In which you get to see me on video talking about my kids’ book…

A few weeks ago, my publisher, David C Cook, shot a few videos of me talking about why I wrote my book and how we can tell a better gospel story for our kids.

Here are the first two…

On why I wrote The Story of King Jesus…

On treating Bible stories as if they were isolated moral fables (and why we should read Scripture as a single story)…

Watch for a few more of these videos in the weeks ahead!

To learn more about The Story of King Jesus go here.

When our kids are the ones sharing the gospel with us

My daughter has asked me to read The Story of King Jesus a few dozen times since we got our first copy. She can’t read yet, but she already knows most of it by heart.

These days, my book doesn’t make the bedtime rotation quite as often as it used to, but it still shows up every now and then. Except now, I barely read any of it to her.

She’s the one telling me the story.

(Yes, she is hamming it up for the camera.)

What if our kids knew the story of Jesus so well, they were the ones telling it to us? Imagine how it might change our approach to spiritual formation if even 4-year-olds knew the complete story—not just the fragmented, piecemeal, “pray this prayer so you can go to heaven when you die” version.

We have a tendency to oversimplify the gospel, reducing it to “four spiritual laws” or a handful of verses from Romans, because we’re worried our kids can’t handle any more than that.

I think we’re wrong.

I think our kids are up for the whole story. I think they’re up for more than we realize.

They’re so up for it, in fact, that pretty soon they’ll be the ones telling the story to us—way better than we ever thought possible.

The liberating power of a good story (a guest post by Cindy Brandt)

IMG_6215

Today I’m thrilled to host my first guest post on this blog, and I’m even more thrilled that it’s from Cindy Brandt. Over the past year or so, Cindy has regularly challenged and inspired me with her writing, especially her widely-read post “How I Kissed Evangelizing Goodbye,” in which she calls on us to “listen to other people’s stories as if your salvation depended on it.”

Cindy has a new ebook, Outside In, highlighting some of the voices we need to start listening to—and making space for in our churches. Read her post below, then get her book.

—//—

I have never met Ben IRL (in real life) before. There is the small challenge of seven-thousand-six-hundred-and-eight-point-oh-seven miles between my city in Taiwan and his in midwestern America. Yet the modern marvel of the internet connects us despite geographical distance. Because of blogging we have had opportunities to engage with each other’s writing, and over social media, I know he has adorable little ones and that he leaves his Christmas lights up until March.*

I won’t speak for Ben, but our interactions online have enriched my life as our stories intersect one another in these small ways, whether it’s delighting in the pictures of his little Oliver’s meme or in celebrating his beautiful Bible storybook.

We are writing new stories all the time. I bring my mosaic of accumulated life experiences into every interaction with other dynamic people I encounter in life, and when our stories connect with one another, we create new ones together. As we listen and learn from each other’s experiences, our hearts open a bit larger, our understanding grows a bit deeper, and our lives get a lot richer. This is the magic of stories. When the storyteller speaks their story, it serves to elaborate someone else’s story. Good stories don’t demand or take from their audience, they add value to their lives, empowering them to live more fully into their own stories.

IMG_6213

As Christians, I believe our best chance of impacting other people’s lives is to intersect God’s Story with theirs. Doctrines and systematic theology tell us about God, while God’s Story shows us how to enter into life with God. Propositions and agendas demand a decision, while a good story compels and woos one’ heart.

The Story of God is a living, ongoing narrative, embodied both in the text of Scripture and in the context of faithful communities. It doesn’t remain static, but evolves and expands as it touches lives and creates new stories.

However, sometimes we have not told this story in the right way. We have used it not as a living story, but as a definitive script. We have said, if you want to be part of the story, you must become a character and read the lines. People are not liberated into living their own stories more fully, they are flattened and captured into a confined narrative. We limit the gospel when we require people to act a certain way, speak certain words, and even believe certain things in order to be part of God’s story.

An encounter with a living God’s story never erases or diminishes the story of the person who approaches it. That’s not how it works. God’s story affirms, validates, and celebrates the beauty of each individual story as they are. But our lives never remain the same after we intersect another story—the power of stories is such that it affects profound change in our lives. It doesn’t strip us of the rich history and mosaic of our accumulated life experiences, it makes us, as Dr. Seuss says, “you-er than you”. Somehow transforming us into more fully human, more fully ourselves.

