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…

Magic Like A Lawnmower

Tonight I mowed my lawn. Although I didn’t finish the entire yard, this should be the last time I mow this year. I wasn’t mowing because my grass is long; I was mowing because it’s easier than raking.

It seems crazy to mow in the middle of November, but I still have a few leaves on a couple trees. Last year, our oak tree didn’t give up its last leaves until mid-March. Talk about your “bitter clingers.”

I noticed Micah watching me from the window, and I wondered if he wondered where the leaves were going as I mowed. I remembered when I was younger, I believe a year or two ago, watching someone mowing a yard full of leaves and staring in wide-eyed wonder as the leaves just disappeared.

It was magical.

Which got me to thinking about what ‘magical’ really is… simply something I don’t understand. It’s not necessarily truly magical, there could be a very simple, logical explanation behind it; but for whatever reason I just don’t get it, so to me it appears magical.

Which of course means our world is full of magic.

There is magic in how television, bluetooth, and satellite radio work; how Justin Bieber ever got so popular; and why bacon is so delicious. There are also magical mysteries in how I can sleep forever if I keep hitting my snooze button but if I don’t set my alarm at all I can’t sleep past 6:30; in how I can plan on being so productive and then discover that it’s past lunchtime and the interwebs have caught me once more in their snare; and in how the hair on my head has somehow migrated to my back.

Magic is around every corner. It is magical how the Red Sea was parted, and God’s people walked across on dry land. It is magical how three guys can walk in fire so hot it kills the bad guys who threw them in. It is magical that these three guys walk out of the fire completely unharmed, and their clothes don’t even smell like smoke! Have you ever been to a friendly neighborhood bonfire that didn’t leave you smelling like smoke?

It is magical how Jesus told a dead girl to get up. It is magical how in Jesus’ hands mud and spit restored the blind man’s sight. It is magical what Jesus did with five loaves and two fish.

And it is magical what Jesus did with my sins. It’s not something I totally understand, but I trust that when He said “It’s finished,” He meant it.

What’s magical in your world?

What We Should Be Talking About

Each generation has to wrestle afresh with the question of Jesus… we should discover more and more of who Jesus was and is, precisely in order to be equipped to engage with the world that he came to save. And this is a task for the whole church.

-N.T. Wright (The Challenge of Jesus, p. 31)

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…

Eat the Fruit of THIS Tree

Adam and Eve had it good. Then they had to screw it all up. There was just one thing they couldn’t do, just one area that was off-limits, so you’d think they could have not messed it up for the rest of us, right? C’mon guys!

“Don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Don’t do it,” God said. Have you ever wondered why God said that? Did He arbitrarily choose one tree out of the garden, or was there something potently dangerous about this tree?

(Speculative side-note: what if Satan actually planted this tree?)

God placed Adam and Eve on the earth to be his co-regents, to rule the earth while remaining under his rule. They did not originally have any knowledge of good and evil (this is my theory as to why they did not care that they were all nakey; there was not even a hint of shame in their self-awareness). They did not need the knowledge of good and evil; they simply needed to trust their King and obey Him in all things. Which does make things simpler and less stressful… remember the good ol’ days of a carefree childhood?

So their great disobedience was the intentional pursuit of discovering and choosing good and evil for themselves, spurning their Father and His rightful rule, commandeering His reign over their lives.

The sad truth is each of us is Adam… or Eve, if you’d prefer. Every man, woman, and child has stood before that tree, grabbed the fruit and defiantly devoured it, rejecting God’s reign over us, making ourselves kings/gods in our own eyes. We have all eaten of that tree.

But there is a second tree, and a second command to go with it.

We are also familiar with this tree. A sanitized version of it is one of the most popular religious symbols in the world, but there is nothing sanitary about this tree. It is a gruesome instrument of torture and execution.

