Why He Wrote Is Why I Write: Patrick’s Confession

Ireland, Patrick's Confession, Cliffs of Moher

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m not sure if Patrick’s heart swelled like mine did at the sight of Cliffs of Moher, but I do know a few things that made both our hearts beat fast.

If you’ve followed JoyPro across the March 17th’s, you know that I’m quite taken with the “rustic” Saint. First, a quick recap then two more reasons why.

Making Patrick’s Confession Mine

Last year, I wove Covid-19 into the Patrick post. As I wrote, my acquaintance was Covid was five-days old. It feels strange looking back.

Then, a couple years back, I told you about his grateful side. Before that, I shared my own confession about a selfish choice to climb Croagh Patrick alone. Along came 5 Reasons Why Saint Patrick Is My Homeboy, and one more sun-loving reason Patrick is a kindred soul.

This year I connected with two more of Patrick’s Confessions. For the uninitiated, Patrick lived in the 400’s AD and has two surviving writings, the Letter to Coroticus and and his Confession. (Read the Confession here, in English—or Gaelic—for free!)

On St. Patrick’s Eve I’ve made it my practice to read the Confession. Each time, I find more to make mine.

Confession 6

First, is Patrick’s Confession 6. It’s the reason Patrick wrote and the reason I write.

Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.

That’s why. I want to be real and vulnerable enough in the blog that you get a sense of what I’m really like, not because I’m worthy of your time, but so that you can “see what it is that inspires my life.” In other words, I want to make God look big.

I want you to know me, my struggles and failures, my disappointments and temptations enough so that when see my press on with some measure of joy, you know who alone is behind that.

Which brings us to that other connection I have with Patrick.

Confession 30

It’s all about strength. Confession 30 is another way to say what Confession 6 said. Because what “inspires me” is what empowers me and makes me strong.

For that reason, I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people.

Patrick knew God’s strength when he risked his life over and over to preach the Gospel in Ireland—the very land where he’d once been enslaved. He felt it when he dealt with the hurt of his “very dear friend” sharing decades old dirt (See Confession 32). Patrick wrote his Confession so that his readers would know the source of that strength.

That’s also why I write. I write because I sense “no little strength” from Christ. Any act of forgiveness or repentance, any evidence endurance or love is through “no little strength” from Christ. I want you, kind reader, to feel it in your life too.

Let’s celebrate today. Because Patrick knew what Paul knew and what you know and I know. He knew what all of us saints know.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Paul, in Philippians 4:13

4 Questions To Help Identify (Your) Idols

Polar Plunge Women in icy water

Idols? What idols? And why would you want to identify your idols? After all, asking these questions is like plunging into Lake Michigan on February 1st.

Exposure stings. It’s painful in the moment, but— my Polar Plunging niece tells me—you’re glad you did it once it’s done.

Exposing our idols at once stings and bites and cleanses and invigorates.

What is an idol?

I’ll borrow from Brad Bigney, since he wrote the idols book my girlfriends are studying with me.

An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.

Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols

In other words, when I fear or seek anyone or anything more than Jesus Christ, it’s an idol. And worshiping idols is a fool thing to do.

Because idol worship is a self-injurious, double sin. In Jeremiah 2:13, God explains how,

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Whenever we look to things other than God to meet our desires— even perfectly legitimate desires for gifts like health and happiness or security and peace— we have become idolaters. Period.

Because God is the Giver of all good gifts. When we turn a good thing—whether health or helping, our children or friends— into an ultimate thing, it’s become an idol. Paul David Tripp asks, Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing?

3 Reasons Idol Worship Matters

  1. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them (Jonah 2:8). That’s why idolatry matters. God gives special grace to the humble, to those who fear him, to those who seek his face. By idol worshipers forfeit that special grace that could be theirs.
  2. They pursued worthless idols and themselves became worthless (2 Kings 17:15b). That’s another reason your idol worship matters. Because we become what we behold. When we look on Jesus, we are transformed to his image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). But when we pursue drivel, our souls shrivel.
  3. When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts...I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them (Ezekiel 14:7-8). That’s the big gun. God does not share his glory with others or share his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In shorts, if you set up an idol in your heart, God will set his face against you.

