I am neither a prophet nor the daughter of a prophet, but I will say with confidence that one day historians will look back at 2006 and proclaim it The Year of the Sequel.
My husband and I went to the movies a few weeks ago, and I was really excited about seeing the promos for all the new summer movies (emphasis on "new"). You can imagine my disappointment, then, when preview after preview hyped a movie sequel. The further adventures of...a racy government agent, a spy, a pathological killer, a superhero, a bizarre-o pirate. They're bringing back Miami Vice, for crying out loud! Wasn't one go-round with the perpetual stubble and pastel suits enough?
It made me wonder if the creative types of the world have just completely run out of ideas...if they're sitting in some meeting in Hollywood saying, "Well, I got nothing. I guess we could do Tom Cruise thrown from the exploding car one more time. Everyone liked the first 37 times we did it." And then some other genius says, "Hey, what about a pre-quel?"
As I was getting into bed after this night at the movies, I looked over on my nightstand and saw my little bible lying next to the alarm clock. One tiny pocket-sized volume to hold The Greatest Story Ever Told. I have to admit, I felt a little gypped. Where's the sequel, God? Where's the rest of the story? I've been reading this same book since first grade, and you expect it to hold my attention for the next 40 or 50 years?
Last summer we did a study of the Old Testament with our high school students at church. Just for laughs, we pulled out the flannel board characters that had been languishing in some forgotten corner of the teachers' supply room. When we started the series, I imagined not even having to prep for class; this was like VBS greatest hits! I knew these stories by heart.
What I did not imagine, however, was how much I had missed in these stories the first, second...78th time around in elementary school. The students seemed to share that feeling. Nearly every story solicited some shocked form of, "That's in the Bible?!"
Surely some of our reaction to these stories stemmed from our own forgetfulness. And I'm guessing that the Sunday School teachers of yore probably saw fit to edit the sex, crime and violence in a few of the tales. But standing there looking at the flannel board as an adult, and revisiting the stories alongside a bunch of teenagers, I began to realize that we were simply not studying the same stories we had read years ago. It wasn't that the facts had changed-it was that we had changed. Every one of us. And so it was as if we were looking at some strange new book for the very first time.
As humans grow and develop, they have to learn new ways of thinking. An infant does not realize that a world exists outside her immediate reach; hide a toy from her, and she concludes that it is gone forever. Compare her thought process with that of a preschooler. He knows that Mom and Dad can leave and come back; he has memories and ideas that stretch beyond the here and now.
Teenagers are developing their thinking skills as well. A young teen is just emerging from a mindset that only allows them to see the world in concrete, black-and-white terms. They are beginning to think conceptually, and they learn to define abstract terms like peace and love. As teens mature, they are better equipped to make critical judgments and well-developed arguments to support ideas. They begin to understand things they have "known" all their lives because they are now capable of considering multiple points of view, identifying recurrent patterns, and mining meaning from a set of facts.
God, who created our intricate minds and their processes, knew how vital it would be for his people to tell and retell the stories of the Covenant. His instructions to the Israelite parents, the many monuments He instructed them to erect, the festivals and feasts that commemorated His work-all of these underscore the need to revisit the past and consider it afresh. The stories are the same, but, year after year, the hearers are changing. They are more mature, more capable of understanding, more ready to wrestle with the truth.
The young people in our churches need to be living in this same kind of community that tells and retells God's stories. As their minds continue to develop, these stories take on newer, richer meanings these teens never could have grasped before. What were once just stories about dead people-Noah, Daniel, Ruth, Paul, Silas-are now new stories, stories of God's faithfulness and man's sin and Christ's suffering and our life in Him. New stories, unfolding every day.
This is the wonder of inspiration! God's ancient words are fresh words for us today. The Holy Spirit moves to teach us, revealing the truth as we are able to grasp it, writing and rewriting the story on our hearts.
Maybe it's time for families to dust off that old Bible story book, pop some popcorn, and settle in to watch a sequel of God's story unfold. If you're feeling really daring, break out the flannel board.