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The Power of Story

In 1955, George A. Buttrick, the Harvard Chaplain was known for saying to students, “Sit down and tell me what kind of god you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that god either.” Along those same lines, Nathan Wagnon walks us through the story of the entire Bible, teaching us what role Scripture—and a right understanding of God—has in spiritual formation.

Nathan WagnonDec 30, 2018
Isaiah 7:14-16

Messages In This Series (27)
The Power of Story
Nathan WagnonDec 30, 2018
How to Die
Derek MathewsDec 30, 2018Plano
Engaging With the Bible
Tyler BriggsDec 30, 2018Fort Worth
Christmas Eve 2018
Todd WagnerDec 24, 2018
Special Christmas Message from Todd
Todd WagnerDec 23, 2018
9 Things I Learned at "Seminary"
Jonathan PokludaDec 16, 2018
Making Room, Making Disciples...
Kyle KaiglerOct 21, 2018Plano
Commitment Is the Key to Change
Tyler BriggsOct 8, 2018
Enjoying The Benefits Of Your Faith
Jonathan PokludaSep 30, 2018
The Mode of Our Helping Matters
Tyler BriggsJul 29, 2018
Engage Missionally
Jon IngerbritsonJul 29, 2018Plano
Counsel Biblically and Admonish Faithfully
David DzinaJul 22, 2018Plano
Devote Daily and Pursue Relationally
Connor BaxterJul 8, 2018Plano
Leadership
Beau Fournet, Kyle ThompsonJul 1, 2018Plano
Fort Worth Evening With The Elders
Todd Wagner, Beau Fournet, Dean Macfarlan, David Leventhal, Brian Buchek, Tyler BriggsJun 24, 2018Fort Worth
Evaluating Your Relationship With God
Jermaine HarrisonMay 27, 2018
Baptism Sunday
Todd WagnerMay 20, 2018
An Ounce of Mother Is Worth a Ton of Priest.
David Penuel, Todd WagnerMay 13, 2018
Romans 5: Gifts From God
Blake HolmesMay 6, 2018
Dignity of Responsibility
Gary Haugen, Todd WagnerApr 29, 2018
Are You a Fool for Believing in God?
Todd WagnerApr 1, 2018
Good Friday
John ElmoreMar 30, 2018
The Cost of the Cross
Drew ZeilerMar 25, 2018Fort Worth
A Prophetic Word for the Mission
Todd WagnerMar 25, 2018
What God Has Done and What We Must Keep Doing
Tyler BriggsMar 18, 2018
Life’s Slot Machine
Adam TarnowMar 18, 2018
Put on Humility
Jonathan PokludaMar 11, 2018

Messages In This Series (29)

Good morning, Watermark. How are you guys doing? My name is Nathan. Some of y'all are going, "Who the heck is that guy?" Well, sometimes I don't even know, but my name is Nathan and I serve on the Equipping Team here at the Dallas Campus. It's a real privilege to be with you this morning.

I oversee a few different ministries. One of them is Equipped Disciple. Any ED people in the house? That's what I'm talking about. Another one is Core Classes. Anybody taken Core Classes before? Come on. There you go. Then the other one I oversee is called Great Questions. Great Questions is our apologetics ministry.

A lot of times people don't really know what apologetics is. They're kind of like, "What? Do you just go around apologizing for things?" It's like, "Well, sometimes we do." Apologetics just comes from the Greek word apologia, which means to give a defense. That's our ministry to skeptics, to atheists, to agnostics. We meet every single Monday night at 7:30.

Right under these risers over here there's a South Community Room, and we meet from 7:30 to 8:30. If you or someone you know is having a crisis of faith or if you're a skeptic and you're just checking out Christianity, then we would love to have you come. It's just a safe place to ask the tough questions. You can literally ask whatever you want. That's the fun thing about it. We never know what's going to happen, which is awesome.

