I realize that my last blog post was in May. I often have ideas for my “next” blog post, but then things happen. Life happens. And alas, that “next” post never happens. A lot has happened since May. A LOT. I have been to five different countries, four different states, and I have become a Young Life leader. I think the journey to becoming a Young Life leader warrants its own blog post at some point, but it has definitely impacted my life.
If you are not familiar with Young Life, check out the website for a crash tutorial, or as much information as you could ever want to know, your choice. I think you’ll like what you see! (http://www.younglife.org)
Anyway, one of the flagship events of Young Life is Club that happens every week. For us, it happens each Monday night. And it’s pretty much the only good thing about Mondays. The kids say that at least. The leaders take turns giving the Club talks (the thought of which almost stopped me from being a Young Life leader). We scheduled out the Club talks for the semester so that everyone knew when they would be speaking. I was assigned two club talks. I survived my first one (with the grace of God and presence of the Holy Spirit, I might add) and was in full preparation for the second one. I had written it. I was learning it. I was praying about anything else specific that God wanted me to share with the kids. I was getting comfortable with it so that I didn’t have to read from my notes. And of course the butterflies were having a party in my stomach. And then the day before, on Sunday afternoon, I learn that I don’t have to give the club talk after all the next day. What??? I can’t say that I wasn’t relieved, but I HAD written the talk, I HAD prayed about it, and I HAD learned a lot myself in preparing it. So, I decided that it shouldn’t go to waste. And therefore, my few blog readers, you get the pleasure of reading “The Club Talk That Never Was”. I hope that in some way you learn something from it, just like I did.
This Club talk is the last one of the semester. I think it’ll be self-explanatory :-)
I am aware that its winter and we are now well and truly in the middle of the holiday season, but I want to take you back a couple of seasons and talk about swimming.
I was swimming from a very young age, and not in lakes or rivers or oceans, but in a swimming pool. I grew up in the desert, so a swimming pool was the only water that I was comfortable with and really the only water that I had ever known. I happily slid or jumped in feet first, went underwater looking for pennies at the bottom of the pool, pushed off backward off the side of the pool, made myself dizzy doing pool somersaults, had contests with myself to see how long I could hold my breath underwater, pretty much everything that you could imagine. I was happy and comfortable in my little shallow world of 3ft deep. And then at some point, I started becoming aware of the other end of the pool. You know, the “deep end”. Where all the big kids hung out. Where the intriguing “diving board” stood watch over the 10ft of water beneath it. And let me tell you, there is a big difference between 3ft and 10ft of water. In 3ft, I could stand, maneuver myself around and get out quickly and easily whenever I wanted. I wasn’t yet fully committed to the swimming pool. I was kind of taking it for a test drive and seeing how it felt, getting comfortable with it before going any deeper and observing from afar what was happening at the other end of the pool. I don’t remember what age I was when I first learned to dive, but I know I was young enough to want my dad in the pool waiting for me. You know, in case I wasn’t going to make it. Dad needed to be there.
My decision to learn how to dive took time. Lots of time. I don’t know how much time I spent on the outskirts of the deep end watching others dive over and over again. They had taken the plunge, and now they couldn’t get enough of it. A plain dive was no longer good enough for them anymore, they wanted to dive backwards, or with their eyes closed. I was so intrigued. I wanted to be like all of them. So I started out with getting familiar with the diving board. I’m pretty sure I walked up the stairs and to the end of it a few times, and then turned right back around and back down the stairs. I thought that I was ready, but it turns out that I wasn’t just yet. Eventually, I got up the courage to JUMP off of the diving board, feet first. It was a solid start for me and I was proud of that first step. I jumped off the diving board lots and lots of times. And then I learned how to do the cannonball. And all the while, I was watching and observing others take their dives. Eventually, I had seen enough and it was time. And I needed my dad there, waiting in the water for me. And this time, I climbed that diving board, I got into position with my arms stretched high over my head, and I leaned over and dove head first into that water. And it was incredible. An incredible belly flop. And yeah, it was painful and embarrassing, but I have completed a lot of pretty perfect dives since that day, and quite a few more unintentional belly flops as well, but I will always remember that first dive. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the deep end of the pool.
