From the Pastor’s Desk
THE CHAPTERS OF MY LIFE
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Great story-tellers all do one thing particularly well. Apart from an interesting plot, they introduce us to the story’s characters with just enough narration for us to be both fascinated and curious about them. I consider John Grisham a good example of a master-storyteller for this reason. In his book, The Testament, he paints the background picture of the plot-line by introducing us to the story’s characters. We pull up a chair alongside the narrator and see this story unfold in a way that only God does in reality. As the chapters of the story are laid bare before us the characters of the story become more familiar and fuller to us – particularly the lawyer who is left to find the sole beneficiary of the Estate of the now dead billionaire. Grisham, like all good story-tellers, doesn’t tell us too much too soon about each character.
¶ Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot.
If a storyteller reveals too much detail too early about a character it diminishes the romance, the mystery, the fascination of the story. (I think this is why the Great Narrator rarely reveals too much of our own story to us ahead of time.) This is why storytellers carefully use chapters to unfold their story. In this way, good storytellers reflect The Storyteller who also unfolds people’s lives through chapters.
And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
THE CHAPTERS OF OUR LIFE
Now that I am more than half-done in the story of my life I can recognise some of the various chapters in it. One such chapter chapter has just come to an end. Previously in my life I did all I could to keep my positive chapters from ending. I particularly feel this tendency every time I read an F. W. Boreham book. As I get near the end of an FWB book, and although I want to finish it, I am emotionally reluctant to do so because it feels like I saying a final farewell to my much beloved Grandfather. In life we also have certain chapters which come to an end that seem at the time like the end of our story. My nine year old Ruby recently faced this kind of dramatic chapter ending.
For the first time in her life she’ll be in a class at Primary School (Grade 4) without any of her fellow students have being in a previous class with her. In fact, up until this year, Ruby has been in classes where many of her class-mates started off in Kinder’ with her and have mostly been in each of her classes each year since. I think this will be the first class that Ruby has had in which her childhood friend, Blair, has not been in her class. That’s a pretty big deal for a nine-year old girl who has spent more than half her life-span in school classes with at least one of her childhood friends. That’s why for Ruby it has felt like the end of her world!
I don’t know how many chapters are in the story of my life, but I strongly suspect that I am more than half-way through. Like any good story, the opening chapters of my life were full of promise, dreams, and potential. But like any character in a story, the my perspective has not been that of The Narrator. But unlike the characters in a literary story, my realisation of this happened a couple of chapters ago.
¶ Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
DISCOVERING OUR STORY
The character in my story started out as a builder, a pioneer, a leader. But I was so embedded in my own story that I didn’t realise that some stories introduce their characters in forms that often resemble something but are actually something else. (Without The Narrator’s perspective it’s too easy to see yourself as “an ugly duckling” when in fact you are a pretty cute swan!) For a long time I tried to be like all the other pastor-ducks but I found myself thinking, acting, praying, dreaming, like something other. The many Conferences that I went to for becoming a better Pastor-Duck encouraged us to quack like CEOs and treat our congregations like corporations. I remember my regularly Sunday morning prayer-walks around Beach Road and Tanner Drive back to our Freshwater Point home where I cried out to God to make me a pastor after His heart. “Father, help me to love these people You’ve put in my charge. Help me to really care. Help me to really help them!” These are not the prayers of a duckling. I was about to have my “I’m-a-swan-moment”.
¶ So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan,
MY SWAN CHAPTER BEGINS
A new chapter in my life began unnoticed by most but very noticeable to me in early 2007. Ruby was not yet one year old. We had moved into our recently purchased home (which fulfilled a ‘vow’ that Kim had made about this very house in 1995 when we were naïvely deceived by a real estate agent, but that’s another story). No sooner had we moved in when the corner of the house significantly dropped and urgently required under-pinning. I didn’t have the money to afford an under-pinner but fortunately there was someone in our church whose uncle was an under-pinner who was kind enough to advise me how to repair this damage. But it required a lot of work to be done. I had to dig six holes underneath the damaged walls. Each hole had to be two metres deep, one metre wide and one metre long.
