Category Archives: Encouragement

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:


Beware of Bilbo’s tree

Recently, I was thinking and praying about a couple of difficult situations and a peculiar phrase came to my mind: “Don’t climb Bilbo’s tree.” As an avid Lord of the Rings fan, I immediately knew what it meant.


In The Hobbit (both the book and the movie) when Bilbo and his comrades were struggling to survive their trek through Mirkwood Forest they decided to have Bilbo climb a tall tree to survey their surroundings and to assess whether or not they were almost out of the woods (no pun intended).


They selected the largest tree they could find and hoisted the slight hobbit into its lower branches. Bilbo scurried up to the uppermost boughs, enjoyed a moment of feeling a cool breeze on his face, and then he assessed their situation. His heart sank when he gazed outward because he could see nothing but row after row of forbidding trees in every direction. Crestfallen and forlorn he descended the tree and reported to his desperate friends that they were still a very long way from their goal.


Unfortunately, neither Bilbo nor his companions realized that their chosen lookout tree was situated in the bottom of a valley. It was indeed a tall, sturdy tree with a reliable vantage point at the top, but its position in the valley skewed Bilbo’s perceptions when he climbed it. In actuality, the hobbit and his friends were almost out of the dangerous forest, but since his tree was in the bottom of the valley all of the surrounding trees appeared taller than their actual height and blocked his view. Had his tree been on level footing with the rest he would have seen the end of the forest and then scampered down the tree trunk to lead a victorious march out of the valley.


All of this flashed through my thinking in an instant when I sensed the phrase in prayer, “Don’t climb Bilbo’s tree.”


Of course I have no idea what you might be facing today, but it is possible that this caution applies to you too. Don’t be deceived by your valleys—you may be much further through the forest than you realize.


What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD…when they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.” (Psalm 84:5-6 NLT)

I will always need you more than ever before!

Ever since I was quite young, hot tubs have been one of my sanctuaries. It’s kind of weird I know, but true nonetheless. Recently, while thinking in the hot tub, I uttered a simple prayer to the Lord, “I need you more than ever before” and then I was immediately struck by the humor in that prayer.

I have ALWAYS needed God more than ever before.

As a drifting, disillusioned college student, I needed God more than ever before.

As a newlywed husband I realized that I would need Him more than ever before if I was going to be a worthy husband for Jessica.

When my three daughters were born, I was keenly aware that I needed His help more than ever before.

In other seasons of success, failure, victory, and trauma I uttered those same words. And then the other night, I prayed them again. I guess I’m always going to need God more than ever before.

I think that’s a good thing. King David felt that way. So did the prophet Jeremiah. I can relate to some parts of their stories. I have had moments of such exhilaration in the Lord’s presence that I was certain that heaven had come to earth, and I have had other moments where I didn’t know if I could go on living. The one constant throughout the highs, lows, and everything in between has been Him. Jesus has been, is, and ever will be faithful.

If you are on a mountaintop in this season of your life, enjoy it. If you are crawling through a valley, keep crawling. There are new beginnings and better days ahead of you, and you are not alone–Jeremiah’s dread champion walks beside you.

“The LORD is with me like a dread champion.” (Jeremiah 20:11 NASB)

“The LORD is near to all who call on Him.” (King David, Psalm 145:18).

Not trapped in yesterday

You would never know it is winter in Los Angeles. The leaves have barely changed colors, the temperature is in the 80s, and everyone around me is still in yoga pants or shorts.

And yet it’s officially winter—the calendar told me so.

Sometimes the seasons of our lives are like that too. The season has shifted and the calendar says the year is brand new, but everything still feels like yesterday.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that life will flow again. We won’t be trapped in yesterday forever. Yesterday ended at midnight, and whether our yesterday was full of victories, draws, or defeats, there is grace for us to get up and run again today. Perhaps you need to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror (or write it in lipstick as my wife, Jessica, has been known to do): “Yesterday ended at midnight.”

There is a prayer in Psalm 126:4 that says, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” This prayer might not mean a whole lot to us until we learn that by late summer the river bottoms in the Negev (the desert country in Southern Israel) become bone dry, and the thought of retrieving water from them is laughable. However, when the winter’s rainy season finally trumps summer, fresh, clean, life-giving water begins to flow into those barren riverbeds once more.

The change over to a New Year is the perfect time to be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Unlike Cinderella who had everything revert back to the past when the clock struck twelve, we have the promise that with every new day there comes new grace and new opportunities for life, love, healing, hope, and breakthrough. Let’s live today to the hilt.

And then let’s let it die at midnight as we run courageously into the mystery and hope of a New Year.

Room for a Blue Christmas

Now that we are deep into the holiday season, you have no doubt heard Elvis Presley crooning about a Blue Christmas more times than you can count. The song has become standard Christmas music fare, and Starbucks has been playing it for over a month now. It’s catchy and sexy, and it is also very real sentiment for many people during the holidays.

It’s kind of funny how everyone knows that the Christmas season can be “blue” for so many people, and yet we hardly ever acknowledge or make space for it. We are supposed to laugh and shop and dream and connect—but we’re never really given permission to grieve.

I know this might sound terribly pessimistic or depressing, but I wonder if our holiday traditions should include some moments for sorrow. I wonder if it would be healthier for our souls to not just soak in the cultural Christmas spirit but to also sit with someone in their sadness.

Remember, deep sorrow was a part of the original Christmas story. Alongside the hope from the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem, there was also great tragedy in Bethlehem. King Herod (a vicious ruler who murdered numerous members of his own household) commissioned a massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem to eliminate any potential threat to his throne over the Jews. Not only does the Christmas story contain words like, “Peace on Earth” and “Good news of great joy” but it also says things like, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation” (Matthew 2:18).

I don’t think we should rebel against the wonder and joy that Christmas is supposed to bring; I’m not suggesting that we turn our celebrations into mourning. I just think we need to make a little space to remember and process the pain in our world. Perhaps if we did this fewer people would feel alone, and more of us would actually touch the hope of Christmas.

My new friend–a Maasai warrior and pastor from Kenya

So…have you ever killed a lion? Have you ever jumped into a pit and killed a marauding lion on a snowy day? Have you ever risked your life to defend your loved ones from a giant cat with bad intentions?

I haven’t, although I’ve talked about it a lot. In my preaching I’ve often highlighted the exciting lion-hunting passages where King David, Benaiah, and others risked their lives to defend against these frightening beasts. They’re great passages, and they help to illustrate powerful spiritual truth about: A) our need to engage in spiritual battles, and B) God’s grace to help us overcome them.

Recently, my appreciation for these passages radically increased when I became friends with an actual warrior from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, East Africa. Pastor Jeremiah is a Maasai warrior, and he has actually been a member of lion-hunting war parties (I should probably mention that he was armed with only a wooden club).

Interacting with a man who has literally stared down a lion with nothing but a heavy stick changes you. It brings a slightly different perspective to the metaphorical idea of lion-hunting. Whereas I urge people to “fight the figurative lions that want to assault your family and faith” this guy has actually looked into the eyes of a real one. He has actually faced his fear and put his life on the line in the pursuit of honor and the defense of the people he loved.

When you look at this pastor, he looks so kind (and he is). But he also has a fierceness  and a courage that our generation needs to recover. He sort of reminds me of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).







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?