Archives For Young Life

One of my favorite scenes in comedy is a scene that takes place toward the end of the movie, Tropic Thunder (2008). This is a crucial element in the storyline when Robert Downey Jr.’s character(s) attempts to get his friend played by Ben Stiller out of a prison. Both of the characters think they are part of a movie and disguised as their characters. What they are coming to realize is that what they are facing is actually real and are trying to come to terms with it and what to do. Forgive the initial vulgarity of this short clip but I promise you will laugh.

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Humorous as this scene is, there is a lot of truth behind it.

This week I read an article about someone who called herself an “Orthodox Christian” because she didn’t like the other term “Evangelical Christian.” After listening to her, I found that I agreed with just about everything she said about her faith but wondered why she needed to label herself with the preface ‘Orthodox’.  I also attended a conference with a group of people who called themselves “Reformed Christians.” I was asked by some people there of what kind of Christian I am and I said something along the lines that although I am part of the Anglican denomination I am a “Young Life Christian” because it was in the group Young Life where I accepted Christ. I was unsettled about this answer for a few days.

When we turn to scripture we find that the first time a name or label was put on the followers of Christ, it was in the city of Antioch.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

I am not a bible or church scholar but from what I know, when the church grew and expanded throughout the world, divisions occurred and thus new identities. Here we are 2,000 years later and if someone asks you who you are, you could respond in one of these ways.

  • I am an Evangelical Christian
  • I am a Southern Baptist Christian
  • I am an Orthodox Christian
  • I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian
  • I am a Catholic Christian
  • I am a Reformed Christian
  • I am a Coptic Christian
  • I am an Anglican Christian
  • I am a Young Life Christian

The labels go on and on.

Almost 20 years ago when I first accepted Christ, it seemed so simple and beautiful. I felt a humility and honor to call myself a Christian and by his grace, follow Jesus as best I could. The older I got the more complicated life became. Like Kirk Lazarus, I became a dude, playing a dude disguised as another dude. I am to blame for this because I fell for the trap and forced myself into a corner within the subculture of Christianity to put a very specific label on my faith.

Do you think someone looking in on us as Christians even cares? I am not saying that the specific beliefs or denominations are not important but put yourselves in the shoes of someone who does not know or understand who Jesus is: Our faith looks so divisive and confusing.

Have our descriptors become our titles of pride and nobility? Our idol? 

Thankfully, where our heart is, our true identity lay. Our heart that holds the promise of Christ shapes how we truly live our lives no matter what title we give it.

I am trying to not over-simplify life and this topic but what if it is meant to be that simple? Jesus asked the Apostle Peter one of life’s greatest questions,

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16

I pray that everyday I answer  like Peter in today’s language, “I am a dude who follows Christ, the Son of the living God.”

What do you call yourself? What have you learned about “identity”?

In the iconic animated movie The Lion King (1994), the main character, a lion cub named Simba, is forced to flee for his life after his uncle treacherously seizes the throne. Forced to grow up on his own in the jungle, Simba eventually has to come to terms with who he is, the rightful heir to the throne. Even though Mufasa, his father, is only present in spirit, he calls to his son. His father’s ghost-voice challenges Simba to remember who he is and to reclaim his destiny. Powerful yet tender, Simba says to his son,

“Remember who you are. Remember…remember…remember.”

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Still photo from The Lion King (1994), courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

God gives us a memory so that we may learn wisdom from life’s lessons. There are times when our lives move so fast, we need to stop and go back to that physical or mental place where God spoke most clearly to us. When I visited the mountain in Sewanee Tennessee where my wife and I got married, it was a sweet reminder of the day God put us together as friends and then lovers. Hearing Woodie Guthrie/Wilco’s Remember the Mountain Bed song also brings me back to that time.

God uses such moments to help us remember something special to him.

Each June God reminds me about a beautiful week in 1994 at Young Life’s camp called Castaway Club. It was there I recognized I could not live my life without God; it was the culmination of a great spiritual journey. I am not completely sure if I knew what I was getting into, but each June I think back to that glorious week and thank God for extending his loving hand to a lost and confused fifteen year old.

