Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Free to Sin No More

One of the most powerful stories in John's gospel isn't found in the earliest known manuscripts of the text.  It comes from the first 11 verses of chapter 8 and is the account of Jesus' compassion on an adulteress woman.  I doubt this story was a part of John's original work, but it must have been a well known story in the early Christian communities and I have very little doubt that the event actually took place.  Yesterday, some friends and I discussed some of the implications from the story.  Here's my paraphrase of the text and my particular angle.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, some of his opponents brought a woman straight from the bed of her adulterous lover and presented her before the crowd.  "The Law requires a stoning, what's your verdict?", they asked Jesus.  But the entire episode was just a setup to trap Jesus.  Not indulging them, Jesus knelt down and doodled in the dust.  They kept badgering Jesus, so finally he stood up and said, "Whoever is sinless, pick up a stone and you can be the first one to give it a go."  Jesus knelt back down and began to draw.  From the oldest to the youngest, they all began to to shuffle off until only Jesus and the woman were left.  Jesus stood up and asked, "Where did they all go?  No one's condemned you?"  "No one.", she said.  "Nor do I," said Jesus, "You're free to go - you're free to sin no more."

People aren't objects to be manipulated; they're not pawns in some life-sized chess match.  Every single person - every individual is important.  All are created in the image of God - all are to be treated with dignity and respect.  When the Jewish religious leaders trapped this sinful woman, they were willing to use, abuse, and sacrifice her for their own perverted sense of self-righteousness and their own selfish, political power-plays.  They trapped her so they could trap Jesus.  They were willing to sacrifice her so they could sacrifice him.  But Jesus was having none of it.  He saw through their scheming, but more importantly he saw the woman, not as an adulteress, though that's what she was, but he saw her for who she could be - who she would be.  Jesus refused to utter a word of condemnation, rather he offered a liberating word of grace.  To quote the verse after that most famous verse, "Indeed, God didn't send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.", John 3:17 - Shay 


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Living Water

Yesterday afternoon I joined a couple of Irish friends and a new friend from New Zealand for a Bible study in a local coffee shop.  We were studying John chapter 7 and I shared some ideas from verses 37-39.  Here's the text and my paraphrase of these verses with a few observations.

"On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.''  Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified."

As the Jewish people celebrated the festival of Booths - remembering their ancestors who had lived in tents in the wilderness - Jesus stood up and turned their minds from remembering to renewal.  As he had done with the Samaritan woman by the well, Jesus offered the crowd living, flowing, life-giving water - he offered them life fueled by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus claimed he was the source of this God inspired power, this God transformed life.  After Jesus' death, resurrection, and exaltation, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to any who put their trust in him.

There's a hunger and thirst in our world for spirituality.  The Enlightenment and Modernism have left people searching for transcendence; for the deeper things in life that can't be found in a mathematical equation, a scientific theory, a purely philosophical speculation, or an ever increasing or decreasing bank balance.  Many people recognize that there's more to life than the what's readily available on the surface, but many people don't know where to look to find it.  I'm convinced that though it's an old, old story, the answer's still to be found in none other than Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the life-giving source of the life-giving Spirit.  Our search for deeper meaning and purpose, our desire for a fulfilled and spiritually relevant life can only truly be satisfied through Jesus.  He offers living water to any and all who will believe.  - Shay

Friday, April 4, 2014


For the 8 years that Juli and I were members at Brentwood Oaks, one of the things that we grew to love was the annual family retreat out in Leakey.  Over the past 35 or 40 years, the BOCC family has traveled 2 and 1/2 hours west of Austin into the beautiful Texas Hill Country by the hundreds for rest, recreation, and relaxation.  It was a spiritual boost as well as a time to get to know your brothers and sisters better.  We've missed the past few, but I'm sure one day we'll have the chance to return.

This afternoon over 20 of us from North Dublin Christian Community will travel 1 and 1/2 hours west of Dublin to the midlands of Ireland near Athlone for our first ever family retreat.  We hope to worship, relax, recreate, and dream about the future.  It won't be nearly as organized as the BOCC retreat (really doesn't need to be with 20 or so people) and the weather won't be as warm, but I definitely pray that it will be a spiritual boost for us and I hope that we all come back to Dublin knowing each other and our Lord just a little bit better.  I don't remember all of the retreats I attended with Brentwood (they all blur together), but I doubt I'll forget this first one with NDCC. - Shay  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hope and Possibility

I have a friend - we'll call him Larry.  Larry's not his real name, but I think people are probably over-exposed enough online, so I won't add to "Larry's" online profile.  But I do want to share some of Larry's story.

