Sword Making Disciples

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/32113233]

This is such a cool video with some profound insights into disciple-making. Discipleship is not the cookie-cutter, assembly line, one-size-fits-all-so-just-read-this-book-with-me-for-the-next-three-months kind of program we see too much of in the church. Discipleship is a complex, highly intimate, purely relational transference of one person’s way of life to another. It is a process that takes YEARS.

What insights do you see in the video regarding disciple-making?

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.)

Run for Fun?

I’ve started running again.

I hesitate to mention this in such a public forum which gives it an almost official status, because I’m not sure Running and I have reached that place in our relationship yet.

I also hesitate to use the word again which conveys the impression that I have ever been a serious runner. To be clear, I use the word in the manner of saying, “I have run before.” Which is not a lie.

Sometimes I run to a meeting when I am late. I will often run to the kitchen during a commercial break. Just this morning, I ran to the bathroom. So I do run, but I would not say I am a runner. There is a difference.

All that to say I am giving Running another try. And I realized something on my run today. (Does that last sentence make me sound like a runner?)

The path is not always smooth. Brilliant, right?

I run on roads (there is no sidewalk option on my side of town), and as I turned a corner I decided to venture off the road and onto the gravelly surface. It was a “short cut.” I shaved 1.25 seconds off my run.

I quickly noticed there were some dangerous potholes which I was able to avoid with my catlike, Barry Sanders’ moves. This was also not too difficult since I was running jogging at a pretty moderate pace.

The light bulb was that when I run I have an expectancy the path will not make running more difficult or cause an injury. The run itself is hard enough on my body. (I really am a big baby.) The road should not be an additional obstacle to overcome.

I think sometimes I approach life in the same way, but life comes with no such guarantee. We should not be thrown off course when our course is disrupted. We should not complain or be surprised or become obsessed with life’s potholes. Everybody has them. Just get out there and keep running.

Jesus never promised us a smooth ride. But He did tell He is with us and for us. And I believe He meant that would be enough.

Another thing I realized on my run was that thinking about what I could write on my blog dramatically lessened the constant ache running produces. But eventually the pain comes back, and you realize you’re very far from your house and about 3 seconds away from a heart attack.

Then I hit what runners so happily refer to as “the wall.”

At this point, my jog crawl still resembled a running motion, but I was going slower than most 90-year-olds with walkers. So I decided was forced to walk. I eventually made it home.

I can’t wait to do this again in two days.

Has God ever spoken to you on a run? What’d He say?

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

The Gospel According to “I Am Legend”

There are some movie clips that just resonate with me… if only this was one of them. Oh wait, it is.

If you’ve never seen I Am Legend, you should know this clip is a little intense and also reveals how the movie ends. Consider yourself forewarned. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dksz2R2DKfs]

If you had to pick the character in this scene you most identify with, who would it be? Will Smith’s character is Messiah-like, working diligently, risking everything, and ultimately sacrificing himself to save all that’s left of humanity. We want to emulate his heroism, but we probably identify more with the woman and child he gives the vial of blood to (did you catch him say, “The cure is in her blood”? Too cool.).

But that’s not who we are. If we take these scenes as a parable of the gospel story, then in this story we are the…

 

zombies.

 

I know it’s harsh, but the Bible’s harsh on us, too. Check it:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. (Romans 7:18)

The sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. (Romans 8:7)

When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. (Romans 5:10)

God loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Did you catch the good news in all of that? In case you missed it, here it is again, eerily similar to how the movie plays out:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. (Romans 5:6)

We were are wretched. Completely hideous. And wanting nothing to do with God. Actually preferring He was dead.

Yet God saw sees us as His beloved. Worthy of being saved. Worthy of the effort required to be restored and reconciled. In the eyes of the King of Kings, I’m worth it. You’re worth it.

Even in an apocalyptic zombie movie, that’s beautiful.

More Than Consumers

Ugh. How many more shopping days til Christmas?

In a few years, I think the 12 Days of Christmas will be renamed the 12 Days of Shopping for Christmas. We have Black Friday, which has mysteriously overtaken much of Thursday, a day we have traditionally referred to as Thanksgiving Day (if you’re unsure of the historicity behind Thanksgiving, find all your answers here). Saturday is now known as “Small Business Saturday,” and today is “Cyber Monday.”

Are you aware that tomorrow is now being referred to as “Green Tuesday?” From what I understand it’s a great opportunity to save some serious green by purchasing, uh, green items you’ve always wanted but might not have known existed and couldn’t afford previously but now you can during this once in a lifetime annual one-day sale weeklong sale… wait, does any of this ring a bell?

Well, all this shopping has got me thinking. We are bombarded with messages telling us we need this and we can’t live without that. At the core of these messages is the view that you and I are no more than consumers. The sad thing is you hear something enough, and you begin to believe it.

I like to consume things (like bacon!). I need to consume things (like bacon?).

