HIS STORY IN YOUR STORY

 originally published on www.re-yourlife.com

Do you see the signs?

In a town like St. Louis, MO, the population is passionate about their sports teams. With recent world champs in baseball, football and a highly competitive hockey team, not to mention the great devotion that exists for the nearby NCAA schools, sports runs in the blood here. But even if you’re not a sports fanatic, we’ve all seen various sports events on TV with people holding up random signs. Some of them are cheering for their favorite player or favorite team. Sometimes they’re negative messages against the other team. Without a doubt, we’ve all seen the sign that says “John 3:16” on it. Christians often display it at major sporting events hoping to be seen on the camera and have the message of their sign broadcast to the thousands, or even millions who might be tuning in.

John 3:16 is probably the most appropriate Bible verse to broadcast, for in one line it captures the center of our message. In just a few words it captures the story of God. God’s story is simple, in all the work that He’s done, from the moment of the Fall in the garden of Eden, until now – He loved the world so much that He sent His one and only Son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins and restore us to a life that is in relationship with our Creator. Indeed, the Scriptures contain many more stories of events which happened between the Fall and the birth of Jesus, and each of these stories tells us more about who our God is and also about His plan to bring His Son into the world at the perfect time, but the center of the message can be contained within John 3:16. No more is needed when sharing the Gospel – John 3:16 says everything we need it to.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire” the main character has a famous line that is often quoted. In comes in the part of the story when the main character’s sister begins to notice that that her brother has seemed to have lost sight of his calling in life – that is as a missionary to China. He’s an incredibly talented runner, and to his sister, it appears he’s lost sight of his calling and is caught up in the adventure and fame of running. But at that point in the story when she reveals this concern to him, he comforts her with these words: “God made me for China, but God also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.

For the main character, there is certainly the calling to mission. He has not forgotten that. But he recognizes also that his Creator made him to run. There is more to his story than his calling as a missionary. The same is true for us.

John 3:16 is the verse that tells the story of God. It also tells our story – the story that God has also saved each of us. It describes the length and breadth of the sacrifice God had to make to do so. But, there’s more to our story.

Encounters Leave a Mark

Earlier in John 3, Jesus is talking with Nicodemus. Jesus is describing to Nicodemus what life as a spiritual person is like. He describes the life of a spiritual person as understanding of spiritual things. 1 Corinthians 2 describes the same thing – that a person of the spirit is spiritually discerning. The simplest form of spiritual discernment is knowing God. Jesus is describing this to Nicodemus – that one cannot know God unless God has made Him new by being born of water and the spirit – by being baptized. Jesus says that when we are born of the spirit, we are able to know God. Nicodemus came to Jesus thinking he understood spiritual things (He came to Jesus proud of the fact that He and the other Pharisees had somehow figured out that Jesus was from God, since no one could do the kinds of miracles as Jesus was if he were not from God). Jesus showed him that he didn’t quite understand as well as he thought he did. Nicodemus life wasn’t marked by the spirit. But it is quite certain that this encounter changed Nicodemus’ life. All encounters with the living God do.

We’re different from Nicodemus. For you and I, life is marked by the spirit all the time. But it probably happens differently for each of us. The first time we’re marked by the spirit may come at a different point in each of our lives. But in John 3, Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus that the spirit certainly is working all around us, whether or not we know where He is working. Jesus describes the Spirit as a wind that comes from where we know not, and blows to where we know not. But blow it does, marking us as He chooses along the way.

A Mark, a Moment, an Experience

We all know the story of the Titanic. It sank because it hit and iceberg. But we learned something about icebergs in that story. There is more to icebergs than meets the eye. 90% of them are hidden under the surface of the water. It was the 90% that sunk the Titanic. This analogy works similarly for us. The experiences of our life come together to form a part of who we are. These experiences determine our decisions, how we interpret life, and they form our personality. These experiences are the 90% of us that drives the 10% that people see on the outside.[i]

As Christians, much of the 90% might be attributed to moments when the Spirit touched our lives. His mark is certainly there at our baptism, but it can doubtless be seen in many of experiences since then, and possibly even before. My mom used to ask me, “Chad, have you ever considered being a priest?” Now, I grew up Catholic, which is why she’d say priest instead of pastor. And I’d always answer her the same. “No, mom. I don’t want to be a priest.” My insides were answering even more distinctively, “Not no, but hell no.”

