SAN ANTONIO (BP)–As I gave advice to teens in my church, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew some who appeared to be listening would ignore everything I said.
After years as a music and youth pastor, I was leaving to follow God’s call to evangelism. This evening was the last time I would meet with my youth group. I cringed at the thought of losing some to drugs, alcohol, sex and violence.
“Stay involved in a Bible study,” I said. “Stay involved with the youth group. Have prayer meetings with each other. Hold each other accountable.
“If you don’t do these things, you’re going to end up in a mess of trouble. You’ve got to have Christian people in your life. You have to go to church consistently. If you do that, you’ll make it. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s that simple.”
Four years later I returned to this small town. Sure enough, one young man had disregarded my advice.
Dan’s faith had once helped him overcome a drug habit and other problems. But after I left, he had drifted back into his old ways and suffered the consequences.
By age 20, he had fathered three children. His first child was born out of wedlock. Though he didn’t marry the girl, the end of the relationship hurt as badly as a divorce.
The next time he got a girl pregnant, he married her. When their second child arrived, the responsibilities strained their pocketbook and their relationship. In addition to his wounded marriage, he had lost two fingers in a work-related accident.
“You know what, Ken?” he said. “I wish I would have listened to you. If I just would have listened, I wouldn’t have a baby that I never get to see and two other children.
“I’m not really happily married. But I’m staying with her because I don’t want to go through what I did the first time. If I had just done some of the things you told me to do, I wouldn’t be in this mess.
“When I look at my hand, it’s a reminder of what I’ve done to my life. If I would have been paying attention I wouldn’t have cut my fingers off. And if I would have been paying attention to my walk with God, I wouldn’t have cut my heart in half.”
It’s been a long time since I talked to Dan, but stories of people straying from God are still common.
About a year ago my wife received an urgent message from a youth pastor in Lubbock, Texas. When we connected, he said he had hoped that I could intervene to prevent a tragedy, but now it was too late. The previous summer I had led a youth camp during which a young woman named Camille accepted Christ. After returning home, Camille got involved in church and shed her bad reputation.
But when school began, she started dating a guy I call Mr. Bad News. Her parents tried to keep her away from him, but like many determined teens, Camille could always find ways around her parents’ wishes.
Soon she was pregnant. Her boyfriend convinced her to take the easy way out: abortion. The youth pastor had hoped I could talk her out of it.
Everyone else had tried and failed. Nearly half the youth group went to her home one night to plead that she give birth and place the child for adoption.
On the tragic day, several kids and their pastor followed her to the clinic, where police ordered them to remain across the street. Four hours later she returned home, her problem “solved” by a $300 payment to an abortionist.
Camille’s friends honestly cared for her. They wanted to spare this young woman agony. This trauma crushed Camille’s parents and caused her to withdraw from her peers. The youth pastor tries to counsel her, but whenever he calls she bursts into tears. She knows what she’s done is wrong, but she and her boyfriend didn’t have the courage to take responsibility for their actions.
I once heard a pastor say it takes a lifetime to find God’s will and just a few minutes to walk away from it. Choose your path carefully.
Remember, too, that coming to Christ doesn’t mean life will be a bed of roses. Nor will it magically be perfect. Our same frustrations and weaknesses still exist.
After accepting Jesus as my Savior, I remember how shocked I was to give up smoking, drinking and my favorite drug — hatred — only to discover other headaches.
Since you are on this earth, you will have problems. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Be encouraged by that promise. It is not in escaping adversity that God gets glory from our lives, but in protecting us and helping us walk through trials.
Finally, find your spiritual purpose. What is your niche? What are your talents? How can God use you? If you learn the answers to those questions, you will uncover the kind of happiness that lasts.
Adapted from “Rescued By The Cross,” copyright 1999 by Ken Freeman, used by permission of Howard Publishing. Freeman is an evangelist from San Antonio and a member of Alamo City Christian Fellowship (SBC). Ken Walker is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky.