By Kate Dugdale (Bishopdale Theological College).
My sisters and I are fairly rambunctious, and talk over each other a lot (to my parents’ frustration!). We also do it to our parents, and I can recall a number of times when Dad would turn to the person who had interrupted and ask, “Who’s telling this story!?”
When we think about the mission of God, this is an excellent question to ask. Every culture – and in the age of globalism, every sub-culture or social tribe – tells a different story which shapes the way we look at the world. For example, Western society tells a story where success is measured in money or fame, and yet, Jesus teaches us not to seek after these things (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes the same event can be interpreted in radically different ways – is it terrorism or holy jihad? For Christians, it’s vital to reflect upon which voices we listen to, and therefore, which story we participate in. We can’t live out of two different realities without risking our own wholeness as individuals.
Your story or God’s?
This question of story becomes even more pressing when we begin to think about the mission of God, because the Gospel, by its very nature, is an invitation to individuals to step out of their own story and into God’s.
There are two key points that need to be made here. The first is the importance of familiarity with the metanarrative of Scripture (that’s a fancy word that makes you sound smart – it just means ‘the big story’), because it’s an unfinished story which find ourselves in the midst of. Jesus is the centre of Scripture. The Old Testament anticipates Jesus, by telling the story of creation, the consequences of human disobedience, and the history of the people of Israel who God set apart as his witnesses. Israel turns their back on God time and time again, and yet no matter how many times they flip the proverbial bird at God, God continues to remind them of their calling to be a witness to the nations. Even when there are consequences for their sin, God reassures Israel that they belong to him.
At the end of the Old Testament we find Israel waiting for God to send them a leader who would free them from being subject to foreign rule. However, when their Messiah comes, he doesn’t meet their expectations. Instead of coming as a strong man of war, a military conqueror and astute political ruler, Jesus becomes a carpenter in a backwater town, before beginning his public ministry at the age of 30. At the moment when his popularity is exploding and he could ride the wave, he talks about the cost of following him in a way that makes the crowds leave. Instead of destroying the Romans, he’s crucified by them. Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, and we see Jesus’ disciples preach about who Jesus is, the way that he has reconciled humans to God and about his promise to return again.
The difference this makes
This biblical story is probably familiar, but it’s worth revisiting in order to reorient ourselves in the midst of God’s story. This is the second point that needs to be made: as believers in the twenty first century, we should pay close attention to the example of the apostles, for just as they were called to proclaim the Gospel, so are we. The apostles didn’t attempt to build their own international ministry, or develop a website, or release a line of books… Instead they shared the story of God, both by simply teaching about Jesus and through demonstrating it in signs and wonders.
Living from God’s story frees me from the pressure of achievement. I no longer need to be the hero of my own story, because as the one who sets me free, Jesus is the hero of my story. Even more astounding is that God invites me into his story, to participate in what he is already doing and has been doing throughout history. The biblical story reminds us time and time again that it’s God who’s at work – creating, redeeming, and bringing us to the day when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. Even though in the here-and-now, the world is marred by sin, God is in the process of restoring all things. And so, whatever we do – whether we teach theology, or work in retail, or raise our children fulltime, or build houses – knowing the story of God allows us to understand how what we do can fit into that story. We may not be famous or rich, but we can actively point to God through our whole lives and can seek to bring his loving rule to everything we touch.
Understanding the story of God gives us a much richer understanding of what Scripture means when it talks about all the cool stuff God is doing – recreating, reconciling, redeeming, saving, healing. If the Gospel is simply about my salvation, then the story we’re part of is that Jesus died for my sins so I get to spend eternity in heaven in a mansion (or so some of us seem to think.) But when we get this sense that Jesus is the central axis of a much larger story that God is writing, and which we are invited to be part of, it’s like we’re invited to leave a 2D cinema to move into a 3D one instead. The story is the same, but it is a much deeper experience – one which is big enough to encompass the whole of creation. And it’s a story I get to participate in.
The Bible Project captures the story of Scripture through brilliant videos, graphics and an integrated Bible reading plan. Learn more at thebibleproject.com
Regent College’s ReFrame Series is a video course for home groups which explores how the story of God impacts all of life. Find out more at reframecourse.com
Two of the best books that explore the story of God and its implications are The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.
What are some of the ‘stories’ our culture pressures us to live out of?
If you’re honest, to what extent have you been shaped by the stories of your culture instead of the story of God?
Exploring today's missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.
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