Thursday, October 31, 2013

Worship and Watch

In my devotional reading this morning I came across this cool story from 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.  Read the whole thing if you get the chance, but here's the jist.  Jehoshaphat, King of Judah is very afraid because he's getting triple-teamed by three kingdoms from the east (Moabites, Ammonites, and some Meunites).  So he assembles people from his whole kingdom to gather before the Lord and seek his help. 

He begins his prayer by reminding God who God is.  He's the God of heaven - the God of all kingdoms and nations.  In other words, this little problem of having three kingdoms and nations planning an invasion of Judah isn't a problem for God, because God's the God of all kingdoms and nations.  He also reminds God of the promises that he made to Abraham and how he had allowed Israel to take possession of the land.  Was God going to renege on his promises?  He reminds God that God has promised to save them when they seek him.  Will God honor this promise?

Here's Jehoshaphat's final plea, "O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them?  For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."  Don't you just love that last line!?!  We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on you.  Remind you of Hebrews?  Remind you of your own life a little bit?  It does me.  I think a lot of us right now are in this very position.  We have armies waging war against us - ready to attack us - we're a little scared - we don't know what to do.  That's okay, but where are our eyes fixed?  Are they on the Lord?  I want my eyes to be on him.

Well, what happens?  Does God answer them?  You betcha (to quote Sarah Palin)!  A guy called Jahaziel receives a message from the Spirit saying, "Listen, all Judah...Thus says the Lord to you: 'Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God's...This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf...Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you."

It's great to hear an encouraging word, but is there any action on God's part to back it up?  Again, you betcha!

I won't spoil the story for you completely.  You can go back and read it for yourself, but essentially after the people take their position, they begin to sing and pray and worship saying, "Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever."  It is while they are busy worshiping and praising God that God is fighting on their behalf.  After witnessing God's deliverance, the people take the spoils of war and return to Jerusalem and continue to worship God. 

I hope this story encourages you as much as it is encouraging me (and I pray, will continue to encourage me throughout this day and in the days and weeks to come). 

So let's go out, take our positions (whatever that is for each of us), worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and I believe we will witness his victory.  That's my prayer for today. - Shay 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Across Time and Space

Ashlyn and I woke up at 6 am and gave Roger and Mary Beth McCown a lift to the airport.  They arrived to Dublin on Saturday, but had been in other parts of Ireland traveling around since October 2.  Although their time with us flew, it was good to have them here for a few days.  Last Friday, the day before the McCowns arrived, Ashlyn and I gave my cousin Brent a lift back to the airport.  He had flown into Ireland four days prior to that.  It was a short trip, but it was good to see him.  A couple of days before Brent landed in Dublin, Ashlyn and I were at the airport (with Juli), but this time it was the Smith family who were being picked up.  We were arriving back from Italy from a one week holiday.  Thank God for airports and airplanes - they dramatically shorten time and space and make it possible to fellowship with people we would otherwise be absent from.

But even before the advent of air travel, Christians have had the ability to transcend space and time with each other through communion.  When we partake of the bread and the cup, it's not only Jesus who is present with us, but our brothers and sisters from around the world join us too.  And it's not only those who are presently alive who share this symbolic meal with us.  We are united with the faithful of all times and places -  past, present, and future.  The coolest thing that our family experienced in Rome were the catacombs.  It was amazing to walk around the final resting place of our brothers and sisters in Christ from 2,000 years ago.  So when Roger prayed for Christian unity on Sunday evening as our North Dublin Christian Community shared in Christ's meal, I was reminded that not only was I communing with fellow believers back in Austin, I was fellowshiping with all the believers who have come before, including some of those whose bodies are awaiting the resurrection under the city of Rome.  It also helped me to anticipate that banquet in the age to come which will replace the symbolic presence of our distant relatives with their actual presence.  And not only will we be present with the saints of all ages, we will eat and drink in the glorious presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  That's a meal worth living for. - Shay

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On the Wrong Side of a Revolution

