Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Living Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Romans 12:1
Like children do, they sometimes need correction. On one such day, my four year old son showed me the true meaning of living sacrifice. Taking them both aside I gave both children an ultimatum. "Only one will punished. Which one will it be?" I asked. Through tears and crying he reponded,"Me." "Are you certain? It may involve a spanking?" "Yes," he firmly said through sobbing. I picked him up and embraced him. I hugged them both. "You love sissy that much," I inquired. "Uh-Huh," came back my answer.

In John chapter six, Jesus uses a little boy to demonstrate not only sacrifice, but also His power. Jesus had been preaching to five thousand people. When it was time to eat, Jesus asked the disciples how they were going to feed all of the people. The disciples already knew that Jesus was at work. Andrew told Jesus that he had found a young boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. This may have been all the food the boy had to eat. It might have had to last him for a long time. But he gave all taking the chance of going hungry. Jesus told the crowd to sit down. He took the bread and fish and thanked God for the food that He had blessed them with. Suddenly, the people were amazed to see that there was enough food for every one of those five thousand people. The boy's living sacrifice fed many.

That day, Jesus was able to use that little boy as an example of sacrifice. The boy did not know Jesus, but he was more than willing to give up all of his food for Him. The boy gave of his food. Even at his own risk. My son was willing to give of his well being and the potential for punishment to let his sister slide.

They did it for love. Sacrifice is about love for our brothers and sisters. And my how God has put me to shame, revealing to me that little boys are smarter than grown men when it comes to sacrificial love. What I'm willing to give up is nothing in comparison to them. Their bodies literally became a living sacrifice. Mine is nothing more than a sacrifice of convience.


In my soul searching journey, may I be willing to ask myself what I'm willing to give up for Your use?


Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Story of St. Patrick Loving His Enemies

Before all the festivities focused on shamrocks and leprechauns and good luck wishes, there was truly something to celebrate: a man willing to stand in the gap for Jesus Christ. Reporter David Kithcart reveals the inspiring true story behind this courageous and fervent Irishman we all know as Saint Patrick.
It was an act of defiance that changed the course of a nation. Patrick lit a fire in pagan 5th century Ireland, ushering Christianity into the country. Who was this man who became the patron saint of Ireland?
Ireland was a beautiful island shrouded in terrible darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. But across the sea in Britain, a teen-ager was poised to bring this nation to God.
"Patrick was born into a Christian family," says Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland. "His father was a deacon; his grandfather a priest. But Patrick says that from a n early age, he didn't have any serious interest in religion and that he was pratically an atheist when he was a teenager."
Around 400 A.D., Patrick was abducted from his village and thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland.
"He saw that as God chastising him, first of all," says Rev. Sean Brady. "That was the first view. He says we deserved what we got. We're carried at 16 years of age over to this foreign land."
Patrick was sold to a chieftain named Milchu. He spent six years tending his master's flocks on the slopes of the Slemish Mountain. Patrick recounts his time as a slave in his memoir entitled The Confession.
"He says, 'I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,' " says Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland. "Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God -- God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit."
One night during a time of prayer and fasting, Patrick wrote: "I heard in my sleep a voice saying to me: 'It is well that you fast. Soon you will go to your own country.' And again, after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: 'See, your ship is ready.' "
St. PatrickPatrick escaped and traveled 200 miles cross country to the west coast. He found a ship ready to sail, but was refused passage. After a desperate prayer, he was allowed aboard.
Patrick eventually returned to his home and family. His experience of God's grace and provision solidified his faith. He began to study for the ministry.
Freeman says, "One night, he had a dream. Thee was a man who came from Ireland with a whole bunch of letters. And he opened up one of the letters and it said 'The Voice of the Irish.' And then he heard a voice coming out of this letter that said, 'Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.'"
Patrick struggled in his soul. Could he return to Ireland and minister to the same people who had enslaved him? Once again, he turned to God in prayer. He received the answer in a dream.
"He talks about how he, in this dream, is trying to pray and yet he can't," says Freeman. "So he hears a voice coming from inside of him which he realizes is the voice of God praying for him."
Patrick knew he had to go and convince his church that he was called to be a missionary to Ireland. He set sail in a small ship.
Patrick landed at the mouth of the Slaney River. When Patrick set foot on this shore, a new era dawned on this island.
"The Ireland of his day really wasn't much different from the Ireland of a few years ago here where we are sitting here at this moment," notes Most Reverend Dr. Robert Eames, Church of England Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. "It was an Ireland of tribalism, an Ireland of war, an Ireland of suspicion, an Ireland of violence and death. Here he came as a virtual stranger to this country of warring factions."
"They worshipped multiple gods of the sky and the earth and the water," says Freeman. "And so that was his first challenge: to convince the Irish that there was only one God and that his God really did love them."
Patrick came face to face with the chieftains and their druid priests. The showdown came on the morning of his first Easter in Ireland.
Monsignor Raymond Murray, parish priest of Cookstown in Northern Ireland explains further: "Part of the pagan worship of fall to spring, from the beginning of the summer, was that a fire was lit, and first of all, the fire on the hill of Tara and no other lights at all in Ireland."
St. PatrickThis monastery on the hill of Slane is where Patrick -- in direct defiance of the high king of Tara -- lit a forbidden fire.
Notes Rev. Brady, "He was summoned before the king, and he explained that he wasn't a threat, because he was bringing the new light, the light of Christ, the Savior of the world, the Light of the world."
"The first light of Easter day was dawning. Patrick brought the hope of Easter day to Ireland," says Rev. Eames.
The weather can be absolutely brutal here in Ireland. But just imagine how it must've been for Patrick in the 5th century as he trekked across the countryside bringing the Gospel to the pagan Celts.
"People sometimes made fun of him because he said that God often gave him a message there was danger ahead," says Freeman. "But, he said, 'Laugh at me if you will. This is something that has protected me in Ireland.'"
Listen to Patrick's poem of faith and trust in God, "The Breastplate":
"Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."
Myths and legends have grown up around this hero of Ireland.
As Monsignor Murray explains, it is sometimes difficult to describe the triune aspect of God. So, according to the story, to better illustrate the central teaching of the trinity, Patrick took a shamrock and pointed out the three leaves on it. Interestingly, it is only in Ireland that you find this shamrock. Therefore, the people believed.
"One of the famous legends, of course, is that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland," says Irish historian Harold Calvert.
In fact, any snakes in Ireland had disappeared during the Ice Age.
"The legend about the driving of the snakes may, in fact, really symbolize the driving out of evil," says Calvert.
In 432 A.D., Patrick built a church on the site of the present day St. Patrick's Memorial Church in Saul -- the first ever Christian church in all of Ireland. It's considered the cradle of Irish Christianity.
"Preaching the Gospel, of course, baptizing converts, confirming them, appointing clergy," continues Calvert.
Patrick's ministry lasted 29 years. He baptized over 120,000 Irishmen and planted 300 churches.
"What Patrick did was really lay the groundwork for Christianity," says Freeman.
To this day, no one knows where Patrick is buried, but many believe that it is somewhere beneath the church on the hill at Down Cathedral.
Rev. Sean Brady concludes, "He was a man who came to face and help his former enemies who had enslaved him. He came back to help them and to do them a great favor -- the greatest favor he possibly could."
Rev. Earnes concurs, "I honestly feel that what Patrick taught Ireland was that there is a cost to discipleship, but it's a cost worth paying. And I believe, to bring this right up to date, the church of St. Patrick must be constantly saying to people, 'Discipleship demands of you, but it's a cost that Christ will help you to pay.'"

