Lauren Dunn

About Lauren Dunn

Lauren's Blog
Lauren Dunn is a writer and toddler teacher who can't remember the last time she read a book without highlighting in it or dog-earing it. Except for the ones from the library. She loves cookie dough ice cream, spending time with people, and seeing the clouds in the Midwestern sky. You can find more of her thoughts at her blog.

Lauren Dunn



Soldiers Needed

Ever since I first cracked the cover of Corrie ten Boom’s classic, The Hiding Place, I’ve been hopelessly fascinated with the Ten Boom family and their story.

They were just a normal family. Well, sort of. There may not have been much book or movie script material, but they were defined by their service to others and faithfulness to God. No matter what.

The Nazi darkness had been growing for a few years, as they watched from over the border at Hitler’s rising popularity and growing military strength. They didn’t think it would go this far, of course. Holland wouldn’t be invaded. Surely they could hold off the advancing troops, or maybe some greater military would step in to help defend them.

Soldiers Wanted

But it had gone that far. And kept going. Now the citizens of Haarlem, Holland stood in the streets, stunned from the news that their army had surrendered.

Corrie wrote later:

“A boy of maybe fifteen turned to us with tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘I would have fought! I wouldn’t ever have given up!’ Father stooped down to pick up a small bruised petal from the brick pavement; tenderly he inserted it in his buttonhole. ‘That is good, my son,’ he told the youngster. ‘For Holland’s battle has just begun.’”

 

It’s Easy to Forget That We are at War

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,” the apostle Peter wrote, “which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh,” Paul echoed. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

War.

We think of bombings and faraway locations, of people running for their lives and ambushes no one could have foreseen. War is violent, high-stakes, and deadly. When we think of our roles as Christians, we tend to think of more peaceful things. Love and peace, right?

But remember this, Christian: The greatest example of love – and the only way we can find peace with God – came at a violent, high-stakes, and deadly price.

The death of Jesus Christ was an act of war.

And we, His blood-bought followers, find ourselves still in the battle.

We don’t fight like everybody else. Our weapons aren’t bullets or grenades or even fiery retorts in Internet combat.

Our weapons are love. And peace. And sacrifice.

We fight against the lies of sin and the advance of evil. We reach out to rescue captives from these blinding lies, remembering that we used to be just as imprisoned.

We fight against the opposing desires and inclinations that rise up within us, clinking our swords against the swords of the sin that still lives in our hearts.

We fight in hope. There is always hope.

 

Victory is Ours

In the days of Nazi strength, most people were surprised at how far the Nazis has already conquered. No one wanted to guess how far they might go. They had no guarantee of Nazi defeat.

Jesus’ sacrificial death was closely followed by His resurrection, and with one final, cosmic blow the victory was eternally decided. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” and it has been done (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The war has already been won. Not by us, but by Jesus, who bought our forever freedom.

We have the guarantee of our enemy’s defeat.

If only we could see how freeing this is. How completely unexpected and unlikely in any other conflict.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

 

We are Soldiers

We don’t wear camo (well, some of us might) and we don’t ship out in aircraft carriers (again, there are some of us). We will probably never hide Jews or use windmills to send secret messages, as citizens of Holland did all those years ago.

But our days have a purpose beyond the status quo or the next task or some trivial thing that has us all worked into a tizzy.

We are at war. And one day we will see the final victory.

By | 2018-06-11T22:46:47+00:00 June 12th, 2018|

God is Great, God is Good

April 7, 2018

This morning I woke up to snow. Quite a bit of it, actually. I think it’s the most snow we’ve had all season—and it waited until a week after April Fool’s day to come. We were certainly fooled. Even for unpredictable Midwest weather, it’s surprising.

The trees have been fully flowered for at least two weeks—some are already green—and now they stand out against a backdrop of white. It’s as if all the farmer’s almanacs and annual expectations were smothered in frozen moisture.

Our first summer thunderstorms are only a few short weeks away. The grandness of their thunder, punctuated by lightning, and the eeriness of stormy darkness always give me goosebumps. I love standing in our garage, as close to the torrential downpour as I can without getting soaked, and feel the charged air around me change and move.

I’m no meteorologist, but our weather can teach us. The rain and sunshine and beautiful, ever-changing clouds are proof that the love and faithfulness of our Creator God are eternally and gloriously true, but there’s more.

God is great.

 

When Life is Hard

In the book of Job, a follower of God suffers unimaginable hardship in every area of his life. His children are killed, his flocks and herds (not only the source of his wealth, but his actual wealth) are stolen, and his previous good health evaporates. Chapter after chapter, he grapples with this new reality in his life and wonders if God really is good.

Eventually, God pulls back the curtain and shows Job the backdrop of his suffering and the eternal glory and purpose that fill even those hard things. But in the process, Job also realizes: God is great.

