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The Import of Story

I recently told you about a great a superlative book I read recently called The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (pick up a copy here) (It’s the third in the Wingfeather Saga).  I thought I would let you know about how it helped me in a sermon and in a hospital visit.  As I was preaching on Sunday it came to me – a quote from the book.  I held up my finger (indicating that everyone should wait a moment) walked over to the piano and picked up a pen and wrote a note to myself in my notes…where I could use this quote.  I was preaching on the story of Joseph.  Actually, I’m trying to preach a spring/summer series on the larger story we’re a part of.  We started with Adam and Eve, hit Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this week was Joseph.  Kind of hard to do.

You have to tell a long story and then land on one particular scripture passage in the middle or at the end and draw out of it what God has to say.  Anyway, it was Joseph this week.  I told his long up and down story: Up – Dad’s favorite, Down – Brothers sell him into slavery, Up – become slave-owner’s favorite, Down – thrown in jail for not sleeping with someone, Up – become head prisoner/warden, Down – have to tell someone that their dream means they’re going to die soon, Up – Become lord of all Egypt.

After telling the story we read the part where he was reunited with his brothers and says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8).  And in the middle of the story I remember this line from The Monster in the Hollows, “Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” ~Artham Wingfeather.  Dang! I wish I could write like that.  It fit well into the sermon, but then, on a hospital call it worked well, too.

The 6th floor of the hospital has a wing for mental health.  I was on the 6th floor of the hospital on the last day of May visiting a friend.  She asked me why all this was happening to her, and why God would put all this hardship in her life.  What possible good could come out of it all?  As is the case in many situations like that, I don’t have a good answer.  Not sure there is a good answer – at least not a good one that can come from people.  God’s got a lot of explaining to do in my opinion. 

With Joseph and Artham fresh on my mind we talked about the Bible story – one she had never heard.  Sometimes story is the only thing to tell in the middle of hardship.  Sometimes explaining things away only makes everything worse.  Take Job’s friends for instance: they did everything right until they opened their mouth.  So it was story for us on the 6th floor, and I let Joseph’s tale just hang there.

Thank God for story.  And thank God for storytellers.  And thank God for the larger story we get to participate in.

The Monster in the Hollows

May 26, 2011 5 comments

348 pages of captivating

I hereby review the best book of the year for anyone who likes the Neat, the Strange, and/or the Yummy.  Andrew Peterson has written the third in his Wingfeather Saga, The Monster in the Hollows, and I have no problem declaring it terrific.  It lands in the “sweet spot” of books for me.

It can be difficult to find novels that intentionally place themselves within the larger story God is telling, especially difficult to find ones that are great – or even good for that matter.  Too often a Christian writes a book for other Christians and spoon feeds them empty calories, but not Peterson.  He writes this story for young adults and old adults whether they are followers of Christ or just thoughtful humans. 

Do I have to read the first two in order to understand and appreciate the third one? You may ask.  To that I would say, kind of.  Peterson does a good job of gently reprising when necessary, but, like all good and longish stories it takes more than one book to get it across well.  So I would encourage you to read all three if possible.  If not possible, you could go it alone.

I’ve loved his music for over a decade so when his first novel came out I was uber excited to read it because I expected to find the quick pay-off I enjoy in his music.  When it was slow in coming with the first in the Wingfeather Saga, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, I was a little disappointed – mainly because I like instant gratification.  Then, the second in the Saga came out, North! or Be Eaten, which won a Christy Award in 2010, and I found the pay-off I’d been looking for.

As The Monster in the Hollows came out I knew what might be coming.  Turns out I did and I didn’t.  I was right about the story going even deeper and more meaningful than the first two.  I was wrong about what the “monster” in the hollows was.  The tale Peterson is weaving is on its way to greatness.

All the aspects of our reconciled story in Christ is found within the pages (or promises to be by the end of the Saga).  Community, Trinitarian themes, forgiveness, redemption, and a beautiful story of strength despite the threat of a coffin are all found within. 

Warning: Cliche on its way.  “If you read one book this summer, make it The Monster in the Hollows.”  If you read two other books this summer before you read The Monster in the Hollows, make them On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (book 1), and North! or Be Eaten (book 2).  You can pick up a copy at the Rabbit Room store.

