Words Amputated from Story


Words amputated from stories lose accuracy, lose color and energy, congeal into god talk. They are flowers that fade and grow limp. For every theologian, we need five novelists to keep the language personally relational; for every biblical scholar we need another five novelists to keep the language participatory; for every church historian the church needs another five novelists to keep us aware that we are in the story.” – Eugene Peterson

Some people are more the scholarly type. They like to study. I admit, I’m one of them. I’ve always loved to study … mainly because of the reading involved, but also the joy of learning something new. Of challenging myself to understand and assimilate some concept or lesson. At any point in time I’ll usually be reading through some theological or scholarly book.

But at the end of the day, when I want to read for enjoyment, to read for me, I won’t be picking up the latest theological study. I will pick up a novel. A story.

A lot of people say we read to lose ourselves in the story. We don’t.

We read stories to find ourselves.

In the pages. In the narrative. In the overall story. The greatest stories, the ones that stick with us long after we turn the final page, are the ones that ring true. The ones where we see something of ourselves. Our fears. Our hopes. Our scars. Our joys. Those universal feelings that resonate within us viscerally. The things we know to be true without having to be taught it … because we have experienced it.

A favorite author of mine, N. D. Wilson, in a writing class spoke of this. The importance of writing truth into stories. No matter how far out a plot line might be, or whether the story takes place in some fantastic fantasy location, it needs to ring with truth. Good versus evil. The beauty of forgiveness. The power of sacrifice. The purity of light.

When a story or a book does not show forth these elements of truth … the story rings false. It falls short. The reader can’t help but feel something is wrong about that story.

Then there are the stories full of conflict and tragedy, sorrow and loss, even death … but there is hope. There is light. There is love. And these elements thread the story together, weaving a message stronger than the tragedy and loss.

Perhaps you are a novelist. Or a writer of nonfiction. Or simply a passionate reader. But we all have a story to tell. And we all have a story we are living out. Let your story – your stories – ring true. Whether you’re writing it or living it, thread your stories with hope. With the Weaver of all good things. With the Author of Light and Love. The Lord of Truth and Grace.

The Best Stories


Ted Dekker quote

There is one kind of literary device so heavily used in the Bible that many people unintentionally take it for granted. Figurative language. Metaphors and similes and other kind of analogies. Word pictures. …The Bible contains whole books filled with poetry. … God is infinitely intelligent, and since he is the one behind all this figurative language, we must assume that it was and is to this day one of the best ways, if not the best way, to communicate and understand truth.

But what is figurative language, except language that allows the reader to see a figure in his mind and imagine that the subject at hand is like that figure? …

God leans heavily on the human imagination when communicating with humanity. In fact, the use of mental images is God’s primary paradigm for illustrating truth, both through the writers of the Bible and through Christ’s use of parables. – Ted Dekker

A friend of mine, an avid reader like myself, commented that his favorite authors are those who write fiction in addition to nonfiction because they make the best use of analogy and metaphor. They paint a picture with words, bringing those words to life in the mind of the reader — whether writing fiction or nonfiction.

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you’ve likely heard the adamant claim that, as a writer, you must “Show, don’t tell.” If you’re in the earlier stages of your writing life, you might still wonder what exactly that means.

Showing instead of telling means painting a picture, using words to open the senses and letting your reader use imagination to fill in the spaces. It means using sensory and descriptive language to wake the reader’s senses. Sights. Smells. Sounds. Tastes. Touches. Textures. It means you’re not using thick, dense wording to explain some vague concept. Instead, you’re telling a story.

If you’re a parent, one of your favorite activities with your children is likely reading them a story, often a story that you loved as a children and are loving anew with your own child. If you look back at that childhood, one of your favorite memories might be listening to your mother or father read or tell you a story, the more realistic and exciting the better. We love stories. It’s in our DNA … or in our soul.

I love fiction, and I’m fascinated and awed by authors who have the ability to portray a story with realistic characters, show the events with sensory language, and weave in truths of life and love, sorrow and hope, loss and redemption, sacrifice and grace. The best stories invoke a glimpse into those pieces of our heart and soul that are so real we recognize them even in the most imaginative tales. They ring with truth. We can see traces of ourselves and of a greater story unfolding all around us. Most of all, the best tales reveal traces of the Author. Of the Greatest Story ever told.


stained glass heart

“The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and also lions. There are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace — all things are there.” – Macarius

Some days, I reach into my heart and write. And I see beauty and light reaching out like golden strands weaving something of meaning. Something, I hope, of truth. Something resulting in love or wonder or purpose.

Other days, I reach into my heart and find shadow and darkness. Questions. Confusion. Blame and guilt. Criticism and discontentment. I dare not dip my quill into such blackness and write.

Why such a dichotomy? Such a vast and great division? Light and darkness. Good and evil. Beauty and beastliness. Pure and the profane. How can all these dwell in a single heart?

A great and ancient writer spoke of the heart of man being desperately wicked. Yet that same heart has the ability, the power, the gift, to search for an unsearchable treasure: to know an unknowable God. A God that floods the hearts with beauty and wonder. A God who takes the horror and the tragedy and pieces together in His mystery a tapestry. A story.

