Today we visited Belfast, Ireland; which was one of the stops that Janet has really been excited about. That’s because her paternal grandfather came from Belfast, and as I said last evening, nobody from the family has been to see Ireland, at least as long as Janet can remember. And we really had to consider what we wanted to do – because we have enjoyed the small towns more than the large cities – but Belfast itself was a “must see” while we were here. And we were fortunate to find a tour that combined the best of everything we wanted to do.
It was a four hour excursion – easier than the all day things we have done in Paris, Edinburgh and Glasgow. And since yesterday was a full day, we welcomed a shorter day today. Anyway, we headed out on a coach to see downtown Belfast. It was cleaner than some of the other cities we have visited, but I think that is due in part to the fact that it is much younger than some of the really ancient cities we have visited this trip. We saw the shipyard where the Titanic was built, and subsequently launched – as well as various memorials to the crew of the Titanic from Belfast, who went down with the ship. Since we have seen the graveyard of those whose bodies were recovered, in Halifax, Nova Scotia – we really thought we should see the origins of the whole thing as well.
We also passed the cursory government buildings and department stores, but the highlight of the trip was our drive through the Irish countryside to the ruins of a monastery, Grey Abbey, that was founded in 1193 – that’s right – more than 800 years ago. The countryside is still sparse, so I can’t even imagine what it must have been like back then. Admittedly, I tend to be one of those guys who is not big on visiting ruins, but this was different. The walls were still pretty much intact, and the place was hauntingly beautiful. Still and peaceful; very much like walking on holy ground.
It occurred to both Janet and me that we used the same phrase, hauntingly beautiful, to characterize our visit today. And it did not go unnoticed by either of us that we have had a wonderful time visiting churches and houses of worship during our trip. We have enjoyed them more than the castles and other sites we have seen. In London, we saw Westminster Cathedral (a Catholic church), and then Westminster Abbey, site of the recent royal wedding, which was breathtaking, and beyond our wildest imaginations. In Paris, we saw Notre Dame, a giant Gothic structure that has anchored the Paris skyline for more than 1000 years. Although we did not go in this visit, I have been inside and enjoyed it immensely, but not nearly on the scale of Westminster. Then, near Invergordon, Scotland, Dornoch Cathedral, near the home of the famed St. Andrew’s Golf Course – named after one of Christ’s disciples. It was the site of Madonna’s visit with her family several years ago.
But today, a totally different experience – ruins of an abbey – in the middle of a countryside. Just peaceful; the kind of place you could go and just write, or pray, or sit and contemplate all the monks who must have studied the Scriptures and dedicated their lives to the Lord in this place. It was a special place. A huge graveyard was near the rear of the abbey, with gravestones so old and close together, many of them were impossible to read. I know that you can’t get the picture from my description – I am not nearly that gifted a writer – but please believe that it was a unique experience. Part of the allure was the fact that I imagine there was no pretense here – even the name, Grey Abbey, was chosen based on the color of the clothes the monks wore.
And after we were done with our visit, we headed out on the coach. That’s when I saw it – the simple sign on a pole – “Repent and be saved.” That’s it – four words. I didn’t notice the sign on the way in, so it must have been strategically placed for visitors who were leaving the abbey. I wonder how many people have had their hearts softened after a visit to Grey Abbey – I hope that many have. Because this silent memorial reminds me of the ministry of John the Baptist, who proclaimed that people should repent and that the Kingdom of God was near. In Mark 1:15, Christ Himself reminds us, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” And in Acts 3:19, we are told by Peter, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” This theme runs throughout the New Testament, and is obviously important to God Himself.
The idea of repentance is one that we don’t really think about too often once we are Christ followers. What does “repent” even mean? It means that we should stop going the wrong direction, into sin, then turn around, and proceed in the opposite direction toward a life with Christ. Those of us who believe in Christ have already made the decision to walk on a path of attempting to live a life free of sin; more in keeping with God’s desire for our lives.
My encouragement this evening is to continue to present the gospel message for people to follow Christ, and to move toward a life free from sin. And my prayer is that you will continue on your own path to seek God in your daily life. Because it is easy to get off track, and to forget about the commitments we have made to God, and to Christ, as we have moved along our Christian lives. A little thought about our own spiritual walk is good from time to time. So, renew your commitment to continue on the path of what we call “progressive sanctification” – that is, becoming more Christ-like as you progress on your Christian walk. Have a great day in the Lord, and I’ll keep you posted. Tomorrow, we are in Dublin, and plan a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral – I can hardly wait to see what surprises God has in store for tomorrow….