At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Best.Story.Ever.”
The Bible is an epic story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, but it’s also an intimate story describing God’s pursuit of a love relationship with each of us as individuals. We need to understand the big picture so that we don’t miss the personal application. Where do we fit into God’s big picture?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Here is the audio of the message I shared:
Here are notes from the message by Justin McCarty:
So what will your story be? What will the story of who you are ultimately tell the world? In many ways, your story — the message of your life — will be the most important thing about you. Consider the stories of some well-known folks… Voldemort Harry Potter not your thing? Older generation… Wicked Witch and since it’s Christmas… Cousin Eddie Had they really considered the message of their lives, I think they might have chosen differently!
God is all about a good story. Jesus was non-stop telling parables. A story is one of the best ways to explain what God is working out in everything. The reason we love stories is because we are made in His image — we love the arc, the hero’s journey, good triumphing over evil. We see, think, remember, and feel in stories. We need them for context: beginning, middle, ending. Huge part of searching in our culture comes back to looking for our place in a narrative — what is the meaning of what I’ve experienced? What’s the story I’m in? An interesting description of the story we’re in, from God’s perspective:
From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him — though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:26-27
Is that what’s going on on planet earth? Is that the story you are in? If so, it would sure be helpful to identify where in the story you are. Every great story tends to feature a similar path. Lots of literature experts would fight over this, but there are essentially 3 movements to every memorable story. Part 1: The beginning, the set-up, the rise in action to some crucial point. Part 2: Crisis, Climax, the hinge point of the entire thing, Central Event. Part 3: Resolution, falling action, ending. Lots of nuance in there, but those are the main ingredients in a story arc.
So where are you in the story God is writing through human history? If you missed last week, John did a fantastic job describing what God was doing through the Old Testament — Part 1 — leading right up to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah — Part 2. If you could zoom in on the tip of this, it would be a 33 year stretch — the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — that forms the central event, the crisis point of God’s Story. And then Part 3 — the 2000+ years since; working toward resolution. Your life is part of the closing act of the Best Story Ever.
But that doesn’t tell your story completely, does it? After all, your story is a movement within this grand movement, and it has parts of it own. Can you articulate your story yet? Part 1 — the beginning, the set up, the rise in action. Part 2 — a central event, crisis point. Part 3 — the resolution, action emanating from that central event. If you had to summarize your story in three parts, could you do it? Many of us would find Part 2 difficult — what is the central event? Have I even experienced yet? Finding “the one”, having a child, career accomplishment? Sadly, I think many of our Part 2’s might not be what we want it to be — hurt, betrayal, brokenness, shame, loss. But perhaps it really might turn out to be the hinge point after all… a core part of the message of our life, whether we like it or not.
Regardless of what you know about your own story, here’s what you can know: You are invited to bring your story into the Story that God is writing. No matter what your story has been – highs and lows; even if your story seems like it’s far too broken; even if you’ve had nothing to do with God – you can join with the greater story that is happening on planet earth. And just like Jesus’ intersection with the story was the central event of human history, His intersection with your life can be the central event of your story. In the end, from God’s perspective, the key issue of your life will be: what did you do with your intersection with Jesus?
Since it’s Christmas time, and since Christmas was the signal flare of the beginning of God’s central event in history, I thought it would be good to focus on a couple of the people that are featured in the accounts of Jesus’ birth, and see what we can learn from their stories, and specifically of their intersection with Jesus.
INNKEEPER: Luke 2:3-7
I want to start with a person that’s actually not in the Bible. The Innkeeper. Despite all the great Christmas plays, pageants, and musicals you may have seen, he is never mentioned or named. All we have is the reality that Mary & Joseph had to face as Mary went into labor: there was no room for them at the inn. The character is inferred — someone had to tell them — but I think it’s incredibly illuminating: he is actually absent from the story! There is a person that stood so close to the most famous story in history, and missed it!
If the Innkeeper was telling his story, I wonder if it might go something like: “Business was rough in Bethlehem; it wasn’t a high priority destination. Mouths to feed, bills to pay. Then one day — boom — Roman government census and suddenly people’s entire family trees descend on the town. My inn filled up fast. When this pregnant girl and her husband show up on my doorstep, there wasn’t really anything I could do! I mean, I didn’t know it was going to be Jesus! Didn’t realize till much later that was his mom and dad, and this whole nativity thing happened in my backyard. Ahh, business is business.”
