Going Deep

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Last week, we began talking about Jesus’ story of the soils. It’s part of a series on Jesus’ stories and how to be good storytellers with out lives. You can read the intro here.

The basic idea is this:

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

More than anything, it seems, people want to tell good stories with their lives. So shouldn’t we want to hear the stories of the one who most people agree was the best at that? I do.

Jesus told his listeners about a farmer who tossed seed around—some on a hard path, some on rocky soil, some amid weeds, and some on good, fertile soil. This week, let’s talk a little about those rocks.

“Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock.”

You can guess what’s going to happen here, right?

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We have a bare spot in our garden, right along the driveway. Every so often, I decide to put a plant there. I shove the transplant spade into the dirt. And it stops, abruptly. Under that bare spot is a slab of rock, not an inch and a half down. I always forget it’s there. But the shovel reminds me with its jolt, and I know I cannot plant anything in that place. It’s roots will never grow deep enough to survive, especially in the dry, tree-root ridden soil along our driveway.

Rocks are not usually conducive for growth. The only things that grow among rocks are small plants that don’t have much for roots. (I know—things with giant taproots do as well—but that’s another theological truism.)

The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. (Matthew 13.20-21)

Shallow Soil Produces a Shallow Story

I have known so many of these people. They react immediately to hearing inspirational messages. They are all in. The emotional high grabs them, and they want to spring up and sign up as God’s right hand, right now.

Then life happens. The heat gets turned up. The high is gone, and life returns to so very . . . normal. I start to hear things like,“That’s not what I signed up for.” “I didn’t expect this.” “Well, God’s not working for me anymore.”

God ends up like a fire alarm in the hallway of their lives—pull in case of emergency, but otherwise, he stays behind the glass.

The ones whose faith lands on rocky soil never develop deep roots.

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Is your heart shallow or deep?

To tell a good story with our lives, we need deep hearts.

A story without depth is boring. If a plotline never gets beyond small demands and low risk, who really wants to read it? Who’s going to option the movie rights on the tale that never embroils its hero in anything interesting?

If Frodo just FedExed the ring to Mordor, no one would care.

The story happens in the difficult moments. Characters are created in the hot sun. When drought hits, we know which people we want to watch until the end.

The ones who have shown depth of heart.

The kingdom of God thrums a heartbeat of deep, messy, thoughtful life. The ones who see the demands, the depth, and then opt out have forfeited the opportunity to grow deep hearts.

I know that choice. It’s tempting to look at the heartbeat of the kingdom and think, “That’s too much. That passion would ask more than I can give. Feeling the things that break Jesus’ heart could break mine. Pull back. Pull back.”

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I made that choice long enough, settling for rocky soil and a heart that went to a certain level and no farther. Then, Jesus forced me to see with his eyes.

What do you see when you get eye to eye with a lonely elderly person? When you visit an addict in the hospital? When you listen to an immigrant or refugee tell her story? When you really get a look at hurricane devastation on an island unable to recover for itself? I know what you see.

You see Jesus looking back. You see yourself in a way you’ve never seen you. And you like it.

Because here’s the thing—we’re created to be more than skin deep. There’s a cost to skating the surface. It seems easier — we’re too busy. Too overwhelmed. Remaining shallow-hearted is survival, that’s all.

But the cost is our soul. Deep hearts are real hearts. Broken hearts are alive.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

What will you risk this week to grow deep?

Telling Great Stories

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What was your favorite story as a child? Mine was Ferdinand the Bull. I didn’t think most people knew about Ferdinand, but he was special to me. Something clicked  between me and a bull who didn’t want to fight—just wanted to smell the flowers. I just wanted to sit under a tree and read a book. Or on the couch. Or in bed, under the blankets late at night. Or anywhere, really.

Leave me alone, and let me live peacefully. Ferdinand found that difficult as a bull intended for the bullring. I found it difficult as the youngest of seven kids.

I knew what it felt like to be different. Can another INFJ raise a hand, here?

As an adult, the stories that have shaped me, not surprisingly, revolve around second chances and grace and the least among us doing great thing. Lord of the Rings. Les Miserables. Pride and Prejudice. (Also, stories about women who aren’t afraid to say what they mean. And then sometimes have to apologize.)

Stories Change Us

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I will never forget the gut-punch feeling while sitting in a dark theater in December, 2001. My family watched The Fellowship of the Ring roll out on the big screen in Bozeman, Montana. (There was only one big screen in Bozeman.) We were only a couple months out of 9/11. The horror was still raw, the fear still tangible. And then Gandalf said the words I have never been able to shake.

