I Love to Tell the Story

I’ve mentioned this before, but many of my childhood memories of church revolve around old hymns, sung with more gusto than musicality– joyful noises, just not always faithful to the notes. But they were faithful to the Word, and the Worship of Christ. I will always be grateful for that heritage.

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In the more informal services on Sunday nights or Wednesday nights before we settled in for prayer, the worship leader would often ask for members of the congregation to call out the number of any random hymn. We would (attempt) to sing it, often a capella, just the first verse, or maybe the first and last. It gave people a chance to sing an old favorite, or a hymn we hadn’t sung in awhile. Sometimes, a brave soul would find a “new” hymn– one no one (or almost no one) had ever heard. Occasionally, the evening church hour would revolve solely around this worship model– a hymn-sing service. It’s a dying practice, and one that deserves to be preserved. My church has done it a few times over the past years, a local chapel does it once a month, and Bible Study Fellowship in our area begins with hymn-sing every week. It’s a great way to learn old hymns, long-forgotten choruses, and treasured truths of doctrine set to music.

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But I digress. As a child, I liked this spontaneous activity, except for one thing. I knew that if Mr. Teeter opened the hymnal and started to clear his throat, that he would suggest the same hymn he always picked. It never seemed to vary– ever. Mr. Teeter was one of the older men of the church. He was in his seventies, short, with wisps of white hair, wise and twinkling eyes, and a big, red nose like a strawberry, which he often blew–loudly–into his pristine white handkerchief. He always came to church in a suit, complete with a hat, which had its own special spot on the hat rack in the entryway. I could not imagine him any other way. And every time he had the opportunity, he would choose to have us all sing, “I Love to Tell the Story.”

I wasn’t much impressed with the song. It seemed old-fashioned. It was simple. It had no soaring musical passages– sometimes, it even sounded whiny to my young ears. I dreaded the thought that we would sing it (yet) again. I would try to get my hand up and choose another hymn, any other hymn, before Mr. Teeter could clear his throat. I did not understand why he never seemed to want to sing other hymns– I knew he liked “Standing on the Promises,” “Blessed Assurance,” even “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!” But, while he could be stalled for one or two other numbers, he would eventually call out the dreaded number, and we would sing at least one verse. It’s not that I hated the song, and I certainly had respect for Mr. Teeter, but I just couldn’t figure out why THIS song? Why EVERY time?

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Just a couple of years before his death, Mr. Teeter gave his salvation story in front of the church. Many of us had never known about his wild early years; his drinking or his rebellion against his family and the church. Many of us assumed he had always lived a quiet, rather pious life. He radiated the peace and wisdom of a man who walked daily with his God. And then, he told of his fascination with this old hymn. He liked the very simplicity of it–his life wasn’t based on some grand theological argument, or a complicated list of heroic actions he had achieved to win his salvation. His life–his born-again, wonderful, eternal life– was because someone had told him an old, old story, he had believed it, and that had made all the difference. That simple old story has been the same since the beginning– God made the world, mankind sinned and fell short of God’s glory, God sent His Son to pay the price of that fall, and Jesus’ death and resurrection allows anyone who believes to be adopted as a son or daughter of God. And though Mr. Teeter knew the old story inside and out, and lived it, he never tired of it. He was “hungering and thirsting” to hear it again!

Whenever I hear this song now (or suggest it), I think of Mr. Teeter singing with saints and angels, his quiet voice full of emotion, his eyes filling with tears of gratitude and worship, as he gets his request–“and when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, ’twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long. I love to tell the story; ’twill be my theme in glory to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love!”

Praying it Forward

Have you ever been the recipient of a small act of kindness, and “paid it forward” by doing something nice for others? It doesn’t have to be an extravagant gesture–someone holds a door open for you, so you do the same for someone else when your hands are free; you give someone a compliment, and as you walk on, you hear them complimenting the next person they see. It doesn’t even have to be the same action–you may see someone pick up trash along the sidewalk, and later you make a small donation to a local charity that collects gently used items for needy residents…

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The idea is that when we see good things happening, we can be inspired to join in and “spread the good.” In a world full of things that are not so “good”– bitterness, greed, hatred, pushing and shoving, name-calling, apathy, sadness, shame, and evil–good deeds stand out. Even the smallest kind word, smile, or simple act can have an exponential impact when it gets passed on.

