Return to the Kingdom, Chapter Three

(Click here for Chapter Two, here for Chapter One)

The last three months had been the best they could remember. Even though nothing had really changed, the exiles had never felt so optimistic and hopeful. And it was all because of the strange, old man.

It had been twenty-three years since the exiles had been cast out of the kingdom. They had quickly discovered the good life they’d known in the kingdom was unique to that place, but in time they got used to the harshness of their new lives.

The exiled knights, however, had not accepted their new living conditions so easily. For the first few years they relentlessly searched for a way to sneak back in to the kingdom. Yet they found no crack or crevice in the invisible barrier created by the King.

They could not burn through the barrier with fire. They could not smash the barrier with a battering ram. They could not even launch themselves over the barrier. That only resulted in two knights with badly broken legs.

When the knights had finally accepted every attempt was futile, they turned their attention upon the other exiles. Lucius came up with a simple and terrible system of survival: the common people would provide a decent life for the knights if they wanted to survive.

They would build and maintain their houses, work their lands, and serve them in whatever capacity the knights demanded. As compensation, the knights shared recently spoiled food and allowed them to build meager shelters close by. The exiles had no choice and learned to adjust to this turn of events as well.

Living outside of the kingdom was taking its toll on them, and hardly a day went by that they did not regret their attempt to depose the King.

But the last three months had been different, ever since the old man had shown up and joined their little village. He came seeking food and a safe place to sleep, and receiving those, decided to stay and regain his strength.

He told them he had been traveling for a long time and had come from the King’s kingdom. This brought many questions which he gladly answered. He loved nothing more than to tell stories, to reminisce about old adventures with the King, stories which brought memories back to many of the exiles.

Sometimes it was hard for the oldest of the exiles to listen; it made the pain of their new reality that much greater, along with their guilt and shame. But as the days turned to weeks, listening to story after story, they began to feel as if they were with the King again. They began to imagine what it would be like to go back.

Finally one night, around the campfire, one of the elders asked the question that had been burning inside so many of them for so long.

“Old man, we are grateful for the stories of days gone by. But what about more recent events? What news can you tell us about the King? How does he look upon us exiles?”

“The kingdom fairs well. The people live as they always have. But there is an emptiness in the land they do not see, an emptiness that I have also seen in the eyes of the King. His heart broke in the rebellion. His heart is for his people. Even now, even today he longs for you, the exiled ones.”

From that night on, the old man began to talk often of the King’s love for the exiles. Of his desire to have them return to the kingdom. He almost spoke with the authority of the King himself, as if the King had sent him.

Word of this old man and his stories was spreading. Each night more crowded in to listen. Each day there was more happiness as people worked: smiling as they passed each other, laughing in their conversations, hugging as they went their separate ways.

Something was stirring. Change was in the air, and Lucius and his knights were not sure they liked what was happening. This old man was having a strange affect on them all.

Was it possible the King might take these pathetic exiles back? Lucius knew the way was still blocked for him and his men, and he was not going to lose his slaves.

It was time to confront the old man.

(Click here for Chapter Four.)

A Christmas Consideration

Let me make a radical sounding statement: Sometimes I think we focus on applying the Bible to our lives a little too much. Even to our own detriment. 

One of the most common ways we read any portion of Scripture is to decipher what the passage means for our lives today. If Peter walked on water, what does that mean for me? How do I apply this story to my life?

This doesn’t really sound like such a big deal, does it? Shame on you; you applied God’s Word to your life and let it impact you. Naughty, naughty.

While there’s a lot worse things we could be doing with the Bible, I still feel like we have this tendency to jump the gun in how we read, and it can be a big deal. When we approach the Bible with an overemphasis of “What’s this mean for me?”, we’re limiting our interaction with God’s Word.

In our times of Bible reading, once we have moved from ‘here’s what happened’ to ‘what’s it mean for me,’ we no longer interact with the story purely as a story. Now we are interacting with it primarily as something that brings insight to life today. And while the Bible is full of truth and principles that are timeless, stories that happened thousands of years ago are not about us. They are about the people in the stories, yet we do a lot of stretching to make them about us, too. Sometimes, too much.

Case in point: we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and we quickly see the point of the story as showing how Jesus correctly handled temptation. The application is to understand the three areas the devil tempted Him in order to recognize the devil’s temptations in our own lives and how to stand against them.

