The Power of a Biblical Story

August 3, 2015

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The Power of a Biblical Story

Dr. John Mark Hicks

Bible stories.

Many of us have heard them since we were children. 

Daniel and the Lion’s Den.

Noah’s Ark. 

Three Angels Visiting Abraham.

Moses and the Burning Bush.

David and Goliath.

And many more!

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

What is the power of a biblical story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do with that?

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

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

Who is God? The Holy Redeemer.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Power of Another’s Story

July 30, 2015

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The Power of Another’s Story by Peter Horne

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

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

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

This approach has merit. If carried out precisely we can answer a wide variety of How, What, When, and Who questions. However, this methodology cannot answer the Why questions that are so essential to storytelling. In the case of Gospel harmonies our quest for factual truth may even distract us from more significant heart truths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because our stories begin and end with Why’s, we need to appreciate that people different from us may describe the same event through different Why’s. While a person focused on facts also focuses upon right and wrong, someone who understands the Why’s will seek to learn from the stories of others. Men and women, black and white, young and old, rich and poor, will inevitably give significance to different aspects of stories.

Some of these perspectives may be unhelpful because they’re based on only part of the story. Some tellings may have so much personal significance that they are largely irrelevant to others. Sometimes other people tell stories with such a narrow focus that they don’t include my perspective. And that hurts. But we can’t make these determinations simply because their story doesn’t align perfectly with mine. These judgements can only be made after we’ve listened and engaged the stories of others.

And then we realise…

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

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

We realise that we need to listen before we speak. To learn before we teach.

We realise that other races, other genders, other ages, other nations have stories that add value to our own.

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

WP_001270Peter Horne moved from Australia to the United States in 1999. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around Australia and the US, he now happily serves as the preacher at the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. He would love for you to check out the three blogs which he irregularly maintains:

Peter’s Patter: Discussion of the weekly sermon.

God Meets Ball: Viewing God through Sport

Cultural Mosaic: Resources for Multi-Ethnic Churches


The Power of a Villain Story

July 27, 2015

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The Power of a Villain Story by Tyler Jarvis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is important to note, because, like Peter, Samson, and David, we’re not always going to be the good guy. We are going to do things that are stupid, shameful, and Un-Christlike. At some point in our lives, we are going to do things that hurt the cause of the Kingdom of God. And God can use us anyway.

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

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

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

Sometimes, the villains make the best heroes.

tyler.jarvis

Tyler Jarvis is the youth minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, TX. He’s married to his wonderful wife Andrea and they have zero kids. He enjoys playing guitar, rock climbing, and writing about himself in the third person. You can check out his blog HERE   or follow him on Twitter HERE.


A Beautiful Story

July 22, 2015

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A Beautiful Story by Scott Elliot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Power of a Redemption Story

July 20, 2015

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Grace: The Power of a Redemption Story! by Les Ferguson Jr.

I don’t watch a lot of TV. Consequently, I often miss things that are culturally relevant. I hear about TV shows and have no clue about them at all. People talk about movies and actors and I just kind of nod my head because more often than not, I have no idea who or what they are talking about.

Even when a movie comes along that grabs my attention, I rarely make the time to see it. In fact, I cannot at this moment remember the last movie I saw.

The truth is, I am a nerd and would rather read a good book.

That I can talk about with ease.

So while my grasp of popular culture is fairly tenuous, I am somewhat aware of a Discovery channel program called Dirty Jobs. Instead of trying to explain something I have never really watched, the following comes directly from the show’s website…

Welcome to Dirty Jobs, the new Discovery Channel series that profiles the unsung American laborers who make their living in the most unthinkable – yet vital – ways.

Our brave host and apprentice Mike Rowe will introduce you to a hardworking group of men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall ickiness to accomplish their daily tasks.

Not one to just stand by, each week, Rowe will assume the duties of the jobs he’s profiling, working alongside rattlesnake catchers, fish processors, bee removers, septic-tank technicians and other professionals: average folks tackling extraordinary tasks that simply must get done.

But you’ll walk away from Dirty Jobs with more than just a glimpse into unfamiliar occupational duties… 

If you’re like us, you’ll also gain a new understanding and appreciation for all the often-unpleasant functions someone is shouldering to make your everyday life easier, safer – and often cleaner.

Dirty Jobs.A 4158

Nasty jobs.

Disgusting jobs.

I know there are plenty of jobs out there I wouldn’t want to do.

Not today.

Not tomorrow.

Not ever.

But. I’d like to suggest maybe the nastiest, dirtiiest job of all is one done by God…

The job is grace.

