The Power of Stories

The Power of Stories

Everyone loves a good story. We all want to be a part of a good story. Stories form the architecture of our lives.

Stories are powerful. Everyone loves a good story. We all want to be a part of a good story. In fact, stories form the architecture of our lives. We all have a story of our individual lives. At the same time, we all are part of a bigger story together. What is so interesting to me is that God created reality in such a way that we can contribute and impact each other’s stories – hopefully in a good way, right? Even when we miss the mark and negatively impact someone else’s life, we can ask for forgiveness in the hope of redeeming and restoring a story. That is amazing!

As I have been reading “The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers” by J. R. R. Tolkien, I have realized that modernity has robbed us of the riches of story reading and story telling. The beautiful thing about good stories is that we have so many ways to tell them. A good story is a good story.

Everyone you meet has a story.
Everyone you meet has struggles.
Everyone you meet has sinned.
Everyone you meet has hopes and dreams.
Everyone you meet is created in the image of God.
Every life points beyond itself.
Everyone you meet is extraordinary.

C.S. Lewis once said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Beautiful stories are poetry in motion. They have all the hallmarks of tragedy, redemption and triumph woven into something quite moving. Stories are deeply human.

Below are links to two stories. First, if you not have seen Jane’s (Nightbirde) story, it’s worth watching the seven minutes. Second, is a story about Chuck Colson called ‘Unlikely Hero.’ Before you watch, take just a moment and consider ‘why’ we like good stories. Good stories can change the trajectory of your day… and perhaps, your life.

What is the story you want to write today as if it we your last?

Video 1: Nightbirde’s Original Song Makes Simon Cowell Emotional – America’s Got Talent 2021

Video 2: Chuck Colson – An Unlikely Hero

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

Did You Know You Were Made For This Time and Place?

Did You Know You Were Made For This Time and Place?

The Gospel isn’t a formula you apply to your life; it’s the Story you’re meant to inhabit.

Do you know your role in the story of which you inhabit?

We live in an extraordinary moment in history.

Do you know your role in this world?

What are your responsibilities and opportunities in this cultural moment?

Where do I start in the square inch God has placed me?

If you are redeemed in Christ, then you inhabit the greatest story ever told. The Gospel is not limited to the way of salvation. It is bigger than that. Yes, your faith in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life is important. But, the Gospel I believe is not the Gospel of Lance. It’s not about me. Neither is the Gospel about you. Our salvation is not the end game nor is it the over-arching theme of the Bible. Jesus Christ proclaimed the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom.’

Michael Craven said, “The Gospel is so much larger than the personal plan for salvation. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the in-breaking rule and reign of Jesus Christ as King over all creation – redeeming and restoring all things. Through Him, the Kingdom of God has come into this world. Jesus has completed the atonement (payment) for our sin on the cross. By his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father, He is presently ruling and reigning over creation. Christ is reinstating his righteousness on the earth.”

J.I. Packer said, “The Gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that he, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us… Only when we have learned this can we see what sin is and understand the salvation from sin.”

The bad news is that our modern American gospel is man-centered not a God-centered Gospel. A God-centered Gospel is indeed Good News. There are two competing gospels, the gospel of the world vs the Gospel of the Kingdom. The former leads to death and destruction the latter leads to eternal life and human flourishing.

“Calling is at the heart of scripture.” – Os Guiness

God calls us, moreover, God invites us to inhabit His story. “When Christians see everything as calling from the Lord, we realize the dynamism of our faith” (Os Guiness). As we respond and enter into the overarching story of all of history, we go about setting things right in the world. In other words, we bring order to the disorder we find in our time and place.

“The Gospel isn’t a formula you apply to your life; it’s the Story you’re meant to inhabit.” – The Colson Center

A Unifying Vision:
As Christians, we must cultivate a unifying vision of the Lordship of Christ over the domain of our individual and collective lives as the local church. We shall live lives that are holy and pleasing to the Lord as we exercise dominion over that which God has placed in our care. The hallmarks of Christian maturity are; holy living, the ability to articulate a Christian vision of total reality, and a zeal to bring ALL things under the Lordship of Christ as co-reagents of His Kingdom – redeeming and restoring that which is lost and dying in the place and time in which we live.

We are witnesses to the ‘in-breaking’ rule and reign of Jesus Christ into history as we redeem and restore that which God has placed in our care. We beseech the lost world to be “reconciled to God” in Christ Jesus as we take our place in His great story.

