September 12, 2021
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
What’s Your Story?
This morning we begin a series that is important not only St. Luke’s present but St. Luke’s future. We are introducing a curriculum that will be like an entry point to the discipleship process of our congregation. If the purpose of the church is to make disciples, then what does a disciple look like, and what is our process for nurturing someone in their development?
For some time a number of staff and members of our church have been defining what this process looks like. We have identified four C’s and we are pleased to unveil this today (pic). It includes…
An important entry point is what we call a six-part STEPS class that covers the basic beliefs of what we believe about God, the Christian life, and the role of the church. We want to introduce this STEPS series in worship and its no accident that we do this following a series on The Church the World Needs, because the effectiveness of the church in the world depends on the vitality of faith of each member in the church. The step is understanding our faith story. Let us pray…
Though my involvement in church as a teenager was limited to just a few years, and though I didn’t know much about the Bible or theology, I entered college pursuing a call to ministry. In the very first week of classes as a freshman, the head of the Religion Department contacted all pre-ministry students to say that those interested in working in churches that semester should come to a gathering that Friday night.
Well, I was eager and ready to get going with my career, so that Friday evening I carpooled with some other student and we drove about 45 minutes to a small church hosting a pitch-in, only there we called them pot-luck suppers. Some members of the church brought the meal, and after one week of cafeteria food, the smell was a welcome aroma. What I didn’t know until later was that areas pastors came to see who they wanted to pick as their ministry assistant. It was like a cross between a speed-dating event and a police lineup. As we ate, I realized the Religion Dept head was going over to the different pastors, talking with them, and scribbling on a paper.
After the meal he announced that we would now meet with our potential host pastors. A pastor of a two small churches took me to the side, sat down with me and said, “So, tell me your story?” Now the only time I had heard a question like that when was when I had been caught at doing some mischief and was asked, “So what’s your story?”
I told the pastor I wasn’t sure. He said, “Just tell me your faith story?” I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure what he was even asking me. Talk about being green! I thought he was looking for some really vivid demonstrations of great acts of faith. I humbly admitted to him, “I don’t know that I have one.” He said, “Well, you believe in God don’t you?” I said, “Absolutely!” He said, “So just tell me about your life and where you think God has been a part of it.” I thought, “I can do that.” So I just told about my life, and faith influences, and how I came to discern God was calling me to ministry. Perhaps it was just the authentic way I talked about my life and how I understood, and sometimes didn’t understand, God’s presence, that the pastor said, “We’re going to work together just fine.” And that was where ministry started for me, sharing my story.
So what’s your story? Have you ever thought it about it before? Putting together your faith story can be one of the most important exercises you ever do, because you’re not just considering what you think about God, but what you think about your life and what you want your life to be about. So what’s your story?
In a sense that is what Jesus was asking the disciples in Caesarea Philippi. He had taken them there for a retreat. Caesarea Philippi was at the far northern border of Israel. It was once a significant place of pagan worship, but it also had historic Jewish roots. So in this region known for religious importance Jesus asked what they are hearing about him. “What do people say about me?” he asked. The disciples begin recounting what they’ve heard. “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And then Jesus asked this very direct question: “But who do you say that I am?” A most important question. It’s a defining moment. After nearly 2 years together, the disciples are asked to declare what they think. “What do you say about Jesus?”
Its not a question to be answered lightly. Oh, you can, of course, but it would reflect a faith that is shallow, a faith that only needs God to be there when we need God; a God who helps us achieve our goals in life. Who are you? “You’re a great Teacher. You’re a Savior. You’re the Son of God.” Now can get on with it.
But to take that question seriously, that’s another matter. Every serious inquirer in the Christian faith must answer that question at some time. Peter spoke on behalf of the group. He said, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” Now that sounds like a textbook answer, but don’t miss the power of it. It’s not a doctrinal answer. It’s a faith response. Peter is saying after years of learning from you, I am declaring myself. I am saying what I believe about you. You have authority over my life. I am putting you in charge.
