ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Fourteen-year-old Eric Smith never realized he had so much in common with a fighter pilot until he attended the Southern Baptist Convention’s first-ever Student Conference in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
Smith was one of nearly 200 youth who participated in the daylong conference June 12 cosponsored by the North American Mission Board and the Jay Strack Evangelistic Association. In other student activities, more than 600 youth attended an evening worship service June 11 at the convention center led by David Nasser, one of the leading youth communicators in the nation.
During the student conference, biblical passages came to life in a meeting room transformed under a canopy of multi-colored silk parachutes and two large video screens simulating the cockpit of a $40 million F-16 supersonic fighter jet at an altitude of 50,000 feet.
Under the instruction of one of the U.S. Air Force’s elite fighter pilots, youth learned how the Bible works like night vision goggles and provides flight plans, special intelligence about the enemy and protective battle gear.
Buck Burney, director of operations for the Air National Guard headquartered at the Jacksonville (Fla.) International Airport, described what it takes to be a member of the Air Force’s elite team of fighter pilots. Burney is trained to go airborne within five minutes of an emergency call in order to defend the nation from approaching enemy aircraft.
“You need to make sure you’re on alert and you need [to follow] instructions,” Burney said while acknowledging the same is true in the Christian life.
Smith, a member of Beech Park Baptist Church, Oliver Springs, Tenn., said the lessons hit home and now he has a greater appreciation for the Word of God.
“It helped show how much instructions are worth,” Smith said.
Robert E. Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, challenged conference participants to “sell out in a love relationship with God.”
“God’s got an amazing plan for your life,” Reccord said. “There’s no area in your life that is off limits to God.”
Reccord said youth will discover God’s flight plan for their lives by following Romans 12:1-2. “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold,” he said.
Sporting a pair of Air Force-issued night vision goggles (NVGs), Tony Nolan, a national youth conference speaker from Woodstock, Ga., said, “The Bible acts as our spiritual NVGs. It enables us to see through the ominous darkness of our culture. This ability gives us a winning edge over the destructive forces of secular humanism.”
Nolan warned youth to stay away from the “no-fly zone of premarital sex.” Like the fighter jet pilot who surveys his emergency checklist before boarding his F-16, Nolan said youth need an emergency checklist to protect them from the attacks of “sexual warfare.”
“Premarital sex is dangerous territory,” Nolan said. “It will suck you up and spit you out.”
Citing the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will provide a way of escape when Christians face temptation, Nolan called on youth to activate “God’s spiritual ejection seat” when they find themselves overwhelmed by sexual temptation.
Nolan recommended four methods for staying pure: 1) Ponder Jesus’ death on the cross. 2) Contemplate the dangers of sin. 3) Consider the people you’ll let down by giving into the temptation. 4) Run like Joseph who fled from the sexual pursuits of Potiphar’s wife.
Dressed in a fighter pilot’s flight suit, Ike Reighard, pastor of North Star Baptist Church, Kennesaw, Ga., said a Christian’s flight plan includes “finding and doing the will of God.”
“To be in the center of God’s will is the greatest destination anyone can have,” Reighard said. Describing baptism as the Christian’s ordination into the ministry, Reighard told the conference attendees, “We’re all called to be a minister.”
Strack, of Orlando, said the millennial generation’s future hangs in the balance of a culture teetering on self-destruction. “If we lose you, the battle is over,” he said.
Referencing 1 Peter 5:8, Strack warned against underestimating the enemy. “We have an adversary and he walks around like a roaring lion,” the evangelist said. “If you lose the battle for your mind, you lose the battle for your body.”
Strack identified the Christian’s arsenal against the attacks of the devil as 1) the Christian’s position in Christ; 2) the blood of Christ; 3) the Word of God; 4) the name of Jesus; and 5) the whole armor of God.
“God has given you a choice,” he said. “You seal your fate by the choices you make.”
Russ Drury, youth minister at First Baptist Church, Bartow, Fla., said the student conference proved quite effective in making biblical truths applicable to teenagers’ lives while emphasizing the importance of Scripture memorization. He said the conference could go a long way toward attracting the next generation of Southern Baptists to participate in the SBC’s annual meeting.
For 17-year-old Murry Morie, a member of Indian Springs Baptist Church, Broken Arrow, Okla., the message came through as loud as the attack missile sirens that reverberated throughout the conference meeting room.
“We have to try to witness or else we’re going to lose the battle,” he said.