Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Beyond my wildest expectations

Late night fun in Douglas, MA
They say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Every time I felt maxed out, he piled it on even more. Stretching me beyond my wildest dreams and expectations.
I can do it, I thought. Six days, plus or minus 50 teens, volunteer work. No problem. It will be over before I know it. SERVE. Douglas, Massachusetts. I was ready. Bring it on. I had something to prove.

Last Saturday, I rolled out of Burlington with 15 young people and 2 parent leaders. I had 8 hours of driving ahead of me to Douglas, MA, so I had plenty of time to mentally prepare. I had spent several evenings studying the devotional material that I would have to lead my small group with, and even downloaded the suggested study guide. I was prepared. Or, at least, I was prepared to fake it really well if I had to. I was going to a week long event with 50 random teenagers from Southern Ontario and approximately 15 youth from the greater Boston area. I had this. Game on.

Sure. I had some expectations. I wanted to know what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. The prelude to the study guide told me we were going to discover that very thing. Don't get me wrong - I have known Jesus as my Lord and Saviour for some time now. But, truthfully, I really didn't know what it was to have Jesus in my heart. I didn't know what it felt like to have an ache in my heart for Jesus. We were going to study the book of Mark. You know...Mark...the guy who didn't include the birth of Jesus, but jumps right to his hairy and locust-eating cousin John the Baptist. Yeah. That Mark.

What I didn't realize is the first verse of Genesis and the first verse of Mark are very similar - they are both about new beginnings. Genesis 1:1 describes the beginning of creation. Mark 1:1 describes the beginning of God's redemption of creation through Jesus. Mark dramatically describes Jesus' break through into humanity and his simultaneous assault on manmade laws and godless institutions, while at the same time, offering love and hope to a motley crew of twelve and massive crowds eager to listen to him. Through Mark's account of Jesus' teaching and ministry of healing, we came to learn how Jesus' life was an example of how we should live and what we should strive for. It was about our new beginning when we surrender all to him.

We were challenged to think of those things that occupy our thoughts for a majority of time. We wrestled with what it means to follow Jesus, to take down our false walls of refuge, and welcome the stranger, the homeless, the poor, the anxious, the wealthy, the visible minority, the drug addict, the sex worker, the teen who tries to remain invisible, everyone...every shape, size, colour, social status...as one of Christ's own. And, if we don't, we're no better than the Pharisee shaking his head when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. That's right. Hard to hear. But I'm often more Pharisee than Christian. More hypocrite than authentic.


Joel and the Canucks - my team!
I'm seeing Jesus more clearly. I saw him around the camp fire as we sang. He was present in the surprising peacefulness of Boston. He was in the laughter as two cultures learned to love and accept each other. He was in our van when we were singing at the top of our lungs. He held the hands of anxious teens. He was in Noah, Joel, and Ben - guys I may never see again but I know I'll spend eternity with. He was with my three children as I watched them from afar. He kept my wife safe while she stayed home alone. He was our traffic guide, our night watchman, and our storm shelter. He was in the hospitality of our hosts. He was in the smiles of custodians and principals. He was present in our small group - Joel and the Canucks - as we shared our personal stories and trials and triumphs. He was in the friendly 'hellos' of welcoming teens. He was in the 'good byes' and hugs of new friends. And he was in Andrew. My good friend, and brother, Andrew.

Minutes before we left to return home, I walked back to the row of cars, and sat down on a bumper. I cried. Not in sorrowful sobs, but with joyful tears. I thought I came to find Jesus.

I had it all wrong...he found me!