A few months ago Juli and I watched the film Argo.  I was interested in the story because over the last few years I've become friends with several Iranians - some in Austin and some in Ireland.  As I watched the film, a line kept coming into my head - "waking up on the wrong side of a revolution".  Hmm, I thought, that would be a great line in a poem.  A few days later I mentioned this to a friend of mine, Craig, and he mentioned that he had written a song called "Thirty Pieces of Silver".  He thought the line seemed to suit not only the current events of the Near East, but also the relationship of Judas and Jesus.  I agreed that it might be interesting to tell the story of one of my Iranian friend's journey to Ireland through the lens of the hostage crisis and the story of Judas before that.  So, after a few months I've penned this poem.  It's not meant to be a political commentary, but really more of a reflection on life.  For what its worth...

On the Wrong Side of a Revolution

In all of Judea and in all of Galilee.
One of just twelve chosen, a task cloaked in mystery.
They were gonna bring the Kingdom, yeah the Kingdom was gonna come.
Out with Herod!  And the priests!  And the Roman legion scum!
The rabbi just needed a little push, a little prod.
Let's get this party started, let's force the hand of God.
He might be a pretender, or he could be the chosen one.
For cash he'd sell a brother, but not God's one and only Son.
He thought he found the answer, he discovered the solution.
But instead he woke up dead, on the wrong side of a revolution.

A phony Shaw, a phony kingdom, a creation of the West.
Exploitation, humiliation, a rape of culture, and then unrest.
The time had come to make a change, for the better or for the worse.
But that's the problem with regimes, you trade one for another curse.
And caught up in the conflict, in the cross-hairs of the fight
Were the agents of the Satan who had authored Persia's plight.
Guilty or innocent, that was neither the answer, nor the question.
As the chaos came alive, there wasn't time for reflection.
Though to Western eyes it may have seemed like a case of retribution.
That's the price you pay when you wake up on the wrong side of a revolution.

You risk it all when you're all in - all your cards are on the table.
You might risk your shirt, but your life - would you be able?
Did he know what he was doing when he joined the demonstration?
How could he comprehend how this would change his situation?
Asleep when they barged in - took him from his family, from his home.
Beaten, tortured, abused - his only option was to roam
Through countries far and wide, he searched 'till he had found
A place he could begin to take a step on solid ground.
And as he makes his first moves towards a life of contribution,
He'll never forget how he woke up on the wrong side of a revolution.

And we're all in their same shoes, though it seems that can't be true.
But most of them were thrown in without directions for what to do.
We're traveling down our paths, without thought or consideration - 
Taking our lives for granted in our wealthy Western nations.
Sometimes we get it right,  but sometimes we get it wrong.
The weak are sometimes right, and the wrong are sometimes strong.
Life is never simple, though the stories we tell may be.
But dig a little deeper, you won't like what you see.
Be careful when you discover, the answer, the solution.
You just might find you woke up on the wrong side of a revolution. - Shay 


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Scottish Trip Day Three...The Journey Home

After 6 and 1/2 - 7 hours of sleep, I woke up, had a bath (no shower in my room) and took a seat in the B&B dining room.  Half way through my Scottish fry up, a Dutch couple joined me and we struck up a conversation.  They had traveled to Iona to explore the monastery and to find out more information about the modern Iona Community (an ecumenical/transnational affiliation of Christians who are interested in spiritual transformation as well as social justice and other global causes - although the group is formally based out of Iona, most of the members are spread across the UK and a few other countries).  This Dutch couple are a part of an independent (free church - autonomous congregations) Dutch reformed church.  I would have enjoyed chatting with them longer, but alas, my ferry was about to leave and it was imperative that I make all of my connections.

After the short ten minute crossing back to Mull, most of us on the ferry then climbed on the coach to take us back to Craignure.  As I waited in line to board the bus, Gavin Fox, the bass player tapped me on the shoulder.  He and Seonaid (the fiddle and keyboard player, not to be confused with Hanna) were also heading to Craignure and then onto the ferry back to Oban on the mainland.  As we talked, we discovered that we were both on the same flight from Edinburgh back to Dublin and so we arranged to meetup in the airport later that evening.

