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Monthly September 2011
The Story of God, the Story of Us

It’s been a busy week at seminary culminating in a 13-hour intensive class on Friday and Saturday. For this week’s post I’ve decided to submit a book review I’ve done on Sean Gladding’s book, The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2010). This was a fascinating read retelling the Biblical story with a fresh approach; here is my take on it.

As our world transitions from modernity to postmodernity, the telling of stories holds greater meaning. Sean Gladding’s The Story of God, the Story of Us, retells the Biblical narrative in such a way that readers are both engaged personally and invited to join a story bigger than their own. We’re compelled to rediscover an overarching story in the ancient text that is not only a glimpse of the past but also embraces our story in the present. It’s a story about our Creator Who loves His creation and passionately desires to connect us with His greater purposes, that if faithfully embraced, bring glory to His Name and ultimate meaning to our lives.

First, Gladding gives us a glimpse of God’s self-revelation throughout Scripture. He shows us a God that is full of goodness and grace Who delights in His creation to the point of making a binding Covenant that will cause Him great sacrifice. Mirrored in that is God’s desire for us who are made in His image; to fulfill His great mission of blessing all nations, first commissioned to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant and later modeled in Jesus Christ. Gladding writes, “God’s people exist for the sake of the world, not for our own sake” (87). Just as God receives glory through blessing all humanity so are we a blessed people called to be blessing to all nations.

Second, Gladding desires his readership to strip their reading of the biblical narrative of the assumptions and prejudices commonly brought to it. We tend to read ourselves into the center of the story and make it more about us than about God’s Kingdom. Gladding points out that God not only needed to get Israel out of Egypt but “Egypt”–an earthly kingdom paradigm–out of the Israelites. While God designed for them a tabernacle–a mobile worship center that would serve missional purposes as they moved among the nations–they preferred a stationary temple that centered on the first part of the Abrahamic covenant and prevented the latter. They wanted a king to be like other nations; God wanted them to be a nation set apart with their identity wrapped up in His covenant relationship with them.

Third, Gladding paints a comprehensive picture of God’s story rather than the short snapshots we tend to see when we only study portions of scripture. He shows us that there is a grand story threaded throughout all the stories; and parallel portraits from the Old and New Testaments that tie it altogether. God’s story begins in a garden where humanity breaks relationship with Him and ends in a garden where all is restored. The cherubim that guard the garden of Eden after the fall of humanity reappear at the mercy seat in the tabernacle and then again at the garden tomb after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is foreshadowed in Isaac (“God will provide a lamb–‘My Son’”), Moses, Joshua, and King David. The Law of Moses received on a mountain is later fulfilled when Jesus delivers His Sermon on the Mount–a declaration of His “magnum opus” in fulfillment of the law. The Bible is cohesive; each author, book, chapter, verse, and line plays a role in telling The Story of God, the Story of Us.

Sean Gladding does well in retelling the Story, not as the metanarrative of Scripture, but rather as his understanding of it which continues to deepen over time (237). Given the length, depth, and breadth of the metanarrative, he is forced to choose what parts to highlight and bring to the fore what he deems is critical in supporting the overarching theme.

Gladding uses the terms “vocation, permission, and prohibition” to explain God’s purpose and plan in The Story of God, the Story of Us. Vocation has everything to do with Covenant; humanity is invited to partner with God in caring for creation and continuing to create by having children. Permission deals with the free will of humanity and the choices we make to enjoy the blessings of God. Prohibition distinguishes God from humanity based on the former’s command to the latter to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gladding points out that, “prohibition is only meaningful within the context of freedom; only when we can say ‘no’ is our ‘yes’ meaningful” (29). Since all three of these gifts help form the context for the Story of God, the Story of Us, it may have been helpful to refer to them more often throughout the story.

I was impressed with Gladding’s ability to weave a nonviolence thread into the narrative by his use of the characters who told the story; in one case, a gentle little girl was juxtaposed with a revengeful harpist. At another point, the narrator of story rebuked the crowd for their hatred of the oppressor by simply stating, “Then you still have not heard the Story, my friend” (148). In another context, Gladding strongly declares that anyone who seeks to enter the Kingdom, “must refuse to bow to any other gods–including any empire, nation or state that demands our allegiance and which use economic and military power to further its own interests at the expense of others” (226-227). In doing this, Gladding made the Story relevant for today by exposing the nationalism and pro-militarism prevalent among many Christians.

