Signs and stories

DSC_2143I generally don’t like church signs. Not the ones that identify the church, but the ones that preach, cajole and attempt to convict people who really ought to be focused on their driving rather than their spiritual condition, although, granted, the two often go hand-in-hand.

I am especially wary of those church-sign keepers who, desperate for something cute to say in 10 words or less, revert to: “Sign broken. Come inside for message.”

No, the sign is not broken. If it were, it would not be bearing that lame, untrue message.

And if the church finds it appropriate to tell a lie on the sign in order to get folks to come inside and hear the message, what is it preaching from the pulpit? Just take the sign down if it is broken. Don’t break the message for the sake of a sign.

In other words, I would never trust a church that put that lame thing on its sign. A simple welcome will do.

All that stated, on Saturday morning I did something I rarely do. While traveling through Bedford County, Pa., on Route 220, heading toward the Maryland border, I saw a church sign that made me think. Indeed, I turned around and went back to read and photograph it.

On the opposite side, was this message.

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This sign was in front of an Assembly of God congregation, a denomination that, unfortunately, I’ve seen display some pretty judgmental and harsh messages. But this one engaged me.

As a writer, stories intrigue me. One of things writers learn early on is that every person has a story; it’s our job to unlock that story and craft it in such a way that it is compelling and interesting. Being readable helps, as well.

The idea of God being able to use my story, or your story, is engaging. Most church signs tell us to give our talents, our time and our money to God, that is the church behind the sign. But this sign suggested that God just might be more interested in our story than the other things.

I’m not sure what scriptural basis the pastor is quoting, if any, to backup the sign. It’s probably a good idea, however, that a statement like that have a biblical basis.

Certainly a lot of the characters we read about in the Bible had a story. They were quite a lot — murderers, liars, adulterers, prostitutes and persecutors of the faith. Their life stories seemed pretty predictable — be born, sin, die.  Except the story took a twist when God became interested in them, intervened and used their story for his glory.

That gives me hope that all the horrible incidents that are part of my story  will somehow be used by God and he, not I, will end up being the one who “looks good.” Years ago, when I was living my Christian life according to a different model, I totally felt in control of my story:  Be born, sin, accept Christ, strive for perfection (and assume many days that I had achieved it), die, go to heaven. That was a life without grace, a life of self-righteousness rather than his love and right-ness. Predictably, it crashed; I learned I was not as righteous as I pretended, not as impervious to error and sin as I portrayed.

So the life story took a whole new direction. And that’s OK. Interesting stories usually don’t follow the pattern we expect. Otherwise, there’s not much point in reading them. Indeed, it is the surprise element of life that makes it worth getting out of bed each morning or turning the next page in the book. Just how are we going to get out of this mess? How is this pain going to be healed?  Will we find peace? Will things work out “OK?”

Perhaps more sermons ought to focus on the “story concept.” Christians just got done focusing on and celebrating the “Christmas Story.” Perhaps between now and the “Easter Story,” we can focus on our stories, and even more importantly, the concept of giving God ownership of it and permission to do whatever it is he wants to with the narrative. For some, that will involve sacrificing much more than time, money or talents, it will involve relinquishing our scripts and storyboards to the author of life, himself.

But I don’t want to preachy about these things; I don’t want to sound like just another church sign.

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