Saturday, August 5, 2017
Spending a cool, bright summer morning reading the red letter words of Jesus has been such a blessing to me today! I began reading chapter 7 of the Red Letter Revolution book, and one of the first things I read was the question, can any two of us have the same image of God and know who it is that we believe? Where do we get our own idea of who God is? The author, Tony Campolo, suggests that we look to Jesus, as He was the fullness of God. So, I went to Matthew, chapters 5-7, which is His sermon on the mount. Jesus had a LOT to say, and since He is the fullness of God, we can learn a lot about the the heart of God by listening to those red words.
I went even a little bit further, and I turned on the audio of my Bible app on my phone, so I could feel as though I was listening to Jesus speaking. Now, I realize that Jesus didn't speak in English, and this may be part of my overactive imagination, but in my mind I was sitting on that hillside with my legs drawn under me, hanging on each word my Savior was speaking.
Jesus spoke a lot about how we are to treat others, and He also gives us consequences for our actions, both positive and negative. I believe He was doing this, lovingly teaching us, so that we can have a better life here on earth, as well as in heaven. A parent lovingly teaches a child the ways to act so that they can prepare the child for life when they grow up and leave the protection of the home. Our Heavenly Father wants to prepare us as well. Jesus gave us stories and ways to understand what He was saying, so that we could relate to what He was saying.
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12) This golden rule prepares us for every relationship we can possible have.
Chapter 7 of the Red Letter Revolution is a dialog about Islam. I was anxious to read this chapter, as I know several people who have strong feelings about how we are to treat and deal with Muslims. Because of the war and the other consequences of the terrorism attack of 9/11, there is much fear and hatred for Muslims, even in our Christian communities. I also have some friends from college who are Muslim, and I have always known them to be kind, gentle and peaceful, nothing like the picture of the terrorists I see in the media. The words of both authors in this chapter touched me deeply. Shane Claiborne tells of experiences he had while in Iraq, experiences that showed him that the core beliefs of Islam and the core beliefs of Christianity are really not that far apart. There were Muslims who risked their lives to protect this Christian person visiting this strange country. This showed me that perhaps the red letters of the golden rule are not just for Christians to follow. Perhaps the heart of Jesus and His teachings lives in the hearts of people who many not even know him.
We fear what we don't understand. We rely on our own understanding of our beliefs. We seem to need to know who's in and who's out, in regard to heaven and our salvation. In our Christian belief, we know that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him." (John 14:6) This verse has given me such peace and comfort, for because of it I know who I am, to whom I belong and where I am going. For many, though, this verse provides the weapon to keep others out of heaven. If you don't know Jesus, you won't go to heaven. Period. Who's to say, though, that God, who is more powerful than we can ever imagine, is not powerful enough to show Jesus to those who don't know Him, even without a human being there to lead them to Him? Could Jesus be working in the hearts of Muslims, even as they read the words of the Koran? Perhaps there are people who are becoming Christians without yet calling themselves Christians. I don't understand how this could be possible, but it doesn't mean it couldn't happen.
On the chance that it COULD happen, and Jesus teaches me to treat and love others the way I would want to be loved and treated...perhaps I should respect and show love to others who believe differently than I.
Tony Campolo ends Chapter 7 with these words, which sound like a wonderful prayer to me: "We can pray that the Spirit continues to draw us all - Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, and Christians - closer to God and all things that matter to Him."
Friday, August 4, 2017
At my library, there is a beautiful statue of St. Francis. It stands in a small room on the main floor and has scared me out of my wits when I thought it was a person standing there. I am not Catholic, and do not know very much about the man or the saint. Today, however, I am intrigued and touched by his words.
Francis of Assisi lived in a time of turmoil, much like today. In the culture of his time, there was a great gap between the very wealthy and the very poor and Christians and Muslims were warring with each other in dramatic battles and hatred was rampant. Francis longed to do something that would make a difference and heal the hate and hurt. He studied the words of Jesus, and actually took those words seriously. He gave up every possession he had and gave to anyone who was in need. He spoke out and wrote poetry and tried to make the world understand that in order to change the world, we have to love others and love the world we live in.
