Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

Thoughts on the Love of God by St. Augustine

“Incomprehensible and immutable is the love of God. For it was not after we were reconciled to him by the blood of his Son that he began to love us, but he loved us before the foundation of the world, that with his only begotten Son we too might be sons of God before we were anything at all” (St. Augustine of Hippo).

All St. Augustine quotes are from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
A young St. Augustine with his mother, St. Monica. Painting by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), photographed by Johann Dréo from Chartres, France, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

August 28 is the Feast of St. Augustine in some churches. The following thoughts commemorate him while also providing an introduction to a forthcoming series about God’s Love.

St. Augustine (born November 13, 354; died August 28, 430) is arguably the most influential Christian author since the apostles passed away. His writings not only influenced Roman Catholicism, but also perhaps the two most significant Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. If you follow the teachings of Luther or consider yourself a Calvinist, you are a de facto Augustinian.

Some may find his theology heavy-handed; his views about morality were strict, perhaps legalistic. Raised by a Christian mother and pagan father, he spent his youth as a rebel. During early adulthood he sought truth: followed Manicheeism (sort of a proto-New-Age fusion of Christianity and Eastern mysticism), had a son out of wedlock, became a professor of rhetoric, and eventually became a Christian. Interested readers may want to check out his biography, the Confession of St. Augustine. Although he lived over 1600 years ago, it is easy to relate to him. His Confession reminds us that times may change, but people are essentially the same.

In the coming weeks, I will share a few thoughts about the love of God. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8); it is one of His most important attributes. If we do not have the love of God in our hearts, our faith is not genuine.

I would like to close with a few more quotes by St. Augustine about God’s love. Reflect on them and rejoice in the incomprehensible, unchangeable love that God has for you!

“O Love ever burning and never extinguished caritas, my God, set me on fire.”

“God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.”

“People are renewed by love. As sinful desire ages them, so love rejuvenates them.”

“The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and be loved.” (Augustine sought satisfaction in several premarital sexual relationships before surrendering his life to Christ. Like many people today, he found that he was “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as a popular song from the 1970s said.)

I would like to hear from you. Does one of Augustine’s quotes really speak to you in a special way? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

Diversity and Ministry

“The devil studied the nature of each man, seized upon the traits of his soul, adjusted himself to them and insinuated himself gradually into his victims’ confidence—suggesting splendors to the ambitious, gain to the covetous, delight to the sensuous, and a false appearance of piety to the pious—and a winner of souls ought to act in the same cautious and skillful way” (Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556).

from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), whose feast day is on July 31. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Some churches try to make “one-size-fits-all” Christians. They dress alike. They all listen to the same kinds of music. They all avoid the same “worldly pleasures.” Perhaps you know the kind of church I am talking about. Perhaps you currently attend a church like that.

One positive feature of such churches is their ability to take a united stand against certain sins. However, they run the risk of being blind to their own sins. Almost 30 years ago, I visited a church where the pastor delivered a sermon about addictions. He ranted against probably 15 or so addictions: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, television, etc. The congregation shouted “Amen!” each step of the way (I do not think anybody went outside to smoke right after the service). However, the pastor was noticeably overweight, and did not mention food addictions. There are plenty of Bible verses that address gluttony, but that might be uncomfortable to confront in some churches.

Humans are comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who are like ourselves. It is easy to get comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who share our interests, habits, and opinions. As 16th-century theologian Ignatius points out in the quote above, Satan often has us beaten. He welcomes diversity in his domain. He will ensnare people in sin any way he can. Some of us have absolutely no interest in drugs: You can offer me all the cocaine in the world, and I would not be interested. It would be no temptation at all. However, it is an overwhelming stronghold for some. It has destroyed many lives. (Don’t worry; I have my own temptations to deal with, but I will do my personal confession elsewhere.)

Satan is thrilled to ensnare us however he can. If he can lure us through drugs, he is happy. He will gladly grab us with sex, alcohol, money, success, popularity, food, entertainment–anything that will keep us from seeking God’s will for our lives.

