Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pastor Joe Wittwer


When God’s Story Intersects Yours

Part 1—The start of the Story


    Yesterday, I met with my new group of men that I am mentoring, and I heard some of their stories—I’ll hear the rest of them today.  I love hearing their stories for two reasons.

    First, I enjoy getting to know them, and you can’t really know someone without knowing their story.

    Second, I love hearing how people met Jesus, and what happens when they do.  Our stories change radically!

    That’s what we’re going to talk about for the next 9 weeks: what happens when God’s Story intersects your story.  We’re going to tell the Story of God—and get to know His Story better.  We’re going to hear the stories of people in our church and see how God’s Story has changed their stories.

    Welcome to Story.


    Welcome to Story.  Let me tell you how we got here.

    I was praying a few months ago and started thinking about this question: Who would I be without Jesus? I was on a very bad trajectory—some would say, I was headed to hell in a hand-basket!  Everything that I treasure now—my relationship with Jesus, my family, my friends, my work, my health, my whole life—would probably not exist had Jesus not intersected my life.  I owe Him everything!  My story is a blessed one—but it would be a very different story without Jesus.

    I know that many of you could say the same thing. So I’d like us to think about our stories and how they are different because of Jesus.  

    To do that, we’ll look at the Big Story—God’s story—in the Bible, and see how it makes sense of and transforms our little stories. We find meaning in our stories when they are read in the context of the Big Story.  I’m going to walk you through the whole Bible in 9 messages; we will look at 9 individual stories—arguably the 9 stories that best summarize the Big Story. 

  • The start of the Story.

  • The story of Abraham.

  • The story of Moses.

  • The story of David.

  • The Story of Jesus.  (Easter weekend)

  • The story of Peter.

  • The story of Paul.

  • The story of us.

  • The end of the Story.

You’ll notice that the Story of Jesus is right in the middle.  Jesus is the Center of the Story.  Everything before Him points ahead to Him.  Everything after Him points back to Him.  And this is true in my life and many of yours as well: Jesus is the Center of my story.

Jerry Sittser, in his book, A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life, wrote:

“God redeems our stories through his.  If you dare to surrender yourself to God, he will take up the story of your life and integrate it into the great story of salvation, turning it into something so extraordinary that you will be tempted to think that it was all a beautiful dream.”  A Grace Revealed, Jerry Sittser, p. 15.

My story is different in a wonderful way because of Jesus.  And so are many of yours.  We’re going to hear some of your stories too as we tell the Big Story.  Here is the first one:

Video:  The story of Robin Vickerman-Smith

    Thank you Robin for sharing your story with us!  (more story?)  Robin’s story illustrates the Big Idea for this whole series and this talk:

The Big Idea: The Bible is the story of God and us.  When God’s story intersects yours, you begin to live a new story.

Here’s the start of the Story.

1. The story of the creation.

    Genesis 1-2

    The story starts out, “In the beginning.”  As Julie Andrews sang, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!”  

    In the beginning, God.  The story starts with God.  It is, after all, God’s story.  It doesn’t start with anything else, just God.  Everything else was to come from Him.  

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.  God spoke and whatever He said came into being.  God said:

  • Let there be light—and there was light.

  • Let there be sun and moon and stars—and there was.

  • Let there be earth and seas and dry ground—and there was.

  • Let there be plants and trees on the earth—and there was.

  • Let there be fish in the seas and birds in the air—and there was.

  • Let there be critters on the earth—and there was.  Lots of critters!  Critters that slither, and crawl, and gallop; big critters, little critters; scary critters and lovey critters—God made all kinds of critters!

And each time, God saw that what He had made was good.  It was all good—everything God made was good.

    Finally, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all the earth: the fish, the birds, and all the critters.”  So God created human beings in His own image.  God made a man in His own image and said, “That’s good.”  God made a woman in His own image and said, “That’s very good!”  (Actually, God said “very good” after creating both the man and the woman.)  

Then God gave them all the plants and trees for food—my wife, a vegan loves that part.  And God told them to have babies and fill the earth—I love that part!—and take care of it.  We’ve done a pretty good job of having babies, but not always so good on taking care of the earth.

One more important part of the story: God made the man and woman to be equal and interdependent.  God made the man first, and God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”  The idea was someone who was alike but different, someone who would reflect and complement Adam.  Until now, God has said, “it is good” about everything He made.  Here, for the first time, God says, “it is not good.”  It is not good for man to be alone.  

So God paraded all the animals by Adam: the dogs and cats, the horses and cows, the giraffes and elephants, the monkeys and gorillas.  And Adam picked a nice dog and lived happily ever after!  Man’s best friend!  Nope.  No companion who corresponded to him was found.  Adam was still alone, and the parade accentuated that sense of loneliness.  There was no one like him.  So God put him to sleep—the first anesthesia—and removed a rib from his side—the first surgery.  And out of the rib, God made a woman.  And when Adam woke up and saw Eve, he said, “Ooo-la-la!  That’s what I’m talking about!”  Adam said, “At last!  This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”  At last!  Adam had a companion, a partner, a friend who corresponded to him—was like him, but different.  The man and the woman complemented (completed) each other.  They are equal but different, both made in the image of God to complement the other.  

