Monday, October 22, 2012

All Sorts of Messy

I got an e-mail from a friend back in the states yesterday morning pointing out that my soccer club, Arsenal, lost to Norwich 1-0.  After hemorrhaging players the past few seasons and dealing with one crisis after another, this season looked to be the one where we would put it all together and make a serious run at the English Premier League title.  But you don't lose to one of the worst teams in the league and expect to be a credible challenger.  Maybe we'll come back and make a big push later on.  There's still time, it's a long season and I'll support the Gunners to the bitter end, but I'm not holding my breath. I don't think that this will be the year for us to lift any meaningful silverware.  Being an Arsenal supporter can be messy.

Those who know me well know that I bleed burnt orange.  Seriously, when I get a cut or a nosebleed, the liquid which pours forth from my flesh is literally orange with a hint of dark brown.  I can't remember a time when I didn't follow the Texas Longhorns and for most of my 30 plus years of college football watching, the Horns haven't lived up to the lofty expectations set for them back in the golden days of Royal, Street, and Campbell.  I'm not a fair-weather fan.  I've supported the University right through the Akers, McWilliams, Mackovic, and now Brown years.  There have been some highs and lows, and though I've uttered some unkind words for both players and coaches, I've never quit supporting them.  I didn't stay up to watch them at 1 AM Dublin time this past weekend, but I caught the game on ESPN player on Sunday morning.  It was good to get a win after last week's embarrassment, but 5-2, #23 in the BCS and being irrelevant on the national stage for the third year in a row isn't good enough for the University of Texas at Austin.  It's unacceptable, but it's reality.  Being a Longhorn fan can be messy.

Sports and other hobbies or diversions are not even close to being the most important things in life, but I do believe that they can teach us a lot about life.  Supporting and playing on sports teams has its ups and downs, highs and lows, as does life.  Rarely do sports seasons unfold quite like we hope them to.  Rarely does life unfold like we expect.  Life is messy, isn't it?  At times it gets really, really messy.  Even when we aren't going through a crisis, even when the Sun is shining, even when things are going relatively well, life is messy.  Since I'm a neat freak, this kind of annoys me, but I'm learning to live with the messiness in my own life and the lives of those around me.

One of the things that rings true to me about the Biblical story is that it too is messy.  No sooner is God's good creation complete, then things turn nasty in a hurry.  From Genesis 3-11 the proverbial excrement hits the fan and stuff gets blown about the room in alarming fashion.  But then we turn the page and God begins to bring order out of chaos.  He calls a man and then a people and things begin to progress and make sense once more.  Well, kind of.  Throughout the story of Israel, there's all sorts of messiness.  Messy lives, messy people, messy situations - it's just all sorts of messy!  And then out of the messiness of history a child, a Messiah, a Son of Man, the Son of God is born.  God the Son actually enters into the messiness of our lives and the messiness of his own life.  In Jesus' own story, the history of the Universe takes a turn that none could have predicted, but a turn that actually begins to make sense of all this messiness we find ourselves in.

Because of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God we can begin to make sense of our chaotic lives.  But that doesn't automatically make them less messy.  The tornadoes and hurricanes of our world still blow stuff about the rooms of our lives and as soon as we get one mess cleaned up, a new one whooshes in.  That's life.  But the good news of the gospel tells us that the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the inconsistencies of this existence are being ironed out and a that a beautiful mosaic or tapestry is being created from the chaos.  Okay, so a bit of a mixed metaphor, but just like life, its messy. - Shay 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Fields are Ripe

A few months ago I met Jim Carroll, the Rector of the Raheny Parish of the Church of Ireland in a local coffee shop.  He showed me around the All Saints building and invited me to speak at their Harvest Thanksgiving worship.  He later informed me that he had double booked the occasion, but a few weeks ago he rang me again and asked if I would be willing to speak.  Of course I agreed to and so I had the opportunity to share a message from John 4 yesterday morning at the All Saints Church in Raheny and the St. John the Evangelist Church in Coolock.  Here's the homily I delivered.       

