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All of us have felt our hearts touched by stories. Movies, songs, or books about love, courage, heroism, and sacrifice often strike a chord with our souls. Todd talks about the eternal story that is an innate part of each of us, and discusses what your life's story is all about.
Why The Bible Can Be Trusted
Why There is Hope
Why The Church
Why Change is Possible and Necessary
Why All the Passion
Why There is the Law
Why the Jews
Why We Are Here
Why There is Evil
Why the Story You Live in Matters
Sean Connery: For more than 100 years the world has been fascinated by the movies. They are more than just entertainment. They're the force that binds us together, the common link that touches the humanity of all of us. That's why we love to watch the movies. Tonight our Academy invites the world to celebrate the magic of going to the movies. Enjoy!
[End of video]
The force that ties us all together, the common link that brings us together as humanity… What is it about a story that captures all of us? What is it about Hollywood that makes a billion people watch the Academy Awards? Why do we love music? Why is country music the number one genre in our nation today?
I think it's because country music tells a story. There's a reason we're so drawn to Danielle Steel, to novels, and to movies. Because in every great story, there's something there that deeply borrows from another story that is innately placed in us. If you understand this story, you understand everything you were designed to be.
Here's one I read a number of years ago that reminds me that when I see certain things that are greater than me, maybe there is a story God is trying to reveal to us through all of our stories that he wants to anchor us in. It's a story that a guy told who has a child who is learning disabled (that's the way we say it in today's day and time).
He stood up to speak at a school that he was doing a fundraiser for. He started by saying this. "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?"
The writer said, "The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish, stilled by the piercing query. 'I believe,' the father answered, 'that when God brings a child like this [talking about his son] into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child.' He then told the following story about his son Shaya:
One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, 'Do you think they will let me play?' Shaya's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said 'We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.' Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya's team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat.
Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.
The first pitch came in, and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's teammates came up to Shaya, and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat, and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out, and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.
Everyone started yelling, 'Shaya, run to first. Run to first.' Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head.
Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second.' Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, 'Run to third.' As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, 'Shaya run home.'
Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a 'grand slam' and won the game for his team." The father said then softly as he had tears running down his face, "I saw why my God had made my son. So others could show God's perfection in the way he loved him."
There's something about that story when you and I hear it, and my heart goes out to those 18 kids who did that. I want to go grab them all. I want to hug them and go, "There's something so divine about what you just did. Something so loving, something so right, something so deeply embedded in my heart that when I see it, I cannot resist it.
I am completely drawn to it. This hope that we matter, not because we can hit a grand slam and be the hero, but this hope that we matter just because we are worthy of being loved. That at times, something would come around us and embrace us and allow us to be what we all long to be, which is completely accepted, woven in intimacy to greatness and to experience the glory we were designed to experience." There's something divine about what those boys did that day that resonates deeply with a story that is in my soul.
What we're going to talk about these next nine weeks is a story that is going to resonate deeply with your soul. We have put together a little series that we're going to spend the next nine weeks on called Why. In a little card we used to let you know what we're going to talk about, we said this. "We all love a great story. One filled with rescue, romance, and an unrelenting love. One filled with courage, heroism, and ultimate triumph. Something that when we hear, it resonates with something deep inside us.
The reason why is found in one story. A story that is so embedded in our beings that even a shadow of it is irresistible to us. It's a story that makes the most audacious claim in history and offers to answer all our questions. If you never thought of God as a hero, if you've never imagined him as the ultimate rescuer of a lover taken captive, if you don't understand how our history is leading to his triumph, then you're in the right place for the next nine weeks.
We're going to do something that is very uncomfortable to those of us who are in the West. We're going to teach truth in a story. If you went back 2,000 years ago, you'll find there was a time that Jesus led propositional idea, truth that men were called to respond to to start to present truth in the context of a story in order to reveal more truth to those who wanted it and to give those who really were putting off his propositional claims in a way that wouldn't incur even more judgment on themselves.
We're going to talk, and specifically today, we're going to frame to you the story. Then we're going to unfold the history that is God's story, make a case for him being the one author that you want to write into your life. I should say it this way. He's the one author that if you don't let him oversee the writing that is your life, you will find yourself in constant tension with the reality of the world that you live in.
There is one story that answers every question we have. Questions we have about why we're here, why there is so much pain, why I feel so empty, why I exist, what my purpose is, where joy is, why hope escapes me, and why all the horror? In a movie like The Passion of Christ, what is the reason behind that, why the brutality, why the hate, why the inconsistency, betrayal, ignorance, why the courage, endurance, love, forgiveness, and perseverance? What is the reason for this world we're living in?
The Bible provides the answer to that. The Bible is a book that has a very arrogant title. It is called la Biblia (the Book). It is the book that tells the story and any other resource we go to to frame the reality we find ourselves living in, is in the fiction category. There is only one book that is a nonfictional account that explains everything that philosophers for ages have been trying to get their arms around.
