Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

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

God Is With Us Always: II. Presence, Power, Purpose

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16–20; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Version).

Stained glass window of the Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in El Paso, via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Great Commission seems to be a timely passage for several reasons. First, this article is appearing online on Trinity Sunday, the day that many churches celebrate God’s eternal existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, it fits well with a series about how “God Is With Us Always.” Third, it guides us during a time of chaos and conflict.

The disciples had endured extreme ups and downs in the weeks before the ascension. Less than seven weeks earlier, they entered Jerusalem with Jesus while crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Some probably thought Jesus would cast out the Romans, sit on an earthly throne, and assign them prominent offices in His new kingdom. Four days later, those hopes were shattered as Jesus was arrested. The next day, He was crucified; of all the disciples, only John dared to stay nearby until the painful end. Their grief soon gave way to joy, and perhaps a lot of confusion, when Jesus rose from the grave. Over the next 40 days, He paid them periodic unexpected visits. While they were thrilled that He was alive, were they confused that He just showed up for a quick visit and then left? Life was not the same for them. It was obvious that they could not go back to their old life, but it was not yet obvious what their “new normal” would be.

Shortly before His ascension, the last time His disciples would see Him on earth, Jesus described the new normal for them: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

For three years, they had spent a lot of time with Jesus. His presence was real: they could feel it; they could expect it; they probably always knew where He was. But, during those three years, His presence was limited to a particular location. He could not be in Nazareth and Jerusalem at the same time. To be with Jesus, they had to stay in one place.

However, Jesus is no longer limited by place. “I am with you always.” No matter where we are, Jesus is with us. He can be in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Long Island, or any place on earth at the same time. Wherever God’s people dwell, Jesus is with them.

Jesus is not limited by time. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” His death, resurrection, and ascension occurred nearly 2000 years ago, but He is still present among His people. We can still teach people to obey all that He commanded His disciples because He is still with us. Times have changed, technologies have developed, and societies have risen and fallen, but Jesus is still with us.

The Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is with us wherever we go. We may not see Him now, but we can be certain that He is with us because He has sent us His Spirit:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:16–20).

The disciples had seen Jesus exercising divine power for three years because the Holy Spirit was upon Him. Whether they realized it or not, they knew the other “Helper” (some translations say “counselor,” “advocate,” or another term; the Greek word “parakletos” does not have a specific English translation). Although Jesus would no longer be with them physically, His Spirit would be in them. The Spirit who, like Jesus, is God, would abide within each of His disciples, and this promise lasts to this day. Therefore, we can know that Jesus is in the Father, we are in Him, and He is in us because His Spirit dwells within us.

He dwells in us in power. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Therefore, He sends us as His delegates to minister in His name. The Holy Spirit within us gives all the power that we need to His work.

Jesus sends us with a purpose: To preach the Gospel. He sends us forth to make disciples and baptize them in His name. His message of salvation should be our core message.

We live in troubled times. Over the last few months, we have been ordered to take drastic action to slow the spread of a deadly virus. Just as local communities were beginning to reopen businesses and loosen restrictions, protests and riots in response to a case of police brutality unleashed new chaos and confusion in our lives. Many no longer wonder “When will it end?” Instead, they ask, “Will it ever end? Will life ever return to normal?”

God has not given His people a spirit of fear or timidity, but one of power, love, and discipline or a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). If the world around us is all we have, we should be afraid. If we place our faith in our political leaders, we should be really afraid. If we rely on our efforts to solve society’s problems, we will be powerless. If we hear the messages that are being shouted from 24-hour cable news channels, we will be driven to hatred. The news can drive us to despair, defeat, depression, discouragement, and so on.

The world needs to hear the Gospel now! Jesus sends us with a message. We must repent of the idolatry of exalting our political heroes and media pundits as if they have the answer. People need the power of God to do what is right. We need the love of God to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the following neighbors: those who are not like us, those who may find it hard to like us, and even those whom we may never meet face to face.

Jesus has given us a message that provides answers to society’s problems now as it did 2000 years ago. Let us go forth and change the world for His glory. He is with us always, He gives us the power to do His work, and He has sent us in His name.

How have you personally answered Jesus’ call to share His Gospel? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

[If you do not have a place to worship, you may visit Cathedral Church of the Intercessor at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

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

Feast of the Ascension: Jesus Reigns over All

“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:15-23, NASB).

“Ascension” by John Singleton Copley. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension. We remember that Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection from the dead and 10 days before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Since several posts in recent months on this blog have considered some of God’s majestic qualities (including the fact that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and sovereign over all things), it is worth remembering what the Ascension is really about. Jesus, who died and rose again for our sins, is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all creation. He is in control. In the age of COVID-19, Jesus rules and reigns. Let us trust Him at all times.

Take some time to read the passage from Ephesians 1 above and reflect on what Jesus’ glory and power mean in your life.

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

[If you do not have a place to worship, please visit my church at http://live.intercessorchurch.com; services stream at 9:30 and 11:30 AM on Sundays, 12:00 noon on weekdays, and 6:00 PM Saturday evening (all times ET).]

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

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: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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