Here is the transcription of the sermon I gave August 1st, the Sunday I was commissioned by my home church as a Young Adult Volunteer. Keep in mind, this was only ever spoken word, and I never wrote it all down, so bear with any rough parts that appear particularly slangy. :)
WHAT STORY ARE YOU LIVING?
Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:1-2, 12-13; 30:1-5; 55:16-19; 74:1-3
You know what I like about David? David keeps it real. David speaks what’s on his mind. And you know what? David crosses the full spectrum of human emotions when he does that. The verse that we just read talks about David being angry with God, feeling that God has deserted him. Then four psalms later, he’s talking about how grateful he is, that God has done the things he’s done in his life.
We can learn a lot from David. When I am having trouble connecting to something in the Bible, I usually end up going back to David. The guy screwed up a lot for one. So that’s something good that I can relate to. But then for two, it seems like David had a very very honest relationship with God. He wasn’t afraid to tell God what he thought at any given moment or time. That makes David human and very relatable to me. I think that makes it a good connection to us.
David is a character in a story with God. We are each characters in a story with God. And the Bible is full of characters in stories with God. And those are the same stories we are living today. Just like those characters in the Bible. It is all about people who are walking with God and what their stories are like.
So, think of a story from your life. This isn’t rhetorical, literally….think of a story in your life.
Now in that story, who are the main characters? Probably you, for one. Then a few other folks. Then the other thing to think about in that story is what do those characters want? And would you know what they wanted if you didn’t get to ask them? Or have prior knowledge of it? If you were watching this story of your life as a movie, would you like the characters? If you didn’t know why they were doing what they were doing, would you be able to connect with them? Would you think, “Yeah, I understand where they are coming from.” Or maybe their actions are just baffling you?
I think of the stories in my life, one of the most frustrating characters is me. Right? And its because, I have this natural tendency—well, you are always more frustrated with the things that you do. And so, if I watch a character, even if it’s another movie, and that character reminds me of some aspect of myself, I get so frustrated with that character. I’m just fed up with them!
But then I think about other characters, and I think sometimes in our stories that the other characters are just misunderstood. We just don’t understand them.
If I am watching those characters in a movie, I never get an opportunity to see that character in a different situation where I would understand them better. Instead I only see them in a certain situation.
So I think that stories are somewhat difficult things, especially if we look at ourselves from the outside perspective. I think the characters that you like are often the characters that easily portray what they want, what they are going for. They have a goal, they have a destination.
I think of Star Wars. OK? Star Wars has pretty clear goals. Luke Skywalker and Leia and Hans are all about…well, Hans kinda does his own thing. Luke and Leia are all about helping the Rebels defeat the Empire. And this sort of thing. It is very clear what they are going for. And that makes someone watching that movie able to relate to the story. They are able to get into that story and feel connected.
So then if you look at our own stories in that light, how do we allow others to be a part of our stories? How do we allow each other to be a part of the stories we are writing? Because it’s not just individual stories that we are writing. We are writing stories as families, we are writing stories as a church family, we are writing stories in Baker City. It just keeps going to larger and larger scales.
So when I started thinking about MY story in relation to where I am going in 22 days, it becomes a much larger story than about me.
I want to refer to a book several times today called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. A few years back during my freshman year in college, I read another book by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz. Essentially Blue Like Jazz was a huge hit within the Christian community. People loved it. It was easy to relate to.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is all about what happened when two movie producers approached Don and said “Hey, we want to make a movie about Blue Like Jazz”. And Don said “Well, uh, ok, let’s try it.”
Basically what Don discovers when he starts to see the movie about his life, because Blue Like Jazz is a memoir of stories and thoughts, and so as Don is watching his character on the screen, he says, “I don’t like this character…What do I do about that?” The movie producers are saying well, “We think Don should do this”. And Don is sitting there going “No, that isn’t what Don should/would do!” But I think it is easy when he is trying to connect to that to look at it and say, well, “Don, you should be doing this.” Right? When you are watching a movie, it’s like “Come on!? Seriously?”
