Life experiences, outdoors

Faces Around The Fire

Faces Around The Fire

An Adventure Practice In Forgiveness.

Steve Lummer

It was 11:15 PM! My camp was pitched just outside the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM land (Burerau Of Land Management). The National Park has some great camping spots and this time of year they are so overpopulated.  For this trip I’m allergic to crowds;  yipping Chihuahuas diesel pickups and teenage “music”. This trip will require solitude, silence and a really good campfire.

In the past I have had many campfire chats in my forty plus years of pastoral ministry. The fellowship was always warm.  Many times the fire soon cooled and the friendships burned out for one reason or another.  We heard in our campfire conversations over the years the phrase, “I remember once”.  We talked about the only things ever discussed around campfires – old times and stories told by faces reflected in the fires. Yes! Nature’s T.V. held us captive throughout the evening chats.

My adventure practice this past week was about reflecting on those campers in the fire that are no longer with me.  Some, for reasons that cause relationships to cool and others that left my life in very heated disagreements.  I had three campfires on this adventure and I called each of them “Fires Of Forgiveness”.

My first campfire of forgiveness: 

“Our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29 (NIV) 

Fire consumes, wipes out and cleanses. I needed to be cleansed of the battle wounds I had received over the years of ministry.  I needed this adventure to not only free me from some past hurt, but to get free me deep in my soul. What I discovered is that I invested a lifetime in building a great ministry but didn’t take the time to build a great soul. What? Yes, there I said it. I was more interested in how Richard Rohr so artistically writes.  “There are two major tasks in the human spiritual journey.  The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer some central questions. “Who am I?” “What makes me significant?”  “How can I support myself?” “Who will go with me?”   The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.  In other words, the container is for the sake of the contents.”

An authentic God experience always “burns” you, yet does not destroy you.  It burns away the layers of my false self and get to the true identity of who my creator designed me to be.

The burning bush example revealed to Moses who he was and what God designed him to be (Exodus 3:2-3). I was not prepared in Bible College or in ministry for such burning, nor was I even told to expect it. By definition, authentic God experience is always “too much”! It consoles our true self only after it has devastated our false self. I need this first fire to be a fire of forgiving myself of focusing on my container too much and not the contents.

Belden C. Lane in his book, Backpacking With The Saints writes of the Desert Fathers and how they spoke with insight of how their inner wounds and their old injuries from the past will have a way of expressing themselves. Abba Poeman observed that old wounds have a way of expressing themselves in four stages of unconscious activity. They first appear in the heart, as festering wounds that crop up in our dreams and fantasies. They subsequently show up in the face, in passing glances of anger, jealousy, or envy. Abraham Lincoln said that everyone over forty years of age is responsible for his own face. It mirrors what we carry inside. Thirdly said Abba Poemen, inner wounds reveal themselves in words, in our sniping at others, our passive-aggressive language. And finally, the wounds appear in deeds. We reface them in our actions, doing to others what had been done to us. What isn’t transformed, in other words will be transmitted.

At this campfire of forgiveness I learned to understand and put into the practice dying to my disturbed, over anxious self important  self. The God who is a consuming fire did His work that night.

My second campfire of forgiveness:

The second evening in solitude I built another campfire.  They never told me in Bible college that just because I had vision and wanted to help people find Jesus not everyone would support that vision or get behind it. The naivety of youth produced the misleading notion that people would just follow me. I know, what a silly notion!  Silly as that is, over the long haul, when people leave you for one reason or another it does affect you.  The chronic disappointment of watching your “friends” get up and leave your fire is troubling and I’m not just talking about the Covid convenience of people just quitting on you, I’m speaking to a deeper pandemic of disloyalty and abandonment.


Over the years, my wife and I have had many great lasting relationships. The wealth of these relationships outweighs the ones that hurt.  There is still a sadness that hovers when we feel the loss of people we poured our lives into .  A scripture that has always kept me focused and is John 2:19  “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”-  (NKJV)

Exit wounds or God’s protection?

When in the perils of brethren, it is good to remember quotes like this one.

“God sometimes removes a person from your life for your protection. Don’t run after them.”―Rick Warren 

A good friend explained it to me like this, “Steve, when you plant a church you will have people that will help you start the work and then they are gone.  Think of it like rocket boosters on a space shuttle. They get you to a certain point and then they fall off for a reason. God sent them to you to accomplish His work for a certain season.

“The Lord gives and He takes away.” Job 1:21

When I paused and looked at the glowing embers that night, I realized  that none of the people in “my church” were my people in the first place. They were God’s people and it is His church.

It was a relief to forgive the old me of thinking everyone needed to stay with me.

I concluded that not everyone you lose is a loss.  What a privilege it was for me to serve with them in the warmth of the fire while we had it.

My Third Campfire Is a Restoring Campfire:

The third evening I sat next to the best campfire I have ever enjoyed. I’ll name it the campfire of restored identity.  I mused on the two times in scripture where Peter was close to a campfire and the smell of that wood smoke saturated the air. The two references are where Peter denied Jesus in a courtyard and the second is where Jesus restored Peter next to a fire on the beach.

When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it, and some bread. – John 21:9

The first time is in John 18:15-19. Peter stood and warmed himself while denying that he even knew Jesus.

 “Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a charcoal fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.”

When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it, and some bread. – John 21:9

Sitting next to a charcoal fire, Jesus restored Peter and his God-designed identity, as well as, his role as Jesus’ disciple and a leader of Jesus’ church. There the smell of campfire smoke brought memories of sin and guilt, and Jesus gave Peter grace and mercy. As fire is used to refine gold and silver, fire here is used to refine and restore Peter.

Coals and Conclusion:

Our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29 (NIV)

As we allow him to burn up the clutter of unforgiveness we experience freedom in our lives.  The adventure of forgiveness lightens our load and removes the unneeded baggage that weighs our souls down.  Start a fire in you life and let God burn up what you no longer need.