And so we have the first marriage.  Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed.  They lived in paradise and enjoyed a perfect relationship—no shame, no guilt—just love.  A perfect relationship with each other.

And a perfect relationship with God.  Adam and Eve had a face-to-face relationship with God, who visited them often.  

And a perfect relationship with the earth.  Adam and Eve cared for the garden when God had planted them.

Perfect this way .  Perfect this way  . And perfect this way .  Everything is perfect.  So what happened?  If God made a perfect world, how’d we end with the mess we have today?

That’s the next chapter in the story.

2. The story of the fall.

    Genesis 3

God had placed Adam and Eve in paradise, and told them that they could eat from every tree in the garden, except one: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If they ate from that tree, they would die.  Just one rule; one tiny “no” and all those “yes-es”.  “You can eat from every tree—except one.  All these are yes, and there’s only one no.”  And what did they do?  They broke the only rule God gave them.  Here’s how it happened.

A serpent asked Eve, “Is it true that God has said that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?”  This of course was a bald lie—God had said they could eat from every tree, except one.  The serpent twisted God’s words and tried to make God look mean and stingy and oppressive.

Eve answered, “No, God said we can eat from all the trees in the garden, except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God said we must not eat from that tree, or even touch it, or we will die.”  

“You won’t die,” the serpent said.  He is calling God a liar!  “In fact, God knows that when you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  The serpent suggests that God is withholding something wonderful from them. Yes, they have all this, but they could be like God (they already are)!  God is cheating them, holding them back.  “Don’t let God keep you down.  Rise up and throw off His shackles and become like God yourselves.”

So the woman took the fruit and ate it.  And she gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it too.  What was Adam doing all this time—it says he was with her.  What was he doing?  Was he passive, just watching?  They ate.  Then their eyes were opened.  They realized they were naked, and for the first time, they were ashamed.  And they sewed some leaves together to cover themselves.

“We want more!”  Being made in God’s image wasn’t enough.  Being God’s rulers on earth wasn’t enough.  They wanted to be like God.  “Move over, God, and make room for us.”

That afternoon, God came by for a visit.  When Adam and Eve heard Him coming, they hid from Him.  

Imagine that.  They had never been ashamed with each other or with God.  But now they are.  They are covered in fig leaves and hiding in the bushes; ashamed with each other and afraid of God.  

“Where are you?” God asks.  And Adam says, “We are hiding because we are naked and afraid.”  

“Did you eat from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?” God asked.

And Adam said, “That woman…that You gave me…she gave me the fruit and I ate it.”  It’s the beginning of the Blame Game.  “It’s not my fault, God.  It’s that darn woman!  That You gave me, by the way.  So it’s really Your fault!”

    So God turns to Eve, “What have you done?” And Eve answers, “The serpent…it tricked me and I ate.”  The devil made me do it!  It wasn’t my fault!  

Then God told each of them what would happen because of their disobedience.  Life would become hard and painful.  Childbirth would be painful.  The relationship between the man and woman would be a painful power struggle. The ground itself would become cursed and working it would be difficult and painful.  And finally, after a hard and painful life, they would die.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It’s the world we live in.  

From paradise to pain.  From life to death.  This was the great fall, and the world has been a mess ever since.

Then God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placed angelic sentries to keep them from getting back in, so that they would not be able to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.  

Adam and Eve’s rebellion had ruined everything.  Their relationship with God was broken—fearful and ashamed, they were driven from God’s presence.   They were alienated from each other, filled with blame and shame.  And now they were living in a hostile environment that was also suffering the effects of their rebellion.  

And it only got worse.  Adam and Eve had children—two sons, Cain and Abel—and one murdered the other.  And from there, the whole world slid into even worse corruption and death.

It seems hopeless, but the good news is that God had a plan.  He didn’t give up on this broken world or rebellious human beings.  And the seeds of that plan were hidden in the start of the story.  More about that in a moment.

3. The start of the story and you.

The start of the story tells us some very important things.

First, this is God’s story. It starts with God; without God, there is no story.  Scholars call this a meta-narrative: a Great Story that makes sense of all our little stories.  The Story of Everything.  The Bible tells the story of God and us—it is a meta-narrative.

But many people today insist that there is no meta-narrative.  There is no story that makes sense of everything.  If there is no God, if matter is all there is, then all of this is a cosmic accident. An accident is not a story; it’s just an accident.  If there is no God, there is no story—no purpose—no meta-narrative that makes sense of everything.  You can’t make sense of it because there isn’t any sense to it—there is no sense or intelligence behind the universe.  A story requires an author—an intelligent being that creates with intention.  You can’t have purpose without intelligence and intention.  If there is no God, there is no story, no purpose, no meaning in life.

