Thank goodness, we can never lose God or Jesus due to their incredible love and grace for all of us – yes even for unbelievers. They are always there for you if you only seek them out. But many of us have had periods in our lives, perhaps even decades, where Jesus was not as close to us as we should have put him. So, we lost Jesus for these moments, mainly because, know it or not, and like it or not, we were lost.
As I reflect on my own life, and I’m guessing most of you have had very similar experiences, I have had Jesus very close to me at times, and there have been days, months, even years where I lost Jesus. For me, I have to say it started in my primary education years with my schools, although the biggest influence started sometime about Junior high School. I was born, raised, and baptized a Christian of the Lutheran religious persuasion. When I started elementary school, Jesus and the Bible had not been fully “removed” from the public-school world so I still had Jesus very close to my mind and heart throughout kindergarten through 6th grade.
Then, about 7th grade, the schools seemed to take over. This was about 1970. School became far more about ME, what I knew, what I could do, what I controlled, and what I thought. The schools had begun to program Jesus out of my life. Although I was still a practicing and weekly worshiping Christian via the Lutheran church, the school’s job of “educating” me to prepare me for life, and had told me daily, and through every exercise and school assignment, that Jesus had no role nor influence and everything was going to be about me…FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. So, you might say, from about 1970-1975 when I graduated High School, I lost touch with Jesus.
However, luckily for me, I had Christian parents, a great church classmate, and a great church life so I had not totally lost Jesus…yet. So somewhere about 1973-1974 (I honestly don’t remember) my very good high school friend, Jim “Satch” Sanders and I were confirmed and dedicated as practicing Christians in our tiny St. George Lutheran Church. It was super to have this church family and it was equally great to be confirmed with my good friend Jim. For this I am most grateful!!!
Then off to college and as much as High School, intentionally or not, tried to push Jesus from my life, College attempted to do the same. However college was the “on-steroids” version, compared to high school, as it was ten times the influence; all-about me and the world, and away from Jesus and God. Even with the Religious studies classes I took and the multicultural programs I was in, the influence was clear that yes Jesus existed but he, his Father, and his teachings should have no influence or bearing on my life, my career, and my future. So, if I hadn’t lost Jesus totally by now, college did everything in its power to make it so. Thank you, Jesus and God, for never leaving me nor forsaking me as your love was always in my heart and my mind, even though it was so very difficult to find any focus on you anywhere else in the campus educational system.
I left college early for stupid immature reasons but I’m happy to say I returned later in life and completed my degrees and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a GPA almost 2 percentage points higher than my valedictorian – I’ll explain how that was possible at some later date, or you can ask me and I’ll tell you why/how 😊!!!
However, this entire sequence forms the natural transition into my work-life and career. Immediately upon leaving college, I started my first career in the restaurant industry. As college had taught me, this was all about me and what I could do, so I threw myself into my job and immediately started to move up the ladder of success. Between my “education” and the strong endorsements of my new business leaders, I had totally bought into the myth that my job was my life and nothing else mattered – my career had become my identity – thank God and Jesus that you did not leave me even though I had temporarily left or lost you!!!
This would continue on for roughly ten years in this industry, through trials and tribulations, I continued to excel, on my own, or so I thought. Oh, how proud my educators would have been to know this - that I was becoming a self-made man, just as they had taught me to be. They had stressed this throughout my scholastic life that I could do anything with knowledge and effort, and it was becoming apparent that they were right. But I must admit, right they were not. Yes, I was successful, but I worked so many hours, as a hugely successful “executive,” that when the hours worked, were calculated against my pay, it equated to the fact that I was actually making less than minimum wage. I had no social life, I was in debt to the nines, and I had not included Jesus in any part of this life; even though I know he was still there watching over me.
During this effort, the first glimpse of Jesus appeared, where he was trying to nudge me back to him. I certainly didn’t know it at the time but looking back it was soo obvious. Just as this career was starting, I had met a person whom I didn’t hit it off with at the time, and let’s say this person really disliked me and based on my treatment of her in our first meeting, I don’t blame her one bit. Several months later I would become her new boss as a result of one of her favorite people and bosses getting fired. This animosity, mostly of hers, went on for about a year, but some little voice hidden deep in my mind told me this girl was special, even though I had no idea why. Next thing I knew, I was promoted again and onto even bigger and better things, and equally importantly, I was no longer her boss. A few months later we were out at a business gathering and we finally for the first time, got to talk as people not co-workers, and the spark was ignited, at least in me. Another couple of months went by, and her family and friend’s kind of threw us into our first date together, and I can honestly say my journey back to Jesus began, all thanks to this person who initially hated my guts.
