Wednesday, July 14, 2004

on my nightstand

Several friends have recently asked me what I’ve been reading. Well, besides the "Da Vinci Code," (see my last posting), here’s some of the best stuff I’ve read in the last few months:

"Blue Like Jazz," by Don Miller. Miller is thought provoking and hilarious all at the same time. He writes about faith, doubt, and a postmodern’s struggle to find a real Christianity that really fits. He’s a wonderful storyteller whose insights are often profound and sometimes troubling.

"The Five Dysfunctions of Team," by Patrick Lencioni. This terrific little book is one of the best books I’ve ever read on teambuilding. It’s written as a marketplace allegory, but it’s application goes way beyond the marketplace. Lencioni takes a handful of fairly simple leadership concepts and skillfully organizes them into a powerful paradigm. This is very helpful stuff for anybody building any kind of team.

"Everybody's Normal Till You Get To Know Them," by John Ortberg. This is an outstanding book on relationships. Ortberg passes along a bunch of really helpful insights for all of us who still have some jagged edges left in our personalities and are doing our best to have community with other jagged edged people.

"Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul," and "An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Chruch God Had in Mind," both by Erwin McManus, are excellent reads. If your heart is restless for something deeper, and if you long to become the kind of person whose life is full and infectious, then consider giving "Uprising" a serious look. And if you want to have your understanding of the Church challenged and stretched, then check out "An Unstoppable Force" and pray hard about helping to shape something special. I think McManus is one of the best thinkers/practitioners around.

Enjoy, but don’t expect any of these books to put you to sleep!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

the da vinci code

With all the buzz surrounding The Da Vinci Code, (not to mention the fact it’s been the #1 bestseller forever), I finally borrowed a copy of the book and gave it a shot. I knew the book had messed with a lot of people’s faith, and I wanted to see what everyone was talking about it.

I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t put it down. If you like conspiratorial, sleuth-type books, then you’ll find it a really fun read. Without giving away too much, The Da Vinci Code is a story about uncovering the “truth” about Christ, the history of the Christian church, and the Holy Grail.

I was fascinated by Brown’s analysis of historical symbolism and religious icons. Oliver Stone couldn’t have woven together so many disconnected and disputed tidbits into a more stimulating story! I was even fascinated by the way he so smoothly turned history completely upside down by presenting the early Christians as a powerful business and political juggernaut whom Emperor Constantine had to appease in order to hang onto his empire, rather than as the small fringe minority that they were who had to meet in caves and homes in order to avoid persecution by the Roman Empire. I wasn’t sure if Brown actually believed what he was writing, or if he just needed to rewrite history for the sake of his story. Either way, he sure can spin a great story.

If you’re one of those people who read the book and found yourself asking, "Is this really true?", or, if you’d just like a better understanding of what early Christianity was really like and how the Bible was really put together, then check out some of the articles posted at I thought the "Breaking The Da Vinci Code" article was particularly insightful and helpful.

You know, to be honest, as I was reading The Da Vinci Code, I found myself asking God to give me an appetite to consume his Word that was way bigger than the appetite I had to finish the fictional story I found myself going to sleep to. That’s not a bad prayer...for me, or for anyone wishing to live well in the real word.

conflict and community

Somewhere along the way, probably in a college literature class, (if you stayed awake long enough!), you learned about the essential elements of story. It seems every great story has the same four elements: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution. And for some reason, our hearts and minds respond to this same formula over and over again.

Your story, my story, every story takes place somewhere. In a house, in a neighborhood, in an office, or in a family, and the setting usually includes other people. Which is probably why the second element—conflict—is ever present. Something breaks. Someone breaks someone else. Loneliness, pride, tension, anger, fighting, self-absorption abound. It’s inevitable. If you want to write a novel that sells, you’ve got to have conflict.

Our hearts identify with conflict and they long for resolution. We want things made right. We want to live in peace with each other and in peace with our own souls. But sitting right there between conflict and resolution is the fourth element that all good stories have, and it’s the element that trips us up the most.

Climax is that point of decision that determines the end of the story. It’s the moment of time when our hearts must choose, and the choices we make result in a good or bad resolution. Climax is our response to conflict and our pathway to resolution.

Why is the Bible such a great story? Because it offers humanity a staggering resolution to the pervasive conflict we are tangled in, and because it places us in the same place as all those who have gone before us—at the climactic moment—when our choices determine how our story ends.

The story of NieuCommunities is still being written. But the elements of a great story are already present. We are now into our third year and we have already seen every member of every NieuCommunities group so far experience the four elements of story.

Each community starts in a setting usually rich with adventure, hope, and idealism. But it doesn’t take long before conflict seeps in and begins to rule the day. The little nuances we overlooked in the beginning now drive us nuts. We’re surprised when our “honesty” actually wounds or offends people. We’re frustrated when people don’t “get us.” We’re taken aback when people don’t actually want to hear everything on our minds. And we flat out become weary of trying to keep up the protective barriers we’ve spent a lifetime honing to perfection.

But sooner or later every one of us must choose what we will do with the conflict all around us. Will I settle for the status quo? Will I just tolerate people and ride it out? Will I withdraw? Or will I lean in and embrace? Will I love? Will I choose to be there for others in the climactic moment of their story?

The resolution of each life and each community hinges on these weighty decisions. And while we can certainly influence the outcome of each story, we simply can’t script it. It’s up to every player in every cast to determine the resolution of their story.

For now, I can only say that I am really proud of the choices our sojourners have made. They have fought well and loved hard. And the resolutions to the stories we have seen have been sweet in almost every case.

And if there is anything we have learned so far as we write this NieuCommunities story, it’s that community with one another is only sustainable when it flows out of individual communion with God. None of us really has the ability to do life together or love each other well unless we are each doing life with God and experiencing his tender love for us. At the end of the day, it’s God’s overflowing love for us that will spill over and splash onto those around us. When we are overwhelmed with his gracious, embracing love for us, we are able to move beyond the conflicts we experience and press through to sweet resolution.

Thank you for being such a significant part of this story and for sharing in this journey. Would you continue to pray that God’s love would abound in our communities and that the choices of our hearts would be the choices God would be delighted with? Thanks!!!