[I'm a follower of Jesus.
I made that decision a long time ago. The moment I realized that I was a mess and was helpless to do anything about it on my own. I have faith that in that moment, because of my belief in the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, my sins were forgiven and I was granted eternal life. I was originally attracted to Jesus because He met a need in my life that no one else could satisfy. And the promise of eternal life was just too good to pass up. I suspect that most Christians come to Him in similar ways and for much the same reason. As I grew physically, emotionally, and spiritually, it was the understanding of His unconditional, relentless love that kept drawing me closer to Jesus. And as I became an adult and found the purpose for which He created me, it is the hope and reality of full, free life that has compelled me to continue on the path of finding his sandal-shaped footprints and placing my unworthy feet inside them.
Eternal life. Unconditional love. Freedom and fullness. Those are all true and beautiful reasons for my desire to know and love Jesus. But as I've grown in my faith over the years, as we've gotten to know each other better, Jesus and I, there are so many more reasons for my fascination with Him, my commitment to Him, my faith in Him. Sure, Heaven, love, abundance, those get all of the hype, and they deserve it. But there are also some less-hyped reasons that my love affair with Jesus has continued to grow. Over the next week or so, I'll share a few of them with you. - mp]
One time, I was at the beach with some cool college students from my church. It was Siesta Key, Florida. The sand there is the purest in the world, they say. Over 90% pure quartz, or something like that. It feels as soft and cool as baby powder, without the dusty mess. Anyway, we had 2 Waverunners with us that week. In order to get these fun machines to the ocean side, it was about an hour ride from the bay on the opposite side of the island. So every morning a group brought them around to the ocean side and then returned them in the evening.
On our last day, the rope from a wakeboard got caught in the intake of one of the Waverunners, rendering it useless. We tried for a long while to fix it, but we didn’t have the tools or know-how to make it happen. Eventually, we just tied the dead Waverunner to the back of the one that still worked and a few students began the process of towing it back to the dock on the bayside. My friend, Matt ended up on the machine that was being towed. It took over 3 hours to make it back around to the opposite side. 3 hours, on the back of a dead Waverunner, salt water spraying his face, sun beating down. On top of that, it was a Red Tide, a combination of algae and dead fish that produces a rather unpleasant smell.
When Matt finally arrived at the place where they would take the Waverunners out of the water, after 3 hours of smelly salt water smacking him in the face, he encountered something rather unique. He came upon a completely intoxicated man in blue jean shorts, holding a beer in one hand and laying in the shallow water up to his neck, surrounded on all sides by jellyfish that didn’t appear to be harming him at all. My friend Matt looked at him and said, “Man, how are these jellyfish not stinging you?” The man calmly replied, “You don’t [expletive] with the fish, and the fish don’t [expletive] you. It’s a hard truth, but that’s the gospel.”
I heard Matt tell that story immediately after it happened. I’ve heard him tell it literally hundreds of times since then. It’s still one of the most unique, incredible, and funny stories I know of, and I laugh every time I hear it. And a significant portion of the power and uniqueness of the story is the way Matt tells it. Matt is one of my closest friends and one of my favorite things about him is his story-telling passion and ability. He’s one of the best I know. When Matt tells a story, it’s an event. He gets up from his seat. He paces. He waves his arms in cadence with the rhythm of the story he’s recounting, the inflection in his voice rising and falling with the tempo of the narrative. It’s an engaging and interactive experience.
I love listening to stories. (I love telling them, too.) I highly admire people who can not only tell a story, but tell it well, in a way that engages me emotionally. You probably do, too. You make not think of them as storytellers. They may go by the term blogger, or author, or columnist, or screenwriter. But what they’re doing is creating stories, stories that affect us in ways that we know and can feel (and in ways that we may not even realize).
Jesus did this a lot. In the gospels, people were always marveling about how commanding He was while teaching. Jesus engaged His audience and made them feel what He was saying. He was captivating, magnetic, moving. One of His preferred teaching methods was story-telling. About a third of His recorded teachings were parables. Stories. With a twist. The best kind. And I can just imagine when He would tell a story that He would stand up, and his followers would scoot up to the edge of the rock or patch of grass they were sitting on, and Jesus would pace back and forth, His arms waving to the rhythm of the tale, the inflection of his voice rising and falling with the tempo of the story.
When Jesus tells the story in Luke 15 of the reckless grace of the father who allows his son back into his home and his inheritance after the son had blown his first share of this father’s estate in “wild living,” I can feel the shame of the son in my own failures and shame. I can relate to the love of the father as I think about my own children. When Jesus talks about a person whose home doesn’t make it through a particularly violent storm because they didn’t build it on the right foundation, the imagery of hurricanes bearing down, rain falling, winds howling, motivates me to make sure my life is on a sure base, because I know that life storms are coming, and coming fast and hard. I could go on and on and on. Stories reach our hearts and minds in places that lecture can’t even come close to.
I feel like we’ve lost the ability to tell good stories in our Christian culture. This is sad to me. If Jesus modeled communicating His message in story form about one out of every three times, and we are becoming more and more like Him, then maybe a natural result of following Jesus should be that our stories get better and more powerful. Feels like the opposite is happening a lot of the time. We’re great at sermonizing, but we don’t seem to tell very good stories. Not that I have any problem with sermons, I prepare and preach sermons often, and I listen to several every month. But it feels like we’ve abandoned other forms of communicating and put all of our eggs in the lecture-format basket. Even the movies Christians make end up feeling like a 2-hour sermon. Movies are supposed to be stories, not sermons. When I go see a film, I don’t want to be preached to. I want to hear, see, feel a story. I can draw my own conclusions about life, and morality, and God without having them spoon-fed to me. That’s the wonder of the human intellect. That’s the beauty and power of story.
(Note: There’s a new movie coming out this weekend based on a book that has influenced my spirituality as much as any book I’ve ever read. It’s called Blue Like Jazz. I’m really hopeful that this movie – written, produced, and made by followers of Jesus – will be a story and not a sermon. A chance to engage other people who may not have committed their hearts and lives to following Jesus in conversations about what it means to be a person of faith.)
Jesus was a great story-teller. Maybe the best ever. I love that about Him. It’s not something I ever thought of when I committed to following Him, but it makes me want to stay close on His heels now. I want to learn to tell stories like He did. I want to stand up and pace, wave my arms, adjust my voice, and captivate an audience (whether it be hundreds or just a few friends), make them feel something, something that will stay with them, something they’ll have to wrestle with, something that will be a catalyst for them in their spiritual journey.
I’m a follower of Jesus. The more I know Him, the more I should listen to and contemplate His stories, the more I should appreciate story-telling, the more I should be telling stories of my own. Stories that bend and shape and reset the moral compass of those listening. Stories with a twist. The best kind.
If all I do is lecture people about faith, I’ve missed a big part of the power of God’s love and the heart of Jesus’ message.
It’s a hard truth, but that’s the gospel.