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Monday, May 2, 2016

Dive In

I stand on the dock at my Aunt’s place at the lake.  The sun warms my skin.  When I think of August, I think of this place.  I run toward the end of the dock and dive off.  For a moment, I am superman, flying.  And then … splash.  The entire world changes.  I am an arrow, piercing the water.  The world sounds very odd, distorted under water.  I can’t really hear, not sounds I trust, just water shooting past my ears.  And I can’t see well, not even if my eyes are open.  The lake is dark, and everything is a blur.  I can’t see or hear clearly, but I feel.  I feel my body shooting down into the black, cold depths.  Down, down … but my body also feels the way back up to the surface. At some point, unconsciously, I reorient so I am now climbing in the water, not falling.  I head up, toward the light.  I break through the surface into the air, which I gratefully, breathe in deeply.
Is your life a story?  Are you conscious of the story?  Or, are you just going through life.  You had dreams, or maybe you didn’t.  There was a job that you wanted as a career and maybe you’re in it!  Or it did not work out, and so now, you’re thankful to be in a job, but it is just that; a job.  You don’t see a plot line as you imagine your own life.  You don’t even do that – imagine your own life.  You just live it.  If you want a story, you’ll go to the movies or watch TV or read The Hunger Games or Harry Potter.  Maybe you love life.  Maybe you are maddeningly frustrated by it.  Maybe you live from one adrenalin rush to another.  Maybe your life has slowed to a point that there is not much adrenalin anymore and you’re kind of thankful for the slower, predictable pace.  But however you might describe your life – and you’d only do that if someone asked – it’s not a story, not  the way a story or not in the sense of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or Downton Abbey.
I am not addressing everyone.  Many of you here are quite aware of the story of your lives and you have been kind enough to share bits of your story with me over cups of coffee.  When you do that, share your story, you have invited me onto your sacred ground.  I remember to take off my shoes.  I am grateful to hear of your life.  But, if you when asked, “What is the story of your life,” insist on shrugging your shoulders as you say, “there’s nothing remarkable about me,” well, I vehemently disagree.
I believe each one of us is living a story that is worth being shared.  I also believe you and me and all people are called to a larger story.  And when we answer this call and dive into that larger story, our own individual stories are enhanced and enlarged and we go places we never could have imagined.
Of course the story we are each called to inhabit is the story of God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  As the trinity shows, God is inherently relational, and relationships are never seen in propositions.  Some people think that scripture is nothing more than propositions and rules.  Some Bible readers look to the word for guidelines and that is not all bad.  The Bible does offer foundational teachings upon which we can base our thought and build our worldview.
Jesus is Lord.
God is love.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life and everyone who lives and believes in him shall never truly die.
In Christ we are new creations.
Whatever we do for the least and the poorest around, we do for Christ.