As stewards of God’s story, we must take care to not misuse the story of God as a way of diminishing individual experiences, or absorbing them into a dominant script. This does grave injustice to the stories we bring.

In my book, Outside In, I identify ten different kinds of people, those who doubt and those who grieve; people who are sarcastic or intellectuals, those who are single or disabled, or any combination of the above and I examine how they could have had their experiences marginalized by the community of God. My hope is that we can work to ensure God’s story is one that affirms the real experiences of every person, and allow their unique and beautiful stories to encounter God’s story in a way that transforms all of our stories—moving forward the Story of God in all its vibrant diversity.

Screen-Shot-2015-03-14-at-9.53.15-AM


_MG_9851_2aCindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.

 


*Yes, it’s true. I left the Christmas lights up till March. Here is photographic proof of my shame…

1965076_10204949909401446_667175756649720938_n

But IN MY DEFENSE, this is March in Michigan we’re talking about. If you want to take down the lights any sooner, you have to bring a crowbar because they will be frozen to the roof.

Telling the story well: God’s good world

sokj-garden

About this series: I believe “getting the gospel right” means telling the story well. This idea inspired me as I wrote my book for kids, The Story of King Jesus.  In this series, I’m sharing a few aspects of the story that I believe are key to telling it well. 

God made the very first people
so he could share his home with them. 

He gave them a job to do:
take care of his good world. 

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

Last year, we bought a kids’ worship album for the car. My daughter wants to listen to it ALL the time. She knows every song by heart—including the popular Hillsong Anthem, “Forever Reign,” which opens with the line, “You are good, you are good / when there’s nothing good in me…”

Let me tell you, there’s something jarring about hearing your 4-year-old daughter sing, “There is nothing good in me.”

Yet when it comes to the gospel, that’s how we typically start, with the idea that our sin defines our whole identity. It’s the first letter of the Reformed mnemonic, TULIP. Total depravity. It’s the first way station on the “Romans Road” plan of salvation. For all have sinned and fall short.

But that’s not where our story begins.

Our story begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. And, yes, it matters where we begin.

In Genesis 1, with each successive act of creation, God delights in the inherent goodness of what he’s made. On the sixth day, God surveys everything and sees that it’s not just good, it’s very good. Seven times God sees that it’s good—which, for the discerning Jewish reader, signaled something. The number seven signaled completion. In Genesis, it signaled the complete, utter goodness of God’s creation.

That includes us, by the way. Whatever else may be true about us, God made us good.

Obviously, a lot happened after Genesis 1. But why do we skip this part of the story when sharing the gospel? Why do we bypass Genesis 1 and go straight to Genesis 3?

Is it because we’re afraid of thinking too highly of ourselves by saying that God made us “good”? Is it because we think our salvation depends on our willingness to grovel, to confess utter worthlessness before a reluctantly forgiving God?

Some Christians seem to almost revel in their portrait of human depravity, as if trying to outdo one another in capturing the wretchedness of our natural state—as if thinking the more we beat ourselves down, the more God will somehow be lifted up.

Except it’s not our natural state, and acting as if it is actually leads to a diminished view of God. In Genesis 1, we see that we are good—not because of anything we did, but because God made us that way. Our goodness is not something we came to on our own; it’s a gift. It’s the very first gift, the very first act of grace.

In God’s story, grace precedes sin.

—//—

Starting with the world as God made it also helps us to see where the story is going.

If God made the world good, then he can make it good again.

If God made the world good, then salvation—whatever else it may entail—is going to involve this world, its rescue, its remaking.

If God made the world good, then it changes how we understand our role as citizens of his kingdom. To return to God—to renounce sin and exile—is to return to our original mission: to take care of God’s good world.

If God made the world good, then our salvation is not from this world; it’s for this world.

Of course, the story doesn’t stop at Genesis 1, and neither should we. We cannot skip right over Genesis 3. We should not underestimate its impact on the rest of the story. To paraphrase N.T. Wright, we cannot whistle in the face of darkness when confronted with Hiroshima or Auschwitz… or (we might add) Ferguson. Guantanamo. Bhopal. ISIS.

The darkness is real. Our sin is real. It’s why the world needs saving.

But telling the story well means starting in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. God made the world good, and he is making it good again.

This is where we should begin when sharing the story with our kids.

