Everyone Has a Story – Determining Who Gets the Pen

Rev 21.5When people struggle with control issues in their lives one helpful therapy technique is to talk about who is writing your story. People often struggle with letting others affect them or control them in ways that aren’t appropriate. It is as if our life is a story that is being written in a book. The words that appear on the page aren’t there by accident. There are there by intention and choice. Often when people go through hard times they get paralyzed…just like authors who get writers block…people get life block. These are the moments where you just feel like quitting.

When we check out on life, feeling like the next scene is too painful to write, people often do one of two things: they put the pen down (which is actually still writing) or they hand the pen to someone or something else (which also is still writing). The someone or something might be a friend or it might be a substance. It might be handing the pen over to alcohol or an unhealthy relationship, preferring someone else to call the shots and take control rather than have to make one more decision.

The truth is, the story never stops. The pen just gets shifted from person to person…coping mechanism to coping mechanism. There are plenty of people and substances in this world that promise you a happy ending but they all come up short. Most come up short because they weren’t really interested in a happy ending for you, they were interested in making your story about them from the get go.

Not everyone is tempted to release the pen. For others the temptation is to cling more tightly to the pen. If we can just write with more flourish or flare…with more passion or precision…then the story would finally be right and all will be well. This temptation is an attempt to control the outcome. The truth is, that doesn’t work either. The challenge isn’t so much that we have the ability to write the perfect story ourselves. The challenge is getting the pen in the right hands.

The question we all have to answer in this life is this – whose hands are the right ones to write this story to turn out as it should?

The right hands are the hands of the one who has nail scars in them and yet is alive again. Just like our lives have scars so does Jesus. Just like Jesus was able to overcome the biggest of obstacles, even death itself, so he invites us to hand him the pen of our lives and allow him to write the rest of our story for us. More accurately…he has been writing THE STORY for all of eternity and invites us onto his pages.

It is important that we find the right story for our lives because this world is full of narratives one can adopt but there is only one foundation that is solid and that is identity rooted in the story of the Gospel. This takes wisdom and patience and humility.

So who is writing your story? Are you writing it or are you allowing someone or something else to take a shot at it for you? How you answer that question will speak volumes about the things that are currently going on in your life.

May God write on your heart the message of the Gospel. May he adopt you into his family. May he give you a new name. May the Spirit of the living God write an indelible message, a resurrection message, on the broken pieces we bring to him. And may we watch him take our messed up, screwed up, confused story and shape it into something that is, as all things will one day be, new.


Resurrection, Part 9: Conclusions

emptytombThe resurrection is a big topic, and I’ve hardly exhausted it. Hopefully, I’ve shown that it matters both theologically and practically. It affects how we think of the church and how we live as Christians.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in Bible class when someone argued against this or that good work on the theory that “It’s all going to burn!” In fact, I’ve been taught since I was a child that God destroyed the world once by flood and will destroy it a second time by fire.

But Paul says,

(Rom 1:18 ESV) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

God’s wrath will destroy God’s enemies, defined here as “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Not the creation itself, but the wrong use of the creation by mankind. Continue reading

Everyone Has a Story – the Prodigal Son and Identifying Your Metanarrative

Young Woman with Her Hand on Her Belly and Man Beside Her WritingIt wasn’t until I entered therapy that I became aware of how much your story affects so much of your life.

I was in therapy for five years but I didn’t enter therapy the traditional way. I entered therapy as a therapist.

When you learn to do psycho-therapy one of the first things you have to learn are the psychological disorders. We had to buy the DSM-IV and read that thing like it was our Bible. Reading endless lists of symptoms is enough to make you think maybe you have the disorders yourself, medical student’s disease, thinking you have the diseases you study. Some disorders were outright scary while others were a bit more humorous…the one that probably got the most attention was Koro. You can look that one up for yourself. I have yet to meet someone who thought they had that.

Once you start doing therapy you realize more and more the power of story. The old image of a patient laying on a couch dredging up stories from their childhood isn’t entirely accurate but it also doesn’t entirely miss the mark either. The events of our past often influence our present. That doesn’t mean that every single thing that is going on today is due to some unstoppable force from the past. It does mean that our past shapes us in more ways than we often think about or would like to admit. The stories we learn to tell ourselves have a direct impact on the person we believe ourselves to be. These stories are called our metanarratives…the stories that shape us. They can be personal (what happened to you in life) or communal (what it means to embrace American value systems).

