This weekend, I’ve realized I’ve been following Jesus for 20 years.
In fact, it’s exactly 20 years ago today that I really started following Jesus. I remember exactly when it was because of the intensity of the moment and the profound effect on the years since.
I was 16 years old. The previous fall, my friend Matt turned to me in our U.S. government class and asked, “Do you want to go to Atlanta with me and my church next summer?”
As the son of dairy farmers who never got to travel while growing up, I had instituted a personal policy: if I had a chance to get out of Wisconsin–for any reason–I took it.
So together with Matt and his church, I pulled together the scratch, went to lock-ins, made a bunch of friends, and headed to Atlanta, for a big national high school youth gathering.
The last night of that event changed everything.
After What Jesus Did…
That night, 25,000 of us sat in the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons play. Tony Campolo, a pastor and sociology professor at Eastern University, was speaking. He wove together snapshots of a world in need, mammoth theological concepts, and some really funny stories.
I remember a few of his stories: he got pulled over with a trunk full of chicken manure and canoe paddles, someone with an Ivy League law degree gave up a six-figure salary to serve as a public defender in Mississippi, and Tony bought ice cream sundaes for young prostitutes in Haiti.
A thunderstorm was brewing outside as Tony’s time was drawing to a close. He told of Jesus’ crucifixion, describing in detail both the what and the why of that event.
“After what Jesus did for me…” Tony yelled, and thunder slapped the roof of the dome,
“…there is nothing…” another clap of thunder,
“…nothing…” thunder cracked again,
“…NOTHING that I wouldn’t do for him!”
And for the first time, I really understood what it meant to be a Christian. I cried right then and there, in part due to exhaustion from an intense week of travel and late night fun, but also because I knew a new truth.
A Series of Amazing Days
So I started to read the Bible more, eager to know and follow this Jesus fellow. I’m selfish and error-prone like everyone else. But I wasn’t going to let that keep me from doing what I could.
In these past 20 years, then, I have thought and lived quite intentionally regarding education, money, marriage, sex, work, friendship, parenting, time, risk, decisions, and everything else. This has proven counter-cultural, often even amongst people who identify themselves as Christians.
This counter-cultural thinking and living has become an endless stream of Amazing Days. For example…
- Sleeping under the stars, cooking pancakes over an open fire, sleeping and learning how to care well for kids at Bethel Horizons.
- Having a dream about a girl, telling her about it, and then marrying her at the ripe old age of 21.
- Sitting down for a delicious shared meal with Kosovar refugees to whom we taught English at Jubilee Partners.
- Watching the sunrise over volcanoes every morning for the year we lived in the village of El Porvenir, Nicaragua. (Click here to buy the coffee our friends there grow.)
- Talking to innumerable strangers over our two years in Lanzhou, China, as they admired our baby, Phoebe.
- Directing a pilot microfinance program.
- Teaching a leadership class to incredible African pastors.
- Riding a motorcycle across southern Africa.
- Hearing from someone, “Your book changed my life!” (For more about the background of Amazing Days, you should read it.)
- Holding baby who will never know his parents because of AIDS.
- Serving students and staff across the U.S. with InterVarsity.
- Eating the most delicious gelato in Krakow with friends who work for InterVarsity’s sibling ministries in the IFES around the world.
- Helping lead Urbana in 2012.
- Dreaming up all kinds of fun, crazy events with friends like Fried Food Night, Dessert for Dinner, Camporama, Chicken Booyah, and the Party of Biblical Proportions.
- Gathering weekly with others who want to follow Jesus–reading the Bible, talking, praying, and generally being friends (in four very different countries!)
- Singing and smiling and laughing with tears running down my face (on several occasions).
- Providing a whole well for a village, with help from friends.
- Sending our kids, ages 11 and 9 off for their first day of school in South Africa (just yesterday).
Amazing Days keep on coming.
Twenty years ago, I said a full “Yes!” to Jesus for the first time. I agreed to go wherever, to do whatever, for however long, no matter what. I knew that I would experience freedom, happiness, and love, which I would radically share with others. In the process, I have had great adventures, great joy, a lot of learning, and, yes, my share of failures and pain. I think that the world is a ever-so-slightly better because I’ve lived this way for 20 years.
But today, I say “Yes!” to Jesus again. In the language of blackjack, I am doubling down. I am all in.
After what Jesus did for me, there is nothing—nothing!—that I wouldn’t do for him. And I cannot wait to see what he does in and around me during the next 20 years.