by Joel Bates
We love telling stories at Discovery Ministries. Just about everything we do involves a story and invites a retelling. A group gets back from visiting the cave, and the stories begin. A youth group, split into two hiking groups, spends the day orienteering in different locations. They arrive back on camp late for dinner having experienced similar challenges and nearly identical weather and terrain, but the stories are vastly different. An expedition returns after being on the trail for a week, and there are more stories to tell than there is time to hear them—the details will unfold during the next few months.
If you’re like me, you crave a fresh perspective and a winsome new tale. I want a new movie more than a good flick I’ve seen before. Outdoor, experiential Christian ministry always results in a new experience and a great story to tell, but what about the old stories? Seeking new stories, we tend to forget the rich, old stories—stories that define us.
A few weeks ago, as I sat in my office, I heard the interns rummaging through the storage closet. “We’re getting rid of old stuff,” one of them directed. She was holding an old, dusty three-ring binder that looked like it hadn’t been opened for at least a decade. “Do we need this?” she asked me.
“What is it?”
“Oh, just some old copies of past years’ receipt letters.”
I shrugged my shoulders. We’ve been sending out monthly receipt letters for over 40 years at this point…letters informing our donors about the life and times of DM…letter after faithful letter by the hundreds. Who would miss the dusty, old reports? I was about to grant permission to destroy the binder when curiosity halted my reply, “Wait! Open it and read an excerpt before we toss them.”
The intern thumbed through the pages to a receipt letter dated August, 1980-something. She began reading about how a group of college students from a local campus ministry had come to Discovery Ministries to help put up some drywall on one of our lodge buildings. As the intern continued reading, others working in the office stopped to listen. The letter told of groups who had visited the ministry for the first time and included a quote from one of the participants about how wonderful the experience of doing group initiatives had been. The letter closed with a word about how the staff members were faring at the end of another busy summer—weary but jubilant.
After she read the last sentence, everyone was silent in the room, captivated by the voice of the past speaking into our here and now. “Wow,” someone whispered. “I just led group initiatives this morning.”
Another intern added, “That was over thirty years ago, and it could have been describing what I did last week.”
“Read another,” someone encouraged.
Again, we heard a cheerful description of the life and times of our ministry from a bygone era, but the descriptions felt strangely familiar. “We can’t throw this away,” someone said. “It’s got too many great stories.” I couldn’t agree more.
Stories are important, especial the old ones. I’m reminded of King Josiah’s story which is a story about finding a story. You see, Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh, one of the nastiest kings of the Bible. Miraculously, Manasseh repented in the end, but not before he had laid waste to the spiritual heritage of the kingdom of Judah. He killed the prophets, desecrated the temple, and demolished the public worship of Yahweh. His son Amon was no better, continuing in idol worship and general ungodliness. He was so intolerable that his subordinates assassinated him and placed his 8-year-old son, Josiah, on the throne.
Josiah’s name meant, “Founded by God,” and that’s exactly what happened just a few years into Josiah’s reign. Against the odds, Josiah came to love the Lord so much that he threw himself into the restoration of Jewish worship. He set about renewing the nation’s relationship with Jehovah. The people experienced a revival and began remodeling their center for worship—the temple.
It was there in the crumbly, dusty, woebegone house of the Lord that one of the priests found a story. It was a book actually that contained a forgotten, old, old story of God’s relationship with His people, the covenants they had made, and the promises of the Father to His children. The story was so powerful that when King Josiah heard it, he tore his robes in distress. He was the ignorant product of evil kings—a young man who loved a God he didn’t know very well—and he was in charge of a kingdom with a forgotten legacy. The story affected his soul and altered the course of history, bringing a blessing instead of a curse.
There’s a great hymn that says, “Tell me the old, old story.” You may think you’ve heard it all before, but there’s still more. You may think we are living in a world too far gone—that the story is lost and no one remembers, but there is nothing that can destroy it. You may feel afraid to tell it—that you’ll get the details wrong, but it’s a story the world needs to hear!
Have you rediscovered a dusty archive buried in the annals of ancient history? Do you remember a ministry story of how Jesus impacted people’s lives through challenge and adventure? Does the old, old story you’ve read a hundred times from the Bible still jump out at you, ready to redefine your purpose and rescue you from a mundane existence? Be bold and courageous. It’s time to tell the stories—the old, old stories!
Looking for a stocking stuffer? Consider Joel Bates' new book, Life Outside! This is the perfect gift for someone who loves stories, the outdoors, adventure, and seeing God in new ways.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.