The tree is the cross, and the command is to eat the fruit of this tree. What is the fruit that hangs from this tree? Jesus Messiah, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus commands those willing to live under His reign to “eat His flesh, and drink His blood.” Symbolically, by taking in the bread and the cup; literally, by fully taking in Jesus and His ways, placing Him in His rightful place as King of our lives.

The fruit of the first tree brought separation, exile, and death. The fruit of the second tree brings reunion, restoration, and life.

The first tree gave us intimate knowledge of good and evil, something too potent for us to handle, bringing chaos and collapse into our lives and rippling throughout all of creation.

The second tree gives us the opportunity for a different kind of knowledge: an intimate knowing of King Jesus… discovering the power of His resurrection, joining Him by sharing in His sufferings, somehow becoming like Him in His death, someday attaining resurrection through Him, and living victoriously with Him forever.

Eat the fruit of THIS tree.

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…

Cupcakes and Bacon

Today, the boys are bringing snacks to share at preschool because their birthday was last Thursday. Micah chose cupcakes that look like Lightning McQueen. Levi chose bacon.

Kelly ran this plan by their teacher, who said it’s fine but also a first. No preschooler has ever brought bacon as a snack before.

We’ve noticed Levi gets really excited when it’s his day to bring the snack. I think it is because he enjoys certain foods so much, and he naturally wants to share his love of food with his classmates.

In his mind, if there is a food he gets excited about, then it is a food that everyone will love just the same. And it gives him great pleasure to share that amazing food, to see his friends enjoy the food that he enjoys.

I think he’s on to something, and I’m pretty sure he’s picked what might possibly become the best snack ever. Bacon has got to be one of the greatest blessings the good Lord has bestowed upon us; talk about “Good Mood Food!”

There’s another lesson Levi is teaching us, related to evangelism. We have made evangelism all about sharing certain information, about finding ways to manipulate conversations and persuade people to see things the way we do, and convincing them to make the right decision with the information we’ve provided. Evangelism is something we need extensive training to do correctly; it is something we need extraordinary giftings to do well; honestly, it is something that most of us dread doing or at the very least makes us squirm.

In the same way that Levi is simply being a witness: “Hey friends, here’s this awesome food; come enjoy it with me,” we should simply (and naturally) be a witness: “Hey friends, let me introduce you to this guy Jesus; want to hang out with me as I spend time with Him?”

But this is not a simple or natural thing for most of us to do… or we would already be doing it. Maybe part of our hang-up is that we simply do not enjoy Jesus as much as we do bacon. Or at least as much as I enjoy bacon.

So let me offer this prayer for you and for me (which is incredibly ironic since bacon was a no-no for the Jews in Jesus’ day!), “May Jesus be to our souls, what bacon is to my stomach.”

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…’

Fast Food Spirituality

Drive Thru Worker: Welcome to McJesus™! What can I get for you?

Person #1: Yeah, I’d like my sins forgiven. And uh, I have a tough test on Thursday, so can I get a Memory Enhancer?

Drive Thru Worker: What size would you like?

Person #1: Super-size me!

Drive Thru Worker: Will that be all?

Person #1: Yeah.

Drive Thru Worker: That’s one order of Sins Forgiven and a super-sized Memory Enhancer. Pull around to the second window please.

Drive Thru Worker: Welcome to McJesus™! What can I get for you?

Person #2: Hi. Can I get my sins forgiven? I have a lot.

Drive Thru Worker: That’s not a problem. We’re happy to help. Anything else?

Person #2: Oh, and my grandma’s really sick. Can I get a large Health and Comfort for her?

Drive Thru Worker: Yes, you can. So that’s a large Health and Comfort and an order of Sins Forgiven. Will that be all?

Person #2: Yep. Thanks so much! I’m feeling better already.

Drive Thru Worker: You’re welcome. Pull around to the second window please.

Drive Thru Worker: Welcome to McJesus™! How can I serve you today?

Person #3: Hi. I need a large Peace About an Important Decision, a medium Sense of Purpose, and an extra-large Sense of God’s Presence. And I need them quick, please, I’m running late today!