We typically define grace as unmerited favor.

The definition itself ought to tell us ahead of time that grace is a dirty and rough business. Giving grace means giving people what they need not necessarily what they deserve.

Speaking of movies I have seen, remember Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Like the movie tried to convey, the Crucifixion wasn’t a death penalty punishment meant to impart death from a “let’s-try-and-spare-the-punished-any-overt-pain” kind of experience. To the contrary, far from humane, it was intended to inflict massive emotional, mental, and physical suffering—a total annihilation of body, soul, and spirit. For those who had to watch one live and in person, it must have been a spiritual gut-punch.

Hopefully you are managing a visceral grasp on the ugliness Jesus endured, because there was nothing rougher or more difficult than the grace procured by the Cross…

Did I mention it was a dirty job?

It is always a dirty job.

Grace means getting down into the filth and ugliness of our world.

Worse, grace means there are no rubber gloves and boots to protect you from the showers and splatters of filth that will come.

That’s what Jesus did.

That’s what we are called to do.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Frederick MD. photo Bill Ryan

I wish I lived in a sterile, clean, antiseptic environment, but I don’t.

Sometimes I whine, complain, and get all twisted up.

Sometimes I act ugly, mean, or spiteful.

Sometimes I am selfish and heartless.

Sometimes I experience/ endure heartache.

And because I am fundamentally flawed and broken, I need grace. I need grace from God.

I need grace from you.

Yes, grace is a dirty job.

But it’s grace that takes away our guilt and shame.

It’s grace that says, “I love you.”

It’s grace that says, “I forgive you.”

It’s grace that takes broken stories and breathes into them the new life of redemption.

It’s grace that takes our pain and humiliation and turns it inside out.

It’s grace that redeems our story and makes it into something different, something useful, and something of service.

It’s grace that wipes away our tears.

It’s grace that empowers our own acts of forgiveness.

In the heartache of brokenness, I am thankful for the God who could not be pushed away by my anger and pain.

I am thankful for the grace of God.

It’s a dirty job, but it is the power of my redemption.

Grace.

It’s a dirty job but it’s my story…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

After the double murder of his wife and disabled son in October 2011, Les stepped down from a full time preaching ministry to focus on holding his family together and building a new life. He has since married his childhood sweetheart, Becki. Together they are raising four boys, and lives in Memphis, TN.

Since the end of January 2013, Les has been writing a widely read blog, Desperately Wanting To Believe Again that explores faith, questions, doubt, and pain from a Biblical/ real world perspective.


The Power of a Cleansing Story

July 16, 2015

by Jennifer Rundlett

How do you most frequently see Jesus in your mind’s eye? When you pray, do you think of a well-worn prayer card that someone gave you as a child?  Perhaps you might think of a beautifully carved crucifix that adorns the altarpiece of your church sanctuary?

Jesus Good Shepherd 01Still others of us might think of the images evoked by a favorite hymn or quote a particular passage of inspiration that holds personal meaning. We all have personal and private ways of calling Jesus to mind and so to generalize might seem intrusive.

However, unpacking these thoughts and impressions can open our hearts to a new flowering of growth in our imitation of Christ. To live as Christian who fully love one another we must be willing to keep developing our picture of Jesus.

Since God has spoken “to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-3), picturing Jesus then is how we are meant to hear and understand the message of God’s voice in our lives. He is our life force and our connection to our powerful creator and by his presence in our lives we are fitted with his likeness so that we may become divine.

Knowing this we will pause then and cleanse our hearts by lingering over the painting of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) and using it as a launch pad for our greater reflections.

Madox BrownMadox Brown was a British artist famous for his association with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood who by their use of vibrant colors and finely detailed realism these artists were “committed to the idea of art’s potential to change society”[i] says art historian Alison Smith “by picking themes that told stories that challenged prevailing attitudes.”

Madox Brown has composed this painting in such away that it tells the story in a new and refreshing way. If we learn to look closely it can work as a starting point to stimulate the mind into greater thought. Just as we can use a word study as the center of our bible devotion, paintings such as this can provide rich spiritual food as they lead us deeper into the scene allowing it to work as the fulcrum turning our thoughts.

A lifetime of knowing this story and yet I had not taken the time to linger with their different perspectives. As I fully considered each disciple’s reaction to Jesus’ simple yet profound action, it carried me away from the painting and allowed me to tap into various personal memories that then lead me into a deeper connection with the painting and in turn the story and ultimately — Jesus.

