I’m speaking at a Christian camp/conference up in Wisconsin right now and I’ve been reminded of something that continues to drive me in ministry. I remember watching a little girl many years ago as her parents took her up to look at a nativity scene on the lawn of the church. Seeing the bundle of cloth in Mary’s arms, the little girl leaned over and looked inside the folds.
“Who’s that?” she asked her parents.
“Well, that’s Jesus!” they replied.
The little girl leaned forward and rapped baby Jesus on the head with her knuckles.
“But he’s plastic!” the little girl exclaimed.
I think we all too often ask people to follow a plastic Jesus: a Jesus who is slick and shiny and impervious to the elements and hollow inside. In short, a Jesus who isn’t real. We skim over the stories and camp on the obvious and offer surface-level answers to deep and difficult questions. And then we get frustrated when they don’t seem to “get” it. No wonder. What we’re asking them to “get” doesn’t deserve their time or their attention and certainly not their lives.
But the more I strive to show people the real Jesus, the Jesus who bursts unbidden from the pages of the Gospels if only you give him half a chance, the more convinced I am that people will do anything to follow him…if only we let them see him as he is.
Probably my favorite moment in ministry for this whole year…maybe for this decade…came today. A middle-school girl asked me a question about “really all of it, you know…the whole heaven and hell thing. The cross and forgiveness, you know? I mean, I don’t get it. How can Jesus do that? What are they talking about?”
So I explained it. God’s plan of salvation and all that, you know? And as I talked I could see her connecting to it for maybe the first time, not because my explanation was clearer than any she’d heard before, but because I had been working so hard to let the kids see the real Jesus and now, suddenly, she saw Jesus as a real person who did this real thing for her on a real cross and…well, I guess it was just real for the first time.
When I was done, she looked at me for a long moment and then said, “Oh…” and this big smile lit up her face. “Oh…so that’s what it all means. I get it!”
It just doesn’t get any better than that.