This book complements my current ministry with Unveiling Glory. As a speaker for their Cat and Dog Theology seminar, I’ve been introduced to the story of God’s glory throughout the Bible based on the Abrahamic Covenant. In the third lecture we unpack the Bible as having an introduction, a main story line, and conclusion showing the cohesive nature of God’s Story built around His desire to bless us and make us a blessing to all the peoples of the world. This book confirms my life theme of “blessed to be a blessing” and impresses on me the importance of remembering the simple theme of a Covenant God welcoming all people into His grand Story.

Missional Map-Making

Imagine arriving at Ellis Island a little over a hundred years ago. You’ve left your homeland and all that entails familiarity for a new land of supposed promise and enchantment. You sail past the Statue of Liberty and land at the Ellis Island immigrant inspection station. Suddenly you’re confronted with the awareness of a new language, a new set of customs, and a place for which old “maps of reality” hold no significance.

Fast forward to the present. The cultural map of modernity that has profoundly shaped the west is no longer navigating us toward transformational change in society. In a world of multiple religious views or no views at all our assumptions that were once taken for granted are no longer valid. In fact, a deep distrust for institutions, programs, and anything that smacks of control pervades our culture.

Some pastors I know struggle in leading their churches toward missional impact in their communities. At one conference a group of Christian leaders wrote their own version of Psalm 137:

In the midst of this crazy world I look around and wonder what has happened.
How do I talk to a kid with a ring in his nose?
Does “The Old Rugged Cross” mean anything to him?
He asks me to sing a song about “my Jesus.”
From what I can tell he is from another planet, or am I the stranger here?
I think it’s time to sell the Wurlitzer.
So how do I tell Martians about Jesus, when the only language I speak is 1955?
How do I write a headline for them that doesn’t screw up the Good News?
I kind of wish it were the way it was, but it’s not.
So I need to figure out how to sing the old lyrics with a whole new tune.
 

Reading Missional Map-Making by Alan Roxburgh for my Leading Change class at Asbury has been both stimulating and provocative. Stimulating in the sense that I need updated “maps” for a Message that has always been relevant. Provocative in that simply creating new forms or systems will not necessarily produce the change for which I hope.

Roxburgh relates the words of Arthur Kornberg, professor emeritus at Stanford University who received the Nobel prize for his work in the study of enzymes. Kornberg describes the rather unusual methods of scientists working to discover both concrete and practical solutions to human disease. He suggests that discovering solutions happens first “by investing one’s energies and skills in engaging the most fundamental questions of the system; second, by being shaped by the long tradition within which one has lived; third, by investing oneself in raising up a new generation who are able to do this foundational reflection within the tradition; and fourth, by recognizing that one is not in control of predicting what these practical, revolutionary solutions are going to look like. These are the nutrients of the soil in which a revolutionary future emerges” (39).

So what’s feeding the soil of our environments? Are we asking the right questions? This should be a given before expecting good answers. Secondly, do we understand our Christian history well enough to move forward on a solid foundation? Thirdly, are we in touch with reality and empowering the next generation to blaze new trails where we’ve never gone before? Lastly, are we willing to let go of the control tendencies of modernity and rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us where complexity and change have become the new norm?

I had to think of a quote from Anais Nin while reading this book: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Through our set of lenses things might appear to make sense, regardless if they are working or not. Unfortunately, the common sense no longer makes sense. And that requires that we become missional map-makers in an ever-changing cultural landscape.

 Roxburgh, Alan. “Missional Map-Making.” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Where the Unworthy are Worthy

It’s my second day at Asbury Seminary; first day of class. So far I’ve attended two days of new student orientation and several chapel services.

At chapel this morning I was confronted again with a tension I grew up with, something I’ll call the “worthiness factor” in taking communion. My faith tradition practiced “closed communion” which simply meant that the communion table was typically open to only members of that church who were in “right standing” with God and their fellow believers. This is based on an understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 in which Paul instructs the believers to not eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily.

The dean of the chapel made the rather startling comment at the onset of the service that there were some of us in the audience who were unworthy to participate in the Lord’s table. He then proceeded to announce that if any of us felt worthy of the bread or cup we ought not to come. For the unworthy—those aware of their constant need for grace—the table was open.

Perhaps the real problem lies with those who translate “unworthily” as being “unworthy”. A better rendering of that text might be “in an unworthy manner.” This is clearly seen as Paul elaborates about those who ought not to eat or drink—those who fail to discern the body of Christ.

Furthermore, is it Biblical to discern whether or not another person is “worthy” to commune? Can one see into another person’s heart? It’s easy to be externally aligned and offer acceptable words at a “preparatory service” while all the time be callous toward the body of Christ.

Closed communion presupposes that we have jurisdiction over those within our own church and must thus take responsibility for those who commune. But do we commune with those we think are worthy or do we commune based on self-examination? Only the latter is Biblical (see 1 Cor. 11: 28-32). And how does one explain Jesus offering the bread and wine to Judas—one that He knew was in desperate need of grace at that moment?

