Monthly Archives: April 2020

St. Mark: The First and Final Word

“Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

St. Mark, by Emmanuel Tzanes (1610-1690). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In traditional churches, April 25 is the Feast of St. Mark. I may be posting this article one day later, but Mark’s ministry and message remain timeless. His Gospel is probably the oldest of the four in the Bible, and God continues to speak through the account he wrote.

That is impressive when you consider that Mark probably spent most of his career in the background, assisting more prominent leaders. Also, his ministry nearly ended early. Mark’s life is a good reminder that failure does not have to be the final word in your life.

We first meet Mark—or, more precisely, John Mark—in Acts 12:12. Christians were meeting and praying in his mother’s home while Peter was imprisoned. Paul and his mentor, Barnabas, were in town, delivering an offering from the church in Antioch to assist the congregation in Jerusalem during difficult times. Mark joined them on their return trip. He would then travel as their assistant when they left Antioch for their first missionary journey.

Mark did not stay with them very long. After some successful ministry in Cyprus, he left the team. Acts 13:13 simply says that he left them at Perga and returned to Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts, gives no explanation. One could think it was a minor detail. However, Paul did not consider it minor. Some time later, he and Barnabas started planning a second missionary journey and had to decide who would travel with them:

“Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus” (Acts 15:37-39).

Until this point, Paul and Barnabas seemed inseparable. Barnabas had taken Paul under his wing when no other Christians trusted him. Now, he wanted to give Mark a second chance. For some reason, though, Paul refused. Mark’s departure from the team seemed unforgivable to Paul. After years of ministering together, Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas gave Mark a second chance and took him along. Paul recruited a new assistant named Silas.

Mark is never mentioned again in Acts. However, his name suddenly pops up again in 2 Timothy 4:11. Paul was now an old man, imprisoned, awaiting his execution. Mark was now “useful to me for ministry.” Just as we do not know the circumstances that led Mark to abandon the first missionary journey, we do not know how Paul had this change of heart. He had been abandoned again by many others, and Luke was the only person to stay with him. One can expect the sting of abandonment and rejection to tear old wounds open, but Paul held no grudge now.

Over the years, Paul had probably matured. Mark probably matured as well. Both had probably grown wiser. Scripture’s silence about Mark’s departure and the eventual reconciliation paints a curious picture. I imagine Timothy and Mark arriving to meet Paul and Luke after receiving the letter. Luke is aware that there is some kind of “history,” so he asks, “What happened at Perga? Why did you leave?” (Luke is taking notes, preparing to write a book about all of this.) Paul answers first: “Forget about it! It’s all in the past.” Mark quietly adds, “Yes, let’s just forget about it.” Luke never gets his answer. The Holy Spirit knew what to reveal to those who would write the Scriptures.

After Paul died, Mark’s ministry continued. Tradition says that Peter came to Rome to preach after Paul’s execution, and Mark served as his translator. It is very likely that Mark’s Gospel is based almost entirely on Peter’s preaching (although, for all we know, he may have copied some of Luke’s notes).

Mark’s life gives all Christians some valuable lessons:

  • Remain faithful. God can work through your life, whether you are an ordained minister, church leader, or one who serves quietly in the background. Mark spent a lot of time in the background, assisting others while they preached the Gospel. He spent decades serving in the background while Barnabas, Paul, and Peter got all of the attention. However, people have read his book for centuries, coming to know Jesus. He probably had no idea that God would continue to speak through him long after he was gone.
  • Failure does not have to be the final word. Mark’s departure at Perga may have been a serious issue, but it was not the end. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.” If you fall, get back up. If you fail, try again. If you sin, confess it, repent, and return to God. Do not give up.
  • Offer second chances. Has somebody you know failed? Give them a second chance. Barnabas accepted Paul when no other Christians would. He gave Mark a second chance. Just imagine how short the New Testament would be if Barnabas had not been willing to offer mercy and second chances to those who did not seem to deserve them.
  • Forgive. There is power in forgiveness. When we forgive, God works through it. God can use you to bring healing and hope to someone who has failed.

