AllThingsNewPeople who know me well, know that I can very easily get lost. I think it must be part of my nutty professor DNA. When I first enter a shopping mall and begin walking from store to store, I still have a pretty good sense of direction.  But after shopping for awhile, especially after I’ve been up and down stairs and turned around a few times, I have no idea where I am in relation to where I parked. When my daughters were teenagers they learned quickly that dad’s internal compass didn’t work very well in the mall. After we’d been shopping for a while, one of them would often look up at me with a big grin and say, “OK dad, time to go back to the car. Which way?”

MallMapsLite_mainI would have no idea which way to go. That’s until I learned the secret of just walking until I found a mall directory map with three glorious words on it, usually highlighted in red, YOU ARE HERE. It was not until I could see the bigger picture and where I fit into it, that I could find my way.

Even though it often doesn’t feel like it, there is a reason why you are here. You are part of something truly epic and astonishing. And although they aren’t simple or exhaustive, there really are honest answers to the ancient questions human beings have been asking throughout history, such as:

  • Where did the world come from?
  • Where did we come from?
  • How does everything connect or fit together?
  • Why does anything exist at all?
  • Why is there evil and suffering in the world?
  • What happens when we die?
  • Why do we have a sense of rightness and wrongness?
  • What is really going on in the universe?
  • How can we find meaning for our lives?
  • Is there really meaning to life?

We look for these answers and connections, and we’re restless until we find them. That’s because nothing really makes ultimate sense in life until we can properly relate it to other things. God created everything that exists, including the earth and all the nations on it for a purpose. The degree to which we understand God’s purpose for the world is the degree to which we will understand God’s purpose for our lives in it. And the degree to which we align our life purpose with God’s purpose for the world is the degree to which we will experience the fullness of God’s purpose for our lives. To summarize:

God takes great pleasure in manifesting his presence and pouring out his power on those who will dare to align radically their purposes with his for the nations[1].

The only way we can discover God’s purpose for our lives is by learning how our story fits into God’s still-unfolding story for the universe. So in this book we will do a sweeping overview (the view from 30,000 feet) of the history of the universe, from creation to the final consummation of time, through the lens of the Bible. Although the bible is not a history book, when it speaks to history, it speaks truthfully [2].

Antique-Compass-1103474_55801016-300x289

What’s unique about the Bible is not all the stories, but “THE STORY in the stories,”[3] the one, true human story that God means to shape our understanding of history and give ultimate meaning to our lives.

We can master a knowledge of all the biblical stories, and even master a knowledge of all Christian doctrine and theology, and still not really know THE STORY unfolding in the stories. Many years ago, a Hindu leader in India strongly reproved a young, well-intentioned missionary for how he and the other missionaries were presenting the Bible to them. He said,

I can’t understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion–and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don’t need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it (emphasis mine). [4]

Although the Bible consists of a wide variety of writings (including laws, history, prophecies, poetry, letters, and apocalyptic writings), at its core the bible is one unfolding story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. God means for his story to so captivate you, that you are drawn into its plot to find your place and then compelled to draw others into that story with you for the rest of your life.

I invite you to join me on this life-changing journey to discover more deeply God’s unfolding story so that you might experience more fully your story in his.

_______________________

[1] See Challenging Missions Quotes for a free download of similar quotes compiled by Joshua Project staff. 
[2] Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict
[3] Edward Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology
[4] Lesslie Newbigin, A Walk Through the Bible
 

0This evening I’m reading the fascinating results of what is arguably the most important study of the life and happiness of human beings ever done.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development began in 1938 when researches started following 268 young men (Harvard undergraduates) for the rest of their lives. In 1966 this study became the life work of Dr. George Vaillant (now 80) Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Some of the findings include:

  • Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power
  • Aging liberals (political) have way more sex
  • A strong correlation of the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years
  • How significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life

In one of his book publicity interviews about the study, Vaillant joked, “Being a couch potato I was delighted to find that it’s good health that makes it possible to exercise at sixty, it isn’t the exercising at sixty that creates good health at eighty.” But in his own words, the #1 most important finding from this study is this:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love. Full stop.”

When asked in an interview how he would apply this five-word conclusion to his own life, he said, “In part by not worrying more about myself but more about my children. I’ve been more interested in my successful career and less interested in just hanging out with them. And if I had it to do it over again, I would have spent more time with my children.”

