St. Francis Meditation One: The Cross of San Damiano

Asked to fill in for the rector at the Sunday morning Rector’s Forum at Saint David’s in Roswell, Georgia, I am teaching for several weeks about the life of Saint Francis.  As part of the class, I have prepared a daily meditation for the participants.  So for the next several weeks, expect a daily meditation on my blog.  Hope you enjoy it and as always, I love to hear your thoughts…

Meditation One:

It is said that St. Francis prayed this prayer before the cross (pictured above) as it hung in the chapel at San Damiano.:

Most High, Most Glorious God,
Enlighten the darkness of my heart. Grant me a right and true faith, a certain hope, and a perfect charity, feeling, and understanding of you so that I may be able to accomplish your holy and just commands. Amen.

It became the defining prayer of the Franciscan movement.  Try slowly praying this prayer and considering what each word means. Do you want to know God this intimately? Are you willing to give up your present understanding of God if there is one that is more “right and true?”  If so, try telling God in your own words.

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Making Conflict Positive in a World where Trump is the Front Runner

She is a “pig,” “dog,” “slob,” “bimbo,” or “disgusting animal” – Trump describing a variety of women who have disagreed with him.

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes – blood coming out of her wherever.” – Trump on Megan Kelly.

“She is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man.” – Trump on Arianna Huffington

“Whenever she sees me, she kisses my ass.  She is disgusting.”  — Trump on Bette Midler

In every one of these quotes, Trump was responding to a disagreement that he had had with a woman by attacking her.  For some reason, he can’t take the matter they disagree on and focus on the actual issue.  Instead, he responds by aggressively attacking her.  The noble thing about Trump is that he does the same thing to men – he is an equal opportunity aggressor.

And every time, I assure you that his comments did nothing to resolve the disagreement.  Yet, in our society, the way Trump approaches conflict is not just acceptable, it is admired.

But it isn’t a new phenomenon  – even in the church.  Martin Luther called Jews “liars” and peasants “thieving hoards” when they had disagreements.  Calvin and Knox were no better – lashing out at those with whom they had disagreements often “damning to hell” their opponents (if not having them actually killed).

Today, for most of us, that kind of aggressive conflict is less extreme, but no more effective in making conflict constructive. For example:

Jane wanted to convince Keri to do something her way.  Jane started the conversation by saying, “You and your friends think you are too good to do things the way the rest of us do them.” 

Sam assumed that something Tom had said was meant to be an attack on him. Sam started the conversation by accusing Tom: “You are intolerant of other’s ideas.”

Kevin assigned theological belief to Larry based on something Kevin had heard Larry say. Kevin started the conversation with “Larry, Your problem is…”. 

Is this aggressive approach to conflict the way of Jesus?

This is one of those times when asking “What Would Jesus Do?” doesn’t work quite simply because we aren’t Jesus.  For instance, Jesus runs into a woman getting water at the well. In the course of their conversation, they enter into a debate of sorts.  During it, he points out to her where her life has gone wrong.  Jesus can do this because not only does he love her unconditionally and desire the best for her, but even more importantly, as her creator, he actually knows the truth about her.

Only Jesus knows the truth about us.  You and I have no right to judge a person’s heart. There is not a human being on earth – not a mother, a father, psychologist, judge, politician, counselor, spiritual director, pastor, or priest who can know what is in the heart of another. Yet it amazes me how we humans – especially those who see themselves as leaders – judge first and listen never.

There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy.
So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? (Jam 4:12 NRS)

In addition, we have forgotten that conflict can be a chance to love more, right wrongs, and make the world a better place.  But when we judgmentally attack the other person, then we are claiming to have the ultimate authority that only Jesus has.  And that is never a road to making conflict constructive. In truth, the aggressor has done nothing more than prove themselves to be a bully.

So why not practice positive conflict instead?

***

A Follower of Jesus’s Guidelines for Practicing Positive Conflict 

Before you confront another person:

Lay out what is bothering you before God and let God speak into it by asking yourself some questions:

Do I have unconditional love for that person?