So great that we can never keep Him in a neatly labeled box with clear dimensions and consistent boundaries. He will always burst our predictions and shock our expectations.

‘“Who shut in the sea with doors,’” He asked Job, “‘when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”’ (Job 38:8-11).

The God of eternity used a shepherd boy to kill a giant, and sent frogs and bugs to terrorize a slave-holding enemy. He let cruel armies overrun His faithless people and sent enough rain to cover His entire creation, except for eight people on a wooden boat. He picked the smaller and weaker twin, Jacob, to father His chosen nation, and He worked through famines and wars and natural disasters to show His character. And He sent His own Son to save the world, stepping into our reality as a helpless baby.

None of this was a surprise to Him. He never has to settle for less than He wants and His plan is never couched in caveats. Every lightning bolt, every cosmic meteor, every snowflake is entirely in His command.

 

No Matter the Darkness

When God declares Job’s suffering is over, He reminds Job—and all of us—how absurd it is to even question the plans of a sovereign and all-knowing God.

‘“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
    or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
    or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
    and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
    on the desert in which there is no man,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
    and to make the ground sprout with grass?’” (Job 38:22-27).

The God who calms the storms also creates them, and His power is never hindered by any of our plans or expectations or almanac predictions. He rules the weather. He rules history. He rules the future.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

No matter what thunder or lightning or darkness swirls around us, no matter what expectations are thrown out the window by reality, whether our world is covered in snow or shaken with earthquakes, God is good.

And He is great.

By | 2018-04-12T03:25:17+00:00 April 12th, 2018|

Why Are We So Afraid?

I think I was in third grade when I volunteered for a solo in the Christmas program at church. I stood in that large sanctuary on the stage in front of the bright lights, remembered all my lines and loved every minute of it.

But I never volunteered for anything onstage again.

As I grew older and more aware of the thoughts and opinions of people around me, something inside me changed. Morphed. A fear of what others might think of me slowly dominated more and more of life – and I didn’t even realize it. As an adult, this fear of people has often influenced what I do or say, and what I don’t do and don’t say and don’t volunteer to do.

Why Are We So Afraid

This is a more common struggle than we may think. We stumble over our words, replay our latest social faux paus in our imaginations, and avoid people who witnessed our embarrassing moments. We worry about how to phrase requests or news or suggestions so we don’t look silly, and we refuse to say anything in front of an audience.

Why do we let people have this kind of power over us? Why are we so afraid of human beings just like us?

 

Sees Right Through Us

Fear of people makes people out to be more important than God in our minds (and hearts). Instead of basing our decisions on the Word of God, we form our lives around what other people think – or at least what we assume they will think.

Some of us might avoid most people in general, because we tend to embarrass ourselves socially. Or, like the Pharisees in the Bible, we might flaunt anything good about us, appearing to be proud of who we are but inwardly seeking that approval from human beings just like us. We’re afraid they will see through our façade or see us in our lowest moments and decide that we’re not enough.

But…God already knows that.

It seems to grate against everything that makes sense, but it’s a fact: the secret to our fears of insufficiency is knowing they are true. We are not enough.

God has seen every embarrassing moment we’ve ever had. He knows where we fail, where we’ve always failed, even how we’ll continue to fail. “For he knows the secrets of the heart,” David wrote (Psalm 44:21). And Jesus told the praise-hungry Pharisees, “‘You…justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts’” (Luke 16:15).

There will be no big revelation, some secret sin we can hide from His sight. God knows we are deeper in this darkness than even we realize.

“And you were dead”—dead!—“in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” Paul wrote (Ephesians 2:1).

But.

One of the best words in the Bible. There was no way we could ever heal ourselves, cure our hearts of this degenerative sickness. We were beyond hope. BUT.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).

He gave His Son in our place. Our sin became His, and His righteousness became ours; in the worst trade-off since time began, we received hope. We don’t have to stay in this horrible sickness because Jesus came to rescue, free, heal us.

Some days our life is best described by the catch-all conclusion: “Mistakes were made.” We are absolutely not okay. We are not enough. We are not good. But Jesus is good, Jesus is perfect, and Jesus is enough—and He shares His riches with us.

 

From This Day Forward

We don’t have to be afraid of each other. Not anymore. In Christ we are safe from having to measure up, to our own standards or to anyone else’s. We have come to the awful and liberating truth that we will never be sufficient, and in that hard truth God gives His merciful gift. Through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the children of God will never have to be afraid again.

I would still rather not get onstage. I’d prefer to be in the audience, away from the bright lights and possible embarrassing mistakes. I still wonder about what other people might think and sometimes that affects the choices I make. I still have a ways to go in living free of fearing others.

