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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living a Good Story

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In two days (weather permitting) I'll be heading north to spend a long weekend in Oregon. I read several books earlier this year that were, coincidentally, all set in Portland, and I also saw a movie based on one of those books which gave me some visuals to go along with what I'd read, and after reading about the city and seeing it on the big screen, I decided that I'd like to visit it myself as soon as I could. Two friends and I made plans to visit a mutual friend in Salem this weekend before spending a couple of days in Portland. In anticipation of our trip, I began rereading one of those set-in-Portland books last weekend, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I don't think it's an accident that I'm reading it again right now. This book is all about recognizing that our lives are telling a story and learning to make choices that contribute to a story that is compelling -- living in such a way that, if put on paper, our stories would actually be worth reading.

Unless you're new to my blog, you've probably picked up on the fact that this year has been pretty revolutionary for me as a follower of Jesus. The best way I can describe it is to borrow the words of the apostle Paul and say that God has been leading me through a process of "being transformed by the renewing of my mind." My brother likes to call this process "worldview transformation." Essentially this means that the way I look at all of life has changed, and as a result, so has the way I interact with the world around me. There are so many elements that have created the framework that now comprises my worldview, many of which I've written about in previous posts (in particular, much clearer understandings of God's gracethe Gospel, and the Kingdom of God; Christ's call to live a life of humility by dying to self; God's design for the Christian life to be lived in community and His heart for unity within the Church; and clearer understandings of spiritual gifts and personality types, among other things). ALL of these facets of my worldview have led to shifts in attitudes and actions, in how I live my life.

When I read A Million Miles back in the spring, I think I was vaguely aware that God was doing something new and significant in my life, but there was no way I could have known at that time what a deep impact this new work was going to have. What I'm noticing as I read the book this time around is that the way God has transformed my thinking this year has led me to live a better story, just as the book had suggested months ago. I think learning to embrace the call to die to self has been particularly important, because I can think of multiple decisions I've made -- primarily about how to spend portions of my time -- by running my options through the filter of dying to self that would have played out differently before God began this season of transformation in my life. Dying to self is what has led me to:

  • go downtown (alone!) to watch a friend's dance performance after youth group instead of going straight home and crashing for the night
  • message someone who had unfriended me on Facebook to see if there was an offense I needed to make right instead of becoming self-righteous and indignant
  • commit an entire Saturday to gather with a handful of friends to fast and pray for our church
  • attend a barbecue with a houseful of people outside of my usual social circle (quite a challenge for an introvert) in an effort to build community and promote unity in my church family
  • drive all the way across town on a Saturday evening to watch someone perform at an open mic night instead of staying planted on my futon watching old episodes of "Arrested Development"

Now PLEASE understand, I am in no way trying to give myself a pat on the back for doing any of these things. I fear some may infer, not only from this brief list of life examples but also from my frequent & enthusiastic sharing of what God is teaching me (whether that's here or on Facebook), that I'm seeking the praise of man, but that is not my goal at all. I am not so deluded as to think I've somehow arrived, and I am fully aware that I have plenty of room to continue learning and growing for the duration of my time here on earth! But at the same time, praise God, by His grace there HAS been progress in my life this year in areas I previously withheld from Him, and I've discovered that when you start surrendering to Him and begin to taste life as I believe He really intended it to be, your natural response is simply to share it because it is SO GOOD! I only share some specific examples of ways I've chosen to die to self this year because I am suddenly realizing each of those instances has contributed to a better story being told through my life than if I'd acted from a more natural [read: selfish] response, and that brings joy to my heart.

Here's the truth about telling stories with your life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it...People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.
-Donald Miller

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A few days ago I was wrestling with frustration over some of the meaningless stories that are being lived out in this world, but as I was pouring out my frustration to God, He began speaking to my heart and shifting my perspective to how I myself can continue to seek ways to live a better story with my own life. As I began to consider how I can improve the story my life is telling, my frustration began to fade. I can't always affect the story someone else is telling, but when I'm in a funk, there is almost always something I can do to make my own story a better one. It's rarely easy, but it's ALWAYS worth it.

I HOPE that I am increasingly living my life in a way that reflects the story of Jesus to the people around me and draws them closer to His Kingdom. I hope that the smaller stories I live within the larger story of my life, which is only a drop in the ocean of the grand story of God's work in the world, are telling a story of irrepressible hope and joy that flows from my belief that God is in the business of restoring His original good design for mankind. I believe He created us in His image to live beautifully in right relationships -- with Him and with others and with our environment -- and to be conduits of love and creativity and justice and mercy in this world. And although we are surrounded by brokenness and are broken ourselves, and although we have all rebelled against God, because of Jesus' death and resurrection, I believe redemption is possible. As we learn to die to self and embrace Christ's lordship, submitting to Him as our just and merciful King, He transforms us so that we increasingly reflect His image and His Kingdom to the world around us. And nothing reflects His Kingdom more than our reconciled relationships -- with God, fellow believers, family, those who don't share our faith, friends, enemies, possessions, creation, self, etc.

This is the story of restoration, and I hope that it is the story my life is telling, because there is no greater story to tell!

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