Category Archives: Thomas Merton
So tell the Israelites that I say to them, ‘I am the LORD; I will rescue you and set you free from your slavery to the Egyptians. I will raise my mighty arm to bring terrible punishment upon them, and I will save you. I will make you my own people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God when I set you free from slavery in Egypt. I will bring you to the land that I solemnly promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as your own possession. I am the LORD.’ ” Moses told this to the Israelites, but they would not listen to him, because their spirit had been broken by their cruel slavery. Exodus 6:6-9 GNT
Two blind men who were sitting by the road heard that Jesus was passing by, so they began to shout, “Son of David! Take pity on us, sir!” Matthew 20:30, GNT
Therefore, the discourse of the teacher should be adapted to the character of his audience so that it can address the specific needs of each individual and yet never shrink from the art of communal edification.
As the good works which Christ does to you have no name, so your good works are to have no name. They have no name so that there may be no distinction made and they be not divided, else you might do some and leave others undone. You shall give yourself entirely to him with all you have, the same as Christ gave himself wholly to you, with praying, fasting, all works and suffering, so that there is nothing in him that is not yours and was not done for you. Thus it is not your good work that you give alms and pray, but that you offer yourself to your neighbor and serve him, whenever he needs you and in every way you can, be it with alms, prayer, work, counsel, comfort, apologizing, clothing, food, and if need be, with suffering and death.
It is true that man can, by his natural powers, arrive at a natural and imperfect beatitude. This may include within itself a certain knowledge of God, even a kind of seemingly mystical contemplation. Those who are satisfied with the Pelagian solution find this to be quite enough for them. And if that is the case, we are quite willing to admit that they are right as far as they go. For they can, by their own power, reach what they think is the end of the journey. But what they call the end is not even the beginning.
When I first entered the ministry, I was a last second invite to an exclusive seminar on preaching. Last second because I had called a mega-church about a leadership gathering at 4 pm on a Friday, and someone cancelled out of the seminar a few minutes before my call. So I went…. and learned something not taught to me in the 9 classes I have had on preaching.
They all taught how to prepare the sermon, how to work through the passage or the theme. How to draw up the outline and the summary sentence, and even critique by peers on the delivery. All this was good – and faithful, and absolutely necessary.
But it left out something critical to know. We have to study more than the scriptures. We have to know more than theology.
We have to study, to know our people, and where they are at in their journey.
Moses had to realize the people of God could not listen, because their spirit was broken. They could not trust in the wonderful message of being rescued from Egypt. Notice is say – “You will know, I am the LORD-your God-when I set you free. Moses has to realize this, if he is to be patient with the people of God. (he had to learn this – like all pastors!) The two blind men were not ready to hear about the cross, they needed to know God’s pity extended into their lives, were they were at sitting by the side of the road. Merton’s gnostic person, not far from God, still needs to encounter Him, and have his entire life reset, even though he is spiritual and discerns there is a god. These examples, are found over and over–those who minister to others, need to know whom they are ministering to!
This is not new – Gregory the great – a Pope from 1400 years ago, taught this in his book to train pastors. We have to adapt our preaching and teaching to minister to those people we are encountering. This is true about pastors, and their example should lead their people to do the same thing–to know who they are trying to draw closer to Jesus. We have to meet the spiritual needs of the individual and the entire Bible study or congregation. (That this was one of the 4 major lessons from Robert Schuller was, I believe, part of the reason his ministry reached so many that would not give time to other pastors!)
So this brings us to the quote from Luther, the lesson we need to know, if we are to communicate and communicate God’s love to our families, our neighborhoods, our communities. Those words in green sound challenging – to imitate Christ – to love and give of ourselves the way He loves and gives Himself to us. Again – how we communicate this is critical! People (and pastors) need to know how Jesus loves them, and gives Himself to them before they can do the same! Luther notes it rightly, giving ourselves completely looks different with every person, and even day to day.
That’s a lot of sacrifice–but if we are to minister to people – whether 5000, 100, or 2, we have to know them, and that comes from being there for them.. Then we know their struggles, their pains, and where they are with God.
So if you want someone to know Jesus, if you want to see them live in the peace that only Christ can instill in them, love them and dedicate yourself them.
And then, bring them to Jesus- from where they are at… and know He loves you both!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 87.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 422–423.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 28.
God spoke to him in a vision at night and called, “Jacob, Jacob!”