Identifying Metanarratives in the Prodigal Son
Just take the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. His choice of words displays his inner narrative that also explain why he has such a hard time accepting his younger brother.

“But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” (Lk 15:29).

It’s a wonder the guy had friends. But that’s not the point. All these years he hadn’t seen himself as a son but as a slave. The one who should have no place back in the family is received back without a hitch to what the older son possessed the whole time, he just didn’t see it that way…sonship. He is bitter. He is bitter because the one who didn’t lift a finger to get accepted got accepted and the one who has been slaving away feels he has been rejected not just now but for “all these years”. This is a deep hurt and as we often see, hurt people hurt people. It didn’t have to be that way. It was only that way because the older son choose to embrace the wrong story…allowing other’s stories to get in the way. Mixed up metanarratives are the root of jealousy, pride and so much else that is wrong with the world.

We usually apply the prodigal son parable to losing and finding…the rejoicing that comes from the lost that are found. That is central to this parable. We know that because Jesus says so at the end of each of the three parables we have in Luke 15.

But I also believe the parable of the prodigal son has as much to do with losing and finding as it does to helping Jesus’ intended audience (embittered teachers of the law and Pharisees) identify their meta-narrative, see it is wanting and accept a better one (see Lk 15:1-2)…the Gospel metanarrative. We do know the context of the parable and that it was directed to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had a hard time understanding why Jesus accepted the “tax collectors and sinners” and welcomed them at his table. Just like the older brother, in his ministry Jesus also welcomed the Pharisees at his table but still they insisted on missing out on the party, not because they hadn’t been invited but because they missed the point of what it means to be the people of God. Here they had been slaving all these years…obeying every jot and tittle…and they were every bit as bitter about it as this older brother.

Everyone has a story.

Those Pharisees have a story too and as you get to know their story you begin to make sense out of their actions and attitudes. More on that next time…

So let me ask you this, what metanarratives are behind much of what you do? What metanarratives are behind the sins that seem to entangle you or the unhealthy relationships that you just can’t seem to shake?

How might the Gospel story…the resurrection narrative…lived out in you help all of that change for the better?

Resurrection, Part 8: The Thief on the Cross and Lazarus


The thief on the cross

I guess the most common remaining question I get on this material is based on —

(Luk 23:42-43 NAS)  42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There really are two closely related questions. First, if the general resurrection happens many years later, at the Second Coming, how could Jesus say he’d be with the thief “today”? And this question arises under any theory you have. The fact is that Paul and Jesus speak of a general resurrection to occur sometime in the future, whereas this passage seems to speak of going to heaven immediately upon death.

The second connected question is where are the dead between death and the general resurrection? In heaven? If so, then they’ve already been judged and so what’s the point of Judgment Day? Asleep? Then what about this passage? The Bible sure seems to teach salvation immediately after death as well as a resurrection at the end of time. How can these be the same?

There’s a popular theory, a little over a one hundred years old, that after death and before judgment, the saved go to Paradise and the damned go to a place called Tartarus. Several denominations bought into this teaching, including many within the Churches of Christ, but it doesn’t really hold up.

“Tartarus” is the Platonic version of hell. According to Plato, the wicked go to Tartarus to suffer eternal torment. The word appears in the NT only in — Continue reading

Resurrection, Part 7: Why song leaders lead bad songs

emptytombWhy is it that so many song leaders insist on leading songs with bad music? You’d think that worship leaders, of all people, would understand the importance of beauty in the melody and the arrangement. But in the Churches of Christ, we’ve adopted a form of Greek dualism, treating the words of the song as holy and important to God, whereas the melody and harmony have no place in our theology at all. And so we insist on singing bad songs … but with just, oh, so wonderful lyrics that fit the theme of the sermon so very well. Here’s why.

First, the Churches of Christ are culturally Calvinist even though theologically we’re Arminian. We rejected the Calvinist teaching of predestination, election, and perseverance of the saints. But when the Restoration Movement was formed in the early 19th Century, most of our members came over from the Baptist and Presbyterian churches — and both were very Calvinistic at the time. They gave up their Calvinist theology, but they brought with them the culture of early 19th Century Calvinist Christianity — largely inherited from the Puritans. Continue reading