Church Message

Narratives -- Irritating Distractions or Divine Directives?
By Ronald Gallagher

Church message imageChurch sponsors jul17My uncle once remarked about his wife, "She’ll talk with you about anything you want to talk about—as long as it’s horses.” She was definitely a horse enthusiast—" enthusiast” meaning that if forced to choose between giving up my uncle or her favorite horse, she might have to think for a minute or two. That locked her into a conversational narrative— an overriding focus that virtually eliminated other subject matter.

Predetermined conversational narratives can be challenging for those who do not share that perspective or reflect that level of obsessive enthusiasm. Mainstream media these days serves as a prime example. The left-biased, narrative-driven antics passed off as news reports have drawn reactions that range from nausea to head-banging exasperation. They have provided a non-stop exhibition of the power of an ingrained narrative to restrict the scope of allowable information, limit discussion, repel open debate, deny free thought, and paralyze perspectives. Their all-consuming story line demands that if an issue or event can’t be twisted somehow to support the notion that President Trump ought to be impeached for colluding with the Russians, then it is not news and thus unworthy of acknowledgment, much less public distribution.

The potential of inflexible narratives to inflict mental paralysis and generate negative reactions can raise some interesting questions for Christians. For instance, one might be prompted to ask whether the Apostle Paul was bound this way. His apparent determination to attach everything in his life to a single theme frequently brought negative reactions, which suggests another question. How optional should displaying our Christianity be? Is the fear of being seen as someone defined by a persistent or unpopular narrative justification for downplaying our faith in order not to be offensive?

Unlike my aunt’s decision to buy a horse, following Jesus is a choice that actually does encompass everything. His invitation, and all the perks that go with it, was presented as an all-or-nothing transaction. He who does not take his cross and follow after Me, Jesus said, is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:38-39 NKJV). Later, He reiterated it this way: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Paul was familiar with life-defining themes before his personal encounter with the risen Christ. Prior to that event, he was driven by a Jewish "narrative” that justified cleansing the land of Jesus’ message at any cost, including the extermination of His followers. Jesus was an existential threat to Paul’s religious authority and the lifestyle associated with it. Meeting the One he opposed shed new light on his guiding narrative, and that enlightened perspective rearranged everything.

Paul’s new relationship left no part of his life untouched. He moved from the "Jewish Narrative” to the "Jesus Narrative”, and it became his defining story. From then on, regardless of his surrounding circumstances, or the subject at hand, or the people involved, or the consequences that might follow, Paul was determined to guide every interaction toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus wasn’t something reserved to certain days of the week, or confined to special occasions; it was a continuous exhibition of who he was.

Life defining narratives aren’t unique to a select few. All of us have them whether we recognize them or not. They grow out of our core beliefs and the framework by which we understand and interpret everything that happens. We choose these governing narratives out of motives primarily driven either by what we fear; i.e., things we want to avoid, or by what we love, i.e. things worth exchanging our lives for.

The world’s narratives are self-centered, obsessing on acquisition and manipulation vs. sacrifice and edification. They offer no lasting fulfillment and fuel disappointment, bitterness, anger, and regret. Conversely, the "Jesus Narrative” radiates other-centered love, is eternal in scope, deeply fulfilling, and characterized by selflessness, sacrifice, and service.

The world’s narratives may appear self-protective, but ultimately lead to isolation and loneliness. Those choosing a "Jesus Narrative” don’t talk about Him because they have to. They do it because He absorbed all the pain and misery of their sins and failures and made their story an eternal part of His. Beyond that, life is not simply about them anymore. It’s also about Him.

In addition to being an active writer, speaker, teacher, and blogger, Ron Gallagher serves in a variety of roles as a ministry consultant for local churches. His Biblical insights are coupled with down-to-earth humor, satire, and relevant stories, all aimed at promoting "right side up thinking in an upside down world.” Ron strives to apply God’s truth in a way that stimulates the mind, encourages the heart, and challenges the cultural norm.  Check out his blog, "Gallagher’s Pen” at


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InBrief 20jul17

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