But the grace of God has given me the first step. In every situation, no matter what anyone else thinks or how I might embarrass myself, I have been given—given!—everything I need in Christ. I am not enough and never will be, but He is more than enough and has given me a place in His family that can never be taken away. Not even by audience vote.

By | 2018-03-06T00:22:17+00:00 March 6th, 2018|

Why We Can Have Hope in 2018

As a young and wealthy Yale graduate, William Borden had everything lined up for a successful life – even enjoying several weeks of European tourism as a graduation gift. The world was before him, his life ahead of him, and the determination and drive he would need for future success showed even in his college years. He was going places.

In 1912, he set sail for Egypt, intending to study Arabic before traveling on to serve among Chinese Muslims as a missionary. Borden shocked many with this decision to leave behind riches and ease and likely success, declaring with his life that God’s calling is greater than any success in this world. With big plans, a heart set on following God, and a love for lost people, Borden set out on the adventure of his life.

He would never arrive in China.

Why We Can Have Hope 2018

Three Reasons to Hope

There may be few times we’re as hopeful as we are when we turn the calendar to a blank and empty year. We daydream of all the possibilities represented in those empty squares—both for our own lives and for national and international concerns. Then, like snow that stays too long and merges with the dirt and grime of our daily commute, our expectations for something new under the sun fizzle out fast.

But one thing that makes us Christians different is that we have hope. Always. Not in political parties or presidential promises or international policies, not in goals or resolutions or self-betterment strategies.

But one thing that makes us Christians different is that we have hope. Always. Not in political parties or presidential promises or international policies, not in goals or resolutions or self-betterment strategies. Click To Tweet


This hope is stronger than all that.

As Christians, we base our lives and our eternal souls on the God who has existed infinitely longer than any of our governments or news cycles or bad habits or personal problems. Here are three reasons we can have hope strong enough to pull us through any challenge we face.

 

God never changes. 

Everything around us is always changing or always has the potential to change: the seasons, the people we see every day, our jobs, even ourselves. In all of this change, we can build our lives on the solid foundation that the God who put this planet into orbit is the same today, and that He cannot be any more or less perfect than He already is. He does not change. The God of the Scriptures is the God alive and well and active today, working in and through us like He has always worked in His creation.

“‘God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?’
” (Numbers 23:19).


God always wins. 

Nothing can ever change or thwart or stop what God has planned since before time began. Whatever hardship or setback we face, whatever unexpected problem comes up, whatever impossibly tangled and complicated situation that just isn’t getting any closer to resolution, our God is never surprised or overwhelmed or at a loss for ideas. He’s got this. All of it. As hard as it may be, He is in charge and will accomplish exactly what He knows is best.

“‘Remember this and stand firm … for I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”
calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it
’” (Isaiah 46:8-11).

 

Jesus loves me, this I know

Piggybacking on the last truth is this one: in all of His plans and guidance, God remembers us. Never will we ever be loved greater than He loves us. He knows what we need, He knows what we feel, He knows what we want, and He will always provide us with His best. It may not be what we wanted, but it will always be His best.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

Each of these truths hold us up when tragedies and disappointments threaten our lives and friendships and plans. Even when a new missionary, full of potential, contracts spinal meningitis, far away from his family and his intended mission field.

William Borden had big plans – good plans – to serve God in a humble and forgotten area of the world. All of his advantages he “counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8), and he left behind all kinds of comforts to prove that belief with his life.

William Borden died on April 9th, 1913, at the age of twenty-five, in Cairo.

 

An Explanation for Such a Hope

It may seem off-topic to bring up a downer of a story like this when thinking about hope.

But that’s just it.

Even in William Borden’s story, there is hope. There is in ours, too.

Borden’s tombstone in the American Cemetery in Cairo reads, in part, “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”1

It might seem foolish to pour all that wealth and intelligence and potential into mission work among a small people group around the world. It might seem like a wasted life when the hopeful missionary never met even one of the people he was preparing to serve.

When Jesus Christ breathed His last during a Roman execution, God took the greatest tragedy the world had ever witnessed and brought the greatest treasure out of it. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, all who believe in Him have a hope that transcends disappointment and success, life and death – and they will never know real defeat.

Through this gift, we have assurance that our work, our obedience, our lives are never wasted. No corrupt or misguided or dishonest political situation, no false promises, no inability on our part to carry out our own plans, will ever take away our hope. In whatever comes, we are promised God’s faithful presence, His constant love, and ultimate victory.

What more could we hope for?

Footnotes
1 – Alcorn, Randy. www.epm.org/blog/2009/Apr/27/a-triumphant-life-william-borden. Retrieved Dec. 30, 2017.

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By | 2018-01-31T02:27:10+00:00 January 22nd, 2018|

What Good Is It?

Taken as a whole, the Bible is the most hope-filled and joy-rich book ever written. The story of how God redeems the world from the darkness it is wrapped in brings a foundation of hope that hold us up during life’s many disappointments.