An honest atheist will admit this—but it’s hard to live with.  It’s hard to live believing that life has no purpose or meaning.  So many atheists create their own meaning—they make up a story to feel better—the very thing they accuse us of doing.  Then it comes down to a choice.  Do you choose to believe:

  • No story: that there is no God, no story, no meaning.

  • Your own story: a story that you make up, but know inside is not real.

  • God’s story: the Story of God and us that the Bible tells.

So what do you believe?  You might be thinking, “How do I know that the Story of God in the Bible isn’t just a made up story and is really no better than my made up story?”   To answer that, I think you need to hear the rest of the story.

Listen to the whole story, and then decide.

    First, this is the story of God; without Him, there is no story.

    Second, the story tells us that things are not as they should be or once were.   Almost everyone agrees that things are not right in the world. 

  • Over 27 million people are still enslaved, many of them women and children who are also sexually abused.

  • Over a billion people live in extreme poverty—living on less than a dollar a day.  25,000 children die every day of starvation, dirty water, or treatable diseases.  Another 2 billion people live on 2 dollars a day, just a scratch above extreme poverty.

  • Wars rage and often it’s the non-combatants who suffer most.  Millions live in squalor in refugee settlements, uprooted and separated from home and family.  

  • Human cruelty and violence is awful whether it’s the Holocaust of the last century or the Newtown of last year.

  • Drug abuse and domestic violence continue to destroy more lives, families and communities.

I could go on, but I doubt if I need to convince you—or anyone else—that things are not right in the world.

    And things are not right in me—or in you.  This is harder to admit, but if we’re honest, we have to admit that things are not right in us either.  It’s not that evil is just out there, in the world.  It’s in here, in me, too.

ILL: After seeing a series of articles in the paper on “What’s Wrong with the World?” British author G. K. Chesterton sent a short letter to the editor.

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”

What’s wrong with the world?  I am. Things are not right in the world, or in us.

    How did it come to this?

    If there is no God (and no story), then the answer is simply: what is, is.  There is no sense saying that the story went off the rails—there is no story.  What is, is. We can’t say it’s getting worse or it will get better—those imply some kind of story, some kind of purpose or meaning, some standard by which we measure.  But if there is no God, there is no standard, no meaning, no story.  What is, is.  Period.  

    But our story gives a different answer to that question: how did it come to this?  Our story says that the world is not as it should be or once was.  God created the world good; it is a good world, but it was corrupted by evil.  We rebelled against God and brought the whole world down with us.  Because of this, we can look at evil and say, “This is not right.  This is not how things are supposed to be.”

The story went off the rails. The question is: will God put things right again?  

    Spoiler alert!  He has and He will!

I said that God had a plan and the seeds of that plan were hidden in the start of the story.

Tucked into the curse God pronounced on the serpent is this promise,.  

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

This could be understood as simply as God saying to the serpent, “Humans will always hate you, and will try to kill you, but you’ll hurt them too.”  It could be just a simple explanation of the mutual hostility between mankind and snakes.  

    But it sounds like more than that, and Jews and Christians have always understood it as more than that.  The serpent, understood to be Satan, the tempter, is told that a human being will one day crush his head, ending his war against human beings.  He will hurt that human being (strike his heel), but will lose the battle and be crushed and defeated.  It is the first promise that rescue is coming.  A human being rebelled and brought on the curse; another human being will crush our enemy and end the curse.  

    Who is this “offspring of the woman” who crushes the tempter?  

    We’re not told here, but looking ahead, we believe it is Jesus who by His death and resurrection defeated Satan and freed us.  We believe Paul is referring to this verse in

Romans 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

So here in the start of the story is the first hint of a promise that God will put all things right.  In the battle between good and evil, good will triumph.  

    The New Testament authors look back on this story and see all kinds of things that point to Jesus.

    The sacrifice: God made coverings of skin for Adam and Eve.  An animal died to cover their nakedness.  Blood was shed to cover their shame.  It was the first sacrifice, and from that time on, sacrifice was made and blood was shed to forgive sin.  The Old Testament has an elaborate sacrificial system.  If you are doing the Bible reading plan, you recently read Leviticus, and probably thought, “What a bloody mess!  Why are they killing all these sheep and goats and oxen and cows?”  All of it pointed forward to ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  

    Two men: A man (Adam) sinned and took us all down.  Another man (Jesus) lived and died and rose, and lifts us all up.  (See Romans 5)

    Two gardens: In the first garden, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and rejected God’s rule over them.  In the second garden, Jesus submitted to God (Not my will, but yours be done), and brought us under God’s gracious rule.

    Two trees: One tree led to death: Adam and Eve disobeyed and brought us death by eating the forbidden fruit of a tree.  The other tree led to life: Jesus died on a tree (cross) to bring us life.

    The start of the story tells us that God created a good world, but that world was corrupted by evil, by our choice to rebel against God.  It explains why the world is broken, but gives the first hint that God will put it right again one day.