Category Archives: The Story

Are we there yet?

We’ve all been there and we all have horror stories of our “worst road trip ever!”

“Are we there yet?”

Ours was coming home from Lake Michigan on a hot, scorching day in July. All eight of us packed (like Sardines) in an old van with no A/C! LARGE cups of ice got us home.

But that’s nothing compared to what the Israelites went through wandering in the desert for 40 years! Stop and think about it – 40 years!

When the people of Israel were led to Canaan – the Promised Land – they sent 12 men in to scout out the land. All 12 agreed, the land was amazing, but the people were HUGE!

Caleb and Joshua believed that God would give them victory in conquering the land but the other 10 trembled in fear as they related feeling like grasshoppers next to the people of Canaan. Fear ruled the day and they chose not to trust God.

The consequence of their unbelief was wandering in the desert for 40 years – one year for every day the scouts were in the land. While God provided for their needs, He also waited for everyone 20 years old and older to die off before taking the new generation back to conquer the Promised Land.

Unable to go into the new land himself, Moses offered these final words of encouragement:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!  You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” ~ Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Embrace life by trusting and obeying God or go the way of death by trusting in their own plans. It’s the same choice Adam and Eve had way back in the garden. It’s the same choice you and I make every moment of every day.

Will we love, trust and obey God today?

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© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Choices, Courage, Faith, Fear, Loving God, The Story, Trusting God

A DTR moment with God

There comes a time in every serious relationship when you have to pause for a DTR moment.

DTR stands for Define the Relationship. It’s a moment (or moments) in a relationship when specifics get discussed.

  • How often will we date?
  • Are we going to date only each other?
  • Is it time to meet the families?

Obviously, being on the same page is not only desirable but makes for the best possible relationship.

Once God rescued the young Israelite nation from slavery in Egypt He had them make a pit stop at Mt. Sinai for a DTR moment.

God created us to enjoy us so He takes the lead in spelling out what will make for the best possible relationship.

Relationship 101: The Ten Commandments are given as guidelines for relating to God and each other (Exodus 20). Jesus continues this theme when He defines the greatest commandment as loving God and loving others (Matthew 22).

Temple Blueprints: Specifics on how to construct what will be Gods’ temporary dwelling place close to His people (Exodus 25-31). God does not suffer from OCD but is highly detailed because He wants to test their hearts to see if they are serious about their relationship with Him.

Instructions on Living in Holiness: A multitude of details, including animal sacrifices to atone for sin, are given to teach the Israelites how to live holy lives that reflect the glory and holiness of God. (Leviticus)

From a Lower Story perspective it would seem that God is obsessed with details, but from an Upper Story perspective He is simply making sure we know how to maintain fellowship with Him. It’s all about the relationship!

Today is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period leading up to Easter. It’s a time to give up something in order to refocus or deepen our relationship with God. It’s sort of a DTR Season.

Whether you observe Lent or not, let me offer two questions to consider:
1. In what ways am I pursuing greater intimacy with the Lord?
2. What am I consuming (food, drink or activity) that distracts me from pursuing greater intimacy with the Lord?
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If you’re on our journey through The Story then read chapter(s) 5 this week. If you’re not familiar with The Story you can check it out at the tab above or click here.

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Commitment, Divine presence, God, intimacy with the Lord, Lent, Loving God, Loving others, The Story

God’s trump card… His presence!

God has big plans for His new nation, Israel, but there’s a problem; they’re enslaved in Egypt! So before God can lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey (i.e. – prime real estate), He has to first rescue them.

Maybe God will bring down lightning or send in the S.W.A.T. team or better yet… send a past-his-prime shepherd. Sure, I’ll take curtain #3… NOT!

God speaks to Moses from a burning bush that doesn’t burn up and recruits him to go confront Pharaoh. Moses is flattered, but not interested. Can’t really blame him. He did have three strikes against him.

