Tuesday, March 17, 2015

why celebrate st. patricks day?

Congratulations, America, we’ve done it again- taken a holiday with significant religious meaning and commercialized it to a point where we don’t recognize God in it at all.  Just as Christmas has become about Santa and presents, and how Halloween covers over Reformation day, St. Patrick’s day has become a day to drink green beer and talk about Leprechauns, rather than remembering the man himself, St. Patrick. 

Very few Americans know the true story of St. Patrick, yet we decorate our classrooms with clovers and leprechauns, pots of gold and Irish flags.  We arrogantly use this day as an excuse to drink green beer, “like the Irish,” assuming that to be the only purpose of St. Patrick’s Day.  But when you take even just a second to really think about the significance of this holiday, the idea of green beer and leprechauns seem completely irrational. 

St. Patrick was kidnapped as a young boy and taken as a slave to the Druid Island of Ireland.   Druids were pagan worshippers- and I don’t just mean that they bowed down to false idols… Druids were brutal and mystic, with traditions of human and animal sacrifice preformed to keep the spirits of the “otherworld” from seeking revenge on the living.  Druids were ruthless, violent, and barbaric.  Young Patrick was taken from his wealthy family in Scotland by Irish Pirates and sold as a slave to a druid farmer.  During his 6 years in captivity, Patrick was nearly isolated, interacting only with the flock of sheep he shepherded on the side of Mt. Slemish in Northern Ireland.  His isolation caused him to call out to the one person who might hear him – God. In his autobiography, St. Patrick’s Confession, he wrote that his time in captivity was crucial to his spiritual development – it was in this time that the lord showed him mercy and opened his eyes to his need for a savior.  His time as a shepherd strengthened his relationship with God through prayer, eventually leading to his conversion to Christianity. 

After 6 years of captivity, and crying out to the lord for help, The Lord answered his prayers.  One night, Patrick had a dream that he was running to the sea, and a boat was waiting to set sail to Scotland.  In the morning, when he woke up, Patrick knew exactly where he needed to go.  He ran towards the Irish Sea, and saw a boat identical to the one he saw in his dream.  He approached the captain, and offered himself as a free crew hand in exchange for transportation to Scotland.  The captain turned him down.  Confused, Patrick walked away, unsure of where to go next.  Moments later, the Captain changed his mind and by the grace of God allowed Patrick onto the ship.  Finally, Patrick would be reunited with his family. 

Upon returning to Scotland, Patrick continued to study more and more about Christianity.  He was grateful to be home, but it wasn’t long before the comfort of home would be ripped from him once more.  Several years after returning to Scotland, Patrick had another dream.  In this dream, he received a letter from the people of Ireland, begging Patrick, a holy servant, to come and walk among them.  Patrick knew what he had to do. 

In an act of selfless obedience to the lord, Patrick left the comfort of his home and family and returned to the place of Druid worshipers, where he had been held captive in isolation for six years and devoted himself to showing them the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Though he was not initially accepted, St. Patrick persevered and eventually, the word of the gospel was spread across the entire island of Ireland because of his obedience to the call of the Lord. 

Today, Patrick is known as the Patron Saint of Ireland. In both the Catholic and Protestant churches of Ireland, St. Patrick is revered as the first Bishop of the church, and accredited as the man through whom God spread his word to the nation of Ireland. 

All throughout Ireland, St. Patrick is remembered and honored regularly.  Many national symbols relate back to Patrick’s influence on Celtic Culture.  For instance, the Celtic Cross, displayed at nearly every traditional church in Ireland, was a tool that St. Patrick used to help the Druids understand that the cross brings life just as the sun brings life.  As they had worshipped the sun before, the cross was an even greater facet for their affection.  The shamrock, or a “three-leaf-clover” is the national flower of Ireland.  St. Patrick took a small, and common field flower and made it significant by incorporating it into his teachings on the trinity – Just as the flower has three pedals that create one flower, so too God has three parts which create one holistic God; three in one. 

St. Patrick’s day has much more significance than we Americans often let on to.  It’s not just a day to wear green and drink beer; it’s a day to commemorate the life of St. Patrick – a day to celebrate spiritual renewal and to pray for missionaries worldwide. 

