Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

Ignatius of Antioch

“Let me be given to the wild beasts, for by their means I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may be like pure bread” (Ignatius of Antioch).

Ignatius, a second-century bishop of Antioch, is commemorated in several traditional churches on October 17.

Ignatius of Antioch. Image via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Ignatius was an early bishop of Antioch who was killed in the Roman arena around 107 AD (some historians believe it was later, perhaps around 140 AD). We do not know if he ever met any of the apostles. It is possible: He wrote a letter to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who had been a student of St. John. So, he lived early enough to have met or learned from one of the men who wrote the New Testament.

Most of what we know about Ignatius is from the last few months of his life. He wrote several influential letters while being transported to Rome, where he would be executed in the Coliseum. Although facing death, he did not give in to discouragement.

One of the last things he said, while being taken to his execution, was “Now do I begin to be a disciple of my Master, Christ.” Suffering—even torture or death—would not discourage him. He saw it as a vital part of being a disciple of Jesus.

How do we handle hardship? The last seven months have been difficult for most Americans. Many have lost jobs. Most have experienced isolation. Some have suffered severe illness. Many have lost loved ones. Have we complained, grown bitter, or struggled in our faith?

Or, have we seen it as an opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus? The early Christians took Jesus’ words seriously:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24–26, New American Standard Bible).

Jesus calls His disciples to value His kingdom above this world. They sought to glorify Him rather than seek rewards, comfort, and pleasure in this world.

We have been through difficult times, but we have not been thrown to the lions. Actually, some of us have complained like spoiled children when told to wear a mask in a public place, as if that was painful suffering. We have had opportunities for meditation, self-examination, and reflection. We have had time to look at our lives, spend more time praying, study Scripture more, and so on. Have we sought God in our circumstances, or have we ignored Him? Have we avoided Him? Have we put our own comfort ahead of His will?

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

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Quotes by St. Teresa of Avila

“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. Though all things pass, God does not change. Patience wins all things. But he lacks nothing who possesses God; for God alone suffices” (Teresa of Avila).

Statue of Teresa of Avila, Saint Teresa Church, Braga, Portugal. Photo by Jose Goncalves via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Teresa of Avila (March 28, 1515–October 4, 1582) was a Carmelite nun who is commemorated as a saint in several denominations on October 15. She is best remembered as a contemplative writer, whose books about prayer, meditation, and spirituality have inspired many people for centuries.

Having recently reflected on the conflict between God’s perfect goodness and life’s unfairness, I think it would be good to think about the above quote. Though all things pass, God does not change. He is always in control.

The following is another favorite quote from Teresa of Avila that I have read in several places. When disaster strikes or hard times come, we might be tempted to ask God why He is allowing people to suffer. Teresa gives us the answer. God usually works through His people in the lives of others:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now” (Teresa of Avila).

Let us go forth today and always to be Christ’s hands, feet, eyes, and ears through which He can extend His love to the world.

Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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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

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