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a better story

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Often people ask me what I do. The answer is pretty straightforward. I help people and organizations live better stories. At least that’s the intent.

To live a better story, the goal must be worthwhile. Thanks to Donald Miller for this. He writes in “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” that wanting a Volvo is not a worthy goal for a good story. A meaningful goal must have some greater good and it must cost something. Giving yourself away for the good of others makes for the beginning of a possibly heroic journey.

This goal leads to the conflict around which a story revolves. Conflict is critical for a compelling story. For a hero to be developing in degrees of niceness from nice to nicer and then nicer still until the end is not a story worth reading or watching. It also is not a story worth living. Ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in high places (Eph 6). We don’t enter into the conflict alone. We would not fair well. We go under the covering of Christ.

Another key to a better story includes better characters. Christ followers should pursue character diversity in their stories. There actually need to be bad people in a good story. These are the ones that Christ died for. These are the people that were often found gathered around Him–the sinners and tax collectors. There will often be an array of characters that look and think differently in a good story. Being involved in the lives of people from other peoples or nations is part of living a better life. Just think how different and bad the Star Wars story would be without the diverse inter-galactic persons. Hans Solo’s bar scene in the desert is compelling because of the unknown.

In our stories we can be the hero, but there is always a far better and much greater Hero. We can be the ones that give ourselves away whether in a time and place of
peril or a period of calm. We know that many have and still more will be martyred for their faith. Regardless of what sacrifice is required of us, a better story requires a selfless abandon. This is key for a hero. But we go out living our story at the command of the one true Hero. His story makes ours possible. Because He has been unfolding a story throughout history better than any master storyteller could conjure up, we have the privilege of playing a small part.

This week I am with the Upstream Collective crew in Western Europe. Our journey will lead us and others to examine and modify our story so that it fits better with the story of God. Follow along as we share some of that journey here and on other sights around the digital neighborhood.

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For a number of reasons, I am in an extended period of deep introspection. While I think this is a good exercise from time to time, it can feel a little weird–at least it does for me.

During some times of solitude in the midst of travels this week, I have been meditating on 2 Timothy 3, especially the first 7 verses where Paul warned Timothy about some people that he would encounter. The list of attributes is downright awful. Paul included that some would be: brutal, treacherous, abusive, greedy, heartless, unappeasable. Paul warned about some who would take advantage of women, be burdened with sins, and overcome with uncontrollable passions. They would lack self control. Timothy was to avoid these ungrateful, unholy people. But of course. It only makes sense.

But in the whole of the letter and at several points in chapter 3, it seems that Paul was saying that these were people in the community or, to be more specific, people in the church. These are ones that had an appearance of godliness but denied its power. And then a conviction hit me with force…. What if that is me in some ways?

Now I don’t want to start bleeding all over blog posts here, but what could be worse than to be one who had an appearance of godliness all the while not experiencing His power? What, I wonder, could be more frightful than to be one who chose to follow Christ who does not fully trust Him? Profoundly convicted, I am certain this is me all the while that I am set on the course of mission with only a passing interest in prayer. This is me when I am seeking to bring about transformation while not begging him to transform others and to still be transforming me.

Paul’s list is terrible period. But it is frightful when I look honestly and see my picture there in too many of those descriptions.

God change me.

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senior moments

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This past weekend, our family made a quick trip to visit a family member that had been admitted to an extended care facility for rehabilitation from a stroke. It was great to be with extended family again and to see our loved one making great improvement. On the way into the facility, I had to pause when I saw a row of elderly lined up in front of a TV sitting lifeless. The sight wasn’t pretty or heart-warming in any way. I was touched, but troubled by the reality these people were waiting through.

Walking down the hallway, I thought of several I know that had been sent off to take the gospel to the nations by their loved ones. Sent out by their aged loved ones that would are living in places much like the one I visited. Some of these have no one to care for them except for the nurses and staff at the nursing home where they live. Yet, it was clear to a parent or loved one that having their remaining family that is in close contact with them to go and take the gospel to those that do not know Jesus Christ was of utmost importance.

I had a new, profound respect for those sending ones that treasured the lives of others more than receiving loving care in person on their last years on the earth. May they be blessed. May this encourage us to live with abandon as the sent ones to take the gospel to others.