“John left them” (Acts 13:13) could have been the last word about him in the Bible, but it was not. Failure was not the final word in Mark’s life. Do not let it be the final word in your life. Rise up, press on, and keep following the Lord. When a fellow believer falls, do not let failure be the final word in his or her life. Lift him or her up; invite him or her to take a second chance. Forgiveness is the first word God speaks to a believer’s heart. Do not accept failure as the final word.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sharing the Message: “What God Has Done for Me”

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each tell the story of one of Jesus’ miracles, one of the first (if not the first) that He performed in a Gentile area. Jesus and His disciples had gone to the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee, to a region called the Gerasenes (or “Gadarenes,” according to Matthew 8:28). Here, they met a demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs. Filled with supernatural strength and rage, he could not be contained; if people put him in chains, the man would simply break them. However, while chains could not bind the man who was bound by demons, Jesus came to set him free. The demons left him and entered a herd of pigs, who drowned themselves in the sea.

“And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:17–20; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

Healing of the Gerasene demoniac. Public domain picture, artist unknown, via Wikimedia Commons.

It is hard to blame the man for wanting to follow Jesus. For years, he had lived in bondage to forces he could not see or understand. Family and neighbors must have feared him. The man was now known as “Legion” because of the many unclean spirits that controlled him. Perhaps Jesus had been the first person in years to seek him, to not be afraid of him, and to offer him liberty. Why would he not follow Jesus? What did he have back in the Gerasenes? At this point in his life, perhaps all he could find that was worth living for was this man who had cast the demons out of him.

Instead of inviting the man to follow Him, Jesus told him to return home with a simple message, entitled “What God has done for me.”

He was not called to follow Jesus like the 12 disciples, spending entire days with Him, hearing all He had to teach them. Jesus did not send Legion to seminary for more training.

Jesus did not send Legion into full-time ministry. He would have to return home, to his family and his old career.

He was sent with a simple message, “This is what God has done for me! Have you heard about what Jesus did for me!”

The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine; artist unknown. Public domain, Getty Center via Wikimedia Commons.

Let us get back to basics. We need to share our testimony. Like Legion, we need to tell others what God has done for us. We do not need a complicated message. We do not need extensive training. God has done something for each of us. What has He done in your life? That is your message.

It is tempting to come up with something more complicated. An elaborate explanation of a Biblical theme might make us feel smart, but it will not feed the souls of the lost. Arguing why my church is the correct one and everybody should worship with me and stay away from that other church will not point people to the Savior.

Jesus did not tell Legion to go home and begin arguing about politics or ranting about everybody else’s sins. He has not called us to do those things either. He sent Legion to preach “What God has done for me.” He is calling us to share that message too.

What has Jesus done for you? What was your life like before He gained control of your life? How has it changed since then? Has He healed you of a serious illness? Has He delivered you from a bad habit or a life-controlling addiction?

Think about your life. You have a testimony, and it is uniquely your own. Jesus has done something for you, and He can do it to the people you know and meet. People might be able to argue with your logic or criticize your eloquence. However, they are looking for hope, peace, joy, and comfort.

Many are looking for a way out of the mess they have made of their lives. Your testimony about what God has done for you may offer them the answer they really need. What has Jesus done for you? Somebody needs the same blessing you received. Let them know Who can heal, restore, forgive, and revive them.

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

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

A Balanced Christian Response to Coronavirus

The previous post looked at some of our responses to Covid-19 and the resulting isolation it created. In the midst of the humor, there are some grim facts to face. As of April 12, 2020, at 2:07 AM GMT, there were 1,780,312 confirmed cases of the disease worldwide, according to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. The United States has the most cases by far (532,879). Over one-third of America’s cases, and more than one-tenth of the confirmed global cases, are in New York State (161,504), and Nassau County, where I live, is currently the hardest-hit area. The official worldwide mortality rate (total deaths per 100 confirmed cases) is over 6% (108,827 deaths), while the mortality rate in the USA is approaching 4% (20,577 deaths). Both percentages will probably be even higher, since the number of confirmed cases includes people who currently have the disease, some of whom will die before all is said and done. In addition, some deaths may not be counted in this tally if the person was not diagnosed while alive, and many more people may be dying from other illnesses, either due to the strain on the healthcare system or sick people’s inability or unwillingness to obtain medical attention. The number of deaths at home has increased by about 200 per day in New York City during the Covid-19 crisis, some of whom may have had undiagnosed cases of the disease, while others did not get the care they needed for other life-threatening conditions.

