3) It makes the truth unforgettable.

Stories are easier to remember than “truths” or “principles” or “formulas.”  The teacher who can encapsulate her lesson in a story has done her students a great favor and guaranteed that the message will stick.

A Lincoln story.  After Grant defeated the Southern forces at Vicksburg, he “paroled” the Rebels, meaning he allowed them to muster out of the military and go home without imprisoning them.  That did not “set well” with some in Washington, and one day Lincoln received a delegation to complain about the practice. “They’ll just have to be whipped all over again at another place,” they said.  According to General Horace Porter, who got the story from General Grant, Lincoln told his visitors the story of “Syke’s yellow dog.”

Old man Sykes, who ran a general store back home, had a yellow dog which he thought a lot of. However, in the village there were several small boys running loose who loved to pick on that dog. One day, the boys slipped “a cartridge with a long fuse” in the meat they fed to the dog. Then, they lit the fuse and ran.  The dog was blown in every direction, of course.

As Lincoln told his visitors, old man Sykes picked up the biggest piece of the dog he could find, and after looking at it from every angle, he said, “Well, I guess he’ll never be much account again–as a dog.”

He said, “And, I guess Pemberton’s forces will never be much account again–as an army.”

Lincoln told General Grant that before he got to the end of the story, his visitors were looking for their hats.  “And, I was never bothered any more after that” (by that group).

However, a few pointers to keep in mind for the pastor who would tell a story….

1) It must be appropriate and fit the situation. Try telling it to your wife and child, pastor.  Their reaction will tell you all you need to know.

2) Do not load your sermon with too many stories. The more you tell, the more you diminish their value.  Two good stories per sermon are ideal.

3) You need some kind of file in which to keep the stories you come across. No one can remember them all. I expect we’ve all had the experience of coming across an old sermon of ours and discovering a great story, one we had forgotten and wished we had used more over the years since.

4) Work at learning to tell a story well.

Do not–repeat, do not!–begin with something like “The story is told of a man who….” or “I once heard a story…”  Just tell it.  “A man once did this or that.”

We don’t need to know that you read this in a book somewhere or it was told to you by a friend (unless that is pertinent to the tale).  If someone asks your source later, you can tell where you got it.

Practice telling the story in various ways. Then choose the one that feels best to you.

I’d like to end this with a story, then make a comment or two about it….

A wealthy rancher ran an advertisement in a newspaper: “A bonus of $50,000 will be given to anyone who can build a fence around my property that is guaranteed never to fall down.”  Various ones applied for the job, but none could convince the rancher their fence would never fail.  Finally one man pulled it off, got the job, built the fence, and walked away with the big money.

His plan was simple: his wall was four feet high and five feet wide. “If this fence ever falls,” he said, “it will be higher than it was before!”

I love that little story.  I first ran across it in “The Sword of the Lord,” a fundamentalist weekly from maybe forty years ago. The story-teller was a pastor making a point in his sermon about the “living and abiding” word of God.  Every time people have tried to banish or destroy the Holy Bible, it has come back stronger than ever.

As a result of the story making its point and capturing my imagination, I never forgot it. And here I am, nearly a half century later, sending it into cyberspace, almost certainly guaranteeing it will show up in more sermons in the future. And how good is that!

Tell me a story, pastor.  You will extend your sermon’s shelf life far into the future.