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What if the angels came to the shepherds and announced that they brought good news of great joy–Jesus has moved from one side of heaven to the other? What if the good news was simply to state that God is still on his throne with an encouragement for those below to press on? No intervention promised…. No hope for something better….

If that was the Christmas story, then it would be, I am convinced, a pretty pathetic tale. Maybe this story would elicit frustration or even a shaking, clenched fist as the helpless stood begging for His intervention. With arms raised the shepherds and wise men could have cried out, “where are you?” Ultimately, plodding along or suffering silently would be the best anyone could have hoped. But, thankfully, that is not the Christmas story.

We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. The king of kings took the form of a helpless baby. His parents would wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm, feed him, and follow The Father’s direction to keep him away from murderous soldiers. Leaving heaven, he was born into humility. His need as a child for others to intervene on his behalf is apparent. Yet to a much greater extent at that time and still today, we need him–desperately. Still, we celebrate Emmanuel. We have hope and direction because he is God with us.

Over the past several days I have been approached on a couple of occasions by people with tear-soaked eyes. Desperate. Deep concerns visible in their faces, the weight of the world pressing on them, they cried out for help.

During this same period, we have experienced a number of physical ailments in our immediate and extended family ranging from minor to life-threatening. I have been to the doctor more in the last 7 days than in the past several years.

We have family and friends that have recently lost jobs and are trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Another relative continues in a job with a company that has just declared bankruptcy.

A broken people, we live in a broken world. But, we celebrate the Truth of Christmas–the Christ. We press on because of his presence among us. At times we carry on with our hearts filled with hope. At other times we struggle to take one more step while anxious or even desperate to see the smallest glimpse of his salvation for us. All the time we are sent to follow in the steps of Emmanuel. We celebrate God with us.

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hiding story

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Throughout the story, my eyes often filled with tears. The purity of heart and faith in God were deeply compelling. God’s faithfulness to bless those who follow Him as well as His chosen was evident. Then, as the story unfolded, tear-filled eyes were not enough to deal with the cathartic outcome. Corrie Ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place tells of God’s faithfulness, love and forgiveness.

My reading of the classic–The Hiding Place–is thanks to my wife’s recommendation as she and one of my daughter’s had just read the book. This story illustrating the reign of God bring every evidence to bear with accounts of justice, reconciliation, beauty and the miraculous. As an added bonus in the book, I think there are some phenomenal church-planting truths and numerous missional living lessons for us to discover.

In closing Corrie shares, “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

I wholly recommend the book. Here I will also include the original movie and a variation that came out this year. While I haven’t seen the second, I am anxious to view it soon even though some reviews are critical of the acting.

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love of the wise

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“I love you!” the grandfather said to his 4 year old grandson with Latin heritage aiding the grandfather in conveying the fulness of his love for the child. Impulsively, the child responded with an independent, “I don’t love you.” Without a pause or shift in his countenance the grandfather replied, “That’s OK. I love you enough for both of us.” Then, the process began again for the second of three iterations. “I love you!”….

I learned so much observing this family encounter some years ago. Both about the giving love of a wise one as well as the impulsive self-centeredness of a child-like mind. About the love of the Father and the reality of me.

As a continuation of the previous post a good bit wiser, this anecdote is to illustrate a bit more that “if they hate us, it is OK because we have enough love for both of us.” When the wise ones enter into relationships with others while permeated with the love of Christ, we are blessed to enter in with our eyes wide open. When confronted with the lovely or seemingly unlovable, we can move forward in confidence because of His goodness–because of His love.

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humility and shame

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Late last night I saw a voice mail from a neighbor that said “we have big problems.” He wanted me to call him back. Instead, I walked next door to his house.

The short version of the story is the father who phoned and his oldest son were fighting. They didn’t see a way out except for the son to move out and for there to be a permanent break in their relationship. We talked for some time about life and about God’s forgiveness. After that, they humbled themselves and asked for forgiveness for all of the stuff they had been doing to each other. That humility thing was not easy. It is hard for all, and definitely hard for the people among whom we live. I was amazed at the beauty of a reconciled relationship. God was clearly at work.

So after a late night last night, I rolled out of bed somewhat early this morning to let the dog out and have our morning ritual of giving her food and water and have a few rounds of fetch. (Usually she brings me the frisbee, sometimes I take it to her.) While out there, my neighbor starts whistling at the missional pooch. Then he and I begin talking and he asks me to come over to chat. When I arrive on his back porch there is another man there waiting on me.

