Good Storytelling

I remember where I was when I first thought about story and life. I was in the back seat of a friend’s car going around the curve of the highway’s off ramp, just over there by the local G&L. We were all chatting about college, for we were yet in high school, and the thought came to my mind: I don’t want to go to college, I want to go to Mordor.

Don’t laugh.

I didn’t want the mediocrity of a university. I mean, look around. At that time everyone was going to do the same thing: school, degree, job. I didn’t want a job where I worked 9 to 5 just to go home and do it again the next day. I wanted a battle with an enemy I knew I couldn’t fight on my own. I wanted an enemy with many minions with gaping maws and piercing eyes that I could fight night and day. I wanted a struggle (with the promise of near defeat, but a shining victory). I wanted to trudge through the darkness knowing that the sun was nearly on the horizon. I didn’t necessarily want to be the Hero, but I wanted to be with Him, even if I didn’t make to the end of the story. I wanted to fight for my bride. You know, slay the dragon and get the girl. I wanted to be so tired I couldn’t get up, but then I knew I had to for the sake of honor and glory, not mine, but hers. I wanted to spend my life, in other words, fighting.

The great battle was something I longed for.

Well, I did go to college, two of them. Then I went to seminary, three of them. I also got married (without killing a dragon), we have children too (which are arrows in my quiver, weapons against the enemy and his minions). I worked menial jobs: gas station clerk, grocery store clerk, bookstore clerk, animal control (ok, that one was a bit different). Then I became an intern at a couple churches (field training, you could say). I received my ordination, and a call to move to Wisconsin to pastor a church. After about three years, I got a call to Montana, and here we are.

Boring story, right?

But what I didn’t tell you was that there have been many battles, many wounds, and many victories. I remember once I was working at the bookstore and a lady came in, quietly. She wandered around aimlessly, so I approached. “Ma’am, is there anything I can help you find?” She stared at me for a moment and her eyes became pools of salt water, “My son died yesterday, I don’t know what to do.” I was a second year seminary student, an intern at a church, and a messenger of reconciliation bringing hope to the lost. I had been training for this.

Another time I was in bed, say around 2am, and a friend called. He didn’t know what to do either. One of his friends had, a few minutes prior, gotten into a terrible motorcycle accident and died.

Then there was this time another friend was losing his wife and his five kids.

Another friend was sick and slowly dying unless someone gave her a kidney.

A wife came to me because her husband committed suicide.

That young lady that one time came to talk because she couldn’t stop cutting.

A friend of mine was about ready to divorce his wife, and my phone rang.

A man’s wife was suffering from dementia and she went from loving to hating overnight, and the knock came to my door.

There was also a time a young man, addicted to hard drugs, had nowhere else to go.

Knock, knock, at my door, “My husband used to abuse me.”

A gentleman that heard multiple voices in his head, some saying pretty dark things to him, showed up at my door.

Boring? No.

Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, I am not saying that I find the tragedy and sins of others exciting, I don’t, not at all. And I am not minimizing the pain others have gone through, again, not at all. What I am saying is that I don’t need to go to Mordor to find battles to fight and people to help, and neither do you. A person can wage battle from 9-5 just as much as Aragorn did at Helm’s Deep. The orcs outside that dark wall sneer and grin. If the blackness of Mordor is in the human heart, lets call it sin, then the only thing to conquer it is the light of the Gospel. What breaks the bondage of a tyrant kingdom is the liberty brought by a Good King. After all, our enemies are not flesh and blood, but they are still our enemies. They have gaping maws and sharp swords and the greatest enemy on their side.

But the One on our side is greater.

“I’m so sorry to hear that your son died, ma’am.” She looked up at me, “Do you know the One who conquered death?”

Do you know why there are good stories out there? I will tell you: There are good stories out there because man, created in the image of God, attempts to do what God has done. God has written the greatest story (Isaiah 46:8-10) and we want to be storytellers like our Father. Think of your favorite novel, film, story. Now, take out the conflict. What do you have? What would the Lord of the Rings be without Sauron?

This means that good stories hurt. God created Adam and Eve in paradise…with a dragon in the shadows. God is the Author, and we are His characters, and part of our responsibility is to be the type of character who understands the plot. Darkness is for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Jesus once lay in death’s strong bands; now, Jesus has the keys to death and Hades. What sort of character are you in this world of stories?

Sin fights, the Devil tempts, and death claims us, but the battle is already secured. The darkness closes in to defeat us, but the sun is rising just behind us. The villain is about to pull the trigger but the chamber is empty. Death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). What Christians must understand is that we live in a very real story, with a real King, ruling a real Kingdom with real enemies (seen and unseen), and the weapons of our warfare are the Word, song, and prayer (Psalm 144:1-2; 2 Chronicles 20:18-23). Our greatest weapon is not simply our faith because our faith is weak. Our greatest weapon is the One who has already won. We do not conquer by our faith, but we conquer because Christ conquers.

This is why we are clothed with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20, baptized Christians are warrior priests), why we fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7) and why we wage war against the pig-faced orc in our own hearts (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

What does all this mean? It means if your job is to change diapers and feed your children, you are waging war against the Devil and the strongholds of sin and death (Psalm 127:3-5) as a warrior priest. It means if you swing a hammer for a living, you are building for the glory of God, and His Kingdom, against the forces of evil (Nehemiah 4:10-20) as a warrior priest. It means no matter your position, or your relation, if you are in Christ your labor is not in vain. If you scrub toilets or deal with hedge funds, single or married, the Christ of the cosmos, the Author of History, is telling a grand story with you and not single jot or tittle is wasted (1 Corinthians 15:58).

So, when the next battle comes: another crying baby at 3am, another family member in the grave, another diagnosis of cancer, another headline of evil, another bill you can’t pay, another busted pipe in the bathroom, whatever it is, you have to ask the pertinent question. You have to ask, what sort of character are you going to be in this story?

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