I need a campfire.

campfiresI have a bunch of topics for this post. There is a list. You may see some of them. But as I was going through a pile of notes today, I found a to-do list with “We need campfires” written haphazardly on the page.

I wrote it while in the middle of a conversation with a friend. We were talking about how to help the lessons of a recent trip resonate through the lives of the 30 teens and adults who traveled together. He talked about the conversations by the campfire during the trip. And I wrote, “We need campfires” with Sharpie on my list.

And then went on about my business. And busyness.

A campfire isn’t busy. It isn’t business. It’s a slow thoughtful place, where marshmallows and chocolate collide. Where stories emerge after the fireflies and stars. Where things seem more possible, more plausible.

It’s where Paul can talk with Timothy.

It’s where Esther comes alive.

It’s where Jesus had conversations with people while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Although it is possible to rush through a campfire while fighting mosquitoes or rain or bedtime for children, the very best campfires are deliberately protracted dalliance.

I don’t have a campfire scheduled. But I’m realizing the need. So if you have one with an empty log for sitting and a couple marshmallows for toasting, let me know. We’ll bring some stories and come over.


Looking for conversations with God.

We talk about prayer as conversations with God. Sometimes we wish that we could hear both sides of the conversation, instead of just our own. One way that we can understand these conversations a little better is to read the accounts of others. There are a few of these conversations in the Old Testament. And, assuming that prayer is talking with God and that Jesus is God, every time there is a conversation between Jesus and one of the disciples, or the Pharisees, or some person that Jesus is healing, we have a picture of prayer.

So, for example, if you are looking for something to read while sitting in your chair ready to read something from the Bible, consider one of these conversations:

  • Moses had several conversations with God. They start in Exodus (See, for example, the burning bush story in Exodus 3-4) and are also found in Leviticus and Numbers. Does the way Moses talks with God change across the forty years they talk? How much do they disagree with each other? How much do they agree? 
  • The woman at the well in John 4 has several conversational turns with Jesus. What do they show about how he listens to her heart’s longing? How willing is he to listen to her questions and respond? 
  • The disciples, Martha, Mary and the crowds in John 11. The whole chapter is conversations. How does Jesus interact with all these different people? How does he respond differently to different comments? Do his comments reflect an awareness of different personalities?
  • In John 7, Jesus talks with groups of people who are debating with him. Use an online Bible that lets you look at cross references and footnotes. How many times are the answers Jesus gives based on Old Testament verses? If he uses the Bible to answer questions then, might that still be true?


In praise of being unoriginal

Hope.Paul is writing to his apprentice. It’s likely his last letter, his address at Timothy’s commencement. It’s the speech where every instruction matters, every emotion is raw.

Paul’s words are what no self-respecting American commencement speaker would say.

“What you heard from me,” Paul tells Timothy, “keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” A few sentences later Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

We chafe at the kind of conformity Paul is describing. We are part of a culture that celebrates originality. We want everyone to embrace innovation. We all have endless opportunities to publish everything we can possibly make up. We aspire to live with the same originality as everyone else does.

But we can buy books and take courses that teach us the principles of nonconformity. We can learn how to innovate. At some point, we search out, practice, and share what fits with our values. So when Paul is encouraging his apprentice to work within a framework of teaching, isn’t he doing what human beings do all the time?

Depending, of course, on whether we like the values in the teaching. When we agree with the results of teaching, we celebrate consistency. When we dislike them, we complain about conformity. If a way of life heals people and relationships and the planet, that seems worth learning and passing on.

And agree with Paul or disagree about what he teaches, pay attention to the process of generational transfer. To pass on a way of understanding, we need to learn the framework, make what we teach consistent with that framework, and teach people how to teach people how to teach.


Hypothetical willingness

We were finishing talking about 1 Corinthians. It was the end of an eight-month study with a group of men. We were talking about making a difference by expressing love in life-threatening ways. We were talking about the Ebola outbreak in western Africa.

Ebola is a scary disease. No known cure. Spreads crazy fast (every person infected likely means four more people being infected.) Causes death in 60-90% of cases.

We were talking about the role of God’s people in running hospitals, providing treatment, praying. People like Kent Brantly, a doctor from Texas treating patients in Liberia. He’s just been diagnosed with Ebola symptoms. Someone said, “If your daughter told you she was going to help, wouldn’t you try to talk her out if it?”

“No way,” I said as I began to tear up. “If she had a way to help and she told me she sensed God calling her to go, I wouldn’t argue. It would hurt like hell, but she’d be doing something that mattered.”

I was surprised by my passion.

doorA couple days later, I was thinking about that conversation: “So what am I doing right now?” A hypothetical commitment is nice, but it does nothing to help the people in a small hospital in Sierra Leone that a doctor friend of mine loves.

So I started thinking about what I could do now.

  • I could give my friend money to send on to Sierra Leone for the protective gear necessary for caregivers.
  • I could finish a couple of writing projects that would generate some revenue to help fund that care.
  • I could ask God to give courage and words to Pastor T, working in that village, exposed to those people.
  • I could write a post telling you about the challenge.

Or I could say, “how sad” and click on.

More on helping you read the Bible

This is part two of a conversation about reading the Bible that we started yesterday.

Second, schedule the conversation.

Recently, I started setting the chair time on my calendar for 5:45. I get up at 5:30, and the coffee maker runs at 5:17, so it’s ready when the alarm goes off. And I often look first at email. or facebook. or twitter. or all three. But I need a reminder so I have the alarm go off at 5:45 and I sit in my chair.

Most of us schedule important things. We set time for dates, not because it’s drudgery but because we need reminders. We set reminders for classes and for work because it’s important. (I wrote more about this recently).

So why not schedule conversations with God?  In a chair? Routinely. Because that way we don’t have to decide when and where.

Third, read anything from the Bible.

Seriously. Anything.

whatever. @naswanson at cornerstone for kids #harvesttourI’m a reader. At any given time I have six books I’m reading from. business books, commentaries, writing books, Lord of the Rings. One day I was beating myself up for jumping around in my Bible reading and I thought, “But that’s how I read!” So I relaxed.

It’s okay to read various parts of the Bible from day to day. As you are sitting in your chair at the scheduled time, read the text from the sermon you heard Sunday. Or read the book of Mark. But read from the Bible (not just 300 words.) I’ll offer more suggestions about this one next week.

Fourth, ask God what he’s saying.

I (usually) love it when someone says, “What were you thinking about when you wrote this.” or when someone says, “I love that post” or they say, “Seriously? I’m not sure I agree.” I love it because it means I can talk to them. I can explain. I can engage.  I can say, “Ah. look at what I wrote two months ago. That’s part of the same conversation.”

And I never have those conversations when no one asks. Because it’s tacky to say, “Have you read my blog?”

Since I assume that God is behind the words of the Bible, I make asking God questions part of the routine of interaction.