Good morning.  First of all I would like to say thank you to Jim Carroll for allowing me to share with you a message from God’s word this Harvest Sunday.  Our God is good and he allows the sun to shine and the rain to rain, especially here in Ireland, on both the righteous and the unrighteous.  All good things come from God and we have much to be thankful for in Ireland 2012.  And as thankful as we are for all of God’s abundant blessings, when we consider the gift of Jesus Christ, all of God’s other blessings pale in comparison.  We will always give thanks to God for the harvest of crops each and every year, but join me this morning in reflecting on a spiritual harvest that Jesus and his disciples reap in John chapter 4.  

Let me set the context for our text this morning.  Jesus is traveling with his disciples from Judea back to Galilee.  Normally when Jews would travel from Judea to Galilee or vice versa, they would go around Samaria to the other side of the Jordan River.  They did this because there were a lot of bandits in Samaria and it could be quite risky to travel through the territory.  But there was an even bigger reason.  The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans felt the same way about the Jews.  There were cultural differences, ethnic differences, and more importantly, religious differences that had not only separated these Semitic peoples, but had actually led to outright conflict from time to time.  And yet we’re told in John 4 that Jesus has to go through Samaria.  He is called to make this journey and as the story progresses it becomes obvious why Jesus must visit the Samaritan town of Sychar. 
 Tired and hungry from the long journey, the disciples skip off to town to find some grub while Jesus waits around by Jacob’s well outside the city limits.  There in the heat of the day, a woman approaches and Jesus asks her for a drink.  This gives the woman quite a shock because most devout Jewish men would never be alone with a woman, let alone strike up a conversation with one.  How much more shocking is it that Jesus, a Jew, is breaking not only social convention, but religious and ethnic barriers by engaging this Samaritan woman in conversation and asking her to share a drink with him. 
 The situation gets even more interesting as Jesus returns the favour of a drink and offers the woman living water, in other words, running water, not of a physical nature, but of a spiritual one.  In essence, Jesus offers the woman a life so filled up and overflowing with the Holy Spirit that it will eventually stream into eternal life in the age to come.  The woman is interested in the offer, but Jesus must still deal with the reality of the woman’s past and present before she can begin to look forward to her future.
 Jesus asks her to call her husband.  She admits that she’s not married and Jesus goes a step further by reminding her that not only is she not married, but she’s in fact been married 5 times and the fella she’s shacking up with now is not her husband.  Jesus has put this lady on the spot, but rather than facing up to the messiness of her own situation, she tries a diversion tactic and brings up a theological issue that had fanned the flames of conflict between the Jews and Samaritans for years.                