As Christians, we are transformed through Christ. We are commanded to share the Gospel of the Kingdom with a lost world. We are also given another command called the Cultural Mandate or Dominion Mandate. “The cultural mandate is the command to exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential (Gen. 1:26-28; cf. Gen. 2:15).” (9Marks) We create good, true and beautiful culture that transforms the world and the story we inhabit.

The late Chuck Colson said,Transformed lives transform lives – transformed lives transform culture.

We live in an extraordinary moment in history. We have an extraordinary God. We inhabit an extraordinary story. You Were Made For This Time and Place.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Author’s note: The piece I’ve written above are deeper reflections of my experience and what I’ve learned through the Colson Fellows program over the last two years. “Gain wisdom, live faithfully and act courageously.”

 

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Detachment and Reflection to gain Perspective – what have you learned?

Detachment and Reflection to Gain Perspective

What have you learned in the past 12 months?

Two of the best disciplines we can adopt are detachment and reflection in order to gain perspective and make plans going forward.

Yesterday the church cabinet staff had our regular meeting. Our cabinet is comprised of pastors and ministry leaders representing about two dozen ministry areas of the church. We were asked a reflective question that can help shape the future of our ministries. I think this question is applicable life, family and business as well as ministry.

Here’s the question:

What have you learned in the past 12 months?

My process for answering the question…

So much has changed in the last year. I invested more time reflecting and praying than planning. Some would argue that focusing on the future and moving ahead are more important than reflection. I am a contrarian and argue that detaching in order to assess events, changes in the ministry environment and taking an honest look at the good and bad are keys to planning. I’d say that the more complex the issues and events of the past, the more important reflection becomes.

I intentionally employ a slowed-down version of the OODA Loop.

The OODA Loop is an acronym that stands for:

Observe
Orient
Decide
Act

The OODA Loop concept was put forth by the great military strategist Colonel John Richard Boyd, United States Air Force. Simply put, it is the decision-making that occurs in a recurring cycle of observe – orient – decide – act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle and gain the advantage.

To put it another way, “(The OODA Loop) explains how individuals and organizations can win in uncertain and chaotic environments.” – Tyler Pearson

You and I run through the OODA loop thousands of times per day. Next time you are driving somewhere, you’ll stop at a red traffic light (hopefully). Your act of stopping at that light was acheived by the process of the OODA Loop. You observed an intersection ahead and saw a red light. You oriented yourself in proximity to the intersection and the vehicles around you. You decided that you were going to stop at the red light (smart move). Finally, you took action and applied the brakes and stopped your car at the intersection. You just experienced the OODA Loop. When the traffic light turns green, your loop begins all over again. Check out the video below this post to learn more…

Observe Slowly:
In my reflection, I take time to observe what has happened and how all that has happened is effecting current conditions and how past decisions (good and bad) have shaped current conditions. This must be an honest assessment of self and my decision-making. Honest feedback must be gathered from trusted partners. This is where the organizational hierarchy is allowed to be flattened where all team members are on the same level with the leaders and everyone has a seat at the table to provide input.

Orient Carefully:
I take in information I have observed and start to carefully orient myself and get my bearings. I’ve had some experience and training in land navigation (Land Nav). “Land navigation is the discipline of following a route through unfamiliar terrain on foot or by vehicle, using maps with reference to terrain, a compass, and other navigational tools” (Wiki). Honestly, I am terrible at it. However, I understand the most important exercise in Land Nav is ascertaining my current position on a map. If I don’t know where I am on a map, there is no way I’m going to reach my destination. The same goes for orientating myself in the current moment in time in order to decide or plan for the future.

I learned two major lessons in the last 12 months in ministry. It struck my how these lessons apply to life, family and business.

1. BE FLEXIBLE: There is a great line from Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood) from the film “Heartbreak Ridge” where Highway is addressing his platoon of misfit Marines. He said that in facing adversity on the battlefield a good Marine will, “improvise, adapt and overcome.” In other words, we must be flexible. In the last year of ministry, I had to learn to be flexible due to changing conditions and challenging situations in ministry. Our 2019 pre-COVID plans were often set aside, particularly in regard to events. Therefore, we had to improvise and adapt ministry operations in order to overcome obstacles and accomplish our mission. COVID never changed our mission but our means of achieving our mission changed dramatically.