But in honestly sharing about the redemption of a fallen, broken, reeling world, not every little story within the big story of the Bible ends on a happy note—there are some hard and very sad stories in its pages. Jepthath’s vow, the death of Lot’s wife, the murder of toddlers and babies both in Bethlehem and the Nile of Egypt—and the young man that some Bible versions call the “rich young ruler.”

The rich young ruler approached Jesus with a question. He had it all going for him (hence “rich,” “young,” and “ruler”). He asked Jesus what he must do in order to gain eternal life, and when Jesus told him to follow the commandments, he insisted that he always had.

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:21-22).

He knew the right answers, but still walked away from the Son of God, deciding his temporary riches were better than any heavenly treasure Jesus could offer.

It’s very sad—and scary, too. That story could be about us.

 

The Great Danger

We aren’t rulers, and we probably wouldn’t call ourselves rich. But as Sunday School graduates and self-declared students, we come prepared. We read. We study. We work hard to get the answers right.

The problem is, Jesus doesn’t give multiple-choice tests to determine His followers. There is no grading on a curve, or answering essay questions for extra credit.

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!…You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:18-26).

Jesus told a story about a man who traveled to another country, leaving responsibilities—“talents”—with several of his servants. When he returned, he summoned his servants to tell him how they had handled what they had been entrusted with.

Two of them, one given ten talents and the other five, had each doubled what they had been given, and were rewarded with greater responsibility and honor. But the third servant had hidden his one talent, making no effort to add to what he had been given. And because of that, he lost what little he had and was thrown out (see Matthew 25:14-30).

What if we believe all the right things but still come up short?

 

The First Warning

Jesus’ brother James wrote to the early church, warning those who say they follow Christ but don’t have the actions that prove it. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).

This could not be any more important. Wondering about the saving nature of someone’s faith is no idle question, but James asks it. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, if our faith—our knowledge—doesn’t change us from the inside out, maybe we don’t have the faith we think we do.

What good is talk without action? Would any of us believe someone who claimed to be our friend but never initiated any contact with us? The actions just aren’t there. There is no proof.

Is there proof of our walk with Jesus?

We do all this learning and reading and self-betterment—to what end? What good is any of it on its own?

 

The Second Warning

“This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-2).

Paul is careful with his word choice here. Knowledge puffs up, like a puffer fish inflating himself in order to look bigger than he really is to other fish. It’s all an illusion. Love—on the other hand—builds, taking more time and a significantly greater work investment. But it lasts. “Love never ends…as for knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Do you want your life and work to count for Christ? It’s not about winning a Bible trivia contest, and Heaven doesn’t hold a preaching competition or an evangelistic who-can-win-the-most-souls contest. In Jesus’ kingdom, we don’t find significance by making a name for ourselves or by trying to stand out from the rest.

“Strive to excel in building up the church,” Paul counsels (1 Corinthians 14:12). You wanna be good at something? Pick this, Paul says. What good is all our book learning if others aren’t served?

Knowledge says, “Look how much I know. Listen to how smart I am.” Love says, “How can I help you see God at work here? How can we seek Him together?”

Significance will never be found in respect for what we know. Just ask the Pharisees. True to form, an effective Christian life is found by leaving behind all that we would think brings the satisfaction we are looking for, and laying it all down in service to Christ and to others.

 

The End of the Story

“He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” the Jews grumbled (Luke 19:7). But before Jesus left Zacchaeus’ house that day, a former cheat of a tax collector had become not only honest but generous—visible proof of an inward change of heart.

It can happen. Only through amazing grace, and impossible-to-understand love, but it can happen. We are changed from the inside out, blessed to bless. Hope and joy and faith and love don’t come from our efforts or our abilities or our book smarts, but from the God who lavished grace on us and asks us to invite others to that same grace.

It’s not something we earn—no matter how highly we think of our intelligence or ability. In Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S. Lewis reminds us: “You come of a race that cannot afford to be proud.”

We don’t know the ending of the rich young ruler’s story. We might fear he never found his way back, choosing to stake his eternity on things that don’t last. We might hope this was just a page in his story of redemption, that he eventually saw the light. We can’t know the end of his story until we reach the end of ours—which leaves us with a more pressing question:

Which way will it be for us?

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By | 2018-01-31T02:27:19+00:00 January 18th, 2018|

In Defense of Fiction

In Defense of Fiction by Lauren Dunn

In Defense of Fiction by Lauren Dunn

Amy Carmichael convinced me.

The unlikely Irish missionary to India and “mother” to hundreds of at-risk girls in early 20th-century India, Amy had an authoritative presence—even in her writing. Amy led a group of Indian Christians who raised and educated the children God brought them, mostly children rescued from deplorable Hindu temples. Later in her life, Amy wrote several books during a period of bedridden illness, sharing stories of God’s work and the convictions she had developed over the years.