  1. He was already 80 years old. (No disrespect intended)
  2. He was a poor communicator. (Notice that God doesn’t disagree)
  3. He had skeletons in his closet. (Wanted for murder of an Egyptian)

So what does God offer as a confidence boost? His very presence. I’m sure that Moses appreciated the offer, but since he didn’t know God very well it didn’t much help. God eventually conceded to a couple of traveling companions for Moses. (Exodus 3)

Now, fast forward to the part of the story where Moses and the people are at Mt. Sinai. While Moses is up on the mountain with God the people down below give in to all kinds of nasty idol worship – a real slap in the face to God.

God tells Moses that they can still go to the promised land but without His presence. God isn’t going to go with them because He’s concerned about getting angry enough to wipe them all out. (Exodus 33)

But Moses states very clearly that if the Lord’s presence is not going to be with them then he doesn’t want to go. Moses’ experience with God in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and on the mountain was enough to convince him that all he really needed was God’s presence.

How about you? What is it you’re facing? What is it you need in order to deal with it? Is God’s presence enough?
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If you’re on our journey through The Story then read chapter(s) 4 this week. If you’re not familiar with The Story you can check it out at the tab above or click here.

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Filed under Divine presence, Faith, intimacy with the Lord, The Story, Trusting God

When troubles come…

Notice that I didn’t title this blog entry “IF troubles come…” If you’re breathing, trouble will NOT be a stranger to you!

The notion that following Jesus equals an easy, comfortable, pain-free journey through life is one of the BIGGEST, oldest and most dangerous of misperceptions. False expectations, in general, set us up for disappointment; but this one can crush our spirit and even our faith if we’re not careful.

Often when a hard time hits, when a crisis hits, when a tragedy hits, we want out. We ask God for an airlift out of our problems. But many times God wants us to learn in the midst of those difficulties—and to learn especially about His love for us:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35, 37 NLT)

Notice that phrase “all these things.” This passage isn’t saying we won’t face some of these struggles, but that in them we’re “more than conquerors.”

If you’re seeking to obey the Lord, expect opposition. Expect obstacles. Expect difficulties. But also expect God to see you through.
~ Excerpted from Beyond by Greg Laurie

Joseph is a prime example! (Genesis 37, 39-50) Betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers! Falsely accused by his employer’s wife and tossed into prison. Forgotten about by a friend after helping him understand a dream.

From our Lower Story, earthly perspective we could easily conclude that God had forsaken Joseph. But twice – when he arrives in Egypt as a slave and when he is thrown in prison, it clearly states that “the LORD was with Joseph.” (Genesis 39:2, 21)

God sustains Joseph and we eventually learn that all of this was used by God to further His Upper Story, kingdom agenda.

How can we prepare our hearts to trust God when troubles come?

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If you’re reading The Story with us then read chapter(s) 4 this week. If you’re unfamiliar with The Story then check it out on the page tab above!

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Just keep at it!

Curt was a year ahead of me in high school. Both in and out of the weight room he encouraged me with working out. During one lapse Curt checked on me and I told him that my schedule kept me from being consistent so I figured it wasn’t worth the effort because it wouldn’t do me any good.

Curt expressed that he faced the same issue but that the key was to just keep at it. Since he was a standout in several sports and went on to attend Notre Dame University on a wrestling scholarship – no small accomplishment – his advice carried some weight (pun intended).

That’s always been a struggle for me. If I can’t do something the way I draw it up in my head then why bother?!

Last week Susan and I decided to eat better and exercise at a local gym. Long story short… it didn’t go as planned. Schedules got interrupted and I had a few lapses in eating better.

Even though the week was bumpy, it still yielded some benefits. No matter what your pursuing, the key really is to just keep at it!

This is especially true in our journey with God!

We extol the virtues of Biblical characters like Moses, David, Ruth and Paul because of their excellent examples, but we tend to ignore the frequency with which those same people totally screwed up! Take Abraham for example.

Abraham followed God to begin a new nation and faithfully offered his son on the altar when told to do so; but he twice lied about Sarah being his wife in order to protect his own skin and slept with Sarah’s servant when God’s promise of a son didn’t come fast enough!

Notice how God responds to Abraham. He didn’t toss him aside and start over with someone else. God lovingly and patiently worked with Abraham and used him to carry out His bigger plan.