Next up: Making the world right and good again…

IrwinSoKJ_728x90

Passing on our faith like Moses

telling-the-story-well_Abraham

Today I’m writing for More to Life Magazine about how the Israelites shared their faith, how it can shape the way we share our faith with our kids, and how it inspired my book, The Story of King Jesus.

—//—

Last year, my daughter turned four. As a parent, I feel the same burden many Christian parents feel: I want to pass my faith to my children. I want my daughter to know Christ. I want her to walk with him for the rest of her life.

But I also know the odds are against her.

Research shows that a majority of young people who grow up in church disconnect from their faith or their church—or both—later in life (source: Barna). Let that sink in: more than half of those who make a decision for Christ as children will exhibit no meaningful sign of it by the time they reach adulthood.

It’s not for a lack of effort on our part. Over the years, we’ve come up with a host of tools to help us share the gospel—the Sinner’s Prayer, Four Spiritual Laws, the Romans Road…

Anyone remember the Wordless Book—or its relatively more recent incarnation, the Wordless Bracelet?

But our tools and methods for passing on our faith are failing us. More importantly, they’re failing our children.

So what do we do? The answer might just be closer than we think…

Read the rest at More to Life Magazine.

IrwinSoKJ_728x90

Getting the gospel right? Or telling the story well?

getting-the-gospel-right-2

When I was in seminary, we talked a lot about “getting the gospel right.” We read books about it. We wrote papers on it. We attended conferences about it. We each had our own (often conflicting) ideas of what it meant.

It’s easy to see why “getting the gospel right” is such a big deal for Christians. We believe the gospel has the power to change everything. So it’s worth making an effort to get it right—or at least try.

Yet the older I get, the less at ease I am with this phrase, for a couple reasons. I’d rather talk about “telling our story well.”

For one thing, I’ve seen firsthand how “getting the gospel right” nurtures a particular kind of arrogance. I’ve seen it in myself. I became convinced that me and my like-minded cohorts were the only ones who had it right. Everyone else was “compromising” the gospel in some way. After a while, even minor theological disagreements were conflated with the gospel itself. Soon, everything was a gospel issue. “Getting the gospel right” became a euphemism for agreeing with me on, well, whatever I decided you had to agree with me on for the sake of the gospel.

Two, we talked about “getting the gospel right” in the same way you’d talk about getting the answers right on a test. “Getting the gospel right” meant ticking the boxes next to a list of propositional statements, making sure we thought the right kind of thoughts about abstract theological concepts.

There’s just one problem. The gospel, as defined by scripture itself, is not a list of abstract concepts. It’s not something you can reduce to a few spiritual laws or sum up with a handful of verses extracted from the book of Romans.

What we often call “the gospel” is really just a set of propositional statements that we’ve separated from the story.

None of which is to say these statements are unimportant. But abstract theological concepts are NOT the gospel.

The gospel is a story.

Which means if we care about “getting the gospel right,” then we need to tell the story well.

This is not a new idea. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the people of Israel were told to share their faith with the next generation by telling their story of rescue. Not by delivering a theological treatise. All the decrees, laws, and rituals—they were not the story itself. They were not “the gospel,” as it were. They were prompts to tell the story:

When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

Getting the gospel right means telling the story well. It means telling the whole story. It means it matters what kind of story we tell. For example…

  • Is our story about personal salvation only? Or is it about something bigger?
  • In our story, are we saved from something, or are we also saved for something?
  • Is the story we tell about escaping this world or transforming it?
  • Do we begin our story in Genesis 3 or in Genesis 1?
  • Are we passive agents in our story, or does God invite us to play a meaningful role?

I want to tell the story well for my children, which is what led me to write The Story of King Jesus.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to share some aspects of this story that came alive for me as I wrote. We’ll look a few key phrases from the book, which I believe are central to the story we should be telling our kids:

“God made the world to be his home.”

“Taking care of his good world.”

“Making the world right and good again.”

“Our king gave us a job to do.”    

When we make these things part of the story we tell, I believe we can offer our kids a faith worth living for.

IrwinSoKJ_728x90

Image by Nick Lee

Six things I’ve learned reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter

IMG_7088

Every night before bed, my daughter Elizabeth gets to pick two books for us to read.

