Saint Patrick’s Story

The story of Saint Patrick is a great story.

I think it’s one every Christian should know.

Because the story of Saint Patrick points us to the Gospel story.

Patrick lived in Britain in the 5th century A.D. He grew up in a Christian home, yet was not a believer.

At the age of sixteen Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates. He was taken to Ireland and enslaved.

Yet, it was in slavery that the Lord met Patrick.

In his book The Confessions, Patrick says that the Lord had mercy on him and gave him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins.

Patrick received the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and was forever changed. So changed, that he pursued God with a new passion.  In The Confessions he writes:

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn.

But that was only the beginning. After six years of slavery God gave Patrick a vision that led Patrick to freedom. Once free, Patrick returned to Britain and devoted his life to God.

He studied to become a priest and then a bishop. Then God gave Patrick a new vision–return to Ireland and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

Now is his twenties Patrick, returned to Ireland. For 40 years he shared the good news of Jesus with the Irish. He suffered and endured many hardships. Yet in the end, God used him to convert thousands of people and plant many churches all over Ireland.

It’s a great story. And it’s a Gospel story.

Patrick knew he needed a Savior. Patrick knew what he had been saved from. Patrick knew he had received God’s grace. And because of that Patrick responded to God’s call to share God’s grace with others.

The story of Saint Patrick reminds us that at one time we, like Patrick, were all slaves…slaves to sin. That it was in our slavery that Jesus met us.  Offered us forgiveness. Offered us freedom. And Jesus did all this so that we could pursue Him and help set others free.

So this Saint Patrick’s Day let us take a moment to meditate on Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and freedom. And let us take a moment to thank God for the grace he has shown us. Then maybe, just maybe, we might find our story becoming like Saint Patrick’s story. One that points others to the Gospel story.

Advertisements

Answers to Middle School Questions

How do you know for sure that God is real?

There are at least three ways we can know God is real.

First we know God is real through the Bible. The first words of the Bible are, ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1) The Bible is a book all about God–who he is, and what he has done. The Bible is also God’s Word to us (2 Timothy 3:16). Through the Bible God speaks to us. So if we want to know God’s is real, the first and best place to go is the book that is all about him and full of his words.

Second we know God is real through nature. Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s has made himself known in nature “since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” We when we study nature we discover that much of creation is full of beauty, order, and design. And that tell us there must have been someone who created, order, and designed in all. [1] Would you believe someone if they told you that your bike built itself? Of course not, because things as complex as bikes have to be designed and built by someone. It is the same way with nature. Complex things don’t just build themselves. They need a builder (like in Minecraft). So nature points to the great builder God himself.

Finally the third way we can know God is real is through experience. In John 14:21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” When we obey and love Jesus, we get to experience the love of God. And Jesus makes himself known to us (that’s what manifest means). I can tell you the longer I have walked with God and done my best to obey and love him, the more I know for sure that he is real. How do I know he is real? We’ll because I am in a relationship with him. So I know he is real like I know my mom or dad is real. I talk to him, he talks to me. I’ve seen him help me. And I’ve felt his love his love for me.

So if you want to know God is real, I encourage you to spend a lot time with God’s Word, then spend a lot of time with God in creation, and finally do your best to obey and love God. There will still be times of doubts (and that’s okay). But the longer you do these three things, the more you’ll know for sure that God is real.

 


 

[1] Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences. Baker Books. 1990. p.16

Help For The Frustrated

Where do we find words for the frustrations that we feel?

I don’t know about you but when I hear about another mass shooting I feel frustrated. Part of my frustration comes from feeling an inability to communicate appropriately about the situation. There’s a struggle to communicate the mix of emotions and thoughts that are stirring inside me.

Maybe you feel that frustration too. So what can we do about it?

As Christians we have a wonderful resource to deal with and communicate those feelings of frustrations. It’s the book of Psalms.

Over the last year I have read at least one Psalm every day. And I can honestly say, the Psalms are a true balm for the soul. They provide a way to communicate about every emotion and every frustration of life.

For example there are seventy-one references to evil alone in the Psalms. One of my favorites is Psalm 10:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.

His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.

He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

 

The early church father Athanasius once wrote, “Whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book [the psalms] you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you…learn the way to remedy your ill.”

The world is a frustrating place to live in sometimes. But thankfully God has given us a tremendous resource to help us live and communicate in these times of frustration.

If you are feeling frustrated, I encourage you to take advantage of this resource.


