme Court justices.

I propose that it is time for American Christians to repent of our political idolatry and begin to talk, think, and act as if God is bigger than our entire political establishment. I am not saying who we should vote for in November to be our next President. However, I will continue to trust that God will remain on the throne, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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