Men have rejected the story of God. They don't believe that history is his story. So they have to come up with other stories, and they've invented many. They've become their own author. Self-authorship is another word for rebellion, trading the invisible pure image of God for a lesser image of God that they can control and dictate, that they can create their own explanations.
What we're talking about when we use the phrase story here, is a phrase that is commonly used called a worldview, a conceptional filing cabinet, a reality, a pair of lenses that you see the world through that frames what is right, what is wrong, what is true, and what gives meaning to you. We're going to make a case that you will always find yourself wanting and hurting and longing until you understand the worldview that is given to you by the God who created it.
We're going to let you know that as you understand the story and the book from the Author and Creator, when you understand what he's up to and who he is, you'll start to have every question you've ever had answered. You may not like certain pages through the story. You may not even like the character he's given you to play. When you understand who he is as author and perfecter, as hero and redeemer, as lover and pursuer, you will find yourself engaged with God like you never thought you would before.
Let me tell you what we have done in the church that has so uninspired us that we have lost the heart of the people. In America today, there will be all kinds of folks who show up in churches who will go through an act that supposedly causes them to have intercourse with God, but in large part, it's going to be heartless.
Many of you might be there and have just sung some of the great songs we did about how his love is amazing. All the names of God we sang in that last song, "He is Holy," which really isn't an attribute of God. It's a defining adjective that describes everything about who God is. His love his holy, meaning there is no shadow in it, no shifting in it. His goodness is complete and pure. The word holy is an adjective which describes the fullness of anything.
We are inviting you, as we tell the story of God these next nine weeks, to come to the light of nonfiction, and place yourself squarely in his story and find the answer that you're looking for. Sean Connery at the Oscars last week told people the reason we are here and celebrate this is because we love a good story. We can't resist it.
I agree with the observation that others have made that what resonates with us in every story that is out there is the ultimate story which is deeply embedded in all of our hearts. It's where God has placed the eternal story, where deep speaks to deep. God said that he has placed eternity in our hearts, and he has placed some other things. He has placed a love for life, a love for adventure, and a need to be loved in that he made us in his image.
I talk to you about the fact that there are going to be lots of folks in places like this this morning around this country in the world who are going to be there but in a way that grieves God because God doesn't just want you to accept him as a propositional entity. He doesn't want you to understand him as a God who exists in some reality that you just surrender to. He doesn't want you to honor him with a statement of fact. Do you understand that? God is a person who is longing to have a relationship with you, and that's his story.
You're going to find that God is anything but boring and anything but distant and anything but sterile and, frankly, anything but safe. That God is alive, and in relationship with him is the life you've been looking for and the love you've been seeking and the intimacy and wholeness nothing else can provide. Here's what has happened to the gospel story over the last couple of thousand years.
Gospel is just a word that we use to translate the idea of good news. This is what we have done to absolutely emasculate the good news that is the story that when you hear it will allow your heart to become wildly alive and fully loved. What else do you want? What we've done is we've dumbed down the story to make it a propositional statement, and it goes something like this.
"You are very, very bad, and God is very, very good. At great cost to himself, he has dealt with that, and because of his goodness, he has provided escape for you. Now he wants you to be very, very good, polite, and obedient in return for this sacrifice until he comes to get you and take you to the eternal church service in the sky."
Right? How many of y'all are looking forward to that? Think about it. Think about what we have put out there as the story of good news. It's that you're lousy, and he's good. He's paid a great price. Be good until he comes and takes you to a long worship service. How many of you guys go, "I'm in for that."
No. Most of us have gotten away from him so we can get away from service. When we find out that our heaven is one that never ends, we're like, "Okay. Maybe not." We've just given you a wafer of the truth. We've taken it out of the context of this incredible fact I've laid out before you, we take away the meaning and the heart behind it. God tells us, "Don't lose your heart. Guard your heart. Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the wellsprings of life." You make sure your heart stays alive and engaged.
When you think of God, what do you think of? I invite you to close your eyes right now and sketch out God. What would you do? In fact, I love this story of that little kid in Sunday school class. He's sitting there, doodling, and his teacher says, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." She said, "Oh, nobody knows what God looks like." He looked up, and he said, "They will in a minute."
But most of us, when I ask you what God looks like, you think of somebody who is on a throne forever, and you're like, "Are you serious? Don't you get throne sores from that? Isn't there something more engaging and inspiring than a God that just sits there, scepter in hand, beard growing longer, Rip Van Winkle-ish, giving out orders and throwing out ideas from heaven?"
You need to know something. The God of this book is a God who is so alive, so wild, that you can't do anything but be attracted to him. One of the things I know Gibson went for in the movie The Passion of Christ is he was trying hard to jerk God out of this sterile idea that he saw in so many movies over the history of time as represented in a way that left him with a pansy Jesus.
There's a guy named Martin Bell that he wrote a little deal right here about who Jesus was as he thought about him as he read the Gospels. He wrote it this way. "THERE he is. In the temple again. Causing trouble. Speaking very differently from other preachers. Speaking with authority about sorrow, anxiety, sickness and death. Penetrating the darkest corners of human existence. Shattering illusion. Make no mistake about it; this is a dangerous man."
Jesus was the most intimately attractive person who ever lived for two reasons. When you were around Jesus, something was going on. You were either stirring up more trouble than you could ever imagine. You were walking into the temple and flipping the holiest of holy places in all of Jerusalem up on its ears and taking on the rabbis and telling them they don't know what they're talking about, and then healing people to prove you had the authority to do it and then going out and him laughing with you and loving you and serving you. I'm like, "What a riot to be with this God."
We think about the God of the Scriptures. We think about what the Lord did, how he reveals himself. He is a God of heavy drama. He's a God of great love, and I'm going to tell you that story. You think about some of the stories that we all know from the time that we are kids. We think about how he took a group of people, 2 million of them were slaves being oppressed by this wicked leader we know as Pharaoh.
He takes some shepherd who for 40 years has been trying to herd sheep. He tells him to take his shepherd's crook (a stick) and to go against the greatest power in all the world. He said, "I want you to go free my people."
"How am I going to do that?"
"What do you have?"
"I have a stick, and I stutter."
He goes, "Perfect. Come on." So they show up. Through this crazy guy and this stick, all of a sudden, God starts to move and act and brings about great evidence that he is the Lord. Look what God does. He finally has them being lead out of Egypt. Then where do they go? In the wilderness, up against the sea when Pharaoh realizes that he should be angry and not releasing them.
So he turns all the torrent of his legions against him, and they race with him, chariots closing in on the people, backed up against the sea, and then God shows up. You get the idea that this is a God who's into some drama, don't you? You get the idea a little bit later.
He has three of his favorite sons who take on the name Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who believe that God is the author of the story. So they won't bow to somebody else who claims he's the author of the story. He says, "I'm going to throw you in my brick kiln. I'm going to put it in there and make it seven times hotter. I'm going to bake you, boys." Those guys get backed right up to the furnace, get thrown in there, and then God shows up.
Another friend of his living in that day and time, a guy by the name of Daniel is going to bow to one God, the author of the one story, and yet God has him thrown in a lions' den, and then God shows up. This is a God who's into some drama. He is not boring to be around. In fact, if you've ever thought of God as a God who is safe, you don't know the God of Scriptures.
One of the reason that maybe some of you guys have moved away from him is you don't like some of the pages in your life are being written. You don't like the character he's designed for you. You don't like the form he's given you to play out this part in. You don't like the horror in the story that you can see from this perspective that you're forced to endure. You wonder if he's a good author, and you wonder if he can be trusted.
I love what C.S. Lewis did in The Chronicles of Narnia when young Lucy is in this city that has been taken over by the wicked witch. Here's this great story we all respond to. Why? Because it borrows heavily from the story that is deeply embedded in us. Lewis knew that, so he was using a story to say, "You live in the realm of the wicked witch, who turns her subjects into lawn art, freezes them, and it's an eternal winter. Yet, word is that Aslan, the lion, the son of the ruler, is on the move. In the midst of this horror, there is hope that is coming. He's a lion."
When Lucy hears that the redeemer is a lion, and when she ever hears that she and her brothers and sisters are to play a part in the prophetic story that was to free these people up from the slavery that the wicked witch had put them in, she can't believe she gets to play a part in this great story, even that it's scary. She does it in relationship with her faith and Aslan who's coming. She asks, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, "Is Aslan safe? They say, "Oh my dear. No, he's a lion. He's anything but safe, but he's good."
All I want to do with you this morning is frame something for you. I'm going to tell you, I'm going to make a case right now, that you are living in the context of a story. One of my favorite things to do is to watch people, and try and figure out, "What is their story?" I want to tell you today that you live in the midst of the story, and I'm going to tell you the author of it is good. I'm going to beg you to consider living in it.
Last night, my wife let me slip away for a couple hours to sit and be still and think about what I was going to do today. This message is not typical for me. I am much more comfortable dealing in propositional reality as opposed to telling a story that engages your hearts. In that I do that too often, I fail you as a teacher. I want you to know something. The gospel of "believe and behave accordingly" will leave you sterile, cold, and vulnerable to a false author who will woo you towards more excitement.
The idea, "You're a sinner, but you've been forgiven. Now do good things until you go to heaven," leaves you wanting more, and rightly so. You and I are both sinners, and we are desperately needing to be forgiven. Through Jesus Christ alone is the means for that forgiveness provided through his death, burial and resurrection. I want to tell you something. If you just see the movie out of the context of where that fits in the eternal story of a God who is desperate for you to know his outrageous love and courage and goodness, it will not grip your heart the way that he wants.
Last night I sat there and watched a number of different folks at a little Starbucks I was at. I watched two Hispanic couples. I didn't know if they were married or on a double date or what it was, but they were reading a newspaper, speaking a language I didn't know, laughing at times, silent at times, and I could see them even move towards tender moments.
I thought to myself, "What is their story? Where are they from? How did they get in the same room as I did? Where will they work this week? How do they provide for their families?" I thought about how much they were like me. I thought about the kid who gave me my overpriced cup of coffee, and how a little bit later, I saw him on his break walk outside of that Starbucks and put a stick of tobacco in his mouth.
With a look of despair and loneliness and emptiness that a 19- or 20-year-old should never have, I saw that kid burn his 15-minute break as he burned that tobacco in his mouth. I looked at him. I watched him through that glass, and I go, "What is his story? What's up with that guy? How did he get to be so alone at such a young age? Where are his parents? Where are his friends? What's he want to be?"
When you see somebody do something wild, when you see somebody do something nuts, when you hear a news story about somebody who did something horrible, it makes you go, "What is their story?" You know if you understand their story, that somehow will allow you to frame the reality that you're having to live with what they did.
Jeffrey Dahmer, what was his story that he did that? That lady who hit that guy that he went sticking through her windshield. She pulled him into her garage and let him die there over a three‑day period. What was her story? What was the story of the guy who was hit? What was he thinking as he was stuck in that windshield in his part of God's grand drama, that that was his role? What is their story?
Every now and then, you see a different story. You think about great stories. I'll use Hollywood again. Someone has made the observation in the movie Gladiator. A guy who is a general, who becomes a slave, who becomes a warrior, who dares to take on a corrupt evil empire and against all odds, redeems others from its evil grip. Where's that come from?
How about the movie Titanic? You have innocence, love, romance, tragedy, fall, despair, and sacrifice. He gives his life that she might live. Where's that come from? You hear these stories, and your heart responds to them. I'll tell you where they come from. They borrow deeply from a story that resonates in your soul.
We love fairy tales. Why? There's something in them that makes us go, "Yes. It has to be there." We love the fact that there are heroes who have hearts of gold, that Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are more than ordinary wenches, that they're valuable, that they're something worth sacrificing great deeds for, that Princess Fiona is worth fighting the dragon that she might be released from her bondage and set free.
We hope and we pray that maybe in the fairy tale that is our life, somebody will see behind this loud, raucous angry fur with claws that scares people away and sees that behind the beast there's a prince. We love the fact that in the story of the frog, we have warts and people don't love us because we don't look like we should love.
We want to believe that somebody can see through our webbed feet and our croaking and go, "There's somebody there, if he can just be kissed right, can be set free. There is a prince in that frog." We hope that it's true. We hope that somebody would kiss us and love us and break the curse that causes us to not experience the intimacy and love we want in the midst of a life that's full of adventure that totally resonates with our hearts.
When you meet a God who is telling you this is his story, you go, "Can I be your friend? Can I accept the love from you that I look for in other people sometimes in desperate, radical ways?" But this is history. This is his story. He's making a claim that he is the author, that you are his subject, and he wants to know you and love you and let you experience what has been eternally present in who he is.
So much of this I have borrowed recently from a book that sat on my shelf for six or seven years. Because I'm a male, I didn't read it simply because of its title. The title was The Sacred Romance. In my stupidity, I thought that as a guy, if you had given me a book titled "Blood, Guts, and Courage," I would have gone, "All right. Let's read it." I didn't have a part of me that really needed to know there's a God who has this sacred love for me and who has been wooing me and trying to deliver me with blood, guts, and courage from an eternal winter.
I've picked this book up and a couple of guys have done a great job of telling the story in a way that I think, if we serve you well, will engage your hearts in a way that will move you beyond the gospel of dormancy, get you out of this mindset of being the frozen chosen, and that propositionally believe Jesus was him who knew no sin, who became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Do you know that God doesn't want you to sign off on a fact, that God is desperate for you to live in relationship with him as a person? When you know who he is as a person and the fact of his redeeming love for you, your heart will be wild in his surrender. You will not be able to stay silent about the fullness of life in relationship with him. You will understand every why and have a place to go for every hurt.
But if you reject this story, you will refuse to live without one. In your rebellion, you will become your own author and probably will set yourself in the middle of your own story. What you'll do is you'll try and write your own story through some effort of attaining love or greatness or security that will give you enough hope to make this life you're in, the story that is your days, worth living.
Yet, you live in fear because you know you're just one rain-slicked highway away from that car coming across and hitting yours broadside and taking away from you the life and security and health and what you've worked for that gives you what you think your hard work should've given you in this story that you think makes life worth living. So you live in fear, constantly wondering if this is the day your inability to control the story is going to end.
A number of months ago in the community I live, many of us remember that a little girl's story came to an end. As a parent of a child, I would think about how my heart towards the Author would go, "What are you thinking to only write this child into five years of my story?" The pain that brings me is immense. I can't really put it in a category, and I have to know the full story in order to have any sense of getting through that moment.
I went to an assembly. There was a group of people there. They met for a long time. They talked about how the traffic patterns need to change, a stoplight needs to be put up here, more crossing guards at this one, and parents needs to do a better job of holding their kids' hands. One author after another stood up and said, "We have to change the reality of our day-to-day stories so these things don't happen."
