Green 17: In Praise Of Patrick

Sisters at Croagh Patrick, “Ireland’s Holy Mountain,” 6/19/14

Amid a green-shirt forest the church sang St. Patrick’s Breastplate yesterday. Today kids donned shamrock hats and finished their littleman traps. Tomorrow we’ll chew our corned-beef and cabbage and watch green-beer revelries on the nightly news. 

Aye, we’re all Irish this week. 

A few of us, though, will stay “Smitten” the whole year round. Since my glorious, God-blessed, Irish-gift-trip last June, I am, and-in so much as Hibernia points me heavenward-  hope to remain, forever smitten.

I’m proud to be Irish, and not just on March 17th. Patrick is a huge reason why. I asked the boys if they knew who Patrick was- Oh, sure, a saint, they quipped

Patrick, a sinner, a simple country person, unlearned and the least of all believers-that’s how he began his Confession. And you, how do you answer: Who was Patrick?

Will the real Patrick please rise

Patrick was not a leprechaun, nor mere legend, although legends about him abound.

He did not expel snakes from Ireland: the snakelessness of Ireland had been noted by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century. He did not compose that wonderful hymn known as ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate’: its language postdates him by about three centuries . . . He did not use the leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Persons of the Trinity for his converts: true, he might have done; but it is not until the seventeenth century that we are told that he did. (Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, 82)

What we do know of St. Patrick comes through two ancient texts: his Confession and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. Both are in complete form and can by easily accessed here.  They were both written by Patrick, handicapped, as it were, by his late-learned Latin skills in the middle 400’s. These two texts are, in fact, the oldest documents in Irish history.

From them we know that Ireland’s patron saint was not Irish but British by birth. Magonus Sucatus Patricius was born to a good Christian family around 390 Roman Briton. He admits, however, that he was not a good Christian growing up.

At age 16 he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. Alone in this “strange, wild land,” Patrick turned to God and grew in faith while herding on the Irish hills.

Six years a slave, he heard a voice call, “Come see, your ship is ready.” Heeding, he fled and reached a port perhaps 200 miles away. At first denied passage, he went away and prayed. Even before he had finished his prayer, a sailor shouted to him, “Come quickly, for they are calling you.”

Patrick reached mainland Europe a few days later with his pagan shipmates and made his way through France to a monastery in Italy. Some years later, he returned to Britain and found home “among my parents,” who joyfully welcomed him, begging him never to leave again. 

Then another life-changing vision. A man came to him with countless letters from the Irish people, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for. (Confession, ch. 23)

St. Patrick is my homeboy. 

Here are five reasons why-1600 years hence-this Irish leader so endears himself to this 39 year-old American evangelical.

Patrick overflowed with a thankfulness that made him resilient when hard times came. In an age when the smallest trifle sets us off, when wireless fails or a traffic delays evoke instant grumbles, we’d do well to follow Patrick’s example. 

So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim. He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties…This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end. (Confession, ch. 34)

2. Patrick loved Ireland’s green hills, but so much more, the lost souls who dwelt among them. He knew-better than many of us-how to engage a pagan culture. 

We are so often aloof and distant with the unsaved. But Patrick would pitch his tent beside chieftains, befriend and convert. Then he’d do it over again,

…Fishing well and with diligent care, as the Lord commands, “Go and make disciples of the nations….” spreading wide the net so that a great throng might be captured for God. How has this happened in Ireland? Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ. (Confession, ch. 40-41) 

3. Patrick viewed his life and work through the lens of Scripture. His burden to serve was directly linked to Scripture’s commands. We are untethered to Scripture, adrift in life’s river despite all the props and apps offered us. Biblical allusions pepper Patrick’s Confession and Letter

Patrick, says author Richard Fletcher, “was soaked in the Bible.” Are we so soaked that we make and explain our big decisions through this lens? Do we see light in His light?

I am greatly in debt to God. He gave me such great grace, that through me, many people should be born again in God and brought to full life. Also that clerics should be ordained everywhere for this people who have lately come to believe, and who the Lord has taken from the ends of the earth. This is just what he promised in the past through his prophet: “The nations will come to you from the ends of the earth, and they will say: How false are the idols our fathers got for themselves, and they are of no use whatever.” And again: “I have put you as a light to the nations, that you may be their salvation to the end of the earth.” (Confession, ch. 38)

4. Patrick struggled with his sin but leaned heavy on God’s grace to fight it and keep the faith. Do we?

Do we give in, give up, give way to sin- all the while denying its lifelong drag toward death. Or with Patrick, daily fight the good fight, daring not trust ourselves, looking to the Lord and to his strength? 

