Tag Archives: The Story

Great Stories Have Great Endings 5

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This is part 5 of our series looking at Revelation 21-22

You may also like to read parts 1, 2, 3, or 4

5) It is a Place of Wealth and Beauty:

It is not insignificant to notice the size and the beauty of the city, its walls and its gates.  The city was 2200 kilometres long, and, as high and as wide as it was long. It was made out of pure gold (21v18).  The city walls were 65 metres thick, made of jasper and clear as crystal (21v18).  The foundations of the city were decorated with every kind of precious stone (21v19-20).  And the twelve gates were each made out of a single pearl (21v21).

It is important to remember that much of this imagery is figurative.  And so while we cannot say for sure what the city of the new creation will look like, the imagery of the city is mean to take our breath away with its size, wealth and beauty. The language John uses is meant to fill us with wonder and awe.  And captivate us with its immensity and beauty.  The new creation will not be a place of mere function or sterile uniformity, it will be a place of wonder, of beauty, creativity, awe and splendour.  Life in the city of God will be good and rich and free and beautiful!

The Kings of the earth will bring their splendour: (v24)

Twice it is mentioned that the treasures of the nations of the nations will be brought into the city.  “The Kings of the earth will bring their splendour” (21v24) and “The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it (21v26).

John seems to suggest that all the wonder of song and story, of artefact and design, of art and architecture  of imagination and engineering, of function and beauty, of wealth and engineering will somehow be brought in and incorporated into the new creation.  The new creation will be a place of staggering diversity.

This life will somehow count for something in God’s restoring of all things.  German engineering, Italian art, French cooking, Brazilian football, Xhosa singing will not have all been amusements to keep us busy and then burnt up and forgotten.  The genius of Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Lauryn Hill will perhaps somehow not be in vain… I don’t know where they all stand with Jesus but somehow our world and our lives have been enriched by their music, their legacy.  Perhaps it will not all have just been a meaningless distraction from the march to be rid of this life?

And what of us?  Is it perhaps true that what we do now somehow echoes into eternity?  It seems that perhaps despite our sin and rebellion God chooses to ennoble our efforts, our work, our art and our lives.  He chooses not to simply wipe away all our fallen, weak and imperfect attempts at taking up and shaping his creation.  Is it perhaps possible that the creation mandate though deeply marred and broken, is not altogether forgotten?  Is it possible that God in his grace and mercy, when he finally wipes away sin and rebellion and restores all things, somehow still chooses to include and redeem our work and make it new along with the rest of creation?

The Tree of Life:

Finally notice in 22v2 that occupying a central place in the city of God is the Tree of Life.  And it will always be in season, bearing fruit every month.  Firstly note it is the Tree of LIFE not of duty, of necessity, or of drudgery. It is the Tree of LIFE!  In the New Creation there will an unlimited access to life – full and free.

Secondly note that there is an abundance of fruit from the tree of life.  The new creation is a place of abundance and of provision.  In a world of scarcity, of fighting for survival, of starving children and economic oppression this is good news! One day there will be a world where there will be an abundance.  Where children will not go hungry, where you will not look the other way at the traffic lights, a world where there will be no more sweat shops or workaholics or the dehumanizing drudgery of factory workers, working long hours for minimum wage.

The New Creation will be a place of wealth and provision, of beauty, freedom and joy. It will be a place of life and of wonder.

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It seems like a lifetime ago… part two

In hindsight I am not sure why we started doing The Story at all… I had seen and read about story-telling a number of times before and always been intrigued by it.  So when we saw it how it was done in Loughborough I remember thinking… “This could actually work.”

 As a result when we came home we decided to give it a go.  Looking back I am not altogether sure who we thought would come or why?  But we got a few people who committed to coming along, at least for a couple of weeks…

16 stories later, we have had about 26 different people (including children) come to at least one evening, a core group of about 15, at least 5 different languages and 4 different nationalities, and an age range from 4 to 51.  We have had old friends come visit, spiritual seekers, people who have lost their way, people who are learning to find their way again, people who love Jesus and people who do not, homeless people, recovering addicts, cynics and saints.  We have shared food, strong coffee and something of our lives.

