Time to Work on Words

Breathprayer for the week: "May my words be your words today, Jesus."

It is getting harder to live the life we once knew.  The changes in our world seem to throw us off our game and our plans.  Even our spiritual aspirations have been disrupted.  Looking at the Bible though, we find that we are called to simple actions, simple changes and more simple spirituality.  While I am not Jesus, Scripture tells me I am to seek Jesus' Kingdom, Jesus' way, first.  Well, today, I can start in my home to be more like Jesus with what I say to those near me and with those I connect with in the digital world too.

Looking at Paul's worfs in Colossians 3, we are encouraged to "take off old garments" and put on new ones.  Our words impact us and others.  It is a good and simple place to start today to make the most of the time and improve relationship. Invite Jesus to be part and do what God does best.

Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

Condemnation or Kindness? You Get a Choice You Know.

One day St. Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced together. During the meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. The old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’ (p 57, ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’)

Do you see the difference?

On the surface, I know that as much as I’d like to live as St. Epiphanius, there are those with whom I cannot reconcile. The reasons may be many, a few or just one, but it remains there is not going to peace. Do you have similar situations that have played out in your life? Are there those who you are odds with by your doing or theirs? Do you find your sleep unsettled? Do you find hatred at the heart of the matter? Pain? Grief? Loss of control?

Truly, the life of desert fathers and mothers limited their interaction with other people. They escaped to the desert to wrestle with the passions, with their sinfulness. It was the formation of the monastery life and the convents we are familiar with today. It is an admirable life and one which is more complicated than it may appear. Still, there are times when the complaint against us is beyond anything you can control.

But there is a lesson here, even deeper. Besides the truth that we are not able to control the behaviors of others, there is a deep difference in how people perceive the devout, religious life. For some, it is about maintaining rules, of manufacturing points of judgment where we might compare and complain and present ourselves as mightier and greater than others. You might even tear down those who threaten you. In the recent upheaval of the evangelical church, John MacArthur’s deriding comments to author and teacher, Beth Moore, is a great example.  Why make it a spectacle?  Where was the personal conversation?  Why the naming? And why the shaming? Let's be real here: how on earth is Beth Moore going stop any man from watching her videos?  Is she to hire bouncers so men don't "sneak into" her seminars?

What is the greater life? To be merely about rules or about being in a relationship? Is it about loving the “law” or is it the law of loving God first and loving others as you love yourself? In the story of Hilarion and the Epiphanius, we see a ‘law’ of personal preference and the law of God, which in truth, is the Law of Love. We see two gracious people, seeking after holiness and righteousness before God. We see gracious words spoken, not in condemnation but in kindness.
Centuries later, the lessons are still there for us to learn.  What will you now do?

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter

The Lion had been hurt by the horns of a goat which he had brought down. He was very angry to think that any animal that he chose for a meal, should be so brazen as to wear such dangerous things as horns to scratch him while he ate. So he commanded that all animals with horns should leave his domains within twenty-four hours.

The command struck terror among the animals. All those who were so unfortunate as to have horns began to pack up and move out. The funny thing is, even impacted the Rabbit. As you know, rabbits have no horns and so had nothing to fear, passed a very restless night, dreaming awful dreams about the fearful Lion.

When Rabbit came out of the warren in the early morning sunshine and saw the shadow cast by his long and pointed ears, a terrible fright seized him. He turned to the branch where his friend, Cricket, lived. "Goodbye, Cricket," he called. "I will miss you, but I'm off. Lion will certainly make out that my ears are horns, no matter what I say."

This fall, our Bible Study at church has been delving into the Book of Proverbs. These past few weeks, we have been looking at what this book of wisdom has to offer about the tongue (how we talk) and then we’ve looked at how we are encouraged to choose a good name over riches (22:1). 

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter. 

There is so very much that is out of control in our lives, so many things we can do nothing to change, it strikes me as interesting how we have not been more attentive to these two very important aspects of our world and lives we do have the power to influence. We are told the tongue can be incredibly destructive to others. This we see regularly spewed throughout our radios, social media, and TV. Even the calls for people to “say something” are more often attempts to shame others.

