The Story Unfolds

December 05, 2018

As we approach Christmas would it be fair to say that we’re all pursuing happiness? It seems so and yet happiness can be hard to get and harder to maintain. A look at Psalm 1 shows us what to prioritize if we want to be happy.

Did you know that Christianity is the only religion that involves a personal relationship with God and by that I mean an intimate exchange of thoughts and feelings. It’s what God wanted in the beginning when He first created the world and it’s still what He desires.

We all have a choice to make between two ways of life and the Psalms tell us quite a bit about those choices. If you haven’t read the Psalms you might be surprised to find that they are full of intrigue, suffering, pain and injustice. They show life in its raw reality.

Psalm 1 shows two kinds of people and their two ends. Your copy of The Story may use the word blessed instead of happiness, but either way we see that our happiness is sourced internally not externally.

In this passage we see a tree that will experience rain and drought; wind and calm, but the tree is sourced with something life giving- water from the stream. It’s not inherent within the plant. In the same way, a blessed life can never be found directly but is a byproduct of delighting in or seeking something else.

We’d like to think that WE are the source; that there is no truth outside of ourselves, but Psalm 1 tells us that the blessed man delights in the law of the Lord. That means that we are receptive to God’s instructions contrasted with refusing them.

If you look closely you’ll see a progression within the Psalm. First, there is a casual influence. An example could be, “If you have ALEXA you will be fulfilled.” The next step is is to stop and stand, to participate and parrot bad counsel. Lastly, we sit and are all in.

We must have a great preference for seeking what’s on God’s heart. Advent is our opportunity to remember that it all begins and ends with Jesus. Do I understand Him as the One who imparts life? Christmas is not about a warm feeling, but about a deep, intimate relationship with God. It is he who knows our pain, our injustices, the realities of our lives and He says, “I subjected Myself to those very things for you.”

Make Christmas about Him. 

                             

November 28, 2018

We have celebrated Thanksgiving for another year and our focus turns to Christmas. We all have to make personal decisions about who it is we wish to thank for the blessings in our lives, and what we will do with the fact that God loved us enough to send His Son to earth. These weeks leading up to Christmas are a perfect time to revisit the birth of Christ by reading Max Lucado’s book, God Came Near. This book, and many other holiday selections, are out on the shelves for your perusal.

November 19, 2018

We’re moving quickly through the first 3 books. It can be overwhelming to read if you have no background and sometimes even if you do. This week the emphasis is on the fact that God wants us to feel His presence. That’s why He had His people build a tabernacle in the wilderness and today His desire remains the same.

God said in essence, “If I’m going to live in your midst here’s what it will look like.” Leviticus teaches us that God graciously provides a way for His people to know His presence and He does it through a mediator, a priest. Leviticus answers how we can live with a holy God.

God initiated a sacrificial system that seems brutal. He was teaching His people that a holy God cannot tolerate sin. He has every right to not tolerate it and He chose to accept a temporary sacrifice until the time was right to send a final sacrifice. 

God sacrificed an animal in the beginning when Adam and Eve made the choice to sin so that Adam and Eve could receive atonement. Atonement means reparation for a wrong or an injury, and our sin wrongs a holy God. Atonement covers over the guilt and shame we rightly feel when we sin. And God graciously provided the sacrifice because He wants to be with us!

A dominant theme of the Bible is God’s PRESENCE. That’s why, in the second half of The Story, we read, “So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s One and Only Son…For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever see God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” NLT

The tabernacle of the first half of the book simply means “dwelling.” Stay with me until the second half to learn how Jesus makes His dwelling now within those who put their faith in Him. God sent Jesus to make Himself known and that’s what we celebrate at Christmas. Can you feel His presence?

November 16, 2018

How well do you follow directions?  Does just reading that statement bring a negative feeling with it?

Instructions are often a really good thing such as in the military when a soldier is trained to respond instinctively or reflexively because his life depends on it. Or in the realm of medicine, we can see that following instructions is to our benefit if we desire to alleviate symptoms and heal completely. 

In the next section of The Story, we see that God is training His people to follow His instructions, to walk in faith. He has liberated them from Egypt and now He is telling them how their relationship with Him should look. He is doing this is for the future blessing of all nations.

