The Big Story
The significance of a moment often goes undetected while it takes place. Neil says that if he had known, as he hoisted our young child onto his hip, that it was the last time he would ever do so… he would have observed the moment in some ceremonial way. He would have grieved the end of her toddler days, or celebrated the beginning of her childhood. But we rarely perceive the importance of a point in time except in retrospect. Our family had just such a moment in 1996.
We caravanned home to Jacksonville from our firstborn’s college graduation in the north, two of our grown daughters and our caboose-baby son, who was five. It took two cars to relocate all the necessities of four years of independent college living. We divided by gender, and the boys’ car and the girls’ car both headed south, arranging rendezvous points at rest stops and fast-food restaurants along the way.
Little Peter hopped out of the car at our first stop and exclaimed with more excitement than the proclamation seemed to warrant, “Dad told me a story on the way!”
I answered absent-mindedly, “Great. What was the story?”
“He told me the Bible!”
Our girls’ car was incredulous. “He what? How long did it take him?”
“About five minutes.”
That was it. The girls spent the rest of the way home, and our family spent the rest of the year, trying to figure out how to tell the story of the Bible to a five-year-old in five minutes. A disciple of Jesus for almost thirty years then, I felt distressed that I couldn’t do it. My biblical understanding was siloed. I could talk about Philippians and 1 Peter and parts of the Gospels, but then there were huge black holes in my understanding of how we got from the Exodus to Galilee. Was it one linear narrative? How could it be made simple enough for a child, or for me? Working together, and with a five-year-old conveniently in residence as a ready test case, we worked at it. The surprise was how deeply life-giving the process turned out to be.
The more we looked at it, the clearer it became that the Scriptures were one cohesive story. And as G.K. Chesterton has said, “…if there is a story there is a storyteller." Our sense of awe deepened as God emerged as both the author and the teller of a unified drama, predicting events and preparing his people for the future. Nothing was random. Even disobedience could be redeemed. The people the world disregarded were deeply regarded by God, with stunning intention. Individual stories mattered to the whole.
Once we understood the Scriptures as one loving, linear tapestry, stretched end to end and expressing the intentions of the Creator through sixty-six books and more than 35 scribes, luminous consistent threads of theme began to emerge. It is these narrative threads, these rich and recurring themes in the story, that I hope to explore together in the Discipleship Journal for 2021.
We called our telling of the story The Timeline. You can find it in bookmark form on the Bare Branch website, though it really needs to be told to be fully appreciated. There, too, you can find our son-in-law, Jon Hall’s, printable storyboard version of it. That year of the graduation we taught it in adult education classes at the Church of the Redeemer, and for many years afterward we took it apart congregationally to understand the author’s hand more clearly. All of our kids now use it in their various spheres of ministry. I won’t try to tell it on this platform, but over the next months we’ll pull some of those tapestry threads and hopefully you’ll share our sense of wonder at the God who holds and directs all of history, and our individual histories, with a loving hand.
How did God prepare his people to recognize their Messiah? There are cumulatively stunning twists of plot, unfolding over generations, that make it suddenly clear.
Then there are the terms God uses to describe his love for us. He is the jealous lover and finally the Bridegroom.
There are God-breathed images that travel from beginning to end and open something we are meant to understand. A Vine. A Rock. A stream of Living Water.
There is a calendar. On Sinai God gave a calendar of observances, and in the life of Jesus he keeps his own calendar.
We’ll only scratch the surface of course, but my prayer is that we’ll echo the Psalmist, “Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.” Psalm 107:43
Photo credit: Rainbow Warp woven by Gail Karson (Jacksonville, FL)