Is the Episcopal Church Dead?

Saint Thomas the Apostle Episcopal ChurchA 2012 article in the NY Times announced the approaching death of the liberal church. I find it interesting to go back and look at the article two years later.  The author gave the “liberal church” a face by identifying it with the Episcopal denomination.  But I think the author missed some important nuances in his article that I am hoping readers will help me think through:

(1) Every mainstream denomination is in decline right now, not just the Episcopal Church. Non-mainstream, non-denominational, conservative churches are also in decline.  Their attendance is harder to measure, because they grow and decline overnight with congregants chasing the latest and greatest programs and pastors around town rather than joining and supporting a single church community.  Dear reader, is your church declining or growing?  Mine, St David’s in Roswell, Georgia, is growing by leaps and bounds!

(2) The author also uses John Shelby Spong and his theology to define both liberalism and the Episcopal Church.  I consider myself a liberal Christian (one can not be a female in ministry and be anything but left of center on the vast theological spectrum), but my theology and Spong’s rarely intersect except, perhaps, on social issues.  He doesn’t speak for all Episcopal thought or theology. Nor do I.  Does your church welcome a spectrum of theology or do you have to toe the company line?

(3) There is one thing about the Episcopal Church that is different from all other denominations and I think it makes us uniquely poised for outlasting the decline of American Christianity. The identity of the Anglican church (of which Episcopalians are a part) is the worship of Christ – not a particular theology. From the very beginning, our desire and focus has been to worship together despite differences in theology. I think this is the way Christ meant for it to be. Therefore, rather than finding our identity in what we believe – we find our identity in who we worship. This is why Spong and I, though we have vast differences in theology, can still worship together.  Does your church define itself by what it believes or by who it believes in?

(4) The success of any church is not judged (by God) by how many attend, but how well they love others:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — Jesus (John 13:34-35)

*****

April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Being the Church without Going to Church?

Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy
Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy

There are a lot of people in America who are angry at the church today.  And why not?  It has at times supported a variety of awful things: slavery, the destroying of Native American communities, unjust laws that favor the wealthy over the poor, discrimination against women and homosexuals, etc. Does it really make sense to try and affiliate with a church when not one mainline denomination has consistently (over the last several hundred years) met God’s standards to love others?

And yet, the author of Hebrews begs us . . .

“ . . .  consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (Heb 10:24-25 NRS)

St. Francis was not immune to the hurt and harm the church could bring about. Though he and his companions attended mass, they did not associate their community with the church at first.  What made St. Francis go to the church and ask that they accept his community as one of their own is a matter of debate.  Some say he was too trusting, others say he was duped.  Either way, he went to Rome and asked to be included as a holy order.  At first the church ignored him, but later as he gained more and more popularity the church decided to commandeer St. Francis’s community.

This was a nightmare for St. Francis.  Associating with the church caused his order to degenerate into a clerical institution.  St. Francis was soon to discover that loving Christ was easy, but loving Christianity was not.  He began to understand the clergy of the church as a group in need of conversion.  In his opinion, they had lost the way of Jesus.  Then the worst happened.  The church took the order from St. Francis and gave it to Peter of Catana who changed the most basic rules of life on which St. Francis and the other brothers had taken their vows.  St. Francis did not leave the church over this, but spoke into it.  Even on his deathbed, he was still writing and talking to anyone who would listen about the grave errors the church was making — not only in the order he founded, but in the church as a whole.

We need to get over the notion that we can be the church (the hands and feet of Jesus) all by ourselves.  Individually, we might be able to be a thumb or a big toe, but we need the whole community of Christ to be the hands and feet and to accomplish the work of Jesus.

What if instead of disassociating with the church, those disgusted with it stay and speak up?  Would that not make the church a better place?  Would it not, perhaps, save the church for future generations who are leaving it in droves?

My advice is to find the best church you can – one that accepts and loves you – one that is tolerant of differing views – one that is continuing Jesus’ ministry to those in need.  Find this church and realize, it will still have problems – sometimes BIG problems.  But don’t leave.  Stay, and speak into it.