Although the weather was mostly good the first two days of the trip, on this day it was a typically Scottish wet, windy, misty, and dare I say, mystical if not a little mythical kind of day.  It was amazing to see how large the mountains on Mull were.  Each one seemed to have a beautiful waterfall cascading down its slopes.  If this area hasn't already been used as a film location, it needs to be!

The ferry crossing to Oban was uneventful (probably a good thing), and after we docked I had a little time to kill before my train took off, so I wandered the little streets and found a coffee shop on the corner, called The Coffee Corner, fittingly enough.  I read some scripture, spent some time in prayer and then found a newsagent and bought a couple of newspapers for the journey south.  I had spent most of the trip to Oban listening to music and admiring the scenery, so on the way back down I mostly read the newspapers.

Once I arrived in Edinburgh, I decided to take a stroll through the Scottish National Art Gallery.  It's free and open late on Thursdays.  I appreciate that there are a lot of talented painters, sculptors, and other kinds of visual artists out there, but my general take on these works is something like, "That's good, nice, huh?, interesting, that's weird, cool, different...".  But, every now and again I need to do a culture top up and after my walk through the gallery, I think I'm good for several months.

The weather, by the way turned really nice by the time I arrived back in the capital.  So when I left the gallery, I walked through the park before jumping on the bus to the airport.  I had a simple time navigating security and the usual duty free shops on my way to my gate.  When I got to the gate, the line for boarding was already a half mile long.  Thankfully, Gavin was doing the sensible thing and letting everyone else stand, while he sat and waited.  I joined him and we talked about our trips down to Edinburgh, music, life, Dublin, faith, the past, and the future.  Our conversation extended onto the plane and through the flight back to Ireland.  Once we had safely landed and made our way through immigration, we exchanged e-mail addresses so that he could inform me of any future gigs that his present band, Little Matador (this band includes the guitarist from Snow Patrol) might be playing.  I received an email from him only this morning letting me know that they would be playing a gig soon at Whelans, here in Dublin.  Hopefully I'll be able to make the show.

Overall, my trip to Scotland was a far better experience than I could have imagined it to be.  The sights, sounds, and especially the people were amazing.  I look forward to many more musical journeys in the months and years to come. - Shay  

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Isle of Iona...Scotland Trip Day Two

I don't sleep well in hostels, I was reminded as I woke up at 6 am.  Rather than trying to continue to sleep, I crawled out of my bunk, went downstairs to the men's showers and got myself sorted for the day.  After turning in my bunk bedding and room key, I had another stroll around the village to see what might be open at 7 am.  Mercifully, by 8 a cafe opened and I sat down at a table and promptly ordered a full breakfast - eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes, potato scone, bacon rasher, and white pudding.  After a cup of tea and then a cup of coffee I went back out to explore more of Tobermory.  Around 10 am, I climbed back up the hill and popped into the AnTobar arts and music centre.  During the day the place doubles as a coffee house/hangout.  So I had a coffee, did some reading, and hung out a bit before heading back down to the harbor to catch the bus back to Craignure and then onto Iona.

A mix up with the local bus company meant that the only bus available to take us to Craignure was actually a bright red open top bus.  So I spent the 45 minute trip up top filming the scenery and letting the cold wind blow through my hair.  After another hour bus trip, this time on a coach, I was at the end of the Ross of Mull where I boarded a ferry over to the isle of Iona.  It was only a 10 minute ferry crossing and before I knew it I was getting settled into my bed and breakfast on the little island.

Iona was originally settled by an Irish monk/missionary named Columcille (Columba in Latin).  Legend has it that due to the deaths of several men who had engaged in a couple of conflicts in which he was embroiled, Columcille was "exiled" to Scotland.  At any rate, he and 12 followers did set up a monastery on the island around 560 and eventually an Abbey was built on the site.  His work was certainly crucial in the evangelizing of Scotland and he remains an important figure in Church history.

