Archives For Donald Miller


Episode 002 of A Light Up Ahead is live!

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Episode 002 – Seeing God at Work in Everyday Experience

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January 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

When I was younger, movies like Terminator 2 were released in theatres. I know I shouldn’t have seen them at my young age, but with two older brothers, it was inevitable. Probably to my parents’ frustration, I made sure that I was able to do many of the same things that my older brothers could. I remember repeatedly begging my parents to let me watch the same movies as Dave and Brad.

So probably around 1992 or 93 I saw James Cameron’s vision of dystopian 2029 where Skynet battled against a human remnant in T2 on VHS.  That world seemed so horrible, so bleak, so removed, so impossibly distant from the world that I knew.

Forgetting the horrors Cameron depicted in his world, parts of T2 seemed so foreign to me just because it was set in 2029. What would my life be like then? What would I be like as an adult? What would my family be like? 2029 felt like a distant future where spaceships and cyborgs actually were possible.

The arrival of 2011 seems significant to me. When I say 2011 I say “twenty-eleven.” This is the first year of this millennium that I began to speak this way. Each time I say the date it feels like I’m in the future. 2029 feels a lot closer now than it did when T2 was released.

It’s often very easy for us to have this feeling. We stop for a moment and we marvel at how quickly time has gone by. We can so vividly remember when that project deadline seemed weeks away and now it’s due in just 48 hours. Young people grow up so quickly and leave their homes, leaving their parents reeling.

I know this phenomenon happens to me very frequently.

I also know that it can be a healthy exercise to take a step back in life.

To pause.

To evaluate yourself and your surroundings.

When I say, “Pause,” I’m not necessarily suggesting that we do nothing. Instead, I propose that we take a little bit of time to evaluate how things are going in our lives. Look back at 2010 and consider what went well, and maybe what you’d like to improve upon. Examine your life goals and discern whether or not 2010 helped you get closer to accomplishing those goals. Try to think of any obstacles you might have faced in 2010 that made it difficult for you to accomplish what you wanted.

In order to get your mind started, I’ll show you some of what I’ve come up with as I’ve paused this New Years.

Highlights of 2010 (Just a few)

  • Completing a full calendar year of church ministry. 2010 was my first full year of ordained ministry and it was quite an exiting year. Completing one year of ministry might not sound like much of a highlight to some people, but it was an incredibly educational year for me. I had no idea how good it feels to be able to say, “Last year when I tried this event…” Now I know that I will still face many uncertainties in the days ahead, but it has been a major comfort to know that I can survive a year of ministry and really enjoy it, too.
  • Doing a ton of reading. I read many good books this year. Emphasis is on “good” not “many.” The books I read this year had a real impact on my day-to-day lifestyle. Donald Miller’s A Million Miles and a Thousand Years made me really think about the choices I make while Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy was some of the most memorable and engaging fiction I’ve read. The books I read this year were constant companions that made me a better person for having read them.
  • Going on an epic road trip through Central Canada. As I grow in age my love Canada seems to grow in proportion with it. Every time I visit Canada I become more convinced that it truly is the undiscovered gem of North America. I could go on and on about our Northern neighbor. So a ten-day trip with my brothers and their wives in Canada was the ideal way to spend a vacation. My brothers and I have a goal of getting to every Canadian province. Because of our trip this last summer, we now only have Nunavut and Newfoundland.
  • Getting a handle on finances. Toward the end of last year Sara and I took a Financial Peace University class at our church. It totally revolutionized the way we view and use money in our marriage. Even with very, very expensive basement issues this year, we’ve made significant headway with our assault on debt. It feels great to have a financial game plan that we both are committed to.

Improvements for 2011

  • More writing. I absolutely love the fact that I got my blog going in 2010. I want to keep it up this year and write more consistently while also working on my science fiction novel that has been hibernating for the last 3 years. So hopefully in 2012 when I am writing about 2011, I’ll have significant progress to celebrate.
  • Continued reading. I love how often I was able to read last year and I would like to make it a priority to continue doing so in 2011. As much as I love reading fiction, I want to also include more nonfiction than in the past. I’ve been working through a book called How Everything Works and I really want to finish that this year.
  • Get in shape. Cliché, I know, but Sara and I joined a gym in December. When I discovered that I can read youth ministry magazines or large paperback books while sitting on the exercise bike, burning 400 calories, working out was revolutionized for me. I can read for an hour and burn fat! An iPad would be perfect for this. Birthday present maybe?
  • Ride in RAGBRAI. Every summer there is a week where thousands of people ride their bikes across the entire state of Iowa. I couldn’t fit it into my schedule last year. I want this year to be different. Hopefully all those nights in the gym will pay off.