“Yes, here I am,” he answered.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go to Egypt; I will make your descendants a great nation there. 4I will go with you to Egypt, and I will bring your descendants back to this land. Joseph will be with you when you die.” Genesis 26:1-4 GNT
Moreover it is a common plague that no one is satisfied with his own lot, so that the heathen say: How does it happen that there is always better fruit in another field, and that the neighbor’s cow gives more milk than our own? How does it come that no one is content with his own state and thinks that of another is better than his own? If God allowed one to change his lot with all his will, even then he would be like every one else, would become more tired and at last stay with his own. Hence one ought not to think of changing his lot, but of changing his spirit of discontent. Cast aside and change that restless spirit, then the lot of one will be like that of another and all will be prized alike.
To overcome such unrest, discontent and disgust in one’s self, faith is helpful and necessary—a faith which is of the firm conviction that God governs all alike, places each one in the lot that is the most suitable for him. This faith brings rest, contentment and peace; it banishes the tired spirit
The prodigal son takes his part of the inheritance, glad that it is his, and travels as far as he can from his father’s house. Up to the point where the prodigal enters into himself and remembers where he came from, the story is that of Prometheus and the vulture. The prodigal has not stolen anything, but he thinks that to “find himself,” he must segregate whatever can be classified as “his” and exploit it for his own self-affirmation.
During a recent hospitalization, I was awake late at night and thought through my life.
Let’s just say, that even though I do what I wanted to do as a child, there is much in my life that is… disappointing. Part of that is because of the physical limitations of a genetic disorder, which caused my heart, spinal and visual issues. How many things can I not do, that I loved. How many others I would have do, if only…
It is easy to get an attitude like the prodigal – to want to take what you’ve got and head for somewhere else. To find something where life is easier, or at least less stressful, less painful. Not that those dreams have the chance to become reality, but the dreams still exist. It’s not fair to face so many challenges, to walk with others facing even more challenges. Luther hits this hard, talking of the sin of wanting to change his lot, only to find that equally unsatisfying.
At the end of the Ten Commandments, there are the commandments about coveting, of wanting something that isn’t ours. The lists includes homes, family, associates, every part of our lives. Taken in view of the Commandments beginning, “I am the Lord, your God who has delivered you.” the reason that wanting to be different than who we are comes clear. He has given us our families, our vocations, the people in our lives, and yes, our bodies. To want to toss all that aside, so that we think we can find affirmation in another scenario, means we don’t trust in God’s plan and providence, and we doubt His love.
I imagine this was Jacob’s attitude, as his sons explained to him the necessity of the move, and the impossible miracle they said was true. Ninety years of hard work, of tears of loss of the wife he truly loved, and her son. Now, in his old age – a move? A new country? To give up everything? How could God ask him of this, after everything else he’s been through?
God doesn’t forget him, this man who was brave enough to wrestle with God and not let go. Or perhaps not brave, just simply at the end of his rope, and unable to conceive of life going on, and enduring more trauma. Hearing God’s voice makes a difference. Don’t be afraid—I will be with you. That makes every bit of a difference.
You and I need to hear that voice, the promise that while life is not “ideal”, that God is here, that life is in His hands, that even broken bodies, and wounded hearts have meaning and purpose… that He will hold us, even in the midst our angst, our pain, our frustration and anger. He is there, for that is His promise to us in baptism, and one we experience as we are given the Body and Blood of Jesus Gathered by God into His presence with others. It is there we fin the Spirit’s comfort, the healing of Jesus, the love of the Father. It is there we are taught to say, with confidence, that it is well, with our souls, and find a peace-filled contentment with our life, lived in His presence..
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 416–417.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 25.
Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and the Cross
Isaac had come into the wilderness of “The Well of the Living One who Sees Me” and was staying in the southern part of Canaan.
After the death of Abraham, God blessed his son Isaac, who lived near “The Well of the Living One who Sees Me”. Gen. 24:62, 25:11 GNT
Jesus left that place, and as he walked along, two blind men started following him. “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” they shouted. 28 When Jesus had gone indoors, the two blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I can heal you?” “Yes, sir!” they answered. 29 Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Let it happen, then, just as you believe!”— 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus spoke sternly to them, “Don’t tell this to anyone!” 31 But they left and spread the news about Jesus all over that part of the country. Matthew 9:27-31 GNT
If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless.
