Church as the storytelling place

Elmer GantryOn Sundays I often think of the days of my childhood when I sat on the front pew at the First Baptist Church in Kilgore, Texas, and listened to people tell stories.

I suppose that experience as much as anything in my life solidified my love for the spoken word.  I had rather listen to a good speech, or sermon, than eat homemade ice cream.

I still feel that way.  There is something about stories passed along for generations that strike a chord in me.

In my youth, we had a tradition in the Baptist church that required semi-annual week long meetings known as revivals.  A revival was a gospel meeting with singing and preaching every night from Sunday to Sunday. Sometimes the revivalist was a pastor of another church who came as a guest speaker.  Those were usually rather quiet affairs with sermons akin to what I was used to lined up back to back.

But the really special revivals were the ones when we had an itinerant evangelist for the week.  These strange men made their living traveling the gospel circuit from week to week.  Strange is the only word I know to use about them.

One preacher, Angel Martinez, had a signature wardrobe.  He wore a different jacket each night that shined in the lights of the auditorium. Yellow, blue, pink, red.  He once did a community crusade at the football field and preached on the topic: “Was the wine Jesus made fermented?”  I told you these were strange men.

But my favorite evangelist was the legendary R.G. Lee.  His famous sermon was Pay Day Some Day.  At the time of his death in 1978 he had preached it over a thousand times.

Just think about that.

R. G. Lee
R. G. Lee

Dr. Lee was quite old by the time I came along, but he still carried a fire in his belly and articulated it in the flowery prose of the nineteenth century.  The sermon lasted about an hour, and everyone who heard it wished it had been longer.

To this day, I still see in my mind the dogs licking Ahab’s blood as it washed from his chariot.

Here is how Dr. Lee introduced the players.

“Arise, go down to meet Ahab, king of Israel, and thou shalt speak unto him saying, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.”- I Kings 21: 18-19.

“The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel !”- I Kings 21:23.

I introduce to you Naboth, a devout Israelite, who lived in the foothill village of Jezreel. From his home on the hillside he could look far down the valley of Esdraelon. He was a good man-a man who abhorred that which is evil and clave to that which is good.” He would not exchange his heavenly principles for loose expediences. He would not dilute the stringency of personal righteousness for questionable compromises. Now Naboth had a vineyard surrounding his home. This vineyard, fragrant with blossoms in the days of the budding branch and freighted with fruit in the days of the vintage, was a cherished inheritance of the family. This vineyard was near to the summer palace of Ahab, situated about twenty miles from Samaria.

I introduce to you Ahab. Ahab had command of a nation’s wealth and commanded the armies of Israel, but he had no command of his lusts and appetites. Ahab wore rich robes, but had a sinning and wicked and troubled heart beneath them. Ahab ate the richest food the world could supply, and this food was served him on fine dishes and by servants obedient to his every beck and nod, and yet he had a starved soul. Ahab lived in palaces, sumptuous within and without, yet tormented himself for one bit of land more. Ahab was king, with a crown and scepter and a throne, yet he was under the thumb of a wicked woman. Ahab is pilloried in contempt of all right-living, God-fearing men through history as a mean rascal, the curse of his country. The Bible gives us a better and more apt introduction in these words: “There was none like unto Ahab, who did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up!” (I Kings 21:25).

I introduce to you Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre (I Kings 16:31). A woman infinitely more daring and reckless than her husband. A devout worshiper of Baal, she hated any and all who spoke against her false and helpless god. She was as blunt in her wickedness and as brazen in her lewdness, doubtless, as Cleopatra, fair sorceress of the Nile. She had something of the subtle and successful scheming of a Lady Macbeth, something of the genius of a Mary Queen of Scots, something of the beauty of a Marie Antoinette. Much of that which is bad in the worst of women found expression through this painted viper of Israel. She had all that fascinating endowment of nature which a good woman ought always to dedicate to the service of her generation. But, alas, she became the evil genius which wrought wreck and blight and death.

I introduce to you Elijah, prophet of God. Heir to the infinite riches of God, he! Attended by the hosts of heaven, he! Almost always alone, he, but never lonely, for God was with him. He wore a rough sheepskin cloak, but there was a peaceful, confident heart beneath it. He ate bird’s food and widow’s fare, but was a physical and spiritual athlete. He had no lease of office or authority, yet everyone obeyed him. He grieved only when God’s cause seemed tottering. He passed from earth without dying-into celestial glory. Everywhere where courage is admired and manhood honored and service appreciated he is honored as one of earth’s heroes and one of heaven’s saints. He was “a seer, and saw clearly; a hero, and dared valiantly; a great heart, and felt deeply.”

And now with these four persons introduced we want to turn to God’s Word and see the tragedy of pay day someday! We will see “the corn they put into the hopper” and then behold “the grist that came out the spout.”

And that was just the introduction.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore.


(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author, who grew up in the First Baptist Church in Kilgore, Texas.)

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