Love in 2018

Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a big Presbyterian church in Ohio. The church had had some problems. Apparently the former pastor had been secretly letting a group of homeless men into the church at night so that they would have shelter during the freezing winter months. He was secretive about it, because he knew the church members would not like it.

All went well until one of the church women came early one morning to set up for a bridal shower luncheon.  She was greeted in the church kitchen by a homeless man with nothing but a church-owned towel wrapped around him.

Turns out that the pastor was also letting the men use a washing machine meant to clean church linens for just such occasions as the bridal shower luncheon.  The guy had striped down naked to wash the only clothes he owned.

That was the week they fired their pastor.

I was invited by the interim pastor to come and speak.  He had been the interim for four years at that point. He told me that when they first hired him, he evaluated the situation at the church. And as he did, he came to realize that the members simply didn’t know how to love.

They didn’t know how to love each other.
They didn’t know how to love their pastor.
They didn’t know how to love those in need.
They didn’t know how to love God.
And they certainly didn’t know how to love themselves.

So every sermon he had preached the entire four years he was there had been about love.

In 2018, I am going to spend the year blogging about love. It’s what the world needs.  It’s what the church needs.  It’s what I need.

So scroll down to see the latest posts. Or join me daily by following my blog or liking my Author Page on Facebook.  Note: On Facebook, you’ll have to not only like the page, but go under “following” and default “show first” or “notifications on” – otherwise Facebook won’t send you the blog.

Love (and I mean it!),

April

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Do Random Acts of Kindness Equal Love?

Last week, I went to the hospital with my sister-in-law while she had out patient surgery. After the surgery got underway, I drove around looking for lunch. The best I could find without going too far was a Kroger. So I went in, bought some bottled water and a power bar.  Then I headed toward the register. I wasn’t really satisfied with what I had gotten so I was walking slowly, checking the aisle out to see if I could find something to go with my power bar when a woman surprised me.

“Get in line ahead of me,” she said.

I wasn’t done looking and I wasn’t ready to get in line.

“Thanks, but…”

“Get in line ahead of me,” she said aggressively, almost pleading.

I wondered if she had one of those “Do One Random Act of Kindness Every Day During Advent” calendars like the one I posted on my Facebook page the other day. Her face was not a particularly kind one.  She didn’t seem to be doing this out of the kindness of her heart. But it was really important to her that I do what she said. What was her story, I wondered?

I actually started to get in front of her.

Then I realized that there were three customers with big carts of groceries in front of her. I looked at my two items and over at the self-check out and said, “Thanks, but it looks like self-check out is a better choice for me.”

To which she responded, “Do whatever you want then.” As if I had ruined her day.

Random Acts of Kindness. Are they really expressions of love?

Maybe. But not all the time and not in every circumstance. And they can be kinda shallow.

I heard of a church youth group that randomly decided to do something nice for a group of homeless families that had set up camp in a dilapidated and abandoned church. The youth director asked, “What can we do for the kids living in that old church building?”

Someone said, “I bet they would love to have popcorn.”

Everyone agreed that would be a great gift. They would immediately go buy those microwaveable popcorn boxes and take them over to the church. It was an awesome random act of kindness. They couldn’t wait to see the reaction on the homeless kids’ faces.

It’s a random act of kindness. It’s nice.  It’s loving. Right?

Not if you don’t have a microwave. Not if you don’t have electricity. Not if you are homeless. The microwaveable popcorn was completely unhelpful and only reminded the homeless kids of how bad off they really were.

Love gets to know the people it is kind to.  Love asks the other person what they think they need and addresses the need.  Love is bigger and better than random acts of kindness. Now I am not suggesting we stop being kind to random people.  I am suggesting that we not think that random acts of kindness are all we need to do.

God calls us into relationships so that we can truly serve each other. Intentional acts of love always trump random acts of kindness.  Always.

Check out April’s books!

