Christmas in July.
A very fitting title for such a magnificent transition taking place in my life. For the first twenty-five seasons of Christmas I took part in, I only associated the occasion with gifts. Granted, as a Christian, this day becomes even more significant and the gifts that were once so coveted fall by the wayside. We already have the greatest gift of all, being reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. However, I still occasionally receive some other, albeit not as prevalent, gifts. Which brings us to the the past 10 months having been just that, a gift beyond comprehension. However, in order to start understanding the gravity of this gift, we have to go back and I have to articulate its significance to me.
I write to you today with such a weight on my heart that has been present for the past few weeks. I honestly cannot describe this weight but it boils down to a melancholic joy. I am leaving Desert Springs to pursue an internship at Scottsdale Bible Church. It is an amazing program that, after a long period of time praying and consulting, I know God is calling me to. This transition is not one that I can make so easily and my bones tell me to stay in my comfort zone; to not go out and experience what I believe to be God’s greatest for me. I must step out in faith and see what the Lord has in store.
In March of 2017, I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to enter full time ministry and by the grace of God, I was accepted into Phoenix Seminary a month later to start that process. With a small semblance of direction, I wanted to plug into my church and start making a difference. Yet, the initial reasoning for the desire to serve was driven by selfish, 25 year old motives.
People do not know this about me, but I have never been content staying still. Not physically (sometimes I do tap on everything that I can see, must be the drummer in me), but vocationally and mentally. Before I was rescued out of the darkness of a terrible life, I had dreams of grandeur. I dreamed I would be a successful stand-up comedian or public speaker, I would influence those around me, or I would change the world. However, through this time, I struggled with depression and a desperate need to be wanted by others. I was not where I thought I needed to be and I used my past and my lack of success to beat my psyche down to a pulp. This was a problem because if you reread this paragraph, one constant theme appears.
Me, me, me, me, me. And this is completely wrong. This selfish mindset cast me into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am not good enough because I am not successful and I am not successful because I am not good enough. Still on the mind; me, me, me, me, me.
This led me to always be discontent where I was at and only working places for about a year, not allowing myself to forge deep-rooted relationships and then moving on to the next opportunity I perceived to be my way to the top. However, as I fell deeper and deeper, I was unaware and could not see God working ever so intricately, slowly calling me to Him.
This all occurred over the course of my twenties, so for about five years. Despite all of this decline, the most wonderful thing happened. I hit rock bottom. Broken-hearted and downtrodden, I made a phone call to my brother that started a fire that would change my life. For those of you who do not know how God has worked in my life, I wrote about it earlier (a lot earlier) in my blog.
I accepted Jesus and He got to work on my heart. To be honest, the first nine months of being saved, I can’t really articulate my growth because everything was so foreign to me and I was learning to shed my selfish heart for the first time. I was relearning my entire life all over again and what it meant to be obedient and faithful. However, I went on a mission trip to the Philippines and when I came back, something was different, I was different. Jesus really took a hold of my life even more and greater things were to come. Just as Jesus told Nathaneal in the first chapter of the Gospel of John (v. 50).
Backtrack one more time. I remember this distinct day in March last year where I was helping my brother at Big Group (an event where middle school and high school spend a Wednesday night together worshipping and learning) and he yelled to Trevor “Hey, shouldn’t Zach be a youth leader?” and Trevor cooly responded, “let’s get coffee.”
We ended up getting that coffee and it was another instance where God was on the move. Four months into my faith and I have this pastor, who sees the potential that I do not see in myself, and he asks if I want to be a youth leader. I was scared and nervous because I did not know if I would be able to lead these young adults. I, at first, did not think I was ready, I even wrote that I did not think I was ready on my application to seminary. Yet, God kept calling and Camp California in 2017 was my debut as a youth leader (Like I’m some athlete; coming in at 6’5, Zaaaaaaaaaaachary Hines). I came into the role of a youth leader with the goal of sharing what life is like without Jesus; to essentially “scare you straight.” To challenge you to take your faith seriously (you all have blown my expectations out of the water).
While I started the school year as a youth leader, I started my internship at Desert Springs on September 27th, 2017 which was right after my trip to the Philippines. It was a memorable day (a lot of my days are memorable) because See You At The Pole, a day of national prayer for students across the nation, was the same day. We threw an afterparty that night and saw over 200 students attend and most importantly, we saw over 10 place their trust in Jesus Christ. What an amazing night, 10 souls reconciled. I could not be more happy and Jesus continued to work in my heart and I still wanted to guide you and help you all grow.
