My sophomore year of High School I have a vivd memory of a specific night. I had moved to South Florida and I was visiting Tallahassee to see my friends. I remember this night the youth organization I was a part of had a big dinner at Sonny’s. I was there eating and this guy showed up late because he was at crew practice. Which if you have ever rowed you know is a thing that makes you late to everything you want to be at. But anyways that night I met this guy named Gennaro. When he showed up the environment was very warm to him. I had never met him but he was someone all of my friends had come to know and befriend. That night there was another gathering at a friends house and my dad had been test driving this brand new mustang so I offered the rides from the restaurant. I remember Gennaro asking if he could get a ride. Which for a stranger to ask someone he had never met for a ride was a brave enough thing to do. But that night we all traveled to a house to play man hunt like every good sophomore would do. This specific night with the vivid memories Gennaro and I became good friends. I tell this story because looking back it was actually a key moment in my life. One I had never really put much thought into until I thought of this other moment just minutes prior to writing this little post.
That summer I was invited to go with my friends to a Young Life summer camp called Sharp Top. I had gone the previous year to a camp called Windy Gap and then moved to South Florida just after returning so this for me would be another opportunity to be with the friends I had long been missing. The camp is geared at introducing the gospel in perhaps the most fun environment on the planet. To provide an escape from all the garbage and problems one has at home and come face first into the love of Christ. To provide an atmosphere that truly gives kids an opportunity to focus. At the end of this week after covering the entire story of Christ they give kids an opportunity to say if they have accepted this message. They stand up and say their name and say they gave their life to Christ which would normally rub me the wrong way ( like when a pastor asks a congregation to raise their hand if they gave their life to Christ today, I don’t know why that bugs me ) but for some reason there is something about this setting that this moment is such a highlight for that kid and those who came with him. As we should celebrate when people give their lives to Christ. But keep in mind there is also something intimidating for a person to stand up in a crowd of 400 people and say so.
The previous year when I was at camp I had what many would call “the moment”. It was my “I finally get this and know God’s love” moment. A miracle, an encounter, proof. It changed my life. It wasn’t burning on me to stand up and say anything. I was however sitting next to Gennaro at this event and he looked over at me and gave me a look that I knew meant “will you stand up with me”. And so we stood up. And while he was saying that he was giving his life to Christ I realized I did actually have a reason to be standing there.
I would like to make a side note here. Often when you ask an atheist or an agnostic person what would it take for them to give their life to Christ they will respond with “Proof! If God revealed his existence to me. Or If Christ popped up and did a miracle in front of me.” I want to tell you right here and right now that is not necessarily true. It wasn’t true for me. I had that experience. One that many beg for. And all it did for me was confirm there is a God who loves me and cares about me. My decision to follow Christ still remained. Just because I believed did not mean that I followed. Those do not go hand in hand.
As I am standing there this point came to me. I remember what I said pretty clearly.
“I have considered myself a Christian since I was five years old. But I’ve never really lived that out. I never really followed him or gave my life to him. I just believed. So I want to actually give my life to him right now.” and they gave the one clap. And that was that moment. It was support for a friend that led to that moment.
The fact that I have come to is that this moment happens for us every day. Every morning we wake up we are given the decision to give this day to Christ. To give ourselves over to Christ. To deny ourselves and follow him.
It’s funny looking back on my childhood I remember once I was taught that this certain prayer determines whether you get into heaven or not (some silly knowledge fed to me by an outlandish Christian school) I began to repray that prayer almost every night because I was afraid I said it the wrong way or I didn’t mean it enough the first time or that maybe I messed something up and would go to hell for it. I would ask God to re-save me every day out of fear of hell. Which that whole concept is absolutely absurd but maybe there is a lesson to be learned in it.
Now I’m not talking about your salvation but every day we walk out into certain hells. We walk out into a dark world. We walk out into our temptations. Every morning we wake up we have to decide if we are going to contribute to this darkness or if we will be a light. To ask God to help us and save us from this darkness, from being a part of it.
There was something incredibly divine about Gennaro asking me to stand with him.
Nothing that monumental should ever be done alone.