To Frodo’s exhausted, “I wish none of this had happened,” Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

It meant something. It still means something to me—enough to make me write a book and speak to young adults everywhere I can about the wondrous ability of Tolkien’s stories to change us.

Stories mean something. We read them, watch them, are changed by them. From the beginning of humanity, people told stories to connect and to reflect who they were and who they wanted to be.

I’ve been taking some time to preach through Jesus’ stories lately. Because if any stories are going to change us, those ought to.

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Jesus’ Stories Change Everything

Often when we read Jesus’ parables, we read them to extract a moral. What does he want us to do? How should we act? In the words of the rich young man, “What must I do for the kingdom of God?”

What if Jesus wants us to live the story—plot, character, climax, and conflict? What if he wants us to read it like he meant it—like a story, not a morality play? In fact, as a writer, I know the latter is a terrible way to write a story. We dare not tack on a moral at the end or we make it cliche, a trite tale that bashes the reader over the head with our Bible. (It’s kind of the way Christians tend to make movies . . . )

That’s not Jesus’ way.

Jesus drops a story in the listeners’ ears. The he lets them figure it out. He makes them figure it out. Jesus is not a bash-them-over-the-head sort of guy. (Although he has no trouble being a turn-the-tables-over sort of guy. That’s different.)

So what is the purpose of Jesus’ stories? They paint us a picture of life as it should be. His tales hold up a portrait, a landscape really, of the kingdom of God. This is what it looks like, guys. And he asks— Is this the story you want to tell as your own?

Jesus tells stories to help us imagine a world that aligns with how its supposed to be–to help us create our own story and tell it out. We study parables not for the moral of the story but for our story within them. What do they contribute to our tale? And how does out tale fit in God’s great kingdom, of which we are a tiny, tiny part yet still a meaningful one?

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

In Jesus’ “introduction” to his parables, he gives another reason for telling them. To sort out who is truly listening.

That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. (Matthew 13)

Jesus returns to the ancient shema—the call of God to truly hear and listen. From its beginning in Deuteronomy, the shema asks more of God’s people. They are to listen to his words with open ears and hearts, willing and wanting to respond to God’s words at all times. That’s the meaning behind “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus means don’t simply hear—DO.

So the parables are stories to help us find our place in God’s great story. They are also sifters to see who is really listening. Jesus is preparing to leave his followers, and he needs to know who is in and who is a hanger-on. Not that the hangers-on aren’t welcome, but they aren’t where he’s going to get his team for building the church when he is gone. He’s looking for hearers and doers. And the stories separate the ones who want to work at it from those who want the fireworks and free fish.

Just think about all the people who were Cubs fans last year but not this. That’s the difference, my friends.

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When do we listen, really listen, to stories, as I did in that dark theater sixteen years ago?

We listen to stories when we appreciate our need for them.

I mean, if we’re prepping for a test, and we think we’ve got all the time in the world, or we know more than anyone else, we’re not likely to really listen when the teacher is reviewing. We’re going to be in the corner on Facebook, or doodling in the notebook, or catching a nap. We don’t feel our need for the information.

Jesus didn’t force morals or tell his point straight out because he wanted people to realize their need. We usually only realize that when we’re made to work for it. If it comes easily, we don’t know how much we really need it. When we do realize it, we are really to change. He wanted to force that work. Because—

Good stories change us for the better.

and then—

People who are changed tell good stories.

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That’s the point of the parables. To get us to tell good stories with our lives. We will never do that until we have ears to hear Jesus’ stories and know that they aren’t intended to give us a new law or some behavior to check off but a completely new story arc.

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

We do that when we let the stories sink through our ears and change our very hearts.

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

Next week, we will begin looking into some of those stories. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of yours.

Also–what was your favorite story as a child? What’s your favorite now?

Mirror Mirror — What Are We Reflecting in 2015?

I have a photo of my mom when she was fifteen. It looks remarkably like my senior portrait. (Only she was gorgeous in that way only 40’s women can be. And I had Farrah hair. Because it was cool.) I have a photo of our youngest daughter entering first grade. It looks identical to my own school photo, down to the handmade dress. Genetics rule—we end up like our parents in more ways than one.

Some find that distressing. Others have, at least, come to terms with the reality.

Last week on the blog we started talking about rediscovering our identity in 2015. What aspects of it have been hacked, like our debit cards at Target, and what can we do about it?