This is just an abbreviated example of what I mean by taking some time to pause at the start of this year. These lists weren’t exhaustive by any stretch, and I didn’t list any life goals and obstacles I face in striving to achieve those goals. If you want some help with thinking more about this sort of stuff, Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, has some great tips. Check it out here.

So what about you? Take some time to pause before this year starts to slip away from you. What were some highlights of 2010? How might you like 2011 to look instead? Let me know what this experience of pausing looks like for you.

Don’t be alarmed! Not every post will be about video games.

Gaming at its finest.

With that said, earlier this year I beat a Playstation 3 game called Uncharted 2. It’s a third person adventure/puzzle/shooting game with a plot that resembles an Indiana Jones movie. This game is absolutely gigantic in scope. The game begins with Nathan Drake, a handsome, rugged young man who reminds me of myself. He’s stuck in a train car. This car is hanging vertically over the edge of a huge snow-covered rock face in the middle of the Himalayas. You have to climb out of the battered train car before it falls into the white abyss beneath you.

The game only continues in this vain. It takes you through collapsing buildings, tropical jungles, urban firefights, humongous caverns, exploding trains, duels with helicopters armed to the teeth, and many other amazing experiences. All the while you are stuck in a love triangle with two (fictional, I know…) beautiful women, looking for ancient treasures known to impart incredible amounts of power.

What’s not to like about this game? In a behind the scenes video, one of the game developers says that in each frame of the game the PS3 is rendering about 1.2 million polygons. Most games run at about 30 frames per second. You can do the math. Just to create one individual character, the developers use 80 thousand individual tiny shapes all put together! I was astounded when I heard this.

Having stayed up too late to beat the game, I was a little ashamed of myself and I began to wish that my life were as exciting Nathan Drake’s. Why couldn’t I be out doing exciting, heroic things? Instead, I was just staying up late, playing video games, living vicariously through the creations of other people, manipulating a bunch of 1’s and 0’s. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that I’m not alone in this desire.

A little after beating Uncharted 2, I read a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. I’ve always enjoyed whatever he’s written, especially his New York Times best-selling Blue Like Jazz. In this book, Miller explains that over time he came to realize that his life was boring. He wasn’t too content with many things about himself. If his life were turned into a movie, it wouldn’t be an exciting one. Throughout the course of the book, we see Miller take various steps to improve the story that his life tells. He shows us that God has a story to tell through each of us.

We all know what makes a good story. It has to have conflict. A character has to want something enough that they are willing to face difficult opposition in order to obtain it. You may disagree with my examples here, but some of the best stories told in books, film, or video games introduce us to people who face insurmountable odds and prevail, achieving their goals.

Look at Star Wars, Episode IV, for example. Just 30 Rebel fighters go on the offensive against the Death Star, a battle station the size of a small moon, to end the reign of the Empire. They fight against all odds to save others. In The Lord of the Rings a few Hobbits, men who are no bigger than a child, willingly journey past legions of Orcs into the bowels of Mordor, past a giant spider, to a firy volcano so they can destroy the One Ring, ending Sauron’s reign. We see this formula repeatedly in our most beloved stories: Harry Potter against Voldemort, Sarah Connor against The Terminator, Ellen Ripley against hundreds of flesh-eating acid blood-filled aliens, a few defenseless people against an island full of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and on and on…

Do I believe that our lives don’t have meaning unless we are about to die from wizards, Orcs, Stormtroopers, aliens, or terminators?


But there’s something we can learn from these stories, and even Uncharted 2.

Story matters.

Throughout the Bible we see God using the imagery of story. God knows how to create a good story. If you think about it, even the story of the Gospel matches the formulas of some of our best stories. It seems as though God is stacking the odds completely against himself. Why would he come to earth in the form of an ordinary man. Why not a powerful king? Why not the richest person alive? Why even come as a man at all? And yet God comes to us as Jesus, a man who hangs out with the losers of his day and tells us to serve one another if we want to be great.

And if that isn’t enough, Jesus dies at the end! How does this make sense? I thought God was the good guy, the one who wins? When we think all hope is lost, Jesus rises from the dead and conquers even the grave. Just like any good Oscar winner, Jesus’ story keeps us at the edge of our seat until the very end, wondering how things will turn out.

But story also matters in our lives.

Good movies, books, and video games ask us a question. Are we satisfied with the story of our own lives? Does the life we live excite us? Does it excite others? What is holding you back from living a life that tells an exciting story? What have you found that helps you live an exciting life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we all need to do daring things or work in dangerous professions to live an exciting life. However, these stories do teach us that when we live a life not just for ourselves, when we set goals that affect other people, when we take risks to serve others, our lives gain significance. When we start to make choices like these, we begin to see how Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.