But low and behold, even before God really had His hand on me, it is clear when I look back that His hand was present in my life. Those questions left permanent marks on my life – marks of the spirit that made sense only after I became a Christian and God called me to pursue being a pastor. These kinds of stories permeate each of our lives. Through these marks of the spirit, the story of God continues to be written through our lives.

John 3:16 tells God’s story in shorthand. The rest of Scripture gives a far more detailed account of everything that happened. Psalm 105 encourages us to share the story and worship God for all that He has done. Habakkuk 3:2 says, “Lord, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds. Renew them in our day. In our time, make them known.” How had Habakkuk heard of the Lord’s fame were it not for others sharing the story? God calls us living stones in the Scriptures. The idea of living stones comes for the practice of the Israelites building altars out of stone in places where they had significant encounters with God, times when He saved them or when He made good on His promises.

The two stories that most often come to mind are the story of Jacob’s Ladder and of the Crossing of the Jordan. In Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob is sleeping in the desert where he dreams of a stairway or ladder into heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. He also sees the Lord who speaks to him. Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” From there, Jacob proceeds to mark the place with a stone and give it a name. With that stone and name goes the story of God as it left a mark in Jacob’s life.

In the book of Joshua, we read the story of the Israelites finally crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land – that moment they had been living for as they wandered the desert for 40 years. Although the river was deep because it was at flood stage, the nation crossed with ease because the water was being held up by the Lord. Upon coming out on the other side, Joshua marked the site of the crossing with 12 stones, creating an altar. That altar marked the place of a story of God as He blessed the Israelites.

We are like those stone altars, except we are living. Our very lives tell the story of God.

Your New Song

Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” A new song isn’t necessarily a song like you hear on the radio. Scripture encourages us to sing a new song, but that doesn’t mean we should go around singing. (God knows it wouldn’t be good if I did. It certainly wouldn’t save any souls.) As living stones, lives that are lived as children of God are new songs, songs that share God’s story.

One of the ways we sing a new song is by sharing the story of what He has done. We can do that by sharing the historical events of how God saves His people over and over again throughout the Scripture. We can do that by sharing John 3:16 and how the story that exists in that single verse has effected each of our lives for eternity. But there’s a third way, and I think it’s one of the most important in our day and age.

Relationships are the most effective way of sharing Christ with anyone nowadays. Street preachers are a thing of the past, and would be far too offensive today. Big tent revival meetings are also outdated. And huge stadium events led by Billy Graham and broadcast to millions are also becoming a thing of the past. The story of God is now being shared through relationships between friends. His story is being told in small groups of people meeting together to find their way through life. His story is being told by those who recognize the marks of the spirit as He blows through their lives.

Repeatedly, I’ve heard many people confess that they feel unequipped to share the Gospel with their friends, neighbors and family. Most of the time, I think that excuse really communicates a fear that lives inside of us all. None of us want to be rejected because we shared the Gospel with someone. Far too often, we put being accepted and liked by the people around us as more of a priority than sharing the most important story that anyone could ever hear. We just celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection. That should put an urgency in our hearts to share the story at all costs.

Your Story in His Story

The reality is God is providing each of us with the perfect equipment, the perfect ability to share the Gospel in our postmodern world. The marks of His spirit are creating a story for each of us to share. The marks of His spirit that define that 90% of your life are the tools He’s giving you in order that you might share His story. His story is contained within your story. The marks that He has made on your life are the stories that He’s given you to tell.

John 3:16 begins with the words “for God so loved the world”. 1 John 3:16 says nearly the same thing “for this is how we know what love is”. Both go on to describe Christ’s sacrifice for us – that we might know forgiveness for our sins and know the God who saved us forever. God’s love is also what drives the spirit as it blows through your life. The story God is writing in your life is a story of love. And it’s the story you’re given to share with those you know. God’s story is love for them too. Share it with them. It just may change their life for eternity.

 


[i] I borrowed this illustration from Tim Elmore, in his first book of the series Habitudes. (2004). Atlanta: Growing Leaders, Inc.

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