Two Hobbies (Part 2)

April 28, 2011 2 comments

If you haven’t read (Part 1) yet, you might want to.  Or not.  Obviously it’s up to you.

I’m sharing two of my hobbies.  The first one was about smiling at people (surprisingly more difficult to pull of than you might think).  The second one is far less noble and in fact I’m kind of confessing my depraved self to you.  It’s this: I like to entertain super mean ideas.  I’ll explain.  I think of the most random and mean things to say or do when people wouldn’t expect them.  For instance: I’m out to dinner and the people at the next table have a little baby who is cooing and babbling – not even crying or fussing – and I fantasize about turning around abruptly and yelling, “Shut up!  Shut that baby up!” and then calmly returning to my hamburger.

I know.  Mean, right?  I’m sorry.  This stuff really goes through my head.  Here’s another one: I was at Western Theological Seminary the other day and there were people setting up for a fancy dinner that will happen later that evening.  The people were food service caterers from Hope College (which is a little sister of a school to Northwestern College in Orange City, IA).  I thought to myself – self, you should march in there like you have authority and strongly assert the following: “No, no, no!  We expressly asked for the RED tablecloths!  Aaargh!” and then storming out.

You might have some of these thoughts from time to time, but I really do have them about 20 times a day.  Mostly it’s cathartic for me.  I would never do any of those things.  They’re mean.  Might be funny, but mostly mean.  But now you know that about me.  Sorry if I blew my cover.  I’m really quite human.

What are some of your secret hobbies?  Seriously, tell me.  I would love to know.  I promise it feels good to get them out in the open.  Share them here.

Two Hobbies (Part 1)

April 27, 2011 2 comments

I have two hobbies that I think I will tell you about.  One is the kind of goody-two-shoes hobbie that everyone expects from a pastor.  The other is just the opposite.  It’s the kind of thing I shouldn’t tell you about.  But I will.

First is smiling at people.  Now, that sounds super lame, but there’s a trick to it.  If you just walk around smiling at people they will hate you.  For instance, I walked into the post office on Tuesday to mail my mom’s Mother’s Day/Birthday present (yes, I did double duty on the gift…if you have a problem with that try having a birthday on December 23 and then complain to me) and tried doing it the wrong way.  I just walked through the whole place with a big ol’ grin on my face.  First, it probably looks a little creepy – someone smiling for no apparent reason, especially at a post office.  I got looks from people.  They were the looks that said, “Hey, pal, what do you have to smile about?  You think your life is so great?  Better than mine?  Probably, but now I hate you.”

So, that’s the wrong way to do it.  The right way can actually be pretty great.  (Warning: if you try to do the following without meaning it, you can be perceived to be a pervert or suicide bomber.)  You have to, in your mind and heart wish the best for someone, then make eye contact and a split second after making eye contact you have to generate a very real smile.  The smile has to say, “I see you, and I think that if we were to take the time to talk to one another we would like each other.”  I would say that 92.5 percent of the time that I properly execute that kind of smile I get one in return, and I’m willing to bet that it surprises A LOT of people that they smile or that a stranger gave them that smile.  Try it, but you have to mean it or you’ll come off really creepy.

Ok, the other hobby.  I’ll put that in the next post.  I promise.  But, I’m telling you that if you have some semblance of a good picture in your mind about me it will be shattered when you find out what I like to do (It’s nothing creepy).  So, if you want to keep thinking I’m a stand-up guy, don’t read Part 2.

My Pitch To NBC

March 28, 2011 1 comment

I have a few shows I watch on TV (understatement).  Dana usually reads while I find out who’s voted out or find out who shot J.R.  But every once in a while Dana gets into a show, and I love it because it’s another shared activity we enjoy like brushing our teeth or not laughing out loud when Bis goes into a raging drama queen moment over something non-existent.  Happily, Dana picked up on a show called “America’s Next Great Restaurant”.

Ten people who have an idea for a new restaurant chain go through the preparation for starting a restaurant while four knowledgeable investors weed them out until there’s a winner who receives three of his/her restaurants in three prime cities in the U.S.  The investors give them chances to show off different parts of their plan: taste, look, name, menu, etc. in front of hundreds of regular people who vote on their favorite in a particular category.

