Category Archives: Midweek Thought

Learning from Below

There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.

~~~~Dietrich Bonheoffer (Letters from Prison, p.16)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

~~~Luke 15:1


There have perhaps been few times in the history of our country when Bonheoffer’s assertion that we learn from below is more true than now. We are facing a perfect storm of unrest and uncertainty . This has rattled even the most serene among us. We must remember that the scripture and Jesus himself have always told us to be aware and responsive to the down and out of our society.

Too often we ignore the cry of the needy or treat it in a patriarchal way. The time has come for us to listen and learn so that we will gain the credibility to advise and teach. As Bonheoffer says, “waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.” Sometimes it is difficult to rethink our perspectives, but the time has come. Perhaps we have waited and looked long enough. All action should be done in the context of the Christian tradition of selflessness. Nowhere in all of the words of scripture is lawlessness or violence tolerated.

The time has come for us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and do it out of care and love. Too often we have done this out of obligation, guilt or ,heaven forbid, to gain recognition. Such motives can lead to resentment and even a feeling of superiority. Never forget that Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Those words were a sea change moment for his disciples. Children were without power and wealth and of little value. Perhaps we are living in a time like that. Let’s look for the little children of our day and do so with peace and love.


Prayer

Lord, It’s hard to learn from people we see as beneath us. We acknowledge that all are created in your image and have value in your sight. Help us to look to all with respect and kindness’ so that we might together create a better world. Give us this day an opportunity to learn and grow with such a goal in sight.

Amen

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Mystery of Being

The ultimate Mystery of being, the ultimate Truth, is Love. This is the essential structure of reality. When Dante spoke of the ‘love which moves the sun and the other stars’, he was not using a metaphor, but was describing the nature of reality. There is in Being an infinite desire to give itself in love and this gift of Self in love is forever answered by a return of love….and so the rhythm of the universe is created.

~~~Venerable Bede

The ultimate truth and mystery of life is love. The absence of love leads people to do some very dark things that hurt, destroy, and ravage those who are near them. Perhaps there is no greater need in the world that to discover the power of love.

The love I refer to is not one that gives us all that we want but a love that requires something of us. It requires that we know that we are loved. When people realized that they are loved by their creator with an unlimited and endless love they can love themselves and others. Perhaps the greatest need of most people is a positive self-love. Godly self-love brings peace and harmony. It is the type of harmony that allows neighbors to live at peace with one another even when they are different. This love allows husbands and wives to respect and cherish one another in the worst of times. It is a love that is promised by God. We need only receive it and by doing so, we can share a boundless love with the world.

Venerable Bead called it the mystery of being. Without this discovery we are doomed to live in self-hatred and doubt. Mysteries are hard to solve and perhaps the mystery of love has been the hardest that people have ever faced. It is one that requires that we look way beyond ourselves and to the God that made us in His image. The solution is to claim and capture that image and to spread it to all that we touch.

We all go about our lives trying to find ways to discover the love of God. Sadly, we think that we can discover the mystery with rules or practices that are man made and explainable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The mystery of being remains a mystery. We are called to embrace the mystery and allow the love of God to flow through us. God will not totally reveal himself to you, but He does love you and will give you the strength to love others

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

~~~The Living Bible





Prayer

Lord, I want to surrender to the mystery of being. Let me this day know that you are the essence of love. Your love created the world and will sustain it. Guide me as I flounder with my own methods of finding you, and touch me in a way that allows me to discover you. With that discovery my life will be complete.

Amen

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CHARACTER

Line 1CHARACTER – The estimate formed of a person’s quality; reputation; good repute.

(Oxford Dictionary)

We are fast approaching an election that will decide the White House, the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate. I do not know about you, but I will be voting based on the character of the candidate and their philosophy will be a distant second. We have seen, repeatedly, that people of character make good decisions even when those decisions do not agree with their political philosophy. That is what made our country a great nation, and it is the way we can stay great.

Character is also the key to the resurgence of the church. We have seen in the past twenty years a true decline in the church. People are too busy or just not interested. My strong belief is that, while there is a great deal of truth to the previous statement, we have a deeper problem. We can never rebuild the faith community that we call the church, until we make character building the focus of our ministry. Somewhere on the journey we have lost our way and focused on either permissive freedom or harsh rules to define the church.

