In the last post of this series, I quoted Reggie Joiner, who said,
One of the reasons some students are walking away from the church is that they have found something more exciting. When there is nothing dangerous or adventurous about your style of faith, you begin to drift toward other things that seem more interesting and meaningful. Students should get the chance to realize what they are capable of doing when God is moving in them. If they experience God at work in them, they’ll have a hard time getting over it.
This reminded me of an earlier post I’d written based on Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. In the book , Miller explains how he had to study the elements of story.
As he learned the elements of story and what makes a good story, he concluded that his life is a pretty lousy story.
No conflict. No resolution. Nothing for the hero – Miller – to work for and accomplish.
He discusses this idea with a married friend of his. The friend had a daughter going through teenage rebellion – dating a much older man who appeared to be using her. His friend decided that the solution was to get a better story – that the daughter was seeking to escape their family’s story in search of a better, more adventurous story. And so the friend decided to raise $25,000 and build an orphanage in a mission field.
Amazingly, his wife and daughter loved the idea, they worked hard together to raise the funds and then to build the orphanage, and the daughter broke up with her loser boyfriend. She concluded that he was just using her.
We each live a story, and when we die, we’ll get to tell our stories with God, and we’ll celebrate them together. Some will tell of building orphanages and others of being used. Some will tell of lives changed and others of lives wasted. But all will get to share their stories with God.
But this isn’t so much about judgment as it is about having no regrets. We get to pick the stories we live – within limits, of course. Most of us can’t choose to be playboy millionaires, but we can all choose to want something bigger than ourselves, to struggle for that goal, and live a story about the struggle. And we won’t all achieve our goals, but we can all live for something more important (and more interesting) than the humdrum Western lifestyle.
I mean, imagine standing before God and saying, “Well, I went to college, I was regular in my church attendance, I gave money every single Sunday, and I raised two kids. I retired, and I died. And while my wife missed me and my church loved me, the church wasn’t much different for my having been a member. And the Kingdom wasn’t much different for my being a citizen. Rather, I earned a pay check, saved for retirement, and left behind a nice rose garden and two kids just like me.”
That’s a boring story. I’m not saying it’s a damning story, just not a very good one. Would you buy the movie rights? I think not.
Now, what would make for a really good story – one that your grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about you and your family? What will you be remembered for? And what will you and God celebrate together?
Now, when we talk to our teenagers and college students, what kind of story do we invite them into? Do we invite them into the story of a good Republican? The story of financial self-sufficiency? The story of the good life? The story of middle class values? The story of going through the motions at church? The story of earning our way into heaven? The story of relying on grace to be mediocre, forgettable, ineffective Christians? Or the story of God?
You see, as I’ve been covering in the “Real Restoration” series, God has a story and he’s invited us to join him in his story. It’s the story of redeeming the Creation and the people placed there. It’s the story of a return to love, to community, to unity, of environmental responsibility, of sharing, and of intimate knowledge of God himself.
It’s a story of becoming what we were always meant to be — a new way of living that is actually the original way of living.
It’s a story of warfare against Satan and fallenness. And it’s story of being re-created in the image of God to live a life like the life Jesus led. It’s a story of self-giving in order to bring resurrection to others.
It’s an invitation to receive unspeakable power from the Spirit, so we can live like the Son, because we also will be sons of the Father.
It’s an invitation to become kings sitting on the throne with Jesus and judges of the angels.
And it’s an invitation from God to a front row seat to see him work his mighty, awesome redemptive plan.
Is that what we tell our teens and college students? Or do we tell them not to go too far on dates and to stay away from porn so they don’t go to hell. You see, hell isn’t a good enough threat when heaven isn’t all that appealing. And in heaven, we’ll spend eternity with the same people with sit with at church every day. What kind of adventure would that be?
Do we invite them to join their brothers and sisters at church in their stories with God? Do we invite our older members to tell the teens about their stories? Do our members even know they have stories?
Do their parents have stories? Does our congregation have a story? Do our children know?
Is it an exciting story? God is exciting. His story is exciting. Being a part of his story is exciting. If our story isn’t exciting, it must not be the right story.
A redemptive life, a life lived in God, participating in his mission, now that would be something to live for.
So what does that really mean? How do you live God’s story? The answer is different for everyone.
Some will live it in fulltime ministry. Some will live it in vocational ministry, working a “secular” job but working and living as a servant of the Most High God.
Some will go into the mission field for life. Some will use their vacations to be missionaries.
Some will pour themselves into serving the homeless, the poor, the orphan, and the sojourner.
Some will work to push for greater justice, seeking to overturn laws that offend God and encouraging laws that help people overcome poverty and suffering.
Some will reform practices in their own industry to be more just. Some will influence good governmental policy.
Some will be artists, musicians, or composers who present the glory of God in new and transforming ways. Some will be writers who take us deeper into the heart of God.
Some will be foster parents. Some will adopt children that no one else wants.
Some will be social workers. Some will be teachers. Some will be nurses or doctors. Some will be counselors. Some will be the kind of teacher who changes the lives of her students — the kind of teacher that college students return home to visit.
The story of God has as many chapters as there are people. But the story is always redemptive, is always transformative, and is always moving toward God.
The story is always a love story that calls for commitment that can only come the power of God.
The story is about how the world changes just a little bit for the better, day by day, as God moves through, in, around, and even despite us.
And we get to choose whether to join God’s story and help him bring heaven a little closer to earth — so close that one day they’ll be one and God himself will walk among us.
Now, tell me this — can a teenager or college student understand this? Maybe not as well as a theologian, but well enough to get excited about a different kind of life?
Is this better than pizza and cool parties called “fellowships”?