Such numbers can seem cold and meaningless. It can hit home more clearly when we make it personal. Some experts claimed that Covid-19 would infect 50-70% of the population within a very short period of time without social isolation measures. So, imagine the 100 people you care most about: family, friends, co-workers, etc. Imagine if 70 of them caught this disease. Now, imagine if three or four of them die of it. Imagine that one or two other friends or loved ones do not get the care they need.

A lot of the complaints about social distancing do not consider that. Yes, it is a colossal inconvenience. People have been laid off or even lost jobs. People are going stir-crazy sitting around the house all day. This may set a precedent for future government intervention over a health threat. We should all hope our elected officials do not decide to seek such drastic measures during the next seasonal flu outbreak.

We need to consider all of these factors. We should walk in faith and wisdom, not in fear or carelessness.

We cannot take Covid-19 lightly. The mortality rate in America is high. People are dying, and we cannot ignore that fact.

On the other hand, we should not live in fear, especially as Christians. If I have to step outside, I bring a mask in case I am near other people, and I wash my hands frequently, keeping hand sanitizer with me always. Beyond that, I pray. I ask for the Lord to protect me and those close to me. I have a pretty strong immune system and will probably recover fairly quickly if I do catch the disease, but I do not want to pass it on to others who are less healthy.

Especially as Christians, we need that perspective. We serve a God who humbled Himself, sacrificing His very life for us. Are we willing to sacrifice a brief period of our lives and some comfort and convenience for others? For those of us who consider ourselves to be pro-life Christians, protecting the well-being of others should always be a priority.

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

Categories: Current events | 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 Good Shepherd Has Conquered Death!

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27–30; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

“The Resurrection of Christ” by Carl Bloch. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This acclamation begins the Morning Prayers for Easter in the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgies of many churches as we celebrate the resurrection. Most American Christians will have to worship Jesus in private this Easter, as many churches cancel services in response to the coronavirus outbreak and government social-distancing mandates. Although our churches are empty, so is Jesus’ tomb, and our hearts can be filled with His love and presence and we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Several posts in recent months on Darkened Glass Reflections (here, here, here, and here) have examined God’s omnipotence. He is all-powerful. There is nothing He cannot do. There is no problem that He cannot handle. Even death could not stop Him.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. John 10:27–30 is a brief segment of one teaching Jesus gave to a hostile audience not long before His crucifixion. The religious leaders demanded answers: “Are You the Messiah?” He had recently told them, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), a statement which should have reminded them of Psalm 23, which tells us that “The Lord is my shepherd.” He had hinted that He was God. His miraculous signs had proven that God was working through Him. The evidence was before them. Would they choose to believe?

“The Lord is My Good Shepherd” by Bernhard Plockhorst. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Jesus gave His good shepherd teaching (John 10:1–18), He said that sheep will follow their shepherd. They recognize his voice. They know they can trust him. Likewise, Jesus’ followers—His sheep—recognize and trust Him. They follow Him wherever He leads, knowing that He will take care of them.

In a time when many are afraid, Easter is a good time to renew our commitment to trusting Jesus. He has conquered death—even His own death. He can protect and heal you. As God, He is greater than all. He not only walks ahead of us; He has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell inside us and guide us. We can hear His voice and follow Him if we are willing to silence the noise around us and listen to Him. As we walk with Him, behind Him, and in Him, we can be victorious. Nothing Satan, the world, or the flesh can throw at you is more powerful than Christ in you:

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

This Easter, let us rejoice in that victory and walk in it. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Your security and trust is not based on anything you do or how accurate your theology may be. Your security is in the One you have come to believe in. Your Shepherd is trustworthy. The One who gives you life has conquered the power of death. You are victorious because He is with you always.

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

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

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