 Jesus calmly answers her query and uses her diversion to bring her back to the matter at hand - her need for salvation, her need for spiritual transformation.  This woman is up against it.  She’s an immoral woman in a world that discriminates against both her gender and her lifestyle choices.  And she’s a product of her culture – a culture that is divided ethnically and religiously, a culture that honours God with its lips, but whose hearts are far from him.  Neither she nor those in her community are the ideal people that most would target for a religious harvest, but this is exactly what Jesus does.
We live in a world that is not too dissimilar to the world of this Samaritan woman.  21st Century Ireland contains many interesting parallels to the world of 1st Century Palestine.  Like the Middle East 2,000 years ago, modern Ireland has become a culturally and ethnically diverse place.  If there were cultural differences between the peoples of this island several hundred years ago, with the immigration of the past decade, how much more? 
And of course, if Ireland is known for anything, it’s known for religious division and conflict.  As a young boy growing up in America, my oldest memory of Ireland was seeing footage of riots and protests between Catholics and Protestants in the North on television.  Thank God this situation seems to have taken a turn for the better in recent years, but it’s safe to say that there is still much work to be done.
 And like this Samaritan woman’s question regarding the appropriate place for worship, there is a lot of religious confusion amongst people in today’s Western world.  A growing militant secularism threatens religious faith in general, while the pervasiveness of pluralism threatens the Christian faith in particular.  These modern philosophies are politically correct and sound good on the surface, but both fail to offer the living water that Jesus promised the woman at the well. 
 Increasingly, our world refuses to honour God with even its lips, let alone with its heart and its actions.  Though the West, Europe and America has a history of cultural Christianity, true discipleship on a wide scale, the kind that burrows deep within hearts and transforms lives from the inside out seems to be lacking.   Ireland, Dublin, Raheny, Coolock – this probably wouldn’t be the ideal place that most would target for a religious revival, for a spiritual harvest.  But I believe that this is exactly what Jesus wants to do, and in fact, is already doing.  But before we go there, let’s travel back once more to our narrative in John 4.  Please read with me verses 27-42.
 We can see clearly why Jesus has to go through Samaria.  There is a harvest waiting to be reaped.  This harvest comes in an unexpected place, through an unexpected person.  And normally there are many months in the making of a harvest, but not here.  The disciples don’t sow the seeds, nor do they do the watering – they simply join God where he has already been at work.  They are standing the on the shoulders of giants –  these giants are the prophets of old, more recently John the Baptist, and even this woman of ill repute who has  shared the good news of Jesus with her friends, family, and neighbours. 
  In a world of ethnic and cultural divisions, in a world of religious confusion and religious conflict, Jesus offers this woman and the people of Sychar something that they could find in no one else – living water, eternal life.  The gospel is for Jews, the gospel is for Samaritans, the gospel is for everyone because Jesus truly is the Saviour of the world! 
And Jesus is just as much the Saviour of the world today as he was 2,000 years ago!  The gospel is for Jews & Samaritans just as it is for slave & free, male & female, Irish & immigrant, Catholic & Protestant – the gospel is for everyone!  And though this island of saints and scholars might have lapsed into an island of sinners and the cynical, I believe that the fields are ripe for harvesting.  So often God’s harvest comes in unexpected places through unexpected people at unexpected times.  When Europe had fallen back into paganism during the dark ages, Ireland sent missionaries to re-evangelize much of the continent.  Why not again and why not now?  Ireland is ripe for harvesting if we look through the eyes of Jesus.
 In a culture of religious conflict and religious confusion, there is a hunger and thirst for spirituality – a hunger for genuine, life changing discipleship – a thirst for living water that will bubble up to eternal life.  People – our friends, family, and neighbours are hungry and thirsty and like the woman of Sychar we have the opportunity to introduce them to our friend Jesus.  And you know, God doesn’t ask us to do all of the work – it’s his harvest.  We simply join him where he’s already at work.  Like the disciples, we are standing the shoulders of giants.  We stand on the shoulders of the faithful men and women who have come before us and even more importantly, we stand on the shoulders of Jesus himself.  He’s the way, the truth, the life – he’s the Saviour of the world!  As the apostle Paul reminds us, we may plant or water, but it’s God who brings the growth.
 So as we reflect on what God has given us on this harvest Sunday, as we remember the way in which Almighty God provides us with all that we have and all that we need, as we offer him our praise and as we give him all the glory and all the thanks for every good gift that he’s given each one of us, may we not forget that an even greater harvest awaits us in the age to come – a messianic banquet with the faithful of all ages – an eternal banquet with Jesus our Lord.  And may we remember that the harvest has already begun.  The fields are ripe and God is calling us all to play our part in his harvest.  To God be the glory!  Great things he has done, great things he is doing, and great things he will continue to do.  And may all God’s people say, amen. - Shay 



Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's the story?

When I was a teenager growing up in the US, we used to say, "what's up?".  Joey from friends was famous for his, "how you doin'?" line.  Here in Dublin it's common to greet someone with a "what's the story?".  I like this phrase because we all are really living out a story.

The book of Genesis - the book of beginnings - tells the story of how the earth was created good but took a turn for the worse when humanity - all of humanity, not just two individuals living in a garden - decided to make themselves gods rather than honor the God of creation.  This good God didn't end the story there, thankfully, rather he called a man, Abraham, through whom he would ultimately bless the entire creation.  We read later in the story that from that man came a people and from that people, God himself became man.  The history of Israel, in fact, the history of the entire world - good, bad and ugly - was summed up in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  With his resurrection, the pendulum of history has swung from old to new creation.  Resurrection life and new creation have already begun, but have not yet been brought to completion.  That's where we come into the story.
God invites us into this grand narrative -  a far larger, far better story than we could ever write for ourselves.  In fact, the story in many ways has already been written, but God gives us the freedom to take our place, our part in the narrative.  He doesn't force us to play any particular role and even within the parts we play, we are given enormous amounts of freedom to creatively write, so to speak.  Though the ending is secure, there's a lot of plot development still at work.  Martin Luther wrote, "This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise.  We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished but it is the road.  All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified."  What sort of story are you writing?  If your story isn't very compelling, Jesus Christ invites you to play a part in his. - Shay 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Good to be Back Home

