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Jesus’ Main Thing

Jesus had a central message. There was one single reality that prompted all of his teachings. Many have reduced Jesus’ life and words to a message other than his primary one. Some have taken some of his peripheral statements and made them primary.

At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel there is a simple, straight-forward statement that is crucial to observe:

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” – Matthew 4:17 (NIV)

Matthew is about to reveal the single greatest oration humanity has ever heard – The Sermon on the Mount. Before revealing the words of Jesus’ great Kingdom Manifesto, Matthew lets his readers in on the main thesis of the life story of his subject: that from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry until the end, he will have one central action step spurred by one simple statement of reality:  Repent (the action) because the Kingdom is near (the reality).

It is from this reality that Jesus’ life, ministry, words and miracles are contextualized. It is in the action step of repentance that we are able to receive the reality of the Kingdom coming.

Last year at this time I prepared an online Lenten Bible Study through the Sermon on the Mount. If you would like to work through the study this Lent, it is archived at this link: Sermon on the Mount study.

Sneak Peek – Chapter One

Between Two Kingdoms is set to release in less than three weeks. The first chapter of the story is available for free download now. Here is how it begins…

Mount Basilea pierced the highest clouds in the sky, rising up sharply from the center of a large island in the middle of a vast ocean. The edge of the island was ringed all around with low, rocky hills and cliffs, which made the lower valley regions of the island impossible to see and barely approachable by any seafaring travelers, had any dared venture that way. On one side of the mountain, the thick, dense forest that began somewhere in the clouds gave way about two-thirds of the way down to barren lands and the harsh, angular shards of an obsidian landscape. But on the other side of the mountain, fertile foothills with quilted croplands hinted at civilization somewhere behind the rocky ring. And above the lush forest, glittering like a rare jewel set upon a velvet pillow, shone the crystal towers and golden walls of the Palace of the Great King.

The palace marked the heart of this mountain kingdom—the Upper Kingdom, which had no beginning, but always was. The Great King, whose name was ancient and unpronounceable, ruled the entire expanse of the Upper Kingdom—every tree and animal, every stream and pathway. His son, the Good Prince, faithfully served his father with eternal devotion. The King and Prince had justly and lovingly ruled their subjects for as long as anyone could remember.

Download the rest of Chapter One of Between Two Kingdoms by clicking here.

The Unsure Disciple

We are three weeks away from the release of Between Two Kingdoms and the word is getting out. It has been fun for me to see my different circles of friends interact with me about the concept of the book. I have lots of different kinds of friends due in large part to the fact that, as my wife says, I have lived four or five different lives over the last 15 years. Many of my friends would not label themselves as Christian. Many aren’t  sure exactly what they believe about God. I am excited for my Christian friends (and yours) to read BTK, but I’m even more excited to have my unsure/agnostic/anti-religious friends (and yours) read it. I hope that it expresses what I have tried to explain to them over the years about Jesus and my faith. This book is for anyone willing to address the grown-up questions of the universe through the eyes of a child. Continue reading ‘The Unsure Disciple’

Tell an Alternative Story

Ivan Illich was once asked, ‘What is the most revolutionary way to change society: Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?’ He gave a careful answer: ‘Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story.’

To be a Christian is to tell an alternative story…a story that started long ago and continues to this very moment and into the future.

In a world where every thought of every person was only evil all the time, Noah told an alternative story and built a wooden freighter in his back yard in the middle of a drought. His story saved the world. Continue reading ‘Tell an Alternative Story’

Think About It.

Between Two Kingdoms is my attempt to condense some rather heady theological learnings into a world that people can explore and play within. My normal pathway to God goes through my brain. Others seem to come to Him through their heart or gut or hands. I don’t know if one way is better than the other. All are important to each of us…and there is nothing worse than a purely academic Christian without passion or action.

At about the same time I finished the first section of BTK I also wrote an essay expressing my emerging beliefs in a more clinical way. In some ways this short essay is the nerdy sister of the more free-spirited novel, but I’d like to present her to you now. Continue reading ‘Think About It.’