2. BE DEPENDENT ON GOD: Another lesson I learned was not to hang on to anything too tightly. Due to challenging circumstances and changing conditions, I learned a deeper dependence on God. He reminded me that He is in ultimate control and He would see to it that His purposes would reach completion. Sometimes God puts us in a place of desperation where we come to realize that He is the only one who can make things happen. And sometimes God accomplishes this in surprising ways. Therefore, I learned to be open-handed with my plans and projects knowing that God could step in at any moment and change things. There is a kind of freedom in that experience.

What does all this mean for you?

I believe that if you take time to detach, reflect and observe how things have unfolded and decisions you made (good and bad) in the last 12 months, you can orient yourself. Then, you can make plans and decide how to best move forward. Finally, you can act (completing the OODA Loop).

Remember, being flexible is key to success in an ever-changing environment in ministry, business and in the home. At the end of the day, remember that God is in charge. Your responsibility is to pray, plan and walk in obedience to His Word and purposes. Leave the results to Him. His plans and ways are higher than yours. Be open-handed with your plans and projects knowing that God owns it all and loves you. He will surprise you beyond your understanding.

(Comment and share your thoughts below)

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Untended fires

Untended Fires

… soon die out and become a pile of ashes.

Have you ever sat by a campfire on a cold winter night?

I’ve always enjoyed a good campfire, particularly on cold nights. I love the warmth, watching the flames release smoke like plumes of silk into the air. Fires bring warmth, light and stir something deep within my soul. There is a connection to our past. Before the smartphone, electricity and stove, there was the campfire. Man has been staring into flames for thousands of years – a campfire in some ways embodies a kind of essence of primordial humanity.

Every campfire eventually dies out if left untended and without fuel. On a cold night as the flames have ceased and embers are fading, darkness and cold encroach the once warm space. The faces of those sitting around the fire grow dark as the light fades and the chill in the air creeps through your neck and back as cold advances on the area once claimed by warmth and light. At this point, you have a choice… Let the fire die out or tend it to bring it back to full flame.

It takes discipline to leave the tent in the cold of winter to stoke the fire. But, the fire is what sustains our warmth and comfort. Tend it, stir it and care for it. A fire is either growing or dying out. At no moment does it remain static.

You and I can learn a lot from a campfire.

Because of the gift nature of creation, even a campfire has meaning and significance beyond itself. In other words, fire has an essence infused into its existence that is much fuller than its utility. I think thats why most people find enjoyment, wonder and contemplation beyond the light and warmth of a fire.

My good friend Dr. Doug Cecil once said in a seminary class, “Untended fires soon die out and become a pile of ashes.” Think about that statement for a moment. If you’ve been around a fire, you know its absolutely true. Fires die out without tending and fuel. To sustain a warm fire, it takes commitment and time. The flames must be stoked and renewed with fuel.

Now let’s apply this ‘untended fires’ idea to our relationship with God and others because I believe we can learn deeper truths about reality and relationships from a simple campfire. When our relationship with God is neglected, that relationship grows cold. The same goes for our relationships with others.

I have old friends I have not spoken with in 20 years. I don’t know where they are or how their lives have turned out. Why? Because with the passage of time the relationship has grown distant and cold due to a lack of attention and tending. Are these relationships a dead pile of ashes? Perhaps. But perhaps not. The only way to find out is to reach out to that old friend and see if there is a hidden ember beneath the ashes. Then, I can fuel that ember and possibly bring the fire back. Given, there are some fires that must be allowed to die out and become a pile of ashes. Those are unhealthy relationships. However, for the most part a good stoking and tending of an old friendship can bring light and warmth into our lives.

From a Christian perspective, I believe the primary fire we must never allow to die out is our relationship with God. By stoking and fueling my communion with my God and creator, I am able to stir a kind of eternal flame in the lives of others (potentially). For my fellow Christians, it will be the flames of fellowship, encouragement, exhortation, challenge, comfort, joy, rest, peace, love and following Christ. For those who do not know the love of God in Christ Jesus, it will be the flames that shed light on sin, awareness of darkness, cold and judgement but also the inviting warmth of God’s goodness, grace, forgiveness, rest, love and peace. Notice how the fire and warmth for both end up pointing to a loving relationship with God.

What fires need to be tended in your life?

