I was blessed to co-lead a group of students from our church on a mission trip to Orlando, FL this past week. Along with our youth pastor (Zeke Cruz), and some other indispensable chaperones, my wife and I took 20 students from Calvary’s Student Worship Arts group into Tampa to be a part of the SBC’s “Crossover Orlando” event on Saturday, June 12 and 13, and also to lead worship and do some mission work for the Salvation Army in Tampa, FL.
The title of our “TOUR” this year was “Salvation Is Here.” We used the theme song, “Salvation Is Here” from Lincoln Brewster, and based our ministry efforts around Acts 4:12. On the third day of the trip, our youth pastor challenged the students to write down a list of their expectations before coming on this trip, and to reflect on what God had done so far. I began to think quietly to myself about the same, and I would like to spend some page space on what God has done in and through this group of 20 students and 6 adults over the past week, and how that has affected me.
As I shared with our Wednesday night prayer group before we left on this trip, I expected God to do something amazing. I was way past “hoping.” I was honestly expecting to see a mighty move of God. But I expected God to do it THROUGH our group. Now let me tell you, He certainly did! Even though the block party of which we were a part wasn’t as organized or well attended as we anticipated, God still used us in a mighty way – we found out the next day that 4 people had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and had surrendered their lives to Him. The next morning, we lead worship at the Salvation Army in Tampa, where I had the opportunity to preach on Acts 4:12… By the grace of God, we saw 2 accept Christ for the first time, multiple recommitments, and two couples who were on the verge of divorce make a commitment to stay together and surrender their marriage to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That same night, we performed at a small Baptist church in Southeast Orlando, and even with less than 30 people in attendance, God did some amazing things… mostly in the form of great encouragement and renewed vigor for reaching young people in area churches and even in other states, as some in attendance were youth leaders and servants in their churches around the US.
And that was just the beginning!
Here’s the part I did not expect… On the way back to the Salvation Army (where we were staying) from the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday evening, one of our chaperones (an amazing man, and an incredible friend who we have been praying for for quite some time, I might add) accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. As we pulled into the parking lot, he stood up and told the whole bus about his decision and how they played an enormous part in it all. And the ball started rolling!
The next day, we spent some time at Universal Studios, then went back to the Convention for the Casting Crowns concert. That night, three of our youth recommitted themselves to Christ. They were Christians, but they realized they had not been living like it. That night on the bus ride (same bus, same route) back to the Salvation Army in Tampa, another of our youth decided to recommit herself to the Lord and start living like the saved. Then one of the youth who had just recommitted himself at the concert lead our bass player to Christ on the bus!!! God was doing something amazing not only THROUGH our group, but IN our group as well!
Now, this experience has shown me that God honors a believing heart and He wants to do so much more than we even think to ask! He exceeded my expectations beyond my wildest imagination, and I cannot stop praising Him for it!!!
At the end of the Acts Ch. 4 story, Peter and John are challenged by the religious officials who tell them not to speak in the name of Jesus any more. Their response was monumental, and it is my declaration to all who read this and all who come into contact with me… what I have seen over this past week has permanently affected me. It is not coincidence. It is not chance. It is not serendipity, and I am not “off my rocker.” It is as real as the hair on my head, and there is no way I can deny or explain away what God has done. So in the words of Peter and John in Acts 4: 19-20,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God for me to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for I am unable to stop speaking about what I’ve seen and heard.”
SWA students, if you are reading this, stand firm and stand out. Do not stop speaking about what you’ve seen and heard. Live out loud. Love hard, and proclaim the message of the gospel to everyone you come into contact with.
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which men must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Grace and Peace,