Posted by: ozziepete | 16 November, 2015

Jesus was a Refugee

In the wake of last Friday’s Paris attacks one of the attackers was quickly identified as someone who had entered Greece back in October with the wave of Syrian refugees before finding his way to Paris. The list of people, including presidential candidates, and states pushing to prevent more Syrian refugees resettling in the United States is growing.

It seems that the actions of one person have suddenly resulted in tens of thousands of others receiving the “UNWANTED” label. Overlooked in the process seems to be the fact that these are mostly Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS related fighters.

It wasn’t that many months ago that social media blew up when the body of a young boy washed up on a Turkish beach. At that time the refugees were seen as suffering people and all of us with children wept for those parents who took such risks to protect their children.

How things have changed.

Although this issue is inherently political, I am more concerned by the attitudes expressed on social media and other forums from Christians. Christians seem to be among the first worry about protecting their families from bombers who will slip into the USA as refugees. This is their number one concern in this conversation.

While I understand these serious concerns, it is sad to see followers of Christ so consumed by fear.

It is sad to see people fearfully fleeing Muslim hatred being met and turned away by Christian fear.

This crisis prompts the church to ask itself some hard questions around the central issue of “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

God gave his only begotten Son… for his enemies.

When Jesus came to earth there was a 100% certainty that Jesus would be killed by his enemies.

What are the chances that a terrorist will be one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees currently scheduled to be admitted to the USA in 2016? Is that a greater risk than that one of the 320 million people currently living in the United States will commit an act of terror? And what are the chances that your loved one would be the victim of that heinous act?

I’m not meaning to be callous. I detest all people who intentionally cause suffering to others for the sake of making a political or religious statement. I believe ISIS should be stopped, and I accept that it will probably take military force to diminish their power and influence.

However, I am convinced that all the bombs dropped on ISIS heads and all the military blood shed will not have a sliver of the impact for the Gospel that providing for those in need will have. Love will always prove a more effective evangelistic tool than the sword.

So in the meantime, I believe that Christians should provide shelter to the homeless. We should feed the hungry. We should give water to the thirsty. We should invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and provide healing for the sick. (Matthew 25:34-36)

We should proclaim good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. We should bear witness that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

And we shouldn’t let fear that our chance of premature death may increase ever so slightly in the process of following Christ stop us from carrying out his mission.

Each Easter churches around the country celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate that his resurrection gives us hope to live our lives because we believe that death is defeated. Yes, we live in the presence of death, we feel its pain still, but we have confidence in our destination and in Christ’s victory. Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Jesus was a Refugee

I’ve mentioned Easter, but the Christmas story is equally relevant to this conversation. Matthew 2:13-23 tells how as a young child Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. I’m glad that Jesus wasn’t stopped at the Egyptian border and told to wait there for 18 months while the government conducted a background check. I’m not proposing that zero vetting of refugees should take place, let’s just get them to safety first.

This picture of Jesus fleeing violence and persecution influences the way I see refugees today. Matthew 25 (referenced earlier) says we encounter Jesus when we encounter the poor and hurting. The story of his flight to Egypt reminds us that Jesus never was a middle class American or Australian, but he was a refugee… and Egypt welcomed him.

How About Those Samaritans?

As we follow Jesus we’re also challenged by his attitude toward his national enemies, The Samaritans.

Some of the most beloved Christian stories involve Samaritans: The Woman at the Well (John 3); and The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). In both instances Jesus paints his enemies is a good light and treats them well.

This is not to say that Samaritans in general treated Jesus well. In Luke 9, just before telling the story of The Good Samaritan, a Samaritan village refused to let him stay the night there. The first instinct of his disciples was to call down fire from heaven upon that village. Jesus rebuked his disciples and moved on to the next village.

“Yes, but those villagers weren’t trying to kill him!” some will argue.

Correct, but he also didn’t call down fire on those enemies who were trying to kill him!

The Story About Weeds

I believe the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:24-30 is also applicable to this discussion. Jesus warns that if his followers try to uproot all the weeds that find their way into His kingdom, they’ll uproot the good plants also. Instead he tells his disciples to leave the weeds for him to sort out during the harvest.

I know Scripture elsewhere warns of wolves entering the church dressed in sheep’s clothing, but those passages are aimed at false teachers. In Matthew Jesus is willing to take the risk of uncommitted people mixing with his disciples and his disciples mixing with non-disciples.

If Jesus will take this risk in his church, will we take a similar risk in our nation?

Church and State

Lastly, I understand the role of the government is to protect its citizens. But I’ve also seen how Christians lobby that same government when it makes decisions they don’t like on issues like abortion and gay marriage. We don’t step back on those issues and say, “Well, the government has a responsibility to care for all its citizens and that’s what it’s doing.” I understand why people protest those decisions. This country is a democracy and Christians have a right to have a voice.

