The Lesson of Saint Patrick’s Day

The Roman Empire in the West was crumbling. In A.D. 383, the leaders of Rome made a strategic decision. They would give up on Britian, the homeland of Patrick, and leave them to their fate.

The results were inevitable. The poorer nations around Britain invaded and took land, treasures, and slaves. When Irish marauders landed on the beach of Western Britain, they demolished Patrick’s town, stole all they could, and took Patrick captive as a slave back to Ireland.*

There, Patrick had a terrible life. He was cold, lonely, and isolated as he watched over his master’s sheep. Patick’s parents raised him in a Christian home. He knew the faith of his fathers but had not made it his own. In captivity, he cried out to the Lord and found comfort and solace in a newfound relationship with Christ.

One day, he believed he heard a voice telling him that his ship was ready. He walked around 200 miles to the coast. There, he joined some traders headed for the European mainland.

Once Patrick returned to the Empire, he trained to be a minister of the Christian faith. Eventually, he returned to Britain. There, he made a rather remarkable decision. He would go back to Ireland to tell them about his faith and urge them to turn to the one, true God.

This was no easy task. The Irish were not asking him to come. They were a warlike people who had no qualms about pillaging towns and enslaving people. When Patrick went, he was often in danger and had to pay the Irish chieftans for safe conduct through their lands.

What would drive Patrick to do this? Somewhere along the line, Patrick had taken into his heart the command of Jesus, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20a). He believed that Jesus had commanded His followers to make disciples of every nation.

He not only believed that God wanted him to go, he also wholeheartedly trusted the promise of Matthew 28:20, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He would not go alone. This sentiment is commemorated in his famous “breastplate” or prayer: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me; Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me; Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me . . .” This expressed his confidence and trust in the power and presence of the Triune God as he stepped forward into the uncertainty of his missionary endeavor.

Even though he did not know how it all would work out, he was optimistic that these efforts would be successful. He had in his mind the promises of the Old Testament such as, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6, compare this to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 15). Patrick explains this in his “Confession,” which you can download here or read online here.

The point is that Patrick believed in a mission that was more important than his own peace, safety, or comfort. God blessed his efforts, and Patrick had tremendous success as a missionary, essentially turning the entire island of Ireland from paganism to Christianity.

He concluded his “Confession” by encouraging others to take up the same vision:

Now I have given a simple account to my brethren and fellow servants who have believed me because of what I said and still say in order to strengthen and confirm your faith. Would that you, too, would strive for greater things and do better! This will be my glory, for a wise son is the glory of his father.

His hope was that the new disciples would have the same vision for mission that he did and do even more.

Thomas Cahill in his book How the Irish Saved Civilization continued the story. The Irish sent missionaries to Scotland and the pagan conquerors of Britain. They also became the main preservers of the literature of the Roman world passing it on to future generations. This only stopped with the Viking invasions several centuries later, but, by then, other monasteries throughout Europe had taken up the work.

It all started with Saint Patrick’s vision. He believed that God could and would change the world through him and through anyone who would get that same vision. Cahill’s story tells us that many of the Irish did just that.

This also tells us what we should take away from Saint Patrick’s Day. Patrick wanted all those who read of his example to have a vision that would lead them to “strive for greater things and do better!” My hope is that the example of Patrick and the Irish will inspire you to do just that.

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*For another telling of his story, see Mary Cagney’s article Christianity Today’s Christian History magazine. You can read the article here. This article was helpful to me in preparing this article.

Nationalism, Globalism, and Rugby

The movie Invictus explains how Nelson Mandela embraced the white South African passion for rugby and made it a sport for the new multi-racial democracy. It is a wonderful and inspiring movie, and I would highly recommend it. After I watched it, I thought, rugby is a sport I could get into.

Several years passed with that thought in the back of my mind. From time to time, I would watch a little bit of rugby when it was on TV. Then, this past summer, I watched Amazon Prime’s show All or Nothing that featured a season of the New Zealand All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team. I loved it.

