Have you ever wondered what St. Patrick’s Day is all about? What are we celebrating? Who was St. Patrick anyway, and why was he made a “saint”? And what does his “sainthood” have to do with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: parties, costumes, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, boozing it up, etc.?
What is “sainthood” all about? The term “saint” carries both admiration and stigmatization. We sometimes think of a “saint” as someone who is above reproach, but not quite human. Not someone you can tell a joke to, or pat on the back, or engage in conversation about fleshly struggles we are experiencing. A saint is thought of as someone who can’t be tempted to do something sinful, like you and I may be. But is that what being a saint really means?
The Catholic Church has granted “sainthood” to more than 10,000 former inhabitants of planet earth. Usually it happens after the person is dead, when he or she can’t be here to enjoy the honor accorded to them. Some of the saints have universal Catholic acclaim and others have only locally ascribed “sainthood”. One of those 10,000+ saints has been granted a memorial day celebrated all over the western world – St. Patrick of Ireland, who is perhaps the most well-known of all the officially recognized saints.
Though St. Patrick’s Day is usually associated with and celebrated by those of Irish descent, St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland was born in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 387; he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland March 17, 493 at age 106. His father, Calphurnius, was a member of a high ranking Roman family, and his mother, Conchessa, was a near-relative of St. Martin of Tours. So it appears that Patrick came from a family of saints and sinners, just like you and me.
At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim, Ireland, where for six years he tended his slave-master’s flocks. In his “Confessio” (his confession of faith, written in his old age) Patrick relates how this captivity put him in a place where he had time to realize his own sinfulness and his need for a relationship with God. This time in slavery led to his spiritual re-birth. His testimony is well worth the time to read it.
After a series of visions, dreams, escape from his captors, deliverance from roughneck sailors, and finally a return to his family, Patrick received a call from God through a vision, to return to Ireland to minister to the Irish people. He was then in his mid-twenties. Response to this call was the beginning of the rest of his life. Even though other missionaries had sought to Christianize Ireland, Patrick is credited with converting Ireland from pagan Druid demon worship to Christianity, almost single-handedly. He was known as a gentle, soft-spoken man whose life was marked by long periods of prayer and fasting; out of that committed lifestyle was born a powerful force against the kingdom of spiritual darkness in pre-Christian Ireland. His “Confessio” summarizes his life and his beliefs.
There is much myth surrounding St. Patrick that has grown up over the centuries, such as his driving the snakes out of Ireland. But if snakes and scorpions are symbols of demonic spirits, as in Luke 10:19, then he indeed drove the snakes out of Ireland.
“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”
The promise in this verse was evidenced in St. Patrick’s life: he was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids and other enemies of the Faith. No fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives; on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains and sentenced to death. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by God.
Saint Patrick’s day was made an official feast day in the Catholic tradition in the early seventeenth century, but has gradually become a celebration of Irish culture in general. That which started out as a commemoration of the life of a saint, has devolved into a cultural celebration of mere “sinners”.
Even if St. Patrick had not received the “sainthood nod” from the Catholic Church, he would have still been a saint in God’s eyes; as is every Spirit-born, regenerated believer in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
In all of his New Testament writings, the apostle Paul refers to followers of Christ as “saints”. There are at least 45 references in the NT to the “saints”: Luke’s book of Acts, John’s book of Revelation, and each of Paul’s letters – all refer to God’s people as “saints”. If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, God considers you a “saint”.
Does this mean that we as saints never sin, never do anything wrong? No. Even the 10,000 “saints” of the Catholic Church were not perfect people. St. Patrick referred to himself as “a sinner . . . the least of all believers”.
We are not yet perfect “saints”. However, the Biblical designation of believers in Christ as “saints” sets a standard for us to live up to. Even though we still may sin and still occasionally do sin, we should not refer to ourselves as “sinners”, nor intentionally engage in sin – for this degrades what Jesus accomplished on the cross by dying to set us free. “Sinner” is not how God views His blood-bought children.
As Gal. 4:6-7 says:
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Perhaps we should each view ourselves as St. Marcy, St. Mike, St. Roland, St. Bruce, St. Susan, St. whoever you are – members of God’s family, called to be “saints”, who re-present our Heavenly Father as we pass through life here on earth.