I tell people on a consistent basis as an apologist I don't defend Christianity as much as I clarify it for people. What I mean by that is it's not like people come in and have a lot of right ideas that need to be defended, where it's like, "Oh yeah, that's a good idea, but really it's like this." More often than not, people come in with a lot of wrong ideas. They are rejecting a god that, frankly, I would also reject.

There was a guy in the mid-50s named George Buttrick who was a chaplain at Harvard University. As you could imagine, at Harvard a bunch of people would consistently come to him and be like, "Hey, I don't believe in God." George's standard reply to these people would be, "Well, let's sit down and talk about the god you don't believe in, because I probably don't believe in that god either."

I think that's a really good way of looking at the issue we're going to be talking about today, and that is…What is God like? What's the story he's writing? When Todd asked me a month ago or so… He was like, "Hey, I'd love for you to talk about the role of Scripture in the way people grow, in spiritual formation." Honestly, my first question was, "Why?" Not like, "Why are you asking me to do that?" I think it's a good idea to do, but the main reason I thought, "Why?" was I wonder why people read Scripture.

Have you ever asked yourself that? Have you ever wondered, "Okay, I read this…" She just did a great job of standing up and being like, "Hey, everybody should read Scripture," and probably most, if not all of you were like, "That's a good idea. We should probably read Scripture." This morning I'm asking…Why? Why do we do that? Well, I think there are four common misconceptions that take place that are the motivations behind why people read Scripture. I mean, there are more of them, but these are the ones I see most often.

One of them, and probably the most common one, is we view God in a transactional sense. We think, "Well, if I read my Bible and do these spiritual to-do things and check them all off, then God will be good with me, and I'll be good, so I need to do that." Then, correspondingly, we also might say something like, "Well, I didn't read my Bible today." So something bad happens and you're like, "Well, yeah. I didn't read my Bible today."

We view it like it's kind of this magic book. If you do it, then it's good. If you don't do it, it's bad. It's kind of "Do good; get good. Do bad; get bad." It's this transaction. The second common thing is some people treat it like a textbook. I definitely am in danger of falling into this category. Somebody who just loves to study the Scriptures and to know doctrine and all of those kinds of things.

This is the person that when you're in your Community Group, or whatever, and you're sitting there and talking and somebody says something that's a little bit off, this person is like, "Whoa! Hang on," and starts quoting early Christian creeds. "At the Council of Nicaea it said this and this and this," and everybody is like, "What in the world?" Some people treat the text like it's a textbook. It is that, in some sense, but it's not primarily that.

Then there are a lot of people who treat it like it's some sort of self-help sentimentality. They treat it like it's an inspirational book, where they're like, "Man, I really need a shot in the arm this morning as I go out in my day, so I'm going to read this so I can be motivated to do what I need to do." By raise of hands… I'm just curious. It'll be interesting to see how you guys do compared to the Saturday service.

How many of you guys have ever in the morning gotten up and been like, "Oh man, I just need something," and you kind of take the Bible, and you're like, "Lord, show it to me," and you open it up and skim down and you're like, "Boom! That was amazing. Thank you, Lord. I don't even know who Nahum is, but that was awesome." How many of you have ever done that? Come on. Be honest. There you go. Everybody else, you're a liar.

Then I see this a lot. People just view it as a utility, like it's something to be used. Somebody has a problem, and you're like, "I don't know how to help you, but maybe a verse will help. I don't even know what context this is. I don't even know what book this is, but this sounds like it might help you," and then you just kind of throw that verse at somebody. Anybody ever done that before? It's pretty common. I call them Bible ninja throwing stars.

The person who needs something is like, "Oh, what was that?" Then when they don't change you're confused, because you're like, "Well, that should have worked. I threw a verse at you, and it didn't work. What's going on?" We laugh at these things because they're true, but I hope this morning for this to be a corrector, because Scripture is first and foremost not transactional, not a textbook, not inspirational, and not a utilitarian tool.

