Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

Movie Review: All Saints

Posted: September 3, 2017 in Storytelling

This afternoon my wife and I caught the new Christian film All Saints. Based on a true story, this film tells the story of Michael Spurlock, a salesman turned pastor who was brought into a fading church for the purposes of closing it. A providentially placed flyer attracts a community of Karen refugees from Burma. The need in the Karen community combined with the need to meet the church’s budget gets the congregation to work together to turn some of the church’s land into a farm.

This was not the feel good movie I expected and somehow that worked. Christian films often tend to wrap things up very neatly. This one, ends well, but somewhat unexpectedly and somehow that feels more like real-life. This movie was really well done, and extremely thought provoking. As a church leader this film challenged me in quite a few areas. Lead actor John Corbett does a great job as Spurlock, but the movie was “stolen” by Barry Corbin as Forrest, a curmudgeon who demonstrates a heart of gold near the end.

All in all this is a really good film, that I recommend. Great storytelling with a point.


A $14.99 piece of carved wood inspired an adventure into the Unknown. Fresh parables from God are found everywhere! Elizabeth Barrett Browning opened my eyes with this reminder:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;

Candice Olson, host of a TV program that tackles challenging home design dilemmas, was a co-contributor to the inspiration. On one of her recent episodes, she purchased a chair for the family room she was designing. It was called the Smoke Chair. I call it the Charred Chair. The classic wood carved chair had been torched to create a cracked patina of burnt wood. It was beautiful!

So a few weeks ago, standing in the aisle of HomeGoods, I looked at a glossy-varnished wood heart and my spiritual eyes saw it transformed into a heavily-textured charred parable.

I love to redesign found objects and provide worship participants context in which to create altered worshipart. This process slows down time, and like Jesus’ writing in the sand of the temple, it provides that unmeasured moment when the natural barriers between heaven and earth become very thin. And God, in that suspended space, speaks the Truth to us individually, like the words that healed the prostitute’s abused heart and the words that penetrated the conscience of each of her accusers.

Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit of God would heal the broken hearted and, as the Message puts it, “give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes.” What a promise of restoration. What a beautiful picture!

We explored the parable of Beauty from Ashes over several worship gatherings. The first weekend, using a plumber’s torch with MAPP gas, we scorched the wood heart. Then, using coffee filters, florist wire and watercolor paints we created a magnificent bouquet of roses to “bloom” from the charred heart.

Everyone shared in reading the Story of the freed captive, the prostitute who stood on the sacred sand in the midst of her accusers. Tradition suggests that it was this same woman who came into the midst of quite possibly the same group of accusers, when she crashed Simon’s party. What a daring risk she took as she poured out her praise, her oil of joy, anointing her Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I have experienced that when you provide the time and opportunity for the creative work of the people, texturized liturgy, God’s Story is revealed in real-time. It takes your breath away, the air is so thin. It makes curated worship beautiful.

We always provide an opportunity for interpersonal interaction, some might call it an icebreaker; I think of it more as a heart softener. For the second weekend of our Beauty from Ashes, I placed a generous stack of Table Topic™ cards on each table. These cards are a great conversation starter with some provocative questions. Active participation promotes community and lowers barriers, authentic participation thins the air.

Chris was the second person to read his card out loud. I was so proud of him! He read the card all by himself and didn’t need any help sounding out the words. He started attending our group when he was 5 years old and was very timid. Now, at age 7, he is eager to be involved with everything we do. His card asked this question, “If you could do anything without risk of injury, what would you do?”

He pondered the question on his card. I suggested that he think about it and offered the same question to Jack. Jack is in his mid 20’s and is an extreme sportsman. He rock climbs, backpacks mountains in the middle of ice storms and has conquered Central America in his four-wheeling truck-beast. He is angry with God, but regularly attends our gathering. His engagement to the love-of-his-life didn’t happen. The ring was refused. He was rejected. It’s been almost a year. He is a bitter man. Usually he is sullen and slouches low in a chair at the back of the gathering room. I don’t know why I offered for Jack to answer the question while Chris considered his response. Maybe it was because I thought that it was a “safe” question, an easy question for our adventurous explorer. Void of vulnerability.

