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The Story of Prayer – Chapter One

Wow, talk about God-breathed! The actual title to this episode (I believe) God plopped into my brain as I was thinking about it this past week.

With this first chapter on a structure for prayer, I mention my definition of prayer, directly quoted from a favorite book of mine, Steps to Christ:

Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.

Page 93

I also mention a study I found on the number of Israelites who were rescued out of Egypt – you can find that here.

This whole study is going to be immensely helpful for you, especially if you find regular prayer to be a challenge. Using the imagination God gave us and adding power to the words we say can transform us like nothing else.

Meanwhile, please share below so others can see parts of your story, and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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I Apologized to My Lilac Bush

Beautiful blooming lilac flowers. Violet springtime flowers.

I am no tree hugger. But the earth has had its woes, thanks to us humans.

I was watching a science fiction show recently and the crew of the ship headed to Mars had to stop watering their plants to conserve water. Suddenly, it was so powerful how much it means to have plants and vegetation for our well-being.

Why is that?

Why has modern science proven what God built into our DNA: We are meant to be healed by nature? I read an article recently on the benefits of “forest bathing” — essentially immersing yourself in the woods, in the vegetation and environment of a forest, letting it saturate the senses.

There’s great research that shows how spending time in nature can improve mental and overall health. This piece here is a great example, with lots of legitimate research cited. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings.
  • Because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing, we are absorbed by nature scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort. (I believe this genetic programming is what God put in Adam and Eve originally, and it’s been passed through all humans for all time)
  • In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced
  • Time spent in nature connects us to each other and the larger world.

There is a ubiquitous amount of research proving over and over the benefits and healing powers of being in nature. God’s Creation.

And, no, I do not believe the Creation we see now is what God meant our world to be. Not when “Since the start of 2020, it’s estimated that fires have burnt through 20 million hectares (49 million acres) of the Russian landscape, which is an area bigger than Greece, and about 10.9 million hectares (27 million acres)”1 Not when I come across a photo of a predatory bird about to eat a parakeet. Or countless other morbid examples of death and destruction even in the midst of stunning beauty found in a landscape or a mountain valley or a sunset along a beach to melt the heart.

So, yes, I found myself standing outside my house on our side deck next to our lilac bush, empty of leaves and long ago any delicate buds with their exquisite scent reminding me of my childhood. It was stark and ugly. Right next to the lone aspen tree with an entire vertical section dead as of this past year with one single angled branch losing its leaves in the wind.

It’s not their fault they die. It’s our fault. We humans wrecked it for them. They were supposed to grow from an earth covered not in God’s curse, but his blessing and pronouncement of “good” on Day 3. Can you imagine soil so blessed, anything that gets planted there, just grows? No weeds. No invasive species. No animals or insects devouring its life. Just wonderfully uninhibited and perfect growth to keep the ecosystem balanced.

What I love to think about when I am in a forest or meadow, is how even though God cursed the earth because of Adam and Eve’s decision to listen to the snake — the blessing still has power.

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit according to their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth produced vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, according to their kind; and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:11-12

After doing all of his work of creating, we read in verse 31: “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!”

Very Good!

The Very Good of Day 6 is still good this very day. Trees still grow. Crops still come out of the ground. Fruit is still to be had from trees, vines, and bushes with their wonderfully fragrant blossoms every spring. I can still walk in a lush green valley of river grasses in the high country of Colorado where I live.

The curse caused thorns to form on rose stems.

The curse allowed for devastating hurricanes to decimate and destroy whole cities and landscapes.

The curse causes an entire region of a continent to become a sandy and nearly lifeless desert.

When I hike here in Colorado and look into the woods around me, I see conspicuous evidence of the curse with trees decaying on the ground, trunks shattered from a lightning strike or windstorm.

I guess it remains a choice, of whether I am going to pay attention to the curse of death so easy to spot or recall a place in our ancient (but not forgotten) past when the earth was pristine and perfect. It was willing, able, and ready to produce abundance for the inhabitants meant to multiply everywhere.

Our Story, which began so promising and perfect — rich in potential for an abundance the likes of which we can barely imagine — is about to have its do-over. Earth 2.0 will burst upon the Creation scene of our universe when God doesn’t just bless the ground, he is with us on that ground! Our planet in that day will be made new, to be filled and perfectly balanced with abundance and life, joy and happiness, worship and praise to our Creator.

May that day be soon.

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How We Overcome in the War, pt. 2

This episode took me the longest to produce of any so far. There are a number of reasons, partly because my story had its own twists and updates I will eventually get to when I record the most recent part of my story. And, I changed up some features in the audio. I hope you like it!

The overall theme underlying the messages to the seven churches is a response to their compromise. Whether listening to the wrong teachings or letting fear control the life of the heart and church — or simply not giving him full authority. Jesus wants his followers to keep up the purity he provides. Believe it or not, we can live with a clear conscience. Being a Christ-follower should be a life of restfulness and light living. The pure gospel purifies the whole person.

And the reward for the free gift of purity? Well, read about all of them in these two chapters in Revelation! They are, quite literally, out of this world!