Want to know God better?
Spend time with Him in His word – the Bible. By reading and meditating on scripture, you are renewing your mind and stoking the fire of your love and knowledge of Him. The more time you commit to fueling your relationship with the God who loves you and saved you from sin the more you will experience Him as a growing reality in your daily life. The result will be the deep enjoyment of rest, joy, love and peace regardless of how cold and dark the circumstances of life become.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

“I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

Want to see God transform the lives of other people and the world?
Pray and intercede for others. Reading and meditating on God’s word reside also with prayer. If reading and meditation are the fuel, prayer is the oxygen required to bring the flames alive. Like warmth radiated by a fire, the result of prayer is the transformation in the world around you – particularly those standing close to your fire. Therefore, we tend fires through prayer.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,” (1 Timothy 2:1)

Want to experience the fullness of Christ?
Serve Him by serving others and sharing your hope in Him. Nothing ignites or reignites a fire in ourselves and others like hope. One way to share the hope you have is through serving others. Meeting the needs of others and protecting the vulnerable take you further into the Kingdom of God and draw you closer to His heart. There is also a blessing in the action of ‘doing ministry’ (John 13:17). Serving others is where what we believe intersects with our will to act. The toil can be tiresome even painful at times but you will experience a fullness and deep joy through serving and sharing. So, we can tend fires through serving and sharing.

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17)

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

My hope and prayer is that you and I will attend to our relationships with God, each other and folks around us. May we remember that untended fires soon die out and become a pile of ashes. You’ll never look at a campfire quite the same again. Perhaps, you’ll see your relationship with God and others in a different light as well.

(Comment and share your thoughts below)

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What will 2021 be like?

What will 2021 be like?

it will not be anything like 2020

Last week I was having a casual conversation with a friend and they remarked, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over, 2021 can’t come fast enough.”

I hear that sentiment repeatedly. 2020 has been a watershed year across the world. It appears as if a shift has occurred across society and throughout culture. Let’s assess the good and bad of 2020 before diving headlong into 2021. In last week’s post, I pointed out that 2020 was “the year of fear.” Stick with me as I wade through the muck and mire of the bad news – the good news will be worth it, I promise.

The Bad News

In America, we have experienced a virus emerge from a Chinese town that engulfed the world in a pandemic. We have seen major social upheaval along ethnic, academic, corporate and political lines. We have witnessed a heated presidential election that is still being contested. We see businesses, churches and other ‘non-essential’ entities shutdown while perfectly healthy humans (including small children) are forced to wear face-masks through unconstitutional mandates – enforced by fellow volunteer citizens who revel in public ‘face-shaming’ as their civic duty. Keep in mind, the human face is the primary means through which a human being reflects the image of God. If you want to degrade, humiliate and objectify another fellow image-bearer, force them and their children to cover their faces.

We have been taught that “loving your neighbor” actually means isolating yourself from your neighbors (and family). Furthermore, you must ridicule your neighbor for not wearing a mask, not towing the party line or not bowing to the woke mob. Apparently, “loving” has been redefined to mean coercing and shaming because in the new era of ‘social justice’ virtue signaling is far more important than actual virtue.

The new scientific orthodoxy has ‘proven’ that rioting and looting are ‘COV ID-safe’ but worshiping God and singing in public are deadly – that masks and social distancing work, until they don’t – that biological sex is fluid and Jeffery Epstein really killed himself (well, the science isn’t settled on Epstein yet)… But, working a ‘non-essential’ job to put food on the table is downright criminal.

Meanwhile, statistics have shown the two of the most life-threatening places in America are nursing homes in New York and pregnant mothers’ wombs – in a nation where people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are ensconced in law and protected (unless you happen to be located in a womb in NYC, then not so much). Job numbers are down while depression, loneliness and suicides are up. Fact checkers can ‘fact check’ those facts – but facts are funning things in a world of relativism, ‘inconvenient truths’ and ‘settled science.’ And, if you don’t agree with the media narrative, you are given a heavy dose of a new drug called ‘Censorship.’ I think its imported from the CCP.

Finally, we are being reminded that God is on His throne, but you better get your COV ID vaccine just in case He isn’t. Many Christian leaders are living and preaching like nihilistic deterministic pagans with one life to live. Media propaganda echoes from many pulpits across the land as a new prophetic voice (divorced from the Bible and trafficking in falsehoods) runs off with the sexy little zeitgeist. Note bene: I said ‘many’ not ‘all’ because there remains a remnant of leaders and churches attempting to take a stand for truth and righteousness.

