Category Archives: Commitment

Uncomfortable Religion

cs-lewis

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

—–C.S. Lewis

It seems as though the most elusive truth of religion is that it is not really an opiate, but a sometimes uncomfortable commitment. This is the truth that Lewis gives us in his words. Think about it!

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Filed under C. S. Lewis, Christian Journey, Commitment, Devotional Quotes

Power of Prayer

In 1559 John Knox returned from ministering in...

John Knox

While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, “Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor.” After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded in behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord’s servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, “I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies,” ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.

 For several years now I have been on a pilgrimage of prayer-an excursion that has brought me to many different places and ideas, but in the end the greatest inspirations come from the fathers of the faith. Some of these fathers, like John Knox, come from the reformation. Others are from the desert or monasteries, but all have testimonies of the power of prayer to transcend all barriers. The mere fact that Queen Mary, enemy of all things protestant, would have a good word about the prayers of John Knox speaks volumes about the power of prayer.

Have you neglected prayer in your life? Have you limited the nature and scope of your prayer? Do you fail to spend time simply in the presence of God? If you answered yes to any of those questions you are not allowing God to bless you as fully as He might. Set aside a place, a time, a manner of prayer that is yours and yours alone.  I’m afraid that the corporate prayer of worship is not enough to truly feel the complete awe and majesty of God in your life. Besides, if you come to worship primed and ready, the blessings will flow like a torrent rather than a gentle stream.

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Filed under Christian Journey, Commitment, Dedication, Faith, John Knox, Prayer

Humility and Strength

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care.  He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go, and beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

—-sayings of the desert

Our society cries out that a relationship with God is all about prosperity, victory and success. The wise men of the desert voice a different view, and we have much to learn from them. Abba John the Dwarf prayed for all passions to be extinguished from his life so that he might be carefree, but the pastor (poeman means pastor) tells him that struggle is part of the journey. In our struggles we learn the important lesson of humility, which turns us away from self and toward others, especially the ultimate other-God. Humility teaches us the need to be silent, to pray, to worship, and to understand the greatness of God. Then we can know that we must pray, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

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Filed under Abba Poeman, Ascetics, Commitment, Community, Contemplation, Desert Fathers, Humility, Spiritual Growth, suffering

A Rule for Missional People

This past weekend I had the pleasure of sitting under the teaching of Dr. Elaine Heath, who is Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. Her topic was “New Monasticism.” She shared ways that people can band together in intentional communities, and what it would take for that to be successful. Elaine, with a group of others, has formed the institute for Missional Wisdom. This institute has proposed a “Rule of Life” for those who want to commit to living in community. I would like to set forth this rule as not only a way to live in community, but also a way for individuals to live a Christ centered life. I want to share it with you today.

RULE OF LIFE

Our Rule of Life is based Wesley’s General Rules, the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and St. Benedict’s Rule. We believe this rule opens our eyes to God’s grace, balances life and enables us to pursue holiness in all aspects of daily living.

OUR RULE OF LIFE

PRAYERS

  • We will pray daily
  • We will use a variety of forms of prayer such as the reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts, confession, the prayer of Examen, intercession, journaling, and contemplation.
  • We will fast from food once a week (either a full or partial fast)

PRESENCE

  • We will practice a contemplative stance in order to be present to God, the world, and ourselves
  • We will be hospitable to our neighbors in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces
  • We will be hospitable to our faith community through participation in our worship, fellowship and mission

GIFTS

  • We will honor and care for the gift of the earth and its resources, practicing ecologically responsible living, striving for simplicity rather than excessive consumption
  • We will practice generosity in sharing our material resources, including money, within and beyond this community

SERVICE

  • We will serve God and neighbor out of gratitude for the love of God
  • We will practice mutual accountability with a covenant group within the community, for how we serve God and neighbor
  • We will practice regular Sabbath as a means of renewal so that we can lovingly serve God and neighbor

WITNESS

  • We will practice racial and gender reconciliation
  • We will resist evil and injustice
  • We will pursue peace with justice
  • We will share the redeeming, healing, creative love of God in word, deed and presence as an invitation to others to experience the transforming love of God.

I commit to this rule of life and to the well-being of this community, out of gratitude to God who forgives, heals, and makes all things new. May my life be a blessing within and beyond God’s church, for the transformation of the  world.