The story of St. Patrick is an example to us of what the Lord is capable of doing in and through our lives if only we are obedient to follow the voice of the lord, and to follow where he leads us – despite our own fear or personal desire.  Patrick returned to a place of torture, but through him, an entire nation came to know the lord.  Imagine what the lord is capable of doing through you if only you listened to him. 

The prayer of St. Patrick:

"I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and a-near,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation."

The site of the first Christian church in Ireland at Saul

Saul Church and the Celtic Cross- a reminder that the Cross outshines the sun and brings forth eternal life. 

St. Patrick's Grave at Downpatrick Cathedral - March 17th is the date of his death.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

big dog, afraid of water.

Tollymore Forrest is arguably one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.  It holds some of my fondest memories, and is also the place where the Lord taught me some of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned. It’s hard to put into words the beauty of the creation that God has given us to enjoy in that place.  I’ve been there a few times now, and had two very different experiences.  I had the blessing of spending the past two Februaries abroad in Northern Ireland.  The first time I went as a student at Kanakuk Link Year, with 31 of my dearest friends and had the time of my life gallivanting throughout the beautiful Irish countryside making memories and laughing a lot, enjoying every moment; but this past year, I returned to the country with Link Year, but without my beloved friends.  It was hands down one of the hardest months I’ve ever endured…but in the very best way.

The months leading up to my return to Ireland this past year were anything but easy.  The lord was trying hard to get my attention, but I wasn’t letting him have it.  So, being an almighty, sovereign, and jealous God, He did what he had to do in order to really get my eyes on him.  He took me halfway across the world, to a foreign country…without any friends…without any comfort…without any distractions; and he met me there. 

Throughout the four weeks I spent in Ireland, The Lord spoke to me many different times, in many different ways, through many different people.  The month I spent across the pond was one time in my life that I feel like I will always remember as being vitally important in my walk with the lord. 

I returned to Tolleymore the last week of my month in Ireland this past year.    Walking into the forest, I was filled with an unexpected sense of nostalgia.  All I wanted to do was sit, and be still, and reflect over the trip. Two hundred yards into the forest, the Shimna River roars, making its presence known to anyone near by.  I had never moved beyond the river, but this time, the sound of the river was too much for me to handle.  I walked over a bridge, and moved deeper into the forest, when I stumbled onto one of the most peaceful and still areas I have ever seen.  A still, clear pond, surrounded by trees on three sides, and the greenest grass I have ever seen on the other.  As if it was placed there just for me, there was one small three-sided shack, with one bench overlooking the pond.  So there I sat, secluded and silent, for what seemed like hours.  After a while, an old Irish man with two big black labs came and joined me by the pond.  I could tell that he too thought he was alone as he walked and talked to his dogs, throwing them sticks to retrieve.  I don’t think he ever would have guessed that he would teach me something that would change my life forever.  But that day, in that forest, by that pond, God spoke to me through that man.   I wrote this as I sat on my bench:

“Big dog, afraid of water” the Irish man laughed realizing I, the only other human near by, was watching him repeatedly throwing a stick to his black lab.  I’m fascinated by dogs.  I love them more than most humans.  They have the ability to love beyond that of any person I have ever met.  They love to have fun and be adventurous and break all the rules, but at the end of the day, no matter what he’s done, you can’t help but love your dog.  The way he curls up next to you on the couch, or insists on warming your pillow…dogs want one thing from you, and they give one thing in return; love.  With this dog in particular, a fun game went awry when his owner threw his beloved stick out just the slightest bit too far into the water.  Up until this point, the dog had been able to overcome his fears enough to reach the floating stick in the murky water, but this time was different.  This time, the stick had travelled out just far enough for the dog to become skittish and frightful of the previously adored water.  He walked into the water, and stopped.  He really wanted the stick, but he wasn’t really willing to venture out that far to retrieve it.  He turned his head back to lock eyes with his owner, the thrower of the stick, “Ah go on boy.  Go get it.” The owner commanded, knowing that the dog’s only goal was to retrieve the stick that he had thrown.   I chuckled to myself.  “Big dog, afraid of water” he looked at me and laughed.  The dog hopped once more and then came running out of the water with the stick in his mouth, and ran to his owner. 
Sometimes, I think that we can be just like that dog.  God is always throwing us sticks- giving us opportunities to grow and glorify him; but do we always want to do what he’s asking us to do?  How far are we willing to go to retrieve the stick?  Sometimes further than others…but what we need to realize is that he is always standing just behind us, waiting for us to look back and hear his encouragement.  “Go on, Get it.  I know how much you want it.”
Even though the water scares us; even though it requires an entirely new level of trust and reliance on God; even though it forces us to step out into the unknown, we have to ask ourselves, “How badly do I want the stick?” Because it’s easy to pretend to be a big brave dog when three feet is as far as you have to go…but even when we’re scared, God is right behind us saying, “Go on.  Get it.  I promise you’ll be okay.” 
This is a lesson that The Lord taught me nearly a year ago, but is continuing to use to refine me still today. 

