RITE OF PASSAGE: Jesus Loves Me?
“Jesus Loves Me” is one of the first songs I can remember learning as a kid.
You should have seen me-standing there in the front row of the preschool choir, my parents looking on with great anticipation. I was one of those little boys who wasn’t afraid to lean back on his heels and let the music rip from the bottom of his tiny heart. I sang as though I was the guest soloist for the church cantata and the rest of the children were there only as my backup singers. When I got to the chorus, I sang with all the gusto that a 4-year-old could muster, “Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible teeellls-meee-soooo.” (My flair for the dramatic led me to hold out the last few words for emphasis every time). The problem was, I could sing it . . . but I couldn’t believe it. “Jesus loves me” must be one of the hardest theological concepts for anyone to understand.
Another song reminded me of that one, but it sounded a little different. This was the one about “Jesus Loves the Little Children of The World.” Again, I sang boldly, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” Now this song, I could sing and believe. I believed God loved the children starving in Ethiopia and the children running through the jungles of Panama. He loved the orphaned children in faraway China and the city kids on the busy streets of Manhattan. In fact, I believed that He loved all the children of the world . . . except one.
I also believe that many of you who read this know who that one is. You see that person every day in the mirror.
The children who sing those songs grow up to be adults who serve in the church. We greet each other in the hallways and say, “God Bless You.” Now, I can hand out “God Bless Yous” all day, and come home feeling good about myself, but . . . take it literally God wants to bless me? I am not so sure about that. After all, if I am not even convinced Jesus loves me, how can I be sure He wants to bless me?
When I was a child, I needed a real Jesus, not the Jesus in a song. I needed a Jesus with arms Who could hold me tightly when I was afraid . . . a Jesus Who could run his fingers through my hair and whisper that it was going to be all right. I needed a Jesus Who wasn’t stuck in a stained glass window or fixed to a cross hanging on a wall. I needed a Jesus Who would play baseball with me when nobody else would even bother. I needed a Jesus Who would laugh at my childish jokes and join me in a game of Hide ‘n Seek. I needed a Jesus Who would lie beside me at night when I went to sleep, and Who would already be awake when I got up in the morning. I needed a Jesus Who would join me in burping contests and, with laughter in His voice, let me win. I needed a Jesus Who would let me crawl up into His lap, looking deep and long into His eyes to find only . . . acceptance. I needed a real Jesus.
How could Jesus do all of these things for me? Through His body . . . the church. Jesus put special people in His church to interact with me as a child. These parts of His body helped me begin to understand the real Jesus. One was the Royal Ambassador leader who put up a tent in the church backyard and made us all into Native Americans. We learned how Jesus loved them, and when I took off those markings, the leader who loved me with paint on my face would still love the person who was just . . . me. Another part of Jesus’ body was my favorite Sunday School teacher. Every time he saw me, he reminded me that he knew I would become someone special. When I looked into his eyes, I believed him. Still another was my pastor, who let me call him “Bro. Harry,” and took me once a week to Dairy Queen, handing me a dime to buy anything on the menu I wanted.
Jesus did love me! One person was His arm, another His hand and another His heart. When I put them all together, I saw . . . Jesus. This week, what part of Jesus will a child see in . . . you?