Our growing family recently moved into a house with a couple more bedrooms. You can only stack so many beds on top of each other before you need to cut a hole in the roof; cool for watching stars, but not the best when it rains. It occurred to me that there was a story behind each house that we considered. Some homes were shiny and new while others were aging and in need of repair. Some were well-cared-for while others looked cast aside and forgotten. One thing was clear: even an old house could be fixed up and made like new. My wife loves the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” with the Gaines family (I mean, who doesn’t?). Not only is it fun to see the transformation of the old house back into its full glory, but the reaction from the home owners is always priceless. So priceless, in fact, that the show producers always make you… wait… for… (commercial break)… it.
I recently had the privilege to speak to the elementary students at Pacific Point Christian Schools. We talked about what elements make up a good story. Some of the answers that I received after I polled the audience were “adventure”, “fairy tales”, “saving the world”, and… “verbs.” It’s true, a story without verbs would be pretty boring. We agreed that stories have one thing in common: they all have a beginning, a middle, and an end, in that order. In the timeline of God’s story we are in the middle chapters right now. I told the group this story of a 6-year-old boy:
Back in the summer of 1988 there was a boy who would get super-excited every time his mom would mention the plans for the day. He would always ask the same question: “Will I like it, Mom? Will I like it?” Oftentimes the answer would be “I think so” or “yes”, but one day it was different. After the boy asked his usual question the mother responded sobbingly, “no honey, you’re not going to like this.” The boy subsequently learned that his parents were getting divorced, and that the family he knew would never be the same again. That was an awful day. That was an awful year. That was an awful chapter in the life of that boy.
Hardships come in different shapes and sizes for everybody. In fact, the Bible tells us that hardships are to be expected. Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Why will we have trouble? Because the world is in a broken condition. Not just people, but creation itself is broken. Did God make a mistake when he created the world? Not at all. The beginning chapter started off perfectly. God’s original design was that we would live in paradise, but mankind sinned (rejected God), and it broke the machine. As a consequence we have some chapters that are difficult, painful, and certainly not fair. Our shiny, new houses can look abandoned, worn down, and cast aside.
Great. Just, great. Thanks John, now what?
Wait… for… (commercial break)… it…
THAT’S NOT THE END OF THE STORY!
Rarely do we gain insight into how a story is going to end while we are still in the middle of it. That’s just not typically the nature of stories. But in this case… [*SPOILER ALERT*]
God saw this brokenness and SO LOVED THE WORLD that He wasn’t going to leave creation in this state. So He made a rescue plan, launched a secret mission, and sent His son Jesus to fix what went wrong. This is why we celebrate Christmas. He is the ultimate “fixer upper”, working to restore all of creation to its original glory! Revelation 23 paints a beautiful picture of how ALL THINGS are being made new and restored. Heaven and Earth will be perfect once again. This is not wishful thinking, but rather a promise of God’s happily ever after plan for all of creation (including you and me).
There it is! That’s how the story ends. Those in Christ will live happily ever after. The prince marries the princess, the Avengers save the world, Darth Vadar brings balance to the force, E.T. phones home, and Jenny and Forrest are like peas and carrots again.
So… why can’t we just skip the middle and fast-forward straight to the ending? It seems like we could avoid a lot of pain that way.
1. That’s not how the stories of our lives work. We don’t have DVRs to skip over the parts we don’t like. When I was a kid (back in my day…) we actually had to wait for a movie or TV show to broadcast over things called airwaves, and we couldn’t jump back and forth through the story. C’est la vie.
2. God’s wants us to rely on Him for our source of comfort and strength, and in doing so, we can extend comfort and strength to others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
3. We are not merely passive audience members, but rather active participants in God’s story. Now that we know of this happily ever after plan it is our job to go unto all the world and tell people of this happy ending that is for all people. (Matthew 28:16-20)
This is a special responsibility. Recall the story of the 6-year-old boy whose parents got divorced many years ago. That boy was me. Now, 30 years later I stood in front of that chapel full of elementary students, and encouraged them by saying that despite current hardship and tragedy present in this broken machine, we serve a great God who is making all things new and has a happily ever after planned for everyone. I never would have had that opportunity if I were able to fast-forward to the end of the story before the middle was over.
“But the pain hurts now,” we say. How can we be hopeful about the happy ending when the middle chapters hurt so bad? Again, God’s Word gives us the answer. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 the apostle Paul writes:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Where are you fixing your eyes?
Dear friends, this Christmas let us…
FIX our eyes on our creator who
IS MAKING all things new through His son Jesus Christ.
FOCUS on the happily ever after because it
WILL LAST far beyond any present hardship in these middle chapters. And above all,
BE superstar celebrities in God’s story,
TELLING others about His amazing plan.
I guess a good story really is about verbs after all.