"I'm going to give you the credit of being real with you." This is the very first statement that I made as the chapel speaker to the Sr. High campers this past week at Turtle Mountain Bible Camp. And to the very best of my ability I tried to be just that - real - transparent - vulnerable - and yes, blunt.
As I was preparing for the week I often struggled with exactly what I needed to focus on as I presented to them the heart of the Gospel message and what it means to be a Christian. What I have seen so often play out in other evangelistic outreach programs, including camp, is what has often been called "Easy-Believe-ism", "the soft-sell", or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, "Cheap Grace." In other words the emphasis is placed solely on the fact that God loves you, that He forgives you and that He wants to give you the free gift of salvation. Of course, all of those things are true, but what often happens when only those things are presented is that the decision to believe in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior - becomes ONLY a decision to believe in Jesus Christ as Personal Savior. Personal LORD get's left out of the equation. In other words: "I've punched my ticket to heaven... now I'm free to live life how I like."
Jesus, however, never made it that easy. Only those who were willing to surrender everything in order to follow Him were deemed worthy of being His disciple and calling Him LORD. Being a Christian is SO MUCH MORE THAN SAYING A PRAYER - It is a LIFETIME of FOLLOWING a new LORD and a NEW MASTER.
So for the first chapel sessions I presented the hard facts about what it means to follow Christ and SURRENDER EVERYTHING that we are and have to Him. I told them more than once: "I would rather have you leave here this week and NOT become a Christian because you fully understand what it means to be a Christian and aren't sure if you're ready for that commitment than to take this decision too lightly."
By the time Thursday afternoon rolled around, I knew that God was working in a big way. My younger brother Jeremy was working as a Cabin Leader and he stopped by on his skill-off to let me know about was happening in his cabin. He has been on a "1 on 1" (a time where 1 Cabin leader and 1 camper have a set time to talk alone) with one of his campers who had shared with him that the main reason he came to camp was for the chapel sessions. He was from a non-Christian home and camp was the only place that he would hear about God and this being his third year at camp he sensed in advance that he needed to make a decision and that hearing about what it really meant to be a Christian had helped him a lot. So when Jeremy asked him if he was ready to make a decision for Jesus, the camper, smiled shyly and looked down at the ground, and then just as quickly looked back up at him, straight in the eyes and said: "I did last night in my bunk."
AMEN! Heaven rejoices and I rejoiced to see the joy in my brothers eyes as he shared this incredible news with me.
Right then and there I sensed that this testimony was only going to be the beginning, the first-fruits if you will, because at that moment I was preparing to give the invitation to the campers to surrender to Jesus as Savior and Lord in chapel that evening. I believe the Lord gave me the idea to gather as many small flat stones as I could find and write on them two words, "Let Go." As I did I prayed over each one that it would represent in someones life the moment of full surrender to Jesus Christ. I believed God for a response, but even I didn't believe big enough for the response that followed.
For my talk that evening I shared my experience of going skydiving and how the very last thing that I did before literally letting go of the airplane and put my faith fully in that parachute on my back opening properly, was to look up at the bottom of the wing where a small round sticker with a smiley face stated two simple words: LET GO. There comes a point where you can believe everything you want about the safety of skydiving and how the parachute works until you finally have to put it to the test and "Let Go." I explained that it's the same way with faith in the Lord Jesus, just like when Simon Peter saw Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a stormy night and he believed and immediately put it to the test by asking: "Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water." Jesus reply was one word: "Come." And so Peter left the safety of the boat and in faith did what no other man has ever done, he walked on water. An adventure he could never have experienced had he not put his faith into action.
Before I gave the invitation I explained what was going to happen: first whoever wanted to make a first time decision to make Jesus Christ their Savior and Lord could come forward, take one of the "Let Go" rocks and with a marker write their name on it; and second whoever was already a Christian and wanted to surrender something in their lives, whether some vice, secret sin, or whatever was holding them back from being completely surrendered to Him, they could write it down on the rock.