The people arrive at Mount Sinai and God establishes a second covenant with them. This is called the Mosaic Covenant and is a covenant which includes priests as mediators who act on the behalf of the people in order that they might begin to see God.

We find that obedience is necessary in order to receive blessing and in order to become a blessing to others. The people are not yet who they need to be. It will take a long time to get Egypt’s way of life out of Israel.

The terms of the covenant that the people were to keep included an expectation that they would love God and love others. God told them how that could best be achieved and the people confirmed their desire to follow the terms of the covenant, but they also did a lot of complaining. In His faithfulness, God continued to show them how dependent they were on Him, and how trustworthy He was, as He provided for their basic needs.

We all have to come to a place where we recognize our dependence on God. He wants to be our source of refreshment from the ills of this world and often times He uses a difficult situation to get our attention and to train us to look to Him for provision.

The Ten Commandments were given and they still have application today. First, we realize that by embracing the Law we learn more about who our God is. Secondly, we discover more about who we are, and if we are truly  honest with ourselves, we come to understand that we aren’t close to measuring up.

But we aren’t left in a place of not measuring up. As we get into the second half of The Story we’ll read in detail how the Law was fulfilled once for all in Jesus Christ. Jesus saves by grace, not good works or obedience to the Law. He took our death and gave us His righteousness. Believing in God’s provision of salvation through Christ is all we need. Jesus became the ultimate priest; a mediator on our behalf. 

November 7, 2018

We’re ready to begin looking at the second of the 66 books. We can label this book Intervention.  That’s a popular word in today’s world. To intervene is to- “take part in something to prevent or alter a result or course of events.”

Four hundreds years have passed and the people of God have greatly multiplied just as God had promised Abraham. They now number 600,000 men plus women and children.  Joseph has long been forgotten and a new Pharaoh in Egypt comes into power. God’s people are without a homeland or a law to guide them but He’s about to intervene.

Pharaoh tried several plans to control God’s chosen people. The first thing was working them to death. When that didn’t work he tried killing all their newborn sons.  It wasn’t that God had been absent or ignoring His people, rather, He was steadily preparing a man for the work.

Moses is the name of the lower story character in the second book. His first 40 years were spent growing up in Pharaoh’s household as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. At 40, he had to flee for his life to the land of Midian after murdering an Egyptian. From age 40-80 he lived in Midian marrying and raising a family. And then God called him back to Egypt to lead the 600,000 men, plus women and children, OUT. 

In the third chapter we read that God had seen the affliction, and heard the cry of His people who were being mistreated, and He came down to deliver them. He was intervening on His people’s behalf then as He does for us today. Through a series of plagues, God displayed His sovereignty over everything that the Egyptians were worshiping in place of Him.

“The gospel message says you don’t live in a mechanistic world ruled by necessity. You don’t live in a random world ruled by chance. You live in a world ruled by the God of Exodus and Easter. He will do things in you that neither you or your friends would have supposed possible.”  -Eugene Peterson

Until next time….

November 1, 2018

Promises kept will be a theme you see threaded throughout The Story. We all make them- parents to children, spouse to spouse, followers to leaders. We say, “I will, I do, no matter what.”

Lewis Smedes says, “When you make a promise you have created a small sanctuary of trust within the jungle of unpredictability.” You create your own future when you make a promise.

And that describes our God. He is our certainty in the midst of uncertainty. He went to the extreme of coming into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, to subject Himself to our cruelty, yet He says to us, “If you come to Me I promise you eternal connection, perfection and peace.”

What we read about in the first book of The Story is preparatory. We are reminded that there is one God and He is Creator. Every one of the 66 books underscores that fact. We were created to live in relationship with our Creator and if we choose not to we will never be whole.

We learn about the first caretakers of the garden who made a decision to join the serpent in his rebellion against God and how devastation and death followed.  We call that Crisis.

Then Catastrophe follows on Crisis’ heels as the first son murders the second son. Generation, after generation, after generation follow their own way until God chooses to wash them away and begin again.

But worshiping self is actually what we all do best. We imagine that we don’t need God. In every story within The Story, we find examples of mankind questioning, “Did God really say that?” And then we take the fruit from the deceiver’s hand and eat. 