Rebel Pilgrims

Between Two Kingdoms deals with the struggle of learning to be at home in places that are unfamiliar. This has been a consistent theme throughout my life. The following post from 2009 records my thoughts after two major uprooting moves in four years – one to Los Angeles, then to Cincinnati. Before that we had lived for ten years in Las Vegas:

For the last eight years I have had a blog called Rebel Pilgrim. When the time came to form my production company in 2005, I gave it the same name.

The phrase “rebel pilgrim” came out of a time in my life about a decade ago when I was looking for a simple way to express my emerging worldview. The “rebel” part of it stems from the idea that we (those of us now engrafted in the story of God and Israel through Christ) are, in fact, rebelling against the “normal” order of the world. We are revolutionaries, often standing against very popular and seemingly good ideals that make the world “work” better. In fact, we rebel against many perfectly sane and practical ideals because of our conviction that the created world is moving toward full redemption. We rebel because we do not settle for sane and practical when “thy Kingdom come” is still on the table. Continue reading ‘Rebel Pilgrims’

The Brick Wall: A Kingdom Parable

Then Jesus started preaching, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.” – Matthew 4:17 (CEV)

Imagine a brick wall.

What you are imagining is not nearly big enough. Imagine yourself standing in front of a massive brick wall. Now, look to the right. The brick wall continues as far as you can see. Now look to the left. It has no end. Look up. As far as you can see – past the clouds and into outer space. The brick wall never ends.

Now imagine that this brick wall is real. And that it exists in the future. This is the wall that separates the past and the present from the future. Behind the wall exists Heaven. Heaven is a good place and you’d like to be there. What little we know of Heaven is mysterious, but we know that it is a good place – no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain. God reigns in Heaven with a loving rule. Heaven has the power to heal. Continue reading ‘The Brick Wall: A Kingdom Parable’

Story – Truer than Facts

Writing Between Two Kingdoms was an eleven year process. Not that I worked on it everyday – or even every year. But it was a long, drawn-out experiment that ended more than a decade after it began.

I plan on writing some specific posts about the contents of the book itself after the release in March, but for now I have decided to rework some of the older posts from my blog, Rebel Pilgrim, that apply to the ideas central to BTK: specifically the centrality of Story and Kingdom. With that in mind, I’d love to share a story that I wrote seven years ago about a conversation with my son…who is now ten: Continue reading ‘Story – Truer than Facts’

Living in the Big Story

I suppose I am post-modern. I’ve never tried to be, but whenever I decide to google the things that I really believe in I end up on some obscure website reading about post-modernism, post-liberalism or post-Enlightenment thinking. Kinda makes you wonder what the “pre” to the “post” is. I guess this means that my entire worldview somehow rejects what was popular thinking when I entered the world making me “post-everything.” A thousand years from now people like me probably won’t be known as post-anything. Maybe we will be known as pre-narratives or pre-neotheocommunists or whatever. At any rate, the same thing they were saying about my generation twenty years ago is still true – all we really know for sure is that we don’t know who we are yet.

Maybe I believe that story matters more than anything because I am a storyteller. Or maybe I became a storyteller because I believe that story matters more than anything. Either way, it probably doesn’t matter. The problems I see associated with faith in America boil down to the fact that people refuse to believe that their faith-story is actually their metanarrative (I’d define this word as “the biggest story I live inside.”) Continue reading ‘Living in the Big Story’

Storytelling as Christian Mission

God’s Message came to Ezekiel: “Son of man, make a riddle for the house of Israel. Tell them a story…” Ezekiel 17:1

I am asked about once a month to suggest books on storytelling for people interested in learning more. I rarely have a good response. I learned to tell stories from Mark Ellwood, my high school history teacher. I learned more from The Second City and The Groundlings. I learned about story as a kid from the wisdom of Joseph Campbell as translated to me via the imagination of George Lucas in the Star Wars Trilogy. Then I learned even more by reading the narrative of the Bible, particularly the gospels. To be honest, I’ve learned the most about storytelling by telling stories. It’s kind of like driving or eating sushi…you just get used to it and then you are good at it. Continue reading ‘Storytelling as Christian Mission’

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