The Power of a Beautiful Story

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What is Christianity? It is what is good, true, and beautiful. These are the three virtues that describe our faith. God is good. God is true. God is beautiful. God embodies these virtues perfectly, but these virtues do not stop with God. What he creates is good, true, and beautiful. As Christians, we should strive for goodness, truth, and beauty in our own lives. We should reflect the virtues of God. We are shaped by a story that is good, true, and beautiful. The Bible is God’s grand narrative, and we are invited to be a part of it.

Of the three virtues, beauty is the one that is most neglected by Christians these days. We are great at standing up for doctrinal truths. We have no problem doing good in the communities in which we live and around the world. Beauty is another animal. It is not that we are against it, but I think most Christians do not know what is meant by beauty in its purest form. Beauty has been hijacked. The so-called beauty that is pimped on magazine covers and billboards is not the kind of beauty we are talking about.

What is beauty? The psalmist wrote, 
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
Our standard for beauty is God. Everything about God is beautiful. His work, word, and ways define beauty for us. The beauty we see in creation is a reflection of the beauty of the Father. The beauty of a painting, film, or poem is a glimpse of the eternal Artist, who created all things. The beauty of humanity at its finest is a reminder of the greatest human being that walked this earth, Jesus of Nazareth.

We must be careful not to neglect beauty. It has the power to win people over. Often Christians are guilty of shouting truths at a secular world that desperately needs to see the beauty of God. We must never neglect the truth of the Christian faith, but the first thing the world needs to see and hear from us is the beauty of what it means to be a Christian.

God’s beauty is broad. It is many things. At one point in his ministry, Paul pointed to the beauty of the words of a pagan poet to win people to Christ. God’s beauty can even be found in things that deny him or do not know him. The longing for something beautiful is a desire every human has. We may have a difficult time defining beauty, but when we see something beautiful, we cannot take our eyes off of it. Beauty is a necessity, just as story is a necessity. Without stories, our lives do not make sense. Everyone has a story. Everyone is living into a story. Every human being on this planet has been shaped by the stories they have grown up with. Without beauty and story, life is meaningless.

It is important to understand how foundational beauty and story are because Christians have a beautiful story that the world needs to hear. Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with the world. How do we address this brokeness? We address it by telling a beautiful story, a story that is truly good news to the people who hear it. We live into this story, so much so that people recognize that our lives are strangely different. We embody this beautiful story that we are now a part of it, and we proclaim it with every aspect of our lives.

What is this story of beauty? It is a love story. It is a story about sacrifice and what it means to be truly human. It is a story that will bless our lives in more ways than we can imagine. It is a story that recognizes this world is not what it should be. This problem leads us to the heart of the story. Humanity cannot solve the problems of this world, although we continue to try. God alone can make things right, and he did so by taking on flesh and coming to this earth.
Our world recognizes beauty each year at Christmas when it celebrates the incarnation. People are mesmerized and filled with awe because of this mysterious event. Beauty and mystery are close cousins. They go hand in hand. If you explain every detail about something, it is no longer a mystery. We are intrigued by mystery because we do not
understand everything about it. The same is true of beauty. Part of the allure of things that are beautiful lies in our inability to fully explain them. We can try to describe the beauty of a sunset, but our words do not do it justice. Our explanations of what is beautiful always fall short. What is beautiful in the Bible are things we profess but do not fully comprehend. Incarnation, Trinity, atonement, resurrection, etc. are all elements of our beautiful story. They are foundational to who we are and what we believe but they are also shrouded in mystery and beauty.