Devotional Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

We pause and rest now… fully breathing in the details of your last supper with your disciples. Help us to realize more deeply the profound meaning of this exchange between you and our brother Peter. Because we are separated by time and space, we struggle with our understanding of this tradition. Be with each of us, guiding our hearts so that we may hear this story, through the use of this painting. Help us to personally experience the power of your forgiveness so that it will purify our hearts.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.”

(John 13: 12-17, NIV).

Jesus Washing Feet

Reflections

Begin by noticing how Madox Brown paints Jesus from a unique camera angle. From this lower perspective we must mentally kneel to properly consider each disciples reaction as it is played out in a very intimate compressed space.

Viewing this then becomes mysteriously “iconic” as it simultaneously sears our mind with a vision of humility while filling our heart with admiration for a new kind of King—one who is tenderly serving us. With this act, Jesus becomes our “host” and we begin to understand the partaking of this meal as sharing in a new kind of hospitality from God. As we look on with the disciples, we can place ourselves among them… preparing ourselves for the meal…. and for God’s mind-shattering display of love with Christ’s death on the cross.

~~~~~~~

Rest your eyes now on how Madox Brown has portrayed Peter in this painting.Surprisingly, Peter is cast as an older man here and this causes me to think about how he must have remembered this as a sacred moment over the years. The act of Jesus washing his feet must have been a memory that kept returning like a reoccurring theme coloring the backdrop of his life. I can sympathize with his look of discomfort as it suggests he might be just humoring Jesus in letting him wash his feet. In this way, he gently reminds me of the arch of Peter’s journey and the thought of how often he was broken to begin again, touches me.

Observing the honest way Madox Brown portrays Peter’s relationship with Jesus helps me to know this brokenness is part of the process that unfolds over a lifetime. I can see pieces of myself in Peter’s reaction to Jesus here and I can hear my voice say, “ No, you will never wash my feet!” Viewing this painting helps me to realize that as much as I love and adore Jesus, I can still resist his control in my life. And I can feel a type of brotherly love for Peter as I look once again to the painting.

While I am still thinking about all this, I allow myself to consider the feelings of the entire group as they lean in and look on, some are awe struck and others are horrified and I think about Jesus question: Do you understand what I have done?

~~~~~~~

This time, as I look again to the painting, I see the disciple on the left who is leaning in and untying his sandal. He is eagerly anticipating the moment when Jesus will wash his feet. While the others are still unsure this one is coming forward without hesitation.

As I fully appreciate this disciple, I begin to think about being personally cleansed by Jesus. The idea of allowing myself to be renewed by his touch of grace so that his forgiveness will transform my life begins to powerfully move my heart towards Jesus.

I can see with new eyes that we must first allow him to cleanse our hearts from our misconceptions before we can humbly serve others. We can desire to serve others because we have confessed our sins and allowed Jesus to heal our wounds. Knowing and experiencing his grace causes us to feel a greater compassion and brotherhood with those around us.

I begin to feel myself in motion, no longer resisting Jesus’ call and as I am turning, I begin to hear deep down in my soul the call of the song Down to the River to Pray. The repetitive nature of the words become meditative and so they begin to fill my mind now with a vision of a slowly increasing crowd gathering at the river to be cleansed and renewed in their baptism.

~~~~~~~

 ~~~~~~~

Armed with the vision of this beautiful hymn, I return to the painting yet again. Now I can see and hear Jesus say to me “Do you understand what I have done for you?” And I stand in silence…then with tears in my eyes I shake my head and say, “No, Jesus, I really don’t understand the fullness of your love.

Feeling my brokenness, I look at all the faces in the room and consider how the road to the cross will personally challenge each of these men. One of them will betray Jesus…another will deny him and all but one will abandon him and my heart melts at the sight of Jesus, kneeling there and reverently washing Peter’s feet.