As a preteen, Amy Carmichael’s story was very influential in my life, and many of my own opinions and preferences were greatly impacted by her writings. Such is what happened when I read this:
“One day…a guest…gathered the children together and told them a fairy story, and then we discovered (I had hardly realized it before) that I had instinctively left those tales [out], and had begun with the far more magical true fairy stories that were strewn around everywhere just waiting to be told. And we saw no reason to change. It was good, when the amazed child asked, ‘Me than a?’ (Is it true indeed?), to be able to answer, ‘Me than’ (True indeed)…” (Amy Carmichael, Gold Cord).

Sounded good to me. True fairy stories (like why leaves are green or what makes rain fall) is of so much more value than made-up ones, so I learned. With that in mind, I unofficially swore off fiction reading for a time. There is no way I will ever have enough time to read all the books in the world, I reasoned, so I might as well only read the ones that do the most good. The true ones.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Chance to Die, her biography of Amy: “She saw fiction, not as a powerful vehicle for Truth with a capital T, but as a waste of time and, much worse, a threat to the foundations of character. When ‘true fairy tales,’ far more magical than any of man’s devising, were ‘happening’ every day in field and garden, why lead the children into make-believe? What God made was Reality to her. Anything men made was a poor substitute.”

It made sense. We have so little time—why waste any of it on something that isn’t even true? Why fill a child’s mind—or my own—with stories that never really happened?

Because they’re powerful.

Three Reasons

“Our personal stories, our fiction, our literature, our television shows, and our movies are all accounted for in a sovereign God’s design for the world,” writes pastor Mike Cosper in his book The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth. “The stories we tell are all a part of the story he’s telling. We tell stories because we’re broken creatures hungering for redemption, and our storytelling is a glimmer of hope, a spark of eternity still simmering in our hearts…”

Cosper’s book walks through many different genres of TV shows and movies, ultimately showing how the basic plots and story lines of our common stories (think superhero stories or love stories) resonate with something designed deep within us. Stories are important, even for Christians, Cosper believes—and he’s not the only one. Here are three reasons why we should read stories.

 

1. There is a story wired inside us, and our stories echo it.

“Christians believe an audacious fact. At the heart of our faith is the bold claim that in a world full of stories, with a world’s worth of heroes, villains, comedies, tragedies, twists of fate, and surprise endings, there is really only one story. One grand narrative subsumes and encompasses all the other comings and goings of every creature—real or fictitious—on the earth.” – Mike Cosper

Fiction has the potential to be, as Elisabeth Elliot said earlier, “a powerful vehicle for Truth.” But how?

“The overarching story of redemption history—the old, old story—can be told through the framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. God made the world, sin corrupted it, Jesus redeemed it, and one fine day, God will ultimately restore it. That’s the story of the Bible, start to finish.” – Mike Cosper
Cosper explains how these common themes of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation can be found in many plot lines and stories—even “secular” ones. Characters long for redemption by seeking out answers and peace in troubled circumstances. They experience the effects of the fall through those difficult circumstances when life isn’t the way it was meant to be. We see people on screen (or in the pages of a book) looking for meaning in circumstances that seem to have none, and we sympathize. “We’re like second-generation exiles,” Cosper says, “who never knew the world they lost, but long for it nonetheless.”

Scriptwriters and authors are asking the questions common to everyone, and their stories spread the answers they believe. Even when they get it wrong, there are usually things they get right. We resonate with these aspects of their stories because we all have that “old, old story” wired in us.

 

2. We are makers made by a Maker.

“Evolutionary theorists have tried to make sense of the brain’s capacity for (and gravity toward) storytelling and fiction…Why is so much biological energy dedicated to the storytelling organ in our heads? Some theorize that we evolved a capacity to imagine in order to plan for feeding, hunting, and mating, and that once the capacity evolved, we started using imagination for stories as a side effect. Others theorize that storytelling is like the feathers of a peacock—something developed to help attract mates. It seems to me that the answer is much more simple: we were made in the image of a storytelling God.” – Mike Cosper

It seems we can’t help but make stories. Even children use imagination as they play with Barbies or Matchbox cars, acting out a drama they have created in their minds. As people made in the image of God, and as His redeemed people and adopted children, we are called to reflect our Father in what we do. Friends, we should not only be reading stories, but creating them.

As it turns out, Cosper isn’t the only one who thinks this. “Fantasy remains a human right,” J.R.R. Tolkien insisted, “we make…because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

 

3. Stories explore things we forget.

Finally, stories remind us of life truths that are easy to forget in the craziness of daily life. “That is one of the functions of art,” C.S. Lewis said, “to present what the narrow and desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude.”