“You are a man of God?” he asked. OK, that was a first for me. It seemed like a frightening question for so many reasons. Based on his dress, I could not tell if he was a preacher or a businessman. Based on his leadoff question I guessed wrong, but it wasn’t important. The only answer I could give in those circumstances was “yes, i am.” Then he started to tell his story. Well, the story is not appropriate for family reading, but he was asking for help. We talked about a prodigal son who returned to be graciously received by a loving, forgiving father. We talked about the Savior and about giving our life to Him. No sooner had I offered that we could pray than he was on his knees on rough concrete steps on the patio in slacks and a tie. I knelt in my PJ shorts and t-shirt while my neighbor knelt behind us in his normal painters garb.

This man cried out to God. Tears and snot were in abundance–yes, that tie will be ready for retirement before another wearing. When we finished praying, he shared about the deep shame he felt for the first time ever. He continued to be hunkered down, humbled before God. I am humbled and rejoicing.

God is moving here among our people.

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for good

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As several have asked about a recent event in our lives based on a tweet I posted on The Twitters, an update seemed in order. For readers that don’t know, during my recent travels our house was burglarized. No one was home and every one is safe though the pooch was a little shaken up. While the hoodlums didn’t make off with loads of valuables, they did disrupt our lives.

We are continuing to address the logistical issues which come from a forced entry break in. But on the bright side, we were able to have a meet up with a number of our neighbors to talk about what it would look like for us to act as neighbors rather than just as people who live in close proximity to each other. I do not believe that God has for us to live in strife with our neighbors. At the same time I do not believe that He desires us to have a state of apathy for those that live close to us. It is in our community–where one plants his family–that we are the incarnation of the gospel.

Our neighbors were skeptical about getting together the first time, but they decided for another get together much sooner than I would have proposed.

Off topic, I had a piece posted this week on the Upstream site on the Sent and Sending church. Well that was the published title. I originally sent it as “A Church Brouhaha.”

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Since my time on the recent JetSet with Upstream, I have been reflecting on a number of things. One of those key things is the reign of God (a key theme of the second half of Isaiah) and the ways in which that is demonstrated. Frost shared three ways according to Wright in which the reign of God is visible here on earth and added a fourth. The four were:

  1. Frost facilitating discussion during a group session on '11 JetSet to Central EuropeThe presence of justice
  2. Reconciled relationships
  3. Beauty
  4. Presence of the supernatural

Now what? Because the gospel is Christ-centered, I have been working through the gospels over the last weeks with these four evidences of the reign of God here on earth as a filter. I have been asking the question where did Jesus effect justice; restore relationships; create or call attention to beauty; and/or display the presence of the supernatural?

A reflective exercise, this is something I need to continue. First because it is vital for me. Really! It is the gospel in me. Second, because it is the clearer formulation for me to “be prepared to give the reason for the hope that [I] have” to the world around me. This is the living story that is changing my life. It is the dynamic story I need to tell well to others. It is the story that is written for all time and is unfolding today in my community.

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the story of a man and his country

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Sasha Flek tells his storyIn talking with many national leaders and planters throughout our time on the Prague / Budapest JetSet trip, one of the most compelling stories for me and many of our trip participants was about how God had moved among the Czech people and was drawing them to himself. It was the story of Sasha Flek, but it was a parallel story of his country and a post-Christian world.

Sasha told of his journey in coming to Christ which was instrumental in many of his friends being transformed, though not in the sequencing one might expect. Later, led to translate the Bible into a contemporary version of Czech, which was completed a couple years ago, he continued to see God stirring the hearts of people throughout the country as the whole text was and is read annually at Easter in town squares throughout the country.

This brief interview gives some more insight into the Czech worldview which Flek describes as anti-clerical or anti-institutional. He gives some of his cultural exegesis in how to speak to his postmodern, post-Christian countrymen.

Unfortunately we did not get Sasha’s full story on video, but we do have the audio. It was a huge blessing and encouragement to me. I would encourage you to give it a listen if you can invest the time. Here is a link for the audio on The Upstream Collective sight. By the way, his story includes an amazing phenomenon that has started in the last several years in the Czech Republic because of the Easter holiday. Thought I would share that in case anyone is still looking for a good Easter illustration. (smile)

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