Surrounded By A Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12:1
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  (ESV Translation)

It was a night that testified to the potential of the individual and yet the power of a Biblical community. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed as I participated in another blessing ceremony for a family at my church. This one was for Adam Watkins – the youngest of the Watkins boys. I have participated in three of these ceremonies with this family. And they have all been special. And as great as it is to see how these young men are turning out, I can’t help but think this didn’t happen by accident. These guys are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. They know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They know the legacy they come from and the potential that lies ahead of them. They are loved and accepted not because of what they do but who they are.  

Thinking specifically about Adam, here’s a kid with a God-loving heart, a creative mind, a truckload of potential, a friendly face and a big supporting cast. Adam is a goofy genius of sorts. All you need to do is check out the Cheese Grows on Cows clips(http://www.youtube.com/user/cheesegrowsoncows) on YouTube to see what I mean. He has a lot of musical talent and is picking up new stuff each day. From his service as a worship leader for the youth group to the way he dispenses hugs and smiles to everyone he meets, here’s a young man who is moving in the right direction. Yeah… he’s had some very difficult times, especially the death of his father at a young age. But he has found a way to write hopeful melodies despite his losses and struggles. While he’s far from perfect, I get the sense that he knows that he doesn’t have to be because Jesus is the author and finisher of his faith.

While at the ceremony, I was struck by the power of story in our lives. When we know the story of those who came before us, we can be free and encouraged to live our story the best way we know how.

The ceremony is fairly basic and yet quite profound. A group of people come together in a surprise party to speak works of affirmation over a young person who is reaching a milestone. In this case, Adam was turning 16. Some people come with an object lesson. Others come with a prayer of blessing. Some bring a gift or make something to show how much the person means to them. Frequently, adults will tell stories about when the person was younger. Some of these can be kind of embarrassing. Others are just good times remembered. Adam’s mom had put together a slide show of pictures showcasing some major moments of this young man’s first 16 years. We ended the entire thing focusing on Jesus by taking communion together. This helped to make sure that Adam knew his story is first about Christ not himself.

Every time, I attend one of these ceremonies I am reminded of the power it can have to help a young person know that they are not alone. It may seem simple. But it provides a marker that they likely won’t forget. If you have a teenager in your house, consider celebrating a major life marker with a moment of affirmation, blessing and celebration. These moments come and go. You will never get them back.

The older generation needs to speak words of affirmation. I’m not talking about flattery or undeserved praise. We need to let young people know the truth. We need to let them know that their actions have consequences. We don’t need to sugar coat life for them. Yet, we also need to remind them that their choices matter and that they are not alone. Life is a story, and we all have an opportunity to live better stories.

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