Drive Thru Worker: Not a problem. We’ll have those for you right away. Just pull up to the second window and have a blessed day.

Person #3: Great! See you next Sunday!


Have you ever treated Jesus like a fast food franchise? Or a vending machine? Or a genie in a bottle?

Why do you think our society (generally speaking) has a tendency to do that?

Bizarre Religious Practices

Some religions have crazy weird practices. In one religion, people hook someone up to an electronic device, ask various questions and track the meter’s movement to discover the person’s spiritual aptitude. What if your aptitude is off the charts, but you’re just not a good test taker?

In another religion, a live chicken’s head is twisted around three times, which naturally results in the twister’s sins being transferred to the twistee. Naturally.

Perhaps weirdest of all, and terrifying to think about, is the practice of dropping a one or two-year old child 50 feet off of a building to men below who catch the child in a sheet. This practice is believed to make the child smarter, healthier, and braver. I believe it’s an evil conspiracy thought up by therapists to ensure they have a steady stream of patients as these children grow up!

There are religious practices that make us scratch our heads, and yet, Christianity has some head-scratching issues of its own.

One area that has me scratching my head is how we preach the gospel and get people saved. There are three things in particular I take issue with:

1) Once we’ve persuaded people to “accept Jesus,” we tell them to “repeat this prayer after me.”

We’ve reduced the greatest and most mysterious transaction on planet Earth down to a simple prayer that is repeated once. We’ve reduced the very reason we were created (something you might assume would radically reshape everything about the rest of our lives) down to a one-time prayer that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this life but will sure give us some nice benefits once eternity gets started.

We’ve reduced being a Christian down to making a one-time decision rather than being a lifelong follower of Jesus.

2) Asking everyone to close their eyes so that new believers can safely and discreetly admit to their decision. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite youth group games… Mafia.

Mafia is one of the best games for Christian young people because it promotes killing. And then lying about it.

The key to a successful game is making sure everyone keeps their identities top-secret. Nothing ruins a game quicker than someone peeking around the room when everyone except the Mafia are supposed to have their eyes closed.

But how is being secretive about your new identity in Christ a good thing? “We’re glad you’ve made the most important decision of your life… and don’t worry, we’ll keep it our little secret!” For some reason I can’t picture the Apostle Paul doing this with new converts. For one thing it’s bad for marketing, and for another the Christian life is to be lived in community for St. Pete’s sake!

Right out of the gate, we’re indirectly communicating the idea that this Christian thing is something to be ashamed of.

3) Using the phrase “accept Jesus” to describe what we do to get saved.

Upon close inspection, this phrase seems backwards and subliminally reinforces the idea that God’s plan of salvation is all about us. I would argue that it’s all about Him.

If you had the opportunity to share a meal with the one person alive you most admire, whether that’s Chuck Norris, Joe Biden, or Justin Bieber, what would you say to them before the meal? “I’ve given this some serious thought, and I suppose it’s alright for you to spend some time with ME. I am willing to accept your invitation to have lunch with you. I accept you.”

(Personally, I can’t imagine myself saying that to Chuck Norris. He’d break me in half and have me for lunch.)

Of course you wouldn’t say that. You probably wouldn’t say anything coherent at all; you’d be mumbling nonsense words because you get to have lunch with your man-crush.

If we really believe Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that one day every knee will bow before Him, how can we have the audacity to say to Him, “I accept you”?

Which brings me to my last point: regarding getting saved (and every day afterwards), do we recognize who Jesus is or do we just focus on what He’s doing for us (in other words, are we obsessed with Him or ourselves)? Do we recognize Jesus as King Jesus? Do we relate to Him as would be fitting for a King?

I can think of a few stories in which the royal person, a king or a princess or a prince, is disguised and out among the common people. And then the point comes when their true identity is revealed. They are recognized for who they are… And everything changes.

Do I recognize Jesus as my King? Do you? Or is He just our Savior?