Philo of Alexandria: Dream

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Philo of Alexandria: Dream

In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle. Proverbs 23:5

“I am not telling a lie: human life is a dream.

In our dreams we look without seeing, we listen without hearing, we taste and touch without tasting or touching. We speak without saying anything, we walk without moving. We seem to be moving normally even though we stay still and to be making our habitual gestures even though we are not. The mind invents realities that are entirely imaginary.

When we are awake, our thoughts are like these dreams. They come and go. They meet and part. They fly away before we can catch them.

Nor is our body any different from a dream. Is not its beauty likely to go rotten before it is ripe? Is not its health continually being threatened with illness? How little it takes to destroy its strength! How easily its senses deteriorate!

Our careers are no less precarious. Often a single day is enough to scatter a great work to the winds. Many people who are held in respect and honor with a sudden change of events fall into disgrace. The greatest kingdoms on earth have been destroyed in a short time.

If we have so many changes of scene in life, and so many dark experiences, we ought to learn to distinguish what is virtuous from what is base, what is good from what is bad, what is just from what is unjust.

I give you an example of what I mean. Do you possess a lot of money? If so, give it away because the beauty of riches consists not in money-boxes but in helping the poor. Are you short of money? Be careful not to envy the rich. And don’t despair, because human affairs are always changing into their opposites.”

Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC – AD 50) cf. C. Cajetanus, Thesaurus Patrum VII, 4155, in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 35-36.

After preaching twice today in Seoul, I head to Cairo on a night flight. So it seemed fitting to cite Philo of Alexandria, Egypt, in this book I am reading.

Life is but a dream and how often to we set our affections on the wrong things and in a moment they are gone. How quickly can health erode!

Seoul appears gripped with fear as Coronavirus has everyone worried about the threat of disease. But Philo seeks to raise our sights higher.

We should really be worried if our hope is in money. And if we are storing it up on earth, we have it in the wrong place.

If this seems difficult for you to swallow. Meditate on Psalm 49. Riches cannot save us, satisfy us, or give us security. Only God can.

Don’t put your hope in things that can vanish in seconds. Fix your hope firmly on God and show that it is so by letting go of earthly wealth.

Do this and as your giving continues, you will grasp experientially what generosity is all about. Do it while you can as wealth often vanishes.

And that’s not a dream or a fantasy! The American Dream on the other hand, is nothing but a nightmare in disguise that seeks to hinder generosity.

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Basil of Caesarea: Utter Ruin

They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Psalm 49:6

“An illness that has become chronic, like a habit of wrong-doing that has become ingrained is very hard to heal. If after that, as very often happens, the habit turns into second nature, a cure is out of the question.

So the ideal would be too have no contact with evil. But there is another possibility: to distance yourself from evil to run away from it as from a poisonous snake, once you have experienced it.

I have known some unfortunate people who in their youth let themselves slide into evil habits which have held them enslaved all their lives. Like pigs wallowing continually in the mire and becoming increasingly filthy, such sinners as these multiply their shame every day with fresh sins.

So, blessed is the one who has never thought of evil. However, if through his wiles the suggestions of the Enemy have found a foothold in your heart, do not remain inactive in the toils of sin.

Be careful not to be utterly overcome by it. If the sin is already weighing you down, if the dust of riches has already settled on you, if your soul has been dragged right down by the attachments to material things, then before you fall into utter ruin get rid of the heavy burdens. Before your ship sinks, follow the example of sailors and cast overboard the possessions you have accumulated.”

Basil the Great (330-379) bishop of Caesarea, in Commentary on Psalms 1, 6 (PG 29, 224ff) in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 40.

I am enjoying a daily devotional of early church quotes that I packed in my bag for my trip. Basil is inspiring me in preparation for preaching this Sunday on “Openhanded and Generous” living.

If we allow ourselves to become attached to things in this life, they will drag us down to destruction. Does utter ruin await you? Most people think. Calm down. I am okay. I can love God and things.

