We live under a constant deluge of information; but what if we could tell a better story?
We had just emerged from the snowiest, stormiest, altogether craziest winter ever in southeastern Idaho. It was beautiful, right up until it turned to muddy slush. Like any normal kid, my daughter wanted to go out and play in the fluffy white stuff. So, as good mothers do, I bundled her up within an inch of her life: snow pants, snow boots, sweatshirt, jacket, waterproof mittens (because those cheap knit ones just won’t do), scarf, and last but not least, a fuzzy princess hat. When you send your child into the elements, you want to make sure he or she has everything needed to survive and thrive. We send them out with seasonally appropriate clothing, as well as with hugs, kisses, and helpful words.
As a pastor, I feel the same way about my congregation. Beyond the walls of the sanctuary, there is a stormy world marked by chaos and strife. I am burdened to equip my people with what they need to survive and thrive in a world that is calling them to live into a story that does not define who they are meant to be.
The world relentlessly seeks to impose alternative narratives on my congregation that run counter to God’s narrative. We live under a constant deluge of information, and none of it is neutral. Every story, every article, every video tells a story. Each competing narrative calls for our loyalty and our participation. These storylines run counter to the Gospel because they call our hearts to something other than complete surrender to Jesus. These stories call us to place our trust in kings and princes, rather than in a crucified and resurrected Lord. They call us to pledge our undying loyalty to a flag or a party, instead of to the Lamb that was slaughtered. These narratives call us to unbridled consumption instead of calling us to store up treasure in heaven and give our lives away to those in need. These stories whisper lies in our ears, telling us that our perspective is supreme and that our vision in unopposed.
The truth is that we are unable to see the world rightly apart from divine intervention.
The most dangerous of these counter-narratives are those that masquerade as faithful Christian practices. How often is the word “biblical” attached to a political position or ethical stance like a passive-aggressive bumper sticker, with no regard for the overall story of God, the history of the Church, or to how the Spirit might be at work? This approach ends the fruitful conversation by calling into question the faith of anyone who has differing convictions. Anti-intellectualism silences the wisdom from generations of theological and biblical scholars by eschewing the need for study in favor of the supremacy of individual biblical interpretation. Sensationalism drowns out the tempering contributions of Scripture, tradition, and God-given reason, and spiritually shames those who don’t share the same experience.
What’s a preacher to do? How do we navigate these choppy waters and emerge with our faith and practice intact, faithfully aligned to our Wesleyan-Holiness tradition? What can I offer my beloved people that will empower them to faithfully traverse the abundance of false narratives that are crashing in?
The reality is, I have about an hour a week with the majority of my congregation to equip, shape and empower them to live faithfully into God’s story, to embrace their place in that story, and to help them reject the false stories that clamor for their hearts. Cheap knit gloves are not going to protect against this stormy weather.
Surely the answer is not to simply keep ourselves busy with “churchy” stuff. The result of this approach is exhausted, frantic Christians who lack the skills to discern between the competing narratives demanding their loyalty. We can do all the good in the world and still fail to fully participate in God’s story.
So, I tell my congregation a different story. I tell them the story of a God who, out of His explosive, uncontainable love, created. God created a world and a people full of goodness and love who, because of rebellious mistrust of God’s goodness, ended up mired in sin and death, paralyzed by brokenness. Then, God acted. God acted to redeem His beloved creation through the ultimate act of self-giving love embodied in Jesus, taking on flesh to live, die, and rise again for our salvation.
That is a story worth giving your life to, a story worthy of your devotion. It is a story that calls for our participation, to join God in His mission to redeem creation by imitating the self-emptying love of Christ as we live empowered by the Holy Spirit. By its very nature, this story calls us to unique Kingdom practices, like intentional, consistent immersion in both the Word of God and the community of God: the Church.
The story of God calls us to listen faithfully to the Spirit and to use our God-given, sanctified minds to determine what the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God is.
As we commit ourselves to these Kingdom practices and immerse ourselves in the story of God, all the other competing narratives begin to fade. They fade because as we dedicate ourselves to the true Story, we are able to see through the lies of all those other stories vying for our hearts in a cold and stormy world.
Stephanie Lobdell is the co-lead pastor at Mountain Home Church of the Nazarene in Mountain Home, Idaho.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2018