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Stray Dog

The purity of a person's heart can be quickly measured by how they regard animals.

It's a wet, soggy night as the weather turns from bad to worse.
Glancing through my window I see a shape off in the distance.
My neighbors at the house up the street scream at this figure.
This mysterious creature is a dog, it turns out, a stray to be exact.
His poor body must be racked with pain.
Despair is only friend.
He appears to be soaked and shaking from the cold downpour.
He looks tired and hungry.
The poor things has been to every house and been run off from everyone.
Probably been chased with sticks and hit with stones.
So skinny and malnourished, he limps his way to our house.
My brother and I try to get him to come to us, but no such luck.
Standing on the front porch, we try to give him some food.
The stray dog won't come no where near us.
We pitch the food to him, and he gobbles it up.
Into the night, he returns and each night he comes back.
Always tossing him food, he edges closer to us each time.
The day comes when he takes the food from our hands.
We notice the wound on his back leg.
Doctoring his wound with some medicine, he seems to feel some relief.
Eventually, we convince our parents to take up with him.
He is now heavier and stronger.
As we once protected him, now he protects us.
No intruder enters his new found territory unless we tell him it's okay.
He now has a family to be loyal to.
A place to feel safe and a place to keep safe.
A home.

May I, Heavenly Father, extend that same mercy to the lost, confused, and hurt ones of this world that others have turned away. The stray dog in me longs for the home of the One I love. Come soon, sweet Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

God Reveals All Things In Due Time

Mississippi summers are not only hot, but muggy. Days like today make me glad that we have air conditioning. Unlike the days when my mother's folks sharecropped other's land. Now they owned their own. Little good the air conditioning was doing this youth outside.

I finally understood why we were called rednecks. My neck was burning. It must be scalded by now, I thought.

Row after row we planted. What a way for a 10 year old to spend his summer. Other kids were out doing their own thing and here I was in the middle of this field. The only fun I was having was stomping dirt clods as I went along.

Dad had done shaved my head for the summer. Easier to find ticks on me and my brother, he said. Playing in the woods was a good way to become covered in them little blood suckers. Eww, I hate ticks. Only way to get the little boogers off you is to stab 'em with a hot needle.
Dad's almost finished and I'm still a long way from being done.

"Finish planting that bag of sweet corn and we'll head out fishing," my dad announced, hoping to inspire me to complete the row.

At least thirty more feet of sun-baked earth and a sound of seeds remained between my hot, sweaty body and the cool of the shade trees surrounding the fishing hole.

He just said, "Finish planting that bag of sweet corn," I thought. He didn't say anything about finishing the row.

Quickly, I hoed a large hole and, turning to see that Dad wasn't looking, emptied the bag of seed into the newly-dug grave.

And off I went with new rod and reel in hand, smug in my belief that no one was the wiser.
A few weeks later, long rows of tiny thin leaves began to push through the earth. I double-checked to make sure I had buried the extra seeds deep enough. Sure, enough, there was no sign of the secret seeds. Until about two weeks later!

"Lance Lee Gargus! What do you know about this?"

"Um!" I replied. What could I say. There, between the corn rows, a dense patch of tiny, thin leaves betrayed me.

Part of my summer's allowance went to buy replacement seed, and a whole afternoon went to re-planting the rest of the row of corn. But most of my summer was spent listening to my dad quote, "God reveals all things in due time."
Lance Gargus

for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.

Matthew 10:26
"The most important of life's battles is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul."