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

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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


Churches of Christ in Decline?

February 10, 2012

Recently Bobby Ross, Jr. shared some alarming stats on his Christian Chronicle blog which indicate that Churches of Christ are in decline. Based upon data compiled by 21st Century Christian (the publisher of the Churches of Christ in the United States directory) there are now 102,000 fewer people worshiping in our churches then there were in 2003. Further, the data reveals that over these last nine years 708 of our congregations have shut their doors.

This information puts hard numbers on what many among us have suspected. I know that the majority of the congregations of which I am familiar are smaller than they were just a few years ago.

Based on this information here are a few personal observations:

  • Of this 102,000- my guess is that many of  them are in the 20 something age group. I have no hard evidence for this except what I see in churches where I minister and hear from other people.  A huge discussion can be undertaken about why this group is leaving us (post-modern thinking; not grounded enough; natural rebellion of the age, etc.), but there is no denying it. Recently a friend of mine who has a 20 something child (who grew up in a vibrant Church of Christ; involved in youth group activities; summer camp; foreign mission trips; and graduated from one of our universities) told me that she is now worshiping in a community church. She calls Churches of Christ, “old school.”  Whether we like to hear this or not- we must listen and prayerfully address why this group is leaving us. We are having this ongoing discussion at Levy. It remains a challenge.
  • Some among us have (in perhaps trying to address this challenge) left behind some of our traditional core values like A cappella singing and restrictions placed on women in public assemblies. These moves have not been without controversy, of course. What some see as simply an evolution of our restoration heritage, others view as an affront to clear biblical teaching. My mention of this is not to enter into a debate about this- just to recognize what has happened. And to ask these questions- have these congregations seen real, significant growth from among the truly unchurched? Has their move to a more ecumenical, contemporary approach to worship and beliefs attracted people- including the 20 somethings? It would be interesting to see if these churches among us are having any greater success.
  • Isn’t Jesus still the answer? The first church in Acts had very little of what we recognize as church- buildings, programs, staff, Sunday  morning worship emphasis, etc. yet they penetrated deeply into their culture with the message of Christ to the point of transforming entire cities. Their secret? They lived, breathed and taught Christ, him crucified and resurrected. The more our American culture moves into a post-Christian era, the more it resembles the culture of the first century in which the church then flourished.  Is Christ the center of our message in Churches of Christ? As disciples are we genuinely living out his values in our life in a way that stands in contrast to the world around us? Are we losing our life to find it? Are we proclaiming the Good News of Jesus outside of our church walls? The church grows in the marketplace- not in church buildings. The darker our culture becomes the more brightly the light of Jesus will shine. Our challenge is not to hide this light under a bushel that we keep inside our church buildings.

I love Churches of Christ. I am alarmed at these numbers. I am praying for wisdom and guidance from God on how to be more faithful in proclaiming Jesus as a member of the Church of Christ.

It just  hurts to see us in decline.


FYI

March 7, 2011

All kinds of compelling mission, ministries and other kingdom work happening right now. Here are a few links,  events and thoughts you might be interested in.

I’ll start with news about the Lithuanian mission ministry (Thanks to my friends at the Christian Chronicle for giving us a shout out in the latest issue).

  • The little kids session of Lithuania Christian Camp will return, God willing, in the summer of 2011! Last year this ministry was reduced to just one session but because of the generosity of many the younger session (for kids 8-12) will return on June 27-July 3. If you are interested in learning more about the camp go here or here. For more about the little kids session go here, here and here.
  • Speaking of Lithuania missions- We are excited about an upcoming April trip which God has made possible for Richard and Jeanna Lynn May. Through their marriage ministry- What God Has Joined– they will be blessing couples and families in Vilnius and beyond by offering marriage coaching for couples and seminars for everyone.  This is a greatly needed ministry focus there. Please pray for them.

Other news:

  • Our friends at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas have been dealing with some unwanted publicity from hostile media sources as a result of decisions made about a web zine published by current and former gay students.  It seems to me that the university acted in a manner consistent to its published student handbook and explained  themselves accordingly. Some of the reports I read from various media sources were simply unfair in comparing HU to Westboro Baptist Church. 
  • The USA Today reports that a larger percentage of teens and young adults are virgins than in the past.  This- from a Christian ethic perspective- is a good trend.
  • I recently discovered a great blog for preachers and church leaders.  It is by Dan Bouchelle- Confessions of a Former Preacher. Go check it out sometime.
  • I am looking forward to soon going and participating in Elderlink in Atlanta.
  • Another great annual event among Churches of Christ is the Tulsa Workshop. You can check out its schedule here.

