There is one book that’s affected me more than any other, while at the same time I never felt an obligation to read it or told myself that I needed to change because of it. Of course I’m talking about The Lord of the Rings.

To be fair, I suppose that the Bible has affected me more; however, I haven’t always read it in freedom.

In junior high, I read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings. “In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.” In seventh grade, I could identify. Gandalf, 12 dwarves, and talk of treasure and a dragon. And then an encounter with “a Gollum” who had a ring of power: “‘Quite safe, yes,” he whispered to himself. “It won’t see us, will it, my precious? No.’” — The most enjoyable books that I’ve ever read.

But imagine if in the fall of 1973, someone sold me those books and then said, “Now, before you read this, let me tell you what it means. There is this ‘ring of power.’ And the point is to get that ring and hang on to it at all costs. The ring is power and freedom, for it’s how you get whatever you want. It’s safety, for it makes you invisible. It’s life, for life is the survival of the fittest — everyone knows that. It’s the life and the good, for in the end only the strong survive, safe under the earth, hiding from the sun, while the weak are endlessly burned by its unforgiving gaze.”

Well, once I started reading, I might have found the book to be a bit confusing.

Recently, a friend said, “Sometimes when you preach, I feel like I’m in a graduate level course and I’ve missed the prerequisites.” I found that comment to be a bit strange because never before has the Gospel seemed so simple to me. It is “God is Salvation” or “God saves,” which in Aramaic forms a name: “Yeshua” and in English, “Jesus.” The comment seemed strange and yet, on another level, quite accurate, for preaching has become increasingly complex for me.

I preach expository sermons through books of the Bible. Non-churched friends have told me, “This is simple.” And my church friends often say, “This is so complex.”

It’s almost as if before we started reading, someone whispered, “Let me tell you what it’s all about.” Or better: “We’ll read it for you. Just come to our club, and we’ll read one verse at a time and then tell you what it means; it’s common sense. Even better, tell us what you want (We’re seeker sensitive.) We’ll use knowledge taken from the book to cook up whatever soup you happen to desire.”

2 Peter 3:3, “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own desires.” I think my flesh desires the ring of power.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that he wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity that exists on this side of complexity. But he would give the world for the simplicity that exists on the other side of complexity. What lies between a simple lie and a world of complexity and then a simple Truth and Freedom? I would suggest some wrestling in the dark with the Word in a garden at the base of a Tree and the edge of the Promised Land.

2 Peter 3:15, “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you concerning the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand (Peter agrees: complex. He once desired the ring of power.), which the unlearned and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”

Scripture has gotten a lot of bad press from liberals who think it’s untrue and perhaps worse press from conservatives who think it’s a cookbook for whatever soup they happen to desire.

I find it to be objectively true, and, even better, subjectively true and one utterly amazing story, penned by at least 45 different writers over thousands of years. So, when I preach from Scripture, I’m not just sharing my own opinion. And yet, it’s not just common sense, for at the time that each book was written, each was thought to be nonsense and only later was seen to be God’s sense, His logos, His reason, His word.

Genesis chapter one is an overview of all space and time, beginning to end. And the rest of Scripture is about the journey from beginning to end. And at a tree in a garden, God reveals the Plot: Beginning and End and the Way in between. It’s all One Story, His Story.

The Bible is a story that we didn’t write. Stories store persons. Stories create people. The Bible is a story about God; Yahweh is the author (It’s an autobiography.) The Bible is a story about Jesus; “Yaweh+Yasha, Yeshau,” God saves; He’s the Plot. The Bible is a story about you and how God saves you (the Beloved) from yourself (the self-made man).

In The Lord of the Rings, it turns out that the evil, which everyone needs to fear, is not the evil Dark Lord Sauron, but themselves. For each and all lust for the ring of power.

Look at the Tree and the One hanging on the Tree. Has there ever been a greater power? He is literally the Word and the Will of God by Whom and in Whom all things hold together. And at some point, when you did not know Good from evil, you seized control of the Plot, and began to write your own story; you took the ring of power but didn’t create yourself; you created a golem (“unformed substance” in Hebrew), a shadow self, a false self, an old Adam — who it is that “I am” not.

The Bible is the story of God saving you from yourself with Himself. Upon the Tree called the Cross, Jesus descended into you to give you the Will to surrender the ring of power — it’s called Faith, Hope, and Love. Both Frodo and Gollum fall into the fires of Doom. Gollum was destroyed and Frodo was saved . . . from Gollum, his own false self, and so freed to be himself, his true self. And that was the end of the age; everything old became new.

The simple Gospel is “God is Salvation” (Jesus). The Lie is “me is salvation” or “we are salvation,” (Me-sus and We-sus). At the cross, Jesus destroys “I am not” and “I” become who I am. And once you know the Plot, it changes the meaning of every moment in the Story.

It’s a great story, and I think we don’t read it, and don’t hear it, and it doesn’t change us, for, before we started reading, someone whispered, “It’s all about saving yourself from God with KNOWLEDGE taken from the Tree; it’s all about seizing the ring of power.” And yet the LIFE on the tree is all about what? . . . Laying it down . . . There is no greater power; it’s LOVE.

I think my friend was right in his observation. So, beginning in the fall, I plan to review some “prerequisites” — eight simple shorter messages on foundational truths that undo some foundational lies that add up to the big lie that God is not salvation because we are salvation.

1. “Hell:” The Elephant in the Room
2. Creation: Did God lose control of time?
3. Anthropology: What is The Adam?
4. The Fall: The Doctrine of Original Ignorance and the Tree
5. Life and Death, Good and Evil, New Adam and old adam
6. The Atonement: How God makes Adam One as He is One
7. Love and Law: saved by Free Will from free will for Free Will
8. Eschatology: “God is Salvation” wins and has always won.

Last verse of 2 Peter: 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his knowledge of you. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.”

Peter told us that we are waiting for the “Parousia of Jesus,” and “the Parousia of the Day of God,” which is “the Day of Eternity.” So, it sounds like Eternity has a shape (for lack of a better word) and that shape is Jesus — who is the Judgment of Love, and Love is a consuming Fire.

So, we’re all doomed (like Mt. Doom) to the Judgement of God. We’re all doomed to a burning hot lake of the Divine Nature — Absolute Grace. We’re all doomed to become the soup that God is making. We’re all doomed to be the image and likeness of God. We’re all doomed to Eternal Life. But you can’t enjoy Eternal Life until you choose Eternal Life, and so He gives you His Will. We’re all doomed to the Absolute Freedom of Relentless Love, Our Father.

Lose yourself in the Story, and you will find the Story living in you.

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