“If you will, you can become all flame.”

I have read the following conversation between two of the saints of the fifth century many times over during the past twenty plus years and it has never made sense to me:                                                                Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts.  What else can I do?”  Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven.  His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Why would I want my fingers to become like ten lamps of fire?  But today the story makes sense to me, at least my interpretation of it.  To me it all has to do with passion!  So often we live our spiritual journey with routine, on remote control.  We have our moments when something comes alive, but then we go back to remote control.  Passion is the missing ingredient in our faith journey.  Maybe that is why I so much enjoy being with Christians in the developing countries.  Many of them have a passion in their faith that I do not see in the United States, nor in myself.

Henri Nouwen is quoted by author Tony Jones as saying, “In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”  Passion is not something we create, but I think it is enhanced when we have the opportunity to experience God doing something that we “hadn’t planned or counted on.”  The Psalmist said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” and the more we experience the goodness of the Lord, the greater our passion for our Lord becomes.

The word that I have used a couple times in the last few sentences is experience.  In my Lutheran tradition experience is not often mentioned.  Lutherans tend to be “head oriented,” not heart oriented.  Heart is not simply feelings; it is feelings, thoughts, intentions, intellect. Heart is all of who I am.  It is that which we believe in the head lived out in our total life, that is experienced!  No wonder so many people are leaving mainline churches if they do not have the opportunity or even the expectation of living, experiencing God in their lives.  Passion is a lived experience.

Boiler Rooms

I have just started reading a book called The Sacred Way by Tony Jones and in the opening pages he wrote briefly about the Boiler Room, a 24-7 prayer movement in England and so I, of course, went to the internet.  It is not simply an English movement but they are in half the countries of the world, touching 2,000,000 people with over 10,000 prayer rooms.

I submit this for us to be informed as to what God is doing around the world.  The following is from https://www.24-7prayer.com

The Vision Poem

Some words stick.

They pulse with meaning, and germinate in our heart and mind. Some words create longing, express hope, shape vision and change our direction. Resonant, infectious words like these had a big hand in shaping the 24-7 Prayer movement. Words shaped into phrases, crafted into a poem, a cry, a vision, scribbled late one night on the wall of the first ever 24-7 Prayer Room…
So this guy comes up to me and says, “What’s the vision? What’s the big idea?”
I open my mouth and words come out like this…

The vision?

The vision is JESUS – obsessively, dangerously, undeniably Jesus.
The vision is an army of young people.
You see bones? I see an army. And they are FREE from materialism.

They laugh at 9-5 little prisons. They could eat caviar on Monday and crusts on Tuesday. They wouldn’t even notice. They know the meaning of the Matrix, the way the west was won.

They are mobile like the wind, they belong to the nations. They need no passport. People write their addresses in pencil and wonder at their strange existence.
They are free yet they are slaves of the hurting and
dirty and dying.

What is the vision?

The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes. It makes children laugh and adults angry. It gave up the game of minimum integrity long ago to reach for the stars. It scorns the good and strains for the best. It is dangerously pure.

Light flickers from every secret motive, every private conversation. It loves people away from their suicide leaps, their Satan games. This is an army that will lay down its life for the cause. A million times a day its soldiers choose to lose that they might one day win the great ‘Well done’ of faithful sons and daughters.

Such heroes are as radical on Monday morning as Sunday night. They don’t need fame from names. Instead they grin quietly upwards and hear the crowds chanting
again and again:


And this is the sound of the underground. The whisper of history in the making. Foundations shaking. Revolutionaries dreaming once again. Mystery is scheming in whispers. Conspiracy is breathing. This is the sound of the underground

And the army is discipl(in)ed. Young people who beat their bodies into submission.
Every soldier would take a bullet for his comrade at arms. The tattoo on their back boasts “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain”

Sacrifice fuels the fire of victory in their upward eyes. Winners. Martyrs. Who can stop them? Can hormones hold them back? Can failure succeed? Can fear scare them or death kill them?

And the generation prays like a dying man with groans beyond talking, with warrior cries, sulphuric tears and with great barrow loads of laughter!

Waiting. Watching. 24 – 7 – 365.

Whatever it takes they will give: Breaking the rules. Shaking mediocrity from its cosy little hide. Laying down their rights and their precious little wrongs, laughing at labels, fasting essentials. The advertisers cannot mould them. Hollywood cannot hold them. Peer-pressure is powerless to shake their resolve at late night parties before the cockerel cries.

They are incredibly cool, dangerously attractive inside.

On the outside? They hardly care. They wear clothes like costumes to communicate and celebrate but never to hide. Would they surrender their image or their popularity? They would lay down their very lives – swap seats with the man on death row – guilty as hell. A throne for an electric chair.

