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In a final entry this week, Love, Foster, and Harris ask how worship impacts our lives. “How can one praise God and then practice injustice? Such worship is an affront to God. If our chief concern with worship is whether or not we’re singing the right kind of songs, perhaps we need to reexamine our priorities.”

In worship we’re reenacting God’s story. “Profound and transformative worship happens when God’s story meets and transforms our story. All of us bring our own stories to church with us–the story of our lives, in our woundedness, hurt, confusion, joy, and triumph. . . . But we don’t just bring a story–we also meet a story. The story of God’s relentless love and ultimate triumph is expressed in its finality in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

“Authentic worship can be thwarted in two ways. First, if the story of God is never encountered, worship can’t happen. We have all probably had these unfortunate ‘non-worship’ experiences. Second, if God’s story gets presented but never engages our own story, authenticity is not achieved. When this happens, we find ourselves unable to figure out why what we’re doing matters.”

Mark Love, Doug Foster, and Randy Harris, in Seeking a Lasting City, emphasize the importance of worship in staying faithful to the story of God. “The earliest Christians clearly trusted worship to help them keep the story straight. Through praise, confession, and ritual, New Testament communities rehearsed the Christian story when they assembled for worship.”

But it is not worship alone that kept the early Christians tied to the story. Worship, Scripture, faithful leadership, ethics (or holy living), and the work of the Holy Spirit also helped maintain the story of God.

“These aspects are like inseparably intertwined strands in a good rope. For instance, Scripture alone is not enough to safeguard the story. The church’s reading of Scripture is aided by obedient lives, trustworthy teachers, and the illumination of the Spirit. Without these other aspects, Christians can come to view Scripture as little more than a rule book.”

How do you see these different aspects interacting? What would you add to the list?

Love, Foster, and Harris make 7 points about seeing the church as God’s story.

1. Looking at the church narratively reflects the truth of our experience. People don’t live in a theory or a concept.

2. Narrative prevents us from over-identification with external characteristics.

3. Viewing the church in terms of a narrative reminds us of the importance of every moment — including ours. . . . In a good story, every chapter is important and advances the story in some way.

4. Narrative points to the ‘unfolding’ nature of God’s mission, especially its ‘already’ but ‘not yet’ aspects.

5. Viewing the church as a story shows that the church is not the end in itself.

6. Looking at the church narratively is better than a more static view at reminding us that the church must include both continuity and change.

7. A narrative view replaces a defensive mentality with a sense of adventure and engagement — and in so doing reflects a deep understanding of what it means to be a restoration movement.

“If we do not see ourselves as part of God’s ongoing story, the church’s posture becomes totally defensive. There’s nothing to do but protect the gains of the past, because once the structures are right and in place, the journey is over. God has ceased to inhabit the present and propel us to the future. Scripture, however, shows God as the one who does new and surprising things.”

Yesterday we began a new series on Worship. In the sermon I utilized a book by Mark Love, Douglas Foster, and Randy Harris, Seeking a Lasting City: The Church’s Journey in the Story of God. I thought I’d take this week to explore some of their ideas in more detail.

We talked about how the church is a part of the story of God. Sometimes when we think of stories we automatically think of fiction, as in, “You’re just telling stories.” But that’s not what I mean when I say we’re a part of the “story of God.” This is not something made up, but it is narrative. When someone says, “Tell me about yourself,” they don’t expect you to answer, “I’m 5′ 11”. My eyes are green. etc. etc.” Instead of mere details, we expect a narrative. “I grew up in . . . My family moved around a lot (or not).” Stores connect us.

“Stories. They get in your bloodstream and define who you are. When you sit around a dinner table with your family, you tell stories about your past. Some stories produce laughter, like the time Grandpa drove the pickup into a ditch when a bee got trapped inside. Some we tell with wonder, like the day a child was born, or baptized, or married. Still others we hear again with pain, like the tragic car accident that claimed family members. . . . Knowing the stories means you’re a part of each other’s lives, a member of the family.”

“As indispensable as the epistles are, we don’t start toddlers off in Bible classes by reading them Ephesians or 1 Peter: we start them with stories–Noah and the flood, David and Goliath, Lazarus’s resurrection, the feeding of the five thousand.”

What are the stories that have shaped you? Are they family stories or church family stories?