As far as she’s concerned, The Story of King Jesus will always be the book I wrote for her—and it is—so it’s been making regular appearances in our bedtime routine. We’ve read it a few dozens times now since our first copy arrived.

For my part, the book is an experiment of sorts. I believe we shortchange the gospel when we reduce it to a handful of Bible verses or condense it into a formula you recite. I believe we shortchange our kids when we fragment biblical narrative into isolated stories and treat them as moral fables. I believe our kids deserve a bigger gospel. They deserve to have the Bible presented as a single, coherent story.

The Story of King Jesus is my attempt to do just that. I want to prove it’s possible to share our faith without shortchanging either the gospel or our kids.

My daughter is 4-1/2. She’s just now taking her first steps of faith. I know better than to declare victory yet. But what I’ve witnessed so far gives me a lot of encouragement.

Here are six things that I’ve learned while reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter…

1. She can (and will) use the book to delay bedtime. And I’m all right with that.

OK, I don’t know what implications it has for nurturing her faith. But Elizabeth knows how to use the book to stretch out her nightly routine.

The most sacred bedtime rule in our house—we read each book ONCE—is in tatters when she gives me those big, sad eyes and asks me to read “her favorite book” one more time. Yeah…she knows how to play me.

I find myself in less of a rush, too. I’ll confess… I’ve sped through some of her books at bedtime (Goodnightstars-goodnightair-goodnightnoiseseverywhere-THEEND), but I slow down for this one. Because this story matters. I want her to absorb every word.

Even her regular interruptions are more easily welcomed because, well…

2. She asks surprisingly good questions.

The other night, she interrupted me as we got to the exodus part of the story, where God’s people “were slaves in another country.” We’ve read these words many times, but this time Elizabeth wanted to know what slavery is.

IMG_5733

So we talked about how some people try to own and control others, how this is part of what we mean when we say “God’s good world is broken.” We talked about how “making the world right and good again” (another phrase from the book) means making it a place where everyone is free, where everyone is treated with respect, and where we love everyone they way God loves us.

I love that she’s asking the kind of questions that will help her connect her emerging faith to the world around her—so she can see that God doesn’t just save us from something; he invites us to become part of making the world right and good again.

Kids need to see that our faith makes a difference in this world, not just the next one. The gospel is about far more than where we go when we die. As Benjamin Corey wrote, it’s not about escaping this world; the gospel about transforming it.

Watching Elizabeth process The Story of King Jesus, I’m reminded that our kids know how to ask good questions. We don’t have to shove answers down their throats. We just have to nurture their innate spiritual curiosity.

3. She is naturally drawn to Jesus.

Elizabeth lights up whenever we get to the part about Jesus. As soon as I read the words “something new happened” and “God sent someone special,” she gets fidgety with excitement. She wants to recite the next part before I can read the words, “God sent his only Son, Jesus.” She wants to take in every picture of Jesus doing “good things everywhere he went,” and she wants to tell me about each one. (Some of her interpretations are more creative than others.)

IMG_5737

IMG_5739

The Bible is all about Jesus. Jesus fulfills and transforms Israel’s story all at once. The purpose of the Bible is not to serve as some kind of rulebook or user manual, but to point to Jesus, the true logos, the final Word of God.

When we keep Jesus at the center of our gospel, our kids find someone with whom they can connect—perhaps more easily than we do.

4. She’s connecting some of the dots for herself.

The other night, when we got to the part about the kings of Israel—“Some kings were good. Some were bad. Mostly, the kings did whatever they wanted.”—Elizabeth added, “Yeah, just like the very first people.”

IMG_5740

She already gets that Israel’s story is an echo of the garden story—God creates people, gives them a home, offers to live with them, but the people go their own way and lose their home. She’s starting to get that this is our story as well, that it’s not just a story about people who lived a long time ago. She’s starting to understand that what God wants for the “very first people,” and what he wants for Israel, is what he wants for us: to make the world right and good again so we can live with him once more.

5. This story can hold her attention.

My daughter doesn’t have a lot of sit in her. I don’t think she’s ever sat through an entire movie—except maybe Frozen, and that was only once. Come bedtime, her ability to focus, such as it is, usually goes out the window. (In other words, she is a normal kid.) But for all the times we’ve read The Story of King Jesus, it still holds her attention. She wants to know the story behind each image. She’s learned parts of the book by heart. She talks about it during the day.

