lancaster pa

Big Changes for the Schmidt Family

I have been silent for the past few weeks on social media and this blog, and for good reason. We’ve been working on some pretty big, life-altering news, and now it’s become official and public: we are moving to Lancaster in October!

Since moving to Corning in 2010, we have made the long trek down I-99 and Route 15 to Lancaster about a dozen times a year. Mostly this is to see family, but we have always loved Lancaster county and we’ve always said that one day we would want to move there. With Norah about to turn one next month, we want her (and us) to be closer to family; so that “one day” wish to move to Lancaster is becoming a reality.

ydopWhen we move, I’ll be joining the team at YDOP, an internet marketing company right in downtown Lancaster. I’ll be writing content for clients, meaning I’ll get paid to research and write—a dream come true! I’ve enjoyed getting to know the fun team at YDOP this past month, and I’m looking forward to being down there full-time.

We will miss all the friends we’ve made here in Corning the past five years, friends at North Baptist Church, Corning Christian Academy, and in the community; but we are grateful that we live in an era where friendships can stay strong through FaceTime and Facebook.

If you think of it, pray for us during this transition time. We are still working out the housing situation, bank accounts, and the hundred other little changes that have to happen in the next month. I’m sure we will be reaching out to all of you for cardboard boxes and your muscles to lift those cardboard boxes.


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The Power of Story from Back to the Future

The Power of Story from Back to the Future

I am a die-hard Back to the Future fan. I have watched all three movies dozens of times, can quote most lines from the movies1, and I have my own Marty McFly outfit. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Back to the Future, as well as the future date Marty & co. travel to in Part 2.

In preparation for that date in October, I recently read We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy. Getting unparalleled access to the director, writers, cast, and crew behind the trilogy, author Caseen Gaines provides a compelling read on the long and complicated journey these movies took to get to the screen.

In the chapters describing the first movie, I was impressed by the significance everyone put on the strength of the story. Steven Spielberg, a producer of the trilogy, loved it immediately upon first read; so did many of the cast and crew. But what impressed me the most was the reaction from the movie’s first audience.

As Gaines describes, the film the audience saw was a “work-print,” meaning it had rough transitions, lacked most of the visual and sound effects, and was without the soundtrack. This viewing took place in May 1985, less than a month after shooting wrapped on the movie. The audience was told little about the movie they were about to see, only that it starred Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

For the first 20 minutes, the audience seemed unimpressed; some thought there was too much dialogue and buildup, and they couldn’t see a purpose or direction for the movie. But, with that famous scene in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot, when the DeLorean rolls out, the audience was sucked back in. Over the next few minutes, when the DeLorean actually goes back in time, the audience was hooked.

When the movie finally ended, the audience erupted into applause. Response cards filled out by this first audience reported that 90% of them thought the movie was “excellent” or “very good;” and that was without any special effects! As Neil Canton, a producer on the film, later said:

It was still a work in progress at the time of that screening… visual effect shots weren’t done, and the music wasn’t done, but the audience was just so into the story. (Quoted in Gaines, We Don’t Need Roads, 107).

In an age where special effects, graphic designs, and pretty typography can add a lot when done right, the core thing that matters is a good story. Too many movies2 have had massive budgets for special effects, but because they were lacking in story, they ultimately failed. And yet, partially based on the strength of its story, Back to the Future was the highest-grossing film of 1985. Moreover, the movie has endured for a long time; so much so that a person like me, who was only born in 1985, still loves it.

  1. To the annoyance of my wife. 

  2. See G.I. Joe or any of the later Transformer movies. 

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Why Read the Old Testament

Why Read the Old Testament?


Over the last two weeks I’ve been looking at the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. While this is not a review per se, my first impressions are that the Bible is very promising: great articles, helpful study notes, and full color on every page.1

In his article “Introduction to the Old Testament,” T.D. Alexander provides a compelling description of the Old Testament’s role in the biblical storyline:

The Bible is built around a grand story that starts in Genesis with the divine creation of the earth and ends in Revelation by anticipating the coming of a new earth. The OT contributes to this story by explaining the origin and nature of the human predicament, which, in essence, is our alienation from God. From the early chapters of Genesis onward, the OT describes how God sets about redeeming and restoring creation after the tragic rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Not only is God’s redemptive activity evident throughout the OT, but by pointing forward to Jesus Christ, the OT introduces the ultimate means by which the tragic consequences of human sin will be reversed. (p. 3)

Alexander then goes on to provide a brief summary of the Old Testament narrative. He concludes this section, writing:

While the grand story of the OT moves through a series of distinctive stages, these stages are closely linked to one another as God’s plan of redemption unfolds. From the Garden of Eden to the return of the exiles from Babylon, God is at work, seeking to restore to himself an alienated humanity and to reclaim the earth from the powers of evil. In all of this, the OT prepares for events that come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. With good reason the NT cannot be fully understood without an intimate knowledge of the OT. (p. 6).