Finally, somebody turned to me and said, "Todd, would you give us an idea of what you think we ought to do?" In a room full of parents at that elementary school, I stood up, and I said, "You guys are doing exactly what is normal to do in a situation like this. When a story takes a turn that nobody wants it to take, we start to say, 'Okay, we have to get our pen to the paper, and we have to build up ourselves some walls, so this doesn't ever happen in our stories again.'
You need to realize something. We live in the context of a larger story which we are not the center of, which we do not author, which we do not control. The reality of it is, we live in a broken world. No matter what you do, you are never safe. If you convinced your kids that if you just did something that they would be safe from any pain or hurt or loneliness or disease or death even that come into your life, your kids are going to grow up neurotic, scared, and believing you are a liar, because you won't be able to deliver, and they will never rest for fear that in that one resting moment, they will have left the door open for evil to come crashing in."
I shared with them, "This is a broken world. What we need to do is have hope in the context of the one who tells us he understands our pain and our frustration with where we are in the story. He calls us to trust him because he is good even in the midst of this kind of pain." As one man has written, we are in, if you will, a contest for people's hearts. God has told us to be people who bring good news to others. We are in a tournament of narratives, and everybody here has a story, a worldview through which they see reality.
There's a reason that on September 11, 2001, much of the world stood in horror while other parts of the world danced in great joy. The story was different in two different places. Osama bin Laden has a story. His story is one of an immoral, evil empire that needs to, at any cost, by any means, be destroyed, humbled, and brought to its knees. That's his story.
He's created a worldview that he has others to buy into, that he is their messiah who will lead them to a place of prosperity and favor with the author they serve if they will just take out the immoral evil that is represented by the United States. He doesn't care about who must suffer or what Machiavellian means he must embrace in order to achieve what he thinks is the right end to the story that he wants. So he'll let innocents suffer.
There is a reason our country will never war like that, with terror (having no concern for those who suffer in the context of our advancing in the defense of others). Part of it is found in the formation of our country. Our country, like it or not, was founded on the story we're going to focus on for the next nine weeks.
I did not say we are a Christian nation. Nor did I say that every man who wrote our Constitution and Declaration of Independence was a follower of Jesus Christ. We know, by fact, they were not. But you cannot deny that our nation was established on the principles of the story we're going to speak about here in the days and the weeks ahead.
There's a reason we have a certain view of how others are to be treated. There's a reason that our Declaration of Independence begins that we hold these truths to be self-evident. "…all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Our story as a country and our belief as a country and our mores as a country are not based on Hinduistic, Buddhistic, or Islamic or atheistic ideas. What has happened in our country is that this Age of Enlightenment, as it is called, has made some serious ground. God cannot self-destruct, if you'll follow me for a second, because he is good, and good will never implode.
As much as we live in context of who he is and his goodness, we will never self-implode as a nation. You can go back and look at the history of nations and find out that they consistency self-implode when they leave the goodness of who God is and the morality that is consistent with who he is. When you step outside of that, you move towards destruction. The only thing which can continue in perpetuity is that which is rock solid and good. Everything else is corrupt, and disease and horror will befall it.
George Washington, at the end of his administration, addressed our nation. One of the things he said is that if we ever leave what we were founded on as a basic understanding of the story about the value of dignity of human beings, and if we ever leave the basis for our morality, if we try and divorce morality from the story, divorce morality from the basis for morality, we will not survive.
What Washington called us to was a strong resilience against the coming Age of Reason. What has happened in the Age of Reason is that men have said you should not believe that there is a divine Author. As I've said, though the atheist will tell you that, against all modern academic scholarship in the fields of mathematics, probability, and biology, we are the culmination of an unspeakable event.
Meaning, they will tell you that for life to form spontaneously and for order to come out of disorder, it goes against all the laws of physics, it goes against all the laws of probability, that time as we know it has not had enough of itself in order to allow the chance happening that is what their explanation for reality to come in to place… It wouldn't even exist.
Nonetheless, that's their story. They say because we are here as a result of chance in their story, there is no anchor, there is no morality, there is no right, there is no wrong, and there are no mores. That's their story, and they're sticking to it. Yet, they don't stick to it in the reality of the world they live in.
That is why atheists on September 11 find themselves lacking any credibility. Relativists were silenced on September 11, 2001, in this country when men asked why this happened and nobody stood up and said, "What do you mean, 'Why did this happen?' You speak of it as if it is evil. This isn't evil. Who are you to call this evil?"
Did anybody hear anybody on any of the evening news or the plethora of talk radio make the case that we couldn't call this evil? No. The Alan Dershowitzes of the world stood up and said, "I don't know why I can tell you that is evil, I don't know what the basis of my authority is, but I know evil when I see it." Now, really?
If we are left to let other individuals determine what is good and what is not, we are a slave, if you will. We are mercies to the powers of the moment. God has blessed this country for as long as he has, or allowed this country to be blessed as long as he has, partly because we live, or have lived at times, in the context of the morality that he says is good which gives life to a society.