Do I have positive goals in confronting that person?

Am I willing to be wrong and change my mind?

Do I have specific solutions that I can propose with the other’s best interest in mind?

The Conversation:

Use “I” language. Not “You” language.  “I am hurt by that racial slur you made” is a far better way to have a meaningful discussion than “You are a racist.”

Help the person see why the issue is important to you. Don’t assume that they are informed.  Educate instead of accuse.

Hear what the person says rather than tear down their words. Don’t pounce when they call something red when it is pink.  If you know what they mean, let it slide and stay on point.  If you truly don’t know what they mean, ask for clarity without judging.

Make it easy for the other person to change their mind during the conversation. How many conflict resolutions fail because we won’t let the other person come around to our way of thinking without punishing or humiliating them first?

If they are the type to process things out loud, let them ramble around while they think things through without jumping down their throats every time they go in a direction you disagree with. Be patient and let them think.

Ending the Conversation:

Positive Conflict is not about winning.

You have gained nothing if you have not loved the other person.

You have gained nothing if you have not made the other person’s best interests a priority.

You have hurt the kingdom of God if all you did was silence the other person, make them scared of you, or make them want to stay away from you.

I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning: “let us love one another.” And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment (to love each other!) just as you have heard it from the beginning– you must walk in it. (2Jo 1:5-6 NRS)

***

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Stop Pretending Sexism is a Legitimate Religious Belief!

It was the early sixties.  The preacher’s eight-year-old daughter was out playing kickball in front of her house.  Her brother kicked the ball too far and it went into the street.  With childish indiscretion, the child ran into the street after the ball and was killed instantly by an oncoming car.  The driver, an African-American woman was neither speeding nor at fault for what had happened.  But here in the deep South, in the midst of the civil rights movement, there was no tolerance for a black woman who killed a white child, even if it was not her fault.  She got out of her car, saw the child was in serious trouble, saw the child’s parents were tending to her, and out of fear fled the scene.

It was a small town.  Word spread fast.  Before the pastor knew what was happening, the elders of his church had formed a lynch mob to find the woman and string her up.  Suddenly, instead of grieving his daughter’s death, he was demanding the men stop.  But they were intent on defying his wishes. For them, the child’s death was the excuse they had been waiting for.  They could use this situation to murder the woman and send terror into the African-American community, which had started speaking out for their civil liberties.

These men, who had gone to the pastor’s house to get a description of the woman and her car, quoted scripture to the pastor that proved (only by twisted insane reasoning) that racism and even slavery was a legitimate Christian belief.  The pastor, knowing some of his congregants were racist had been trying not to stir his congregation up by addressing racism.  He thought he had been keeping the peace.  He had never spoken or preached about race issues.  But there in his living room he spoke against racism for the first time.  His words were, “Racism is NOT a legitimate Christian belief.  If you harm this woman in any way, you will never be allowed back in my church.”

Racism is NOT a legitimate Christian belief! And should not be tolerated as such!

Does anyone disagree with that statement? James, a leader in the 1st century church, questioned if those who practice discrimination were even really followers of Jesus:

My brothers and sisters,
do you with your acts of discrimination
really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? (Jam 2:1 NRS)

He didn’t think those who discriminated understood what Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection meant.  I am probably preaching to the choir, because I don’t hang out with any people who want to be racist.  Most of us would not endorse a racist minister or church or ministry no matter what! We get that racism is not a legitimate Christian belief.  And though we are ashamed that we haven’t done as much as we should, we are on board to help end it once and for all.

BUT now let’s take this idea to a different type of discrimination — discrimination against women.  Most denominations in the US still claim that discrimination against women is a legitimate Christian belief.  Women can’t be ministers, elders, or deacons in most churches.  In many churches they can’t teach men or take part in leading worship.  Yet, we have come to accept this as a legitimate way to be a follower of Jesus.  We’ve been taught that racism is wrong and hurtful, but that sexism really doesn’t hurt society that much.  In fact, we have been taught that sexism is just an alternative way to “love” women – a way to take care of them.  And we look the other way. We go along with it.  We fail to ask the question that James asked: “Do you really even know the depth and breath of Jesus’s love?”