What a great reason for reading the Old Testament! Sure, the stories seem bizarre, the names unpronounceable, and the genealogies monotonous; for the Christian, the Old Testament is required reading, helping you better understand the events and writings of the New Testament. Moreover, as Alexander writes in the last paragraph, in the Old Testament we see God at work, bringing restoration and reconciliation to both mankind and the entire cosmos.

  1. Now if they could only work on the size. My copy—which is the Personal Size—makes the ESV Study Bible look thin! 

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theology of space in jonah

Theology of Space in Jonah


This past Sunday we hosted a Children’s Worker Training at church. In the training, Pastor Gary provided a sample lesson on Jonah 1. As we all reflected on Jonah fleeing from God by heading away from Nineveh, I noticed how much detail the author of Jonah puts into the narrative, especially in terms of space and location. After doing some more reading1 I realized that much of the movement in space in Jonah is communicating some powerful theological truths.

Falling from God

In Jonah 1:1–2, God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it. This is a command for Jonah to physically travel there, heading north and then east from Israel to arrive in the Assyrian capital. Instead, Jonah heads west to Joppa, where he finds a ship that will carry him farther west to Tarshish2. But notice also that Jonah travels down; twice in Jonah 1:3 the text says Jonah went down—first to Joppa and then to the boat.

Once on the boat heading west, a giant storm strikes the boat, terrifying the hardened sailors. Yet Jonah was not among them, as he was sleeping in the hold. Once again, the text describes Jonah as moving downward “into the inner part of the ship” (Jonah 1:5). The Phoenician captain orders Jonah to arise and to worship his god, but Jonah believes it is futile. Instead, Jonah orders the sailors to throw him overboard into the deep of the Mediterranean. When they do this in Jonah 1:15, Jonah is again falling deeper into the earth, away from the presence of God.

Crying from the Depths

While in the watery deeps, as far as he could physically go, Jonah was rescued. A giant fish—appointed by God—swallowed Jonah and kept him for three days. In the midst of this behemoth rescuer, Jonah finally prays for the first time in this book. Spanning most of Jonah 2, this prayer is rich in spatial language. Jonah notes that God sent him to the depths—to the very roots of the mountains (Jonah 2:6). Yet from the depths God hears Jonah’s cry and rescues him from the same depths.

In this prayer, Jonah is no longer fleeing God, but is in communion with Him. In the depths of the sea, Jonah finds a divinely appointed place of worship. From this organic temple/method of deliverance, Jonah’s prayer is heard in God’s heavenly temple (verse 7), and God provides the salvation he needs (verse 9).

Also worth noting in Jonah 2 is the lone line of narrative at the end. In verse 10, the narrator says that the fish vomited Jonah out “upon the dry land.” Keeping with the movements in the rest of the book, Jonah is no longer descending into earth. Instead, in one mighty belch he finds himself in the same space he was in Jonah 1:1—on dry land and about to hear from God.

Towards the Center of It All

God repeats his command for Jonah to go to Nineveh in Jonah 3:2; the wording is nearly identical to Jonah 1:2. Only this time, Jonah listens. Rather than running from Nineveh, Jonah heads directly towards it. Jonah arrives in Nineveh, and begins to venture into the city, preaching his message of condemnation as he goes3. Jonah—or at least the message that Jonah brought—eventually arrived in the center of Nineveh, where the king of Nineveh ruled. His response to this message echoed the response of the entire city: repentance and begging God for mercy (Jonah 3:7–9).

Arise and Judge

In Jonah 4 the narrative focus returns to Jonah. He is very angry that Nineveh repented and God relented (4:1). In verse 5, the text describes Jonah as traveling further east; he wants to get a good vantage point from where he hopes to watch Nineveh’s destruction.