Christians also have a right to have a voice with how their representative government treats the desperate and the homeless. Let’s make sure the message of the church is one filled with love, not fear.


Posted by: ozziepete | 28 September, 2015

Preparing the Way

Isaiah 40 sits at an important junction in the book. From this point the prophet transitions from warning Judah of impending judgement and begins reassuring God’s people that He’ll deliver them from captivity. The very first words of the chapter change the tone as they declare, “Comfort, comfort for my people, says your God.

Then in verses 3-5 we find a passage better known for being applied years later to John the Baptiser. (Mt. 3:3, Mk. 1:3, Jn 1:23)

      A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

At first glance it appears that God commands His people to get busy building a road for Him to travel upon. The instruction actually serves as a figure of speech. At the heart of this passage God lets His people know that nothing can stand between Him and them. The highway figuratively illustrates that God will take a direct route to His people, wherever they are. That provides comfort for a suffering nation.

Hundreds of years later when people asked John the Baptiser, “Who are you?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way for the Lord.'” (John 1:22-23)

Consistent with the Jewish interpretative tradition of the day, John has searched the Scripture and found a text that describes his mission. John takes what was initially a figurative illustration and adopts it as a literal agenda for his life mission.

repent 01John conducted his ministry on the eastern bank of the Jordan River across from the town of Bethany. He lived in the wilderness outside any city or town. John prepares the way for Jesus by:

  • Demanding repentance and a new way of life
  • Urging justice for the poor, oppressed and suffering
  • Calling for baptism

In return:

  • He promises forgiveness of sins.
  • He anticipates the restoration of Israel.
  • He precedes the Messiah.

But John isn’t the end of the story. Jesus fulfills the remainder of Isaiah’s thought. If John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for us.

Jesus goes before us. Jesus ultimately goes to the cross for us. He makes a way for us in the wilderness. A way through guilt to forgiveness. A way through condemnation to grace. A way through sin to holiness. A way through this world to eternity.

Jesus makes a way for us to God.

As you would expect with a prophet named “John the Baptiser”, his call to repentance included a call to baptism. Jesus didn’t need repentance, but he chose to be baptised by John. As we follow Jesus into the waters of baptism like him we also:

  • Jesus baptism 01mark a point of surrender to God. In baptism we also accept the mission God has for us.
  • encounter God the Father and received the Holy Spirit. We too are anointed. When we are baptized, God says over us, “This is my child whom I love. I am delighted with you!”
  • identify with sinners. Jesus chose to identify himself WITH sinners. He didn’t become human to stand on the banks of our fallenness and hurt. He jumped right in and lived with us. In our baptism we identify ourselves AS sinners in need of forgiveness. And so, John’s message of salvation and forgiveness is pertinent for us also. We accept God’s forgiveness while living sinful lives among other sinners.

Through Jesus, God makes a way for us.

You and I are not the end of the story. God has a made a way for us to receive His salvation. Now He will use us to prepare the way for someone else. In this mission we can again learn from John the Baptiser. In Luke 7 John hasn’t seen the results of Jesus’ ministry that he expected, so, from jail, he sends his disciples to double check with Jesus that he really is the Messiah. As people preparing the way, we will often find ourselves second guessing our efforts. Where’s the fruit? Am I really being effective? Is God working through my efforts? Because our preferred timing is seldom the same as God’s timing.

Keep going. Don’t give up. Jesus told John, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Don’t become preoccupied with results, just fulfill the mission God gives you.

As Jesus prepares the way to the Father for you, you participate in His mission preparing the way for others.

**For the points on baptism I’m indebted to John Mark Hicks and his book Enter the Water, Come to the Table.

**BONUS: And because Isaiah brings to mind several songs… here are some videos I found:

The last few verses of the chapter contains the wonderful imagery of God giving strength to the weary so that they soar like eagles. This picture has inspired many songs.

Posted by: ozziepete | 31 August, 2015

Alive and Active

book comes alive 01

In Sunday’s sermon I suggested that Christians often talk about the Bible from memory. This came up because my assigned topic for the week was the birth of Christ. We hear the story of Christ’s birth so much each Christmas that I estimate that most regularly attending church members would have no problem listing at least 80% of all the significant elements of the story.

However, if we adopt the attitude that “we’ve already read it one hundred times”, or “we already know the story”, we reduce the likelihood that we’ll read it again. Instead, we’ll rely on a summary version stored in our memory banks.

What we may not realise is that when we rely upon our memory of a story, we’ve effectively taken God’s word and turn it into a collection of information that we either know or don’t know. In most cases as we tell the story of Jesus’ birth from memory we’ll tell a story that describes main events, but misses the divine wording. So we know that that angels praised God before the shepherds, but we forget the exact words they used.

