By / Mar 17

Unless you worship in a tradition marked by the calendar of saints—like many of our Lutheran and Anglican brothers and sisters—chances are you’re not sure what exactly to do with Saint Patrick’s Day. Go ahead and register me as a Protestant of the Baptist sort, one typically not committed to the liturgical calendar and feast days. But Christians, even those like me, can benefit from some good historical reflection when it comes to Saint Patrick.

What does Christian “cultural engagement” look like in a dramatically anti-Christian context? We don’t typically think of Saint Patrick, or Patricius, as an icon of cultural engagement. Instead, he is often cited for his commitment to the evangelization of Ireland. However, this fifth century bishop can teach us a lot about how Christians should understand their witness in the world. Let me propose three lessons we can learn from Patrick.

1. The Christian life is one of mission.

Perhaps this is where Patrick is best known to us. Born to a Christian family in the late fourth century in Britain, Patrick rejected the Christian faith of his parents. A number of dramatic developments and experiences of tremendous suffering were what God used to convert him. He was kidnapped as a teenager and taken to Ireland as a slave, where he remained for six years until his escape and return to Britain. However, he experienced a dramatic missionary call to return to Ireland. Years later, Patrick recounted this experience. Reminiscent of Paul’s Macedonian call, he remembered a vision in the night of a man from Ireland who had with him a set of letters. After taking one of these to read, titled “The Voice of the Irish,” Patrick remembered:

“While I was reading this I thought I heard the voice of those who dwell by the wood of Voclut near the western sea. It was as if they were crying out with a single voice: ‘Holy boy, we beg you, come back and walk among us again.’ I was struck through my heart and could read no more, then I awoke.”

Most of what we know of Patrick comes to us from a variety of accounts and stories from several generations of admirers. But we only have two of his own original writings. While the Confessions of Saint Patrick are perhaps known to some, his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus is less so. But it presents us with a great picture of the missionary bishop’s worldview.

By all accounts, Coroticus was a British warlord who had raided Ireland along with his troops, killing or enslaving a great many Christians, including many who had been converted recently under Patrick’s ministry. His letter was thus a strong letter of excommunication, pronouncing judgment on the aggression and, in particular, the treatment of Christians.

Did I come to Ireland without the help of God because I chose to? It was God who brought me here. I am bound by the Holy Spirit, so that I can’t even see my own family. Is it my own doing that I feel blessed mercy toward the very people who once enslaved me and killed so many male and female servants from my father’s household? I am a freeborn man by the measure of this world and the son of a decurion. But I sold my noble birth to serve others. I am not ashamed of this nor do I regret it. I am a slave of Christ for a foreign people for the sake of the indescribable glory of life everlasting which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The story even goes that Patrick, upon his return to Ireland as a missionary, returned to seek out the man who had held him as a slave. What prompts someone to seek out the eternal good of those who had wronged him? This is the power of saving grace and the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, for sure.

2. Christians should expect opposition.

Patrick had to deal with wicked and violent figures like Coroticus. But he also faced opposition from within the church. As Michael Haykin points out, many Christians in the West appeared “to have given little thought to evangelizing their barbarian neighbors.” The details are not entirely clear, but it seems that toward the end of his life, Patrick was accused of engaging in his work in Ireland for his own financial gain. Additionally, it seems that sins he had committed as a teenager, prior to conversion, had been disclosed publicly in an attempt to shame him. In fact, Patrick expressed particular pain that this had come from a dear friend, “the one I had entrusted with the secret of my soul.” This friend had promised to be his advocate, but had publicly and wrongly disgraced Patrick.

We expect to be opposed and criticized from those outside of the faith. But it is especially painful when our character is unjustly questioned or those who profess Christ slander us. And it’s even more so when it comes from a friend. Of course, this can happen for any number of reasons. And there is much to be said for heeding the loving rebukes of a friend who confronts us over sin. But there will be times for Christians, including those on the front lines of cultural engagement, who will find others assuming the worst of their motives or showing themselves to be patently disloyal. If that’s you, take heart. You are counted among brothers and sisters who have walked that path, whose comfort was Christ himself.

3. Christians cannot afford to “forget” the future.

The Christian faith is one built upon history—specifically, the historical claims surrounding the person and work of Christ. But it also requires us to always keep the future in mind, insofar as God has revealed, in Scripture, his promised victory and the consummation of all things in Christ.

Patrick seems to have understood this and to have drawn real hope and encouragement from it, even in great difficulties. In particular, he understood his ministry as part of a much grander story, expecting that the evangelization of Ireland portended the imminent return of Christ: “I am among those men the Lord said would come when his gospel would be preached as a witness to all nations before the end of the world. We now have seen these words are fulfilled. Behold, we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached to the edge of the inhabited world.”

Patrick could never have imagined the vastness of a world still entirely unknown to western Europeans in the fifth century. But his mindset remains instructive nonetheless. The church lives between the times, but always with an anticipation of the nearness of the age to come, expecting that Christ may indeed return at any time.

Ultimately, this hope was also in what that future reality would bring with it.

“For without a doubt we shall rise again on that day in the brightness of the sun which is the glory of Jesus Christ the redeemer. We will be sons of the living God and fellow heirs with Christ, conformed to his image. For we shall rule from him, through him, and in him.”

Maybe on Saint Patrick’s Day, that’s the thing we most desperately need to be reminded of. This “present evil age” is nearing its end and, if we keep the promised future in sight, it might just prompt us to be more hopeful, fortify our courage and strengthen our resolve.

By / Mar 18

During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late-great Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Hendricks shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.

At the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromises.

