Shawn, Scott and their two friends were hard to miss on the beach. They all have spectacularly bright neon board shorts on today. There are few places other than here where neon seems so appropriate. These guys are from Michigan and are here at Panama City Beach for what they’re hoping is an epic spring break.
Let me paint the scene for you a little bit. We’re standing on the beach in front of a hotel. On the balconies, you can count at least 4 groups of people with big funnels trying to drink as much as possible as quickly as possible. There are thousands of people on the beach all checking each other out and doing the semi-buzzed-flirting thing. A group of girls pass that are trying to kiss a guy from every state. ‘We just got Texas!” they yell as they walk by.
Picture MTV Spring Break and you’ve got it exactly right.
We’re writing to you today from Panama City Beach, Florida where we’re joining 1,250 students from across the country for a Spring Break mission trip. We’ve got 30 students from Boston who took a 30 hour bus ride to learn how to share the gospel.
In the midst of this scene, Julian and Josh, two guys that I work with at BU, try to strike up a conversation with Shawn, Scott, and their friends. “Have you guys got a couple minutes to talk? We’re interested in getting to know people and hearing their stories.”
“Sure,” said Shawn and that began a fascinating hour long conversation about life and spirituality. Within a few minutes, Shawn told us about his hard family background and about a number of judgmental pastors of churches he’s been a part of. “I hate the church,” he said, with no hesitation. His friend said, “Family life is hard for me too. My brother is disabled, which means that not only have my parents not had a vacation in over 10 years, but my brother is now violent with me when I’m home, so I can’t go home anymore. And so I’m here instead for spring break.”
My heart broke for these guys. So much hurt, pain, and frustration – in life in general, and in their spiritual lives as well.
We started to talk about God and spiritual things, but the conversation often got interrupted. When Scott apologized for swearing so much and for the way he would turn and watch women go by, and for the amount he was drinking, I told him that this was a no judgment zone.
“That’s not true,” he said. “We all judge. And isn’t that the reason you’re here. I mean, you think that all these spring breakers are living sinfully and so need to be converted, right? I mean, you chose to come to Panama City Beach for spring break, not a christian convention.”
Scott had a really interesting point. Why come to Panama City Beach? A big part of the reason is that people are available – there’s very little going on on the beach, so it’s really an easy place to strike up conversations.
But the real truth is, I’m in no place to judge. And that’s what I told Scott. “I’m no better than anyone else here. When I look in my heart, I know how screwed up I am. And I think there are lots of people at Christian conventions that need to hear about Jesus too. But back in Boston, there’s a foot of snow on the ground, and so I’d rather be here in Florida.”
We had a great conversation for the next half hour, talked about the parable of the prodigal son, and got to make the gospel a little clearer for these guys.
But after we left, Josh said, you know, it’s a lot like that parable of Jesus in Luke 16:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘god, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I know that I’m often a lot more like the Pharisee than the tax collector in this story. Talking with Scott, Shawn, and their friends was a great reminder to me that my attitude needs to be more like Jesus who made himself a servant.
We love the spring breakers here in Panama City and we’re here not because of how bad we think they are, but because we know that we’re all in need of a savior.
Would you pray for Shawn, Scott, their friends, and the 10’s of thousands of other students here that they would be able to pray “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Would you pray the same for me and our students?