Dear FMT Member,
What a great tour we shared this year, but I am burdened to try to express what is in my heart now as I pray that this experience continues for you. You have been on the mountaintop, but the valley is coming. How will you allow what God has taught you on this trip to continue? I have been where you have been. I come from a Christian family, surrounded by Christian things all my life, but there will come a time when you are going to have to decide for yourself if you are truly going to live and take a stand for Christ.
We have some wonderful memories of this trip, including our stay with the youth at Jones Avenue Baptist Church in Easley, SC and the wonderful home cooking and Southern hospitality! You will remember our trip on the bus, playing games, talking to people you never might have gotten the opportunity to otherwise, sleeping, playing Euchre or Kemps, or teaching me how to play Texas hold 'em. You will remember playing volleyball or basketball or round robin in the gym and having to get cancer ball down from being stuck on the beam. You will remember the ginormous amount of ice cream we were given and staying up until midnight, laughing and playing games. You will remember Kum-Cha & Asay no-no (sp?) and singing on the bus. You will remember meeting the men in Anderson, SC at the Haven of Rest farm & mission and hearing their stories of God has changed their lives. You will remember the Miracle Hills Rescue Mission in Greenville, SC and of course the unforgettable Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, and how we could never make it through "The Room" or "The Power of the Cross" without crying...ever.
But just a word of caution. You can't depend on your feelings. I felt it too this trip--the Spirit moving in hearts and lives, the "connection of souls," and God's marvelous power. But feelings don't last. After this great emotional high you will probably feel a let down. On this trip you were exposed to the "other path." As a Christian, sometimes I tend to remember only my chosen path, but there are others in the world who have chosen a different path for their lives. Even other Christians have different views and "interpretations" of God's Word. One of the men at Haven of Rest told me that he had just come from a funeral of a senior saint, and then to come hear our program gave him hope for the next generation of followers of Christ. He said he could see that your faith was genuine, and he said to tell you that he had tried the other way and it wasn't worth it. I'd always thought my faith was genuine too, but after a while it's easy to get complacent in our Christianity, and I've been there. I've wondered if what I was doing was just because that's the way I'd always done it, and whether worshiping God was just a futile activity. I mean, look at all the fun that is out there that I am missing because I'm supposed to have some sort of morals or ethics or "religion." Does God really know what He's doing? Is the Bible really true? Are my parents hypocrites? But if you are just going through the motions, you will get discouraged and depressed...UNLESS you keep your focus on Christ and HIS work in your lives. That is one of the reasons I love taking pictures, because then I can look back and see and remember what God has done in the past. This gives me hope for the future. This is why I think it is so important that I will give YOU a copy of all these pictures and videos, because I want you to REMEMBER. Never forget what you have learned here.
I also used to think that as long as I read the Bible and prayed and depended on God I could go through life without the help of others. I have learned even in just the last few years the importance of GOOD CHRISTIAN FRIENDS and accountability and the TRUE importance of WEEKLY church attendance and church family to help me stay on track spiritually. Don't ever think that it is not imporant to go to church EVERY week. I know so many friends or former students who have let the world creep into their thinking. Oh, the LITTLE THINGS are so important. If you can start making good godly choices in the LITTLE, daily decisions in life: how to treat a friend at school, how to spend time with God, how to turn in assignments on time, how to do your chores with excellence, how to obey your parents, you will be keeping yourself on the right path. Little choices will pile up and have a big effect.
I am concerned for you. I wonder that in a few years, a few months, a few days, or even in a few hours the "experience" will wear off. We coast along, thinking we'll always love God and always desire Him. But we won't. Sometimes we'll want other things, thinking God has gypped us of something important, something that would be more fun. But our thinking gets warped. "Our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." (Jer. 17:9) We can't trust ourselves, but we CAN trust God. Our priorities get out of whack, and my devotions and time with godly influences don't seem to take priority--after all, I know how to "do" the Christian life by now, right? But even now, when I WORK in a Christian environment, I still get drawn away by the things of the world. I find myself thinking, "it's okay to watch this program, after all, it's not THAT bad." But I'm just deceiving myself. I wonder if I'm missing out on the "fun" things in life. But the longer I live (and I'm getting old) the more I am convinced that NOTHING else matters but the things of eternity. This life is only the beginning.
So how do we keep our faith genuine? Here is what I've learned from observation and personal experience. We must CHOSE to put God first, especially in the little things, even when we don't necessarily feel like it. Every little decision matters. If you know something is wrong, DON'T DO IT, even if someone else is doing it. You may take flack for this. I know I have. I like to surround myself as much as possible with good Christian music, or even Christian radio (like Moody or KLOV). Why listen to something that will not encourage you in your Christian walk? Get a group of good Christian friends and make yourself spend time with them. Sometimes we will just be going through the motions, but these choices will eventually influence our feelings. Will you choose to wear something you might think is questionable, just because "everyone else gets away with it." Choose to take a stand for what's right.
I'm uploading a video to Facebook of just a short portion of our spontaneous worship time, so you can REMEMBER. My heart is burdened for you and your future choices. I will pray for you, and you pray for me, that we can continue to grow in our love for God, and our love for others. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul...and love your neighbor as yourself." I love you. But God loves you more. Never forget.