“Culture making requires shared goods. Culture making is people (plural) making something of the world – it is never a solitary affair. Only artifacts that leave the solitude of their inventors’ studios and imaginations can move the horizons of possibility and become the raw material for more culture making. Until an artifact is shared, it is not culture.” Culture-Making by Andy Crouch

In the second chapter of Culture-making, Andy Crouch talks about cultural worlds and how they are created. It turns out that we ‘make culture’ by creating something and sharing it. The extent to which we make culture depends on the extent to which we share it. Whether we bake a pie or calculate mathematical equations with pi, whether we study the origin and impact of slums or slime, our work must be shared to expand the horizons of possibility.

For many years, I have written articles about struggles of living the gospel in my daily story. But until recently, I mostly kept them to myself. Why? Because I was afraid of many things – among them, miscommunication and criticism. I like to be liked, and everyone isn’t going to like me if I write some of the things I am thinking. Some people won’t agree with me, and they might write mean comments.

God has been speaking to my heart about my scrinchy self-protection (see you might not even like the fact that I just made up a word — ‘scrinchy’ – but I’ll bet you know what it meansJ). God has spoken fairly clearly, in Steve Jobs’ words, quoted by Crouch, “Real artists ship.” Not because writing and publishing makes me a ‘real artist.’ It’s not about me. It’s about God. It’s about bringing His glory by telling His story to the world. It can be through tying a three-year-old’s shoelace or typing a report for your boss. It can be by picking up a piece of trash on the road you run on or by picking blueberries with your preschoolers. The possibilities are endless. What little patch of culture will you impact today? Look for ways to create and communicate culture through all the world. Or, as Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.”

The Story of Culture
I’m reading Culture-Making by Andy Crouch, and in the first chapter alone, I have discovered so many important concepts on our calling and creation, I am eager to share them. So follow along for the next week or so, and see if you agree.

In Chapter One, Crouch discusses the meaning of culture, and of course, that discussion leads immediately to story. He tells about the Enuma Elish, one of the earliest creation myths. Of Babylonian origin some 3000 years before Christ, it tells a violent and chaotic story of how the earth was born (You’ll have to read either Crouch’s book or the myth itself to hear more of the story.) He goes on to contrast the creation story Genesis tells to many other myths circulating at that time: “The world [God creates] is not the product of accident or heavenly politics, but of a free, even relaxed, blessed Creator. However, this Creator also addresses the fundamental concern that lies underneat the Enuma Elish and other creation myths — the human sense that chaos is never far away. Genesis 1 is a sequence of acts of ordering, as the Creator gradually carves out a habitable environment.” (Crouch, Culture-making, Location 171-172, Kindle edition).

Now think about it. In our world, chaos has often been assumed to be the reigning ‘order’ of the day. As a mother of four, wife of one, friend to many, and speaker at retreats, I head into most days expecting the unexpected. As a glass-half-empty sort of personality, I also assume that unexpected will come in the form of chaos and deconstruction.

Crouch forces me to re-examine my lens, to remember that God created beauty and order, and that He has not stopped in this fallen world. Revelation 21-22 tell the end of our story, in which the sea, which stands for chaos, will be no more. (For a great study on this, visit Scotty Smith’s Facebook fan page.)

What about you? Do you need to stop as this day begins and ask yourself — when the ‘fall’ comes today in my life, how can I be a creator of beauty? How can I be a part of restoring peace with a relaxed order? How will that order be different from a demand for control that says, “Life will work according to my plan”?

Waiting for Godot, an existentialist play by Samuel Beckett, tells the story of two men sitting on a park bench, waiting for “Godot” to show up. In the play, Godot (whose name clearly represents God) never arrives, though several odd messengers do. Written after World War II, this play represents the questions many held about the meaning of life in that harsh era.

The Bible is full of stories of waiting, expectation, and hope. It tells a true Story in which Christ has lived, died, and been raised from the dead. In those acts of existence, Christ has begun a new kingdom. And yet, we are left to live well as we wait in hope for the day Christ returns to bring new Creation to its fulfillment.

