This is part three of The Story Book.
I f your life were suddenly a feature film, what story would it tell? Would it be a drama, a comedy? A dramedy? Would it be an inspirational underdog tale or a quiet character study? Would it be short and boring? Would it be, as Don Miller says, a movie about buying a Volvo?
What does a story require to make it great? Are you on a quest for a good family or a journey to change the world? (Hopefully your life doesn’t qualify as a tragedy. If it does, keep going and maybe you’ll turn the page on rebirth.) Are you living one of the seven great stories? Is your story epic?
What does epic mean, anyway? My friend Leonard Sweet defines it, as boomers love to do, with an acronym. Len says “EPIC” is Experiential Participatory Image-centered and Community. He was talking about Christian life in postmodern culture. Beyond these four attributes, there is a stronger epoxy that adheres things together. It is the need to understand our lives in the context of narrative.
One of the great challenges of life is to find new stories.
Process-oriented people call this goal setting. You’ve finished one story, or one chapter in your story, and find yourself searching for direction. New stories give us a plot to follow, a direction to move. Stories are life. When you are living story, you are living.
Leaders understand the power of shaping life as story.
A leader can walk into a situation where there is no story, or a bad story, and change it. This simple act is transformative. Large corporations have been rescued by a single story. My favorite example is Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple, the company he co-founded in 1997, and took it from the edge of failure to becoming the most famous success story of the 2000s. If I had only purchased stock when he first returned to Apple, I’d like Apple’s turnaround even better.
My former boss at Ginghamsburg Church, Mike Slaughter, corralled a stampeding congregation when I was there by telling a simple story. We were in the midst of an amazing period of growth, a two year span from 1995-1997 when we expanded from 1000 to 3000 in average weekly worship attendance. We began hosting standing room only national conferences. Staff like me traveled and lead workshops and seminars. Our new presence on the Information Cyber-highway was garnering visits from across the globe. However, all of this change was causing a good deal of inner turmoil. Laypeople within the congregation mourned the loss of their church. Some actively fought change.
In the midst of this turbulent environment, Mike told the story of B.W. Day. Day founded the congregation in 1863 after leading 10 people to Christ in the small country town of Ginghamsburg. Day had big plans for the church. He stated its future would be as a teaching church with world-wide impact. Over one hundred years passed, during which time the little country church housed many student pastors from the seminary down the road in Dayton. When Mike Slaughter arrived to pastor the church in 1979, the church had 90 members. He likes to say he grew to 60 right away. Those who remained witnessed something incredible: the fulfillment of B.W. Day’s vision. This story gave purpose to the period of growth and transformation that we experienced. How can you argue with a story that has been in place since before you were born?
As believers, our work in the local church is one subplot of the much bigger story of God’s creation. We tend to lose track of the bigger story. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time, and how’s God life occurs in a separate temporal realm from ours.
All we know is bound by our own story.
Time is the reel that projects our life story. This story is all we know. We watch it over and over again. We glimpse others’ stories, too. Each of these stories exist on a set of reels which eventually run through the projector and end.
So, it’s impossible for us to truly comprehend the Incarnation, when God moved from God-time into human-time. All we know is our own perspective. We have no clue of the place and time from which the Creator comes. We spend our time and energy trying to comprehend a God that is above comprehension. To be one of the created, participating in the most basic action of a Creator God. Our minds are finite and limited. God is power beyond our knowing, so we shrink away.
We are extras in the ultimate story.
When I was younger I was aware of a spiritual dynamic in my life where after a period of awareness and communion with the Holy Spirit in worship and koinonia with other believers, I’d feel a strong urge to shrink away and engage in something of the world. I don’t mean that I wanted to try out out new vices. I mean that a desire to return to my old behaviors was more acute, whether it be anger or selfishness or pettiness. It was as if my broken humanity prevented me from seeing in full; I was Peter crying out, “Go away from me, Lord – I am a sinful man.” I’d scatter like a cockroach in the flashlight beam.
The creation, the fall, the incarnation, the cross – all are plot twists in the unfinished story of our lives, of humanity’s collective life. We are extras in this ultimate story, the epic story of God’s love. We lose track of this grand story, even as believers, because we are so bound to our own time. Even the most patient of us are but children, jumping up and down with eager anxiety for the next scene of our life to begin. God’s great play runs in the theater of the cosmos.
At the end of their time together, Jesus told his disciples, “You can’t handle the truth now.” Knowing the entire cosmic story would blow our mind. Maybe our job in life as Christ followers is to work on our own little story, which involves us and others around us. Just a little subplot in the big Epic.
What is your life story? Which one of the seven plots are you living right now?