Sexism is not a legitimate religious belief!  And it hurts all of society just like racism.  We need to treat it like the atrocity it is.

If you would like to learn more about the harm of holding sexism as an acceptable religious belief, give President Carter’s Ted Talk a listen. He presents the facts of how it hurts society far better than I could. 

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

The Death Penalty Shows us What is Wrong with Worshiping the Bible

Sadly, in so many churches, the test of whether you are a “true” Christian is whether you believe the Bible or not – every word of it.  If you don’t, it is a sign that God has not transformed your heart and that your faith is not real.  In these kind of churches, when people discover this about you, you’ll notice they won’t sit on your pew any longer or invite you to participate in the inner circles of church leadership.  You’ll be an outsider forever more.

But let’s consider how this kind of “faith” works itself out in our lives…

For instance, people quote Bible verses like these in support of the death penalty:

“Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind” (Gen 9:6).

“Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution” (Exo 21:12-14).

<The Governing Authorities> are God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4)

“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Ex 21:17)

Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. (Ecc 8:11)

“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Ex 21:15)

On the other hand, it is Bible verses like these that people quote to oppose the death penalty:

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)

You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13 and Deut 5:17))

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

Jesus stood up and said to <those wanting to stone the adulterous woman>, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt 5:38-39)

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors . . .  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mat 6:12-15)

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt 26:52)

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Mat 18:21-22 NRS)

Jesus said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released” (Luk 6:37).

So who is right?  The Bible tells us to execute criminals, rebellious children, and adulterers.  However, it’s been a long time since we executed rebellious children and adulterers.  And I believe that is because even the most fierce Bible thumping person knows in their heart that to execute an adulterer or a child for hitting its parent is going way too far.  So they pick and they choose what they believe of the Bible hoping the rest of us won’t notice their inconsistencies.

But we have noticed!

don't kill for me

The fact is that even Jesus spoke out against and broke the rules that the religious people of his day had extracted from their Bibles.  He worked on the Sabbath, ate with sinners, failed to keep the cleanliness laws, etc.  He was a very bad Jew.  And today, he would be a very bad “Christian.”  Yet, he broke none of God’s laws.  How did he know the very heart of God?  Because, in addition to knowing the scriptures, he got away to pray.  He sat with the other two members of the trinity and listened.  And what resulted was “love thy enemy,” “pray for those who have hurt you,” and “turn the other cheek.”

And the plain fact of the matter is that Jesus never said that he would send the Bible to tell us how to live.  He said the Father would send the Holy Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (Joh 14:26 NRS)

Engaging the Holy Spirit is what we must do to be in relationship with God.  Reading your Bible won’t do it.  More is needed.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bible.  I write about the Bible. I spend hours every day studying the Bible.  But I know that the Bible only has meaning when the Holy Spirit speaks through it.  The Bible is not to be worshiped. It is not God.  When it is worshiped, its teachings become nothing more than superstitious practice where you can justify anything — even the death penalty.

And that is what has happened in the United States.  People think they are holding up their faith when they say, “We believe the Bible!  And we will execute criminals because the Bible tells us to.”

The fact is the Bible is the best record we have of the human interpretation of the spiritual happenings in their lives.  It contains memories of their ancient encounters with God.  It contains the words Jesus spoke.  It contains Jesus’s closest friend’s interpretations of what he taught.  It contains truth and wisdom.  But it is not without interpretive challenges which can only be understood through the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The death penalty is what you get when you read the Bible, but never listen to the Holy Spirit speak.

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Are you a Loser?

You probably aren’t reading this unless you feel like a loser.  If so, cheer up!  Because God loves us losers and has a habit of using us to do great things!