All semester we have been talking about a man named Jesus Christ. We have shared a lot of information about Him. Things like how He perform miracles, how He befriends the unloved and unpopular, how He wants to befriend each of you. We’ve explained how God requires you to live a perfect life. To be holy and blameless 100% of the time, just like Jesus. We’ve also delivered the unfortunate news that you were born a sinner and because of that, you don’t have the ability to live a perfect life and you deserve death. You’ve heard the best news that you will ever hear – that this man, this Jesus that we talk about, He took all of your sin, He wore it for you, and He was nailed to a cross and died on your behalf. And your sin went with Him. He was the ultimate sacrifice. He did all of this because He loves you. And then He was resurrected three days later. He is the living God. The only living God.
So now what? What are you supposed to do with all of this information? Is there any action required on your part?
My friends God has given you a huge blessing and a huge responsibility. It’s called free will. Free will enables you to make choices. Inevitably, you have made and will continue to make lots of choices in your life. Some, I’m sure, have turned out to be good choices and others probably not so good. Some will be perfect dives and some will be belly flops. C.S. Lewis described it like this: “God created things which had free will. This means creatures which can go wrong or right. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely united with Him in love and delight.”
I want to tell you about a man in the Bible named Paul. Paul was a Pharisee, a devout Jew in Jerusalem who, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, swore to wipe out the new Christian church. He did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul was very religious. His intentions and efforts were sincere. He was a good Pharisee who knew the Bible. He went as far as to get letters from the High Priest authorizing him to arrest any followers of Jesus Christ. So he had set out on the road to Damascus to do just that. Damascus was a key commercial city about 200 miles away from Jerusalem that linked several trade routes to other cities. Paul may have thought that my stamping out Christianity in Damascus, he could prevent it from spreading to other areas. And Paul was passionate about doing this. He had set out to capture Christians, but He was instead captured by Christ.
ACTS 9:1-18 in The Voice
Back to Saul-this fuming, raging, hateful man who wanted to kill every last one of the Lord’s disciples: he went to the high priest in Jerusalem for authorization to purge all the synagogues in Damascus of followers of the way of Jesus. His plan was to arrest and chain any of Jesus’ followers-women as well as men-and transport them back to Jerusalem. He traveled north toward Damascus with a group of companions. Suddenly a light flashes from the sky around Saul, and he falls to the ground at the sound of a voice.
The Lord says, “Saul, Saul, why are you attacking me?” Saul replies, “Lord, who are you?” Then he hears these words: “I am Jesus. I am the One you are attacking. Get up. Enter the city. You will learn there what you are to do.
His other traveling companions just stand there, paralyzed, speechless because they, too, heard the voices; but there is nobody in sight. Saul rises to his feet, his eyes wide open, but he can’t see a thing. So his companions lead their blind friend by the hand and take him to Damascus. He waits for there days-completely blind-and does not eat a bite or drink a drop of anything.
Meanwhile, in Damascus, a disciple names Ananias had a vision in which the Lord Jesus spoke to him. “Ananias”. Here I am, Lord. “Get up and go to Straight Boulevard. Go to the house of Judas, and inquire about a man from Tarsus, Saul by name. He is praying to Me at this very instant. He has had a vision-a vision of a man by your name who will come, lay hands on him, and heal his eyesight.”
Ananias replies, “Lord, I know whom You’re talking about. I’ve heard rumors about this fellow. He’s an evil man and has caused great harm for Your special people in Jerusalem. I’ve heard that he has been authorized by the religious authorities to come here and chain everyone who associates with Your name.”
The Lord replies, “Yes, but you must go! I have chosen him to be My instrument to bring My name far and wide-to outsiders, to kings, and to the people of Israel as well. I have much to show him, including how much he must suffer for My name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house where Saul was staying, He laid his hands on Saul and called to him. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, sent me so you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At the at instant, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see. So he got up, received the ceremonial washing of baptism identifying him as a disciple, ate some food, and regained his strength.”
