Engaging the Journey – Chapter 1

 

Preface

This is the first part of what will be a 21`chapter book, “Engaging the Journey,” which will take the content of a 9-month theology discussion conducted by Brooklyn Fellows, which is offered by Resurrection Brooklyn, and puts into an historical context. I am taking advantage of much reading done over the last 40 years and adding that framework to the content of the book.

Chapter 1 – Made for a purpose

 

Anticipating the Journey

You look at the news and wonder where things are headed to. Sometimes you look at your life and wonder the same thing. Where is God? What’s His plan for the world – for the church – for you? Then you pick up the Bible and read the stories and wonder how they all fit together. Then you look at the church – well, churches, there are so many of them – and wonder why it’s so complicated and messy and wonder if anybody’s got it right. And then what about me, my story, my mess? How do I fit into it all that?

Well it is complicated – and the very first hint of how complicated it is starts with the first sentence in the Bible (more on that later), but God has been working through and has been intervening in the lives of many people through the years. It’s through those stories that we can at least begin to understand what the Big Story (the story that helps us make sense of the world) is, and our story is. As we begin to explore those stories we can discover that:

  • we don’t have to figure everything out by ourselves,
  • the stories (the Big Story and ours) are not over yet, they are in process, and
  • we’re invited to join in that process, that journey, and participate with the God of the universe in bringing His story and our story to the end that He has already planned out – or we can just be a spectator and wonder what’s going on.

The fun in the journey comes from realizing that while we don’t have everything figured out, He does. Furthermore, while we can actively participate in the journey, the results are not dependent on us but on Him, who is working through us. As much as we may mess things up, He is able to redeem all our messes and bring us to the destination He has chosen, ultimately restoring us and the rest of creation, making us all into what He had intended from the beginning.

Among all the creatures that God created, we are uniquely made, even if we are not the center of the universe as some people may have thought at one time. Through the pursuit of science, we now have instruments that make it very clear that we are not physically at the center of everything, not that we can prove anyway. We are only specks on a small planet spinning around a star in an apparently random solar system in an apparently random galaxy in a universe we cannot even see the edges of. Although we don’t know where the center is, the universe seems to have been created with us in mind.[1] The properties of the universe, the physical constants, the atomic structures, were all created such that it would support our existence. Interestingly, although we are creatures made of the stuff of the universe, not only can we can study and reflect on the properties of that stuff, we can also study and reflect on, and even reflect, the one who created us.

The Story-Teller God

It is frustrating though, to try to figure out who this Creator is. There is so much of the creation itself that we don’t understand, it “makes sense” that we would not be able to entirely understand the one who created it. So in what seems to be a deliberate pattern, the Creator doesn’t try to explain Himself, rather He does things and then tells us who He is and what He does, such as:

  • The creation of the world and His response to it
  • the first people He created and the messes they made and how He responded,
  • the family he chose to give His laws to, the messes they made, and how He responded

And then, when God came to us in human flesh as Jesus, a man from Nazareth, his basic teaching was in the form of stories. It’s within those stories and through those stories, the stories of God’s interactions with people and the stories told by Jesus, that children as well as adults can intuitively grasp the character of the Creator.[2]

The Intended Destination

God created the universe for his glory, and within that humans were created to experience the true joy of living, to bear the fruit of His nature, to reflect His presence. We are designed to be image-bearers of God himself, stewards of the creation He inserted us into while reflecting the very character of God. God’s initial reaction to creating us was, “It was very good.” His intent was that we would fill and take care of the earth, all the while reflecting His character to each other and to His creation.

He gave us unimaginable delight and freedom, but that very freedom He gave us was joined to a responsibility, a responsibility that was wrongly used and caused immense far-reaching damage – damage we could not possibly undo.[3] Our pride-laden rebellion damaged the relationships between each other, between us and God, between us and the world and even between heaven and earth; but God had a plan from the beginning, a plan which is now underway, to ultimately restore what was lost and undo that damage.[4]

Ultimately, we will be freed from the bondages of sin and death and all the relationships that are now damaged will be restored. In fact, in a time-line that we cannot fully grasp, God waited from the beginnings of mankind until 2000 years ago to defeat the power of sin and death and begin the process of restoring His kingdom on earth. Then He told us that someday, he will complete that process and he will return again in the fullness of his glory and fully restore all things at that time.

Our hope looks at the resurrection of Jesus as a harbinger of the resurrection that awaits all those of us who will be united with Him in our own transformed bodies in the new heavens and the new earth.[5] Furthermore, our hope doesn’t ask for us to simply wait for that time when the Kingdom of God is fully restored, but that we can be part of God’s plan to bring the Kingdom of God into our broken world, and therefore bringing hope to the rest of the world.

The In-between Time

In the meantime, we do not know when that will be, and we find ourselves in the middle, in-between those two times, between the beginning of the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth and the time when it will be fully accomplished. In this in-between time, sometimes we see some signs of God’s restoration – and sometimes we can’t – and it’s hard to figure out what God is doing, especially when there are times that He seems to be absent. In those times, we need to call upon our faith to hold onto the hope that God is still working out His plans. We need to recall all the times that we did see Him at work, and then we also need to remember that getting to the end of the plans that He intends for us may require some pain on our part just as it required pain on His part as well. But in our case, as it was with His, the pain will be overwhelmed with the glory that will be revealed.