After that, I spent some time figuring out how I could watch the New Zealand All Blacks. Eventually, I discovered that you could watch them on ESPN Plus. The matches were at convenient times like 3:00 a.m. So, I decided to get up as close to the original time as possible on a Saturday morning to watch the replay. For most of August and September of last year, I would start my Saturday’s with coffee and rugby.

Since then, I’ve gotten into new teams. I try to watch one rugby match every week. I often watch the finals of the Rugby Sevens tournaments that are held around the world. Rugby Sevens is played with 7 players instead of the normal 15 on each side. My passion for rugby has only increased.

What makes rugby so much worth watching?

  1. It has the intensity of American football. If you like the intensity of football, then you can enjoy rugby. If you think football is barbaric and abhorrent, you probably won’t like rugby. By the way, American football and modern rugby both evolved from an early form of rugby.
  2. It lasts half the time of American football. You can watch the whole match in two hours instead of the 3.5 to 4 that it takes to watch American football.
  3. It keeps going. The clock almost never stops. One exception is the very brief replays, but the officials do the replays with an efficiency that puts most American sports to shame. Other than that, the game keeps going. It’s like the continuous play of soccer or basketball with the physicality of American football.
  4. The standings are based on points and not just wins. Like soccer, the leagues are organized around points. So, there is always motivation to keep playing and scoring. You get extra points for keeping the games close or for winning by large margins. This makes the whole game important. You never have a situation where teams are just waiting for the game to be over and putting in their worst players.
  5. It is international. Watching rugby has made me realize how insulated Americans are. Rugby is a truly international sport. Nations play against other nations. The Guiness Pro 14 League, for example, consists of different teams from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa. Super Rugby is a pro league for teams from the Southern Hemisphere. There is a world cup (this September!) and not just a national title that is give the misnomer of a “world series.”

That last point has really broadened my horizons. A couple of months ago, I listened to a TED Talk by Wanis Kabbaj entitled “How Nationalism and Globalism Can Coexist.” He explains how much that we like in our nation is derived from global sources and how those who care most for their nation care most for the world. Nationalism and globalism can coexist. It’s a helpful talk, which I would recommend.

Rugby has provided me a visual illustration of how globalism and nationalism can coexist. The international competition is about national pride. It’s very moving to see the various teams ardently singing their national anthems. It is a celebration of the individual nations, the powerful thought of all that one’s ancestors have sacrificed to make your nation what it is. See an example in the video below.

At the same time, it is an international competition. It is a community of nations that are playing together and enjoying the goodness of the sport. It celebrates the camaraderie that nations can have together in proper competition.

In fact, nothing beats the international competition. It is the pinnacle of rugby competition. The nations can make one another better. They can work together and compete together in peaceful ways.

Yet, without the love of one’s own nation, you would not see the intensity that you see in international competition. Those who play for the national teams play for something larger than themselves, and it seems to motivate them to give their all to win.

Rugby is fun to watch, and it has broadened my horizons. It illustrates to me the good of both nationalism and globalism.

A Bigger Vision: What the Lord’s Prayer Hasn’t Taught Us About Prayer

“Our Father who art in heaven . . .” Thus begins one of the most famous prayers in history. Ever since Jesus taught it to His disciples, Christians around the world have prayed it every day.

In spite of that, there is something very strange about the Lord’s Prayer. In our society especially, that’s not how most Christians pray.

Most prayers are about sickness, jobs, or disasters. These are legitimate prayers, and they fall under one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” The address of the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father who art in heaven” teaches us that we have a Father in heaven who is both willing and able to help us. We should never fear to bring to our Father anything that we are struggling with.

The only problem is that there are five more petitions that don’t figure so prominently in our prayer lives. The 5th and 6th petitions are about personal transformation. We pray that He will empower us to forgive others, will enable us to experience His forgiveness, and will extricate us from evil. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd petitions are about God’s kingdom, prayers for the transformation of the world into the place God intended it to be. The Lord’s Prayer contains a very big vision of worldwide transformation that brings God and man together in prosperity, joy, and communion, all to God’s glory!