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Filed under Benedictine Rule, Christian Living, Commitment, Community, contemplative, Intentional community, Missional Living, Monasticism, New Monasticism

The Monastic Path

Some sixteen hundred years ago men and women who sought a deep relationship with God went to the Egyptian desert to find a sense of peace and unity with Him. These men and women became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers (the Abbas and Ammas.) They lived a simple and somewhat isolated life of work and prayer, and followed a three step program to mysticism. The goal of every monk was to see and feel the mystical presence of God.

The first level was Purgatio, a time when the young monks through prayer and ascetic practices sought to control their “flesh.” Specifically they were challenged to control their desire for wealth, lust of the flesh, and gluttony. This period of purgation could last for years, and didn’t conclude until they realized that the only control was found through grace. This grace came directly from the Holy Spirit.

Then the young monk went to the second step, Illuminatio. During this period the monks practiced the paths to holiness as revealed in the Gospel, identifying strongly with the Christ who taught the Sermon on the Mount. At this point the monk began to guide others in their paths of purgation, helping them to discover the grace of God. They entertained visitors and took on students as their resources allowed. Often the monk stayed at this stage until his death.

The final stage was Unitio, a period in which the soul of the monk was meant to bond with the Spirit of God in a union often described as the marriage of the Song of Solomon. At this point, many monks withdrew to the deep desert, modeling their journey after resurrected Christ, when he hid himself from His disciples, and appeared to them sparingly.

Amazingly, we can learn so much from desert monasticism. These pioneers of spirituality provide for us a personal path to God that works so well. Just imagine what  life would be if we would follow the path of the desert, as we sought God. Many of the conflicts and worst church experiences could be avoided. If each Christian saw as his first task to purge himself of the desires of the flesh (not just sexual lust), and then share his journey, without judgment, with someone else, we would teach and hold up each other. It would be the burning desire of every believer to assist others in finding their path.

I am not sure that any of us will ever get to this final stage. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, taught an order of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Unitio and glorification are similar theologies, and Wesley concluded that glorification was not possible in our lifetime. I agree with Wesley’s conclusion, but we can have such a joyful journey if we are mindful of ourselves and those around us.

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Filed under Christian Living, Commitment, Desert Fathers, Methodist, Missional Living, Monasticism, Sermon on the Mount, Spiritual Growth

New Monasticism

English: Shane Claiborne meets with Ron Copela...

 Shane Claiborne meets with Ron Copeland and Brian Farrell at Our Community Place

I guess it’s time to join my voice to the throngs of bloggers that are addressing the topic of New Monasticism. At its very essence it is a yearning for a simple life that is dedicated to searching for a deep relationship with God. The young people who began this movement felt as though the church and its institutions had abandoned large numbers of people, especially the poor and oppressed. To them, as the desert fathers before them, the answer was to go to these abandoned places and discover the mission of God. In such places, where poverty and crime are rampant, the heart of what it means to share Christ becomes evident.

New Monastics live in communities and have a sense of obligation to make their neighborhoods better places to live and work. They minister to those who have been forgotten and abandoned. Their driving force is to be the hands and voice of Jesus in forgotten places. To accomplish this, these communities live in much the same way as the “old monastics,” sharing lodging, eating common meals, observing times of prayer, and seeking God in their midst.

I had the opportunity to visit one of the most widely known of these communities, The Simple Way, in Philadelphia. The purpose of my visit was to participate in “The School for Conversion,” which means spending an extended weekend observing and participating in the activities of the community. As I toured their neighborhood I met some very humble people, learned how veggie diesel was made, and was introduced to the Urban Chicken movement (I now have chickens). I found my time to be very informative and my discussions with Shane Claiborne, the co-founder of Simple Way, a source of soul searching.

As a third order Benedictine, my goal in life has been to incorporate monastic practices into my daily walk. I am very heartened by the New Monastic movement and its attempt to call us to a more simple and basic way of life. Indeed, our world has become much too complicated and expensive, and for those reasons and others, the ones who most need the love and care of Christianity are left behind

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Filed under Christian Living, Commitment, Community, Missional Living, Monasticism, New Monasticism, Shane Claiborne

Do Something

Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

Roman Gladiators

One person armed with the Gospel of peace can change the world. Telemachus did. Who was Telemachus? He was a monk who lived in the 5th century, and his story is a story of courage. He felt God saying to him, “Go to Rome.” Since he was in a cloistered monastery, he put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and discovered it was the day  the gladiators would be fighting in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?” When Telemachus ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” Jumping over the railing he went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, and tried to stop them. The crowd became enraged and stoned the peacemaker to death.

