Posts Tagged With: Holy Spirit

Ascension, Visitation, Pentecost: A Pro-Life Perspective Revisited

I published the following article three years ago, at which time the three feasts of Ascension, Visitation, and Pentecost coincided much as they do this year. This article seems particularly timely as recent news leaks suggest that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion may soon be overturned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity and Ministry

“The devil studied the nature of each man, seized upon the traits of his soul, adjusted himself to them and insinuated himself gradually into his victims’ confidence—suggesting splendors to the ambitious, gain to the covetous, delight to the sensuous, and a false appearance of piety to the pious—and a winner of souls ought to act in the same cautious and skillful way” (Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556).

from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), whose feast day is on July 31. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Some churches try to make “one-size-fits-all” Christians. They dress alike. They all listen to the same kinds of music. They all avoid the same “worldly pleasures.” Perhaps you know the kind of church I am talking about. Perhaps you currently attend a church like that.

One positive feature of such churches is their ability to take a united stand against certain sins. However, they run the risk of being blind to their own sins. Almost 30 years ago, I visited a church where the pastor delivered a sermon about addictions. He ranted against probably 15 or so addictions: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, television, etc. The congregation shouted “Amen!” each step of the way (I do not think anybody went outside to smoke right after the service). However, the pastor was noticeably overweight, and did not mention food addictions. There are plenty of Bible verses that address gluttony, but that might be uncomfortable to confront in some churches.

Humans are comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who are like ourselves. It is easy to get comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who share our interests, habits, and opinions. As 16th-century theologian Ignatius points out in the quote above, Satan often has us beaten. He welcomes diversity in his domain. He will ensnare people in sin any way he can. Some of us have absolutely no interest in drugs: You can offer me all the cocaine in the world, and I would not be interested. It would be no temptation at all. However, it is an overwhelming stronghold for some. It has destroyed many lives. (Don’t worry; I have my own temptations to deal with, but I will do my personal confession elsewhere.)

Satan is thrilled to ensnare us however he can. If he can lure us through drugs, he is happy. He will gladly grab us with sex, alcohol, money, success, popularity, food, entertainment–anything that will keep us from seeking God’s will for our lives.

As we minister to others, recognize that there is some wisdom there. God has created each of us with a unique blend of strengths and attributes. Some are naturally outgoing; others are more reserved and introverted. Some are relationship-oriented and want to spend time with people; others are task-oriented and want to accomplish goals and projects. Some are leaders; some prefer to be told what others expect them to do. None of these qualities are necessarily “right” or “wrong”; they are part of who we are and how God has molded us. Satan might manipulate them for his own purposes.

Let us recognize that God has made each of us unique. Let us embrace that uniqueness and yield it to be used for His glory and the benefit of His people.

Stained glass window at Dublin Christ Church Cathedral (Ireland). Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is in the middle. The seven surrounding figures depict different Bible characters, representing a variety of Christian virtues. A complete description appears here. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

Let us also recognize the strengths, interests, passions, gifts, and other qualities that God has instilled in our brothers and sisters and encourage them to be all that God has called them to be. They do not have to be like us; God is calling them to minister to those whom we cannot reach, to share the Gospel with those who will not hear us, and to do the work we are not capable of doing.

Let us reach out to the lost as they are. Some are seeking peace; introduce them to Jesus, the Prince of peace, who offers the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Some are seeking a reason to live; others are asking, “What is truth?”; some are seeking a sense of direction in their lives; they need to know Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). While He is the only name under heaven by which people may be saved (Acts 4:12), He invites us to Himself by whatever means draws us to Him.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (First Corinthians 12:4-13, New American Standard Bible).

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

Wine or the Spirit: Part 2

Last week’s article shared the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. In a state of desperation and discouragement, she prayed at the temple, but the priest assumed she was drunk. She was so consumed with her desire to receive God’s blessing, she did not seem to care how she appeared to people.

This should be our attitude. Hannah was not the last person of faith to be accused of drunk and disorderly conduct because of her zeal for God. The same accusation was leveled against the apostles on the first Pentecost.

“But others were mocking and saying, ‘They are full of sweet wine.’ But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day…’” (Acts 2:13-15; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Tongues of fire rest upon the apostles on Pentecost; then, things got a little wild. Image  from Science Museum Group, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The disciples were willing to look foolish and drunk as they proclaimed the Gospel. Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit came mightily upon them: a mighty rushing wind filled the room; tongues of fire rested upon the disciples, who proceeded to speak in diverse tongues; and Peter preached a bold sermon, after which 3000 people were baptized. However, the audience’s initial response was not a sense of conviction for sin or a desire to repent and be baptized. Their initial response was, “Look at those guys! They’re drunk!”

The earliest Christians were not considered wise by their peers. The Gospel seems like foolishness to the world. We believe a baby was born to a virgin and grew up to save the world by dying to conquer death. Just like His birth, His death defied the laws of science, since He rose from the grave. To many people, it sounds irrational:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

The wisdom of God seems foolish to mankind. However, it is not foolish, irrational, or illogical. It is super-rational and hyper-logical. It is beyond human comprehension. It demands spiritual discernment:

“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).

