I love a good story. One in which the hero is admirable, the villain is despicable, and the distressed are saved when evil is conquered. Sounds simplistic, I know. The complexities that make a good story, though, are often found in the well-defined depth of the characters as they grapple with their own weaknesses and aspirations. Friendship, loyalty, and courage should save the day against wicked schemes and betrayals. Forgiveness and mercy should push back the darkness of isolation, and the “end” should imply a continuing journey giving rise to hope.
It’s probably a good thing I’m not seeking to publish the next great fantasy novel. I might be mired in a morass of trite contrivances and stilted dialogue. I’d much rather be an admiring reader of brilliant wordsmithing and applaud a well-crafted work of fiction. Let my heroes be ordinary men with extraordinary capacity to care for the unlovely and downtrodden.
Good fiction has its place. It can be entertaining and self-revealing, and sometimes it is worthy enough to raise good philosophical questions. In the end, however, it is just that: a made-up story. The heroes are not real, even if they represent real values and character traits.
So, let’s get to the real story. God’s story. The one that includes all manner of complicated humans who get called by God to spread the good news of salvation and redemption. They are up against wicked schemes and traumatic persecutions, and their primary job is to bear witness to Him who conquered death and has the power to change men’s hearts. ‘“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”‘ (Isaiah 43:10 ESV)
A true Christian witness will inspire and attract others to know God and to know Him more and more. If we are being inspired to emulate people, we are not seeing God, we are seeing God’s work. God’s love demands obedience, but we are often tempted to applaud the obedience rather than praise the One who has the power and authority to command it. It is not a bad thing to recognize honorable choices and worthy accomplishments, but I fear we miss the mark if we stop there. Worse, we may even foster envy and comparison and rob a community of joyful unity in Christ.
“He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:10-16 ESV)
When our eyes are on Him, we will praise Him for victory over sin and death, and then we will encourage the obedient child of God. Not by focusing on the obedience, rather by focusing on the goodness of God and the reward for that obedience, which is a deep and true knowledge of Him. Our proclamation is, “Look what the Lord has done.”
Dear one, what obedience are you focused on right now? Look first at what God has for you. Look to the joy set before you. It is in light of that joyous reward that you then apply your will to what He requires of you. Indeed, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)
Until next week, beloved, bear witness of Him and tell others what you’ve seen and heard and touched.