40% Off ALL Paperbacks & 70% Off ALL Kindle Books!!

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Until December 31st, the Disorderly Parable Bible Study Series is on sale! Great Christmas presents for anyone interested in fresh perspectives on scripture.  Grab them for a friend or yourself! Grab a bunch to read with a group – they make great discussion starters – include everything you need for a group study!

40% off all Paperbacks when purchased through Wipf and Stock Publishers.  Just enter DISORDERLY in the promo box at checkout.

  • Click here to save 40% off James in the Suburbs on the Epistle of James
  • Click here to save 40% for Dismantling Injustice on the Song of Solomon

70% off all Kindle Books when purchased through Amazon at just $2.99! No special code is needed.

  • Click here to save 70% off James in the Suburbs on the Epistle of James
  • Click here to save 70% for Dismantling Injustice on the Song of Solomon

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April Love-Fordham writes about scripture and spiritual practices.
She has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables.

St. Francis at San Damiano

As you might know, my next book uses the stories of St. Francis to teach the lessons found in Galatians.  I am busy writing chapter 5 this morning and thought you all might like a peek inside the chapel where the Jesus painted on the Byzantine cross spoke to St. Francis. I love this place – everything about it — the walk to it, the smells inside, the Franciscans that shush you when you whisper.  You can actually attend vespers here. If I could be anywhere this morning, it would be here.

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Three really cool things to notice in this google street view. <–Click there.

1) Take a moment to look at the cross over the altar. This is a reproduction of the cross that spoke to the 22 year old Francis telling him to “fix my church.” The original is hanging in the Basilica of St. Clare not far away.

2) I love the two Franciscans sitting in the front pew!! You can do a close up on them.  There are a small group of Franciscans who live there and maintain the building and grounds.

3) Turn around in the picture and see the “window” (it was closed up when additions were made to the chapel) to the left of the door. This is “the window of the money” where St. Francis threw his offering when the priest refused to accept his money. The priest was afraid St. Francis’ father would cause problems – which he did. Notice the fresco around the “window.” You can do a close up to see a painting of his father holding a bat. He came to the church to beat his son for giving away their money. But St. Francis hid and was not discovered.

back of san dam

Looking for Christmas Presents?
April Love-Fordham writes about scripture and spiritual practices.
She has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables.

Defender of my Cause!

Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause!
You set me free when I am in distress.
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. — Psalm 4:1

Remember Marvel Comic’s Defenders who battled mystic and supernatural threats? The Psalmist pictured God defending you and me in this way.  But why should God defend my cause? “My cause,” in this sense, literally means “my work for justice or righteousness.”

Meditation: What cause (work for justice and righteousness) have you taken on that God should defend it?  How do you invite, expect, depend on God to defend your cause?

April Love-Fordham writes about scripture and spiritual practices.
She has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables.

Gates Always Open

Mexican Wall

When the prophet Isaiah described the Kingdom of God, he described a city where the “gates shall always be open” (Isaiah 60:11).  And since Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), we shouldn’t ignore this detail in how we live our daily lives.

Meditation: What gates are closed or closing in our nation, communities, neighborhoods, churches, and homes that should be left open?

April Love-Fordham writes about scripture and spiritual practices.
She has written a unique Disorderly Parable Bible Study series for groups and individuals that teaches the lessons of scripture through modern parables.

Dismantling Injustice: A Bible Study of the Song of Solomon meant for Our Times!

As I write this, it is Oct the 12, 2017. I am saddened to report that this morning alone, the leaders of America have managed to tell hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico that they are taking up too many resources; they have announced that they are withdrawing the U.S. from UNESCO; they have kicked off a new set of policies that further damage access to health care; and they have threatened the free press.  This is a slow day.  And it isn’t even lunch time yet.

Wondering what is going on in America   Wondering why injustice is winning?

Believe it or not, the ancient Old Testament Book of Song of Solomon holds answers for us.  Think of this book as an ancient opera written by activists who were trying to rally the Northern Kingdom against King Solomon who had become a corrupt king.  They traveled village to village performing this opera on the village green.  In it they used the story of King Solomon’s concubine, a woman who has to choose between the King and a mysterious Shepherd who wants her to “arise and come away” with him.

