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I love to tell the story

October 17, 2014

Our church is in the middle of a big evangelism push. Every now and then we evangelicals get worked up and reinvigorated to tell the world God’s story. These occasions can make us brave. They can also make us obnoxious. It’s a toss-up, really.

I'm so sorry, waiters. I apologize on behalf of my people for their poor tipping.

I’m so sorry, waiters. I apologize on behalf of my people for their poor tipping.

I'm so sorry Monopoly afficionados.

I’m so sorry Monopoly afficionados.

As I’ve been thinking about my own struggle to break the ice and share the Gospel with people, I’m reminded how much I need to hear the Gospel. We’re not supposed to speak just to hear ourselves talk. But the truth is, even as a person who has been following Christ for years, I need to be reminded. As the hymn says, “I love to tell the story. ‘Twill be my theme in glory.”

Jesus proclaimed this story Himself in Luke 4 is this:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel as I know tell it in my own vernacular is this: God loves us so much that He came as Jesus, taking on our form and flesh and He gave Himself over willingly to the violent powers of evil on this earth. He then raised Himself from the dead so that we might all have hope in this life, and in the life to come, that everything can be made good again. We have that promise in His Spirit who gives us the deep pleasure of His company on our journey.

This Gospel tells me Christ did the performing. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not, and in letting go of those pretenses, I’m freed to be transformed into someone I’m not. Brennan Manning writes:

The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self- deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness…

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”

This good news has saved my life. This news has given me hope when I’ve royally “boogered up” (as I say to my kids). It’s made me brave enough to, on occasion, risk my sanctimonious reputation for the sake of other people, or for His name. It’s given me the power to turn away from selfish instincts in moments of self-preservation and fear. It’s given me the courage to say “I’m sorry” and “Can I try again?” when I’m better at underlining my self-righteousness and walking away. It’s compelled me to see and know people I would have otherwise found inconvenient. It’s called me to do something with my life: to walk humbly, do justice, love mercy. This Gospel is more than a hot water bottle. For me, it is life.

As the late Rich Mullins sang in his song Creed: “I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am. I did not make it. No, it is making me.”

There are people who have radical stories of their encounters with Jesus. Many of them amaze me with the revolutions they’ve seen in their lives. I’ve seen a few myself, but mostly, it’s a unsteady walk in the same direction. Manning, again, describing his presentation of the Gospel in his book:

This book is not for the super-spiritual. It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne and not Jesus their hero. It is not for academicians who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis. It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion. It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion. It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation. It is not for the fearless and tearless. It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the gospels: “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.” It is not for the complacent, hoisting over their shoulder a tote-bag of honors, diplomas and good works actually believing they have it made. It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus….[this book] was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents. It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay. It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God. It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.

Becoming something other than scalawags is a lifelong process. We need the God of this Gospel to save us from our own messes, to accompany and change us on the road, and we need it in that last breath to take us home. As an “evangelical,” I think we are far too stingy with this Gospel. We fuss and fidget about telling people “who don’t know Jesus” about it because we rarely tell anyone about it, much less one another.

So, if you’ve stayed with me this far, I’m inviting you to share the Gospel with me. And if you’re open, I’ll share it right back. My needs here are as big as yours. And I’m feeling pretty needy these days.

A while back, a friend of mine wrote her biography in 50 words. I felt challenged to do the same, so I spent some time with God over it. God bringing me to a new place of self-acceptance. (Oprah said that might happen in my forties, so HA! I’m early.) This is me, quoting me:

Born and born again in North Carolina. Given a loud mouth, limber mind and stiff limbs. Had a lot of book-learning. Mothering a few kids (mine and other people’s). Occasionally employed, always underpaid. Writes a little. Talks a lot. Almost halfway home.

That’s my offering. And by His grace, He makes it more than enough.


Too Catholic? Oh well.

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