Over the past few weeks, my mentor (her name is Kristina and she’s super rad) and I have been going through an inductive study of the book of Ruth.  Honestly, I read through the book a couple times (it’s fairly short), and I thought that I understood exactly what it was saying.  Welp, surprise surprise, we got about 8 verses in before I realized I was wrong. 

If you aren’t familiar with this story, it starts out with a completely average family of Jews living in Bethlehem, God’s chosen land for them.   Well, probably as a result of God’s wrath over the Israelites, Bethlehem is struck with famine, and they flee to Moab, the land of their enemies.  Not long after Naomi, Elimilech, and their two sons move to Moab, Elimilech falls ill and dies, leaving his wife Naomi a widow.  Their two sons take Moabite women to be their wives, and they too die after about 10 years, leaving Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah as three widows without a male provider or protector.  Naomi decides to move back to Bethlehem, and has this encounter with her daughters-in-law as they begin their journey. 

“Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.  May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?   Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”
-       Ruth 1:8-18

There’s a lot of significance to this exchange.  The girls set out on a journey with Naomi, and don’t make it far before she points out the imminent struggle that lies before them. 

Turn back

Naomi commanded the girls to turn back, and return to the homes of their mothers.  After this first command, the girls respond with weeping, and a refusal to leave Naomi’s side. 

Turn back, I have nothing to offer you. 

Again, she tells them to forsake her and leave to return to their homeland… but this time she gives them a better reason. 

Even if I were to get pregnant tonight, would you wait for my baby to grow up so you can marry him?

Orpah recognizes the weight of the situation.  Returning to Bethlehem with Naomi means leaving her life of comfort, of provisions, of protection, to live in a place where she would not only be culturally unaccepted, but she would also be choosing a life of work- a life of pain and toil.  Orpah recognized the challenge, and wasn’t ready to accept it.  She said “thanks, but no thanks” and hit the road towards home.  But Ruth… Ruth hears Naomi say, “my God has turned against me,” and Ruth says, “That’s the God I want.” 

Ruth understands that following Naomi back to Bethlehem is a risk; but it’s a risk she’s willing to take.  She sees not the struggle, but the reward.  The uncertainty of what lies ahead carries no weight compared to the prize of walking in obedience to the one true God, the God of Israel. 

Like the dog, Orpah saw the risk and turned her head.  She wasn’t willing to venture out into the water.  But Ruth heard the voice of her master calling her by name out into the abyss, only to show her his goodness and greatness over her life.  Ruth received the prize of life because she was willing to step out into the unknown in order to fetch the stick, and abide by the good and perfect plan that the Lord had laid before her. 

Because of her faithfulness, and trust in the Lord, Ruth went on to become a member of the lineage of Christ.  She was rewarded for her faithfulness, and recognized for her loyalty.  The Lord blessed Ruth’s obedience.  Contrary to Christ’s call to his disciples, Naomi says, “Go home” and Ruth chooses to follow; but in both instances the question is the same.  It’s not a matter of how willing you are to be obedient; it’s about how obedient you’re willing to be.  It’s not about how many times you run to fetch the stick; it’s about how far you’re willing to go to retrieve it. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

bloody knees.