While I couldn’t find any evidence in commentaries, I wonder if the author intended for verse 5 to read as if Jonah climbed an elevation to view Nineveh’s destruction. Viewing from an elevation—even if just a hill or slight rise to the east of the city—would have given him a better view of the anticipated destruction. Moreover, in continuation of the role of space in this book, it would serve as further movement by Jonah. In this case, he would have risen above the city; having served as judge and found the city guilty (4:2), he now awaited the carrying out of the sentence.

Using a divinely-appointed plant, worm, and wind, God yet again demonstrated to Jonah that divine compassion and love exceeds human understanding of justice and revenge. Even though Jonah fought to change the situation, God would have mercy on the repentant Gentiles.


In the first half of the book, Jonah tries to flee the presence of the Lord. Not only does he run in the opposite direction from Nineveh, he also descends deeper and deeper into the earth. With the ancient worldview believing that God lived in the physical heavens above, Jonah’s journey down to the sea, into the hold of the ship, and into the sea can be seen as Jonah trying to get as far away from God’s presence as physically possible.

Yet Jonah found that was impossible. In the depths of the sea, God was there—and He rescued him! Jonah discovers the truth found in the Psalter:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psalm 139:7–8)

Later, we find out why Jonah is fleeing God: he knows that if Nineveh will repent, God will forgive them; Jonah thinks they deserve judgment and not mercy. In this way, Jonah tries to take the place of God, climbing to a vantage point to watch the hoped-for destruction. But this turns into another lesson for Jonah, as God uses the plant to show how much he cares for Nineveh.

  1. After the training, of course. 

  2. The identity of Tarshish is unknown; it would have been west on the Mediterranean.  

  3. While Nineveh was a great city, it was not so massive to take 3 days to travel. The ancient walled city was only 1–3 miles in breadth. Likely the narrator is referring to the cities and towns in the Nineveh region—what we would now call the Greater Metropolitan Area. Another compelling explanation for why Jonah’s journey took so long is because he preached his message to every home he encountered, jumping into his prophetic role with gusto. 

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How A Baseball Game is Like A Church

How A Baseball Game Is Like A Church

Last night my wife and I had the opportunity to go to the Phillies/Mets baseball game in Philadelphia. Now that we live several hours away from Philly, we can only go to one game per season. The evening was great: the weather was fantastic, and there were plenty of home runs; unfortunately too many of them were by Mets players.

At one point during the evening, I reflected on some similarities between going to a baseball game and being a part of a local church. I’m sure others have noted these and even greater similarities; here’s just what I saw.

A Sense of Liturgy

At a baseball game—regardless of league or team—there are some standard elements. Someone will throw out a first pitch. Someone will sing the National Anthem. In the 7th inning someone else will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There will be chanting and cheering and boos, depending on the calls in the field. And most will partake in the ritual meal: pretzel, hot dog, ice cream, beer or soda.

A Sense of Identity

Almost everyone comes to the game with similar clothing: a jersey or shirsy of the home team, a baseball cap, and perhaps a baseball glove. My wife and I ate at a local restaurant before the game, and we could immediately identify every person that was going to the game later solely based on their clothing.

A Sense of Community

Rarely do you ever go up to a complete stranger and high five them, yet this always happens at a baseball game. Strangers are united behind their common love of a team, as well as their common hatred of the other team. In our section of the stadium, we were surrounded by Mets fans. They came from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, but they left the game like brothers.

And this community also holds the past in high regard. I saw dozens of people wearing jerseys of players from previous eras: Schmidt and Halladay and Seaver—the greats from the history of both teams. Fathers told their sons about the time they went to the ballpark and saw this player do that amazing thing. And at Citizens Bank Park, like many other stadiums in America, there are plaques and monuments venerating these great players.

Harry Kalas statue
Me posing with the statue of Harry Kalas #legend

A Sense of Wonder

In the game last night, the two teams combined for a total of 11 home runs—tying the NL record for most in a single game. The Mets fans were especially euphoric, as their team had 8 of them! Throughout the night, this sense of amazement and wonder was draped over all who were present; we knew we would never see another game like this. And perhaps that is why people love baseball so much, because at every game, and with every pitch, you have the opportunity to see something amazing. Whether it is a massive home run, a diving catch, or a fantastic throw, spectators are left in wonder of a remarkable play that just happened on the field.

