- Worship & Music
- Church at Home
By Amy Graham
It only takes a spark
To get a fire going
And soon all those around
Can warm up in its glowing
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it
You spread His love to ev’ryone
You want to pass it on
I was 10 years old and gloriously happy when I first heard this song, “Pass it On.” A camper at Center Lake Bible Camp, (a sleep-away camp in central Michigan), I was away from my family for the first time. Free from my parents’ watchful eyes, the wonders of summer camp were a thrill for me. A cabin of girls my age to talk to, crafts, games, swimming in the lake using the “buddy board” system, canoe races, campfires, long conversations with new friends, and hours of playing capture the flag presented a stark contrast to my life back at home. My parents were quiet people who expected children to act like small versions of adults, while Bible Camp celebrated the energy and curiosity of youth.
The worship and music at camp services were also a thing of wonder to me. My church at home was conservative (Missouri Synod Lutheran), and led by a formidable pastor who, like my parents, did not approve of overt expressions of emotion. Center Lake was a “non-denominational” Christian camp with worship that was loud, full of energy, included emotional testimonies from young and passionate leaders, and always ended with an altar call—the opportunity for anyone present to come to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and publicly accept “Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
I went to the altar at Bible Camp on a hot summer night in 1980, full to the brim with excitement and love for Jesus, but also as a baptized Christian who had attended practically every service, Sunday school class, vacation bible school, and social event that my church had offered since the day my parents brought me home from the adoption agency as an infant. I wasn’t “new” to Jesus or church, but the way that I felt about it that night at Bible Camp was completely new.
Later, when my parents were told that I had accepted Christ publicly (gasp!), they looked at me with raised brows and disapproving glares. I had acted foolishly and had embarrassed them, they said. “Did you not know you were already a Christian?”, my mother asked. “Whatever made you do such a thing?” I could not find the words to make her understand how I had felt that night at camp, or why I went to the altar after singing “Pass it On” with well-meaning intentions of saving the world, or how I had prayed that I could feel and know God in this new wonderful way back at home. At 51, I can now articulate that I felt freedom, love, acceptance, joy, forgiveness, relief, and purpose that night at camp, and it came to me via a worship experience that was completely foreign to me at that time. My testimony of the experience as a child was limited to lowering my head to my mother and feeling ashamed. I had embarrassed her, and was certain that I had failed in my first opportunity to be a witness to God, and therefore had let God down, too. My “mountain top” experience ended in the depths of despair.
Sadly, my ability to provide a testimony worthy of God (or my mother) has not improved with time or age. I remain, more frequently than not, at a loss for the “right” words to say and/or hesitate enough that I miss the “right” time to say them. I have sat in silence during what should have been the easiest of moments to bear witness of God’s love. Often times what I say feels inadequate at best, or potentially harmful at worst. Maybe I have made it all too complicated—trying to answer questions that have existed for centuries without answers or that can never be answered because they rely on matters of faith. After much consideration, I concluded that perhaps I cannot articulate to others what Jesus means to me because I do not know who He is. Perhaps the cumulative effects of years of questioning without clear answers, focusing on tragedies and not miracles, and hearing patients tell of terrible life experiences has made it difficult to remember the “whys and whats” of how I came to know Jesus in the first place.
In today’s reading, we hear Jesus state yet again to the Jewish religious leaders that he is the Son of God. Jesus presents four different witnesses to provide evidence for this claim: the witness of John, the witness of his own miracles, the witness of God the Father, and the witness of the scriptures. Identifying what I know and believe about each of these four witnesses has helped me to clarify the elemental truths about who Jesus is. If you are interested in the same exercise, ask yourself the following: Who is Jesus Christ? What is Jesus’s claim to that question? What evidence does Jesus give to backup that claim? Why didn’t the Jews accept this claim? Do I accept this claim? What will my testimony of Christ’s claim include? I’m still considering potential answers to these questions, and many more. I know that I must have just as much faith in the process as I do in the outcome, that I must be open to wherever the Spirit leads me, and that I should love as he has loved me. Perhaps that is a sufficient testimony in itself.
I wish for you my friend
This happiness that I’ve found
You can depend on Him
It matters not where you’re bound
I’ll shout it from the mountain top
I want my world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on