My bed and breakfast wasn't far from the Abbey, so I had a look around the place before I hiked up the highest hill on the island.  The views were magnificent, not so much on the island, but what you could see looking back towards Mull, the mainland of Scotland, and out west over the Atlantic.  I then wandered back into the main part of the village and scarfed down some dinner while reading a newspaper.  Then it was back to the B&B and then over to the village hall.

Although I had paid my dues the night before, my name wasn't on the list, but the fellow at the door didn't seem to mind - very trusting, thankfully.  I had a chat with an English guy from Yorkshire named Luke and then I went and took a seat for a few minutes until I needed to heed nature's call and stroll back to the toilets.  As I was washing up, Roddy stepped in and asked how I had enjoyed Iona.  I shared a bit about my day and then went back into the hall for the start of the concert.  This was the first of two encounters with Mr. Woomble in the toilets that night - both by accident and both friendly.

Roddy and the band sounded excellent again this night.  The set list was mostly the same, but played in a different order.  I happened to be sitting next to Soren's (the guitarist's) girlfriend, Hanna, and we had a nice chat before the first set and during the intermission.  I discovered that Hanna will often play fiddle with Roddy when his other fiddle player is unavailable.  She also fronts here own ceilidh band and they actually played during the ceilidh after Roddy's gig.  A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish or Irish dance.  Before Roddy's last song, he mentioned that though most of the people in attendance had come from just down the road, there was a guy from France and another guy from Dublin in attendance.  Nice to get a little name recognition from the stage!

That wasn't the last I was referenced from the stage.  A couple of songs into the ceilidh, Hanna announced that a guy from Austin, TX needed a partner, so I ended up learning to do traditional Scottish dancing, but very poorly, I might add.  I participated in two dances and had some interesting chats with some other locals before I said my goodbyes to Roddy and Gavin and headed out into the darkness to find my B&B.  I read a little from one of my new books before I hit the light and drifted into dreams. - Shay 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Planes, Trains, Buses and Ferries...Scotland Trip Day One

After four hours of sleep my alarm woke me up at 4:15 AM on Tuesday, 30 of July, 2013.  Juli and Ashlyn graciously took me to the airport and after a quick kiss, hug, and goodbye to both of them I was queuing in the security line and then sipping my first cup of coffee as I waited for the call to board the plane to Edinburgh.  The Edinburgh airport is a few miles outside the city centre, so about an hour after landing, I was wandering the streets of this historic burgh.  I've been to the Scottish capital on a couple of other occasions, so I found a cool coffee shop and sipped another caffeine infused beverage while reading the latest soccer transfer news from the local papers.  I then took a stroll up the Royal Mile before descending into the shopping district of Princess Street.  I bought a couple of discount books and then made my way to Waverly Station to catch my train to the Highlands.

After a quick change of trains at Glasgow Queen Street and another 3 hour journey through mountains, hills, rivers, and lochs, I arrived in Oban with only 30 minutes to kill before my ferry journey.  I quickly booked my ticket and then boarded the ferry for the 45 minute crossing.  I was able to get some great video of the sea, mountains, inlets, castles, light houses, and the like as we made our way to Craignure on the Isle of Mull.  Once there I hustled over to the bus to Tobermory and bought a return ticket.  The bus quickly departed and 45 minutes later we were on the north side of the island in the picturesque village.  After waking up at 4:15, 13 hours later and I was at my destination.  The village of Tobermory was the film location in a BBC children's program called "Balamory".  Ashlyn has watched this show on occasion, so I made sure to get lots of video of the village to share with her.  I made my way to the hostel (I later learned that I could have stayed in a B&B for the same price - I am officially done with youth hostels!), dropped my backpack on my bunk, and then set out to explore the area and get myself some dinner.

On the north end of the village I located a fish restaurant that seemed to have been written up positively in quite a few travel and food magazines and since the prices listed seemed reasonable, I popped in to eat some fresh, locally sourced catch.  However, I was told that the place was all booked up for the evening, so I disappointingly made my way back to a fish & chips van that was parked by the pier.  The line was long but the wait was worth it as I enjoyed the best fish & chips I've had in years.  The British do fish & chips better than anywhere else in the world!