What we’ve done is taken a story about Jesus and made it all about us. We feel we’ve got this passage figured out, so we move on to the next one. But we missed the main point. The story is teaching us something about Jesus: namely, where the nation of Israel failed years ago, Jesus succeeds in obedience and dependence on the Father. Jesus proves himself to be faithful Israel, faithful in keeping the covenant with Yahweh.

We tend to do this with the Christmas story as well. We ponder the mystery of the Incarnation, the love of God strikingly displayed in the Son taking on flesh, becoming a vulnerable baby, and being born in such a lowly manner. Then we jump to application: Whose world do I need to more fully enter this season? Who needs me to humbly walk beside them and give of myself?

I am not saying this is wrong. It is good and important. But there are times to read not for application, but for pure immersion into the story. To let the truths of the story sink into our soul. Then once the story has so gotten into us that we are not the same, the application becomes a necessary outflowing of the story’s work inside us.

Consider doing this. These last two weeks leading up to Christmas, spend serious time in the Christmas story. And let it remain a story. Don’t make it about you; don’t try and figure out ‘the point;’ don’t try and make it relevant to your life.

Let it be only about Jesus. God leaving His throne in heaven to establish His kingdom on earth. In a most peculiar, jaw-dropping way.

Enter the Story.

Return to the Kingdom, Chapter Two

(Click here for Chapter One)

Many brave men and women lost their lives that dark day.

The king’s army fought valiantly. His knights took no pleasure in taking their brothers’ lives, and it soon became apparent they weren’t. They were taking them captive.

They surrounded Lucius’ army, and pushed in. The king’s strategy was now clear: to use their advantage in numbers to suppress the rebels and force their surrender rather than take their lives. Despite now being his enemies, the king’s love trumped his desire for justice.

Lucius, realizing they were beaten, thought it better to live to fight another day and surrendered. His knights grudgingly relinquished their weapons, and their hands were tied. Then the king had the rebels brought before him to hear his ruling against them.

The king’s decree was that they would keep their lives, but nothing else. They were banished from the kingdom and would live the rest of their days in exile. Wandering outside the kingdom, struggling to survive.

The rebels were taken to the outskirts of the kingdom, untied, and forced to leave.

The king wept.

Years passed. The king’s people began to forget about the uprising, but the king did not. The older generation died, and a new generation took their place. The king surveyed his land, at the many houses that still stood empty and fields that were unplowed. His heart broke for his people.

That night he made a decision. He exchanged his scepter for a walking stick. His royal clothes for the garb of a peasant.

Without a look back, the king left his palace.

(Click here for Chapter Three.)

Return to the Kingdom, Chapter One

Long ago, before the first great age of the Earth had ended, when pockets of magic and mystery still existed, there was a hidden kingdom. This kingdom was in a remote part of the world, in a lush valley entirely surrounded by a formidable mountain range.

Beyond the mountains were other tribes of people, some good and some bad. The mountains provided protection and security to the people of the kingdom, keeping out those tribes desiring to pillage the land and conquer the people.

But it was the king who truly protected his people.

Years ago, before anyone living had yet been born, the king had placed a spell upon his kingdom, creating an invisible wall around the perimeter. This wall served as an impenetrable barrier blocking all enemies of the king from entering. But any travelers seeking refuge and needing food and shelter were able to pass through the wall and were welcomed to stay and live under the king.

As word spread about this king and his kingdom, many made the dangerous journey, risking their lives to reach the kingdom. Others, with evil intentions, also made the journey but could not find entry once they had crossed the mountains.

And so the population of the kingdom grew, and the king’s people lived well, each day better than the day before.

Everyone worked hard and did their part, doing the work that came most naturally to them. No one ever lacked in food. All were content with their place in life. When disputes or problems occasionally arose, the king would send one of his knights to bring resolution to the issue. If needed, the king himself would come and bring justice.

The leader of the king’s knights, the king’s right hand man, was Sir Lucius. He was a highly respected man and full of wisdom. The king saw him as a son and treated him as such.

One day as Sir Lucius surveyed the kingdom, the idea of ruling entered his mind. At first, he was shocked by the thought, but he could not let it go. He entertained the thought more, and it took root in his heart. The thirst for absolute power overtook him, and he began to scheme and devise a plan to dethrone the king.

In the dark of night, he approached those he knew would join him. One-third of the king’s army and thousands of the king’s people listened to his vision of remaking the valley and his promise of ruling alongside him. In the end, all pledged their allegiance to him.