Recommend Books:

Why Is Faith a Good Thing?

In a recent interview, Bill Maher asked Ralph Reed,[1] “[If] faith [is] the purposeful suspension of critical thinking…why is faith a good thing?”[2]

How would you respond to Bill Maher’s question?

First, we should take Bill Maher’s question seriously, understanding that his understanding of faith is a popular one.

But next, we should redefine “faith”.  Because, contrary to popular belief, faith is not “the purposeful suspension of critical thinking,”…at least not Christian faith.

Christian faith actually depends on critical thinking. For example, Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines faith as “the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true…in accordance with the evidence on which it rests.”[3] From this definition we see that faith presupposes evidence.

What does this look like?

When I was 18, I needed an appendectomy—my appendix was about to burst. The idea of surgery made me nervous, until my doctor informed me that he had already successfully completed six appendectomies just that day. Upon hearing this information I felt better.

What changed? My faith. Specifically, my faith that arose from my critical thinking.

My critical thinking told me that if the doctor had already completed six successful surgeries earlier that day, then he knew what he was doing. This reasoning led me to have faith that my doctor would also perform my surgery well. My faith did not arise from the “suspension of critical thinking.” On the contrary, it came about because of my critical thinking.

Christian faith is the same way. As Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Yes, faith is hope in things not seen. But this hope comes with assurance and conviction. Where does the assurance and conviction come from? It comes from our critical thinking. Specifically, our thinking about and understanding of what God has revealed to us through his general and special revelation.[4]

Now that we’ve properly defined “faith”, at least Christian faith, we’re now ready to answer the question, why is faith a good thing?

Timothy Keller has written, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.”[5] Faith for faith’s sake is not a good thing. But faith becomes a good thing when the object of faith is a good thing.

Go back to my surgery. Having faith before my surgery was, for me, a good thing. It led me not to freak out. But my faith was good only because my faith was placed in a good object—the experienced doctor. In the same way, Christian faith is good because, as Christians, we have a very good object of our faith—Jesus Christ.

So what does this mean for us today?

Well, if we really believe faith to be a good thing (and want others to believe the same), we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.

What are we communicating to others about our faith? Does it appear that our faith is a faith that suspends critical thinking? Or is it clear that our Christian faith is a faith that relies on critical thinking? And do we appear to value faith just for faith’s sake? Or is it clear to others that what is good and most valuable about our faith is the object of our faith, Jesus Christ?

I pray, that as Christians, we will show the world what true faith is all about.

 


 

[1] Ralph Reed is a conservative American political activist, best known as the first executive director of the Christian Coalition

[2] “Bill Maher Spars With Ralph Reed Over Literal Interpretation Of The Bible,” June 6, 2014, http://crooksandliars.com/2014/06/bill-maher-spars-ralph-reed-over-literal

[3] M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary.                                          

[4] General revelation is that which can be known about God through nature. Special revelation is that which can be known about God through Scripture.

[5] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

The Need for Dominion

Have you ever thought about what were God’s first words to human beings?

In Genesis 1:28 we read “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God’s first words to Adam and Eve were a command. A command for them to exercise dominion over their world by filling it and ruling over it.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sadly, when a crafty little serpent known as Satan entered their world they didn’t exercise authority over it. Adam allowed the serpent to tempt Eve and lead her to sin.

What should Adam have done?

He should have killed the serpent. Or, at the very least, thrown it out of the garden.

The results of Adam’s carelessness were tragic. Adam and Eve sinned and were separated from God. Sin entered and contaminated all of their world. Adam and Eve lost their perfect life—literally their perfect life.

What does this have to do with us today?

There are days when I know I should read my Bible first thing in the morning, but instead I check my email and Facebook. I’m completely aware that I if I read my Bible first I will experience peace and have focus for the day. I’m also completely aware that if I check my emails and social media first, often peace and focus are nowhere to be found.

Why do I still do it?

There’s something about email and social media that calls to me. It says “you need to do this first, to make sure you haven’t missed anything.” Or “you need to make sure you’re prepared for the rest of the day.” Or “if you do this you’ll be getting a head start, you’ll actually be more effective.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

All for the Evil One… or least one of his henchmen.

So what’s keeping me from stopping? Dominion.

I lack dominion over my world. And my careless actions have led to my world having dominion over me. Change will come when I choose to do what Adam should have done: subdue my world and everything in it, including my phone.

