The Power of a Biblical Story

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The Power of a Biblical Story by 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

A Community That Mourns

A Community That Mourns Well

 

(Note: I recently was asked to speak at the Lake Harbour Church of Christ just outside of Jackson, MS on the subject of helping one another mourn. Audio and notes are here on this post. I’ll be conducting a grief seminar mostly for parents who have lost children on Saturday, August 15th near Anniston, AL. If you would like more details on that please let me know.)

Audio:

A Community That Mourns

Every day when we open our newspapers there is a column that never fails to catch our attention: obituaries.  Mourning and sorrow – part of the human experience. The first parents were bereaved parents.

Genesis 23:2 And Sarah died …and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

1 Samuel 30:3-4 When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned down, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep.”

There are different kinds of mourning as well … things that bring us sorrow. Disappointments, divorce,  loss of  career or finances … many more. Even the mourning we do over our own sin. 

Ecclesiastes 3:4 There is… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

How can we become a community that mourns together well?

LISTENING

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”― G.K. Chesterton

James 1:19  Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger 

Job’s friends were best friends for 7 days. Then they began to talk. What does it mean to ‘Listen’?

*Let the person say all that they want say.

*Do not formulate responses as they speak.

*Let them know you ‘get’ what they are saying.

*Ask clarifying questions.

*Listen without judgment; Listening does not mean agreeing.

We become a community that mourns well when we are listening

OBSERVATION

When you are serving someone who is mourning a loss or disappointment, what do you notice about their situation that you can help?  Don’t wait to be asked to serve – look around. “Four things come not back: the spoken word; the spent arrow; time past; the neglected opportunity.” – Swindoll What can you do for this person?

*Household chores – washing, mowing,  cleaning

*Food – bringing food, organizing, re-arranging

*Children need transportation?

*Do they need help arranging the funeral?

We become a community that mourns well by listening and observing…

VULNERABILITY

A person who has experienced a loss is in a very vulnerable position – and it is important to respect that. They may say things they wouldn’t normally say. They may express doubt or question their faith. They may also be especially sensitive to things said. This is a time of great weakness and they need care. They have a right to expect confidentiality from us.

God is protective of those in pain.

Sarah’s cruel treatment of Hagar left her and Ishmael crying in the wilderness. (Genesis 21:17 And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.”)

Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.

Respecting the vulnerability of others is important. 

ENGAGEMENT

Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

There is no timetable when comfort may come.

Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

It is wrong to try to push people back into normal life so that we can feel comfortable with them again. But there also is a time to re-engage with life. How you can help engage the grieving person? Invite the person to do something they like to do (Lunch, shopping, golf, tennis, movies), respecting that they might turn you down at first. Church can be hard for people who are in mourning, offer to pick them up and sit with them. Purchase a book about grief recovery and discuss each chapter as you read it together. Help them plan something that will honor their lost loved one. Be especially aware that if these efforts are resisted,some more time might be needed. Plan to be a friend for the long haul … bereaved people are often not great friends while they attend to healing their own wounds.

For Those Who Are Mourning…

1. Grief Is a natural and health consequence that should occur when a loss has happened.

2. Grief affects a person with their whole being: emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.

3. Grief is always an individual matter; You NEVER know how another person feels.

(The above three thoughts From Walking With Those Who Weep by Don & Ron Williams)

4. Get Plenty of Rest – Grief is Exhausting.

5. Lean on Family and Friends, Especially During Holidays and “firsts”.

6. Compose a Grief Journal and Reflect Daily.

7. Get Involved With a Grief-Recovery Group

8. Pray and Stay in God’s Word, beyond your questions.

Three Final Scriptures….

Revelation 21:3-5 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends….

Psalm 56:8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?

Our tears Do Not Fall Without the Hand of God catching Every One.

~Kathy Troccoli

Power of Another’s Story

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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