When we rely upon our memory of the story, it’s going to be extremely difficult to differentiate between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Does that matter? Well, it did to Matthew and Luke. They each included and excluded material for a reason, but we’ll never come to consider the reason if we rely on our recollection of the story.

It’s important to read the Bible, even those parts we already know. Too often we read Scripture as though we’re preparing for a test: an eternal Bible Bowl.

We read to find answers.

We read to accumulate knowledge.

We read because we’re told we should.

We read to find that verse to win that argument.

While each of these reading motivations have their place, it’s not the type of reading the Bible itself envisages.

The Bible is not merely information.

The Bible is not a collection of facts.

The Bible is not an answer book.

The Bible is not a history book.

Hebrews 4:12 vividly describes the dynamic function of God’s Word, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. That sure doesn’t sound like preparing for a quiz, does it?

Perhaps the language of God’s word penetrating and dividing soul and spirit sounds threatening. Yet, as we mature in Christ, we come to long for Him to mold us into his image. To reveal our weaknesses and utilise our strengths. This doesn’t mean the process is easy or comfortable, but we recognise that it’s for our benefit.

God intends us to read the Bible not just for information, but to shine a light on our lives and examine our relationship with God.

God intends for us to read Scripture without demanding answers to our questions, but allowing God to scrutinise us with His questions.

God intends for us to read His Word allowing His Spirit to guide our thoughts and hearts as we read.

When we rely on our memory to summarise a passage of Scripture or describe an event, we eliminate the possibility that a particular word or phrase of Scripture will speak to us. We will find ourselves forever stuck with our previously developed wording, meaning and significance, which limits our capacity for spiritual growth.

Spending time In God’s word, is the same as spending time with God. Sadly, we don’t always make these meetings because we’re not always looking for a Bible that is “alive and active“. And we don’t always welcome a God who’s “alive and active” in our lives.

Where do you meet with God?

[Just after I posted this blog, a friend shared this video with me. It’s a perfect match, and Bill Hybels does a great job of presenting a different, but important, perspective on this topic.]

Posted by: ozziepete | 26 August, 2015

A Cathedral of Nature

Each year my church takes our worship service to a local park where we sing, pray, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and I bring a message from Scripture. Each year I try to allow the setting to influence the sermon topic.

Genesis 1-2 describe the Garden of Eden as a natural cathedral. A beautiful place where Adam and Eve could meet God. Talk with God. Walk with God. Work with God, and worship God.

In Genesis 1:28 God gives his created a humans a commission, “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.

If we keep reading we find sin entering the garden and God banishes all humans from His presence in that perfect garden. But it’s not just the people that suffer because of sin. The garden also suffers. I have a hard time imagining what the garden was like before sin, but now it will be different. From this point forward the ground itself is cursed.

God announces in Gen 3:17-19,

cursed is the ground.
        For the rest of your life,
    You will fight for every crumb of food
        from the crusty clump of clay I made you from.
As you labor, the ground will produce thorns and thistles,
        and you will eat the plants of the field.
Your brow will sweat for your mouth to taste
        even a morsel of bread until the day you return
    To the very ground I made you from.
        From dust you have come,
    And to dust you shall return.

We usually read this and notice the impact we experience in gardening, farming and producing food. We will fight for food. Our produce will compete with weeds. It will be hard work. And in the end the ground wins as we ultimately return to dust.

But notice the impact upon the environment. It seems the earth will be less fertile. And as every gardener knows, if it’s not managed well the ground will soon be overgrown with thorns and thistles.

From this point on the Biblical picture of God’s kingdom routinely describes not just peace between people. Not just peace between people and God.  In addition to these images, Scripture also imagines harmony in nature. The prophet Isaiah (11:6) speaks of a day when a wolf will lie next to a lamb, the leopard with the goat, and a lion with a calf. God’s plans for his creation involve bringing peace to all of his creation, not just His people.

The apostle Paul in Romans 8 describes how creation is frustrated, not that it did anything wrong, but because humans sinned. Now creation waits for the children of God to be revealed, so that the planet and universe can taste the same freedom that God’s children experience.

Now think back to God’s original instructions to the people he created. He told them to rule over creation. I suspect that throughout history we’ve read that verse and used it as authority to do whatever we want in the world. But if we think about it for a moment, that’s not really how we like to be ruled and it’s not the way God rules. God acts in our best interests. We would like to think that our elected leaders will also act in our best interests.

So when we have an opportunity to rule creation will we do so asking how much we can extract for our benefit, or what’s best for the world as a whole?

Basically, the question is this… Do we act toward creation as part of its curse or do we contribute to its redemption?

God cursed the earth.

When we contaminate water supplies.

When we build golf courses in the desert.

When we introduce radiation into our atmosphere.

When we over-log old growth forests.

When we dig huge holes in the ground pursuing minerals.

When we act without thought to Creation, we participate in the cursing of the earth.