I think we have a tendency to sell our kids short. We turn the gospel into sound bites. We give nuggets of Bible stories, rendered unrealistically cute and reimagined as moral fables, because we don’t think our kids are up for more than that. We should have more confidence in them and in the story we tell—because, well…

6. She—and other kids like her—can grasp the big story of the Bible, if we give them a chance.

I remember years ago teaching a Sunday school class using a “youth-friendly” denominational curriculum. The kids in my class were bored senseless. I couldn’t blame them. So was I.

So we ditched the curriculum; instead, I started telling them the big story of the Bible (because it was clear no one had ever done this for them). The atmosphere changed immediately. Kids who had been sleeping with their eyes open sat bolt upright. They started asking questions. They wanted to know where the story was going.

As Scot McKnight wrote in The King Jesus Gospel, “We need to regain our confidence in the utter power of proclaiming the one story of Jesus.” To this, I would add we also need to regain our confidence in our ability to tell this story well—and in our kids’ ability to embrace it.

IrwinSoKJ_728x90

The Story of King Jesus is available at bookstores now.

amazon-2     BN     CBD order button     thoughtfulchristian     indiebound
Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, Thoughtful Christian and your local independent bookstore.

The day my book arrived

IMG_7126

I remember reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter for the first time, earlier this year. I’d just seen it in layout, and the publisher let me keep the printouts. I couldn’t wait to get home from Colorado to show it to Elizabeth.

I’m not sure if it was a stalling tactic, but that night before bed, she made me read it twice. (I didn’t object.) The second time through, she began repeating bits of the story under her breath.

Afterward, she asked, “When will it be put together?” I thought she was asking some deep spiritual question, as in, “When will the world be put back together?” (One of the recurring themes of my book is how God is making the world right and good again.) She cut me off after a few seconds of fumbling for an answer and said, “No, dad. When will your book be put together?”

Well, at last I have a good answer. Because this came in the mail yesterday…

IMG_7073

I was so excited, I forgot to change her into her PJs before saying goodnight.

IMG_7088

We read the book at bedtime—this time the proper, bound-up version—because I want Elizabeth to know that even though there is much in our world that’s not as it should be, God made it good, and he is making it good once more.

IMG_7102

I want her to know the gospel is more than just what happens to us when we die. It’s about what we do while we’re alive. That Jesus not only defeated death; he made it possible for us to live.

IMG_7109 - Version 2

I want her to know that Jesus is for everyone.

IMG_7122

I want her to know that the gospel is liberating and life-giving. That if something is oppressive and soul-destroying, then it isn’t the gospel. I want her to know that God invites us all to join him in making the world right and good again.

I can already see glimpses from my daughter that the story is beginning to sink in, that it resonates, that it is life-giving for her.

And that is the best Christmas present I could ask for.

The Story of King Jesus is available for preorder now

When Christian compassion goes wrong (and what to do about it)

Samuel_Hall_Young_-_c._1879

“It is impossible to change a dirty, ignorant savage in a few months or years into a cultivated Christian gentleman, but progress is being made.”

          — S. Hall Young, 1920

S. Hall Young was a missionary to Alaska in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He established the first Presbyterian church there. He explored the southeastern wilderness. There are mountains and islands named after him. President Woodrow Wilson nearly picked him to be governor of the Alaskan territory in 1897. Young spent a decade doing missionary work among the indigenous population—a population he evidently despised.

A few years before his death, Young wrote about his first trip to Alaska, during which he met an executive with the Hudson Bay Company.

As we were nearing the wharf, upon which squatted a score of blanketed natives, most of them with faces blackened and tousled hair, he laid his hand upon my shoulder and said:

“Let me give you a bit of advice. Don’t become an Indian.”

I was nettled and I have no doubt my face flushed. Waving my hands toward the natives, I replied:

“Do you think I am in danger of becoming like those creatures?”

Young wasn’t sharing this scene from his past to highlight the naivete or arrogance of his younger self. He fervently hoped other missionaries would follow his example. To find anything good in native culture—that was naïve, according to S. Hall Young. To accommodate indigenous people in any way was to yield to what he called a “backward pulling.” It was “the most dangerous thing” a missionary could do.