If you give a democratic people the ability to leave a relationship with him and create their own reality, it will self-implode. (See also, 2004 and coming.) This is not about America today. It's about you and about me. It's about what we're going to do with the story we find ourselves living in.
One of the things that these men did (Brent Curtis and John Eldredge) in this book The Sacred Romance that I want to borrow from right now, is they did a great job of sharing some different stories that people will write into their life if they take the enlightened idea that there is no author. Typically what happens is people say there is no author, but they still need a story to place it in. The problem is, eventually they'll lose the story as well and create their own.
They wrote, "Tragedy still brings brings us to tears and heroism still lifts our hearts, but there is no context for any of it. […] So what are we left to do? Create our own story line to bring some meaning to our experiences. Our heart is meant to live in a larger story; having lost that we do the best we can by developing ought our own smaller dramas.
Look at the things people get caught up in: sports, politics, soap operas, rock bands. Desperate for something larger to give our lives transcendence, we try to lose ourselves in the smallest kinds of stories. Some of us choose the 'Why does life always go wrong for me?' story. The plot of life is a tragedy, and we are playing the role of the victim of cruel circumstances. Our [pain are] our identity. This is an immensely popular story line because it relieves us of having to take any real responsibility of our lives. Victims demand to be understood, but you don't dare require anything of them."
Is that your story? You're just a victim, and all you do is suffer pain and need to be understood. So you live without any requirement on your own life to redeem that which has befallen you? How about this? Others write the story of being a survivor. They're a fighter. They live in a life where the plot is a siege.
"The world is a dangerous and unpredictable place, so I hunker down and survive, taking little risk, doing what I can to protect myself, even if it means cutting myself off from others and from my own dreams." So they can protect the reality as they know it. Others, they say, write a story that preserves the romance that God has created us for in some way, but they pervert it and limit it, specifically, to romantic love.
"…the idea that somewhere out there is that special someone who will sweep you off your feet, take your breath away; with whom life would be in one idyllic adventure and sex an unending ecstasy. It is the theme of popular music, the false transcendence of our day. Women, especially are attracted to this storyline; witness the success of novelist Danielle Steel and her imitators. The divorce rate ought to be proof enough of the failure of this story."
That doesn't mean that human love, in the context of living with the author, does not give us a greater piece of the story that ultimately will be satisfied in him. It means left to itself, pursued out of relationship with him, it will always leave you wanting. Two more.
They say, "The leading false transcendence among men is the sports story." Now, watch this. It's the story of life as a big game. "Men either pursue their longings for adventure through their own recreational activities or they lose themselves vicariously in their favorite players or teams, or in their children's sports. Business also fits into the story of life as a Big Game.
'Sure, things are unpredictable, but some people seem to win and I'm determined to be one of them. I'll stay on top, travel light, and move fast.'We identify with a sports team or a company because we are allowed to belong to something bigger than our small worlds. Our heroes are the few winners, of course, while the losers are quickly pushed out of the camera's view."
How many of you guys are living in that story? That life is all about looks and business success and worldly acclaim and money and a bigger house and being a winner, so your story makes life worth living, and you know how empty you are? Then there's a Religious Man or Woman story. "The Religious Man or Woman is a popular story option in which we try to reduce the wildness of life by constructing a system of promises and rewards, a contract that will obligate God to grant us exception from [pain].
It doesn't matter what the particular group bargain is—doctrinal adherence, moral living, or some sort of spiritual experience—the desire is the same thing; taming God in order to tame life. Never mind those deep yearnings of the soul; never mind the nagging awareness that God is not cooperating. If the system isn't working, it's because we're not doing it right. There's always something to work on with the promise of abundant life just around the corner. Plenty of churches and leaders are ready to show you how to cut a deal [with God]," if you'll just cut a deal with them.
This is what they call the "tournament of narratives." They write, "…we are searching desperately for a larger story in which to live and find our role. All of these smaller stories offer a taste of meaning, adventure, meaning, or connectedness. But none of them offer the real thing; they aren't large enough. Our loss of confidence in the larger story is the reason we demand immediate gratification."
Listen to this genius line. "We need a sense of being alive now, for now is all we have. Without a past that was planned for us a future that waits for us, we are trapped in the present. There's not enough room for our souls in the present." And I would add, therefore, we are sick of heart. If you're sick of heart, I want to tell you something.
I'm not here to tell you today that you are bad, that God is good, that he went through a great sacrifice for you in order that you might be restored to him, so you can be good until you wait to go to heaven with him. I want you to know that there is a God who is so wild in his love, so courageous in his unfolding of sovereign power, that you can't resist him when you know him.
The problem that most of us have and the reason we are not compelling others to know the God who is the author of our faith and the perfecter of the story is because we have taken it out of its context, and we have accepted a propositional idea that not only does it answer our questions, it leaves us wanting more. We are very vulnerable to the "tournament of narratives."
When you know this God, and you know who he is and his radical love for you and his pursuit of you behind the beast outfit, and his redemption of you as a slave to the wicked witch of winter, you welcome them into your world. You embrace his heart of gold, and you experience life even in the midst of difficult pages with hope and a transcendence that makes the world say to you, "Tell me your story."
