Everybody has a story, and several years ago journalist Steve Hartman set out to prove it. Sometime early in the week, he would grab a dart, go to the corkboard that had the map of the United States on it, face away from the map, and toss a dart backward over his head, and see where it landed. Wherever this dart landed, he went to the nearest town to that dart, no matter how large or small. Then he would flip open the phone book, and much like some of choose what Bible passage to read during our private time, he randomly pointed to a phone listing. Then he would interview these people, find out what their life was about, and do a 5 minute segment on that person’s story for the evening news on CBS.
One of the things that surprised me, and it probably shouldn’t have, was how biblical the stories that Hartman told felt. It seemed like with everyone he met, there were these life-changing moments that before which they were one person, and after which they were in a different point in their life. In other words, much like we are reading about with Paul today, they were stories about some sort of calling or conversion.
One such story that captivated my attention was the story of Gloria. Gloria’s story initially caught my attention as I was channel surfing because I was living in Montana and it mentioned a woman from a small town in Montana. As I began to learn more about the story, it intrigued me more because it was a woman from Ekalaka, Montana. Now Ekalaka is a small town, and the only reason I had heard about it was that my friend and 70-something junior high youth leader June was from Ekalaka. Ekalaka is a remote town of 395 souls and 10 times as many deer south of Glendive, MT. It is very close to the North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming borders. In other words, it was in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town of over 10,000 people is an hour away.
Gloria tells the story of being a young mother and sneaking over to the neighbors to get something while her child was taking a nap. She forgot she had left her oven on when she left and looked back and saw smoke billowing out of her house as it caught on fire. She made it in the house just in time to hear her son Phillip breathe his final breathe. She was devastated. Where would she turn? How could she deal with such tragedy? Eventually she turned to the only place she could turn. Feeling very guilty and ashamed she turned to God and begged for help and the ability to cope with her overwhelming grief.
Everyone has a story. Some are like Gloria’s. Others are like the Apostle Paul’s. You see, Paul’s story is really a story about a person who seems to do everything right. He went to the best school, and studied under the best teacher. He was on the fast track to success. He knew the most powerful people in all of Jerusalem. He had a job that allowed him to travel, and allowed him to be well known as someone that is a defender of the Hebrew faith. Since he was part-Gentile, he also had Greek citizenship which allowed him a lot of privileges as well. At the time we begin to get to know who the man then known as Saul, and later known as Paul is, we see that he is headed to Damascus to chase down Christians and capture or kill them. Military leader, pastor, and politician—Paul was a young leader with a lot of potential. Yet still, as Paul would later say in the book of Phillipians, and as Ecclesiastes reiterates, all of the success, money and power in the world can be at your fingertips, and it can still feel like something is missing or that your life is somehow incomplete.
I recently talked with a friend who has made a decision to follow Jesus in the last few years. He grew up in a Christian home with parents who were faithful churchgoing folk. He ran away from church. Then he came to the conclusion that he believed the story of Jesus as a good thing. It seemed true and made sense to him, but he kept his distance from this powerful and mysterious Jesus that he had heard about since he could remember.
He came to a point where the friendships and relationships that he had built his life upon seemed to crumble underneath him. And this Jesus that had haunted him and tenaciously loved him since he was young all of the sudden offered him hope when he needed it most. As he shared his story with me he said something that profoundly touched me and made me think. He said, “Most people I heard about who became Christians came to Jesus because they were afraid of what was going to happen when they died. I came to Jesus because I came to a point where I was afraid to live.”
Everybody has a story. We all come here with our own stories. Stories full of triumph and accomplishment. Stories of survival and hope. Stories full of doubt and despair. Stories of sheer boredom.
And, as we will see, when we truly and honestly meet Jesus, our lives have the strong possibility of being thrust in all sorts of new directions.