Francis wasn't some hippie shouting "make love, not war,' he was on a mission from God. He heard God whispering to him to repair His church, which was in ruins. All he did with his life from that point on was to obey his heavenly Father. He left a legacy many years ago that you and I can pick up and continue today, by studying those red words of Jesus and putting them in practice every day.
What does that mean? Love.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." John 15:12
"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;" Matthew 25:35
"YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Matthew 22:39
St. Francis' prayer so many years ago is so very relevant today. May we all be instruments of His peace and do what we can to repair the church and the world, today and every day.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
-- St. Francis of Assisi
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Chapters 2 & 3 of Red Letter Revolution (Claiborne and Campolo) have moved me to tears! At last! I feel like someone actually understands the things in my head and my heart! These two chapters were about the church and living in community. It made me think of my own family and church experience.
When I was in elementary school, something happened to my parents at the church we attended. The result of this event caused my father, who had been a leader in our church, to lose faith in the church. He left and never stepped foot in a church again until my wedding day when he walked me down the isle. He adamantly still believed in God, but he felt that the church was full of hypocrites only out for "the almighty dollar," and felt he could worship God just as well as he was driving the tractor or feeding the sheep. He felt this way until the day he died, which was way too early at the age of 46.
My mother, however, felt it was still important for their children to go to church and learn about Jesus as she and my dad had, in Sunday school. So, she took my brother and me to a different church, where we finished growing up and where I had a firm foundation of the love of God and the loving and saving grace of Jesus placed in my heart that has stayed with me all my life.
But, even though my faith has stayed with me, I have had many times when I questioned the church, no matter which church I was attending. Even today, I question God almost daily. I don't doubt Him or not believe in Him, but I question things that don't make sense to me. Many times, I don't get answers to my questions, and sometimes I still feel frustrated, but my questioning has also brought me closer to God. I look at this world and my heart hurts. There is so much pain, so many broken hearts, so much hate and violence. I want to do more to ease the hurt for others around me.
My dad felt the church was too full of hypocrites, and many young people I meet today feel the same way and don't want anything to do with church. In some of those red letters, in Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus talked about hypocrisy. He explained that many leaders and teachers of the word were too wrapped up in themselves, preaching the right way to go, but not doing it themselves. He called them on it as well, in a most forceful and emphatic manner, in fact. On top of calling them hypocrites, he calls them fools, blind guides, snakes, and a brood of vipers. WOW! This gentle Son of God spoke some serious words to these leaders!
A new church that was started in the name of Jesus, after his death - the church we read about in Acts - was the beginning of what I believe God saw as what he wanted for his people. People living in community, helping each other, lifting each other up, sharing what they had and living and doing life together in the name of Jesus. It started out well, but as is our human nature to do, they messed it up. As history shows us, many horrendous and despicable things have been done in the name of Jesus, and "the church" is really nothing like the first church we see in Acts. Today, many churches strive to be Acts churches, but still many people around the world have left the church behind them.
While I also get fed up from time to time with the hypocritical things I see in churches and Christians today, I also know that I am a hypocrite as well. As Paul says in Romans, 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I WANT to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do." I find myself doing the things I hate! Instead of filling up self-loathing about this behavior, however, talking to some of my trusted friends from church has always helped me, for they too find themselves doing the same thing.
Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The church needs to be a place where we are honest about our hypocrisy We need to EMBRACE those red words and embrace each other in our hypocrisy. If we are honest with each other, we CAN live in harmony in our faith communities. As he was preparing to leave this earth, Jesus prayed for his disciples and prayed that "they may as one as we are one." That we, as disciples of Christ, could be like the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three different entities, living as one in heart and mind.
I know my dad's heart was broken over the hurt he felt in the situation that happened to him in his church. He felt he was better off worshiping on his own. I know of so many other people who have felt broken hearted or lost because of hurt they experienced at church. What they don't see is that we NEED each other, hypocrisy, warts and all, to truly live and experience the wonder of Christ's love for us.
I long to see a red letter revolution of people who live out the words of Jesus and embrace each others failures, sins and trials instead of judging them and making them feel they do not belong in church because of the things they do. Instead of reminding people they are going to hell for doing things God tells them not to, SHOW THEM the loving and forgiving grace of Jesus. How are people who are sinning (EVERY ONE OF US!) going to find Jesus' grace if they feel they aren't worthy of even walking through our church doors?