With blood and sweat and many tears, with sleepless nights and fruitless days, they pray as if it all depends on God and live as if it all depends on them.

Their DNA chooses JESUS. (He breathes out, they breathe in.) Their subconscious sings. They had a blood transfusion with Jesus. Their words make demons scream in shopping centres.

Don’t you hear them coming? Herald the weirdos! Summon the losers and the freaks. Here come the frightened and forgotten with fire in their eyes. They walk tall and trees applaud, skyscrapers bow, mountains are dwarfed by these children of another dimension.

Their prayers summon the hounds of heaven and invoke the ancient dream of Eden.

And this vision will be. It will come to pass; it will come easily; it will come soon. How do I know? Because this is the longing of creation itself, the groaning of the Spirit, the very dream of God. My tomorrow is his today. My distant hope is his 3D. And my feeble, whispered, faithless prayer invokes a thunderous, resounding, bone-shaking great ‘Amen!’ from countless angels, from heroes of the faith, from Christ himself. And he is the original dreamer, the ultimate winner.


“It wasn’t a big deal,” says Pete Greig, “just a very personal thing – trying to work out the call on my life and why I was awake at 3am praying when others were tucked up in bed!”

But somehow the words of ‘The Vision’ (as it was named) escaped that room and spread virally across the globe.

“I didn’t realise any of this until someone in Canada emailed my own poem to me saying they had come across it and thought I might like it”, continues Pete.

Before long ‘The Vision’ was being printed in magazines, remixed by DJs in New York and Sweden and even choreographed into dance in Spain! In 2001 The Vision was published in a magazine called ‘The Way’ which circulates a staggering 100,000 underground churches in China. The very same week the words were quoted by tens of thousands of young people at an event called ‘The Call’ in Washington DC. Somehow the words scrawled on a prayer room wall had taken on a life of their own. The Vision had become a personal mission-statement for many – a generational call to a living, impacting faith in Jesus.


Remember the story of Jonah?  God called him to go to Nineveh.  Jonah obeyed, sort of.  He did go, but he chose the destination: Tarshish, as far away as possible from Nineveh in the known world at the time.   So it is a little ridiculous to say that Jonah obeyed!  He boarded a merchant ship and headed in the opposite direction.  That is, he headed west until God’s storm stopped him in his sea-born flight.

Eugene H. Peterson in the book Under the Unpredictable Plant says that “Storm is the environment in which we either lose our lives or are saved.” (p. 68)  Furthermore he says that “Prayer is the essential action in storm.” (p. 70)  Storms appear often in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  There was a man named Noah who faced a major storm.  There was the storm of thunder, lightening and clouds on Mt Sinai for Moses, the storm on the Sea of Galilee for the disciples and the storm unleashed by God at the time of the death of his Son on Mt. Calvary.  This is to name of few of the storms that sweep through the pages of the Bible.

It is often in the storms of life that our faith is either made stronger or broken into seemingly irretrievable pieces.  How many people have I met who want no part of God because of some difficult tragedy, storm, in their lives, but equally there are those for whom storm is the means, the kiln, which God uses to create a beautiful vessel.  I have not figured it out why some are broken and others are fashioned in the storms of life, but for those who are fashioned and molded in storm, prayed is one of the essential tools of survival and growth.

In the midst of storms some people rely upon the “prayers of their youth,” those set, memorized prays from past years while others rely upon “free, spontaneous” prayers, prayers created in the “furnace” or in the belly of the great fish.   But Eugene Peterson points out that every word in Jonah’s prayer in crisis was from the Hebrew Prayer Book, the book of Psalms.  Psalms is the prayer book of both the Hebrew people and the followers of the Messiah.

It is my spiritual practice to read and pray the Psalms every day.  Most days the Psalms are simply read and prayed, but at other times they become so significant to me that I write in the margin of my Bible the day that I prayed them.  It is when the Psalms become the daily meat and potatoes of our spiritual food, that they then can become the necessary nutrients that we need in the storm.

Choose Life

It has been a few weeks since I last blogged.  The reason: I had nothing to say.  It was as if, not only was I silent in terms of writing, but God also seemed silent.  A friend texted and said, “Give yourself a moment for the Spirit to direct and the words will flow.”  The inspiration flowed from two different sources.

I finished watching a movie on the Lifetime channel called Tiger Eyes about a young girl who had to deal with the sudden death of her father.  At a certain point toward the end of the movie she wrote one word on a piece of paper: alive.  Then the word from Deuteronomy 30:19 came to my mind:  “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  Choose life!

When life is flowing on all cylinders it is easy to choose life.  In fact, I do not think we intentionally choose life at that point, but rather life simply happens and we flow with it.  When all is going well we are not intentional in our choice of life.  It seems as if there is no choice, but rather life simply happens, happens for our benefit and our consolation.