 I have this idea that maybe, just maybe, everything that ever happens is intended to inspire within us worship of our almighty, all powerful, all sustaining creator; and maybe, just maybe he has a better grasp of everything going on around us than we could ever imagine. 

If you read the post I wrote at the beginning of the summer, you know what I’m saying when I talk about utter chaos ensuing in my life over the past year, and the ways that I have been able to see the Lord’s hand at work in those situations.  Well, this summer, he didn’t let up.  More trials, more lessons, and more questions.

After hearing about some substantially surprising and upsetting news on one of my 2-4s, (the 24 hours we get off from camp a week) I asked my dear friend Jen Ford to share a meal with me so that I could process through some things with her.  She’s a phenomenal question-asker, and one of the most proactive initiators I’ve ever met.  She recognizes needs, and moves to take action.  As I sat with her, I sobbed about how unfair it all seemed… that I would be facing yet another trial.  “Its just one thing after another,” I cried, “how much am I going to have to give?”  She looked me square in the eye, and with her sage wisdom, knowing exactly what I needed to hear, she replied with a smile, and said, “everything.” 

That was definitely not something I wanted to hear in that moment, but those words will never escape me.  Everything. 

What does it look like to live with everything surrendered to the Lord?   I think this is the very lesson I have been learning this year. 

When I think about someone who lost everything, my thoughts fall on Job.  Job was a blameless and righteous man, and he experienced many worldly blessings because of it.  Yet, when he lost everything, he continued to bless the name of the Lord. 

Now, I haven’t lost anywhere near as much as Job- he literally lost everything in his life in a matter of minutes.  All of his wealth, all of his family, and his good health.  Gone.  And yet, he blessed the name of the Lord. 

It’s incredible how little I recognize God’s hand in my life when I face trials.  Honestly, my thoughts turn more often than not to, “God, why?” “Where are you?” “Don’t you care for me?”

But it’s important that we look at the context of these so-called ‘trials’ in our lives. 

Scripture says in James 1:2-4, “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 nothing.”  James later goes on in verses 12-15 to say, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” 

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

It’s important that we recognize the difference between temptation and trials.  By definition, a temptation is a desire for something wrong or unwise.  God will never give us a desire for something that contradicts his word or his will.  Temptation is not of God, but of our sinful nature that desires sin over righteousness.  And when we are tempted, we need to understand that we are not alone, because no temptation is new to mankind.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Soapbox moment:  There is power in vulnerability.  Share with trusted brothers and sisters in the faith what it is you are being tempted by, because chances are they have been tempted by the same thing at one point or another, and they may be able to see what the promised “way of escape” might be better than you can.  Don’t hide your sin in darkness.  Trials on the other hand are defined as a test of the performance, qualities, or suitability of someone or something.  So, when it says in James, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him,” we see that God does allow us to face trials in order to test our faith… why? To show steadfastness... to show the qualities of our character... to show off the way that the Lord transforms the lives of those who love him.  He allows us to face trials for one reason- to glorify his name, just as Job does when he looses everything. 

I think one of the most fascinating parts of the book of Job comes in chapter 1 verse 7.
“The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Did you catch that?  God suggests to Satan that he consider Job. He’s putting his trophy on display- showing off exactly how much Job loves Him.  God confidently chooses to allow Satan to test Job, knowing that in the end, He will be glorified.  God chose to win an open victory though his servant Job. 

And when calamity strikes, how does Job respond?  He falls to his knees, and he Worships His maker. 

When we face trials and calamities in our lives, how do we choose to respond?  I don’t know about you, but my first response usually isn’t to worship God.  

But from the moment He created us, God has been seeking one thing- true worshipers; and true worship is shown in the times when it is hardest to express.  So rather than questioning him, and wondering why on earth God would allow us to go through these times, let us express the true steadfastness the Lord desires from us, that our faith may have its full effect, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

All this to say, when calamity strikes, and all of a sudden we find ourselves wallowing in our own self pity- wondering where God is, rather than dwelling in our doom, we should rejoice in the goodness of our God.  Our knees should hit the ground so fast and so hard we should all be walking around with bloody knees. 

Let’s allow God to claim victory over Satan by the ways that we react when he attacks.

 “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  -2 Corinthians 12:7-10