When I was a young college student (17 years old), I found myself spending lots of time alone in my dorm room. Realizing that I could only read so much, listen to so many cassette tapes, re-arrange the closet, I decided to venture out. I quickly ran into representatives from various churches, most notably, the Baptist Student Union.
It was a life-changing meeting for me, or at least, I hope it was. The BSU naturally offered me a place to be around other young college students. I came to look forward to their evening, once a week video series with enthusiasm. It was my first exposure to Christian speakers–aside from Mass and church. One of them was a man by the name of Tony Campolo. I truly enjoyed all his presentations, and after one of them, recognizing the futility of a life without divine purpose, I accepted Christ as my personal saviour.
I was reminded of this when I read this post at Ben Witherington’s blog sharing a sermon written by Craig Hill.
Whether or not we know God, the question that dominates our lives remains the same. At issue is where we look for the answer. The easiest thing to do, the thing that probably most of us do most of the time, is to follow the world’s lead, to buy (often literally) into a system of values that says, if only you could own this, or look like this, or do this, then you’d be happy, then your life would have meaning. But it is not real bread, it is not the stuff that satisfies. We are made for God, and only in God will we discover the meaning for which we long, and which is our birthright as God’s children.
At issue is WHERE we look. Wow, what a powerful idea. Imagine if I had stepped out with a fraternity rather than the BSU, where might my life had gone? Although I’d like to think I was smarter than a life of partying and drinking–my apologies to the sober and responsible fraternities–due to my social outcast experiences as a middle schooler, I am grateful that I felt comfortable enough to start looking at church.
This sermon reminded me of one I’d heard when I was 17 and in my freshman year of college. That story was told by Tony Campolo, a person whose words I greatly admired, but had never listened to again. So, since everyone is on the Web, I searched on Tony Campolo and discovered many of his sermons as audio files to download (subscribe to podcast feed as well). I encourage, urge you to go listen to him if you’ve never heard him before. The video of Tony Campolo speaking passionately, mopping his bald head humorously, is one that I can never forget.
The story is one I’ve heard again with different interpretations. However, perhaps because I heard it first, Tony Campolo’s version is the one I remember. It is about how, out of millions of sperm, I was the one. I was the one who had made it. I had run the race and won. While there might be more to it, that’s what I remember. This story touched me powerfully because it called attention to how special I was at a time when I didn’t feel very special at all. I had been picked on in middle school, and although I’d managed to forge new relationships in high school, I was still feeling very much alone and lonely. I knew I was vulnerable, that I had a choice to make. It was a reasoned choice, as strange as that sounds. That story, told by Tony Campolo, just affirmed me as a special person. The fact I needed that affirmation, and where that affirmation had to come from, made me aware.
Looking back to that night, when I sat with the BSU Pastor in his office, and accepted Christ as my personal saviour, I remember the feeling of being unable through sheer force of will to be a good person, to continue on. Like Michael Card in one of his songs, i decided to live like a believer, to accept I’m not up to the challenge by myself.
As I begin my first Christmas without my father, I am grateful of another time in my life when Dad wasn’t handy to provide the anchor in my life…my freshman year in college, when I was away. It was a time when I was filled with doubt, uncertainty, and I found fellowship a strange and wondrous experience. Through it all, I am grateful…yes, grateful that I accepted Christ that night so long ago, grateful that even though the world was a strange place, my first venture in it had people like the BSU folks to offer a smile and an encouraging word…and that they played Tony Campolo videos.
Now, over 20 years later, I can only feel gratitude that my Project was so well-defined early on, establish a foundation upon which I could move forward. That gratitude feels very much like peace.
I encourage you to read the Craig Hill’s sermon, as well as listen to Campolo.