By 8:00 pm I was making my way up the steep hill to the AnTobar arts and community hall for the gig.  As I arrived inside the venue I noticed the dreaded sign saying "sold out".  I hadn't actually booked my tickets yet because there was no online link to do it.  You were to simply call the centre and reserve a place over the phone.  I had assumed there would be plenty of tickets available when I arrived.  I sheepishly walked up to the desk and the friendly lady behind the counter inquired if I had a reservation.  "No, I'm afraid I don't", I responded pathetically.  "How many are there of you?", she asked.  "Just one.", I said, hopefully.  "Well, we had one cancellation, so if you'd like to take that, it's yours."  I of course jumped on the offer and I went ahead and reserved my place for the following evening on Iona.  That was a good move, because I found out the next day that the Iona gig also sold out.  Before heading into the room for the music, an English lady named Christy who had witnessed my denial at the restaurant earlier asked me if I was able to find a place to eat.  I confirmed that I had enjoyed some fish & chips and we had a wee chat for a few minutes.  I discovered that she was from Bury St. Edmunds, the town where my grandfather had been stationed during World War Two.  She was in town for a whale/dolphin watching expedition and had decided to check out the concert, though she had never previously heard of Roddy Woomble.

We were soon ushered into a small little room and the hundred or so of us in attendance were gifted a wonderful set of contemporary folk music by the four musicians and Roddy's lead vocals.  The band took a half hour break and we were all able to stretch our legs enjoy some refreshments.  I walked outside and witnessed an amazing sunset over the harbor with the sky colored pink, blue, and purple, highlighted with a few stray clouds.  As I enjoyed the view, Roddy popped out to near where I was standing and had a seat at a picnic table.  I extended a handshake and had a seat across from him and we chatted for 15 or 20 minutes about music and life and a little bit about ourselves.  He was impressed that I had traveled all the way up from Dublin for the gigs and he introduced me to the bass player, Gavin Fox, who had previously played with him in Idlewild and is a native Dubliner.  Gavin and I chatted about Dublin and discovered that we only live a couple of miles a part and frequent many of the same city haunts.  Before long it was time to head back in for the 2nd set.  It was equally as good and after saying goodbye to Christy and a couple of the other nice people I had met, I wandered outside and found a nice quiet place to phone Juli and tell her about my day.  I eventually went back to the hostel and did my best to sleep in a room with 5 other strangers who I had never met and never would meet.  But for 6 hours one Tuesday, we all slept just a few feet from each other.  I hope that was my last night in a hostel, if not forever, at least for many, many years. - Shay 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wandering the Woomble Way

Around the turn of the century I bought a record that has remained one of my favorites of the 2000s and led me to a new long-lasting love, musically speaking of course.  The title of the album was "100 Broken Windows" by an indie rock outfit called Idlewild.  I loved the sticker on the outside of the cd case.  It said something like, "Introducing Scotland's indie shredders".  After a few listens I was hooked.  Since that time, I have bought all of their releases and have seen the band play live in Texas on 5 different occasions.  In 2007, the band's lead singer, Roddy Woomble released his first solo album of contemporary folk music.  He's since released 2 other solo albums and a collaborative record with Kris Drever and John McCusker.  The band isn't making music together presently, but Roddy has found his niche as a folk singer, and though I doubt he's become filthy rich from his endeavors, he's able to make a living making music, which can't be all that bad.

A couple of years ago, Juli and I caught his Dublin gig at the Workman's club on the Liffey Quays.  At that time I thought to myself that I would love to get over to Scotland sometime and see Roddy perform on his native soil.  Since Juli's had the chance to take a short trip to Barcelona with some friends and a trip to Belgium with her sister, I played my hand and secured a birthday trip over to Scotland to wander the Woomble way.  I'll be flying to Edinburgh this week, traveling by train to Oban in the Highlands, and then taking a ferry over to the Isles of Mull and Iona for a couple of Roddy's gigs.  Since I've only previously been in the Lowlands and never to either the Highlands or the Islands, I'm looking forward to the experience.  I'll be keeping a journal and I'll update the blog when I get back.  Hopefully there will be some interesting stories to tell.  In the meantime, here's a poem I wrote about Scotland the last time I visited in 2007 and a few youtube clips of Roddy and Idlewild.