I hope this gives you something to think about today. And, oh, yes, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
©2012, Marcy Alves
Part 4 of 4
In my three earlier posts regarding Christmas traditions that teach our children leading up to this final installment, I dealt with the reality that our kids learn by our example and specific illustrations and activities; about how we first need to focus on Jesus, then focus on others instead of ourselves. But we also need to set the tone for Christmas all year. Following are some ways to do that:
Prepare for Christmas All Year
- For your child’s own birthday, plan a special day with presents, activities, and individual time. This will set the stage for doing the same for Jesus on His birthday.
- During the year, buy things your children are asking for in the way of clothes (both necessities and treats) as you can afford them and give them to the kids before Christmas. Each time you buy them something, explain that Christmas time will be time for giving to Jesus. Set them up for it – create excitement and expectation by the following:
- Save money in a special bank all year for a Christmas gift to Jesus (have everyone in the family contribute toward this gift, or have each family member save in their own private bank) — and give the money or the gifts which you will buy with the money just before Christmas either to your church or to a particular mission or para-church organization, for use to bring Christmas joy and the message of Christ to a child or family. Think Christmas Child or Angel Tree or World Vision or the Salvation Army, for instance.
- If you give to the general ministry of an organization, have your kids write an accompanying letter or card with the gift(s), explaining how they saved all year toward this gift for Jesus and His work.
- Encourage your child to make gifts — have the whole family make their Christmas gifts for others. Plan time in September or October to decide what gifts the family will make and to whom they will be given. Have a gift-wrapping night for these homemade gifts when the whole family does wrapping together (except for those prepared for family members who are present at the time.)
1. Set realistic prices on purchased gifts for family and others – refuse to go into debt to satisfy your child’s every whim or to buy “guilty conscience gifts”. Buy some things during the year and take advantage of some great sales during the “off season” of retail sales, but wrap them closer to your gift-giving day so you don’t forget what you already bought.
2. Keep individual gifts to family members at no more than 2 or 3 gifts each, if they are purchased ones.
3. Create a festive atmosphere during the two weeks before Christmas – in preparation for the big celebration. Plan time for fun things together– like a special musical, a play or movies with the Christmas theme, (i.e., A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.). Make a huge family bowl of popcorn to share together.
4. Help your children look forward to the season, without gifts to them being the focus of their attention.
- Give special privileges during the holidays, such as taking turns with the lighting of the advent candles;
- Plan all-nighters or late nights watching videos together as a family or doing a fun activity with special friends;
- Get together with other families to attend special church Christmas events or Christmas exhibits;
- Spend an evening driving around to see Christmas lights;
- Go caroling to neighbors or shut-ins or patients at convalescence facilities.
Realize that if your children are already older, the re-education will take time and work. If you do this joyfully, they will soon enter into that joy. Both parents must be equally enthusiastic about it. Encourage your children to ask their friends to join your family for some of the special occasions.
Share these ideas with other families in your church, with your extended family and with your close circle of friends. It would be very encouraging and helpful to the cause of a Christ-filled Christmas if your kids can see others doing similar sacrificial, life-instructive things during the Advent season.
Ask God to help you to come up with creative ideas for your own family with it’s own special needs. Keep the themes of “joy” and “praise” in your thoughts, speech, actions and activities during the Christmas season. For God Himself inhabits the praises of His people.
Hope this four-part series has been helpful and encouraging.
Have a wonderful, Christ-filled, blessed Christmas season!!!
©2011, Marcy Alves (edited 2012)
- Celebrating Advent With Kids – New for 2012 (godspace.wordpress.com)
Part 3 of 4
In two earlier blogs I began to share some ways to make your celebration of Christmas a joyful time, instead of a period of tiresome, meaningless rituals that have little to do with the birth of Jesus the Christ, and leave you an exhausted, bundle of raw nerves. You and your family need to first refocus on Jesus. Then you can properly . . .
Focus On Others
1. Emphasize to your kids that Christmas is a time for giving, not getting. Teach them how to be generous toward God by giving to others:
a. As a family, help to serve a meal in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day.
b. Let the kids help to make and serve a special Christmas meal in your own home to which you invite homeless people, or neighbors who have no place to go for the holiday, or people from your church who have no family in the area–single people, elderly adults, or foreigners and aliens residing in your town or neighborhood.
c. Visit someone in a nursing home or a children’s hospital on Christmas Day.
d. Bake cookies for neighbors, shut-ins, or service people (the postman, garbage collector, etc.), considering dietary limitations if you are aware of them, such as those of diabetics.
e. Send a money gift to a Christian organization that deals with world or national hunger, housing for the homeless, etc., in the name of someone on your list who is hard to buy for. Have your children write a card to the person in whose name you are making the gift, explaining what your family did in that person’s name.
