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A Story You Never Outgrow

March 27, 2001

“Hold on to the pattern of right teaching you learned from me. And remember to live in the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. With the help of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, carefully guard what has been entrusted to you... Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2)

“Tell me the old, old, story...”

My wife had been reading to my son for quite a while before the story started to filter through to me. I had heard her voice from my office down the hall and knew she was reading him a story, but most of my attention was focused on what I was doing.

But then, gradually, the story began to get through. A story about a goblin. A goblin, frightened by a bump in cave, who runs away with something chasing him. He runs as hard as he can, but hears the footsteps right behind him. Finally, he hides. He hears the footsteps run right up to his hiding place in the bushes. He closes his eyes, but the footsteps stop. Finally, he gets up the nerve to open his eyes, and sees...and sees...

And it was at this point that I almost jumped out of my chair and shouted. I knew what he saw. I knew what was chasing him. Not because I had heard Laura read the story to Josh before, but because I remember reading the same story when I was a kid. I didn’t know I remembered it. I went rushing in to see the book, and even remembered the illustrations. It’d been years since I heard the story. But then I heard the words and a switch in my brain got thrown and the memories came back. And two things occur to me: I’m really glad I heard the story again, and I’m really glad that Josh got to enjoy the same story.

I wonder how many people have another story lodged down deep in the recesses of long-unused memories? Not a book from childhood, now, another story. An “old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

Stories have power. They catch us in their drama, they move us, and they stay with us. They often stimulate us intellectually, but they also touch us emotionally. They engage us at heart level, the level where real change happens. Formulas are good for analysis, but stories transform. Long after equations are forgotten, stories remain with us.

I can break down the gospel into equations and formulas, I suppose. I can describe it with impressive words like “atonement” and “propitiation“ and “kenosis”. There’s a place for that, and the men and women who actually know what those words mean do very important work. But it wasn’t Algebra II or Physics or even New Testament Greek that came rushing back to me involuntarily. It was a story from childhood, triggered by just a few words. And that’s why I’d just rather tell the story of Jesus.

I can’t think of too much in life that compares with telling that story to someone and seeing them burst into tears or break into a smile. I can’t think of much that compares with telling the story of Jesus and seeing a light of recollection come on in their eyes. You can see that they know the story. They’d just forgotten. They knew all along that they had a God who loved them. They knew all along that this God wouldn’t for one moment leave them alone in the middle of their sin, destruction, and death. They knew he’d come for them, but they had forgotten. All they needed was a few words, a few actions, to remind them of the story they had forgotten that they knew.

I can’t think of much that compares with being the person, or one of the people, who speaks the words that throw the switch in a heart. Yes, many times, the words are spoken and no light comes on. But then, just when you start to doubt the power of the story, it happens. And seeing a person transformed by the power of the story you’ve had the privilege of telling them is like nothing in the world.

So tell the story. Some stories you never outgrow. There are men and women, boys and girls, all around you who need to hear the story of Jesus again. They need to be reminded that the Creator of the universe created a body and blood for himself, then let that body be broken and that blood be spilled. All because he loves people, all people. All because he loves us and hates the sin and death that wound us and destroy us. All because he preferred dying over living forever without us.

Tell the story. You don’t have to tell it eloquently; it speaks beautifully on its own. You don’t have to tell it persuasively; it has its own power to persuade. You don’t have to answer ever question; it transcends questions. It is “the power of God at work” precisely because its author knows our deepest need. And it still carries the power it’s carried since it was told for the first time: the power to make men and women leap to their feet spiritually and shout, “I know this story!”

Tell the story.

What’s that? What was chasing the goblin in Josh‘s book? Well...I don’t want to ruin it for you...

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

E-mail Patrick Odum

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