This is a pertinent conversation because we live in an age when across the globe species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs. I don’t have all the answers for how to balance human needs and the good of nature as a whole, but I’m pretty sure we’re doing a bad job of ruling as long as species are disappearing.

I don’t intend to use this blog to promote particular courses of action. I’m not demanding that everybody drive 4 cylinder cars, or recycle every scrap of paper in their house. I’m not arguing over global warming or how we calculate the benefit of a mine to society versus the environmental damage it causes.

My point in writing this article is to simply highlight that God has given his people a responsibility to serve as “trustees of God’s estate, to care for His creation.” If Christians want to disagree on this topic, the conversation should revolve around how to care for creation, not if we should care for creation.

Jesus describes in Matthew 10:28-31 that God cares for people more that sparrows. But notice that God cares for sparrows. When we care for creation, we’re working with God rather than participating in the curse.

Posted by: ozziepete | 11 August, 2015

2015 Summer Blog Tour Index

I wanted to post once more about the Summer Blog Tour with a reminder and links to those who may have missed out on some of the really great posts. I appreciate the manner other writers can address topics in ways I’d never consider. I wanted to encourage you to bookmark and subscribe to each one of their blogs. You can’t go wrong.

2015 summerblogtour

Steve Ridgell – Hope For Life The Power of Telling a Story

Holly Barrett – Reclaiming A Redeemed LifeThe Power of A Recovery Story

Danny Dodd – Adventures in PreachingThe Power of an Ordinary Story

Jennifer Rundlett – God Thru The ArtsThe Power of A Cleansing Story

Les Ferguson, Jr – Desperately Wanting To Believe AgainThe Power of A Redemption Story

Scott Elliott – Resurrected LivingThe Power of A Beautiful Story

Peter Horne – God Meets Ball – Exploring life and God through the lens of sports.The Power of Another’s Story

Tyler Jarvis – Turtles All The Way Down – Questions about Faith, God and the ChurchThe Power of a Villain Story

John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks MinistriesThe Power of a Biblical Story

John Dobbs – Out Here Hope RemainsThe Power of A Disappointing Story

Posted by: ozziepete | 5 August, 2015

The Power of a Disappointing Story

2015 summerblogtour

Disappointment is an experience that every one faces … and often in many varieties and shades. Sometimes disappointment comes at the hands of others, and sometimes we create it all on our own.

You know, that weight you were going to lose by now. The degree you were going to earn has somehow eluded you. The order you were hoping to establish in your daily routine escapes in the trap of too many late nights and way too early mornings. The books you wanted to write that once started remain unfinished. The commitment to write for someone else that has found you looking at an empty document, fingers stalled on the keyboard. The preacher who thought he would have been able to lead his church to greater heights.

Oh, excuse me… didn’t mean to spill MY disappointments in myself all over the place. But I bet I’m in good company.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ~W.B. Yeats

Age has a way of sneaking up on us. Health issues slow us down when we thought before that we could be active any time we wanted to. Like the addict who swears he has no problems, we blind ourselves to reality until one day when the stark reality of who we are doesn’t leave us any way out. We realize that all the things we thought we might be, well, they aren’t likely to happen.

After the crucifixion of Jesus some disciples grappled with their own disappointment. As they tried to sift through the information … he died … the women said they saw an angel who said he was alive … but we haven’t seen him … he must be dead.

tissot the pilgrims of emmaus on the road

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” ~ Cleopas and another Discouraged Disciple on the road to Emmaus.

How can there be any power in a disappointing story? You get to the end of the book only to find out the main character has died. Powerful? Not really. You watch all the episodes of a show that has you hooked, but in the end they just ruined the whole thing. Disappointment. Well, we may not be able to rescue fictional works that turn sour in the end, but your life is different. It’s nonfiction, no matter how crazy the details. Disappointments – great or small – can actually turn out to be a pretty powerful experience.

Sometimes out of the rubble of disappointment is a new reality you couldn’t have designed or pictured if you tried.

Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and He has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our life. It’s hard to understand it at the time. Not one of us wants that thread when it is being woven in. Not one of us says, ‘I can hardly wait to see where this is going to fit.’ We all say at that moment, ‘This is not the pattern I want.” ~Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver

When Jesus revealed himself to the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, new light was given to their faith.

Luke 24:32-33 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Instead of continuing toward Emmaus they went to Jerusalem to join the other formerly disappointed but now ecstatic disciples.

Maybe your disappointments seem irreversible. Divorce. Financial ruin. Accused. Arrested. Abandoned. Abused. Mourning the loss of a person or even a pet … disappointment is one gut-punch we don’t just walk away from.

The one thing that never disappoints us is hope. Hope that is certain of what lies ahead. While our knowledge of God’s promises is secure, the road that we travel between here and there can be rugged. The reason hope never disappoints us is that we carry it with us through the dark streets of shame and uncertainty.