Even when it’s almost too late, learning that “Happiness is love” is powerful and meaningful. But frankly, that doesn’t surprise me, and I’d be surprised if it did you. My first thought was, “Well, it doesn’t take seventy-five years and twenty million dollars to figure that one out. Of course, happiness is love.” So to learn more about what Vaillant considers to be his most significant findings, I began reading his book reviews, summaries, and listening to his interviews.

As a result I discovered what I consider to be the #1 most important finding from “Vaillant’s most important findings” about HOW happiness is love. (You may want to read that last sentence again for it to make sense.) This finding is not drawn primarily from his book, but from his post-writing interviews:

“Happiness is love. Full Stop” -especially shown by those who learned to: 1) “take love in”, and 2) “give love out.”

Now, again, I’m not surprised by the “give love out” finding. But it’s the “take love in” finding that intrigues me. Below is my transcript of one of Vaillant’s interviews I listened to tonight as he described one of the most important things HE learned through all these years of human research since 1968. He tells the story of one of his research subjects, a man who had a very difficult life into adulthood. But, after learning how to “take love in,” his whole life turned around ending very well with rich relationships. He said,

One of the lessons and mysteries of the study is that probably the greatest human skill you can have is the ability to take love in and metabolize it. That’s how you grow. Nobody knows a lot about that.

Now this statement grabbed my attention. And it makes me want to explore more deeply what it means for someone (especially me) to “take love in and metabolize it.” Why? Mostly selfish reasons I guess. Hey, if the Harvard study says this is how a man finishes life well with rich relationships, then let’s get on with it!

But there’s also the deeper realization that it’s only when I learn more about how to take love in, that I’ll truly learn more how to give love out. The Apostle Paul taught the key to human growth (happiness) is to focus first on taking in (metabolizing) the love of Christ before giving it out. This is how God means for us to grow (flourish) in all our relationships. I’m glad somebody knows a lot about that.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:14-19

Book CoverThe findings of this study are now published in Vaillant’s book, Triumphs of Experience.

 

July 4 Shirtless ManJPGTHIS 4th of July is one I’ll never forget. And neither will our guests. Our celebration of the 4th began normally. Becky and I had several seminary students over to our home for an old fashioned hamburger, hot dog, baked beans, etc. spread.

As it started to get dark, we all drove to our neighborhood fireworks display on the edge of a small lake near our home. A relatively small crowd of a few hundred neighbors were there. <A few of the students brought to my attention that the blaring music was very boomer–70′s hard rock. Hadn’t noticed it except for the involuntary head-banging.>

It was a very Norman Rockwell sort of scene with kids and dogs running around as spectacular fireworks were exploding high in the air.

What happened next is still hard for me to believe. Just after a beautiful display of fireworks over the lake had ended, a shirtless man walked over near the base where these very high-powered, professional fireworks were being launched.

He then handed his beer can to another man, who had a large American flag in his other hand, and then reached over and picked up one of the large boxes of fireworks-apparently scheduled to be shot off for the next round. I still can’t believe what happened next. This man hoisted the large, heavy box of very powerful, highly explosive fireworks over the top of his head and lifted the box up as high as his arms could reach.

Then this man started walking from the edge of the lake toward the broad yellow tape that was designed to keep the crowd (us) at a safe distance from these potentially dangerous explosives. He stopped about 10-15 feet before the yellow tape, with his arms still fully extended as high as they could go, when the first sparks began to shoot from the huge bottom of the large box of fireworks.

Standing about 6 feet away from this shirtless man was his buddy with the can of beer in one hand and raising up the American flag in the other.

If you look very closely at the video screenshot above (from my trusty iPhone), you can see this shirtless man with his hands held high above him holding the box from which all the fireworks are starting to explode. And if you look to the right of this man (his left) you’ll see his buddy, who has a big American flag in his right hand that you can’t see because it’s behind the fire. If you look closely you can even see the yellow tape (between these 2 men and the crowd in front of us) supposedly meant to keep us a safe distance from the fireworks.

What took place next only lasted for 7 seconds before the shirtless man had to throw down the exploding fireworks box. But everyone with us that evening said they will probably never have another 4th of July when they don’t remember this one. Immediately after the explosions and balls of fire stopped shooting at us, one of the seminary students, Nolan, yelled out,

“That one nearly killed you Steve! We’re lucky to be alive! We’re lucky to be alive! Friendly fire!  We just came under attack! This is unprecedented in the American society! We just came under attack at our own fireworks show!”