We’ve been invited to share in God’s Upper Story plan to reach every man, woman and child with the good news of His grace and truth. The advancement of God’s plans, and our participation in them, are not driven by our perfect efforts but by His limitless grace!

Trust in His grace and just keep at it!

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If you’re reading along in The Story with us then read chapter(s) 3 this week! If you’re unfamiliar with The Story you can check it out on the page tab above.

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Filed under Determination, God, Grace, The Story, Trusting God

What takes His breath away?

Do you have a favorite setting or scene in nature that stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away?

  • A bright, sunny day with no clouds in the sky…
  • A sandy beach with waves crashing onto the shore…
  • A forest full of lush, green trees…
  • A humming-bird paused in mid-air…
  • A field full of blooming flowers…
  • A deer drinking from a cool, country stream…
  • A majestic mountain range that seems to roll on forever…

For me, it’s the sun setting over a beach.

The picture above was taken a few years back when our family got the chance to tent camp on the beach of Lake Michigan. There is nothing in the world like going to sleep and waking up to the sound of waves hitting the shore.

Do you know what it is that stops God in His tracks and takes His breath away?

You and me!

Revisit the creation story. Every time God brought something new into the picture He declared it to be “good.” But when He brought Adam and Eve into the picture, God declared it to be “very good.”

Regardless of what might be going on in your life or how you feel about yourself – God is looking at you with a sense of awe and wonder!

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The Story page (see above tag) has been updated with a summary of Week 1 and the sermon from last Sunday has been added to the Sermons/Audio page (see above tag).

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Filed under Children of God, Love of God, The Story

Fitting the pieces together

The Bible displays an Upper Story and a Lower Story. 

The Upper Story tells the big picture, the grand narrative of a loving God seeking relationship with mankind as it unfolds throughout history.

The Lower Story contains the details of particular people, the episodes we’ve become familiar with: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood… even our own stories.

This Upper Story is really a framework around which we approach and apply any one part of the Bible.  It unifies God’s whole message to us and helps guide us through the difficult times in life by doing two things:

  1. Reminding us of God’s eternal, long-range plan and,
  2. Putting our experiences into a divine context formed by a perfect, loving Creator.

God’s agenda in the Upper Story is to reach every man, woman and child, all around the world, with His grace and truth. Eternity with God is a divine party; a celebration to end all celebrations and God doesn’t want anyone to miss it.

Our agenda in the Lower Story tends to be comfort and enjoyment. Such longings are not inherently wrong or evil, but they seldom serve to advance God’s Upper Story agenda. And quite often, they are directly opposed to it.

Jesus’ death on the cross could be described with many words, but comfort and enjoyment would not be among them. Yet He endured such pain and agony to fulfill His part in advancing the Father’s Upper Story agenda.

So, by putting all we read from Scripture into the larger picture, we can make modern-day applications that take into account the grand, mysterious ways of God, and guards us from misapplication that can result from an isolated “what this verse says to me” approach.  In other words, the Upper Story creates the context for the Lower Story.

For example, without the Upper Story, a lost job could be seen as an event without hope.  But put into the context of the larger chronicle of our lives, and God’s perfect design, that lost job can be seen in a very different light, perhaps as an opportunity for God to advance His kingdom agenda.

So when you seek to understand something from the Bible, or the events and circumstances of your life, remember… there is a bigger, Upper Story being written into which the smaller details fit.

We may not always understand how they fit, but we can trust the One who is writing The Story!

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If you’re journeying with us through The Story then read Chapter One this week. If you’ve not heard about The Story you can check it out by clicking on the page tab above.

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Filed under Bible, Christianity, God, God's Will, Grace, Kingdom of God, Life in General, Scripture, Surrender, The Story, Trusting God, Truth

How reading the Bible can destroy your soul

We can often use the Bible in ways that stifle spiritual life or even destroy the soul.

Really? Stifle spiritual growth and destroy the soul? That’s the observation made by Richard Foster in Life with God. He points out that the root problem has to do with two common objectives people have for studying the Bible.