Shulamite

This is where America is today.  We have a choice.  Buy into the unjust systems that this administration is putting in place or choose the Good Shepherd.  Dismantling Injustice by April Love-Fordham explores how the Song of Solomon speaks to us today.  Ordering information.

My definition of what being a follower of Jesus means…

Yesterday I posted a definition of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  I got some comments and questions.  Thank you!  So today I am going to explain…

This definition of being a follower of Jesus is one that I am developing after months of studying Galatians, which I am getting ready to write about. Thank you so much for your comments, because they will help me.  Please comment more or email me!

I have come to believe that Galatians has been mistranslated/interpreted to say that Paul was emphasizing that freedom from the Torah meant that we were now free to follow a set of Christian “rules.” But Paul doesn’t use the word Torah in Galatians, he uses “rules” or “laws.” He also doesn’t talk about Christian rules that Jesus made or even Jesus’ life example. He talks about Jesus’ faithfulness.

To summarize, Galatians is not about “the Torah” vs “Jesus’ way”. It is about “any human action” vs “Jesus’ faithfulness.” Meaning we are not followers of Jesus because of anything we do (keeping any set of rules, doing any number of good works, or figuring out a correct theology). We are followers of Jesus because Jesus’ faithfulness has allowed us to be united to the Holy Spirit which is the only way we can follow Jesus.  Paul calls this “hearing faith.”  Hearing is not something we have control over.  The faithfulness of Jesus happened and the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to “hear it.”

holy-spirit-dove-drawing-The_Holy_Spirit_by_HammerMario

It is the Holy Spirit who joins us to Christ – how we are crucified with Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit (not a set of rules, not performing good works, not knowing right theology) that allows us to do the work of God. I can follow every rule, do all kinds of good works, know perfect theology, and not be a follower of Jesus.

So the question becomes – how am I guided by the Spirit so that I might follow Jesus? Paul says we “sow” to the Spirit. Some might say this is the same as imitating Christ, but in imitating Christ, I don’t look at what he did and try to do the same (like turning over temple tables or loudly judging people like Jesus did to the Pharisees – that was Jesus’ job, not mine). When Paul talks about imitating Jesus, I sow to the Spirit – like Jesus did when he got away to pray. I nurture my relationship with the Spirit. Spiritual practices of prayer (I don’t like the word disciplines) are a way of listening to the Spirit. Studying scripture and other writings or being in fellowship with other followers of Jesus are ways of sowing to the Spirit. But they aren’t rules. Jesus didn’t give us a set of rules or a list of good works, or a theology – he gave us the Spirit to guide us.

Paul says that if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, then any set of religious rules are a waste of time. He also says that if we are guided by the Spirit, any desires of the flesh will be overcome.

For this reason, I think the number one priority of the church should be to teach congregants to sow to the Spirit for it is the only way to follow Jesus.

Because of the faithfulness of Jesus (to God and to us – in his life, on the cross, in the resurrection — and even now as he prays for us), we have been set free from our old selves and old ways of religion. We are a new creation – people of the Spirit – who can know God intimately. We have something far better than rules, works, and arguments over theology – all of which sum up religion.

Oh and by the way, Paul makes clear that the Spirit does not discriminate.  It matters not if you are a Jew or a Gentile pagan, Christian or any religion, Slave or Free, Male or Female. Because of the faithfulness of Jesus, the Spirit has been sent to transform us all into a new creation. All we can do is say “Yes!”

So from what I have learned from Paul in Galatians came my statement of what a follower of Jesus is…

A Follower of Jesus is one who
through the power of the Holy Spirit
has responded to the faithfulness of Jesus with faithfulness.
She does not follow a list of religious rules,
she does not perform another’s list of good deeds,
she does not stake her faith on knowing the right theology.
Simply put, she has been set free
by the faithfulness of Jesus
to walk faithfully, boldly, intimately, and unafraid with God.
*
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Check out April’s Books – great for group studies.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Who is a Follower of Jesus?