How about you? Have you ever felt like you are going through the motions of daily life, wondering if there is any meaning? Have you ever waited for someone or something really important to come into your life or to change in your life? Think of a story in which you waited for something. How was your expectation fulfilled (or not fulfilled)? Did fruition come in the time or manner you wished? Did you ever attempt to make the reality happen through your own plan (read Genesis 16 for a prime example of this way of dealing with waiting☺!) What questions about God did you have as you waited? Read the following Scriptures to help you as you think about your stories of wait: Psalm 62, 37, 40, Habakkuk 2:3…the WHOLE BIBLE☺!

Write it down. Share it. For those of you who live near me, we will be having a Story Feast Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at my house. Bring some appetizer or dessert to share and a story. Even if you don’t have a story or haven’t written it down, come and listen to others’ stories. You will leave well-fed on the hope we have in God!

“What do I do?”

This barely audible question came through the phone line along with my 19 year old son’s deep sobs as he mourned the loss of a dear friend.  Seven hundred miles away on a diving vacation with his grandfather, Kirby had been given the news that one of his closest friends had been killed in a car accident the night before.

My mind raced to come up with the perfect mom’s answer to his question, but I realized I had no clue what he was asking.  I didn’t think he really wanted me to say, “Well, you get on the plane and come home and prepare for the funeral.”  I decided what he was really asking was “What do I believe?”  Indeed, while my mind was searching, he coughed out the words, “This wasn’t supposed to happen.  He was getting better.”  (His friend had died in the hospital several hours after the accident.)  What Kirby was really asking was, “What do I do with God when this kind of pain comes?  How do I make sense of who God is?”

That is the question, isn’t it?  Moments of tragedy and minutes of trial drive us to ask the question.  We ask it frequently, if not overtly; we speak it through our tantrums of frustration and our tears of deep loss, through our sighs of hope and our sighs of resignation.   And God answers the question, well, no, not in the way we would want,  with a clear rational explanation of why babies are abused or why we lost our job…God gives us a story.  It is the story of grace, the gospel, that tells us that God suffered the deepest suffering to bring new life out of death and suffering.  This story tells us that we are moving toward a day when there will be no more untimely (or timely) death, no more tears of mothers mourning lost sons, no more missing friends who announced their arrival at the house by blowing the train horn they had affixed to their truck.  This story gives us a context for answering the question, “What do I do?”

Alasdaire MacIntyre says, “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story do I find myself a part?’  As a Mom, I realized I didn’t have any satisfactory answer to offer Kirby.  I said things like, “You do just what you’re doing.  Cry and wail and rail at the senseless loss.  Come home and let us hold you and pray with you.  Put one foot in front of the other.”  They weren’t bad answers, but they weren’t the best answer.  The best answer is, “Remember the Story of which you are a part, and lean into it.”  It is the answer that must have supplied him with the courage he has needed for these days:  calling the third of their three musketeers to give him the hard news; putting together a playlist of his friend’s country favorites; attending the first visitation and funeral of his life that really mattered to him.  I received a text from him last night after the visitation.  It said, “That was the most painful, yet the most meaningful and encouraging thing I have ever done.”  Kirby knows what to do, and he is doing it.  He is moving into the pain with the hope of the Story he knows to be true.  May we all remember the Story of which we are a part, the one that shows us what to do – to live and love well because He has first loved us.

“Learning, living, and learning in God’s story of grace.”  This is the tagline for the new creation Living Story, LLC. (www.livingstorygrace.com)

Redeemed Hearts Ministries is becoming Living Story, which will offer gospel-charged workshops and retreats, excellent materials and resources, and compassionate consulting and coaching.  My passion continues to be bringing the powerful and life-changing hope of the gospel to broken and hurting people.  The shift is primarily in a call to move outward with this great story of good news that calls us to live in freedom because we have been freed!

Let me go back to the tagline to explain the focus of Living Story:

1)  Learning in God’s story of grace — this little preposition makes the tagline a bit awkward, but it is essential.  Here’s why:  I want people to “learn” God’s story of grace, to know the TRUE story Scripture tells about who God is and how He created us and the difference that makes in our lives.  I want them to know how the Fall shows us why life doesn’t work the way we want it to, and to know how Christ’s redemption restores us to make us restorers of a broken world.  But here’s the problem:  we can learn that in our heads without ever living it in our hearts.  The best kind of learning comes when we learn IN God’s story of grace, when we surrender our hearts to what we are learning.