OK, scary movies for instance. You’re always like “Don’t open the door!” Right? But you know what is going to happen. It always inevitably happens. And that’s part of that story. You say, please don’t do it. You know, you can’t get them to stay away from it.
And so I take what Don is saying about the stories, watching his life as a story. Literally, he gets to do it. We don’t all have that luxury. It isn’t that easy. Wish I could get a movie…..No, I don’t wish I could get a movie of myself. That doesn’t actually sound like a real good idea. But the fact of the matter is because he was able to have this movie done about him, he was able to look at himself in a new light. An opportunity to see himself from an outside perspective. He discovered some things about himself that he didn’t like.
Sometimes I think that’s important for us too. Because throughout different chapters that are the stories in our lives, I think sometimes we might not like our characters. Our characters might not be making great decisions. Our characters might be hurting people, maybe inadvertently. Maybe watching your life as a movie is the only way to realize, “Oh wow, the things I am saying are really hurting that person!” Because you never directly see it. And so it is important to think about “If I’m watching myself from that outside perspective, how do I like this person? I don’t know anything about them. I am just watching this movie.” Because with characters in a movie, if you don’t really like them, if you can’t connect with them, then you aren’t really going to be in the movie. Right? You’re like, whatever, I don’t care what happens to you. The movie is making no connection to you whatsoever.
So I think that we have to think about the lives we are living. Our lives right now.
Think about your life right NOW. Not just the story from earlier, but right now. Who are the characters in your life at this moment? They might be sitting next to you, they might not be here. But then, if you are watching the way you interact with those characters, is it a positive thing? Do you act in positive ways with those major characters in your life? Do you LIKE those characters in your life? Are they good influences? Do they push you? Do they help you grow? Because that’s what a story is about. A story is about growth. A story isn’t about the beginning and an end. The story is the middle. If we don’t have growth as characters, we are writing some pretty boring stories. Right? Characters that aren’t growing, aren’t going anywhere.
And so I think that sometimes it is easy to get caught in the same chapters of our stories for too long. You ever read that book, when it’s like the chapter goes on forever? You’re like, come on, just give me something new! Because a new chapter means something happened at the end of the old chapter, something is developing, the story is moving along in a direction. And if the story isn’t moving and the chapter isn’t ever willing to end, then we are stuck. We are just stuck there.
How does a chapter end? How does the story progress? You guys can answer. Oftentimes you get that nice cliff hanger at the end of the last chapter. Dun dun dun. What’s going to happen? And then you turn the page immediately because you have to know.
Our lives aren’t always quite like that. But I think sometimes what we need to change is what Donald Miller refers to as an inciting incident. Something has to happen. Something has to push us just a little nudge that we need.
I want to read just a brief passage from the book.
“Humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupt their comfort they won’t enter into a story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased, a home has to be sold. The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen. “
So how do we push ourselves to be willing and open to start a new story? It takes a lot of courage. The old story is comfortable. It’s nice. I can just keep going. Nothing has to change. But my character isn’t growing. And that’s where I come to today.
Almost 18 months ago now, probably longer ago than that, I started my application for the program I am finally going on in 22 days. I had it probably 2/3 done for the entirety of all last year. But I never pushed myself to finish it, push myself to enter that story. Where it was like, hey, I’m going to go do something new. Cause I was pretty comfortable where I was at. I was doing good. No need to change anything, right?
So now, I find myself in a month going to Tucson. I will be working with an organization called Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. I will be plumbing, doing electricity work, roofing houses and all sorts of things that I don’t know if I ever really pictured myself doing.
It is a chapter in my story, a chapter that I knew what coming, but I didn’t know what that chapter was going to look like. But that’s the exciting part of a story, right? You don’t know what’s going to happen. And so I will be done there for a full year. I will get back August 15 next summer. I will live with 5 other young people, more or less, like myself, a lot of us in similar situations. Not all of us are working in the same place. Some of them are working other places along the border. Many are multi-lingual which I am not. Maybe I’ll be able to speak Spanish by the time I get back next year.
