Monthly Archives: August 2015

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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Filed under Bible, Humility, Jesus

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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Filed under Christian Living, Inspirational

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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Filed under Desert Ammas, Teacher

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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Filed under Desert Ammas, Missional Living, Monasticism