I know I cannot trust myself as long as I am in this body subject to death. There is one who is strong, who tries every day to undermine my faith, and the chastity of genuine religion I have chosen to the end of my life for Christ my Lord. The flesh can be an enemy dragging towards death, that is, towards doing those enticing things which are against the law. I know to some extent how I have not led a perfect life like other believers. But I acknowledge this to my Lord, and I do not blush in his sight. I am not telling lies: from the time in my youth that I came to know him, the love and reverence for God grew in me, and so far, with the Lord’s help, I have kept faith. (Confession, ch. 44)

5. Patrick saw many a splendid Irish sunrise and sunset, but worship them he did not. But we worship created things- Florida sun, bright kids, Facebook fame- even over their Creator. 

Patrick’s warning still rings clear,

The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever; and all those who worship that sun will come to a bad, miserable penalty. We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever. (Confession, ch. 60) 

Patrick’s Christianity, writes Greg Tobin in The Wisdom of St. Patrick, was simple, direct, practical, as earthy as it is mystical, not so much Roman Catholic as baseline Christian, and not so much Irish as truly universal (catholic with a small ‘c’)

Patrick was at once brave, bold pioneer-missionary and humble, servant-shepherd of God’s Irish flock. He was zealous and honest, ever aware of his own short-comings, and forever God’s grateful debtor. 

In his final Confession he prays,

… for those who believe in and fear God. Some of them may happen to discover this document and read its words, composed in Ireland by an unlearned sinner named Patrick. May none of them ever say that whatever little I accomplished was a work of this ignorant man alone. No, rather, know this: that it was a gift from God and that it occurred only for God’s good reasons. And that is my confession before I die. (ch. 62)

Irish history is a dramatic tale of turning from idols to serve the living God. It’s a remarkable true story of a pagan world turned totally upside-down, and converted. An unlearned sinner named Patrick had an awful lot to do with it.

Maybe he ought have his own holiday. 

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7



Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1-3a

Mom, didn’t you hear me?  I asked you three times. Why are you ignoring me?

Just posting a picture; I’ll be quick, I assure.

Just wading. Two outraged sons and two burnt pizzas later, I’m wet to the waist. I drifted.

What are you doing, Hon? You’ve been at the computer awhile. Is the pizza done yet?

Just floating along, up to my neck. Checking email and reading Julia’s post and scanning who liked Jeri’s post and finding out why Jordan’s feeling amused and Gena’s feeling annoyed, popping from from site to site, post to post, pin to pin without much thought; mindless, heedless. And now it’s forty minutes since I waded in and I’m downstream drenched. I drifted.

Drifting is dangerous. It could be deadly, depending on where the river’s headed.

Life is more river than lake. It keeps flowing, but not toward heaven. 

Google isn’t vested in your godliness and Facebook couldn’t care less about your faithfulness. In fact, websites want distracted drifters. They collect more “crumbs” when we float from site to site. Our drifting is better for their business. Therefore we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

Drift- pararrhyéō in Greek-means float by, to flow away. Drift is what a leaf or a dead fish or a raft does in the river—it floats along. Inner-tubes crowd lazy rivers. No life, no power or strength are needed to float by.

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it, Chesterton quipped. Just wade in, with or without a raft. Simply log in and scroll down. The news feed will take you gently down the stream. No paddles needed. Go with the flow. Drift.

The tendency to drift is not new. Dropping our guard, giving way to the lust of the eyes is old news. Since Eden, alluring sights and sounds have drawn us away from what we’ve heard. 

Moses warned Israel over and over to be careful. Joshua continued, Be very careful to love the LORD your God and walk in all his ways and keep his commands and cling to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul (Joshua 22:5). Ezekiel promised that the coming Spirit in us and Shepherd over us would cause us to walk in his ways, careful to obey (Ezekiel 36:27, 37:24). And Paul urged Be careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15)

Careless drift is not new. What is new is the nearness of the stream. It’s so close now; it flows right through our homes. We can wade in and float off from the couch or the countertop. Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we’ve heard, lest we drift away.

What is it we’ve heard? What message do we heed to keep from drifting?

Hebrews chapter one is what we’ve heard: In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus is most majestic message that we’ve heard-that we’ll ever hear. He upholds the universe with the word of his power, is far above angels; the radiant glory of God. And when he had made purification for sins, he sat down at God’s right hand. 

This is the message to which we must pay much closer attention, lest we drift away. 

In light of that message, we dare not drift, dare not neglect this great salvation. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

We grow in the grace and knowledge of God by hearing, reading and meditating on his Word. These require intentional, mindful attention. They’re not passive. We can’t know God when our minds drift. We won’t drift toward him. Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we’ve heard. 

