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Whole Story

“If you were to do die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”

You may have been asked that question before.

It’s the question that the half-story version of the gospel asks.

It’s a question that matters and gives pause for thought, but it’s also a question that can be dangerous and misleading.

As discussed in the last post, Half Story, Fuller’s research has found that somewhere around or above 50% of youth group participants walk away from their faith.  Part of this, according to their research, is that these students do not have a clear understanding of the gospel.  For many, I’m guessing they’ve believed a half story.  (If you haven’t checked out the previous post, I encourage you to take a quick look at it, to help our conversation here.)

THE PROBLEM WITH PUNCHING A TICKET

Students today are in a world that is increasingly diverse and post-christian.  Students today are flooded with a variety of ideas about what is true and what is the best way to live.  If we only are telling the half-story, I’m afraid it’s not going to hold up.  It’s not going to compel them to live full lives for Jesus.  They may just punch their ticket and put faith on cruise control.  Put it on when they need it.  Take it off when it doesn’t make sense with the world.

As students enter high school and begin looking for autonomy and exploring what life has to offer, the nature of the gospel story we share has significant ramifications.  If we condense the gospel to only the fall and redemption then we might leave them with a story that feels rather boring.  As Gabe Lyon’s points out, “By truncating the full narrative, it reduces the power of God’s redeeming work on the cross to just a proverbial ticket to a good afterlife.”  Students might be left asking:

“Is this all there is to Christianity?  Did Jesus die only so we could get out of this place and go somewhere else?  What if I like it here?”

IS THERE MORE TO THE STORY?

I’m continuing to borrow from Gabe’s work here, but this is something that I’ve felt in my own life for quite sometime.  It always struck me as odd that so much of the church and message of the church I grew up around had to do with the afterlife and not the here and now.  As a student, I was often confused about why the best answers to the toughest questions I had, seemed more like scare tactics than a substantive answer.

(i.e. – “Sex is to be avoided at all costs and will cause you terrible pain!”  This scare tactic was a half story at best.  In reality, sex was God’s idea and it is good when we understand God’s larger story and how sex fits in.  I needed  a whole story answer and was getting a fear-based plea that showed no understanding of the larger story.)

As I began to study the scriptures, I noticed Jesus spent a lot more time focusing on how we should live in the here and now than he did describing the life to come or inviting us to find a way out of this world.  I think my feelings above echo some of what Fuller found in their research.  If we are not careful, we can easily be passing along a gospel that is like handing someone a novel with the first and last chapters missing.

WHOLE STORY

Gabe reminds us in his work,The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World, that the gospel story consists of 4 parts:

Creation.  Fall.  Redemption.  Restoration.

As we pointed out last time, most presentations center on the middle two.  Again, the middle two are central to the story and more important than I can even portray, but we can’t leave out the beginning and the ending.   We all know the beginning and the ending, but may need to learn them anew.

Creation:  As God created, he looked at his creation and proclaimed, “this is good.”  Creation shows us how God intended the world to be.  Creation shows us the good world God created and designed and the way humanity interacted with this world – as stewards and caretakers of this good gift.  Adam heard God walking and there was no distortion in the relationship between God and the first humans nor between Adam and Eve as they were both “naked and felt no shame.”

Fall happens and distortion enters.  This is not how it was intended to be.  God enters the story through Jesus and brings redemption.  But the story doesn’t end there…

Restoration:  Jesus’ death and resurrection invites us into eternal life- an eternal life that actually begins right now and not just in the future.  The effects of Jesus work in our life brings us back to a taste of what it was in the beginning and foreshadows what is to come in the afterlife.  It invites to not just be saved from something (death or a way to escape this world) but to something – namely, “participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and in the world.”

“Like a capstone to the story of God, Christians are called to partner in the restorative work so that the torch of hope is carried until Christ returns.”

–Gabe Lyons

“YOUR KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”

Can you see the difference?  Can you feel the weight of your call as a follower of Christ?  This isn’t about an escape!  This is about a rescue mission!

You and I are to lives our lives in such a way that reflects the kingdom of God that was and is to come.  By following Jesus, we can give people a foretaste of what is to come and a reminder of the world that God wired in our hearts when he created us in His image and placed us in the garden.

Many people look around at their lives and don’t think “this is good.  In fact, this is the opposite of good”, but we have the opportunity as followers of Christ to be the hope bearers that step into the the “not good” of this world and change it so that folks get a taste of the “very good” world that God described in the beginning!

A GOSPEL YOU CAN’T TAKE OFF

As I shared in the previous post,

For many students, faith isn’t relevant out in the “marketplace” of high school or within the social structures (peer groups, media, culture) that they are immersed in.  With this in mind, Christianity or living as a follower of Jesus is something you put on when you need it and take off when you don’t.

The half story understanding allows students to disregard the gospel when it doesn’t make sense with the world.

