Blessed are those who make You their strength, for they treasure every step of the journey. On their way through the valleys they stop and dig wells to collect refreshing spring water, and the early rains fill the pools. They journey from place to place gaining strength along the way, until they meet God in Zion.
— Psalm 84:5-7 (The Voice translation)
Apparently God is trying to get a message through to me. In the past two days, nearly every topic of every sermon I’ve heard, scripture I’ve read or book I’ve read has involved an exhortation to guard my words! And not just any words, but the kinds of words you say when you think no one is really listening. “It’s just my girlfriend and me, we can talk honestly about how we feel.” Those kinds of words.
It turns out the Israelites found out the hard way that talking “in your tents” wasn’t such a safe activity! They were grumbling in their tents, and the Bible says that God was listening. And that grumbling over God’s provision got more than a few of them Krispy Kremed. I’m so glad that we live under the grace of Christ’s righteousness, because I’d be smelling the smoke rising.
So condensing what I’ve learned about words and tents in the past two days:
- What you say in your private conversations is heard by your God.
- What you say in your “tent” determines whether he is able to pour out blessings on you or is forced to withhold them from you.
- Words have consequences.
- What you say will determine what you believe about yourself and your God, so even casual mumbling and grumbling can limit your life and sadden the Holy Spirit.
- God’s glory was around the tents where the holy men of Israel lived. They got caught in the shower of his Spirit falling, and it showed around their tents. The atmosphere in your home is directly related to what goes on in your tent. We can choose to live in a tent filled with God’s glory!
- Tents are not just your literal home, but the places where you live your life and the people you live your life with.
When we were in Sacramento last month we visited my nephew’s church in Vacaville, California. Their pastor, David Patterson, began a series entitled “Words with Friends.” We were only there for the first sermon, but it was phenomenal. Yesterday I invested some time in watching the other two sermons online. It was the third in the series that spoke about what happens in your tents. I’m embedding the first video below for you. Here is the link to the rest of their series at The Father’s House in Vacaville.
The crowd usually gets it wrong.
The sooner I learn this, the better off I will be.
John 5 tells me the story of the man sitting by the pool of Bethesda, hoping to be healed when the heavenly messenger stirs the water and offers the opportunity. “Here it is! Your healing! Come!”
In verse 7 this man says, “Without a helping hand, someone else beats me to the water’s edge every time it is stirred.”
A helping hand. That’s all it would take to help this man get to the healing. Now I don’t know the reasons he hadn’t found that helping hand yet. Maybe he was stubborn, and refused to ask his family to sit with him, help him to the water’s edge. Maybe he was a grouchy, mean old man and no one ever wanted to help him. Perhaps he felt entitled. But it doesn’t really matter, does it. All he needed was a helping hand to get to the source of healing.
Eventually, Jesus stepped into his life and brought the healing he needed, whether he was prepared for it or not.
And what does the crowd do? Grumble because Jesus healed on the wrong day of the week. That healing didn’t fit the crowd’s agenda. And as soon as the grumbling started, the enemy stepped in to win the battle. You see, the healing was forgotten in the great “Carrying your mat on the Sabbath” controversy.
The crowd was wrong and the miracle went unnoticed.
Later, on a hillside by a lake, the crowd got a chance to be fed. Jesus was getting ready to teach about the true Bread of Life, the true source of life and healing and hope and purpose. But the crowd was hungry for the wrong thing. They were hungry for bread.
So Jesus gave them bread. Then he taught them some amazing words, taught them how to come to the source of healing.
And the crowd got it wrong again.
They wanted more bread.
“Oh, it would be so easy to believe if only we had never-ending bread,” they said. And I smirk at them, safely sitting in my kitchen thousands of years later. “Those people had God in front of them to eat, and all they could think about was getting a free meal or two or three. How could they?” Incomprehensible to me how they could be so concerned with what they were going to eat and miss the point that God was there, working, inviting them into the miraculous dance with him!
I smirk, but I should have wept.
One look at my prayer list tells me that 90% of the items there are about bread in one form or another. My bread may look different than theirs, but it is all about making sure my family and I have the things we think we need, when we want them, packaged nicely.
Some of these things are even necessary, but they aren’t the point.
