Monday, October 06, 2008

On Being "Bailed Out"

I read the following at my church this weekend. Several people requested that I put it on my blog. It's a theological response to the bail out plan:

Ivan Illich was once asked, ‘What is the most revolutionary way to change society: Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?’ He gave a careful answer: ‘Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story.’

In a world where every thought of every person was only evil all the time, Noah told an alternative story and built a wooden freighter in his back yard in the middle of a drought. His story saved the world.

In a world where people worshiped rocks shaped like frogs and painted logs sticking out of the ground, Abraham told an alternative story of a personal God who speaks directly to people and births a new nation out of a geriatric barren woman’s womb.

In a world where his family rejected him, his boss’s wife framed him as a rapist and his friends forgot all about him, Joseph told an alternative story to the face of the most powerful man in the ancient world when he told the Pharaoh to trust the Living God, Yahweh, the only one powerful enough to truly bail out nations on the edge of economic collapse.

In a world where he and all of his countrymen were the slaves of a tyrant and a bounty was on his own head as a murderer, Moses told an alternative story to the face of his oppressor when he said, “You can’t have this nation anymore. We are God’s people and he’s been pretty clear this time. I just got back from a magic burning bush. This is what the Lord says, “You let my people go. They have a better story to tell than the one you are telling.”

In a world where the greatest leader of their nation had died and millions of families wandered as political refugees in the desert for four decades, Joshua told an alternative story as he slid his general’s sword into his scabbard and said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Our story is already written, Our story is God’s story and it is not a story that ends in defeat, but in victory.”

In a world where the good people of the world were being beaten and pillaged and raped by an evil nation, God sent a messenger to tell Gideon, a frightened weakling of a man, an alternative story. The angel said, “On your own you are nobody, Gideon, but with God you are a mighty warrior. Get up and trust God to bail his people out of this mess.”

In a world where two superpowers lined up opposite each other for war and the destiny of two real historical nations hanged in the balance, a shepherd teenager carrying a basket of bread for the soldiers was the only one brave enough to tell an alternative story. David said, “ I’m just a boy with a rock and he’s a giant with a spear, but I got a Living God and he worships a bronze plated goat. My story wins.”

In a world where everyone he knew was killed or taken captive to a foreign land – a world where he himself was a slave for his entire life, Daniel told an alternative story when he approached king after king, decade after decade and said, “There is only one Living God and He’s not your god, He’s mine. And He’s got a message for you – your story is temporary but his is eternal.” They put his friends in a fiery furnace and threw him to the lions, but in the alternative story fire’s not all that hot and hungry lion’s make wonderful house pets.

And then it happened.

The Alternative Story became flesh and he lived among us. The Alternative Story was with God in the beginning. The Alternative Story was God. He came to the people of the alternative story, but his people did not recognize their Author. They rejected the Alternative Story for a different story – one that seemed more reasonable and possible and palatable and safe. And when it came time to give the Alternative story a name, the peasant teenage girl who birthed him named him Jesus whish literally means “God Saves Us” or “God Rescues Us” or “God Bails Us Out.”

For three years God Bails Us Out taught us that the alternative story was breaking into humanity in a fresh, real and dangerously significant way. He came to let us know that on the day he left us, the very last chapter of humanity’s alternative story would begin. And we believed him. He asked us to trust him – to trust God. And we trusted him. He warned us that we can’t always trust the religious leaders or the politicians or the economists or the powerful militants, but we can always trust him.

Then he died. But not before giving death itself an alternative story. In our new story, death begets life, not the other way around. So though he died, he lives. And we have the same promise.

And the story continued.

Peter told an alternative story to the masses in Jerusalem and 3,000 believed in one day. They abandoned their old story for the new alternative Jesus story.

Paul told an alternative story to those farthest from God and they started little churches in most every town in the ancient world. Little churches that would spread like a good cancer all through the Roman Empire.

