The Temptation of St. Patrick

Hi everyone! On the Eve of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I would share an insightful, helpful article from author Stephen Mansfield about a generally unknown, but profoundly powerful scene from the life of St. Patrick. Enjoy!

“St. Patrick’s Day is approaching. There will be much beer-drinking and green-wearing to mark it. I’m moved by all of Patrick’s life but there is one episode in particular that comes back to me again and again, particularly at this time of year. It helps me. Perhaps it will help you as well.

Patrick was born in Britain late in the fourth century. Though his father was a Christian deacon and his grandfather was a priest, Patrick admitted that he was not yet a Christian when, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders. For six years he worked as a captive herdsman, miserable and ill fed in the often-chilly pastures of Ireland. During this time, he turned to his family’s Christian faith. When he finally escaped, he returned to Britain determined to become a priest.

He was ordained in 417 A.D. and he immediately astonished his friends by deciding to return to Ireland—the land where he had been a slave so many years. He explained that God had spoken to him in a series of dreams and had instructed him to “set the captives free” in Ireland. In the years that followed, Patrick’s fearlessness, his many miracles, and his earthy ways of expressing spiritual truth won the Irish chieftains to his God and led to the conversion of thousands.

It was just at the height of his success that a nasty, undermining church fight threatened to end his important work. Reading of it these years later we can hardly believe how such a small matter nearly overthrew the progress of this heroic man.

It seems that while Patrick was studying for the priesthood in Britain, he confessed a sin to a friend. This was the standard practice among clergymen in training and it was understood that anything confessed in private was meant to stay that way. Thirty years later, the friend to whom Patrick confessed decided to make the matter known to the church. Those who were jealous of Patrick or who were grasping for control of his work viciously used this confession against him.

Patrick was clearly wounded by this betrayal and disgusted at the valuable time he lost in defending himself—time that would have been better spent changing a nation. Patrick’s famous Confession is filled with the details of this controversy. We can hear his surprise and his hurt in the words.

They brought up against me after thirty years an occurrence I had confessed before becoming a deacon. On account of the anxiety in my sorrowful mind, I laid before my close friend what I had perpetrated on a day—nay, rather in one hour—in my boyhood because I was not yet proof against sin. God knows—I do not—whether I was fifteen years old at the time, and I did not then believe in the living God, nor had I believed, since my infancy; but I remained in death and unbelief until I was severely rebuked, and in truth I was humbled every day by hunger and nakedness.

Hence, therefore, I say boldly that my conscience is clear now and hereafter. God is my witness that I have not lied in these words to you.

But rather, I am grieved for my very close friend, that because of him we deserved to hear such a prophecy. The one to whom I entrusted my soul! And I found out from a goodly number of brethren, before the case was made in my defense (in which I did not take part, nor was I in Britain, nor was it pleaded by me), that in my absence he would fight in my behalf. Besides, he told me himself: ‘See, the rank of bishop goes to you’—of which I was not worthy. But how did it come to him, shortly afterwards, to disgrace me publicly, in the presence of all, good and bad, because previously, gladly and of his own free will, he pardoned me, as did the Lord, who is greater than all?

We can imagine how deflating this must have been. We can picture the frustration; almost feel Patrick’s pain. He had risked his life daily for his God and his church only to have the bureaucrats back home debate and nitpick every detail of his life. He was questioned about his basic morality after displaying nothing but good character for decades. He was humiliated and even considered abandoning his mission to Ireland.

In time, though, Patrick rose above the enemies of his soul. As we read his story, we find that he forgave his accusers, that he became deeply concerned for his betraying friend’s soul, and that ultimately he appealed to being forgiven by Jesus Christ. Though the church leaders would spend years astir in this matter, Patrick lovingly left them to their pitiful debates. He returned to his Irish mission in peace and became, in time, the greatest name in that land.

Here is the lesson: Leaders are not exempt from episodes of pain and offense. Instead, one of the traits of great leadership is the willingness to rise above the bitterness and strife that all leaders face and to do so in pursuit of a higher purpose.  This lesson is part of the legacy of St. Patrick and we should remember it—and seek to live out its meaning–on the day set aside to honor ‘the lion of Ireland.'”

