Christian Life

New Beginnings

“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:18–21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

In a recent article, former Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady asked his readers, “Have You Set Your ‘GPS’ for 2021?” In this case, GPS stands for Goals, Prophetic word, and Special prayer.

I generally do not make New Year’s resolutions. I believe Christians should be ready to make changes any time that God directs them. Lent and Advent are good times to seek His will in a way that can change our plans and purposes. Yet this article—especially the part about the prophetic word—spoke to me:

“Sometimes God gives me a verse from the Bible. Other times I get a phrase or simply one word. As I was praying for 2021, for example, the Lord said, ‘This will be a year of reaping.’ He also spoke to me from Habakkuk 3:17–18 that I must rejoice even when I don’t see fruit.”

Grady is not urging us to just pick a word or phrase that we like and “claim” it for ourselves. Instead, I am sure that he means that we should listen to the Spirit of God to speak while we read the Bible and pray. If God has a word for us, He will speak to our hearts while we study Scripture and seek Him in prayer, praise, and worship.

The phrase the Lord spoke to my heart was “new beginnings.” Several passages of Scripture guided me to this even before reading Grady’s article. The article simply confirmed and reinforced that I should recognize this as a word from God to me for 2021. Perhaps God may be speaking a similar message to you as well.

Many of us saw our lives flipped upside-down in 2020. My church held all worship services online for several months, with drive-up curbside communion available. When we could finally meet again, with limited attendance, I found that some friends had experienced drastic life changes as a result of the state’s stay-at-home order: Some were forced into early retirement; others were unemployed; others had their hours and wages severely cut; some who were self-employed had to make significant adjustments in how they conducted their business; some, including myself, were able to continue working full-time jobs with full-time pay while working from home. With all of the changes in our lives, it was easy to feel like we were exiles in a foreign land while locked up in our own homes.

For me, there were other changes in 2020. All of my church activities were placed on hold when we ceased worshiping in person. Most of them have not resumed as we have limited attendance due to social distancing. As a former assistant pastor who has been very active in the church for his entire adult life, this has been a painful change.

Personal habits also changed for me in 2020. When my company initially closed the office and ordered everybody to work at home, we thought it could be for only two weeks. Like many others, I treated it like a semi-vacation: Continued working but slept later, relaxed, stopped working out, etc. Although we have been home for 10 months (and my company will not return to the office until July at the earliest), I have not resumed normal activity. I used to go to the gym at my company’s building two or three times per week, but exercise has fallen by the wayside. Social life has declined. In-person midweek church activities have ceased, as well as Saturday brunch with a few longtime friends I have known since high school or earlier.

I am sure each of you has similar stories about how life has changed. Maybe the details are different, but most people I know can list ways their work, social activities, church involvement, and other aspects of their lives were disrupted in 2020.

Life may return to some form of normal in 2021. Vaccines are available, and many experts are optimistic that the new coronavirus will cease to be a major public health threat soon. Perhaps social distancing restrictions will relax soon. Maybe restrictions on public gatherings will relax and churches can fill to capacity again. Maybe we will be allowed into stores without wearing masks.

Photo by form PxHere.

Some things will not return, though. Some people’s pre-coronavirus jobs are gone forever. Companies went out of business when they were forced to close “temporarily.” We may have adopted new habits, good and bad. Temporary changes in worship format or ministries may become permanent.

Instead of viewing such changes as a loss, we can see them as open doors for new beginnings.

The future remains uncertain, but it does not have to be gloomy. Old opportunities have ceased, but God is the Lord of new beginnings. I am currently in training to serve in a pastoral caregiving ministry. I will remain open to any other new doors God may open for me. This can include seeking new avenues as a writer.