When God saved you He poured hope into your heart. Not just a little, but filled your heart up because He knew that there were going to be some real struggles along the way. If you’re disappointed, just clear out all the troubling thoughts and focus intently here:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:1-5

If you didn’t feel some disappointment lift, read it again. See the friendship with God expressed there? The assurances just pour out of this passage.

We are justified by faith.

We have peace with God through Jesus.

We have access to grace in which we stand.

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

We … boast … in … our … sufferings (disappointing, isn’t it, that sufferings have to enter into this passage).

People who suffer endure. Character is produced. Hope, the kind that can never disappoint us, has been given to us. Because God loves us. All in the face of suffering.

So, dear friend, when you’ve felt the pangs of disappointment, remember that your story isn’t finished yet. The hopes you had might be eclipsed by a more glorious plan that God has for you – even when it’s hard to understand.

Here’s a Prayer for the Disappointed
God so often my eyes are clouded and I can’t see the Powerful Risen Savior because the ‘facts’ of the day are staring me in my face. I am disappointed because I thought maybe You would provide for me in a different way. But in faith I affirm that You know much more about my tomorrows than I do. I know you’ll walk with me through days of glory and days of gloom. Would you bring healing and serenity to my hurting heart today? I don’t have to know all the answers. I just want to know You more. Father please remind me of the power of a disappointing story and how Your hope never disappoints. This hope, found only in your son Jesus, my Brother. Amen.

Vector set of decorative elements, border and page rules frame
10 - John Dobbs picJohn Dobbs is the minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to the former Margaret Willingham. He has two children. Nicole, who has provided two beautiful grandchildren. John Robert, who is deceased. John has blogged for many years and was recently listed as a Church of Christ “Top Blog” by the Charis Website. Here are some ways to connect with him:
Posted by: ozziepete | 3 August, 2015

The Power of A Biblical Story

Bible stories.

Many of us have heard them since we were children.

  • Daniel and the Lion’s Den.
  • Noah’s Ark.
  • Three Angels Visiting Abraham.
  • Moses and the Burning Bush.
  • David and Goliath.

And many more!

Bible stories are important. They do more than tweak the emotions or offer a moralism, as important as those dimensions are. Their power arises from something (even Someone) much deeper than human morality or emotion.

What is the power of a biblical story?

The power of a biblical story is what it reveals about God. Even when a biblical story does not name God (as in the case of Esther), it is still about God. As such, God is the subject of every biblical story, and that story says something about God’s identity and character.

Biblical stories reveal God’s goodness as well as God’s holiness. We see God’s faithfulness, a divine commitment to the divine goal among God’s people. We see God’s transcendence but also God’s immanence; we see God’s holy otherness but also God’s deep involvement in the world.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask: what does this story tell us about who God is and what God is doing in the world?

The power of a biblical story is what it reveals about the human condition. We locate ourselves in the human condition; we find ourselves in the story. We see our own frailty, weakness, and unbelief in the story. We also see courage, strength, and faith in the story.

Biblical stories reveal both the depravity and the dignity of human beings. As we hear these stories, we recognize how evil human beings can behave but also the heights to which their faith draws them. We see both the absurdity of life with all its brokenness, woundedness, and death, but we also see the good gifts of relationships, community, and family within God’s good creation. Biblical stories tell both sides of the human story.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask: what does this story tell us about who we are, what we have become, and the heights to which God is calling us?

The power of a biblical story is how it invites us to participate in the theodrama. As we read the stories in the Bible, we are invited to see ourselves in the story. This is not simply a matter of locating ourselves there. Rather, we engage the story as part of the larger theodrama, the dramatic history of God at work within creation and human history. We are participants. This story is our story.

Biblical stories are not isolated moral plays; they are part of a larger narrative, a metanarrative. The stories themselves participate in God’s mission within the world. Each story is an expression of the larger story, and we are invited to participate in that larger story even as we see ourselves in any particular story.

Reading a biblical narrative, we ask: how does this story invite us to participate in God’s larger metanarrative?

So, what do we do with that?

If we know who God is, and we know what our condition is, then we are enable to discern how a story summons us to play our role in God’s grand redemptive drama.

The God of the burning bush is both redeemer and holy. The holy God encounters Moses, and invites Moses to participate in God’s redemptive movement within the world. We see in Moses our own reticence, fear, and inadequacies, but we also see God’s enabling power and summons. God includes Moses in the redemptive drama such that Moses partners with God in liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage. What Moses becomes is rooted in what God does.

Who is God? The Holy Redeemer.

What is humanity? Weak and fearful, yes. But also God affirms human dignity by inviting Moses to participate in the divine mission.