If, for example, someone came asking us to intercede for them before some powerful man who was angry with him but did not know us, we would immediately respond that we were unable to intercede on his behalf because we do not have a relationship with the man in question. If, therefore, a person is too ashamed to intercede for another on whom he has no claim, how could anyone possibly assume the role of intercessor before God on behalf of the laity if he does not know himself to be in the intimacy of his grace because of the merits of his life? And how can anyone possibly ask for the forgiveness of another when he does not know if he is himself reconciled?
IT is in this perfect self-realization by contact of our own anguished freedom with the life-giving Freedom of Him Who is Holy and Unknown that man begins the conquest of death in his own soul. This finding of our true self, this awakening, this coming to life in the luminous darkness of the infinite God, can be nothing but a communion with God by the grace of Jesus Christ. Our victory over death is not our own work, but His. The triumph of our own freedom, which must truly be our triumph if it is to save us from death, is nevertheless also and primarily His. And consequently, in all these meditations we will be talking of contemplation as a sharing in the death and Resurrection of Christ.
We need to cling to God and pray: Merciful God, thou hast permitted me to become a Christian, help me to continue to be one and to increase daily in faith
In the great Easter acclimation, the church shares its hope as they yell, “He IS Risen, Indeed!” The tense of the verb is not mistaken – whether it is 33 AD. 700 AD, 1500 AD, or 2022 – Jesus is Risen!
Yes, the action originated nearly 2000 years ago, but it is still present tense. The impact of the resurrection is right now, wherever you are reading this. Peterson’s point about culture not defining us is based on the fact that Christ, the Christ who is Risen defines us. We are His!
St. Gregory shows the important of this relationship extends beyond the individual.It is from knowing the Lord is present that He is Risen means we are Risen. If we do not realize Chirst’s presence, how can we introduce people to Jesus? How can we promise them the healing of Jesus, unless we have experienced the power that raised Christ from the dead in our own lives. We need to live in that experience every moment of our lives.
Merton sees the same thing, in the selection I read from his work – our meditation, our contemplation has to be wrapped up in the death and resurrection of Jesus – for this is where we find His victory that is the triumph resulting in our freedom. Everything is based there, everything exists in that resurrection. That is this moment as well.
This presence of life is why Luther’s echo of the Apostle Paul – we have to cling to Jesus, even as we count on HIs clinging to us. This is the reason Hagar could name a well “the Lord who sees me”, and the well’s name stuck, a testimony to God’s presence in the life of one forgotten. It is the reason the formerly blind men went and told everyone. Christ was with them…
He is Risen. Therefore We are risen.
We need to know this, everything else in life depends on it.
We being all the people in the world.
so if you know… let those around you know as well. He IS Risen!
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 21.
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 44.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 10–11.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 399.
This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26 GNT
I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing. Genesis 12:2 GNT
With the Lord’s Supper God has bound up his own honor, for in Christ alone he desires to be acknowledged and worshiped as our God. So far as the Holy Supper is a confession before men, the communicant proclaims Christ and teaches faith in him. He helps to spread and preserve the kingdom of Christ, strengthens the influence of gospel and sacrament, aids in the conversion of sinners and in storming the devil’s kingdom.
Meaning is then not something we discover in ourselves, or in our lives. The meanings we are capable of discovering are never sufficient. The true meaning has to be revealed. It has to be “given.” And the fact that it is given is, indeed, the greater part of its significance: for life itself is, in the end, only significant in so far as it is given.
More seriously, the question is not only whether the discipline is doing good but whether it might actually be doing some harm. Could it be that systematic theology as usually practiced actually frustrates the proclamation of the gospel?
I have been in many missional seminars, and read many books about making the church more evangelistic. Read a ton of books about apologetics, and church growth, and personal, lifestyle evangelism; while beneficial to my faith, they haven’t really been as effective as I would have hoped in helping me share Jesus with others.
No where near as effective as experiencing Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians notes the missional value (the benefit to sharing our faith) found in the Lord’s Supper. When we are partaking, when we are in communion with God, we are naturally proclaiming His death. Specifically, that His death was “for us”.
I always thought we were preaching to the choir, to the other men and women that are with us there at the altar. But Luther noted that proclamation is more than that. When we realize this is God is in this moment, giving Himself under the bread and wine, the moment can and should become life transforming. We come to the altar tired, broken, plagued by the things of the world, tormented by guilt and we leave, our spirits lifted, our hearts set free, and our outlook on life changed.
This is the gospel that systematic theology should drive pastors and professors to talk about in Bible studies, sermons, books. This is the outside factor that Merton talked about, the revelation giving definition to our lives. it is what Abraham learned from God, that he was blessed, and part of that blessing, a major part is that God’s work through him to bless us, and all who depended on God throughout history.
