What is your favorite story?
Mine is probably The Princess Bride (outside of the Bible of course). Both the movie AND the book. I’ve read The Princess Bride cover-to-cover probably three or four times and I’ve watched the movie more times than I can count. I think I’ve got most of it memorized. How could you not with such famous lines as, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” It’s hard not to love a story that has “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love… Miracles.” But of course what all great stories have in common is a story of transformation. The hero’s journey is always about starting out in one place in your life and having that life changed as a result of the story. And it’s what draws us in. People love to hear stories of transformation – either as tales of inspiration or lessons to grow from or things we really need to avoid. So naturally, the story of Jesus draws us in so deeply not just because of what Christ went through for all of us, but how the events in his life transformed the entire world.
It’s the reason the Gospels were told to begin with.
It wasn’t just a recorded history of things that happened. It was the amazing transformative story of the people of God. It’s the story of God who came in human flesh, who suffered a horrible death, and then came back to life! It’s the story of the apostles and how they were changed by what they saw and what they experienced; how they were once ordinary people who were so affected by their time with Jesus that they were willing to give their lives to share this story with others. And the purpose of all these stories can be summed up in two short verses. The apostle John wrote these words to explain the whole point of the Gospels, and in fact of the entire Bible.
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31
All the stories, all the parables, all the miracles were written for one reason.
“That you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That is the transformative power of the Gospel. THIS story can not only change your life in the here and now, but in the hereafter, too. And John tells us that these stories were just the tip of the iceberg. He writes, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” And in the next chapter he writes at the end, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” So it makes you wonder what else Jesus did we don’t even know about! But these stories were chosen among all the ones out there to make it clear that Jesus was the Son of God, that he came for you and me and everyone else. And that his story needs to be told.
Stories have the power to change lives.
It can shape the way we think and how we understand life. And Jesus knew this. It’s why he told so many stories of his own. The power of a good story would linger in people’s minds and would often be easier to remember than just the cold hard facts. A story can get at the truth in a way that is relevant to the people who hear it. It makes it easy to remember the lesson he was trying to teach. That’s why we hear the story of the prodigal son, or the workers in the field, or the wedding banquet. Jesus wanted these lessons to really linger in people’s minds. Your story has that power, too. Whether you have had a Damascus experience like Paul or a slow realization like the two travelers to Emmaus, your story is important because it shares with others how Christ has changed your life.
Today, I thought I would tell you mine.
I grew up in a nominally Buddhist household, meaning that we didn’t go to temple or anything like that. My grandparents were Buddhist on both sides and I ended up going to a lot of funerals for a kid. My parents bought me a set of prayer beads when I was young and taught me the traditions of a Buddhist funeral, but I have to admit to not understanding the significance of any of it. When my grandmother passed away, it was the first time someone I knew well had died. I was about eight years old and I remember asking my mom what happened to her. Where did people go when they died? What happened to them? And I’ll never forget what my mom said. She said, “I believe she is in Heaven with God.”
Well, that stirred up all sorts of questions.
Who was God? Where was Heaven? Could you get there by bus? I guess my questions were getting to be more than my mom could answer because I remember by fifth grade she sent me to Sunday School for the first time – Anaheim Japanese Free Methodist Church. It was there I first heard about the life of Jesus. It was a typical Sunday School. Every week we had a memory verse and if you memorized your verse you got a stamp on the wall and once you got 50 stamps you got to go to Disneyland. Even then I was a Disney fanatic so you bet that was great incentive for me. My mom was a little worried I was spending so much time on my Bible and was afraid it would affect my schoolwork. In my defense it didn’t, but she suggested we stop going for a while which I was just fine with.
But I never went back to that church. God wasn’t done with me yet, though.
