Dear Donald Miller, You set me up.

This weekend I lied to our congregation.  It wasn’t on purpose.  I was telling the part of your story I knew.  And well, I only told them the part I knew and I was missing what Paul Harvey used to call, “…the rest of the story.”  I told them that in your reluctant search for your father you discovered that he was dead.  I shared with them that by starting the search you began to live a better story.  So this weekend you illustrated one of the contrarian impulses that may come to us when we start living the Gospel by the Spirit of God: to include the mess-ups in a new family story.

Its Advent, and we launched our series with Matthew 1:1-18.  Yes, its the list of names,   the genealogy of Jesus, and I read every name.  His family tree includes the stories of wonderfully messy characters.  Abraham, David, Bathsheba, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and a slew of wicked kings.  Jesus’ family list of the “bad” among the “good” shocks our desire to hide what we believe to be our shame.  From Matthew’s perspective the genealogy of Jesus is the genesis of a new family and a new kingdom shaped by grace (Matthew 1:1).

The Gospel compels us to do something different, something contrary to our impulse to hide.  Instead of hiding the past, we redeem the past by God’s grace.  God is faithful.  Now we know He is working through the messes of sinful people to accomplish His plan and purposes.  While life in its current and painful construction creates a deep longing for family and for noble leaders our disappointment with reality may compel us to hide from truth and ignore the reality of our fallen families. And that hiding only creates more pain.  But grace creates a new impulse:  the impulse to include the mess-ups of our lives in our story and in our family story.  Jesus did it, and He is the grace for it.  You know this and have profoundly illustrated it in your writing.

And so, I told your story as you have told it in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years… and as far as I had read in the previous week.  So I didn’t know that “rest of the story” until I finished reading your book last night.  Like a good story teller you set me up… and for that I’m really glad.

Now our contrarian Advent adventure continues… and I get to tell the rest of your story and the search for your father this Sunday as Origin gathers to explore the rest of the  Jesus-story in the Matthew 1:18-25.  Thank you!  I’m glad you set me up, because you  showed  me that sometimes God surprises us and the void in our heart gets filled up by grace.  There can be a surprising “rest of the story.”

Merry Christmas Donald, and by His grace may we all live a better story.





The Story that Shapes Your Soul

“Looking out upon her audience, Angharad saw the faces grim in the reflected fire glow; and they seemed to her in this moment not faces at all, but empty vessels into which she would pour the elixir of the song which was more than a song. They would hear and, God willing, the story would work in their hearts and minds to produce its rare healing fruit.” (Scarlet, The King Raven Trilogy, by Stephen R. Lawhead, 2007, p. 200)

We each have narratives that inform the decisions we make and how we feel about life.  These stories are powerful. In fact, these stories have the power of life and death in our relationships with each other and with God. These stories are formed from our life experiences or from the tales told around the table. Marraige counselors know the power of our stories. In an effort to improve the attitude and feelings of well-being they will have a couple tell “the story” of how they met and how their courtship progressed. These stories elicit what may be remnant good-will in order to help them gain traction for making adjustments and grow in their relationship.

Advertisers & Story

Advertisers know that the stories we absorb are powerful. In fact advertisement is an effort at telling a story that moves us; that moves us to buy into their product or brand.  The most masterful I saw recently was the one of a group of men fishing while the audio relives the fateful moment they learned they had won the Lott0 649.  I hate it; but its good. In 30 seconds we get backstory and a present story. People who let this story shape their lives will buy lotto tickets in spite of their dismal chances.

Soul Training & Story

I have been thinking about story and its power to shape our souls while reading James Byron Smith’s book, The Good and Beautiful God. His approach to spiritual formation in Christ, is that we must adopt the stories or narratives of Jesus as part of our soul-training in God’s grace. These stories of Jesus will orient us toward the revealed character of God. Smith writes:

“We are shaped by our stories. In fact, our stories, once in place, determine much of our behavior without regard to their accuracy or helpfulness. Once these stories are stored in our minds, they stay there largely unchallenged until we die. And here is the main point: these narratives are running (and often ruining) our lives. That is why it is crucial to get the right narratives.

Once we “find” the narratives inside our minds, we can measure them against Jesus’ narratives. Because Jesus is the preexistent and eternal Son of God, no one knows God or the nature and meaning of life more than Jesus. Jesus’ narratives are the truth. He himself is the truth. So the key is adopting Jesus’ narratives.

Jesus revealed his Father to us. The New Testament reveals a God who is pulsing with goodness and power and love and beauty. To know the God of Jesus is to know the truth about how God really is.