Let’s look at just some of the evidence:

  • Moses had some kind of speech impediment, but led the people out of Egypt anyway.
  • Rahab was a prostitute, but became the great-great (don’t know how many greats) grandmother of Jesus.
  • David was too young and small to fight Goliath, but God gave him all the power he needed.  But then he grew up to be a King who became a rapist and murderer, but after he repented, God forgave him and used him to run a whole nation.
  • Solomon felt empty and depressed, but God used him to build the temple.
  • Mary Magdalene was a woman (who people through the centuries – without any evidence — have accused of being a prostitute prior to meeting Jesus), but got to travel with Jesus and disciplines.
  • The Woman at the Well was divorced many times, but led a whole village to Jesus.
  • Abraham gave his wife to a King so that the King wouldn’t cause him any problems.
  • Sarah laughed at God’s crazy promise and still had a miracle baby.
  • Elijah struggled with depression, but God used him to warn a whole nation.
  • Jonah ran away from God, but God used him to save a whole nation.
  • Peter denied Christ, but became the rock of the church.

Paul, who killed Christians, before becoming one himself wrote:

“But we have this treasure (the light of Christ) in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
(2Co 4:7 NRS)

The truth is God prefers people who know they are weak, who know they have flaws, who can admit their mistakes, and — most importantly — who ask for help.

God specializes in taking us losers and displaying Christ’s wisdom and power through us.

So go forth losers of the world and don’t be afraid of being used by God!

***

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Are you relevant?

Mother Teresa was teaching history to the daughters of the wealthy in Kolkata.  Then one day she heard a clear message from God to follow Christ into the slums – to actually live there — and to serve him among the poorest of the poor.

Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

Alone. She moved into the slums of Kolkata where she began visiting her neighbors in order to learn about their needs. It became obvious that the children needed to learn to read and to do basic math.  So she opened a school.

Still Alone. But not alone for long.

Remember those wealthy young girls to whom she had taught history?  Well, they saw Jesus working through her.  They saw her life as relevant!  And they joined her in the slums. With Mother Teresa guiding them, they started taking in orphans, abandoned children, alcoholics, the sick, the aging, the dying, and street people.

For forty years Mother Teresa lived and worked in the slums. After Mother Teresa’s death, Pope John Paul II spoke accurately when he called her “one of the most relevant personalities of our age” and her life “a bold proclamation of the gospel.”

Dream with me for a moment.  What are you doing these days?  The equivalent of teaching history to rich kids? That’s Great!  Now can you take those skills and gifts that God has given you to an even higher level?  How can you stretch them in service to those in need?  It is here that you will become relevant.

Mother Teresa, knowing Christ had gone before her, started alone.  And she started by moving into the neighborhood where God had called her and visiting one neighbor and asking what they needed.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

In this very day, your life can stop focusing on the unimportant things that seem so gosh darn important and become relevant.  You too can be a bold proclamation of the gospel.

Dear God, Make us relevant. Give us the wisdom to know where we are truly needed. Then give us the power to be your hands and feet. Even if we have to do it alone.  Amen.

***

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Mother Teresa Baby
Today, September 5, is the Feast Day of Mother Teresa.

The Confederate Flag flies in Switzerland!

Just a few weeks ago, I set out early one morning with my husband and oldest son to hike 13 miles from Interlaken to Murren in Switzerland.  Now 13 miles might not seem like a lot in one day, but we climbed from an elevation of 1800 to 5500 feet.  Amazing hiking!  Steep in places, narrow flat ledges in others, and even some flat land.  But the views . . .  oh my gosh . . .  the views!  To my delight, most of the hike was very secluded seeing no one else at all between little villages.

DSC05190a
The views at about 3000 feet.

Then we happened upon the scene below.  Like many of the farms in the Alps, there are no roads to this farmhouse.  You hike up the side of a heavily wooded cliff for several hours to get here.  There is a village – also without cars – not terribly far away.  But do you notice anything odd about this house?