2)Living in God’s story of grace.  Well, the bottom line is we are living in God’s story of grace, whether we know it or not, or whether it feels like it or not.  When we begin to look at our stories, we see that God has engraved grace across every moment of our lives, even when we didn’t see it.  We don’t really live grace unless we live in grace.  Living means acting on and applying what we’ve learned, and it requires a response of repentance to what we’ve learned.

3)  Loving in God’s story of grace.  The preposition is particularly important in this aspect of our change.  Many times we don’t love God’s story of grace.  The fact is, God’s grace often feels painful, sometimes hateful.  We may resist it or run from it, but because God pursues us with His grace, we ultimately cannot escape it.  And when we are captured by grace, we begin to love — the poor, the marginalized, our neighbors, and our enemies.  We begin to live lives of forgiveness, both forgiving and being forgiven, and our hearts overflow with grace and mercy for others.  We can’t wait to tell the good news of how God has freed us from heart paralysis.  This is what it means to love in God’s story of grace.

More to come in the following days about Living Story.  I will continue to keep my blog here and a page for you to tell your stories.  Stay tuned and check out Living Story (www.livingstorygrace.com).

In my early years as a Christian, I would have used Philippians to make a case that being a Christian was about working hard to become perfect – that’s why my senior quote was, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have yet been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.” (Really!:) It was my way of saying to the classmates and teachers who thought I was ‘perfect’! (yeah, I really believed this!:), “No, I’m not, but I’ll get there!”


This morning, in my continued study of Philippians, I read the verses I would have misused so many years ago and in them discovered the good news of God’s grace. Read them and then listen to what brilliant theologian Alec Motyer has to say:

Phil. 2:12-18

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Alec Motyer’s commentary:
“But there is more to verses 12-16a than a list of commands; it is also a list of reassurances. There is a balance created between what we are to do and to strive to be and, on the other hand, what is already true of us. By statement or implication the directives are ‘Obey’, ‘Work’ (verse 12), ‘Do’ (verse 14), ‘Be blameless’, etc., ‘Shine’ (verse 15) and ‘Hold fast’ (verse 16). The reassurances are ‘God is at work’ (verse 13), ‘You are God’s children’, ‘You are lights’ (verse 15). This is the balance and testimony of the verses: the Christian life, growing in the likeness of Christ, is a blend of rest and activity – not alternating from one to the other, but a blend in which, at one and the same moment, the Christian is both resting confidently (for example, on what God is doing within) and actively pursuing (for example, the duty of being blameless). 126

Your own salvation is to be understood, not as an objective yet to be reached, certainly not as a benefit to be merited, but as a possession to be explored and enjoyed more fully.”

On verse 13:
“The note of effectiveness is sounded by the verb which Paul uses (energeo) and which characteristically describes work which achieves its purpose; the outcome is guaranteed in the deed. The verb is defined later in this same letter (3:21) when, using the related noun, Paul speaks of the ‘effective working’ (RSV ‘power’) by which he is able to subordinate all things to himself. God’s working is effectual working;  he cannot be deflected from his course nor fail to achieve his purpose. With our daily catalogue of failure and our not infrequent despair of ourselves, what unspeakable comfort lies in this truth!”

I’ve been studying Philippians lately, which leads quickly into the topic of servanthood as we move into that incredible Chapter 2…The last few days I’ve been meditating on servanthood, and asking God to make me more like His servant Jesus.  Sometimes it seems He answers these prayers by showing me how UNLIKE His Servant I am.  An event yesterday served up another such moment, leaving me marveling at His grace:

Isaiah 42 from The Message
God’s Servant Will Set Everything Right
1-4 “Take a good look at my servant.
I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.
Far-flung ocean islands
wait expectantly for his teaching.”

Eugene Peterson writes this about it:
“Isaiah 42:1-9 is the first of our four Servant songs (see also 49:1-7; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12). The essential thing communicated here is that God is with this Servant. The Servant receives divine upholding. He is the divine choice, he is the object of divine delight, he is animated by the divine Spirit, and his work is the divine work of bringing justice to the entire world.
The picture is of a true Servant. He doesn’t bully; he befriends. He doesn’t shout; he speaks softly. There’s no hard sell with those who dismiss him and no harsh argument with those who deny him. He won’t brush aside a person who is bruised and hurt, nor will he disregard the small and insignificant. There’s no element of coercion in his approach. Only compassion.”