Hendricks’s study was of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period of time. As far as he could discern, these full-time clergy were men who were born again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation: They had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an extramarital affair.

After interviewing each man, Hendricks compiled four common characteristics of their lives.

  1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability. 
  2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading and worship. 
  3. More than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
  4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

As I reflect on this, a few lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay-at-home moms and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.

Sin thrives in isolation.

Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there as well. He does this because lies live best in the darkness. God knows this, which is why when he calls us to himself, he calls us into the church.

God has created the church to be many things, one of which is to be a community of people who help each other fight sin and love him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:15, 25), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matt.18:10-20, Gal. 6:1-2, James 5:19-20).

The question I want you to ponder is this: Who knows you? I mean who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon the permission to ask you hard questions? Are you answering those questions honestly or are you hiding details and painting up your sin to guard your image?

Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.

If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.

Sin’s slope is a slippery one. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more certain that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).

These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Eph. 4:22, Heb. 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matt. 15:14).

What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh in regards to its lust (Rom. 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What emails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?

Sin is crouching at your door (Gen. 4:7) and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Pet. 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?

Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Gen. 39:6-12, Prov. 5-7, Rom. 6:12-13, 2 Tim. 2:22, 1 Pet. 2:11).

Pride blinds us to our weakness.

Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12  warns us “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson—the strongest man in the Bible, Solomon—the wisest man in the Bible, and David—the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judges 14-16, 1 Kings 11:1-8, 2 Sam. 11-12, Psalm 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt this, you are on your way to a great fall.

Brothers, beware. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus. 

Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in his Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense.

The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.

But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh in Hebrews 4:14–16:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Brothers and sisters, there is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we are in such need of.

Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that he is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek him only in days of desperation, but seek him daily. Walk with him. Rekindle passion. Plead with him to help you. He is able to do it, and he delights to do it.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25). 

This was originally published here.

By / Jul 17

If you've been following the news, you may have heard that 14 religious leaders sent President Obama a letter requesting a religious exemption in his planned executive order banning discrimination by government contractors against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Michael Lindsay of Gordon College was one of those who signed the letter and has received an incredible amount of local criticism here in Greater Boston. The criticism has come from local governmental officials, his own faculty, staff and students, social media posts and news outlets, such as USA Today, Boston Globe, and Huffington Post.

In 2011, I had the privilege of planting Netcast Church, which currently has a large attendance of students, faculty and staff from Gordon College. As the pastor of a young and growing evangelical church that sits in the heart of a very liberal and post-modern culture, watching the unfortunate chaos unfold has been quite eye-opening. As I wrestle through my own convictions and personal stances on these issues, these are a few things that I have been reminded of:

Jesus is the great liberator.

The reason many people are turned off by Christianity is because, historically, we spend our time fighting for what we are against rather than explaining the liberties we are actually for. By doing this, we take away the beauty and liberation of the gospel message, making it hard for people to see Jesus through the flying bullets. As a believer in Jesus, I want to remember that my liberties associated with the gospel are endless and beautiful. Therefore, shout the freedom and liberation that is found in Jesus as we submit all areas of life, conduct and theological understandings to His authority.

Love will be perceived as hate.

No matter how hard evangelicals attempt to love our neighbor, some neighbors will see that love as hatred and oppression. Jesus came from heaven to earth in order to love his people and liberate them from oppression. He did this by providing salvation through his sinless life, substitutionary death and victorious resurrection. However, the very ones who Christ came to love, perceived that love as hatred and crucified him for it. As evangelicals, we are called to love others by proclaiming Jesus as the means toward a liberty, freedom and joy than can't be found in anything other than our Savior. As I point others to a joy in Jesus by loving them enough to encourage the submission of our sexuality to his Lordship, that loving motivation will often be perceived as hatred. There's very little I can do about it.

Fans can become critics overnight.

Although I don't know Dr. Lindsay on a personal level, I have met with him and admire him. From what I gather, he is a loving father to three daughters and just celebrated 19 years of faithful commitment to his wife, Rebecca. Although he has been criticized for his driven professionalism, he has a strong reputation among his board, staff and students. In addition to that, his work has been admired in a wide range of secular media outlets, and he’s been given interviews with some of our nation’s top political leaders.

From what I can tell, Dr. Lindsay is a faithful believer in Jesus, loves the North Shore of Greater Boston and leads his college with conviction. What amazes me is that, with one stroke of the pen, many of his fans became vocal critics. He went from being a deeply respected and loved member of the community, to being viewed as an irrelevant and insensitive conservative bigot overnight. 

Being misunderstood is expected.

Jesus has made it clear that those of this world will hate us because they first hated him. If Christians were like the world and gave in to every pleasure, sensual desire, cunning doctrine and ambition, the world would not oppose us. If we were silent or conformists when it came to our convictions, the world would not despise us; but Christians do not belong to the world–this is why we are often misunderstood and disliked.

It should be expected that our truths will be viewed as narrow-minded, our love will be viewed as hate and our doctrinal convictions will be viewed as bigotry. However, let’s not forget that some of this points to good news. James argues that trials test our faith, develop endurance in our lives and lead to maturity. Paul reminds us that persecution allows us to share in a unique intimacy with the Lord. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that the most horrific deeds done by men can bring about the most glorious event that the world has ever known.

In a world that seems to be getting increasingly hostile toward orthodox Christianity, Christians must unite together. As we proclaim good news and stand in the face of antagonism, accusation and misunderstandings, we must remind each other that Jesus was merciful and patient as we antagonized, accused and misunderstood him. May we have the grace to respond rightly in the midst of these disputes, and may we model our Lord's example as he cried from a horrific cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”