Sir Lucius and his army took up arms and marched to the king’s palace. But as they came up the valley, there was the king with his knights. Swords drawn. Ready and waiting. And both armies charged.

The Great Battle for the throne had begun.

(Click here for Chapter Two.)

The Power of Story

Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step… If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.

-Ivan Illich, Austrian philosopher

A Greater Story

Father, what was life like for the first man and woman?”

“That is a good question, my child. In a word, life was good. There is a word in the ancient language that has been used to describe life for the first man and woman – shalom. It means pure goodness, wholeness, completeness. It is quite difficult to explain, but they felt at home – safe, secure, content, happy, at peace with each other, themselves, and their world. Words like bliss, euphoria, ecstasy, and nirvana are feeble attempts to describe the perfectness of life for them.

“Imagine, my child, that you have come to the end of a long and full life. Taking all the good memories you ever had, you gather them together, and compress them down into one singular moment. All of those wonderful experiences and feelings have now been joined together, and you are reliving them as one incredible, indescribable moment. Imagine how amazing that moment would be. Imagine how wonderful you would feel for that second.

“Now imagine you had the ability to extend that second and turn it into an hour, a day, weeks, months, and then years. Can you begin to imagine a life like that? But even then, it would still only be the smallest hint of a shadow of how good life was for the first man and woman.”

Listen, my child, and I will tell you of the King’s original intentions for mankind.

The home He created for the first man and woman was a sacred garden; a sanctuary for them to enjoy this world He had created for them; a place overflowing with life; a unique place of happiness, safety and peace. All they needed to survive and thrive was here–they had each other, fruits and vegetables were abundant and matured, and most importantly this was a place the Creator King frequented often. On more than one occasion, the King came and walked with them and told them of His intentions for them.

“My children when I created you, I put My image inside you. You are My image-bearers in this world. As I govern and rule all that is, both the seen and the unseen, so I have placed you here to rule. You are My governors, and You are to fill this world and rule over every aspect of it: the animals both great and small, the grounds and trees that produce food, even the waters and the skies in their movements.

“There is much for you to discover about yourselves and this world I have created for you. The whole world is for you to enjoy and explore, but this garden is to always be home for you, your children, and your children’s children. So long as you live under my rule, this will be your home, and I will walk with you and your descendants and provide for you and for them.”

The man and woman took the King’s words to heart. The man had given each of the animals a name, and with that name a purpose, and all the animals lived in harmony. The man and woman learned to rule well over the animals. They spoke to the earth and the trees, and food came forth. They spoke to the waters and the skies, and peace reigned over the whole earth.

These days were good. The man and the woman were discovering new things about themselves, and their love for each other grew. They kept no secrets from each other. They held back no feelings or thoughts but shared wholly and with full vulnerability.

They did not wear a stitch of clothing, but it never occurred to them they were naked. They had no sense of shame or fear. Their entire frame of reference for everything was only goodness.

What they did not know was that all was not good. All was not safe. A great evil existed in the cosmos and was coming their way…

A Greater Story

Listen, my child, and I will tell you of the Creator King.

Every great king has a palace, and so the “I AM” set to building a palatial temple in which He would be worshipped.

First, He took a blank canvas, unrolled it, and stretched it out before Himself. The largess of this canvas is far beyond our ability to comprehend. He spoke, and the canvas roiled and flexed like a living creature just awakened.

Beside this now-living canvas He had placed a great mass of burning light of various colors and shapes, and a great mass of dirt, both hard and soft, light and dark; and the King began to play. He stooped down low, picked up the tiniest piece of dirt from the pile and spoke to it, and it became our world.

He exhaled, and the tiny planet spun in the formless air of the canvas and became alive and vibrant. He created water and land, lightly pressing His fingertips to form mountains and rivers, canyons and islands, lakes and oceans.

Then, He took the light and the dirt and threw them here and there and everywhere, speaking life and purpose into them, and the blank canvas was transformed into a vast cosmos of stars and moons and comets and planets and meteor fields, galaxy upon majestic galaxy.

This cosmos was the temple-palace of the King. It was not to be his home, but it would be the center stage on which His story would be told. And just as a beautiful work of art brings prestige to the artist, so this temple-palace existed to give glory, honor and praise to the Creator King.