Clinging and pursuing and setting up idols sounds a lot like slavery. Timothy Keller has written, An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.

I told you. It would feel like a cold shower. So get your towel out. In we go.

4 Questions To Identify Your Idols

But first, have you noticed how it’s so much easier to spot other people’s idols than our own? I can see a friend with a security idol a mile away—the anxiety, the refusal to risk, the control. And an approval idol—I can spot that one from two miles away. But I can be a bit blind to my own.

So it follows that others might see my idols more clearly than me.

That’s where the questions come in to play. But my Thursday morning girlfriends and I are serious about rooting out our idols. We’ve taken the stinging, invigorating, cleansing plunge. You are absolutely right—this is not for the faint of heart.

Because most of us are a little too defensive. We’re a little too tightly wound to receive criticism aright. We want answers for our troubles, but we can’t handle the truth.

Are you ready? Brace yourself. Then humble yourself and invite a spouse or a close friend to speak into your life.

Ask:

  1. What do you see me running to instead of God?
  2. Where do you see a demanding spirit in me?
  3. What do you see me clinging to and craving more than God?
  4. Where do you see me wanting something so badly that I’m willing to sin to get it or sin if I think I’ll lose it?

An Idol Revealed

I was feeling strong the night I posed those four to Jim, and he didn’t hesitate. His answers were stinging and cleansing at once. But none was a shock. I’ll spare you most of the sordid detail, I will confess to you that Jim’s answer to #4 was <gulp> “writing.” Which, I’m aware, goes deeper to a root of influence and pride. I like to feel esteemed. Not always and in every way, but sometimes and most every day.

I am guilty as charged: I have sinned to get my writing in. Namely, I may ignore the family around, or I may stay up too late—it’s 10:37 pm as I type—and wake up grumpy and get myself sick, both of which are unloving to those around me. Or I may be tempted to use work time for writing, which is stealing. And if, after I’ve poured heart and soul into it, my writing goes is unread and ignored I may commit the twin sins of envy and self-pity.

2 Ways To Guard Yourselves From Idols

It’s not quite Whac-A-Mole, but my idols keep popping up.

Seeing as, “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols” (John Calvin), my first tear-down technique is to realize that the fight won’t be over till glory. Bigney calls this a “wartime mentality.” Galatians 5:17 is true: For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want to do. That is as true for me today as it was 20 years ago and will be 20 years from now.

The second idol-destroying strategy is to seek Jesus. I seek Him in his Word, and I seek him in the wisdom of the saints. As Bigney notes, “Reading the Bible keeps you honest, because you don’t just read the Bible—the Bible reads you.” It exposes us—Polar Plunge style sometimes—but the more time we spend with Him in his Word, the smaller our idols will be and easier to uproot. But, adds Tullian Tchividjian explains, If you uproot the idol, but fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.

That’s it: be on guard, and know Jesus. And follow him. Obey his Word. That will starve those idols out.

For me and my writing (and respect) idol, it meant no JoyPrO post last week. It meant delaying this post to play Euchre and watch a movie with the boys last night. And every single day, by grace, it means that I won’t open the laptop to write or head to Facebook to post if I haven’t sought God in His Word first.

Knowing Jesus Christ will keep us from idols. Or, as Elisabeth Elliot wrote, When God is first in our hearts, all other loves are in order and find their rightful place. And a cold plunge can be a rousing way to expose those other loves.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:21

Bonus: 10 Probing Idol Worship Quotes

1. “Thus it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

2. “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior. ” –Martin Luther

3. “Saint Augustine defined idolatry as worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped.” –Colin S. Smith

4. “If we make an idol of any creature, wealth, or pleasure, or honour – if we place our happiness in it, and promise ourselves the comfort and satisfaction in it which are to be had in God only – if we make it our joy and love, our hope and confidence, we shall find it a cistern, which we take a great deal of pains to hew out and fill, and at the best it will hold but a little water, and that dead and flat, and soon corrupting and becoming nauseous (Jer. 2:23).” -C.H. Spurgeon

5. “What are you really living for? It’s crucial to realize that you either glorify God, or you glorify something or someone else. You’re always making something look big. If you don’t glorify God when you’re involved in a conflict, you inevitably show that someone or something else rules your heart.” –Ken Sande

6. “The most dangerous mistake that our souls are capable of, is, to take the creature for God, and earth for heaven.” –Richard Baxter

7. “Our culture says ‘live your dream,’ but God calls you to place your dream on His altar and to keep it there at all times. It is good to have hopes and dreams for the future, but we have no rights. There are no certainties. Any dream can become an idol and, if it does, God will bring it down.” –Colin S. Smith

8. “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.” -Timothy Keller

9. “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.

Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. People who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” -N.T. Wright

10. “The bottle of the creature cracks and dries up, but the well of the Creator never fails; happy is he who dwells at the well.” -C.H. Spurgeon

Not Exceptional Things, Exceptional In Ordinary Things.

Cold Shower

Sometimes I just shake my head and laugh. At myself. I think yesterday the good Lord may have had a little chuckle too.

Because I have this uncanny knack for acting as if doing big, grand things are no big deal. As if–my latest grandiose conception–adopting teen siblings is no big deal. As if we could pull that off like we pull off hosting a birthday party.

As if.

[7/21/20 Happy Update: These siblings were adopted one year after the original post by a loving Wisconsin couple.]

Big And Small Things, Upside-Down

That I could embrace something as life-changing as the thought of taking two children into our family for life and in the same 24 hours balk at taking one needy young man into our van for two hours may be comical. It is, for sure, inconsistent and upside-down.

And balk I did when the doorbell ring at 8:15 on Saturday morning. I was eager for a mother-son date with Gabe after his game. I resented this surprise arrival.

That’s upside-down: embracing the big and grand and tripping over the little and mundane.

But we know it’s the small things- thoughts and acts- that form habits and character. And if you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. But we are those who rejoice in the day of small things.

Still, some of us would polar plunge into Lake Michigan for any number of reasons, but can keep we our tongues from grumbling when the shower suddenly goes cold?

Now that’s hard.

Choosing What We Did Not Choose

It might have something to do with choice. Chafing at the little stuff while embracing the big things might have something to do with our struggle to choose what we did not choose.

When we decide on a life-changing course of action and we decide to take the plunge, well- that’s different from when God decides a thing for us. Like, say, when he says be kind and take the kid who needs a ride and do all things– including taking a cold shower- without grumbling or complaining

Maybe little things are so hard because they weren’t in our master plan. Because who chooses a cold shower in February in Wisconsin?

Or maybe we just prefer the drama.

He Would Have Done Any Great Thing

While I was laughing at my own inconsistency, Naaman popped to mind. His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was commander of the Syrian army. When he contracted leprosy, he sought help from Elisha, the famed healer and prophet of God.

Elisha’s prescription was not grand. So it’s no wonder proud Naaman didn’t like it: Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, Elisha’s messenger said.

The muddy, little Jordan River, Naaman thought then ran off in a rage.

Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not the Abana and Pharpar the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?

Naaman expected the exceptional and desired a grand cure– like the mighty prophet working his wonders and waving his hands. Washing in the dinky, little muddy river was demeaning. So Naaman wanted nothing to do with Elisha.

He would have done any great thing to be cured. Naaman had already traveled miles and miles and offered a vast treasure.

But a commonplace, mundane cure? Never. 

Supernatural Grace (for the Mundane)

Maybe Oswald Chambers felt this strange inversion in himself, too. Maybe he know what it was to embrace a great cause and balk at the everyday.

Maybe he shared the impulsive boldness that I share with Naaman and with Peter, I’ll-die-with-you-after-I-deny-you Peter, too. Big-talking, water-walking Peter, who had grand ideas but stumbled on the mundane.

In “Impulsiveness Or Discipleship?” Chambers explains,

Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54)…

It does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God- but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people- and this is not learned in five minutes.

Disciples of Christ aim to be exceptional in the ordinary and love the ones they’re with.

Loving Our Neighbor Is Harder

Our duty is to love our neighbor not the mass of nameless humanity. GK Chesterton nails that: We have to love our neighbour because he is here… He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us. 

My heart had grand adoption plans. If God had made it clear us that we’re to adopt the siblings, I’d do that big thing in a heartbeat.

But when the doorbell rang at 8 AM it wasn’t an “if”. It was God’s clear call for me to forgo my plan and love this little 5th-grade “neighbor.” He was here. 

