Tag Archives: Relationship

Perpetual Embers

A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar; it shall not go out.
Leviticus 6:13 (NRSV)

My family vacationed at the same place every year. Camp Idlewood on Rainy Lake in Minnesota was where we spent two weeks in early August every summer. There was a campfire pit just outside the boathouse and a fire was lit every night as families gathered around to swap stories, sing songs, and enjoy each other’s company.

As childhood gave way to the tween and teen years, we were allowed to stay later and later at the campfire. Eventually the parental unit would head to bed and we were allowed to hang out at the campfire until the wee hours of the night. Occasionally the wee hours gave way to dawn and we would still be there huddled around the fire pit.

I remember those nights watching the fire evolve from blazing bonfire to glowing embers. Still, we would stoke it and tend it and keep it going through the watches of the night as conversations continued, friendships were forged, and camp romances occasionally were sparked to life and then quickly went out.

I thought about that campfire as I read this morning of the ancient sacrificial fires prescribed by God through Moses. They kept going. Wood was added. The embers were stoked. The spiritual conversation and relationship continued around the fire.

This morning I’m reminded that my worship, my sacrifice, and my offering to God is not a compartmentalized act confined to a Sunday morning. It is a campfire in my spirit which does not go out. Every day, every stretch of the journey it blazes, it ebbs, and I tend to it;  I stoke the embers into flame again and again. God and me perpetually around the fire through the watches of the night, into the wee hours, and on to the dawn.

Popcorn Prayers

Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 2:4 (NRSV)

When you have intimate, long-term relationships with others you find that communication takes a myriad of forms. Wendy and I are together almost all of the time. We live together, work from home together, serve in the community together, and spend most of our free time together. We have layers of communication:

  • Conversations about culture and world events over breakfast and  the news.
  • Brief exchanges from the top of the 2nd floor landing to the bottom of the stairs on the main floor.
  • Text message exchanges.
  • Non-verbal body language cues.
  • Short notes left on stickies on the counter.
  • Emotional rants of aggravation.
  • Nuts and bolts planning and scheduling over calendars.
  • Cell phone conversations when one of us are running errands.
  • Long, intense personal conversations over drinks or a meal.
  • Pillow-talk as we retire for the night.

I have found that my conversations with God have similar diversity of communication. From long, structured, formal give and take to brief exchanges and casual conversations of spirit. There are blurted exclamations of anger, frustration, gratitude, or need. I quiet my heart and open the ears of my spirit to hear what God might have to say during my coffee with God each the morning. I sometimes pour out my heart to God in long, hand written letters. If prayer is simply communication with God, then each one of these mediums is a different, yet legitimate form of prayer used as needed based on the time and circumstance.

In today’s chapter we learn that Nehemiah served the Babylonian king, Artaxerxes, in his court. His heart heavy with the news of the destruction of his hometown Jerusalem’s destroyed walls, Nehemiah cannot help be send non-verbal cues regarding his mood. The king notices and asks him why he looks so depressed.

We cannot fathom today the pressure placed on servants in ancient royal courts like that of Artaxerxes. Kings and Queens held ultimate power and routinely took the mantel of diety upon themselves. Servants in a royal court were expected to always be in a good mood, always serve with joy, and to treat the royals as if they were gods who lived in a higher dimension of being than everyone else. Any slight, mistake, errant word or look could result in an immediate death penalty.

When King Artaxerxes notices the cloud of depression on Nehemiah’s face, his immediate reaction is fear. Nehemiah doesn’t know whether to answer truthfully, beg forgiveness, say “it’s nothing,” or make up some plausible story. One wrong word or move, a simple raising of the King’s ire, and Nehemiah’s a dead man. Nehemiah chooses to tell the truth about his depression over Jerusalem’s walls. Then, Artaxerxes raises the stakes even higher by asking, “What do you request?”

Nehemiah is now in an even more treacherous fix. Ask too much and the king could take it as arrogant insubordination. Blow off the request and it could be perceived as false humility and refusing to answer a direct question. But Nehemiah needs to answer the king and he needs to answer it quickly. What does Nehemiah do?

He throws up a prayer.

Nehemiah had no time for religious ritual. He couldn’t stop the moment to languish in conversation about this situation with God. He could ask the King to spare him a moment while he got on his knees and recited a psalm. Nehemiah threw up what I like to call a “popcorn prayer.”