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Have you ever considered “Praying it forward?” Not as a substitute for “paying it forward”, but as a supplement? When you see someone doing a kindness, or when you are the recipient of that kindness, you can pray:

  • Thank–of course, if you have the opportunity, thank the other person first, but then thank God for HIS goodness and kindness; thank Him for the person you’ve seen or interacted with; thank Him for giving you eyes to see (or ears to hear, etc.) the goodness around you; thank him for others who have blessed you in the past
  • Bless–if you have the opportunity, bless the other person with a smile, or a reciprocal act of kindness, but then ask God to bless the other person–and/or someone else who is on your mind.
  • Ask– ask God for opportunities to “pay it forward”, or just to spread more kindness! Ask how you can show kindness, mercy, and love to others throughout the day. Even more, ask God to intervene (or help you intervene) in places and lives that need more than a small act of kindness.
  • Confess/Repent–sometimes a small act or word of kindness will convict us, reminding us of a time when we have withheld mercy, or have been the means of causing harm or destruction. Use this time to confess and seek to make amends (if possible), or seek forgiveness.
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May today offer you opportunities to “pay it forward”, and then to “Pray if forward!”

Getting Ready…

My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary. We married late– I became a bride at nearly 47 years of age. I spent most of my childhood and adulthood “preparing” to be a bride–I learned how to cook and sew and keep house with the goal of becoming a wife and mother. I saved items in a “hope” chest– collecting dishes and linens, candles, books–items I thought would help fill our home. After several years, I had quite a collection! Even so, when the time came, I found there were several things I still needed to learn, prepare, collect, and even change as David and I began our life together. And it wasn’t just me– David also made a lot of preparations and sacrifices to ensure that we could begin our lives in safety and relative comfort.

And marriage requires learning, and adjusting, and growing after the wedding, too. So even though we are still happily married after seven years, and even though I spent years before preparing to be a wife, I am still learning and we are still growing in our love for each other and for God.

Jesus compares our eternal life to a marriage. He has paid the “bride price”– redeeming us to belong to Him. He has gone ahead to “prepare a place” for us (John 14: 1-4). Our response should be to prepare for our eternal future with Him! In fact, our marriages should be a reflection and a model of Christ’s relationship with His Bride, the Church.

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As we live out our lives, learning and preparing to spend eternity with God, there are (at least) two things to remember:

  • Don’t “go it alone”– God uses the imagery of weddings and marriages for good reason– He wants us to live in communion, unity, and togetherness for eternity. To try to live independently, grow, learn, and act independently, is to work outside of God’s plan. Insisting on the “perfect” mate– one that will never challenge you to grow–or bailing out at the first sign of conflict may be signs of trouble in our relationship with God. That doesn’t mean that we can’t grow or learn outside of earthly marriage– nor does it mean that marriage alone can teach us all God wants us to learn about relationships. But it does mean that relationships should be more than just superficial interactions, and working through relationship struggles can often teach us about God’s steady and enduring love, and help us develop our own capacity to love wisely and well. Heaven has many “rooms” or “mansions”, but it doesn’t have hideaways and solitary confinement!
  • Preparation must be a priority–imagine getting engaged and doing nothing to prepare for a wedding! No date or time, no venue, no dress, no invitations or guests, no menu, no vows?! And worse– no plan for the marriage–no idea where to live, no furniture, no discussions on how to rear children, pay bills, manage the household expenses, plan for the future?! Yet many of us become Christians and do little or nothing to prepare for our future eternal life with Christ! We spend no time reading His word, seeking His face, or learning about His character. And we spend no time investing in relationships with people who will be our neighbors for eternity– or inviting others to join us for the most important wedding in history!

I have wonderful pictures and memories of a wedding day seven years ago–how much more wonderful to prepare for the ultimate wedding day!

Walk This Way

There is an old comedy/vaudeville gag, where a character enters a stately home, or an office, or arrives at an  important event.  They are greeted by a “straight man” character, who tells them to “walk this way”.  The “straight man” then turns and begins walking in a manner that uses exaggerated mannerisms.  The comedic character doesn’t just follow in the general direction of the other character– s/he imitates the exaggerated mannerisms as well.

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In the last of three prayers from the song, “Day by Day” (see last Friday and Saturday), I want to explore how to “follow Thee more nearly.”