The blessings come, as Abraham learned, because God is present with us. He is not just the topic of conversation as we ponder the mysteries of our faith. He is present, joining in the conversation, present in the bread and the wine, present as we realize we share in His death and resurrection.
And then we leave church, and see people experiencing the brokenness, and realizing how He is healing ours, and we share with them that His death was for them as well.
Missional thought, being evangelistic comes from hearts and souls touched by God and responding to it.
Consider what God is giving you in the Lord’s supper… and then.. in awe, ask Him to show you others that need it.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 392–393.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 6–7.
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), viii.
Now all this happened in order to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, 23*“A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”). Matt 1:22-23
How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts.1 For who does not realize that the afflictions of the mind are more hidden than the internal wounds of the body
This true bride-love God presents to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. As the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on our part will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. Although he gave us the wisdom of all the prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, and even heaven, yet would we not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied with nothing; the only one thing she wants is the bridegroom himself. “My beloved is mine and I am his.”
A seller of purple, Lydia traveled to the market of her day, and undoubtedly she had found freedom and satisfaction in that era when women were not counted at all.
But Lydia heard the Apostle Paul tell of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Lord opened her heart. In Christ she found an eternal answer, which career and position had never been able to give.
Religions do not, in fact, simply supply answers to questions. Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become degenerate. Salvation is more than the answer to a question.
Every November 1, I change up my devotional reading list. It is like saying goodbye to old friends, and trying to get used to new friends.
Except this year.
This year, the new selections are like meeting an old friend who has had massive changes in their appearance, yet re the same person inside. At least that is my impression after the first day. The readings, from a early Roman Catholic Pope, a different selection from Luther, Tozer and Merton all bring home what I’ve dedicated my ministry to, as well as my academic career.
We need Jesus…. and we need to guide people into the presence of Christ, despite what they think they know of Him. This sounds simple, but only after 25 years of ministry and three degrees do I feel like I’ve only begun to understand how to bring people into the presence of Christ in such a way they find healing and peace. Pope Gregory is right, this is an art form, not an academic exercise. But there is nothing–absolutely nothing–more important. Getting people to open up and share their woundedness is rarely possible in an hour. Sometimes it takes a decade. But when it happens, and they learn to walk with Jesus a step or two… oh how wonderful it is!
This is what Luther is trying to help us understand, as he urges us to understand God’s love, and His good will (care) for us, in the intimately deep way that a husband should care for his wife, knowing her needs, caring for her when life is challenging. Knowing that Christ cares for us this deeply, this completely, allows us to toss aside that which burdens us, just to spend time with Him–being His. We need this time, more than anything, for from it comes the ability to care for others, even as we’ve been cared for by Jesus.
Again–the idea of SoulCare is right there, in front of everything.
That is what Lydie found, as Tozer commented. Ahead of her culture by two millennia, this woman ran a very incredible, high profit business. And found something all the success in the world could not provide. A soul at peace! A soul that was content in waiting for what God has planned for those who love Him because she heard Paul’s voice, and the Holy Spirit showed her the love and care of Christ…for her.
Which brings us to Thomas Merton, the wild card in my reading this year. And yet he nails it, this idea that our religion isn’t just an answer to a question. Christianity is more than dealing with the questions of sin, guilt, shame, death, even more than questions about heaven and hell. It is about the relationship with Jesus, who is God-with-us—even now! Right where you are reading this. He is Immanuel, God with us! Knowing this changes everything about life. As Luther noted – everything else falls aside, and we concentrate on the One who loves us.
Which brings us to the last quote, the odd translation of the Good News Translation in Genesis 1 – where God established the night and the day to determine the timing of religious festivals. The Hebrew there means “appointed times”, which makes me think there is a point here, since the order seems a little odd. Days, years and holidays (holy days) seems more logical than days, years and seasons. These appointed times/religious festivals where special times of rest, where God gathered His people to allow them a chance to rest, and to heal. A time to be cared for, cleansed, assured that God loves, even adores His people. This is what heals the soul, this incredible blessing of knowing God’s attitude toward us!
The Lord is with you! And there is a reason for Him to be here. To show you that you are loved.
This is what this religion is about – not just the answer to a question, but a relationship deeper and more precious than anything we can experience… and we are only just beginning it.
May we know this – more and more thoughout this next year!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 29.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 384–385.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 1–2.