Love and the White Evangelical

60% of Americans disapprove of Trump, but 71% of White Evangelicals approve of Trump.  In fact their support of Trump remains largely unchanged since the 2016 election. — from PRRI

If read carefully, the New Testament teaches that Jesus was crucified not because he claimed to be God, but because he was turning Jewish culture on its ear, challenging ancient Jewish law and customs, and putting Jewish nationalism on edge. Likewise, 1C Jewish-Christians were not rejected by the Jewish faith because they believed Jesus was God and had risen from the dead. Jews had lots of “denominations” that worshipped together and believed different things. For a while there was even room for Jewish-Christians under that umbrella. But eventually Jewish-Christians were cast out of the Jewish gathering places (and even persecuted) because, like Jesus, they too were challenging the old laws and customs – chief of which was inviting “unclean” Gentiles into the synagogues and temple to worship with them.

Now jump ahead 2000 years… turns out nationalism is not a Jewish problem. Duh! It is a human problem.

White-evangelicals are just the latest bunch to embrace it in fear of their old laws and customs changing. Trump is their leader, which ought to be a red flag to them since he keeps none of their laws and customs personally. Yet most of them are oblivious to the fact that in following this man, they are rejecting Christianity’s main tenant to love — especially those not like one’s self. Love your immigrant, gay, old, young, black, etc. neighbor is lost. Furthermore, instead of loving others, they are protecting a set of laws and customs they believe God wants them to keep. They believe if they break these laws and customs (or let others break them), then God will no longer bless them. This ends up looking a lot like a nationalism (Make America Great Again)  in which they are trying to earn God’s blessings by rejecting those who aren’t like themselves – who don’t follow the same rules and customs. Of course God doesn’t work that way.

This is how I believe God works. The whole point of Jesus was to make possible the Holy Spirit, who would dwell within and guide humanity. This Spirit would make keeping the religious laws and customs far inferior to a life guided by the Spirit. Life was (and is) to be lived as faith expressed in love, which is how the Spirit guides those it indwells. Remarkably, the Holy Spirit wants to indwell everyone – it rejects no one, but transforms all those who allow it to crack open that door. This Spirit life isn’t about following a set of rules so God would bless us, but about letting the Spirit guide and empower us to bless others.

Some white Evangelicals have a rule-keeping problem that keeps them from living out the love God has placed in their hearts.

Postscript: I have been speaking of White Evangelicals as if they all believe the same thing. Let’s remember that Jimmy Carter identifies as evangelical and he is white. The difference is that he isn’t protecting/pushing a set of religious rules and customs. And that is also precisely why many other White Evangelicals rejected him. He expresses his faith in love (not nationalistic religious rules) and that is never safe. 

Check out April’s books!

Love In a Hawk’s Feather

     Two weeks ago, as Maggie and I do every day, we were taking our hour long walk through the park. I let Maggie navigate where we go each day. She literally stops and points where she wants to walk. I know that sounds crazy, but a lot of things are going to sound crazy about this story. And that is probably the least crazy part.
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     What was different about this walk is that this time she took me through the forest. Usually we stay on a path. So I was negotiating undergrowth when I saw a Red Tail Hawk feather on the ground in front of me.
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     If it had not been for my daughter-in-law, I might not have paused to look at it. But my daughter-in-law is an Ojibwe Native American. A year ago, we hiked the Barolo region of Italy together where she collected dozens of feathers over the week, cleaned them with hand sanitizer, and put them in our hat bands. I marveled at her enthusiasm each time she found one.  Because of her, I can never again overlook a feather lying in my path.
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     So I stopped and stared and reflected on it.
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     I have watched a Red Tail Hawk flying through the park and into my neighborhood for many months now. In my heart, I immediately believed she left her feather just for me. It isn’t any tail feather.  The Red Tail Hawk has one on each wing that grows perpendicular to the other wing feathers. It is marked differently than the rest.  This is the feather she left me.
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     This feather was remarkable to me for two other reasons as well. First, I have been reading Henry Nouwen’s book called Discernment where he gives us permission to look for the Spirit everywhere — even in a Hawk’s feather. So I took notice. Was God talking to me through this feather?
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     I immediately thought so. I had been waiting for an answer to a question that might change the course of my life. It was a big deal and I was anxious. I knew the feather had something to do with that question.
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     So I consulted with a Native American source as to what it meant when a Red Tail Hawk gave you its special feather. I find Native American spirituality to be quite wise. It said… “The Great Spirit is delivering a message to you. Stop, breathe, and take in that message fully. It will lead you on the right path. You are being asked to listen to the advice that friends and family are giving you. The message you are receiving about the decision you must make is correct and only comes from love. Allow yourself to let go of the control and surrender. You will be guided to the best place for all involved. Allow your soul to be guided.”
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     The thing that struck me most was that the decision “comes only out of love” of those discerning with me. I treasured that more than anything else — more than the particular answer itself. To be loved by God’s beloved community is such an extraordinary gift that I was thrilled by it! Comforted by it.
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     One week later, the decision has been partly made and indeed was delivered with great love. I wait for the rest in hopefulness!
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     Where will the Spirit show up today? Henry Nouwen says that the Spirit is always with us, always speaking to us and often in creative and unexpected ways. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open — watch, wait, and be ready to listen.
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April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website. This sale ends Dec 30.

