Reading “St. Francis and the Christian Life” to your dog? Why not?

We all know St. Francis loved animals!  We also know he preached to birds and even a wolf! So… you can read the first three chapters of St. Francis and the Christian Life to your dog (cats are giving it a 5 star rating too!) for free. Just click here.

If you are considering using the book in a small group or Sunday school class, you can check out the lesson plans at the end of the book on Amazon – just click on “Look inside.”

April’s Books

 

Love and Forgiveness:  A Spiritual Practice for Forgiving

Gosh do I need to practice forgiveness lately!  Maybe you do too. Jesus taught that we are to love everyone – even our enemies. But to love someone who has hurt you, you first have to forgive them! And that is not easy.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:43

Below is a spiritual practice to try. Set aside some time, get to a quiet place where you can think, and bring some paper and a pen (or your laptop if that is your style). You may need to do this practice over several days. Take your time.

  • Start by praying. Ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you as you seek to forgive. Picture yourself wrapped up in the Spirit’s embrace.
  • You are going to prayerfully write out the answers to three questions:
    1. What has the offender done that needs forgiving? Include why you think they did it.
    2. Have you done anything before, during, or after the offense that also needs forgiveness? Note: The answer may very well be that you haven’t done anything wrong. Don’t try to implicate yourself unnecessarily. Many times, powerless people will try to find fault in themselves so they can have a chance at fixing the situation, but it is unhelpful to blame yourself if you are innocent.
    3. What might God be able to teach you through this situation?
  • Write out a prayer asking God to forgive the offender (and to forgive you too, if necessary). In this prayer, ask God to fill your heart with compassionate love for the other person. This does not mean you forget what they have done. It does not mean that you think what they have done is okay or that they should not be held accountable for the wrongs they have done. It means you are going to let God deal with them so that you are set free to act in love toward them rather than seek revenge.
  • If appropriate, it is important to go and talk to the person – maybe share what you have written. This is how Christians have an authentic community centered on Christ. Note: Talking to the other person may not be appropriate. If the person might hurt you physically or verbally, if talking to them might cause the other person more harm than good, or if the person has asked you not to bother them, then it is probably not appropriate. It is absolutely possible to forgive someone whom you will never see again. Ask the Holy Spirit what is appropriate and wait for an answer before going to talk to the offender.
  • Hold onto what you have written and reread it when/if you ever start to feel unforgiveness toward that person. Once and done, is not how it usually works. It is a process that takes time to heal. You may even have more insights as you reread your words later so update it as needed.

April’s Books

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.

Francis Cover    DI Small    James Cover

Love and Political Correctness

52% of all Americans say they are against the country becoming more politically correct and are upset that there are too many things they can’t say anymore. Overall, 55% of Millennials aged 18-29 are in favor of the country becoming more politically correct, while a majority of everybody older than 30 is against the idea.  76% of Republicans are against the country becoming more politically correct compared to 55% of Democrats.  — NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist Poll

Love isn’t what we do because it makes us feel good. Anyone can do that! Love is what we do that makes others feel good – or better yet, actually enhances their lives.

Being politically correctly, treating a person as they wish to be treated, is a big part of love. But apparently 52% of all Americans don’t get that. Yes, being politically correct is hard – it takes work – it means you have to get to know people, spend time with them, understand where they are coming from, and what they want and need. It puts their comfort before your own. You even have to be willing to be wrong and ask for forgiveness. You have to be willing to keep trying to get it right.

I watched a video not long ago which interviewed a dozen or more Native Americans. They were each asked how they wanted to be referred to. Some wanted to be called Indians. Others didn’t like that term at all.  Some really didn’t like the term Native Americans, but were okay with Natives. Others wanted to be recognized as First Nation People.

There was no one right answer.

And you will find this same kind of “label diversity” across all races, all religions, all people. It isn’t a Native American thing. Its’ a human thing. Try to label any group of people and there will be people who don’t like that particular label.

So how can we ever be politically correct? It’s too hard. Right? Well . . .  how can we ever love anyone then?

A true demonstration of love requires we get to know the individual people and groups God brings into our lives. Then should it ever become necessary or appropriate, we ask them what words they identify by and address them by their personal choice. This demonstrates that they are important enough for to us to make an effort.

And if we offend someone by accident, we apologize, learn from it, and use the language they prefer in the future. All of this applies to any words that might be offensive, not just labels.

Demonstrating love is hard and can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean Christ hasn’t called us to the hard and uncomfortable things in life. Political correctness is a big part of demonstrating love. Do it because you love others!

Check out April’s books!

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 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.