No sooner had I given the invitation and the band had begun to play the song "Jesus, All For Jesus" that the first person stood up and with tears flowing came to the front. Others followed until the aisle was full and with tears flowing they came forward. When finally everyone had come to the front and was again seated, I told them: "We are now going to SILENTLY walk as a group down to the lake and we are going to "Let Go" in faith and throw these rocks into the lake. 'That as far as the East is from the West, so far has God removed our transgressions from us." We walked en mass down to the lake as silent as a funeral procession. The shore of the lake was lined with well over 100 campers and staff and on my count of 3-2-1, as one body we threw our stones into the lake. To watch those stones whistle through the air and splash down sinking forever out of sight was a profound moment. More profound still were the events that immediately followed.
Each of the cabin groups went off to gather alone with their cabin leaders and I encouraged anyone who had made a first time decision to share it with their cabin. I've sometimes tried to imagine what Pentecost might have looked like when the Holy Spirit descended and Peter preached and over 3,000 people came to believe in a single day, this maybe wasn't quite on that scale but it as close as I have ever experienced in my life.
The tears of joy, prayers and confessions that followed were numerous and powerful. Imagine tough 15 year old teenage boys breaking down in tears confessing their sins and sharing their struggles with pornography addiction, drug and alcohol abuse, premarital sex, and suicidal thoughts to each other. Girls confessing their addictions to injuring themselves through cutting, anorexia, and overdosing on medications. The walls that were so carefully constructed to keep others from knowing what is really going on inside of us tumbled down like the walls of Jericho.
The Holy Spirit immediately began speaking through many of the campers as brand-new believers began ministering words of healing and forgiveness to each other. Teenage boys who only day's earlier had been fighting and couldn't stand each other, were asking each other for forgiveness. The most timid and soft-spoken outsider, a boy with F.A.S. who just day's earlier hated camp because he couldn't make any friends became the most bold, speaking powerful words into the one camper who proudly declared himself an "ATHEIST with the sole intent of coming to camp to cause others to question and lose faith."
I could go on and on about the testimonies that continued to pour out in the following day's but I will end with this:
Another profound moment happened that reminded me of the incident of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. One camper who had latched on to me during the week (there's always one!) who had become a Christian a few years earlier at camp, but did not have any support from home or a church, came up to me after we threw the rocks in the lake with a strange request. He said: "I need to walk down into the water, I don't know why, but I just have to. I was going to do it by myself but something inside of me said ask Danny to go with you." So I asked: "Why? Why do you need to do that?" And he said: "I've been a Christian for a while but I just need to feel like my sins are washed off of me and I can start fresh with Jesus." I then asked him: "Do you know what Baptism is?" His reply? "No, what is that?" So I explained it to him and with glowing eyes he burst out: "That's exactly how I feel! That's exactly what I need." Well I wasn't about to say no to what the Holy Spirit was prompting in this young man's life and so right then and there we walked together out into the lake and upon his confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord I baptized him.
The only witness was Hannah, the camp lifeguard who was watching from the balcony. When we came back up she came over and excitedly congratulated him for his decision. She later shared here at our church that witnessing his baptism was the most profound moment for her.
I later told him that normally before I baptize someone we do a ten week baptism course and we would make it a big thing with family and friends present. And don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that baptism is something that is best done in the context of a community of faith where he they are immediately welcomed into a church family to be nurtured and discipled in their faith. But there are exceptions, like Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch who immediately after believing in Jesus asked him: "There is some water, what prevents me from being baptized?" And so Philip baptized him with only the two of them present. When the heart is ready and God is moving there is no need to delay.
I praise God for what He has done ask you to continue to pray with me for those teenagers that they will continue to live out their faith and find a church to belong to.
Finally, How about YOU? What do you need to "Let Go" of?
It is only when you fully SURRENDER to Jesus as your Savior AND LORD that will begin discover the true joy of being in the bulls-eye of God's Will for your life.
"For it is only in Your WILL that I am free."
Please feel free to comment on any happenings from Killarney Mennonite Church.