We have a beautiful story to tell and we must not fail to share it with the world. Often, we are guilty of sharing facts from the Bible as if it is no different from a science textbook. When we do this we are missing out on the wonders God has revealed to us. We are called to woo the world with the beauty of a story. It is the beauty of a God who created all things and said, “It is good.” It is the beauty of a God who is one and three at the same time, a God who dwells in perfect community. It is the beauty of a God who left heaven and came to earth. It is the beauty of a God who took on flesh and ministered to the least of society. It is the beauty of a God who forgave his killers and willingly went to the cross to show us what love is. It is the beauty of new creation springing up from the grave.
This is our story, but it is just part of all there is to tell. When God invests himself in creation, the result is beauty. God has been present in the lives of the patriarchs, Israel, and the early church, and he continues to invest himself in the lives of Christians today. Many Christians have personal stories of how God has worked in our lives. In a world that is longing for beauty and a story to make sense of their lives, we hold the key. We have been called to tell a beautiful story.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He blogs
regularly at Resurrected Living (http://start2finish.org/category/resurrected-
living/)

Danny Dodd: The Power of an Ordinary Story!

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Ordinary is an interesting word. It was a word once used for some of Christ’s disciples (see Acts 4:13). It usually denotes “nothing special,” “average,” “normal.” Nothing to see here, so just keep moving on.

An ordinary story? I’ll pass. Give me the extra-ordinary; the dramatic; the one filled with exciting special affects; the tearjerkers. Those move the needle. Those create blockbusters and best sellers. Ordinary is just not interesting.

Until it is.

Until ordinary reveals something else.

Those Jesus followers in Acts 4 certainly were ordinary guys without any special pedigree, but yet there was something quite different about them.

What was it?

It was noted that they “had been with Jesus.” Jesus has a way of making ordinary interesting.

I am not sure that LaVelle Travis (L.T.) Blevins would ever be considered just ordinary, but his story has ordinary beginnings. Born during the Great Depression in the small backwater Arkansas delta community of Gordneck, L.T. grew up like so many others of his era—poor but happily surrounded by a loving family.

Again like thousands of his contemporaries, L.T. answered his nation’s call and served in the U.S. Navy during both WWII and the Korean conflict. He married his sweetheart, began a family, started a successful small business and worked diligently to provide and care for them.

On the surface—this describes an ordinary life. It was the kind lived all across America. Yes, he lost his first wife too soon. He retired early to care for her. Later he had serious health concerns of his own from which he was not expected to survive. But really that is all fairly common. It is normal. L.T. Blevins? Not much interesting to see here, so let’s just keep moving on.

But before you do, I ask you to look a little closer. There is more to this ordinary story. Remember how I stated that Jesus has a way of making the ordinary interesting? If you spend any time around L.T. Blevins it becomes obvious. He has “been with Jesus.”

He just turned eighty-eight years old. The ever-present twinkle in his eye reveals a joyful soul shaped through the years by his relationship with Christ. He has this wonderful adventurous side that once led him to wrangle horses on the back lots of Hollywood movie westerns after WWII; ride across the country on a Harley knucklehead motorcycle; fly (and crash) without lessons or licenses in small planes; and physically build a lake house with his second wife, Kathleen, while in his seventies. He has all kinds of extraordinary stories to share.

But his most extraordinary stories are about being with Jesus. They are about his beloved Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s beginnings; it’s growth; it’s ministry. He has been here through it all—serving as teacher, shepherd, cook, missionary, and everything in between.

Always here. Always faithful.

He reared his family here—now into their fourth generation. He carried the burden of leadership. He made personal and financial sacrifices for the Levy family. He mentored the current generation of leaders. He did not waver. He never created any drama. He is a peacemaker, a visionary and a great friend to preachers.

He has been with Jesus. Just an ordinary man in some ways, made extraordinary through faith in the Christ; just another boy from the Arkansas countryside, but one whose legacy of quiet dedication to God, family and church continues to shape and influence them.

He is a part of what has been tagged “the greatest generation.” Great—because of sacrifice, hard work and personal integrity. Once this was just considered ordinary and normal. It was simply how you were supposed to be.

It certainly does describe L.T. But that is not why this “ordinary” man is great. Rather:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12

The power in this story really is found in the Christ and in the good, humble man who allowed Jesus to do the extraordinary within him.

L.T. inspires me. Throughout his life he just consistently did the right thing without any big fuss. It is an ordinary story, but it is not. It is a story of quiet and consistent faith lived out through the normal variations of life, but never wavering.