The Smith family had a whirlwind trip to America during the month of June.  As we landed back in Ireland yesterday morning it felt as if we had been away for ages and yet the trip went by so fast!  I guess we packed in lots of memories in a short amount of time. 

One of the best things about getting back was the privilege we had of worshiping with the our North Dublin Christian Community a few hours ago.  Over 20 of us gathered for enchiladas (betcha didn't know you get those in Ireland), singing, prayer, study of God's word, and a meal with Jesus.  It was delightful.

And to make an encouraging homecoming even better, we received a phone call at midnight and learned that our dear friend Nada was to be baptized, so about 9 or 10 of us gathered on North Bull Island in Dublin Bay and witnessed Nada's new birth into Christ.  The clouds reflecting the glow of the city made for a beautiful backdrop and the lapping waves created a rhythmic background for our songs of praise.  So we're still up and it's nearly 2:30 AM, but it's sure good to be back home. - Shay    

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bound to Forget

As annoying as some of the events of Wednesday were, Thursday was far better.  I had a great chat with John Stephens at Dublin Central Mission before teaching my weekly ESL class.  I was then able to pop back home and get our car back to functionality.  Our two-doors-down neighbor caught me as I was leaving to go find a body repair shop and he gave me the card of a friend of his.  We can now shut our back door and it looks like the final repairs will be manageable and we can take care of them when we're back in Dublin.  Last night we had another one of our coffee shop Bible studies and it went really, really well.  The four of us devoured Luke chapter 7 and we're all hungry for more.  I'll miss meeting with this group over the next four weeks, but it gives me one of many things to look forward to when I get back.  Now, onto cleaning, packing, and forgetting  whatever it is I'm bound to forget to do today. - Shay 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Just One of those Days

Some days are better than others.  If cars had minds and feelings, I'd feel mighty sorry for our blue Vauxhall Zafira yesterday.  Juli had popped over to one of the local shopping centers to take care of some last minute details before we head back home to the States for a month.  On her way back to our place, she paused at the entrance to a round-about and was nailed from behind by a car who decided to make a run after making a hit.  I guess the offending party was in such a hurry that they couldn't be bothered to stop and do the right thing.  Thankfully, Juli was fine, but we can't shut the back door of our minivan.  And since we didn't have much of anything else to do before heading home, we can now spend the next couple of days sorting  out insurance, accident reports, and getting the back end of our vehicle functional.

Well, I kind of already got it functional.  Since we needed to transport some friends to Juli's and Jo's softball game last night, I came up with an ingenious idea - a shoestring!  Our backdoor is literally being held down by one of my old shoestrings.  And to think that I've always felt kind of useless in the mechanics and home improvement department!

We were able to get our friends out to the softball game, but our fun was just beginning.  Around the second or third inning, a lady walked over to the field to let everyone know that some cars had been broken into in the carpark.  I made my way over to see if our van had been victimized and at first I was relieved to see that though many of the cars in this small park had their windows shattered, our van seemed to be just fine.  And then I looked a little closer and discovered all sorts of goodies flung around the inside.  Thankfully the thieves were able to jimmy our van lock and spared us the added bonus of a shattered window.  Unfortunately though, Jo had left her laptop in the back of our van and as you might imagine, it was nowhere to be found.  Our friends had all taken their belongings with them to the field and so in addition to the laptop, the only other items stolen was our GPS and about 40 euros in cash.  The good news is that the Dublin Bay Packers won their game!  Just one of those days.  America, here we come! - Shay  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Transitions of Time

I find the concept of time quite interesting.  You can always look at it from a variety of different angles.  For instance, these past two years have gone by really, really fast for me (and yet we all know that these two years have been neither longer nor shorter than any other two years in history).  And yet, from another angle so many things have happened over these past twenty-four months, two years ago seems like a really, really long time ago. 