We have sung prayers, said prayers and listened to prayers.  We have questioned, challenged, rejoiced, got angry, got frustrated, laughed, and on more than one occasion simply sat in awed silence.  We have learnt how good and gracious God is, how rebellious we are.  We have contemplated the fruit of our ways and the fruit of His ways.  We have seen a God who despite the mess we make is simply not finished with us.  We have seen hope, we have seen grace, we have seen the good life and we have yearned for it.  We have been stunned by our inability to grasp it and left wondering what is God up to in this the greatest story ever told..

It was never meant to last this long but somehow the stories have pulled us in and we have stopped being in a rush to finish the whole story in 8 weeks.  Will we continue with this forever? Not sure… probably not.  Sunday night will morph and change and take on a new life and a new direction.  Possibly once we have finished the whole Bible story we will revert to a twice a year 8 week story set (Spring and Summer possibly)?  Maybe get an outside venue this? Maybe an Acts story set or a Luke story set or even more ambitious an Ecclesiastes reading (I’m thinking like a poetry reading) set.

I don’t know where it will end up but I rejoice that I no longer feel like I must have all the answers… as a community together we can determine where it is that God is leading us, as we grow in him and as we engage with our community on mission.

You can read part one here

The Paradox of God’s Blessing

This past Sunday at The Story we heard the story of God’s call on Abraham (entitled Promise). The contrast between the two stories stood rather starkly for me and I saw something I had never seen before.

Previously in The Story of the Babel Builders we saw that they resisted being scattered, trying instead to create for themselves their own source of security, safety, provision, significance and rest.  However when we reach Genesis 12:1-3 and the famous promise to Abraham, it is immediately noticeable that these are almost the exact same things that God promises to Abraham.  And yet the very first thing that God tells Abraham to do is to scatter.  He tells him to leave his country, his relatives and Father’s household and go to the land He will show Him.  God’s promise immediately validates those desires in us as good desires but it also subverts our understanding of what it would take to truly gain these things.

In order for Abraham to receive the promise of land, descendants, blessing and a great Name he must scatter.  The creation call to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord remains.  As Abraham (and his descendants) scatters he is to demonstrate to the world that it is good to live under the reign of God.   Abraham is blessed in order to be a blessing to the all the peoples on the earth.  Unless Abraham is prepared to scatter he will never be a blessing and (is it safe to assume that) he himself would not be blessed.  It is the man of faith who believes the Good God that the life of blessing is the life of scattering.

The paradox of God’s Kingdom is that the very things that we seek in order to “save our lives” are the very things which will rob us of the life of blessing.  But yet the things which seem so diametrically opposed to blessing – leaving our people, seeking security and rest in being scattered among the nations- are in turn the very things through which we will find the good life.    All rational thought tells us to build our own security.  All rational thoughts tells us to stay with our own people, in our community, among people like us.

But the life of faith trusts the Good God, when he promises that the life of blessing, security, significance and rest will be found not in the building of a great name/city/business/church but in the life of scattering. We were, it would seem,  made to give our lives away.  We will be truly blessed as we leave our own people and our own safe havens and step out to follow God where he leads.

Nowhere do we see this more clearly demonstrated than in Jesus, who gave up his security, his people, his land, his blessings in order to take on humanity.  He became a man not because he was lacking anything (the complete opposite in fact), or because it was a good choice, or a comfortable choice, or a secure choice (he was crucified for our sake), or even a wise choice.  It was not a life of rest, or of significance (rejected, misunderstood, betrayed).  He gave up his blessing in order to seek our blessing.  He did not seek to hoard his blessing instead he trusted his Father to be “scattered” into the world in order to fill the world with His Glory through our salvation.  And because of that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).

The Church and our Edifice Complex

I came across a few helpful thoughts from Andrew Reid’s commentary on Genesis when I was thinking through The Story of the Babel Builders for this past Sunday.

“Having a home of your own somehow means something. It conveys a sense of belonging and of security and refuge. It panders to that deep-seated need within us all to flee the transitory and to seek security in something stable.”

