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The Stone that made a boy stumble September 15, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Church.

I was 12 years old. I was nervous, standing in front of all those people on such an important occasion. I wore a necktie. Not the cheesy clip-on kind. I had progressed beyond that years ago. This was the 100% Polyester kind that I tied all by myself, three times before I managed to get the front part longer than the skinny back part. I was particularly worried about my hair.

I had blonde hair, and I was very proud of it because one time a girl said it was cute. My cute hair was parted down the middle in a style my big brother derisively called a “butt cut”. I carried a comb in my back pocket at school, and I used it often. But this was not school. This was church, and I had no comb, so I ran my fingers through my hair. Often. Sometimes nerves manifest themselves in trembling. Sometimes sweating. For me, I suppose, it was grooming.

The important occasion was called “Confirmation”, the time in a child’s life when he or she is old enough to understand doctrine and theology and become a full-fledged member of the church. Seems to me like it’s a kind of Protestant bar mitzvah, but I wouldn’t know. All I know is, I had completed the course, and there I stood, on the platform at Trinity Presbyterian Church, ready to be “confirmed”.

It wasn’t easy. I had to memorize the Lord’s Prayer and the entire 23rd Psalm. Everybody knows “The Lord is my Shepherd”, but getting all the way to “Thou preparest a table” was no picnic for me. I had to learn creeds and confessions and write essays about Martin Luther and John Calvin. I even had to sit before a long table of Elders and be quizzed. In retrospect, I can’t imagine anyone failing the Elder Interview, but it sure was a scary fifteen minutes.

And so it came to pass that Confirmation Sunday arrived, and there I stood, tie around neck, shirt mostly tucked in, fixing my hair. My nerves surprised me. We had been assured we would not have to recite the Nicene Creed or “The Lord is my shepherd” in front of the whole church. Instead, the preacher would just ask us the basic questions out of the book, we would say “I do”, and that would be it. Simple.

I did not anticipate that the basic questions out of the book would bring about a very sudden crisis of faith. Perhaps if the Pastor had briefed us on these questions beforehand I might have known that there, on that platform in front of all those people, my Imaginary Jesus would meet the Real Thing, and a battle would ensue. But I had no warning.

I had learned my Psalms and prayers and creeds. I had learned my history and doctrine. It had all improved my understanding of my Imaginary Jesus quite well. I enjoyed the Confirmation Class, certainly more than my classmates, and probably more than most 12-year-olds. I was a voracious learner, and I very much loved my Imaginary Jesus, so the chance to understand him better was doubly valuable to me. It was like I had a coloring book page of Jesus, like in Sunday School, and all this stuff I learned added color to the picture. That was Jesus, just like I liked him. I could take him with me when I wanted to, I could look upon him for inspiration, I could even color him in a little more every now and then. And he went along with, never once making any sort of demand on me.

On that Sunday morning, Jesus became demanding.

“Do you promise to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?” the pastor asked.

“We do,” the preteens replied in unison.

“Do you promise to serve him as Lord of your life from this day forward?” the pastor asked.

“We do,” the preteens replied in unison.

My lips joined my classmates’ in affirmation after affirmation, but my mind was reeling. Wait! I’m not ready to make this kind of commitment! My whole heart and my whole mind? Follow him every day, from now until forever? How could anyone possibly say these words and really mean them?

The questions swirled, and the hair undoubtedly got fixed in rapid repetition. I met the Real Jesus that day. He is the stone that makes men (and boys) stumble, and I stumbled. I understood, for the first time, through some words that had been mindlessly recited for hundreds of years, that the Real Jesus is Savior and Lord, and that these two roles are inextricable. To say “I do” to one meant saying “I do” to the other.

It took me two more years to say “I do”, in my own quiet way. It’s taken a lifetime of daily commitments to Lordship to begin to understand this Real Jesus.



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