It's first and foremost a narrative. It's a story. It's a story that was written for you, but it was not written to you. It was written to an ancient people in the ancient Near East, this small tribe called the Israelites, and it's a story of how God has been moving through human history, primarily through the Israelites and then ultimately through his Son, to save the entire world. So what we're going to be doing is walking through that story.

When they give the Equipping guy a mic and a stage on Sunday, we study the whole Bible. That's what we're going to do this morning. So buckle up. We might be here a while. I'm just joking, but we are going to move through the entire story of Scripture. That entire story is called a metanarrative. Oxford Dictionary defines metanarrative as an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or a structure for people's beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.

Story shapes the way we live. It shapes the way you view yourself. It shapes the way you view the world you live in. It shapes the way you view God. The reality of it is every single one of you is living in a story. You have been your entire life. It's made up of formative experiences when you were a child, your family background, your expectations, your met expectations, your unmet expectations, your successes, your failures, everything. All of that is thrown into a big pot and just stirred.

Frankly, it's kind of dirty. If we're honest, it's really dirty. So the lens we view these things through… We are susceptible to being pulled into a story that God is not writing. The reality of it is there is an Enemy who is wanting to steal from you, kill you, and destroy you, so there is deception that tries to pull you into another story, one that will kill you.

Today, I'm going to contrast the narrative of God's story and who he is and his character and his nature versus the deception the Enemy is whispering in our ears every single day, and we're going to see where we are living. So let's jump in. The story begins, and guess what. In this story you are not the main character. Did you know that?

You are not the main character, but a lot of us act like we are. Right? We open the Scripture and we're like, "All right, Lord. What do you have for me today?" Instead of, "Man, I'm coming to this text to see God." A lot of it is like, "How can you fix me today?" instead of fixing our eyes on Christ. God is the main character of the story, and I think that begs the question…What kind of God is he like?

The story starts in a really interesting way. In the ancient Near East there were a bunch of different cultures. You had Mesopotamia, and during the time of the patriarchs, around Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and those guys, some of the world powers were the Hittites and the Syrians, which is in Ugarit, and then there were the Egyptians, and all of these different societies had creation stories.

If you line them up next to one another, like, collate them and put them next to each other and then read them, they all read very similar to one another. The Hebrew creation story is no different. It reads very similar to the other accounts from the ancient Near East. What's interesting about that is in the ancient Near East, the other creation stories have this formless water. There's this void, and then out of that the gods… There's this pantheon of gods, and they all fight each other. There's this massive cosmic battle to see who is the strongest god.

There is a chief deity who wins that fight, and then he's the one who gets to shape and form the formlessness and cause it to function. Now if you're reading this and you get to the Hebrew creation story, if you're an ancient Near Eastern you look at that, and your first question is, "Where are the other gods?" because there are not any. It's just Yahweh alone. There's no cosmic battle. Yahweh takes the formlessness and the void he has created, and he shapes it.

He makes it into what it's supposed to be, and then he fills it with agents that are executing the things the way he wants them to be executed. He forms things, and then he fills them. Then he places his under-rulers, people who bear his image, people who represent him, on his planet to reflect and execute the mission he has given them to fill the earth and subdue it, to rule over it.

Unlike other ancient Near Eastern stories, where the gods fight each other and then whoever the chief deity is forms things and fills it and then just checks out… He's like, "Hey, I'm going to go sip on a margarita at the beach. You guys kind of be my slaves and do whatever I tell you." He's distant. Unlike that (this is another major difference in the Hebrew story), Yahweh is very present in this story. He's walking with his creation in the garden in the cool of the evening.

So, the first thing we see about God is that he's present. He's present with us. He has always been present with us, with his entire creation, yet there is another character in the story who takes the form of this serpent. His primary tool, his mode of operation is to deceive. He wants to deceive. That's the biggest weapon in his arsenal: to tell a lie. He wants people to live in reality but to function in that reality as if they're in another reality, because it causes them to dysfunction.

So in the garden he's like, "Hey, come here. You can be like God. It'll be awesome." We (Adam and Eve are all of us) were like, "Oh yeah, that sounds pretty good. I'll take some of that." So we do. We take it. When we do, the whole thing shatters. The whisper we hear in our ears is, "Hey, instead of walking with God in the garden, you need to cover yourself and hide, because God is going to punish you."

When Yahweh finds Adam in the garden, he's like, "Where are you?" Adam says, "I was afraid." That is the first thing he says to him. He says, "I heard you walking in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself." He covered and he hid. Guys, we've been doing that ever since. The Lord is calling us out to his presence, his fellowship, to be with him, and we have been covering and hiding.

God's response is not to be like, "Dadgummit! I knew you guys were going to screw this up. You're out!" His response, immediately, which is crazy, is what theologians call the protoeuangelion. It's the first gospel. God says, "I'm going to fix this. I'm not out to punish you; I'm out to fix you." So the rest of the story is about that.

What he does is he promises. He's a God of promise. He chooses a Samarian guy who is in this polytheistic culture down in modern-day Iraq. It used to be the city of Ur. He was like, "I'm going to begin my mission with you, my mission to save the world." He promises to be with him. He says, "I'm going to be with you. I'm going to be with you always. I'm going to take your people as my people. I'm going to be your God. You will be my people. I'm going to dwell with you. I'm going to dwell among you."

This is also the major theme of Scripture, where it's called the promise of the presence of God. The with-ness of God with his people all throughout the ages we'll see is a major theme through this story. Yet in the midst of all that, Yahweh told Abraham, "Before you come into the Promised Land, I'm going to send you to Egypt, because you have to go hang out there for like 500 years." It's like this extended vacation in Egypt where they turn into slaves.

He's like, "I'm going to send you down there for like 500 years, and the reason I'm going to send you down there for 500 years is because the land I'm going to give you… It's not right for me to drive those people out yet." Genesis 15 and 16 says that. It says, "I'm going to send you there because the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." In other words, even in his story of salvation, he's allowing the nations around Israel room and calling them to repent. "Come. Be grafted in." Yet there is a time where judgment will come.

The deception in this is "God is not a God of promise. He doesn't keep his promise to you. Actually, he abandons you." Israel goes down into Egypt, and they're enslaved. There's a Pharaoh who wakes up one day and is like, "I don't know Joseph. I don't know the Israelites, so I'm going to use them. I'm going to enslave them." So he does. The whisper the Enemy is whispering into the people's ears is, "Where did your God go? He has abandoned you." It's a major, major lie. It's a major, major deception that, frankly, many of us still believe.

Yet the Lord was like, "I haven't abandoned you. In fact, I'm fixin' to rescue you." So he does. He goes down into Egypt. He basically obliterates their entire pantheon of deities. He just obliterates them with 10 plagues, and then he pulls his people out of Egypt and is pushing them into the Promised Land.

This event, which is known as the exodus, is by far the most significant event in the Old Testament. When Jesus ends up coming, he very much sees himself as the fulfillment of this second Moses, this Deliverer, the one who is bringing his people out. God hasn't abandoned them. He's powerful to save them. He promises them again in Exodus 6, "I'll take you as my own people. You will be my people. I will be your God. I will dwell in your midst."

Then in the desert he sets up (it's a really interesting thing) this mobile temple. It's called a tabernacle. Unlike other ancient Near Eastern cultures where the gods check out, Yahweh is very much present with his people in the desert. It's like really present. He's right there. In the tabernacle, there is this place that is shaped like a cube. It's 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. It's called the Holy of Holies.

In the tabernacle, this cube was the place where the fullness of the presence of God would dwell among his people. This was both a blessing, frankly, and it was also really dangerous for his people, because God is a holy God. You see the Lord dwelling with his people, but it's this messy story, because the people continue to gripe and complain, and they continue to try to go their own way, yet Yahweh is with them, amongst them, and he's going, "No, actually I am with you because I'm fixing the story that has been broken."

What's interesting about the tabernacle as well is… If the Lord created Eden and the garden as kind of all of his creation is his temple, then the tabernacle actually represented all of creation. Josephus, who was a first-century Jewish historian, essentially said in his Antiquities of the Jews, "If anyone without prejudice and with judgment looks on these things, he will find every piece of the tabernacle was made to imitate and to represent the whole universe." That is fascinating.

Have you ever thought about that before? You have this mobile temple. It's moving around in the desert, and then Bam! Whoa! This represents the entire cosmos, and Yahweh is dwelling in this archetype. It's this type of what he intended in the beginning. What he intended in the beginning is broken, so this is a little imitation of it. He dwells with his people. He commissions them to be a kingdom of priests to the nations, to reflect his character and his nature to the rest of the world.

In doing that, he pushes them into the Promised Land, which is the land of Canaan. This is an interesting point, because while the reality of it is that God is powerful, one of the most common things I hear as an apologist today as a critique against Christianity is, "Yeah, your God may be powerful, but he is not good; he's cruel," because of what is commonly known as the Canaanitegenocide. The Canaanite genocide is not an ethnic cleansing; it's actually a push into an area that was deeply flawed.

The Canaanites' ritualistic worship rites revolved around various gods like Baal and Asherah and Anath, and there were Hittite practices of prostitution and bestiality and necrophilia, and there was the god of Moloch. To worship him involved child sacrifice. There was all sorts of temple prostitution. So the Lord was like, "I'm pushing you into this land, but you have to drive that out, because if you don't drive that out, you're going to become like them, and then there's no differentiation for you to be a light to the nations, which is what I've set you apart for: to be a light for the nations."

So guess what. Israel goes in, and it doesn't go well. I actually interviewed a guy about two years ago named Paul Copan. He wrote a book called Is God a Moral Monster? If this is a sticking point for you and you'd love to know more information about the narrative around that and what's going on in the conquest of Canaan, I'd love for you to check that out.

A lot of times, people are like, "Well, the Lord shouldn't have done that. He should have just allowed them to stay." Kind of what today is. Like, "Just love one another. Everybody just get along." When there are competing worldviews that cannot coexist, like, "Hey, you either worship Yahweh or you sacrifice your child to Moloch…" The Lord is like, "No, there is no in between there. You have to get rid of that."

C.S. Lewis addresses this in The Problem of Pain where he says, "What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does."

Actually, the Canaanite conquest, against this critique that maligns the character of God, it actually exalts it when you understand the story. What ends up happening is Israel goes into… They're supposed to drive out the Canaanites, and they did partially, but not fully. What ended up happening was Israel settled in the land, and when they settled into the land they began to adopt the same practices they were supposed to drive out. Israel was involved in all of these things.

So Yahweh is like, "Okay, I'm going to continue to labor with you." They got to the point where they were like, "We are so much like the nations around us that we want to be exactly like them. Yahweh, we know you're our King, but we're not really sure that you should be our King, so will you give us another king?" Yahweh is like, "That's not going to go well for you, but if that's what you want, I will." So he does. He gives them Saul. That didn't work out well. Go read the story.

Then after Saul is a guy named David. Yahweh covenants with David and says, "I'm going to give you a house, a kingdom, and a throne, and from your lineage someone will always be on the throne." So while we see in this stage of the story that God is a God who pursues…he constantly is pursuing his people…what we see Israel believe, the deception, is that God is not trustworthy. They're like, "Eh, no. We know you want to be our King, but we want to trust in our own king, so give us our own king."

They begin to make alliances with pagan peoples, with foreign nations, with the Assyrians, with the Egyptians, with the Arameans, with the Amorites, with all of the "ites." They're making all of these pacts to try to stay alive. They're trying to protect themselves, yet the thing spirals down into chaos. The rejection of Yahweh… Actually, if you read the Prophets, which I encourage you to, they are full of emotional language of Yahweh lamenting his people and their rejection of him. Yet in the midst of this, the Lord is like, "But I am still going to comfort you." So he does.