Stories provide a way for us to step outside of life and look at it from another angle. We know we are busy and sometimes take for granted the people around us, but when we read a touching story about a mother whose child has grown and left home or a friend who misses her childhood comrade, we leave the story with a renewed gratitude for those we love. Stories can remind us that life is short, that material success at the expense of relationships isn’t worth it, or that there can be beauty found in everyday happenings. We know these things, but we forget. And stories can remind us. Anne of Green Gables, anyone?

 

Never the Same

So I beg to differ with my teenage self—and with Amy Carmichael. Stories are powerful. “All human creativity is an echo of God’s creativity,” Cosper writes. Some stories will be a stronger echo than others; to be sure, not all fiction is created equal. Each Christian reader should decide the boundaries and standards God would have them follow in their reading.

It has been said that we never change throughout our lives except for two influences: the people we meet and the books we read. In fictional stories we find both—books to read and people we want to invite into our lives.

Stories are powerful. We may never be the same.

By | 2018-01-31T02:31:07+00:00 November 22nd, 2017|

Heroes and the Road Ahead

Heroes and the Road Ahead by Lauren Dunn

Heroes and the Road Ahead by Lauren Dunn

We all have heroes. We may not call them that, but even as children we know who we look up to and who we want to be like when we finally grow up. As Christians, even Christian adults, that still holds true. We notice people who seem to be where we think we should be, or who attained some level of success or self-possession we want to have, too. We look up to people we want to emulate or learn from.

They say we are only ever changed by the books we read and the friends we keep—and, we might add, the heroes we want to follow. Let’s hope we choose wisely.

 

Three Heroes

Growing up, I was fascinated by Amy Carmichael. The story of the unlikely missionary who eventually became “Amma” (“Mother”) to hundreds of India’s needy children captured my imagination and my interest for years. I read several of Amy’s books and devoured Elisabeth Elliot’s exhaustive biography of Amy’s life. “Amma” was a strong personality who refused to follow conventional missions habits of the time if they weren’t effective (and most were not). She set out to follow God’s leading wherever He took her, and eventually He led her to give up the traveling ministry she had dreamed of to care for children He literally brought to her. India’s caste and temple systems of the time led to horrible treatment of millions of girls. The small percentage God rescued through Amy she led and cared for throughout her life.

William Borden is not well-known, but his story deeply impacted me when I heard it. A young heir to a large estate and successful business, Borden left behind the effortless rich life that was handed to him. After busy years of local ministry during college, Borden chose to channel his life into obedience to God on the foreign mission field. He set sail for Egypt with the goal of eventually reaching Chinese Muslims, but he never made it. While studying Arabic in Egypt, Borden contracted meningitis and died at the age of twenty-five. He had chosen hardship and an eternal reward over a life of ease and temporary riches. He didn’t know how his story would end, and we still don’t know all of the ways God worked through his life, but we do know this: Borden’s obedience wasn’t wasted. God led him and he followed, and one day we will hear stories of how God used his obedience.

The Corrie ten Boom story has gripped me ever since the day I read The Hiding Place from cover to cover in just a few hours. Corrie and her sister Betsie lived with their elderly father in Haarlem, the Netherlands, when the Nazis overran their little country during World War II. Here was a family whose mission field came to them. The Ten Booms would become part of an elaborate underground network, with their home being a focal point of the work. Illegal ration cards, secret messages, and hunted people were all funneled through their unassuming house off the old cobblestone street. It was a time of hard, hard suffering—but service in the midst of it. They trusted God for results in the midst of unanswered questions and dangerous uncertainty, with no guarantees they would stay safe. When they were turned in to the Nazis by an informant, and then arrested, a new time of even greater difficulty began. Corrie’s imprisonment in concentration camps was marked by suffering we can’t even fathom from our middle-class American living rooms. Her father and sister would die during their imprisonment. Corrie later traveled the world, sharing her family’s story and her own journey of forgiveness through it.

 

Only One Hero

“Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules….” Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in The Jesus Storybook Bible. “Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean” (Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 14-15).

No, there is only one Hero in the pages of our Bibles. The people we notice and want to follow aren’t “heroes” in the sense that they have some supernatural ability or save us from painful danger, and they usually aren’t even consistent “good examples” like we might hope.

“The absence of heroes in the Bible puzzled me for a long time. One day it dawned on me that perhaps this absence was the point of the whole book. There are no human heroes. Everyone’s hands are stained and dirty” (Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell). While the Bible doesn’t give us a list of heroes, it does share countless stories of real people who faced real difficulty and hardship—and who point us to the only Hero. They remind us that it is God who works in all of our lives and it is through their stories that we are inspired to press on through ours.

“There is no such thing as a great man of God, only weak, pitiful, faithless men of a great and merciful God,” Paul Washer points out. That’s all any of us will ever be. And it is through the lives and stories of some of those weak and faithless people that we will be encouraged to take the next steps in our own lives (see Romans 15:4).