Life will continue to change for all of us in 2021, but we do not have to be caught unprepared. We can prepare ourselves for the new beginnings God has planned for us. Perhaps you can prepare yourself by spending time in prayer and asking God to search your heart and life with the following questions:

  • What have I stopped doing since the pandemic began? Did it cause changes in your home life, work, social activities, church involvement, etc.?
  • How many of these changes were voluntary and how many were forced upon me by others? I cannot choose to return to the office next week, but I can find a new way to exercise without the gym. I have a kettlebell and exercise video that can provide a suitable replacement for treadmills and weightlifting machines.
  • Which activities can I resume doing exactly as I did before the coronavirus lockdowns? Which can I resume with some simple adjustments? Some of my friends are not comfortable gathering at a diner on Saturday morning. Would they be open to scheduling a Zoom session so that we can have a few laughs and catch up with each other online while enjoying our coffee and bagels?
  • What new things is God calling me to do? Let us each remain open to hearing His voice and seeking new opportunities throughout the year.

The ancient Jews endured 70 years of exile in Babylon around 2500 years ago. Eventually, God returned them to their homeland, but life was never the same. Synagogue worship and the ministry of rabbis grew out of the aftermath of that exile. It created the religious environment into which Jesus was born and raised. His ministry would have been very different if His ancestors had not endured that exile. Likewise, our lives will be different after the current pandemic ends, but that does not mean we will be worse off. This can be an opportunity for new and better things. God is leading us into a season of new beginnings. Are we ready to follow Him?

How has life and your relationship with God changed in the last ten months? What new beginnings do you think God has in store for you? Does God has a prophetic word for your life in 2021? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

Called to Be Saints—1 Corinthians 1:2

Today, I am re-sharing a post that I published for All Saints’ Day in 2016. While the world calls us away from God to worship its idols, let us continue to recognize our calling to be saints, consecrated to God and His glory.

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” (1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV, emphasis added).

Image from pxfuel.com.

As I am writing this, Halloween is ending. Children on Long Island have finished trick-or-treating, and most are no longer dressed like superheroes, cartoon characters, or any of the other alter egos they have adopted for the day. Now is the time to start eating all of that candy!

Like those who celebrate the day, Halloween wears a mask that clothes it in mystery. Some people choose to emphasize the “dark side” of Halloween. They talk about how October 31 was originally set apart to worship the Celtic god of death, Samhain. How evil or satanic their rituals were is a matter of debate; some authors will claim that our Halloween traditions are sanitized versions of abominable activities such as human sacrifice, while others claim that we know almost nothing about Celtic religious rituals.

Regardless of how the ancient Celts worshipped Samhain, the church adopted November 1 as All Saints’ Day, and thus October 31 became All Saints’ Evening. In older dialects of English, these would be “All Hallows’ Day” and “All Hallows’ Evening” (abbreviated as Halloween), respectively. Thus, while some seek to draw attention to the devil, the church traditionally focuses this day on those who lived and died by faith in Jesus (and, through them, to Christ Himself). While All Saints’ Day primarily honors heroes of the church, November 2 commemorates all who have died in faith and joined “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1); that day is known as All Souls’ Day (or, according to the Book of Common Prayer, the Commemoration of  All Faithful Departed).

So, why would we honor saints, or give them any thought? What is a saint? In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth that they are “called to be saints.” They did not live up to the standard many of us associate with sainthood. First Corinthians is filled with reprimands for their immorality, divisiveness, pride, etc. They were far from perfect. Yet, Paul calls them saints.

A “saint” is simply  “one who is holy,” yet we tend to be confused about that term as well. A holy person is not perfect. Holiness, in both biblical Greek (hagios) and Hebrew (kadosh), implies that something or someone has been set apart for sacred use. For example, if we say that a church building is holy, we are not saying anything about the quality of its architecture or that it was built out of magic bricks; we are saying that the building has been set apart as a place to worship God. You don’t play volleyball on the altar! Likewise, if your body and mind have been set apart for God’s glory, you realize that these parts of your personality should honor Him.