Becky and I think our favorite Thank You note came from another student, Tim, who wrote,

Thanks again for having us over for the 4th. It was one I’m certain we’ll never forget. It was the first time I was shot at by a shirtless man while his buddy held his beer and waved an American flag. I’d like to think that this is what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. “Give me drunk fireworks, or give me death.”

To help make your 4th of July weekend more memorable, I’ve just posted the video I took of those 7 seconds, along with some slower instant replays so you can see the most amazing and frightening fireworks display I’ve ever seen.

You’ll also hear the adrenaline-soaked comments made by some members of our group immediately after we stopped being fired on. BTW: If you watch the video carefully, you’ll see why Nolan screamed, “That one nearly killed you Steve!”

If you’d like to see this brief 3-minute video Click Here.
Or watch below:

I was sitting in a hospital waiting room this morning, nervously waiting for a nurse to open the door and give me a report on Becky’s (my wife) minor surgery. I hold to the belief that all surgery is major if it involves someone I love, especially if they’re going under anesthesia. There was one other person in the room with me, a man sitting immediately next to the door. He looked nervous too. But both of us were just sitting there silently looking down at old magazines.

All of a sudden, the door swung open and the nurse looked at me and said, “Are you ready to take Bonnie home now?” In response to what I’m sure was a very confused look on my face, she then prodded me again, “Well, Bonnie and I are ready to go. Are you?” The other man in the room, who was sitting too close to the door for the nurse to see him at first, then piped up, “Bonnie goes with me. I’ll take her home!”

Humor in Crisis QuoteWithout really thinking, I then blurted out what I shouldn’t have, “Wait a second, I might want to take Bonnie home with me!” Then to my surprise, the man responded by saying, “Hey, why don’t we just flip a coin?” To which I then said, “Or we could wait and see how they both did first.” By now, the nurse had her arms folded and was just rolling her eyes as she watched two grown men act like junior-high kids in this normally very serious surgical waiting room.

Then she said to me, with a small smile starting to surface, “Sir, who are you taking home today?” To which I responded, with a small, counter-smile, and a truly inquisitive tone, “Do I have any options?” Then she and the man both broke out laughing. The man then got up and went with the nurse to see his wife. Soon, the door suddenly opened again and there stood the man, with Bonnie seated behind him in a wheel chair being pushed by the nurse. Bonnie smiled at me with that glazed smile of someone still recovering from sedation.

As the three of them went by in front of me, the man leaned over and said, “Last chance bro.” And then he winked. When the door closed behind them, I smiled as I thought about how many times God has used humor to comfort me when I’m afraid. Humorist and presidential speechwriter, Robert Orben once wrote, “In prehistoric times, mankind often had only two choices in crisis situations: fight or flee. In modern times, humor offers us a third alternative; fight, flee – or laugh.”

My very small, frail 88-year old mother, Jeanne, was awakened early this morning by a very scary 4.1 magnitude earthquake near her home in Edmond, Oklahoma.

When I asked her what she did during the earthquake she said,

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With my mom in Edmond, Oklahoma

“I didn’t even get up. I just suddenly woke up feeling the floor moving underneath me, watching the pictures on the wall move around me, hearing loud creaks from the attic, and praying so loud I’m surprised you didn’t hear me all the way down there in Orlando!”

I immediately went online to learn that Edmond (a suburb of Oklahoma City) actually had 9 earthquakes today in lesser magnitudes (2.7, etc.), and 24 earthquakes in the last week.

When I told my wife, Becky, about my mom’s experience, it immediately reminded her of far more frightening images she still vividly remembers from March of 1964 when her family lived in Alaska and survived the second largest recorded earthquake in history (9.2). (The largest recorded earthquake to date took place in Chile in 1960 (9.5).)

When I asked Becky what she did during that earthquake, she said,

Becky at 16

Becky at 16

“I still remember it all very vividly. It was around 5pm and we were on Easter vacation from school. It was Good Friday. And my dad had just come home early from work. I was with my younger sister and brother downstairs in our basement playroom when it started. Everything just suddenly started violently shaking.

At first I thought we were being bombed by Russia because at school we regularly had bomb drills. The next thing I remember was seeing my dad at the top of the stairs yelling at us to come up the stairs as fast as we could. But we couldn’t. The stairs were moving back and forth and cracking. Then all kinds of canned foods and groceries started falling out of the pantry on to the moving stairs.

I can still remember trying to climb up the stairs that were covered with broken glass, baby food, and cooking oil. My younger sister made it up the stairs first. Then I made it up. But my little brother wasn’t strong enough to climb up the stairs.