But my point is I missed my opportunity to jump into the next aspect of my story. I missed my first opportunity to start a new chapter. But the cool thing is…we have a co-author that is kinda stubborn. Our co-author is God. And if I think I am stubborn, I don’t think I have any idea what he is like. But the thing is… God gives us the choices to be writing our own stories. But he also knows us. He isn’t just looking at us on film screen from a distance and saying, “Oh, that wasn’t a very good decision.”
It’s like when you are an author….if you are writing a short story. I know we’re not all authors, but all of us at some point in school had to write a short story. At some point your character develops a life of their own. Right? So sometimes you have to let that character develop as they want to. You can try to help them in that story, but you can’t tell them “this is what’s happening in your story”. You can put an event in front of them, but how they react might surprise you.
That’s kinda the way we are. God knows what’s going on in here, and he knows what’s good for us. But we get to choose the way we react to our events and the things that surround us in our lives.
And I think that even if we miss the first opportunity to jump into a new chapter, another opportunity will present itself. Maybe it won’t be the same chapter, maybe sometime totally different, but I think the opportunity is always around us to do something to push us to growth. Because, as characters, we need that growth. We need to develop.
I think that that’s where I was when I finally sent in my application, finalized, in February of this year. I knew I needed to do something different. I’m restless. Nothing’s really fulfilling. I’m fine, I’m comfortable. I can keep on doing what I’m doing, nothing will be wrong. But I’m just not where I want to be, where I think I should be.
And that’s an unsettling feeling. Shoot, I’m jumping into a story. I don’t know if it’s the right story. I might get down there and say, “Man I’m miserable!” I doubt it, but I might!
And you never know that with the next story, the next chapter you are starting, you don’t know what it will be like. And that’s why it’s scary. That’s why we are so hesitant to jump into it. I know that we are all in various places in our lives. It’s easy for me to talk about starting a new chapters. I’m 23, I don’t know what I’m doing in my life yet. Whereas it might not be so easy for someone in a different chapter. But I think that that’s where it comes down to: it’s YOUR story. And what the new chapter in your story looks like isn’t dependent on what I think. It isn’t dependent on being on the same level. You don’t have to move anywhere to start a new chapter in your life. It can be a new hobby. It can be a determination to do something different about a certain aspect of your life. New chapters, new story lines will take on lives of their own if we are just willing to start through them. That’s what helps our characters, that’s what helps US grow.
There is one other thing that I wanted to read from and I think it is a pretty cool thing. In Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller talks about the book of Job. He talks about Job’s resilience and Job’s willingness to continue praising God through all the terrible things that are happening to him. And Donald Miller says something that I think is really interesting: he says that Job understood that the story is about more than himself. Job is a tree in a story about the forest. And I think that’s where we are. We are each trees. We are each unique, we are each individuals, we are each writing our own stories.
But the story is so much bigger than any of us. The story is about redemption! It’s about love! It’s about community! It’s about relationship! That’s an exciting story! That’s a story line that pushes growth. That is a story line that makes the characters develop into someone you like, that you relate to, that you enjoy.
That’s the kind of story line I want for us, as a church, and for everyone here as individuals. A story line that allows us to go forward in our relationships with each other and with God. That’s a pretty special story. In the Bible, there are some places in Numbers and Deuteronomy where you get lost in all the genealogy. At the end of the sentences where they recorded about the kings, it’s basically like “The king is good. The king is bad.” You just keep going and going. It talks about the king. It is pretty brief in that Old Testament. It doesn’t talk that much about what the king does specifically. And it says, “The king walked with God”.
That’s my wish for each of us. That our stories, essentially, that’s the huge story line. That’s the larger story line. Inside that are individual chapters. For our large story line, I want it to be, “And they walked with God. “ I think that’s what we have to be all about. If our story, at the end of it, can say, “So and so walked with God.” Fill in the blank there. Then I think those are the stories we want to write. Whatever that looks like for you, I don’t know, but don’t be scared to jump into a new story. Don’t be scared to start a new chapter. It’s easy for me right now. My parents and I are in the same place. Isn’t that weird? I’m talking about doing what’s new for me, and they’re talking about what’s next for them in retirement! But the fact of the matter is we are all that way! We all have those opportunities to do new things and start fresh. I just hope we have the courage and strength to walk with God on that story. Amen.