*****

April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Do we substitute human guidance for going directly to God?

St F praysOne of the interesting things about St. Francis is that he didn’t have a mentor or teacher.  One of his biographers, St. Bonaventure, who entered St. Francis’s order in the 1200s wrote:

“. . . this great servant of God had neither master nor teacher to guide or instruct him, save only Christ our Lord . . .”

Reading this reminded me of Saul.  Acts 9 records Saul’s conversion.  He was transformed by a vision of Jesus on his way to Damascus where he intended to persecute Christians. Afterwards, Saul took on the name Paul and wrote much of the New Testament.  But Paul, like St. Francis, had no teacher.  He neither had the opportunity to know Jesus personally before Jesus’s ascension nor did he spend a great deal of time with Jesus’s disciples learning about Jesus. Upon his conversion, almost immediately, his life was threatened and the disciples sent him to Tarsus to protect him from being executed.  He later wrote that his knowledge of God was:

“ . . . not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit . . .“ (1Co 2:13 NRS).

St. Francis, like Paul, had a deep intimate relationship with God.  He depended on the Spirit to lead and guide him.  That kind of relationship is what God desires of each of us.  But so often we don’t take time to let God speak to us.  We shout up prayers – instructions telling God what we want God to do – but we rarely take time to hear God speak.  Both St. Francis and Paul spent time alone listening to God.  In doing so, they needed no other mentor.

It isn’t that mentors and teachers are bad.  But if we substitute them for directly going to God for guidance, we miss out on knowing our creator personally.  In fact our mentors, spiritual guides, and teachers do us the most good when they teach us how to listen to God for ourselves.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Perpetual Outsiders – Here is your patron saint

St. FSt. Francis’s life was “that of a perpetual outsider.”

– James Cowan, from Francis: A Saint’s Way

St. Francis is remembered by the general population as the kind man who loved nature.  But he was so much more.  James Cowan calls him the “perpetual outsider.”  And Cowan wasn’t talking about St. Francis’s love for the great outdoors.  He meant that he didn’t fit in.  Not anywhere.

Outsiders everywhere – here is your patron saint!

If you are an outsider, you have no doubt felt the pressure to become an insider.  And either you have learned to withstand the pressure or you have succumbed.  St. Francis was no different.  He struggled throughout his life under the pressure of those who demanded that he conform.  Yet, somehow, even until his dying day, he managed to push through it all and fly his freak flag proudly.

What made St. Francis so different was not that he talked to animals or that he preached to birds, but that God had called him and his followers to live out Jesus’s command to go into the world and preach Jesus’s message, without the luxury of belongings:

“ . . . Take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” — Mark 6:7-13.

Therefore, St. Francis and his men lived in homelessness with very few belongings.  Their goal was to preach the teachings of Jesus while caring for those in need.  Yet, so many people have tried to reimagine St. Francis – to make him into an insider – a gentle lover of animals, man recognized by the church as a saint, a man who caused no trouble or controversy.

BUT ultimately he was the perpetual outsider! A controversial figure who loved Jesus until the very end.

For instance, when he refused to take over his father’s successful business, his father kidnapped him desperately trying to keep him inside the family fold.  St. Francis refused.  He stood naked before the authorities returning to his father even the clothes on his back and cheerfully gaining his freedom.  Years later as he mourned the lack of a father in his life, he recruited a vagrant to be his father.

When St. Francis’s band of merry homeless troubadours became too popular for the church to continue to ignore, the church commandeered them.  Over time they recognized Francis and his friends as an official order of the church and even put in their own management team, who layer by layer stripped away what St. Francis’s men had originally stood for giving them housing and belongings.  Francis protested to anyone who would listen believing this distracted them from the work of Christ.

When St. Francis became ill, the Bishop of Assisi required Francis to stay at his palace in hopes that Francis would die there and his valuable relics, which would no doubt have miraculous powers, would be safe in the bishop’s hands.  However, Francis, though deathly ill and blind, decided to sing all day and night until the Bishop could take it no more and let Francis go to face death among his friends.

