Posts Tagged With: Lent

Being God’s Instruments of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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

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

Image by Prierlechapelet from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Righteousness and Justice. IX: Putting on the New Self

“… {A}nd put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My last article looked at Isaiah 11:2–5, which tells us how Christ bore God’s righteousness and faithfulness like a belt. This verse reminds us of the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14).

The Bible has many images to describe our relationship with Christ. We are members of His body, much like our limbs and other organs are members of our bodies. We are “in Christ,” and He is in us. The whole armor of God, Ephesians 4:24, and several other passages remind us that we are to “put on” Christ or the “new self” in a sense of “clothing ourselves” with Him. The clothing imagery sometimes speaks of clothing ourselves in Christ or clothing ourselves in righteousness.

“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
 My soul will exult in my God;
 For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
 He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
 As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
 And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:12–14).

This clothing imagery appears throughout Scripture. It is an active, conscious choice that we make. For many of us, one of the first decisions we make every day is what to wear. We make a thoughtful decision on what to wear each day; we do not aimlessly walk out the door wearing whatever we wore to sleep. We usually make a decision based on the day’s activities. Even though I work at home, I ask myself whether I will be in a Zoom or other virtual meeting before picking my shirt for the day. My wardrobe decision will be much different for a lazy Saturday morning than for church on Sunday.

Are we as decisive with our spiritual wardrobe? Do we conscientiously choose to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or do we just mindlessly go through our day?

Many Christians, myself included, observe Lent. This is a season of prayer and fasting, offering us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with Christ. This year, I have felt convicted about how easy it is to slip into a neutral gear in my spiritual life. Having focused on the fast itself, it is easy to lose sight of how it points me to Christ.

The focus of Lent should be on Christ, not solely on the fast. This year, I have caught myself getting lazy about one of my fasts. While I have avoided donuts and cakes pretty well, I have not kept my word to God that I would abstain from playing computer games during Lent.

Does God really care that much if I play solitaire on my computer? Probably not: people do far worse things online. However, I have found myself playing games when I could be reading the Bible or devotional books. Sure, I can make excuses: Lent has been particularly challenging the last two years. The pandemic has forced many of us to forego human interaction and social activities—even in-person church events—while also giving up favorite foods or hobbies. The battle is real, and it is intense, but as the “whole armor of God” imagery reminds us—Christians are always at war. You cannot afford to get lazy when the enemy is ready to attack.

Let us avoid complacency. Let us renew our commitment for the next few weeks. Lent is not merely about giving up chocolate, cookies, donuts, video games, etc. It is a time to deepen our focus on Jesus. It is also a war game to prepare ourselves for the real battle: to lay aside the deeds of darkness and the old nature so that we can put on Christ. It is a conscious decision. Fasting in specific areas of our lives during Lent can be a form of practice for facing real battles. It will be easier to battle hardcore sin when we have triumphed over the Boston crème donut.

When all is said and done, we should be clothed in Christ so that His glory is revealed through us. Let that be our goal.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about clothing yourself in Christ? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VII: Christ our Merciful and Righteous King

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

An Ash Wednesday cross on a worshiper’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many Christians began observing Lent this past week. In some churches, pastors marked congregation members’ foreheads with a cross-shaped mark using the ashes from burned palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The pastor generally accompanies this marking by saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lent reminds us of our mortality and our need for forgiveness. It reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “{T}he wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

In Lent, we are reminded of our unrighteousness and that Christ’s righteousness and mercy are our only hope. During the last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, many churches will commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:5 quotes this verse as he describes Jesus riding a borrowed donkey).

Jesus’ arrival must have been a dramatic sight. For three years, He had preached and performed miracles. People got excited, convinced that He was the Messiah, the coming Great King of Israel who would overthrow the Roman authorities. Jesus had even at times said enough to confirm that He thought He was the Messiah.

The Triumphal Entry, artist unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

And now, just a few days before Passover, as Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire were flooding Jerusalem, Jesus rode into the ancient capital city of Judea. He sat astride a colt, as if He was a king, while His followers shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9).

There was no mistaking His intentions now. In the past, He might have hinted that He was the Messiah. Now, His actions shouted it. He consciously chose to ride on a donkey, thereby fulfilling Zechariah 9:9.

Stained glass window depicting the triumphal entry of Jesus, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, His actions also shouted what kind of king He was. A conquering king would enter the city on a horse as if ready to do battle. When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey. Jesus was contrasting Himself with many of the kings the Jews had seen in recent years. Greek rulers and Roman Caesars had come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus was now coming so that the people could have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

God’s justice intertwines itself with His other attributes. He comes not only to exercise His justice but also to reveal His humility and mercy as He brings salvation. The Jews suffered persecution and domination for centuries. God’s Great King would come to deliver His people. Zechariah 9:1–8 tells us how God would judge the nations that afflicted His chosen people.

Yet, “He will speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10). Jesus’ goal is not to destroy, but to save and redeem. He comes to destroy the works of the devil, but He comes to deliver people from Satan’s rule. Jesus’ justice and mercy mingle. Are we willing to receive His offer of peace, or do we choose to remain at odds with Him? He comes in peace to establish His righteous and just kingdom. We decide whether we will accept His terms of peace or rebel against Him. No matter which we choose, He will reign triumphant.

What do you think about Jesus’ righteousness, justice, and mercy? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story 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, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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