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Jay Strack: Standing up for Christ ‘smartest, toughest thing I ever d

CAMDENTON, Mo. (BP)–Jay Strack could be forgiven if he gave a few stock answers during a recent interview at the Stoneridge Amphitheater on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks.
At 1 a.m. that day, he had arrived in Orlando, Fla., from Jerusalem, where he was working on Southern Baptists’ “YouthLink 2000” New Year’s extravaganza. His older daughter, who was home from Harvard, waited up so they could talk. Then he caught a 7 a.m. flight to Missouri, where he preached for most of an hour to 3,500 people at the Cross-Over Christian Music Festival.
The audience didn’t know he had jet lag. They heard him testify to living in six broken homes by the 10th grade. To being physically and sexually abused. To seeing his mother go through one relationship after another. To watching her give away his older brother.
“I was as clueless as a termite in a yo-yo,” Strack declared. Displaying the communication skills that have taken him into more than 10,000 schools and to 22 countries, he shifted between his own past and his listeners’ present reality.
He told of going into schools in Kentucky and Oregon and Mississippi where shootings had taken place, and of finding students traumatized by having one of their own turn on them.
If ever there were a generation to say, “I want my life to count,” Strack said, it is the young people of today. “Welcome to the fourth quarter. You and I know the only cure — and that’s Jesus Christ.”
Seeing the harm of alcohol as a young child, Strack said he vowed never to drink. “And I did real well all the way through elementary school.”
But at age 12, in seventh grade, he took a dare to try it “just one time.”
“I followed the crowd, I played the game.” By the ninth grade, Strack was hooked on methamphetamine, or “speed.” The self-described junkie recalled, “I wore long sleeves so no one could see the marks on my arms.”
Jay’s best friend, Jimmy, also was a drug user. After Jimmy crashed his car and died, the student body at the high school gathered to hang his football jersey on the wall. A cheerleader stood to address her classmates.
“What’s wrong with us?” she asked. “We brag about who drinks the most, who gets high, who sleeps with who.” The girl told of turning from that lifestyle and giving her life to Jesus three weeks before.
She used a description that Strack has made his own for the past 26 years. “He stepped out of heaven and stepped into my heart.” The cheerleader said God had told her to talk to certain people about Jesus. One was Jimmy, but it was too late. Another was Jay.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Jay, everybody in the whole school thinks you’ll be next to have your jersey hung.'”
At a Bible study held in Jimmy’s memory, the leader challenged the group of students to signal their commitment to Christ by standing up. For the longest time, no one did.
Jay recalled praying that if one person stood, he would, too. Then he sensed God saying, “For your whole life, you’ve followed the crowd.” Then, Strack recounted, “I did the smartest, toughest thing I ever did as a senior in high school. I stood.”
That night, 26 years ago, he flushed the drugs and the booze and began to live for Jesus. When he challenged the audience at Lake of the Ozarks to take the same stand, dozens of people went forward to the stage. Later it was announced that 101 professions of faith or other decisions had been recorded.
Todd Forman, pastor of First Baptist Church, Versailles, Mo., was on the organizing board for the Cross-Over Christian Music Festival. “Jay obviously had his hands on the pulse of the needs of our crowd to have so many people make commitments,” Forman said.
America’s recent school shootings, Strack said in an interview, provide “a wake-up call” for the country. He described many young people today as rootless — even in families with both parents present — and restless. “These kids are just blown about by every fad, every feeling.”
But he pointed out that long before media and video game violence, Cain killed Abel. “Young people can do violent, despicable things — we’ve got to remember that.”
Strack cited four needs all children have:
— a model, someone to say, “This is how we do it.”
— a mentor, someone to share knowledge.
— a motivator, someone to say, “You can do it.”
— a monitor, someone to keep an eye on them.
“You spell love t-i-m-e,” Strack reminded. “You’ve got to have that special one-on-one time when you really connect with your children.” It’s a lesson their grandparents’ generation knew better than their parents do. “We’re so busy giving them the things we never had that we fail to give them what we did have.”
Kids need events like the music festival and YouthLink, Strack said, but more than that, they need to connect through healthy relationships.
He advised parents not to be so busy enforcing rules and regulations with their children that they fail to give them “the sweet taste of Jesus.”
“Rules without a relationship usually result in rebellion,” Strack said. “Rules with a relationship usually result in righteousness.”

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  • Tim Palmer