The constant of Jesus

Do you remember a time when life seemed a little bit simpler and sweeter?  For me, those days were especially vivid during the summers when I was a kid. I recall spending summer days at my neighborhood swimming pool literally from sun up to sun down. Those were some of the best and most vivid memories of my childhood. All my friends were there, I could hang out with the high school kids and think that I was cooler than I was, and the snack bar had all my favorite candy (Boston Baked Beans and Lemon Heads!). Families would come together for evening swim - we would bring leftovers from supper to the lifeguards and our parents would sit pool side and talk for hours while our fingers and toes pruned like raisins as we played sharks and minnows and dove for quarters in the dark.

Over the years things changed for me and that pool. The pool had to be shut down because of shifting ground underneath it, so my family joined another neighborhood pool. But at this new pool, the same families that I had grown up with weren't there. Instead, there were new kids to get to know, ones who had grown up together and had their own groups and games that they played. It wasn't that we were not welcome as a family - we were - it's just that this was no longer our pool. We had spent so many years growing accustomed to the same environment with the same people that nothing could replace that. That neighborhood culture that we had spent so many years working to foster was no more.

Fast forward almost 30 years and I now have children of my own. As summer rolls around, I can't keep all those memories of spending countless hours at the pool out of my mind. My kids need that same experience. I can envision my kids running around with chlorine matted hair while my wife and I lounge pool side chatting with other parents as the sun goes down. The neighborhood pool culture was just what my family needed.

I did some research and found the perfect pool for my family to join. We knew several of the families who belonged there and it wasn't too far from our house. I began to plan as many family outings to the pool as I could, dreaming of how awesome it would be for my kids to spend their days swimming and making new friends. And truthfully, some of that did happen. That first summer at this new pool my children learned to swim and jump off the diving board and they made many new friends. The snack bar even had really good ice cream! But did I manage to recapture for them all of those experiences from my childhood? Not even close. In fact, by the time July started to wind down my kids almost refused to go to the pool: It's too boring! None of our friends go anymore! I'm tired of swimming all the time!

Sadly, I had to admit defeat. There was just no way that I was going to be able to recreate those childhood memories and make them relevant to my own children. That community feel created by the neighborhood pool experience during my childhood no longer was within my grasp. My children wanted and needed their own experiences.

Time takes its toll on all of us. What was fun for me as a kid is not necessarily what my own children will prefer. Yet there is one dynamic that stays constant no matter the season of life that you are in: We all want to feel connected and experience a sense of community. That's true of my family. Today we have found our niche in a coastal environment where spending time on the beach has taken the place of endless days at a neighborhood pool, and my family couldn't be any happier.

Think back to when you gave your life to Jesus or to a time where you felt incredibly close to God. Chances are these were not isolated events for you. There were other people involved in those processes, walking beside you along the way and providing fellowship and community that to this day you still treasure. You couldn't wait for Sunday to roll around to be with your faith family! Hopefully that is still the passion of your heart, but for many of us time can take away some of those joys as well. We grow up and go off to school and get jobs. Then we become nostalgic for the way things used to be. We want those experiences that meant so much to us to be replicated that we resort to church hopping, joining then quitting small groups and Bible studies, and trying out different children's and youth ministries to see if our own kids can have the same experiences that we had.

This vicious cycle is rarely fulfilling or successful for most of us. When we try to recapture the feelings or nostalgia of the past, we don't realize that we are grasping at what was never meant to last. Memories will always be with us and past experiences still make us smile, but if those things are what we are after then we are missing the point.

The pastor of my church when I was growing up passed away long ago and I miss his sermons and the wisdom that he poured into my life. I have fond memories of Sunday school and youth ministry in an environment that seemed to me to be much simpler and safer back then. Yet one constant is still as true and real today as it was all those years ago when I played kickball during VBS and enjoyed Wednesday night suppers and couldn't sleep the night before summer camp because I was too excited - that constant is Jesus.

The church where I now serve and bring my family is totally different than the one in which I grew up. There is no organ or piano, small groups meet in homes during the week instead of in classrooms on Sunday mornings, and if the building didn't have a sign on it then no one would believe that a church met there. But Jesus is proclaimed there just as He was when I was a kid. The gospel is central. Lives that are broken find healing in Christ. And my children are growing in their faith under the teaching of adults who pour the truth of Scripture into them much like sweet old Snookie Johnson and Catherine Byrd taught me on Sunday mornings way back in the 1970's.

Yes, times have changed but Jesus has not. Preferences for preaching and musical styles in church will always fluctuate and be a source of discussion, but the truth of Jesus and the gospel message must always be our constant. I may not be able to recreate my childhood experiences for my children - and they don't want that from me - but I can make sure that they encounter the same Jesus that changed my life all those years ago.

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