I met Larry 2 and 1/2 years ago.  He had just checked himself out of an addiction treatment center and moved back to Dublin to begin a new life.  We had placed an ad in the "Northside People" newspaper promoting Bible studies for those interested.  Through God's providence, the ad actually ran in the "Southside People" one week and Larry saw the ad and contacted us.  We met up and planned on meeting weekly for Bible study and conversation.  I also got Larry in touch with some Christians we know on the South side of Dublin. 

Larry and I met up from time to time and he occasionally joined some other Christians for study and prayer.  However, Larry's previous life of addiction still had a powerful hold on him.  One Sunday morning I was to meet him to take him to a local church service.  He never showed up.  I called his cell-phone and a friend of his answered and told me that Larry was off his head on drink and drugs.  I spoke with Larry, but he didn't remember the conversation later.  Another Sunday I went to pick up Larry for church, and once again, he was a no-show.  I tried to contact him again, but he never returned my calls.  It was months before I heard from him again.

Out of the blue, on a day in late May, I received a call from Larry and he mentioned that he had got sucked back into drug and alcohol abuse.  But, this time he was serious.  He really wanted to give sobriety and God another chance.  I was due to travel to the States for a month, but I put him in touch with some other Christian friends in the meantime.  When I returned from my trip back home I didn't hear from Larry.  But a week after returning, I was up in Northern Ireland helping set up Camp Shamrock when I received another call from Larry.  He was stoned and talking all kinds of rubbish.  He was threatening to kill himself.  I let him know that I was a couple of hours away from Dublin, but that if he would just hold on, I'd come down and see him.  Once I got to Dublin, I called Larry and because he was sounding violent and out of control, I decided not to see him that night.  The following day I spoke with him over the phone and then I went and gave him a lift to the bus station so that he could meet a friend down in Waterford who he felt could help keep him off the booze and drugs.

A month or so later, Larry contacted me again.  He had again fallen into substance abuse and needed a place to stay before he could check himself into rehab.  We would have put him up in our home, but with a young daughter and wife, I didn't feel like I could risk their safety if he wound up relapsing.  So I booked him into a hotel room and the following day I gave him a lift to a treatment center an hour outside of Dublin.  Larry stayed in treatment for a few weeks and many of us from Dublin popped down to visit him from time to time.  But as before, he left treatment early and found himself back in the grip of addiction.

So, when Larry contacted me yet again, I was sad and disappointed, but hopeful that one of these days he would snap out of his addiction and seriously turn his life over to Christ.  Larry needed a lift down to a different treatment center even farther away from Dublin.  Since he had left the treatment center early last time, they would not admit him back.  However, there was another place across the country that had a bed available.  So I picked him up and we drove to county Limerick and checked him into the center.

In early December of 2012 I received a phone call from a lady at the treatment center.  She informed me that Larry was planning on leaving the center, but this time he had actually completed the entire program.  A few weeks later it was exciting to receive a phone call from him - it was a cry for help, yet not one of desperation, but one seeking salvation and reconciliation.  Larry asked me if I would baptize him.  A couple days later Larry, me, and some others from our Christian community met in a coffee shop and talked about what it meant to surrender to Jesus.  The following Sunday, Larry was immersed into Christ in the Irish Sea.

I'm excited to tell you that Larry is going from strength to strength.  Oh, he's had a few slip ups (so have I - so have we all), but he's on a path of discipleship and sobriety.  I would estimate that 19 1/2 of his past 20 months have been spent in complete sobriety.  He recently moved down to Waterford and I was thrilled to receive a phone call on his behalf.  It was a charity organization asking for a character reference.  Larry had decided to volunteer - to help others, because others have helped him so much!  He's active in his church community and he's very involved with AA - once again, giving back to others because he's been given so much.  Sometimes other people's lives seem hopeless.  Sometimes our lives seem hopeless.  But they are not; our stories always have the possibility of a happy ending.  Since Jesus defeated death on that Sunday morning 2,000 years ago, the hope and possibility of new life is always just around the corner.  As it is for Larry, may it be for all of us. - Shay