Eugene Peterson observes that we do not live in a culture that encourages wonder. We all seemed to have it when we were children. “The world was new, tumbling in on us in profusion. . . . Words were wondrous. Running was wondrous. Touch, taste, sound. We lived in a world of wonders.”

But wonder gradually gets squeezed out of us. Competency and mastery over ourselves and our environment lessen the wonder. Wonder is not valued in the workplace. “Information and competence are key values here. We don’t want any surprises. We don’t want to waste time just staring at something, wondering what to make of it. We are trained and then paid to know what we are doing.”

How do we recapture that sense of wonder? How can we appreciate God and God’s creation anew?

Peterson writes, “We cannot understand either the character or the significance of Sabbath apart from work and workplace. Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God through us. Sabbath and work are not in opposition; Sabbath and work are integrated parts of an organic whole. Either part from the other is crippled.”

While we might often mention the spirituality of rest (Sabbath), we don’t frequently touch on the spirituality of work. What is rest without work? Merely laziness. What is work without rest? Frantic activity. But rest is not the ultimate purpose of Sabbath.

Peterson continues, “There is considerable attention given in the business world these days to Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath-keeping has been discovered to yield benefits to the workplace in matters of health and relationships and productivity. This all may be true, but that is not why we keep Sabbath. We are not primarily interested in a longer life, or emotional maturity, or a better golf game, or higher productivity. We are interested in God and Christ being formed in us. We are interested in creation completed in resurrection.”

If you look back over the last several months of posts as I’ve examined Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Peterson has focused on Creation. He has done this through exploring the texts of Genesis and John.

“What do we do to cultivate this ‘trembling,’ this fear-of-the-Lord, this life of reverent responsiveness before a holy God, under the conditions of creation? How do we live so that the wonder and astonishment that so often comes to us unbidden and spontaneously isn’t dissipated in trivial pursuits?”

Peterson suggests we do this through Sabbath and Wonder. I’ll discuss Sabbath today and probably tomorrow and then move on to Wonder.

Peterson writes, “The most striking thing about keeping the Sabbath is that it begins by not doing anything. The Hebrew word shabbat, which we take over into our language untranslated, simply means, ‘Quit . . . Stop . . . Take a break.'”

“As such, it has no religious or spiritual content: Whatever you are doing, stop it. . . . Whatever you are saying, shut up. . . . Sit down and take a look around you. . . . Don’t do anything. . . . Don’t say anything. . . . Fold your hands. . . . Take a deep breath.”

But Sabbath doesn’t end in doing nothing. “Human not-doing became a day of God honoring.” Peterson concludes, “Sabbath is a deliberate act of interference, an interruption of our work each week, a decree of no-work so that we are able to notice, to attend, to listen, to assimilate this comprehensive and majestic work of God, to orient our work in the work of God.”

As Eugene Peterson continues his discussion of God revealing himself through Jesus in the Gospel of John, he takes up the subject of glory.

“Glory is what we are after. Whatever else glory is, it is not just more of what we already have or the perfection of what we already have. Do we suppose that the Christian life is simply our human, biological, intellectual, moral life developed and raised a few degrees above the common stock?”

“The glory with which Jesus was glorified and the glory for which Jesus prayed for us is quite different from the kinds of glory that we are conditioned to want and admire. This glory is not conspicuous. It is not glamorous. It is not the glory that gets featured in glossy magazines or travel posters. It is not a glory noticed by fashion editors. It is not a glory that flatters our lusts and egos.”

“Jesus is the dictionary in which we look up the meaning of words. When we look up glory in Jesus we find — are we ever ready for this? — obscurity, rejection and humiliation, incomprehension and misapprehension, a sacrificial life and an obedient death: the bright presence of God backlighting what the world despises or ignores.”

The Gospel of John presents just seven miracles which he calls “signs:” water to wine, healing of the official’s son, healing of the paralytic, feeding the 5000, stilling the storm, healing the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus.

Eugene Peterson observes, “Signs are not easy to read and they are certainly not compelling — opposition was aroused more often then belief. God reveals himself in Jesus, but the revelation rarely conforms to our expectations. We have such stereotyped ideas of what God does and how he does it that we frequently misread the signposts.”

At one point Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you want to leave too?” Peter answers, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

God doesn’t manipulate people into the kingdom. He doesn’t overwhelm them to the point that they can only believe. He wants people to come to him on their own. Will we keep faith with him? How will we read the signs?