THE BOOK OF LIFE IN THE BIBLE

  • “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.” Exodus 32:32-33
  • You have kept count of my wanderings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Psalm 56:8
  • Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous. Psalm 69:28
  • Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 This one is some of the basis for my understanding of how our story is best when it’s integrated into The Story!
  • At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. Daniel 12:1
  • Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:3

The rest of them are all found only in Revelation!

  • The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Revelation 3:5
  • And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 13:8
  • The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. Revelation 17:8
  • And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. Revelation 20:12
  • And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15
  • But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Revelation 21:27

Dr. Gane’s book, the volume of the NIV Application Commentary on Leviticus and Numbers can be found here.

This book, Faith that Works, just about saved my faith! I learned the power of God’s grace toward me in the midst of so many failures early in my Christian walk.

Meanwhile, please share below so others can see parts of your story, and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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How We Overcome in the War

It was only a few short weeks in the summer and fall of 1991. But my life would never be the same after. It began by walking into that Taco Bell, spending a lot of time with Tawnya, getting to know her mom and dad, getting a set of orders to go overseas to Japan, then starting to attend meetings her dad was doing at his church. 

Day by day, moment to moment, and meeting to meeting God was patiently and slowly revealing himself to me in new ways. I found answers to questions. I saw my story was definitely a part of a larger Story. 

One thing I emphasize here is how important it is for a church to welcome outsiders. New people. Guests. Maybe those who don’t appear as appealing. 

If, after I started seeing people at that little church in Homestead, Florida, they started telling how to live my life — I am sure I would have said, “Thanks but no thanks.” Instead, I found a wonderful group of very friendly and welcoming people who wanted me to be there! 

In our Bible study time together, you will find practical ways to help you overcome in this all-encompassing war we find ourselves in. 

Here are the books I mention in this episode for you to check out:

Click here to listen (since you read this far down the page).

Meanwhile, please share below so others can see parts of your story, and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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The Sacred Space That is Taco Bell

Well, this is it — my story meets God’s story. Or perhaps better said my story finally caught up with God’s story! The more I have thought about all God did in the weeks, months — and years, even? — to make possible the moment I found myself in a Taco Bell in Cutler Ridge, Florida, the more humbled I get.

This is the moment that changed my entire existence forever. My life would never be the same after the 20-25 minutes I spent there that day. Did I perceive it? No. Was I full of anticipation over the new horizon that was emerging in my not-too-distant future? No — because I had no idea what was coming!

So many questions answered. So many new people introduced into my life. Tawnya. Her parents. The guy with the big hat outside the church. All the friendly people inside. I wish I could remember their names, but I definitely remember feeling welcomed.

It’s worth repeating in writing, what I said in the episode: At any point along the way I could have stopped and said, “No” to God. And, probably because I was living it at the time, I didn’t appreciate then like I do now all moving parts God had going for me to become a Christ-follower.

I wasn’t forced or coerced. With every decision I made, God was moving to make it easier to say “yes.” I wasn’t told, “You either do this, or you’re lost forever!” I can say without a doubt those couple of months I found myself dating a young Christian woman, spending many hours with her family and sitting in that beautiful little church learning so many details about the Bible was exactly what I needed at that season of my life. And God knew it.

And as the years have gone on and now are in my past, I grow in appreciation for God doing the work he does in, around and through people willing to be in the right place at the right time for other people searching for him.

I give him fully credit and glory for doing what I could never have done myself.

Once again, here is the Facebook Commentary on Revelation 12 by Jon Paulien, PhD. – this a collected set of notes in PDF format with other chapters he’s worked on linked here at his website.

Meanwhile, please share below so others can see parts of your story, and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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Scenes, Characters and Plots of Revelation 12

Here is a longer list of Biblical references to God’s people and the metaphor of a woman, first from the Old Testament:

  • Genesis 3:15
  • Jeremiah 3:20
  • Ezekiel 16:8-14
  • Hosea 1-3
  • Amos 5:2

And also from the New Testament:

  • John 3:29
  • Ephesians 5:25-27
  • Revelation 19:7-8; 22:17
  • Revelation 21:2, 9-10 – interestingly, these references are explicitly calling the New Jerusalem God’s bride, adorned, glowing, and pure in readiness for her Groom. Why the two? Perhaps because the New Jerusalem is filled with God’s people, who are also his bride.

These other references from the Old Testament also compare Israel with a women in birth pangs, so the original reader may have known this image, or it would have been familiar from biblical history:

  • Isaiah 26:17-18; 66:7-9
  • Jeremiah 4:31
  • Micah 4:10

Here’s a great quote from a biblical scholar also helping with perspective and interpretation:

Although the woman may be an individual, a study of the OT background suggests that she is a collective figure like the two witnesses [see Revelation 11:1-14]. In the OT the image of a woman is a classical symbol for Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel.

Ford, J. Massynberde. Revelation. Anchor Bible, vol. 38., p. 195

I hope these additional resources are helpful. We will eventually get to it, but something else to consider is the other side of the meaning of a woman in the Bible: a whore who is impure and filled with antagonism toward God and his people, appearing like God’s people, but not of them.