Character is built by knowing who and what we are from the inside out. Too often church people seek their direction from outward sources and neglect the inner strength of character that comes from being a person of faith and prayer. Read the scriptures and meditate on them, and God will build your character and give you some answers in the most difficult of situations. These answers will be spiritually based and not as difficult as trying to enforce a rule or being so free that we lack forethought or direction. Paul describes those spiritually directed answers this way, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” That is our goal – to become children of God.

Children of God know how to be honest and truthful. Children of God are always putting others first and themselves last. Children of God talk to the Father about anything and everything. Children of God are not afraid to do the right thing when it is not the popular thing. Children of God bring light into a room and calm in the midst of calamity. Do you get it? Children of God are persons of character that make the world a better place.

I share this verse as a blueprint for character development.


If we sow a thought, we reap an act;

If we sow an act, we reap a habit;

If we sow a habit, we reap character;

If we sow character, we reap a destiny.

—Michael P. Green

Quotes Banner

The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.

~~~Abigail Van Buren

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

~~~Abraham Lincoln

Top 15 Things Money Can’t Buy- Time. Happiness. Inner Peace. Integrity. Love. Character. Manners. Health. Respect. Morals. Trust. Patience. Class. Common sense. Dignity.

~~~Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

~~~John Wooden

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

~~~Helen Keller

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

~~~Martin Luther King Jr.

A man’s true character comes out when he’s drunk.

~~~Charlie Chaplin

Education as far as object the formation of character.

~~~Herbert Spencer

People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

~~~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The wise have a solid sense of silence and the ability to keep a storehouse of secrets. Their capacity and character are respected.

~~~Baltasar Gracian

Scripture Banner

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

—Romans 5:3-4

Do not be deceived:

‘Bad company ruins good morals.’

—1 Corinthians 15:33

Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,

—1 Timothy 3:2

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

—Romans 8:14

The wicked flee when no one pursues,

  but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

—Proverbs 28:1

For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

—Philippians 3:18

Prayer BannerLord, I seek to develop character that only you can give me. I pledge myself today to seek your direction and wisdom so that I may become of person of authentic character. that comes from the heart. Let my life be rooted in truth and faith in you so that I may, by nature, do what is right and good.

Amen

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I Must Be Me


It is not humility to insist on being someone that you are not. It is as much as saying that you know better than God who you are and who you ought to be. How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life? His sanctity will never be yours; You must have the humility to work out your own Salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone.

And so, it takes heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody but the man, or the artist, that God intended you to be.

~~~Thomas Merton – New Seeds of Contemplation



We all seek to find ways to better ourselves. We want to be richer, wiser, more pious than we are today. The challenge becomes the way we achieve those goals. Most of us are convinced that God made a mistake when he created us. He meant for us to be smarter, better, and simply different than what we see in ourselves. Somewhere along the way some well-meaning Christian decided that it was a sign of humility to disown ourselves. I could not possibly say that I was, or was becoming, a perfected creation of God. If we could just find someone, some model that we could copy, things would be alright. We say that we must be like them in order to be humble.

Merton tells us that it is just the opposite. In denying ourselves in that way, we are denying the providence of God. That is not true humility. True humility is to continue to struggle with who we are and to become who God made us to be. God creates each of us in a unique way and want us to thrive in the reality of ourselves. He has something in mind for us and will get us to that point. He never promised it would be easy.

Next time you look at someone and think, that is who I want to be, remember, God wants you to be just the way he made you. The psalmist says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God made you to be YOU.

Each of us has some rough spots that we must smooth, but he created us in his multifaceted image. That is why we are all different. We can never be someone else no matter how hard we try.


Prayer

LORD, Let me be humble enough to be the person you created. My short comings and failures are the rocky roads that you have set before me as I journey to your Kingdom. Please give me the humility to live with the flaws that you have given me and know that they are the road to you. I must never stop trying to usher in your Kingdom.



Amen

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The “Oughts” of Life

Line 1It is hard to live in the present. The past and the future keep harassing us. The past with guilt the future would worries. So many things have happened in our lives about which we feel uneasy, regretful, angry, confused, or, at least, ambivalent. And all these feelings are often colored by guilt. Guilt says: “You ought to have done something other than what you did ; You ought to have said something other than what you said. These “oughts” keep us feeling guilty about the path and prevent us from being fully present to the moment.

