Beyond a Flannelgraph Jesus


Flannelgraph: the mid-century technology of Sunday school lessons.

Flannelgraph consisted of various backgrounds painted on large flannel panels. The teacher placed cut-out figures of people, objects, trees, etc. on the background to depict the story being told.

The method seemed effective to me as a five-year-old. But then, I hadn’t seen The Passion of Jesus or The Passion Play at Oberammergau or even a church Easter presentation with flashing lights and illuminated crosses and deftly crafted tombs.

As a child, I wanted to know Flannelgraph Jesus, but I wasn’t sure exactly how.

After all, He wasn’t human like me.

I couldn’t talk to Him or hear Him talk back to me.

Or see Him or feel Him.

We all see Jesus that way sometimes–as in some other dimension. Perhaps like a character in a book or a historical hero. I think that’s the way non believing people often feel, especially if we talk about having Jesus “in our heart” in some kind of mystical way.

The simple truth is that we can and do know people we have never met or talked to all the time. My cousin Chris is the Burke family historian. He can tell you minute details about Burke (Bjork) family members generations past. How?

He’s read. He’s talked to people who knew these individuals. He’s examined public records and supporting documents. He’s researched. He’s even collected artifacts and antiques.


Because he has a passion for our family–for who we are, where we are, and how we have and are contributing to the world.

So how can know the eternal God of the universe?

I can know God by seeking personal relationship with Him.

This means taking initiative. God took the first step. He sent Jesus so we could know what perfect, redemptive love looked like in a language and form we could understand. Seeking a personal relationship with God starts with accepting Jesus as His Son and our Savior from sin.

A personal relationship means we talk to God. This is simple. We pray and read the Bible–God’s love letter to us. God talks back if we’re willing to listen. He uses the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God to do this.

I can know God by seeking His face.

This means looking for Him in everything–in nature, circumstances (blessings and heartaches). Seeking God’s face means looking God’s promises, design, and character in the world around me and offering my appropriate response in gratitude.

Somebody breaks into my garage. I’m angry, but I turn my anger over to God. I know He’s angry for me, too, because He hates injustice. I can forgive because of all God’s forgiven me. I don’t have to become in a cycle of bitterness toward the neighbor who robbed me.

I can know God by accepting that above all, He is motivated by love. God IS love.

Love is the very essence of God’s being. All love in the world emanates from Him. He cannot act on our behalf apart from love. It is not possible to act in a manner that is not motivated by my best interest. If I can truly grasp this central core concept about God and that He asks us to love others as He loves us, my life putter will fall into place.

God’s love isn’t an insurance policy against pain or suffering. Jesus didn’t live a pain-free life. We shouldn’t expect to either. As His followers, we should expect persecution and the human allocation that are part of a sin-filled world.

I can know God by admitting I’ll never fully understand Him.

God wouldn’t be God if human brains could comprehend His purposes and plans. So if you don’t understand everything about God, relax. It’s because you’re not supposed to. Think about it–the God of the Bible is GOD, not a god.

I can know God by spending time with Him. 

Reading what He’s written to me. Talking to Him. Taking the time to listen to what He says back. Telling other people how wonderful He is and asking them what He’s done for them. Hanging out with His best friends. Doing what He asks. You know…the kinds of things friends do for each other.

Or I can be satisfied with a Flannelgraph Jesus.




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