A Follower of Jesus is one who
through the power of the Holy Spirit
has responded to the faithfulness of Jesus with faithfulness.
She does not follow a list of religious rules,
she does not perform another’s list of good deeds,
she does not stake her faith on knowing the right theology.
Simply put, she has been set free
by the faithfulness of Jesus
to walk faithfully, boldly, intimately, and unafraid with God.
*
feet.png
*
Check out April’s Books – great for group studies.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

A Spiritual Practice of Meditating with Art

This is a Spiritual Practice that I have taught at several retreats.  It is similar to the ancient practice of praying with icons since it uses something an artist has created.  And yet, meditation with art is also a world apart from praying with an icon.  The icon artists (or Icon writers as some like to refer to themselves) intentionally create an image to gaze into as one prays. Whereas the artists of the famous paintings I am going to introduce wanted to inspire and teach us with their art, but didn’t necessarily think we would pray with it.  But we can!  And many people find it a very beneficial and enlightening way to pray this way.

Here is how I have been teaching this practice:

  • Choose a painting from the gallery below on which to mediate. Print it out or save it to your phone.
  • Find a quiet place to be alone with the Trinity.  You know that because of Christ, we live in him and him in us —  that actually makes us part of the trinity!  When not teaching this at a retreat, I go to a Catholic church that I can walk to from my house and meditate there, but any where you can be quiet and focused is fine.
  • Read the scripture (which I have printed on the painting) associated with the art. Read it slowly enough to remember it. But read it only once and put the scripture away.
  • Now meditate using the picture only.
  • Notice the expressions, the colors, the use of light and dark, the focal point, and every detail.
  • Let your thoughts flow freely as you gaze into it.  Share this moment with the trinity! Ask God to show it to you through God’s eyes.
  • Some things to consider:
    • What do you love about the picture? What don’t you like?
    • Where do you and the artist agree and disagree about the story?  It is okay to have a different understanding than the artist.  Try to understand why you disagree and why the artist took liberties – were they trying to say something special or ironic?
    • How does God speak to you through this story and painting?
  • When you are finished, journal your thoughts.
  • Some people will try a new painting every time they mediate.  Others will spend time for weeks with one until they feel God has spoken through it completely. Try returning to a painting months or years later.  I have found that they invoke something new every time.

All of the images below can be useful for everyone.  The first set consists of stories about men in scripture.  The second set is stories about women.  I usually offer the second set when I do a women’s retreat.  You can click on them for a large size and print them or download them to your phone.

 

Stories about women in scripture:

 

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Don’t Shame People – Educate!

There is a story in the New Testament where John says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

The disciples see this guy “casting out demons.”  Isn’t that what we are doing when we are supporting someone – protecting them from “demons” that want to hurt them or have been hurting them? I think it is!

But the disciples don’t like this guy, because the guy wasn’t doing it right!  He wasn’t one of them!

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mar 9:38-40 NRS).

When people are for you, even if they get supporting you wrong, do what Jesus taught.  Welcome them!  This is your chance to love them, forgive them, and most of all educate them!

One of the things you get to do while preparing for ordination is to study pastoral care in a supervised fashion.  Mine took place in the emergency room during the graveyard shift in a children’s hospital.

My first night in the ER, a child was brought in by helicopter with a shotgun hit to his thigh.  The thigh was literally blown wide open.  The muscle looked like ground beef. I could see his bone as they prepared him for surgery. The surgeon asked me to bring the boy’s mother into the hall where she could see her son and the surgeon could talk to her as they rushed her son into surgery.  The doctor had less than a minute to spend with her.  He told her the facts that ended with, “Your son will likely lose his leg, but I don’t think he will die.” Then the doctor and her son were gone.  I was left with the pieces of a devastated single mom and a desire to support her the best I could. I stood there and prayed I wouldn’t get this wrong.

