The most devastating thing that happened to me in high school was when I didn’t get to go to Creation Festival in 2006. Creation is one of the largest Christian music festivals on the planet that happens annually in the middle of a field somewhere in the backwoods of Pennsylvania and Washington. I still remember what it was like to go my first year, 2005, and headbang with 75,000 other Christians. Or looking behind me during the annual candle-lighting vigil and seeing 75,000 other candles flickering against the speckled night sky. The day Creation 2005 ended, I was already planning my trip for 2006. But then the rain came down and the floods came up, canceling Creation and shattering my dreams. I had never been more devastated. An entire year’s worth of hope crashed down in an instant because I placed my hope in something that could be taken away with a few raindrops.
Whether it’s a relationship, a certain financial goal, the American economy, politics, religion, or fame, we all place our hope and find our identity in something. As Christians, our hope is ultimately found in Jesus. Sometimes we sinfully divert our attention elsewhere and find our hope in something else, but when that other thing fails we come running back and once again look to Jesus for our hope. We know that Jesus is constant and unchanging while other things like politics, relationships, and jobs can change within an instant. The author of Hebrews writes, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (6:19-20). Jesus can’t be washed away by raindrops.
One thing Eternity does well is to teach their students to listen to stories. Everyone has a story that betrays where they ultimately place their hope. Whether it’s the employee who places their hope in a promotion, the single college student placing their hope in a shining white knight (or a damsel in distress), or the mother who longs for peace from her fighting kids, everyone is telling a story that’s framed in four acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. The employee working a normal job (Creation) realizes that he isn’t making as much as he would like (Fall). He places his hope in money to save him (Redemption) so that he can have more money to accomplish his goals (Restoration). A quick analysis of this person’s predicament shows that they are placing their hope in more money to save them from their circumstances. Similarly, in 2005 I put my hope in the Creation Festival to save me from my summer boredom and offer me musical satisfaction. No matter who they are, listening to someone’s stories tells us where they find their hope. A fellow student once asked an Eternity professor if he pays attention to politics. “I have no interest in them,” he answered, “but I follow them so that I can understand what people are putting their hope in besides Jesus.”
The gospel provides a different story framed in the same four acts that’s meant to confront our idols. A truncated summary of God’s story shows that we were created to be in perfect harmony with God (Creation) but rebelled against our Creator by desiring autonomy (Fall). True redemption is found through the removal of the penalty of our rebellion at the cross (Redemption) so that our relationship with God is restored (Restoration). By paralleling God’s story with the stories we hear from people every day, we can easily identify where someone finds their hope in and how the gospel applies to their circumstances.
I’ve used this technique to preach truth to myself daily. For instance, as a single college student surrounded with friends who are married, engaged, or dating (Creation) I can get pretty depressed with constantly being single (Fall). I fall into the “ring by spring” lie by believing that a relationship will satisfy me (Redemption) and trade my loneliness for happiness (Restoration). When I compare my story with God’s story, I see egregious differences. I’m primarily unhappy not because I’m longing for the relationship with my Creator to be restored but because I’m longing for a relationship outside of my Creator to fulfill me. While God is eternal and unchanging who “was and is and is to come” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6, 22:13), the relationship I seek is founded on changing emotions swirled by life’s fluctuating circumstances. My hope is placed in something former news reporter Dan Rather would say is “shakier than a bowl of cafeteria jello”. Reminding myself that only the restoration of my relationship with my unchanging Creator through Jesus can give me happiness provides me more comfort in the midst of my loneliness than a relationship with someone else ever can.
The essence of learning people’s stories is about providing and applying the gospel to their situation. When we can expose the fragility of people’s functional saviors—be it politics, money, relationships, music, or fame—we can find a place to provide an answer to their greatest longings.
You can also check out my personal blog at http://aspiringtheologian.wordpress.com
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