Then I remember watching my dad, knowing that the entire basement could collapse on my little brother at any time, go down the stairs, pick him up, and carry him all the way back up.Alaska Earthquake

The next thing I remember seeing was my mom lying on the floor in the kitchen on top of my youngest sister, a toddler, protecting her from everything that was falling out of the kitchen cabinets. They were both cut by the broken glass and bleeding. My dad then helped all of us get out of the front door.

After the earthquake stopped we all just sat in the car for a long time. Once my dad knew we were safe, he went immediately to the hospital (he is a physician) to help care for all the injured people. Because of the aftershocks, for the next several days we all had to sleep on the floor of the living room so we could quickly go out the front door when the aftershocks came.

I remember the next day going into downtown Anchorage and seeing entire buildings sunken down into the ground and huge, open crevices in the streets.

I also remember going to church on that Easter Sunday weekend after the earthquake on Good Friday. We couldn’t worship in the sanctuary because of all the damage to it. So we had to go to another large room in the church building to worship.

There were more people at church that Sunday than I’d ever seen there before. And I don’t think it was just because it was Easter Sunday (she just smiled here).”

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

-Psalm 46

Wade WilliamsAs I reflect back on Wade William’s life and ministry, I’m reminded of two things about him. First, I’ve never known a man who had a deeper appreciation for the rich diversity of worship across all the vast cultural spectrums in the body of Christ. And I’ve never known a man with a greater passion to see Jesus Christ exalted in the hearts of His worshippers. When I first heard of Wade’s death, my mind was flooded with reminders of our previous conversations over the years, especially those about our personal struggles and shared ministry passions.

Since I couldn’t focus on work anymore, I decided to put his name in my computer’s finder and just see what surfaced. My mind and heart weren’t ready for the sorrow and hope all our past emails, photos (2 posted here) and shared documents would produce. I want to share one of those items with you. It’s a letter Wade wrote many years ago to several, seasoned worship leaders around the U.S., trying to recruit them to do something worship leaders don’t normally do. As you read excerpts from his letter below, note his deep appreciation for worship diversity and his great passion for Christ to be exalted in His worshippers.

Dear Brothers,

I am writing to enlist your worship leadership in an upcoming conference. For this conference, we want to model a variety of worship styles to the church planters & leaders who will be there, as well as provide inspiration for some worship leaders who will also be present for training.

I am asking you each to take a small role, and serve the Body of Christ by leading one service for this group of Christ’s servants. Any one of you could lead for the entire week, but we want to model a diversity of approaches, so we are asking for multiple worship leaders, who will take only one service each.

I will serve as your coordinator and your “introducer” at the beginning of each service (sort of a week-long “emcee” role). Myself, and several other musicians in attendance for the entire week, will be available to assist you if you need that (guitars, woodwinds, piano, vocals, etc.).

One more thing: As you consider this role, I would like for you to realize what we’re calling a “covert gospel renewal goal” in this conference. Each day of training has a gospel renewal aspect (theme) emphasized, sometimes openly, sometimes it’s just behind the curriculum, which we would like for the worship (liturgy & song choices) to reflect, to some degree.

Those gospel themes are listed below. And of course, we want to lead our brothers and sisters there in “heart-felt, Christ-centered” worship, to the glory of God – not ourselves. Congregation (audience) participation is important – so please choose songs which others can join in on.

Advanced Worship Workshop 2005

Wade teaching on worship at a church planting conference

Please contact me soon and let me know of your interest & ability to participate. There is no compensation for this gig, by the way – but your conference tuition is covered and there will be a few perks I can throw in, especially for those who are not local.

And yes, you may come for only part of the week if that is your desire, but I recommend the entire week – it’s really good for our personal renewal. Please reply ASAP.

Yours in Christ,

Wade

PS: Here is my suggested line-up:  

Time                         Leader/Liturgist         “Style”                       Gospel Theme

Monday pm                Leader Name               High Energy Band       Election

Tuesday am                Leader Name               Hymnody, etc             Propitiation

Tuesday pm                Leader Name               Acoustic                     Justification

Wednesday am           Leader Name               Singer/songwriter     Adoption

Thursday am               Leader Name               Celtic                          Holy Spirit

Thursday pm               Leader Name               Ancient/Future          Redemption

Friday am                    Leader Name               Contemporary            Glorification

Wade Williams, July 10,1953-May 1, 2014

To watch a brief video of Wade sharing his sorrow and hope while battling cancer, Click Here

To learn more about Wade William’s life and ministry, click here: Wade Williams Called Home

In the series introduction, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”  we saw how the central message of the bible, the gospel, is best understood as a story or a four-act drama that displays the historic unfolding of God’s creative and redemptive work in the world. And how you can never fully understand the meaning of your personal life story until you understand how your story fits with God’s story.