Even on his deathbed, Francis wrote against what the church had done to his order.  He was so against the direction that the church was taking his men that without the presence or blessing of a priest, he and his faithful served one another the Eucharist.  Only an outsider serves the Eucharist without the proper blessing of an ordained priest – that is heresy.

With his death, the church finally had free reign over him.  So instead of honoring his marriage to Lady Poverty, they built him a tremendously expensive basilica and buried him there.  Of course, no one can contain his spirit.

Next time you see a statue of St. Francis hanging out with birds and bunnies, think of him not as just the kind man who loved creation, but also as the perpetual outsider.

And . . .  don’t forget that when God gives you a freak flag to fly, you should resist every temptation to conform.  Fly it proudly.

*****

April’s Books

When the thin horizon of a plan is not clear at all…

Bertelson6A friend of mine, Lia Mallini Bertelson, wrote this reflection almost two decades after suffering multiple heartbreaking tragedies.  All of us will suffer some kind of heartbreak at some time in life and I think it helps to know that we will survive.  So I asked her if I could post her story and she said okay…

When I was a senior in high school, my group of friends lost three of our number to tragic accidents within a month.  Two days before prom, my date-to-be and another friend were in a terrible car accident returning from senior skip day at the springs.  Mike died immediately and Trevor died Monday after spending the weekend in ICU.  That Monday, many of us gathered at the duck pond outside the hospital, waiting for news, being together. I think maybe a group prayer was led. Our friend Nick’s father emerged from the hospital to address the group on behalf of Trevor’s family and let us know that Trevor had died. Just a few short weeks later, it was Nick who died.  We were on a graduation trip.  Nick had met a girl from another school and they were talking while she sat on a balcony ledge.  She lost her balance and tried to hold on to Nick, pulling them both over.  She broke her leg and he died.

We felt robbed.  We were devastated and heartbroken.  Just at the moment when we were set to go off into the world, the world became a different, scary place.  I had been eager to go away to college since about middle school, and suddenly I felt terror at the thought of leaving the friends who knew the pain I was in and who were feeling the same pain.  One night I dreamed that I was at college and Trevor was there too.  That dream left me with enough courage to go.

During this time, The Wood Song by the Rocky RideIndigo Girls soothed me…

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear
My friends and I have had a tough time
Bruising our brains hard up against change
All the old dogs and the magician

Now I see we’re in the boat in two-by-two’s
Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to
Love weighs the hull down with its weight

But the wood is tired, and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine, if the weather holds
But if the weather holds, we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan
Was built by other than a greater hand
With a love that passes all our understanding
Watching closely over the journey

Yeah, but what it takes to cross the great divide
Seems more that all the courage I can muster up inside
But we got to have some answers when we reach the other side
The prize is always worth the rocky ride

But the wood is tired, and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine, if the weather holds
But if the weather holds, we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took
To get us where we are this far, this far

But the question drowns in its futility
Even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be
Just holding on for the ride

But the wood is tired, and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine, if the weather holds
But if the weather holds, we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

The beautiful imagery made it easier to believe that this tragedy was part of a tricky plan that would one day make some sense.   I did feel that my friends and I were on a journey together—crammed in a small boat, holding on for the ride and being rocked to the point of sickness.  I wanted to believe that our suffering was necessary, that it was leading us somewhere, and that once we got there we would see the sense of it.

A few years later, my parents divorced.  As most divorces are, it was very painful and messy.  It was not just the relationship between my parents that changed, but their relationships with my brother and sister and I also were affected, as were our relationships with each other.  We had always been a close family and the distances wedged by the separation of our parents and our different responses to it felt physically painful.  My parents had made holidays special times as we were growing up, filled with family traditions.  Suddenly it seemed I would never have a holiday (or any time at all) with my whole family together again.  Once again, The Wood Song gave hope and beauty to the pain I was feeling.

Eighteen years have passed since we lost Mike, Trevor and Nick.  Thirteen years have passed since my parents divorced.  This Thanksgiving, my husband, our two children, and I spent the holiday with my whole family. My brother and sister, each with their spouse and two children, my mom, my dad, and my dad’s wife.  This was not the first time we had all been together peacefully—major strides had been made in the past year and a half, and this was about the third or fourth family event with all sides present.  We have healed from the brokenness of our past.