I know I NEED my community off fellow hypocrites around me, who honestly and lovingly help me through life, even when I mess up. I'll let God worry about the sin and I will just show people His love. What if each of us did that every day?
Saturday, July 29, 2017
I have been a follower of Jesus my whole life. I don't even have one of those amazing stories to tell about my salvation moment, because I can't remember a time when I didn't know Jesus. Thank you Mom and Dad for making my faith a priority in my upbringing! Now, there have been times in my life when I didn't make Jesus a priority in my life and even times when I ran away from Him. There have been more times when I just didn't feel that close to him. However, I can tell you that I have always felt He was with me and I thank God for that fact.
Now, before you think I am just one of those "Jesus freaks" out to hound you about being saved and judging you for how you live and don't know Jesus, that is NOT me! While I am not opposed to the term "Jesus freak" and I am not ashamed of my relationship with Jesus, I am NOT going to judge you at all. Jesus himself said, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." As a matter of fact, the words of Jesus are why I am writing today.
A friend of mine has loaned me her copy of the book Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo and I have just finished the first chapter. While it is not yet telling me anything I didn't already know, oh man! It is re-awakening a fire inside of me! If you know anything about Bibles, you know that in most modern Bibles, the words of Jesus in the New Testament are written in red, so they are distinguished from all the other words. Years ago, I read a book that I KNOW was titled Written in Red, but I haven't been able to find that book when I have looked for it. I remember being moved by it as well.
I have TRIED to live my life the way Jesus lived his, loving others, treating others the way I want to be treated, helping the poor and the oppressed, telling others about my faith in God. While I don't even come CLOSE, that is the life I aspire to because those red words have always been so important to me. I have written in this blog many times that if only EVERYONE in this world lived a little more in the red, we would have a better and more peaceful world.
Jesus made us a promise in those red words, that when He left this world, He was giving us HIS peace. He tells us not to be troubled and not to be afraid. Imagine what things we could do if we weren't worried and afraid all the time!
I am excited to read more of this book and learn and be inspired to find more ways to live out the red words. Even though I haven't been writing much in this blog, it is my goal in the next coming weeks to read and share my thoughts with you here. Perhaps we really CAN start a red letter revolution in our world!
Peace to you all today!
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” -- Matthew 18:20
“Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” -- Psalm 50:5
Our church is studying a book by Adam Hamilton, Final Words, this Lenten season. Today, because I had a vacation day, I took extra time to read, study, contemplate and let it all seep into my heart.
This books teaches us and encourages us to look at the final few statements that Jesus said at the end of his life on the cross. As our pastor discussed this last Sunday, when hanging on the cross, speaking would have been very difficult for Jesus. So, why did He do this? Why did he voluntarily endure even more pain? I believe He did it to gather us together.
This thought brought back my own painful memory. My dad was dying. All the family were called home that weekend. We knew it was a matter of only hours, so we were all with him in that living room in his last hours. We were all trying to sleep, on couches, in chairs, on the floor, all the while enduring our own little worlds of despair. At a little before 3:00 am, my dad called out that he had to pee. Since he was so weak, it took several of us to help him with this simple bodily function. My brother and my uncle held him up, my mom helped him and I also gathered there in support. At the stroke of three, his hand dropped and he was gone. As I think back on this memory that ALWAYS brings me to tears, I think about my dad's final words. They weren't words of comfort. They weren't saying goodbye. They weren't elegant words we could treasure always. However, I believe he said those specific words to gather us all together. He knew that it took several people to help him with this simple task, so gathering us all together to help him allowed us all to be around him when he slipped away from this world. He was surrounded by the people who loved him most and whom he loved most. As we all realized he was gone, we clung onto one another. We were surrounded by the people we loved the most. We all supported each other in that moment and in all the difficult moments to come.
This memory is as fresh in my mind and heart as if it happened yesterday instead of 23 years ago. Even though it is a painful moment in my life, I will treasure it always. I believe that was my dad's final gift to the people he loved.