I am coming off a very interesting year of my life. Perhaps the year I am most proud of and the year I feel most blessed by. Nearly a year ago I wrote a post entitled “All in.” It was a decision to wake up every day and say I’m not going to contribute to the darkness. And that I was giving myself to God completely. That I was a walking gospel showing people what Christ was like. I was more fed by God’s word and relationships with strangers that year than I had ever been in my life. I was eager to search for truth and to help others find it. I actually felt like I was doing God’s work. Those good deeds set aside for me. It felt like I was being spiritually fed and built up. This came at great cost for me personally. Standing up for God’s word cost me many friendships. Holding firm in my beliefs brought me great troubles. It brought me great stress at times and ultimately ended with me losing things and people I cared about. I remind myself that Christ said this would happen and while that brings some comfort I’m lying if I say there still isn’t great pain from it. I know how I handled things was right because I have looked back on it so many times to see what I should do differently. I hold strong knowing the things I wanted to do (the wrong things) I never did. While God doesn’t need us to defend him we are called to stand for him. (Ironically enough my iTunes is on shuffle and “The Stand” is playing right now.) There is a lyric in this song that states “All I am is yours.”
While I felt so close to God the feeling would quickly fall away.
This past year I had a lot of encouragement from peers but not a lot of community. The people I was around the most were against me which made for a great loneliness. But coming off a previous year of a different kind of loneliness I was reminded of the lesson I learned that God is enough. That Christ is enough. This isn’t some calling to live life by yourself. But God should be the one who always lifts you up. So in this I turned to God and to God’s word. I was fighting a battle of right and wrong. A Battle of Standing for God or standing for yourself. And when you have a cause to go up against fueled by God it’s easy to stay focused. To remind yourself of who you should be. Easy to push through it. But my problem that I would later realize is that I was almost dependent on this battle to hold me accountable. I had no one else keeping me accountable. It was just myself and this fight that was holding me true to my life in Christ and at the time I felt like I was holding strong.
But the question given is what happens when you no longer need to be a part of this fight? When you no longer are burdened to stand for your cause? When it was all over my accountability seemed to fall down to just myself. This summer I have had basically no community. And this was a wide open door for the devil. It was easy to keep focused when I had a cause. But when it went away it became so, so very hard.
As a student I have come to learn that when it comes to your walk with Christ, summer is a time that shows your true colors. That shows where you really stand with God. Your routines for the most part are gone. Many friends have moved back home for the summer. And that community that keeps you on your feet is in some cases gone. I know this isn’t just me I have spoken with many people who feel the same way. The Devil loves the heat so to speak. I am ashamed at how weak I really am. Especially when I know, when I have seen, how strong I am with Christ. Summer has been a battle against myself, of who am I going to be today. What am I going to contribute to God’s creation today?
What irritates me most is I know the things that would help me get back on track like being back in the word daily. Speaking with people who don’t know Christ. Speaking to God (which lately I have only done when I feel very guilty.) And yet I choose to do other things. I don’t feel like me. What a wretched man I am. Who can save me from this body of death?
Perhaps what seems like the most redundant verse in the whole Bible is also one of the most truthful points not made by Christ. Nor could it be made by Christ. Paul who wrote nearly the whole New Testament (yeah that guy) wrote these words that I believe speak to every struggling Christian. (Which by the way if you are a Christian you are a struggling Christian).
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Well put Paul. Well put.
If you are making a stand for Christ, Satan is waiting for his opportunity to creep in. I wish I could say I don’t let him. But there is a war waging against me and sometimes I let him win. This is not me blaming Satan for my mistakes. But he is very eager to present opportunities to persuade me to lose sight of the light.
God makes beautiful things out of the dust. I think I needed this summer to see where my strength really was. The truth is I have NONE without Christ.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him; and I am helped. -Psalm 28:7
The importance of Christian community I believe is more important than it ever has been. Living life with people who love you and will be honest and open with you. Who will do whatever it takes to make sure the group stays focused on Christ and not the distractions and patterns of this world. Fellowship is key. Adam needed Eve. Man was not meant to be alone. Life is meant to be lived with others.
One of my past roommates was obsessed with this quote so much he wanted a tatoo of it. “Stand for something, or you will fall for anything.”
I laughed one day when I found out this quote was biblical.
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” -Isaiah 7:9
Jesus made an allusion to this when he gave the parable of the Wise and foolish builders. The wise man who heard God’s word and put it into practice stood strong when the storms came because his house was on the rock. The foolish man who ignored the teaching fell to the ground when the storms came because his house was built on the sand.