But when darkness sets in, when the sun is blotted out with sadness, with grief, with loneliness, with troubles of many shades of gray then we are forced to choose.  Then to choose life is an act of faith, a step of faith in the face of everything that opposes life, that saps life.  When all seems bleak, it is not easy to choose life.  The easier way is to remain in the darkness, to refuse to turn toward the light, to Life.

In the months following my wife Diane’s death I remember saying to myself, “I choose life,” but at that point I think I was simply trying to run from grief.  It did not work, grief is to be experienced, not avoided.  Now I think choosing life is a daily affair, with the words and the reality added to that volitional choice, “By the help of God, I choose life.”

Back yard reflections

backyardOne can learn a lot by sitting in one’s backyard and watching animals, in this case my dog Hanna and Andrew’s cat Amie who still resides with me. Amie thinks she is a great African hunter, even though in six years I have never seen her catch anything.  But in the backyard she will silently, stealthily, patiently approach an unsuspecting mouse, perhaps a fantom mouse.  Hanna will see her enter her African hunting mode and joyfully pounce toward the possible prey, totally destroying any semblance of “the hunter approach.”  There is a lesson in all that ridiculousness, at least for me.

Patience has never been my strong suit.  I am more of Hanna than Amie, and yet the Scriptures are full of admonitions for patience.  In the parable of the Sower the good seed are the “ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”  The word patience in the Greek means to “live under,” rather than be a Hanna who wants to run and hurry and thereby scare away a possible “catch.”  To “live under” is to allow God the time and space to teach us what we need to learn, rather than us telling God what we want.

God never seems to be in a hurry, only we humans have that character flaw.  Perhaps next to love, patience is God’s hardest gift for us to receive.

Random Thoughts from Whitefish, MT


dockThese have been emotion-filled, event-filled, God-filled days.  This past Saturday was our day retreat “Spirit-Walking.”  During that retreat we sought to listen to God’s call upon our lives and learn how to respond to that call.  Part of listening to God’s call is to hear our deepest longings, and while I was walking in near by fields I realized that I am doing exactly what my deepest longings are.  As a pastor at Grace and leading day retreats fulfills my deepest longings.

Hafiz, a 13th century Persian poet said, “Where you are right now is where God put a circle on a map for you.”  How true.  So much of my life I have wondered, even longed to see what is around the next corner.  With such longings I never really was content in the present.  Thank you, Lord, for contentment now.

From Camano Island Lutheran Church I drove up to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whatcom County.  This is where I served for 13 1/2 years and this past weekend they celebrated their 125th anniversary.  It was an emotion packed couple of days for me as so many memories came roaring back.  The closing Benediction sung by the Immanuel Choir was a beautiful benediction from Iona which both Diane and I loved.

Many years ago, even a couple of decades ago, I prayed that the Lord would give me the gift of tears, tears being something that is slow to come to me.  Now, so many years later the tears flowed freely and powerfully as I sat in the first row of a packed church.  Later in reflection, I asked myself “Why?”  Was it simply the memories of Diane? Yes, but more. The tears and the deep sobs were a gift from God of continued healing, healing of deep grief and sorrow, deep memories.

During my tears hands from the pew behind me were placed on my shoulders, hands of people, but hands of God’s people, hands of God himself.  Even as the tears continued so there was a peace, the deep peace of the benediction, that began to flow within me and still is present.

I am so appreciative of the benediction sung, the hands placed and the peace of God present!

How is your Spirit? Prayer as more than prayer.

Herbert Butterfield, an Oxford historian of modern history, has stated that “prayer is the most significant factor in the shaping of history-more significant than war and diplomacy, more significant than technology and art.” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson, p. 98)  When we think of the power of pray we often think of intercessory prayer as one of prayer’s powerful engines, and it is!

But as I was trying to say during Sunday’s “Prayer Warrior’s” time, prayer is more than what we usually think of: intercession, adoration, confession, supplication.  Prayer is the heart and core of our relationship with God.  It is communion with God.  It is relationship with our Triune God.  In prayer that we share our most intimate selves with God and, in turn, God shares himself with us.  “Be still and know that I am God” the Psalmist said, and in all our relationships we need to learn to be still and listen.  Always talking means we have a monolog with ourselves.

It is in prayer that we have a “sense,” a feeling, or a “deep knowing” of God’s presence with us.  It is in prayer that we are to learn how to listen with our heart and our mind as God seeks to share with us his heart and his directions.

Amalie is my son Andrew’s cat who lives with me.  She (all cats are “she’s” to me) loves to sit on my lap, sometimes to my displeasure.  But maybe one of the greatest privileges that God gives to us is God’s willingness, and even God’s desire, for us to “sit in his lap” in prayer, just to be with him in silence, doing nothing but being present with God.  What a privilege.