God’s Love is Bigger than Broken Promises

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; God will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. — Deuteronomy 31:9

God wanted to make a covenant with humanity. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” But there is a problem. We keep breaking our side of the promise.
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We keep forgetting who we belong to.  We keep acting in a way that hurts God and others. We fail over and over to keep our covenant with God — to live in a way that is in line with being the children of a loving God.
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But amazingly God’s love is even greater than the covenant God made with us. God’s heart of mercy and kindness keeps coming after us, wanting us back, reaching out to us.
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We have all failed. Yet, God will never leave us. Never forsake us. Do not be afraid and do not get discourage.  Just turn around and reach out for God. God is for you and with you.
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April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 for a limited time on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website.

 

Agape

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. — Jesus (John 15:12)

The Greek word for love in this verse is agape.

As used in the New Testament to describe God’s love, agape is a love that is not wakened or created by the beauty or allure of the person so loved.  Agape is God’s character and originates in who God is, not in our being lovable.

Jesus tells us in this verse that we should love others this way too.  Not because they are beautiful or alluring, but because our character is to love.

Love everyone you meet today. Not because they are worthy, but because agape — God’s love resides within you.

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April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 for a limited time on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website.

Happy Feast Day St. Francis!!

In the USA, we celebrate St. Francis by blessing our pets, but that isn’t how they do it in Assisi.  In Assisi, the magistrates from all over Italy gather in the city hall of Assisi and sign a document, Pac di Civile, promising to work together in peace. This is an ancient remembrance of when St. Francis orchestrated peace between the wealthy and the not so wealthy. Those who had no land had been highly and unjustly taxed by the rich. St. Francis negotiated a just agreement.

Afterwards there is a parade to the Basilica for mass. Then someone important, usually the prime minister or occasionally the Pope, speaks to the crowd in the courtyard.

My new book, St. Francis and the Christian Life, which uses the stories of St. Francis’ life to illustrate the Epistle to the Galatians, will be published soon! I am so excited about this book!! I will let you know when it is available.

Below are links to live webcams of the main square in Assisi and the lower courtyard of the Basilica. By the time you see this, the festivities of the day may have already completed due to the time differences.

 

April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 for a limited time on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website.

Love with no “ifs”

The Apostle Paul described God as one “who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace” (Gal 1:15).

Paul knew that God loved us before we were even born. There is no “if.” No “if” you behave well enough or “if” you believe all the right stuff about God.

Paul was not a good guy.  Before he came to follow in the way of Jesus, he took part in the torture and murder of those who disagreed with his beliefs about God.  So it means a lot for him to claim that God loves him.

Yet, because he chose to have faith that the creator of the universe loved him, he was capable of turning his life around. He went from being a rule-following religious person to having a relationship with God. He described that relationship as “living in the Spirit.”