Jesus commends him. In fact, to mark the significance of that moment, he gives him a new name. He calls him Peter. That’s the Greek word for rock. “And on this rock,” says Jesus, “I will be build my church.” Many people have missed the point. They felt that what Jesus is saying was that belief is all that matters. What Jesus needs to build the church on is right belief. Believe the right things, that’s all that counts! But as New Testament scholar Eduard Schweizer says, “The Rock is Peter himself, not his confession.”(Matthew, p341)
What does he mean by that? That this was a significant shift in the faith of Peter. He is shifting to a faith of putting Jesus in charge over his life. That is the Rock upon which Jesus wants to build the church. Otherwise Simon, and followers like him, would follow out of interest but not commitment. They would come to Jesus to find answers to life without asking how they can be God’s answer. They would seek God in order to help them achieve their agenda without considering what is God’s agenda.
The late theologian and author, Eugene Peterson, talks about this as the importance of followership. “Followership gets us moving in a way of life that is visible and audible in Jesus, a way of speaking, thinking, imagining, and praying that is congruent with immediate realities of kingdom living…For those of us in leadership positions—as parents, teachers, pastors, employers, physicians, lawyers, homemakers, students, farmers, writers—our following skills take a priority over our leadership skills. Leadership that is not grounded in followership—following Jesus—is dangerous to both the church and the world.” (Deep Mentoring, p128)
If you were to chart Peter’s faith story on a line, you could start with his upbringing. Raised in a strongly religious environment but probably one that painted small picture of God’s world. Then he met Jesus and that world and understanding of God’s involvement in it begins to change and enlarge. Then he has this significant moment when he declares himself. He puts Jesus in charge, and really begins the life of a true disciple. But does that mean he has faith all figured out? Of course, not.
There is still over-confident Peter. After Jesus warned them that he would be crucified, Peter boasted he would follow Jesus to the death! But what happened? He denied knowing Jesus three times. There was Impetuous Peter. He cut off the ear of the High Priests’ slave when they arrested Jesus. There was Discouraged Peter. Not knowing whether to believe that Jesus was resurrected, Peter went back to fishing.
But Peter would learn what God can do with mistakes. God can take failure and negative events in life and turn them around and use them for good. So he also became Praying Peter in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came. There was Preaching Peter who gave his first sermon and 3,000 people came to faith. There was Daring Peter willing to face imprisonment trusting in God’s power.
Yes, Peter’s life still looked a bit like a roller coaster but now it had purpose. It had direction and aim that kept him going. He understood he had a story to live out, because one day Jesus asked him a question, “What’s your story? What do you say about me? Who am I to you?”
So what’s your story? Wrestling with that question can be one of the most profound things we ever do. To begin answering that question is to understand our lives as a narrative and begin to see no only what our lives have been about but what we want them to be about. In the book Deep Mentoring co-author Robert Loane tells about working on a college application his senior year in high school. He thought he’d fly through it and then get onto his main focus, a basketball game he was playing that night. But the 4th essay question slowed him down. It said, “Imagine it is your 70th year and you have just completed your 457 page autobiography. Please submit page 221.
He writes, “The difficulty of the question stopped me in my tracks. I struggled all afternoon trying to find something to put on page 221 of my life story.” He goes on to say he had never thought of his life as a story, but it challenged him to consider the story he wants to tell, which led to a more significant question: Is there a bigger story being told through his life?
(pic) This is the Guidebook for the STEPS journey written by Mindie Moore in our church. In this first session you are encouraged to respond to three questions:
Where have you been?
Where are you now?
Where do you hope to go in the future?
You might consider responding to these questions by charting your life on a line. Make the line in the middle of the page. On one end mark your date of birth. At another end, but not at the end of your line, put a mark for where you are now.
Now think of your life like a movie storyline. Author, Donald Miller, points out that in a good novel or movie story there are important Story Turns that change our lives. There can be positive or negative story turns. Positive story turns are things like:
--The day I was born; I won the Spelling Bee; I graduated; I married; I got a job, etc.