When I allowed myself to gaze deeply into the story through this painting, I realized that I have a Lord and King who has washed me, though I don’t fully understand it. He is willing to kneel at my feet and this thought opens and humbles me. …and I am refreshed to begin again.

~~~~~~~

[i] Were the Pre-Raphaelites Britain’s First Modern Artists? Alison Smith, August 23 2012, Tate Gallery Channel Blog, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/were-pre-raphaelites-britains-first-modern-artists

Jennifer Rundlett, M.M. from Peabody Conservatory/ Johns Hopkins University and Post Graduate diploma from The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester England, is the author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music. Her ministry of connecting with God thru the Arts is a new kind of reflective experience that leads you through a gallery of masterful art and music into the beauty and joy of a life in Jesus.

Jennifer currently lives in Frederick, Maryland and has been an active musician in the Mid Atlantic region for over 15 years. She has been the pre-concert lecturer for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Choral Arts Society of Frederick and has also been a speaker at the Pepperdine University Bible Lectures, Tulsa Bible Workshop, Lipscomb University’s “Summer Celebration” and Rochester College’s “Streaming.” You can check out her blog at http://jrundlett.wordpress.com.


The Power of an Ordinary Story

July 14, 2015

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THE POWER OF AN ORDINARY STORY

Ordinary is an interesting word. It was a word once used for some of Christ’s disciples (see Acts 4:13). It usually denotes “nothing special,” “average,” “normal.” Nothing to see here, so just keep moving on.

An ordinary story? I’ll pass. Give me the extra-ordinary; the dramatic; the one filled with exciting special effects; the tearjerkers. Those move the needle. Those create blockbusters and best sellers. Ordinary is just not interesting.

Until it is.

Until ordinary reveals something else.

Those Jesus followers in Acts 4 certainly were ordinary guys without any special pedigree, but yet there was something quite different about them.

What was it?

It was noted that they “had been with Jesus.” Jesus has a way of making ordinary interesting.

I am not sure that LaVelle Travis (L.T.) Blevins would ever be considered just ordinary, but his story has ordinary beginnings. Born during the Great Depression in the small backwater Arkansas delta community of Gordneck, L.T. grew up like so many others of his era—poor but happily surrounded by a loving family.

Again like thousands of his contemporaries, L.T. answered his nation’s call and served in the U.S. Navy during both WWII and the Korean conflict. He married his sweetheart, began a family, started a successful small business and worked diligently to provide and care for them. 

On the surface—this describes an ordinary life. It was the kind lived all across America. Yes, he lost his first wife too soon. He retired early to care for her. Later he had serious health concerns of his own from which he was not expected to survive. But really that is all fairly common. It is normal. L.T. Blevins? Not much interesting to see here, so let’s just keep moving on.

But before you do, I ask you to look a little closer. There is more to this ordinary story. Remember how I stated that Jesus has a way of making the ordinary interesting? If you spend any time around L.T. Blevins it becomes obvious. He has “been with Jesus.”

Brother BHe just turned eighty-eight years old. The ever-present twinkle in his eye reveals a joyful soul shaped through the years by his relationship with Christ. He has this wonderful adventurous side that once led him to wrangle horses on the back lots of Hollywood movie westerns after WWII; ride across the country on a Harley knucklehead motorcycle; fly (and crash) without lessons or licenses in small planes; and physically build a lake house with his second wife, Kathleen, while in his seventies.  He has all kinds of extraordinary stories to share. 

But his most extraordinary stories are about being with Jesus. They are about his beloved Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s beginnings; it’s growth; it’s ministry. He has been here through it all—serving as teacher, shepherd, cook, missionary, and everything in between.

Always here. Always faithful.

He reared his family here—now into their fourth generation. He carried the burden of leadership. He made personal and financial sacrifices for the Levy family. He mentored the current generation of leaders. He did not waver. He never created any drama. He is a peacemaker, a visionary and a great friend to preachers.

He has been with Jesus. Just an ordinary man in some ways, made extraordinary through faith in the Christ; just another boy from the Arkansas countryside, but one whose legacy of quiet dedication to God, family and church continues to shape and influence them.

He is a part of what has been tagged “the greatest generation.” Great—because of sacrifice, hard work and personal integrity. Once this was just considered ordinary and normal. It was simply how you were supposed to be.

It certainly does describe L.T. But that is not why this “ordinary” man is great.  Rather:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12

The power in this story really is found in the Christ and in the good, humble man who allowed Jesus to do the extraordinary within him.

L.T. inspires me. Throughout his life he just consistently did the right thing without any big fuss. It is an ordinary story, but it is not. It is a story of quiet and consistent faith lived out through the normal variations of life, but never wavering.

I remember one summer camp session where several people shared their faith stories with the campers. All were dramatic and meaningful. One brother showed the needle marks on his arm and gave God the glory for empowering him to overcome his addiction.  It certainly was a powerful story.

But there is also the need to share the power in stories absent of all of this—a story of faith that never ventured away. That is the power I see in L.T. Blevin’s story and in his person and that is why it is so meaningful to me.

It is the kind of life I wish to live and for my children—just consistently being with Jesus everyday in a normal, ordinary, drama-free, yet incredible kind of way.


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