Like a kernel of popcorn jumping up quickly in the heat to explode into bloom, popcorn prayers pop out of my spirit in a moment and last little more than a breath. Popcorn prayers often get uttered in heated situations. They acknowledge in an instant that God is always present, always listening, always open to listen in all of the diverse ways two beings in an intimate relationship communicate.

There are times for long conversation, and there are times for popcorn prayers. Both forms are legitimate methods of communicating with God. God answered Nehemiah’s popcorn prayer, and the desires of Nehemiah’s heart were about to miraculously be answered via a blurted prayer from Nehemiah’s spirit.

Today, as I quietly listen to what God might be saying to me through the chapter, I hear this: “Keep popping.”

Refreshing

I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.
1 Corinthians 16:17-18a (NIV)

Wendy and I just arrived safely home from a short week at the lake. This past weekend was what has become an annual rite of early summer for us, as we spent the weekend with our friends at the lake. The agenda is very loose, but no matter the activities the entire time is woven with great food, great drink, and great conversation. I will admit that my body arrived home a tad sore and short on sleep, but my spirit was completely refreshed.

In this morning’s chapter, Paul makes the final remarks of his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth. Three men from the Corinthian believers had traveled to meet Paul, presumably to hand him the letter to which he references and is responding in this response. Paul remarks that his spirit was “refreshed” by their visit and letter. This is a common word that Paul liked to use. He used it again in his subsequent letter to the Corinthian believers. He also used it as he corresponded with believers in Rome, in a letter to his protege Timothy and in a letter to Philemon.

We all need times of being refreshed. Our life journeys are filled with stretches that deplete us in multiple ways. Life is often a slog. We tap into spiritual, emotional, and relational reserves in order to press on with each daily trek. Over time, it’s easy for our tanks to run empty. We need to be refreshed.

I also find it interesting this morning that each time Paul references being “refreshed” it is always in reference to a relationship. It’s another person or persons who have refreshed him. I am reminded of the word picture Jesus gave his followers when He washed their feet. Their bodies were clean, Jesus reminded them, but their feet get dirty from walking in the world each day. They needed Jesus to wash their feet, but He knew that He was soon going to physically leave this world. Jesus knew that His followers would need to wash each other’s feet after His ascension. We need the refreshment of having another human being who listens to us, laughs with us, loves on us, and lightens our emotional load for a few days. We need others to fill our spiritual, emotional, and relational tanks for the next stretch of the journey.

This morning I am thankful for a host of good friends with whom Wendy and I share life’s journey. I’m thankful for friends who refresh us and fill our tanks. I hope to refresh others as well as I have been refreshed.

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Love Trumps Freedom

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I have friends and family members who represent a broad spectrum of generations, backgrounds, beliefs and social customs. When we get together with people we are aware that others have very different thoughts and feelings about all sorts of human rituals and behaviors. From saying a prayer of thanks before a meal to whether it’s acceptable to consume alcohol to choice of appropriate words/topics to the appropriateness of a cigar after a great meal, there are many different considerations.

That’s the crucial word: consideration. When it comes social settings with others of very different beliefs, my behavior is determined largely by whether I consider my beliefs or others beliefs more important to me in that moment.

Paul was dealing with exactly the same situation among the followers of Jesus in the first century town of Corinth. Some of the community felt passionately that it was inappropriate to buy or consume meat that had been sacrificed to one of the many pagan temples there before it ended up in the market.  Others felt just as passionately that it was silly to worry about such things. The result was one of many conflicts that had come to full boil among the diverse community of believers.

For the past three chapters Paul has been addressing this controversy. Yes, he agreed, there is nothing wrong with eating the meat. Those who felt such freedom of conscience were not be convinced otherwise. At the same time, Paul urged those who experienced such freedom to be considerate of those who held different beliefs on the matter. In other words: relatively insignificant dietary rules or beliefs of religious/social propriety are subordinate to the great commandment Jesus gave: Love those who think differently than you do. When you are with them, Paul urged, consider their conscience more important than your freedom. Freedom of conscience is subordinate to the law of love.

As I ponder this principle, I am aware that at times I am admittedly guilty of putting my pride and freedom ahead of others whom I make uncomfortable. I am reminded this morning: Love trumps freedom. Consideration of others trumps the freedom of my conscience. A good thing for me to embrace and apply as I press on with my journey today.

“Yes, And”

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had….
Romans 15:5 (NIV)

This past week my friend Matthew and I gave our final message in a four-week series on the topic of overcoming shame (audio can be found here). The series focused heavily on our need to own the darkness of our souls where things hidden and secreted away grow to wield power over us. We urged listeners to find safe and trustworthy places to expose things hidden in darkness to the Light.