Have a great week serving our amazing God!


It’s Been A While

February 8, 2011

Whew! I had not realized how long it had been since I posted until today. Blogging for me lately has taken a major backseat and it seems blogging in general has lost some of its mojo to Facebook, Twitter and other newer forms of social networking.

For me- extra time that I once used for blogging has been taken up in my pursuit of Harding’s Masters of Ministry degree and by two growing girls and the daily adventures in preaching. Plus a few other things!

I went with my wonderful Razorback crazy (in a good way) wife (and her equally crazy brother and sister) to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Unfortunately the hogs lost. I did wear the Arkansas colors but kept what matters close to my heart.

Also I just returned last week from a trip to Lithuania. God blessed us with a great time with the brothers and sisters there.

I am planning to check-in more often! If you are still dropping by- thanks!


Some Kind of Summer!

July 26, 2010

Hello!

Anyone still stopping by?

If so, you are well aware that my blog has suffered greatly this summer from neglect.  I will not make excuses just share what has been happening in this summer of 2010.

First up, my latest class in my M.Min program from Harding- Christian Communication- has had me communicating in all sorts of ways mainly to my professor! It has not been a typical laid-back summer course.

Next, I got to spend a wonderful week with two of my daughters (and other family members) at Sardis Lake Christian Camp. I took Taylor to her first full session of camp as a camper back to my old stomping grounds. Natalie, my oldest daughter,  also came and served as the camp nurse. Nat grew up going to this camp. My cousin, Kenny Jackson, directed the week. It was a grand family reunion.

Then we went on the family “road-trip” vacation. The first stop was Mayberry- Mt. Airy, North Carolina. This is where Andy Griffith grew up and the town Mayberry was based on. Way cool for me and my girls. We have been watching DVD episodes of The Andy Griffith Show ever since the visit.  Our main stop was Washington D.C. We enjoyed a July 4th concert and fireworks on the capital lawn, visiting the museums and seeing the sites and the hospitality of our friends- Will, Michelle, Kaitlyn and Rachel Hawkins.

Then I was off to Chicago to check off another bucket list item. Thanks to friend, Scottie Ray, I basked in the sun during a Saturday afternoon at Wrigley field! Fantastic! The Cubs lost, of course, in the ninth inning- so I got the real experience. lol

Beyond travels, our summer at Gateway has been busy- all about community outreach. Our summer Sunday night program has moved out of the building and into the lives of people. Our Latino ministry kicked off this summer and is going well, praise God. We also have begun a homeless outreach ministry- providing showers, food, and supplies to our surrounding  homeless population.

As always- thanks for dropping in and visiting even while I have been away!

Gob bless!


The Blessing of Blogging

May 3, 2010

The blogosphere is a wonderful sharing and dialoguing tool. I know I have been blessed through blogging to meet and get to know people who otherwise I would not.

I always greatly appreciate those who stop by here, read and occasionally comment and those who also respond through email and Facebook. It is good to know that this blog stimulates a little kingdom thinking and discussion.  So thanks for your visits! It does mean a lot.

Now just some random bullet points:

  • The “Beautiful Feet” blog which profiles the good work of preachers among us is updated for the week. Stop in and meet Darin Hamm.
  • I am an avid Fantasy Baseball fan. My two teams are not doing so well thus far. Is it okay to pray for them? lol
  • Friends Richard and JennaLynn May are expanding their What God Has Joined Together marriage ministry. This couple would be a wonderful resource for your church.
  • Several of us guys at Gateway just concluded a “Wild at Heart” retreat at an awesome facility in the middle of two lakes and 550 acres. It was an incredible time! There is just something rejuvenating to run around and act like boys again.
  • Please be in prayer for the many so affected by the recent severe weather. Whenever such weather happens I again hear the cries of “the world is ending” and “it is all because of global warming.” Is it just me or are both of these an attempt by man to play God?

Have a great first full week of May!