I met Jesus in Orlando.
He was using a microphone and sporting a pair of shiny, silver shoes.
Before you go crying heretic on me, allow me to explain.
A few years ago I had hit upon a dry spell in my Christian walk, more of a desert actually.
I felt distant in my love relationship with Christ, disappointed by my continued state of singleness, and completely disillusioned by my inability to accomplish anything that I felt was “significant.”
So when I heard that I was scheduled for a business trip to Florida which included one free afternoon in Orlando…I knew exactly what I was going to do with it.
I remembered watching a documentary on the creation of a Christian theme park near Disney World, and an internet search confirmed that the park was still there. The website also advertised that it’s festivities included a daily passion play.
That settled it. I was going to take myself straight to the Source, to only One who could fix my dehydrated soul, yes….I WAS GOING TO MEET “JESUS.”
(Or at least the actor who played him at the park.)
Some people may say that I took this a little too literally, and maybe they’re right. All I knew is that I was desperate, and I that know God never turns down a request for more of Himself. So fueled by this slightly insane hope, I hopped into my beat up rental car, (that’s a different story) plugged the address into my GPS, and began my journey towards the heart of the city.
My plan went something like this…
1) Get into to the park,
2) Find out where “Jesus” is,
3) Go there….
That was pretty much it…
I prayed fervently during the entire drive, explaining to God that he (the fake Jesus) didn’t even really have to talk to me. I just needed him to notice me, to do something to show me that I still meant something special to him, even just one look into his eyes would tell me what I needed to know.
I knew that despite the results of my grand experiment, His love for me would remain the same…but I couldn’t shake the desperate hope I felt rising within me that something incredible was about to happen. Tears were slipping down my cheeks before I ever even entered the gates. ( I think the park attendants may have thought I was slightly mentally unstable)
Despite their doubts concerning my sanity, I was granted a ticket, and immediately began pushing my way through the thousands of visitors to the site of the passion play.
Though the performance was very well done, and I was moved, I wasn’t granted the opportunity to connect with “Jesus,” and tried not to be deeply disappointed. I waited until everyone else had left to make my exit, and stood wondering what to do now that my “plan” had fallen through when I heard the singing.
The music was piping through a loudspeaker system and I began wandering to find the source. I had my answer in moments when I burst through an opening into a replica of Solomon’s temple courts.
It was “Jesus.”
He was singing while walking back and forth in front of the temple steps, occasionally venturing into the crowd for a more personal touch.
I had a brief, internal argument about where to sit before sliding onto a sunlit bench. As crazy as this may sound, I didn’t want him to notice me because I made a scene about seating myself or picked a spot on the front row. I wanted him to notice me because He knew me, wanted him to come to me because He wanted to.
My feet bounced up and down nervously, tears streaming down my cheeks. I decided it would be best to close my eyes.
Yes, I had most definitely lost my mind.
I froze. My eyes snapped open. His hand was on my shoulder.
His HAND was on my SHOULDER.
I didn’t know what to do. He lingered for the briefest second and had begun to step away when I dared to raise my head and look Him in the eye.
He stopped, stopped moving, stopped singing…and just stared.
He looked at me, REALLY looked at me, and seemed genuinely moved.
“Do you know that He weeps when you weep?” He asked, voice thick with emotion.
I tried to smile, tried to nod, (but you probably couldn’t tell considering my face was swollen to roughly the size of a watermelon from all of the crying.)
I was breathless, completely wrecked, it was wonderful.
He retreated to the front and continued with his routine, but it wasn’t long before He stopped again. In a few strides He closed the distance between us, and slid onto the bench in front of me to face me. “This is not God’s plan B for your life. This is His plan A,” He said confidently before reaching to grab my hand and give it a gentle squeeze.
I almost melted. He stood and began addressing the crowd again before beckoning me to stand. I sprang to my feet without hesitation.
He pulled me close and put His arm around my shoulder. I do not think he anticipated the bear hug that was about to be thrown His way. I threw my arms around Him and squeezed tight, resting my head on His chest like a little kid.
Remember this, I thought, breathing in every tiny detail.
“This is how near I am to you always. I hold you just like this, all the time.” His voice boomed over the crowd.
I didn’t want to let go.
The best part was, when He released me to go back to my seat, I could tell He didn’t want to let go either.
Since there are no words to adequately describe the wonder of that situation, I am going to say, “Yep, that was pretty much the best 10 minutes of my entire life.”
God had answered my desperate, and somewhat foolish prayer, in a more extravagant way than I ever could have imagined.
He didn’t have to do that. He has already shown me more love than I could ever fathom by sending His REAL Son, in REAL flesh and blood.
But He did it anyway, because He is just THAT good.
I ended up staying at the park until closing time, and you wouldn’t believe who was walking out at the same time I did. Me and “Jesus” talked for such a long time that they had to get security to re-open the gate to let me out.
Am I fanatical enough to believe that this paid actor, dressed up in what may or may not be historically accurate wardrobe, was actually Jesus Himself?
Do I think that Jesus Himself used this man to reveal a piece of His heart to me that I desperately needed to be reminded of?… that He hadn’t forgotten about me, that He still loved me, and that He still had an amazing plan for my life.
Do I think it’s a coincidence that out of the thousands of people in that park today, He chose me to pull up to the stage, to speak to face-to-face and comfort in a very personal way?
Not a chance.
Do I think that Jesus loves me any more than He loves those other thousands of people who He didn’t call out personally?
Nope! In fact, I believe this experience proves the opposite.
Jesus doesn’t love me, or want me, one iota more than He wants any of His children.
I think He shared this experience with me, so I could share it, so I could share HIM, with you. I don’t have a beard, or a robe, or cool sandals …but I do have a keyboard and wi-fi connection, and I know this.
Even when you don’t see it, and you don’t feel it, and your soul feels as dry as a desert:
Jesus weeps when you weep. FOR REAL.
He has a plan for you and He hasn’t given up on you. FOR REAL
Jesus is as close as a bear hug and a whisper in your ear. FOR REAL, AND ALWAYS.
You don’t have to get in a car and drive to Orlando to meet Jesus. You can meet Him right where you bend your heart and open your mind in prayer.
RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE IS WHERE HE IS.
You are not an inconvenience to Him. He doesn’t mind keeping the “park open late” for you.
He’s just been waiting for the day when you’ll stay so long inside the gates of prayer, He’ll have to have security come and unlock them to let you out.
If you’re feeling far apart from Jesus, if you’re wondering whether or not He still cares, …
Do what I do, …reach out your arms and squeeze. You can maybe even whisper,
“I know You’re there.”