A land of mountains and moors, crashing waves against the craggy shores.
A place of mystery and mystique, even the mundane is unique.
The Highlands and the heather, tartan fleece, a kilt, a sporran, a feather.
City landscapes and city lights, a pint in a pub, mountain peak sights.
Dreams of nights and dreams of days, tribal traditions and Celtic ways.
Pipes serenade, folk music swirls, Welcome to Scotland, the best small country in the world! 

Enjoy! - Shay  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Little Bit of Longing

Three years and two days ago, Juli, Ashlyn, and I landed in Dublin, Ireland.  Our village of Raheeny has certainly become home for us, but in most places in the world in general, and Ireland in particular, if you have no long term ties to the place, you're a "blow-in", not a local.  We knew that would be the case when we arrived three years ago and we know that will be the story as long as we live here.  We're okay with being resident aliens.  It's not a new experience for us.  Juli and I met in England while working for a church over a decade ago.  We love the adventure living in a new land provides.  We don't mind being "outsiders".  We're used to all the usual questions - you just answer them and get on with it.

Our experience isn't new to the people of God.  From early on, God has always called his people to be longing, looking, searching for something more than the status quo.  Because of the resurrection of Christ we are living "between the times" - we are living in the overlap of two ages.  The Kingdom has both come and is still coming.  It leaves us all with a little bit of longing.  Reflecting on our three years in Ireland and on life in general I recently penned the following.

A Little Bit of Longing
Abraham longed for a country – a land that he could call his home.
He was looking for a city - a place with foundations from not to roam.
But in longing he was left; left to ramble on; ramble on and not to find.
From a distance he glimpsed the promise, but he met it only in his mind.

I’ve felt feelings of transcendence; longing for something beyond this time and place.
Because living in the here and now is never easy, it’s always easier to escape.
If home is where your heart is, you should be sure that your heart has a home.
If you’re disconnected from your feelings, your mind and body will always roam.

I’m certain that eternity has both a time and a place – both a time and a space.
It isn’t just forever, or never, nor is it simply a never ending race.
And though God has placed eternity deep within the home of our hearts,
Within our minds we fail to grasp it – left with nothing more than stops and starts.

And on this earth, this globe, this round ball, spinning round and round.
We’re not just travelling round in circles; we’re headed for higher ground.
A renewed city, a renewed country, renewed heavens, and a renewed earth –
From the shell of the old creation, a transformed creation will come to birth.

Though I hope for that bright future – new roots, new soil, and a new home.
I’m left in limbo at the moment, content to be here, yet longing still to roam. 
So living here and living now - living - and yet never quite belonging. 
This cross-cultured existence will always leave me with a little bit of longing.

 - Shay 

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Garden of Eden of the North Atlantic

As the sun rose over Lambay Island in the Irish sea at 5:00 this morning, I was on my way to the airport to pick up my oldest sister, Tammy, her husband, and two teenage kids.  Only my brother-in-law, Philip, has been to Ireland before.  Ten years ago Juli and I helped organize an Irish tour for the Lubbock Christian University choir that he directs.  It is always a privilege to share this amazing city and amazing country with friends and family from back home.

Although I feel perfectly at ease in Dublin, I am constantly made aware that I'm not a local - people are always asking about my accent and where in the States I come from.  Ashlyn is beginning to pick up a bit of an Irish accent, but even she speaks a little differently than her classmates at preschool.  In a sense she's tri-lingual - some of her words sound Irish, some sound Oklahoman (thanks to Juli), and some sound English (thanks to British cartoons, like Peppa Pig). 

