A few years ago, my wife, Melanie, and I lived in Jerusalem for five months. While there, we were blessed to have seen most all the holy sites in Israel. But near the end of our stay, we decided we wanted to see Petra, the ancient city carved into sandstone canyons, over in Jordan. Our best friends Jeff and Hart were visiting, and we spent a cold and sun-drenched January day hiking through the towering red stone ghosts of the ruined city.
But the next morning we found ourselves snowbound in a taxi at the crest of the King’s Highway—elevation 5,000 feet—far from Jerusalem. An hour after the driver called in our predicament, members of the Jordanian army suddenly emerged from the white. They had driven their emergency response truck as close as they could, then hiked up the highway to the cab. Jeff and I helped the soldiers push the taxi out of its snow-mired fix, as the driver pulled away and drove our wives back to the bottom of the mountain. He couldn’t park and wait for us to climb back in, of course, because we’d get stuck in the snow again.
That left Jeff, five very friendly and gracious Jordanian soldiers, and me to walk a mile through a blizzard back to their rescue truck. Along the way, we pitched snowballs, all of us laughing, talking, and trying our best not to think of the cold. Then here was the rescue truck—emergency yellow, sharp and big with its pug-faced grill and running boards two feet off the ground. The driver greeted us, and we all climbed into the warm quad cab. Eight of us were jammed inside, Jeff and I in the back seat with a soldier on either side. One of the men in the front seat pulled a battered Thermos from the floorboard, and another produced a stack of thick glass tumblers. The one with the Thermos poured out steaming hot tea and gave Jeff and me the first two glasses.
I don’t even like tea, but I cannot remember tasting anything as perfect as that sweet and strong hot drink, its steam immediately fogging my eyeglasses.
That was when Jeff, holding his own tumbler, turned to me and said, “This is going to make a great story.”
“Yes, it will,” I said.
The story wasn’t over yet, and already we were thinking, We have to tell this!
That’s how powerful story is: we weren’t even warmed through yet, not even reunited with our cab and loved ones. The story of our being saved in a snowstorm by the Jordanian army wasn’t over yet, and already we were thinking, We have to tell this!
I am blessed with the wonderful job of writing stories for a living. And because I am a writer, one of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Joshua, after the nation of Israel has just crossed the Jordan River. God instructs Joshua to choose a man from every tribe to carry a stone.
“Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan,” Joshua tells those 12 men, “and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (Josh. 4:5-7 ESV).
Why do I love that passage so very much? Simple: because it shows that God wants us to tell stories about Him to each other. He wants us to remind each other—person to person and generation to generation—of the miraculous ways in which He works in our lives. From this passage, I understand the value God places on the story of how He saved the nation of Israel and brought them, finally, to that land He’d promised.
God loves story. It’s no accident that narrative in the Bible—true stories of God and man in action—play a large role in the Old Testament and make up a majority of the New Testament. All the most memorable moments in the Bible, both good and bad, come to us through stories. Think of David and Goliath, but also David and Bathsheba. Think of the disciples dropping everything to follow Jesus, but the rich young man leaving in sorrow because he can’t give up what Jesus calls him to. Think of Joseph and his coat of many colors, Jonah throwing himself into the ocean, Paul shipwrecked on Malta with that viper latched onto his hand. And of course, there is that most memorable and redemptive moment in human history: the fact of the empty tomb.
Like the Bible, the vast majority of our lives are made up of the stories we have lived through, that we have been told, and that we tell to each other. They unite us as individuals in personal relationship with our God, bind us as members of a family, and connect us as members of a community of believers.
Like the Bible, the vast majority of our lives are made up of the stories we have lived through, that we have been told, and that we tell to each other.
I grew up in a large family that told stories about itself all the time. Though my father was never one to gab, I knew plenty about him because his brothers were more than happy to fill his children with tales of their growing up in the backwoods of Mississippi.
One of my favorites was the story of my father and Uncle Lynn working in an ice cream factory one summer, and my father being so hot he touched his tongue to the icy wall of the warehouse freezer for relief, only to get it stuck there. I knew all about my mother growing up the daughter of a bit actor and her embarrassment at having to take tap dance lessons with him because he figured a father-daughter dance team would help him break into Hollywood.
These stories made my parents human, made them more real. And the same is true for my children and the tales they’ve heard about Melanie and me. They know the story of how we met at the College and Career Sunday school class in Huntington Beach, Calif., and how Christ has been at the center of our lives, through better and worse, for the 33 years we have been married. The memorial stone of our marriage reminds us to tell our two sons, both grown now and wed themselves, of God’s calling to forgive and honor and trust each other as the only means through married life.
But when it comes to stories, none compare to the intimate, life-changing, one-to-one story every Christian owns about finding salvation in Jesus. There are quiet stories of those who were saved early on and who have known the beautiful work of Christ for as long as they can remember. And there are the ragged stories of sorrow and depravity of those who were snatched from the depths of deadly sin into His arms. There are the ongoing stories—all of our stories, truly—of the continuing battle with sin and the continuing rest in Christ we find and forget and discover again. It’s a tale of rescue so very much more harrowing, and so very much more eternal, than being stuck in snow and being saved by Jordanian soldiers. And it’s one worth telling over and over again.
We are bound to God most deeply and, most importantly, by the individual story of our own sin and Christ’s love for us in spite of it. We are bound by the awesome story that we are forgiven, both as collective sons of Adam and as particular human beings living the particular lives we have lived. No one—no one—knows the story of me more closely than God. And it is His intimacy with my own story of failure and sin, and His still having loved me so much that He gave me His only Son, that binds me ever closer to Him.
The day I found Christ, I finally understood that the story of me—a worthless sinner, like everyone else ever born—had as its mysterious and surprise ending my being purchased, through Jesus’ love and sacrifice, out of that sin and into a personal relationship with the very Author of my own story.
My Creator had allowed me to know who I was. And in doing so, He also let me begin to know Him and the depth of His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The greatest joy I have ever known—a joy that continues to this day—is the knowledge that my very own name is written on the palm of His hand.