When I read the words of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, we find they wrote very little but their disciples are the ones who recorded the words of wisdom we read today. They saw many evils and witnessed as much corruption as we do in our day. They rarely spoke unless spoken to by others and even then, at times, they said nothing at all leaving people to their own conclusions. Proverbs 10:19 states: “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.” Actions and words both form a reputation for sometimes our words ARE actions.

And here I come back to Rabbit. He understood clearly there was nothing more to be said or that could be said to change the heart of the Lion. There are times that the pen is mightier than the sword and there are times to realize no matter what you might say or do, nothing will impact others.

So what are we left with? We are left with Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues justice and love will find life and honor.” You do what you can and take to heart John Wesley’s encouragement: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. When you fail: admit and repent. Follow then what the Apostle Paul taught: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.” (Romans 12:18)

As noble as lions can be, they have bad days and bad moments. As peaceful as a rabbit might be, they can be prideful, too, just ask the tortoise. The choice we have is in ourselves - how we respond. Know yourself and when it is right, do right. If you must, use words.

Image: Pixabay

Walking Out of Church with Abba Bessarion

Once, when the desert father, Abba Bessarion, was attending church, a brother was turned out of the church by a priest. Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.”

The stories and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers often are seen for simple stories. Like the parables of Jesus, however, there are often far deeper truths present. These truths “explode” upon our reasoning when we are often unaware. Sometimes those truths change us for the better and at other times, we are forced to deal with blind spots.

One understanding of human beings is the Johari Window. 
If you look at the idea of the Johari Window, you find four “window panes.” One is the OPEN AREA where you are completely transparent and all around you know about these parts of your life. Then comes the BLIND SPOT, the places where other people know things about you but you don’t see these parts. Thirdly comes the FACADE, what you know about yourself that you don’t let anyone else know. And finally comes the UNKNOWN, the part of you still don’t know and neither does anyone else.

Each one of us has these four parts in our lives and our beliefs. The more I journey the life of faith, I find it more and more valuable to own my blind spots that I most especially share with others. Abba Bessarion’s words are a good reminder: “I, too, am a sinner.”

Yes, I Am A Fake


In my life serving as a pastor, I have faced my fair share of situations that tried me and hurt me. Recently, another hit me. It has been like other times for sure but there was something different and something I think needs to be brought to light. It may help some and for others, they may cringe but here goes…

I was addressed as a “fakea**” pastor. I even have it in writing.

And you know what? This is true.

“The early church fathers and mothers believed that just about the greatest sin a person could express is pride.” Those words of Roberta Bondi struck a chord with me years ago and have never left. My journey with those early followers of Jesus and the others I have been on the journey with these short years on this planet have taught me it does not do anyone any good to pretend to be someone they are not.

So let me be clear: I am a fake. I am not perfect. I am flawed.

Besides the fact I know this when I examine my own life daily, our church just completed my clergy review. I have always faced it with a bit of fear and trembling. You know what? It says very much the same thing. I have flaws So let me ask you my friends, how many of you are also beating down the door to not only have your professional life but spiritual life examined as part of your yearly review for your vocation? I am a tri-vocational pastor these days in order to make ends meet. No matter how hard I try to cover all the bases, I know I can’t do it all. More and more clergy are facing the same struggle. I’ve read the articles and I’ve seen their faces. Most of the clergy in our community and beyond are trying to carry it all. Sometimes we fail.  Maybe not you but it happens.

But in this day of the court of public opinion, people can now say and do whatever they want to attack the character and integrity of good, decent, and imperfect people. 

You read that right.  I don’t speak just for me on this, this person has chosen to slander others: people who give of their time, energy, hearts and efforts to care for others.

You see, we tend to judge others by their behaviors but only judge ourselves by our intentions. There are too many good people, NOT perfect people mind you, GOOD PEOPLE doing their gosh darn best to feed, clothe, visit, and care for others being spoken ill of because they were NOT perfect people. For this, they get deemed to be fake. Really? So you wonder why good people stay out of politics? Soon, you may begin to wonder why good people have disappeared from your community altogether.

If your expectation of a pastor, of a community volunteer or a church, is to be perfect, to be without flaw, to be like Jesus, then remember, the government, the religious leaders, and the crowd, all came together to crucify him.

None of us ever claimed to be perfect. Of course, we are flawed. And I reckon that I know that better than you do. It is why I ask for forgiveness when I learn I’ve offended someone.

I am a sinner. Maybe labeling sinners as “fakes” helps you feel better. It doesn’t matter much. I don’t say it proudly. It isn’t a badge of honor. It is the truth.

In our church, we own it too. Nearly every Sunday of the year, I stand and make the public confession and lead our church in the same. We admit it. And I point to what God makes clear: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

If you buy into such venom in small-town USA or large city USA, good people doing good things get “punished” by opinions which know nothing of the truth of the struggle or the journey that anyone else is on.  Be very careful who you chose to listen to.

So go ahead, tell the world. I know very well who I am and if you’ve understood what the Bible says, you aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know. You aren’t telling anyone something they don’t know. We are all a bunch of fakes. By God's grace, some of us know the truth already.

A Fake Pastor

You Are Not Broken

I was reminded recently of a fable that I have loved for many years.  It is as close to a parable as I have come across.  This time, however, it spoke to my soul and resonated deeply.  Maybe you need to hear it, too.

A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you”. The bearer asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?” The Pot replied, “For these past two years I am able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts”.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful
flowers along the path.” As they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wildflowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

In a recent lecture, the speaker said, "People are not broken.  People are imperfect, but they are not broken."  It occurred to me how we get intellectually lazy and allow others to put frames around you and title you as "broken" or "useless" or "wounded" or whatever.  This is not truth.

Because of poor word choices, some consider the Church and the Bible hold such a view.  And while we are sinners, while we are imperfect, there is a truth you need to hear not expressed enough about how God views you:

"I praise you [God] because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Psalm 139:14

Whatever voices have spoken words that tell you differently, you and whatever the flaws you may have, are only flaws in the eyes of others who do not see you as God does.  You are wonderfully made.  You will find your purpose. 

May God Be With You.

How to Help Move Through Grief: 5 Simple Life Changes That Help

Grief and suffering are hard work. I know, I’ve written about it a lot and it has kept me from writing too. It takes a lot out of you and takes its toll physically as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It can truly be debilitating. Some folks don’t want to talk about it or face it because they are afraid of “catching” it.

Just “getting over it” is not an option. Grief doesn’t work that way. Even so, there are simple things you can do when mired down. They are small steps. Miniscule even to some people BUT can be gargantuan when you are mired in emotions! These five mini habits may not seem like much and you’d be right, that is the point. You need some small steps.

1. Get moving.

Funny that it took me so long to see this one, especially since I love exercising. It really did help to find a local hiking trail and just start putting one foot in front of the other. That was the most consistent thing I needed to do: start my body moving. Getting adrenaline and endorphins flowing is a natural antidepressant.

2. Consider a pet.

A dog would be good. Maybe a cat, but really, anything that you feel you can care for might be good for you. It renews your connection to life. And, if what you need is some attention back? Well, dogs and cats don’t seem to ever pass judgment when a treat or lap is available! And be sure to go visit your local shelter first. The one you save may well return the favor.

3. Try a new hobby.

I wrote a book. Then I co-authored one. Now I am writing another one. I always wanted to do it, but never had. Now, they aren’t bestsellers, but that was never my goal. It was to write my way to help those in my circle and maybe beyond. It was new and different. And the book I co-authored? That was with my late wife actually and it helped bring grief full circle.

4. Leave things behind.

This is very personal. Whether it is a bracelet, a car, a house, or even a town, sometimes you need to cut bait. So you know, I did three of those four. Things do often tie us down or anchor us in unhealthy ways. Giving yourself permission to let go can be tough, but it may be just the thing you need. Start small.

5. Listen to positive messages

The internet is full of awful stuff, but the great thing is you can do an internet search at any time and find positive things just by typing: “Positive Messages” or “Encouragement.” You can find articles, videos, or podcasts. Start each day with someone speaking something positive into your life. Go to sleep listening to another person saying encouraging things to you as well.

Grief is part of life and part of living. You are going to experience along with nearly everyone born on this planet. You don’t get over it, but you do move through it and can learn to live with it. You are not alone on the journey.

If you’d like to read more about my journey and how my faith helped me, check out my book on Amazon: Life Sucks Seek God. Feel free to reach out to me by commenting or sending an email.

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