It was in the later part of the week and the entire camp was gathered around a large bonfire. We were singing songs and having a good time when one of the counselors walked forward. She was carrying a bundle of branches in her arms. She stood before us and invited us to come forward, as we felt called, and to take one of these branches and to toss it in the fire as we declared in front of the rest of the camp that we were dedicating our lives to God.
Now, this was not something with which I was familiar. The community of German Lutherans, to which I belonged, did not do this on a Sunday morning. But, as camper after camper, kids I had gotten to know and befriend during the week, stepped forward, accepted a branch and then tossed it in as they dedicated their lives to God, I began to feel something stir.
Mustering my courage, I walked up to the counselor, took a branch and with a wavering voice said, "My name is Mark Lepper and I dedicate my life to God." As I tossed my branch into the fire, I felt great. When I got home from camp a day or two later, I could not wait to tell my Dad what I had done.
"Hey, Dad! Guess what I did at camp!"
He looked at me and asked, "What?" He was probably assuming I was going to tell him something like I had accidentally shot my counselor during archery or how I managed to not come in dead last in the foosball tournament.
I proudly declared, "I dedicated my life to God!"
"Oh," he replied. "That already happened at your baptism."
That is when it all started for me. It wasn't a choice I made on my own, fueled by the excitement and joy of a bonfire at camp, or because all of the kids who I thought were cool and popular were doing it. It wasn't my decision at all.
It was when the water and the word washed over me, removing all traces of my old, sinful self and filled me with the Holy Spirit. It is when the clouds parted and the Spirit descended and God broke into my life and said, "Mark Bradley Lepper, You are My son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased!"
That is when I became a child of God.
That is when God staked a claim on me and my life.
And I have never been the same since.