What is our summons? To participate in God’s redemptive agenda in the world, pursuing God’s mission in dependence on God’s power. We are still on the same mission as Moses, as the redemption of Israel is part of the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work for all peoples.

Biblical stories have something to tell. They inform, moralize, and motivate.

But, more importantly, through them we also encounter Someone. We encounter the God who invites us into God’s own story, God’s theodrama.

At bottom, biblical stories are callings. God calls us.

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09 - Hicks picJohn Mark Hicks is Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville. He has taught theology since 1982, including nine years at Harding University Graduate School of Religion (1991-2000). He has been at Lipscomb since 2000. He has ministered with churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Tennessee. He has published nine books and thirteen journal articles as well as contributed to nineteen other books. He has spoken in thirty-eight states and nineteen countries. His most recent book discusses baptism and the Lord’s Supper, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table”. You can access more of his writing at his website

Posted by: ozziepete | 29 July, 2015

The Power of Another’s Story

Our Bibles contain four gospels. Each gospel author includes different details, different wording and sometimes different events in telling the story. As early as the second century Christian leaders began the quest to harmonise the four gospels.

gospels four harmony 01Scholars often undertook this project to defend the Bible against claims of contradictions. Others sought to harmonise the gospel accounts as an attempt to identify “what really happened”. Like a jigsaw, if each gospel contributes a unique detail, then by assembling all four details we can get a complete story that we’ll never see by reading each gospel individually. Or so the thinking goes.

Many people go through life with a similar approach to the world we live in. We each tell our life stories based on our knowledge of the truth. At the core of this quest is a belief that a factual event occurred. If we can accurately gather all the facts then we can communicate the exact details of that event. In this way truth will be revealed.

This approach has merit. If carried out precisely we can answer a wide variety of How, What, When, and Who questions. However, this methodology cannot answer the Why questions that are so essential to storytelling. It’s a fact that my grandparents emigrated from Scotland to Australia in the 1950’s. But immigration records will never explain why the made the decision to relocate to the other side of the world. And that Why is key to the story. In the case of Gospel harmonies our quest for factual truth may even distract us from more significant heart truths.

Let’s think about those Why’s using a predictable, routine event: Sunday morning worship.

Why did an event take place? We can easily answer the How, What, When and Who questions of Sunday worship through observation and record keeping. When we turn to consider why people assemble in that place, at that time, there’s suddenly no single accurate answer. Any attempt to harmonise the motivations of the people present each Sunday morning is a generalization at best and at worst woefully inaccurate.

Why did an individual act that way? We might think it’s easier to define the motivation of a particular individual, but if you’re anything like me, that may even change from week to week. Sometimes I attend Sunday worship to worship God. Sometimes I attend because I’m a minister and paid to be there. Sometimes I’m there because I have a responsibility, and sometimes I just long to see friends. Most Sundays I find myself motivated by a complex mix of all these thoughts.

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When we tell our stories, the ‘Why’s of motivation’ provide vital insights as we interpret our world. We also need to deal with the ‘Why’s of interpretation’.

Why is this event significant? We can all agree that Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon was a significant event. It’s highly unlikely that we will all agree on the cause of that significance. Was it because it symbolized American (or human) ingenuity? Was it because it opened the door to further space travel? Was it because it inspired a nation? Was it because of the technological advances it represented? Was it all of the above?

Why does this story need to be told? Stories are summaries. We summarise our lives. We summarise events. We summarise history. Because we summarise, we naturally editorialise. We make decisions about what information to include and omit.

We omit things on purpose. We omit some stories because they contain shame. We gloss over some events because we deem them trivial. We leave out details because we want to portray ourselves in a particular light. Sometimes we shorten our stories simply because of time constraints.

In a similar fashion we tell stories for a purpose. We seek to inspire others. We long to preserve our legacy within our family or maybe in a broader sphere. We tell stories to persuade others to agree with us. We tell stories to warn of dangers. We sometimes tell a story to honor a friend, or to humiliate a rival.

Whatever our motivation in telling a story, the act of storytelling is actually a ‘Why of interpretation’. We tell our stories because they explain the way we see the world.

A collection of facts can’t explain the Why.

Most of us have a story that we live. We’re politically conservative or liberal because we see the world a certain way. We emphasizes certain values and downplay others. We value education or we don’t. We avoid debt, or we don’t. We hold these values because somewhere in our life we were taught or experienced things that formed those values. So the values arise out of our life story, not simply from making judgements within an intellectual vacuum.

In our stories we believe that particular actions will usually result in predetermined results.

In our stories we see an illegal immigrant working a minimum wage job and complain that he’s stolen an American’s job.

In our stories we see single mothers and complain about a system that encourages them to have kids.

In our stories we believe that college education will lead to employment and a happy life.

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There’s power in the story of another person: a person with story different to mine.