As we minister to others, recognize that there is some wisdom there. God has created each of us with a unique blend of strengths and attributes. Some are naturally outgoing; others are more reserved and introverted. Some are relationship-oriented and want to spend time with people; others are task-oriented and want to accomplish goals and projects. Some are leaders; some prefer to be told what others expect them to do. None of these qualities are necessarily “right” or “wrong”; they are part of who we are and how God has molded us. Satan might manipulate them for his own purposes.

Let us recognize that God has made each of us unique. Let us embrace that uniqueness and yield it to be used for His glory and the benefit of His people.

Stained glass window at Dublin Christ Church Cathedral (Ireland). Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is in the middle. The seven surrounding figures depict different Bible characters, representing a variety of Christian virtues. A complete description appears here. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

Let us also recognize the strengths, interests, passions, gifts, and other qualities that God has instilled in our brothers and sisters and encourage them to be all that God has called them to be. They do not have to be like us; God is calling them to minister to those whom we cannot reach, to share the Gospel with those who will not hear us, and to do the work we are not capable of doing.

Let us reach out to the lost as they are. Some are seeking peace; introduce them to Jesus, the Prince of peace, who offers the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Some are seeking a reason to live; others are asking, “What is truth?”; some are seeking a sense of direction in their lives; they need to know Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). While He is the only name under heaven by which people may be saved (Acts 4:12), He invites us to Himself by whatever means draws us to Him.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (First Corinthians 12:4-13, New American Standard Bible).

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

Jesus, Family, and Grandparents

The parents of Mary, traditionally believed to be named Joachim and Anne, are commemorated in traditional churches on July 26.

This blog have been extra quiet for the last few weeks. Every year, my wife and I take a road trip from our home on Long Island to visit my son and his family in Springfield, Missouri for about one or two weeks. That vacation occurred during the first two weeks of July, and we are still trying to get back into a normal routine since we returned. However, normalcy is a little hard to accomplish, since my wife’s family is visiting from Florida and Oregon. We still have plans to visit my mother in a couple months. It may take a while before we can settle back into a routine, but family is important to us.

Family is also important to God. He came up with the idea of having a man and a woman come together to bear and raise children. When He became man, as Jesus Christ, He became part of a family with Joseph and Mary, along with the children they had after Him (I believe in the traditional Protestant belief that the brothers and sisters of Jesus, mentioned in Mark 6:3, were born after Jesus and conceived in the usual way). In fact, Jesus even had grandparents.

The child Mary with her parents. At Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We usually do not think about Jesus’ grandparents. Their only mention by name in the Gospels occurs in the two genealogies of Jesus, where two different people are named as the father of Joseph. Some people think one of those two—either Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Eli (Luke 3:23)—is actually Mary’s father. That theory would require some real acrobatics with the words of Scripture. I believe Joseph could have been adopted; perhaps his parents died when he was young and he was raised by another family. Although I am not aware of any theologians who share this view, I think it resolves the discrepancy between the two different genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke without trying to twist the plain wording that both list Joseph’s lineage or assuming that one is incorrect, while accepting a plausible set of circumstances allowing for Joseph to have two “fathers.”

The Roman Catholic Church believes that Mary’s parents were named Joachim (derived from a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh prepares”) and Anne (the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Hannah,” which means “grace”). The Book of Common Prayer commemorates them on July 26 simply as “The Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Whatever their names were, perhaps they deserve a day of commemoration. Joseph and Mary must have been remarkably godly people. Mary had found favor with God (Luke 1:30), so much so that He trusted her to bear His Son. Joseph was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19), one who would make the difficult, probably scandalous, decision to raise a child who was not really his own simply because God told him to do so. Such persons are a testimony to their upbringing. I believe Joseph and Mary were fully prepared to raise the Son of God because their own parents had successfully raised them to be people of faith and servants of God.

