Posts Tagged With: Lent

A Look Back at Lent: Coronavirus and Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Christian’s Mission in a Time of Social Distancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

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

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lent and Fasting

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:1‒12; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

For much of my adult life, I ignored Lent. It seemed to me like a legalistic ritual. I thought it provided nothing for salvation or spiritual growth. You get some ashes smeared on your head one Wednesday; for the next 40 days, you give up chocolate. What makes this spiritual? Where is God in all of this?

The truth is that some people will go through Lent and get nothing out of it. However, that is not because there is a problem with the season or the traditions associated with it. It is a problem with how that particular individual is approaching the situation. We can take legitimate ways of approaching and worshiping God and do them without His presence. Even the holiest acts can be worthlessly mundane if we merely go through the motions.

God is not impressed if we just go through the motions of Lent or fasting. The true worshipers of God will serve Him in Spirit and truth, not merely in outward rituals. What God says about fasting in the above passage is just as true about all spiritual disciplines and practices, including Bible study, prayer, praise, worship, and serving others.

(For those of you who believe fasting is a purely Old-Testament practice that Christians can ignore, I urge you to read my article, “Principles of Fasting,” at https://darkenedglassreflections.com/2011/12/04/principles-of-fasting/. Jesus assumed that His disciples will fast, and in Matthew 28:18‒20 He told them to teach later generations of disciples to obey ALL that He commanded them.)

It is helpful to remember that one goal of any fast is to give up something physical or natural so that we can devote our attention to things that are spiritual. Many people will give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, along with a favorite kind of food and/or hobby for the entire season. Others may be more ambitious (perhaps going on a full no-food fast for a day here and there), while others may do something simpler (perhaps giving up only one food). However, whether we give up a lot or a little, we need to fill the gap with something spiritual. If you give up food, without adding prayer or other spiritual disciplines, you are dieting—not fasting.

So, here are a few suggestions for those who observe Lent:

  • While giving up food, add prayer. The time devoted to preparing and eating food can be used for additional prayer and Bible reading.
  • While giving up a hobby or activity (television, Facebook, etc.), add praise and worship. The time you would normally spend on your hobby can be spent playing favorite worship songs on a musical instrument, or listening to favorite praise and worship music on a CD, Spotify, or Pandora. (Yes, this can include songs you actually enjoy listening to in your favorite musical genre. “Holy and spiritual” does not have to mean “boring, tedious, and painful.”)

Let us take it even further, as Isaiah advises in the above Bible passage:

  • Let us give up anger and develop a lifestyle of patience.
  • Let us give up greed and develop a lifestyle of generosity.
  • Let us give up selfishness and develop a lifestyle of compassion and love.

Okay, I admit: That last list may be a little less fun than perpetually streaming a playlist of your favorite Christian contemporary musicians. However, this is what God is really seeking. He is not interested in creating a club of people who eat fish on Fridays. His goal is to mold us to be more like Him.

Therefore, let Lent be a season of self-examination and reflection. Take some time in the coming weeks to read Galatians 5:19–23. Take a look at the deeds of the flesh: Which of these have the most impact on your life? Where are your weaknesses? Next, take a look at the fruit of the Spirit: Which are most abundant in your life? Which would benefit most by a season of growth.

At its core, Lent is not about meatless Wednesdays, fish on Fridays, or 40 days without chocolate, coffee, or donuts. Like every other day or season of the year, it is a time that the Lord has made for us to worship Him (Psalms 118:24). Let us devote this season to a searching and fearless moral inventory. Let us confess those parts of the carnal worldly life to which we continue to cling, release those defects to God, and yield to Him so that He may manifest His holiness within us. Then shall our light break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up speedily. Our righteousness shall go before us, and the glory of the Lord shall be our rear guard. We shall call, and the Lord will answer.

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

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

Triumphal Entry, Worship, Betrayal, and Abandonment

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:7–10, ESV)

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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

Most churches celebrate Palm Sunday by distributing palm fronds to the congregation. Some churches may process, marching around either inside or outside their building. Others will simply wave the palm branches while singing a song with “Hosanna!” (a Hebrew word meaning, “Save!”) in the title or lyrics. In doing so, we join our worship with the exuberant celebration of the crowd that greeted Jesus and His disciples as they entered Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover celebration nearly 2000 years ago. We now refer to this as “the triumphal entry,” but we can easily forget how quickly things changed in Jesus’ life within a week.

On Sunday, the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” By Friday morning, many of these people were in a mob shouting, “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:18–21).

Judas Iscariot was part of the group entering Jerusalem with Jesus. Perhaps his cloak was on the colt’s back, providing a saddle for Jesus. By Thursday evening, he would betray Jesus.

Peter was there too. I can imagine him leading the way, announcing that the Messiah Jesus was coming and urging the crowd to cheer for Him as He entered. On Thursday evening, he vowed he would stand by Jesus no matter what happened (John 13:37). A few hours later, he tried to fulfill that vow—relying on his natural impulsiveness and machismo rather than the virtues Jesus had taught for the last three years—by whacking someone’s ear off during Jesus’ arrest. After that, it was all downhill. Probably less than 12 hours after declaring that he would die with Jesus, he denied three times that he even knew Him. In Jesus’ greatest hour of need, His so-called “best friend” left Him hanging (John 18:15–18, 25–27).

Ten of the other disciples, all of whom (like Peter) swore they would remain faithful to Him, ran into hiding as soon as He was arrested. As He stood trial and was crucified, the only disciple who stayed with Him was John. He was accompanied by a few women, including Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene.

Christians know the story so well that we can miss the point. We can learn a lot from the disciples because they are terribly human. They are a lot like us. Sometimes, they show us heroic faith that we hope to imitate. At other times, they show us just how badly we can fail. People were willing to stand by Jesus when things seemed to be going well. When times got tough, they turned on Him or abandoned Him. Sadly, none of us are immune to that temptation.

We may worship Jesus when we are in a crowd with others who are shouting and singing His praises. Do we continue to praise Him when the establishment and the culture revile and reject Him? Or, do we join in rejecting Him: If not in word or deed, do we reject Him in our hearts?

Do we sell Jesus out when financial gain is a possibility? Will we compromise our faith or ignore His commands when there is money to gain.

We can boldly profess our faith and devotion to Jesus in a church or Bible study. Do we continue to do so when surrounded by those who have not accepted Him, or do we suddenly hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:15) and pretend we are not Christians?

Holy Week ends Lent, a season which many Christians devote to self-examination. As Easter approaches, are we ready to share the resurrected Christ with those around us? Are we willing to remain faithful to Him?

Let us prepare our hearts to sing Christ’s praises in good times and bad, when others join in song and when they refuse Him. As we wave our palm branches, let us continue to lift Jesus up so that He may draw all people unto Himself (John 12:32). As we shape our palm branches into crosses, let us take up our crosses to follow Him.

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

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

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