I've told a lot of people recently that I think our work here in Dublin is transitioning from one phase into another.  Most life transitions are slow processes not unlike the sky changing from orange, to pink, to purple, to black as the sun sets.  And then of course that leads to the dark of the night gradually giving way to the rising sun of a new day dawning.  I guess I'm not sure where we are in this phase.  We might be transitioning to the night or we might be ready to awaken to a brand new day.  Either way, I believe some very good things are coming to and end and some very new, but also very good things are ready to begin. - Shay

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not Even an Immigrant

It's been way too long since I've updated the blog.  A lot has happened in the meantime, but sometimes it's better to live life than write about it (although it's ideal if you can do both provided you don't simply supply would be readers or followers with the banal minutia of life - twitter?).

Anyway, Juli, Ashlyn, and I will be back in the United States from June 2 - June 30.  We are looking forward to seeing family, friends and to taking a break from this amazing life in Ireland.  If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then this trip should be good for us in both the coming and the going.

As it's been two years since I was last on the west side of the Atlantic, I recently jotted down a little poetry to reflect on our time thus far.

Not Even An Immigrant 

I'm still a tourist in this dirty old town.
I look up in amazement and amusement as I stumble around.
The buildings and abodes, not quite ancient, but old.
Their walls hold secrets of stories told and untold.

The musty smells of damp antiquity on the inside; the smell of cigarettes on the out
Resurrect nostalgic feelings, though I can't quite decipher what they're about.
This city's as young as it is old; witnessed in the architecture and people's faces - 
The noble Celt or Norman, or the darker and lighter shades from far-a-way places.

And I'm not even an immigrant - barely a blow-in - hardly a trickle, much less a stream.
But I joyfully slumber on, not yet awakened from the midst of this Dublin, Ireland dream.

- Shay  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Patrick's Day in the North

Juli, Ashlyn, and I spent St. Patrick's Day in the north of Ireland in counties Tyrone (Northern Ireland) and Donegal (part of the Republic of Ireland, but as far north as any counties in Northern Ireland).  We dropped my mom (who had spent her week of spring break with us) off at the Belfast airport before heading west to Omagh and then eventually Letterkenny. 

While in Omagh we visited the Ulster American Folk Park - a fantastic re-creation of the life emigrants (and immigrants) lived 200 and 300 years ago both in Ireland and in America.  After that we caught the Paddie's Day Parade in Letterkenny.  We stayed in Balleybofey, a village only a few miles from Raphoe where several of my ancestors lived before heading to the American colonies.

While at the hotel in Balleybofey, I read a ridiculous article in one of the British newspapers claiming that St. Patrick had not in fact been a slave in Ireland before returning to preach the gospel, but had instead been a slave trader.  There's not a shred of historical evidence that even remotely points to this absurdity, but that doesn't seem to stop the revisionist historians from delving into their fantasies.  Don't believe everything you read! - Shay

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Strength in Weakness

I think a lot of us who follow Christ worry about messing things up.  We realize that we are called to be salt and light to a dark and dangerous world and so when we fall short - when we're not as strong as we ought to be - we think that not only have we disappointed our Lord, but we might have also caused the gospel to be seen in a poor light.  This is certainly something we need to be aware of.  But if we think about what the gospel really is - good news for a lost people, grace for sinners - then shouldn't these moments when we mess things up also point people to a power that's greater than ourselves, greater than themselves?  The reality is, we will mess things up, we do mess things up.  Rather than pretending that we have it all together (hypocrisy), isn't it better to admit it when we don't?

People tend to pride themselves in their strengths while doing the best they can to cover up their weaknesses.  We do it at the macro level throughout society and we do it at the micro level in our individual lives.  No one wants to admit that they are weak.  And yet, we all know that every single one of us struggles.  We endure trials, we mess things up, we fail, and we wrestle with these vulnerabilities.  But, we tend to wrestle with them alone and society tells us that we have to overcome them through our own effort and strength.