So, although we cannot be certain of their names, we know their legacy. We can be certain of the impact they had on the world.

Whether you are a parent, hope someday to become a parent, are already a grandparent, or play an active role in helping friends or family members raise their children: Remember the legacy of Jesus’ grandparents. We may not know for certain who they were, but God does. We may not know all we would like to know about them, but we know how their children and their Grandson changed the world. Build your legacy. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NASB), and continue to build your legacy to future generations.

Family is important to God. Perhaps eternity will measure your impact not so much by what you accomplished, but by what was accomplished by those whose lives you molded.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

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

Faith and the Trinity

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

A 16th century attempt to depict the Trinity by Guillaume Le Rouge. Image from the Cleveland Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday in Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, and many other Western liturgical churches.

The Trinity is a mystery. In a sense, it is also a paradox. The Father is God; the Son also is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. They are distinct, separate entities, so they are three Persons. Yet, there is only one God. Attempts to explain how one God can be three Persons are usually unsatisfactory. Most people who think they can explain the Trinity usually end up describing either modalistic monarchianism (the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same person who merely manifests Himself in different ways at different times) or full-blown polytheism. Both are false teachings.

Illustrations and examples usually seem flawed. One illustration is the egg (shell, white, and yolk are all different parts, but they make one egg). My seminary systematic theology professor tried to use coffee as an example (water, sugar, and the juice of the coffee beans). Every such example falls a little short. Another professor, Stanley Horton, explained it best: God is the only real Trinity in existence; we will not understand it fully until we see Him in the fullness of His glory.

That is all we need to know. We are saved by faith, not by knowledge. Even when our understanding falls short, we merely have to trust God.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).

All three Persons in the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are intimately involved in our salvation and spiritual growth. 1 John 2:23-24 tells us that “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is identical to a relationship with God the Father; they are intertwined. The person who has a relationship with Jesus has the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

If we do not understand it, we merely have to trust Jesus, and He will guide us—with the help of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).

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

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

Bede the Venerable: Gifts from God Given Back to Him

“He alone loves the Creator perfectly who manifests a pure love for his neighbor.”
“All the remaining time of my life I spent in that monastery, wholly applying myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst observance of regular discipline and the daily care of singing in the church. I always took delight in learning, teaching and writing” [St. Bede the Venerable; quotes from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by M. Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000)].

Bede the Venerable is commemorated on May 25 in many churches.

St. Bede the Venerable. Image by Aravind Sivaraj, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Bede was a British monk who lived who died on May 25, 735 AD. He was ahead of his time: Christian biographer James Kiefer said that he was the first person to write scholarly works in the English language. Among his works were the History of the English Church and People, which remains an important account of early English history, and an English translation of the Gospel of John, which he completed on the very day that he died. Kiefer adds that “he was aware that the earth is a sphere, and he is the first historian to date events Anno Domini, and the earliest known writer to state that the solar year is not exactly 365 and a quarter days long, so that the Julian calendar (one leap year every four years) requires some adjusting if the months are not to get out of step with the seasons.” He certainly sounds like he was ahead of his time!

Most importantly, though, he was a man of faith. As a monk, his days were devoted to prayer and worship. However, he was also an accomplished scholar. The two went hand-in-hand. He submitted his zeal for learning and writing to the will of God. God gave him these talents. Bede returned them to God as an offering.

Bede’s life serves as a reminder: Whatever talents God gives us can be given back to Him as an offering and as a ministry to His people. It is not only our most “spiritual” talents that God uses. You do not need to be a pastor, author, theologian, or musician to be used by God. Ordinary talents and interests can be surrendered to Him. Crafts, carpentry, computers: skills in these areas can be used for God’s glory. A willingness to listen to hurting people, without judging or offering unsolicited advice, is a talent that is sadly lacking in many churches.

How has God molded you? What gifts can you bring to Him? How can you serve the people He wants to touch through you?

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

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

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