That might mean turning my phone off completely (what? no!I know, I know, that’s drastic). It might mean asking someone to hold me accountable for how I use it (well, that would be awkward). If none of that works it could even mean getting rid of it (ok, now you’re just talking crazy).

In reality, none of those tactics will work until something else happens first. Dominion.

Not my exercise of dominion, but Jesus’s dominion over me. If I want to subdue my phone then I must first let Jesus subdue me.

It was supposed to work like this in the Garden. Adam and Eve were to rule as vice regents (little kings) under the authority and direction of The Great Regent, God himself. Their power to rule came from conforming to God’s rule, not by rebelling against it.

In the same way, our ability to have dominion over our world, phones included, comes only through the power and authority of Jesus Christ—the one true King over all creation.

That means I have to repent of my belief and actions that say “this little part of my life [my phone] belongs to me…and not Jesus.” Instead I must confess that if Jesus is my Lord, then he is Lord of all. Everything then, even my phone, belongs to him.

The story of Adam and Eve reminds us that the perfect life is found in the fully submitted life. A life completely submitted to God’s dominion. And it reminds us that apart from God’s dominion even the smallest thing—serpent, phone, or otherwise—is able to rob us of life and lead us to destruction.

 

Where or what in your life do you need to bring under dominion of Jesus Christ?

Overcoming Shame and Regret

 

How do we overcome shame and regret?

I’ve been a Christian since I was four. But that didn’t stop me at different times of my life from doing some very un-Christian things. And some of those things, though in the distant past, still try to haunt me–and for a while they did haunt me.

Maybe you know what that is like. Maybe there are some things in your past that you just can’t seem to shake. Maybe you have memories that are full of  shame and regret. Maybe there’s  a voice in your head that still whispers at you, “You’re  not _____ enough.

Maybe you wonder if you could ever be free.

I’m not an expert on the subject. But there are a few steps that have helped me. And they are the first steps I share with others when they ask for help.

These steps of course aren’t magic pills.  Rather they are practices that over time will open you to the healing that God has for you.

 

1. Confess your sins

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

You’ve probably already done this. Probably a number of times. But just in case you haven’t, know that confession is the first place to start. The French medieval monk Bernard of Clairvaux  once wrote, “God removes the sin of the one who makes humble confession, and thereby the devil loses the sovereignty he had gained over the human heart.”[1]  Confession shines light on the darkness. It begins to break the chains of slavery. It pours living water onto our inner burning coals. That is why confession of sin is always the first step to freedom. Start with confession to God. Then, as James writes, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). If you don’t have someone to confess to, start with a pastor, or a trusted friend.

 

2. Stand on God’s Promises

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Confession may be the place to start (and a great step to keep repeating), but it is only a place to start. Often, even after much confession, we still struggle to believe that we are truly forgiven and no longer deserving of shame and regret. When this happens the best thing we can do is proclaim the promises Jesus has made to us. The famous 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon reminds us, “Every promise of Scripture is a writing of God, which may be pleaded before Him with this reasonable request, ‘Do as Thou hast said.’ The Heavenly Father will not break His Word to His own child.”[2] What are  some of the promises of God? Here’s a link to get you started.

 

3. Embrace Your New Identity in Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Personally I find this to be the hardest step. I find that everything in this world wants me to forget that I am a new creation created in Christ Jesus. That I am now a son of the King, an adopted heir of a new kingdom. The reason for this is because, as Professor Neil Anderson states, “The major strategy of Satan is to distort the character of God and the truth of who we are. He can’t change God and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If, however, he can get us to believe a lie, we will live as though our identity in Christ isn’t true.”[3]  And if we believe the lie that our identity has not changed, we will continue to live with all the shame and regret of our old self. The good news is that Jesus Christ has given us a new identity (in fact, many new identities) and real freedom comes when we accept and embrace our new identity in Christ. (Who are we in Christ? Click here for a list.)

 

4. Find Support From Other Believers

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

For the longest time I thought following Jesus could be done on my own. But now I am convinced that every believer needs to be part of a community. Because the temptations, attacks, and stresses of life are just too overwhelming for us to handle on our own. We need help from others. We need support from others. C.S. Lewis put it best: “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”[4] We need at least a few trusted, mature believers whom we can count on for encouragement, wisdom, guidance, and accountability. Without such support we will surely fall back into our old ways and beliefs and we will never be untangled from feelings of shame and regret.

