In The Tank: The Camp Experience
It was finally my year. My older siblings had gone before me and always came home excited. What was it like? Why were people telling so many stories? What were the life changing events? It seemed there was adventure! There was emotion! There were many new friendship bonds. This event was long awaited. Yes, I had waited a lifetime to go. Go where? Church camp. I was old enough to go to church camp!
Going to church camp was a rite of passage. This was the difference between being a child in church and being a “youth” who could participate in youth events. This was a big deal.
I had heard stories of all the pranks people played. Some of them were very funny. I couldn’t wait to participate in them. I wanted to put water balloons under pillows, place saran wrap across a toilet seat, put itching powder in someone’s shorts. Oh man… the anticipation was unbearable.
Church was normal for me. I grew up my entire life going to church. Why wouldn’t you go to church? My parents read Bible stories to me and did their best to explain the differences between right and wrong. I was a good boy. I got it. I didn’t always understand things as they were presented, but I didn’t rebel against it. I got it.
Youth Church Camp was the time where I could become a part of things. This was my moment to blend in with the church, to become a Christian. I really thought that I was there already, but youth camp was going to make it official. I just knew it would. Most of the youth ahead of me came home with stories of their conversions. I heard lots of exciting stories of how they gave up rock ‘n’ roll music and other “worldly” things. I was ready for this.
The ride to the camp seemed like it was forever away. Where was this place anyway? How far away was it? It didn’t matter really, it just added to the excitement and the mystery of it. Finally we arrived. The vehicles turned off from the country road into a long gravel drive.
There were sports fields, swimming pools, rustic buildings and there was even a grave yard on one side. Creepy.
I can’t really remember whether we stopped at the large community building first or not, but I was mostly excited about seeing the cabins! Yes, this is where we’d be staying for a week. Awesome! There were bunk beds and screen doors. This place was so cool. Of course, there was a set of cabins for the girls and a set for the boys. We were always cautious not to let the boys and girls get too close.
My bunk was assigned and I got settled in. I didn’t even really care who was in my cabin with me, because I was just excited to be there. Life was about to get good.
We had a routine and a schedule of events. There was recreation, chapel, and times scheduled in the chow hall. All of it was a great time. I was intensely interested in every stage of it. Yes, I even got to participate in some of the pranks. Ahh, the good times.
The reason we were there was for the times spent in chapel. The mission was to change the lives of the youth. This was where the youth ministers and workers were to instill in us a love for Christ. Naturally they were well-intentioned and wanted the best for us. I knew they loved us and this message of Christ was very important. The sermons and teachings were interesting. Some of them were funny. Some were emotional, and some were even scary. The concept of being “lost forever” was taught with passion. Who would want to spend eternity in Hell? Not me. I was already convinced that “getting saved” was for me. I wanted my Salvation.
In The Tank: Walking to the Altar
The time came, that one special sermon was given. The message was just right. I knew it was my turn to take that short walk to the altar to say my prayer of salvation. I took those steps, walked to the front and kneeled at the altar ready. The custom was that when someone made that step they were to be surrounded by fellow youth and ministers. They were all to kneel and surround you. They would then lay hands on your back and shoulders to share in this spiritual moment. One minister would take the place on the other side of the altar to hold your hands or lovingly grip your arms or shoulders to talk you through this moment. I did it.
The trip was a success. I had a great time. I was an official member of the youth group with youth camp memories to share with everyone.
The Sunday after returning home, many youths would go in front of the church to be baptized. I had seen this done many many times and finally it was my turn. It was all just as I expected.
Looking back to that time, my memory of “why” we were baptized isn’t very clear. Was it necessary to my salvation? The phrase “outward sign of an inward conversion” was said a lot. Did this mean that my salvation was complete before I was baptized? Wait, was salvation complete after baptism? What did the preacher say?
I was 15 when I was baptized. Some of the timing of the above story may be a bit off because I was actually became a part of the youth group around the age of 12. The truth is I can’t remember all that, but this is how my 41 year old mind brings all those events together.
In The Tank: Do I Know Jesus?
From the age of 15 to this year I’ve always considered myself a Christian. In fact, I was in “The Church of God”… that sounded pretty important. There are many other churches with slightly different doctrines that I just knew to avoid. They were wrong somehow. It never dawned on me that maybe I was guilty myself.
Lazy isn’t really a word that I would use to describe myself, but in the area of my salvation and my life as a Christian, it’s true. Most of my knowledge and beliefs were given to me from another human being. I let them read and “understand” the Bible then just tell me. It was very easy to live the life of a Christian this way. Who had time for all that reading anyway? Reading was never my strong subject. Well, that’s not true exactly. In the 6th grade, I was in the advanced reading group. I was proud of that. I was a good reader, but actually a lazy reader.
If anyone were to start a conversation with, “Hey Blake, have you read….” people who knew me would chuckle. They knew that I didn’t read books. There was something more going on than just being lazy. Physically I couldn’t stare at a page for very long before things got kinda wonky, an issue I still deal with today. However, this is something that can be overcome when I really want to know what the text says. I have used it for an excuse many, many times.