The day after Thanksgiving, we all gathered at my sister Ginny’s house to celebrate my dad’s birthday.  Again, we were all there.  After dinner, many of us were sitting on their huge sectional sofa and wondering if we were setting a record for the number of people to sit there at once.  That led to the question: can we all fit on here and take a picture?  We did.  Children on laps, or standing on the couch in between grown-ups, my mom, my dad, and my dad’s wife.  In harmony.

As we sat there, my husband Mike started singing “Joy to the World” under his breath.  Mom heard it and said “Mike, sing louder!” and she joined in.  Then we all joined in.  Then little Natalie said “Let’s sing Rudolf!” so we did.  And then we sang several more songs, looking at each other, laughing, thinking “Is this real?” and  “I am so glad no one can see us right now!”  As we sang, smooshed together on the couch, all smiles and laughter, I remembered that at one time I thought I would never have my parents in the same room again.  My heart felt full as I looked around and let all the images of what was going on burn into my memory: three year old Neily standing apart, pretending to take our picture with an Elmo camera; four year old Jack holding two month old Julia; Ben and Erin, each one and a half, pushing dolls around in toy strollers; four year old Natalie sitting on the ottoman smiling in an adorable outfit and ridiculously messy hair.  My mom and my step-mother sitting next to each other, admiring the baby, sharing laughter.  I never want to forget that moment.

The next day, I traveled to a friend’s mother’s memorial service.  In the car alone, I listened to The Wood Song.  It struck me that I am comfortably on “the other side” of these tragedies and heartbreaks.  Time has passed, forgiveness has been offered and accepted, wounds have healed.  And now the song seems all wrong to me.  Though we have made it through, no plan is evident at all.  While we are no longer in pain, I would not say that we are better off for having suffered these losses.  I still don’t believe that it was necessary for my friends to die.  As happy as our family time is now, I don’t think we are happier for having gone through divorce.  It doesn’t seem right to say that “we get to have some answers when we reach the other side, the prize is always worth the rocky ride.”  If anything the prize IS the rocky ride—because the only alternative is to not be in the boat at all.  There is no smooth ride option—it is rocky or nothing.  And I don’t think that that is because the greater hand is constructing a tricky plan in which teenagers die and families are torn apart for His glory.  No! These heartbreaks happen because we are human, and we make mistakes, and we love people who make mistakes, and we love people who are hurt by the mistakes of people we don’t even know. There is no way to live without hurt. God is not making the boat crash against the rocks—God is in the boat with us, holding us as we thrash.

I don’t believe that “if the weather holds, we’ll have missed the point” or that it takes pain to “get us where we are this far.”  I do believe that weather does not hold.  Weather changes, storms rise, and we are moved by the world around us.  Things happen that are painful.  There is no way to avoid that and still experience life and love.  The good news is that no matter how stormy the water, we can find God right in the boat with us.  Perhaps we won’t have the satisfaction of seeing how our heartbreak fits into a grand plan or results in the greater good, but we can experience grace right where we are.

I can’t say that I am glad that three of our friends died in high school.  I can’t say that I am glad my parents aren’t married to each other anymore.  I can say, though, that I am glad I was in the boat.  I am glad that my friends and I stuck together, despite the close quarters and the weight of our love and sorrow.  I am glad that I have remained close to the friends who shared that pain.  I am grateful that my family has stuck together in a new, different way instead of splintering permanently.  I am glad we are in the boat together.  The prize is the rocky ride.

*****

Lia’s story is posted on April’s blog.  April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Have You Received the Spirit?

Paul laying handsIn the early church, the mark of those who followed Christ was that they had received the Spirit.

This is seen throughout the Book of Acts. My favorite story along these lines is when Paul encounters a group of twelve people who were trying to follow John the Baptist’s teachings, but were not aware that Jesus – the one whom John had been prophesying about — had arrived, been crucified, risen from the dead, and at Pentecost sent the Spirit to live within his followers.

