Category: Story of God (Page 1 of 7)

Starting with Confession

Tomorrow at GCR Church, we consider together Act Two of the Story of God. Act Two is the major conflict, the thing in the drama that goes horribly wrong and must be fixed. Sin happens. Rebellion against God. And it wrecks everything.

We’re all guilty. We’ve all lived this part of the Story. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and his creation intentions for us as his people. We’ve all taken huge bites out of that apple.

Almost all Christian churches for almost all of Christian history have started almost all their Christian worship assemblies with a prayer of confession and repentance. Confession is an ancient Christian practice we’ve never really embraced in the Churches of Christ. But Holy Scripture and centuries of Church tradition and practice compel us to give it a good honest try. Confession is one of those places where our God meets us and transforms us. In confession, we acknowledge our sin before God and pledge to live more holy lives by his grace.

Tomorrow morning we will pray a prayer of confession and repentance together to begin our assembly at GCR. I’m hoping you’ll join us. If not in person, then in spirit.

“Almighty and merciful Father, we have sinned.
We have followed too much the desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy will.
We have done the things we should not have done; and we have not done the things we should have done.
There is no health in us. O Lord, have mercy on us.
Spare us, O God, who confess our sins.
Restore us who are repentant, according to your promises declared to all men and women in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, most merciful Father, that we may live godly, righteous, and holy lives.
Amen.”

Accurate Interpretation

I need to offer a disclaimer as we make this shift from viewing the Bible primarily as a collection of God’s commands to reading and understanding the Bible more as the Story of God. This narrative lens is not going to suddenly give us easy answers to all the issues. We’ll actually find there are fewer rules, the lines are not as black and white, and it leads to more questions and more wrestling and more reflection. It’s not a system. It’s not an owners manual. It’s much more art than science. It can be messy. But I believe understanding the Scriptures as a broad, sweeping, epic story of who God is and what he is doing will help us better connect the dots in the Bible, make us better able to see ourselves in the drama so we can play our parts and say our lines, and enable us to more accurately interpret God’s will.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:16-17

A lot of us have taken passages like the above and developed a theology about the Bible, but not a biblical theology.

We’ll read Jonah and spend four weeks researching whether a human can live inside a fish for three days and never once think about God. The story is about God and what he is doing, not about the whale and what he or she can or cannot do.

We’ll argue about Paul’s words concerning divorce and remarriage and look for legal loopholes instead of dwelling on the covenant loyalty of our God who intends our marriages to reflect and witness to his perfect love and faithfulness.

Esther is not about “you need to be more courageous.” If that’s the point of Esther, it may as well be “you need to be prettier,” too. The point of Esther is that our God is at work to redeem everything and he uses every opportunity – even our darkest moments in exile when we feel weak and powerless and trapped in circumstances beyond our control – to save us and redeem us. We are not forgotten. We are never out of God’s reach or too far away from his salvation. That’s the story.

For a long time, we have read and studied the Bible looking for commands, examples, and necessary inferences. We no longer assume that this method works consistently, if at all, or if it’s even healthy. Does anybody really believe that in the grand, sweeping narrative of Scripture, the strange fire of Nadab and Abihu belongs in a central and controlling place? Reading the Bible as a book of laws to be obeyed or as a constitution to be defended is what led to some Christians affirming that slavery must be okay because the Bible doesn’t explicitly prohibit it.

Reading the Bible as a system of laws, people take every single verse that mentions slavery and notice that none of the verses condemns slavery as sinful or prohibitive. God didn’t say it’s a sin, so it must be alright as long as you don’t violate your conscience. Yes, Christians have done this in the past, and some Christians still do. Yes.

Reading the Bible as the story of who God is and what he’s  doing in Jesus Christ makes it obviously clear that all women and men are created equal in the image of God and that all people belong to each other as complete equals. Slavery is a result of the Fall; it’s sin. Jesus destroyed all the barriers between people at the cross. In Christ, there is no slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek – we are one and slavery is a reprehensible evil.

That’s the difference. What’s the story?

