If nature hates a vacuum, then no story exists without a setting to provide context. Entire genres of literature are formed around settings and how people react to them. Stories set in small towns might have quirky characters. Stories set in jungles might be adventurous. Stories set in urban locations might be edgy.
Your story, then, has a setting – a backdrop against which everything plays out. As our Author writes, He calls us out of the setting where our story has unfolded, leading us into something new. In every great story, the protagonist leaves a familiar setting, perhaps a location, a relationship, or even a mindset.
The greatest stories of our lives are painted on the backdrop of the unknown.
It can be frightening to leave one setting for another – to answer the call of the wild, even when we are unhappy in our current setting – but it is only by doing so that we allow our story to unfold.
Stories that play out forever in the same setting are stories that linger at the threshold between the dynamic and the stagnant. That threshold becomes a place of quicksand where untold stories collect and are held captive.
If our stories are to unfold, we must have the confidence to walk into the setting that our Author has prepared for us, resting in the confidence that the pen never leaves His hand and He knows exactly what He is doing.
A great story often has at least one of two things: a great plot or great characters.
Your story has both. But it features you as its primary character. You, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, attributes and flaws, are the central character of your narrative. The fact that it is your story makes it special and different from every other story on the planet.
You are an individual – completely unique – which means your story is completely unique.
The Population Reference Bureau estimates that roughly 108 billion people have lived since God first created man in His own image. And the amazing thing about that is that there has never been anyone like you. No one has ever had your exact DNA structure. No one has ever had your exact personality. No one has ever had your exact experiences.
The brilliant Dr. Seuss once wrote: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
There never has been and never will be another you. Sometimes we can look at others’ lives and stories and wish we could trade. However, Your purpose is completely unique – only you can fulfill it. Your Author has tailor made your story for you. No other character can fill your role. You are the hero around which the plot revolves. What will you do with your story?
After Hebrews 11, a series of stories of the heroes of faith, comes Hebrews 12. The second verse gives a beautiful description of Jesus. He is called “the author and finisher of our faith.” This tells us something vitally important about our stories:
they not only have an author but they also have a finisher.
An author often starts out with a basic plot in mind for his characters. He has a general idea of who they are and how their story will unfold. However, as pretty much any fictional author will tell you, characters seem to develop minds of their own throughout the writing process, taking the story in a direction the author did not intend.
When this happens, some authors force their characters to abide by the original plan, resulting in a forced story.
Other authors cannot figure out what to do with their characters and so they abandon the story altogether.
And then there are the other authors – the authors who recognize that their characters have done something different with the plot but who are gifted enough to keep writing the story from where the characters are in the moment. They do not give up on the story or the characters.
We have an Author like this.
You see, He is not just an Author – He is also a finisher. No matter how your life has unfolded, He will not give up on your story. An author may start a story but a finisher sees it through until the end.
How fortunate our stories are to have both.
Human beings are wired for stories.
We relive and express our memories through story. After death, we live on in the stories of our loved ones. We think in stories because they provide a context for facts. When you get the magical alchemy of the living writer sharing the story, there is potential for transformation. Lives can be changed by storytelling.
There is a reason we hear fairy tales as children. They teach us values and morals. It is through story that we learn about our own identity. Neil Gaiman once said,
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
The stories we listen to are the stories that write our lives. If we want to change our lives, it begins with changing the stories we listen to.
Hebrews 11 presents us with the lives of some of the greatest heroes of faith who have ever lived. It is an anthology – a collection of stories. Alongside the expected stories (like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and David), are the seemingly unheroic ones (like Rahab, Barak, and Gideon).
Still, the great Author saw their value. And He has never set the pen aside.
He continues to write our stories with the same dedication and care that He put into theirs. Join us in this series of articles as we explore the importance of our stories and of the One who continues to write them.
Ephesians 6:16 highlights one of the most important pieces of weaponry a Christian should carry:
”Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
When we think of the way the shield was used in battle, one of the most beautiful demonstrations was a Roman tactic. When fighting as a group, a phalanx of soldiers could position their shields so as to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (tortoise).
This is what faith does – when our stories and lives are joined to those who have come before us, we are linked to a heritage that cannot be easily overcome. We are joined with people who currently are a part of the faith but also with every single person who has come before us. When one of us struggles or falls, the others come around that person in their defense.
Sometimes we face situations we’ve never faced before. It’s in that moment that the enemy comes in like a flood and we don’t know what to do.
But then a story comes to mind – we remember what Abraham or Moses did in that situation. In these moments, our faith is to be joined to the faith of others. When our one shield combines with others, we position our faith around the body of believers and we can help one another. When someone among us is weak, we can shield them momentarily until they are strong enough to stand again.
Faith is our belief but it is also our identity.
Of all of the things it could be to us, how beautiful it is that faith is our shield.
Jim Robertson finally caught a glimpse of his son, Derek, as he positioned himself at the starting line.
Despite eight surgeries worth of injuries, Derek had qualified for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as one of the favorites and Jim was so proud.
A shot rang out and Derek ran fiercely, with Jim cheering him on.
Then it happened.
Just after the 250 meter mark, Derek fell to the ground, pain across his face, and watched his chances at gold fade into a cloud of dust. Still, he was determined to finish. Watching the agony that flashed across his son’s face with every broken hop, Jim fought his way through the crowds.
Others saw a defeated athlete but Jim saw a boy in need of his father. Making his way past security, he took his weeping son into his arms and whispered into his ear,
“Look, you don’t need to do this. You can stop now, you haven’t got nothing to prove.”
But Derek was determined and so Jim half-carried him for the remaining 100 meters, pushing away anyone who attempted to deter them.
65,000 onlookers rose to their feet in a standing ovation as father and son crossed the finish line.
Few people can name the man who won the 400 meter race that year but countless people have been inspired by the father who defied an arena’s authorities to wrap his weeping child in his arms, sharing his strength with him, so they could cross the finish line together.
It all started in a garden.
God and humanity walked together in the cool of the evening in beautiful relationship. They spoke and enjoyed an unlikely fellowship – one in which the divine and human entwined.
And then it happened.
Sin entered the world and that sacred bond was severed. But God still reached for His creation, establishing covenants and abiding with them through fire, cloud, and an Ark. Prophets represented God to the people and priests represented the people to God.
Still, the intimacy of Eden was lacking.
But God had a plan both to cleanse sin and to restore the broken relationship. He promised that His Spirit being poured out upon everyone around the world.
For years, humanity’s cry was met with the answer “not yet.” The wait ended on Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like fire upon the 120 who had obediently waited as Jesus had instructed. They spoke in languages they had never studied, proclaiming the praises of God to immigrants who had flooded the city for the Feast of Pentecost. With that moment a great revival began and the church turned the world upside down.
More importantly, God and humanity could once again enjoy a personal relationship.
Join us on Sunday, June 9, as we celebrate the day that promise was fulfilled – and continues to be fulfilled today.
To us he remains nameless, as does his mother, but these anonymous two were central to one of the greatest miracles in the Bible.
In John’s Gospel he is simply called a lad with a lunch containing five pieces of barley bread and two small fish probably packed by a loving mother.
It was a common lunch, prepared by a common mother, for her common son, and yet it became the essential catalyst for a mighty miracle.
The lad gave the lunch to Jesus. He received it, blessed it, broke it and shared it with His disciples, who shared with the hungry people and a mighty multitude was fed!
I can imagine the boy staring in amazement at the miracle proceeding before his very eyes and proclaiming:
“my mama packs a powerful lunch!”
It all started with a loving mother preparing a simple lunch for her beloved son.
Dear mom, remember that with your busy hands and loving heart God can work miracles even though the work may seem common and routine in the moment.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
The first mention of our planet in the Bible is in Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness.” This planet was not a pleasant place nor could it sustain life. God transformed it into a perfect paradise teeming with life and vistas of beauty.
Once again the creation is troubled. Paul describes it this way; “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22) Peter predicts a destruction of the present planet and “a new heaven and a new earth.” (1 Peter 3:10-13)
God’s plan is to renovate and recreate the entire cosmos to accommodate an eternal kingdom for the righteous and redeemed. The entire heavens and atmosphere will be cleansed and renewed. There will be no more storms or destructive “acts of God”.
Earth will have no more seas (currently about three-fourths of the surface is water). There be no need for herbicides and pesticides because the natural enemies of all plant life and animal life have passed away. The ground will produce bountifully once again and in the animal kingdom “nothing shall kill or destroy.” Humans will live in harmony. There will be peace on earth and good will towards men.
God’s plan the planet will soon become a reality. It was His plan even from the time of man’s fall from grace to redeem and restore His creation to His great eternal purpose.
God’s ultimate plan for our planet will a total renovation. John the Revelator calls it “a new heaven and a new earth” but as with all renovations, there will be some destruction before the construction.
The Book of Revelation details three judgments of God, each containing seven elements. The first series of judgments is the breaking of seven seals on a scroll. As each seal is opened in heaven an event occurs on the earth (Revelation 6:1-8:1). The seventh seal reveals seven angels with seven trumpets. As each angel blows his trumpet a catastrophe strikes the earth and the populace (Revelation 8:6 – 11:19). The last series of judgments results from seven angels emptying seven bowls out upon the earth (Revelation 16:1-21).
These judgments will greatly affect the heavens and the earth. The sun at times will be “darkened” and at other times will flare and cause extreme heat. As the moon and the stars are affected it will result in longer nights and shorter days. A great earthquake will cause mountains to crumble, islands to disappear. and cities to be turned into ruble. The oceans, seas and rivers will be polluted, and all sea life will die. Famine and diseases will kill one fourth of the population and war will result in the death an additional one third of the remaining population.
These somber and catastrophic events are not the end of God’s plan for the planet. Next week we will explore the “new heavens and the new earth”.