Posts Tagged With: self-examination

2020: The Year So Far

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:1; all scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).

Four months ago, I shared a New Year’s Day post in which I referred to 2020 as “The Year of Vision.” 20/20 is considered perfect vision in optometry. It seemed to me like 2020 would be a great year to re-examine God’s vision for our lives. What is He calling us to do? What passions has He given us? What is our purpose? I wrote:

As we begin 2020, the Year of Vision, consider these questions:

  • What is God calling you to do in the coming year?
  • Is He calling you to do something differently?
  • What desires has He placed on your heart?

Surely none of us saw the past seven weeks coming! In spiritual matters, 20/20 vision is usually reserved for the past. The future remains cloudy. Many people approach a new year with optimism, hoping the next 12 months will be filled with blessings and lacking the difficulties of the previous year. However, nobody expected “self-quarantine” to become a trendy phrase. Fewer knew what “social distancing” meant. Only armed robbers would have thought “I’d better put a mask on before I walk into that store!”

With that in mind, let us revisit that New Year’s message with the following observations and lessons from the year so far:

Prepare for anything. Expect the unexpected. We have all learned the value of being prepared. Less than two weeks before New York instituted stay-at-home orders, my wife and I bought toilet paper at a wholesale club. This store does not sell standard four- or six-roll packages. There, toilet paper comes in bulk packages of over 20 rolls. We ended up buying a 32-roll package that day. My wife wondered if we really needed it. I figured that since we have room to store it, and it will not spoil, we might as well go for the best price-per-roll package. We had no way of knowing that, two weeks later, many of our friends would be going crazy trying to find toilet paper in the store. I think we are set!

My broken glasses can be seen as a good description of the Year of Vision so far. (Photo by the author.)

Even earlier than that, about a year ago I bought new eyeglasses and decided to keep my old frames with new lenses, as a spare pair for emergencies. That proved to be a wise decision. About one week after “nonessential businesses” were closed, one of my lenses fell out of my glasses. The frame had popped loose (I think one of the screws broke). Unfortunately, eyeglass stores are considered nonessential (although liquor stores are “essential”). Fortunately, though, I have a backup. I can wear my old-frame-with-new-lenses glasses until I am able to get my newer frame repaired or replaced.

In both cases, the lesson is the same: You never know what the future holds. Be prepared for anything.

That does not justify the people who hoarded 6000 rolls of toilet paper, leaving their neighbors trying to figure out how to handle their hygiene needs. That brings us to the next point.

Look out for others. Our choices affect others. Like many other cultural crises, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed divisions in our society. Government regulation vs. individual choice and liberty; the needs of the many vs. the rights of the individual. Economic prosperity vs. public health has become the great conflict now. Many people throw themselves to one side of each issue, but often the best decision addresses both sides.

I can easily make excuses not to wear a mask in public. I am healthy. I do not feel any symptoms. I have not been close to anybody who showed any signs of sickness. I have a pretty strong immune system. Honestly, in a way, I would want to catch this disease already so I can build up antibodies and get it over with!

However, I do not know what kind of risk I would bring to others. I live in an apartment building with about 200 or so other tenants. What if I catch this disease and leave germs on the doors, in the elevators, in the stairwell? I might be okay; what about some of my neighbors with health issues?

Similar questions will come up all of our lives. It may be magnified during a crisis, but we always should remember that we have to balance our perceived rights against the needs of those around us:

“[D]o not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

This time should have allowed most of us some time for self-examination. I have had some extra time: although I am working from home, I do not have my commute to and from work every day (about 45 minutes to an hour each way), and a lot of other activities are canceled. I have had more time to read, pray, and reflect. I suspect of you have had more free time as well I am learning a few lessons:

  • Patience is not one of my strongest attributes. When Advent began in early December, I urged readers to pick out one area of weakness to bring before the Lord for deliverance. Patience has always been one of my weaknesses, and this “shelter in place” order has tested it. As many have said before: be careful about asking God for patience! He will allow circumstances to come your way to test it. What areas of weakness, emotional or spiritual strongholds, or sins have been brought to the forefront at this time? Take a look back at the “One Year, One Thing” challenge and see if there is something God wants to work on in your life.
  • This season has reminded me of the need to serve the Lord in a spirit of obedience and submission. I may not get to do the things I enjoy doing as much. One ministry that has gotten busy has been participating in our emergency prayer chain. It is probably the least visible ministry I am part of, yet it has become busier while most other ministries are essentially on hold. I have also been asked to participate in online-focused ministries. May God’s will be done. There are still ways to worship God, serve His church, and fellowship with other believers. We need to look for opportunities, but they are there. Participate in an online worship service; bring groceries to somebody who cannot get to a store; call a friend who needs to hear another voice.

The coronavirus crisis has been an endurance test for many of us. What have you learned about yourself and about God? Feel free to share a comment!

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

[PS—If you are looking for an online worship service, you can visit my church at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM ET on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

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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

Judging Others or Examining Ourselves

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5, ESV).

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

5194572I wrote at some length about Matthew 7 about two years ago. This week, I have given it some more thought. During a season when many churches encourage a time of self-examination, this passage deserves a little more thought. Since I have written extensively on this passage previously, I offer the following as an addendum to that previous meditation.

bundesarchiv_bild_183-r0211-3162c_dietrich_bonhoeffer_mit_schc3bclern

Dietrich Bonhoeffer with several of his students, ca. 1932. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Although Jesus forbids judging others, and the other New Testament writings agree with this commandment (see, for example, Romans 14:1–12), He never commands us to approve of evil. Sin is sin. The Bible clearly defines certain attitudes and activities as sinful. “Judge not” does not mean we should accept sinful behavior.

However, there is an unusual irony when we quote Jesus’ command to others: If we tell someone else to “judge not,” are we not in fact judging them by accusing them of the sin of judgmentalism? Or, if they tell us to “judge not,” are they judging us? It seems hypocritical and ironic, but perhaps that is the point.

“Judge not” is not something Jesus tells us to say to others. It is something He tells us to say to ourselves when we interact with other people. Are they going to sin? Yes. Might it get on our nerves? Perhaps. Will they commit sins we would never commit? Possibly. Does that mean we are in a position to judge them? No. Our pride deceives us into thinking that others’ sins, the ones we would never commit (or so we think), are worse than ours. How often does the glutton look down upon the smoker or alcoholic? How often does the heterosexual who views pornography or has sex outside of marriage look down on the homosexual? We think their sin is worse, but God does not share our sliding scale:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10–11).

When I look at the sins of others, it is easy to minimize my own sins and shortcomings. I can easily ignore my own failings, or make excuses or justify my own sins, if I can accuse the other person of committing abominations. However, as I examine my own conscience and measure my own life against the teachings of Jesus, I am able to confess, repent, and seek a more holy life. My goal should never be to be a better Christian than the next person: It should be to have a closer relationship with Jesus than I do now, and to reflect His glory more today than I did yesterday.

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

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

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.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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