The stories I love the most blend chaos with order, hate and horror with love and healing. Brokenness with sacrifice and redemption. Lostness with being found and belonging. Because every heart, at some time, sounds the deep recesses and we know of what we are made. And it scares us how vast and far and dark the darkness goes.

And yet, even there shines a starlike pinprick of light. Of love. Of truth. Like hope and love and sacrifice in even the darkest stories. Like restoration and new life bursting from an acrid, wasted ground. The ground of our life. Our stories, with grime and dust and mistakes clinging to our souls, yet with a Word speaking that His mercies are new every morning. That His Light will shine the distance and pierce the depths even of the darkest heart. That His Love will stretch as far as East is from the West, encompassing all that therein is and redeeming it by His blood.

The darkest stories are the sweetest stories when they resound with the truth of this Word, this Light, this Love.

A God Who Hides


A God Who Hides

In a meditation on this verse, Belden C. Lane remarks that he used to fret about how his children played hide-and-seek. His son would bellow out, “Ready!” when he had found a good hiding place, which of course instantly gave him away. Lane, the father, kept reviewing the point of the game – “You’re supposed to hide, not give your position away!” – until one day it dawned on him that from his son’s perspective he had missed the point of the game. The fun comes in being found, after all. Who wants to be left alone, undiscovered?

“God is like a person who clears his throat while hiding and so gives himself away,” said Meister Eckhart. Perhaps God also feels pleasure in being found? – Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God

For those of us who “get” the game hide-and-seek (anyone over the age of, say, four or five), it’s fairly straightforward. One person counts to 20 or 30 or 60; the others hide. The seeker calls out, “Ready or not, here I come!” and searches for the other players. The ease of the game is that the seeker knows exactly who is hiding, so of course knows when they have been found.

Not so with God, if He is the one being sought. We don’t know exactly what He looks like, and what is more, He reveals Himself in different ways to different seekers. Author Anne Lamott described her experience in coming to faith something like being followed by a stray kitten; once she let Him in, she knew she’d be stuck with Him. Francis Thompson described God as a relentless hound. Elijah, a prophet of the Old Testament, beheld Him revealed in fire and power on Mount Carmel … and as a still, small voice as he hid from an evil king and queen.

How do we win in such a game? How can we find God when He, as Philip Yancey suggests, first hides Himself, and then … when He is discovered, is rarely the same thing twice? A kitten here. A blood hound there. A wildfire here. A whisper there. Ten plagues upon Egypt here. Ten Commandments there.

An early follower of Jesus must have felt something similar, for in his frustration or confusion he said something to the effect of, “Just show us the Father … show us God … and it will be enough for us.” (John 14:8)

Jesus didn’t bring out the scrolls of prophet parchment or the stories of a people to whom God had revealed Himself as Yahweh or Jehovah. He simply said, “Have I been so long with you, and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9-10)

So we play hide-and-seek. Yes, we do see God in different ways … depending on our early experiences of faith, our background, our treatment by our own parents and siblings. But more often than not, we’re the ones hiding, even while we’re seeking. Howard Macy notes of this hide-and-seek game, “while we have been pursuing God, he has been rushing toward us with reckless love, arms flung wide to hug us home.”

And that reckless love, those arms wide open, are revealed most fully in Jesus, in the cross, in what He did for us there. Dying to redeem all of mankind. To redeem every part of this broken world. To call us out of hiding and into the arms of grace.

How Often Do I Forgive?


A Prayer by Ken Gire

Lord,

How often do I forgive?

I’m asking not for an answer, only for an opportunity to come clean.

How often do I forgive?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

How often do I forgive the gossiper in my life?

How often do I forgive the exaggerator? The out-and-out liar?

How often do I forgive the talker in my life? The interrupter?

The person who sits around like a bump on a log and says nothing?

How often do I forgive a boss who’s demeaning?

A coworker who’s competing for my job? …

“Try me and know my anxious thoughts.”

How long is my mental list of hurt feelings?

How far back does the account of “wrongs suffered” go?

“And see if there be any hurtful way in me.”

How many people do I mumble to myself about, mentally rehearsing the scene where I tell them off and expose them to the world?

How many times do I hear bad news about someone’s who’s hurt me, and I’m glad because, after all, they had it coming?

“And lead me in the everlasting way.”

Forgive me, O God, for all the times I haven’t forgiven. For all the times I’ve only partway forgiven, or grudgingly forgiven, or self-righteously forgiven. Lead me into a better way of living, which can only be found in a better way of forgiving. Help me to forgive others the way you have forgiven me.

Not for a moment but for a lifetime.

Not seven times … every time.

 

I admit there are times I like to hold on to hurt feelings, protecting them yet simultaneously wanting to boast of them as I would a bruise or cut as a child. “Look at the size of this wound! I am so brave. I put up with so much.”

The victim mindset is not only easy. It’s comfortable. It’s natural. It lifts me higher in my own estimation even while placing the blame of my hurt on the perpetrator. It excuses me of the need to forgive.