“This personal tie to buildings mirrors a problem that God’s people have had throughout history. Most meeting places for God’s people have had very humble beginnings – tents in the wilderness, places of prayer besides rivers, school classrooms, and the like. But then, as the gospel is preached, more people come and casual meeting places are no longer adequate. People begin to feel reputable and crave something more stable, and so they build buildings. These buildings make demands, chew up time, money and resources. This problem alone might be manageable if it were not that the people of God begin to put their trust and security in the buildings. For the people of god, as with us individually, buildings often convey safety, security and comfort. At this point the children of a moving God often lose direction.”

There seems to be something strangely ironic about the followers of this moving, seeking, scattering God and our obsession with buildings to provide us with stability, respectability and legitimacy.

God does not call you to settle down

This past Sunday at The Story we heard the story of the Babel Builders (entitled: Settle Down”) found in Genesis 11.  Often the Babel builders get a bit of a bad rap for being all about their own glory and power.  What they really wanted to do was to make a name for themselves and be famous and somehow take God’s place.  Well yes, sort of… but when we read the narrative what we find though is that their desire to make a name for themselves is not the goal.  They want to build this great city in order to make a name for themselves SO THAT they will not be scattered over the face of the earth.

The thing that they want most is not fame or power or prestige; that is what they seek as a means to the end, which is not being scattered.  Significantly this is exactly what God has commanded them to do.  In Genesis 1:28 the first humans are told to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  After the flood in Genesis 8&9 Noah is given a similar command.  Implicit in the command to fill the earth is to fill the earth with God’s glory.   It is as human’s created in the image of God take up the raw materials of His creation and “create and shape” his world that we display his goodness and his majesty.  There is of course also a literal filling of the earth with people, as the commands to be fruitful and multiply imply.

Why do the Babel builders not want to be scattered?  Ask yourself what would you prefer, being scattered over the face of the earth; or safety and security as a part of some great enterprise or some great city?  What does the great city of Babel offer?  Safety, security, provision, communal enterprise, prestige, comfort, a sense of belonging… stable work, safe place for the kids to grow up, good schools?

What does God’s command to scatter and fill the earth bring?  Uncertainty, instability, insecurity, an unknown future, unknown provision, loneliness, fear of hostile neighbours or bandits and numerous other drawbacks.  Life would certainly be easier in Babel.

Was it wrong for the Babel builders to desire these things?  No.  But they sought to be their own source of security, safety, provision, rest and certainty for the future.  If they would instead choose to embrace the life of scattering they would have to find their security, their rest, their future hope, their provision and their name in God and God alone.  As an aside: note that all the Babel builders attempts at self-preservation and self-provision are wiped out with one simple action by the God who spoke the world into being.

The God-following life today is still the life of scattering over the face of the earth.  Was it not Jesus who told his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations”?  Our calling is still to fill the earth with the glory of God.  Our call is still to scatter into all the unreached people groups of the world.  Our call is still to scatter as communities of light into all the forgotten places and the dark corners of our cities and our communities.

But if we are honest most of us are more like the responsible, wise, Babel builders.  Most of our parents would be delighted if we got a job with the ambitious, forward-thinking, innovative, new urban centre of our world.  Stable income, pension, good schools, medical aid, good career prospects, safe neighbourhood for your kids, wise use of resources.  Let’s be honest the Babel builders plans make sense.  Of course they do they are our plans, our dreams our ambitions.

But everything we have seen in the story so far tells us that God is a good and a gracious God.  In the midst of sin and chaos – he constantly shows mercy, provision, salvation, patience, goodness, peace, rest and hope for the future. The legacy of man’s ambitions are deceit, anger, jealousy, murder, boasting, snatching for power, shame, blame-passing, back-breaking labour, cursed ground and broken relationships.   It might make rational sense to follow the example of the Babel builders and seek to secure our own future, but by faith we seek instead to follow the one who has secured both our future and our present through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

Sadly, we mirror Babel not only in our private lives but in our church life too.  Rather than being scattered into all the dark and broken places of our community, instead we choose to build our own sources of comfort and security.  Our obsession with buildings betrays our unwillingness to scatter and fuels our need for legitimacy and respectability.  We design our programmes and structures around the things we enjoy and our felt needs.  We meet at times and in ways that suit us and our schedules.

Often we barely know the community surrounding us and our lives are filled up with Christian activities and Christian friends.  Is it possible that just as the Babel builders refused the command to scatter and fill the earth with God’s glory, so we too have refused the call to scatter and fill up our communities and cities with the glory of God.  Babel looks so much more respectable and legit than the scattered community of a Moving God.