Here recently, I've been reminded that the areas of my life where I'm in progress, still imperfect, still very messy, are the very areas of my life that can speak powerfully to people who are also on the road to redemption and yet realize that it's a long road indeed.  In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul boldly declares that instead of covering up our weaknesses, we are better served to be open and honest about them so that Christ's power might clearly be demonstrated in our lives.  He states that when he is weak, then he is strong.  Like so much of the gospel, the idea of strength emerging out of our weakness is counterintuitive.  We would rather go from strength to strength.  But the gospel itself is an illustration of power and strength emerging out of weakness.  As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, "...we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God."  I pray that we might all learn to allow God's strength and power to overcome our weaknesses. - Shay

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Those We Meet in Coffee Shops

Yesterday morning I was enjoying a cup of coffee in one of our local shops when in walked a couple of gentlemen, one wearing a religious collar.  I overheard their conversation regarding churches and the Christian faith, but continued to read the book I had brought with me, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson.  Noticing the title of the book and the author, the older gentleman, the one wearing the collar, approached me and began to chat.  He lead in with something like, "It's great to see a young man, reading the Scriptures and reading a book by Eugene Peterson.  Hello, fellow brother in the Lord, I'm Jim and this is my friend Sam."

Jim mentioned that he was the local Rector for the Raheny parish of the Church of Ireland and that Sam was a former parishioner who is now a part of another congregation.  I mentioned that I loved the architecture of the All Saints church building and that I had always wanted to have a look inside and Jim responded, "Are you busy now?  Let me pay for your coffee and we'll take you over and give you a tour.  Besides, a BBC crew is going to swing by in a few minutes as they are planning to film a few scenes in the church for an upcoming television series."

I couldn't have asked for a better guided tour.  Jim and Sam spent several minutes describing many of the architectural features, explaining the symbolic significance of the stained glass windows, and giving me a brief history of the building and the parish.  Arthur Guinness, the great grandson of the original Arthur Guinness ( proposed and funded the building of the church back in the 1880s and is buried in a crypt in a side room located within the building.  Jim allowed me to have a look at the Guinness crypt and I noticed that next to it sat a 250th anniversary can of the black stuff.  Underneath the can was a note, written by an anonymous person who thanked the Guinness family for their contribution to Irish culture.  Jim said the can was left outside the building during the 250 year celebrations back in 2009.

As we finished the tour the BBC crew had arrived and were milling around making plans for the shots they hoped to get later in the day.  Jim, Sam, and I exchanged details and shared a brief prayer.  Jim asked if I would be willing to speak at their harvest Sunday in September and I agreed to do so.  However, he called me later explaining that he had double booked the date and asked if I would be willing to speak another time and I of course agreed to do so.

I look forward to chatting with Jim in the future and I pray that God will bless whatever time we may have to spend in each others company.  As iron sharpens iron, may our interactions with fellow followers of Jesus help us to be faithful in the tasks that God sets before us.  If you want to learn more about the All Saints church here's a link to it's Wikipedia page,_Raheny.  You never know who you're going to meet in a coffee shop. - Shay   

Monday, February 20, 2012


Our Christian community began studying Romans a few weeks ago.  Every time I read through it I'm reminded of what a magnificent piece of literature it is and even more importantly, what a magnificent gospel we've been given.  Romans is good news.  The gospel is good news.  Here are some highlights from Paul's letter that have brought me encouragement recently.

"For I'm not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, 'The one who is righteous will live by faith.' - 1:16-17

" the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become 'the father of many nations,' according to what was said, 'So numerous shall your descendants be.'  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead." - 4:17-19

"Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." - 6:3-5

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." - 8:1-2

"But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you." - 8:9-11

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved." 8:22-24

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." - 8:38-39

I wrote a poem reflecting some of these themes some years ago.


Lying in the dust the corpse rots through and through.
There's no more life to live, there's nothing left to do.
Then the bones begin to rattle, the bones begin to shake.
The sinews and the flesh, new life begins to make.
Gasping deep, lungs expanding, Spirit's wind, life's breath.
The living God's the giving God and life has conquered death!

