Friday, June 25, 2010

Prayer and Fire

"Prayer is imagination on fire with God."

There, I said it. Publically. For days, this phrase has been rolling around my mind like a marble which had lost its way. Now, I have lodged it squarely into the world wide web.

Throughout my life, I've struggled with prayer. What does it do? How does it help? I've read the commands to pray. I've seen time and again how God responds to prayer. I've witnessed the miraculous and unexplainable occur after prayer. I've felt prayer mold me and calm me and instruct me. But still it feels like a discipline rather than a pleasure. How can communication with my Creator feel so forced sometimes?

"Prayer is imagination on fire with God."

I like the idea that my imagination is a part of prayer. Imagination flows freely, both when I'm conscious and when I am not. It has a "pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)" feel to it. Imagination hopes and dreams and thus has a wishing or asking element. Of course, imagination can often wander into destructive and fleshly territory (success fantasies, money dreams, lusts and control hopes). But that is where the "fire" idea purges it all. Burning with God is prayer. Burning apart from God is lust.

"Prayer is imagination on fire with God."

Perhaps that phrase is itself an answer to my prayer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Summer Diamond Story

Logan had a headache.

He's six years old and was the first of his brothers to get the dreaded summer strep throat. Fever, sore throat, aches, and of course, headache. He spent his last day of school at home, missing the antics and activities of "Play Day." Ugh.

A couple of days later, Logan had a baseball game. The headache remained, although the pink antibiotics had licked the rest of it. He wanted to play. Begged, in fact. So, the family packed up the minivan for a trip to the James Street park.

Before the game, I donned my bright orange, coaching t-shirt and tried to motivate little Logan. I said, "Do you feel well enough to play?" "Yep." "Can you hit the ball?" "Sure." I said, "Alright, tell you what, if you hit a home run tonight, I'll buy ice cream afterwards." "Deal," he said with all the focus of a major leaguer.

About the top of the third inning (50 minutes into the hour long game), Logan came up to bat. So far, he had swung through a bunch of pitches and had to rely on the tee for both at-bats. In other words, no home runs.

Before his third (and last) at-bat, I reminded him of our deal. He smiled. I could tell he was struggling with the headache. He stepped into the batter's box and swung with all his might... Strike 1. Next pitch, he smacked a line drive beyond the reach of the dirt-gathering second baseman.

And Logan ran.

He raced around first base as the ball rolled to the fence. The first base coach urged him on. Logan made the turn at second base without a second thought (as the right fielder threw the ball lazily towards second base).

Then it happened.

Now, I should let you know that I was coaching third base. It's my job to instruct the base runners on what to do. Most of the time, I have to tell them to STOP! Otherwise, they would just keep running until they got to the concession stand.

But not on this day. Logan rounded second and was racing to third, all the while screaming to me, "Send me home! Send me home!" How could a father refuse? I waved him home as the ball trickled back into the infield with little deference from the opposing team. He touched home plate in the midst of rousing applause and high-fiving teammates. But my favorite moment was "the look." He turned and pointed in my direction - a smile exploding in his eyes - and mouthed the words, "Ice Cream."

Dairy Queen cost me an arm and a leg that night (after all, all five of my family members, including myself, had to get some). But the bill didn't reach the reward of the moment.

Surely, if the Spirit of God can shape us in a worship meeting or a bible study, then he can do his work in the dust of a baseball field and a Dairy Queen drive-thru. Don't you think?

"Send me home! Send me home!"

Monday, June 7, 2010


I was reading from Romans 1 the other day, pouring over the words, meditating, studying, researching, memorizing, etc. I was blown away by the density of Paul's words. Every sentence - every word - was alive with fire. Electricity must have coursed through that man's veins.

I turned from the printed page to my computer notes to type something profound - a note that would unlock some hidden meaning in the text, an insight I could preach some day. I don't know. I wanted to type something to remember the experience of Scriptural (Spiritual) awe. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement... on the page of my Bible.

Now, call it excessive emotion, call it craziness, heck, call it sabbatical syndrome, but whatever you want to call it, I saw something on that biblical page move.

My head swiveled from the laptop to the literature. I anticipated the miraculous - the finger of the Spirit, a dancing tongue of flame, even a disembodied hand writing a message from God. But what I saw wasn't exactly angel's wings.

It was a spider.

Now is the time to insert some exaggerated language to describe the spider. You know, make it sound bigger than Godzilla. Now is the time to chronicle my heroic struggle to overcome the Giganto-spider. But alas, this blog is to be nonfiction.

The spider was small, black, and sneaking across the page of Romans 1.

I did what any courageous, creation-sensitive pastor would do in the throws of biblical illumination. I slammed my hand down on it. I slapped my hand down with enough force to crush an aluminum can. That spider never had a chance.

My hand rescinded. The spider curled into the fetal position. Then I did something that would please my wife to no end. I flicked that spider across the dining room toward the sliding glass door. There it lay. Post-mortem.

Needless to say, the mood in the room changed. I tried to resume my laptop note. Nothing came. I looked to my commentaries. They, who speak relentlessly with academic rigor, shut up. Finally, as a last ditch effort to re-enter the spiritual dream I had experienced pre-spider, I turned back to the Bible.

There, mirrored on the page, was the evidence of my crime - spider guts covering the page of Romans 1. You wouldn't believe me if I told you what word was the epicenter of spider goo. It was the word "dead."

Now, forevermore, my study Bible will hammer the point home all the harder, Jesus is the one, "who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead... (Romans 1:4)."

Just another day of Bible study...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A friend of mine told me recently that for a blog to be read, it had to contain certain elements. "It has to be short," he said. "250 words or less." OK, check. Most of my entries fall into that sphere. "You need to have fresh entries often - at least once a week." OK, check. I'm living up to that standard. "Also," he said, "the blog writing has to be provocative."


Reading over what I've written so far, I'd say I'm about as far from provocative as possible. More like vanilla. And not in the good vanilla-milkshake-from-Dairy-Queen sort of way, but more like the metaphor-of-blah-vanilla.

Well, let's see, provocative... I could declare that the St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in baseball. But then again, that's more territorial than provocative (Cubs fans unite!). I could share my biblical sympathies with traditional conservative no-no's like God's openness or evolutionary theories, but then again that seems more theological than provocative.

Provocative journalism seems to center on marital affairs and divorces and "coming out of the closet," but the only time I come out of the closet is after I've retreived a pair of jeans or a polo shirt. Not very provocative.

I could quote a Jerry Seinfeld saying I saw the other day. He said, "Seems to me the basic conflict between men and women, sexually, is that men are like firemen. To men, sex is an emergency, and no matter what we're doing we can be ready in two minutes. Women, on the other hand, are like fire. They're very exciting, but the conditions have to be exactly right for it to occur."

There, I said the "s" word. Surely that will ruffle some feathers. Then again, in our sex-saturated society, no one may even bat an eyelid.

It turns out I'm about as provocative as milk.

So now, let me close my staggeringly mollifying post - now over 250 words - so that you (dear reader) can pick up a National Enquirer and read something that stirs your blood. Perhaps tomorrow, I can stand in the long line of provocative preachers and say something as shocking as "Jesus is Lord." In the meantime, I'm going to pick on my kids.