One of my favorite stories to tell and hear told is the one about how my parents met. I love this story 1. because it’s out of the ordinary and 2. because it’s a story of an encounter that has the presence of God written all over it.
See, my parents met at a McDonald’s in Olathe, Kansas, in the ’70s. My dad was a lapsed Catholic from New Jersey, my mom a straight-laced Nazarene from South Dakota. Though their encounter at McDonald’s was not really by chance – my mom worked there and my dad was a horrible cook – the way their relationship developed from a lunch break and the way planted seeds of faith blossomed has the fingerprints of God all over it.
Often when I tell my own story, I start with McDonald’s because it explains so much about the complex geographical journey of my life – from Kansas to Ohio to New Jersey – and the summer vacations in South Dakota that always included visits with people who played a role in my dad becoming Rev. Ralph and my mom a pastor’s wife.
In my moments of doubt, I often go back to stories like this one, stories that help me hold firm to the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. I am reminded how following and serving Christ has brought so much blessing and joy to my family that turning my back on this faith would make no sense. To me my family’s journey is the embodiment of the phrase, Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.
Stories of faith are more than just good exercises in resisting doubt. They’re biblical. In Mark 5, we see Jesus heal a man who in The Message translation is described as “a walking madhouse of a man.” The guy is an absolute wreck and has so turned himself over to evil that the very essence of evil has taken up residence in him. After Jesus comes along and casts the demons out of this madhouse of a man, the healed man begs to hang with Jesus some more. It’s understandable isn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t you want to hang with Jesus too if he just freed you from demon possession? But Jesus isn’t having any of it. He has a better suggestion for how this guy, who has already had an incredible encounter with Jesus, can better spend his time.
“Go home to your own people. Tell them your story,” Jesus tells him. Like everything Jesus is recorded as saying in scripture, this directive still applies. It’s why in 1 Peter 3:15 we are told to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks about the reason for the hope that we have. Not all of us have crazy stories about how we were lapsed Catholics from New Jersey who were led to Christ by a co-worker and a pretty girl we met on her lunch break at McDonald’s. But if we take a look back over our lives before and after we became followers of The Way and look more closely at the times we chose to live the world’s pattern instead of following the ways of God, it shouldn’t be hard to find a story to tell. Often times, we don’t even have to use words. The way we treat others, the attitudes we carry, if we allow them to, can carry the scent of the Holy Spirit so strong it will draw others to the face of Christ.
Like this demon-possessed man, we have a story to tell, a story of an ordinary sinner saved by the grace of God, plucked from the wreckage of a self-centered life and welcomed into the loving arms of a beautiful savior.