The problem is, the more you study how to support those who have suffered injustice, whether that injustice is caused by disease, racism, sexism, or any other cause, there is no sure fire way to offer support.  What one person sees as helpful, another will see as hurtful.  We all come with different perspectives (and different baggage).  We all have different needs.  And that is okay.  But it makes it hard for those of us who want to help.

To prove this problem to the chaplain interns, our supervisor passed out five or six different articles that all started with titles like “10 Things not to Say” or “5 Things Not to Do.” Each article was by a different person and none of them agreed.  One person didn’t like that the chaplain asked if they could pray for them.  Another person was mad that the chaplain didn’t gather their family and have a prayer service in the hall.  One wanted the chaplain to cheer them up, while another wanted the chaplain to grieve with them. One wanted to be hugged, another didn’t want to be touched at all.

I sat with the boy’s mother for hours because she told me what she needed. Through the GBI questioning her, through the boy’s father – who she had not seen in years – showing up drunk and pushing her around, through the doctor coming out of surgery and telling her the boy’s leg had been saved, I stayed.  Mostly I just sat next to her, protected her from the boy’s father, and prayed silently doing simple things like making sure she stayed hydrated.

But a day later, there was a newborn infant in the NICU.  She looked perfect in every way.  Yet I stood with the parents and grandparents while the doctor told them that the only thing keeping the baby alive was the life support and that it should be disconnected as soon as they were ready since the infant would be in pain when the anesthesia wore off.  Again, this time the mom asked me to stay with her as her baby took her last breath.  The husband’s mother, on hearing this, demanded that I leave because she was Southern Baptist and didn’t believe in women pastors. She actually called me “evil.” At that moment, in her grief, she thought shaming me would fix things.  She thought shaming me for being a minister would please God and God would heal the baby. In the end, her children requested that she leave and was gently removed by a male nurse.

My point is this.  My desire to support – even the grandmother – was really strong, but that doesn’t mean I know what to do until I am educated.  I can show up.  I can leave when asked.  I can pray.  I can hold your hand.  I can stand between you and your ex. I can even find a Southern Baptist male chaplain for you. But I can’t do it the way that is helpful to you unless you educate me.

In addition, there is another dynamic to all of this that makes things even more complicated. The grandmother needed to realize that the other people – her daughter and son – who were also experiencing this horrific tragedy needed something different than she did. She didn’t have the market cornered on suffering. Everyone in that room was suffering.  What she needed was not what the others needed and she needed to work with that.

Don’t shame the people who want to support you when they get it wrong! That isn’t going to fix anything except push them away.  Instead love, forgive, and educate! As Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mar 9:38-40 NRS).

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Honey vs Vinegar

Have you ever noticed that after Jesus’ horrific death, that his followers don’t respond in anger?  They don’t react by calling those who are responsible names – not even in private.  They don’t plot revenge.  They don’t even hold rallies with negative sayings about the enemy inscribed on poster boards.

Instead, after a few weeks of hiding (and the arrival of the Holy Spirit who fills them with love, wisdom, and power), they go about their job of telling others the truth of what has happened.  They even invite the enemy to believe with them and to become part of their community.

They act in love, not fear, not retaliation. They do this even until martyred.

Brilliant+Brights+Wasp+Catcher

Anybody’s grandmother have one of these wasp catchers that she filled with honey? And hence the statement “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

What if the early Christians had taken the other route – angry, demanding retribution, forming groups of us versus them? Taking up the sword? Would we still be worshiping Jesus 2,000 years later?

I doubt it.

I think we should learn from their example. Speak the truth to those we disagree with, but always do it with respect for those we speak it to.  Take the high road.

Another person’s bad behavior doesn’t justify our bad behavior.  So we just keep on steadily being who God made us to be – servants and lovers of others – hoping one day they will see God within us and join us thereby completing us and making us rich with all the spiritual gifts they bring.

With all the division in the world right now, I have to bite my tongue (or erase what I have posted) a dozen times a day.  Sometimes I want to mock and say derogatory things that stray from speaking the truth in love.  If I do this, call me on it.  I don’t think it’s who I am.

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!