DSC05212a
Swiss Farmhouse with Confederate Flag

A house in the Alps – in the middle of nowhere – with a confederate flag flying!  There was a confederate flag on a pole beside the house and one hanging on the wall of the side porch.  What the heck?  Were these people from the American south?  Were they flying it because they were proud of their heritage?  Did they know of the controversy it was presently causing in America?  Weren’t the Swiss supposed to be peacemakers?

We were baffled.  We stood on the path, stared at the house, and considered knocking on the door and asking.  But despite the flower filled window boxes, it just felt so creepy. Quickly, together we decided that it wasn’t a good idea. So we started our own little investigation.

We could actually see the house and the flag from an aerial view of the Jungfrau region taken several years ago.  The confederate flag was flying at this house even then.  So it was a good bet that they weren’t making a statement aligning themselves with those clinging to it during the present controversy.  But maybe they were still from the American south?

But then we discovered something truly horrible!  In 1947, the Germans and Swiss outlawed the Nazi flag.  No surprise there.  It represented the torture and massacre of thousands of Jews – who would want to fly it anyway?  However, those still sympathetic to the Nazi mentality — the idea that the Aryan race was superior to all others — looked for a new symbol to display.  They wanted another flag to fly that would identify them as “haters” of everyone but the superior white race.  They looked around and saw the Confederate Flag. They saw the hatred of African-Americans represented by it.  After all, it represented thousands of African-Americans kidnapped and enslaved for the purposes of the White race.  So the Nazis adopted it as their new symbol!

This little alpine farmhouse is owned by a modern day Nazi and here they were flying their symbol of hate.  Glad we didn’t stop to talk.

 “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers” (1Jo 3:15).

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Hike from Interlaken to Murren – Steve and Brent are on the left side. Click to enlarge.

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Being a Progressive Christian in the Deep South

Most of my life, living in the Deep South, I have felt like a fish out of water.  Holding progressive views on race, immigration, sexual orientation, and women has made me truly weary.  These views and the people who hold them are so often condemned in Southern churches.  And because I have a weakness for wanting to be loved, I grieve greatly every time I am excluded for standing up for what I believe Jesus taught.  Most of my life, I have felt like an outcast and most of my life I have been.  However, I do find myself grieving less and less when I am rejected now.  I have learned spiritual disciplines, which enable me to open my heart to the Holy Spirit’s comfort and guidance and truly love those who condemn me.

Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, Georgia, August 23, 2015
Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, Georgia, August 23, 2015

However, yesterday, as we stood in line for Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church where President Carter was teaching, I experienced something deep in my spirit that I had never experienced before.  We got there about 7am and cars were already lining the road outside the church even though Sunday school wouldn’t start for another 3 hours. It was such a friendly crowd, most were southern to the core, but others had come from all over the country.  One family near us was Jewish and from New York.  They had been vacationing at Disney World, when they learned that President Carter had cancer.  They decided to take a break from Disney World, rent a car, and drive to Plains to hear him teach Sunday School.  They were headed back to Disney World immediately after worship.

President Carter Teaching Sunday School August 23, 2015
President Carter Teaching Sunday School August 23, 2015

As we stood in line, a member of the church, driving an old beat-up truck that said, “I dig peanuts” came around – partly to entertain us while we waited, but partly to direct traffic.  His wife, who we also met, lived in the White House with the President while “home schooling” Amy.  He had even marched in the “peanut brigade” during the inaugural walk to the White House.

“Tell me about your church?” I asked.

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He had been a member since the church was started in 1977.  It was started, because the big Baptist Church in town wouldn’t allow African-Americans to attend.  He told us over and over, “Everyone is welcome here!”

It suddenly struck me how President Carter had his beginnings in a town that did not share his view of Jesus’s teachings.  This stirs my soul – encourages me – gives me a connection that I never had before.  President Carter got his start and lived his entire life in a part of the country where he was in the minority – where racism, sexism, and homophobia were not only part of the religion then, but are still practiced proudly there today!