His body hangs limp, beaten, broken, his side dripping blood.
On the faces of the women, tears stream down in a flood.
He was the one who'd redeem his people, but the cause is now lost.
None could imagine the pain and the suffering, no one could count the cost.
And the tomb stands ready to receive his lifeless body dead,
But it's Sunday morning now and resurrection wins instead!

She's heard of resurrection, but it seems to good to be true.
Yet through faith her heart believes, so there's nothing she won't do.
Her dead body is buried; the grave of water sucks her in.
She's covered in his blood, and she rises free from sin.
Her old life is behind her, in her new life she looks ahead
To the time when he returns and her body will rise again!

"O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways...For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen." - 11:33 & 36

Good news indeed. - Shay

Monday, February 13, 2012

Some Familiar Places

"A guy from Texas had to go all the  way to England to meet a girl from Oklahoma."  That's the line I end with when I tell people how Juli and I met nearly 13 years ago.  We were both in a short-term apprentice missions program and we were blessed to have worked with a great group of Christians in Nottingham in the East Midlands of England.  Juli began the program a year earlier than I did, so our time in the UK only overlapped for about 4 months (I should note that Juli's a year and a half younger than me though). 

It only took me about 2 months to realize that Juli was the one for me, although as she remembers it, I was fairly smitten as soon as I got off the plane.  Let's just say it took Juli a couple of years to come around.  In fact, one evening as I walked around our local village of Long Eaton wrestling with my unrequited emotions, I sat down next to three lads having a pint outside a local pub.  I didn't know these guys from Adam, but I had to talk to someone.  I proceeded to share my girl problems and they patiently listened.  Once I had regurgitated my sad story, I thanked them for their time and continued on my journey.  I wonder if those fellas ever remind themselves of the time when they served as the advice column for a strange American chap?  I sometimes remind Juli of what mental anguish she put me through.

Fast forward to 2012 and its been nearly 10 years since Juli and I were last in Nottingham.  We've been to other parts of the UK since then and last May I actually passed Long Eaton on a train, but we've not had the chance to walk around, see the sights, hear the sounds, and smell the smells of the place where our relationship began.  On Wednesday and Thursday of this week we'll have that opportunity as we travel to the East Midlands to visit a church that's involved in serving their community in some ways that we'd like to emulate here in Dublin.  We're looking forward to learning a lot as well as seeing some familiar places and some familiar faces. - Shay 

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Song for the Season

Do you ever feel like a song sums you up?  I have and sometimes still do.  Like most teenagers, I really loved music, but also like most people (I assume) I've spent less money and less time on music as I've gotten older.  But when I'm in the mood, I'll let a song or several songs serve as the soundtrack to my life. 

Over the past year, my favorite album has been The Impossible Song and Other Songs by Roddy Woomble.  Roddy's the lead singer for a Scottish indie rock band called Idlewild.  I've seen them play live 5 or 6 times and own all of their records.  I once met Roddy at an independent record shop in Dallas.  His band was playing an acoustic set in the store before opening for Pearl Jam later that evening.  A few years back, Roddy began to release solo folk records in between Idlewild projects.  
His latest effort is fantastic and here are the lyrics to one of those tunes, Work Like You Can.

Work Like You Can 

Nothin’ll get lost if we work like we can
'Till the smell of the earth is warn into our hands
And I promise you somethin’ you’ll never get nowhere
If you only ask questions of love
Long ago people came to this town
To build their lives out of what they found
Now the times are ruined
And the dirt on the ground is mixed in with the ashes of love

And gather with others to work like you can
To live like you can
And gather with others to work like you can
To live like you can

You can keep your mouth shut better than I can
Accept and obey every law in this land
And when the wind blows your  wages right out of your hands
You accept that the wind doesn’t blow around love

Repeat Chorus

In spite of, in spite of money, position, and power
All  the important things I’m told we should be dreamin’ of
The seasons are fixed with the sun
Just like an old stone that will never be thrown
Soon the spring will come
Like a distant object of love
And the spring tides and neap tides
Bring a rhythm to the land
With the oil and the saw
We can work like we can
What you lack in ability you can gain pretty simply
Ignore the riches, the riches of love

You can catch a live performance of the song here:

- Shay  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What a man!

