Do You Know My Jesus?

Would it hurt to see Jesus as a buddy too?

The weekend before last, Asbury Church officially celebrated the completion of the confirmation process of Annie and Jake.   For those of you who were at Asbury expecting a normal service, you were treated to one that was completely designed, from top to bottom, by the two of them.   For me, it was a bitter sweet process.   The sweetness came in the acknowledgement that I loved being involved in the entire process of confirmation.  Together the three of us spent a year talking about God, faith, and what it means to live as a Christian in a world that either doesn’t find value in doing so, or has a warped definition of what that looks like.  

This year’s confirmation was a “learn as you” go process for all of us.   Due to the small size of the class and the closeness that the three of us already shared, we had the opportunity to redefine the process of confirmation for Asbury Church.    Having done that, we have come to see just how different a process confirmation is from church to church, denomination to denomination, or even from pastor to pastor.

 If you were born Roman Catholic, for example, your confirmation would have been a day marked with a giant shin-dig.   For the Roman Catholic, it is almost as if it is, in some locations, a church based coming of age or a coming out party.  Although any confirmation is a joyous celebration, parties and gala celebrations are not always the standard within the Methodist Church.   It certainly was not the view that I saw develop, and Annie and Jake slowly embrace, over the past year.    

Together we arrived at a place, where confirmation was seen as less of a destination to be celebrated, and more as a moment mark with reverence towards the challenge to come.    I was impressed, encouraged, motivated, and enlightened by their example.  In the end, they built an entire Confirmation program around the concept that confirmation is the moment where the journey begins. 

Although each family is different in regards to confirmation, and however one chooses to celebrate and mark the day is okay, it is important to stress that somehow amidst the individual ways we chose to celebrate the day, we need to find a way to recognize what Annie and Jake encouraged us all to see.   Confirmation is a solemn moment that marks the start of an incredible journey.    It’s the start of a journey that lasts one’s entire life. 

In light of the Bah Mitzvah’s and Confirmations of our neighbors, I was actually asked why we downplayed the celebratory aspect of ours.   After thinking about it, I can honestly say we did anything but.  Two weeks ago, it was our intention that the significance of the Sunday be found not in the celebration that followed, but in the everyday role that a commitment to faith brings.   

I must admit it was a privilege to be part of the process that evolved from the longing, questions, commitments, and struggles of two great kids.  It was a privilege to watch this sacred, everyday moment take root in their planning. It was a privilege to not get lost in balloons and presents.

But…And there is always a But…I did say it was a bitter sweet Sunday.

It came when I put on my Dad hat.  The bitterness came in the fact that all of a sudden another realization hit that Annie, and then Sophie by extension, are growing at a dizzying pace.  Almost every single day, I lose my breath at how quickly time is passing by me.   I have acknowledged for some time that before I know it, the girls will be all grown up and gone.   I know all of this, and I am careful and cautious to miss as little as possible.  

Yet, as soon as I am able to reach out and attempt hold on for just a moment longer…it seems that time finds another gear and they start moving even faster and I find it hard to keep hold.   Time found another gear for me last Sunday.  It was with the small piece of bitterness that comes with a desire to slow time down, that I saw confirmation pass on Sunday.

I look at Jake and Annie, and I see two kids on the cusp.

In no time they will be dealing with things that we never knew or faced at their age.    They will begin a battle of epic proportions against the pressures of a world hell bent on destruction.   Over the course of the next four or five years, they will have to learn to say no to drugs, brush off peer pressure, and learn how true love and relationships are measured (or strengthened for that matter).      They will claim their identity from either that seed of divinity at their core, or via the pressures and pushes of the world around them.

I think about what’s ahead of them, and all our children, and I shudder to think at the greatness of responsibility that the rest of us share.    I hope and pray that Church becomes their sanctuary and their safe place….whether they are thirteen, sixteen, or twenty five.   I hope that the children of Asbury Church truly know at their core, that there are people here that will march straight to the gates of hell, if it means keeping them safe.   I pray that they understand that there is a hope, a peace, a joy, and a love that forms the soul of this place; and it’s there for them to take.  I believe once they realize this, the Church becomes that safe place.

At the same time, I am again reminded of the awesome responsibility we share in helping define God to our children.   Two weeks ago, as we prepared for the service, I took a moment and reflected on their statements of faith which were included in the bulletin, and I found myself wondering how much of this came from me.   