Note: for more from Stephen Mansfiel check out his blog at: https://stephenmansfield.tv/

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Thankful for the fight!

Do you do the whole let’s-go-around-the-room-and-share-what-we’re-thankful-for thing on Thanksgiving Day?

It’s a great practice, and if you’re like me you probably express thanks for God’s grace in your life, your loved ones, and the many blessings of freedom we get to experience in America. However, if we were able to transport the Apostle Paul into our Thanksgiving Day gatherings and plop him down on our sofas, I think he would add something unique to the conversation. I think he would stand and say, “I’m thankful for the fight.”

In his famous words in 2 Timothy 4:7 he said that the fight of faith was a good fight.

I think there are three things that make a fight good:

  1. A fight is a good fight when we’re fighting for something good.
  2. A fight is a good fight when we fight well in the fight.
  3. A fight is a good fight when we win the fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are destined for all three:

  1. We are fighting for the greatest good in the universe—the expansion of God’s kingdom in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on our planet.
  2. We have the revelation of Scripture and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us fight well in our part of the battle.
  3. Finally, we are promised victory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t always love the fight, but I’m grateful for it—and I can concur with the Apostle Paul that it is indeed good. Can you?

What excellence looks like

This is what my daily sermon looks like.

Every morning after I drop Maddie off at school, I watch this crossing guard work the intersection of Benson and Arrow Highway and I am inspired.

I don’t know this guy’s name, occupation, or station in life, but for a few seconds before my light turns green he preaches to me, showing me what excellence really looks like. He is friendly, enthusiastic, decisive, and strong. He tells cars when to back off and when they can proceed. He takes extra time with the children and the elderly, and he gives wide berth to the skateboarders who nearly run him over, often throwing him a high five as they cruise by.

His outfit is crisp, his demeanor is clear, and perhaps even more importantly he seems to be having fun. I watch him monitor his intersection and I vow to be a better pastor. I watch him perform his crossing guard  duties and I vow to be a better dad.

There’s something about excellence–about a job well done and well expressed–that challenges our passivity and inspires us to greater heights.

He’s only a crossing guard but he’s teaching me about worship. He’s teaching me about life, and I’ve actually come to look forward to seeing his work each morning. I hope the hosts of heaven can watch you and me at our worship and work and feel the same inspiration and awe that this crossing guard evokes in me.

A moral obligation to be intelligent

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34)

In his book Strength to Love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that it was not merely sin that nailed Jesus to the cross; it was also ignorance. “The men who cried, ‘Crucify him,’ were not bad men but rather blind men. The jeering mob that lined the roadside that led to Calvary was not composed of evil people but of blind people. They knew not what they did. What a tragedy!”[1]

History is replete with accounts of men and women who engaged in woeful behavior based largely in either ignorance or misunderstanding. Mankind’s historical inquisitions and persecutions had strains of ignorance and intellectual blindness running through them that made their outcomes doubly tragic: they were evil, yes, but they were also uninformed. Misunderstandings of science, racial equality, mental illnesses, and many other things have led to oppression, enslavement, and misguided notions that have traumatized the human race.

We are called to be better. I think we should ponder these words from Dr. King and consider where they might apply to our perspectives and our engagement with the world: “Sincerity and conscientiousness in themselves are not enough. History has proven that these noble virtues may degenerate into tragic vices. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. The church must implore men to be good and well-intentioned. But devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions. Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.”[2]

Let’s commit today to redoubling our efforts at being good, just, conscientious, and intelligent.

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Strength to Love, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 43.

[2] Ibid., 46.

Why isn’t goodness more satisfying?

Stolen water is sweet; bread eaten in secret is delicious!

That’s what the ancient proverbs writer said, and it still rings true today. We, humans, love the illicit and the forbidden.

Why is this?

Why is forbidden fruit so tempting? Why do we crave the things that aren’t healthy for us? Why do we want what we probably shouldn’t have?

