Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

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

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy SAINT Valentine’s Day

From time to time, I like to share some thoughts on this blog related to a saint’s day on the traditional church calendar. So, for this day, Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few years ago, a friend posted a rant on Facebook about people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Part of his argument was that he thinks Christians should not celebrate saints’ days, because (in his opinion) it means we are giving people the worship that belongs to God alone.

I could have answered him on the subject of whether we actually worship the saints. I admire St. Patrick. I find a blessing looking at the lives of great men and women of God, seeing what I can learn about following Jesus from them, and using their lives as a means to draw closer to the Lord. But, instead, I reminded him that only about five weeks earlier, he had posted an enthusiastic post about his wife, referring to her as his “Valentine.”

He could not see the connection. Most people, including my friend, have forgotten that the day is Saint Valentine’s Day. My desk calendar refers to it simply as “Valentine’s Day.” On the other hand, it has not dropped the “saint” part from the holiday that occurs on March 17.

Sadly, much of the world has dropped saintliness from St. Patrick’s Day, even if we kept the name. A feast day to commemorate the “apostle to the Irish” became a celebration of Irish culture, which has devolved for many into an alcoholic drinking orgy with a smattering of pre-Christian paganism (leprechauns, for example): I suspect the real St. Patrick would not have liked how his name is commemorated. Patrick is forgotten in all of the shenanigans. Personally, I usually read St. Patrick’s Confession and Letter to the Servants of Coroticus and pray the Breastplate of St. Patrick on that day. (By the way, I do enjoy an Irish dinner on that day, but I usually commemorate Patrick by eating shepherd’s pie instead of corned beef and cabbage.)

We may have dropped “Saint” from Valentine’s Day. Let us not forget what the man stood for. On Valentine’s Day, most of us celebrate love. We devote extra time to our spouses or other romantic partners, along with our families and friends. We should be able to connect the God that Valentine served to our celebration:

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, ESV).

Not too much seems to be known about St. Valentine. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop who was martyred on February 14, 269. Beyond that not much is known. Some accounts claim he was executed for performing weddings for Christian couples despite laws prohibiting it. Christian biographer James Kiefer wrote:

“There are several stories making the rounds that try to explain the connection between valentines and Valentine. Every one that I have heard sounds like an explanation made up after the fact, probably by a Victorian clergyman lecturing to children. There are other explanations attempting to connect it with various pagan festivals of the early spring. Again, I am not impressed. That young men should send romantic messages in the springtime both in 90 BC and in 1990 AD does not require a conspiracy theory to explain it.”

We may know little about St. Valentine, but we can know a lot about the love of God. If Valentine was a priest or bishop, and if he died as a martyr for the faith, we can make the following assumptions: (1) He loved God and (2) his love was a sacrificial, self-surrendering love. He is also considered the patron saint of epilepsy; I have not studied why this is so, but it is a good reminder that God calls us to love those whose health problems can be a challenge not only to them, but to those around them.

Let us show God’s sacrificial love to all, not just on February 14 but every day:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV).

PS—This post is dedicated to my wife Joyce, who is my Valentine every day!

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

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

Baptism: Deeper than the Water

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, by David Zelenka via Wikimedia Commons, posted under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

The first Sunday after the Epiphany (usually the third Sunday after Christmas) commemorates the baptism of our Lord by John the Baptist.

Jesus’ baptism often brings up questions. A big one is, “Why was He baptized?” After all, John preached a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11). If Jesus had no sin (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21), He did not need to repent. Why would He participate in a baptism of repentance? Some say that He was simply making a public statement, identifying Himself with us. As a result, they say, when we are baptized we are simply making a public profession of faith.

I believe there is something more spiritual—I would call it a mystery, a spiritual truth beyond human understanding—in Jesus’ baptism and ours. After all, if we want to make a public profession of faith, we can always buy a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus, a clever saying, and Bible passage on Amazon and keep our hair dry. However, the Bible seems to say quite a few things about baptism; it says nothing about t-shirts. Baptism is important to God.

Throughout His earthly life, even though He was God, Jesus identified Himself with mankind. The Creator of the universe spent the first nine months of His earthly existence in a uterus. Then, He endured childbirth, which was a dangerous process for mother and baby in those days. Next, He lived through the challenges of childhood before spending almost 20 years as a carpenter. In many ways, He chose an ordinary life with all its difficulties. What better way to transition from the ordinary life of a small-town craftsman to the extraordinary ministry of taking our sins upon us, than by joining sinful humanity in the river of repentance?

Romans 6 sheds some more light on this subject.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Jesus’ baptism was not just a little ceremony. It was a prelude to His death and resurrection. He went under the water, and then He rose up from the water. It was not just a little show to prepare for His work of redemption; it was actually a preliminary part of the redemption process.

Likewise, we identify with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus died for our sins. He died in our place. In the eyes of the Father, we were with Him on that cross. He was buried and descended into hell. He rose again. He is the resurrection and the life: Our resurrection and eternal life are in Him.

Thus, baptism is not just a matter of how much water we use. It is a rite of identification. “Baptize” is derived from a Greek word, “baptizo,” which is derived from another Greek word, “bapto,” which means “to immerse.” Yet, it’s not a matter simply of dunking something under water. Some ancient examples of the word “baptizo” from outside the Bible might help us understand it better.

