It was the summer of 1983. As a young 12 year old, on a warm evening in late June, I sat on an old wooden pew, under an outdoor Arbor, while my feet dug deep into the sawdust shavings below the pew. I sat among a hundred other kids close to my own age that night at the Youth Camp at Pleasant Grove Campground in Mineral Springs, NC. I had grown up in the Church, even been confirmed in the faith. But as the gentleman spoke from the stage, he explained Jesus and the Gospel in a way that seemed personal and more real to me than ever. The music played, and unexplainably tears began to roll down my eyes. My heart was about to jump out of my chest. I knew this was more than emotion. It was if God’s Spirit had walked into the Arbor that night, called me by name, held His arms out open wide, and personally invited me to come home. I accepted His invitation and trusted Christ as my Savior that night. It was the defining moment of my life. My life has not been the same since.
It would not be the only defining moment of my life, but it seems a handful of them came at the same place…that beautiful old Campground. About four years later, as a Junior in High School, at the same summer Youth Camp, a group of about five of us teenagers sat in a cabin with one of our Adult Leaders at the Camp. That afternoon, he read from Revelation 3, where Jesus says to the Church, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Our leader then gathered us in a circle and said to us, “Guys, in your life, you’ll have to decide whether you want to be on fire for God and sell out to Him, or whether you want to be a lukewarm casual Christian. With Jesus, there is no in between. You have to go all in or not at all.” He then placed a cassette tape into a tape player and began to play a song called “Casual Christian” by a Christian band called Degarmo & Key.
As the song began to play, once again my heart melted. It was as if an arrow sent from Heaven pierced right through the middle of my soul. There were games and activities going on all around us in the camp that afternoon, but to those of us in the cabin, it was as if everything faded away and we were sitting in the middle of the Universe. When the song hit the Chorus, “I don’t wanna be, I don’t wanna be a Casual Christian! I don’t wanna live, I don’t wanna live a lukewarm life. ‘Cause I wanna light up the night with an everlasting light. I don’t wanna live a casual Christian life,” we were all stripped to the core and broken. That was the moment I realized Jesus was more than just a section or compartment of my life—He was everything. That was the day I sold out to Jesus completely.
Since that day, there have been times where I’ve struggled in my life and faith. Sadly, there have been times when other things have competed with my affection for Jesus. But through every confession and repentance prayer, through every struggle, there has always been the Faithful One, Jesus, at the Center of it all. He is the Star of my story.
But lodged in between the cracks and crevices of my life, are a few other stars who will not be forgotten. They are the adults and leaders who showed up, taught, sang, shared, played, drove, served, or did just about anything to point kids like me to Jesus. They were Sunday School teachers, VBS volunteers, Group Leaders, Game arrangers, Choir Directors, Pastors, Singers, or even Parents.
For many of them, this was not their vocation. They didn’t get paid for it. They gave of their time freely. They sacrificed and gave their time, even when it cost them. They served out of love and devotion. The adults at that camp where I had so many defining moments used their vacations to show up and bring kids like me to Jesus. The people in my church growing up were not paid staff. They signed up and showed up to introduce kids like me to the God who changed their life. Because of each of them, I was changed.
The strange thing is that I remember very little of the lessons taught, words spoken, or sermons given. What I do remember is that they showed up. I remember that they loved Jesus and ordered their lives around Him. Their greatest impact on me was the way they brought Jesus into every fabric of their lives. They were sold out to Him as well.
When they were pouring into me at that stage of my life, none of us knew I would one day become a Pastor. I never dreamed of becoming a Pastor. I still wrestle with that title to this day. But what is certain is that God has given me the opportunity to share His Gospel with thousands of people in my life. Every one of those adults who showed up, sacrificed, served, and gave of their time freely in those days are part of the chain that has reached thousands with the message of Jesus. Their message and service has gone further than any of us would have ever imagined. These are the wonders of God working through broken humanity to do His bidding. Only God can do such things.
You will do no greater or more impactful thing than to take the time to pour the message of the Christ into children and teenagers. Whether they are your own or someone else’s kids, it will be one of the greatest investments of your life. The ripples of history and time are woven and traced back to the foundations of truth laid in a young person’s life. For the few who discover this truth, they discover that even in the difficulty, the tiresome nights, the wins and losses, every single minute, every trip or vacation they miss, every ounce of free time they give up, all of it is worth the investment. They also discover that not only does it have the potential to save or change a life, but typically the life changed the most is their own.
This weekend, there will be a group of adults who will do this very thing, as they show up to pour into the youth and teens of our church in our Disciple Now Weekend. As God always does it, unless Jesus comes back first, 20-30 years from now, there will be an adult who will stand up to testify to the events of this Disciple Now weekend, back when they were a young teen. In that moment, potentially hundreds, even thousands more will hear the life-saving message of the Gospel once again. Every minute you give matters.