So the next week as the Smith family shares the best that the Irish have to offer with the Camp family, I'll have several opportunities to explain that though I may not be a local, I'm not a tourist either.  Along the way we hope to take in the Dublin coast,,, a castle or two, the Aran Islands,, the Cliffs of Moher,, the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, , Glendalough,, the Giant's Causeway and the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland,, and the fair city of Dublin itself,  Amidst all of that we'll be involved in worship with brothers and sisters in Christ and Bible studies with any and all who come along.  As a bonus, the weather is meant to be fantastic over the next few days.

So, for any of our friends and family back in the States, feel free to pop over sometime.  We'd love to share the garden of Eden of the North Atlantic with you too! - Shay

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding our Place in the Story

There’s a cliché that states that “those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.”  Many clichés become clichés because they are true, and so it is with this one.  When we fail to grasp how we have arrived where we are, we will be less prepared to deal with the events over the next horizon.  However, when we have some semblance of where we’ve been, we will be better prepared to get to the place we’re going.

Referring to Israel’s history and its importance for the church, the apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”   In fact, a helpful way of understanding the entire Bible is to see it as one big story – God’s story.  From Genesis 1:1 – Revelation 22:21 we see one unified, it not diverse narrative.  From creation to new creation is the story of God and his people.  

The Biblical scholar, NT Wright, sees the Bible as a 5 act drama which is still unfolding.  It began with the creation in Genesis 1-2 and then the next act of un-creation in Genesis 3-11.  At Genesis 12, God calls Abraham which flows into the third act, the people of Israel.  The gospels are the climax and 4th act of the narrative.  We are still living in act 5, the church.  In a sense we have a glimpse of the curtain call (the beginning of a new drama, perhaps), but we are presently living between the times in the midst of the fifth act.  We know where the plot has been and where it is going, so it is up to us to play our parts faithfully and remain true to the story.  Church history is the record of the story up to our day. 

All history is messy and church history in particular is quite messy.  However, just as the early church was instructed by Israel’s history (which was also quite messy), we should learn from those who have gone before us.  We will discover villains to be sure, but we will also learn about heroes of the faith and be further reminded that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.  As we study the Bible and the continuation of that narrative, may God bless us with his Spirit as we find our place in the story.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Least

I've been reflecting on Luke chapter 9 the past few days.  Verses 46-48 have really stood out to me.

"An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest.  But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, 'Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.'"

The disciples were not that different from us.  They had all of the foibles and shortcomings that humans have struggled with from the dawn of creation until now.  So it shouldn't surprise us that they, like us, at times were extremely short and narrow sighted and exceedingly  prideful and selfish.  They weren't subtle either - they came right out into the open with their argument, each putting forth their case for greatness.  But Jesus was having none of this.  As he had been trying to get into their heads for most of his ministry, Jesus was bringing in a Kingdom that was utterly different from the the kingdoms of this world.  In the ancient world, it was preferred for children to be seen and not heard.  They, like women, were second class citizens at best.  Although they may not have been actively scorned or marginalized, they would have simply been ignored by most people who had any pretensions to importance.  So it's within this cultural backdrop that Jesus invites a little child to have a seat of importance, right next to the creator of the cosmos.  Jesus' words must have stung, "If you think you are important, if you think the Kingdom of God is primarily about you, then you've got it all wrong.  Look at this little child, she's not jockeying for position, she's not climbing over the backs of her friends to advance her own agenda, she's not looking for glory or honor, she's simply enjoying the life that her God has freely given her.  When you begin to embrace her way of living, you'll be on your way to embracing my Kingdom way of life and discipleship and the final destination for that way of living is eternal life with God the Father himself.  This child may be small in your eyes, but she's the one sitting next to the King."

