Real Value

In these days of turbulent stock markets and uncertain economics, we would do well to know what has real value.

Titanic_sinking_atlanticThere’s a true story that comes from the sinking of the Titanic. A frightened woman found her place in a lifeboat that was about to be lowered into the frigid  North Atlantic. She suddenly thought of something she needed, so she asked permission to return to her stateroom before the boat was lowered. She was granted three minutes or they would leave without her.

She ran across the deck that was already listing at a dangerous angle. She raced through the gambling room with all the money that had rolled to one side, ankle deep. She came to her stateroom and quickly pushed a side her diamond rings and expensive bracelets and necklaces as she reached to the shelf above her bed and grabbed three small oranges. She quickly found her way back to the lifeboat and got in.

Now that seems incredible because thirty minutes earlier she would not have chosen oranges over the smallest diamond, but death had boarded the Titanic. One blast of its awful breath had transformed all values. Instantaneously, priceless things had become worthless. Worthless things had become priceless. And in that moment she preferred three small oranges to a crate of diamonds.

Lord help me to access the things of real value that are needed for my life’s journey. Amen

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Humility

The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

 — Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus Teaching 1Those of us who call ourselves Christians sometimes neglect the instructions that came directly from Jesus. In the scriptures Jesus had many things to say. Because we live in this fast paced competitive American society, we find it difficult to image that we can be exulted by humble behavior. We have been taught from a very early age to put our “best foot” forward. The words of Jesus cut against that concept. The real task of humility is to be genuine and authentic in all that you do. The person who exalts himself is, in many instances, just lying. We have a time for self-exalted people. We call them hypocrites because can never live up to their talk.

In the Kingdom of God leadership is marked by servant hood and not self exultation. If you want to rid your life of hypocritical self agrandizement ,become a humble servant to all. A servant’s word will carry far more weight in the end than the word of a great teacher who does not follow through. The American Poet Edgar A. Guest wrote:

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day;

I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way;

The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear.

Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear,

And the best of all preachers are the men who live their creeds,

For to see good put in action is what everybody need.

We are all (clergy and laity)walking sermons weather we like it or not.

Prayer

Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you; eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you; and a life to proclaim you. Amen.

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Making a Difference

Note: I have had this story in my file for years and I am not sure of its source. I’ve tweaked a little over the years. I hope you like it.

There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her fifth grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children that his clothes were messy and he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.” His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.” His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.” Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed, how pretty the bracelet was. She put it on and dabbed some of the perfume on her wrist.

Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mom used to.” After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children.

Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her pets. A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life. Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had in his whole life. Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met a girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”

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God Wins

Amma Theodora said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vain-glory, and pride; one should not be able to fool him by flattery, nor blind him by gifts, nor conquer him by the stomach, nor dominate him by anger; but he should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; he must be tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.

— sayings of the desert

This little snippet of desert wisdom gives us a model for the spiritual teacher. All of us live in a high pressure, performance driven culture. If we are not pressured we have a tendency to lack in passion for our work. On the other hand, our culture is a “me” culture that expects high praise for our efforts. Both student and teacher have certain expectations when they meet. The call of the teacher is to be single minded and focused on the task and not on the gratification or domination that can come from the task. The call is to be humble and allow God to win

Doorways Thin PlacesMore than once I have heard a less than happy church member say, “This church is not meeting my spiritual needs.” The very essence of that statement is that the church is about me. The teacher sometimes struggles with the needs of those who have been entrusted to them, but it is clear that the primary role of the spiritual teacher is to be a lover of souls. The point at which student or teacher loses that concept and turns to self-gratification, the mission is lost.

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The Keys to the Kingdom

Our Life and death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our neighbor, we have sinned against Christ.

— Abba Anthony

When Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders of his day about the first commandment he said, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This dispute of the true and best path to God is ever going. There is no other commandment greater than these.’  This lesson from Jesus and the monk is one in the same. The sacred is in the ordinary which is found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, family, in one’s backyard. We have never quite gotten that idea down. Men desperately search in so many places for peace with God while in continual battle with their neighbors. Our world is mired in war, violence, crime, racism and hopelessness.charity-hand-up

I recently read a story about some neighbors who were in a dispute about the location of some trees and shrubs. John Vilkin shot and killed his neighbor over this landscaping dispute. These proximity neighbors fought over turf and it ended most tragically. Most conflicts are over one turf or another. We are urged by scripture and wisdom teaching to regard our relationship with our neighbor as a relationship with God. By viewing it through that lens, we truly see the importance of getting along. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to see others through His eyes. With that wisdom comes the keys to the kingdom – spiritual wholeness.

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The Art of Keeping your Mouth Shout

A devout man happened to be insulted by someone, and he said to him, ‘I could say much to you, but the commandment of God keeps my mouth shut.”’ Again she said this, “A Christian discussing the body with a Manichean expressed himself in these words, “Give the body discipline and you will see that the body is for him who made it.”’

— Amma Theodora

I think we all believe in sacred silence, but the desert advice is a bit different. This sort of silence is as important to our Christian witness as prayer. In this silence we embody the “turning of the other check, going the second mile, doing unto others as you would have them do unto as you.” Those sayings and many other red letter words of Jesus are practiced by simply keeping our mouth shut.

