Core scripture: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5: 16).
Message: (Note to reader … This is the second half of a blog that began last week. Reading part one would help you better understand and appreciate part two.)
Tyler took the floor week one. That skinny, lanky kid roamed the stage like a prowling lion, devouring every moment to speak God’s truth. About 20 faces greeted him from the auditorium seats, hanging on his every word. Week one the theme was an easy one to come up with. He was passionately preaching about how to bring more kids into FCA. There was a moment when I laughed at his brilliance, nodding my head in agreement, when he cried out, “Do you know what Jesus did? He died for you! … And you! … And you! … And you!” He was pointing, calling kids out. Vince Lombardi, eat your heart out! God picked the right kid for the job.
Tyler grew as a leader that year. In the beginning it was just him and me filling out the plan sheet. Yeah, he had chosen a few leaders to help out, but we didn’t get them fully involved that first month. We were buckling under the pressure of the entire FCA organization resting on our shoulders. It wasn’t until that second month that we got his buddies involved, many of whom were in that Bible study he started the year before. We took off! Those kids were fired up for Christ, and with the support spread, it lightened the load. Tyler did have to call some of his friends out in a loving way at times, but he always did so with the right amount of grace. He wasn’t used to that! But he matured, and he continued to lead with bravado and gusto.
Fellowship of Christian Athletes was a hit! The spring semester we ironed out the kinks, we let a few of the other leaders take the stage, and we finished the year with an incredible celebration. I was brought to tears when the kids signed a huge poster-sized card and presented it to me with a Starbucks gift card. (As my friend Melinda’s sign in her room reads, “No coffee, no workee.”) Tyler left for high school, we passed the baton to his good friend Caleb, and we all enjoyed the much needed summer break. Tyler poked his head in a few times that following year to say hi and watch Caleb present, but we all know the truth. As kids move on, new kids roll in, and sometimes we lose touch. Priorities change. Through it all, I missed Tyler.
His name would come up occasionally through mutual friends. The most recent was at MidAmercia Nazarene University when I was speaking to a group of Christian student teachers. Dr. Jo Lamar had invited me to present to her students there, and through talking to her following my presentation, Tyler’s name came up. He was involved with youth that she worked with at her church, and I quickly told Jo that I wanted to see him again. I had gotten word through one of my FCA students from this year that Tyler had been baptized with her the week before, and I wanted to congratulate him. It shocked me the kid wasn’t already baptized. He was fully on board from the beginning! Sure enough, that following week, there he was at FCA.
Tyler finally hit a growth spurt. (Well, kinda.) I’ll just say he was at least five or six inches taller than his teeny 7th grade frame when I taught him, but he was still all skin and bones, lanky and lean. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a voice deepened into manhood that shocked the heck out of me. I even let him take the stage during the greeting that morning to say a few words. He was quick to give God the glory about the success of FCA at Indian Trail. Kinda reminds me of the scripture above in Matthew 5: 16. He stayed for the lesson, and stayed to chat for a minute or two following our lesson. I congratulated him on his baptism, asked him if he wanted to come back as a guest speaker, and he readily said he would. He followed up on his promise to e-mail me later with his cell number, and he attached the video of his baptism as well. It wasn’t until late that evening in bed that I had the chance to watch it.
His church did an amazing job with the ceremony. About 15-20 individuals ranging from youth to adult were baptized, and Tyler was near the end. I didn’t care. It was fun to listen to the testimonies of each individual being read before they were immersed. I saw Kymberlynne, my current FCA student, and plenty of others take the plunge. Each of their stories were unique, and by the time they got to Tyler, I smiled hearing my wife’s life verse, “Don’t be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7). The pastor ended Tyler’s testimony with a shocking statement that will live forever in my heart.
“I want to thank my 7th grade teacher Mr. Daniels for all he has done in my life and in the lives of others.”
I was broken down to tears. That tribute was totally unexpected! I had to watch it a couple times over to let it soak in. As I let his testimony simmer inside, I noticed a common thread. It deflected all glory to God. His humility was a model of servant leadership. It oozed Matthew 5: 16 … and some! With that thought in mind, the words Tyler said were deflected straight to the One who made all this happen. The One who had this all planned out before it began. The One who laid it on my heart to pray for Tyler that frigid winter morning in early 2013. None of this would have been possible without Him. “Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115: 1).
Tyler’s story is not over. Obviously, God has some major plans for that young man, and I pray that we can continue to keep tabs on each other. It makes me wonder. Who is my next Tyler? Who currently in my class could be transformed by FCA? Without building those relationships off to the side, none of this would be possible. Fellow Christian teachers, I don’t ask of you, I implore you … get to know your Christian kids! Find out what makes them tick. Mentor them. Guide them. Be a difference maker in their lives. Pray that God will open doors for you to share your faith in an appropriate way with students. And when you feel that incredible feeling I felt while hearing Tyler’s testimony, bounce the glory straight to the One who made it happen.
Challenge: Do you know who your Christian students are yet? Find them! Encourage them. Allow them to flourish in their faith. Call on them to slam home a point of character in class. And if they are bold enough, allow them to praise the name of Jesus Christ in front of the entire class for all to see.
(That reminds me of a story from a few years ago when we were studying the Outsiders novel. In chapter five Ponyboy recites the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Its theme is simple: nothing perfect will stay forever. I actually had a Christian girl raise her hand and say that God’s love will always reign supreme, and the only way to get to God is through the love of Christ. Mic drop!)
Song to bring it home: For some of you, this may be slightly out of your comfort zone to reach out to Christian students. That’s okay to feel that way. It is only normal! You always feel weird before trying something new; however, don’t let that be an excuse to do nothing. Doing nothing is boring. Doing nothing says that you’d rather let someone else bring that child to Christ. That being said, listen to Matthew West’s “Do Something” for inspiration to make a difference.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for the opportunity to influence the lives of young Christian students. Give me wisdom on how and when to reach out to them, guiding them more toward You. Amen.