As we've just passed from the Christmas season into the New Year I've been thinking about the nature of the incarnation of Christ.   I came across something I wrote 5 years ago and I'd like to share it now.

Most Christians don't have too much trouble coming to grips with Jesus' divinity.  We read the gospels with the foreknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and we correctly see his earthly life and ministry through those lenses.  Although we affirm the doctrine of the incarnation, the doctrine stating that God the Son became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, I believe many of us have a hard time truly grasping that when the Son emptied himself in becoming a man, he didn't exploit the fact that he was God (Philippians 2:5-7).  That is to say, that in becoming man, Jesus did just that - he became a real life human being, just like you and me!  When we affirm this fact, we have a tendency to counter it with statements like, "Well, he was no ordinary human being.  He was the God-man."  Yes, that's true, but in being the God-man, Jesus didn't exploit his divinity.  He was the God-man with one armed tied behind his back so that he truly experienced life the way you and I live our lives.  Consider the fact that though Jesus performed miracles, those miracles were always in the service of other people, not himself.  The miracles may have proved who he ultimately was (the I AM incarnate), but they didn't make life any easier for him, but rather they made life better for those around him (signaling that the Kingdom of God was being ushered in through his life and ministry).  Let's not forget the fact that Peter and the other apostles, not to mention many of the early "ordinary" Christians also were given the ability to do miraculous things through the power of the Holy Spirit in the service of others.  We don't struggle in coming to grips with those individual's humanity.

Let's consider a passage from Matthew's gospel which clearly illustrates Jesus' humanity.  In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus takes his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  This is no ordinary prayer session, but a desperate plea from an emotionally drained, physically worn out man, who is literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.  We sometimes assume that because Jesus was God, he sailed through this ordeal as if he were taking a leisurely stroll across the waters of Galilee.  But notice his urgent plea to the disciples, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." (26:38).  Doesn't this remind you of the emotional state of the family who sits anxiously awaiting the word from the surgeon who's operating on a loved one in critical condition?  Does it not remind you of the drained psyche of the man who's lost his wife and children to divorce?  In the garden, Jesus experiences grief, pain, and fear all rolled into one.  When his disciples fail to watch and pray with him, he feels abandonment as well.  He falls on his face and cries out to his most intimate companion, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want...if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." (26:39 & 42). 

Whether we feel comfortable admitting it or not, Jesus asks his Father to change his mind on this whole idea of crucifixion.  Jesus asks the God who creates out of nothing, to create a less painful, less brutal, less traumatic means of atoning for and reconciling humanity.  Jesus isn't just posturing here, he means these words.  We have to assume that if the Father creates some alternative route, Jesus takes it.  But despite the fact that Jesus is overwhelmed with sorrow, he wholeheartedly embraces the cup, accepting his Father's answer to his prayer - in this instance, the answer is no.  In death, as in life, Jesus is completely obedient and submissive to the will of the Father.  This doesn't make his sacrificial gift any less amazing, but more.  As we see this Jesus, this man, fully embracing a life of selflessness and submission, how can we be anything other than grateful and humble?

Jesus, the exalted King at the right hand of the Father knows what it means to suffer.  He knows what it's like to be emotionally drained and physically abused.  He knows what it's like, whether in joy or in sorrow, to be human.  As the writer of Hebrews makes abundantly clear, Jesus can empathize with us - he's been in our shoes.

What kind of God do we serve?  What kind of God is so powerful and yet so humble?  What kind of God says that it's not enough just to lovingly create us, but in fact takes our very humanity into his own eternal life and being?  What kind of God doesn't just create us in his image, but takes on our image?  What kind of God loves us so much that he gave and continues to give us his very own unique Son?

What kind of man exists as God, but doesn't exploit his divinity?  What kind of man is able, and even more incredible, willing to take the weight of the world's sin onto his very own shoulders?  What kind of man is abandoned by his closest friends, only to later accept them all back as if nothing had happened?  What kind of man endures cruel torture and the worst kind of scorn and humiliation, only to beg God to forgive his tormentors?  What kind of man, who while suffering on a cross, takes time to invite a petty thief into his kingdom?  What kind of man would do all of this, not for his glory, but out of his sincere love?  What kind of man?  Jesus. - Shay