I think there are lots of innkeepers in our world — people who have a brush with Jesus; God shows up on their doorstep in an unusual form — perhaps in a health scare, words of a song, invitation to church. The intersection is there; they are being invited into God’s story, but they pass because they don’t quite perceive it, they are absorbed with other things. Sometimes the central event of your life isn’t what happened, it’s what you missed.
HEROD: Matthew 2:1-17
Another big name from Jesus’ birth narrative is King Herod — a Jewish ruler allowed a measure of power from the Roman government. When 3 wise men from the East show up asking about the newborn king of the Jews because of a star in the sky, Herod takes it as a personal insult. Another king is a threat, and so he concocts a plan to locate Jesus and exterminate him. Bloodthirsty cruel guy — in the end, he can’t find Jesus, so he has the entire baby boy population of Bethlehem murdered just to cover the bases. He is intersecting with the story God is writing — on the scene with Jesus — and yet, He resists it!
While very few people ever take resistance to Jesus as far as Herod did, I think there are many people who respond with opposition from the heart. The idea of bowing down to someone who claims to be king over me is utterly annoying; the mystical aspects – stars in the sky, God acting in human history — it all just sounds too fantastic, like a crutch for people who can’t deal with reality. They even devote time trying to discredit Jesus in arguments; they show contempt for those who claim to have intersected them. Sometimes the central event of your life winds up being a fight, arguments, opposition to the story God is writing.
MARY: Luke 1:26-38
In stark contrast to the first two, there’s Mary, the woman selected to be the mother of Jesus. If anyone has got a strange story, it’s got to be her! “At about age 15, I’m promised in marriage to this good guy from across the village, Joseph. We’re starting to pick out curtains, wedding registry, when I run into this guy, Gabriel, who turns out to be angel sent from God — nearly scared me to death! He tells me I’m going to get pregnant — as a virgin — with the Son of God who is going to save the world. I KNOW. Buh-zarre! And it happens. This baby in my body becomes a boy that blows me away with his wisdom and love, and then becomes a man who mesmerizes me with his words, his way, his courage, his power. He redefined the word “God” for me. Knowing Jesus turned out to be the wildest ride of my life, watching him preach, teach, heal from town to town; it turned out to be the most painful ordeal of my life, watching him beaten, tortured, crucified; and then it turned out to be the most unexpected joy of my life, seeing him again, raised to life!”
Mary’s intersection with Jesus turns out to be the central event of her life, and it transformed everything about her. In her first encounter with the angel, Gabriel, he tells her: “For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:37-38, NLT). She responds with openness, receptivity, a measure of trust — and she gets to discover firsthand that nothing is impossible with God — a virgin birth, the Son of God, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. By trusting God, her story gets swept into the Best Story Ever. Jesus’ intersection with history becomes her intersection.
While Mary’s intersection with Jesus is unique, all of us are invited to bring our story into God’s story. We are invited to come closer to Jesus, to learn to trust Him, to let Him intersect our lives and change it all. Some of the most broken Part 1’s here at Gateway are having the most incredible Part 3 because of their intersection with Jesus!
So what’s YOUR story? Every great story has these 3 parts. What’s the beginning, what’s the central event, what’s the resolution looking like? Most importantly, what has your intersection with Jesus looked like? If you can’t identify it, would you be open to having one? The invitation is to open wide to all — the angels told the shepherds: “I bring good news of great joy to ALL people!”
I want to challenge you today to try and articulate your story — identify the 3 parts. If you had to tell someone the story of your life so far, how would you tell them? So many people breeze through their entire time on earth and never stop to think about the story of their life, much less the bigger story they may be apart of. What is your story? Can you tell it in 3 movements? If you are a follower of Christ, this isn’t optional — knowing your story is essential because you are meant to share it!
The story of your intersection with Jesus is often the beginning of someone else’s invitation into God’s Story! Our world is need of people who will bear witness to what an intersection with Jesus can do; there’s remarkable power in it! Your transparency, your honesty gives other people courage to be honest. In fact, if you’ve got it in you, I challenge you to share your story with 3 different groups this week: 1) Someone you know but who doesn’t know your story. 2) Someone you meet. 3) Share it via social media.
Share your stories, friends. There’s freedom and life in it! But most importantly, bring your stories friends — bring them into the Best Story Ever — the story God is writing. The good, the bad, the ugly, the ups and downs, the sorrows and the joys — everything — finds it’s true place and finds lasting redemption in the Story that God is telling!