“Jazz class,” she said to me. “Intermediate Dance. It’ll be fun.”
She was my college sweetheart, and the jazz class she spoke of represented the final credits I needed to graduate.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Will there be actual dancing involved?”
“It’s a dance class.”
I should have shut it down. I didn’t need this headache. I needed one class. But you know how love works. She batted her eyes.
“Well,” I said, “maybe we should sign up for Beginner’s Jazz. Intermediate sounds serious.”
“Are you calling me a bad dancer?”
“No,” I said. “I’m calling me a bad dancer.”
Her eyes stopped batting.
“I thought it’d be special to take this class together. But if you feel differently, that’s fine.”
A week later I found myself in Intermediate Jazz.
The professor handed out the syllabus. I read my execution orders. FINAL EXAM: EACH STUDENT WILL CHOREOGRAPH AND PERFORM A SOLO DANCE.
My very first panic attack.
I tried to walk out, but you know what happened. Those eyes started up again. So I stayed, hid in the back row, and tried not to think about stepping out from the group and dancing on my own.
In the Gospel, Jesus constantly asked people to step out from the group.”Follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” In other words, “Come with me and I’ll teach you the ways of God.”
And people did. And they changed the world.
What I love is that it was never supposed to happen.
Jewish Rabbis didn’t go looking for students. Students went looking for a Rabbi. And only the best were allowed to follow. A Rabbi recruiting random students was ridiculous.
It’d be like Harvard Law admitting the first 50 people who liked their Facebook page. It’s not how these things work.
But it’s how Jesus worked. And it’s how he works today. He calls everyone and accepts anyone who’s interested.
The great Irish theologian, Bono, said, “It used to shock me that the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, and adulterers. But now it’s a source of great comfort.”
Me too, Bono. We should hang out.
What a relief that the Bible isn’t about perfect little angels who do everything right. If it was, I couldn’t read it.
Thank God it’s about people—damaged, guilty, scared—whom God sweeps into His arms, heals, and uses to change the world.
Jesus wasn’t turned off by the rap sheets of his first disciples, and he isn’t turned off by yours either. One of the more destructive lies we tell ourselves is that we don’t deserve to be used by God, that something in our past disqualifies us.
No. We serve a God of second chances, a God who uses broken things to make the world whole.
I was talking to a young girl who’d been called some ugly things. I tried to tell her about the good I saw in her, but she stopped me and said, “If you knew the things I did, you wouldn’t like me.”
It hit me: that’s how we feel about God. We believe He loves us, but we don’t believe He likes us. At least not enough to use us. He has priests and missionaries for that, people who aren’t quite so broken.
But it’s not true. Jesus used regular, flawed people to set the world on fire with love.
God doesn’t just love you. He likes you. He chose you. And He’ll use you. The only question is whether you’ll let Him.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean abandoning your life and moving to Calcutta. It can be done right where you are.
“But I don’t know how,” you might say.
Me neither. That’s why Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” That’s the good news. We don’t do it on our own. We can’t, which is why we follow.
Which brings me back to love, because when you love someone you’ll follow them anywhere.
Which brings me back to Intermediate Jazz and my final exam.
I’ve never been a shy person but that day I wanted to find a rock and die under it. But I couldn’t, because I needed to graduate.
So I stepped out from the group and danced alone. And for a minute or two, it was OK. But then it happened. My ears stopped working. I couldn’t hear the music. I froze and felt so stupid.
But then someone started clapping to the music. And she kept clapping until I found the beat and finished my dance.
That may seem trivial to you, but it isn’t to me. She rescued me and I’ll never forget it.
Following Jesus will take us into uncomfortable territory. We will be stretched.
But here’s what I know. The God who calls us, goes ahead of us. And when we lose the music, and can’t find the beat, a pair of hands will appear.
And they will clap.
And they will clap.
Until we all finish our dance.