Yes, I grew up “in church.”

Yes, my parents love God and showed me what it means to love God.

Yes, I prayed a prayer when I was five (and six) to ask Jesus to be my Savior and make me “born again.”  At that early age, I honestly believed that I needed God to rescue me from sin and take me to heaven one day.

Yes, most everyone at church, school, and in the neighborhood thought I was the “good kid” who didn’t say bad words, do bad things, or get in trouble.

If people only see the outward appearance, then they think Gary Underwood has always been a great Christian kid.  But God also sees the heart.  God sees the pride – when I’ve thought so highly of myself that I’ve ignored others.  God sees the idolatry – when I’ve worshipped sports or music or girls or achievements.  God sees the lust – all of us struggle internally with thoughts and self-centeredness and temptation.

My life changed when I was fifteen.  My life changed when my idols crashed and burned.  My life changed when some people I loved turned against me, or at least it felt like it.  My life changed when I realized that “being the good kid” is actually not the way, the truth, or the life.  My life changed when I met others whose lives had been changed.  My life changed when I saw their passion, heard them pray, and watched their lives.

I owe everything I am to Tom Bennardo, Steve Adriansen, Louie Scalzo, Robb Pardee, Steve Shuman, Knute Larson, Mark Price, and yes – Jack and Rita Underwood.  During that season of my life, these friends and role models became incredible examples for me to follow.

My life changed when I saw these people passionately chasing after Jesus.  For some reason, they also cared deeply about me.  They shared their stories with me.  They inspired and encouraged and even cried with me.  They challenged me to become something greater than I’d ever considered becoming.

My life changed when I made that adult-level decision to trust God and follow Jesus no matter what.  For a time, I stopped listening to Def Lepard and started listening to Petra.  I ignored LL Cool J and bought some DC Talk and some SFC.  I stopped gushing over sports and started really reading my Bible.  I stopped staring at girls and started praying for purity.  I even gave up playing basketball competitively so I could go to inner-city Chicago on a missions trip.

My life changed when I decided that I wasn’t going to waste it on things that fade.  I started to invest in an inner life of talking with God, writing out my prayers, praying with others, and at least attempting to obey the words of Jesus.

My life has changed many times over since those first few months of 1990…. but that’s when it all changed.  Sophomore year of high school. God used the people, the circumstances, the loneliness, the music, the parenting, and the pain to break my heart and bring me back to Him.

In closing, I’m thrilled to be part of a church that is fully committed to kids and students.  Grace Church, let’s give the next generation the love, the examples, the inspiration that they need to see Jesus for who He is.  Let’s listen to them, welcome them in, validate their stories, and call them to greater lives and impact.  May we freely and selflessly empower them in Christ – that their lives will change… and that their stories of life-change will impact the world around them!