After all, they are gifts from God, right? Pause. Ask God to reveal to you if there are any areas where you have given the Enemy a foothold. Do this specifically with regard to money and possessions.

Two word pictures are vivid to me: “the dust of riches” settling on us shows how subtle are the ways of the Enemy and “cast overboard” any possessions tells us how they seek to work in our lives and pull us down.

In other words, our response to the ways of the Enemy must not be causal but careful. We cannot act with ignorance but rather with intentionality. Let us love and trust not the gifts of God but God alone.

Only openhanded people can be generous because they have tapped the abundance of God. People who hold on to wealth and things give only from scarcity, so by choice they quench the fruit of generosity from flowing.

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Irenaeus of Lyons: Pity and Perseverance

Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,  and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:11-12

“God created Adam in the beginning, not because He needs the human race, but so that He might have a recipient of His generosity.

Moreover, God commanded us to follow Christ, not because He has any need of our service, but because He wants to give us salvation. To follow the Savior is to share in salvation, just as to follow the light is to gain the light.

People who are in the light do not themselves provide the light but are illuminated and made bright by it. They do not contribute anything to it but, by being illuminated, they receive the benefit of the light.

Similarly, to serve God does not mean giving Him any gift, nor has God any need of our service. On the contrary, it is He who gives to those who serve Him life, immortality, and eternal glory.

He rewards those who serve Him without deriving any benefit himself from their service: He is rich, He is perfect, He has no needs.

God requests human obedience so that His love and His pity may have an opportunity of doing good to those who serve Him diligently. The less God has need of anything, the more human beings need to be united with Him. Consequently, a human being’s true glory is to persevere in service to God.”

Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-200) in Against Heresies, 4. 25 (Harvey II, p. 184) as recounted in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 27.

I took the red-eye from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Seoul, South Korea last night, so the perseverance part of this post struck me while I read this on the long flight.

God does not need our generosity. He is generous by nature and blesses us to do good and bless others and reflect His light and love to a watching world.

In that light, our giving is no more than our participation in God’s generosity. God will bless people whether we participate with Him or not. It’s a profound idea.

It inspires us not to do things for Him but with Him, with His love and His pity (which is the ancient word for compassion). God help us show your pity and run with perseverance the race marked out for each of us. Amen.

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Vincent de Paul: Sufferings and Wretchedness

Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. Lamentations 3:32

“We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God.”

Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) in Daily Inspiration: 365 Quotes from Saints (Boston: Wyatt North, 2018) 383.

I have two objectives in today’s meetings in Jakarta (pictured above). I want to listen well, and I want to inspire key professionals and ministry workers with biblical teaching.

As I listen, I pray to understand the sufferings and wretchedness of the situation so I can minister effectively. God fill me with a spirit of compassion.

We must not run from sufferings and wretchedness but run towards it with a spirit of compassion. This is what Jesus did for you and for me. What will this look like for you today?

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Thomas Aquinas: Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

“Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in Daily Inspiration: 365 Quotes from Saints (Boston: Wyatt North, 2018) 371.

I discovered something in my reading just prior to departing on this trip. As you are reading this, I am somewhere between Tokyo and Jakarta.

Aquinas explains why there is not a lot of compassion in the world today. The world is gripped with fear, and fear drives compassion from our hearts.

What are you afraid of? Seriously, name your fears. Give them to God. In exchange ask for His perfect love to fill and restore you.

As we give God our fears–fear of not having enough, fear of sickness, fear of failure–we are free to show compassion like Jesus who had no fear.

He knew the Father had His every need sorted. He has your every need sorted too. He lived generously with this belief carrying Him. Do you?

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Christine Aroney-Sine: Nurture Compassion

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Luke 6:35

“The three most important ways to nurture compassion are modeling, surrounding ourselves with people who regularly practice compassion, and coming face-to-face with people who need our care. Without role models to guide us, face-to-face encounters to prompt us, and encouragement to reach out and be kind, the impulse shrivels and dies. In our overprotective society where we don’t want our kids fraternize with the “wrong crowd,” adults often discourage children from being compassionate to outsiders, especially to those at the margins. We hasten this turning away by protecting our kids from exposure to pain and suffering. Unfortunately, we deaden our compassion and desire to be kind, especially to those outside our family or community.”

Christine Aroney-Sine in The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2019) 171.

Modeling. On this exploration of compassion, think about the most compassionate person you know. Sit down with that person and ask him or her about their journey. Find out what factors shaped that trait in their lives. Discover one thing you can share with others about this person.

Surrounding. Resolve to spend time with people who regularly practice compassion. Determine one thing you can jettison from your schedule and add a rhythm of investing time with such people. Follow their example. Be open to changing the way you live.

Coming. God did not send help; He came. We get to do likewise. Come face-to-face with people who need care on a repeated basis this year and see how it transforms your life. We have to nurture compassion to add this trait to our generosity. This is how my travel impacts me.

Speaking of travel, I fly to Tokyo today and then Jakarta to speak at two days of meetings with Anjji Gabriel, GTP Regional Facilitator for South East Asia and Ruthie Cristobal, GTP VP for Partnership and Communications. Pray for God to stir of movement toward faithfulness in Indonesia.

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Anthony of Padua: Indifferent

Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

“Should an ass fall buy the wayside, how quickly people run to lift him up. Yet, alas! Souls perish and no one is moved. The devil besieges the city of the spirit, setting a light to the fires of concupiscence, massacring the virtues, the good works just begun, the holy resolutions. And how few weep for that calamity!

Some show a compassion, merely sensual in origin, for a neighbor’s physical needs. At least it shows that they have some good will. Others are too hard and severe, making no excuse for human weaknesses. Both end up by remaining indifferent. With a fallen brother we must show ourselves neither too tender nor too hard, neither soft as flesh nor hard as a bone. In him we must love our human nature while hating his fault.”

Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) in Voices of the Saints: A Year of Readings, ed. Bert Ghezzi (New York: Image, 2000) 52.

So true that we will pause to help an animal but remain indifferent to hurting humans. God forgive us. Teach us compassion. Help us hate the faults of fellow humans and love the human nature in them.

This compassion journey is taking us places the culture does not encourage us to go. Loving enemies and broken people who get the consequences of their actions are often outside the bounds of our generosity.

Think about it. Jesus showed us love when we were enemies, broken, and needy. We get to do the same thing. Paul urges us to warn them, no doubt with an even mix of grace and truth. God help us.

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Anthony Zaccaria: Tolerance and Gentleness

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary :“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21

“We should love and feel compassion for those who oppose us, rather than abhor and despise them, since they harm themselves and do us good, and adorn us with crown of everlasting glory while they incite God’s anger against themselves. And even more than this, we should pray for them and not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by goodness. We should heap good works like red-hot coals of burning love upon their heads, as our Apostle urges us to do. So that, when they become aware of our tolerance and gentleness they may undergo a change of heart and be prompted to turn in love to God.”

Anthony Zaccaria (1502-1539) in Voices of the Saints: A Year of Readings, ed. Bert Ghezzi (New York: Image, 2000) 54.

This saint teaches us how to show compassion to enemies. This is not an easy task, not for the weak or faint of heart. Think about it. Love is the antidote for winning the lost. Once they become aware that we are willing to bear their sins with “tolerance and gentleness they may undergo a change of heart” and turn to God.

The most generous thing we can do for our enemies is love them by bearing their sins with “tolerance and gentleness” so that we, in turn, are not overcome by them but overcome them with good. If there are evildoers around you, make the intentional decision today to love them and pray that your “tolerance and gentleness” becomes the tool by which God transforms their hearts and lives.

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George Müller: A Little Help

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in My name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14

“Monday morning. No money came in either Saturday or yesterday. The matter has now become a solemn crisis. We called the brothers and sisters together for prayer and I explained the situation. Despite this trial of faith, I still believe God will help us. Nothing should be purchased that we cannot pay for, and the children should never lack nourishing food and warm clothing. We discussed what unnecessary possessions could be sold.

A few hours later, nine sixpence were anonymously put into the box at Gideon Chapel. This money seemed like a promise that God would have compassion and send more. About ten o’clock, while I was again in prayer for help, a sister gave two sovereigns to my wife for the orphans. She felt she already delayed too long. A few minutes later, she gave me two sovereigns more. She did all this without knowing anything about our need. Thus the Lord most mercifully has sent us a little help and greatly encouraged my faith.”

George Müller (1805-1898) in The Autobiography of George Müller (New Kensington: Whitaker Hosue, 1985) 97-98.

Müller took good notes. His stories inspire us because they show us not what God did back in the 1800’s but what He does each and every day. These stories celebrate the reliability, compassion, and mercy of God toward His servants.

I read Müller after praying and thinking about the contrast between hurry and holy noticing yesterday.

Müller was a busy guy. Super busy! He ran more orphan houses and served more poor children than any one person is supposed to be able to manage. Some might say he lived in a hurry (some say I do). I read Müller as having keen eyes for holy noticing.

Let me explain. He saw each need, each challenge, with God’s eyes. That meant that each one was an opportunity for God to show up, for God to glorify Himself. Additionally, he avoided debt and converted unnecessary assets into cash to maximize his stewardship.

And what did God do, day in and day out for him. God gave “a little help” or daily bread.

Father, forgive us for hurrying through life thinking it is our job to supply our needs. When we are most busy, teach us to take time to pray because you are our faithful Provider. And help us by your Spirit to take good notes so you get all the glory we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Charles Stone: Hurry Marginalizes Our Values

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Psalm 94:8

“Forty seminary students volunteered for a study at Princeton University. The instructors, who were the researchers in the experiment, explained to each student that their assignment was about religious education and vocation. Each participant would first complete a questionnaire and then walk to another building for further instructions.

Once there, each participant receive their assignment. Some were asked to prepare a talk on seminary jobs, while others were asked to prepare a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Each participant was then instructed to go to another building to give their talk. Some were told to hurry to avoid being late.

Unbeknownst to the participants, however, the researchers had placed an actor, who was part of the experiment, in a courtyard that each student had to pass through on their way to the other building. He was slumped over and moaning in pain, obviously needing help.

What factor made the biggest difference in whether or not the student stopped to help? The result surprised the researchers. The subject of their talk did not influence whether or not a student stopped to help the person in need. Even those who were prepared to talk on the Good Samaritan were no more likely to stop and help than the ones who prepared a talk on seminary jobs. The common factor? Hurry.

Those who were in less of a rush stopped more often than those who had been told to hurry. Hurry influenced the frequency with which the students noticed the person in need. Hurry had marginalized their values in the moment.

The experiment reminds us that when we rush through life to get to the next better moment, we often fail to notice God’s prompting to act with Christ-centered compassion toward others. Holy noticing, however, trains us to be more present in each moment and more mindful of Jesus and the needs of others.”

Charles Stone in Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and the Mindful Space Between Moments (Chicago: Moody, 2019) 163-164. Special thanks to my wife, Jenni, who is reading this book and encouraged me to check it out!

Do you have a full schedule today? My plate sure is full too.

Holy noticing, which is the opposite of hurry, has less to do with whether or not we have a lot to do today and more to do with whether or not we are attuned to what is happening around us along the way.

While Jesus did not have a place to lay his head and had a crazy schedule for three years of ministry, He noticed people. He heard the cries of the blind and lame. He made margin to meet hurting people.

Will we take notice of what is happening and be ready to share generously our time or resources with those in need around us? Or will we be in a hurry and ignore the needs crying out for help?

This relates not just to a person on a street corner, but the co-worker who may appear discouraged or the neighbor whom you have not seen in a few weeks. It’s the person we see repeatedly at the check-out counter.

Let’s start by learning the names of these people and pausing to ask how they are doing. Let’s do this because, sadly, hurry marginalizes our values; whereas, holy noticing reveals our Christian faith to a hurting world.

Father, show me by your Holy Spirit where hurry must be replaced by holy noticing. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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