A few months later we were married and began our lives together. We certainly had a significant number of challenges and struggles. I lost jobs, made several career changes, never really had any money to speak of, and we had three children to raise. I honestly can say I was no longer the pillar of success in my career; I was floundering and lost. You’re thinking how could this have been a good thing leaving the “worlds” and “academia’s” view of success, and following this new path – but I know now this was the pathway back to Jesus? Well, if you know the Word, or are routinely in the Word, you know the answer. As the Apostle Paul wrote in “… but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” - Romans 5:3-5
Somewhere in the depth of these struggles, my parents stepped in to help us buy our first real home. We decided we needed to get back to church, although we struggled for years to find the right fit. Our pathway back to Jesus had officially begun, at least I finally had my eyes opened enough that I could now see it. I once heard a comedian, George Carlin to be specific, say “No man truly matures until he is 40 years old.” As a twenty-something year old, when I first heard him, I scoffed at his proclamation as nonsense. But as I look back on my life, and especially on these events, Mr. Carlin was either right or God made it a point to show, that for me, at least, forty-something was just about right.
We landed on “our” church; the first time I think we could really say we felt this way – OUR Church. I started my final career field, we finally were able to save some money, mainly because Jesus reminded me of the gift, he sent me in my lovely wife, I retuned and completed my college work and got my degree, and our children were super and now beginning to be raised in the church with Jesus alongside. I can’t say we knocked it out of the park in those initial days but we were at least on the right track and oh so willing to learn, grow, and embrace Jesus and God’s love. While I had found the Jesus I had lost for a short time in my life, I still was not quite as mature or active as I could, or should, have been. We still certainly had our share of challenges and struggles but at least this time around, I finally realized and KNEW for certain, that Jesus was there to turn to, and those days never got really bad, dark, or painful in our hearts nor our minds.
The next path in the journey was about to occur. You all know I am a huge fan of good music and a self-proclaimed pretty good musician myself, or at least I used to be. However, just a few years ago I had this feeling come over me that I would really like to go see the Christian group MercyMe. We had seen the movie “I Can Only Imagine” about the groups singer Bart Millard and it truly moved us. So, I searched around for some upcoming concerts to no avail. Months went by but the feeling never left me, yet there were no scheduled concerts anywhere to be found. Then one day, something told me to look again and amazingly there it was, a show scheduled in Evansville. I immediately bought the tickets and on a horribly raining day, we made the trek down to southern Indiana to see that band perform. As a constant traveler in those days, I became a huge Marriott fan so we reserved a room at the closest Marriott, to the venue hosting the show. By Marriott’s standards, this was not a great hotel but it was a bed for the night versus a long dark drive back home on what would have been a 22-hour day, had we not spent the night. So, dreary day, nearly as dreary a hotel, we made our way to the show. Micah Tyler was introduced as the first performer, followed by Crowder, and then MercyMe.
On that night, I have never felt more in the presence of Jesus. YES - I finally felt like I had totally and unequivocally re-found what I had lost in Jesus. I know the music was a huge influence and I have forever loved these three performers’ bands, but for the first time in my life, I felt as close to Jesus as I had since I was a child, except now I knew what it truly meant to feel this way, which I did not have the knowledge or experience enough to know in my youth.
Today and every day, I pray that I never lose that feeling, and to date I have done fairly well keeping in touch with Jesus. I know there will be some days better, or worse, than others, because that’s the world talking. But I will never lose Jesus again.
I think it’s important to point out that this journey is not something unique to me, as we all have similar stories or journeys to tell or reflect upon. I am just so very fortunate to have had my parents, Jim Sanders and other many good friends, and finally Sarah to see me through this journey and to ultimately make sure I never really lost sight of Jesus, even though there were many times that I did not know this was true. The best news of all is that God knew that we, and I, would have these challenges and go on this type of journey. God knew some would make it back, like I was fortunate enough to experience, and some would have a far more difficult path. But in the end, Jesus and the Father, made sure we could never lose Jesus. Because God the Father, knew our weaknesses and the many struggles we would go through, and that we could never shed sin from our lives without his help. So, some 2000 years ago, God sent His son Jesus to Earth to guarantee we would never lose Jesus. Even though we don’t always see it, know it, or remember it, God sent His son Jesus to the cross for us. So that we would never, could never, lose Jesus ever again, no matter how many times we let our lives wonder away from him and his unconditional love.
Thank You Jesus for never letting me lose you – especially when I didn’t open my eyes enough to see this.