That illegal immigrant has a story that tells Why they’re here. Perhaps it’s a story of tragedy. Often it’s a story of poverty. And when we learn the storytellers name… we’re no longer talking about illegal immigrants. We’re talking about specific people. People who need Jesus. People we’re called to love. People who can open our eyes to another story.

The single mother you pointed at actually isn’t the Samaritan woman at the well. She didn’t have 6 kids with 5 dads just so she could collect welfare checks. Her Why is more complicated than that. Her husband of 15 years walked out on her one day. Now her kids are rowdy in the restaurant because he used to discipline the other end of table and he’s no longer there. Her story isn’t the one we’ve written for her.

Perhaps there was a day when a college education automatically landed a good job. But education costs increase and expectations of a graduate degree not just a Bachelors also increase. So the debt load rises and the “good job” barely pays the rent and student loans with no hope of owning a house. At the same time there are more college graduates competing for the same jobs. So the story is rewritten and college grad takes whatever job she can because some income is better than none. Someday she’ll have a career… maybe.

And we realise that facts don’t tell a story, because they can’t answer the Why’s.

And we realise that our story is just one side of a story, one facet of a jewel, and we need the stories of others to reveal a reality bigger than we can see or imagine.

And we realise that we need to listen before we speak. To learn before we teach. We realise that other races, other genders, other ages, other nations have stories that add value to our own.

And we realise that God gave us four gospels for a reason.

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An excellent resource on listening to the stories of others is THIS series of blogs by Christena Cleveland on “Listening Well as a Person of Privilege.”

Posted by: ozziepete | 27 July, 2015

The Power of a Villain Story

We continue the Summer Blog Tour this week with some thoughts from Tyler Jarvis. Tyler recently completed his Master of Divinity degree at Lubbock Christian University. He serves as the youth minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, TX.   As always, please take a moment to check out more of his writing on his blog.

2015 summerblogtour

One of the things I like the most about the Bible is that it doesn’t pull any punches. I mean, there are lots of guys who are generally “good” guys but who do really crappy things. Generally, when you read a story, the main character is presented in the most likable light possible.

Not in the Bible. Or at least, not always.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like David, who was famously described as a man after God’s own heart, but who also impregnated a woman who was married to another guy, and then carried out a plan to kill the woman’s husband so he wouldn’t be caught.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like Samson, who served as a Judge of Israel and was supposed to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines, but he actually just winds up breaking all the vows he made to God, and even when he does kill a few Philistines, it’s too little too late, and he dies without having done what he was called to do.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like Peter who was the rock on which the Church was built, but who was portrayed as incredibly dim-witted all throughout the Gospels. And even after the resurrection, when Peter is supposed to be super awesome all the time, Paul still has to get onto Peter for being a racist.


I think it’s important that these stories are included in the Bible, because the writers understood the importance of a villain story. It’s important to have stories about people who screw things up. It’s important to tell the stories of the guys who weren’t always good at following God.

Because really, that’s our story. I can relate to guy who does good and bad things. I’m familiar with seeking after God’s heart, but also trying to make myself look good. I know what it’s like to know what God has called me too, and to ignore it because there were other, better things to do. I know how it is to want to follow Christ, but to make stupid mistakes.

The Bible includes all these stories to show us that being a follower of God isn’t just something for the elite. David wasn’t bred to be a holy King. He was a shepherd boy who accidentally found himself anointed to be King, and he screwed up along the way. Samson had strength, but lacked the discipline and desire to follow God. Peter was self-absorbed, and only followed Jesus because he thought Jesus was going to lead a violent rebellion against the Romans, but he wound up leading Christ’s Church.

This is important to note, because, like Peter, Samson, and David, we’re not always going to be the good guy.

We are going to do things that are stupid, shameful, and Un-Christlike. At some point in our lives, we are going to do things that hurt the cause of the Kingdom of God. And God can use us anyway.

Because the Christian story isn’t a hero story. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s a real story about real people who seek after God and who screw up. It’s a story about people who are constantly being transformed, but who sometimes resist that transformation. It’s a story about people who don’t always look more like God today than they did yesterday.

And that’s encouraging. Because I take steps back. I have days like David, where if people knew what I’d done, they would probably think I wasn’t a Christian. I have days like Peter, where even though I work as a leader in a Church, I exclude people that I’m supposed to include. I have days like Samson, where God gives me everything I need to follow him, and I do my own thing anyway. And it’s on those days that I need these reminders that God’s not finished with me yet. Even on the days that I’m the villain of the story, God works in and through me.

We should strive to be followers of God. We should strive to be after God’s own heart. We should strive to be perfect as God is perfect. But we should also rest in the comfort that God uses us when we screw up. Some of the greatest heroes of the faith were bigger screw-ups than you and me.

Sometimes, the villains make the best heroes.