In Isaiah 7:14-16, the situation is Isaiah is trying to support the king of Judah. There are two kings, the king of Israel and the king of Aram, or the Syrians. Syria and Israel had allied themselves together, and they were coming against Judah. When they did, the king of Judah cried out. He was like, "Help!" So Isaiah goes to him, and he's like, "The Lord is going to give you a sign. When this happens, that means God has arrived with you and that your enemies are going to be defeated, and this is the sign."

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste."

In Isaiah 40 and chapter 52, there are these comfort messages. In the midst of all this pain, Yahweh is like, "You guys have acted in such a way that not only did I drive the Canaanites out of the land; you're going to be driven out of the land, and I'm going to fix this myself." What we see is this long period of silence where Yahweh is, for the most part, quiet, and then probably in January in 4 BC there was a little cry that rang out in Bethlehem in Judea during Roman occupation, and that little baby grew to be a man, and that man made really outstanding claims about himself.

He didn't just claim to be able to feed 5,000 people, and he didn't just claim to be the Messiah. He didn't just claim to raise the dead; he actually claimed to be this one who had been laboring with Israel for all of its history. He claimed to be Yahweh. There's no mixing words there. When he makes these claims, people pick up stones to throw at him because he's blaspheming. Yet he dies a common criminal's death, and then three days later this guy that everybody is like, "Yeah, no. He's not God…"

All of a sudden, Romans 1:4 says, Jesus Christ was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. So the dead guy who was dead is no longer dead, and that changes everything. That is the hinge on which all of history turns. You begin to see this reversal. You begin to see a God who's personal, who enters into our story with us and then reverses our story. When he heals people, their sickness and disease doesn't affect him; his life affects them. He's reversing disease.

Even to die… I've thought about this. With all of the miracles Jesus performed, you had to know that some of his disciples were like, "How is this dude going to die?" If he's raising the widow's son, if he's raising Lazarus from the dead, if he's walking on the water, if he's doing all of these things, you know they had to ask that question. "How in the world is that dude going to die?"

The reality of it is in order for him to die, like the old saying says, he had to borrow death from other people. He had to borrow my death and yours. And he did. He absorbed it like a sponge, and he killed it. The Romans had a gospel. It centered around Caesar. There's this Priene Calendar Inscription in Asia Minor that says, "The birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good news for the whole world."

Yet this little clan of people in Palestine, after these events take place, begins to write things like this. Mark 1:1: " [This is the] beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…" What they're saying loud and clear is, "Just like those Canaanite deities are not god, Caesar is definitely not god. Jesus is God. Do you know all of these people you're placing your trust in? Caesar is not the king. That's not his seat. That's Jesus' seat. He's sitting there temporarily, but not forever."

What we see is that while some people think God is weak, like Jesus is this felt-board Jesus or is some kind of Mr. Rogers-type figure, which a lot of times people think about Jesus in those ways, the actual Jesus, the Jesus of history, is roaring like a lion. He's more like Aslan than he is Mr. Rogers, but a lot of times that imagery needs to get corrected in our minds. What's fascinating about it is that God being with his people always…

There's his presence with the temple, and then God is present in Jesus, and then when Jesus dies on the cross, the veil is ripped. It's torn from top to bottom. Most of the times when I've heard this preached I've heard it said, "Well, that means we gain access to God." That's true in some sense. It is true that now something has been removed, but in reality, I think the biblical picture of what's going on there is the veil is torn from top to bottom, and what's happening is not that we're getting in but God is breaking out. That's exactly what the book of Acts is all about.

The book of Acts is about the Holy Spirit now permeating all of his creation. He's moving from Jerusalem to Judea and then Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. So the temple shifts. It shifts from a garden to a mobile tabernacle in the desert to a temple in Jerusalem to Jesus to…who? To you and me. You are the temple of God. The Holy Spirit dwells in you, and you are God's arbiter. Wherever you go, the kingdom of God goes. It spreads over all the entire world, because that is God's mission.