But I am more than a consumer, and Christmas is not about consumption (just to set the record straight, it is actually supposed to be a birthday party for Jesus).

This year our church is participating in something called “Advent Conspiracy.” The basic idea is to divert some of our traditional Christmas spending towards a legit need, i.e. instead of buying Aunt Bertha another sweater with a cat on it, we donate that amount of money to an organization that feeds kids literally starving to death.

We are partnering with Kids Against Hunger, and if you’d like to help us reach our goal, shoot me an email. Here’s a video that details the absolute brilliance behind Advent Conspiracy. If your church doesn’t already do something like this during the Christmas season, there’s no time like the present

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IN0W3gjnNE&w=570]

The REAL Story of the First Thanksgiving

This year, I started a new tradition with Addi. In the mornings on our drive to school, I tell her stories. It has not always been easy to do, there are days when I don’t feel like it, but she won’t let me off the hook. Some stories are more original than others, most are mash-ups of a couple different stories, and a few are just straight-up classics.

A couple of weeks ago I finished telling Hansel and Gretel, and Addi requested another story about the witch. It seemed like an odd request, but I went with it and came up with a short, corny story about Thanksgiving. And now I’d like to share it with you. I have lengthened it and tried to make it a little more interesting for an older audience, so without further adieu, here is the story behind why we celebrate Thanksgiving…

Once upon a time, in the middle of a dark, scary forest, there was a witch who lived in a house made entirely out of candy. As you already know (unless you didn’t read the part above this or have the memory of an ostrich), this was the witch who tricked Hansel and Gretel but did not actually get to eat them because they got away. Our story takes place many years after that story, and the witch is much older and consequently, much slower.

She still has an insatiable appetite for children, but it has been years since she has been able to catch one. It is not just her old age that has made it harder to catch the children; technology has played a key role as well.

Since smart phones now come with built-in GPS, children don’t get lost like they used to. And since Hansel and Gretel decided to tell their story on Oprah, children now know not to nibble on a random candy house lying in the middle of the forest. Between Oprah and Facebook, word has gotten out about the witch.

So one afternoon the witch was skyping with her other witch friends and complaining about her troubles. One of her oldest friends from Norway mentioned how it was no different there. Another witch then mentioned how she had stumbled on a very satisfactory solution.

Wild turkeys, she said. They can’t resist gumdrop doorknobs, are easily trapped, and taste rather like children if roasted a certain way. Most of the witches laughed and said their palates were much too sophisticated to eat anything but children, and soon the conversation ended.

But the witch could not get the idea completely out of her head. She was, after all, incredibly hungry. So the next day, she decided to build a trap and place one of her gumdrop doorknobs inside. The next morning, she raced to her trap and discovered she had caught a wild turkey. She took it home, roasted it, then tentatively tasted it. Much to her surprise and delight, she loved it.

For the next several weeks she stuffed herself on turkeys. She had forgotten how good it was not to feel hungry, and one day she actually decided to give up eating children altogether. It seemed like the right thing to do.

In fact, her steady diet of turkey was changing her. She was a much happier person. She was sleeping much better; she no longer battled indigestion; her doctor had even lowered her blood pressure medication (*The FDA cannot at this time confirm that consuming large quantities of turkey lowers blood pressure).

To celebrate this dynamic life-change, the witch decided to throw a party and invited everyone from the local village. She sent invitations out through Facebook and Twitter and also through the online dating service she was a part of.

Those receiving invitations were not sure what to do with them at first. There was much talk around the village water cooler about whether this was legit or a final, desperate ploy on the part of the witch to eat their children. I’m sure you can imagine the kind of long-term, traumatic effect a child-eating witch would have on a small village. They typically gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, but it was still incredibly hard to trust she had really changed.

Finally, the mayor decided he and his family would attend, and after this a few other courageous families committed to go as well.

The day of the party arrived, and the small group traveled into the woods to the witch’s house. She had a long table set up with chairs all around, and when the village people saw the table they gasped. There was dish after dish of salivary deliciousness: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, apple butter, cranberry and raspberry sauces, bacon, steamed broccoli, corn, green bean casserole… and the plumpest, juiciest turkey they had ever seen.

The witch welcomed them to her home and invited them to play some games before the feast began. There were sack races, and stickball, and the children even got to play ‘Just Dance’ on the witch’s Xbox Kinect.

And so everyone had a grand time, eating and playing and laughing together. Late in the evening, the mayor stood up and said he had an announcement to make.

“This is a day to give thanks. Our old enemy the witch is now our new friend, and I mean that quite literally. I just added her as my friend on Facebook with my iPhone 4. I seriously love this thing.

“She has promised to never again eat one of our children, and barring the occasional moment of weakness, I believe she’ll keep that promise. So as your mayor, I declare that henceforth and forthwith this fourth Thursday in the month of November is a new holiday, and we will call it Thanksgiving!”

And that is why we celebrate Thanksgiving with no school, parades, football, a dog show, and lots of turkey.