When you see someone love in such a way that it speaks to your soul that the vine is real, you walk up to them, and you say, "Would you give an account, would you make a defense for the hope that is within you?" That's exactly what the Scripture says that people who don't know the story of God should do to us when they see us living in confidence with the author.
You live in a story, and I'm going to make a case that the real story, the only nonfiction story, the only one that can satisfy what you're looking for is the story of Scripture. I'm going to unpack it for you in the next nine weeks. What I want to convince you of today is that the author is good and the reason that in every story you love there is redemption and romance and rescue and union and love is because you were made in his image.
When you think about the story of Scripture, where are you going to begin? Most folks turn to where? The book of beginnings, the book of Genesis. I'm going to tell you that if you start reading in Genesis 1:1, you've already missed the context that our story, which is the history of the world as we know it, is written into.
If you were going to make this into a movie or a play, Genesis 1:1 is act 3. Act 1 is introducing you to the one who will guide you through the rest of the play. You don't know turn to the, "In the beginning…" that is in the Bible in Genesis 1:1. You turn to John 1:1, where it also starts in the same way. Are you ready? Once upon a time in eternity…
"In the beginning…" In the beginning of everything that ever was, God was. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." We find out in John 1:14, that we beheld his glory. When? " [When] the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
That is when we leap thousands of years ahead to when this Word that was with God that was God from the very beginning enters into our story, and we see him for a moment. We find out that he is the visible image of the invisible God. Everything about God that we want to know we can see in Jesus. You want to know what God is like? Look at who Jesus is.
You need to understand something. From the very beginning of time, at the beginning of the story, God was…already existent in a perfect harmony, a fullness of melody that brought richness of life in a fellowship of hearts. God existed in the person of the Father, which you know is that long, strong baseline that carries us through.
But the Father didn't exist alone, because with the Father was the Word. The Word brought melody and life. It's what we experience, what carries us through. It's the easiest thing for us to grab. It's the melody, the fullness, and the body of what God was. The Word wasn't alone. There was the Spirit that brought the completion and the harmony.
The Bible tells us that God has always existed in three persons who are one in essence and yet are distinct in their roles, as distinct as the sound of a cello, viola, and a violin. To take God in any one of these is to hear only the baseline, to hear only the melody, to hear only the harmony. It's to miss God as he's revealed himself.
You will never know your author until you know this about your author. He has eternally existed with community, with companionship, with mutual commitment and submission. Love is eternally existent in the person of God, and you were made in his image. So you cannot resist knowing him and not resist the love that comes only from this author.
When you think about God, you need to understand that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, but the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. Together, they make the music that is our story. When you wonder why you respond to romance, to love, you need to remember that you were made in the image of a God who has eternally existed in the love relationship, who cannot be defined outside of relationship.
The Father is not the Father without the Son. The Son is not cherished apart from being the Father. The Spirit is not sent and does not carry forth exalting the Father and the Son without those who are there to exalt. There is a mutual admiration society with mutual submission and glorification. Listen to what happens amidst the Trinity, the author that we serve.
The Father, at the baptism of the Son, said, "Look at my Son. I am well-pleased with him." Later at the transfiguration, he says, "This is my Son. Listen to him." The Father doesn't say, "Listen to me." He says, "Listen to the Son." The Son says, "Not my will, but your will be done." The Son says, "The Father is greater than I at this moment, as this scope in history as the Word became flesh. It's not about what I want, but I humble myself before him, and being found in the appearance of man and being made in the likeness of a man, I will become obedient to the Father, even to the point of death."
The Son is compelled by the Spirit into the wilderness and submits to the Spirit, and yet the Son tells you the Spirit will come and reveal to you truth about him. The Son says, "It's better that I go so the Spirit can come, the Helper, the Completer. He will lead you into all truth." Jesus says, "I am the truth." Jesus says, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father; to know me is to know the Father; to hear me is to hear the Father." The Father says, "The Son is the one whose name is above all names."
When you understand the love that exists, as the Scripture reveals God, you understand that submission, love, community, and completion are not the highest ideals of men. They're the eternal attributes of the God who exists. Our God alone can make the sweet music which resonates with our soul that you hear behind me.
What so many of us do is we trade this author, this composer of reality, in for something else. You guys have heard the Epson ads on commercials on tv and the radio, where it talks about the fact that there are different printers that will actually get the ink to the page and you can still read the story. But if you make this your printer, if you don't go with the real design, then you're going to miss out on the fullness that God intends for you, or if you will, that the printers intend for you to get.
As we bring down that sound, in another analogy, you would say to have your story written by any author less than God sounds like this: tinny, different, and hollow, but the case we're going to make over the weeks and months ahead, is when you understand that God is the composer of the story that he calls you into, it sounds like this. There's a richness to that music that you go, "That is right." The tinny-ness and emptiness of life are only gone when you find out who your author is that caused you to live in a relationship with him.
