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April 17, 2012

What is the difference between a good story and a great story?  I would suggest that a good story is interesting, but a great story is life changing.  Great stories ask something of you.  They inspire and challenge you to be something different than you were before.  Stories that entertain will be lost amongst the huge amount of information in our mind, but stories that call us to something will change us forever. 

Stories have the power to do this.  Within stories are storylines that express values.  We might call them narrative patterns.  For instance, when you encounter Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you are confronted with ideals that attempt to convince you of certain values.  One of the storylines for these “star-crossed lovers” is that romance is worth any cost, including parental rejection and death.  You can agree or disagree with this value.  Regardless, by encountering this story, we also encounter the wisdom and perspective of the author.  The story of the movie Braveheart expresses the idea that freedom is worht fighting for and even dying for.  In the movie Dumb and Dumber we learn not to be dumb – or perhaps being dumb is hilarious (I’m not sure which one).

What happens to us when we encounter the story of Jesus?  What happens when we engage the story of the cross?  We are met with its storylines.  We forget this sometimes.  We forget  the story of the cross contains within it ideals that can shape our lives.  We sometimes read or listen to the story of the death of Jesus as if it is a formula or mechanism rather than a transformative story. 

We ask the question, “How can I benefit from this story?”  This is not a bad question, because the claim of the New Testament is that the story of the cross comes with many benefits:  forgiveness of sins, eternal life, entrance into the kingdom of God, and a new life with a new start.  However, when we only listen to this story in a pragmatic and utilitarian manner, we miss the fact that the story reveals values.  Not just any values.  It is revealing the very heart of God.  It is when we encounter the ideals that drive the story of the cross that we are changed by it.  Until we do this, we are just using the story as an alibi. 

But the story of the cross is meant to be our story.  It’s meant to transfer the values that shape it into our lives.  When we are shaped by the values of the cross, those values become the guiding force and wisdom for our life operations.  What kind of wisdom do we find in the storylines of the cross?

(1)  It is better to give your life away for the sake of others rather than guard it in the name of selfishness and fear.

(2) Consumers are left empty while those who give their lives away are filled. 

(3)  Sacrifice expresses love more profoundly than gifts.

(4)  Those who forgive and love their enemies have the potential to change them.

(5)  Humble service can change the heart of others while coercive force can only control a person’s behaviors. 

(6)  When love and hate collide, it is possible that hate looks like the winner, but in reality it is the other way around. 

These storylines become the master story of the life of a disciple of Jesus.  His story becomes our story.  It is replayed in the narrative patterns of our lives.  Our lives become what John Calvin called the “theatre of the cross.”  Calvin means that when the storylines of the cross begin to guide our lives, the result is that our lives present the story of the cross to those around us.  The selflessness of Jesus is alive in those who have truly been changed by the story of the cross as is sacrifice, generosity, and service. 

I encourage you to read the story of Jesus again.  Listen to the way He speaks about His death.  Draw the storylines of the cross out until it calls you to its wisdom.  Encounter the story of the cross as if it is more than information.  Read it as if it is calling you to its ways.  It is your cross, too.

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