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How Harry Potter Helps Illustrate Biblical Theology

How Harry Potter Helps Illustrate Biblical Theology

Here at A Greater Story, I am all about showing how the Bible is to be read as one overarching narrative—one that tells the story of how God saves his people. Biblical theology is the task of studying how every part of the Bible—from Genesis to the chronologies to Revelation—contribute to this grand story.

Recently, Andy Naselli shared how reading and listening to the Harry Potter series helped him better understand biblical theology. In this video, he highlights how J.K. Rowling intentionally builds key themes within every book; these themes might be small in the beginning, but fully blossom in the end.

The study Bible that he mentions—NIV Zondervan Study Bible—looks very promising. It is coming out next week, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

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Literally Interpreting the Words of Jesus

On Literally Interpreting the Words of Jesus

For Christians and non-Christians alike, the teachings of Jesus are very important. Christians believe his teachings—saturated with forgiveness and love—provide guidelines for kingdom ethics that all his followers should follow. Some Bibles even print the words of Jesus in red ink, so they stand out more than any other text in Scripture1. And for those who view Jesus as a great moral teacher, the description of him found in the four Gospel accounts are exemplary of a compassionate person.

But how are we to read the teachings of Jesus? Can we take them all literally?

Literally Reading the Bible

In conservative Christian circles, much emphasis is put on reading the Bible literally. It has become a rallying cry against any threat—perceived or real—against inerrancy and the theological views of the holder. But this cry is too simplistic; it often reminds me of Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation:

Not everything in the Bible can be read literally, because not everything in the Bible is meant to be read literally. Similes, metaphors, poetry, and figurative language are all types of genres or literary devices that don’t work if you interpret them literally; you must interpret them differently. As one Biblical scholar responded to a question of genre and interpretation: “We interpret the literal parts of the Bible literally.”

Figurative Interpretation and the Words of Jesus

A great example of when we cannot literally interpret the Bible is in the Gospel of John. In this book, the author records seven “I Am” statements by Jesus, in which Jesus uses metaphor to describe a characteristic or attribute he has. These statements—such as “I am the door” or “I am the bread”—have given cross-cultural missionaries and Bible translators fits, as they are difficult to accurately render in other cultures and languages. Often times, translators must resort to changing the metaphor into a simile—saying Jesus is like a door.

When we read Jesus saying he is a door, we instinctively know that this is a metaphor; we know we must interpret this statement figuratively. But this leads to a new challenge for the reader: In what way is Jesus like a door?  What are the characteristics of a door that Jesus is claiming as his own?

Over the next few Sundays at church we will be looking at these I Am statements, in order to see how Jesus uses them to describe himself. This Sunday we will look at John 10 and see how Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

  1. A practice started in 1899 as a marketing scheme.  

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powers of ten

On Self and Finding Perspective

Cogito, ergo sum

Rene Descartes (translated as I think, therefore I am.)

The power of self is a truly powerful thing. For Descartes, it was a paradigm-shift, enabling him to rest his entire philosophy of the world on the core truth that he existed. Skepticism and doubt could challenge any other statement, but this statement rang true.

The idea of self is helpful for human beings. We have an innate sense of self-preservation, keeping us alive longer than perhaps we should. For many people, their self—filled with optimism and positive thinking—allows them to endure through trying times.

But the idea of self can also be harmful to individuals. When self turns into selfish behavior, it can do serious harm to loved ones who get in the way. An overinflated sense of self leads to egotism, conceit, and narcissism.

Often times the best remedy for self-centeredness is a helpful dose of perspective. A person needs to recognize that life is short, the world is big, and that we only get to play a small part in this grand cosmic play.

Powers of Ten, a video produced in 1977 by Charles and Ray Eames, is one of the best ways I know to provide perspective in one’s life. Using cutting-edge technology (at the time), this video shows how a human is both massive and insignificant, all at the same time.

Zooming away from the central figures, our planet, solar system, and galaxy don’t even register in the grand scale of the cosmos. And yet zooming in, we see that there is plenty of things happening within our bodies, without our full knowledge. In both instances, we can see that knowledge of our self is just one small part of the greater and grander things that are taking place on this cosmic stage.