The answer is…we actually don’t. We don’t want the illicit; we don’t want the counterfeit—we actually DO want the authentic and the good.

The problem is that goodness usually requires some up-front payment, whereas the illicit doesn’t charge us until a little later on—it’s like a quick and easy credit card transaction that satisfies today but makes us pay tomorrow. Goodness and beauty make us work for it on the front end, and if we aren’t willing to pay that price we’ll turn to lesser substitutes that can hurt us on the back side.

King David understood this. Throughout his life, he walked both paths: the illicit and legitimate, and his conclusion was clear. True satisfaction (the kind that lets you sleep at night and brings life to your soul) only comes from what is good. In fact, David said that when our desires touch God’s goodness it’s so satisfying that it’s almost like we start aging in reverse. He said that God “satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles” (Psalm 103:5).

Jesus agreed with David. He said the Kingdom of God—the reality of the goodness of life in God—was like a treasure buried in a field. It took some work and it cost a life to find it, but once found, it was worth every cent of payment.

The ministry of standing

When Nazi Germany bombed London in the direst moments of WWII, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would routinely climb onto a roof (or on top of his car if he was on the ground) to stand and watch the bombs fall. His defiant silhouette—no doubt replete with his famous Churchillian cigar—was a reminder to anyone who saw him that Great Britain was not defeated yet. His ministry of standing in the face of insurmountable odds injected the citizens of the British Isles with hope and won him the nickname “Lion.”

Did you know that’s your ministry too? Ephesians 6 tells us that there are moments in our lives when we’ve done everything that we know to do and all that remains is for us to climb onto a rooftop and take our stand.

Standing isn’t the most glamorous ministry you will ever have. It’s not the most enjoyable of assignments—indeed, we usually don’t engage in this task until most other options have failed us—however, there is something in the standing that releases the power of God.

And after you have done everything…stand.”

Are you standing today? Are you holding your ground despite overwhelming circumstances? Is your rooftop silhouette a silent reminder that you haven’t lost all faith and that the outcome of your battle is far from over?

History tells us that when England was standing America was stirring. Who knows what heavenly forces are stirring on your behalf as you continue to take your stand?

 

 

Angrier than we need to be

engine-lightAre you an angry person?

Amid all of the potential issues that we humans can grapple with, is anger near the top of your list? I certainly have my share of issues, but anger isn’t usually one of them. Overall I’m pretty patient and laid back—except for those times when merging drivers try to sneak past me on the freeway shoulder and then cut in front of me…or when drivers are driving too slow…or when today’s aggressive political culture starts infecting me…and then I realize that I’m not quite as anger-free as I like to think I am.

I’m actually quite a bit angrier than I usually admit. I’m angry about more things than I realize, and when I feel the angry I probably feel more of it than is warranted.

What should I do with my anger? What should you do with yours?

The Bible says, “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) so there is certainly a place for “righteous” anger, but how do I know if my anger is righteous or not? How do I know if my anger is justified or not? Anger isn’t something I choose to feel—it just emerges in me—so what do I do with it?

Perhaps a helpful metaphor could be the imagery of your car’s dashboard. Anger is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. The light itself is neither right nor wrong; it is simply an indicator of a deeper issue. Yes, your oil light may be blinking but the issue is not the light it’s the lack of oil in your car. So too with us, our emotions of anger are indicators of a deeper concern.

Perhaps we are reacting to injustice…perhaps we are defensive for another human being…perhaps a situation is being poorly or dangerously handled in front of us…or perhaps we are just being selfish, and we are angry at whatever is interrupting our way.

Our anger must be judged, that’s the first step to dealing with it appropriately. We need to identify whether the underlying issue is valid or not. Then based on our assessment—valid or invalid—we respond appropriately. Anger can guide us to justice and relational repair, or it can fuel selfish, self-destructive patterns. Let’s follow it to the deeper issues and then harness it for our good.

And while we’re at it, let’s please stop driving slower than the flow of traffic on the freeway!