Just got back from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the Winterfest Youth Rally. Wow, what an experience. Actually, I should say experiences. It was an amazing weekend in so many ways. For those who went, or have been before, you know what I am talking about, at least, sort of. When you are a youth group from Florida, I can assure you that Winterfest takes on a whole different meaning than those coming from other states!
First, there is the bus ride. Now, we have a school bus that we have converted into a church bus. 1984 Blue Bird, 48 passenger. Detroit diesel, automatic transmission. Top speed, 63 miles per hour, down hill with the wind to our back. By car or van Gatlinburg is a 11 hour drive from Sarasota, but our bus can make it in 13 hours, give or take an hour. 13 hours, one way. That is an experience, all by itself. Of course, we have made modifications, like a killer stereo system, headphone jacks at each seat, TV, DVD and VCR player, reading lights above every seat, luggage rack for overhead storage, and card tables. Oh yes, and a couple of carpeted benches in the back (luggage storage underneath) to chill out on during the trip. We painted it, lettered it, and on the inside there are about a gazillion Christian bumper stickers that we have been collecting for the past 6 years.
Second, there is the thrill (Florida thrill) of going into the mountains. We don’t have mountains here, the only real flaw of Florida (yes, Alyson, I admit there is one flaw of Florida). For us, speed bumps classify as hills. Overpasses are big hills. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a mountain. So, as you can see, going to east Tennessee where there are REAL mountains is a big deal to us. Of course, the bus doesn’t like climbing the mountains, but that is OK, that is why we invented the word, pass.
Third, we get to wear our winter clothes. We wear shorts and t-shirts year round down here in Florida. If the temperature drops below 60, we might put on blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Rarely do we get to wear a big ski coats, gloves, sweaters, and ski hats. Winterfest gives us a chance to wear clothes the rest of the states “enjoy” during the winter. And we do enjoy it! Its fun dressing up in all of the warm stuff because we know that we will be there for 4 days and then we are back to the good ol’ sunshine!
Fourth, we look forward to seeing snow. Of course, we know that snow is never a guarantee, but there is always that chance. I tell my youth group every year that I guarantee that it might snow this year at Winterfest! And this year, it did! Oh, it was beautiful! There was snow on the ground when we got there, but this year it snowed Friday night and most of the day on Saturday. For Floridians, this is a dream come true! Snow, falling from the sky! It was so white, and fluffy, and perfect. Most of my youth group had never seen snow before. Ever. Unbelievable, right? But true, none the less. And did we play in the snow? Only during every free minute! We made snowmen, snow angels, and about a gazillion snowballs. Yeah, you could tell we were from Florida…….
Fifth, we were in Gatlinburg, one of the coolest towns around. Yeah, I know it is a cheesy tourist trap, but hey! We were tourists. And we love all of the cheesy stuff. Sure, we have Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, Islands of Adventure, Typhoon lagoon, but we don’t have Country Bear Jamboree, Aunt So n’ So’s fudge shop, and China Bazaar, where you can buy knives and swords and blow guns. You have to go to Tennessee to get that stuff and call them souvenirs! And of course who can talk about Gatlinburg and not mention the 21, 478 pancake houses there!
But of course, the best part of the trip was the youth rally. Winterfest is a great youth rally. For a lot of reasons. My favorite reason is to see the crowd that comes. To see friends and family. To see former students. To see youth groups that I do stuff with like Torch Missions. To see buddies that are youth ministers (we never get to visit each other because we work weekends….. Get it?) To see 12,000 Christians gathering for the same purpose, with the same beliefs, the same ideals, the same goals. Man, it is enough to get excited about!
And of course there are a ton of booths set up. Christian bookstores to buy really cool t-shirts and jewelry. Oh, and books too (some people do read I hear…). Mission booths, like Torch Missions, AIM. Hill Top Missions (New Orleans hurricane relief work), and others. And Christian college booths, giving away all kinds of cool stuff from beanie caps, I-pods, scholarships, t-shirts, and hot chocolate. Singing group booths, with CD’s galore. Good stuff, promoting Christianity, were everywhere. You have to love it.
The singing was great, nothing like hearing 6,000+ (there are 2 sessions, the convention center can’t hold everyone at one time) singing “I belong to Jesus” and hearing the guys and girls shout, “Satan was defeated!” I don’t care who you are, that’s exciting! Jeff Walling, as always, was fantastic. Great illustrations, stories, and visuals got his points across time after time. The drama group was fantastic. The drama group worked along with Jeff to hammer home the main points of the weekend. Which, by the way, was that we have rock solid evidence to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. And because of that evidence we have to make a decision on what we are going to do with Him. It all boils down to faith and obedience. Man, it was great stuff. From the archeologist from Harding and the 6,000 year old knife he brought to the videos we watched, it made for a very meaningful weekend.
The final lesson, on Sunday, brought it to a conclusion. He had a guy named Ricky come up on stage to hold a big red dot. He then had another volunteer, his name eludes me, who unreeled a huge spindle of string. The red dot represented living for the moment, living for the temporary. Living for now. The string represented eternity. Jeff asked the question, “Are you living for the dot or are you living for the line?” Are you making decisions that effect the moment or are you making decisions that will last forever?
Whew, did you hear that? What are you living for? A new car? A new house? A new job? A new computer? A new X-box? A new boy friend or girl friend? Are you living for the now. Buy now and pay later. Instant credit. Eat, drink, and be marry, for tomorrow we die. Does that describe you? Are you living for the moment, making decisions that will only last for a little while? Are you doing things that bring temporary pleasure? Dabbling in drugs? Alcohol? Sex out of wedlock? Cheating? Stealing? Gossiping? Lying? Being rebellious? Should I go on?
Or, are you living for the line? Are you making decisions now that will help shape your journey to eternity? Are you PURPOSELY making decisions that will help you grow in your relationship with Christ. Are you doing things that will help you grow closer to God? Are you doing things that will help the expansion of His Kingdom? Are you doing the things necessary to get you on the straight and narrow path that will lead you to the final destination that you want to go? If not, why not? Why in the world would you wait? Why miss out on the good stuff now? The world is pulling one way and Jesus is pulling the other. It is a great tug-of-war of the spirit going on right now. Only YOU can decide who wins. I don’t know about you, but this one seems to be a no brainer to me. See you on the line.