My family went to church almost every Sunday growing up. Hundreds of times we emerged from the captivity of the air-conditioned worship service into the warm freedom of Sunday afternoon. The memories from those drives home are strong; when I think of them, I can almost feel the baked heat of the parked car… I can almost smell the Church’s fried chicken we’d pick up for lunch… and I can almost hear the last hymn that got stuck in our heads.
And the hymn I most remember us singing was this one:
I love to tell the story,
Twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and his love.
It’s the first hymn I remember liking – the first one I remember getting excited about when it came up in rotation. I liked it because of its tune (mercifully low for us altos). I think I liked it, also, because even a child could understand it. Where other hymns include terms like “Ebenezer,” this one was blissfully simple:
I love to tell the story
of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,
of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story,
because I know ’tis true;
it satisfies my longings
as nothing else can do.
So… wonderfully… simple. I love to tell the story!
And yet – not simple at all.
Have you ever tried to tell someone the story of God’s love? If someone asks, “Why do you go to church?” or “Why are you a Christian?” is it simple to tell the story? Or do you find yourself searching for the words and drawing a blank?
Yeah – me, too. I think we all feel that way, sometimes.
In recent years, Bible scholars and theologians have helped us by breaking down God’s story into five “acts” – like a play moving from one scene to another. N.T. Wright makes them five:
- Creation: Genesis 1 starts, “In the beginning…” God makes everything, and God declares it all good – except for humankind, after which God says, “very”
- Fall: In the third chapter of the Bible (it doesn’t take long, does it?) humankind sins for the first time. Woman and man disobey God by eating the fruit.
- Israel: God taps on a man named Abram in Genesis 12. Thus starts an act that moves through Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses… through Egypt and into the Promised Land… through judges and kings and into exile… God makes a covenant with the people Israel that God doesn’t break (even when it looks like God should).
- Jesus: In the gospels of the New Testament a new covenant comes, in the form of the Word made flesh. Jesus is born – and lives – and dies – and lives again. Through Christ, God is at work to save the world.
- Church: When Jesus leaves, the story doesn’t end. It continues with the book of Acts and a thing called “church” – a thing that you and I are still a part of today. God is at work through us.
Creation – Fall – Israel – Jesus – Church. That’s God’s story, the one we should love to tell.
Still a little complicated, though – am I right?
Phil Tallon makes it even simpler, with easy videos and clever artwork. We used these videos during confirmation this spring, and the kids (and adults!) loved them. You have to pay for the video, but if you’re willing, I highly recommend it.
But even if you watched the excellent video, I’m betting… you might still feel less-than-prepared to tell this story to someone else.
Thankfully, John 9 gives us another example: telling your own, personal story. It’s important to know the big story – the one that goes from Genesis to Revelation – but you have a story, too. Your story fits within God’s big story. Very likely, your own story is much easier to tell – because you’ve lived it!
In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man. The Pharisees question him, hard: “How did this happen? That man Jesus isn’t from God – he’s a sinner. How could he have done that?” The formerly-blind man could have been tempted to try to answer on their terms – quoting Scripture and building theology. He doesn’t go that route, though. He just says what he personally experienced: “I don’t know how or why, but look: I was blind, and now I see.”
So, if you want to tell the story – not just tell it, but love telling it – this could be the key. What is your story? What has God done for you?
Here’s three clues to figuring that out:
Bill Hybels breaks down sharing our stories in this way. First, say a little about who you were before Christ came into your life (or, before you got committed to your faith). Then, explain how Christ came into your life. And finally, share what your life is like after – with Christ in it. That formula should give you a story that you love to tell – not one that you have to memorize, or one that you struggle to tell, but one that you really do love to tell.
Before I got serious about my faith, I had low self-confidence. I was also pretty selfish and self-centered. I was judgmental of others… and judgmental of myself.
I came to know Christ through mentors: my parents got me started, and then key people during my teenage years helped me understand what it’s really like to be a follower of Christ. They walked alongside me and coached me into my own relationship.
After I became serious about my faith, I didn’t just have self-confidence… I had God-confidence. I learned to spend less time judging myself and others, and more time loving God and loving others as myself. It’s been a gradual transition, but I can tell you – I am not the same person I was before I really allowed Christ into my life.
That’s it. That’s the story I love to tell.
Pretty simple, right?
You’ve got a story, too. Find yours. Fall in love with yours. And then… tell yours.
Let it be your theme in glory.