~~~ Henri NouwenLine 1

It is hard to live in the present without the past and the future harassing us. Our past burdens us with guilt the future with worries. So many things have happened in our lives about which we feel uneasy, regretful, angry, or confused. And all these feelings are often colored by guilt. Nouwen tells us: “Guilt says: You ought to have done something other than what you did ; You ought to have said something other than what you said. These “oughts” keep us feeling guilty about the path and prevent us from being fully present to the moment.” We need to flee from this guilt.

When I was growing up, it seems that a lot of people had a plan for my life. When college came around there were people who knew without a doubt what I should pursue .Others knew what I ought to do, and if for some reason I disagreed they were disappointed and wanted me, by accident or design, to feel guilty. As you get older these things fade into the background only to be replaced by other “oughts,” but they continued to be the guilt producing hindrances of life.

The next great guilt producing ought is the future. What should I do to prepare for the future? Am I proactive enough to be truly prepared? Is my profession disappearing? These sorts of questions wreck happiness and productivity in the now. That is not what God wants for his creation. I am convinced of that beyond a doubt.

A few years ago Christian writer, Tony Campolo, wrote a book titled-Carpe Diem- Seize the Day. That is what our creator wants for us. He desires that we live each day to the fullest with optimism about the future and peace with the past. We must grab the day and live it for the glory of God and our own self being. We spend far too much time analyzing and not enough time living. The key is to grasp the idea that as we seek the kingdom of God all else will come clear. Our primary direction has to be looking toward a loving and forgiving God who forgives the past and holds the future. He told Jeremiah ,”For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He went on to tell the exiles to prosper in the land where they were exiled.  We must accept the forgiveness of God , live the day, and not fear the future.

May God give you the strength to see life in such a way.

Line 1

Prayer

Lord, I come to you in this time of fear and confusion and ask you to give me the strength to live this day to the fullest. Allow me to enjoy and relish the blessings that you have given me. Might I call upon your might to climb the hills and navigate the uneven ground that is before me. Might I never lose sight of the importance and blessing of each day of life.

Amen

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None is Higher than Hospitality

Midweek 14-2‌Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, was going to a monastery for a retreat. The monks observed vows of silence and the retreat was to be meditative and prayerful. Nouwen was delayed and was late getting to the Monastery on a very unwelcoming miserable, rainy night. Upon his arrival, he rang the bell and was met at the door by one of the brothers. He warmly greeted Henri, took his wet coat, took him to the kitchen and made him a cup of tea. They chatted into the late-night hours and Nouwen began to relax and feel ready for the retreat. He knew this monk was supposed to observe silence, so he finally asked him, “Why are you willing to sit and talk with me?” The monk replied, “Of all the duties of the Christian faith and the rules of my order, none is higher than hospitality.”

The church is a community as well, and hospitality should be a primary focus. Today’s church should be a place of welcome to all who come our way. There should be no connotation that only “rule followers” are welcome at the church. I fear that we have forgotten the concept of radical hospitality and confused it with assimilation into our group. If the church is to practice true hospitality, it must practice inclusiveness. That means no one is barred from total participation in the life of the church. I am concerned that we have lost sight of a most important tenet of Christianity. I thank the monastics for giving us a reminder.

Not only the churches but our homes and personal spaces should be welcoming. We should be ready to help and greet those who come our way. In doing so, we welcome God and reap the benefit. I believe that hospitality is at the core of Christianity. It is of the highest of the practices of our faith.

LinePrayer

Lord, help me to remember that the open door of hospitality can have eternal consequences. Let me practice the open door in my heart so that I may reap the reward of plenty that comes to those who truly share with their brothers and sisters. Give me the gift of never considering a stranger as strange and unworthy.

