humanity

The Power of Story

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unsplash.com_HVuMinh

Stories are powerful. They engage our imagination and emotion. Stories can transport us to faraway lands and imaginary settings, and they convey truths in subtle yet powerful ways.

But when it comes to communicating biblical truth stories may seem too simple. How ironic since most of the Bible is composed of stories!

Throughout the Bible, there's a narrative arc that conveys the message of God's redemption of the human race. Each story reveals facets of the whole redemptive narrative.

Stories are a powerful way to engage people who haven't experienced God's redemptive grace.

God's redemptive story and us

If we don't understand the depth and fullness of God's redemptive story it's hard to make sense of everyday life. Not that we'll understand every event in every day of our life, but when we understand more of God's redemptive narrative we'll begin to see how it connects with our life.

Sometimes we look too hard at all that goes on in our life and try to figure out each detail fits into God's plan. As the saying goes, we can't see the forest for the trees. All we see are trees and we forget the larger context of the forest.

A western mindset tends to over analyze every detail and misses the larger picture, while eastern thought sees the whole but may not see how each detail fits into the picture and why they do. This is an oversimplification but the point is that we need both views to see the full picture.

Looking at the whole biblical narrative and how each of the various stories fit together enables us to see the depth and fullness of God's redemptive story. As we look at our life story arc with the biblical narrative in view, we should see how much of our own story matches the stories of other people in the Bible.

We need to understand the depth and fullness of God's redemptive story to make sense of everyday life

Back to the beginning

We’ll understand the Bible's narrative when we see it from the beginning

But first things first. How can we hope to understand the Bible's narrative unless we see it from the beginning? Going back to Creation we find the all-important why of redemption—why it is necessary.

The story of humanity begins with the creation of "the heavens and the earth" and nothing—the earth was a big blob, empty and dark with God's Spirit covering over it like a mother bird protecting her nest (Gen 1:1-2).

Then God begins the creation process by proclaiming, "Let there be light." So there was light and darkness was separated from it and the first day came to be (Gen 1:3-5).

On five successive days, God brought life and light into the dark, empty orb of the earth floating in the universe (Gen 1:6-25). After each day God was satisfied and said it was good.

On the sixth and last day, God said—

“Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness. Let them rule the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the domestic animals all over the earth, and all the animals that crawl on the earth.” So God created humans in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female. (Gen 1:26-27 GW)

This is the heart of why God sent His Son Jesus as the Redeemer of the world—for all people everywhere. Because He created us in His image.

All humanity is embedded with the image of God

Looking ahead

Next post I plan to unpack the beginning story of humanity's need for redemption. If we go too quickly to the usual beginning point of the redemption story, we miss the heart of why God went to great lengths to redeem the human race.

There's more to redemption than, "Jesus died for your sins." This is a true statement, but it only tells part of the story. We need to see things from the heart of God and His intended purpose for those whom He created.

Over the next several posts (perhaps with some interruptions), I plan to look at five representative stories in the Bible.

Each story holds an important place in the story of God's redemption of humanity. Each one reflects a facet of the full picture of God's redemption. Each should help reveal the full purpose of God's redemption. Until then...

What is your own recollection of the story of Creation?

How do you understand God's redemption story?

Can you share either of these with someone else in your own words (IYOW)?

Let me know your thoughts on all this!

 

An Unknown God—part 2

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unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16

When God Came to Earth

What comes to mind when you think of Christmas? For me, it's Jesus. You may have heard the expression, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season."

Indeed He is, but we're celebrating much more than a child in a manger!

We're celebrating who He is and what He did!

A Human Flaw

I was a praise and worship leader for four decades. I suppose I could still lead, but my role in life and ministry is different now.

I miss that role at times, especially when I see leaders overly concerned with their performance and presentation of the music. It grieves me when I see this for that shouldn't be their focus.

It's easy to see that American culture exalts good performance and entertainers. But this is more of a human flaw than a cultural one.

Sola Scriptura–A Simple View

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unsplash_leather_Bible

How important is the Bible? How important is it to you and, in general, for all humanity? It depends on your view of it.

As you can imagine, personal opinions abound when it comes to the value of the Bible, within the church and outside of it.

People can get pretty emotional in their opinions both for and against the Bible. But, I've found the Bible doesn't need anyone to defend it.

The Scriptures speak for themselves

When I say the Bible doesn't need anyone to defend it, I have two things in mind—

  1. The Bible has stood the test of time. It is the most well-read, sold, and translated book in the world. Many may reject the Bible as authoritative, but, by and large, it is well-respected and loved throughout the world.
  2. The Bible speaks for itself within its own pages, along with the testimonies of those who know its value.

The Bible has several titles it's known by and here are three of the most common—the Bible, the Scriptures, the Word of God. The first two are often preceded with Holy (sacred).

The word Bible comes from the Greek word for book or papyrus, since the original written form of the Scriptures was on papyrus scrolls. We get the Scriptures from the Latin for writings.

Sola Scriptura

The Latin phrase Sola Scriptura literally means (by) Scripture alone. It is the beginning point and bedrock of why the Protestant Reformation (PR) movement developed.

As mentioned before, the PR started as a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church and return to a biblical foundation for the Christian faith.

The heart of this first Sola is summarized here—

  • The Scriptures (Bible) are the only and final authority in matters of faith, life and conduct, and church practice
  • The teachings and traditions of the church and its leadership must be measured by what is written in the Scriptures
  • The Bible is the sole reliable source of divine revelation above any other forms of human inspiration or direction

The Word of God

The Word of God has a testimony all its own. It declares the writings in this collection of 66 books is God's personal revelation of Himself and truth to humanity.

Here are a few of its declarations—

  • Jesus instructed His closest followers after His resurrection from the Old Testament Law, the Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:25-26; 44-45)
  • The Law exhorts us to be sustained by God's Word (Deut 8:3) and speaks of Jesus (the human Word of God) coming (Deut 18:15, 18)
  • The Messianic prophet Isaiah declares the Word of God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8) and prophesied the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Isa 44:6-8; 45:21-23)
  • The Psalms declare that God's Word is a sure foundation and a light that guides us (Pss 119:89, 105) and testifies of the Son of God coming to earth (Ps 40:7)
  • Peter, one of three apostles closest to Jesus, reminds us that the writers of the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21)
  • The apostle Paul told his protegé Timothy that the Scriptures were God-breathed and the foundation for faith and training believers (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV)

Some final thoughts

As the title of this post indicates, this is a simple view of Sola Scriptura. Whole books are written on the authority and origin of the Scriptures categorized as Bibliology—the study of the Bible.

A few books are listed below if you want to look further into this topic.

Because of Sola Scriptura, I prefer biblical theology over systematic theology. Why?

Biblical theology gives us a unifying narrative of the Scriptures. It's also what I see within the Bible when Jesus quotes and explains Old Testament Scriptures, and later as the apostles Peter and Paul do.

The Bible is an essential foundation of faith. It's been so in my life from the beginning, including my decision to follow Jesus.

How about you?

How has the Bible impacted your life and faith?

Books on Bibliology—

Books on Biblical Theology— (I've included one recommended book for systematic theology)


Here are 2 previous posts that are related—

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I