In The Tank: A Secret Sin
Reading my Bible was not always high on my priority list. After all, I just needed preachers and teachers to tell me what it said. Sometime around 2001, I had a moment in my life that really shook me up. You see, sometime around that same time period that I became a Christian, I also found some very selfish sins that I really, really enjoyed. They fascinated me as a young man. These things became my secret obsession. Nobody knew but me, and I liked it that way. All this was festering in my mind until I just couldn’t do it anymore. I literally felt like I had a beast on my back. I couldn’t shake it, and I couldn’t take it.
One day in 2001, I drove over to the church where I was attending and had intended to talk to the pastor, but he wasn’t there. The junior pastor was in so I talked to him. He was very helpful. He gave me lots of support from scripture and he prayed with me. This was very meaningful and helpful to me as a man.
In The Tank: Man Made Divisions
All this was on my mind. Many other things became a source of struggle for me in my mind and spirit. One major issue was the division of churches. How silly for there to be one Savior and yet so many different doctrines about this life we call being a Christian. A Methodist friend of mine told me once that Jesus was all things. All religious figures were just incarnations of Jesus. Buddha was Jesus. Krishna was Jesus. Mohammed was Jesus. All of these were teachings of God delivered to different cultures at different times to reach different people. Wow… wouldn’t that be cool if it all were true? I just couldn’t buy it. Why would only one of them die for us, then conquer death through resurrection to give us a way to live eternally? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7). Is it at all possible he was talking about the many forms of himself? I just couldn’t buy it.
Division among churches and people claiming to be Christ followers weighed heavy on my heart. The weight was so heavy that I left the church that I grew up in sometime in 2007 (I think that’s close). This was a big move for me. I still didn’t know what I was looking for exactly. Total inclusion was not the message that motivated me. Truth. I was searching for Truth. All along, I knew that Jesus was in the center of that Truth. Any church that didn’t focus on Jesus quickly was cut from our list of places to attend.
In The Tank: Searching for a Home
We spent ten long months going from church to church. Sometimes we went to church on Sunday twice, then on Wednesday and again on Saturday. Never too many times to the same church. We just were bouncing around trying to find something that we just weren’t sure about. We finally ended up at a church that seemed good. The whole family came out saying “I like this church.” Perhaps it was just out of exhaustion.
This has been our place of worship ever since. It’s been good, mostly. Internally, though, I still struggled with some things. What was it? Why was I questioning so much? Couldn’t it be that all along I’d been questioning my own salvation? I remember over the years having conversations with people and me using phrases like “I’m certain of my salvation, without a doubt,” but there was doubt. I cringed a little inside every time I expressed my certainty. Why?
We talked, at times, as a family with the idea of finding a new church. This made me nuts. Where would we go? What would be the defining element of the perfect church? Would we be forever on a rotation of churches? Three or four years at a time? Was this restlessness an issue with the church or an issue in our own hearts, or both?
In The Tank: A Friend’s Love
Fast forward to 2014 when a friend shared a book with me. Ha! I know you are thinking a book would do no good because I don’t read. Well, those were my thoughts exactly. Do you know how many times someone has shared a book with me and it just sat collecting dust? Too many times to count, that’s for sure. This time it was different. David, my friend, asked me in a Facebook message to get this book and read it. He claimed it was urgent. It was a matter of life and death. Goodness, how dramatic! But I took the bait. I bought the Kindle version of Muscle and a Shovel on Amazon. The book was downloaded to my iPad, so I was all set.
I could feel laziness setting in every time I started the book, but David’s prompting kept me in it. Actually about a third of the way through the book, I was hooked. This guy’s story was good. In fact, I could relate to a lot of it. I actually wanted to finish this book. I am a slow reader, so it took me a couple weeks, but I did it. I finished a whole book all on my own.
By the end of the book, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to understand God’s word for myself. This wasn’t a spectator sport. I needed to get involved! First step: get baptized. This was important. The Bible clearly says “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
In The Tank: Understanding the Gospel
I had heard people in many situations say that baptism was not a necessary step, that it was only faith that saved us. Was this my understanding when I was 15? I’m not sure, but because this was not completely understood in my heart and mind now as a 41 year old man, I needed to know for sure. I needed to follow through in obedience to Jesus Christ. I wanted to die, be buried and resurrected with Jesus Christ. This certainty was crucial to my new beginning as a Christian. I wanted to be baptized.
After a week or so trying to get people on the same schedule, David with his father and mother came out to my little farm and baptized me in my 600 gallon galvanized stock tank. The tank was cold and dirty from collected rain water, but it was perfect.
I stepped into the cold dirty rainwater. Yes, it was very cold. I could barely answer the questions that David was asking me as he baptized me. “Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God?” Lips pursed from the cold, I answered “Yes”. David continued “With this profession of faith, I baptize you for the remission of sin in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” I was submersed and I felt the cold water rush over me, but for a moment was completely warm.
Jesus has been a part of my life since I was very young, but now, for certain, I am a part of His.
I’m tired of being a good man. Righteousness is my new goal. Not self righteous. Not asserting myself as right as man declares, but right before God. When I stand before Jesus on that last day I do not want to be shocked with the words, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” (Luke 13:27).
My joy will be in the Father expressing to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).