Unless

Christianity is full of surprising reversals. Just think of Good Friday, where the King of Heaven abolishes the power of death—by dying in our place! He said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And that’s exactly what he did—first the dying, then the bearing much fruit. Now, he calls us to follow him in the same way: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” As we approach Easter, I’ve been thinking a lot about this–what does it look like for me, right now? How is my own life reshaped and redirected by these reversals? These are the things I was thinking of when I wrote this poem:

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St. Patrick’s Lost Years

Today marks the second St. Patrick’s Day in a row without celebrations in Ireland, St. Patrick’s country, which is perhaps more appropriate than it sounds. Patrick would understand the experience of having plans upended. The only reason we think of Ireland as his homeland today is because his life did not go to plan. At all. Growing up in Wales (probably), he never thought that his future would be in Ireland, and he didn’t much care for God, either. Then, disaster struck. He tells us in his autobiography: “I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.”

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Celebrities Don’t Get Enough Love

The ancients worshipped a pantheon of little gods, who in turn provided them with good harvests and entertainment. If they fed the gods properly with their sacrifices, they would get help for themselves, and then they could sit back with full bellies and be entertained by stories of how these powerful beings would fight, betray, and claw their way over each other to the top just so they could use all their advantages to destroy themselves.

Now the temples of those little gods are in ruins, and we no longer retell their stories (except Thor, who was lucky enough to join the Marvel universe). Over time, we’ve advanced as a society, so now we look at screens and watch celebrities who are larger than life fight, betray, and claw their way over each other to the top just so they can use all their advantages to destroy themselves. 

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The Work Of The Wilderness

From a prison cell in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believers in the city of Colossae, and shared with them a prayer that, at first glance, seems underwhelming. After praying that they would know God more and live lives worthy of him, he goes on to ask that they would be “…strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”

Strength. I need it. I can get behind a request for power and glorious might. Yes! Give me that! And with the glorious power of God himself give me…

Great endurance and patience.

Really? 

Is that all, Paul? Couldn’t we pray for a stunning victory over all obstacles and opposition, all trials and troubles? Isn’t God’s glorious might enough to ask for more than just patience?

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The Fisherman’s Advice

Evidently I don’t have a strong stomach, because the last time I went fishing at sea I got sick. I know fishing trips are famous for being exaggerated, but I’ll be honest with you: there was no storm. It was a normal day, with normal waves, and we didn’t even go far out to sea. Still, as the boat continually shifted, my insides rebelled against me in slow motion. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my fishing line or the conversation going on around me. I felt bad. All I wanted was for the floor to stop moving—was that so much to ask? Thankfully, I was with an experienced fisherman who gave me helpful advice: “Look at the shore,” he said, “it will give you a reference point, and help you be able to roll with the waves.” I could tell he knew what he was talking about, because he had no trouble at all moving confidently around the constantly rocking boat.

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Now We Will See What God Will Do

This is a poem about confidence. Not confidence in myself, my abilities, or my circumstances, but confidence in God and in his good promises for those who belong to him:

When there is all and only need
Flowing freely out of me
The answer of my heart will be:
“Now we will see what God will do” Continue reading Now We Will See What God Will Do

Anger, Panic, And The Psalms

Halloween is coming soon, but I’m not interested. The celebration of demons and death has never held much attraction for me, but this year the holiday seems especially out of place: haven’t we had enough to scare us already in 2020? Who needs a horror film, when we have the news? Brexit, which would normally dominate European headlines, has taken a back seat to Coronavirus, and then of course there’s my own homeland, the (Dis)United States of America, trying to hold an election like Jerry Springer used to try to interview guests. When the world isn’t panicking, it’s angry. When it isn’t angry, it’s panicking. It’s a rollercoaster that refuses to end. 

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Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day In The Midst Of Calamity (Like The Man Himself)

It’s always a busy holiday, with parades and parties and overflowing pubs. The airports are full, and the tourists have their phones out, taking pictures. 

But not this year.

This year, St. Patrick’s Day looks very different in Ireland. The parades and parties are cancelled, and even the pubs are closed. The atmosphere is anything but celebratory. This year, the air is heavy with fear. A slow motion disaster is shaking the foundations of our prosperous security, and death itself is whispering threats in our ears. Can we really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the midst of all this?

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If God Can Be Trusted With Death, He Can Be Trusted With Life

The longer I live on this planet, the more I’ve been forced to learn the art of dealing with death. There were no classes on this in school, but I have a teacher who refuses to be ignored: Experience. Attendance is mandatory. One after another, with increasing regularity, the funerals come. During the service, those of us who remain remind each other of God’s promises, eternal life and resurrection, Heaven and perfect rest and happiness for all eternity. The crowd pauses to make time for prayers and Scripture while death is in the room, before life moves on. But life does move on, and then many of the same people who spoke of the promises go back to ignoring death. Along with him, many also ignore the God who made the promises.

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What If The Higher Power Really Is Higher?

Seems to me it must be hard to live in this beautiful world and remain entirely confident that it is only accidental, that our lives are only accidental, and that our meaning and love and passions and sense of right and wrong are only the accidental output of material machinery marching to the orders of accidental DNA. Pure materialism doesn’t fit well with our actual experience of life on Earth. Even many who are not religious recognise this, and acknowledge the probable existence of a “higher power”.

Allowing for a higher power solves a lot of problems. It gives an explanation for love beyond chemical imbalances, hope beyond physical death, and value beyond usefulness. Religious or not, most people still want these things to be true, and still see (rightly) that they cannot be derived from pure materialism. Yet for all the problems it solves, the idea of a higher power raises more questions than it answers. What exactly is a “higher power”? One thing is for sure: it’s high.

A higher power is, by definition, higher than we are. Continue reading What If The Higher Power Really Is Higher?