The first issue is the practice of studying the Bible for information or knowledge alone. There is much that we can learn from the Bible and learning is a vital part of growing. But knowledge alone tends to make us arrogant.

The second issue is that people often study the Bible to find some formula that will solve the pressing need of the moment. When we go looking for simple formulas we greatly increase the risk of taking Scripture out of context and this can lead to some unhealthy conclusions.

The real danger in these two common ways of approaching the Bible is that they leave us or someone else in charge. They are, in fact, ways of trying to control what comes out of the Bible rather than submitting to the process of transformation that Scripture can accomplish in us. When we approach the Bible from the perspective of whole-life discipleship to Jesus, amazing changes can take place in us.

So how do we approach Scripture in a way that promotes real life change?

READ with an open, focused mind and a surrendered heart. Ask God to help you understand the context (big picture) of what you’re reading and the author’s original intentions.

REFLECT on what you’re reading. Pause to reread portions of it and let it soak in. If something really speaks to your heart highlight it or make a note. If something raises a question jot it down to explore later.

RESPOND to what you’ve read. Is there an action to take or an attitude to adjust? Is there a sin to confess or a praise to offer God? Prayerfully invite the Holy Spirit to continue speaking to you from what you’ve read.

Use a small notebook to record your daily reading, reflecting and responding. This is a great way to review your journey with God through Scripture and can be an encouragement when times get tough.

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If you’re sharing our journey through The Story then read chapter one in it and The Heart of the Story. If you’re just hearing about The Story and want to know more click on the page tab above.

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Filed under Bible, Holy Spirit, Morphing, Prayer, Reflection, Scripture, Surrender, The Story

Invited to unveil a bigger story

Remember all those people in the Bible that were part of God’s unfolding story? Abraham, Gideon, Esther, Paul and countless others? On the day that God invited them into His bigger story, do you suppose they woke up thinking it was just another day?

What if today is not just another day but a God-appointed moment in time? What if today is specifically designed for you and me to participate in His unfolding story? What if God wants to use us to unleash His story of grace and redemption into the world right where we are – today?

“God is not merely the Creator of our life. He is also the Author of our life, and he writes each person’s life to reveal his divine story. There never has been nor ever will be another life like mine—or like yours. Just as there is only one face and name like mine, so there is only one story like mine. And God writes the story of my life to make something known about himself, the One who wrote me. The same is true of you. Your life and mine not only reveal who we are, but they also help reveal who God is.

… Your story helps reveal the Greatest Story, the story that God is telling about himself. God intends for each of us to live for a greater glory, and a greater story, than our own.

So take seriously the story that God has given you to live. It’s time to read your own life, because your story is the one that could set us all ablaze.”
~ Excerpted from To Be Told by Dan B. Allender

Are we giving ourselves to be part of God’s unfolding story?

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To learn more about The Story and how you can participate in the journey, click the page tab above.

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Filed under Bible, influence with the world, Life in General, Scripture, Surrender, The Story

5 Reasons NOT to read your Bible

1. It may change your assumptions about God.

It’s common to have wrong perceptions about God until we encounter Him through the Scriptures.

2. It may show you that you’ve mistaken religion with relationship.

Many churches promote a system of behaviors rather than a relationship like what we see in the Bible.

3. You may give up trying to be perfect.

There is one common trait shared by all those people who are part of God’s story – they were misfits who messed up A LOT!

4. It may affect how you relate to others.

You may begin to see people not for how they can benefit you, but for how you can impact them.

5. It may challenge you to leave behind a legacy.

You may be compelled to give your life to a greater cause, a bigger story, one that extends far beyond your pleasures or comforts.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

There is no substitute for spending time in God’s word. If you’ve ever struggled with reading through the Bible or are looking for a new adventure, our church family is going to be sharing a journey through The Story.

But you don’t have to be a part of our church family to share in the adventure. You can read the books for yourself and follow along with my blog. Click on The Story tab above to read more about it.

Wether you join us or not, make it a priority to spend time with God in His word!

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Filed under Bible, intimacy with the Lord, involvement with the church, Scripture, The Story