They had statements of faith that seemed almost to pour from my own heart.  Then, I started to think about what would be different in my child if they had a different pastor for the last five years.   How would things be different if they sat next to a different person in their pew?  Would things be different if they looked up to different men or women?   When they closed their eyes, would they see a different God, then they do today?    

We can’t kid ourselves; the God of this place is not only seen through our sermons, or in the reading of scripture.    God is seen when someone looks at how we laugh with each other, how we work together, or how we argue in council meetings.    Everything we do in these walls, and in the name of this place, adds a piece to the image of God that our children carry.   We cannot lessen or reduce that responsibility.

Looking back at the conversations of the past year, I can say we are doing something right.   We might struggle with finding the funds, times, people or the organization to repair windows, re-shingle roofs, or re-landscape lawns, but there is something that is creating an environment where our people are discovering what faith is, and how it can be practiced in our day to day.   It’s seen in each of us, and I saw it in Jake and Annie.    Ultimately, that’s what the church should be all about.   The paint can peel, and the weeds can grow, but if we are doing right in this regard, we are doing okay.

We cannot forget that we are succeeding.  Embrace the old saying; if you want to know the health of a church ask a child.

Considering both Jake and Annie’s statements of faith, I have been thinking about the time in my own life, when I first started to really consider God.    Finding God certainly was a part of my childhood or my early life education.  I wasn’t part of a church going family as a boy.   (This is probably the reason that most of my family is eternally surprised by this part of my life).  

I was without the foundation of a regular church family, Sunday school, or a faith to turn to.   It didn’t seem to be an important part of the family.   Today, I can’t remember what we did on Sundays back then, but I know that church was not a part of it.  Funny thing is, I can guarantee you that my girls will remember where and who we spending with (They might complain to their counselors as countless PK’s do, but they’ll remember!  J )

Even for us and our heathen family, there was an occasional outing or two to some local church.   I’m not sure why we went or what prompted the excursions, but every now and then, Mom or Dad would holler and the expectation would be that we would be downstairs in our Sunday bests.    This happened at best once a year.   To further muddy the faith waters, the trips were always something else.

Living in the South, you had more than a handful of denominations to check out.   In these periodic trips we visited the Bible thumping, dancing in the aisle, Pentecostal churches as well as the sleepy, don’t move when your butt fall asleep mainline churches.     I remember a couple where everyone around us was jiggling and waving their hands, and the entire Masters’ clan sunk deeper and deeper into their pews.  Church and faith, and by extension God, was some peculiar type of experience that was just not part of who we were.  

That changed when I was close to Annie’s age.  We had just moved to New Hampshire from Orlando, and each of us was trying to find our spot in the world.    For me, a natural choice was to find the Boy Scout Troop, and continue with Scouts where I left off in Florida.   Mind you, everything is different down south.    We did our Boy Scouting in the comfort of air conditioning.    In New England, you have to leave the comfort of someone’s living room and venture out into this thing called; Nature.

Although today I find myself being drawn to the great outdoors, I will never be seen as an the proverbial outdoorsy type.  The outdoors were always a punishment in my house.   After fighting with my sisters over some cartoon for a few minutes, we would always hear from the other room;  “You guys better stop, or you’re going to go outside!”.   It would work.   Who would want to go outside when Spider Man or some monster movie was on television?

I like the whole idea of nature and outdoors, as long as I can look at it from a chair on a patio or through a bay window.    I like the whole idea of nature, but it’s the trees, leaves, ponds, animals, and fresh air that I don’t like.   I do jest, but I feel compelled to state that I believe this comes more from growing up in Florida, than any ingrained hatred for the outdoors.    Perhaps my sisters and I were the victims of growing up in a place that was 115 degrees and the woods were places of water moccasins and alligators.   Maybe it has more to do with the reality that the couch was safe, and cool.

When we moved to NH, everything changed.   Now everything was outside, even Boy Scouts (imagine that).   It wasn’t long after I joined the local Boy Scout troop that we were on a midnight hike, up Mount Keasarge. (Or at least that is the mountain I recall it being – could have been a hill too)

For those like me, who are challenged by these things, there was nothing scarier than a night in the dark.    Hiking at midnight up a mountain was even scarier.    I was sure that I would meet my fate that night on the mountain.

For those of you who have not done it, night hiking is a bizarre thing.  