What if you and I intentionally choose to believe that God loves us no matter what? How might that choice transform our day? How might knowing God loves us change how we see ourselves and others?

Let us bask in God’s love for us. Let it warm us like the sun’s rays. Let’s invite it in and may it nurture and transform us.

 

Paul

 

April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 for a limited time on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website.

 

Disorderly Parables

Not your ordinary Bible Studies. Each book is a parable – a story – wrapped around a biblical commentary. These stories will make you think about ancient scripture in new ways, provide insight into what is happening in the world today, surprise you with laughter as you catch a vision of the journey ahead, and energize you to live out your faith on paths you never anticipated taking.

Why Disorderly?

Jesus used parables—stories of everyday people and things—to illustrate spiritual truths. His parables were not nice tidy stories. They were disorderly and subversive.  They were meant to dismantle ideas the listener thought were truth, but were not. With the Disorderly Parables Books, you will learn like Jesus taught, through stories of everyday people and things. You will walk away with both a story that will challenge you and a thorough understanding of the scripture. The books also contain a discussion guide designed for groups who want read the book together.

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You have it, so give it away!

Freely you have received; freely give. — Mat 10:8

Jesus was sending his twelve disciples out to proclaim the good news: “The kingdom of heaven has come near!” Part of their instructions were to help others without asking for anything in return.

This is love. Giving freely. Unconditionally.

But to love, Jesus indicates that we must first receive love. Many of us are depending on family and friends to love us and have been let down. But what we forget is that we are loved – if not by family and friends, certainly by our creator.

The Jesus story was of God who showed up in human skin to live among us and to love us. Although he knew our shortcomings better than anyone, he thought that we — every single one of us! — were worth loving. He gave his life for us, showing us love by giving himself freely and unconditionally. He told us to do the same for each other.

You are loved — treasured by your creator. This love demands nothing of you. So go forth and love others without asking for anything in return.

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April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 for a limited time on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website.

Fake News. Fake Religion. It’s a “me first” problem..

Problem:

“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” — Paul (2Tim4:4)

Remedy:

“I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” —Paul (2Tim4:3)

What is the message we are to proclaim?

Jesus taught us to: Love God. Love others. Love self, yet always putting the needs of others before our own.

April has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables. On Sale: Kindle Version is $2.99 for a limited time on Amazon. Paperback is 40% off by entering “Parable” at checkout on the Wipf and Stock Website.

Love and Civility

Civility: Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
Be careful. No one following Jesus will ever standby and let evil reign in the name of civility.
Speaking the truth without love is wrong, but those who speak the truth in love are often accused of lacking civility simply because those to whom they speak don’t want to hear the truth.
A byproduct of our call as the followers of Jesus is that people who are clinging to the unjust systems of this world are going to feel uncomfortable around us. That’s okay. It’s expected. It’s what you signed up for when you decided to follow Jesus.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.–Jesus (Luke 6:22)

Lord, I am Having Trouble Loving!

Dear God,

Today I am having trouble loving. My problem is with the authorities who are separating the immigrant children and their parents.  But not just them, I am having trouble loving the citizens who support the authorities who are ordering this to happen.

Today, these are my enemies. I want to pray for their demise. Surely they are who Jesus spoke about when he said,

“…the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…” (Mat 8:12 NRS)

Gnashing of teeth!  That is what I want to happen to them.  Jesus must want it too! I am angry just like Jesus! But wait, Jesus also said,

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;” (Mat 5:44 NRS)

Forgive my lack of love. Forgive my desire for retribution. Forgive my lack of desire to pray for all those who practice and support the evil against these families.

Give me strength to love. Give me compassion for the enemy, because if you don’t, I can not find it in myself. Give me strength to stop judging and condemning. For that is not my job.

You have given me the job of speaking truth while loving–even the enemy.

Make me unafraid to speak truth–to call out this evil, but to do it because I want the enemy to know there is a better way for them to live–a way where they can share the blessings you have given them.  A way where they can live in peace and joy instead of selfishness and greed.

Let your love shine through me. Make me good at being your daughter.

Amen.

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