If you’ve travelled with a group, you know the bond that forms with those traveling with you. As the Apostle Paul often concluded his letters, he ended with a verbal group photo to recognize some of the unsung heroes in his life. Everyone has a story. The rude person in front of you at the checkout line has a story. The fellow employee or student working next to you has a story. I heard a remarkable story one Sunday morning while surrounded by so many people I already knew in the church foyer. This young couple had lost everything in a house fire one week before Christmas. But within hours one of our small groups had adopted them and their two young children. On Christmas morning, you’d never have guessed the tragedy that befell them just 1 week prior. Everyone has a story! The encouraging thing about people’s stories is that we can learn something from other people’s stories. Just think about the stories of those around you.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” None of us can do life in isolation. When you hear of how God strengthened one family to persevere, it helps you find the tenacity to keep on keeping on. When God brought me to East Texas, I had the privilege to listen to the story of Dr. Laney Johnson. Each week, for 3 months, we met together for prayer and fellowship. As I listened, my predecessor recounted time and again how God sustained and strengthened the family of faith at Mobberly Baptist Church. If every incoming Pastor had such a privilege, the potential of smooth pastoral transitions would be exceptionally better than it is today. Now, in my 5th year as Mobberly’s pastor, I continue to see our same God creating new stories of sustenance and strength.
Every week, I am blessed to hear these stories through our Small Groups, in our decision rooms after worship services, through our family services ministry, or coming out of our Celebrate Recovery Ministry. When we hear stories of 2nd chances, we find encouragement for reaching our own God-given potential. Onesimus was the 1st century runaway slave whose return to his master was the very reason for the New Testament book of Philemon. Onesimus had been a slave in Philemon’s household but ran away (this was during the time while the Colossian church was meeting in his home). As a fugitive in Rome, Onesimus met the apostle Paul, who led him to Christ. As he repentantly returned to his master, Paul wrote to urge Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Although Onesimus was a runaway slave, Paul describes him as “a faithful and beloved brother.”
When a person comes to faith in Christ, the past is no longer an issue. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Onesimus is a testimony to the power of God to transform a life. In Christ, there’s neither slave nor free (Galatians 3:28). Here’s a man with no possessions, no rights, no inheritance and of no regard to the vast majority of the people – yet Paul giving him a 2nd chance can illustrate our own potential today.
Not every story you hear is going to mirror the hall of fame heroes of faith, but those who most closely know Christ will most vividly reflect Christ. Paul calls this “Christ in you the hope of glory.” As you begin this year, take time to inquire of others. If they know Christ, He shines brighter. If they don’t know Christ, it yields opportunity for you to share Him. Or, what are people learning from your story? If your closest friends summarized your story, would it be a story about Christ? “He must increase, but we must decrease.”