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.
“Faith begins where Reason sinks exhausted.” (Albert Pike)
To the untrained eye, it had to be the most unorthodox move in the armed history. The fact that a kid with no combat training had squared off against a giant even the king’s most would not challenge was one thing. But to do it without a shield? The battalion must have whispered to one another as he walked by. Hadn’t the king provided him with armor? But David won one of the most decisive victories in military history, all without the aid of a shield – to the untrained eye, at least.
So why did David reject the armor of his king? Perhaps, being as covenant-minded as he was, he recalled God’s words to Abraham as Saul’s men adjusted the ill-fitting armor:
“I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
Perhaps he realized that with God as a shield, Saul’s armor was not so necessary after all.
Years later, David, now king, would find himself on the run from a son who had not only betrayed him but who had also amassed an army against him. Perhaps he thought back to that same moment with Goliath – the moment he had prepared for battle by laying aside his terrestrial shield, when he wrote in Psalm 3:3, “
Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
As we move through life, we tend to collect pieces of armor to keep us safe from all manner of pain and injuries, physical and personal. Even so, even our greatest armor cannot always keep us safe. Still, as we face our greatest battles, we can cast our eyes to the hills and exchange our earthly shields for a divine one that will never fail not only to defend us but also to lift us in our hour of greatest need.
It must have been terrifying – possibly one of the most frightening moments of her life. She had been in a similar spot just before meeting the king. She had had no idea how he would feel about her and whether he would love her or shun her. But somehow this moment was worse. She was attempting to see His Majesty without having an invitation. Even though she was married to him, if his temper was fowl on that particular occasion it could cost her her life.
And so Esther made her way to the throne room, heart pounding with each tentative step. Would he send her to her death? Her eyes were fixed on the golden scepter in his hand. If he raised it, she would be granted an audience. If not, it could mean her death. She prayed silently to the God who had seen her people through every trial through the years. She needed His help now more than ever – the fate of the entire Jewish nation hinged on this moment. And then the king saw her. He immediately raised the scepter and welcomed her into his presence. It was a pivotal moment. It signaled the beginning of salvation for God’s people.
There is something intimidating about walking into the presence of royalty. Whether they are surrounded by armed guards or have a scepter that signals our life or death, monarchs are famously unapproachable.
And yet the King of Kings makes Himself available to us at any moment. We do not have to wait for a scepter to be raised or for a special audience to be granted. In fact, our King pursues us. He leaves His throne to reach for us in our lowest and darkest moments. We have the incredible privilege to be able to walk into His presence whenever we need Him. What an awesome God we serve!
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
In a world where it seems bigger is always better – especially in the great state of Texas– it can be so easy to dismiss small things. We focus on the big moments in life: births and deaths, doors that open and close, triumphs and tragedies. While acknowledging pivotal landmarks and milestones, may we continue to keep the smaller things in mind as well. While we may define our lives by the big moments, the actual living of it takes place in the smaller ones.
The celebration of a wedding anniversary is possible because two people have striven for at least a year to recommit themselves to love. They have worked through challenges and celebrated tiny joys along the way. The celebration of a birthday commemorates thousands of moments that have made that life possible. If there are loved ones there to celebrate alongside the birthday boy or girl, it is because efforts have been made throughout the year to sustain those relationships.
As we reflect on the things that give our lives meaning, may we celebrate the big things but not forget about the small ones. The tiniest of smiles can bring joy into the heart of someone in tears. A gentle touch of the hand can bring healing into a broken life. A small step can be the beginning of a monumental journey.
As we progress quickly through this new year, take the time to dream big but never underestimate the value of small dreams as well. Whether you are saving the world or simply helping a fallen robin find his nest, your efforts are not in vain.
I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done /
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
Like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he’s gladdest to hail.
We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.
It wouldn’t be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
And the ones whom we grudged
Their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain…
So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.
Her daughter’s suicide fresh on her mind, Louisa Fletcher must have wiped away a few tears as she penned the words to her most well-known poem, “The Land of Beginning Again.” And, as it often happens, from great pain stems the inspiration for great courage.
For all who have wished for a fresh start, Isaiah 43:19 offers the beautiful promise that God:
“will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
With a God whose specialty is crafting beauty from ashes, our feet may cross into the Land of Beginning Again with the simple act of letting Him do what He does best.