Now, when you see God at work, when you see something in life that speaks of divine love, it makes you stop and take notice. There's a famous story about an event that happened at the Special Olympics a number of years ago. There were nine physically and mentally challenged athletes who were competing. The gun went off, and nine of them broke from the line, but after a few short steps, one of them stumbled and tripped and fell.
One of the young gals with Down syndrome who was running heard the cry and the stumble behind her, and she turned around. When she stopped, others saw her stop. She went back to her fallen comrade. She stopped and picked him up, and the others, because this was the Special Olympics, and they didn't know the story of the game is life and winning is what makes you great, they all turned back, and they all came to that fallen soul. They kissed his wounds, and they picked him up, and then holding hands, they walked the remaining 90 yards and crossed the line in unison.
It says that to this day, everybody who was there remembers that event and speaks to it as a pivotal moment in their life. It says that there was a standing ovation, and all nine of them were given gold medals. Nobody could resist the story of love and community and care and what real victory and meaning in life looks like when they saw it.
When you see something that divine, it resonates with something deep within your soul and go, "That is who I need in my life. That is the God I want, who will stop for me when I fall in the race to attain greatness and will kiss me in my wounds and will embrace me and will walk with me together. Together, we will experience the glory that is the relationship that we live in.
This God, who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has made different statements about himself. He says this in Deuteronomy 4:31. "For the LORD your God [me] is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them."
In Nehemiah 9:17, he says, "But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness…" Psalm 86 says, "But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth." Psalm 103 says, "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness." Psalm 145 says, "The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness."
When Israel was at a great moment of crisis, when horror was falling on them, when the pages were difficult to read, there was a moment that God showed up, and he said, "I want you to know who you're trusting in." In Isaiah 40:8, he says, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever." You can bank on it.
When the people cried out who their God was and who they should trust in, God said, "I'm going to introduce you to God, and I want you, as a nation, to declare to others who they should trust in." Look at Isaiah 40:9. It picks up by saying, "Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, [those who know the author] lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, 'Here is your God!'"
Now we're going to meet God, this author, and what do you think God is going to do when he reveals himself? It says, "Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him." He says, "I am a stud, and I back down from no one. Courage is not only mine, victory is mine, and you trust in the author who will win."
He's more than just a conquering general. He's one who comes to serve and to love. Remember what this follows. Here is your God. Here is your offer. He is in control, and he loves you. "Like a shepherd I will tend to my flock. In my arm, I will gather you as lambs and carry you with me in my bosom. I will gently lead you to the place of nourishment, refreshment, and life."
This is your God. This is the author of the life that you live in, whether you want to believe it or not. If your life is tinny and wanting and empty, I will tell you it's because your God is too small, your story is fiction, and God takes the book and invites you into it to trust in him as the author.
Next week, we're going to deal with a problem. The problem is, "If God is sovereign and in control, if he is God, and he is there, and he is good, then why does evil befall me? Where are you? Why are there so many difficult pages to read? Explain to me, please."
For today, you need to know this. You can kick against the goads as much as you want. God has an answer for evil. He tells you that one day he will satisfy your want and until then, he is still sovereignly in control, firmly entrenched in the heavens, doing as he pleases in the context of his glory which he refuses to keep for himself because he is the God of love, and love by nature and definition is never selfish, never self-serving, and always others-centered. So he cannot contain it in of himself.
Because he is loving, the Trinity must burst out that love and share it with others. God did not create you because he needed to experience love. God created you because, in his goodness, he required of himself the necessity that he would share it with those who in his kindness, he wanted his glory to be a part of their world.
God is not seeking glory. God is revealing his glory to you, and he's inviting you to come participate in it in all his wildness, greatness, drama, and love. His goodness and kindness and compassion cause you to change your story if it's not in humility and surrender before his.
Father, I pray for my friends who are here today, whose lives are being lived in the context of story, who want to understand why they're here, why there's evil, why you aren't doing something about it, why stories of love as we saw in Seattle resonate so deeply with us, why we resonate so much with stories of redemption and courage and rescue, and why we can persevere now while the story moves towards a climax, knowing our author is good.
Even if we are written out of the pages of history shorter than when we want to be, we know that you are good and will make even that right, but God we need to know you. While we are alive on the ink that is our history, I pray we live life fully with great confidence, and Lord, in relationship with you.
We declare the good news to others that they don't need to live in fear because there's a kind God who has told us to fear not. I pray that his kindness would jerk us out of our rebellion of self-authorship and that we would repent of putting the pen to our life and learn to live in wild abandon, reckless relationship with you. May your kindness lead us there. Amen.
We all love a great story...one filled with rescue, romance, and unrelenting love...one filled with courage, heroism, and ultimate triumph. Stories like this resonate with something deep inside all of us. Why? Because there is a greater story that we are all a part of. A story so embedded in our beings that we find even a shadow of it irresistible. It is a story that makes the most audacious claims in history, and a story which uniquely and powerfully provides hope, meaning and answers to all of life's great questions.