Image of God — Say What?


But before we can figure out how to re-find our identity, we have to know what we’re looking for. If we have no real clue, how will we know if we ever stumble upon it? It’s like going to the store when you’re hungry but you don’t have a menu plan. Everything and nothing looks good. You load up the cart with a bunch of stuff, take it home, and then find out none of it actually goes together in a meal. It’s a patched together mess, and you’re still hungry. What are we looking for?


Creation gives us the glorious facts—we are created in the image of God. Both male and female. No distinctions or hierarchies among humans in the perfect world. If you don’t believe me, check out the story yourself.

But it’s easy to say we’re the image of God. To have some vague idea of what that is and that maybe it’s a good thing. Yet all the time, I suspect we have an idea like that of my photos—we kind of look like God, whatever that is. We’re his kids, so we resemble him in some cosmic way we don’t really understand and therefore don’t consider important on a daily basis.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if, in fact, it’s the most important part of our daily life? And we’re missing it?

To be created in the image of God means a bunch of things, and none of them has to do with looks. Which is good because, honestly, how could God look like all the colors, sizes, shapes, and two genders of people? I mean, unless he’s like Professor McGonagall and shape shifts whenever he feels like it. Which could be cool, but we don’t exactly have a basis in the Bible for that idea.

(Well, yes, we do, He can appear however he needs to. But that’s not quite the same as just deciding, “Today I think I’ll be an armadillo. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll want to look like Queen Latifah. Depends on how the cosmic mood swings.”)

OK, we are officially off topic.

Yes, sir, that’s my baby. And me.

Taking on God’s Character


So, let’s start with one thing it means. Being made in the image of God means we take on characteristics of God. Just like my oldest daughter can read people and have instant empathy—she gets that trait from me.

Middle child likes to surprise people she loves with grand gestures, just as I do. Like the times I redecorated my mom’s entire bathroom and kitchen as gifts. (Thinking back, I have to wonder if she wanted them redecorated or if she liked my choices. But at the time, I wanted to surprise her because to me, it meant an act of love. Same with middle child.)

Child #3 has her father’s diligence and responsibility. Good thing she got it from somewhere.

A child grows to be more and more like her parents in attitudes and behavior. She may hate it, but one day she hears that sentence come out of her mouth and she knows . . . oh my gosh, that was my mother. Sorry—true story.

Regardless of what we hear about peer pressure and media influence, parents are still the number one arbiter of what kids become. Their values become their children’s values. Their reactions to life’s circumstances become their children’s model. From the time of birth, kids are becoming their parents. Obviously, there are differences. They are not robots. But stick with the analogy for a bit.

From the moment we are created, we should be growing to resemble God more and more. Not physically, but in values and behaviors. In the way we react to hardship or situations that would bring out the road rage in us. Our values should be becoming more and more identical to his. Love and holiness, grace and truth above all. That’s the plan. That’s part of what it means to be made in his image. If that was put inside us, it should be coming out.

When we mess up and interrupt that process, we have a Savior who promises to remake us so we can begin again. (“If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation.”)

We are a people called to mirror his character into a crazy world. 

Sometimes, that means taking a hard look in our own mirror and asking—hey, is this really a good reflection?

  • Does this life, this daily thing I do here, the decisions I make, reflect meaning? Or are they reflex, plans auto-accepted because they are comfortable and “normal”?
  • Does this person I see reflect a belief that I am here for a reason? Or do I more often live day to day, waiting for life to happen, accepting myself as a victim of circumstances, uncommitted to responsibility of being an heir to the King?
  • Do my reactions reflect who God says he is? Or am I more likely to react like a person who has no experience at all of the mercy of Christ when angry, frustrated, confused, or scared?
  • Does my life reflect that God created everything to work with order and purpose? Or is the chaos in my own existence showing something entirely different?
  • Does it look like God orders my life? Or do I allow my schedule, other people, or the tyranny of the urgent to be the boss of my days?
  • Does this face, and heart, offer love before all else? Or is it too often something I expect others to earn?

  • If I don’t like the reflection, what needs to change?

Heavy questions for a cold day in January. But January is a perfect time for questions. Everyone else is reexamining. There is nothing else to do while watching the snow and hiding from the cold. Why not? Be brave. Ask the hard questions.


God, how will I, your image, reflect it better in 2015?

Next week–what else does that image in us mean? It means not only a new character but a new job. An adventure, hobbit lovers everywhere! Stay tuned.