Today is a special day in my life and my family’s as today is the anniversary of Diane’s passing through the door we call death.  I have been thinking and remembering the times that the two of us curled up on the sofa together, not saying a word, just being together.  That is also the way we are to be with God at times.  In such times we are privileged to experience the intimacy of relationship with our grace-filled God.

A Counter-Cultural Call

St. Paul, MN, Baton Rouge, LA, Dallas, TX

these places and events are now enblazoned on our memories.  Violence and more violence, violence that cannot give birth to twins called Violence and Love, but only to identical twins called Violence and Hatred.  Where will it all end?  Those of us in the faith community pray and pray, while others in the faith community pray and march on the streets.

Words and more words.  Some are spoken calmly, but passionately.  Others are shouted, yelled, sworn.  Some are words of wisdom, some are words that stir more discontent and hatred and violence.  I have heard the words of many over the past days and weeks and months and much, much longer.  Many people are wanting to know the reasons for such senseless violence and others are questioning the solutions, but no one, as far as I have heard on the national media, are identifying what seems obvious to me: we need a spiritual revival, a spiritual awakening in our land.

Is the reason that no such call is being issued is because “spiritual revival” is associated with “the church,” which often has been the source of great conflict and division, not unity and love?  Is it because “the church” has not demonstrated power to change lives, to change anything?  Is it because very few people look to “the church” to show them God and to show them the ways of God?  Oh, I too have many, many questions.

But the God that I have gotten to know sent his Son who did not follow the way of violence, who spoke of and demonstrated love for those who hated him, who was strong of character and resolve, who spent his time with the poor and the marginalized and called those in power to accountability.

A spiritual revival or awakening does not begin by marching on the streets, and it definitely does not begin by shouting and name-calling and violence.  It begins with God and by God and toward God.  Such a revival draws us away from “life as usual” and “life under our control.”  The Spirit of God draws us to the Holy One, to God and then to our neighbor, our neighbor of every color and of every race and of every religion and of every sexual orientation.  The Spirit of Jesus fills us with his love for all and love cannot tolerate violence.

How’s your Spirit: Today and Around the Bend?

One of my favorite words for Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  One of the verses in the New Testament that is becoming more and more important to me is “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.”  (II Corinthians 6:2c, italic mine)   God is ever present in the here and now.

I have been a person who has always wanted to see what is around the corner, over the hill.   I have always had a “wonder lust,” a “restlessness,” a longing for the next adventure in my life.  So as I get older, wiser???, the fact that God is present in this moment and God’s salvation is now, present-tense reality, has become very important, but a couple of simple verses have taken me up short, have made me look at the now in a new light.

Mark 16: 6,7 read, “But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'”   He (Jesus) is going ahead of me as I enter a counseling appointment, as I make a phone call, as I go shopping, as I spend time with family, as I go kayaking.   He goes ahead of me and my task is to pay attention to what Jesus through his Spirit is doing or saying.  He is preparing the way, leading the way, being present.  So my job is not to try to figure out in advance what I might say or what I might do, but rather to pay attention, to watch and listen for what God is already doing.

This has nothing to do with restlessness, this has to do with sensitivity of what God is doing in people’s lives.  God is already at work in lives and in situations long before I arrive.  My task then is to participate with him in his work already started.


How’s your Spirit? Change through the years!

Recently I have thinking about my spiritual journey throughout my life.  Part of these thoughts spring from an assignment that I am working on for spiritual direction training through Christian Formation and Direction Ministry (cfdm).  I realize that there have been three major themes in my prayer journey.

In my late teenage years and early young adult years I learned the significance of intercessory prayer, praying for the needs of other people.  This aspect of my prayer life was especially imparted to me while a student at Lutheran Bible Institute.  Oh, I prayed for myself, but praying for others became a very significant portion of my prayer life.

Following this part of my spiritual journey my prayer life took a bend as I became influenced by the charismatic movement and then praise became paramount.  The Psalmist wrote that God inhabits the praises of his people.  Now even as I added the element of praise it did not mean that intercession was less important, but rather that prayer took on an added layer, an added element.

Now for the third layer, or the third bend in my prayer journey.  The third element has been more challenging and it has been a journey of many years, many decades.  Again, just because there is a third bend in the journey, it does not mean that bends number one and two are not longer important.  They are, but now there is more to prayer.

This third bend is the element of prayer being a dialog, an interchange between Jesus and myself.  In this part of my prayer journey what is important is not having God meet my or someone else’s need, nor is it even praising God for who he is.  Rather prayer is that time of being in God’s presence and getting to know him and at the same time getting to know myself in him.  This portion of prayer is centered in love, being totally loved and totally loving.  Silence is the attitude and posture of this prayer, and I must say, I am only a novice in the journey.