Meet the Author
Good morning, my name is Rodney, and I'm one of the pastors around here, and it's exciting to be here this morning. Today is a day of new beginnings for River City, right? We have a new arrangement in here, some new things we're doing with hosting, some TV screens instead of papers in our hands, and a new sermon series. But no matter what all is new, the definition of church is not where we meet, or how we do things when we meet, but the church is the body of Christ: People who have tasted of the grace of God, and seen that he is good.
Last week, a dear friend of mine and his wife were visiting River City from North Liberty, and at lunch I was showing him pictures of our new trailer and I said, while it's a lot of work to set up every week, there is something really special about having everything we own in a trailer. It's a tangible reminder every single week that the church is not the building. It's the people in it. That no one would look at that trailer full of equipment and chairs and say, "ah, there goes River City Church!" So I hope for you that meeting in a school has reinforced that idea, that the church is the people! That's why we don't say "we are having church" or "join us for church", but instead, say "we are gathering." What we're doing this morning is a gathering of the church, because it's a gathering of people.
But not just any gathering of people constitutes a church, and the Church doesn't refer to all people of the world. It's a specific kind of people that make up the Church. In fact, people in the Church are by definition different than all the other people of the world. And, it is not true necessarily that just because you showed up to a church gathering this morning that you are part of the Church.
What makes up the Church are people with a certain identity, a certain story that we belong to and are actively participating in. Being a Christian isn't just belonging to a certain belief system, although believing certain things to be true is absolutely part of it. Being a Christian isn't just doing certain things or saying certain things, although action is part of it. But being a Christian, being part of the Church is to belong to a story that is much bigger than our own.
We live in story. We're immersed in it every moment of every day.
Alastair McIntyre: Stories are so fundamental to our identities that we don't know what to do without them. He said, we cannot answer the question "what should I do?" before we answer the question "what story am I part of?" It's a story that gives us moral map for the universe.
I mean, we love stories. It's why our TV's almost never shut off. For people born since 1955, which is most of us in the room, TV is not something we see as an invention. It is a living thing we can't imagine living without. Same with our phones. It's why we love books, movies, even commercials are short stories sometimes -- it's why Jesus told parables! We just did a whole sermon series this summer based on stories, because if Jesus says, look if you want to follow me you have to forgive people, we're like, okay sure. But if he tells us a story about a guy who owed his master $6 trillion dollars and had no way to repay it, but was forgiven, but then went out and couldn't forgive someone who owed him $30,000, we kinda wince a little and go, "oh... yeah... that's me... probably should forgive."
So stories are part of our every day lives. If I said to you (pick someone by name), tell us about yourself, you would stand up and tell us a story or series of stories. Not only do we have our own story, but we are part of 100's of other stories at the same time. We have a family story, we live in a house with a story, we live in a town with a story in a community with a story in a state, a country, a continent with a story, and in a world with a story.
Stories are the framework for what we experience in our lives. Alasdair MacIntrye tells a story where he imagines he's standing at a bus stop and a person walks up to him and says,"The name of the common wild duck is histrionicus, histrionicus, histrionicus."
Now the meaning of his sentence is clear enough, but what on earth is he talking about? Only story can give it the framework that makes it make sense. For example, maybe the story is that this person has mistaken you for someone they met earlier who asked them what the Latin name of the common wild duck is. Or maybe he's just come from his therapist who has encouraged him to be brave and strike up a conversation with a stranger to overcome his shyness. He didn't know what he would say, and his therapist said, "oh, just say whatever comes to mind." Or another story could be that he is a Soviet spy who has arranged to meet his contact at a bus stop and the code word is the Latin name of the common wild duck.
Do you see what I mean? In order for things to make sense in our lives, we put them in the context of story.
The identity that Christians share, regardless of race, gender, color, ethnicity, culture, or age, that makes them the Church is that we belong to a story much greater than our own. That beyond all of our smaller stories is a grander story that unites us all. It is the Story of God.
Lesslie Newbigin was a missionary to India, and one day he was conversing with a Hindu scholar of world religions. The Hindu scholar said to Lesslie:
"I can't understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion -- and anyway, we have enough books of religion in India. We don't need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it."
Australian sociologist John Carroll, who does not profess to be a Christian, believes that "the reason the church in the West (that's us) is in trouble is because it has forgotten it's story." We've allowed the 100's and thousands of smaller, lesser stories, to float to the top, and adopted the stories of the world as our own. One of my goals as your pastor is to reverse that trend. I want to recover the Story of God, helping us see that the Bible is not a smattering of poems and stories that have nothing to do with life in 2019, but instead of the story of God. When we open up God's word, our first question should not be, "how does this apply to my life?" Our first questions should be, what does this say about God? What has he done? What is he doing? What is he like? And then, if these things are true, what does that say about who I am and what I ought to think, and say, and do?
We are characters in the story, but it is not about us. So let's meet the Author. We believe in one God, eternally existing in three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who know, love, and glorify one another. This one true and living God is infinitely perfect both in his love and in his holiness. He is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible, and is therefore worthy to receive all glory and adoration. Immortal and eternal, he perfectly and exhaustively knows the end from the beginning, sustains and sovereignly rules over all things, and providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.
Everything in the universe is designed to bring glory to God.
- Psalm 19:1 - the heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.