The beatitudes are not telling us to be better peacemakers or to grow in humility. It’s not that you have to develop these virtues in order to receive the blessings. Why do we try to make mourning/weeping sound good or desirable? Well, it’s mourning over sin, right? I don’t know, the text doesn’t say that. The point of the beatitudes is to express how radically present the Kingdom of God is, even and especially among those who are grieving. People in their brokenness and grief often feel like they’re left out of God’s blessings. But Jesus is telling us, “No! God’s Kingdom is bigger and better than we ever dreamed. And it’s here right now!”

What God is doing is a story. It’s a narrative. When we see the pattern of God’s Kingdom in Creation and how it went wrong, when we understand how everything God is doing through Jesus Christ is to restore our righteous relationships with him, with one another, and with all of nature, we can much more easily, consistently, and accurately interpret his will and purposes for us.

Peace,

Allan

Identity

According to the Bible, knowledge means knowing who God is and what he is doing through Jesus Christ. That knowledge, according to the Bible, leads to relationship, transformation, and mission. But most of the time, we’re primarily reading the Bible for information. We study words and the original languages behind them, we consult sources and resources for understanding the historical context, we dive deep into a fragment of a sentence and don’t come up for air until we’ve discerned the color of ink Luke used when he wrote Acts. And we don’t consider relationship, transformation, or mission.

Understanding the Bible as the Story of God will help us better connect the dots in Scripture, as observed in our last post. And it’ll  help us more easily identify with and see ourselves in the narrative.

Seeing the Scriptures as one grand, sweeping, epic story makes it easier to see ourselves in the narrative. We’re better able to place ourselves in the plot and play our parts and say our lines. We get this from inside the Bible itself, from the rich heritage of God’s people who lived and wrote and faithfully passed on the holy Scriptures.

Twelve generations after the crossing of the Red Sea, God’s people are saying, “Lord, you brought us out of Egypt!” Well, no, your grandparents and great-grandparents weren’t even alive when that happened. You never crossed the Red Sea. Oh, yes, we did; we did cross the Red Sea. We’re in this story.

In Daniel 9, the prophet is confessing sins that his ancestors committed decades before he was born. “We have sinned and done wrong; we have been wicked and rebelled!” No, Daniel, that wasn’t you. You don’t need to confess sins for which you are not personally responsible. Wrong answer. It is me. I did commit these sins. I’m in this story.

This is what the Bible does. It invites you to see yourself. It puts you in the Story.

“We thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through the Gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

The way you see other people and the way you understand the world and respond to what’s happening around you depends on the story you’re living.

You can go to a high school football game and sit by five people on the same bleacher and hear five different views of the same game depending on the role they play in the story they’re living. A scout looking at next week’s opponent says, “We’ve got to play zone against these guys; they’re fast.” A member of the board that owns the stadium thinks, “Four thousand people here, ten dollars per ticket, nachos are six bucks and Cokes are three dollars – we’ve got to figure out how to host a couple of playoff games when the season’s over.” The running back’s mom groans, “Don’t give him the ball; I don’t want him to get hurt.” The running back’s dad says, “Give him the ball! He needs more carries or he’s going to wind up at Texas A&M Commerce!” The running back’s English teacher marvels, “How can that kid memorize an 85-page playbook, yet forget to turn in his essay?”

Knowing the Story and understanding who you are in the Story informs and shapes how you see the game, how you respond to what’s happening on the field, and how you might act or speak to move the plot along and accomplish the purpose of the drama. Your identity is forged by the Story you live and the part you see yourself playing. God’s great Story is our Story.

Jesus says, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you.” The Bible says, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens of God’s people and members of God’s household.”

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people; but now you are the people of God!” ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Understanding the Story of God helps us bring more purpose and order to our lives and experiences. What is God doing in the world? Where is all this headed? And where are we – where am I – in this Story? Well, you are the light of the world. You bear the holy image of the Lord. You are ambassadors for Christ.

A system of laws and commands compels us to obey and comply. A Story invites us into relationship and mission. Reading the Bible primarily as lists and rules doesn’t foster the intent of God’s revelation in Scripture: to draw us into loving community and partnership with him. Viewing the Bible as God’s Story invites us to join.

