Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today, Tomorrow, Forever - Discipling Through Story

Imagine you are holding a footlong undecorated cardboard-brown tube. Along the length of the cardboard tube you have hand printed in big bold letters: “G O S P E L”. You hold the tube in front of yourself so the group of five year olds can see the word.

“What does that spell?” You ask. 

Glancing to a parent and then back to you, one bright youngster shouts “GOSPEL!” 

“And what is the Gospel?” You ask. 

A moment of silence and then a questioning answer: “The Bible?” You nod and gesture that you want more answers. “Jesus?” another kid hazards. You smile, still holding the tube so they can read the world G O S P E L.

“You are both right,” you say. “The Gospel is the story of Jesus in the Bible. The Gospel is everything that Jesus did for us and will do for us. The Gospel means God loves us and that’s what the Bible is all about.” You pause and look down at the cardboard tube, surprised. “What’s this?” you ask. “Does anyone know what’s in my hand?”

“The GOSPEL!” the kids shout in unison. 

“True,” you laugh. Then you spin the tube in various directions so the kids can see it’s shape. “But, what is this thing that says GOSPEL on it?” 

“It’s a toilet paper roll,” one kid says. “It’s too long for that,” another kid corrects. “It’s a paper-towel roll.” 

“Good answers,” you say, “but let me show you something.” You hold it longways again, the word “GOSPEL” facing the kids. “This way it’s a rectangle,” you draw a rectangle tracing the two dimensional shape facing them. Then you turn it end out, “But this way, it’s a circle, isn’t it?”

The kids all nod. “That’s because it’s a tube!” one future-scientist exclaims. 

“Yes,” you laugh, “it is a tube. But this tube never had paper of any kind wrapped around it. In fact, my GOSPEL tube may look plain and boring but that’s only because you haven’t looked inside it. Who want’s look look into my GOSPEL tube?”

Pandemonium breaks loose in the church as the kids raise their hands and beg for you to call them. “I’m only going to show one of you,” you say. You choose a little boy who comes forward. You stand him side-on to the audience and ask him to close one eye. Resting the tube gently against the open eye, you point it up toward the light, slowly rotating it as he looks through. “What do you see in my GOSPEL tube?” you ask him, holding the mic to his mouth as he looks through the kaleidoscope. 

“It’s, it’s...” Awed by the beautiful fractal patterns of light and colour the boy searches for the right words. He goes quiet for a moment as he stares upward. Finally he whispers, “It’s beautiful!” 

Helpers appear and stand at the edge of the stage, each holding a large box. 

“The Gospel is beautiful and it can only be truly understood when you look for yourself!” you say, “As you go back to your seats, take a GOSPEL tube from one of my friends and enjoy looking through them!” 

How do you tell the Gospel story? Do you tell it differently when telling it the first time to a five year-old and a fifty year-old? Of course you do! Why?

Each of us has had a different experience of discovering the GOSPEL kaleidoscope. Most of us hear the Good News of the Gospel explained early in our faith journey. The first explanation may have seemed as boring as a cardboard tube. Someone held it up, showed you the word GOSPEL, and explained it as a rectangle. Then you met people who held it up and proclaimed its circle nature. And occasionally, some deep thinker who pondered things in three dimensions, proclaimed it was a tube (often to the chagrin of many others in the room). 

Do you remember the day when you picked up the GOSPEL tube and put it to your eye for the first time? How do you explain what you saw? The rectangle, circle, tube thing you had seen so many times, came to life. Colours collided and colluded in patterns of randomly shifting shapes. Perhaps you quickly pulled it away from your eye, wondering if you were doing something wrong. “Why has no-one told me about this before?” You wondered. 

The Gospel is like that. It is something that can only be truly understood when it is encountered personally. The Good News is not a TV show, it’s a friend at a Cafe. It’s not is not web-page, it’s a chat window. The Gospel is something between you and Jesus. And it’s beautiful.

Looking through the GOSPEL kaleidoscope can happen in various ways. It can happen in a conversation with a friend, while you are reading God’s Word, in a song, in something you see, in a sermon, in silence, in nature, in prayer, in a book, or in some other way God chooses to use. The kaleidoscope touches our eye, usually fleetingly, in many wonderful ways. And the Good News becomes richer to us with each kaleidoscopic view we experience. 

Your salvation-testimony is powerful because it is what you saw when you peered through the GOSPEL kaleidoscope for the first time. And each further gaze into the light of Jesus is another story worth telling. This is why the Bible is full of stories - it is a cafe full of people who each have another telling, their own story, of what God means and who God is to them. The Bible, is a library of personal testimonies. It’s meant to show us fractal images of broken people who the light of God shines through. And that light, shining upon us, shapes us. 

Likewise each personal testimony of friends and family is another fresh and beautifully unique view of the nature, power and presence of God. If we are staring into the light of God’s glory, we are GOSPEL kaleidoscopes to the world around us - to those who are ready to see. People can see the Good News in you and through you. There is phenomenal spiritual power at the table, between friends. Your testimony is a view of Jesus that only you can give. When you tell it, you are His personal GOSPEL kaleidoscope. 

This is why Jesus called us to be disciple makers. He wants us to tell the story — both the story of the ancient faith and the story of today’s faith — to those who are seeking Him. Who are you? Who are we? What is truth? These questions are meant to be asked and answered in conversation. God wants to be viewed by those seeking Him through the kaleidoscope of you. 

When He revealed His character to the Israelites in the desert, God said their primary job was to love Him with all their heart, soul and strength so they would speak of Him and His Law — when at home, when on the road, when resting, when rising — revealing their passionate love for Him. 

You are not the only Jesus some people will ever see but you may be the only window they see Him through. Our view of God, as the kaleidoscope turns, is the view of Himself which He wants others to see. Yes, this is ridiculous and amazing. But it is also true. The way God wants to be seen is through you. 

Because of this amazing desire of God, to be seen through us, we should strive to know Him with as much clarity as possible. We need to know Him with our head, heart, hands and horizon. With our heads we study His Word and consider all that He has taught us. With our hearts we express our love for Him in worship and compassion to others. With our hands we extend His mercy to the world around us in acts of selfless service. And in all this we continue to grow the horizons of His Kingdom by constantly striving to welcome new people and ideas. 

At each step of our journey we tell a new story. It is new because we are reaching new horizons through the work of our head, heart and hands. Each new thought, new deed, new song is a small turn of the kaleidoscope causing the coloured fractal we see of Jesus and His Kingdom to shift, giving us a new story to tell. And it is through these stories, these living moments in the Gospel, that God wants to be seen and known. We are called to revel in and reveal the Good News of all Jesus has done, is doing and will do in us and for us. 

If we want a church today, tomorrow and forever we need a story today, tomorrow and forever. We need to tell the eternally relevant Gospel story of God’s Kingdom now and new every day! This isn't easy. It takes humility. It takes fresh eyes and a heart willing — even longing — for the kaleidoscope to turn. It takes relationships carefully and lovingly cultivated beyond small talk. It takes a personal challenge to our head, heart, hands and horizons. Ultimately, it takes the desire to see each generation become well discipled disciple-makers. and this happens only through shared story. So let us share our faith story — as we sit, walk, rest and rise — one turn of the kaleidoscope at a time.


Implied Biblical references: Deuteronomy 5:1-6:4-8, Matthew 28:16-20

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