Amen

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A New Beginning

A new beginning! We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as an opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to a voice saying to us: “I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it!” Imagine.

~~~Henri J.M. Nouwen


What a concept for us to digest in these uncertain and difficult times! We all dream of a new beginning where we can leave all our anxieties and problems behind to never be visited again. Our new beginning means that we are fresh and, perhaps, reborn. Jesus does give us this promise in his discourse with Nicodemus when he says that a person must be “born again” to enter into the kingdom. The emphasis is one of a spiritual rebirth. Most of us can understand spiritual rebirth but what about a real new beginning.

I would venture to say that a spiritual rebirth is the beginning of our new beginning. What must follow is a faith-soaked belief that we are living as a new person. That indeed all things have passed away and are becoming new. The most difficult and demanding part of the Christian journey is to allow yourself to accept the grace of God and have a new beginning every day we live. Nouwen put it so beautifully when he says, “Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life.” Picture that – a day pregnant with new life!

We can live a day that is full of promises that are all good. I am not trying to say that bad things will not happen, but I will say that God promises a good outcome. Our creator protects and equips us for all we encounter. The worst that the world can send our way, we can handle. We process all things by not allowing the darkness and gloom of past failure to bring clouds and thunder to our new day. With confidence we claim God’s grace and power this day and know that it is indeed a new beginning. That is the good promise of God.

God does have a gift for you and me. The gift is that he is with us always until the end of time. God’s gift is that his Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. These are solid promises of Scripture that we often neglect. As we learn to not neglect them, we can achieve a new beginning every day, every hour, every minute because we are the crown of His creation. Our God wants us to live and thrive and show forth his image to the world.


Prayer

Lord, This is indeed a day of new beginning. We begin each day with the freshness of the morning dew and the hope of the good we can experience and accomplish. Do not allow the evil of this world to pollute and taint that which you have bestowed upon us. Strip the evil one of the power of gaining control of us, and let your spirit so shine in us as to be a light for others to see. Give us opportunities to love and serve as we travel our journey.

Amen

ee

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Dying to Self

Midweek-12a

One of the paradoxes of the mystical life is this: but a man cannot enter into the deepest center of himself and pass through that sensor into God, unless he is able to pass entirely out of himself and empty himself and give himself to other people and the purity of a selfless love.

~~~Thomas Merton

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

~~~Jesus

One of the greatest tasks of living the Christian life is to die to self. Dying to self means that we must set aside our wants, desire and way of seeking God and turn ourselves over to God’s Spirit and direction. When we take such a step we become God dependent not self dependent. Suddenly, we can see through new eyes and hear through new ears. We see and hear as God hears and many things that made no sense to us before now make sense. Merton calls it emptying ourselves in order to see others as God sees them. This new sight brings us into a life changing relationship with God and our fellow man.

This brings us the purity of selfless love. With that purity secured in us , we are ready to pursue the kingdom of God in the here and now. We can empty ourselves and learn to serve those around us with joy and not bitterness or reluctance. We can give without expecting something in return. We can now have a full understanding of the concept “turning the other cheek.” With this attitude we can live a life of victory.

Jesus tells the same story to his disciples when he speaks a parable. The seed(wheat) must fall to the ground and die before the fruit is brought forth. The seed must give up its identity as a seed and become a plant to produce what it was created to produce. That is the product of dying to self.

A good challenge to us would be to examine how our lives would be different if we truly died to self. Who would we serve? How would we serve them? What would our priorities be? How would we carry them out? By asking these questions and more we can determine just how much we have died to self.


Prayer

Lord, Help me to understand what you mean when you tell us to die to self. Guide me to examine everyday whether I have died to self and risen in you. It is only with constant self examination and communication with you that I can stay on the right path. Guide me this day to find that path and follow it where its leads, because I know that is where I will find YOU.

Amen

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Being Saved

We must be saved from immersion in the sea of lies in passions which is called “the world.” and we must be saved above all from the abyss of confusion and absurdity which is our own worldly self. The person must be rescued from the individual. The free son of God must be saved from the conformist slave of fantasy, passion, and convention. The creative and mysterious inner self must be delivered from the wasteful, hedonistic, and destructive ego that seeks only to cover itself with disguises.

~~~ Thomas Merton

When I was a college student someone asked me if I was Christian. I replied, yes. The conversation went further and, he then asked me if I was saved. Though I was vaguely familiar with the terminology, it did not go over too well with me. It was one thing to watch a Billy Graham service on TV and see all those people responding to being saved, than to be challenged to be saved myself. I was an avid churchman. I was friends with my pastor. I read scripture on Sundays. I helped with the distribution of Communion. I just had to be saved, but why did he ask?