One way the word “baptizo” was used was in the context of dyeing cloth. If you take a white cotton shirt and “baptize” it in red dye, you get a red shirt. It is no longer considered white, but red. Its identity has changed.

Another context was an ancient pickle recipe. It instructed the person to “bapto” a cucumber in boiling water. Then, the cucumber would be “baptized” in vinegar. It was the baptism in vinegar that turned the cucumber into a pickle.

When we accept baptism or reaffirm our baptismal creed, we are making a radical statement of identification with Christ:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

It is more than a bath. It is deeper than the water. Baptism makes visible our union with Christ. He takes our sin upon Himself. He pours His resurrection power, Spirit, and life upon us. We are united with Him. Scripture speaks frequently of the believer being “in Christ” and of Christ being in the believer.

Lord Jesus, immerse my life in Yours. I drown to my past, submerged in the cleansing power of your blood. Immerse me in You and immerse me in Your Holy Spirit. Amen!

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Christmas: The Love of God Revealed To and Through Us

Image provided by YouVersion.com.

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and followers of Darkened Glass Reflections! There is a popular seasonal song that proclaims “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” I usually find myself thinking it is the most busy and stressful time of the year. It is easy to lose sight of the birth of Jesus when your attention is drawn to the commercialized elements of the holiday.

As I write this post, my wife and I are preparing for friends and family to arrive, so this will be a brief post. In my devotions today, I came across this passage worth reflecting upon:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12, ESV, emphasis added).

The entire life of Christ—from conception, to birth, His earthly life and ministry, to His death, resurrection, and ascension—revealed the love of God. It was an invitation to unite the life of God with the lives of mankind. It is easy to view passages like this one as simply “Jesus came and died so we would not go to hell.” But, it is more than that. In Christ, God has revealed Himself to us and shown us what a true man or woman of God is like. This passage goes on to speak about how God sent us His Spirit (v. 13). The Spirit-filled life of a Christian is one filled with the life of Christ and the love of God in our hearts.

What does this love look like?

  • It is active. When mankind fell into sin, God did not merely throw up His hands in frustration and mumble, “Well, you guys screwed up; you’re on your own now.” Instead, He launched a plan to redeem us from the wages of sin. That plan demanded that Jesus take action to live and die as one of us.
  • It is sacrificial. It cost Jesus everything to come to earth (Philippians 2:5-11). He thought our souls and eternal lives were worth the price. He stepped down from his comfortable exalted throne to be born in a manger and die on a cross.
  • It is merciful and gracious. We did not deserve God’s love, but He loves us anyway. He does not hold back His love because we do not deserve it; instead, His love compels Him to raise us up above our sins and shortcomings.

Let the love of Jesus guide us as we celebrate His birth and life. Let our love be active, seeking opportunities to bless those around us. Let our love be sacrificial, seeking to bless others even if it costs us time, money, or comfort. Let our love be merciful and gracious; let us love others, even when we think they do not deserve it. Instead of letting the commercialism of Christmas interfere with the spiritual part of the holiday, let the active, sacrificial, merciful, and gracious love of Jesus motivate our gift-giving and gatherings.

Most of all, let us keep the message of Christmas in our hearts year-round. May the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace rule and dwell in our hearts through His love every day.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

St. John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul and Knowing God

This post is written for the commemoration of St. John of the Cross (December 14).

“In order to come to union with the wisdom of God, the soul has to proceed rather by unknowing than by knowing” (St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591).

St. John of the Cross. Painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

After posting two recent articles about how our Lord is a personal God who can be known and reveals Himself to us, I found the above quote by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century monk, mystic, and poet. (Some traditional churches commemorate him on December 14.)

Modern people, living in a society powered by science and technology, assume that we can figure everything out. We have questions; we desire answers; we pursue the information we desire (scientists may conduct experiments or perform other controlled observations); and we draw conclusions. We know stuff because we sought information.

However, the Bible tells us that we can know God not because we figured Him out, but because He found a way to reach us. God chose to reveal Himself not as an abstract concept but as a man, Jesus Christ, who lived and died as one of us.

The dark night of the soul is a term that is often associated with St. John of the Cross. The title of one of his most popular poems, it describes the soul’s journey towards knowledge of God. He believed that one comes to know God only through painful experiences and struggles. He had his share. As a member of a strict order—members would not even wear shoes in an attempt to avoid worldly comforts—he faced persecution, opposition, and even torture: sometimes from people who thought his ideas were too radical and at other times by people who thought he was not radical enough.

What is the lesson in all of this? Whatever you are going through, ask “Where is God in this situation?” He is there. What is He doing? What is He showing you about Himself? What is He showing you about yourself? He is always there; He may just be doing something that you are not expecting.

Some writers speak of the dark night of the soul as a struggle with doubt. St. John of the Cross struggled with his faith. St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa), despite decades as one of the world’s most beloved examples of faithful service to people in Jesus’ name, often admitted in private correspondence to decades of doubt. When you face doubts or questions, do not avoid them. Ask God for wisdom and faith. Continue to follow Him, expecting the answers to follow. Faith grows through testing.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:2-6).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

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