Last night’s episode got me thinking about having a reality show of my own: “America’s Next Great Superchurch”.  Yuck!  Here’s how it would go: Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Kirk Cameron gather a bunch of church planters in their preparatory stage.  They give them the chance to finalize and hone their plans: look, feel, name, liturgy (or lack thereof), theology (or lack thereof), proposed leadership structure, financial plan, pastoral staffing plan, pastoral vacation plan, pastoral family plan, church values, church mission statement, location, space plan (facilities).  Then they give unchurched, dechurched and churchy-type people the opportunity to cast their vote on these individual aspects of the church plant.  Rick, Bill, and Kirk wittle down the contestants until they get to the final one who receives as a reward…funding for thier new church plant.

Ugh!  I can see this actually happening in our media-rich church culture.  Yuck.  OK, let’s stay with this for a minute…  This could really work for some of these planters.  They could really get a lot of kinks worked out and the expert advice of some people who understand the business of church and the culture of church.  (I can hardly continue this, it’s killing me)  Ok, keeping going, Jim.

The winner receives money to go along with his/her well-planned design for a new church plant.  They are like a hiker who is all packed up and exercised, stretched out, has their pack, water, food, maps, matches, and Swiss Army knife.  There’s a problem, though – at least I have seen that it can be a problem.  It’s this:

You can plan and think and prepare, but there’s one thing you can’t plan, understand, or prepare for: The Holy Spirit.  The Spirit blows where He wants and how and when.  A hiker plans for certain types of weather and the wind brings something different.  The hiker prepares for a temperature range and the wind brings El Nino (whatever that is).  The hiker brings water purification, but the wind dries up the spring. 

Embody Christ Fellowship started with a beautiful plan, and we’re still using most of it, but we’re finding that there’s a need to trust and wait and pray and lean on the power of the Most High God to pave the way into hearts.  Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Kirk Cameron know something, but the Holy Spirit is the One who knows the hearts, minds, needs, and desires of His creation, the ones he desires to bring back into reconciliation.  Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

Come Holy Spirit!

Disney Reveal Video

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s a link to this morning’s Disney reveal.  It’s not dramatic, but fun nonetheless: Disney Reveal
Hope you all have a great week wherever you are, and may the sun shine on you, too.

I’ll try to post some fun pics and thoughts from our trip when we return.

Read At Home

January 27, 2011 1 comment

Every other Thursday I go to my son’s classroom and grab a milk carton full of gallon freezer bags.  These bags have books in them and a name on the outside.  I call out three names from three bags.  The children whose names I’ve called get up from their desks and join me.  We head down the hall to the Read At Home room.

The RAH room is full of books separated into reading levels.  Every kid has a level.  2nd graders fall in a wide range: some at 9 or 10 (tend to be the kids who forget their books at home a lot), and some at 25 or 30 (tend to be the kids reading longer chapter books, and returning them every day).  Each child either goes and finds a new book to replace one they have completed, or they sit down to read to me. 

Every kid gets to read to me.  I only have one hour, so they only read a page or so.  I have to stop them and say, “Ok, let’s pause there and you can finish reading this at home…maybe to your little brother or sister.”  Some, I know, will not read at home for various reasons.  Others will make it the very first thing they do when they get home.

I know that as a male adult I have a unique role in a couple of these kids’ lives.  There is a chance that I’m the only consistent man in their life…and one who remembers their name.  I care about them and encourage them.  Some really are making remarkable steps in reading, and some, you can tell will not make too many steps because they are carrying the burdens meant for an adult, and don’t have the time or resources to read into the future.

The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  I pray every week that I’m able to join those kids that the Kingdom of God is recognizable and ushered a little more into their lives.  I’m at a public school, so I can’t give them something to read from the Bible, but I’m hoping that in the long run my presence will be a paragraph that makes a difference in them understanding that the Kingdom is for them particularly and attainable through the person of Jesus Christ.

On Thursdays my son comes home from school and I check to see that he’s reading what I helped him find in the Read At Home room.  And I hope to help him read the Kingdom at home, too…as difficult as that can be.  Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Read that to whomever God brings into your sphere of influence.