First someone drives you to a middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere, and dumps all your stuff.    For the first thirty minutes you sit there in the pitch black doing nothing.   That time is spent getting your retinas adjusted to the lack of light.   Finally, after what seems like an eternity to you can start to see shadows and outlines.   Although that reduces the risk of falling off the mountain substantially, it also creates a whole slew of sights that you spend the next few hours convincing yourself are not the boogey man.

Without fail, one of your partner yahoos in crime will believe, in their adolescent wisdom, that it would be funny to flash their flashlight in your eyes.    These are not the little penlight things that you find at big box stores, but instead they would be those giant – let’s signal the Hubble telescope – flashlights.   Instantly the light would be on you and it would be almost painful.   Without the benefit of sight, you now find yourself stumbling through the forest, whacking yourself on pine branches and tumbling over roots.   A less than fun journey, has been made even less enjoyable.  

After recovering your sight and stumbling through the forest for what seemed like hours you finally and joyfully arrive at your prescribed destination.  

It was in that arrival moment, on the side of Mt. Keasarge that I can my recall my first realization or recognition of God.  Although the purpose of that hike is vague in my mind, I believe we had come to that mountain to not only hike but to dive into the world of astronomy.   As I pushed aside the veil that was a think mast of branches full of hemlock and needles, what I saw took my breath away.   I had never in my life seen a sky full of stars, and probably have yet to again.    It was sublime.   It was all encompassing.   It took my breath away.

In that moment in that patch of open field, on the peak of the mountain, I stood spellbound.  At that instant I was both speechless and reverent, soaking in the sobering and dizzying reality of just how little I was.   Looking up at the marvelous canvas of the heavens, I realized both how big God was, and how small, insignificant, and inconsequential I was.    In that incredibly beautiful moment, I had found my definition of God.    Sadly, it took many years for that image to fade.

So many of us are like that little boy.    We wander aimlessly, blind to the world around us, when without warning we stumble into the presence of not only the vastness of God, but the knee shaking reality of power of the God.  Those moments might be found on the side of a mountain, or they might reside in our regular living, day to day times.  

Maybe it’s the time when we are scared, alone, hurting, or trying to balance the demands of a universe that is shooting by us at a million miles per second that we catch a glimpse of God.    In those moments, it might be the voice that says I am here next to you.   Then again, it might be the one that reminds us how worthless, how powerless, or how small we are.   What we chose to listen too makes all the difference.

 Instead of seeing God for what God is, we instead look down.    We see weakness, unimportance, and smallness and we accept it as our lot.   It becomes our foundation.    God becomes something out there, not be understood, or known, and certainly not a God that enters into a relationship with us.

As people of faith, and as Jesus’ followers, we are called to be another voice.   We are called to encourage a different perspective or different frame of reference.   We are called to show those who are on the journey, that our God is not distant, or one way “out there”, or one who will leave us here all alone.  

We are to stand up and ask the world, Do you know the real Jesus?

  • Do you know the Jesus that can hold you up when the world is shaking?
  • Do you know the Jesus that will stand beside you when the world leaves you?
  • Do you know the Jesus that can make you smile through the tears?
  • Do you know the Jesus that can help you find your laugh when you thought it was gone for good?
  • Do you know the Jesus that doesn’t care that you might have screwed up in the past?
  • Do you know the Jesus that finds you priceless if the world thinks you are worthless?
  • Do you know the Jesus that finds you infinitely worthwhile, even if the world keeps calling you trash?
  • Do you know the Jesus that sees you as perfect even if the world does nothing but criticizes?
  • Do you know the Jesus that doesn’t care about what you wear, what you drive, what size house you live in, this size of your paycheck or your biceps, what street corner you sleep on, or who you choose to love?
  • Do you know about the God whose Love is beyond definition, or describing?

In the end, I think that too many of us don’t.   Too many have rejected the world’s Jesus.   It breaks my heart that they don’t know mine.    They have rejected the God of the big mouths, not the broken hearted or the ragamuffins.

We are called to go forth and make disciples for the transformation of the world, and that’s got to be our priority.   We show that not by holding up the judgmental, angry, close minded God of so many of our neighbors, but rather by showing the God that I just mentioned above.

At Asbury, we are moving forward and we are doing something right.  I know that this is the God we show to the countless who have walked into this church or met this family over the past 240 years.  This God is also the one we celebrated with two kids two weeks ago. 

In the end, I have to remind you, that outside the doors of our churches and outside our comfort zones, there are millions more waiting to see, meet, and embrace that God.   They are waiting for us to tell them, to invite them, and to let them in.   For God’s sake, what are WE waiting for?

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