The Story of God, The Story of Us

the-story-of-god-300x450I loved Sean Gladding’s “The Story of God,  the Story of Us.” Firstly it was well written, this is a big plus for me.  I am seriously surprised at how many badly written books there out there.  People who are good speakers or who have good things to say should not necessarily write books.  Sean Gladding I am glad(ding) to say can most definitely write.

The Story of God, the Story of Us is a creative and mostly faithful retelling of the Biblical narrative.  The Story is retold from within two other stories.  The narrator who himself narrates a story is a clever literary device, which Gladding uses well, to enable the author to compress the story, provide bridges between disparate parts of the story, move out of chronological sequence and insert editorial comments.  All without breaking from the fictional-historical story context.

The Old Testament story is set in the context of the Babylonian exile.  The people are angry, confused and questioning God.  The old storyteller, a member of the first group of exiles, has not forgotten the Story of God and he now retells it to a people struggling to understand who they are and why their God has abandoned them.  Each chapter is set a week apart on the eve of the next Sabbath.

The New Testament story is told by a leader of a Christian household church, in an unnamed city to her own church as they struggle with the persecution and economic marginalisation that their Christian faith has brought them.  They have also just witnessed the public martyrdom of one of their own.  Central to this story is a wealthy non-Christian merchant who has been invited to share a meal and listen to the story.

I loved the freshness of this approach.  I loved the human element that Gladding weaves throughout the story.  Gladding is not afraid to weave lengthy portion of Scriptures throughout his narrative, and this gives the book real depth to go with Gladding’s obvious ability to craft narrative.

The only criticisms I have is that (1) for the New Testament sections, Gladding chooses to quote extensively from The Message, which I do not always find that great from a stylistic point of view.  Sometimes Eugene Peterson tries too hard to be creative.  (2) Gladding obviously holds certain views very tightly, like egalitarianism for instance.  At some points in the narrative Gladding forces these view into the narrative, giving them an emphasis that is out of proportion to their place in the story.  It feels forced and is below a writer of Gladding’s skill.  It has the feel of one who does not trust either the biblical narrative or his constructed narrative to say what it wants to say.

Some Favourite Quotes from Experiential Storytelling

ImageI previously posted this review on Mark Miller’s Experiential Storytelling: [Re]Discovering Narrative to Communicate God’s Message.  While the book left quite a bit to be desired, Miller can be quite quotable, and includes some great quotes from others too.

“Storytelling is powerful because it has the ability to touch human beings at a most personal level. While facts are viewed from the lens of a microscope, stories are viewed from the lens of the soul. Stories address us on every level. They speak to the mind, the body, the emotions, the spirit and the will. In a story a person can identity with situations he or she has never been in. The individual’s imagination is unlocked to dream what was previously unimaginable.” (33)  (While this may be overstating the case and creating a little bit of an unhelpful dichotomy between facts and story, nevertheless it does capture the value of story well.)

“People can argue doctrine and theology.  They can even sit with arms crossed listening to someone’s convincing reasons why they should believe.  But when powerful stories begin to be told, and when a person can identify with another person’s journey, the arms drop, the defensiveness wanes, and a receptive ear is gained.” (37)

“Stories can hold the complexities of conflict and paradox,” Annette Simmons (38)

“A sermon tells people what to think.  A story forces people to do the thinking for themselves.  It can feel dangerous because it allows for interpretation.  But one of the adjectives used to describe the Holy Spirit is “counsellor.”  Do we trust our people and the Holy Spirit enough to allow them to think for themselves?  Can we leave something open-ended, knowing that conclusions might not come until later that day, week, month, or year?  Can we allow people to own the stories?  Or do we do all of the interpretation and leave nothing to the imagination?” (41)

“Regardless of whether one considers this good or bad, for this generation, aesthetics counts more than epistemology.”  William Dyrness (55)

“The imagination is among the chief glories of being human.  When it is healthy and energetic, it ushers us into adoration and wonder, into the mysteries of God.  When it is neurotic and sluggish, it turns people, millions of them, into parasites, copycats and couch potatoes.”  Eugene Peterson (Under the Predictable Planet) (63)