100 years later, Polycarp, the elderly pastor of the church in Smyrna, told an alternative story to those who burned him at the stake for his faith when he boldly said his last words – “86 years I have served him, how can I now deny my savior who bought me?”

A century or two later, an ex-slave named Patrick from Britian came back to his captors after escaping from Ireland and told an alternative story that lead to wildfire revival and free flowing green beer for centuries to come.

700 years after that, a wealthy snot-nosed son of a fashion designer named Francis told an alternative story when he rejected all his father’s wealth to start a movement of compassion and radical generosity in the village of Assisi.

Martin Luther told an alternative story when he questioned the corruption and materialism of the church at a time when thing like that could get a monk killed and in doing so he turned history on it’s head.

And on it goes from there: John Calvin to the Wesley Brothers to Martin Luther King Jr. to Billy Graham. Dozens of names you would recognize and millions of names you would not. They all boldly stood up in their time and place and told an alternative story of a God who bails out people and offers hope for the hopeless.

A generation ago, a man named John Wimber told an alternative story that the supernatural could happen naturally in the church, that worship could happen simply and God is still in the business of Kingdom expansion and doing the “Jesus stuff” today. That story launched what we call the Vineyard movement.

A few decades ago, Steve Sjogren and the founders of my church told an alternative story when they proclaimed that we would love our city in practical ways until every last soul in Cincinnati was touched by the love of God.

Dave Workman told an alternative story in our church two years ago when he said the unthinkable – that we would raise a bunch of money, but the money isn’t going to be spent on ourselves. We are going to spend it on the poor of our city, the next generation of our future and the practical needs of those people dying today in nation of Nigeria. That’s the story that got me out of southern California 14 months ago. I came here to tell the story that a church can, despite all of its weaknesses, be relentlessly focused on seeing the alternative story expand to the poor, the hurting, the lost, the far away and the near-by.

I came here for one reason: to tell an alternative story with you. This place isn’t perfect, not even close. But we’ve got a story to tell. And all I know is this: when God’s people end up in a time in history that seems difficult or scary or hard, we are to have but one reaction. We tell our story louder. We do not shrink back, but press forward. Only we hold the alternative story that the world needs. That’s what it means to be the church – to be engrafted into the story of God and Israel through Christ. To be a Christian is to join the alternative story. To follow Jesus is to say, “in god we trust” when we are tempted to trust anything or anyone else who tells a story different than ours.


random blogger said...

politics? nope. capitalism? nope. government? nope. socialism? nope. the people? nope. just Jesus. trusting God in spite of the circumstances and without an expert understanding of how the details will be played out. thanks joe for pushing the evidence of an already successful plan to the forefront.

Ken Glassmeyer said...


Thanks for the wisdom, humor, and flair you have added to our church. Most importantly, thanks for adding a few verses to the alternative story we are trying to tell to Cincinnati and beyond. Your passion and demeanor are an inspiration. Thanks for putting our focus back into proper perspective week after week.


JPN said...

I met you in CA at Hope Int., I come from WI, I wish I lived in Cincy...GREAT Stuff!

Steve Fuller said...


This is excellent.

In my humble opinion, great leaders and teachers seem to always speak of a preferred future. As you so eloquently stated, many great men and women have done this over the years. It's vision-casting at its core, but it's also more than that. It's the ability to tell a story that people are willing to sacrifice for; willing to go bankrupt for; willing to die for.

I believe people who accomplish great things do this on a personal level. And churches that accomplish great things have leaders who can do this both relationally and from the stage. I believe you are the man...who will eventually hire those leaders.

Just kidding! Dave will probably hire them.

Peggy Murphy said...


Sandy Maudlin said...

Thank you for helping us (me) stay focused.

jasondscott said...

Great job Joe. She is a beautiful thing and The Kingdom is a beautiful place

Unknown said...

Great thoughts! Love it! I decided I will add you to my blogroll. It is very limited list, but I think you bring some great stuff from the Word.