In Act One, “Creation: The Way Things are Supposed to Be” we learned that the essence of salvation in Christ (the gospel) is the outworking of God’s love by restoring his creation from all the horrible consequences of sin (the fall). And how you cannot fully know the riches of Christ’s salvation until you more fully grasp God’s original intent for mankind to be in perfect relationship with God, self, others and creation.

In Act Two, “The Fall: The Way Things Are Not Supposed To Be,” we learned that our understanding of the severity of the problem is directly proportionate to our understanding of the significance of the solution. And as a result of sin, all of mankind’s perfect relationships (with God, themselves, others and creation) were broken and marked by alienation. We now turn to Act 3, Scene 1, the redemption of mankind and the world through the coming kingdom of Israel and the promised King.

Act Three (Scene 1): Redemption Through the Coming Kingdom (Israel)

From immediately after the Fall, God’s intention was to restore his loving rule over mankind and creation (Gen 3:15). At first God worked his redemptive purposes through individuals like Enoch and Noah. Then God chose to re-establish his kingdom on earth through Abraham by promising him a land and a multitude of descendants through whom God would bless all the nations of the world (Gen 12:1-3).

Through Moses and the exodus from Egypt, God makes Abraham’s descendants his own people. God then gives them his law at Mount Sinai so they might live under his loving rule, as Adam and Eve had done before they sinned. God blesses them with his presence in the tabernacle and he gives them elaborate sacrificial ceremonies through which they can approach him. Through Joshua the people of God enter the land of Canaan and under Kings David and Solomon they build the temple of God and enjoy the rule and blessings of God.

But because of the disobedience of the kings and the people of Israel the promises to Abraham were only partially fulfilled. As a consequence of their disobedience the nation of Israel came under God’s judgment. Civil war broke out and the kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The pagan nation of Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom. The pagan nation of Babylon later conquered the southern kingdom and took its people into exile in Babylon.

During this dark period, God spoke to the people of Israel and Judah through the prophets. He told them they were being punished for their sin but that there was still hope. They foretold the day when a great Messiah King would come and deliver them from all their oppression. He would be “the offspring of David whose kingdom would be established forever” (2 Sam 7), “the Son of Man whom the Ancient of Days gives all dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, and all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him. His dominion will be an everlasting dominion (Dan. 7).” And he “will create a new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind (Isaiah 65:17).” And the lion will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6).

lion-and-the-lamb

When the people of Judah were allowed to return from exile they must have thought that the time had come. But God made it clear that the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom on earth, when all things will be made new, was still in future.

Four hundred years after the completion of the Old Testament, Jesus began his public ministry with these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. To his original Jewish listeners this was an especially meaningful announcement. When Jesus made this announcement, the Jews had been scattered throughout the Mediterranean world and greatly oppressed by the Roman government for many years. They longed for the Messiah to come, set up His kingdom, and save them from their political oppression (Ridderbos 1975:48).

However, the Jews soon learned that the kingdom Jesus was announcing and inaugurating was not what they expected. The nature of Jesus’ kingdom more spiritual than political, as was the oppression from which Jesus came to deliver his people. The Jewish people would learn that the enemies this king came to engage in battle were not political enemies but spiritual enemies. The Bible calls these enemies the world, the flesh, the devil, and death itself. As king, Jesus came to wage war with these spiritual enemies in order to set his people free from their captivity to sin and all its effects: personal guilt, moral corruption and world corruption.

Although Jesus as king was fully present at this time, Mark 1:14 shows us that the kingdom “was near.” This means the kingdom was not yet fully in their midst. Jesus was beginning to set in motion all that would eventually bring about the universal rule and reign of God over not just Rome, but over all the nations of the earth and the entire world.

Centuries earlier, God made clear through the prophets that the goal of this coming kingdom would be to invade this fallen and broken world, drive back the forces of evil, and bring the restoration of everything lost in the fall. However, there were certain critical events that had to take place during this time in history for God’s kingdom to come in greater fullness. And those epoch, world-changing events could only happen through one person-the coming King.

Coming soon: Act 3 (Scene 2): Redemption Through the Coming King (Jesus)

Adapted from the upcoming book © 2015 All Things New, Steven L. Childers