- Isaiah 40:25,26 - To whom will you compare me, or who is my equal? Asks the Holy One. Look up and see! Who created these? He brings out the stars by number; he calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing. I know people who study the stars think they are all part of the explosion of the universe that is gradually growing and stars look like they collided a couple million years ago -- I think Science points to God. They are not at odds with each other, God created science to point to how amazing he is! Either it took millions of years to evolve into that massive galaxy or there is a brilliant creator behind this who is much more glorious than we can ever comprehend. As we get to the Creation account next week, we'll see that the stars are almost an afterthought in the Creation story.
- That's because the Story isn't about how stars are born. The Story of God is about God's glory, and he's choosing to create men and women to be reflections of himself. The stars are in the sky to remind you that God is big enough to know everything there is to know about you and how and why you were made and to know what he's doing in human history.
- Keep going in Isaiah 40:27, after the bit about the stars... So why do you say "My way is hidden from the Lord, and my claim is ignored by my God?"
- Why do you say, "God is silent." Why do you say "God doesn't hear me"? Why do you say, what's the point of praying he just ignores me anyway?
- Do you not know? Verse 28 Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint. You can't bring anything to him that makes his head swim and he's like Whoa, I gotta just sit down a second, she did what???! You have what??! You're gonna have to give me some time to process this. HE doesn't faint! Nor does he become weary. He doesn't need a breather, he doesn't need to sit down for a second. God rested on the seventh day of Creation and he hasn't stopped working since!
- There is no limit to his understanding. You can't give him advice he hasn't already considered. You can't offer a suggestion he hasn't thought of. He knows every possible outcome to every possible action of all 7 billion people on the planet at this exact second and this one and this one and this one. He can put pieces together that would make your head spin.
- No, he doesn't get tired and need strength, verse 29, he gives strength to those who do faint, he gives strength to those who get tired. Even the best of us, our young people, who seem like they have boundless energy some days, motors that don't quit, they eventually crash and burn, but verse 31, those who trust in the Lord will be given strength they didn't know they could have, they will be given endurance when they thought they would give up, they would be able to walk through valleys and over mountains that should have worn them out.
- Isaiah 42:5, this is what God, the Lord, says -- who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breathtaking to the people on it and spirit to those who walk on it -- Here's what he says:
- "I am the Lord. - I'm in charge here. I am the ruler of all things you can see and the things you can't. I know everything, I see everything, I own everything. There's nothing you can give me that isn't mine."
- I am the Lord. I have called you for a righteous purpose and like a Father walking with his child, I will hold you by your hand.
- I will watch over you, and I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those sitting in darkness from the prison house.
- VS 8 I am the Lord. That is my name, and I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.
This is the Author of the Story of God. His ultimate purpose for history, the final chapter, the finish line of this race, is found in Habakkuk 2:14: "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord's glory, as water covers the sea." His work of Creating the world, which we'll look at next week, his work of redeeming fallen humanity, which we'll look at over the next several weeks, and his work of making all things new at the end of time, which we'll look at in April and May, are all part of displaying his eternal and incomprehensible glory!
The Story of God isn't just some new belief system that we fit into our current way of living. This is a story that changes everything. It affects everything, from how we worship to the way we eat and drink.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 - So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
That's why not everyone who shows up at a church gathering and says "I'm a Christian" is actually a child of God. To be a Christian is to see yourself as part of a story that's not about you, but in which you have a purpose and a role! According to Acts 17, you have been born into the family you were, to the parents you had, in the city you were, in the month of the year you were born, into a 100 lesser stories, in order for you to be a valued, loved, and active player in the Greatest Story of them all so that God's glory would be on full display in all of Creation. This was God's plan even before he created the world!
Ephesians 1 tells us that he chose us before he created the world to be adopted as sons (heirs to the inheritance) through Jesus Christ, watch this, according to the good pleasure of his will (which means the reason he created you is because he wanted to; the reason he created the world is because he wanted to) and here's why, verse 6, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One. Verse 9 He has made known to us what his plan is for all of time, verse 10, to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven (the kingdom) and things on earth (humans) in him.
The Story of God is a race to be run.
- It has a very clear finish line: The glory of God saturating the earth and being enjoyed by all of Creation for all of eternity. That's the finish line!
- This race has clear expectations: Run in such a way that you want to win! Run hard. Rest. Run hard. Rest. No matter what you do, do it with the finish line in mind. Run in the direction of Christ. Follow him. Keep in step with him.
- Maybe you've been one that has been running in the opposite direction. Maybe it's a result of something that's happened in your story, something done to you, or the loss of something or someone, and you've determined that God doesn't want what's best for you, and you will forge your own way. You'll choose your own finish line. You'll write your own story.
- Acts 17:30 - Having overlooked times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, turn around -- stop running for yourself and start running for the glory of God -- because, verse 31, he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He pointed out who this man is by raising him from the dead. The resurrection screams to us that there is more to life than what we see here on earth, there is an answer to our deepest questions, and that death isn't the end.
- Maybe you've been wanting to run after Christ, you've been trying, but it's like you have lead feet. You feel like you're going backward, or barely moving. Life has weighed you down with all kinds of sorrows and worries and it's choking you out.
- The power to run this race doesn't come from yourself. It's too big of a race to run on your own. You need the Holy Spirit in you, filling you, strengthening you, leading you.
So how do we do this?
As we close, I want to go back to the verses we read at the beginning. Turn to Ephesians 1. Pauls prayer for us