In the meantime, God kept putting people in my life who kept nudging me in my faith. I remember the first time I went to a Christian funeral. It was for my mom’s uncle. His wife and kids were the only ones I knew in our extended family who were not Buddhist and when he passed his funeral was so different. Up to that point, funerals were very sad, somber moments where afterward everyone felt better because they ate Chinese food. But here it was a celebration of his life and the ways in which he touched those around him. I remember the Lt. Governor came to speak at his funeral and talked about what an honorable man he was. Someone from the national Boys and Girls Club of America came to pay respects and to say a few words about his work with those kids. And of course his family shared about how much he meant to them. And all of that testimony really made a difference to me. Later on when I was in college, I invited my friend Lisa to come to my parents’ house for our Easter get-together and she said sure, but would I like to go to church with her? It was the first time I attended an Easter worship service (and again it was in a Methodist church coincidentally). We sat up in the balcony and something about that service stuck with me. That same desire to want to know more that I had in fifth grade started coming back.
Over and over again God kept putting people in my life who would invite me to learn more.
Two of my buddies at Disneyland, Mark and Steve, kept inviting me to church. They lured me with the promise of pretty girls, but it was the mystery of God that kept me going. Another friend of mine, Mark Adams, asked me to be best man at his wedding and it was the first time I had even a smidgen of a personal relationship with a minister. The priest wasn’t pretentious and he didn’t look down upon me, but treated me with kindness. We were doing communion at Mark’s wedding, and he asked if I was Catholic and I told him I wasn’t. He said, “Well, we just won’t tell anyone.” And even though it meant “breaking the rules,” he served me communion and that made a big impact on me. To him, I was more important than the rules. Without understanding it at the time he was exhibiting grace. And of course, Cassie, who would invite me week after week to go with her to church. Even though I would say “no” she didn’t bug me about it. She just would ask me again the next week and the next and the next, and I thought to myself, “If I want to be with her, I’d better say yes.” So I did. And Cassie’s patience paid off. Going to church I met people who were just like me. They weren’t perfect. They had problems like I had problems. The difference is when things got tough for them, they turned to Christ and one another. When things got tough for me, I had only me. I wanted to know more about the peace they seemed to have that I didn’t, a serenity about them I craved. And as I got to know them, I knew I needed God in my life in a much deeper way. And after 33 years of life on this planet, I finally surrendered my life to Christ. And it only took 33 years.
But as I look back at my own story, I realized a few things.
I realized that God was working in my life all along. I was never really alone. I sometimes felt alone, but God was there in the nooks and crannies of life. I realized God used a wide array of people to reach me. Each one was open to inviting me into a deeper faith and slowly I began to say “yes.” I’m just glad they were willing to be God’s vessels to reach me and my stubborn head. And I realized that there was something about a life in faith that cannot be substituted for with money or power or influence. People who truly trusted in Christ had a peace and a way about them that was different. They weren’t perfect. But they faced life in a way I desired. And it took a very long time, but I finally saw how much I needed God.
Every time I tell that story, I just pray I’m not boring someone to death.
But people are often captivated by it. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has thanked me for sharing my story or told me I need to write it down and tell it to more people. Maybe it’s because they see in me how much Christ has changed my life. Maybe it’s because I didn’t come from a Christian household and “found” God despite not knowing him. Or maybe it’s because they see themselves or someone they know in my shoes. And like the Bible, there is even more to my story than what I just told you. Some of it remarkable even for me. And I lived it! And each time I tell it, I am reminded of how grateful I am to God for putting these people in my life. Even if no one else heard it, my story is a reminder to me of God’s grace and love. Your story is no less remarkable. But so many of us don’t think about it. So many of us don’t ponder the difference Christ has made in our lives. Peter tells us to always be prepared to tell others why you have the faith you have, because our stories make a difference. But how can we do that if we don’t spend the time to know our story? Have you thought about why you follow Jesus or how that’s made a difference in your life? If you have, I would love to hear about it. I made you sit through mine and I’m always interested in knowing how God has worked in other people’s lives. But if you haven’t really thought about it, I want to encourage you to spend some time pondering that very thing. How has God made a difference in your life? Jesus knew that there is power in our stories. It’s why he told so many himself. And there is power in your story, too. Even if it’s just for you, spend some time and think about the difference faith has made in your journey and how that faith has transformed you. Stories have the power to transform lives. Sometimes even our own. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.