Then started a journey over the next nine months that completely changed my life. Being a youth leader at Desert Springs has truly been a gift that I do not understand how I was blessed to receive. From Camp Cali to Winter Camp, from Caleb’s Men to SMI; this has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. The opportunity to lead you all. You challenged me to be a better leader. You made me laugh with your unique personalities. You inspired me through your different passions. You taught me to humble myself and see the value of friendships within the church. Most importantly, you taught me to seek Jesus.
Here is the part where I become cliche, saying all the cheesy things that you see in movies but I am not a shamed… it is true. I came into this role as a youth leader looking to provide guidance, wisdom, and clarity of what life without Jesus is like. I wanted to help you grow and have your hearts changed. What I did not realize is that is a two way street. God used you to change my heart so magnificently.
This brings us to the SMI report services last week. Me, along with the whole congregation, were able to here how God used you throughout the week to minister to the Muslim community and I could not have been more proud. Again, you blew my expectations out of the water and I was so happy to see so many people boldly proclaiming the Gospel. The services ended and it was time to break the news. When Trevor gathered you all around me, I knew that they had impacted me more than I would allow myself to admit. I broke down and cried. I felt so happy and sad, I am proud of you all. I do not think I have ever cried in front of that many people before.
So here are my letters. My goodbyes for the time being because my prayer is that I get to see the Lord continue to work through you all as you all move towards adulthood.
To the DS Youth:
I wrote above that I was looking to change the world and make an impact on other people’s lives. God has such an amazing sense of humor because all the while I thought I was pouring into you all, He was using you to change me mightily and you all poured into me.
Whether it be goofing around in open gym, going through SMI training each week, teaching me new things like karate or how to braid hair, playing ultimate frisbee in the dark, talking about the Bible. It was truly a blessing that God allowed me to serve Him by serving you. I do not think that I have ever openly cried in front a group of people but as I prayed these past few weeks, I could clearly see that you all are not just a group of young people.
There is so much more.
You are influencers, our church is heavily influenced by your actions. To test this, just start clapping during worship on a Sunday and our entire congregation will follow suit. They believe in you so much that they are willing to faithfully every year, donate money for you to go out and serve God for a week. You all are the future and I was truly blessed by God to be a part of it.
One of the hardest things I have done in my life was to stand before you SMI students, who I had just spent the past week bonding with, and say that God was calling me elsewhere. As soon as Trevor gathered you all around, I could not contain myself. Heck, I am crying right now as I am writing this. You all have confirmed God’s calling on my life, I want to pursue the youth, the future leaders of the church, and pour into them to help build them up. I want to help those who do not see God for His glory see what life can be like without him. Right now, I am branching out to learn more about different ministries but I feel the call to serve the youth and I have you all to thank for that. My prayer is that one day, Lord willing, I could come back to Desert Springs to serve you once again.
It is a bittersweet moment. I am sad, I’m going to miss each and everyone of you so much. But, I know that the Lord is faithful. I may be leaving but I can leave praying that I left you with lessons of what life is like without Jesus. I am leaving with lessons from you about growing in my faith. He is going to use you all, if you allow Him. He used you to change my life. He will continue to pursue us and we have a lifetime of serving him to delight in.
I appreciate you all so much. I love your hearts for the Lord and your challenges to pursue Him even more every day. I love that you all are so willing to follow and serve him, do not lose that spark. I know it sounds cliche, but I mean it; if you ever need anything, let me know and I will be there to help in whatever capacity I can. I want to support the people who have encouraged and supported me.
It truly is Christmas in July because the past eighteen months have been a gift. A gift beyond comprehension.
Words cannot express the love that I have for you. God has gifted you with an amazing gift of discernment and I pray that one day we can work together in ministry once again. I am so glad that our friendship will continue after this evening and we will be able to continue to pursue Jesus in a new season. I could write so much more but we have a lifetime of friendship for me to express my gratitude.
My prayer is you continue to impact the youth in a might way and meet more diamonds in the rough to serve the Kingdom of God.
For being just a 19 years old, you are the smartest man I have ever met. You constantly challenge me to think critically about different situations but your heart for others is what stands out the most. You are always willing to take time to invest in relationships and I am going to miss working alongside you on Wednesdays.
My prayer is that your ministry continues flourish and that as you enter this final year of college.
To Desert Springs:
Everyone here is my family. The prayers that came from you all while I meandered around in darkness are something I will never truly comprehend on this side of eternity. I may be leaving physically, but this is truly not goodbye. Desert Springs is my home and been instrumental in allowing God to change not only my life, but the lives of my family as well. My prayer is that one day I would be able to return, Lord willing, and continue to serve God and serve you all. I love you all so much.