March 27, 1987. It was a Sunday. I never dreamed it would be one of the biggest days of my life.
Youth Sunday at Crossroads Baptist Church in Greer, SC. For the first time in the history of our church, two of the youth were actually going to preach. Greg on Sunday morning. Me on Sunday night. What was I getting myself into?
I was 14 years old. An 8th grader. I loved football, basketball, and baseball. It was my first sermon. It would not be my last.
I had volunteered to do it. I asked our pastor if I could take Sunday night since Greg had Sunday morning. He gladly obliged, even meeting with me and coaching me along through the sermon preparation process.
Nobody in my family was a preacher. I had never desired to be one, either, until several months earlier when I went to an altar at an invitation given by an evangelist at a youth rally I was attending. I surrendered my sin, my heart, and my life to Jesus that night. An hour later, as I prayed on my knees for the first time beside my bed, I lifted both arms up toward heaven and prayed out loud, "Jesus, I don't have anything to give you except my future. But you can have it. I will go anywhere. I will do anything. I will pay any price. I'm yours."
Evidently, Jesus took me seriously that night, and He took me up on my offer. A desire to tell everyone about my conversion became the driving force of my life. A strange hunger to approach perfect strangers as well as friends and share my testimony of salvation welled up inside of me, coming from another place it seemed. I told friends at school that I had become a real Christian, that I was serious about following Jesus. All I wanted were opportunities to talk about Christ.
So when Youth Sunday rolled around and there was a vacancy in the pulpit for Sunday night, I didn't consult with anyone. I volunteered. It made sense to me. If I could preach to 150 people at once, I would be sharing the gospel more effectively.
I studied and prepared and talked to my grandfather and my parents and my pastor about my sermon. And when the time came, I preached.
I'd never felt anything like that before. It was akin to an out-of-body experience. I felt as though I was hovering above myself, listening to myself say things that I had not planned or prepared to say. Things that I did not even know were coming out of my mouth. I felt very much alive, and very much aware that I was being carried along by a power much greater and more eternal than myself. I knew this was my calling in life.
I have not deviated or strayed from that calling since that day. The Holy Spirit has carried me along since that first night, 25 years ago. And by God's grace, I hope to preach the gospel until I am an old man.
I've been in ministry now for a quarter-century and I'm not even 40 years old. It seems like I started yesterday. And I've learned a few things along the way.
1. It's harder than I expected - I had no idea I would face so many obstacles, challenges, setbacks, betrayals, and fears. It has not been an easy road.
2. It's better than I dreamed - Inspite of the discouragement and valleys, serving Jesus is an unspeakable joy and has filled my life with purpose and satisfaction.
3. It gets sweeter with time - the more I preach the gospel, the more I love it. Seeing people put their faith in Jesus means more to me now than it ever has.
4. I can't do it alone - my precious wife, my children, and my closest friends give me the strength to carry on faithfully proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.
5. I couldn't do anything else - God hard-wired me for ministry. He called and is still calling me to this. The thought of doing anything else with my life is silly and absurd.
I have no idea what will happen in the next 25 years. Things will most certainly change, and at a rapid pace I am sure. Yet I have a sense that, by God's grace, in another quarter-century, I will be reflecting on 50 years of ministry and God's faithfulness. And it will seem like a snap of the fingers or the blink of an eye...because time really does fly when you're having fun.