When Paul comes upon this little group, he doesn’t ask them the question that has become so important in many Christians circles today, “Do you know you will go to heaven when you die?” Instead, Paul asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Act 19:2 NRS). Paul then tells them the story of Jesus, lays hands on them, and they receive the Spirit.

Likewise, there is a story in Acts 10 of a man named Cornelius who was seeking God, but who had never heard of Jesus. Peter, the head of the church, has a vision to go talk to Cornelius whom he has never even met and who lives some distance away. When Peter arrives, Cornelius and his friends are expecting him. Peter tells them the story of Jesus and as he is talking, they receive the Spirit.

Jesus had promised the Spirit would come upon his followers after he ascended into heaven (John 14). Through this Spirit, they would have both the wisdom and power to continue the mission of Christ serving God and others. The Spirit was the portal to God that had been made possible in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

I don’t think things have changed. I believe that this should still be the relevant question today.

Have you received the Spirit?

In Acts, those who received the Spirit often spoke in tongues, prophesied, and performed miracles. Later, bearing spiritual fruit became the focus:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-25 NRS)

So how do we receive the Spirit?

Paul answered this question  “. . . by the hearing of faith” (Gal 3:2).

Paul taught that we were to hear the story of Jesus making it our own by becoming Jesus’s followers.  Then we too would receive the Spirit.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Does the Old Testament point to Jesus?

When I was in seminary (seminary friends – please tell me if I am remembering this wrong – it was a confusing time), one of the big points that my particular Old Testament professor wanted to drive home was that the Old Testament was not distinctively about Jesus.

This professor often said that the New Testament was just one ending to the scriptures and cited the sacred documents of other religions saying these were valid endings also. Though this professor was wonderful and highly regarded – I stubbornly disagreed.

Sadly (for me), their views weren’t exactly unique.  On my biblical exegesis ordination exam, one of the readers wrote that they strongly disagreed with my interpretation of the Old Testament text saying that it did not likely point to Christ and docked me a point for it (I got a 4 of 5 instead of a 5 of 5 because of it).  Hardly seemed fair… especially because this whole idea was hotly debated among the professors themselves.  Even many of the professors in the liberal camp disagreed with the Old Testament Professor’s interpretation.  In fact, I remember during preaching class, someone said, “I don’t know what to preach about when I preach the Old Testament any more- if it isn’t pointing to Jesus what do I preach?” The Homiletics professor smiled mischievously and told us to forget that the OT professor ever said that!  He told us that everything is about Jesus – the more Jesus the better!  Now I could get behind that!

I believed (and still do) that all of scripture (in fact all of nature, all of life, etc) points to Jesus.

Anyway… this is all coming to mind today, because while I was reading the Emmaus story this morning to those gathered for the Wednesday Morning Service at church, I was jolted to see that even Jesus thought all of the Old Testament was about him…

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures (Luk 24:27 NRS).”

I thought about stopping the service to discuss… but alas that just isn’t done. 🙂

Any thoughts? What do you believe?  Does the Old Testament point to Jesus?  Can I believe it does and still be gracious and accepting of people who follow other religions?  Comments encouraged… opposing views welcomed and honored.

Author’s note: There is a great conversation going on via Facebook about this blog… you can join in there!

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

The Good Shepherd Doesn’t Break the Sheep’s Leg

sheep1“A good shepherd breaks the leg of a sheep that strays from the flock – this is to protect them and teach the sheep how much he loves them.” –Myth.

The first time I heard this myth was while I was getting my doctorate. The professor speaking had just written a book about shepherds. He and his family had lived in the Middle East outside of Jerusalem for five years learning the shepherding trade so that he could write about God as the Good Shepherd—an image of God seen throughout scripture. He said that he had heard this story about the breaking of legs many times before becoming a shepherd himself—and that it had been used to teach people that if they were going through a hard time, it was because God had broken their leg so they could learn to depend on God.

