Ever since people have been gathering around campfires, they have swapped stories, tall or true. With the slightest talent, a storyteller can capture your attention. With modest talent, he'll make you forget time and place. With great talent, his stories will ring in your memory until old age.
We love to hear stories because they mirror our lives. They present choices, surprises, mystery and adversity. Consequences play out — or not. The guy gets the girl — or not. Characters learn big lessons — or not.
We want to hear stories because life itself is a story. Each moment of a story is like a moment in our lives, a little part of our larger story, one that we're constantly reinterpreting and replaying.
Our stories also intersect with others. My mom's Norwegian ancestors rode the 19th century wave of European immigration to America. In World War II, my father, of English/Scottish lineage, fought his way across France and eventually helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. Identified as we may be with our ethnicities and family history, other stories — technological, cultural and intellectual — affect our perspective about the part we play. We might not even realize it.
Meanwhile, big worldview stories vie for our attention. Let's take a look at two that leave God out of the plot.
A tale of two stories
The first could be called The Triumph of the Supreme Self. You are king; your personal story trumps all others. Your rules are the ones everyone else should pay attention to and live by. You don't need anybody, certainly not the fantasy idea of "god."
The Triumph of the Supreme Self places all the emphasis on your great, magnanimous being, the star who makes all the difference. Goodness and wisdom flow from you.
The second could be called The Utterly Meaningless Life. In this one, you are nothing more than the blind combination of time, chance and matter. In the grand scheme, you are worthless; the universe doesn't give a rip about you; whatever significance you think you have is an illusion. Your hopes, fears and dreams will be rendered null and void because when you die, it's over.
The Utterly Meaningless Life might seem like it's calling you to a noble quest in the face of impossible odds. But what's the point? You might as well just do what you want and hang the consequences.
Sadly, even Christians can get entangled in these two stories. It's tempting to think that life is all about us — or that it ought to be about us but isn't. Having succumbed to this idea, we seek salvation in materialism, consumerism, entertainment, narcissistic pursuits or the numbness of drugs. When those don't satisfy, we may descend into apathy and despair.
There's a better alternative!
Radically opposing these two stories is the biblical worldview. It radiates with realism and hope and makes the other stories look paltry and empty. It's the story that realistically anchors all our stories and assigns them meaning.
Central to the biblical worldview is The Story of Sin and Redemption. This story tells how we brought ruin upon ourselves through sin and selfishness. Yet God did not leave us in this condition forever; He rescued us through Christ.
This great act of God gives an amazing context to each story. No matter how you've been defined by your race, class or culture, you and your story are incredibly valuable to God. The whole grand narrative of your life rings with meaning. Each moment is part of a divine drama.
Do you know your part in the larger story? Are you going to hang in and make the tough choice? Accept a given role to the glory of God, or reject it to seek your own glory? Strenuously pursue goodness, or settle for tawdry trinkets? Will you get up that seventh time after falling so many times before?
For better or worse, whether we realize it, whether we accept it, we're part of an exciting narrative. It might seem like just a little story . . . but it's big.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.