The Love of Stories

source: iwouldificould via Flickr

source: iwouldificould via Flickr

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:5 (NIV)

We love stories. We love stories that fit together and are well told. We love stories that ring true to our human experience. We love stories that move us where we are and give us a glimpse of what we can yet be. We love stories in children’s books, stories in the newspaper, stories on the television, stories on stage, stories in novels, stories on blogs, and stories in magazines. We love audio book stories and the family stories shared orally by our parents and grandparents around the table.

In the movie When Harry Met Sally, one of the greatest romantic comedy stories ever, Billy Crystal’s character always reads the last chapter of a book first. That way, if he dies while reading it, he’ll always know the end. I thought of Harry this morning as I opened up the final chapter of God’s story.

One of the great things about reading the entirety of God’s story is the subtle connections that you begin to recognize between totally disparate chapters emanating from different pens at different points in time. Today as I’m reading the final chapter I’m fascinated by the parallels and connections to other parts of the story. There’s even a direct correlation made when Jesus points out “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

  • Light is the first act of creation in Genesis and receives the final mention in Revelation.
  • Light was created, but it was created before sun and moon.
  • Light shines forever in the City of God, but it is not from sun or moon. The Light is from Jesus, the Lamb of God.
  • Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.”
  • Jesus is the agent of creation: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:2 and “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

As we’ve read through the book of Revelation, I have been impressed more than ever at the story that’s being told, not just in this vision of the end, but in the whole of God’s story. There’s a wrapping up of loose ends. There is the bringing of things together and to a conclusion, while at the same time leaving the story line open for all sorts of possibilities in a sequel.

I love that God is the author of creation and a story teller. I love that all of us who are created in God’s image have our own stories that fit into the whole.

What’s your story?

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New Life Emerges Out of Death

celtic cross tatHe who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

A decade ago, this verse from Revelation was about to take on tremendous meaning for me. Upon hearing and digesting my story, I’ll never forget the word picture my therapist gave for my troubled, seventeen year marriage:

It seems to me that you and your wife have been standing over the casket of your dead marriage for many years, but neither of you have been willing to acknowledge its death.”

Ugh. Divorce was not a snap decision. It was not what I had intended. Yet, there I was standing at a place on life’s road I had never intended on ending up. It was painful. It was hard. It is never pleasant walking through valley of death’s shadow no matter what it is that has died.

In those days I learned to cling to hope that at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death lies the house of the Lord. God redeems broken things. Easter, after all, is about resurrection. New life emerges from that which is dead. Behold, God makes all things new. I even had the Rev 21:5 referenced in the crux of the Celtic cross tattooed on my back during that particular stretch of my journey (it was my first tat).

I am glad to look back across a decade. I have experienced much, learned much, grown much, and I see things with greater clarity than when I was in the chaos of those stressful moments. This Sunday, as Wendy, Taylor, Suzanna and I celebrate Easter together, I have a deeper and more profound understanding of resurrection. I have experienced a kind of death and resurrection which at once provides me evidence of Easter Sunday and foreshadowing of today’s chapter.

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Bad News; Good News

 

The Book of Life 2

(Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Revelation 20:12 (NIV)

This morning as I read through this verse I had a bit of a panic attack. It’s the end. I’m standing before God. The books are opened, and everything I’ve done is recorded in those books. I’m going to be judged according to what’s in the books. Yikes. This is bad news.

All of a sudden the memories of all the shameful things I’ve done come flooding into my mind. Every heinous thought. Every secretive deed. Every self-centered act. Every errant and angry word. I’ve thought, said, and done so many shameful things. There’s no way I’ll make the cut. I’m doomed.

Then I remember all that we’ve read and learned in this story that’s unfolded as we’ve gone through God’s Message a chapter a day. This is the good news and the core theme of the story:

  • Everyone is doomed. Everyone falls short. Once the books are opened and the truth is revealed there isn’t a person living or dead (Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and the Pope included) who is “good enough” to earn salvation.
  • There is another book. If you read the chapter then you know that, along with the book that reveals all we’ve said and done, there is a second book mentioned: The Book of Life. This is the book of those who have “received Jesus, who have believed in His name.”
  •  Grace. Jesus promised that any who seek after him and seek forgiveness for all the crap they’ve every done will be forgiven. This is the crux of the story: Jesus suffering and dying on the cross was, in essence, Him choosing to pay the just penalty for all the shameful thoughts, words, and actions recorded under my name (and yours too) in those books John was describing. Jesus paid the penalty for all I’ve done, so that I don’t have to. I don’t deserve what He did for me. That’s called grace: unmerited favor.
  • Covered. In the ancient sacrificial system we’ve read about, the people would bring their sins and sacrifice to the priest. The word picture of the sacrifice was that their sins were place beneath the altar. As the lamb was slain and the blood ran across the altar and fell to the ground it was covering the sin underneath the altar. That is why in John’s vision of heaven Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He was the sacrificial Lamb who made atonement to cover all our sins.
  • Gratitude. So I need not be worried about what is written in those first books John described. My sins are covered by His blood. I have received Him. I have believed in His name and my name is written in the Book of Life. This fact does not give me a sense of pride or arrogance. I am better than no one. I am simply forgiven. I have been given a priceless gift which I do not deserve. I am both eternally humbled and forever grateful.

I find it ironic that we reach this waypoint in our journey the week leading to Easter. This Friday is Good Friday, commemorating the good that Jesus did on the cross for anyone who would seek His grace and forgiveness. It is a good week to think on these things.

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A Change in My Attitude Toward Weddings

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9 (NIV)

I had never been wild about weddings. So much to do about things that seem so trivial. So much tension between brides and their mothers. So much time, energy and attention on misplaced priorities. My attitude when required to attend or officiate a wedding had always been to grin and bear it.