Pleased with His work so far, the King turned His attention back to our world. This place, this obscure speck of a dot hidden on the vast map of the universe, was where He would now fix His spotlight, where His grand narrative would be fleshed out.

The blue planet was alive but not yet teeming with life. It was time to make it so. The King spoke and filled the waters with swimming creatures both small and great, the air with flying creatures both small and great, and likewise the whole earth with earth-bound creatures.

This is our world, and it was coming to life. A symphony of musical sounds emanated from these newly made creatures as they recognized and worshipped their Creator King. The ocean waves and the mountain peaks rose and humbly bowed before the King, and the stars in the heavens danced to the glory of the King.

And then they paused. All of creation held its’ breath and turned its’ attention to the Creator and what He was about to do. He stooped down low again, thrusting His fingers deep into the dirt, pulling up a handful of rich, brown mud.

There, in His palm, He formed the shape of a Son of Earth. Then bringing His mouth down close to the lifeless mud-man, He breathed a long, rushing wind into and throughout the formed mud. Like a sunrise painting the sky with color, awakening the day and calling forth life, this breath was like an electric shock that traveled throughout the form, creating life where a second ago there had only been dirt.

Mouth opened, chest heaved, and a tremor passed through the Son of Earth. Eyes opened and looked around, squinting and blinking in the sunlight, taking in shapes as they came into focus. Muscles flexed, toes and fingers wiggled, legs and arms stretched and back arched. The Son of Earth sat up and all of creation recognized here was the Creator’s grand masterpiece, the crème de la crème of all He had made. Here was one bearing the very image of the Creator King…

A Greater Story

Listen, my child, and I will tell you about the King.

The one thing you must know about this King is His name, and once you know His name, you will begin to understand who He is. Names give meaning, and the name He has given Himself tells us everything we need to know about Him.

He calls Himself “I AM.”

A highly unusual name to be sure, and one quite difficult to understand. But He has given us a trail of bread crumbs that lead us to the bountiful table of what His name means and who He truly is, and I gladly share with you, my child, a few bread crumbs I have stumbled across…

There are questions that burn in the heart of every man, woman, and child. These questions have been placed there by the King. The greatest of these is “Can You see me?” and is closely followed by “Can I see You?”

When you were just an infant, you loved to play “Hide and Seek.” You would cover your eyes with your hands and giggle incessantly as I searched for you. Once, I tried to keep you giggling by pretending I could not see you even after you said “Here I am!”

I looked past you and to either side of you, asking where you were. But you did not like this game. You grew agitated and believed I could no longer see you, and you began to cry.

I ran to you, picked you up and held you tight. I whispered to you, “I see you. I have you. I am right here.”

The cry coming from the depth of our hearts is to be seen and known by the King as we truly are, and to see Him in the same way.

The great “I AM” is to us invisible, but He has gone to the greatest of lengths to make Himself visible to us. The very essence of His name means He is real, that He is the most real, nothing and no one is more real, He is the highest reality.

His name means that even though He may be unseen and unfelt, He is real and He is here. Even though we do not see Him, He sees us and His knowledge of us is intimate.

He whispers to us, “I see you. I have you. I am right here.”

The great mystery of the “I AM” is that He is the most real and the most present, yet He is the hardest to find. I will teach you, my child, to see the King. To see the King who sees you…

A Greater Story

What is the gospel? Isn’t it more than just some facts that can get us to heaven? What is the larger context of the story in which Jesus the God-man enters our world to die that we may live? Are we missing some pieces (potentially critical pieces) by focusing almost exclusively on the crucifixion of Jesus as the entirety of the gospel?

I want my kids to know that this “Christianity thing” is more than just making a decision and getting a ticket to heaven. I want them to see the whole story and to have their imaginations so caught up in the story that they fall head over heels in love with this Jesus character, and He revolutionizes their lives.

This is my attempt at retelling a greater story.

Listen, my child, and I will tell you a story.

The story I will tell you is full of beauty: life and true love and undying hope, yet sadly also full of wretchedness: betrayal and corruption and destruction. This story will break you into a thousand pieces, then just as quick breathe new life into your lifeless heart.

It more than covers the vast expanse of human emotion and experience, and the fullness of it will be beyond your comprehension, even your imagination. It is The Story in which all stories find their place and their meaning, and within this story lies the secret of life…

and the secret of you.

We begin where all stories begin: “In the beginning,” but not with a ‘What’ or a ‘When’ or a ‘Where,’
but with a ‘Who…’