But there’s even a greater tension I’ve wrestled with in practicing closed communion. Something that stems primarily from my personal experiences within the broader body of Christ.

In Southeast Asia I would often travel to speak in a variety of settings. Often I was invited to commune with believers who didn’t share my denominational background or practice Christianity exactly as I did. Having refused the bread and cup offered to me would have been akin to committing sacrilege.

Why would Jesus throw a banquet in His honor and then not show up to celebrate it with all His children?

The Problem with Faith

When I was quite young my parents took our family to hear Dave Hunt speak on some of the common deceptions to which Christians have succumbed. One of those dealt with the issue of faith.

Dave told a personal story of living in Southern California and wishing one day that the heat would be replaced with a sudden snow flurry. Having been exposed to the hyper-faith movement he got down on his knees and attempted to “pray in faith.” He ratcheted up his own belief by praying, “I believe it will snow…yes, I believe…I believe, I believe, I believe!” At some point he sprang to his feet, ran to the window, and threw open the drapes to reveal the product of his faith.

Dave then shouted to us in the audience: “Thank God it wasn’t snowing!” He went on to point out that having faith in faith is not faith. We must have faith in God alone. Just think for a moment how crazy our world would be if everyone simply controlled the Master of the universe with their own amped up faith power? Can you imagine the products of our selfishness or the conflicts of interest by everyone who “prayed in faith”?

Faith has always presented Christians with a dilemma. On one hand many simply resign themselves to God’s supposed will and never pray in faith. They feel they are really godly to believe that God will simply do what needs to be done on their behalf. Unfortunately this often translates into a lack of faith and hence sin. They have not because they never ask. On the other hand there are those who believe that their faith will always be rewarded. If they have enough faith, that is, having “faith in faith,” they will get whatever they ask for.

Both sides have a point. Both sides have scriptures to back up their perspective. And both tend to be reacting toward the other. The problem is when one does not read both scriptures together or in context. We tend to either take one position or the other instead of living in tension between the two (see a blog post I did a few months back on the Either/Or Dilemma in Church World).

When it comes to faith we ought not to fall into one ditch or the other. Throughout the Gospel narratives we see Jesus getting more excited about random examples of faith than anything else. We ought to be people of faith. We ought to pray for healing. We ought to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for Him” (William Carey). But we also ought not to presume on God. We should not name it and claim it under the guise of having faith. We need to remember that as children of a Kingdom we are under the control of a King. Our faith is submitted to God’s perfect will. While we can certainly influence the hand of God we are not ultimately sovereign. God has the final say.

Contact MeContact Me

Let's Connect

I’d love to connect with you via email or phone. Snail mail can be sent to the address listed below.

Address

333 East Margaret Drive, Wilmore, KY 40390

Phone

(+1) 269.625.3400

Booking InfoBooking Info

Logistics and Details

Select me as your speaker, and I will give you my best effort. See me as a catalyst or facilitator that will help you achieve the goals you’ve set for your event. When you win, I win. It’s as simple as that. I’m here to serve you in life’s journey!

Venue

A venue for the event should be chosen with the target audience in mind. All-day or half-day workshops are ideally hosted in rooms where food can be served and participants can gather around tables for group dialogue and breakout sessions (click on links for preferred room setup: round/long tables). All venues should be suited for multi-media presentations and wired for sound.

Once a date and presentation topic have been confirmed for an event, the venue name and address along with a contact phone number should be submitted for advertisement purposes. These will be posted in my speaking schedule and used in advertising media.

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Equipment

A room featuring a multi-media projector with 3000 lumens or greater is preferred for all events. I will use my own projector when one is not available. Please note that for most presentations and workshops I need my laptop at the front of the venue from where I’ll be speaking. My system can accommodate VGA/HDMI/DVI cables. Most of my presentations are designed for widescreen (16:9).

For audio I prefer a lapel or Countryman microphone. For presentation/video audio I can supply my own speaker for groups under 100 people. For larger groups I need an audio cable (3.5mm mini stereo) that plugs directly into my laptop.

Replace lecterns and pulpits with a small table or stand on which to place a laptop.

For workshops, have a flip chart or white board available with markers in several colors.

An eight-foot table should be available on which to place books, CDs, DVDs, and other resources for sale. Cash, checks, and credit cards are all accepted.

Fees

I do not charge a set fee when speaking at non-profit events. However, donations are welcome to support my family, cover bills, and feed my Puggle. Suggested donation amount is $500/day plus travel expenses. If I’m within 8 hours of an event I will drive (suggested reimbursement of $250), otherwise I typically fly (if within the USA, $500). I fly out of Lexington, KY and typically purchase my own tickets; a reimbursement check can be mailed to 333 East Margaret Drive, Wilmore, KY 40390.