In order to change we first have to change our minds. Jesus’ opening line to his first sermon was, “Repent, [metanoia], for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Metanoia refers to the changing of one’s mind. Jesus understood that transformation begins in the mind. The apostle Paul said the same thing when he proclaimed, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). (The Good and Beautiful God, 25-26)

Lent and The Good News

Lent is the seasonal Christian journey toward the Cross and the Empty tomb of Jesus Christ.  It is our opportunity to reflect deeply on the meta-narrative of God’s love for people and His purposes revealed in Jesus Christ. Each week of Lent I am taking time to reflect at length on a narrative Jesus told to reveal the Kingdom of God and to bring healing to his listeners. I invite you to join me in this process and experience God’s grace in fresh and new ways. Choose a story from the Gospels for each week and bring it to mind throughout the day and on each evening.  You may discover that you need to fast from other stories. It may be that you are entertaining your soul to death through the constant emersion of media stories and that you need to turn those off by fasting from TV or movies over the next few weeks. May the word of Jesus accomplish the Father’s will through the ministry of His Spirit in us.

Below is an excerpt from Stephen Lawhead’s book Scarlet that I believe captures the work of God’s grace through story and how we can cooperate with Jesus’ grace.

Here, Angharad stopped; she let the last notes of the harp fade into the night, then added, “But that is a tale for another time.” Setting aside the harp, she stood and spread her hands over the heads of her listeners. “Go now,” she said softly, as a mother speaking to a sleep-heavy child. “Say nothing, but go to your sleep and to your dreams. Let the song work its power within you, my children.”

Bran, no less than the others, felt as if his soul had been cast adrift–all around him, washed a vast and restless sea that he must navigate in a too-small boat with neither sail nor oars. For him, at least, the feeling was familiar. This was how he always felt after hearing one of Angharad’s tales. Nevertheless, he obeyed her instruction and did not speak to anyone, but went to his rest, where the song would continue speaking through the night and through the days to come. And although part of him wanted nothing more than to ride at once to Llanelli, storm the gaol, and rescue the captive by force, he had learned his lesson and resisted any such rash action. Instead, Bran bided his time and let the story do its work.

All through the winter and into the spring, the story sowed and tended its potent seeds; the meaning of the tale grew to fruition deep in Bran’s soul until, one morning in early summer, he awoke to the clear and certain knowledge of what the tale signified. More, he knew what he must do to rescue Will Scarlet.”  (Scarlet, p. 309)

Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain–first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NIV

learn wisdom from the stories of Scripture

Here is our Big Idea this past Sunday at Cityvew:  Seek to honour Jesus today by learning wisdom from the stories of Scripture.  We were camped out in Daniel 5 building on what it means to Live Like Strangers in our culture but not of it.   Belshazzar knew the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation and exaltation, but he failed to grasp the wisdom to be found in the story; Daniel had to re-tell the story for Belshazzar now that B. had seen the writing on the wall.

Unfortunately, like Belshazzar we can be the same way about history–we don’t learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others.  The Christian worldview presses us to learn from other people–particularly their stories in the Scripture–without having to learn solely from experiences.  There is great benefit in godliness, holiness, righteousness, in living an undivided life from relationship with Jesus; and that benefit can be ours if we learn wisdom from the stories of Scripture.  We don’t have to go out and experience ALL THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER in order to be a whole person.  Belshazzar was literally living the last day of the Babylonian Empire in a party of bravado and drunkenness.  Devastation was at his doorstep, yet to the end he never humbled himself and declared himself dependent on God as Nebuchadnezzar had done.  So… how can we avoid the same mistakes.  We can learn wisdom from the stories of Scripture.

1.  Listen to the stories of Scripture to enlarge your view of God.  Daniel tells a story that Belshazzar knew but had been unable to access the wisdom in it.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

2.  Put the story in its context.  This was easy for Daniel to do and sometimes more difficult for us.  But the context is often where the story begins to show us the HOPE we can have for today and tomorrow.  The Apostle Paul highlights gift of Scripture in Romans 15:4;  “For everything that was written in the past was written to encourage us, so that through the endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

3.  Pay attention to the warnings that illustrate the consequence of being consumed by your culture’s independence from God.  Every culture has aspects of it that seek to move us toward independence from Jesus Christ.  Nebuchadnezzar’s personally testimony in Daniel 4 was a proclamation of God’s sovereignty and grace:  “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.  And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”  Belshazzar missed the warning.  In one of his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul seeks to help them grasp God’s purpose for the stories of Israel for them:  “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”  1 Corinthians 10:11

4.  Adjust your belief and behaviour accordingly.  A genuine change of heart and is reflected in a change of behaviour.  When we change our allegiance from self to Jesus our beliefs and behaviours should reflect His exclusive claim to our lives.  The stories of Scripture are used by the Holy Spirit to heal us and to move us into the way and mission of God.  Paul reminds his mentee, Timothy, that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Learn wisdom from the stories of Scripture.  Hey try it yourself as we get ready for this coming Sunday’s message, by reading and reflecting on Daniel 6.