But it also consumes my heart from the inside out, and slowly puts my spirit to death by bitterness. At some point, by God’s grace, I understand that to stay alive, I must forgive. .. And if I am true to my heart and spirit and God, I will continue to forgive.

I will recognize the truth and power, the freedom, in the words of wisdom on forgiveness. When Jesus spoke of the vital necessity of forgiving. Not once. Or a few times. But 490. And if I’m still counting at 491, it means I’ve never truly forgiven.

More Dated Than Bell-Bottoms


John Piper

The gospel magnifies God and humbles man. To the world the gospel doesn’t look like power at all. It looks like weakness — asking people to be like children and telling them to depend on Jesus, instead of standing on their own two feet. But for those who believe, it is the power of God to give sinners everlasting glory. – John Piper

If I had to opt into choosing a “national fear” for the average American, I might venture to point out something controversial. It’s not a fear of terrorism or war. It’s not even a fear of losing independence or rights.

It’s a fear of looking weak. Appearing weak. Not just the nation at large, but us within it.

Looking weak is not the American way. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We forge our own path through life, and woe to any person who tries to stand in our way. We admire muscle, power, and a commanding presence.

We’re not afraid of anything … except, perhaps, people thinking we might be afraid of something. That might make us look weak.

I don’t like to appear weak. Or that I don’t have it all together. I don’t like to ask for help and rarely do, if I can help it. “You go on. I got this.” At work. At home. In life at large.

But we don’t “got it.” We might have things covered in the smaller matters, but where it really counts, we often need help. And where it counts the most, we need the most help.

A hospital patient in need of a blood transfusion can’t tell the surgeon, “No worries; just use my own blood. As a matter of fact, let me handle it. I’m good.”

In our popular culture, we’ve rendered the concept of sin more outdated than bell-bottoms, and just as unappealing. But anyone who has been the victim of abuse or misuse knows intrinsically there is something wrong with being treated unfairly. Someone pays the price for another’s dishonesty or theft or affair. The judicial system is alive and thriving because there are the wronged and the wrongdoers. There are, in bell-bottom-age terms and older, the sinned-against and the sinners. Which means that sin itself is also alive and thriving.

And where sin abounds, Paul writes, grace much more abounds … because we all need grace. We all need forgiveness. We can’t pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. We can’t give ourselves a blood transfusion. But that’s okay, because the Lamb of God already shed blood. From the foundations of the world, and in time and space on a Cross one long ago Friday.

Current culture cringes at the thought of looking weak and admires those who stand on their own two feet. But eternal culture, in the words of Jesus, welcomes those who are not afraid of becoming like children. And earth’s inheritance, He says, belongs to the meek. The lowly. Those who do not fear appearing weak. Those who know they are, so embrace the strength and power of Christ and His gospel.

It doesn’t appear strong, but only those who embrace the strength of weakness know how much courage it takes to depend fully on Christ for everything.

Do I know that courage? No. Not yet. Not fully. I would like to. Becoming like a child and admitting my fears seems a small price for the embrace of grace and an eternity in the presence of glory.

Even in the Valley


Most of us do not want valleys in our lives. We shrink from them with a sense of fear and foreboding. Yet in spite of our worst misgivings, God can bring great benefit and lasting benediction to others through those valleys. Let us not always try to avoid the dark things, the distressing days. They may well prove to be the way of greatest refreshment to ourselves and those around us. – Phillip Keller

You are passing through your valley. And no one knows. No one. Not your spouse. Nor your children. Not the smiling folks you mingle and joke with at work. Nor the fancy and shabby blend of men and women sitting in front of you and behind you at church on Sunday.

Walking through the valley is trying enough in itself. The scorching dryness bearing down, forcing your steps to be small, if you take steps forward at all. You try, because you know it’s your only way out. Moving forward. But every step sends pain shooting through your limbs and straight into your heart. The void of green and beauty weathers into your soul and you wonder if ever the world had color. The valley is trying.

But the aloneness is tragedy. No warming voice or soothing words casting a light of reason upon your questions. No steadying hand to catch you when you fall or hoist you to your tired feet again.

Your reasons for trudging the valley alone in spite of the world-full of people around you? Those reasons are yours alone. Just as the valley you walk in. No one could understand. I would be labeled. I could never find forgiveness. They don’t really care, otherwise someone would have noticed; would have said something.

There was one who walked the rugged path of a valley alone, in spite of the crowds that swarmed him so frequently. He was alone because there was something only he could do. A path only he could take. A cross only he could bear.

And because he did it, finished the task given him, accomplished the purpose set before him, there is something only he can promise.

He is with you. You are not alone. Or you do not have to be. His presence is more real, more present, than any other human. For he is the God-yet-man. The Son of Man who came to seek and save that which is lost. The Good Shepherd who seeks out the one that did not make it no matter if ninety-nine are safe in the fold.

He scours the desert and his footfalls sound against the caverns of every lonely, forsaken valley. His voice is true. His scar-rifted hand is steady. His heart that bled for you is pure. His promise: “I am with you always … I will never leave you nor forsake you … He that comes to me, I will in no way cast out.”

Even in the valley. Especially in the valley.