In an article titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholos Carr describes the effect of the internet on his own reading habits:

Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text…And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in swiftly moving streams of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski

Since the internet is actually designed to encourage us to browse information, not to read it slowly and digest it, we’d best be careful. Facebook status updates, new Tweets, random emails chop our attention into disconnected fragments. It affects how we read-and hear- the most crucial of all books.

That’s the rub. More time online makes me a less careful Scripture reader, a less heedful hearer and less wise walker. I multi-task what should be unitasked.

Author and blogger Tony Reinke explains:

We multitask everything, trying to think in two directions at the same time, trying to be in two places at the same time, trying to live in physical space and virtual space simultaneously. 

In reality, Scripture calls us to a life of single-minded self-reflection that often gets thwarted by the hum of multitasking. If it’s important, it’s worth being unitasked. Which means there must be priorities that trump our iPhone push notifications. 

Aside from neglected sons and blackened pizza, that is why I’m wary of Facebook. My attention–even to the greatest message I’ll ever hear and the most resplendent, glorious One I’ll ever see–wanes as I drift from stream to stream, post to post, pin to pin. I’m not loving the Lord with all my heart.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Hebrews 2 bolsters the case for careful: What great loss we shall sustain if we do not pay careful attention. The [truths] will leak and run out of our heads, lips and lives. We shall be great losers by our neglect. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel; without much care they do not retain what is poured in them…Do not let gospel truths slip out of mind. Don’t drift.

The more time I spend on the internet, the more gospel truths slip out of my mind, the less attentive I am to the flow of real life around me; kids who need time with Mom and  dinner for a hungry husband. And the less I heed what I’ve heard.

That is why I’m more careful with Facebook feeds; more wary of cyber streams. Not hostile, just wary. Some of you wouldn’t be reading this without Facebook. Last week Facebook pushed me to greet three birthday girls, congratulate two new parents and send sympathy to a grieving co-worker. Facebook can be a force for good. It can prompt refreshing, life-giving works of faith and labors of love. Controlled, river current can be transformed to power.

But we live in the river of a fallen world. A river that flows to destruction. Not straining upstream inevitably means drifting dangerously downstream. We won’t transform it, but be conformed by it. We can’t stand still in this river.

If we do not listen earnestly, diligently, daily to Jesus- if we neglect so great a salvation- we will drift.

Maybe some of you readers are drifting. Maybe on Facebook feeds or maybe the rut or rush of work and family. You have no urgency. You need to pay more careful attention to what you’ve heard. You need to set your eyes on Jesus and the great salvation he offers. Your soul needs an anchor. 

Look to Jesus. Go deep, hope in His Word. Pray with Moses and me that God will satisfy us in the morning with his unfailing love that we sing for joy, glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).

Set the anchor. Don’t drift. 

We have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.
Hebrews 6:19-20a


Not too Old

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.”  -Mark Twain

If your imagination is starved, do not look back to your own experience; it is God whom you need. Go right out of yourself, away from the face of your idols, away from everything that has been starving your imagination. Rouse yourself, and deliberately turn your imagination to God.  -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for his Highest, February 10

Did you wake up bleary-eyed, weary this morning? 

Some days I do. Some days my mind’s eye is starved dim. Forty feels old and dull when these eyes are blurred with sleep. My imagination must be roused. 

Maybe it was the turn to March and winter’s-end wanderlust. And Lottie Lies Among the Flowers trilled by a tender young lass. All abask in laundry nook sunshine even as a fixture from church fades into glory.

Then, the day’s reading: And He will circumcise your hearts and the heart of your offspring. And we will return and hold fast and obey. And the LORD will take great delight in this; God will gather, restore, and go with his people (Deuteronomy 30).

Vision cleared vivid; I saw the dragon in the clouds. 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul? And can it be?

Imagination, Spirit-fed full. The Spirit and the Word gave new sight. Revived; no longer starved and bleary-eyed. I look right-out-of myself and see things unseen. Eternal unseen things. Imagination turns-is turned?- to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Aroused awake, with child’s keen eyes I saw

“A Second Childhood.” 

-G.K. Chesterton, The Collected Poems of G.K. Chesterton 

When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think that I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.

Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are and cannot be.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.

Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.

Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me through
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.

Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And I find that I am not dead.

A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.

Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky;
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.” 

Some days I wake up feeling old. It’s too much work to see, I say. I need a rousing Helper to turn my gaze from me away. Otherwise the eyes stay dim; imagination starves that day. I’ve grown too old to see. 

Do you feel too old and dim, too tired and frail to look beyond the fall?  To dull to be awestruck by the sheer impossibility of being alive at all

Good news. 

