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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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.

Heart Punch

heart punchHave you ever been punched in the heart? Not your literal, physical heart, but your more vulnerable internal one? You’ll know if you have, simply by gauging your emotional reaction to the term.

Heart punch.

It’s that blow that thuds into your emotions leaving you feeling sad, sickened, and despairing all at once.

It’s a blow that is thrown by friends or close acquaintances–strangers can’t usually punch our internal heart (they don’t have access to our more vulnerable sides). And it almost always happens in the context of relationships.

Hurts, misunderstandings, and unfair accusations can lead to poorly thought out words and phrases that slam into our hearts like sledgehammers. The blows leave us feeling bewildered and angry, confused and obsessed, and virtually unable to concentrate on extraneous things. We need help in moments like those, because heart punches affect our perspective and confidence, and their effects can be very difficult to shake off.

However it can be done. Healing can occur. Either the relationship will heal and grow stronger, or YOU will heal and grow stronger besides. That’s the fist step–simply acknowledging that the heart punch isn’t the end of the story.

Poorly placed words can be retracted and repented of. Confusion can be clarified. Hurts can be expressed, owned, renounced, and repaired. Misunderstandings can give way to clarity, and the agony of the heart punch can eventually fade away.

It will help if you don’t immediately punch back. Our nature when hurt is to either withdraw or lash out. If you are a withdraw-er, you risk nursing your wounds and dying of infection, and if you’re a lash out-er, you risk inflicting damage that might not need to occur.

Although it isn’t easy to uncoil the complexities that sometimes lead to heart punches, we need to commit to trying. Remember, the ministry to which we have been called is one of reconciliation. Reconciliation is never easy, but it is always worth the efforts it requires.

What is the unforgivable sin?

Silhouette of a man kneeling with arms lifted up at the Cross of Jesus.

What is the “unforgivable sin” that Jesus talked about…and am I at risk of committing it?

What is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”…and how do I know if I’ve ever been a blasphemer?

What is the “sin that leads to death”…and how can I avoid that particular sin?

In Matthew 12:31-32 and 1 John 5:16 Jesus and the Apostle John talked about a particular sin that has some dire consequences against it. This sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–is a deadly sin with no mercy attached to it. Jesus said that blasphemy against the Spirit was an unforgivable offense both in this present life and in the age to come.

What were they talking about? What is this blasphemous, unforgivable sin that takes its perpetrators straight to death?

First, it is helpful to know what this sin is not. In Matthew 12:31 Jesus said, “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven” except for blasphemy against the Spirit of God. Therefore we know that this sin is different from every other kind of sin–including both the little presumptuous ones we commit and the gigantic heinous ones too. Indeed, the Bible is replete with stories of murderers, adulterers, and idolaters who found forgiveness in the presence of God.

Jesus defined this sin for us when He called it “blasphemy.” Blasphemy refers to angry, injurious, defiant speech leveled against God and His ways. In Matthew 12 Jesus had just demonstrated undeniable evidence that He was indeed the Son of God, but rather than repenting and following Him, the religious leaders (those to whom Jesus directed the charge of blasphemy) dubbed Him a demon-possessed fool.

The reason that this level of sheer blasphemy is unforgivable is not because God is unwilling to forgive a blasphemer, but the because the blasphemer is not willing to seek forgiveness. In 1 Timothy 1:13 the Apostle Paul said he was formerly a “blasphemer” (same Greek word that Jesus used in Matthew 12 to describe blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). The difference is that Paul repented when He encountered Jesus Christ. He ran to the cross and obtained mercy before he died.

Blasphemy against the Spirit is a clenched fist, crossed arms, defiant state of heart and mind wherein the blasphemer is presented with irrefutable proof of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and yet still refuses to acknowledge Him.

We don’t have to fear this sin. We can’t accidentally commit it. Stated another way, the unforgivable sin is the sin that is never confessed. Let’s live at the cross, let’s pray for our loved ones and our world to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ, and we can live without fear of the unforgivable sin.

Loved When Unlovable

love the unlovable

Do you know that you were loved in your most unlovable moments? Do you know that God loved you even when you couldn’t love yourself? Has the weight of that truth ever worked its way into your soul?

You were loved in the exact time when you were the most difficult to love.

God loved you when you hated Him (or when you were coolly indifferent to Him).

He loved you when you pulled a Jonah and sailed in the opposite direction.

He loved you before you surrendered your life to Him and began morphing into who you are today.

He loved you in your confusion, your brokenness, and your shame.

He loved you when you cheered for the wrong sports team (sorry Clippers fans).

God loved you when you were far from Him. That’s what Romans 5:8 is all about. It says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If those words are true, how have they affected our closest relationships? Do we love our loved ones in their less-than-lovely moments? Or do we only love them until those moments?

Certainly, it’s easier to love our loved ones when they’re modeling all of the things that we love best about them, but what about when the other stuff peeks through? What about those times when their lesser nature flares up? Do we love them still?

We don’t have to love their lesser nature, and we certainly don’t have to endorse what they do with it, but I hope we have enough of God’s love in us to continue loving even when it’s difficult to love.

Indeed, those are probably the only moments when love can truly be called love.

Mr. Clean

mr.cleanNo, this isn’t a self-portrait (although I’d love to have his biceps and he does rock the bald head). It’s a portrait of what I hope we are all aspiring to be.

There is nothing like knowing that we are clean.

I worked with a pastor once who was urging me to be Mr. Clean in my ministry and he said, “I’ve slept soundly with a clear conscience every night of my life.” That’s a pretty awesome testimony. And whether we can make that boast today or not, we can start living that way now so it can become our testimony tomorrow.

God has made a way for us to be clean.

The first step to being clean is to get clean.

  • We need to open the door of our inner lives to God, exposing our sin and asking for His total and complete forgiveness.
  • We need to accept His forgiveness by faith and then reject our affiliation with those sins by closing every open door that entices us to return to them.
  • We need to find a wing-man/girl to help us live in our new, cleansed identity.
  • And then we can shave our head, wear a gold hoop and buy a skin-tight T-shirt…sorry.

“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (Jesus to His disciples in John 15:3).

“To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (from the Doxology of Jude 1:24)

A Workable Marriage-Counseling Template

newlywedsPer some requests, I’ve decided to post the marriage-counseling template that I shared in last Sunday’s message at Grace. As I stated in that message, when a couple asks for my help in strengthening their relationship, I urge them to gently but honestly ponder and discuss the following questions:

  1. Based on an understanding of Scripture and the desire of our heart, what would our marriage look like if it were a “10”?
  2. How does our marriage compare to that “10”? Be careful to answer this question gently, without inflicting any unnecessary wounds with your words.
  3. Where have we wounded each other?
  4. Where have we stopped “husband-ing” each other? The word “husband” used to be a verb that referenced the cultivation or tilling of land. Implied in the name husband, then, is the idea of cultivating and tending to the relationship.
  5. Where do we need to ask for and extend forgiveness?
  6. What action steps would most quickly move us toward that “10” standard? Each partner can usually list two or three simple things that, if done, would jump-start the healing and recovery process.
  7. What tools do we need to receive to begin those steps? It’s great to have an action plan, but if we don’t have the necessary tools to complete the steps, the problem will compound and we will struggle with additional feelings of failure or inadequacy.
  8. Are we full of the Holy Spirit? And if we’re not, do we now how to get full?
  9. How do we work this process while speaking nothing but “gentle”? Remember, harshness is a death sentence to a marriage relationship, but gentleness is its lifeblood.