The point is that Jesus came to invite us to join him in the work his Father is doing. Stop focusing on bread and think about focusing on the Bread of Heaven, the true source of life. He says, “And here’s the reason: I have come down from heaven not to pursue my own agenda, but to do what He desires. I am here on behalf of the Father who sent me. He sent me to care for all he has given me, so that nothing and no one will perish.” (John 6:38,39 The Voice Translation)
And the crowd looks at him and says, “Who do you think you are?”
Oh, I know those voices, the ones that say “Who do you think you are?” I listen to them daily, and they keep me from dancing. Who am I, indeed. I don’t write, because really, who am I? I don’t stoop down and help someone to the water’s edge because I’m too small, too insignificant, or the day is all wrong and might cause a controversy. Who do I think I am? I listen to the lies.
Some of the disciples listened to those lies, too. The Bible says that from that day on, a lot of the disciples walked away from Jesus because what he taught was too hard. Some of the saddest words written, I think.
But there were others who stayed. “Lord, if we were to go, who would we follow?” Simon Peter declared.
“I choose each one of you myself,” Jesus responds in John 6:70. Just imagine the power of those words…I CHOOSE YOU. It’s the answer to the crowd’s cry of “Who do you think you are?”
Who do I think I am? I’m chosen.
The crowd got it wrong, and went away unfed in the end. But the disciples stayed, accepted their identity as the chosen ones, and changed the world.
Not long ago our Jura Capresso coffee machine died. It was a calamity on the scale of a hurricane or your washing machine flooding your house.
It hit us hard!
Those of you who know us, understand. The whine of our Jura is the town-square clock of our home.
But Jura was gone.
Enter the French Press, which in our opinion is the second best coffee around. Sometimes, if we are honest and if the person making the coffee is skilled, it is the best coffee around. We pulled out our old burr grinder and prepared to wait out the two week repair hiatus.
A funny thing happened.
Coffee became an event in the house. The first person up “got” to make the coffee, and we would pause in the kitchen to time and press and pour. The smell of the coffee slowly worked its way into our sleepiness. In the afternoon the coffee being made became an excuse to stop our work and sit down for a few minutes. If we had visitors, we served them first and then chatted while we made a second pot.
Now nothing beats the push-a-button-and-drink-your-coffee convenience of the Jura Capresso. But I sure liked the party around the Press.
It is worth considering, I think, how many of our “time saving” techniques have robbed us of something precious. We may be hungering for an side-benefit of doing things the old fashioned way without even realizing it. Whole books have been written about our modern isolation and our desire for community. Two or three of the interesting ones are listed below.
Unintended consequences of innovation.
We’re back to pushing our buttons to get our brew around here. The days of the French Press are gone again, for awhile. But as I consider how to build community and touch people’s lives, the French Press comes to mind. It might be time to be more mindful.
Note: I don’t agree with everything in these books…I just find them interesting.
I’m not sure when trimming the Christmas tree dropped out of the top ten Christmas activities in my opinion. Somewhere along the line I lost the magic of transforming the green bush into the sparkling personification of Christmas. It may have been, now that I think about it, back in high school when I realized my mom was tricking my friends and me into doing “her” job by offering pizza and cookies. It was a brilliant ploy, and one that I’ve used successfully around here, as well.
But today is the day. And by the end of the day I will be thrilled with it all, entranced, sitting in my living room with the lights low thinking about how it was all worth it. And it will be, once again, magical.
I read something today about Christmas trees that has me thinking.
We bring an essentially dead tree to our home. We water it and give it fresh cuts to keep the water flowing. Some people swear by misting their trees. Yet no matter what we do…the tree is dead. At best we’re giving a form of life support to keep up appearances. Without roots, without a healthy, though essentially unseen, delivery system for nutrients and contact with the ground, the tree is dead.
This Christmas as we’ve been contemplating the Advent Conspiracy and ways to celebrate Christmas differently, I want to make sure I’m not like my Christmas tree. I want to make sure my roots aren’t severed from the source of life. There’s no sense in making myself appear decorated with a bounty of tinsel, ornaments, garland. I’d rather spend the time rooted and grounded, connected to God and my family and the things that matter the most.