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I’d be delighted to come to your event and speak. I typically keep my events within a 1-3 day time period due to commitments to my family; anything over this length of time is generally reserved for international travel. Workshops can be facilitated as whole-day or half-day events. My multi-part series can be easily held over a weekend, beginning Friday night and ending Sunday morning or beginning Sunday morning and ending Monday evening.

About MeAbout Me

Speaker, author, and life coach.

Born in Ontario, Canada, I moved to El Salvador at age 4 to live as a missionary kid for three years. At age nineteen I moved to Alberta, Canada where I taught school for three years. After leading several short term teams to Asia focused on unreached people groups, I married my sweetheart Amy and lived in Northern Indiana for Familya year and a half. In 1997, we moved with our infant daughter Brittany to Thailand where I served as director of Global Tribes Outreach. During our ten-year stint in Southeast Asia, God blessed us with two more children—Courtney and Jamin. In 2008 we moved back to North America and bought our first house in Kentucky, USA. I acquired a Masters in Christian Leadership from Asbury Seminary in 2014 and now travel both domestically and internationally to develop leaders.

As a leadership developer and life coach I help non-profit and business leaders understand how to maximize their God-given potential to lead and serve others. I am the author of A Serving Leader’s Devotional and the President of the Reverb Network.

I’ve spoken broadly on personal & global mission, leadership, team building, and numerous Biblical subjects over the last 20 years on four continents and numerous states and provinces in the USA and Canada.

I am committed to a Biblical worldview and dedicated to motivating the church toward missional thinking and practice in all areas of life. I believe that everyone has a God-given purpose to love and serve others like Jesus. I firmly believe that having our thinking challenged is not enough; it must be translated into change.

MY STORY

I have heard from other staff members who agree with me, this was one of the best/productive workshops we've attended.

Dan Domer
Staff Member, Covenant Church, Winterville, NC

Your talk rocked my world.  

Qian Wang
Perspectives Student, College Station, TX

Luke Kuepfer’s high-energy presentation of the material was delightful, articulate, and profound! If you are looking for a fresh and life-changing look at Jesus’ servant leadership model, look no further! Give Luke a call!

Don Showalter
President, Hearts Alive!

Luke is a dynamic speaker with the gift of clearly articulating Biblical truths in an easy-to-understand manner. He speaks in humility but with authority, and injects his message with the experience and global perspective gained from living abroad as a missionary for many years.

Santosh David Poonen
Elder, River of Life Christian Fellowship, Loveland, CO

Luke’s enthusiasm and passion for the local church and its impact in the community is inspiring. I highly recommend his teaching and ministry!  

Clarence Miller
Deacon, Sharon Mennonite Church

“Transformational” is the one word I would use to describe the seminar. Luke has a true gift in communicating God’s truths with clarity and passion.

Joe Bacher
Pastor, Foothills Fellowship Westminster, SC

Luke is enthusiastic and knowledgeable, presenting the interactive material creatively. It is a unique presentation unlike the usual “leadership seminars” taught from the front. Luke presents it with expertise, fun, and interest in each attendee.

David Livingstone
Regional Manager, North-East & Mid-Atlantic Region, The JESUS Film Project

Luke really has an incredible way of captivating everyone’s attention and making a seminar meaningful. He speaks from his heart and lives what he preaches. As a result of this Encounter we’re taking our family to Southeast Asia on a two-month mission trip with the possibility of moving there long-term.

Lloyd & Mary Ellen Esh
Pastor, New Covenant Mennonite Fellowship New Holland, PA

REVIEWS

SKILLS

Years Lived Abroad
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2014 - 2016

SPEAKER, COACH, & LEADERSHIP DEVELOPER

Presentations and workshops in both non-profit and business venues around the world on leadership, people skills, and life purpose.

2011- 2013

STUDENT @ ASBURY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Masters Degree in Christian Leadership.

2009 - 2010

STUDENT @ THOMAS EDISON STATE COLLEGE

Bachelor’s Degree online in Liberal Studies.

1997 - 2008

DIRECTOR @ GLOBAL TRIBES OUTREACH

Founded and served as Field Director of Global Tribes Outreach (GTO), a non-profit organization based in Southeast Asia committed to church planting and social work.

1994 - 1996

WORKER IN CONSTRUCTION AND AGRICULTURE

Floor finishing in concrete construction and equipment operator on a cash crop farm.

1990 - 1993

TEACHER @ PRAIRIE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

Taught elementary through high school students in a self-directed learning environment.