All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

tree.

My friend Jason is a tree guy. He says that trees pursue growth.

The crabapple tree in our front yard found the sewer line a few years ago. Apparently, we have good sewage, at least from the perspective of crabapple trees. The roots pursued growth. So much so that  in the last four years, we spent more on having the line cleaned out that we spent on vacation.

That may say something about our limited vacationing. On the other hand, when half of the money is going to the cleanout company, a solution seems necessary.

On Saturday, we cut down our tree.

andrewnancyhope

It has been part of our family for the two decades we have lived in the house. It has been the backdrop for family photos at moments we want to remember. And, honestly, probably in some we want to forget. It has been the screen between our front window and the street, allowing us to hide a little from what is going on out there.

But in the tension between sentiment and sediment, the tree lost.

It would be easy to say, “If the original owners had thought about where the sewer line was, the tree would have been six feet north and would still be growing.” But trees pursue growth. So it was a matter of time.

It does make think about the first song in the book of Psalms. The writer compares the one who reflects on God’s words to a tree which is planted by a stream. That kind of tree has good fruit and health branches. It does what trees do. And if my heart is leaning toward the streams of wisdom in scripture, perhaps I will grow as well.

We may plant a new tree, further north. In the meantime, we’ll make new memories and consider not hiding. But I’m also meditating about the nature of the streams my heart is pursuing this week.

Finish.

(First published February 2017. Republished because I just finished a project and reminded myself that “finished” counts for three items on todo list..)

I like starting projects. I like suggesting pilots. I like listening to questions and brainstorming. I have fifteen new projects a week while standing in the shower.

And then the water is turned off and it is time to write the idea. And then I get to the hard part of the story and the study takes too much time. And then I get to the polishing part.

I don’t like finishing.

That’s why I need a really long sentence from the book of Hebrews:

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

FullSizeRender.jpgThe writer puts one person in front of me. Jesus.

My focus. My role model. My cheerleader. My coach. My equipper. My trainer. My interceder. The starter and completer. The beginning and the end.

The other day, I heard a speaker give as one of her principles: “God has a plan for your life. So does everyone else. Be careful which one you listen to.”

At the end of a long week, at the beginning of a weekend, I’m aware that I need to be looking to Jesus to help me start and to help me finish.

Maybe you and me both.

 

comforter

Sometimes, just after a death, I ask the Holy Spirit to live out his name with a family in grief.

“Comforter.”

ComforterI get the word from John 14, part of Jesus’ last long teaching to his disciples before his execution. Jesus says that he’s leaving them. He says he will ask the Father to send someone to be with them forever. Some translations use comforter, or advocate or helper, but then Jesus follows up by talking about the Spirit of Truth.

This spirit, helper, comforter, has a number of roles. But as I am with a family, asking for the role of comforter, I’ve got a clear need in mind.

This family is aware that in this life, they will never see or hear or touch this person again. And that is a deep grief.

It’s not a hopeless grief in the Christian worldview. There are promises about future interaction. But this moment is not then.

When Jesus talked about sending the Spirit, he was talking to people who were going to have that same experience. In a day, he would die. In three days, he would live. And in about 6 weeks, he would disappear. Even though he promised that he would be with them always, the disciples were 6 weeks from not being able to see or hear or touch this person they had been living with and learning from for three years. Jesus knew, and they didn’t yet understand, that what they had come to assume was a daily reality was about to change. Because of his death, it would be better in the long run. Because of his ascension, it could be experientially harder in the short run.

And so he sends his Spirit.

It’s not the same. The disciples could not smell the spirit the same way they could smell Jesus. But now they didn’t have to depend on Jesus to do the cool stuff. They were involved, through the power of the Spirit.

And sometimes the cool stuff ends up being comfort in moments of deepest distress.

Recounting.

The son was in the Emergency Room with his dying father. He sat in a chair by the bed. Every couple of minutes he would look closely at his dad, and then he would look at me. Eventually, I asked him, again, how I could help.

“Is he going to give some last words?” he asked.

I realized that the son had watched so many media representations of death that he was expected the final speech, the words of wisdom that capture a life and chart a course for the future generations.

I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s going to say anything more.”

And he didn’t.

Last wordsI told that story last week in the last session of a class I was teaching. It was the last course of a Master’s degree for four people in the class. I said, “I’d like you to give us your last words at the end of this degree, at the end of this process.”

I pointed out that there is a tradition of this kind of summary in Scripture. The book of Deuteronomy, for example, is a final speech for Moses, a retelling of the whole story of God’s work during his time in leadership. And then God guides Moses in the composition of a last song. And then Moses gives a final blessing.

Paul calls a group of leaders and gives them a last speech. (I talked about this last week.) Paul will also give a summary of his values to Timothy. He gave a couple of other summaries in Acts and at the end of 2 Corinthians.

And John gives us an account of Jesus’ last teaching to the disciples. Although he knew he would come back, Jesus saw the end of this phase of his life and ministry as a perfect opportunity to summarize everything to this point.

So I’m curious. As you are wrapping up with a season of life, a job, a part of a relationship, what if you spent some time telling the story of that part of your shared life? The process of telling is likely to shape you and the ones you are talking with.

And you won’t leave people waiting, unfulfilled, for your last words.

 

Still.

When I sat down with my coffee and journal the other morning, I struggled to concentrate. I worked longer than usual the day before. I was more tired than usual. And there was more swirling in my mind than usual. I was anticipating a very long day.

And “Psalm 46” came to mind.

It’s the “be still” psalm. It contains the phrase “be still and know that I am God.” Many of us say that phrase to ourselves. It’s supposed to be calming. It’s supposed to remind us that God is God.

And we are taking it out of context.

FullSizeRender.jpgThe writer isn’t talking to himself. He’s quoting God. People see chaos and warfare, battles and belligerence. And God says, “Be still.” It’s a powerful command from God that stills the strife. In this setting, it’s not words to ourselves, orienting our life around stillness.

Not that orienting our lives is impossible or undesirable. But the image in this picture is less like a quiet sanctuary and more like a boat in the middle of a storm. There are a dozen men in the boat who are awake and one who is asleep.The waves are smashing the sides. The wind is catching the mast as if it were a sail.

The waves are smashing the sides. The wind is catching the mast as if it were a sail.  The storm is threatening to undo everything: The boat, the sanity of the passengers, the confidence of the sailors. And the sleeper, when awakened, says, “be still.” And the passengers said, “is this God?”

Some mornings, perhaps, we struggle a bit too much to make ourselves still. Some mornings, perhaps, we need to abandon all pretense and cry out to God for our very lives.

I have no guarantees of the results. It’s not a formula that, if uttered with enough passion, conjures God. But I know that God has a history of speaking order into chaos.