A Christian is holy not because he or she is perfect, but because he or she has been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to Him. He has claimed us as His own. He has set us apart to live for Him. While perfection may not be realistic for us in this life, many of us are living below our spiritual privileges because we do not act like those who belong to Jesus.

As we take off the disguises of Halloween, let us remind ourselves on All Saints’ Day that we are called to clothe ourselves in the Christ, to mark ourselves as those who have been set apart for Him. “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14, NIV). When we think of the great saints of church history (such as Saint Patrick, Saint Francis of Assisi, etc.), let us remember our place in the body of Christ. We should not merely honor and commemorate the great saints of church history; we are challenged to imitate them, because we also are called to be saints.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Be a Barnabas

June 11 was the Feast of St. Barnabas on the calendars of many liturgical churches. Normally, I would have preferred to publish this article on that date. I trust that you will forgive me for the late post. After all, probably most of you have never even heard of the Feast of St. Barnabas. Some Christians may not even know who he was. Among the great men of God in the New Testament, he is easy to overlook. Yet, we cannot ignore his impact on church history and the daily Christian walk of most believers. The New Testament would be very different without him, even though he did not write any of its books.

Icon of St. Barnabas, from the Museum of St. Barnabas in Cyprus, by Gerhard Haubold, via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Without Barnabas, Paul would most likely have been ostracized by the church and lost to history. We would not have his 13 letters in the Bible. Many Bible scholars doubt that he wrote Hebrews (I agree with that view), but they will acknowledge that it was probably written by somebody who was connected with Paul; thus, we can thank Barnabas for the letter to the Hebrews. Without Paul’s input, we would lose the Gospel of Luke and Acts, as the author of those books was one of Paul’s ministry companions. Lastly, we would not have the Gospel according to Mark, since Barnabas played such an important role in his life.

Think about that: Barnabas plays a role in the origin of 17 of the 27 books in the New Testament. All Christians owe him a debt of gratitude. Maybe we should send each other “St. Barnabas Day” cards next June 11.

Barnabas first appears in Acts 4. While being persecuted, the early Christians in Jerusalem began living semi-communally. They held all things in common, and the wealthier disciples would sell property to help feed the poorer members. Barnabas was one of those wealthier Christians:

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36–37; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

While his material wealth helped people then, it would be his birth in a Gentile nation and his gift of encouragement that would cement his place in church history. Shortly after Paul’s conversion, it was Barnabas who took the former persecutor under his wings and made certain he could worship with the other followers of Jesus:

“When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:26–31).

Barnabas did not hold Paul to the past. He believed God could change the worst sinner and was willing to offer a former enemy a chance to be welcomed as a brother in Christ.

Later, when “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” came to Antioch and began preaching the Gospel to Gentiles as well as Jews, the apostles sent Barnabas to look into the situation. (This was the first time Christians had made a significant effort to evangelize non-Jews.) Since he was a Jewish believer from their home country, he could discern the situation from both sides’ perspectives.

“Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:23–26).

After all this time, Barnabas sought Paul. He recognized Paul’s potential and knew he could play a vital role in building the church in Antioch. The rest is history: The two continued to minister together for several years. They eventually parted ways when Barnabas recognized that his nephew, John Mark, needed the same encouragement and second chance he had once shown Paul (Acts 15:37–39).

The church and the world need encouragers. We need people like Barnabas in our lives. You can be Barnabas to others.

A Barnabas inspires and influences the accomplishments of others, whether or not others recognize his or her behind-the-scenes contributions. There is no Book of Barnabas in the Bible, but as we saw earlier, he had a huge impact on the Scriptures.

A Barnabas does not harp on one’s past failures. He or she recognizes that God can forgive and transform anybody.

A Barnabas recognizes a person’s gifts and potential and helps them pursue God’s will for their lives.

Be a Barnabas. Be the person who encourages and inspires others so that they can achieve the great things God has planned for them. We need people who will help us let go of the past, pursue the future that God desires for us, and change lives and hearts by bringing the kingdom of God wherever we go.

