Saint Patrick’s Day – Beyond the Hoopla and Green Beer

It seems that few today know the origins of Saint Patrick’s Day and the man whose day we celebrate.  The following article by Professor Edith M. Humphrey can remedy that for us.  And it does so not in just a Wikipedia sort of way but in a manner which captures the spiritual essence of the life and mission of the man and his evangelistic mission.  Dr. Edith M. Humphrey is Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She is an active member of the Orthodox Church (attending St. George’s Antiochian Church, Oakland).  Her article appeared at: blogs.ancientfaith.com as: St. Patrick, Natural Icons and the Sacramental Creation.  RMF

St. Patrick, Natural Icons and the Sacramental Creation

by Edith M. Humphrey

Readings: Isaiah 13:2-13; Genesis 8:4-21; Proverbs 10:31-11:12

Professor Edith M. Humphrey

St. Patrick, the Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland, was born as a slave in Britain—either Scotland or Wales— between 385 and 390, travelled to Ireland in response to the call of God, eventually became bishop of the area of Armagh, in Northern Ireland, and died, having braved many dangers for Christ, on March 17, 461. Today his name is, alas, associated with carousing and noise, activities that deformed his feast-day, perhaps as those weary with Lent sought a release from fasting! Because of the uproarious nature of the popular holiday, the bishop’s lasting legacy as a primary missionary in Ireland is almost forgotten, except for the wearing of the green (with a touch of orange, if you hail from Northern Ireland), and a fleeting association with the shamrock.

The Kontakion [a form of hymn performed in the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches that follow the Byzantine Rite. RMF] for his feast-day is instructive:

From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service:
He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage.
You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts.
In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul!
Having received the reward for your labors in heaven,
Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth,
Holy Bishop Patrick!

Armagh, Ireland

The celebratory atmosphere of the contemporary St. Patrick’s day celebration is a distortion of the positive approach to God’s creation that we see in the Saint. Though an imperfect symbol, the shamrock, a three-in-one plant, was close at hand everywhere, and became a useful bridge by which St. Patrick could lift their eyes to the Triune God, the Creator of all. We also see St. Patrick’s celebration of God’s world in that famous hymn called the Lorica, or Breastplate of St. Patrick. The story goes that this luminous  Continue reading

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God, Is That You?

About 20 years ago I was working through a study called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.  He made the statement that if you, as a Christian, are not aware that God is speaking to you then you have a serious spiritual problem.  When I read this my first thought was that I must have a serious spiritual problem.  I knew I had not experienced the audible voice of God or a dream or vision like those described in the Bible.  However, upon further consideration I discovered that God was actually speaking to me frequently.  The best example of that for me was that I knew that when I read the Bible I could tell that my spirit was being stirred and that God clearly was speaking to my soul and asking me to examine my attitudes and actions.  Besides when reading the Bible I also discovered that God was speaking to me by the Holy Spirit through prayer, the church (and my Christian friends), and through my circumstances, just as Blackaby said would be the case.  

Ever sense the Experiencing God study I have wrestled with being able to correctly discern the source of some of my thoughts, impressions, feelings, and ideas and to distinguish which ones are actually of God.  This is especially the case when I’m concentrating on trying to discern what God’s will might be for me in a particular situation and when it appears that God may be seeking to get my attention and reveal something important to me – something that I should perhaps be aware of or act on. Through speaking with others it is clear that this is a perplexing issue for many Christ followers.

Over the years I’ve read articles and received teaching on hearing from God and discerning His voice.  The following link to a message by Pastor Rick Warren is the best general message I’ve heard on the topic of recognizing God’s voice.  Click HERE for a link to the Rick Warren message.  I’ve also printed my notes from the message below for your use should a written version be useful to you.  It is not a transcript but rather my takeaway from the message.  It also incorporates some notes from my friend Larry Rosenthal.  RMF

Learn How to Recognize the Voice of God

Pastor Rick Warren

You can’t have a relationship with God if you don’t hear from Him. If all you do is speak to God in prayer and not hear back from Him it is a one-way relationship. God wants to speak with you.

You need to learn how to determine if your thoughts, ideas, mental sensations, feelings, impressions, etc., are from God, Satan, or simply your own thoughts. It’s important to know how to discern if it is God speaking to you – or not.

Proverbs 14:12 NIV
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. I.e., the wrong way can be fatal!

1 John 4:1 NIV
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. [Don’t believe everything someone says just because someone says it is a message from God; test it first to see if it really is. (Living Bible)]

So, it is possible to test a message to determine if it is from God?  There are seven tests, or filters, that can be used.  Continue reading

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What We Can Learn From A Navy SEAL

I loved all my previous jobs: the US Navy, right out of college, the FBI right out of the Navy, and the Christian ministry following retirement from the FBI.  I’ve long said that I simply wouldn’t know how things could have been much better for me.  The work in the Navy and the Bureau were really fulfilling and loaded with excitement – both very challenging.  And of course from the standpoint of eternity the work as a pastor under the leadership of Brett Andrews and our church’s Leadership Team was all any Christian guy could ask for.  That said, there is something else I would have really enjoyed – actually someone whose career I wish could have been mine (if I could do it without losing the experiences of the jobs I did have).  I wouldn’t be interested in being a politician, industrialist, financial pro, movie star, or even a professional athlete.  What career, or better yet, whose career would I like to have experienced given the opportunity?  