 

God did not intend for feelings of shame and regret to be a part of your life. Thankfully he made a way for us to be free from them. Like I said before, the above steps are just a place to start. But hopefully you find them helpful. If you would like more guidance or just someone to pray for you, use my contact form and send me a note. I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.

 


 

[1] Commentary on the Song of Songs

[2] Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings

[3] Victory Over the Darkness: Realize the Power of Your Identity in Christ

[4] The Quotable Lewis

The One Big Difference Between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

The other morning I was cleaning the kitchen when I heard a knock at my front door. I thought it was strange since the only people who usually knock on our front door are friends and neighbors—and they were all at work or school.

I opened the door and, to my surprise, I was greeted by a well-dressed elderly man. He’d come to invite me to an event at his church. He was kind and friendly. Yet something felt off when he said, “You know, a lot of people think the resurrection of Jesus is the most important part of the Easter story, but actually it’s his death that is most significant.”Watchtower_Bible_&_Tract_Society_(world_headquarters)

I replied, “Well, yes, His substitutionary atonement was significant…” He didn’t react. And that was okay because behind me was my three-year-old son waving a broom like a Color Guard charging into battle…so I had to go before something or someone got hurt.

The gentleman put a booklet in my hand with some information about the event and then left. I opened it and saw that the booklet was a “Watchtower” production inviting people to come to the local “Kingdom Hall.” “Oh, he’s a Jehovah’s Witness,” I thought.

Now, to be honest, I don’t know a lot about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can’t tell you every tenet of their theology or what it’s like to attend one of their “churches”. They seem like nice people. And they seem really committed to their beliefs. But I do know one big difference between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. And it’s a difference that breaks my heart.

According to their website, www.jw.org, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe “God created Jesus before he created Adam.” For them, Jesus is the literal firstborn of creation. Simply put, God the Father is eternal. God the Son [Jesus] is not. Which means, for them, Jesus is not fully God in the same way God the Father is fully God. Instead Jesus is “the divine Son of God” and Jehovah is “the only true God.”

To be fair, people have believed such things about Jesus since Jesus first walked the earth. But in 325 AD at the Council of Nicaea Christian leaders from around the world agreed that such a belief was not biblical. At that meeting they affirmed that Scripture teaches and Christians believe that there is

“…one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The big difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christians is that Christians believe that Jesus is fully God and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not.

Why does this matter?

If Jesus is not God, then Jesus sinned. And if he sinned then his sacrifice cannot save us.

In John 10:30 Jesus proclaims to the Jewish authorities, “I and the Father are one.” Now, just in case there was any question about what he meant in that statement, the next few verses make it clear:

“Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” (John 10:31-33)

The Jews knew he was claiming to be God. And Jesus did not correct them.

Similarly, after Jesus had been raised from the dead, his deity is affirmed. When Jesus appeared before Thomas (aka Doubting Thomas), Thomas was so taken aback that he worships Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Again, Jesus does not correct him. Jesus, it seems, believed that he was, in every way, God.

Now, if Jesus knew that God the Father [Jehovah] was “the only true God” then Jesus committed the sin of blasphemy when he let people think he was equal to and worthy of the same worship as “the only true God.”

This is a real problem.

For if Jesus sinned [by committing blasphemy], it means Jesus’ sacrifice/atonement on our behalf was meaningless. Because a person in debt has no means to pay the debt of others. So, too, a sinner cannot pay the debt of other sinners. Only a perfect and righteous person has the means to pay off the debts of sinful people.

It is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus was sinless. But if Jesus wasn’t fully God that can’t be true.

The important question is, was Jesus right to let people think that he was God and worship him?

If he was fully God—Yes!

If he was not fully God—No!

If Jesus was not fully God then Jesus sinned. Period.

This is why the one big difference between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses breaks my heart.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have put their trust in a version of Jesus—a Jesus that may be son of a god, but who is actually not really a god at all. And because of that, they are looking for salvation from one who does not have the power to save them.

Only a Jesus that is in every way God is worthy of our worship. Only a Jesus that is in every way God has the righteousness to pay for our sin. Only a Jesus that is in every way God can actually save us.

And so I pray for the gentleman who came to my front door. I  pray that he will come to know Jesus—the real Jesus. And I pray that one day he might come to Jesus and, without reservation, say, “My Lord and my God.”

 

To learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses and how you can respond when they come to your door, check out https://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses