Simeon Stylites: Fear God, Renounce Attachments, and Find Consolation

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Simeon Stylites: Fear God, Renounce Attachments, and Find Consolation

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:30

Simeon (at the age of 13 after hearing a reading from the Gospels): “What does fearing God mean?”

Unnamed elder: “Why are you asking me such serious questions?”

Simeon: “I am seeking through you for an answer from God. I want to learn about the things I was listening to, because I am ignorant and unlearned.”

Unnamed elder: “If you fast continually, offer prayer moment by moment, humble yourself before all other human beings, renounce attachment to money, parents, clothing or possessions, but nevertheless honour your father and mother and the priests of God, you will inherit the eternal kingdom. And on the contrary, if you do not keep these things you will inherit the outer darkness which God has prepared for the devil and all his angels (Matthew 22:13; 25:30). All these things, my son, are fully lived out in monasteries.” At these words Simeon fell at his feet.

Simeon: “You are my father and mother,” he said, “teacher of everything good, and a guide to the kingdom of heaven. You have won over my soul, which before was on the way to perdition. May the Lord reward you for the change wrought in my soul. I shall do as you say and go to a monastery, if God wills, and may his will be done in me.”

Unnamed elder: “My son, before you go off to a monastery, listen carefully to what I say. You will find tribulation, you will have to serve and keep vigil in nakedness, and undergo unknown evils before finding consolation as a precious vessel of God.”

Simeon Stylites (390-459) in Life No 10, The Life of St Simeon Stylites by Antony, his disciple.

Today’s Scripture alerts us to the outcome that worthless servants can anticipate. What might a worthless servant look like today? It seems that avoiding such a label should be a concern for us.

Alternatively, the path to fruitful service is fearing God, renouncing all other attachments, and finding consolation (despite inevitable difficulties) in God alone.

In the days of the desert fathers, they found such commitment in the fellowship and Christian community located in monasteries. What might the modern-day equivalent to the monastery be?

The pathway to generous living, giving, serving, and loving generously requires the fear of God, the renouncing of all other attachments, and finding consolation in Christ.

A friend said to me recently that he felt Americans value comfort over commitment to Christ. If that’s true, perhaps the modern pattern reflects the life of worthless servants. Lord have mercy.

God, regardless of what others do, we fear you and will demonstrate that fear by renouncing other attachments. By your Holy Spirit help us stay this course despite difficulty, finding consolation only in Christ. Amen.

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Athanasius of Alexandria: Fear God and Receive Grace

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luke 10:19

‘So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them. But the more they do these things the more let us intensify our discipline against them, for a good life and faith in God is a great weapon. At any rate they fear the fasting, the sleeplessness, the prayers, the meekness, the quietness, the contempt of money and vainglory, the humility, the love of the poor, the alms, the freedom from anger of the ascetics, and, chief of all, their piety towards Christ. Wherefore they do all things that they may not have any that trample on them, knowing the grace given to the faithful against them by the Savior, when He says, “Behold I have given to you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (c. 296-373) in The Life of St. Anthony, 2.30.

Anthony is labeled by many as “the father of all monks.” Here we see the secret to his strength of character. He tapped the power of God only available to us through the fear of God and the life of faith.

Only as I have taken my role as President and CEO of GTP have I realized the power of fasting, prayers, sleeplessness, meekness, quietness, humility, contempt of money and vainglory, alms, love of poor, and piety toward Christ.

To fear God and have unswerving faith in Him positions us to receive grace in abundance. This is the generosity that the Christ of Christmas wants us to receive from Him so that we can be generous all the time, everywhere we go toward others.

And there’s real power in it. I am preparing to travel to Alexandria, Egypt, next week, so I confess that I looked for inspiration from the Gospels today and the obedient life of St. Anthony in the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria.

The ministry of the generous and powerful is fueled not by money but by God. The course for this is marked by the disciples and Anthony after them.

We get to point the way for our generation, but to do so, we first must receive grace through the fear of God and fasting, prayers, sleeplessness, meekness, quietness, humility, contempt of money and vainglory, alms, love of poor, and piety toward Christ.

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Desert Father: Time

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

An old man said, ‘If you have not gold or silver, you can find something in place of what you lost. However, if you lose time you cannot replace what you lost.'”

A Desert Father in Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers, trans. Yushi Nomura (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982) 47.

As I continue to explore voices from the early church and desert fathers, I continue to be inspired by their simplicity and clarity. Today the reminder is to steward time wisely.

In that light, time is a great gift we can give others. Sometimes we “spend” time just by being with people or perhaps in helping them with a task or responsibility.

The Apostle Paul, and later this unnamed desert father, reminds us to make the most of the time we have. We do this because time is priceless. Once lost it cannot be regained.

How will you use the time you have today? I am going to visit my neighbor, Ken, to encourage him. Can you think of one new way you could use time generously? 

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Abba Poemen: Live humbly and give alms

Sell your possessions and give alms; make to yourselves purses not growing old, an unfailing treasure in the heavens, where thief does not draw near, nor does moth destroy. Luke 12:33

“A brother asked Abba Poemen saying, ‘Give me a word’… The old man replied, ‘As far as you can, do some manual work so as to be able to give alms, for it is written that alms and faith purify from sin.’ The brother said, ‘What is faith?’ The old man said, ‘Faith is to live humbly and to give alms.'”

Abba Poemen (340-450) Egyptian Coptic Monk in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 176.

The desert fathers spoke with simplicity and clarity. Here, Abba Poemen offers a good word  for everyone: live humbly and give alms! Consider again his wisdom.

Faith is realizing your role to work productively and not hold on to your surplus but to share it generously. But what do we normally do with our surplus? Think about it.

We buy things the advertisers tell us we need. No wonder Jesus said to sell those things and to pour the money into people. Who can you aid this Advent season?

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Maximus Confessor: The four kinds of people who acquire money

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You. Nehemiah 9:6

“Not so much out of necessity has gold become enviable by people as that with most of them can provide for their pleasures. There are three reasons for the love of money: pleasure-seeking, vainglory, and lack of faith. And more serious that the other two is lack of faith.

The hedonist loves money because with it he lives in luxury; the vain person because it can be praised; the person who lacks faith because he can hide it and keep it while in fear of hunger, or old age, or illness, or exile. He lays his hope on it rather than on God the Maker and Provider of the whole creation, even of the last and least of things.

There are four kinds of people who acquire money, the three just mentioned and the financial administrator. Obviously only he acquires it for the right reasons so that he might never run short of relieving each one’s need.”

Maximus Confessor (c. 580-662), Theologian of Constantinople, in Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings trans. George C. Berthold (Mahwah: Paulist, 1985) 63.

What kind of person are you with relationship to money? The irony is that the only One who sees and knows your situation is the One who made you and desires that you trust Him to provide for you.

Maximus Confessor proclaims truth with candor in spelling out the four kinds of people. Notice the function of the faithful administrator, and that is a key biblical term, administrator.

This word implies the faithful stewardship of God’s resources to accomplish His purposes, which is to care for your needs and those around you. We get to enjoy and share all our Maker provides.

Advent begins today. It’s a season when we welcome the Savior, Christ the Lord, who comes to us. To prepare for His arrival, let show our faith in Him by living as faithful financial administrators.

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Abba Poemen: You will not do it

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16

“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘An inheritance has been left me, what ought I to do?’ The old man said to him, ‘Go, come back in the three days, and I will tell you.’ So he returned as it had been decided. Then the old man said, ‘What shall I say to you brother? If I tell you to give it to the church; they will make banquets with it; if I tell you to give it to your relations you will not receive any profit from it; if I tell you to give it to the poor, you will not do it. Do as you like, it is none of my business.”

Abba Poemen (340-450) Egyptian Coptic Monk in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cisterian, 1975) 172.

Often people ask me questions like ‘What should give to?’ or ‘How much should I give’?

My tendency with my answers is to try to help people to understand and obey the teachings of Jesus. I map out the reasons why they should follow God’s design for taking hold of abundant life.

Instead, from now I think on I will answer like this Desert Father.

I will present the realities related to giving to ministries and family members and the poor. Then I will tell them that likely they won’t listen anyway. Reverse psychology. And I will remind them that it’s their call.

Why? Each person has to give an account for his or her own stewardship.

And I guess there is another reason Abba Poemen’s answer excites me. I am tired of trying to convince modern-day hypocrites to stop storing up treasures on earth.

To awaken them I want to share truth and then boldly proclaim, ‘You will not do it’!

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John of Gaza: Examine Yourself

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7

“Question: If I would like to give alms, but my thought has doubts about giving, what should I do?

Response by John of Gaza: Examine yourself, and if you found that you are doing this out of stinginess, then give something even beyond what you should have given, for example an additional small amount, and you will receive God’s mercy.”

John of Gaza in Letters from the Desert: Barsanuphius & John, trans. John Chryssavgis (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003) 189-90.

Have doubts about giving? John of Gaza urges us to examine ourselves. If we locate any stinginess or reluctance, note his advice. Give more and receive God’s mercy.

Consider the significance of this wise counsel. Often we pause in giving because we think a recipient does not “deserve” what we may give. Did you deserve Christ’s giving toward you? 

When we think about the mercy we have received from God and give generously, we become recipients of mercy. Christ assures us of this in today’s Scripture.

Think of this like a Black Friday Bonus. Give generously, and become rich in mercy! Thanks God for the blessings of abundant life in Christ.

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Desert Father: Double Shame

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28

“Someone begged an old man to accept some money for his needs, but he refused saying that his manual work supplied all that was necessary. When the other insisted that he should accept at least enough for his essential needs, the old man replied, “It would be a double shame to accept it: for me to receive what I do not need, and for you to give what belongs to others.”

A Desert Father in The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers: Systematic Sayings from the Anonymous Series of the Apophthegmata Patrum, trans. Benedicta Ward (Oxford: SLG Press, 1986) no. 126.

Today is Thanksgiving in America. If you get this post, I am thankful my website is back up. Daily, my web security says it’s under “brute force attack” and I got hacked again on Tuesday. God has been gracious to get it going again. To read yesterday’s post, scroll down to locate it.

On this Thanksgiving Day, if God has given you the strength to work and supply resources sufficient for your needs, give thanks. Count your blessings! You are among the half of the world’s population positioned to give. The other half has insufficient resources to live.

The unnamed desert father reminds us that its a “double shame” if we keep any surplus or to accept further resources when were are not in need. I realize that what I am saying is un-American, but it’s thoroughly Christian to share along these lines.

We live in a time that considers it shameful to live a life of dependence on God and interdependence on others. Alternatively, the Apostle Paul talked about sharing surplus in his second letter to the Corinthians. Take his words to heart so that your giving reflects dependence on God and care for others.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Imagine you are the Christ follower in need. Let your requests be made known unto God. Do you want fellow believers to share with you? Take inventory on this Thanksgiving and plan some generous giving. Share with others as you would like them to share with you.

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Tobit: Begrudge

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

“Give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.”

Tobit 4:7 (NRSV). The book of Tobit is part of the Apocrypha and labeled as one of the Deuterocanonical books. It is generally not included among Protestant Christians’ list of canonical books, while it is for Roman Catholics and most Orthodox traditions.

Regardless of our modern reception of Tobit, it is important to understand that this story about a righteous, law-abiding Jew likely influenced Jews within the early church. Today Tobit offers advice that sounds similar to the words of Solomon in Proverbs 11:24-25.

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

The Apostle Paul the exhortation not to give reluctantly appears to echo this idea from Tobit to “not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it.”

This is a timely word in America as we approach Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, and the Christmas giving season. Give generously. Treat the poor how you want God to treat you.

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Tobit: The impact of alms

But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. Luke 11:41

“Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.”

Tobit 12:8-10 (NRSV). The book of Tobit is part of the Apocrypha and labeled as one of the Deuterocanonical books. It is generally not included among Protestant Christians’ list of canonical books, while it is for Roman Catholics and most Orthodox traditions.

Tobit influenced the thinking of first century and early church Christians on many topics, especially the impact of alms. Today’s post highlights that almsgiving “saves from death and purges away every sin.” I discussed this with a scholar this past weekend to gain insight.

This idea must not be misunderstood that giving to the poor accomplishes one’s eternal salvation, but rather than we are delivered from the power of money and we overcome money’s power in our lives by giving. Our giving helps us enjoy life as God designed it.

But it also reveals that in not doing it, things will be bad for us. Giving alms is preferable to holding on to money or laying up gold. For Jesus, how we handle money reveals what’s in our hearts. What does your giving reveal about your heart?

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