2. While your child is still young, teach him/her about personal generosity that reflects God’s generosity to us. Let’s face it: none of us were born with natural generosity. We learn how to be generous by example and teaching from others.
David and I have some friends who encouraged their young son to select a few of his Christmas gifts, before opening them, to take to less fortunate children. He learned to give. Today, as an adult, he donates time and money to such enterprises as Habitat for Humanity. Several other families have their children give some of their toys that are in good condition to children who have none; or to spend some of their own money to purchase gifts to send to a less fortunate child somewhere in the world.
More to come . . . Part 4
©2011, Marcy Alves
edit and re-post 2012
- How Advent Can Be Much More Than “The Christmas Season” (glennpackiam.typepad.com)
- Giving From the Heart for the Holidays (mystiblu.wordpress.com)
Part 2 of 4:
In spite of the commercialization of Christmas, there are ways to put Christ back into the center of the Christmas celebration. It may take a great deal of effort to correct old, ingrained habits, but the rewards will be great as you find your energy and enthusiasm increasing instead of dissipating during the holiday season.
Here are some valuable tips to aid you as you re-invest the Christmas season with awe for our wonderful Savior; as you teach your children how to celebrate the incarnation — the coming of God to earth in human flesh.
Focus on Jesus:
1. Read the Christmas story together as a family at dinnertime or as a part of other family “together” time. Perhaps combine the reading with the lighting of advent candles and read the Scriptures that relate to each candle. This would space out the Christmas story over a 5 week period. Have a different family member read each time from an age appropriate Bible – i.e., a young child could read from a children’s Bible. Talk about why God sent His Son into the world in a human body and follow it through to the cross and the empty tomb.
2. When entertaining guests during the holiday season, both Christians and unbelievers, emphasize the real reason for celebrating Christmas:
a. sing carols together, with someone accompanying on guitar or keyboard;
b. share testimonies or personal stories from other Christmas seasons;
c. suggest special prayer for others who may not be having a happy Christmas, such as: our troops overseas, the homeless, nursing home residents, those who have experienced recent personal losses, or those who do not know Christ’s love;
d. read aloud stories with a Christmas theme;
e. watch videos or DVD’s with Christmas related themes that teach Christian values. Talk about the story themes.
More to come . . . Part 3
©2011, Marcy Alves
As we approach this Christmas season, we are “life-instructing” our kids about what this most holy day signifies. The old axiom may sound trite, but it’s painfully true that “A picture is worth a thousand words”. We are painting pictures everyday with our lives. How we act and react in front of children results in mental image reinforcing mental image, day after day, year after year. What we say often cannot be heard because of what we do and how we do it. What kind of permanent images are you impressing on your children? What kind of “stuff” for tomorrow is filtering into their minds today?
Children learn through a song on the radio that Santa Claus is omniscient: “He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he sees you when you wake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” But do they also know that God is omniscient? That what He sees in our lives is far more important than what a fictional character sees?
How do you handle yourselves during the Christmas season? Harried, rushed, short-tempered, neglectful of your family and your spiritual responsibilities? Do you withhold gifts all year but give more than you can afford at Christmas? Your children are watching and learning what Christmas is all about.
More to come . . . See Part 2
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Do you intentionally make the giving of thanks a part of your Thanksgiving observance? Or do you, as many other Americans, simply enjoy the meal with family or friends, oblivious to God’s many blessings in your life? If you are thankful, do you express your thanks outwardly?
Thanksgiving is not just something you do, it is also a state of mind, and an expression of faith that recognizes the benevolent unseen Being who is responsible for all good gifts that come our way.
As a child I felt there was something different between the Thanksgiving meal and other dinners, even though it was not the habit at our house to say a prayer of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day; in fact there were not many prayers said for any reason at our house. When I became a Christian as a young teenager, I asked if we could say a a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, and my father permitted me to offer a prayer of thanks. My parents were not unthankful, but they didn’t express gratitude in prayer. We were not taught that what we had came from God’s hands, though He got credit for the rain when we needed it for our garden.
Now, as an adult, with my husband and family, and others with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we make it a point to share at least one thing we are thankful for as we sit at the dinner table.
In these days of economic downturn, compounded with a slow recovery from the loss of jobs over the past several years, and the ever-increasing government debt, an attitude of gratitude does not come easy; it has to be cultivated.
Here are some “gratitude starters” to help you develop a thankful heart:
- a roof over your head
- food to eat
- clothes on your back
- friends (come on, you must have at least one)
- your job (your present job or one that’s coming in the near future because you are trusting God for it)
- freedom of speech (while we still have it),
- a free country that, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a place where foreigners are clamoring to get into
- a sunrise or sunset,
- trees and flowers,
- snow, rain and early morning dew
- the ability to walk unassisted
- the ability to read
- the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight
- art and music
- hundreds of other things
A Christian’s faith in a loving God is best expressed in the ability to see beyond present circumstances, as bad as they might be, and find things for which to be thankful. There are many blessings that appear to the person with a thankful heart.
There are numerous examples in Scripture of the offering of thanks, beginning with our Lord Jesus, who gave thanks to the Father every time He broke bread with the disciples and the throngs of people whom He fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matt. 14:17-21). In the Gospel of John, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayers:
“ . . . Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42
The apostle Paul frequently referred to giving thanks: he gave thanks for people (Phil. 1:3), for the faith of converts (Rom. 1:8), for obedience of believers (Rom. 6:17), for spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:18), for victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57), for answered prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), for people who cared for others (2 Cor. 8:15), for the gift of grace provided through Christ (2 Cor. 9:15), for financial support of the ministry (2 Cor. 9:12), for believers (Eph. 1:16), for pleasant memories of people (Phil. 1:3), for joy (1 Thess. 3:9), for strength and being chosen for service for God (1 Tim. 1:12), for everything (Eph. 5:20).
When should we give thanks and for what?
Eph. 5:15-16,19-20 “ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. . . . Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Phil. 4:5b-7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s when we begin to express thanksgiving to God for everything and in the midst of everything, that our faith comes out and takes a bow and the peace of God settles around us like a warm blanket. Darkness is driven away and the glow of the Spirit shines in our inner being. This is true spiritual life – the life that Christ came to give us.
Col. 2:6-7 ”So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
What more examples do we need of thankful living in the midst of difficult circumstances, than the examples of the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ?
The Apostle Paul received death threats and had to be sneaked out of a city for his safety; suffered shipwreck while being transported as a prisoner; was snake-bitten and beaten with a whip on several occasions; went hungry; was imprisoned and finally killed. But in the midst of it all, he gave thanks to God.
Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered persecution, criticism, verbal and physical abuse, lies about his character, rejection, misunderstanding (even from his closest followers), beatings, chains, an unfair trial, and death on the cross. But His life was a continual picture of trust in and thanks to His Father.
Why were our Savior and His followers, like Paul, able to endure hardships and constant crisis in their lives and still be at peace and full of joy? I believe it was because of their thankful hearts that came from their constant communion with God, punctuated with prayers of thankfulness, based on what they knew of the heart of our heavenly Father. They lived within the sound of His heartbeat.
May you develop a life of daily thanks to God for His gift of life through Jesus, and His continual provisions for you out of His heart of love. May hearing His heartbeat cause your heart to resonate with gratitude for every blessing.
©2013, Marcy Alves
- Thanksgiving = RESTFULNESS (gbmministry.wordpress.com)
- A Week of Thanksgiving: Be Thankful in All Circumstances by Mark D. Roberts (trinityspeaks.wordpress.com)
October is “Pastor Appreciation Month”. This is an article with a different slant which deals with the need to encourage your pastor’s wife. I want to give you an inside look at what life might be like for your pastor’s wife.
“Most mornings I wake up with a sense of purpose, destiny, direction, and confidence to begin a new day. At other times I can’t help but ask the question, ‘Did I volunteer, or was I drafted?’ ”
That’s the way I began an article written in 2006 for a newsletter that featured women in ministry, whose vocation included being a pastor’s wife. I revisited that article and realized that I’d lost some of the optimism of five years prior. I was in one of those places where “purpose, destiny, direction and confidence” seem to be shrouded, as if a fog had moved in to obscure my vision.
Maybe twenty-plus years in pastoral ministry can do that to you? One thing I know: those of us who find ourselves in this fogged-in place can easily become disenchanted with people-ministries.
Being a pastor’s wife can be one of the loneliest occupations in the world. It’s one thing to look at the pastorate through rose-colored glasses, how fulfilling it will be, how much you can help people and how grateful they will be for the help. The truth of the matter is that some of the people you help most will not be grateful. Sometimes they will resent you, be angry with you, take sides against you, talk behind your back, resist your husband’s leadership, and complain about how you don’t reach out to them.
Others in whom you invest time and energy and love will be gracious, friendly, accommodating, supportive, co-operative – all the things that encourage you in the ministry – and then leave for greener pastures during plateaus or tough times in the church or in your personal life. Those of us who are pastor’s wives feel the pain – it’s very hard not take it personally. It’s a sense of desertion – like a divorce.
So what would make anyone crazy enough to take on this role? For most of us, it simply came with the territory; we married someone who became a pastor, so we in tandem became a pastor’s wife. It’s not a role that we always enjoy, though it is sometimes very rewarding; especially when you see someone grow spiritually because of your investment in their lives, your encouragement toward spiritual things, your prayers for them, or just your friendship with them. It’s also rewarding when someone appreciates those investments.
There is something else that helps us not only to cope, but to find pleasure in fulfilling our particular ministry role: that coping mechanism is a sense of “calling”.
What do I mean by a “sense of calling”? The “calling” is three-fold:
- First, the pastor’s wife is called to Christ by the Spirit of God. A woman who is not sure of her own salvation would do best not to marry a man with a pastoral gift and office. If her life is not dedicated to loving and serving her Savior, she will burn out very quickly in church ministry.
I believe that my first “call” is to minister to the Lord God Himself. I am becoming more and more convinced that until I get this part right, all other ministry will have little eternal effect for the kingdom.
Sometimes in the midst of the busyness of ministering to others, I sense my Father God calling me to come and sit down by Him for a while so that He can refresh me. He also wants me to minister to Him, as a cuddling child ministers to its parents; it’s a matter of “my child acknowledges her need of me”.
The “calling” has in it that sense of total dependence on God and deep love for the Father. When I focus on staying close to God, delighting in Him, the sense of “calling” on my life increases.
A true calling of God does not end. Rom. 11:29 . . . For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Is this different than any believer’s “call” to discipleship? I believe it is. It takes a special unction from the Spirit to hold up under the spiritual attacks that come against ministry couples and their families and to continue loving those who can drain you.
- Second, the pastor’s wife has a “calling” to her husband. Even if she is involved in the activities of church ministry, she must be able to create a space of peace and contentment for her husband. She needs to be a safe harbor for him – not just to minister to him, but to help protect him from other women who might try to fill the void if she leaves it vacant.
The pastor’s wife must be a consoler, good company, a playmate, an encourager, a sounding board, a counselor or confessor, a good listener, and a sympathetic friend.
So many ministry couples have ship-wrecked because the wife does not recognize, desire, or know how to fill this calling to be her husband’s helpmate.
A pastor’s wife who does not have a strong sense of “calling” will have a hard time with the stresses of pastoral life. She can easily grow to resent the time and energy commitments that pastoring necessitates, both her husband’s and her own.
Though on paper the pastor’s job description does not include time commitments from his wife, and even though she is not obligated in any way by written or verbal contracts, there are usually unspoken expectations regarding her role in the church body.
In a small church, often it is expected that the pastor’s wife should fill in where there are church needs within her skill areas. She should do the recruiting for or planning of special events. She should envision and implement the vision for women’s outreach, participate in the women’s missionary program – or head-up that group. She should be able and willing to teach kids’ church or lead the youth program. She should also do one-on-one ministry with women in the church,visit the elderly shut-ins. Such are some of the expectations, often unspoken, that a congregation may subtly impose on a pastor’s wife.
I remember the congregational interview prior to our coming to our current pastoral situation where the question was asked, “And what ministry will Marcy be doing when you [my husband] comes here as pastor?” To which my husband responded that we would wait for the Lord to lead me in that regard. (Yes, I have a good man.)
Not only is it often expected – by church members or by herself – that the pastor’s wife will fill-in the ministry vacancies in the small church, but, if the salary afforded the pastor cannot cover his family’s personal living expenses, there is often the suggestion that his wife should get a job to make up the difference.
- Third, the pastor’s wife has a calling to care for her family. If there are no natural born children, you can bet there are “heart adoptions” that are subject to compassion and energy drainage. Plus considerations of responsibility to both her extended family and her husband’s extended family and the reality of aging parents.
If your pastor’s wife has been involved in ministry for only a short time, maybe the glow of that role has not worn off, but the loneliness of the position might already have set in. And if she has been ministering for many years, you can know for sure that emoional and spiritual reserves have been seriously called upon if not depleted.
If you have never thought of the kinds of on-going pressure on your pastor’s wife that I have mentioned – both in her ministry and personal life, perhaps you should make an opportunity to consider her this week; pray for her, ask the Lord how you can bless her, and take the time to speak an encouraging word to her.
What will you do this week to encourage and brighten your “PW’s” day?
©2011, Marcy Alves