Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

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

First Sunday of Advent: One Year, One Thing

“If every year we would root out one vice, we would soon become perfect men. But now oftentimes we perceive it goes contrary, and that we were better and purer at the beginning of our entrance into the religious life than after many years of our profession” (Thomas a’ Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chap. 11).

By Liesel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year!

No, I am not confused about the date or accidentally posting an article one month early. Today is the First Sunday of Advent, which begins a new year on the church calendar. Over the next few weeks, churches that follow a liturgical calendar will have Scripture readings and songs looking to the coming of Christ, which we will celebrate on Christmas. At the same time, we are reminded that He has already come and He is coming again. We should also remember that He is still with us (Matthew 28:18-20).

Many Americans will wait until January 1 to make New Year’s Resolutions. If the secular world can recommend New Year’s Resolutions, to be announced in a drunken stupor shortly after midnight on January 1, perhaps Christians can make spiritual resolutions on the First Sunday of Advent.

In a recent post, I listed Of the Imitation of Christ as one book that all Christians should read. Brother Thomas’ quote above, found early in the book, really spoke to me. There are areas of my life where, to be honest, I am not as holy or righteous as I was a few years ago. In some areas, my life looked more Christlike before I became a Christian.

I know I am not alone. I know people who admit that they have developed bad habits after becoming disciples of Jesus. Perhaps they overcame a drug or alcohol addiction and got hooked on pornography. Maybe they stopped cursing and became self-righteous, judgmental gossips. If this sounds like you (maybe your sins are different from mine), let’s take a stand together in the coming church year.

Take a look at that quote. Imagine if you could overcome one sinful habit per year. Maybe you have five or six sins that you keep falling back into. Can you imagine overcoming those five or six sins within five or six years?

So, here’s the challenge I am placing before anybody who desires to draw closer to Jesus:

  • Pick one sin that you struggle with. Ideally, it will be the one that causes you the most difficulty. Maybe there is an addiction that is destroying your health and family. Maybe you have a bad temper that has gotten you into trouble. Write that sin down.
  • Bring that sin before Jesus in prayer. Thank Him that He has already forgiven you. Confess that it is sin. Ask Him to give you victory by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of those fruit is the most direct antidote for your sin? Pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest and grow that fruit in your life.
  • Believe and expect God to do this! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit already dwells within you. The fruit of the Spirit is already available to you. If you are not living in victory, it is because you have neglected some fruit that is available to you. Claim it!
  • If there are resources available for addressing your sin, use them. You may want to follow the Twelve Steps, originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous but adapted by numerous other organizations to address other life-controlling problems. A copy of the Life Recovery Bible, available from https://www.tyndale.com/p/nlt-life-recovery-bible-second-edition/9781496425751, will help you work the steps over your struggle.
  • As part of the Twelve Steps, you will be challenged to conduct a personal moral inventory. Do not be afraid: It can be intimidating to dig up all that dirt, but it will bring freedom. Recovering addicts will often say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Share your findings with someone you can trust: a priest (if your church has sacramental confession), sponsor (if you are in a Twelve-Step Program), or a close friend or mentor whom you can trust to keep your confession private. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23-24, English Standard Version).

Throughout the coming year, we will come back to this challenge from time to time. I may mention it within other posts, or I may devote special posts to it. This may be in conjunction with other special days on the church calendar (I will follow the calendar of my denomination, the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church).

May we all find victory in the coming year. Let’s find that one sin that holds us back and cast it aside as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Imagine if we can find victory over one sin per year, without taking on a new one. Where will we be in our walk with Christ one year, five years, or ten years from now?

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

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

Feast of St. Andrew: Drawing People to Jesus

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:35-42; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

One odd irony about the traditional church calendar is the placement of the Feast of St. Andrew, on November 30. Many years, it occurs right after the First Sunday of Advent, making it the first official feast day on the church calendar. However, when Advent begins in December, it becomes the last feast day on the calendar. This can be a little reminder that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16).

Eastern Orthodox Churches refer to Andrew as the “Protokletos,” meaning the “first-called,” because he was the first apostle to follow Jesus. (Many Bible scholars think that the other disciple in John 1:35-42 was John, but the title still goes to Andrew, who is mentioned by name.) Despite being one of the first men to follow Jesus, Andrew drifts into the background.

Usually, when Andrew is mentioned in the Gospels, he is bringing people to Jesus (John 1:40). First, he introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, who gave him a new name, Peter. Simon Peter, of course, would become the chief apostle after Jesus’ ascension.

Later, Andrew would introduce Jesus to the boy who had five loaves and two fish (John 6:8-9), thereby playing a key role in the feeding of the 5000. A few days before the crucifixion, in John 12:20-22, Andrew and Philip brought some Greeks to meet Jesus.

That sums up the life and ministry of Andrew. He introduced people to Jesus. He ministered quietly. Other people may have received the glory and recognition, but when you think about his life, the history of the Church would be very different if not for his presence.

May we all be a little more like St. Andrew—consistently introducing people to Jesus without regard for recognition and glory.

“Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

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

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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: