March 19, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend,

The last couple of weeks have been less-than-fun at the airport. Usually, during the weekdays, all of the unwashed masses in line to be greeted by the local TSA representatives are experienced "business travelers." Used to the "drill," they come to the front of the line with laptops out, shoes off, belts and watches in the tub and boarding passes in hand. No lighters; no nail files; no terrorist contraband. There is a "flow," and they don't hinder it...

But, it's now "Spring Break." Wish there was an alternate terminal for the traveling families. Twice-a-year flyers, everything is "as-if-for-the-first-time." The "security process" has been in meltdown with the "Spring Break" crowd. In the old days, it was "Easter Week," and you knew when it would happen. In the New (politically-correct) Era, the "break" has no connection to the "holiday." Holiday comes from the term "holy day"... and that sure isn't allowed. Holy Days - holidays - are worth remembering...

Last Friday was one of those "holy days." St. Patrick's Day hasn't drifted around the calendar like "President's Day." George Washington's birthday used to be the basis for a fixed-day off; no longer. But, St. Patrick's day - celebrated on March 17th - is the day in AD 461 that Patrick died. Why does this man still command such attention, a millennium-and-a-half after his death?

The truth of Patrick's life is devoid of tales o' Shamrocks and snakes. Raised in an upper-class home in a Roman settlement in Wales, Patrick was kidnapped by an Irish raiding party in AD 401. Just 16 at the time, he was taken to Ireland and held there as a slave for the next six years.

By his later admission, his spiritual condition before his abduction was negligible. But six years of bondage - with his assignment to shepherd a herd of sheep in the wild Irish outback leaving him devoid of human contact in a relatively-lawless land - brought him into a dependent hunger for the God he had taken for granted, back in Roman Catholic-Christianized Britain. During that time, Patrick discovered a personal relationship with Jesus.

Through an influential epiphany, Patrick determined that God was directing him to escape his slavery and return home. The historic legend paints a miraculous pilgrimage back, and the next twelve years were spent in a monastery in Gaul, becoming educated in the underpinnings of his faith. Ultimately, his God-given vision and calling - to return to Ireland and convert his captors' culture - was realized. Patrick returned to the Irish island... and established the outpost of the Christian faith that modeled missions in a radical departure from the previous model. Rather than coming with a "gospel" that demanded conversion to Roman culture before the people group could be converted to the Christian gospel, Patrick left their culture intact... and introduced them to a God who stands above culture, as the King of Heaven. The Celtic Christian community was a radical departure from the European ecclesiastical model he left behind in Britain.

Thomas Cahill, in his 1995 book How the Irish Saved Civilization, tells the story of Patrick in the larger context of European and world history. Because of the work of Patrick in the fifth century, there was an "outpost" of Christian faith in Ireland who preserved the civilization of western Europe when the barbarian hordes overwhelmed the declining Roman Empire. Cahill tells the story of nations and people groups... but shows how the work of critically-important, unlikely key leaders was mission-critical. Without Patrick - a young man with a transforming faith, who defined his adult life around a sense of personal calling - life, for us, would be very different.

How different? Some shallow thinkers would mourn the loss of a March parade in New York, or the absence of green beer in their favorite tavern in the middle of Lent. Truth is, the world map would be marked by different boundaries - world history for the last 1000 years would be told in different chapters - had one man missed his calling.

How critical is it for a person to find and follow their calling? Read Cahill's book about Patrick of Wales - or, the Book of Acts about Paul of Tarsus - and answer your own question. What's your calling?

Bob Shank

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