That is, until New Year’s Eve 2005 when Wendy and I were married in the grand ballroom of the Temple for Performing Arts in Des Moines. We has spent months planning a celebration of our marriage. We had put a lot of thought into minimizing things that didn’t matter (flowers, tuxes, dresses trappings) and focusing on things that we felt mattered most (sincerity, honoring God, expressing ourselves, catering to our guests).

Being theatre people, we scripted a gala New Year’s Eve wedding that would flow for everyone in attendance. We sent out save the date cards telling people to get ready to dress to the nines and enjoy a New Year’s Eve party like no other. At 8:00 p.m. we were married on the ballroom as our guests sat at tables around the perimeter of the floor. As I kissed my new bride to end the ceremony, the strains of Etta James’ “At Last” began and we had our first dance. We were, after all, standing on the dance floor. When the song was over the food was blessed and served, the wine was poured, and the party began. Simple. Ceremony then celebration. No waiting. No standing around. Let the wedding feast begin!

We danced and celebrated with family and friends until midnight then rang in the New Year and our new lives together. I know that I’m biased, but it was an incredible wedding. I would do it all over again with very few changes (we’re theatre people – there are always things you can do to improve the last performance).

I realized this morning as I read the verse above that I have a completely different perspective reading it than I would have had before that night. Wedding as celebration of something special, eternal, life giving, and communal had never been real for me until that night. I look back on that special night and think about the wedding feast of the Lamb as a similar celebration exponentially more incredible.

No more grinning and bearing it. I have a different attitude towards weddings, and when it comes to the wedding feast of the Lam, believe me, I can’t wait.

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They Say the Neon Lights are Bright…

The Broadway Theatre, showing the musical The ...

The Broadway Theatre],Manhattan, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a quick post this morning. For any who follow my chapter-a-day posts I want to let you know that a rather insane business travel schedule coupled with it being production week for my play Ham Buns and Potato Salad is going to make my posts a bit sporadic this week.

There is, however, a bit of irony in the way things have unfolded which I’d like to share. In all my travels around the country and and around the globe, I’ve never been to New York City. Late last week I found out I had to make a quick business trip to the Big Apple to visit a client. So after a long day of meetings today I’ll fly to New York for a day full of meetings tomorrow at my client’s office…on Broadway.

The day before my play opens in Pella, I’m going to be standing on Broadway for the first time. :-)

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Prom: A Trip Down Memory Lane

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When Madison graduated from high school back in 2010, I thought that we had perhaps closed the chapter on several experiences like prom. When Wendy’s sister Suzanna came to live with us last summer to finish out her high school career at PHS, we found ourselves back in the saddle with a number high school events and rites of passage.

 

So it was that Wendy and I spent our Saturday afternoon and evening helping to make Suzanna’s prom a night to remember. We went to Central’s campus to take pictures with her friend and prom date, Ben Atkins along with friends Jack and Sam. We then went to the Atkins’ house to help prepare a candlelight dinner for the four of them to enjoy before the dance.

 

The evening brought back lots of memories of past proms with Taylor and Madison. The dresses, the hair, the corsages and pictures. I remember Wendy helping with last minute dress emergencies and making goodies for progressive dinners. I remember meeting nervous young men who seemed humorously uncomfortable in their tuxes.

 

Suzanna had a fabulous time, but has been walking around like a zombie after what was largely a sleepless night full of adrenaline and activity. I thought I would post some pictures past and present in a little trip down memory lane.

 

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Sudden Realization

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,

    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’
Revelation 18:10 (NIV)

I had arrived at a client’s office first thing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was scheduled to conduct a number of call coaching sessions that day. As I entered the building I passed by the corporate cafeteria and glanced inside. A large crowd of people were huddled beneath one of the televisions that were mounted on the wall. There was something eerie and surreal about the silent crowd and the empty stares on their faces. It stopped me in my tracks.

I stepped into the cafeteria and stood on the outskirts of the silent, huddled mass. I looked up at the television and viewed for the first time the iconic image of the World Trade Center with a giant plume of smoke billowing out of it. For the first few moments I took in what was being said by the reporters and the hushed whispers around me. “Tragic accident,” was what everyone was saying. It was only a minute or so later that there was a blur on the screen and everything shook. A second plane struck the other tower. In that moment I knew two things: 1) It was not an accident and 2) I would be doing no call coaching that day. I grabbed my briefcase and headed home where I sat and watched the horrific events of that day unfold.

One of the things that I took away from that day is how quickly things can fall apart. When John had his vision, the world was a very different place. Great cities were not destroyed in an hour, they were subject to long sieges that could take months and years. There were, of course, natural disasters like ancient Pompeii which could and still can bring about rapid and massive destruction. Nevertheless, the idea of a great city being brought to its knees in an hour was almost unfathomable.

Until now. I had seen the black and white news reels of the German blitz on London and the reciprocal Allie bombings in Europe. I had seen the documentaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were all, however, scratchy black and white film from a time before I was born. Even growing up in the Cold War era of “duck and cover” drills, the idea of sudden destruction was simply that – an idea. On 9-11, along with everyone else, I witnessed how quickly things can fall apart.

I see today’s chapter differently than I did before that fateful day. I have heard the endless speculation of prophetic junkies who wax ceaselessly their theories about the identity of Babylon and the beast she rides in John’s vision. I don’t find the chatter worthwhile. When I read the chapter I see the big picture that is painted in John’s vision of the prophesied future: Sudden destruction followed by economic chaos. For the past thirteen years I have lived with a greater understanding that the fulfillment of that vision could be a sudden reality almost any day. I do not live in fear and anxiety of that day, but I do enter this day with the realization of how fragile our world really is, and of what is truly important.

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