Time—along with a justifiable sense of guilt over our ancestors’ colonialist tendencies—have rendered Young’s words less palatable than they were a century ago. Yet before you dismiss him as a crackpot or an outlier, it should be noted that Young was no fundamentalist. In the same article, he wrote approvingly about the work of Catholic, Episcopal, and Congregationalist missionaries in Alaska. He was not atypical. His writings reflect the attitude of many in his day.

We may wince at his reference to the “dirty, ignorant savage.” We might want to congratulate ourselves for eschewing such terrible language today. But Young’s sentiment is still very much alive.

Whether it’s evangelism or humanitarian work or some combination of the two, Christians have a tendency to see themselves as “coming to the rescue.” In other words, we’re still shaped by the same worldview that Young took to Alaska.

We tend not to think of those we serve as having something to offer, something to contribute. We tend not to think of ourselves as having something to learn from them. In which case, we’re not that different from S. Hall Young.

We may not use his offensive words, but we perpetuate his legacy in other ways.

I saw it in the pastor I met when I was representing a humanitarian relief agency at a youth ministry conference. He marched up to our booth and announced he only wanted one thing: to find out how to get himself on a trip to Africa. He wasn’t interested in the lives of the poor. He was after a bit of poverty tourism. It was just another notch in his youth ministry belt.

I saw it in the youth group on the flight to Haiti last spring. The kids and their adult chaperones wore matching shirts that read, “Showing mercy to the people of Haiti.” I don’t think they even considered what this conveyed to our fellow passengers—the majority of whom were Haitian. What made this group think the people of Haiti needed our mercy—let alone that putting this on a shirt to be worn in Haiti was a good idea? In light of that country’s troubled history (and our part in it), maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe we’re the ones who need mercy for our misdeeds.

I’ve seen traces of S. Hall Young in myself, too. The patronizing, condescending attitude toward those in need. The assumption—rarely stated in the light of day—that the end goal of compassionate work is to make others look and behave more like us.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if such endeavors are doomed from the start.

But then I see glimpses of another way. Reminders that we don’t have to perpetuate the legacy of S. Hall Young in order to serve.

I see it in Cindy Brandt’s article, “How I Kissed Evangelizing Goodbye.” She points out that we’re often so busy “evangelizing” others that we don’t see our own need to be “evangelized”—to sit at their feet and learn:

What I came to discover is how much the world craves a listening ear. The biggest problem I have with evangelizing is that you enter into a relationship with a prescribed intention, and that stands in the way of listening well.

You can’t listen well when you are carrying an agenda.

You can’t listen well when you are looking for ways to fortify your own position.

You can’t listen well when you are searching for what is broken in your conversation partner, in order to introduce the solution.

On the other hand, if you are wanting to be evangelized, you learn to listen deeper, because you are trying to uncover truth. You search for the beauty in your neighbor to find points of connection — you are seeking to be saved by them. You become the student, longing to learn from, instead of preach at. You voluntarily place yourself in the inferior position of need and find that your own vulnerability compels others to shed their masks. Your courage to admit uncertainty disarms, until all that is left is raw honesty and frailty of our common human condition.

I see it in my friends Nathan and Abby, who are getting ready to move their whole family to the border between India and Nepal (where Abby grew up). They’re going to offer counseling for at-risk women and young people, as well as leadership development and theological training for indigenous ministry leaders. A few weeks ago, they shared their vision with our church. It was very different from the one that drove S. Hall Young. To paraphrase what Nathan and Abby shared:

We believe the people we’re going to serve are good. Their culture is not bad; it’s good. We’re not going halfway around the world to bring light where there isn’t any already. God’s glory fills the earth. It’s already there.

No, this isn’t feel-good pop psychology masquerading as ministry. Abby and Nathan also observed that the region they’re moving to is affected by high rates of human trafficking, illiteracy, and violence against women. But they know this is only part of the story. There’s also a deep hunger for justice, a rich and vibrant culture to be honored instead of dismantled. They know the people there understands things about God and the world that we don’t. They have as much to teach us as we have to teach them.

Abby and Nathan are committed to a very different story than the one S. Hall Young told. Or maybe they just have a different starting point. Young began his story at Genesis 3. At least, that’s where he started whenever he looked at the indigenous peoples of Alaska. “Savages,” as he called them.

People like Cindy and Abby and Nathan begin the story at Genesis 1, with creation. The world as God made it is good. Very good. And not just the part of the world that looks like us. ALL of it.