 

One Common Thing

In “The Hall of Faith,” as some have called Hebrews 11, we are given several vignette stories of God’s people who have gone before us. Most of their stories are recorded in the Bible, and we know they weren’t perfect. We have read about Abraham’s fear and Sarah’s doubt, and we know Moses was not always a good example. Good grief, the list even includes Samson and Jephthah—and we remember more about their failures than anything else.

What holds all these remembered people together is one common thing: faith. While they were far from perfect, and that faith was sometimes small and very weak, they walked forward in faith. Faith in the middle of unknown outcomes, uncertainty, suffering, turmoil, pain, evil. Faith without knowing the whole story, or the ending, or the next chapter.

Their stories remind us that God works in our stories, too, and their lives give us examples of how to live ours. We know enough of their stories to know not to idolize them—in fact, the best “heroes” are the ones honest enough to tell us their own failures and shortcomings. These people are not stand-ins for God or gurus we follow to the ends of the earth. We follow God and God alone, and so did they. Through everything.

 

Carry On

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

We all have people we look up to and want to be like one day. When we finally grow up. We may call them heroes, though we know they could never make themselves invisible and won’t magically appear when we need some kind of rescue. And we know they weren’t perfect.

But we tell their stories and hear their words because through them we hear the story of God at work. By remembering Abraham and Sarah, or Amy Carmichael and William Borden, or Corrie ten Boom and her family, we are reminded of what we all too often forget: God is always here. God is always in control. God is always loving us. Whatever lies before us, we know that others have come this way before.

Because of the examples of all these witnesses that surround us, we press on through uncertainty and difficulty and unknown outcomes. With faith. Faith that the God who brought our heroes home is doing the same for us.

 

Recommended Reading

By | 2018-01-31T02:34:09+00:00 September 28th, 2017|

When People are Hard

When People are Hard by Lauren Dunn

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”1 And C.S. Lewis began to describe so well that person that all of us know. The one who knows exactly how to push our buttons and seems to annoy us without even trying.

All people are difficult sometimes. The more time we spend with someone, the more we wonder how anyone ever gets along with them, and when other people do seem to enjoy their company, we wonder what is wrong with us. We become easily frustrated with the relationship, jaded at what we think it should be and yet isn’t.

So we decide that we just need to love this person like Jesus would. It’s the Gospel, really. Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed for us even when we were less-than-likeable. Through that love, we have been changed deeply and are different people than we used to be. So it naturally follows that, as Gospel-believers, we just need to love others who are hard to love and they will change, too.

Right?

 

What If…?

So we try it. We smile, encourage, invite, compliment. We overlook annoyances and remind ourselves that we are going to love them no matter what. We put on a happy face and refuse to take it off.

After a couple of days with no noticeable change, we remind ourselves to persevere, convinced we will soon see a difference. So we compliment more. Invite again. Keep encouraging. Smile day after day after day. One day we realize this has been going on awhile, and nothing has changed.

They are still annoying.

This is still hard.

The Gospel is still the Gospel.

 

No Requirements Allowed

The love of God is the most powerful force in the world. There is no question that it changes people and situations in ways our human hopes never think possible. That love was shared and shown most deeply in the sacrifice—sacrifice—Jesus gave on the cross. This powerful love changes people every day, but don’t miss this: Jesus’ sacrifice was not dependent on our change.

He knew it would change us. But we didn’t have to promise to change, or even try to change, before He loved us so well.

What are we asking of the people around us? Are we really loving them when our goal is just to make our life easier?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, ESV, emphases added).

Is it really loving someone when our love is based on the hope of their future change? When our acts of love are conditional on their changing?

 

We Can Count on This

Gospel love does change people. But the glory of this love is that it doesn’t work the way we usually expect. We think we are giving Jesus’ love to someone else, but we aren’t. We can’t.

Jesus’ love is flowing through us, not from us, right through all of our imperfections and sins and unrighteousness and out to the people nearest us. In that cleansing and constant flow, canyons and rivers are gorged through us and soon the topography of our souls will be unrecognizably different.

Friend, we will be changed.

When we only see someone else’s problems in our relationships, we are blind to the fact that we need to change, too. But God sees it. He knows our hearts, sees our need, and loves us anyway—because Jesus loves impossible people. People who ignore, even hate Him. People who keep forgetting about Him. And people who try to hoard His love instead of sharing it.

I’m afraid it’s true: All people are difficult sometimes. But, as Christians, we can count on this: with time, and through many ways, Christ’s love will change us, too.

1 – Lewis, C.S., The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952.