Our ultimate destination is not a mere returning to the way we started out, but to the full flourishing of our potential, where God will establish a kingdom of image-bearers released to display God’s character and reflect His glory.[6] With that in mind, we can do more than just hope and more than just sit and wait to arrive at the destination. We can participate with God in bringing His kingdom to earth and bring a little shalom into a broken world that desperately needs it, knowing that the little shalom that God allows us to help bring to the world is just a foretaste of the fullness of the shalom that awaits us in the fully restored earth.

The purpose of this book will be to take a grand overview of God’s story, looking at highlights of that story through the history of the Bible and the history of the church and our current situation so that we can see where we fit in and how we can engage in the journey that God has entered us into and more fully and consciously participate with Him in bringing His kingdom into this world.

Big story – Arc of history

The following sketch lays out the overview of what the Big Story is that we are living in.  As we go through the rest of the chapters, we will be filling in the details about the different parts of the story, but this will give you a sense of where we are going. The sketch is based on the “Big Story” created by James Chuong[7] and was further implemented in an app produced by Intervarsity.[8]

The sample script shown below the sketch gives an idea about how to work your way through sketch.

NOTE: When presenting this to someone else, first draw the 5 circles in the pattern shown and then gradually fill in the extra sketch-work and the titles as you talk your way through the story. As indicated in the sample script below, start with the second circle, then return to the first, second, third, fifth and then the fourth circle.

ArcOfHistory

Sample Script

DAMAGED – Most of us have no problem seeing that the world is messed up – it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, what with the injustice and harm that’s done – the wars, crime, poverty, pollution, etc. – and we ache for better world (draw in “people” and the squiggled lines on circles). Interestingly, when we are hungry it points to the existence of food because that is the way we solve our hunger, and similarly when we are thirsty it points to the existence of water. So, when we feel an ache about the messed-up world it points to better world – that did or will exist. The Christian world view is that not only was there once a better world but that the currently broken world will be restored some day.

GOOD. God designed world for good and he designed us (draw in people) to take care of it. We were also designed to love and serve each other and flourish in human communities. Genesis 1:18-31

DAMAGED. However, we decided that we would run things our own way (draw arrows), chased after our own needs instead of the needs of others or for the planet (draw arrows and the line between people). The consequence was that we damaged the planet and the relationship between ourselves and between us and God.  Isaiah 53:6; Romans 6:23; Isaiah 59:2; Galatians 5:19-20; Romans 1:21-22; Romans 3:23

REDEEMED. The good news is that God loved us too much to leave us that way, so 2000 years ago God sent Jesus (draw in people, the cross and squiggle lines) who taught us a better way to live and then, by his death and resurrection made it possible to restore our relationships with each other and with him and with the planet. By his death and resurrection, he redeemed everything – our relationship with him, with each other and with the planet. John 3:16; Philippians 2:6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:8; Romans 3:25-26

RESTORED. But he wasn’t going to complete everything right then. He let us know that He was going to leave us for a while, that he would return someday and at that point would transform us and all of creation (draw in people and the alpha and omega). At that time, He will fully remove all evil from us and from the world and we will then dwell with him, each other and the world in peace. It’s only something we can do. We don’t have the power ourselves to heal everything ourselves. Revelation 21-22

INBETWEEN. In the meantime though, we are in an in-between time (draw in squiggle lines and people), a waiting time, the time between his first coming when he started this revolution and his second coming when he will fully restore his kingdom. During this time, although he left us with things still broken we can join the revolution he started. We can join Him in the healing process that He has begun. This is possible because, although he left us as a physical individual, he did leave behind his Spirit (draw symbol for Holy Spirit (bird)) which we can receive His power, the through that power (draw arrows) to bring healing to our relationships with Him, with each other and with the planet. He invites us to receive that power by accepting the forgiveness He offers and accepting his rule for our lives. Acts 3:6-7; Matthew 5:14-16; John 20:21-22; Micah 6:8; Luke 4:18-19; Philippians 2:3-4; 1 John 4:10-11; Romans 5:110-11; Mark 1:17; Mark 2:14; John 3:17-18; Galatians 2:20-21; Romans 10:9; 1 John 1:9 Acts 10:43; Acts 1:8; Matthew 5:14-16

 

WHERE ARE YOU?

1 – You think the world is fine. But how do you reconcile that with the suffering in the world?

2 – Are you overwhelmed by the evil in the world or in your heart?

3 – You have some understanding of what Jesus did. Would you like to become a follower of Jesus and engage in his mission to heal the world with his community and with the help of the Holy Spirit?

4 – Are you involved in Jesus’ community and engaged in his mission to bring healing into the worlds?

 

 

[1] Slezak, Michael. “The human universe: Was the cosmos made for us?” New Scientist, “www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630190-400-the-human-universe-was-the-cosmos-made-for-us” 29 April 2015, Accessed 5 May 2018

[2] Cp. Matt 13:10-17 Parables were also designed to conceal the truth from those that God whose hearts have become dull

[3] Romans 8:19-22. The whole universe is groaning, waiting for to be restored

[4] Pursuing God, Heaven and Earth, “www.pursuegod.org/biblical-themes-an-animated-explanation-of-heaven-earth/ “

[5] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Harper Collins, 2008 pp4-5, 18; Rev 21-22

[6] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Harper Collins, 2008

[7] Chuong, James. “The Big Story,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCVcSiUUMhY

[8] Intervarsity. https://store.intervarsity.org/big-story-gospel-presentation-tool.html

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One Response to “Engaging the Journey – Chapter 1”

  1. Alan H Russell Says:

    Nice work, Chuck. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining 20 chapters!

    Like

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