Meanwhile, please share below so others can see parts of your story, and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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The Power of Villain in Story, pt. 2

I decided on one more episode to study about the enemy. Why? Because if we forget we have one, we are going to fight the wrong war.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:12

It’s vitally important we don’t forget there is someone unseen who wants our hearts. With this episode, we dive into the origins of the mind and actions of our enemy.

My reading in this episode was from Epic, pages 24-27

Meanwhile, please share below so other can see parts of your story and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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The Power of Villain in Story

Some of the most engaging — and dangerous — stories I have encountered spent time introducing the villain. I mean with detail and emotional punch. By the time the sequence is over, the viewer or reader almost feels like it will be impossible to defeat this enemy.

As I mention in this episode, the main villain toward the end of phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Thanos. I will never forget watching Avengers: Infinity War the first time. From the beginning, the momentum he gains culminating (spoiler alert) in getting all the of the infinity stones, the whole thing ends and it feels overwhelming as if Thanos can’t lose. Like he’s invincible.

If you slow down and take in the scene, contrasting the two main characters in this part of the story — a woman and a hideous dragon — at first glance and by all appearances, it’s no contest! At least if one only considers pure apparent power.

Arriving at the middle of the chapter, however, and you will notice that God’s people aren’t helpless at all. The apparently vulnerable aren’t. In fact “they conquered” or “they overcame” is the past tense of the future fulfilled found in letters to the churches found in chapters 2 and 3. I will spend more time on this in a future episode.

I recently listened to this message by a great teacher, Ty Gibson, entitle “A Personality Profile of Lucifer” that captures well what I am trying to say in this and the next episode check it out!

Meanwhile, please share below so other can see parts of your story and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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My Story in The Story

All stories must have a beginning. This episode is mine.

Read Revelation, get to chapter 12 and you will notice a shift. In the middle of the book, this chapter is the reader’s glimpse into the larger story. It’s both an origin story and preview to the end of time. It begins to orient us to know where evil came from and how evil will end.

Here are some resources I mention in the podcast, including some for my biblical research:

Meanwhile, please share below so others can see parts of your story, and maybe we can talk on the podcast!

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Introducing The Story is Ending Podcast

I believe every one of us loves a good story. And it doesn’t matter where and when someone has lived, story impacts all of us. And there’s a reason why. The story of our earth and humanity has its roots in purity and goodness. But today (obviously) our world is quite the opposite.

Every story has a basic structure and only gets more complicated and dynamic. I have Donald Miller to thank for this, from a blog post he did many years ago now — I do not believe it’s available anymore. But in that blog he shared a simple structure of story that keeps the listener/reader/watcher engaged from beginning to end, provided it’s done well:

  • A character
  • Who wants something
  • And has to overcome an obstacle
  • To get it

Add a few layers of other characters, smaller aspirations to help move the character along in his or her development and of course more conflict and tension and a story could be drawn out over years or decades, a lifetime — or millenia.

I love how Pixar does it. Is it just me or does nearly every movie have the viewer so emotionally involved with the character and hero, you hardly notice the next 90 minutes as the story unfolds and reaches its intended climax? My favorite of all of them is Toy Story 2. You can’t create a better opening scene than one of Toy Story’s original heroes, Buzz Lightyear getting half of his little body vaporized and cutting to Rex trying to play the game! I must have watched that with my kids 50 times.

In this first episode, I share a little about how got to where I am now in Colorado with a precious little family of four. I’ll include, until all is updated to now, my story within The Story for a few episodes.

However, I want this ministry to go beyond me telling my story. I want to be sure and include yours. I’d like for us to spend time hearing more on your story. Yes, I’d like to interview you on my podcast! I have two or three questions to answer for you to consider how to share:

  • How does your story fit into and integrate The Story?
  • What part of your story do you believe can help others in our audience with their story?
  • (Bonus) How has your story been healed?

Finally, this ministry is also me living out my own calling, as you’ll hear about. That is, a ministry of teaching. From the very first weeks of my Christian experience, I believe God was calling me into teaching his Word. There were seasons when I would do it weekly or more and years when I would simply be learning more myself. But as I enter middle age and after nearly three decades of being a Christian, the season I hope never ends is me teaching from the Bible and especially on how this Story is winding down.

“But wait there’s more!”

Not only is The Story winding down, as I read from in this episode from The Chronicles of Narnia, this Story of Redemption is but a small interlude — an emergency of crisis — carved out of an otherwise perfect eternity and Creation. There’s so much more after this Story is over. And by the grace of God, he has given me a few snippets of pictures of what is to come. I realize more than anyone, these are only glimpses of what could be. I may be way off. I’m sure even if what God has revealed to me is a speck of truth, the reality will be infinitely more than any infinitesimal picture I have in my mind. I can’t wait to share those on the podcast.

Please share in the comments you’d like to be on the podcast. Please include a valid email address and I’ll be in touch. I look forward to hearing your story!