Getting Close to Jesus…

Spoiler alert. This is part one of a two (or more) part series of posts. I am committed to keeping posts short for readability, thus the need for multiple editions. You’ll understand the reason as we continue…

A dozen years ago, I was prepping for a confirmation retreat for about 50 kids and their leaders. The intent of the retreat was to provide the kids with the opportunity to respond to what they were discovering about Jesus. Our hope was that they might choose to follow the Jesus that came for us – the One who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sin and was resurrected, paving the way to life eternal. In light of the discussions of the last post, we did NOT want to present them with the typical invitation to declare a cognitive belief. We did not want to lead to the misconception that the Christian faith is primarily a transactional act. So we tried something different…

At the beginning of the weekend, we gave the kids a card with “Jesus” on the center. We asked the kids to put an “X” on the card to describe how close they thought they were to Jesus, then discuss with their small group. There was a girl in the group who knew all the Jesus stories, having attended Sunday School all her life and now confirmation. She placed her “X” right next to Jesus, a bit proud of her knowledge of what Jesus had done for her in dying for her sins so that she could go to heaven.

Then there was Levi (not his real name). He placed a tiny “x” in the lower left-hand corner, as far away from Jesus as possible. I think he might have actually placed it on the backside of the card, had that been an option. When asked about the placement of his “x” on the “Jesus Card,” Levi explained to his small group that he knew very little about Jesus and what he did know came mostly from his first semester of confirmation. He wasn’t opposed to Jesus, just far away.

As the weekend progressed, we helped the kids understand belief/faith in terms of pisteuō (trust, reliance, adherence). We helped them understand that pisteuō is really a following term and that following implies direction (i.e., if I’m following someone, then I need to go where they are going). So we had the kids put an arrow on their “X” indicating direction in relation to Jesus. The exercise was transformative for many of the kids, especially Levi and the girl (we should give her a name – let’s call her Judy).

Judy sadly had to admit that she was actually moving away from Jesus. Though she was knowledgeable about Jesus, the exercise caused her to realize that she had no interest in following Him. She was focused on what Jesus could do for her (see Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) and wasn’t interested in giving him permission to run her life. Levi, on the other hand, was elated to to discover that he was actually moving toward Jesus. In fact, his arrow was fat and long in order to communicate to his small group that he was well on his way.

Yes, Levi was well on his way. He began to follow Jesus that weekend, learning to pisteuō Him, continuing the journey today. Judy struggled. She wanted to stand on what she cognitively believed, but did not want to give Jesus the reigns. Transactional (or positional) belief in God is not what Jesus calls us to. In fact, I would suggest that it gets it the way of actually following Him. You’ll want to come back to the next posting in which we will compare and contrast “belief” with “following.” In the meantime, think about how you might have marked the “Jesus Card” in the past. Or in the present.