His mission was to save the entire world. He's patient with the world. He doesn't want anybody to perish. He wants everybody to come to repentance. Second Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." First Timothy 2:4: " [God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."

Yet the Enemy is whispering another lie. He's going, "Nope. God is not patient. He's done with you." Some of y'all feel like that this morning. Some of y'all feel like, "I've screwed up too much. I've done X, Y, and Z," whatever it is. You fill in the blank. "God is done with me." What I'm here to tell you this morning is, no, God is not done. The story continues. We're living in the tension between Jesus' resurrection and the second resurrection when Jesus makes everything right.

The reality of it is what is going to happen, what we have hope in, what we're looking toward is this new heaven and new earth. Some of y'all may not know this, but heaven is not some ethereal sky palace where we shoot Cupid arrows at each other all eternity long, singing, "I could sing of your love forever…and ever and ever and ever." That sounds more like hell to me. Cupid arrows. No. Heaven is not this ethereal sky palace; heaven is material. It's real. It's here and now. It's all of this, but just not broken.

Also, the way it's described in the book of Revelation is as this city that comes down out of heaven, and guess how it's shaped. It's shaped like a perfect cube. This perfect cube coming down out of heaven and establishing this new earth is the fullness of the presence of God with us. The text is really clear. In Revelation 21:22 it says there is no temple there. Our answer, if we understand the text, should be, "Well, why would there be?" The presence of God is everywhere. We're sitting in it, constantly in the love of God, and that is what God always intended.

So, who is God? What is he like? What kind of story is he writing? What kind of story are you living in? The reality of it is God created us to bear his image, which is so huge. I've studied this for a long time, so that bears a lot of weight with me. I'm just telling you, it carries a lot of weight. The fact that we bear the image of God is crazy, and yet we do.

He said, "I put you here because I love you, because I want you to co-labor with me as we take part in this creative project to make the world what I always intended it to be." But that broke. It's not that God tossed us out and abandoned us and is out to punish us and is cruel and unjust and all this stuff. No. The whole time, he has been the only one who is good. He has been the only one who has been constant and has been like no return. He constantly has his hand out.

Second Corinthians 6 says, "Don't delay. Today is the day of salvation," because God is always calling us. He's always inviting. Always. One good question to consider in all of this… Maybe you've never thought about it like this, but I would encourage you to. Ask yourself this: What kind of being, when his presence indwells you and is given full reign to do whatever he wants in your life, creates in you love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and faithfulness and self-control?

Do you think that's some evil god? Do you think that's some god who's out to get you, to punish you, to abandon you, to leave you on your own? No! The reality is that when God shows up, all things good show up with him because he's the source from which they come. There's this really interesting verse in 1 John 3:2. It says, "We know that when Christ appears, we will be like him, because…" I always stop there, because I'm like, "Oh, we're going to be like God because…" Then I'm like, "Well, what's next? Come on. Tell me. How are we going to be like him?" "…because you will see him as he is."

There is a direct correlation between you growing in maturity into Christlikeness and also your ability to see God as he actually is. The reality of it is that as long as we are living in this deception and lie and false narrative that would tell us God is someone who he is not, then it doesn't matter how much religious activity you do. It doesn't matter how much you read your Bible. It doesn't matter how much you pray. It doesn't matter how often you go to your Community Group. It doesn't matter any of those things.

If the god you're relating to and your psychological construct of who he is is an evil, abhorrent, malevolent god, then you're never going to grow. So when I'm asking the question, "Why do we read Scripture?" that is the right question. You need to be asking yourself that. You need to be asking, "Why do we read Scripture? What kind of God am I trying to interact with here?" The reality is God is not punishing you. He hasn't abandoned you. He is good. He's trustworthy.