I want to live more this Christmas.
Our friend Timmy Allen created this video for Advent Conspiracy at Christ Fellowship this year. I think it’s awesome. And someday (tomorrow, I think!) I’m going to make my acting debut as a stick model in one of his productions. Check this out. And then think about ways to grow your roots deeper this Christmas.
It was classic New York City: crossing the bridge into the city and watching the magnificent skyline against the perfect fall sky. I couldn’t have scripted the ride any better. I pointed out a few of the landmark buildings to Kylie and Jillian, even though both of them had been here before and were pretty much ready to roll their eyes in my direction at any minute. They do that once in awhile when I’m being, well, Mom.
“Over there, to the left…do you see the construction lights?”
I was startled by our cab driver jumping into the conversation. David found the lights he was pointing out.
“That is the Freedom Tower. At Ground Zero.”
It was obvious that the driver was proud of the tower. Having just watched Rising (a documentary about the tower project), I was, too. So thrilled to see it start to take its place in the iconic skyline. I pondered the tower. To me it represents the God-given drive in humans to create, and recreate, their world. It represents the refusal to let evil triumph. It represents the global community that coalesced around the project, and the people who lost their lives in that spot. It also represents the people who are giving their lives to healing. Healing the people, healing the city, healing the skyline. The Freedom Tower. What a great name.
The driver wasn’t quite finished yet.
“I’ve been wondering,” he said after revealing he was from Pakistan, “about the difference between some of your words. Can you explain to me the difference between Liberty and Freedom?”
Not as easy as it sounds at first. David and I both took a crack at it, and the conversation filled the ride to the hotel. It turns out that our Pakistani driver had a master’s degree in American History, a degree he earned back in Pakistan as he anticipated moving to America. For just a few moments we were able to see New York City through the eyes of this man, the eyes of a man who worked hard and sacrificed everything to point out the construction lights on the floors of the Freedom Tower.
I think that’s what I love about New York City. Things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes the epiphany — the moment of blinding insight — comes from the most unlikely sources. An epiphany can be around every corner. Probably is. If you look for it.
We were heading to a conference on using “Story” to create epiphanies. David and I would spend days learning from experts how to create compelling stories. It was amazing and overwhelming and full of useful information.
But the epiphany moment of our Qideas Epiphany Workshop was delivered by a Pakistani driver crossing the bridge into a city he couldn’t wait to show us.
It slips my mind, sometimes, that someone reading my posts may not know where they are written. With very few exceptions, most of my writing is done in Starbucks. If I didn’t write the actual post there, I at least scribbled notes to remind me later of the direction I’m going to take.
I don’t know all the reasons why Starbucks is my choice, but one of them is because it simply isn’t HOME. I can come here and focus, be myself, daydream and create. At home, well there’s laundry to be done, a new magazine in the mail, roaming dogs who terrorize me at every opportunity. The stuff of life. I connect with myself better — sometimes — when I’m not so surrounded by myself.
The other day I listened to two guys do the same at Starbucks. One was a regular, Dan, and I never caught the other’s name. Let’s call him Fred. These two guys began jabbering, and when I got up to go, literally two hours later, they were still jabbering. In the course of the hours they covered politics (conservative, but Dan has a liberal bent that inclines him to social justice), chiropractic (Fred is a chiropractor, and was convincing Dan — accurately in my humble opinion! — that chiropractic care could help him recover from his recent shoulder surgery), the military (both served, one flew planes, the other loved them). They covered their families, their work habits, their Starbucks drinks. They circled back around to why character and integrity matter in politics more than party affiliation, though each were registered Republicans. In short, they connected.
It was a life group in action. What do you call it at your church? At ours, during various moments, they have been life groups, journey groups, small groups, affinity groups. Whatever your definition, these two men joined a small group.
But let me ask you this question: when was the last time you saw two men begin with a passing nod acquaintance and end up with an intimacy and a feeling of belonging to the same tribe over the course of two hours?
