Fifteen years ago I had one of the most surreal moments of my life. It happened because a friend of mine had died of a brain aneurysm the week before. We played basketball together on a Friday. He was gone early the next week. His name was Kevin.
There were hundreds of stunned people sitting in the crowd at his funeral, anxiously waiting to see what would be shared. Then a memorial photo slideshow played, with an old Pine Cove CD playing in the background. I had sung lead vocal on that CD.
Kevin had worked at Pine Cove, just like I had. God had shaped his life and his ministry through various people over the years at camp. Needless to say, at this funeral were scores of pictures of college staff that had worked alongside him that summer.
So there I sat, listening to my voice sing worship songs over people, watching a photo slideshow of a Pine Cove staff person, reading and hearing about a guy named Kevin that people so dearly loved.
Some of our biggest lessons learned come from stopping, thinking and reflecting. Stopping. Thinking. Reflecting. A pastor friend of mine said he loved speaking at weddings and funerals because peoples’ heart were tender. I believe it.
(If you can’t see the video above, click here to watch it.)
The slide show above is about a girl named Kristi. It is her memorial video they made to show at her funeral. I don’t know her, but her life has inspired me. She and her husband, Justin, had two adopted boys. They were very active in Young Life, sharing the love of Jesus with high school students.
After a battle with some medical illnesses, she passed away just a couple of weeks ago on August 12, 2012.
Her slideshow hit very close to home for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because of the joy in her smile that reminded me of my wife’s, or because of the ages of her boys. There is something about being reminded that life on earth ends at some point that gets my attention.
Please pray for Justin and their two boys. The transition they have been going through is extremely difficult.
I heard recently of another tragedy. It was of a young mother involved in a car accident. She, her sons, and her unborn baby all died in the wreck one morning just a few weeks ago. Her husband wasn’t with them at the time of the accident.
Since the day I heard about this, I have prayed for the surviving husband and their families many times. I can’t imagine the pain, the feelings of loss, or just the dramatic shift in his life.
The mom, Elizabeth, was a Godly woman. She loved her husband and her kids in a way that expressed the love of her Father.
Please pray for her husband, Samuel. I am beyond words when I think about where his heart has been over the past month.
When I saw this memorial video my mind raced. What does the future hold for my family? How many days do I have left on this earth with them? Will I have any regrets when they are gone?
We can get so caught up in the day to day that we forget we are spiritual people. Instead, we live lives distracted, focusing on the things that won’t last.
Are you fulfilling God’s calling on your life? Are you being the mother or father you earnestly want to be? How are you loving your kids? How are you loving your spouse? How are you expressing the love of your Father to this lost and hurting world?
I’d encourage you to watch the memorial video above and let your heart reflect.
"Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalms 144:4).
Followers of Jesus consider the Gospel to be the foundation for their faith. It marks a turning point in their life. Each of them can think back to a time when the Gospel all of a sudden “made sense” and they made a decision to put their faith in Christ. But if you ask many of those same Christ Followers what the Gospel is, you will get back a wide variety of answers.
Over the years I’ve sat with over a thousand college students on many different college campuses all across the country. It was in the context of a job interview for a summer camp position. As part of the interview, I would eventually ask them this question:
"What does it mean to become a Christian?”
Some of them could nail it. Their answers were clear, concise, and biblically sound. The other 90% weren’t so fortunate. Although they meant well, there answers were all over the board, and were often mixed with different worldly – or simply American – ideals.
How would you do in the same situation? What would your answer be? In other words, if a friend was to ask you what the Gospel is, what section of Scripture would you use to help explain your answer?
For those of you with young kids, it gets even tougher. My 5 and 6 year olds ask me spiritual questions fairly regularly. I want that. However, I find that it is even harder to answer questions like this for a mind that only thinks in the concrete right now.
There are three sections of Scripture I like to refer to that illustrate the Gospel quite clearly. One is in the form of a story. One clearly lays out the brutal facts. And the last is someone explaining the Gospel in a letter.
Here they are:
1. Joshua 1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
What Scripture would you use, in your effort to explain the Gospel?
What if our goal, as parents, wasn’t to control our kids, but to set them free? What if an eventual goal for our parenting was to launch our kids into the world, not just let them go? What if we spent less time trying to mold our kids so that they impress our friends, and more time helping them unfold into the godly man or woman that God desires for them to be? Yeah, now that would be something.
Dr. Tim Kimmel has written over 20 books on parenting. I have interviewed him before for this blog. You can read that post here. He has two books that stand out to me. They are: Raising Kids for True Greatness and Grace-Based Parenting. These books are full of great wisdom when it comes to raising your kids in a healthy environment, with healthy goals in mind.
In his weekend seminars based on this material, he outlines 4 freedoms that grace-based parents should give their children. They are simple, yet profound.
Working at a summer camp is a great way to begin understanding a small portion of the intricacies of being a parent. In fact, when it comes to training our summer staff at Pine Cove, we teach a combined seminar on parenting and discipleship. We do this because we recognize one flows out of the other. We adapted Dr. Tim Kimmel’s parenting material to fit in the context of summer camp.
Below is a clip from one of these sessions, where I am teaching on these 4 freedoms. I am speaking to our 1,300 summer staff as they getting ready to be counselors in cabins at our summer camps. Right before this session began, I showed this music video, from the song, Father of Mine by Everclear. In it, the singer repeatedly says, “My father gave me a name, and then he walked away.”