He saves. He's definitely not done with you. He's not out to get you. He's the only one who has been trying to save you this whole time. Jesus didn't come to take the world by force; he came to rescue it with love. God is love. When formation occurs, the deception we so often live in just disappears, and what's left is the God who is. That's what God is like. Anything else that would draw you away from this is a lie straight out of the pit of hell.

So when you're thinking about your story, what kind of God are you interacting with? When you pick up the Scriptures to read them, what kind of deity are you interacting with? Who are you praying to? In those four categories of the different common misconceptions people have, that's the root behind that transactional and utilitarian and sentimental self-help stuff. The root behind all of that is you have a false view of God. God is not like that. He loves you.

He doesn't want you to read the Bible so you can check a box; he wants you to read the Bible because that is a means of grace he has given to you to meet you there, to develop and cultivate intimacy with you. If you're sitting there going, "Man, you just walked us through the narrative of the Bible. I don't even know where to start. What the heck? Where do I even start? You're talking about a story I'm not even familiar with," what I would say is…it's okay.

Just crawl, walk, run. If you're crawling, don't try to walk. If you're walking, don't try to run yet. Just do what you can do. Take a step. One of the greatest steps… Every single one of y'all needs to sign up for Join the Journey. We'll email it to you and be like, "Here, read this." If you're like, "I have no idea," we have all kinds of equipping opportunities. There's Summit. Men's Bible study is going to launch. Women's Bible study is going to launch. Equipped Disciple is going to launch. Our next iteration of online Core Classes… Those cohorts are going to launch. Jump in. Do something.

It's like a jigsaw puzzle. Any of y'all ever do jigsaw puzzles? It's like a jigsaw puzzle. You take the first piece, and what's the first piece, typically? A corner, because you're like, "Oh, I know that's a corner because of the way it's shaped." Well, if you look at that one piece you're like, "I don't know what it is," but it's a piece of the puzzle. What I'm telling you is as you study, as you apply yourself, as you take advantage of these equipping opportunities, you're going to add pieces to the puzzle.

As you add pieces to the puzzle, what do you end up seeing? The entire picture, and it's really beautiful. When you understand who God is and what God has done for you and you understand the nature of the story, then no amount of distraction, no amount of, "Oh, I forgot to read my Bible today…" No amount of any kind of distraction would keep you from entering in. Not reading surface level. "Okay. Thanks, Lord." I'm talking about entering the story.

What happens when you enter the story is you find God there, because guess what, guys: God is not a book; he's a person, and this is his story. I am going to challenge you this morning to read Scripture this year, but I want to challenge you and ask you that deeper motivating question. Why are you reading Scripture? Who is the God you know? How does your view of God measure up to the God who is?

Let me close with this. This is the greatest lie of all. Nothing even comes close to it. There are a lot of people in this room, myself included, who believe it sometimes. Some of us believe it more than others. This is it: "God does not love you. He doesn't even like you." While none of us would stand up and be like, "Oh yeah, that's definitely me," I would ask you…How many of you function like that? How many of you function as if God does not love you?

There's this great little word in 1 John 3:1. The word is potapos. It's a Greek word that literally is a question. It is "What country is this from?" The way we translate it now is behold or see how great something is, but really, if you literally translate it, it should read, "What country is the love of God from?" The love of God is something that is so incomprehensible and beyond our capacity to even fully comprehend. The greatest thing we can do is to be like, "This is so alien and foreign to what we know it has to be from somewhere else."

I love the way Lewis described it in Mere Christianity. "I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at the first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke.

Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one's eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people's eyes can see further than mine."

God is the hero of the story. He is enthroned over his creation. He is making all of the entire cosmos his place and you as an integral part of it because he loves you. My prayer for you is this. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the [saints] , to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…"

All of creation sings his praise. When you see him as he is, praise becomes as easy as breathing. It's like a knee-jerk response. You see him as he is, and you're transformed and you praise because he's worthy, because he's love. All of creation in heaven and on earth sings his praise. I invite you to join the song.