Yes, there is sin. Yes, there is brokenness. But that’s not the whole story. That’s not where the story began, and it’s not where we should start, either. To quote something Nathan wrote a few years back:

God’s first speech-act of creation is what sets the trajectory and establishes our foundation for viewing humanity and doing theology… it establishes that we are to view all of humanity primarily through the lens of their creational goodness.

When you start with S. Hall Young’s view of the world, otherwise compassionate endeavors end up looking more like a conquest. When you start with a view of the world that’s framed by God’s act of creation, you understand that all you’re doing is discovering—and perhaps amplifying—the good that already exists. It exists because God put it there.

In the end, I believe this is a much more life-giving model for Christian engagement with the world. To quote Cindy Brandt, it’s time we “listen to other people’s stories as if [our] salvation depended on it, because it might.”

 —//—

Note: If you’d like to learn more about Abby and Nathan’s work in India and Nepal, watch the video below and go to their website, Under the Banyan Tree. They could use your support.

On reading my book to my daughter for the first time…

9781434707727_HI

Last night I read The Story of King Jesus to my daughter for the first time. Well, I read printouts with not-quite final art that my publisher gave me last week. Still, it was a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

It’s been two years since I shared the first draft of what became The Story of King Jesus. Then Scot McKnight picked it up and shared it on his blog. Many, MANY rewrites later, it was a book proposal…and finally (after more rewrites), an actual book with a publisher and a release date and everything (ahem, March 2015). But it’s always been—and always will be—something I wrote for my daughter. This is how I want to introduce her to our faith.

She’s picked up bits and pieces about Jesus over the years. She knows Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, though she wonders why she’s never seen him in person before. We’ve read some Easter books together, as well as excerpts from The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu. But this was her first time hearing the whole story of Jesus in one sitting—including the story of Israel, which he brings to fulfillment.

I think one of the reasons we reduce the gospel to a handful precepts or sound bites is because we’re not sure our kids are up for something bigger. Or because we don’t think of the gospel as being primarily a story. Or maybe we worry our kids won’t have the attention span for something more than a few quick bullet points about sin and salvation.

I want to prove these assumptions wrong—because, frankly, this kind of gospel doesn’t work. It doesn’t stick. Stories stay with us for life. Bullet points, not so much. Our kids need a better story.

Last night, my daughter stayed with The Story of King Jesus all the way through, even though it’s longer than most of her bedtime books. She even had me read it a second time. OK, that may have been a bedtime stalling tactic. And granted, she’s a focus group of one. But she’s also a bit younger than the target age group (4 to 8) for my book, so I was thrilled to see how she engaged with it.

She was absorbed in the story and the art (thank you, Nick Lee). When we got to the part about the crucifixion, she grabbed her owl nightlight and held it close to the page so she could look more closely. On our second time through, she started repeating some of the key lines—completely on her own.

I have no illusions that everything got through on the first or even the second read. But she was absorbing, processing, engaging with the story. After we finished, she said it was her favorite story she’s ever read. (Though earlier that evening, she said the meatless chicken nuggets we had for dinner were her favorite food she’s ever had. The night before, peanut butter sandwiches were her favorite.)

As for the “most clueless dad” moment of the night… afterward she asked me, “When will it be put together?” I assumed she was asking a deep spiritual question about the state of the world. After all, God fixing the world—putting it back together—is one of the recurring themes of The Story of King Jesus. So I proceeded to stumble my way through a response…until she cut me off and said, “No, dad. When’s the book going to be put together?”

But she also asked me when Jesus is coming back, which gave us a chance to talk about how we get to be part of making the world right and good until he returns. We talked about how God gave us a job to do: love each other with all we’ve got.

The bottom line is, last night, I got to talk to my daughter about bringing heaven to earth.

I know it can be terrifying to talk to your kids about faith. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing and screw it up for them. But it can also be a wonderful, rewarding experience. It can be like bringing a little bit of heaven to earth right here and now—especially when we let go the pressure to extract a decision from our kids now and just tell them the story and watch it begin to click in their own imaginations.

I think—I hope and I pray—that’s what started happening for my daughter last night.

UPDATE: I just found out you can already pre-order The Story of King Jesus through Amazon…

IMG_4704

IMG_4707

IMG_4710

IMG_4715