Sermon Transcript for Sunday, February 23, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ The Story Launch ~ Sunday, February 23, 2020
Helping people become all that Christ calls them to be is the heartbeat of our ministry! We want to help others experience that transformation because we are experiencing it ourselves. Our passion for helping others discover what Christ has in mind for them and for their lives flows out of the blessings we are experiencing as more and more we become the kind of people Christ calls us to be!
That means we know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the best kind of life is a life that is lived in relationship with the living God! The closer we grow to God the more we are aware of the blessings God wants to give us, pour out upon our lives, to heal and fill up our hearts. All of that happens as we get to know God better through his Word – his love letter to us, the tool by which we get to know his heart beats for us, his purpose for us, his work for us. That’s a lot of powerful reasons to read the bible.
And yet for many people, when it comes to understanding the bible they feel something like these contestants on a parody of the gameshow Jeopardy. Take a look … https://www.dropbox.com/s/1o09m46t7aipq1d/Jeopardy%20The%20Bible.mp4?dl=0
If you’re feeling a bit like those contestants when it comes to your bible, I want to you to relax! This isn’t a contest. We’re not competing for cash prizes. We’re on this journey together and we’ll work together to help each other grow in our understanding of what the bible teaches us about God and what this means for us and our lives today!
Right from the start of our time together on this journey, I want to share a helpful insight. Ready for it? The bible isn’t hundreds of unrelated stories. In fact, the bible is just one big story. The story of God. As we get ready to launch into the bible that concept, that the bible is one big story, the grand story of God, is going to be tremendously helpful to you!
Let me give you a taste of what I’m talking about right now. How many of you when you’ve read a book or novel, you’ve cheated? You read the first couple pages and then the last few? If you do this with a bible, you’ll find something very interesting. The first two chapters of Genesis, the first book of the bible, sound remarkably similar to the last two chapters of Revelation, the last book of the bible. Let me show you. The bible begins like this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). Now check this out, at the back of the bible, Revelation 21:1 reads like this, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away.” Isn’t that amazing? At the beginning of the bible God is creating the first heavens and the first earth and at the end of the bible God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. Yes, the bible is one big story, the grand story of God!
I wanted to point this out to you because it also brings out something else that is truly fantastic about this book, something maybe you’ve never noticed or consciously recognized before. Once you see it, it is a game changer! Here it is: In the bible, there are two parallel stories going on at the same time. We’re going to call them God’s Upper Story and our lower story.
The Upper Story is how the things looks from God’s perspective up above. His viewpoint is panoramic and vertical and unlimited. He is looking down and sees it all from beginning to end. Not only can he see around the next bend in the road. Even more than that, he is personally and intimately involved in our lives, so much so that he can intervene at any time he desires and control things and change the outcome, and he does.
For example, take the story of the Transfiguration that we heard about today. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain and there he gives them a glimpse of his glory. He lets them see his divine glory, his overwhelming glory as the Son of God. And it is a jaw-dropping sight. In fact, Peter doesn’t want it to end. He’s ready to start building tents so that he and his buddies can camp out atop this mountain with glorious Jesus forever! While it is Jesus’ goal for Peter, James, and John (and all of believers of all time) to live forever in a place where we can see God in all of his glory with our own eyes all of the time, the time for that part of the story, the glorious culmination, had not yet come. Jesus was letting Peter, James, and John see how it would all end, so that they would hold on by faith to Jesus as they travel through the dark and difficult details of life on earth that were still up ahead. Jesus knows the way to reach the concluding scene, but he also knows it comes through some dark and difficult spots, some faith-challenging times. Jesus knows this will be true not only for himself, but for all who follow after him on the way to the glorious place he is preparing for them. That means for now it’s a matter of traveling through the necessary challenges of this life, a life that will take Jesus to and through the cross, in order to open the way to the crown in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s where we at in the story for ourselves, on this journey through the shadows and valleys and twists and turns of this life. To spend forever with Jesus in the glory of heaven, we must first follow Jesus under the difficulties of the cross …
That’s our current perspective on life, not 30,000 feet above the problems, but at street-level in the midst of the struggles That’s the Lower Story. No matter how hard we try, we can only see so far down the road. Humanity’s viewpoint is linear, horizontal, limited. All our decisions require some sort of faith or trust in what we cannot control around the corner. This is life in the lower story. You’re just trying to pay the bills. Figuring out what’s for supper. Remembering what you need to pick up from the grocery story. Worrying about getting good grades, getting through school. Doing a good job. Holding on to your job. Saving for retirement. Trying to figure out how to relax and actually enjoy the Golden Years you’ve worked so hard for so many years to save up for and secure. I don’t need to preach on about these sorts of things because you’re very familiar with them. This is our lives in the Lower Story.
Now here’s the game-changer: God is weaving all our Lower Stories to tell one grand epic story from above. Here’s what this means for you: take God seriously and align your life to his will, his Story. Why? Because he promises that he will take every story in your life, not just the stuff of the highlight reels but even the ones where people threw you under the bus, or getting cut from a team, or the band, or a performance; he will take life’s heartaches and difficulties: being diagnosed with cancer, breaking a bone in your body, enduring emotional challenges or battling through an addiction and God will weave it and tell a beautiful story with your life. How is this possible? He gives you his word. He has never gone back on his word. As we journey through the Scriptures you are going to see it over and over again. I am going to offer up to you again and again that what God did for his people in the Bible is evidence that he is able to do what he promises for you too! Isn’t that exciting? That changes your life, your perspective, doesn’t it?