A thousand times I fell, still your mercy remains.
Should I stumble again I’m caught in your grace.
Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades.
I want to put my every step on the Rocks. With each step I know it can mean pain and it can be uncomfortable. But I will stand strong. Because I have seem the storms. And I have felt the pain.
I know I can take it.
I can take it.
Everlasting your light will shine when all else fades. Never ending your glory goes beyond all praise.
And the cry of my heart is to bring you praise.
From the inside out Lord my soul cries out.
I love the quote from The Dark Knight series.
“Why do we fall?
So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
I have learned that I cannot stand without Christ. Anything else and I will fall. As Peter fell into the water when he took his eyes off of Christ so will I.
With my first steps out of bed in the morning the choice to be light comes with the first foot plant.
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”-Psalm 40:2
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”-Matthew 10:22
“By standing firm, you will gain life”-Luke 21:19
“You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” James 5:8
Standing that day with Gennaro was just the beginning of a never ending choice to build my grounding. To make my steps stronger. And while I may be weak.
Christ is strong in me.
1 Peter 5:8-9
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
From the look Gennaro gave me to my every relationship. We are all in this together.
Our enemy prowls like a lion.
Standing firm in the faith.”
I want to end by sharing another moment. Because life is full of moments. And some hit you harder than others. There are some moments in life where you know were meant for you. That burn in you to either rise to the occasion or to let the opportunity pass. Our regrets come from these moments. When we pass up what for the moment feels like a calling. There is one specific moment that I have a vivid memory of. It was one of these hit you hard moments. It was also one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. And yet there was a great peace found. It was maybe one of greatest moments of my life. Because I know that THIS time, and THIS place were meant for me.
I was on campus walking home and an evangelist was speaking to a pack of taunting atheist. People who weren’t there to listen but poke fun. Over time a large crowd of people had gathered. Somewhere from forty to fifty people surrounded this man as he gave his speech to them. This one student was going at him saying “There is no proof of God. And I know you are going to say “Well people have seen Jesus” or “they’ve heard the voice of God.” But all those people are psychotic and crazy looking for something to give their pain and problems to. These people get so wrapped up in this delusion they are willing to die for it.”
The evangelist responded. “Well I’ll be honest I don’t personally know any people who have seen Jesus or have heard the voice of God….”
My hands began to shake. In fact my hands are shaking right now thinking about this. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew what I had to do. There was a crowd in front of me and no place to step forward except for this one patch of plants where a rock lay in the middle. So I stepped up onto the rock and I made my way forward. I very loudly asked “Can I say something?”
And I looked this student who asked the question right in the eyes and I asked him with my entire body shaking through a trembling voice. “Do I look crazy?” I could already here people behind me saying “oh my gosh.” He replied with a “no.” I began to tell my story. I told him that I was at camp telling this God that I didn’t believe in him. That I was very close to being done with this faith. That I needed to know that he cared about me. That he loved me. And that I was angry at him. And I began to shake with a near anger at the words the student said. I knew that what I was about to say would greatly change the conversation and the ears of the people around me. And then a great peace came over me. As if I was almost watching myself say these things I was about to say. And then I told him. I was there at this camp sitting and a force pinned me to the ground. And I heard a voice. And it said to me three times. I love you. I love you. I love you. And I cried. And through these tears I looked up at the sky and I saw a perfect constellation of a heart. I believe because I KNOW that God exists. And I WOULD die for that truth because there is NOTHING that anyone could ever say that could convince me otherwise.” I told them that even though you don’t believe it, God loves you too. And he cares about you whether you like it or not. I then said what I refer to as my first sermon. I told them that I know by standing here and saying these things I am risking peoples friendships who may be sitting here. That people may want to call me crazy but I don’t care. Because this message is worth it. And then I was done. And there was more silence after that moment than there had been this entire day of yells that went back and forth. And then people began to clap. And people began to thank me and shake my hand as I left.
As long as I live I will never forget that moment. Those looks. That silence. The shakes I had of fear. And the following of peace.
I want to live my life standing on the rocks. Standing firm in my faith. Standing up for the truth. Rising to the moments. Looking the darkness in the face.
And sharing the light.
Our enemy prowls like a lion.
Standing firm in the faith.”