As I began to dig each of these holes by hand with my trusty $10 spade from the discount store, I began to complain to God about how unfair this was. “God, it seems like I’m always having to fix problems that other people create! I’m sick of it! We bought this house from people who said there were no problems with it! And now look at all this stupid work I have to do!” Then suddenly, about as clearly as I’ve ever heard from God, the voice of God pierced my dark heart – “I’ve called you to be a leader and particularly gifted you to solve problems, repair the damaged, and heal the broken! Now stop your whining and get on with it!” Perhaps only those familiar with the end of the movie, The Sixth Sense, can appreciate that in the aftermath of this stunning divine rebuke I saw the previous chapters of my life (many of which I had just bemoaned in prayer about to God) flash before my eyes as a “Sixth Sense” moment where I saw my previous efforts to solve, repair, and heal people, marriages, organisations, and churches – not as setbacks in my story, but as the raison dêtre of my story!
¶ After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”
I suddenly realised that I was not a duck but was in fact a swan.
OUR STORIES UNFOLD IN CHAPTERS
My childhood was a chapter. My teen years were a chapter. My twenties was a surprising chapter. My thirties (commencing at 32 to be precise), is better identified as: my Tasmanian Chapter, was the beginning of a delightful chapter. And at the age of 43, my Swan chapter commenced. Although it may look like each of my chapters are quite different, I can see now that they each form a progressive story-line which have all had a consistent theme, plot, and direction. My hunch is that yours has as well – because we both have the same Narrator.
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
My own storyline has been about my love for The Narrator and His story. My part in His story has been to give myself to His Cause – the local church – not merely as a meeting on a Sunday, or venue, but as Bill Hybels says, the hope of the world. We live in world filled with problems which is incredibly damaged, and painfully broken. Into this world the local church shines hope. We, the local church work together to solve society’s problems – that’s why we dare to speak up about issues of life, moral decency, marriage, and compassion for refugees. It’s why we have no choice but to be political – not as “the end” but as “the means” to the end of resolving, repairing, and healing our society. The local church is called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14) and the upholder of truth and righteousness in society (1 Tim. 3:15). This is the central feature of The Narrator’s story and we are given a glimpse of how it ends in Revelation 7:9. The Narrator expects His people to make Him and His cause their highest priority – more important than our careers, leisure, families, or own pleasures! Each time we assemble on a Sunday or in homes on a Wednesday night as the local church we are not being reminded of The Story which should shape and inform our lives, we are also declaring to the world that The Narrator is seeking to save, heal and deliver, that He is our highest priority! (Matthew 6:33; Romans 12:1) It is just not possible to be fully committed to The Narrator and His Cause yet separated from the local church – the central feature of His Story announcing to a dying world the central Character of His Story as their Saviour. The Apostle Paul explains this as he draws the magnificent explanation of The Narrator’s Story to end in Romans 12:9-21. None of what he says in this passage about truly loving The Narrator is at all possible without a deep commitment to the local church. None.
¶ When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”
Each Sunday and Wednesday my story particularly intersects The Narrator’s as I do all I can to share, explain, and promote the 66 books of His marvellous redemption story. He has called me to be a pastor who leads by resolving the troubled, repairing the damaged, and healing the broken. But I strongly suspect, with good reason for doing so, that He has called to be a local church that helps make life in our community and beyond by also helping people to resolve problems they facing, repair the damage they have experienced, and bring healing love and grace to the broken. In this way our vision for the local church goes way beyond our four walls or even our attendance roll. We are each a part of a very grand story far bigger than many of us realise that deals to each of us interesting chapters that mysteriously and gloriously are woven into The Narrator’s story-plan for the whole world. See you Sunday for story-time.