If you’re in Christ, you’re not. 

“No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him,”
–These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10


Winter of our Discontent

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.   -C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

I took the dare at 5:40 pm. I tripped on two and three at 6:24. All it took was one look at a friend’s well “liked”post.

Though the righteous man may fall seven times, he won’t be hurled headlong; for the Lord holds his hand. Up for more at 6:27. 

Now I dare you. 

Yes, you. The one who stole into this hoping for a mommy-blog with a happy end. I don’t know this end; I’m just a week in. But I know it’s needful. It holds promise for this life and the life to come. Will you take the Ella Spees challenge?

It may just save your life. Remember Romans 1: They neither glorified God, nor gave thanks, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. So began their descent. Our descent if we’re not careful.

A national language? We’ve got one, and it’s not English. It’s entitlement. It’s, You deserve a break today, and Fight for your right. It’s, You deserve a beautiful life. And, The moment you start to wonder if you deserve better, you do. Really? And, If they don’t appreciate you, they don’t deserve you? Who said? Entitlement is our native tongue.

It’s how the serpent spoke to Eve, and she was deceived. Maybe he believed it first, with the angels who did not stay within their own positions of authority (Jude 1:6). Did Satan think, I deserve more, respect, more power and authority? Did he dare compare himself to God? And he would dupe us with his own evil discontent.

Entitlement is a big gun in Satan’s arsenal. But he doesn’t always need to pack it. The lust of the eyes and the pride of life tempt me that way. I think I deserve good sleep and good kids, good friends and good health, human praise and husband’s love, in my love language. My ear craves words in this language: deserve thanks and deserve to stay home and deserve to be heard. All stem from my entitled heart.

I didn’t have to plumb deep to see it seep; there-under my grumbling, impatience and envy. Nourishing other sin-weeds. Jon Bloom posted a probing piece last fall. Lay Aside the Weight of Irritability is also about I deserve and it’s my right.

Our irritability never has its roots in the soils of righteousness. It springs out of the soil of selfishness and springs up fast, like the sin-weed that it is. We get irritated or easily provoked, not when God’s righteousness or justice is scorned, but when something we want is being denied, delayed, or disrupted. It works like this:

  • When I’m weary I want rest, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m sick or in pain I want relief, but if it’s denied/delayed/disruptedI get irritated.
  • When I’m preoccupied I want uninterrupted focus, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m running late I want to avoid appearing negligent, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m disappointed I want my desire fulfilled, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.

Entitlement breeds irritation. And impatience and anger and envy and adultery and all manner of sins. It’s a gateway drug. High on it, we’re blind to God’s goodness. We blend into the crooked culture rather than shine, doing everything without grumbling or complaining. We fall short of his glory.

We’re kids at the beach all day, who get two scoops on the way home, and cry for more. They neither gave thanks. My right and I deserve undermine gratitude. Entitled drives out In everything give thanks and This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Deserve and by grace cannot coexist in our hearts. Entitlement or gratitude; one will drive out the other. 

I deserved the raise, that praise. But, What do you have that you did not receiveWe cannot have two masters. Jesus isn’t looking for 60-40 split. We can’t serve self with my rights and I deserve and Christ with from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be glory forever. 

We cannot and that’s why I took the dare, and why I challenge you.  Extremis malis extrama remedia.

Ella Spees was a missionary to Africa’s poor for 52 years, in weather so hot she had to drag in the thermometer so it wouldn’t self-destruct at 120°. She set a sky-high standard with her “5 Holy Habits for Contentment.” Practice them to clear holy ground.  Gratitude will grow.

1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything-even the weather.
2. Never picture yourself in any other circumstance or someplace else.
3. Never compare your lot with another’s.
4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise. 
5. Never dwell on tomorrow – remember that tomorrow is God’s, not ours.

Ellas’ five are not for the faint-hearted. But is any discipline pleasant at the moment? It’s afterwards, once we’ve been trained, that it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Strengthen the weak hands and feeble knees. Take captive that thought; rein in the runaway tongue. Take the dare, ye faint of heart. Be challenged, thou grumbler. Beat my 44 minute mark.

Gird up undaunted; in Christ, we don’t go it alone. He holds our hand. We struggle with all his energy that powerfully works within. How we need to rely on he who is in us! On the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.

There is One to whom we dare not speak our native tongue. To Him, we say, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof, only say the word, and We are unworthy servants and have only done our duty. And always, Thank you, Lord. 

How am I doing since Friday’s fall?  So glad you asked.

Better than I deserve. 

Much better.

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. 

Psalm 103:10-11