Sunrise over a Peanut Farm in Plains, Georgia
Sunrise over a Peanut Farm in Plains, Georgia

And yet, President Carter, against all odds, somehow made it to the White House.  And even yesterday, after finding out he had brain cancer, continued to teach others how to follow Jesus with a message that is the heart of the gospel: “Love your enemies!”

For the first time in my life, being progressive and a believer in Jesus didn’t feel lonely and burdensome.  It felt good to be a member of this tiny minority and so very grateful for this little band of Jesus followers in Plains, Georgia.

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April, Steve, and the Carters, August 23, 2015

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

Has God left the building?

Do you ever feel like God has gone missing?  That all the things you thought God ought to be doing weren’t happening?  That the miracles you thought God ought to perform were going undone?  Or maybe you are the one who has chosen the wrong path and hurt yourself and maybe even a lot of other people and think God is pretty much done with you?

In the letter of Hebrews, there is an interesting quote that none of the translations do justice to.  Most translate it something like this:

God has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5c).

But in the Greek, what it actually says is:

God has said, “No! I will never leave you. No! No! I will not forsake you” (Heb 13:5c).

There are actually five negatives in the verse.  The author really wants us to get the fact that God isn’t going to leave us under any circumstances ever! But there is more.  If I take the literal Greek a bit further, what it really says is:

God has said, “No! I will never give up on you. No! No! I will not abandon you”
(Heb 13:5c).

This is obviously not just a theological statement to the author of Hebrews.  It’s emotional – it’s real life stuff.  God is for us – forever!  Let that sink in.  If you are like me, it isn’t the “good news” you grew up with where God was always waiting for a chance to lower the boom on some poor soul somewhere.

And yet, there is still something else interesting about this verse.  Just before this incredible promise, the Greek says:

“Without coveting (wanting what God hasn’t given you), be content with the things present” (Heb 13:5b).

Once again, here is God’s love setting us free.  Because we can trust that God is always for us, we are set free from wanting things God hasn’t given us and free to be content with the things we have. We don’t have to strain over getting more money, more power, more prestige – or even fixing all of our mistakes.  We can rest and be content for we already have the love of the creator of the universe.  And the creator promises:

“No! I will never give up on you. No! No! I will not abandon you.”

Then the author of Hebrews wraps it all up by writing:

Therefore we can say with bold confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Heb 13:6).

God hasn’t left the building.  Trust that!  God is crazy in love with you.

left the building

***

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

The Spiritual Practice of Exchanging Worry for Life

 “It was I who taught them to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who strengthened them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” Hosea 11:3-4

baby walking with Mom

In the words above, the prophet Hosea was speaking for God to a group of people who had not been faithful to God. The biggest failure of these people is that they failed to embrace the fact that God loved them.

Embracing the fact that God loves us – that God is for us – is so important!  It will enable us to stop worrying about our own needs (because we know that God is caring for us) and start participating in God’s mission to care for others.  We no longer have to scratch our way to the top.  We no longer have to practice self-preservation.  Instead we are set free to love and serve others!

Try this spiritual practice:

  1. On a slip of paper, write out in one sentence a worry that you have today.
  2. Read the slip of paper to God.  Tell God all about it.  Then give God that worry. 
  3. When you are done talking to God about it, turn the slip of paper over with the firm knowledge that that is no longer your worry.  God is taking care of it. 
  4. Now ask God how you can participate in the mission of God today.  What one thing has God prepared for you to do today that cares for someone else?
  5. Now on the other side of the slip of paper write that one thing down.  
  6. Go do it!

Revisit the slip of paper throughout the day.  But don’t look again at the side with the worry.  God has your back.  Instead use it as a reminder to do the work God has called you to do.

Unfortunately, the people Hosea was speaking to on God’s behalf, never learned to accept God’s love — to let God care for them.  They continued to turn into an unjust society worshiping things (making things a priority) that ought not to be worshiped (a priority).   But there is no reason that has to be our story!

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April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.