But does this grand, worldwide vision characterize our prayers? No matter how many times I have asked for prayer requests that fit this character of the Lord’s Prayer, people always respond to my call for prayer requests with: “Pray for Aunt Hilda’s broken toe.” Nothing wrong with that in itself, we’re just missing most of the Lord’s intention for prayer. Why?

It seems to me that there are primarily two things that drive us to prayer: suffering and vision. Consider suffering. People pray when they experience suffering or when they fear that they will suffer. They pray when they fear for their job, health, or relationships. They pray when they get sick or experience loss. And that’s good! Prayer is a great place to go when we experience or fear suffering. It connects us to our heavenly Father and gets us in touch with the One who can help!

The other driver of prayer is vision. When we have a vision for things that is way beyond what we can do, we begin to pray. When we want to start a business, children’s ministry, or a church, we pray. When we have a vision to equip a village with clean water, raise money for a new building, or start a new family, we pray. Prayer grows out of the vision.

May I suggest that we do not pray for moral and worldwide transformation because a vision for these things has not gripped our heart? That’s what the Lord’s Prayer still hasn’t taught us: a bigger vision for what God can and will do in our lives and hearts and in our communities and churches. When we have that bigger vision, we will pray. When we pray, we will not only repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer, we will bring the spirit of the words into all our prayers. Then, we will have learned the lesson of the Lord’s Prayer.

Encouragement for Parents

Parenting is a scary thing. You have responsibility for a precious little life, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. The atmosphere of parenting is anxiety, and the family is a sort of anxiety generator.

The trouble with anxiety is that it is an emotion that is not always (not often?) based on reality. Anxiety leads us away from thinking and to action that is rooted in emotion rather than reality. Sometimes, anxieties about people become self-fulfilling prophecies. We may have had parents whom we thought were too strict. This may have led us or our siblings to act in ways that led to harm. Out of fear of this, we may not set boundaries for our children. This may end up harming them. So, then our kids go overboard emphasizing boundaries. Anxiety has a way of working through the generations.

I have seven kids from ages 5 to 16. I have tried to be a less anxious parent without disengaging from my children. As I have tried to look at reality and not just go by my feelings, I have seen quite a few things that have encouraged me. I would like to share that with you here.

The number one thing is to relax about parenting. In spite of the challenges of our times, parents do have a big influence on their kids. Most kids figure out how to deal with life and become relatively productive members of society. The long-term trends and statistics for parenting are good. There are exceptions, but the overall picture is relatively positive. You can influence your kids in a positive direction. Continue reading “Encouragement for Parents”

The Benefit of Respecting Your Husband and Loving Your Wife

Just mentioning that wives should respect their husbands can be controversial. Who is a guy to think that he can tell women what they should do? What is the basis for telling wives that they should respect their husbands, let alone submit to them?

The basis is the Bible. The Apostle Paul wrote, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).

One irony of this verse is that when Paul wrote it, there was nothing less controversial than the idea that wives should respect and submit to their husbands. Everyone would have agreed with that. What would have seemed strange was the idea that the husband should love his wife and cherish her.

Today, the situation is reversed. The idea of a husband loving his wife is a no-brainer. The idea that a wife should respect her husband unconditionally seems strange and even wrong.

Yet there it is: husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands.

One reason that people may fear the language of unconditional respect is fear that husbands will misuse that respect and even abuse their wives. The problem with this perspective is what Dr. Emerson Eggerichs noted in his book Love and Respect. There are marriages where there are people of bad will. In such cases, the marriage may have to end. In cases of abuse, the spouse should draw clear boundaries and certainly seek safety where his or her life or health is threatened. What Dr. Eggerichs noted, however, was that many marriages of people of good will end as well. He wondered, why should this be the case?

This led him as a Pastor and Counselor to consider the verse that we just cited, Ephesians 5:33.

He then asked, why does it tell the husband and the wife to do two different things? Why the focus on love for the husband and respect for the wife? Continue reading “The Benefit of Respecting Your Husband and Loving Your Wife”