This encounter set forth a search that would last for several years and end up with my leaving the church of my childhood and attending seminary. I wanted to be saved, but it seemed that their formula of being saved was too simple and “me” centered. This began what has been a lifelong search for the heart of God. Who is he and how does he relate to me? What do I have to do to discover him? Lets look at those questions for a little while.

Who is he and how does he relate to me? God is my creator, and he created me in his image. I was created to be God’s companion in the midst of the garden. He created me in his image, so that I would be comfortable with him. He put his image inside of me so that I would understand his love and his grace. I can relate to him because I bear his image.

What do I have to do to discover him? That was the hardest question of all. It seemed so simple to just ask him, and I did, but the more I thought about it the more confused I got. Is God really going to condemn so many people to eternal punishment because they did not ask him with a man made formula? They were that salt and light of the world Jesus spoke about with such conviction . At that point, I began to understand what people like Merton were talking about when they said, “We must be saved from immersion in the sea of lies in passions which is called ‘the world’” and that sea of lies could include Pharisaical Christians. That was the true challenge-simply not to be dragged along with the riptide of harshness and worldly pursuits that are so much a part of me.Midweek 11a

Being saved is not a man made formula, but a mysterious “God thing” that no one can control. He once again takes possession of His image in you. Then you see him in everything. It is not enough to simply ask him, you must learn to be his image for the world. His image is one of forgiveness, grace, non -judgementalism and so much more. We can all be saved, and it is much more than waiting for heaven one day.


Prayer

Lord, We all long to be saved. This life we have chosen for ourselves can get very difficult. You have created us in your own image, and we have buried it so deeply in passions, pursuits and hedonism that it is very difficult to find. Help me to let you in and find yourself in me, so that I might know the true meaning of being saved.

Amen

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Ambition and Cleanness of Heart

Even when I try to please God, I tend to please my own ambition, his enemy. There can be imperfection even in the ardent love of great perfection, even in the desire of virtue, of sanctity. Even the desire of contemplation can be impure, when we forget that true contemplation means the complete destruction of all selfishness – the pure poverty and cleanness of heart.

~~~ Thomas Merton

Merton June 17Ambition, by itself, is not evil. When we have ambition, we improve ourselves and the world. Ambitious business people have built great companies that have provided goods and services to people and improved their lives. Doctors and scientists have developed medicines, vaccines and medical procedures that have saved the lives of untold numbers of people. The entrepreneurs and others were ambitious people who wanted to make a difference. Ambition does have a dark side. It turns dark when it is no longer shares with the welfare of others, but it is simply for self-satisfaction and aggrandizement.

Merton says that we even try to please God and yet simply feed our ambition. If we are seeking to love, serve, be virtuous or live out the fruits of the spirit for our own satisfaction it is worthless. Even in contemplation we can feed our selfish ambition. We must seek to please God outside of our self-satisfaction. God is not impressed with the works we do, the purity we possess or the prayers we pray unless they are offered to Him and not for our own drive to succeed.

In my years as a pastor and teacher I have seen this scenario carried out countless times. A person is so driven to be a model Christian that they for forget why they should be Christian. Their works are so big that they make others look small. Their words are so high and mighty that they put others down by their very nature. Their walk with God is truly a walk with themselves. This is the type of spirituality that Jesus warns about in the Sermon on the Mount. “Be careful not to perform your righteous acts before men to Ambition 1be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)- This is what ambitious Christianity can evolve into, and it is the opposite of the selfless lives we are called to live.

Merton gives us some sound advice and direction. He directs us to please God by emptying ourselves of self. The emptying of self means that we offer all that we do to our creator without expectation of return or praise. We may not even be deemed successful by our neighbors and peers. Remember God sees in secret what we do in secret and rewards us greatly. This allows us pure poverty and cleanness of heart.


Prayer

Lord, Allow me to use my ambitions to please you and not myself. Help me to discern the difference between selfish ambition and pureness of heart, a pure heart the prays and serves to please you and not myself. It is extremely hard in our driven and competitive world to keep a selfless focus but with your grace and help I know that it is possible. Keep me on the right path this day and give opportunities to live out my mission to you.

Amen

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