God used many people to reveal himself to me in the time leading up to that week. God often works toward insights like mine years in advance. Here are the impactful events and scenes that led up to that beautiful week in Castaway.

  • My father grew up and went to Webster Groves High School. In his graduating class of 1963, he had a classmate named Nancy Fares (later became O’Donnell).
  • Although as a family we lived in Kansas City for many years, my father had a job opportunity in the St. Louis area. My family moved back my father’s hometown, Webster Groves in 1993. There, my parents reconnected with Nancy and her husband Mike O’Donnell. The move made me miserable. I was in counseling because I didn’t know how to share how I felt. It seemed l like I had no friends and no real purpose, and I was most likely in an undiagnosed depression. The O’Donnells then told my parents about a group called Young Life.
  • Not long after this, I got a call from a sophomore girl in my school—which I thought was strange. Her name was Molly O’Donnell. She was the daughter of Nancy and Mike O’Donnell, and she asked me to go to this thing called Young Life. I had no idea what Young Life was, but I was desperate for attention and said yes.
  • A day or two later, Molly and a car full of upper-class girls picked me up, and we drove to Young Life. I was a freshman in heaven.
  • Molly introduced me right away to an older man. He was known as “Herm,” though his first name was Dave. After Herm heard my name, he said, “Hey, my name is Dave too.” Herm was the Young Life Area Director. He took me under his wing. In addition, Herm’s wife Terri essentially became a second mother in the process and in fact to most of us at Young Life.
  • After that first night of “club,” as people in Young Life calls it, I was introduced to another David. His name was David Pendergrass. David, along with other older students drove me to club every week. They were the ones who walked alongside me, listened to me, and shared the great story of Jesus Christ with me—I’ll never forget it.  The boys of Young Life became the brothers I never had. Many of them are great friends to this day even though most of us have moved.
  • It all culminated at camp Minnesota at Castaway. There I had, as Young Life says, The Greatest Week of my Life. That’s no lie.
The boys from Wester Groves High School (Mid-County St. Louis) prepping for our volleyball tournament at Castaway.

The boys from Wester Groves High School (Mid-County St. Louis) prepping for our volleyball tournament at Castaway. This is where the nickname “Cheech” all began. Can you find me?

Each June, God calls me to remember and be thankful to him for saving me. In addition, I think about those who had the courage to approach me, be a friend, and share the great news of Christ. God calls me to be thankful for that time in Minnesota, and to pray also for everyone in Young Life going to camp this summer.

Tell me about how you came to accept Christ. It is a story we all should stand up and hear. 

Who hasn’t asked this question,“Will they remember me when I’m gone?”

The question haunts all of us.  I often feel like I am surrounded by people constantly bothered by that question so they are frightened and fighting incredibly hard for relevance.  I am one of them I must confess.  The question implies that we should have “worth” if we are to be remembered.  There is great truth to that feeling.

When watching the movie Troy (2004), the cheesiest line but perhaps the most important one is the war call from Achilles,

“Do you know what’s there, waiting beyond that beach? Immortality, take it, it’s yours!”

Achilles knows well that the battle he fights is not about that day but for ages to be told.  Odysseus in the movie goes further,

 “Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”-Odysseus

*Disclaimer folks, these are great sensationalized Hollywood lines and not pulled from Homer’s The Odyssey. Be nice to me because we can still learn from them. 

My father recently took our family to go visit our grandfather’s tombstone at Jefferson Barracks outside of St. Louis.  It was Memorial Day so we were honoring his life and service for our country.  It is safe to say that hundreds of years from now that tombstone will continue to be there.  I’m sure my grandfather would be proud knowing that we continue to visit his grave to remember his sacrifice.  I imagine also that my other deceased relatives appreciate us remembering their lives.

There is a deeper part of this question we must examine.  It isn’t just being remembered on a tombstone, a memorial, or in a biography.

It hit me about 10 years ago when I was a Young Life leader and I was talking to one of my students who just accepted Christ.  He told me, “Chi Chi (my nickname), I just love that my name is now written in God’s book.”  I learned more from him about eternity than a thousand theologians.  This Psalm sums it up,

“your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

We may be haunted by the vastness of eternity but be confident that according to this above promise, we are written permanently into His book.