Since Hallmark will probably not begin selling St. Barnabas Day cards any time soon, we can honor his life by speaking words of encouragement every day to those we meet:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, emphasis added).

How have you encouraged others or been encouraged in your walk with the Lord? Share your experiences or advice by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

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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Act, Speak, and Pray

“I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first—by deed, the second—by word, the third—by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me. By this means a soul glorifies and pays reverence to My mercy” (Diary of St. Mary Faustina Kowalska).

I recently read these sentences in a daily email devotional. St. Mary Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic, whose diary contains dialogs between the spirit of Jesus Christ and her spirit. The above words are a statement she felt Jesus spoke to her heart. Most of the discourses are about Jesus’ mercy for souls and His call for Sister Faustina to pray for the conversion of sinners. Mercy is the central theme of their conversations.

Perhaps one can substitute other aspects of God’s love here. Where He says “mercy,” you can usually think of God’s love or grace. Here, the Lord calls us to show His mercy and love in three ways: deed, word, and prayer.

Does it seem as though most Christians get this backward? St. Faustina was a woman of prayer, and intercession for souls was her primary calling and ministry. Nevertheless, Jesus says prayer is the third means of showing mercy.

How many of us, though, would put that first? How many would put deeds last? When we encounter someone who is facing trials and hardships, our first instinct is to pray. We are happy to pray for a person who has lost everything he owns or is going through a divorce. We will gladly pray for any person whose life is falling apart.

“Clothing the Naked,” a stained-glass window in St. Mary’s Church, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, UK inspired by Matthew 25:34-36. Photo by Steve Day via Flickr. Published under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

We may also be willing to show God’s love in words. We will tell the addict that God loves him. We will share the gospel with anybody who has wrecked their lives through sin. We love to share our testimony about how God has provided when we hit rock bottom or how He delivered us from addiction.

Deeds, though, do not come easily. Deeds demand action. Action requires effort. It often involves sacrifice. When a friend has lost all of his possessions, are we willing to sacrifice some of our money or help him buy the basic necessities of life? If a friend is going through a divorce, are we willing to help him or her through the crisis? Are we willing to sit and listen while they talk about their problems—without offering advice or quoting Scripture? Just listen? Just care? Maybe offer to babysit their children so that they can run some errands or just go to a movie?

God’s Word calls us to action:

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;’ yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18; all Scripture quotations from the World English Bible).

It is easy to say, “I hope God meets your needs.” We can easily assume we have served God when we see such a person and ask God to meet his needs. However, could it be that God sent this needy person to you in answer to someone else’s prayer? Maybe God does not want you to pray; maybe He wants you to be the answer to another person’s prayer.

This thought hits me whenever I read the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, Jesus tells us how He will separate the righteous (sheep) from the unrighteous (goats) when He returns. The sheep will be blessed because they fed Jesus, gave Him something to drink, clothed Him, visited Him in prison or when sick, etc. “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'” (Matthew 25:40).

A sculpture of “homeless Jesus” (his feet are nail-pierced) sleeping on a park bench outside St. Ann’s Church, Manchester, UK. © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The goats, on the other hand, did not feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned. Jesus counted this against them. I often wonder: did the goats pray for these people? Jesus does not welcome the sheep into His joy because they prayed, but because they acted. Jesus condemns the goats because they did not act, even if they prayed.

Of course, I am not saying we should not pray. When we pray, we call God’s power into a person’s situation. However, our prayers should be one part of our faith, one element of our walk with Jesus. Our prayers should motivate our action, not replace it.

Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I had several conversations with a retired Baptist minister. In one of our conversations, he offered this word of wisdom: “I refuse to pray any prayer unless I am willing to be the answer to that prayer.”

Do not use prayer as an excuse. Do not use it as a substitute for loving and serving others. When you pray for others, remember to ask, “God, is there anything you want me to do in this situation?”

Act, speak, and pray. This is how we show the love of God to others.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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