We don’t have to do exceptional things for God, we have to be exceptional–and I take that for faithful and obedient–among ordinary 10-year-old boys.

That’s hard. Learning to live in that supernatural grace is not learned in five minutes.

“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Mother Teresa

More Than Conquerors: Not Somehow, But Victoriously

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The greatest truths don’t always feel true. Sometimes “more than conquerors” don’t even feel like conquerors.

Sometimes “super-conquerors” feel like losers.

More Than Meets The Eye

In fact, the “more than conquerors” are described one verse earlier as slaughtered sheep, who face death all the day long.

And back-to-back, just like that, slaughtered sheep are more than conquerors.

But that shouldn’t come as a shock to students of the Word. The Bible’s full of that sort of upside down kingdom talk. Because the earth is full of things are not what they seem.

It’s full of firsts who are lasts and lasts who are first and greats who are servants of all.  Full of weak who are strong and poor who are rich and mourners who get up and dance. Of persecuted who bless and wounded who pray and hurt ones who overcome evil with good. Of the hard pressed but not crushed and the fighters for rest and of the sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

The heroes are the saints who, like Mary and Joseph, and Joseph and Moses and maybe you and me- who choose what they did not choose.

Reality for these is far more than what meets the eye. These set their sights on things unseen and are never too old to see.

These are more than conquerors, in all these things.

Not In Spite Of, But Because Of

All means all. In all these things. For me, all these things means decades of longings unfulfilled and repenting of the same things and years peppered with rough scrambled days. In all these things.

What are your all these things?

Whatever they are, they can be your launching pad to spiritual growth. Because of that little preposition in. 

In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him. Not despite them, but because of them.

Do you remember the Old Testament Abigail? Abigail was “discerning and beautiful, but the her husband Nabal was harsh and badly behaved,” (1 Sam. 25:3).

In her study on Abigail, Nancy DeMoss Wolgumuth posed two questions that pulsate:

What if she was beautiful and discerning not in spite of the harsh and ill-behaved man she had been married to but because of her relationship with him? Was it her difficult circumstances that made her seek to know God and to become God’s woman?

Leading questions, those. No, Paul wrote, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In all these things. Not in spite of them. In all these things. 

Not Somehow, But Victoriously

We’ve all heard it and most of us have said it:  I’ll get through somehow.

But come now. These aren’t the words of a super-conqueror, are they? Somehow it’ll all turn out.

Somehow?

And we who are in Christ are. We are super-conquerors. Not will be- are.

The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.

Albert Barnes explains how it is we gain victory in all these things.

That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.

But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.

In other words, our sufferings become stepping stones on the path to glory when we score off them. When, instead of shipwrecking our faith, they cause our faith and love to grow.

Not somehow, but victoriously. In all these things.

But Not Without A Fight

In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without a fight.

Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.

The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.

We learn to cling to him and run the race score of things that come against us. We overcome.

And, in all these things we are super-conquerors through him who loved us.

What Super-Conquerors Know

Super-conquerors don’t just triumph over evil things. We win by trampling- spiritually- on the things that would destroy us.

We score off suffering and sickness and mistreatment and conflict and injury and hardship and loss.

I love how John Piper explains what it is to be a super conquerer.

If you’re a conqueror, your enemies are dead at your feet. And if you’re more than a conquerer, your enemies get up…and serve you. The point is God doesn’t just protect you from all these adversaries, he makes them serve you, which is another way of saying Romans 8:28. The devil’s efforts are turned to work for our good.

This is the super conquerors’ secret: all these things are stepping stones to glory. What the enemy intends for evil, God turns for our good.

We look the worst straight in the eye and fight the faithless sin that would threaten to undo us and, through Christ, we fight for faith and strive to love and so we win the victory.

Through him who loved us. 

Stepping Stones To Glory

Christ was perfected through suffering and so will we be. Super conquerors use the same wounds that could be victim-makers and faith-takers and walk over them- as stepping stones- on the path to glory.

So we rejoice in our sufferings, Paul wrote, because we know that through Christ, these things serve us. They are precisely the means God ordains to grow us up and strengthen our faith.

Because these things-all these hard things– serve us. They pave the way to glory.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:57