I read this after a low-volume shouting match w/ our almost 16-yr. old. It wasn’t meant to go like this. It began w/ me shouting my happiness for her aloud when she told me she won V.P. for SGA next year. And then she asked me to tell her again when her brother’s 8th grade banquet was. To my response, she said, ‘You’re gonna kill me…’ It turns out her SGA banquet is the same night.

The thing is, I had planned for this, I had emailed my family, asking them to put the May events on their calendars and RSVP. (This is how I handle being the mother of four teenagers in May, two of whom are graduating .)  And so smoke started coming out of my ears. Not because I was really mad at her, mostly because I was disappointed for our youngest, who would want her there. My husband is accompanying our graduating senior to a Sports Association awards banquet that night, so there are already two missing.

And do you see how I am trying to justify what I did? There is no excuse.  I was most of the things Eugene Peterson describes in the second paragraph. The only serving I did was to my self-laid plans. I bullied, I shouted, I argued and I brushed aside. I had no compassion. And when it was all over, I was furious at myself for ranting about it. “When will I shut my angry mouth and weep the tears of disappointment,” I asked the Lord.
And He showed me this passage and these words and reminded me, “I see you in my Servant.” All of it. He is with me. He upholds me. He chose me, and I am His delight. I am animated by the Spirit, and through this power, I can bring justice to the world. Not as Christ does, not yet, but He still sees me in that righteousness.

I went to my daughter and explained that I am a moron.  She graciously forgave me and welcomed me back to relationship, and we went to get ice cream to celebrate her victory.  

And I am left lingering at the wonder of the gospel paradox. I am a poor Servant Queen, and God humbles me and honors me.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

As the “Scott’s” –Scott Roley and Scotty Smith — embark on a series about Philippians and dealing with stress, I’ll offer a short story of how one of these earlier verses spoke to my stress during my first pregnancy. The confidence Paul speaks of is meant to apply broadly, but it does meet us in specific moments and seasons of our lives.

He who began a good work in you
Will be faithful to complete it
Will be faithful to complete it
He who started the work will be faithful to complete it in you…

I was grossly pregnant with Kirby. It was August 4th and he was due on July 25th. The ’89 heat wave in Atlanta simmered and I felt like my body was stuffed with insulation and I just wanted to get it out. I was already apprehensive about this first baby, recognizing my own incompetence as a mother. And daily, hourly, people were leaving messages on my machine, “YOU HAVEN’T HAD THAT BABY YET?” (As if…) I was huge, bloated, hot, bothered, impatient and terrified.

Steve Green’s album “Find Us Faithful” I think it was called was a staple of our early marriage. I kept listening to his song over and over because often I wasn’t so sure the baby inside would ever emerge. Although I know now and recognized then that Paul’s words were not meant to be translated this literally, I recognized the truth of them in my situation – “He who began a good work in you…” God made me pregnant (Not the Mary way, just the ordinary way), and he certainly wouldn’t leave me pregnant for the rest of my life. God is a god of labor and delivery. He would be faithful to complete that work.

Indeed, Kirby arrived into the world on August 10, 2 weeks and 2 days after his due date, through a 33 hour pitocin induction. He was blue from losing breath and his head was a little smashed. But he was here, a ‘finished work.’ It took a lot of discomfort, humiliation, seemingly unanswered prayers for God to finish that work. And then, lo and behold, I realized God wasn’t quite finished. This gorgeous hard-headed baby had been telling us something from the beginning – he had plans of his own for his life and he would fight hard to execute them. In the midst of the stress of raising this finished work of God I many times have turned to the verse that carried me through his entry into the world – in the midst of whatever hardships arrive, “He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.” And now I have the great joy of watching how that reality has worked out in the redeemed life of a 19 year old son who is participating in bringing beauty into this broken world.
What about you? Do you have any questions or stories of wondering if God would finish a work that He clearly began in you? What do you do when it looks as if God is abandoning a work and you are all alone?

If you want to listen to this sermon series, follow this link.
Christ Community, Franklink, Philippians sermon series