Did you catch the part about how Paul was blinded? And how he heard Jesus tell him to get up, go into the city, and wait for what he was to do? This was the same Paul who was persecuting followers of Jesus Christ. And he made the decision right then and there to obey the Lord. This Lord that he knew so much about, but whom he didn’t believe in. And when he made that decision, scales fell off of his eyes and he could see again. And he probably felt as if he was truly seeing life the way God intended it to be for the very first time.
Paul's life-changing experience on the road to Damascus led to his baptism and instruction in the Christian faith. He became the most determined of the apostles, suffering brutal physical pain, persecution, and finally death. He revealed his secret of enduring a lifetime of hardship in Philippians 4:13 by saying that: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Paul is a powerful example of how no one is impossible for God to reach and change. Sometimes God breaks into a life in a spectacular manner, and sometimes conversion is a quiet experience. The right way to come to faith in Jesus Christ is whatever way God brings you. True conversion comes from a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and leads to a new life in relationship with Him.
The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and did such a mighty work in Paul wants to work in your life too. What could Jesus do if you surrendered as Paul did and gave him complete control of your life? I want to reread verse 15 which says: “Yes, but you must go! I have chosen him to be My instrument to bring my name far and wide-to outsiders, to kings, and to the people of Israel as well. I have much to show him…” You see, you have no idea what God has planned for your life. You have no idea the ways that He can use you. You are uniquely and perfectly created for His purpose. And you will never know or reap the benefits of that purpose until you accept Jesus as your personal Savior.
Maybe you are not a Paul. Perhaps you don’t know the Bible at all. Perhaps you only know what you have learned here at Young Life. Perhaps you are just like I was at your age. Let me tell you a story.
I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I have put my faith in Him, I believe that He died for my sins, that He was resurrected, and that He is coming back. But I didn’t always believe. I grew up thinking that good girls go to heaven. And sure, I believed that there WAS a God, and I liked the idea of it, but I had no concept of what it was like to truly have faith in Him. I didn’t understand my need for a Savior and I certainly didn’t think I needed to depend on anything or anyone else in my life. I didn’t see myself as a sinner, and really didn’t understand what sin was apart from the rules that my parents set out for me to follow. There came a time in my adult life, in my mid-20s, when I was brought to my knees and finally surrendered my heart and my life to the Lord. And let me tell you, it was a lot like learning to dive. Over the years I had gathered all of the information that I needed, I had friends who were believers, heck I graduated from a Baptist university. But I was in the shallow end of the pool, in 3ft of water, safe and comfortable, observing what was going on in the 10ft of water on the other end of the pool. And I wanted to be down there in the deep end so badly. I wanted a life that was clutched tightly in the hands of Jesus. I wanted a life where I knew that Jesus would carry all of my burdens, that He would help me through anything, and that He would light up the path before me. And then I realized that the only thing that was keeping me from having all of that was me. My free will. My decision. And then I dove. I dove straight into the arms of Jesus waiting for me in 10ft of water. Straight into the arms of my Savior. And friends, I stand here today and tell you that making the decision to put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Savior has been and will always be the most important decision in my life.
Last week you saw some cardboard testimonies – some examples of how making the decision to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior has changed people’s lives. It changed mine. It can change yours too. And I want that for each of you.
Do you know that Jesus prayed specifically for you in the Bible? He prayed for all future believers. He prayed for all who would follow Him, including you and others you know. He prayed for unity, protection and holiness. Let me read this prayer in John Chapter 17.
My prayer is not for them alone (here He is referring to His disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
So I want you walking away tonight thinking about the decision that you have to make and knowing that there are a lot of people here tonight who care about you and who are here to talk to you if you have any questions. Grab any of the leaders and we will help you through this decision process when you are ready. If you’re not ready for the deep end yet, if you can’t quite dive in head first, that’s okay. Just know that you have a Savior who is already there, in 10ft of water, patiently waiting for you.