Monday, March 17, 2014

Dancing With Barbarians

I love reading old picture books and watching vintage movies with our grandchildren.  It allows them the opportunity to see things they do not know and understand, even that as mundane as explaining what a milkman did.  There were (and are) different ways to do things.  These tales do not just increase their knowledge but expand their imagination of what can be.

One of those movies was the classic Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood.  In a scene showing the cemetery surrounding Friar Tuck's church, our four-year-old granddaughter asked, "Why are all those rocks there?"

I realized that she was referring to the gravestones, an unfamiliar sight for any church built in the past fifty years.  I hesitated for a moment as I formulated my answer.

"Those are the faithful ones," I replied.  "The church is surrounded by God's faithful people."

Before I left for home a few days later, I said something about celebrating St. Patrick's Day.  "Who's dat?" asked our grandson.

And I realized that it is not that the stories of the faithful are few and far between, but remain untold.  These are real people.  Look how God used these ordinary people in extraordinary ways.  This is what being used by God looks like.

Tell these stories of God's faithfulness to your children and grandchildren that they may not fade into dust.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark saysings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD,
                     and His might,
and the wonders which He has wrought.
                               Psalm 78. 2-4

Today is St. Patrick's Day, and while the rivers will be running green in Chicago, the true story of Patrick stands in sharp contrast to what is typically celebrated on this holiday.  The following post has appeared on this blog in previous years, but the story of Patrick is always a profound reminder to me of what God can do through His faithful ones.  Patrick did not flee from the barbarians, but allowed God's grace to transform a culture and literally change the world. 

We celebrate today not green beer and leprechauns, but one man’s radical obedience to God, through whom God used to change the course of history.

Patrick was born in 387 in Britain, which was part of the then-crumbling Roman Empire.  He came from a legacy of faith; his father and his grandfather were spiritual leaders in the early church and served as deacons.

When he was 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave.  What seemed as a tragedy in a young man’s life, God used for tremendous good.  In the long hours slaving as a shepherd in the wilderness taking care of his master’s sheep, Patrick spent long hours in prayer and meditation.

In his own words:   “But after I reached Hibernia I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the Love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time".

Also in this time of exile, he learned the Celtic language and became well-versed in the pagan culture of Ireland, as his master was a high Druid, an important leader in Irish religion and culture.  All these things God fashioned into tools in Patrick’s life which later would be used for His Kingdom.

After six years of enslavement, being prompted in a dream that “Your ship is ready,”  Patrick escaped and fled on foot for 200 miles and found a ship, ready to sail.  He returned to Britain and studied to be a priest.  Nudged again by God in a vision, he returned to Ireland, the land of his captivity and a place of fierce opposition to the Gospel, to be a missionary to the Irish people.

After 30 years of evangelism, he died on March 17 in the year 461.  One of his tools of evangelism was the three-leafed shamrock, which he used to teach unbelievers about the Trinity.

But that is only the beginning of the story.  Patrick’s obedience to God then reverberated throughout the known world.  As chronicled in Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization, God used Patrick as a catalyst for literacy and learning in Ireland while Europe was being invaded and destroyed by barbarians in a period of time we know as the Dark Ages.

So wear the green proudly today in honor of what God can do through one man’s faithfulness to Him.  And as a challenge that we may live obediently for God.  Yes, it matters.  It matters a lot.  More than we can ever know.

I thank my God through Jesus Christ
for all of you,
because your faith is proclaimed
in all the world.
                                  Romans 1.8

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