The whole story doesn’t allow that.  This gospel has weight in the marketplace of high school and the social structures that students swim in.  It invites them to see the world as it ought to be and work towards making that a reality.  It invites them to be known by Jesus and let his love transform them and propel them into loving others.

As a follower of Jesus, our life in this world isn’t something to escape – it’s an adventure, it’s a mission, it’s something to enjoy, it’s something to sacrifice for, and it’s something worth giving our whole lives to.

What do you think?  Does this understanding change how you view the gospel or your life in light of the gospel?

Do you think students and/or your kids can grasp this understanding and it carry weight in the midst of their busy teenage lives?  

How do we get this message through?
(This last question is one that I’m asking myself and don’t have a great answer…if you have one, I’d love to hear it!)

 

 

Half Story

“Well…they’re probably going to need therapy for that later in life!”  This half-joking statement is made in our house from time to time.  I’m sure you’ve uttered something similar in your home.  But joking aside, there is a question of what we are passing on to our children.  What are they learning from us?  What are they picking up as they grow up in this family?

Particularly, as a follower of Jesus, I hope my kids catch on to the incredible joy it is to know and follow Jesus.  I imagine you do as well!

Good news for parents of faith – There is currently a great amount of research on this very thing!  The folks over at Fuller Youth Institute have been conducting research on what makes faith “stick” in young people.  You may surprised to find that most research suggests that out of those who grow up in church only 50% have a faith that “sticks” into adulthood.  (Many others report even lower numbers.)

Fuller has taken their research on “sticky” faith and created some great resources for families.  (Check out resources, articles, and more info herehttps://fulleryouthinstitute.org/)

I want to focus today on one of their findings.  Basically, that students who grow up in families of faith and around the church don’t have a clear picture of the gospel or what it means to be a Christian.  I’m wondering if that’s because many parents (and the church!) don’t have a clear understanding of this either.

TWO SEPARATE THINGS

For many students, faith isn’t relevant out in the “marketplace” of high school or within the social structures (peer groups, media, culture) that they are immersed in.  With this in mind, Christianity or living as a follower of Jesus is something you put on when you need it and take off when you don’t.

I moved to Houston shortly after the whole Enron incident.  I became very intrigued by the whole situation and read many books and articles on what happened.  I will never forget reading a statement from the top executive who said something to the effect of this — “I’m a born-again Christian and live my personal life accordingly.  This is just business.”

Those are not his exact words, but as I read the article, that was the sentiment.  My personal life is one thing and business is another.  There is no overlap.  I couldn’t believe it!

HALF STORY

Gabe Lyons in his book, The Next Christians  – Seven Ways to Live the Gospel and Restore the World, lays out where this thinking comes from.  Gabe says we’ve believed and bought into a half-story.  It’s a true story and is pivotal in understanding the Christian gospel, but we’ve missed the whole story.

The half-story is made up of 2 parts – The Fall and Redemption.

The Fall- You and are born sinners and therefore we have a problem.  Sin separates us from God.  If left in this state, we have no hope.

Redemption – God sends Jesus to die on our behalf.  Through His death and resurrection we are redeemed and restored to a right relationship with God.

This is oversimplified, no doubt, but captures the basic idea.  Is this true?  Absolutely.  Is this central to understanding Christianity – without a doubt!  Is it the whole story – no.

PUNCHING A TICKET

If the gospel is simply something that saves us from our sin problem and allows us to punch a ticket to heaven one day, then it’s possible to see how we could be so dualistic in our thinking. For the Enron executive, what happened in the world and how he conducted business had very little to do with his personal faith that allows him to escape this world one day.

Students today are in a world that is increasingly diverse and post-christian.  Students today are flooded with a variety of ideas about what is true and what is the best way to live.  If we only are telling the half-story, I’m afraid it’s not going to hold up.  It’s not going to compel them to live full lives for Jesus.  They may just punch their ticket and put faith on cruise control.  Put it on when they need it.  Take it off when it doesn’t make sense with the world.

Statistics tell you that 50% of more eventually take faith off one day and just never put it back on.

Dallas Willard calls this the “gospel of sin management”.  It’s about what we can and can’t do.  It’s about managing our sin.  In an increasingly post-christian world this only gets harder.  There has to be a better way.

The next post will invite us into the whole story and how we can better share a gospel with our sons and daughters that “sticks” and guides their entire lives!  (School, friends, media, business, dating, etc.)

Until then, what gospel do you believe in?  Does your faith interact with the whole of your life or is it compartmentalized or regulated to the sidelines?

What about your son or daughter?  What is the gospel you are sharing with them by the way you live and operate in the world?

 

P.S. – I can’t recommend Gabe’s work enough.  He was recently to our group and there has been a lot of great conversation in the wake of our time together.  Check out his work here:  http://qideas.org/

Also check out either one of these books.  You can’t go wrong:

 

 

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