These and many other pithy statements from scripture do well to encapsulate our faith.  However, we miss much if we simply grab a hold of these or other favorite Bible promises or commands.  If all we get from the Bible are a few rules, a few memorable quotes, and aphorisms that fit on coffee mugs, we’re not getting into the Bible at all.  Worse, a lot of misunderstanding of scripture comes when Christians build their ideas upon snippets from the Bible that have been divorced from the story of the Bible.
Why is it important to say Jesus is Lord?  When 1st century Christians said this, it was in a context in which the Roman Empire ruled and by law one was required to say, ‘Caesar is Lord.’  For Christians to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and to put this in their holy book was rebellion against the powers that be.  There can only be one Lord.  Christians and Romans both clearly understood this.  And Christians declared the one Lord was most certainly not Caesar.  Some Christ-followers died horrible deaths for insisting that Jesus is Lord.
I am not sure 21st century American Christians understand the cost of our faith.  In our culture, ‘Lord,’ is a meaningless title.  We don’t use the word in every day life, so it lacks power when we hear it in church.  It is a word that lives in church and stays at church to be revisited each Sunday, but completely lacking influence in the places where we spend most of our lives.  This does not mean there are not powers that ‘lord’ over us demanding our complete loyalty while giving us no blessings.  Possessions, work & career, toxic relationships, addictions – these become idles, ‘lords’ that rule our lives and takes us away from the best life, the life in which we die to self and live as disciples of the Lord Jesus.  This contrast of lords – forces in our world v. the force of the Lord Jesus - is completely missed if we think the Bible is a book full of rules and Christianity is a vehicle that ensures us of heaven when we die.
When Christianity is a Sunday-only, life-after-death-only classification, it shrinks.  When Christianity is the story of God saving the world from sin and saving human beings to be His image bearers and when we see ourselves in the center of that story it expands exponentially to the point that we are completely swallowed in it so that there is no possible sense of reality apart from reality with God; and, we would never consider life apart from God.
Thus, I believe we are called into a story – the story.  How each one of us walks in the story is unique to each individual.  But we are all called to plunge into God’s story.
The Bible helps us do this, so we are called to plunge into the scriptures, to live in the story both as we live our lives.  But that may seem odd.  Live in the Bible story? But, it is 2016, not 40 AD.  I am in America, not Jerusalem.  I speak English, not Koine Greek.  We have a president elected by voters, not an emperor another nation has declared supreme.  How in the world do I live by the Bible story?
My friend Kevin, a pastor, likens Christians as we embody the Bible story in our own lives to characters in a popular movie series, Harry Potter.  
At the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the great wizard Dumbledore wills a book of ancient runes to Harry’s friend Hermione, just before they and their companion Ron are to go on a difficult journey. At first the trio is unsure of why they’ve received this book, which turns out to be a collection of old fairy tales. How could this dusty book of children’s stories, written in a dead language, possibly help them on their treacherous journey? They come to find, however, that one of those fairy tales is actually true, and that their own journey is a part of that story. That ancient story does not give them instructions for everything they will face on their particular journey, but it does provide a picture of what they are looking for, and it turns out that is help enough.
            Scripture, too, is an ancient story that is in fact our story, and while it is not a blue print or a rule book for every situation in which Christians might find themselves, its pages record pictures that teach us what to look for on our pilgrimage and what to hope for along the way. These pictures are rarely clear at first, and if they seem to be so, it’s probably a sign that we need to look again and ask others what they see, too. But over time, when we sit together and the Spirit aides our reading, these ancient, true stories open up into what 20th century theologian Karl Barth called a “strange new world.” The Spirit gives those words texture and color and all of the sudden we find ourselves somehow inside of them instead of gazing at them. And when we look up from the page this strange new world is imprinted on our eyes, as though we had just looked into a bright light, but instead of being blinded we now see our own world through the overlay of the Bible’s strange new one. It is in those Spirit-filled moments that the history, literature, ethics, and religion recorded in the Bible are transfigured into Scripture, the Spirit’s testimony of the eternal Word of God who lays claim to our whole lives every time we hear it.

When we plunge into the deep waters of the Spirit and answer the call to live in the story by living fully submitted to God’s way as we know God through Jesus, worship and prayer become normative, defining practices for us.  Evangelism becomes natural because Christ colors our every thought, so no matter what words we speak, no matter the topic, what we say will be related to faith in Jesus.  Mission and works of compassion whether a donation to the Helping Hands offering, participation in church life, going on trips, or doing works locally become core parts of our lives.
We see the life immersed in Christ and in God’s story described in Colossians 3.
“12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[f] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[g] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[h] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I found out what it is like to dive into God’s story at my aunt’s dock at the lake.  Our family was on our annual trip there, and I dropped my wedding ring into the lake.  My wife me and a look and I put on the diving mask and swam down into the depth under the dock.
Have I mentioned that it is dark under there?  My goal was to swim around a bit so I later on I could say, “Well, I tried.”  But, I discovered something.  Being fully submerged and wearing that mask changes your perspective.  It is dark and murky and quiet – so quiet.  But after a minute, under dock, which is about 7 to 8 feet deep, your eyes adjust.  You can’t move around the way you can on land.  You’re in water, not air.   You have to swim, not walk.  You have to hold your breath – again, no air.  Diving in requires a complete adjustment to the world according to the new environment.
In that quiet world which was new to me even though it lay underneath a dock I stood upon for years, I realized how much full immersion changes everything.  And I found my ring!
The difference when we answer God’s call and dive into the story of God through worship prayer, through Bible reading and absorbing the Bible story into our minds and hearts, through works of compassion and evangelism – the difference is the light of God.  Deep under the water, light is dimmed, sound muffled, and senses dulled.  Immersed in God’s light we truly see.  We see the world by the light of God and so we see it as it really is.  Everything changes.  When we dive into God’s story, everything is new.  We see ourselves as we really are – new creations in Christ.
Our lives are stories and God writes new chapters each day.  Don’t view Christian faith as a set rules that gets us to Heaven when we die.  See it as the story of us and God.  And dive in.

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