Monday, December 10, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: STORY - We Learn It to Live It

For followers of Jesus, story is important in many, many ways. Jesus taught in stories; the story of Jesus reveals who God is and what God has done; the stories of Scripture are a treasure chest for the life of faith; our personal stories are the way we bear witness to Jesus; seeing our own story as part of a larger story gives life context and meaning, and living in a story that we know ends in eternal life gives us hope and courage for the days along the way.

The Old Testament story unfolds as a series of movements on a map. Abraham and Sarah journey from their home in the East, up over the top of the Fertile Crescent and down into the Promised Land. That journey is represented by the upper curved arrow in the Story icon. Later, their descendants leave the Promised Land and move to Egypt, represented in the lower curved arrow. The story continues over many generations with a return to the Promised Land from Egypt in the Exodus, followed by a deportation back to the East in the Exile. The Old Testament story concludes with a final journey of return to the Promised Land to await the coming of the Messiah.

The New Testament story also unfolds on a map, but this time as an ever widening circle centered on Jerusalem. The life and work of Jesus unfolds there, then moves further and further into the rest of the world as his disciples share the message “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In both the Old and New Testaments, God’s goal remains the same (to embrace ALL people throughout the world), and the same basic strategy is used (commissioning a group of people to live out the message of God’s love.) In the Old Testament however, the approach is to have those people in a central location so that the message can go out from there. (Micah 4:2b) In the New Testament it’s the people themselves that are sent out into the world, bearing the message with them as they go. (Matthew 28:19)

The story of God’s activity in the world to deliver the message of love does not end with what’s written in the Bible. The story continues on through all the people that came afterwards, including each one of us. When we are called to be “witnesses,” it’s a call for us to tell our own stories of how God has touched and blessed us. Story is still the way that God is at work in the world.

Jesus used stories and parables when he taught 2000 years ago and he still uses stories to speak to us today, calling to mind a story from Scripture or life. Sharing these stories with each other is part of how we listen to God together, and how we care for and encourage each other. Stories become for us a kind of lexicon, a dictionary of images, ideas, themes and emotions that are able to catch our attention and strike chords in our minds, hearts and spirits. When we read stories in Scripture, we may begin by looking for what God said to people at the time since it may also apply to us today. But we also listen through the stories for what God is saying to us now. The story is still being told.

Genesis 12:1-3; Micah 4:1-2; Zechariah 8:20-23; Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:1-11; Acts 7; Hebrews 11:4-40

Monday, December 3, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: MYSTERY - Not Understanding is Normal

Sometimes we think that the most important thing in Christianity is what we know and understand. We place huge emphasis on having the “right” theology, being able to explain and make sense out of difficult Bible passages and so on. We are tempted to believe that everything can be explained, that we can understand every explanation, and that anything that “doesn’t make sense” must not be true.

In fact, there are things we don’t know, there are things we can’t know, and there are things we think we know but are actually completely wrong about. This is true in daily life, and even more so in spiritual life. When we encounter the limits of what we can know with our minds we enter into Mystery.

Not knowing everything is normal for humans. Even Jesus had limits to what he knew. He once told his disciples that only the Father knew when the end would come (Mark 13:32). And Jesus suffered with the pain of an unanswered question on the cross when he cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Paul reminds us that at least for the time being “…we see through a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

If our faith relied on what we know we would be in trouble indeed. Mystery reminds us that our faith is not about knowledge but trust. It’s one thing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead – to hold that statement as true. It’s quite a different thing to believe in Jesus as someone you trust.

Embracing Mystery and accepting that our knowledge is always limited and imperfect can relieve us from the fears and anxieties about not “getting it right.” In fact, this is one of the things we trust Jesus for: not only are we forgiven for our sins, but also for our false, mistaken and misunderstood beliefs. Released from these fears we are able to “hold loosely” our ideas about faith and life and be ready to learn more. This also encourages us to speak with humility about what we believe to be true, and listen with openness to the ideas of others. Acknowledging Mystery helps us to resist the temptations of intellectual pride.

Embracing Mystery can also help us to set aside our questions when there are more important things at hand than just understanding. In John 9 Jesus encounters a man blind from birth. His disciples and the religious leaders are fixated on the theological questions. Jesus sees the man as a person, not as a case study, and heals him. We may want to wrestle endlessly over questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Mystery reminds us to consider whether getting answers is really more important than giving help to someone in need.

1 Corinthians 2; 1 Corinthians 8; Romans 11:33-34; Ephesians 3; Job 38