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The Power of Story

creativity incRecently I read Creativity, Inc, the memoir of Ed Catmull. You might not recognize the name, but you are familiar with the company he runs: Pixar. Catmull is co-founder of the studio, and has been overseeing it since the early days as part of George Lucas’ empire.

In the book, Catmull describes the unwavering dedication to story as a fundamental belief of Pixar. Sure, they are also on the cutting edge of computer graphics—having the honor of releasing the first computer animated movie—but slick animation means nothing if the story is flawed. He notes several times when a movie’s development had to be paused or scrapped due to a weak story, costing the company millions. That is how important story is to Pixar.

Power of Stories

A story is a powerful thing. It can bring us to tears, have us cheer with joy, and move us to do mighty things. And some of the best stories are ones that are long-lasting: fairy tales we tell children, the works of Shakespeare, and classic movies of the 20th century. Box office sales and popularity don’t make something a great story; rather, it is the emotions you feel after you hear or read or watch the story.

Stories make us want to be better, to live better lives, and to do heroic things. They enable us to quit our job, to succeed in our career, and to pursue our dreams. They inspire us to love our families more, stand up for truth, and to seek justice.

Good stories are hard to come by today. Some stories rely too much on CGI effects, slick marketing, or celebrity endorsements. But the meat of the story is weak, convoluted, or redundant. And when a good story is discovered, it is milked for all its worth with sequels, movie rights, and merchandising.

inside outInside Out

Fortunately for us, Pixar remains dedicated to the power and impact of story. Sure, they still put out sequels and overdo the merchandising opportunities1 But Pixar is consistently creating original stories that move both the heart and the imagination.

Last night, my wife and I saw Inside Out. This movie will likely go down as one of the top Pixar stories ever, and by far the most emotional. Director Pete Docter—who also helmed 2009’s Up—has a true gift for making animation not only come alive, but to make the animation truly emotional. Who knew that you could come up with a compelling story, and then present that story, almost all of which takes place inside a tween’s mind?

And the Pixar short that came before the movie was just as good. Called Lava, it is a love song from one volcano to another. In just a few minutes, Pixar makes you care for and cheer for a dormant volcano to find love. I never thought I would ever write a sentence like that, but that is the power of story, and ultimately the gift that Pixar has with stories.

lava pixar

  1. After all, they are part of Disney. 

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failure of sons in the book of samuel

The Failure of Sons in the Book of Samuel

At the end of 1 Samuel 7 we see a summary of Samuel’s ministry (1 Samuel 7:13–17). He has judged Israel for years, he has subdued the Philistines, and he has even led the nation in a victory at Ebenezer.

Yet when we get to 1 Samuel 8, we see that his sons are duds. At the beginning of 1 Samuel 8, we are transported into the future: Samuel is advanced in age and he sets up his two sons to serve in his place. Yet these two sons prove to be clones of Eli’s sons:

But his [Samuel’s] sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. (8:3 NIV)

Instead of following in the footsteps of their famous father, they follow the path of Eli’s sons. These men cannot provide leadership to Israel; you can’t have a judge who perverts justice!

This should not surprise the reader of the Old Testament—several times in the text the sons of great leaders follow a path of dishonesty and corruption. The failure of Eli’s sons lead to the emergence of Samuel. The grandson of Moses set up idols in Dan. Joshua and all the judges were all one-time leaders; there was never a passing of leadership by generations in a family.

In 1 Samuel 8, the people react to Samuel’s sons by crying out for a king. Much is made of them desiring a king to be like other nations, but there is probably an additional desire for stability in leadership. With a dynasty, Israel would always know who their leader would be, instead of waiting for one to arrive.

Yet these future dynasties found Samuel don’t fare much better. Saul and his sons die the same day on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). David’s lineage is a great mess in 2 Samuel, filled with incest (2 Samuel 13:1–22), infighting (2 Samuel 13:23–39), and an attempted military coup by the heir apparent (2 Samuel 15).


Family lineage does not fare well in the book of Samuel. Sons fail to live up to the reputation and faithfulness of their fathers. In the book of Samuel, we see several times in which the nation cannot put her trust in these sons.

But there is a glimmer of hope: in 2 Samuel 7, a son is promised to David. This son will be taught by God, will be like a son to God, and will reign forever. This son will succeed where all other sons have failed. He will be the true king and true son—the Lord’s chosen one (Messiah).

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