There rose an argument among some that 1) Christ should be all we need, therefore 2) we shouldn’t need to take this step of revelation. And, if 1) we are saying that what we need to reveal our shame to another, then 2) we are saying we don’t need Christ.

Let me introduce you to a concept we use in the world of acting called, “Yes, And.” When an actor on stage is trying to figure out what his or her character is thinking we box ourselves in a corner by asking, “Does my character want this or that?” Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, my character wants this and that.” Sometimes things are not “either or” but “yes and.” Our friends on Sunday approached our message saying “its either Christ or confession.” Matthew and I were teaching that “Yes, it’s Christ and confession.”

Why else would God’s Message urge us to:

  • Wash one another’s feet?
  • Confess our sins to each other?
  • Encourage one another?
  • Admonish one another?
  • Build each other up in love?
  • Bear on another’s burdens?

The path to following Jesus includes both the vertical (me and God) and horizontal (me and my fellow believers) axis. It’s not either the vertical or the horizontal. It is, yes, the vertical and the horizontal. That’s why Paul, in today’s chapter, prays for God’s encouragement and endurance. You need both when you are in relationship with others.

In a black and white, either-or world of legalism, the mind loves to categorize information into exclusive compartments. With these exclusive mental compartments we can quickly determine that certain people, thoughts, or ideas don’t fit neatly in our compartments, and conclude therefore that they are wrong and we can dismiss them. But, Jesus has never fit neatly into any one person’s or denomination’s box and He never will.

 

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The Divine Good Luck Charm

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”
Judges 17:13 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are fans of the Minnesota Vikings. I even know the Vikings fight song and will sing it for you upon request. Granted, we have not had much to cheer about for many years. As we wind down the 2015 season, there is at least the prospect of our Vikes going to the playoffs and an outside chance they could win their division. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

A life-long fan of the Vikings, I can remember being a kid and having so much life energy invested in that game on Sunday. A win could send me to the mountain top and a loss could ruin my life for days. Growing up in the 1970’s when the Vikings were a perennial favorite to go to the Super Bowl, there were more mountain tops than ruins – with the exception of the Super Bowl itself. 0-4. Woof.

Back in those blissful, ignorant days of childhood my perception of God was that of a divine good luck charm. Do the right thing and rub God the right way and the Vikings might win on Sunday. If they lost, well then I must have done something to deserve my tragic circumstances. My focus wasn’t on what God wanted of me, but rather what I could coerce out of God.

Looking back, it’s really quite silly. The story of Micah in today’s chapter, however, reminds me that my childhood perceptions of God are actually quite common. It seems to me that Micah was not looking for a relationship with his Creator, but rather a good luck charm that would assure his prosperity.

My spiritual journey has taught me that God is beyond what I can possibly fathom. God knows that our temporal fortunes in this life are of no eternal value compared to the true genuineness of our faith. Reducing God to some kind of divine talisman is demeaning and disrespectful, and I get the sense that this is why God gets so ticked off with idolatry. The narrow road winds to deeper, more meaningful places than wins and losses. It takes us through more painful tragedies and more life-giving victories.

We love our Vikings, and we will be cheering them on in the coming weeks. Who know? Maybe they’ll surprise us [Still not holding my breath]. Even if they lose, we’ll (once again) chalk it up as a spiritual lesson in faith and perseverance.

Skol!

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A Million Choices

“…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God….”
Deuteronomy 28:2 (NRSV)

When I was a young man I made an observation as I hung out with my friends. I watched as my friends made snarky retorts to their parents and the argumentative escalation that inevitably occurred and usually ended with some sort of punishment. I would see the willful choices others would make to do what they knew was wrong, and the trouble that it eventually afforded them. I was not a perfect kid, and I did my share of stupid things, but more often than not I realized that there was a peace in life that came with simply doing the right thing.

As I read the chapter this morning I was struck by the list of blessings that were promised to God’s people if they would obey His commands. While some of these blessings are divine in nature, there are many blessings on that list which are simply the natural consequences of consistently choosing to do what you know is right in life and relationship.

Life is both crazy and stressful. The journey is hard. I can make it more difficult with poor choices in the way I live, act, think, speak, and relate to others. I can also assure myself a certain level of peace by choosing daily to live, act, think, speak, and relate to others in a way that is good and right.

The day lies before me with a million choices to be made of thought, word, and action. How I choose in each moment will make a huge difference in how this day ends, in stress or peace.

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