It is beyond standard human logic and demands a spiritual approach. Perhaps part of the reason why the church seems so impotent against the cultural chaos surrounding us is that many Christians, pastors, and churches are trying to be relevant: to fit in, to look respectable, trendy, and distinguished.

Photo by John Snyder, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Until we are willing to look foolish for God, we will not display His wisdom. We must return to the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen our individual lives. We must return to the Word of God—not pop culture or pop psychology—to guide our pursuit and proclamation of truth. We must become less concerned about looking distinguished, respectable, and “normal” and return to the radical foolish zeal that guided the earliest Christians.

Many people are willing to surrender control of their life and senses to alcohol—all too often, for a lifetime. Are we willing to look drunk to the world because we have surrendered control of our lives and are allowing the Holy Spirit to control us? Are we prepared to become Holy Ghost addicts? Are we zealous for God to control our lives?

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…” (Ephesians 5:15-20).

May the true wisdom of God override the world’s ideas of wisdom as we are filled with the Spirit and zealous to do His will.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wine or the Spirit: Part 1

“Then Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you’” (1 Samuel 1:14; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo by form PxHere

I attend a church that celebrates communion every Sunday. We include actual wine, not grape juice, which might trouble people from more conservative Christian traditions. After one service, my then-teenaged son joked about ways this could create trouble; for example, what if a young child grabbed the chalice out of the deacon’s hands and drank it all? This led us to a more serious discussion about the parallels and differences between alcohol and the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in an alcoholic home. For most of my youth, my father drank heavily; he became sober while I was in high school, and his life dramatically changed. I saw the impact of alcohol. If you drink a large amount of alcohol, it changes your behavior. If you stick with it, it changes your character. Alcohol becomes an obsession. It takes control of the alcoholic’s passions, desires, and goals. (This is true of many forms of addiction.) In this case, it is not a good thing.

However, when God comes into your life, He also changes you. He changes your behavior and character. Instead of performing the deeds of the flesh, we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit:

“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. 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 5:19-23).

As this fruit grows, God can become an obsession that takes control of our passions, desires, and goals. Alcoholism is destructive, but the abundant life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are productive and life-giving.

However, such a passion for the Lord can look foolish to non-believers. Scripture tells several stories of people of faith whose zeal for God made them appear silly and drunk to observers.

First Samuel 1 introduces us to a woman named Hannah. In ancient Israel, polygamy was an accepted practice, and Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. The other wife had borne him several children, but Hannah was childless. Such barrenness was embarrassing in those days, and the other wife abused her about it. Driven to desperation, Hannah prayed at the doorpost of the temple. In her shame and agony, she did not speak out loud but just moved her lips as she expressed her burden to the Lord.

The priest, Eli, saw her quivering lips, assumed she was drunk, and scolded her. When she explained herself, he relented and pronounced a blessing: “Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:17). God did answer her prayer; she bore a son, named him Samuel, and dedicated him to the Lord’s service. As a child, he ministered at the temple in Shiloh (a prominent place of worship before the temple was built in Jerusalem) and became one of Israel’s greatest prophets, bridging the gap between the rule of the judges and the reigns of Israel’s kings. He is considered the last judge, and he coronated the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.

Samuel’s birth came about because his mother was desperate enough to seek God’s blessing even if it made her look like a drunken fool to a leader of God’s people. Once a failure who looked like a fool, she became a role model for mothers everywhere.

I will share more about this subject from the New Testament next week. Stay tuned….

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith and the Trinity

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

A 16th century attempt to depict the Trinity by Guillaume Le Rouge. Image from the Cleveland Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday in Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, and many other Western liturgical churches.

The Trinity is a mystery. In a sense, it is also a paradox. The Father is God; the Son also is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. They are distinct, separate entities, so they are three Persons. Yet, there is only one God. Attempts to explain how one God can be three Persons are usually unsatisfactory. Most people who think they can explain the Trinity usually end up describing either modalistic monarchianism (the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same person who merely manifests Himself in different ways at different times) or full-blown polytheism. Both are false teachings.

Illustrations and examples usually seem flawed. One illustration is the egg (shell, white, and yolk are all different parts, but they make one egg). My seminary systematic theology professor tried to use coffee as an example (water, sugar, and the juice of the coffee beans). Every such example falls a little short. Another professor, Stanley Horton, explained it best: God is the only real Trinity in existence; we will not understand it fully until we see Him in the fullness of His glory.

That is all we need to know. We are saved by faith, not by knowledge. Even when our understanding falls short, we merely have to trust God.

“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. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

All three Persons in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are intimately involved in our salvation and spiritual growth. 1 John 2:23-24 tells us that “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is identical to a relationship with God the Father; they are intertwined. The person who has a relationship with Jesus has the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

If we do not understand it, we merely have to trust Jesus, and He will guide us—with the help of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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