Peace,

Allan

Connecting the Dots

We’re making a significant shift at the GCR Church in our hermeneutic, the lens through which we read and interpret the Scriptures. We’re intentionally moving away from viewing the Bible primarily as a collection of commands and laws and toward seeing the Bible as the grand, sweeping, epic narrative of who God is and what he is doing in the world. We’re introducing it to the church over these seven weeks in what we’re calling The Story of God.

The Bible is a story. God reveals himself to us in history, through incarnation, Gospel, mighty acts, relationship, and promise. He could have given us a systematic theology or a constitution if he wanted to. He very easily could have prepared the checklists and the bullet points of what he wants out of his people. But he didn’t reveal the truth of himself or his mission that way. Instead, he chose to give us a story. He gives us poetry and prose, songs and parables – all of it in a narrative form. It’s a story.

The Story of God has a beginning and an end. It has a catastrophe that threatens the story and a plan and a mission to set everything right. It has a main stage and a main character. And from start to finish, it’s beautiful and inspirational. Eternal.

Act One – Creation: The Pattern of the Kingdom (Genesis 1-2)
Act Two – Crash: The Perished Kingdom (Genesis 3-11)
Act Three – Covenant: The Promised Kingdom (Genesis 12-Malachi 4)
Act Four – Christ: The Present Kingdom (Matthew 1-John 21)
Act Five – Church: The Proclaimed Kingdom (Acts 1-Revelation 20)
Act Six – New Creation: The Perfected Kingdom (Revelation 21-22)

We believe reading and understanding the Scriptures as one holy narrative will help us better connect the dots in the Bible, better identify with the story and find our own place in the mission of God, and more accurately interpret God’s purposes and will.

Let’s take that first one today. Connecting the dots.

We connect with one another through our stories. In a room of strangers, we tell stories about our hometown or our first job, trying to find some common ground around which to begin a relationship. You’re from Clovis? I have an aunt who lives in Clovis! Do you know Pam Lewis? That’s how we do it. And that’s how our Lord does it.

Jesus connects all the dots in the story. That’s what he told the religious leaders in John 5: “The Scriptures all point to me; the story is about me.”

In Exodus 24, Moses and the priests, representing all of God’s people, are eating and drinking with God on Mt. Sinai because they have been washed in blood. Moses says “the blood of the covenant.” At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus quotes Moses from Exodus 24 and says, “This is my blood of the covenant.”

The Hebrews sacrifice a Passover lamb on the night of God’s great deliverance. The Gospels say Jesus is the Lamb of God and he was sacrificed on Passover.

The Gospel of John takes the beautiful language of Creation from Genesis 1 and the spectacular imagery of New Creation from Revelation 21 and ties it all together in Jesus. He was with God “in the beginning.” He is the light shining in the darkness.

The story tells us that when you pass through the waters, everything changes. When you walk through the waters of the Red Sea, God is moving you from slavery to freedom. When you cross the waters of the Jordan River, God is moving you from wandering in the wilderness to settling in the land of promise. When you go through the waters of baptism, you pass from death to eternal life.

The Story of God connects all the dots in the Bible and gives us a common language and common touch points and experiences to connect us to the Lord and to one another.

All of life is a story. Everybody is living their story and finding their identity and basing their actions on the story they’re in. Everyone’s looking for the big story, the one Great Story that’s above the others and helps us make sense of all the others. The Story of God is that story. It’s large enough to be bigger than you, it calls you to something and someone beyond yourself. But it’s also intimate enough to involve you personally. God so loved the whole world that he gave his one and only Son. And that Son who came for the whole world also came for you. He knows you by name. Outside the garden tomb: Mary. Inside your fishing boat: Peter, Son of Jonah.

Peace,

Allan

Underdog

During Bible times in the Ancient Near East, where and when the Scriptures were penned, the oldest son inherited all the wealth. That was the culture. The practice ensured the family would keep its status and place in society. The second and third sons got very little, if anything at all. The first-born male got everything.