 Perhaps this is a legend, or perhaps it is history. I do not claim that I can verify this story, but I will say that the truth within  speaks loudly to each of us. All too often, we sit idly by and allow so much evil to go on around us. The moral of this story is very simple: when you see injustice or wrong doing, do something. Just imagine for a moment what the world we be like if we took upon ourselves the spirit of Telemachus. The hungry would be fed, the unloved would be loved, the neglected would be treated with regard, and all this would be done by Christians and not the government. Utopia, you say. Maybe, but do something today.

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Filed under Commitment, Conflict, Controversy, Evil, Faithfulness

Nobody Loves Me

Proverbs 15:1*

The little boy had a rough day. It began with an argument with his sister and ended with an after school detention. He didn’t mean to yell at his sister, and he surely didn’t intend to lie to the teacher. These things just happen to little  boys. The real problem is simple. Nobody loves me!

 There are quite a few of us who feel this way today. We feel unloved, and we can’t figure out why.” It is not our fault we were  reared in a dysfunctional family. It’s all because of my background. People need to ease-off and things will be all right. If others were real, they would understand. God would understand.” He does, but he has some advice. It can be found in the Book of Proverbs. Let us look at Proverbs:

   There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 6:16-19

The writer of the Proverbs is really giving us some pointers on how to be loved and appreciated. It so simple. Let us take these things that God hates and just reverse them. They will become the love principles.

 LOVE PRINCIPLES

1. Tell the truth at all times.

2. The look on your face should be receptive.

3. Take responsibility for the helpless..

4. Create a heart(internal attitude) that desires good.

5. All business deals should be open and honest..

6. Sleep on all major decisions.

7. Become known as a peace maker.

 I can guarantee that these principles will make you more loved and appreciated by all those around you. Next time you feel unloved, try to begin to live by the love principles. They are simple application of what God has said to us in the Proverbs.

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Filed under Commitment, Focus

The Search

Picture showing a Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus...

There are two birds that fly over our nation’s deserts-one is the hummingbird and the other is the vulture. The vultures find the

Male Ruby-Throated hummingbird (Archilochus co...

rotting meat of the desert, because it is the object of their search. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals, and they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live on the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is in bloom, because they seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.

 

In life, there are two birds. The one bird looks for foolishness and stupidity, the other looks for wisdom. The vultures seek to fill themselves with the rotting flesh of drunkenness and debauchery, the hummingbird sobriety, freshness, and the Spirit. In the desert of this world you have your scavengers who are angry and ungrateful, but you also have those who hum a grateful hymn of thanksgiving. The irony is that you find what you are looking for.

 

I’m sure that all of us want to find what is wonderful and fresh. We want to be in the company of people and things that add value to our lives. Unfortunately, we sometimes seek out the wrong things, and find ourselves drawn to things and people that diminish us rather than build us. Remember, it is all there for us to find.

 

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Filed under Christian Living, Commitment, Evil, Love of God, Motive

Finding Direction

bible

Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, ‘Why do you avoid us?’ The old man said to him, ‘God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men.   The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many.  So I cannot leave God to be with men.’

—–sayings of the desert

The heavenly hosts have but one will, but men have many directions. At first glance it seems Arsenius is advocating total isolation, with further thought, there is perhaps a deeper meaning. Men are so scattered and confused when attempting to follow after God. We search in many directions, and fail to find peace with God. Constant discussion and speculation dominate our lives, and no truth is found. For thousands of years men have discussed and debated the meaning of miracles, healings, suffering, and have found few answers. The Abba calls us to put God first, and with that decision, we can have the freedom to find His will. Putting God first can be as simple as beginning each day in prayer, or having a time of silence to keep our focus. The Abba warns that we must not abandon God to be in the world.

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Filed under Christian Living, Commitment, Contemplation, Dedication, Desert Fathers, Evil, Faithfulness, Missional Living