Stir up the fire

(A reflection on 2 Timothy 1:6-7)

Dear Timothy:

I was just remembering our travels visiting churches. We had my tent, but those cold nights by the fire. You, me, Luke, others. We talked about Jesus, about following.

Remember how the fire would burn down, til there were just coals? If someone sat close, it was warm. But just sitting around the circle, we started to get cool, to get distracted.

But then you moved closer to the fire. You wanted to be helpful, so you moved the logs around. You knocked some of the ash off the coals. The pieces of the logs that were around the edges, you gingerly tossed into the heart of the coals.

And the fire flared up. The flames rekindled. We could see each other’s faces, we felt warm. And in that warmth and light, we planned and prayed.

Timothy, in the same way that you rekindled those fires, rekindled the gift God gave you. I remember laying my hand on your head, remember the delight we all felt as we saw what God had equipped you to do. You have a gift, given to you by God for the benefit of us all. But you have to be involved. You have to feed it.

And I know that makes you fearful. You don’t like to be out front. But I’m not calling you to be out front, to be me. You are quieter, more relational.

But you don’t have the spiritual gift of cowardice. Fearfulness is not from God.

Remember the story we heard from Mark, about the time that Jesus was in the boat and fell asleep. And there was a storm. And the waves came up. And they were afraid that the boat would sink. And they woke Jesus. And he said, “why are you so afraid?” That kind of fear isn’t from God. And Jesus still confronts it.

But you know what is from God? You know what he gives us instead of cowardice? He gives you a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. A mind that can control itself when faced with things that would cause anyone else to panic.

More later,


Recognizing the voice of Jesus, part 2

See part 1 yesterday

Jesus talks a lot in John, to a lot of different people, many of whom are identified by name. In the first chapter he talks to his first followers. In chapter two, he talks with his mom, with his followers. And then he makes a public spectacle, showing how he sounds to people who are wronging God and other people. In chapter three, he talks to a scholar. And a prophet, who was also a relative, talks about him. In chapter four, he talks with a marginalized woman. In chapter five with the establishment. And in between there are miracles, not every day, but often enough to make a point.

So if we want to learn what Jesus sounds like when he talks to people, and how Jesus works, reading John might help. Because it may help us learn to recognize when he is talking to us.

How do we do this kind of a study?

One way is to walk through all the conversations in the book. Some are really short: one question, one answer. Others are longer: question, response, question, response, comment, question.

1. Look at each conversation. In one or two sentences at most, answer each question.

  • Who is talking with Jesus?
  • What do they say?
  • What does Jesus say?
  • How do they respond, if we know?

This will take awhile. But in the process, you will begin to hear how Jesus sounds.

2. After the whole book has summaries, look back through the notes.

  • How much time does Jesus spend speaking in large groups? In small groups? One on one?
  • How much time does he spend with enemies? with friends?
  • What do people ask him to do? Does he do it?
  • What does he ask people to do?

And that will help us know his voice.


Make sense? Questions? Want to give it a go?

Recognizing the voice of Jesus, part 1

It’s a common question for people learning to pray: ”What am I doing wrong?” It comes when we are asking God for clarity about something. It can be general: “Help me know what to do.” It can be specific: “Help me know the career, the next step, the right relationship.” It can be spiritual: “Help me love you.” Or even, “Are you there?”

We ask and ask and ask and sense no clear answer. We know that it’s possible that we may be missing the answers. We know we may not be listening right. And we are frustrated. (and maybe a little scared and desperate).

One way to navigate this uncertainty is to step back from the praying and read. The Bible. And not just any part of the Bible. The Gospel of John.

This account of the life of Jesus has some things that are helpful for people learning to talk with God. And the biggest reason is identified by Jesus himself.

Let me show you.

Jesus was talking to a group of Pharisees. They were some of the religious leaders most focused on being spiritual. In the process, they made people feel like they had to follow many rules in rigorous ways. As a result, people felt burdened.

Jesus started talking about how he related to people. He used an image he often used, shepherds and sheep:

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  (John 10:1-6)

So Jesus is saying that the shepherd’s voice – His voice – is very distinctive for his sheep. He knows them, they know him, he leads them, they follow him. It sounds exactly like what we are looking for, to know how to hear God and follow him. But how can we do that? One simple way is to learn what his voice sound like.

And that’s where reading John comes in.

(Part two tomorrow).

Hope rides shotgun. A reflection for Easter Monday.

Hope and I were driving home from work. We had carpooled, her to the pizza place, me to the church. I picked her up, rolled the window down, and headed home.

It was the first warm Spring day we’d traveled together. I handed her the end of a cable. One end was plugged into the radio. The other was for her phone, full of music.

“What do you want to listen to,” she asked.

“The windows are down,” I said.

And soon Ben Rector was singing about summer. Very loud. Through scratchy speakers. We smiled.

It’s what we do when we ride together in warm. We listen to music loud. And sometimes we sing. And then we talk and then turn up the volume again.

I looked over at Hope. Through the window on her side of the car I saw a man with his hands near his face and a little girl bending over. And then we were past.

As I processed the photo in my mind, I realized that he was blowing bubbles and she was chasing them with the delight and intensity of a three-year old on the first warm Spring day that she and her dad were traveling together.

Hope kept singing. I was crying. Nearly twenty years on from that dad and daughter, as they were making a tradition, we were keeping our own. I started smiling soon again.

I know that it’s the day after Easter. And I should be telling us a story from the Resurrection.

But I am. Jesus came and lived and died and rose and ascended. Because of that, I can stop feeling so guilty about not measuring up and working hard to prove my value to God. I can glimpse a dad creating bubbles that delight his daughter and understand that God, at times, gives us perfect warm afternoons. And on one of those afternoons, I can roll the windows down and turn up the music and treasure every moment that Hope rides shotgun.

That Friday.

(Part of a post first published April 22, 2011)

There is a luxury in historical hindsight, an ability to see the lessons without going through the event. And it is that hindsight that named this morning Good. In real time, on the ground in Jerusalem, there was nothing good about spittle mixed with blood. There was nothing good about a suicidal man, remorse-ridden. There was nothing good about a group of people accepting guilt–and that momentary statement being used as the justification for generations of atrocities.

In the moment, the pain was excruciating. Had to be. Abandonment. Rejection. Nails. In the moment, there was little energy for discerning the lessons. Jesus was not working on a three point sermon, 10 lessons for a happy Good Friday,  quick fashion lessons from the suffering savior (“a seamless tunic should be in everyone’s closet.”) No trite summaries. No cute sayings for surviving in the middle of trials (“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”) Not even a neatly tied up blog post with some nice moral.

Just raw pain. And in the middle of it, forgiveness.

“God. How awful.”