“If you could do anything without risk of injury, what would you do?”

Jack turned his eyes away and looked down at the floor. Then, in a very soft voice, Jack responded, “I would open my heart.”

God speaks. God moves. God is beautiful.
we respond. we create. we worship. Michael Card

I am doing a study on the book of Acts and using what I am learning for a year of Bible Studies at my church and it has been eye opening. In the process of this study, I am always looking for supplemental materials to help my teaching. It was in this search that I stumbled upon Into the Fray. What a great book. Author Matt Mikalatos is a missionary and it is clear he is passionate about this book.

His approach is unique. He attempts (quite successfully) to bring the stories from Acts to the twenty-first century, as if they were happening right now. This really brings a fresh perspective on the text. It is clear, he is a great story teller. He manages to bring the text to the modern day without sacrificing truth or meaning. He doesn’t just tell the story, through a unique layout technique, he “brackets” the story and then tells the story behind the story, explaining what was happening from the Bible itself. These teachings are theologically sound and very biblical.

I think my favorite chapter is The Storytellers. In this chapter Mikalatos shows Luke telling his story, of how the physician becomes a disciple. It’s a departure from the rest of the book but it sets up a wonderful explanation on how to tell your story, i.e. share your testimony. This chapter is pure gold for all those nervous evangelists who want to share their faith but aren’t quite sure how. This chapter has made me reexamine how I share my own story and the other things I do in my presentations with AMOKArts.

At the end of the book, Mikalatos adds a really nice study guide with questions from each chapter, making Into the Fray a great tool for use in a Bible study on the book of Acts. As a resource, Into the Fray would work well from middle school ministry through adult.

If I had any complaint about this book it’s that it’s too short. I would love to see him recreate this book almost in commentary style telling all the stories rather than just the highlights. This takes away nothing from the excellence of this book. Rather it is a suggestion for another project for Mr. Mikalatos. I really loved this book.

I made this little clip for a message I am doing on love. Next to the message of the Gospel, this extension of the Gospel might be the most important message the church can take the world around us. You are loved by God and by us.

I know what you might be thinking, but this is not about revenge. A friend online asked a question about whether or not the people in her circle were buried in school. Suffice it to say I was, and pretty brutally and pretty often. The results were not pretty. I started to feel like I deserved that kind of treatment. I started to feel like there was something wrong with me. I believed the voices inside my self that told me I was worthless and it would never get any better. I was a loser and I always will be. My confession is, even having been through healing and even though I am pretty old for this, there are still days when that voice rattles around in my mind. The results in my younger life were alcoholism and frequent thoughts of suicide. My childhood was not pretty.

Now this is not to say everyone did this to me, though there were many, there were a few who showed me kindness. I owe those people a great deal and quite possibly I owe them my life. But there is another group of people I owe.

I owe the jerks, the bullies, the villains in my story and I owe them a lot. Again it’s not revenge. It’s a sort of twisted gratitude. You see today my life is much better. Someone care enough to introduce me to Jesus (I owed her so much I married her) and someone else showed me that my talents were gifts from God to be used to His glory. I owe him to. Of course I owe my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ everything and more, but I owe the jerks too. See as all this healing came into play, and my gifts came into focus, I became an artist and a preacher and a story teller. People bring me in all over the country share the Gospel and my presentations usually include my story, my testimony. Without the jerks, there’s no story and my story has helped a lot of people. The Bible says “…In all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose.” That word All means all, even the destructive actions of others.

So if you’re in the midst of a hard time right now, be careful what you do. There’s a story being written in your life and while it may be hard, the testimony makes the pain make sense. So persevere and share your story. You never know what good it will do. It gets better, a lot better!