Negative turns might be things like: my parents divorced, I lost the big game; I got sick, I divorced, I lost a job.
You could chart your storyline in one of two ways. You could show the positive events above your lifeline and the negative ones below. Or you could use sticky notes and show one color like yellow for the positive and another, say, pink, for the negative.
Donald Miller says that on average a person by the age of 30 will have had 12 story turns. If you’re older a few more, if you’re younger a few less. You might use that as a guide to reflect on your life.
Then once you chart your turns, mark the places where you believe God has been involved in your life. Maybe these are things you knew at the time. Maybe they are things you discovered in retrospect, like learning your mother had been praying for you, or you went to church as a child and didn’t get anything out of it, but later found meaning.
And don’t disregard the negative turns. These are often just as important to understand how God worked through them. This doesn’t mean God turned negatives into positives. They are still negative, but it shows God’s power to use something negative for good. This, in fact, is what keeps us from becoming victims in life. Understanding God’s redemptive power to do something through these experiences. As Donald Miller says, “The negative turns in our lives remain negative turns. But if we are going to heal, we must find something meaningful that came to us because of our tragedies.” Looking at our negative turns invites the question, “Where can I see God working through these events?” (Or quote p44)
Now, step back from your chart. Ask yourself what themes you see emerging? What comes to you. Some people do this exercise and see themes like, “God has been with me.” Or “God doesn’t give up on me.” Or “God uses me.”
If you are able to see a theme emerge, then ask the question, “What does this mean?” This will apply to what goes on your lifeline beyond where you are now. That’s the question, “Where do you hope to go in the future?” Only now, it’s not about your personal hopes. It’s about the hope God can bring through you.
This becomes your faith story.
Leighton Ford was a great evangelist in the church…He says one of the most important questions we ask in life is “What is God’s purpose and how should I pay attention to it?” Notice two things there. He doesn’t say “What is God’s purpose for me?” In many ways that is a very selfish question. I assumes there is some answer out there that holds all our happiness, our meaning, our joy. If we ever feel unhappy or find ourselves in a difficult place, we assume we haven’t found the answer.
But the second thing to notice is his question, “how should I pay attention to it?” Our finding and discovering God’s purpose and how it fits into our lives isn’t so much about going on a quest like Indiana Jones looking for the holy grail as much as it is a doctor putting our blood sample under a microscope to see what is already there to understand our lives.
This is what happened to Leighton Ford. His discovery about God’s purpose and his own purpose came together one day in a conversation with his mother…
I was chosen in love by adoptive mother, Olive Ford, but I was 12 years old before I knew this. My mother took me for a walk in High Park in Toronto and told me, ‘We did not have to have you, we choose to have you.’ Although I was fairly old to be learning of my adoption, so far as I remember I felt neither hurt nor resentment. Instead I felt great love from her and my adoptive father, Charles.
Shortly after I was born, my mother Ford held me in her arms and presented me for dedication to Dr. Henry Frost, a veteran missionary of the China Inland Mission. “Mrs Ford, “ he told her, “I believe God has given you this child for a purpose.” And she, who had herself wanted to be a missionary, agreed. In a very real sesnse my life trajectory was set then.
Much later I would realize that her love, like all human love, had its flaws, with an obsessive side to it. Yet I think back and ask: What was God’s purpose, and how should I pay attention to it.” (Deep Mentoring p85)
So think about that. As Leighton Ford learned his story he could see there was a being story being told. And opening up to that bigger story is where his future went.
Even after 30 years as an evangelist with his brother-in-law Billy Graham, he remained open to the story God wanted to tell through him. Following the death of his 21 year old son, he was at a convention and heard a young man his son’s age read the scripture: “Do not dwell on the past, see I am doing a new thing.” And suddenly he realized God wanted to use him to stat a mentoring program for young people, and that is now what Leighton Ford Ministries does.