Telling A Different Story Is Hard

I am a total fan of Donald Miller and his work with story. I cried several times reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I gave it to friends to read, and Sojourn gave it away on campus and to graduates. I use story language all the time.

If I were to be critical of my stance, though, I would say this: telling a different, better, story is hard. And sometimes, talking about different, better life as story can mask the nitty, gritty work that goes into telling better, different stories.

Living a holy life is a better, different story, but it’s hard.
Living a simple, non-consumeristic life (with a budget and a lot of saying no to things) is a better, different story, but it’s hard.
Living a servanthearted/others-oriented posture is a better, different story, but it’s hard.

Lot’s of people want a better, different story, but they don’t want hard.

When I talk like this I’m afraid following Jesus can sound sad and joyless. It is anything but!

Holiness is hard, but I am so grateful and happy for the choices that Amy and I have made, for the suffering we’ve been spared as a result, and the relative innocence with which we get to live our lives.
Simplicity is hard, but I am so grateful and happy for the miracles we’ve seen and experienced, for the direct provision from God we get to see daily, and for the freedom we have as a result.
Serving others first is hard, but I am so grateful and happy for the meaning and purpose that comes from giving our lives away.

But none of those things are cool. None of them are sexy. And they stand in direct opposition to 99% of the messages we are bombarded with from advertising, families of origin, Facebook, the stories we see on TV and in movies, from our professors and peers, from the celebrities we worship.

Better, different stories have very little cultural reinforcement. And so living these stories and calling people to these kinds of stories is hard, hard work.

Who wants to live simply and raise money when they could get paid a steady and reliable income? Who wants to live a holy life when you can just do what you want? Who wants to serve others and put others first when every other message tells us that to get ahead we need to take care of ourselves (through networking, taking advantage of opportunities, making the right friends, meeting the right people, getting what we deserve, etc)?

All semester we’ve led our students through a series of conversations that have contrasted these different ways of living, different ways of viewing the world, and making decisions, and setting priorites. We’ve invited them to a different and better story.

All semester I realize that what we are doing is asking people to make a really hard choice.

But I believe it is the best choice they could ever make.

To live life in service of the King and his Kingdom is never going to be easy,
or safe,
or cool,
or “fun”.

But it is going to be good.
And adventurous.
And dangerous.
And costly.
And full of joy.

And beautiful.

At Least One Thing I Learned At The World Domination Summit

My job title is Director of SojournBoston.

Other ways of describing what I do:
campus minister,
college pastor,
leadership developer,
counselor, etc.

I love college students and working within the world of the campus and learning and education. I am also passionate about neighborhoods and development and being a kingdom presence in the places we live.

But, if there’s a thing behind the thing for me, one thing that ultimately lights me up more than others it’s integration. It’s helping people develop the eyes to see and the ears to hear where God is at work.

And, he is at work all over the place. I see him at work in John Greene’s novel, The Fault in Our Stars, and in the music of Taylor Swift, and in the TV show Friday Night Lights.

And I see him at work in the student who gives up their summer to serve inner city kids…the student who gives up a prestigious internship to work with us instead…in the generosity of others…in friendship…in carrot cake.

I could go on and on. God is at work in all sorts of ways, all over this big world.

I found God at work this weekend at the World Domination Summit.

There were aspects of the conference that felt hollow…lots of people desperately searching for something transcendent. Lots of people trying really hard to “make a name for themselves.” Lots of people just trying to figure it out.

In other words, people.

Two observations.

First, they were honest about the search.
I meet a lot of people, especially in the church, who have a hard time being honest about who they are and the struggle to find meaning, even in the midst of a christian worldview. I deeply appreciated the honesty I encountered this weekend.

Second, in our increasingly post-christian world there are interesting spaces to preach the gospel.
My favorite scene in the book of Acts occurs across chapters 13 and 14. In chapter 13 Paul speaks to a Jewish audience and does the classic theological, historical telling of the story. He uses the name of Jesus, and he shows how Jesus is the answer to the messiah question the Jews had been asking for years.

Acts 13:32-33: ““We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

The good news: Jesus, resurrection.

In chapter 14, Paul is in Lystra and Derbe and people think he is a God (Zeus), and as he attempts to correct them Paul takes the opportunity to share the gospel (good news) with them.

Acts 14:15-17 “We are bringing you good news,telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

The good news: there is a living God, he made everything, he has shown you kindness.

No mention of Jesus, no mention of resurrection. Both statements, according to Luke, are good news.

Paul understands integration, and his mission is to help people see…to see good news whatever their perspective, background, theology, politics, etc…there is good news in the world and it has to do with what this living God is up to.

All weekend long I heard speakers talk about doing great things and helping the world and living a great life. One speaker, apologetically, used Jesus as an example of great orator. Another, one of the foremost bloggers in the world, talked about his church background. Another, slyly mentioned that CS Lewis was his favorite author. And on and on it went all weekend, these subversive moments of pointing to good news.

The weekend closed with Donald Miller. I’m a huge fanboy and I was looking forward to this moment, but I was interested to see how he would be received.

After a weekend of “go do something great,” Don spent most of his time talking about finding a redemptive perspective on failure and suffering.

Don realized he was not in the synagogue, he was in Lystra. And he nailed the opportunity. People who took every opportunity to boo Fox News and anything remotely smelling of a conventional, organized, religious perspective gave Don the loudest, longest ovation of the weekend. People had tears in their eyes.

There is a tremendous space in our culture to share good news with people. To point out this living God who is at work all around us, taking care of us, and bringing us joy.

However, I think it looks more like Acts 14, than Acts 13.

I think the church has a lot to learn from a gathering like the World Domination Summit, and I know we need more people like Donald Miller.

I’m sure he would never call himself a missionary, but Don is a missionary, doing missional work, pointing out this living God, and it was beautiful to watch the impact that had on people.

Whatever my title, whatever my role, this is what I do best and what I get to do all the time in my work with students, and I love it, and it was inspiring to see someone do it so well as Don did last night.

Where do you see this living God at work? And, how can you help others see and experience good news?