I remember one summer camp session where several people shared their faith stories with the campers. All were dramatic and meaningful. One brother showed the needle marks on his arm and gave God the glory for empowering him to overcome his addiction. It certainly was a powerful story.

But there is also the need to share the power in stories absent of all of this—a story of faith that never ventured away. That is the power I see in L.T. Blevin’s story and in his person and that is why it is so meaningful to me.

It is the kind of life I wish to live and for my children—just consistently being with Jesus everyday in a normal, ordinary, drama-free, yet incredible kind of way.

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Danny Dodd is the preaching minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, AR. He is originally from Greenville, MS. His wife is Terri, originally from Melbourne, AR. Their daughters are Taylor (13) and Jordan (9). Danny also has served at the Gateway church in Pensacola, FL; as a resident missionary in Vilnius, Lithuania; and in churches in Mississippi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of a Recovery Story

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There comes a day in every recovery story where the rock bottom floor gets too uncomfortable. It’s cold and dark and miserable. My body aches for the release my habits bring but my head says I just can’t go there again. I gut it out until I just don’t have any guts left.

It’s a long fall to get to the bottom. Along the way there are signposts and blinking billboards that tell you life will always be this way. The map of your life is laid out and there is no detour you can take. Your choices are already set into the route so you might as well just follow it anyway. The lies repeat themselves until you decide they must be truth. And even though you can see the end of this route, and it’s totally not where you want to go, you decide there is nothing you can do to stop it. And so the cycle repeats itself.

A friend once told me that when the pain gets to a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, change becomes attractive. Because surely the pain of change can’t be as bad as the pain of the habit. On this day the pain scale rises to 100 and I determine there has to be a better way. 

Flipping open my Bible, I land in Romans. A hard book to understand sometimes, to be sure. What could I possibly see anew in a book I’d read many times before? It starts with the question of continuing in sin, banking on the love of God and His continuing grace and forgiveness to save us. Been there, done that. That’s where I was living every day. The lie that I can do what I want, handle my problems with my own brand of feel-good release and still be okay with God. The lie ringing louder, but more hollow, every time the cycle repeated. 

As I prayed to be open and to receive true release from the darkness, my eyes fell on these words,

“Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.” Romans 6:6-7, 12-14 MSG

It couldn’t be any clearer! My sin didn’t have any power over me beyond what I let it have. I was elevating it to the power of the truth of God’s word and the truth of what Jesus did on the cross. I was giving sin a vote…every day. I was running sin’s little errands…every day.

Until that very moment when I realized that Jesus had re-calculated the route. He broke open the HOV lane for me to bypass the detours that nearly derailed my life.

It wasn’t easy…and there was still a long road ahead. Many days spent in prayer and planning with those who provided the rest stops of accountability and a new route. But suddenly I saw that it was possible. 

Beth Moore wrote in So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us,

“We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

The power of a recovery story lies in the truth. The truth that God’s word always trumps the lies. The truth that Jesus’ power always trumps the enemy’s. The truth that I could access the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead to raise me from the death and depths of rock bottom.

Your truth lies there too. When you hit 10…or 100…on the pain scale, Jesus will be waiting. Waiting, with the power of your own recovery story.

Let God’s truth scream into your soul today. 

Holly Barrett

Holly Solomon Barrett is a minister, speaker and writer who encourages all people to reclaim the redeemed life they have been given in Christ. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Residential Life for the ministry of The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC. Holly’s greatest earthly joys are her adult children and three precious grandchildren. To connect with Holly, visit www.hollybarrett.org.

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A Season of Hope/ A Redeemed Story

Over the last couple of years, I have publicly and privately expressed a lot of pain. I have not wavered from sharing my struggles. I have ranted and raved. I have shaken my fist. I have stomped my feet like a petulant child–literally and on the pages of this blog.