 

Recommended Reading

By | 2018-01-31T02:38:20+00:00 September 2nd, 2017|

Hiding Place Book Review

Hiding Place Book Review

The Hiding Place

by Corrie ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill
Length: 271
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who became a heroine of the Resistance, a survivor of Hitler's concentration camps, and one of the most remarkable evangelists of the twentieth century. In World War II she and her family risked their lives to help Jews and underground workers escape from the Nazis, and for their work they were tested in the infamous Nazi death camps. Only Corrie among her family survived to tell the story of how faith ultimately triumphs over evil.

 

There are many books I’ll never read. Some I shouldn’t. Some I should have a long time ago. When I first cracked the cover of The Hiding Place, I couldn’t figure out why it had taken me so long to decide to read it. I also didn’t know that this very book would become one of the most riveting and absorbing stories I will ever read.

What is a Christian To Do?

World War II was an epic time. The world suffered unimaginable evil, astronomical losses—our adjectives aren’t big enough to describe the heartache and depravity of the time.
As Nazi tanks rolled over the Dutch border, they brought moral questions for Christians like the Corrie ten Boom and her family. How were Christians to live in times like these? How were they to honor the authorities when those authorities were murderous and illegal? Could they break God’s commandment “You shall not lie” to save a life? What about forging papers and stealing ration cards?

Under the Swastika

In The Hiding Place, Corrie shares the Ten Boom story, sharing about the memorable people living above Father’s clockshop that had been his father’s before him. She tells about her first day at school and how her father’s love carried her through a painful broken dream. She tells about her mother’s soft yet strong example, and the varying personalities and depths of her siblings and aunts that filled her childhood days.
But soon those idyllic years end. In their place came the Nazi swastika, chasing off Jewish neighbors and sparking violence like their community had never seen. As neighbors disappeared and rumors spread, the Ten Booms knew they had to take a stand. Somehow.

Thrust into this crazy new reality, Corrie and her family did what they had always done. They prayed. They sought the will of God. And then they acted, pushing through fear and doubt and confusion and exhaustion to help whoever God brought to them. Soon they were hiding Jews, providing illegal ration cards, and finding safe places in other homes and towns. The work grew harder. More dangerous.
“That night Father and Betsie and I prayed long after the others had gone to bed. We knew that in spite of daily mounting risks we had no choice but to move forward. This was evil’s hour: we could not run away from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.” – The Hiding Place, p. 138

The Hiding Place is a narrative of real lives in real history, not a topic-by-topic discussion of moral questions. As we follow Corrie’s life, we learn lessons as she did—in real time, in a sense. It’s life as it comes to us, lived and learned in moments that stand out from the rest.
Instead of offering abstract advice for some future difficulty we might face, Corrie shares a testimony of how real Christians in real history responded in the face of very real evil. They had not prepared for it, really, but God had prepared them.

And we might find that God uses this story to prepare us for a difficulty we can’t see yet.

Witnesses With Us

It was a time no one could escape. And they didn’t escape it. Father, sister, brother, nephew, friend, neighbor—all were witnesses of God’s work through terribly dark times. In their suffering and heartache and confusion and doubt, they became examples for us, going before us. As we read their testimony, we see His work then through horrible circumstances, and we understand better how He works now. Through their story, we will be better equipped to see Him work in ours.
And through the incomprehensible grace of God, our stories fold into the one God has been writing for ages past—by far, the most riveting story ever told.

Favorite Quotes

“But this is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for a future that only He can see.” – p. 12

“It was a day for memories. A day for calling up the past. How could we have guessed as we sat there – two middle-aged spinsters and an old man – than in place of memories were about to be given adventures such as we had never dreamed of? Adventure and anguish, horror and heaven were just around the corner, and we did not know.” – p. 23

“I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” – p. 31

“‘My dear sister-in-law,’ Father began gently, ‘there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty-handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!’
‘All your clubs…,’ Tante Anna ventured.
‘Your writings…,’ Mama added.
‘The funds you’ve raised…,’ said Betsie.
‘Your talks…,’ I began.
But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. ‘Empty, empty!’ she choked at last through her tears. ‘How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?’
And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and, with tears still coursing down her face, whispered, ‘Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done it all—all—on the cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.’” – p. 55

“Betsie’s finger traced a pattern on the wooden sink worn smooth by generations of ten Booms. ‘I don’t know,’ she said softly. ‘But if God has shown us bad times ahead, it’s enough for me that He knows about them. That’s why He sometimes shows us things, you know – to tell us that this too is in His hands.’” – p. 80 – Betsie

“‘Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no “ifs” in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety – Oh Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it!’” – p. 84

The Hiding Place
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“Love. How did one show it? How could God Himself show truth and love at the same time in a world like this? By dying. The answer stood out for me sharper and chillier than it ever had before that night: the shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world.” – p. 108

 

five-stars
By | 2018-01-31T02:40:41+00:00 August 10th, 2017|

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