I believe Jesus endured the pain of speaking while hanging that cross as HIS final gift to us. He gathered the people who loved him the most and they listened to his words. The writers of the Gospels interviewed those around the cross and recorded those last few precious statements from Jesus so we could treasure them generations later.
In the coming weeks of Lent, as I study those gifted statements from my Savior, I will look at them in a different way. I will think of the gift my earthly father gave me and be honored by the gift my Heavenly father gave me on the cross.
Dear Gracious Father,
Thank you so much for the gift you gave the world through Jesus. In this world of division and frustration, gather people together and let us all feel your love through the gifts you have given us. Let us lean on the people around us. Help us to come together and work on bringing peace to a hurting world. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
"Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." -- 1 Peter 5:7
God is good! I know that is a saying we say, and perhaps it has become trite for some. However, for me, I have found it to be true. Yesterday was an emotional roller coaster ride! It began with a devotional moment in the morning. A verse I read prompted me to hit my knees. So many people that I love and trust have been telling me that my way of thinking is wrong. I am turning into some tree-hugging liberal, apparently, and I am wrong in God's eyes. If that was true, why did I feel so strongly about this? So, right there, beside my kitchen table, I hit my knees and asked...no BEGGED God to change my heart and mind if I was wrong. Later in the day, my pastor posted a message from a leader in the Methodist church that reinforced my heart and thoughts. You may not believe it, but in my heart, that was the answer from God I needed! I shared that post and started a heated debate among my friends and family. It breaks my heart that I seem to be so far away from where they are. But...I refuse to be hurtful or hateful...I COULDN'T be because I LOVE these people. I even love the person who was pretty hateful back to me.
I was feeling both strengthened and disheartened yesterday after work, and emotionally drained. I didn't feel like sitting home by myself, as I figured I would spend my evening obsessed with what people were saying on Facebook (I WISH I could just give it up!!!) so I went to a movie. I had been wanting to see Hidden Figures, about the women at NASA who helped John Glenn get to space in the Friendship 7. I am currently working on a display for my library about these women and about John Glenn, as he is out very own hometown hero!
On the way to the movie theater, I heard a song on the radio about how I should live like I'm loved. I listened to every word and felt reassured that I was right to feel like I feel. I watched the movie, and let me tell you...during the movie there were times when my leg got to shaking so much because I felt this fire building inside me! These women, who were told they had to use separate bathrooms, and that they weren't good enough, were using the brains God gave them and kept pushing until everyone saw what God created them to do! John Glenn, bless his dear, departed soul, saw their worth, treated them like the human treasures they are and TRUSTED them to do the math that was needed to figure out how to bring him home from space. He TRUSTED these women, who most of society were throwing away, with his life!
I walked out of that theater feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and REFUELED! The radio played a song about asking God to bring these dry bones to life! I prayed on the way home that I could explain these feelings to my husband. He never understands my church and God feelings...When he got home from his day, we started talking and it all came spilling out! He listened! He may think I'm a little nuts, but he listened and encouraged me!
This morning, I woke up with the old hymn "God will take care of you" in my head! As I walked past the coffee table, I picked up my grandmother's old Bible that usually just sits there as a decoration. I opened the Bible and look what I saw:
This is a note, written by my dad when he was a teenager, that my grandma kept in her Bible. I have seen this before, but it has been a LONG time! My dad has been on my mind SO much this month. He has been gone for 23 years this month and I LONG to speak to him again. This note allowed me to hear his "voice" and see that even as a teenager, he was searching for how to live like Jesus. I SOOOOO needed this message today!
So...God has taken care of me in the last two days! THANK YOU GOD! There is a fire in my belly! A refreshed spirit in my soul! I will not fight with those who think I am wrong, but I will speak love. I will try to live like Jesus each day. I will fall...I will sin. It's a good thing I have a Savior who will pick me up, brush me off , forgive me and breathe breath into these dry bones once again!
Thank you, thank you, Lord for taking such good care of me! Lord, I am here. I hear you calling. I will go where you lead me. I will hold your people (ALL PEOPLE) in my heart! Please open the hearts, minds and souls of others who know you and call out to them and let them hear you tell them to LOVE and not let fear hold them back. Amen