Occasionally, I have been asked to speak and share my story. At times I have chosen to offer help to those who hurt too. Sometimes, my message was more about what not so say and how to treat those who are suffering. At this point in my life, I am never more excited than when I get to share what God has done in the redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of my life. Better yet, I am thrilled when I have the chance to help people see hope–to know that God can redeem not just their souls from sin, but that He can and does redeem their stories.

Stories.

We all have a story. Some of us can’t escape the knowledge of our stories, they are ever before us. Some of us are blessed to have stories of far less drama and tragedy than others. But all of us have a story. We each have a story of sin and the broken life that follows. We have a story of loneliness and despair. We have a story of _________________ (I’ll let you fill in the blank).

We each have a story, but no matter what yours is or isn’t, here’s hope: There is no story too horrific or too ugly for God to redeem.

None.
Not a single one.
No matter the details.
No matter the guilt.
No matter the shame and embarrassment.
No matter the consequences still yet to be faced.

None.
Not a single one.

Yours, like mine, can be redeemed.
Beauty can be found again.
Although different from before, life can be resumed once more.

In today’s post, I’d like you to notice the tag line has changed to be more reflective of where I am on this journey…

From the crash and burn of destruction and despair to a posture embracing redemption, restoration, and reconciliation, this is my journey of leaning on the gospel of grace…

And lean I do… For where I lean, I find hope!

For those who walked this journey with me, a million billion gazillion thanks. Yours is a story worthy of telling and telling soon!

In the meantime, the following links are the beginnings of Desperately Wanting To Believe Again.

If you choose to stop reading here, Happy Easter! It is a season of hope!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

**Warning: Graphic Details Ahead**

http://lesfergusonjr.com/2013/02/08/blogging-porno…hy-its-obscene/ ‎

 http://lesfergusonjr.com/2013/03/06/obscenity-redux/ ‎

The Story From My Perspective

I understand my story is difficult to hear.

It is certainly painful to tell.

There are days when I have to try harder than others to not live with a victim mentality. Days when the anger, resentment, and bitterness want to have free rein in my heart. Days in which it would be easier to just give in to despair.

The losses we faced back then were compounded by all the other losses that seemed to keep coming no matter what we tried or did. Yes, even ongoing losses that seem to be insurmountable.

Certainly, in spite of the horrors visited upon us in the spring of 2011–the horrors that reached a crescendo pitch on October 10, 2011, I sit here at my desk today as an incredibly blessed man.

In this season of thanksgiving, I am acutely aware of my past. But I am even more acutely aware of my present and the hope we have for the future.

I am thankful for the health of my children–of every variety. I am thankful beyond words for the beauty, vitality, and heart of the woman who has made it her job to walk alongside me as my wife.

I am thankful for my redemption–from God and for God. I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve again as a minister. I am thankful for my new church family. I am thankful for their encouragement to use my story for the help and hope of others. Redemption for me means using this story of faith and doubt, agony and pain, and restoration as means to bring honor to those we lost–and to ensure their deaths would never be in vain.

Yes, I am so very thankful.
I am thankful for family far and near.
I am thankful for friends old, present, and future.
I am thankful for hope both now and in the eternity to come–an eternity that is closer than we often know.

I am thankful.

Over the last several weeks I sat through hours of interviews with a new friend, Billy Watkins. Billy is a writer/ investigative reporter for the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, MS. We talked about things I had forgotten. I recalled things that were difficult to put together. I described things whose clarity has not yet begun to fade nor will in any future I can imagine. Some things just are…

But Billy and I talked. A lot. In person, via text, on the phone. We talked a lot.
In some of those conversations, I cried–and I think there were times he cried in the hearing.
The story he heard was terrible. It was terrible in the telling. It was terrible in the writing. It is terrible in the reading.
Even now.
Even now.

But I am thankful for the opportunity he gave me. I have heard from countless people who see the hand of God still active in our lives. And that hand of God? That is the real story.

That is the real story.

And I am thankful.

If you would like to see the story as Billy wrote it, you can see it here.

As well, I’d like to point you to my latest offering at Wineskins. I hope it will be of benefit.

Blessings to you and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Les