I have this quibble with the song lyrics– I know that “nearly” rhymes with “clearly” and “dearly”, but it is not grammatically correct, as it implies that I almost, not quite, but nearly want to follow Jesus, instead of saying that I want to follow Him more closely, or become a better reflection of His character.  That said, I sometimes think that I fall into the comedic trap of thinking that “walk this way” merely means following Christ with exaggerated mannerisms– I follow “more nearly” when I should be following more closely.

Years ago, a good friend of mine suggested that I read a book called “God On a Harley” (Review and summary here)  It is a fable, and an interesting read.  I don’t recommend it for theological content (the Christ it presents is more of a New-Age life coach, not a Messiah), but I’m glad I read it for two reasons:  It challenged my conventional view of Jesus, and it challenged the way I thought about discipleship.  At the time I was reading the book, I was also considering making some big changes in my life– changing careers, moving away from my home town, and trusting God to be “sufficient” in my singleness and lack of guaranteed income.

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When we talk or think about Jesus’ time on Earth, we generally focus on His birth, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection.  We don’t usually think of His everyday life…where He ate or slept or how He lived.  If He were to walk among us today, He wouldn’t appear like the paintings we see– flowing long blond hair (which has always been inaccurate), white robe and sandals.  He might wear a T-shirt and jeans, ride the bus or subway train, and hang out at Starbucks or the corner convenience store.  Jesus didn’t live in a “holy huddle.”  And, though He famously walked on water, He mostly walked the streets.  He lived and walked and ate and spent His days among ordinary people–in fact, it was His willingness to eat with and talk to the marginalized, the forgotten, the ostracized people of Him time, that got Him in trouble with the religious leaders and those in power.

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I don’t think Jesus in our time would be a tattooed, beer swilling, biker– but I’m convinced that He would be found sharing a story or a pizza  with one; and with the kinds of people many of His “followers” would shun.  The Jesus I want to follow “more nearly” is Holy, but He is not “Holier-than-thou.”  I can’t follow Jesus more nearly if I’m following an image that only exists in a picture or my self-righteous imagination.   In my youth, I had a picture of what “following Christ” looked like– but it was more about following expectations and selfish desires– successful career, marriage, giving to the “right” charities, becoming a pillar of the community.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but if God calls me to serve in humble (even humiliating) ways, doing thankless tasks, and spending time, not helping the needy at my convenience, but truly serving– pouring out my time and my heart until only His strength keeps me going–I have learned the joy and honor that transcends anything I once imagined.

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I’m not a biker, but I love the image of Jesus on a motorcycle, asking me to come along for a ride.  If I want to follow Him “more nearly,” I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor.  If Jesus came and asked me to ride off with Him on a Harley, several things would happen that relate to discipleship:

  • First, I have to commit.  You can’t “sort of” ride along — you either get on the bike or you stay behind. You might know all about the motor, you might know how to ride, you might know the traffic laws, you might even watch a video of someone riding, but you won’t experience the horsepower under you, the wind in your face, the road slipping away behind you.  The same is true of the Christian life.  You can know about God; own a Bible– even memorize it; you can sing God’s praises, all without experiencing a relationship with Him.  But you’ll never know the full power of His grace and acceptance until you commit.
  • Part of that commitment is to be willing to go when and where He’s going…you can’t go on the ride and stay at home.  You can’t go two hours after He does.  And that brings me to–
  • Trust!  You won’t get on the bike if you don’t trust His ability to drive and His wisdom in knowing how and where to go.  Once you’re on the bike, hanging on from behind, you can’t see all of the road ahead.  You can’t steer or hit the brakes.  In my own experience, I ended up leaving teaching after seven years with no “safety net.”  I had no job waiting in the wings, no money saved up, and no “plan” other than to take whatever honest work I could find and follow God’s leading.  I learned by experience that I can trust God’s ways to be better than mine; better than my expectations!
  • Riding together takes teamwork.  Just because God is doing the driving and steering doesn’t mean that I just sit back and watch the scenery (though I can do a lot of that, too).  If I’m not paying attention at curves, intersections, stops, turns, etc., I can throw everything off-balance.
  • Riding together, with my arms wrapped around Him is the closest I can “follow” Jesus.  It’s not about what I know, or what I can “do” for God– it’s choosing to be in a deepening relationship with Him.  As I live with Him, listen to Him, and trust Him, the knowing and doing will come naturally.

I want to follow with abandon– not just to walk several steps behind, or wander in His general direction, or watch what He’s doing from a distance.  I want to hang on and share the adventure.  That’s the way I want to “walk” with Him.  That’s my prayer, “Day by Day.”

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