Perhaps a bit of background would be in order.  I grew up loving to swim.  When I was just a boy, maybe seven or eight years old, I saw a movie about the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) — the Navy’s Frogmen.  I was so taken with how they used their skills as swimmers and their expertise with explosives that I just knew that would be the job for me.  I wanted to be a Frogman and my friends even started calling me Frogman Furgie.  I loved it.  And so to that end I started thinking about getting in the Navy and eventually was able to get a Navy scholarship to the University of Missouri.  Well, things progressed and my aspirations finally drifted away to what seemed like a more doable career and I ended up as what would now be called a Naval Surface Warfare Officer.  Meanwhile the UDTs morphed into Navy SEALs.  

Anyway, the career I would aspire to  would be the career of Admiral William H. McRaven.  What a guy!  Admiral McRaven was a SEAL.  He eventually headed the United State’s Special Operations Command and, among other achievements Admiral McRaven is credited with organizing and overseeing the execution of Operation Neptune Spear, the special ops raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. (There is a neat article on Adm. McRaven’s background and accomplishments on Wikipedia.  Click HERE.)  The following is a transcript of the commencement address that Admiral. McRaven gave at his alma mater, the University of Texas, on May 17, 2014.  I believe you’ll like it and appreciate the life lessons he shares from his SEAL training.  While the transcript is great for record purposes, you may prefer to watch the YouTube video of the address.  If so, click HERE.  I’m wondering if you would have enjoyed a career like Admiral. McRaven’s.  My bet is you would.  RMF

Ten Life Lessons From Navy SEAL Training
By Admiral William McRaven

Admiral William H McRaven, USN

President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.

It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT.

I remember a lot of things about that day.

I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married—that’s important to remember by the way—and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.

But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening and I certainly don’t remember anything they said.

So…acknowledging that fact—if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable—I will at least try to make it short.  Continue reading

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More Is Not Better

I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m the poster child for clutter, disorganization, and stuff retention. Perhaps not to the point of being diagnosable as a hoarder, but probably not too distant removed from it. This is no exaggeration. Just ask my dear wife who is kind enough to gently remind me ever so often of how “Accumulation” should be my middle name. Well, several converging things have happened to make me really get serious about cleaning up my act, and cleaning out. First there have been a long series of books and articles in the past which I readily acknowledged made good sense – but then quickly put them out of mind. More recently I became haunted by the wisdom of attending to the spiritual discipline of simplicity (thank you Richard Foster). Next was an article by Jon Bloom on Our Need for Deliverance from Distraction. Then came a message preached last Sunday on idol worship by my pastor, Brett Andrews. And, finally, the article I’m providing for your consideration by Brian Jones. The article appeared first as: Becoming a Minimalist Pastor at: seniorpastorcentral.com.  Now, don’t get the idea that this article which is written primarily for pastors won’t be applicable to you.  It will be.  Trust me.  And, as Brian says: “More is not better – better is better.”  RMF

Becoming a Minimalist Pastor
by Brian Jones

We would all agree that the worst possible rut to ever be in as a Pastor is living in a perpetual state of distraction, overwhelm, and superficiality.  [All of us, whatever be our occupation or situation in life, can agree with this.  RMF]

  Yet, if someone were to ask us how we’re doing, we’d be lying if we didn’t say that’s how we spend the majority of our week. We race from one “oh that’s good enough” partially finished task to the next.

In his book The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson said there’s a reason he throws away any mail he receives that is addressed to the “busy pastor.” Not that that doesn’t describe us at times, for it surely does, but because, as Peterson says, “I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.”

Why Become A Minimalist Pastor?
Some Senior Pastors I coach tell me they thrive on high-stress pressure. I tell them that the extra 30 pounds they’re carrying, or their superficial relationships, or their mediocre sermons week after week would beg to differ.

Jesus had a center from which he operated which was perfectly still, unmarred by the waves around him. He knew what he was called to do, made decisions accordingly, then acted to the best of his ability and never felt rushed.  Continue reading

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Activism as Idolatry

Todd Wilson is a hero of mine.  He is brilliant but a more humble man of God I’ve yet to meet.  I’ve always loved his writing and leadership but more than anything I’ve admired his passion for the lost, those who our Savior came to seek and to save.  The following is an article intended primarily for the consumption of the church planting community and those serious about evangelism.  I hope you will appreciate the article and, more than that, develop a heart for the type of activism that Todd promotes so effectively.  Todd’s article appeared first at: exponential.org as:  When Activism Becomes Idolatry.  RMF

When Activism Becomes Idolatry

by Todd Wilson

Todd Wilson

I’m an activist. I’m guessing you are, too. In fact, most of our friends, neighbors, peers, and co-workers are activists for something. We live in a time when everyone seems to passionately champion a cause.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about activism and its implications. I find myself asking if it’s possible that the rise in our activist culture is also a contributing cause of the historic levels of division in our nation? If you’re like me, your gut tells you we’ve gone off track. Too often, our activism is rooted in the wrong motives, using language and strategies inconsistent with the One in whose name we come. As Christians, it’s vital that we have a solid biblical foundation for our activism. Otherwise, our activism becomes idolatry.

Pastor Ralph Moore

I love the phrase that Ralph Moore uses to describe activists in his forthcoming Exponential book, New to Five. Ralph calls himself a “monomaniac with a mission.” Monomaniacs are razor- focused with a relentless drive to pursue and accomplish their deeply held burden or conviction. Being a monomaniac with a mission can be profoundly good or profoundly bad. The apostle Paul was a monomaniac, but so was Hitler.
While most of us activists are sincere in our passions and burdens, the plethora of causes and voices is creating a whole lot of unproductive noise. We are fragmented; our individual causes are like planes without an airport. The current context of our activism often seems disconnected from the One we seek to honor.  Continue reading

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Getting Real About Real Love

I love it each time I receive a posting on Edith M Humphrey’s A Lamp For Today blog.
Her engaging no nonsense writing style plus the depth of her insight into Biblical and spiritual matters make her articles a delight.  And, besides, anyone who appreciates The Princess Bride or has grandchildren who do must be a nice person ;-).  The following piece by Ms. Humphrey, which appeared at: www.blogs.ancientfaith.com as: “What Have You Got Worth Living For? True Love!” – St. Valentine, Marriage and the Orthodox Faith,  was especially timely for me and it may be for you as well in these days following Valentine’s Day.  Ms. Humphrey is the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a member of St. George Antiochian Cathedral in Pittsburgh.  RMF

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“What Have You Got Worth Living For? True Love!”–St. Valentine, Marriage and the Orthodox Faith

  by Edith M. Humphrey

Edith M. Humphrey

Edith M. Humphrey

My children’s generation grew up on a classical love-story, tinged with touches of humor: The Princess Bride, more often watched in the film version than read in the book by William Goldman. I remember my middle daughter Alexandra being delighted that the story begins with a grandfather telling his ill grandchild a story, when she was also home ill from school while watching the story on our VHS. Even the adults are typically amused by that ridiculous scene when Miracle Max blows air by means of fire-bellows into Westley’s mouth, asking the question, “What have you got worth living for?” and the “mostly-dead” young man responds, “True Love!”

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Mad Max & Wesley

Mad Max & Wesley

Of course, romantic love is one of those things about human life that has been celebrated, exaggerated, sentimentalized and even idolized. Yet, when it is put in its proper place, the love of a man and woman is “a many-splendored thing.” As the book of Hebrews advises, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous.” (Heb 13:4 RSV). Even more amazing is the mysterious remark of St. Paul, which speaks of the sacrificial relationship between a husband and a wife as “profound mystery” related to Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5:32). The attraction of a man for a woman, and vice versa, is a powerful thing, and finds its way into the opening chapters of Genesis, when Adam recognizes “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” as God presents Eve to him.   Continue reading

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Woah, Nelly! I’m Cooling My Jets

The political storm in America continues to rage .  Here is some biblical wisdom from Pastor Bob Russell which may be of use to you as it is to me.  Pastor Russell’s posting appeared at: www.bobrussell.org as: Keep Calm and Pray On. RMF

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Keep Calm and Pray On

by Bob Russell

Pastor Bob Russell

Pastor Bob Russell

The American people are angry! I can’t remember ever seeing such widespread, fierce hostility.

Those who attended the Million Woman march in Washington D.C were furious that Donald Trump won the election. They considered his election an affront to the dignity of women and a future threat to abortion on demand. Ashley Judd was nasty mad. Madonna confessed to being so angry she had thoughts of blowing up the White House.

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It’s not just feminists who are angry about recent events. Politicians, actors and public figures of both genders are expressing their outrage at the President’s recent ninety-day immigration ban. Protestors on college campuses and in the streets of major cities are so infuriated at the latest executive order they are blocking traffic, screaming profanities, destroying property and throwing rocks and bottles at police.

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump is angry also. He can’t believe the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned his executive order. He’s confident that it’s wise to temporarily ban immigrants from seven middle-east countries that sponsor terrorism and that he has the authority to do so. Last week the President indignantly tweeted disparaging remarks about the judges who ruled against him and he vowed to get even.

It was disappointing to learn that evangelical leaders are deeply divided over the immigration issue. Well-known church leaders like Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffries and Jerry Falwell Jr. are vehement in their support of the President. On the other hand respected torchbearers like Max Lucado, Tim Keller and Bill Hybels are taking a strong stand against the immigration ban. Continue reading

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