We underestimate the importance of training our bodies so that we mayMark Twain 1 naturally function as God intended. We are made in the “image” of God and as we surrender our whole being to Him, He gives us the ability to do great things. Mark Twain said, ”The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the fellow who can’t read a line.” In that same vain, a person who does not control his body may as well be an animal who acts through raw instinct. The God stamp that dwells within us is our ability to think and reason and strive to change.

The wisdom of the desert tells us to practice the silence of the closed mouth and to discipline our bodies in a way to bring us to spiritual wholeness.

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The Beginning of Good

It happened that when Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, ‘O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good.’

—Abba Arsenius

prayer young man 1“I have done no good but allow me to make a beginning of good,” says the monk. How do we make a beginning of good? Do we go out and do a lot of good deeds, give sacrificially to others or read the Bible daily? None of those things would hurt us, and they may even help, but such actions are not the beginning of good. Jesus says that we must leave behind the things of the world and seek God. In our seeker’s journey, we will find good. That good is recognizing our helplessness in comparison to our Creator. When we accomplish that, we can then start doing the “good” things.

The beginning of good is when we learn that we are totally dependent upon God Good-Deeds-2and have the courage to admit it. Such a simple confession changes our lives and allows us to begin the path that leads to good. A professing Christian does not plan to do good but does good naturally. The Holy Spirit that lives in us guides us to situations and time that allow the light of God to shine through us.

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Who Could it Be?

I heard a story  about a Russian Monastery that was dying and declining. The brothers were growing old, many had died. The villagers had stopped coming to visit the monastery. Young men were no longer interested in dedicated themselves to the Monastic order. This decline led to worry and the loss of hope led to bitterness. In desperation the abbot went to visit an old hermit we had heard about. He hoped that the old man might have some wisdom. The abbot arrived after a long journey and explained their problem to the hermit. The hermit prayed for the abbot but said nothing more. The two men sat in silence for a very long time and the abbot patiently waited to hear some word of hope – a blessing, a prophecy, just something simple to try. Finally the abbot could abide the silence no longer and he begged the hermit for an answer. The hermit replied, “I’m sorry, but there really isn’t anything I have to tell you. I don’t know what the future holds for the monastery. I am sorry – oh, but there is this – I believe that the Messiah is in your midst.” The Messiah?, thought the abbot. Among us at the monastery. He rushed back and reported the unexpected news and the brothers began to question, “Who is it?” “Who among us is the Messiah?” Surely not Bro. Nicolaus, he gripes too much. Surely not Bro. Stavros, he is so whiney. But what if …? And on it went.

Monk Praying in SunsetAnd in time as the brothers began to suppose that any one of them could be the Messiah, they began to treat each other with respect and kindness and love. That spirit extended into the village and rumors of the Messiah’s presence continued so that everyone began to wonder if their neighbor might be the Messiah. And though no one was ever identified as the Messiah, the monastery was thriving and the village was blessed and young men devoted themselves to the faith.

Since Jesus is with us always, then discipleship is on-going and it is everyday. It is not something for a special day or a special evening or a special program. It is the pulse of every moment lived in the kingdom of God.

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Turning Anxiety Upside Down

“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ”

― C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

As a child who was educated in the old parochial school way, I was often told when I was anxious and worried to “offer it up.” For an eight year old that was a most difficult and nearly impossible philosophy. As I have grown older I have come to appreciate the wisdom and true meaning of that philosophy. We all know that trails and anxieties are part of living. In the midst of those soul shaking times we have some decisions to make. Do we “offer it up” or wallow in guilt or pain?

Lewis knew that many people were spiritually trained to consider any anxiety tocs-lewis be a sinful flaw in their lives. He urges us, however, to make these a vehicle to journey into the passion of the Christ. How different would life be for us if we could adopt this philosophy? Anxious days would become days of prayer and, difficult times would be time of getting to know God better. After all, knowing God is the core objective of our spiritual journey. Paul tells us to let our anxious times be a catalyst for prayer. “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions along with giving thanks.”(Philippians 4:6) Our anxieties can serve us rather than us serving them. Let your troubled times illuminate the nearness of God who is so near that we can feel His pain just as He feels ours.

Lord, let every anxious moment drive me closer to you so that I might experience your passion. As I walk with you in your passion, I am made strong to walk on this earth. Today, guide me to offer up my anxiety to you so that I might experience you. Amen

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The Fisher King

It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king.

Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy,

“You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.”

But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty.

And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God,

… so he reached into the fire to take the grail,

… and the grail vanished,

… leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded.

Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper.

Until one day, life for him lost its reason. … He had no faith in any man, not even himself.

… He couldn’t love or feel loved.

… He was sick with experience.

He began to die.

One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king,

“What ails you friend?”

The king replied,

“I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”.

So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king.

Fisher King1As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement,

“How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?”

And the fool replied,

“I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

This legend holds in it the key to being a missional person. Missional people act out of the heart of God that dwells in them. For such a person there is never a decision about  ministering but rather how to minister.?

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