That’s the genius of living life out in the community, in third places, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors and strangers. Alan Hirsch, in his new book RIght Here Right now, says that “We have to be able to speak meaningfully into a culture, but in order to do that, we have to seriously examine a given culture for clues to what God is doing among a people….what is good new for THIS people?” My friend Dan was doing that. He was listening to Fred and conversing with him where he was at, the conversation meandering. And because it took place in this third place, others were welcome to join in or not. Some did, interacting as long as time and circumstances allowed. Others didn’t, living their own lives.
Either way, small group was had here in Starbucks, and a whole bunch of us got to join in.
I’m making the choice to go for community wherever possible. After all, I’m, pretty sure that’s where Jesus hung out. I just wonder if he’d have picked MY Starbucks!
Now as far as national holidays go, I realize Groundhog Day may not rank at the top of your list. But it’s pretty close to the top of mine!
It all started, of course, with the movie, Groundhog Day, starring Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray. Poor Bill Murray is stuck in a loop of an endlessly repeating day, a day which he gets to relive in almost any way you can imagine. Some days he makes creative use of his time (ice sculptures, reading French poetry, learning the piano). Other days he rescues people who have the misfortune of getting hurt or dying on Groundhog Day. In one memorable sequence, he commits suicide in any way he can think of. Each morning, waking up again to good old Sonny and Cher singing Babe.
It’s your basic movie that some people love and others can’t stand.
But that’s not why I love Groundhog Day, it’s just the start.
Because Groundhog Day started and symbolized something amazing. You see, when we were first married we became friends with Danny and Kim Butler, 25 years ago. They were another young couple just starting out in the church we attended back then, and we began to do life together. Year by year, kid by kid we have piled up memories together. Some of the memories have been unbearably sad, like the night we were out to dinner and interrupted by my father-in-law telling me that my brother had just been killed by a drunk driver. Some memories are whimsical, such as the way their daughter Jessi could literally shimmy up a person and wind up in your arms before you knew she was even there. Some memories make us belly laugh, like the night Jessi and Kylie “cleaned” Jillian’s room for her so she could sleep in her new crib (at the age of two or three days old) by sprinkling her room with Comet.
In the same year that Kylie and Jessi baptized Jillian’s room and floor in Comet, we discovered Groundhog Day, the movie. And lo and behold, we all had the quirky sense of humor required to watch that one day over and over again. Our other friends did not share our delight. So each year the Butlers would pack up their teeny kids, we would pop a Sillyville video in the kid’s room, and then we adults would watch Groundhog Day as near to February 2 as possible.
We’ve missed some years due to schedules. We’ve reached milestones where our kids were allowed to join us for the “Grownups” movie. We’ve even reached milestones where our kids laugh at us for Groundhog Day, schedule an alternate date, and head out the door.
Now you should know me by now. This post isn’t really about Groundhog Day at all. It’s about how incredibly blessed and thankful I am, year by year, to know that I have friends doing life with me. When days of mourning come, they are there. When days of celebration come, they know what flavor of ice cream to bring. They KNOW us.
I know that the Butlers — and a select handful of other friends — would be the first to ring our doorbell or barge in the house if David or I needed confrontation in any area of our lives. Should we step out from under the umbrella of God’s protection, we’d face their wrath. I also know that they would lay down their lives to bring us back into fellowship with God and with the family of God. I know this. I trust this.
Do you have friends like that? Are you willing to live your life in such radical, open transparency that words aren’t even necessary?
I hope the answer is yes. Because friends like Danny and Kim can make a holiday like Groundhog Day into a holy-day of knowing that life in the kingdom is meant to be lived with each other. In community. Together.
So…It’s Groundhog Day!!!!!
Indulge me in just a little rambling about our family for a moment. Last week we returned from our family reunion in Park City, Utah. I had never been to Utah, but after this trip I know two things: it’s beautiful and it is cold! All 20 of us from five states gathered together for a few days of skiing, spa and family dinners. My mom spent her days with babies, which filled her love tank with lots of slurpy kisses and hugs. My favorite part of the day was the end, after all the skiing was done, the food was eaten and the dishes put away. Then we sat around in a big family circle and either played games, video games or just sat and caught up. We laughed a lot. And over the course of the trip it was so special to see how much we all appreciated each other.
Friday night, four days after we’d arrived, my Mom looked around the room and said, “This is so nice. It’s just…all of us. Here.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Mom.