1. Grace-based counselors give their campers the freedom to be different. My kids can be annoying at times. Or worse, they can embarrass me in public, most likely because they aren’t acting like perfect kids. When they act that way, it is easy for me to assume what they are doing is wrong, instead of just simply being different. Grace-based counselors – and parents – set them free to live out the personalities and uniquenesses that God instilled in them.
2. Grace-based counselors give their campers the freedom to be vulnerable. One of the great parts in going to summer camp is to get away from being who your friends want you to be. Campers can take off their “masks,” and be honest about their fears in life. Grace-based counselors – and parents – give children a place to let these fears be known without the fear of being attacked in the process.
3. Grace-based counselors give their campers the freedom to be candid. What troubles a child’s heart? It could be a sin with which they are struggling, or a doubt they are having about their faith. Better yet, it might be a frustration they are having with us. Grace-based counselors – and parents – allow children to voice these doubts, fears or frustrations.
4. Grace-based counselors give their campers the freedom to make mistakes. Let’s be honest; there are times when kids are hard to love. They push our very last button. They try to bend the rules, push their own agendas, or flat out rebel. One of the highest forms of grace is to provide correction, discipline and consequences. Grace-based counselors – and parents – don’t allow the child’s mistakes to break their relationship with them. They recognize that when these kids are the hardest to love, that’s when they need love the most.
I remember my first board meeting. Sitting around the table with 17 other Godly men and women was quite the intimidating experience. I was 24. When one of the most influential board members addressed me directly, I knew I was in for it.
We were disagreeing on a decision that had huge ramifications for years to come. I had voiced my opinion. The board members had voiced theirs. And then this one board member turned to me and said, “You know, Kevin, in times like this when we disagree on important decisions, we need to look at what Scripture tells us…”
"The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29).
His point was clear: Old men possess wisdom. Young men don’t. I was not old, therefore I didn’t possess wisdom.
After I picked myself up off the floor, and bit my tongue from saying anything I would later regret, I just nodded in return and said, “Thanks.” That verse is true. Old men have seen life unfold. The scars and wrinkles on their body represent different seasons, or experiences, where they saw God’s faithfulness in many different ways.
Young people, on the other hand, haven’t. Their faith and wisdom are raw. They are unrefined and quite often, untested. Yet young people feel strong and invincible. This strength leads them to do things that makes old people gasp.
For the past 20 years I have worked with – or very close to – college students from all over the country. It was a rich season for me, filled with great memories. As I think back to the years I’ve spent with these college students, I realized I have been shaped by them in profound ways.
If I boil them down into big categories, here are the top three lessons they have taught me about faith:
1. Our faith sets us free to be undignified in worship.
Fifteen years ago a college student asked me if I minded that he raise his hands during the worship time. In humility, he was asking because he didn’t want to be a distraction to those around him.
This was foreign to me. I had grown up in a conservative Baptist church. The one time I remember a lady raising her hands to worship near me, my sister and I imitated her and giggled the rest of the church service.
Young people don’t separate their emotions from their faith. Like at a good college football game, they want to loudly proclaim that God is good, that He is mighty, and that He is worthy of our worship. It’s not until us older people step in and convince them that acting a fool is…well…foolish that they stop.
In 2 Sam 6, King David is so excited that the ark of the Lord is finally in Jerusalem that he ran around and danced in the streets. His wife got mad, but David told her, “I will get even more undignified than this” (2 Samuel 6:22). He wasn’t worried about peoples’ perceptions. He was overcome with joy, and was freely expressing it.
2. Our faith blinds us to intimidation.
If you’ve ever been on a mission trip, you know what it’s like to freely talk about your faith. There’s something about sharing it with foreign people that allows you lose all your inhibitions.
College students have modeled for me a willingness to step way out there on the thinest part of the branch in sharing their faith. I have been woken up in the middle of the night because one wanted help sharing the Gospel with someone.
As we get older, our stuff makes living out our faith much more risky. After all, we have spouses, kids, mortgages, college tuition to save up for, etc. We can’t “afford” to follow the Spirit’s leading at times.
Again, David is a great example here. Remember when he heard Goliath off in the distance picking a fight with the Israelites. David was a young boy delivering cheese to his brothers in battle when he heard Goliath yelling. Then David said, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
If our faith is centered on the Lord Jesus, we can step out in confidence, and trust God with the results.
3. Our faith expresses itself through righteousness and justice.
This is probably the best lesson I have learned from young people. Our faith doesn’t just lead us to critique the Sunday sermon. It isn’t about dressing my kids up right and making them sit still through a Sunday service. Our faith is meant to be lived out on this earth.
Watch college students today. Many of them are loving the poor, renovating homes, working in orphanages, teaching in the inner city, rescuing women from sex trafficking, and the list goes on.
Their faith is active. It is resulting in good works.
I think of Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
College students have reminded me that we are to shine like stars, to be a city on a hill, and to be the very leaves of healing on this earth.
All that to say, there is much to learn from older, wiser, believers. But let’s not discount the young as well. Each and every day they are teaching us volumes about the Christ-centered Life.
What lessons have you learned from young believers?
About Kevin East
Kevin East is the Executive Director of Family Matters. He and his wife Stephanie have five unbelievable kids, two of which they most recently adopted. If Kevin isn't busy with work or family, you'll probably find him in the woods near his house with a power tool. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect with him on Twitter at @kevinteast.
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