By the way, if you were a jerk to me, I forgive you and I hope you’ve found peace. I found mine in Jesus. He is the purpose in the pain.

As we finish out this year, I had to share this video I saw on Facebook yesterday and probably not for the reason that you think. Watch it before you read on.

You probably found the video touching. Many people do. You may have thought it makes a good point. It does. It’s well made and overall, it’s compelling, and it has, on the surface a good message, so well done. Now here’s what’s wrong with it.

You may think the son is an ingrate. You’re right, he is. He’s a pretty awful human being, but his father is an idiot. (I can say that because he’s not real.) Here’s why. The father gave his son a tremendous gift, actually more than he asked for and had I done this and my son reacted that way, I would have no doubt been infuriated, However, I would have not missed the rest of my life with my son over a botched gift or an unfortunate moment of greedy stupidity. What kept this father and son apart for the rest of their lives? Pride. The sin that made the devil fall.

The father in this story was willing to lose a son over a car and far too many people have fallen to this level of idiocy in the real world. Oh we feel all bad for this father who was hurt by his terrible son, but what would have happened if the father flipped out and said, “The car key’s in the back of the journal you jerk.” Now the son apologizes, learns a valuable lesson and the father gets to forgive and spend the rest of his life with his son (who is now humbled and smarter for the future). Instead the father chose to lick his wounds, nurse his pitiful pride and lose his son over what? A car? It’s absurd.

When telling a story, it’s important to make sure you’re making the point you need to make. Pride and idiocy are best friends. The creators of the video were trying to make the point of gratitude and “don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and they succeeded but in the process they missed the bigger point of the importance of being the bigger person. God said “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” for a reason. As we close out this year, are there any broken relationships in your life that need healing. It starts by extending the grace we have received in Christ.

Don’t let pride make you an idiot.

lightndarknessI wrote this for an advent reading for Christmas Eve at my church and thought it might be good to share here. If you’re from my church, you might want skip this one.

Imagine this room was totally dark. You couldn’t see a thing, but then someone lit a match, a candle, even a small spark. It might be small but in total darkness it’s the only then you would see and it would completely draw your attention. That’s the power of light. It makes darkness disappear. Even a tiny light overcomes the darkness.

Think about our world. Now imagine it in total darkness. In some ways it’s not terribly hard. War and terror and disease and pain and a whole bunch of other things that could make our lives and our world feel very dark. There are times when we might be tempted to look at God and ask “How could you let this happen?” What we need to remember is this is not the world as God intended. As a matter of fact the first words of God recorded in Scripture are “Let there be light.”

Having said this on the first day, He didn’t make our sources of light, the sun the moon and stars until the fourth day. Before that, He was the light. He is the light. 1 John 1:5 reminds us, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

The darkness in the world is the result not of God’s will, but of the fall of man. If the world is dark, It’s our fault. Still God’s desire for us is not that we would walk in darkness, but that we would live in the light of His love, not just in this world, but forever, and so He set a plan in place to make it so. Isaiah 9 foretold it. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 700 years before the birth of Christ, God proclaimed it, the light is coming. 2,000 years after that first Christmas night, the light is here. Can you see it? Can you see Him?

Jesus came to be so many things, Lord, Savior, King, Teacher, Perfect Example and yes Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. He is all those things and many more, but one of the big ones is found in John 8: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He came to be our light, to light our path through this life to eternity. No believer can deny that and yet we might ask “If that is the case, why is our world so dark.” Then you might read John 9:5 “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So does that mean Jesus is no longer with us? No, remember the angel told us He would be Immanuel, God with us.” And He is with us. And maybe, just maybe that’s why in the Sermon on the mount, He pointed to us, His followers and said “You are the light of the world. “ The light has come and He gave His life and He lives in us, and we are called to shine with His light. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light and that light still shines. The question for us is will we shine? He is the light. Let Him shine through you!