He went on to tell us that this was a myth and nothing more. Not only would a shepherd never harm a sheep, but there were many ways to keep a sheep near the flock without physically causing it pain—they might tie the sheep to other sheep or themselves—they might assign a dog to watch a particular sheep—they might even tie a weight to the sheep’s leg. But NEVER would a good shepherd break the leg of a sheep. In fact, a sheep found with a broken leg would likely be put down to keep the animal from suffering.

I am not so worried about how shepherds care for sheep.  I am worried that people think God is out there breaking legs (making people sick, giving people hardships, hurting people in unspeakable ways) in order to bring them into God’s kingdom. What kind of loving God would that be? I don’t believe this for a second!

Sure, we suffer the natural consequences of other’s and our own actions, but not always—God, more often than not, shows us unspeakable grace even when we fail due to our own fault.  But God is NEVER the cause of that suffering.

I am also concerned that people may take this myth even further to say that it is okay for us to break the legs of others in order to get them to behave in a particular way. Maybe this translates to treating a child, a spouse, or a friend, who has let us down, poorly in the name of love. No! That is not the way we demonstrate the love of Christ to others.  Jesus never broke legs and neither should we.  Jesus told us to serve others not hurt them. Showing grace and mercy always triumphs over hurting another.

Your pain, your hurt, your challenges are not caused by God’s love. God does not hurt you because God loves you. God’s mercy, kindness, and goodness is how God romances us and how God creates faithfulness within us.  Jesus stepped in—even when we deserved punishment—and took that punishment on himself.  Jesus made us free from sin and guilt. That is the kind of God we have.  Believe me, God isn’t out there breaking legs.

*****

April’s Bible Studies

Listen, but not like a yogi.

YogiThen from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 NRS)

Yogi Baba Prem, who is a Hindu Yogi, a Vedavisharada trained in the traditional gurukural system, came across a book called “Yoga for Christians.”  To which he proclaimed, “There is no such thing as yoga for Christians . . . why do Christians insist on trying to steal what is Hindu?  . . .  Besides, they do it all wrong.”

Hindus and Christians listen (or meditate) differently. Hindus learn to empty the mind to achieve peace and union with the external divine. In silent meditation, they hope to free themselves of the illusion of the world and become part of the divine.

Followers of Christ, on the other hand, believe that God, the Holy Spirit, dwells within them – so we aren’t trying to achieve union with God, but we are listening to God who already indwells us. What we expect is not union, but direction in how we take on the yoke of Christ. Nor does scripture teach that we should try to empty our minds, but redirect all thoughts on Christ.  It is our way of coming to Christ…

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30 NRS)

The difference is subtle, but ultimately significant. Respect Yoga for what it is. Respect Hindu’s too, but honor that we don’t believe the same things and be at peace with that. We certainly don’t make practicing Hindus happy by stealing their stuff and rearranging it for ourselves. Nor are we more enlightened – or more progressive – by ignoring that we have differences. In addition, trying to merge divergent beliefs into one new age theology destroys both faiths! Instead, honor the differences!

On the other hand, I know very few Christians who ever “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Listening prayer or meditation is rarely practiced by Christians. Yet, scripture tells us to close the door, be quiet, and listen to the Holy Spirit so that we can have the wisdom and power to live out the life of Christ – to be his hands and feet.

May Lent be a time of listening – opening our lives to God’s wisdom and power – so that we may share in the yoke of Christ.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

Give

Jesus said, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you”—Mat 5:42

A few years ago, I was visiting with Brent at seminary. It was Sunday morning and we stopped by Starbucks on our way to church. A street person met us at the door as we were leaving. He asked for some money. I apologized and gave him nothing even though I had plenty to share. Brent reached in his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and emptied it into the guy’s hand. I was really proud of my son’s generosity until I realized Brent was still in givingschool, didn’t have a job, and that it was actually my money he was giving the guy.  The funny irony of the Holy Spirit using my son to do the right thing with my money wasn’t lost on me.

Jesus taught this radical way of living to his followers. Are you on-board? Am I?

May Lent be a time where I stop claiming to follow Jesus and just do it.

You can receive April’s thoughts during Lent via email by clicking in the upper right hand menu.  Or by following April on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/aprillove