07 - Tyler Jarvis picTyler Jarvis is married to his wonderful wife Andrea and they have zero kids. He enjoys playing guitar, rock climbing, and writing about himself in the third person. You can check out his blog at or follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_Jarvis.

Posted by: ozziepete | 22 July, 2015

The Power of A Beautiful Story

2015 summerblogtourWhat is Christianity? It is what is good, true, and beautiful. These are the three virtues that describe our faith. God is good. God is true. God is beautiful. God embodies these virtues perfectly, but these virtues do not stop with God. What he creates is good, true, and beautiful. As Christians, we should strive for goodness, truth, and beauty in our own lives. We should reflect the virtues of God. We are shaped by a story that is good, true, and beautiful. The Bible is God’s grand narrative, and we are invited to be a part of it.

Of the three virtues, beauty is the one that is most neglected by Christians these days. We are great at standing up  for doctrinal truths. We have no problem doing good in the communities in which we live and around the world. Beauty is another animal. It is not that we are against it, but I think most Christians do not know what is meant by beauty in its purest form. Beauty has been hijacked. The so-called beauty that is pimped on magazine covers and billboards is not the kind of beauty we are talking about.

What is beauty? The psalmist wrote,

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Our standard for beauty is God. Everything about God is beautiful. His work, word, and ways define beauty for us. The beauty we see in creation is a reflection of the beauty of the Father. The beauty of a painting, film, or poem is a glimpse of the eternal Artist, who created all things. The beauty of humanity at its finest is a reminder of the greatest human being that walked this earth, Jesus of Nazareth.

hands 01We must be careful not to neglect beauty. It has the power to win people over. Often Christians are guilty of shouting truths at a secular world that desperately needs to see the beauty of God. We must never neglect the truth of the Christian faith, but the first thing the world needs to see and hear from us is the beauty of what it means to be a

God’s beauty is broad. It is many things. At one point in his ministry, Paul pointed to the beauty of the words of a pagan poet to win people to Christ. God’s beauty can even be found in things that deny him or do not know him. The longing for something beautiful is a desire every human has. We may have a difficult time defining beauty, but when we see something beautiful, we cannot take our eyes off of it. Beauty is a necessity, just as story is a necessity. Without stories, our lives do not make sense. Everyone has a story. Everyone is living into a story. Every human being on this planet has been shaped by the stories they have grown up with. Without beauty and story, life is meaningless.

It is important to understand how foundational beauty and story are because Christians have a beautiful story that the world needs to hear. Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with the world. How do we address this brokeness? We address it by telling a beautiful story, a story that is truly good news to the people who hear it. We live into this story, so much so that people recognize that our lives are strangely different. We embody this beautiful story that we are now a part of it, and we proclaim it with every aspect of our lives.

What is this story of beauty? It is a love story.

It is a story about sacrifice and what it means to be truly human. It is a story that will bless our lives in more ways than we can imagine. It is a story that recognizes this world is not what it should be. This problem leads us to the heart of the story. Humanity cannot solve the problems of this world, although we continue to try. God alone can make things right, and he did so by taking on flesh and coming to this earth.

christmas nativity 01Our world recognizes beauty each year at Christmas when it celebrates the incarnation. People are mesmerized and filled with awe because of this mysterious event. Beauty and mystery are close cousins. They go hand in hand. If you explain every detail about something, it is no longer a mystery. We are intrigued by mystery because we do not understand everything about it. The same is true of beauty. Part of the allure of things that are beautiful lies in our inability to fully explain them. We can try to describe the beauty of a sunset, but our words do not do it justice. Our explanations of what is beautiful always fall short. What is beautiful in the Bible are things we profess but do not fully comprehend. Incarnation, Trinity, atonement, resurrection, etc. are all elements of our beautiful story. They are foundational to who we are and what we believe but they are also shrouded in mystery and beauty.

We have a beautiful story to tell and we must not fail to share it with the world. Often, we are guilty of sharing facts from the Bible as if it is no different from a science textbook. When we do this we are missing out on the wonders God has revealed to us. We are called to woo the world with the beauty of a story. It is the beauty of a God who created all things and said, “It is good.” It is the beauty of a God who is one and three at the same time, a God who dwells in perfect community. It is the beauty of a God who left heaven and came to earth. It is the beauty of a God who took on flesh and ministered to the least of society. It is the beauty of a God who forgave his killers and willingly went to the cross to show us what love is. It is the beauty of new creation springing up from the grave.

This is our story, but it is just part of all there is to tell. When God invests himself in creation, the result is beauty. God has been present in the lives of the patriarchs, Israel, and the early church, and he continues to invest himself in the lives of Christians today. Many Christians have personal stories of how God has worked in our lives. In a world that is longing for beauty and a story to make sense of their lives, we hold the key. We have been called to tell a beautiful story.

06 - Scott Elliot picScott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He blogs regularly at Resurrected Living (

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