How so? Like this: recognize that there are twostories going on in your life - an UpperStory and a Lower Story. In your Lower Story, you are trying to make the best decisions you can, but just like the people we’re going to study in the bible, you can’t see your life all at once. You can try to look ahead, but you can only see so far and the road bends or your vision fades or a fog sets in. And you can’t really control what’s up ahead, no matter how hard you try. What should you do? Remember, there are two stories going on in your life. There’s what you see in the Lower Story and there is what God is doing in the Upper Story.
And here’s the thing, the more we learn of God, the more we discover God’s promises and how he is weaving everything that is happening in our lower stories together into his grand and glorious Upper Story. At the same time, God hasn’t said he’ll always show us exactly how he’s using what’s going on in our Lower Story to work out in the Upper Story he’s creating. What he does do is call us to trust him! We get there by getting to know him better. To see the kind of God he is and to study the promises he makes. And trusting him, we seek to align our lives with His Word, grounding our hearts and constructing our decisions in harmony with his commands and promises! This is what we want to do because this is what God promises us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God is saying that he is working through our lower story lives to work out his Upper Story plans for us! In other words, no matter how difficult or disappointing or dreadful life becomes here on earth, God promises that our stories are part of a truly goodstory, one that culminates in an amazing way! Anybody want their life to be a good story, the kind that ends with us together with God in the new heavens and the new earth? Yeah…me too!
That’s what this journey through The Story is aiming at! To help you get the most out of this experience, I am asking you to fully engage with God through his Word and through prayer. I want to outline four environments available to you to help you more fully experience the impact of God’s Word and drive it more deeply into your heart and life.
1) READ – Read and studyeach chapter of The Story for yourself. (Books are geared to different age levels so everybody can read a chapter (or have someone read it to them) from The Story, so we’re all digging into the same section of Scripture at the same time. What an awesome blessing for all of us to journey from Genesis to Revelation together!
2) STUDY During the Week– Talk about God’s Word with a group of people. Maybe that’s your family. Might be a group of friends. Maybe you want to gather up other church members or friends and commit to getting together each week we’re in The Story. A weekly study guide will be supplied for each chapter, posted to CTK church’s blog. The first one will be posted today. The study guide will have discussion questions, opportunity to share reflections, a quick summary of the chapter of The Story we’re studying, so you can share with a small group of people what God is saying along with some suggestions for further meditation and prayer.
3) CONNECT as A CONGREGATION in STUDY – One of the things people have lamented to me is that when they try to read the bible they get lost in what it all means. To help answer questions and clarify understanding of each chapter, each week in Sunday School for VPK-6th grade, teen bible study for 7th-12thgrade, and adult bible study for college age we’ll be discussing the chapter you’ve been reading and reflecting on all week. By the way, we’re re-tooling Sunday School to be highly interactive with puppets and skits, stories and crafts, songs and snacks. We have some special things in mind for teens and adults too! Be part of that experience each Sunday at 9AM.
4) WORSHIP – Each week in The Story will culminate with a worship service built around the key theme from the chapter of The Story. Each sermon message is geared to inspire us for living out our lower stories to God’s glory, sharpening our understanding of God’s Upper Story and his heart of love and personal involvement in our lives. Even Children’s Church will have some special things to help the children reflect on the chapter from The Story too.
Even if you participate in only one of these environments, you’ll be blessed. But I also believe that the more environments you participate in the more fully you’ll engage God’s story. Doing that together will draw us closer to God and closer to one another in some amazing ways and will also help you personally engage in life with greater peace and joy!
Can I share a personal way in which I’ve experienced this to be true? In 2012 the church I was pastoring in South Carolina took this journey together through The Story. When my mom and dad heard what we were doing, they wanted to buy the books for The Story for my son and daughter, their grandchildren. Inside the front cover of each book my dad wrote this note:
Your grandmother and I enjoyed seeing and getting together with you and your family last summer. We look forward to seeing you again this coming Christmas. Family reunions are an enjoyable blessing.
It will also be a grand family reunion when we are all gathered together with Jesus in heaven. Those who know him and remain close to him will all be part of that reunion. This book which you are studying from will help you get to know Jesus better and help you to stay close to him. We give it to you with that grand family reunion in mind.
Jesus is also a great friend to have as you grow older and travel through life. We hope that this book helps make him a close friend for that journey.
Grandma & Grandpa Zahn
February 18, 2014, God called my dad home to heaven. What he wrote about to my children 8 years ago is something he has been personally enjoying for 6 years now. The anniversary of his entrance into eternal glory was this past week and my extended family traded texts and phone calls marking the occasion. One of the recurring themes we shared with each other is the same encouragement he shared with us during his life here, the same encouragement he wrote to my kids on the inside cover of their copy of The Story. Though we miss him dearly, what peace my family has knowing where he now is, and though we miss him now, what joy we have as look forward to the grand family reunion with him together around the glorious throne of Jesus in heaven. Friends, this is what ultimately matters! As we dig into The Story, God graciously draw us closer to him, and closer to one another, in our journey now and with great anticipation for the day when we get to experience the grand culmination of God’s Story: the grandest family reunion of all, the reunion with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the throne of Jesus in the unfading and unending glory of heaven. Amen.