The Good News

(See ‘The Bad News’ section above but with a reclaimed, redeemed and restored Christian vision infused with grace).

This morning I was reading FW Boreham’s essay, “Catherine Booth’s Text” (1922). I reflected on the past year. What has carried us to the point that you are reading what I’m writing? The answer is, “GRACE!”

Catherine Booth was a spiritual titan of her time. She built her life around a single text, “My grace is sufficient for thee…” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). In his essay, Boreham beautifully describes how the realization of those six words transformed the lives and ministries of John Bunyan, John Wesley, Martin Luther, Catherine Booth, the Apostle Paul and countless others. He argues that we accept the first four words with ease – “My grace is sufficient…” but the last two are only realized in a deep moment of extreme need – “for thee.”

Boreham sharpens his point by saying, “It is always easier to believe that there is a Savior for the world than to believe that there is a Savior for me.” He continues, “Martin Luther believed and preached confidently that Christ died for all mankind, long before he could persuade himself that Christ died for Martin Luther. John Wesley crossed the Atlantic to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to the Indians; but it was not until he was verging on middle-life that he realized the possibility of the forgiveness of his own.”

Closing the chapter 2020 and opening 2021

Charles Spurgeon once said to his students, “There are many passages of Scripture which you will never understand until some trying or singular experience shall interpret them for you.”

If God’s grace was sufficient in 2020, do you believe His grace will be sufficient in 2021 and beyond? In 2020 perhaps you know and believe the first four words, “My grace is sufficient…?” Behold, the dawn of a new year is breaking before us! Just maybe in 2021, the last two words, “for thee” will with great power suddenly break upon you as they did for Bunyan and others.

What will 2021 be like?

I can say with confidence, it will not be anything like 2020. Why? Because God’s grace is sufficient for the world and you and me. Fear and despair cannot exist in the presence and fullness of God’s grace as darkness and cold cannot exist near the light and warmth of a fire.

If you go outside right now and take a several deep breaths would you fear that you would exhaust all of the oxygen in the entire atmosphere? Of course not! Then why would you believe the God who created the atmosphere and your lungs would not provide in Christ sufficient grace for you? There is to be taken a giant step from believing in the head to believing in the heart. Won’t you take it?

My Grace is Sufficient for thee… That means you and me!
I will close with some final words from dear Pastor Boreham, “For it is the glory of the grace that it takes what sadnesses there are and transmutes them into songs sublime.”

Take a few moments to ask God for His sufficient grace to walk into next year. Pray for a clear Kingdom vision, boldness and living faith that sheds the light of true hope in the world. God’s grace is sufficient for thee … for such a time as this.

By grace through faith in Christ alone.

(Comment below)

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

Presentation: How the local church can combat human trafficking (October 27, 2020)

You are invited to join me online! I will be giving a live webcast presentation for the 5 Stones Anti-Trafficking Taskforce.

Topic: Church Engagement – How The Local Church Can Combat Human Trafficking

Date: Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Time: 11:00am-11:45am (central)
Format: Zoom Webinar
Register Here…

This webcast is open to everyone. You can register and add to your calendar.

I’ve spent the better part of 5 years of my life and ministry combatting human trafficking, deploying volunteers and resources into the battle. It all began with a meeting when I learned children were being bought and sold in my community. I started at zero, thinking that trafficking happened in some far off land – not here – not in my city. I was so wrong. Since that faithful meeting, I’ve visited Iraq to meet Yazidis rescued from ISIS, we’ve assisted local law enforcement, the Texas Governor’s office and White House. This is all God’s doing because I’m just some pastor who had my heart broken for what breaks God’s heart.

I joined the 5 Stones Taskforce and by God’s grace, my church followed en masse. We prayed and God raised up leaders who stepped up in every way imaginable. In addition, the church was enabled to provide funding and support for nonprofits and agencies. Five years later, our anti-trafficking ministry is one of the largest outreach ministries at our church.

I’m convinced that the Church is the solution to trafficking. Only the church can handle this type of darkness. We follow in the footsteps of William Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer and others. Now is the time to allow the unbelieving world see the fullness of the Gospel of the Kingdom manifested as we go after “the one.”

On the webcast, I will share with you how we (the local church) can combat human trafficking.

I promise you will be encouraged and equipped to take a small step to combat trafficking in YOUR community.

Won’t you join me?

Click here to register

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