 We might be a bit more subtle in our designs for greatness, but if we're honest, in a number of obvious, and less obvious ways, we can identify with the disciples.  We might not come right out and boast about our awesomeness, but how often do we find ourselves wrestling with envy and resentment?  We might not always want to be the greatest, but how often do we desire to be the least?  In fact, I've seen within myself that though I have enjoyed feelings of superiority at times, the more deceitful enemy I've battled has been the desire to avoid feelings of inferiority.  I may not have to be the best, but I don't want anyone else to be the best either, and I certainly don't want to be the least.  Shouldn't we all be equal?  The reality is that God so loved the world that he was willing to humble himself, enter into humanity, and in a sense, to take humanity back into himself through the incarnation of his Son.  He didn't just come as a King, but as a servant King.  He didn't just come as Lord, but as a loving Lord, a giving Lord, a forgiving Lord.  The irony is that the one who is truly the greatest, became like the least, so that we, who truly are the least (yet harboring delusions of grandeur) might become all that we were created to be.  Although I acknowledge this truth intellectually, it's a far harder concept to embrace emotionally, socially, and practically.  But by God's grace, may we all begin to embrace it just a little bit more. - Shay

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sitting Down, Face to Face, Around a Table

Yesterday, I found myself sitting down, face to face, around a table four different times.  The first time I was teaching conversational English to several Spanish students, a couple of Poles, a Romanian, a Brazilian, and a Korean.  Although the proficiency in English varies greatly from student to student at these Thursday morning classes, more times than not, genuine connections are made from person to person.  We discover that our shared humanity more than compensates for our differing backgrounds, cultures, and countries. 

A little while later I was sitting at our dining table with two good friends and my best friend, Juli.  This wasn't just a casual conversation.  It was born out of a shared passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and Christian community.  At the end of our 3 hour discussion, we had all grown closer together and closer to Christ. 

The third conversation occurred about an hour later in the city centre.  We are beginning to study Paul's letter to the Romans at our Thursday evening Dublin Coffee Shop Bible Studies.  Last night we were meant to read the entire letter but didn't quite manage all of the chapters as we constantly paused from the reading to discuss what we had just read. Four Irish-persons and a graciously received American were sitting down, face to face, around a table full of empty coffee mugs and pastry plates discussing how the gospel so relevantly interacts with real life.  A lady who joined us for the first time mentioned that she is excited to begin to study the Bible as it is something she's never really explored.  Biblical exploration is best done in the context of community, so I think she's found a great platform from which to begin.

Later in the evening, a couple more of my friends joined me around the table at a local watering hole.  Although we never opened our Bibles (scripture was quoted & probably misquoted throughout the evening), the entire conversation from first to last was centered on how Easter shapes and molds our lives - how it makes all the difference.  One of my friends remarked that we should all be prepared to throw away our traditions and world-views if that's what Jesus calls for.  That's what the original disciples had to do.  Words worth considering.

There's something powerful about sitting down, face to face, around a table.  Connections are made, relationships are deepened, and life is enriched.  I can't think of a better way for faith to be shared and received.  Can you? - Shay  

Monday, February 18, 2013


The gospel never gets old.  How could it?  The idea of God becoming human.  The idea of God living a fully humble, fully faithful life.  The idea that God would offer himself freely for his lost creation.  That same God who died on a Roman execution instrument rising from the dead three days later.  How could that idea ever get old?  It's the most new and refreshing idea and it's been 2,000 years.  Although so much of Jesus' life was extraordinary, I can't help but think that much of it was as ordinary as your life and mine.  Certainly the circumstances around his birth were different than ours, but the moment of his delivery would have not been that different than most other people living in Palestine around 4 BC.  Thinking about that led me to write Incarnation a few years back.

She was writhing in pain as he lowered her to the floor amidst the straw, the mud, and the excrement.
Beads of sweat raced down, forcing her dark brown hair to stick to her forehead; covering her face.
With nothing else to grab, she clenched her own dress - it ripped and tore as the contractions came
   and went.
Pushed, and shoved through the birth canal, dripping with blood, followed by the remains of 
   placenta, he entered this space.

With a spare robe he took the screaming baby and wiped the afterbirth from his body; placing him in 
   the arms of his mother.
She groaned and sighed, trying to catch her breath.  Tears of joy streamed down her face as she gently
  caressed the baby's cheek.
His crying began to cease.  He felt at home near her; she was warm, her thumping heart was a 
  comfort and he would not feel safe with another.
As he slept, she was exhausted so she laid him in a trough.  Who would have thought that the creator 
  of everything could be so weak? - Shay