Yet, all through the Bible, when God chooses to work through somebody, he chooses the younger sibling. Abel over Cain. Isaac over Ishmael. Jacob over Esau. David over all eleven! God doesn’t choose the oldest, the one the world expects to get the glory. It’s never the one from Jerusalem, always the one from Nazareth.

Back then, women who had lots of kids were considered heroic. Very valuable. Highly prized. A good wife. Lots of children ensured economic success for the family business and military security and success for the village. It also carried on the family name. Women who had no children were shunned. Shamed. Yet, God continuously chooses to work his salvation through barren women, females who were despised by the culture. Sarah. Rebecca. Hannah. Elizabeth. God always works through the men and women nobody values.

OK, great. God loves the underdog. So what? It’s like a Disney movie. It’s like ALL Disney movies.

No! The point is that God himself — transcendent, immortal, holy, righteous — became an underdog. God came to earth and became weak and vulnerable and despised. For us. He did it for us.

This is what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the history of the world. Every other religion says if you want to find God, if you want to improve yourself, if you want to achieve a higher consciousness, if you want to connect with the divine, you have to DO something. You have to gather up your strength, you have to keep the rules, you have to free your mind and then fill it again, you have to strive to be above average. Every human religion says if you want to live the right life and make the world a better place, summon up all your strength and reason and make it happen.

Christianity says just the opposite. Christianity says you CAN’T do any of those things. God came to earth and has done all those things for you. Those things are already done in and by Christ Jesus. Every other religion says they have all the answers to the big questions. Christianity says Jesus himself IS the answer to all the questions!

It’s not: If you’re strong and hard-working enough this religion will save you. Christianity is not just for the strong and smart. It’s for everyone, especially for people who admit that, where it really counts, they’re weak. It’s for people who admit they’re broken and incapable of fixing themselves.

The genius of Christianity is that it’s not: Hey, here’s what you have to do to find God!” Christianity is: “Hey, God came here in the form of Jesus to find you!” That’s the unique and radical truth of Christianity. That’s what Christianity has contributed to the world. All the world’s ideas about caring for the weak and needy, living for love and service instead of power and success, loving our enemies, sacrificing for others — all of that flows directly from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Community Proclamation

CommunityColorsHandsI don’t know if it’s possible to have as many white people as black people in the same church. I don’t know if it’s possible to have just as many people living in poverty as people living in the upper middle class in the same church. I don’t know if it’s possible to have more than one language worshiping and serving God and the community together in the same church. It’s hard. The differences between us are real. The barriers are many and imposing. I can’t name more than four or five churches in this whole country who are doing it successfully.

So, don’t hear me say that breaking down the barriers in our churches is easy. It’s not. In fact, I fully understand it might truly be impossible.

But the reality of the lordship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, the urgent message that Jesus is Lord and that he’s fixing everything, compels us to try. We have to try. Together.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” ~Acts 2:44-47

Please notice how God’s Church, in breaking down the dividing walls to bring people together — living together, worshiping together, serving the community together — leads directly to the spread of the message. It is the spread of the message. The Church is the proclamation.

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” ~Acts 4:31-33

“All the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonade… more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” ~Acts 5:12-14

“The Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” ~Acts 6:7

The Word of the Lord, the message, the Good News spread rapidly and with Holy Spirit power through the way the Church was living. Their lives together in Holy Spirit community was the proclamation.

Karl Barth said, “Grace is the enemy of everything.” He claimed that grace is what declares to the world that all the powers have been defeated. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a woman who mixes a little bit of yeast into about 60 pounds of flour until that yeast has worked all through the dough.

It’s not about taking something little and turning it into something large. It’s not about mixing the two things together. It’s about taking the qualities of the yeast and encrypting them into the flour until the whole thing is changed. The whole thing becomes something brand new. New creation.

A little bit at a time. One act of grace here. Another act of mercy there. Forgiveness in this situation. Sacrificial love in that circumstance. Service. Justice. Generosity. Subversive acts that disrupt and reverse the world around us until the world around us has completely changed. It’s completely different. That’s the Kingdom of God.

And we proclaim it when we live it. Together.

Peace,

Allan

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