Tuesday, May 23, 2017

changing the world with words

St John Chrysostom talks to us today about words in A Year with the Church Fathers.

Yesterday we talked about how words can hurt. That we need to be careful not to use our words in ways that cause harm. But there is a very powerful and positive flip side to this.

As we know from Genesis, God spoke the world into existence. We don't know exactly what that means physically, since He doesn't have a body, so we probably shouldn't take that "speaking" exactly like we speak. But in some sense, He spoke, and the universe came into existence.

We can speak and make a difference in people's lives. Just a kind word, a "thank you", or a "please" can make a person's day better. There are many stories that people have shared when they were having dark thoughts of ending their lives, but a kind word from a friend or even a stranger made them change their mind.

You have that power today. You can make someone's life better. You can give someone a reason to live. You can change the world through your words.

Choose them carefully.

God, thank You for the power of words. Please give us wisdom in using them.

Monday, May 22, 2017

an eye on the tongue

St Ambrose talks to us about talking today in A Year with the Church Fathers.

And he gives us good advice. I especially like the part about having a good place to start and an end within sight. :) Even when we're saying good things, it's easy to weary our listeners with many words.

But he reminds us that we should be careful of our content, as well. It's important that we lift each other up with our words, not tear each other down - or worse, tear down others who aren't present.

There is a wise saying that says "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people." And this is a good rule of thumb. If we keep our conversation on ideas and things we're happy or excited about, then we are pushing our conversation in the right direction.

If we're talking about things that have happened or will happen, we're probably still OK, but we need to be careful. And if we're talking about other people, we need to be careful. It's so easy for our words to turn into gossip and slander. Even if we're saying something nice about someone, it's easy to provoke envy in our listeners. So keeping our talk focused on ideas and things that we share an interest in, rather than on people who aren't present, is a safe practice.

God, please help us control our tongues, since they can so easily hurt ourselves and other people.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

wrong all my life

St Basil talks to us today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He tells us many things that we need to remember as Christians.

And he demonstrates the great lesson I learned today. You see... I found out today that I was wrong about what I wanted most in life. Crazy, huh? Here's how it happened.

From the time that I first started seriously following Jesus, I've wanted to do His will. This was around my high school age, through college, and very poignantly after I graduated from college and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. Whenever anyone asked, I would tell them that what I wanted more than anything was "to do His will." Sounds right, right? But I was wrong.

See, Thomas Aquinas was asked that question, too. And Thomas was much smarter than I am. So when Jesus asked Thomas what he wanted more than anything, he gave the correct answer. "Non nisi te, Domine." That means, "Nothing but you, Lord."

It's a subtle difference. You can see how I ALMOST got it right. But coming so close, I got it so wrong. Because.... if I want more than anything to do His will, then I'm constantly, from one moment to the next, trying very hard to figure out what that will is. To the point, at times, of hand wringing and self doubting. "Am I doing His will now? What about now?" And of course, when I sin, it throws me into deep unhappiness, because I know I wasn't doing His will during my sin.

But when you make that subtle but enormous change, from wanting to do His will, to wanting HIM... well, it makes all the difference. Because He's here. I have Him. I want what I can't lose. Where can I run from His presence? If I go to the depths of hell, He is there. I can't get away from Him if He is what I want. And I can FIND Him in all of my doings. I can find Him in the face of the poor when I help them. I can find them in the faces of everyone I see throughout each day, and I can love Him in those faces. Everywhere I go, I find Him.

So no more hand wringing. No more desperately trying to figure out "Is this His will? What about that?" I seek Him in all things, and find Him there. Does that mean it doesn't matter what I do? Of course not. But it means He's here with me, and that's what's most important. He will help me do what He wants. But that's not what's most important. HE is most important. And He is here.

Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. And we can rest in Him in every moment, as we seek Him above all things.

God, thank You for showing me how subtly and profoundly wrong I was.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

God's profound silence

St Ignatius of Antioch speaks to us today about silence in A Year with the Church Fathers.

He tells us that Jesus's silences teach us as well as His words... and that actions are more important than speeches. It hearkens back to the story Jesus told of the two servants... one who said he would do his master's bidding, and then didn't, and one who said he wouldn't, but then did.

But this idea of silence invites us in to something very profound. Because we've all experienced God's silence from time to time. And most of us complain about it, don't we? We want God to speak. We want to hear from Him. And usually, we have the right intentions in wanting to hear Him. But sometimes His silences speak to us louder and more eloquently than words do.

An example is Pontius Pilate. Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" and Jesus didn't say anything. Because He Himself WAS Truth, standing before Pilate as the nonverbal Word that answered his question more eloquently than any utterances would have.

I think most of us are familiar with the idea of "comfortable silence." When you are, say, riding in a car with a good friend, and you don't have to say anything because you are just enjoying each other's company. You trust each other, in your thoughts especially, and you don't feel like you have to fill up the silence with words.

That's the way it is with God sometimes. We can enjoy His company. Just being in His presence. Not needing to fill up the glorious quiet with yammering words that distract us from Who He is. We can trust Him enough not to have to keep pestering Him to show us His love through words... just bask in the love that we know He has for us.

So the next time you experience His silence... listen. That silence can fill you up.

God, thank You for your silence. Help us to drink it in.

Friday, May 19, 2017

are bored people boring?

St John Chrysostom calls us out on being "just like everyone else" today in A Year with the Church Fathers. And his words are so timely, it's hard to believe he didn't write them today.

He actually lived and wrote around the year 400. When you read his thoughts on Christians, though, it doesn't seem like he wrote 1600 years ago. His message is for us today, and it's about being Christian. Christian, of course, means Christ-like. And if you know anything at all about Jesus, you know He wasn't boring.

But many of us are bored in church, right? We can tend toward living bored lives when we try to "be holy". It's alot more fun to go out and sin, right? Take a look at this: LINK TO SITE ON BEING BORING. Notice anything interesting about that list? Many of the things on the list are things that, if we are really following Jesus, we don't be doing. Like, for instance, living in our comfort zone.

If you have walked with Jesus for any length of time, you know that He is constantly pushing us out of our comfort zone. He is calling us to love that smelly guy on the street. To visit the sick people in the hospital (not comfortable!). To go see people in prison and let them know they're not forgotten. That's REALLY not comfortable, and it's not boring! But it IS hard, right?

And that's what happens. We shy away from the hard things that Jesus calls us to, and find the directions in our lives that are comfortable and easy and normal. And then we wonder why we're bored... and boring.

As Christians, we need to respond to Jesus's call to explore and go on adventures and develop hobbies (that can translate into "going into all the world and sharing the gospel" and "practicing the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy" (see my blog from a couple days ago if you don't know what those are)). Then we won't be bored... or boring.

Following Jesus is an incredible journey full of excitement and adventure. As long as we stick close to Him.

God, thank You for calling us to an interesting life. Please give us the courage to live it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

God loves us through the animals

St Augustine tells us about how God loves us today in A Year with the Church Fathers.

He talks about the mutual benefit of baby and mother when the mother nourishes the baby with her milk. Another example of this is when we pet animals.

Neuroscientists have studied the brains of humans and dogs or cats when people are petting the animals. They found that when a person strokes an animal's fur, it releases chemicals in the brain that make us happy. Here is an article that talks about it. Not only does petting the animals release these healing and calming chemicals in the human brain, but the same action releases similar chemicals in the animal's brain. So when we pet our pets, we are making them happy and ourselves happy at the same time.

Studies have shown that having a pet and interacting with them regularly help us live longer, healthier lives. And we can see, just like Augustine did with his mother, that God has given us these loving creatures in a mutually healthy, synergistic relationship to make both us and the animals happy.

He told us what we do for the least of these our brothers, we do for Him. But I think He wants us to show Him our love by taking care of the animals, too. After all, that was our original job, way back "in the beginning".  St Francis would approve.

God, thank You for loving us by giving us pets to make our lives better.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

when God doesn't protect you

St Clement of Alexandria talks to us today in A Year with the Church Fathers.

He tells us that people have free will. Big surprise, right? But we often pretend like they don't. In Clement's time, judges were sentencing Christians to death for being Christians. Clement reminds his readers that just because a judge sentences death doesn't mean it's God's intention for those people to die. Free will means that judges can make bad decisions.

Free will also means that drivers can make bad choices. They can play on their phones while they're driving, or drive while intoxicated. And you might be driving on the same road on a rainy night. That doesn't mean God isn't looking out for you. It means that people have free will.

We often see God's hand of protection when we have a near miss. When we ALMOST get into an accident, but something protects us. In those moments, we gratefully turn to God and thank Him for keeping us safe. But what do we do when we AREN'T protected? When the drunk (or distracted) driver DOES run into our car? What then?

Some people then blame God. "Why didn't You protect me??" is a natural question. The answer is that God allows bad things to happen, allows suffering to occur - but not for no reason. God can and will work everything for your good - even a "senseless" traffic accident. Even worse things than that (because free will can be a terrible thing sometimes). God will work all of it for your good. Just ask Him to, and watch. I promise you, He will do it.

We have His word on it.

God, thank You for amazing us with how You (and only You) can work good from our worst case scenarios.