The original recipients of The Story understood covenant language. They were familiar with contracts that defined relationships. A chosen relationship, made a binding promise, to reach a common goal and it was relational and personal; like a marriage or an adoption today. We’ll see that covenants are the backbone of The Story.

In Genesis 12, the major character, God, promises to break the pattern of hopelessness that had become the norm of the world. That’s the upper story, but there is much going on in the lower story, too, and it usually involves some poor choices on the part of humans, the secondary characters. For example, Abraham and Sarah made some really dumb decisions that endangered the promise as they try to force the hand of God, but God remains faithful because that is His character.

We finish the first book in The Story with a remarkable man named Joseph who lived his life in light of the promise. He is a type of Christ, a foreshadow of what is to come. He shows incredible forgiveness to the brothers who schemed for his demise just as Christ shows to each of us.

The narrative slows down, but if you keep reading you can consistently observe God intervening and rescuing His people as they slowly come to understand who He is. It’s a process, coming to understand who God is, and I invite you to join me in the quest.

October 20, 2018

To understand The Story we need to learn how it progresses through 66 books. That’s quite the series!

Last week there were caretakers  assigned to a garden and to the animals. The world was a place of perfection and peace; marriage and work were without conflict.  Today we look around and wonder, “Was it truly perfect and peaceful? How could that be?” and we find ourselves returning to the questions of  “Am I loved?”  “Why do I hurt?”  “Does my life have any meaning” and “Is there any hope for the world?”

Ken Ediger, who helps me to understand The Story, asks that we receive it the way it unfolds and as it was meant to be. The Story is meant for us to enter into and be changed.

This week the serpent pulls us into the story for he is crafty, subtle, and full of innuendo. His goal is to make the Creator look bad. He accomplishes his goal and the first man and woman choose opposition to God rather than the perfection and peace they’d received to this point. And the first blame game begins.

G.K. Chesterson, an English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic living in the early 20th century once responded to a newspaper editorial in this way:

Dear Sir,                                                                                                                           

Regarding your article What’s Wrong With the World?…. I am.                         

Yours truly,                                                                                                                   

G.K. Chesterson

Chesterson felt no need to play the blame game. He took full responsibility for his actions. His was a simple and straightforward answer, and if we’re honest, we could all answer the same.

Death permeated humanity back in the beginning of time and an apt label for what was taking place would be catastrophe.

We said that The Story began with the creation of the world, but it certainly didn’t take long for our world to be defined as “a sudden and total failure from which recovery is impossible”- the definition of catastrophe. Wherever there is opposition to God we can expect catastrophe.

Just before the flood, The Story tells us that humans “only thought about evil things all of the time.”  But even wiping the face of the earth clean from the wickedness of man didn’t change things.

Instead of the personal relationship that our Creator intended, mankind was more interested in making a name for themselves.

Remember how we said that there is a plot, characters, and a setting to every story? We’ve identified the main character of The Story as God; He is the protagonist, the Hero. But we must have an antagonist, too. You might think from what I’ve previously said that the antagonist is mankind, but take a second look. Where did the doubt about who God is and what He is like originate? Was it from the man or woman? No, it was from the serpent. More about him later.

Humans have tried to better this world we live in from the beginning of time, but it has never worked and it never will. In the second half of The Story a man named Paul calls Jesus Christ the second Adam. Keep coming back and you’ll learn why.

October 10, 2018                                                                                                                                                                 

The Story is meant to be personal. Like any story it consists of a lead character, supporting roles, a plot and a setting. We have a copy of The Story in the library if you care to read it.

In chapter one, we learn that the lead character of The Story is God. Humans, male and female, play supporting roles. We learn about the fruit of the choices that humans make and why God decided to send a worldwide flood.

There is so very much I could say about chapter one; that the original creation of God was good and that mankind, made in His image, was “very good.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t say here at the start, “God desires to have a personal relationship with each one of us.”

Jeff Meyers, who wrote The Secret Battle of Ideas About God, states that we all ask very similar questions. Am I loved? Why do I hurt? Does my life have any meaning? Is there any hope for the world?

When we realize that we’re not the author of our lives we begin to comprehend the events of our lives from a higher perspective. Begin to think about it as an Upper Story and a Lower Story.

Stick with me. I think you’ll have some of your questions answered.