On today's broadcast, Ron Luce, president and founder of Teen Mania Ministries, a Christian youth organization that reaches millions of young people worldwide, shares memories of his troubled past with host Dennis Rainey.
On today's broadcast, Ron Luce, president and founder of Teen Mania Ministries, a Christian youth organization that reaches millions of young people worldwide, shares memories of his troubled past with host Dennis Rainey.
Ron: The interesting thing is, the very first night I'm with him, he says these words to me, he said, "Now, son, if you're going to try any of that pot stuff, you be sure and bring it home so we can all try it together." These are the words of my dad. And I'm thinking, "I've got the coolest dad in the world." And so I brought it home, and we all smoked it together – him and me and my stepmother who, incidentally, was only 10 years older than me, and my life, instead of getting better, just got worse. Until a friend of mine invited me to go to church, and I thought, "Well, I went to church when I was growing up. God's cool, and I'm cool, we'll get along."
Well, this is what happened is that I'd been raised in dead churches. If God showed up, you'd never know it. And then I was invited to this church, and I walk in, and these people are singing with all their heart. I'd never been in a church like that, and I didn't know what those songs were, but it sounded like love songs, they were sung so passionately, and they were all looking towards the front, and I'm standing in the back, literally, on my tiptoes like, "Who are they singing to?" And finally I started listening to the words about after a half hour and I thought, "God – they are singing to God. They're acting like He's real or something."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 15th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll hear today what turned Ron Luce's life around and why he has such a heart for the challenges facing today's teens. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You graduated from high school what year? Sixty …
Dennis: I can't remember. It was 1966.
Bob: Sixty-six – so you were in college during the revolution, right?
Dennis: Which revolution are you speaking of?
Bob: Well, the late '60s was a revolutionary time. It was, you know, '69 was Woodstock and the Summer of Love, and that was your era, wasn't it?
Dennis: Yeah, it really was – a lot of music and a lot of heavy fog over those rock festivals.
Bob: But you weren't really a revolutionary until after the summer of your sophomore year?
Dennis: Right. I didn't really get into the whole scene. I was in a small junior college nestled away in a little town in Southwest Missouri, and so I was protected. Frankly, if I'd been out and about, I was a prime target to be a part of that revolution. But God, in His wisdom, targeted me for another revolution, which I engaged in the summer of 1968, and I signed on and feel like I've been a revolutionary ever since.
In fact, it reminds me of Psalm 144, verse 1 – "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my finger for battle." He's talking about a battle, and, you know, the battle motif in Scripture is one that runs all the way from beginning to the end, and I think we're in a battle today for the souls of men and women, along with young people. And we have a gentleman with us today who believes that as well. Ron Luce joins us on FamilyLife Today. Ron, welcome to the broadcast.
Ron: Thank you very much, it's great to be here.
Dennis: Ron is the president and founder of Teen Mania Ministries, and if …
Bob: I like that name – Teen Mania.
Ron: A lot of people wonder about it.
Ron: How'd you come up with that? And if you've ever noticed, teenagers have a lot of energy, a lot of mania, so a lot of parents are, like, "Calm down, just relax." We don't want them to calm down. We want them to use their energy for God. If we could bottle it and use it for God, we could change the world.
Dennis: Well, you've been married 21 years, you have two teen …
Bob: … two maniacs? Is that what you call them?
Ron: Yeah, that's right.
Dennis: I don't think so – but and also one about to enter into the mania. You've been speaking to young people all these years, and I've followed your ministry most recently, with this book you've written, "Battle Cry for a Generation." Now, this battle cry comes out of your soul and could be tied all the way back into the home that you grew up in.
Ron: Well, that's right. I grew up – my parents were divorced when I was seven, and I lived with my mom for most of my life. She remarried and got divorced again, and she was a single mom with five kids until she got remarried, and she didn't have a very good childhood, and there was abuse going on in the home, and sometimes I went to school with bruises and that kind of thing.
Dennis: Was your dad hitting your mother?
Ron: No, he was trying to defend himself from all the stuff she was throwing at him. So he didn't really hit her.
Bob: So, as a child, you were probably thinking and feeling like divorce will at least mean some calm and some peace …
Ron: … right …
Bob: … and would be a good thing? Is that what you thought?
Ron: Yeah, at least there was no fighting, and I thought it really didn't affect me, but I don't think you can ever really go through a divorce and it not affect you because later on in my years, you know, I'm thinking, you know, "I got shafted, I don't have a dad," and then my mom got remarried, and I'm having to explain to all my friends – this is when divorce and remarriage wasn't very popular, and "Why does your mom have a different name," and I'm the strange kid because my parents were divorced and everybody else had their mom and dad together.
Dennis: Did your dad stay connected into your life?
Ron: Not very long at all – for about a year or so, and then we never knew him, and anytime he did come to visit, it wasn't a very pleasant experience with him and my mom. And then he would do things to sort of egg things on so that when we did go and see him, he'd say, "Reach up and give your stepmom a kiss right now, it will make your mom really mad." And so it was the worst you could possibly imagine as far as divorcees taking jabs at each other through their kids. And so by the time I was 15, you know, I was experimenting a little bit with drugs and still hated my mom and living at home, and I ran away to go try to find my dad. And I found my older brother who then put me in touch with my dad.
And the first night I'm with my dad …
Dennis: Now, wait, one second here. You ran away at 15?
Dennis: Did you get on a train, get on a bus?
Ron: I planned it out. I took the bus to school, I had my athletic bag, and I took everything I could possibly pack in there, you know, I'm leaving for good. I got on the bus, went to school, as soon as I got to the school, I took off, and I walked, hitchhiked, over to the Greyhound Bus Station and already found out the schedules and stuff and got on a Greyhound Bus. They didn't ask me any questions. Isn't that the strangest thing? Here I am, a 15-year-old kid in the middle of a school day buying a bus ticket, and they didn't even ask me. I don't know what they're thinking.
And so I get on the bus, I go find my brother …
Dennis: Where were you at the time?
Ron: I was in Sacramento, California, area.
Dennis: And you took a bus to …
Ron: … to the Bay Area.
Bob: San Francisco area, yeah, okay.
Ron: And then my brother came and picked me up and all the time – this is the deal – I was trying to figure – I was afraid to run away because I would think, you know, it's going to go on my record, and I want to go to college, and I want to do something with my life, and finally I tracked down my older brother. I said, "Should I run away or not?" And he was getting advice from attorneys that said, "You can't tell him to run away, or you'll be liable." And finally when he told me – the last phone call, he says, "I can't tell you what to do. You do what you want to do, and then we'll see what happens. I can help you from there."
As soon as I heard that, that was the green light. I was gone the next day.
Bob: So you're living in Sacramento, your brother is in San Francisco, he finally gives you a green light, and the next day you're on the bus.
Ron: I'm on the bus, and that night we called my mom to tell her, you know, why I ran away and this and that. So she realized I was with my brother, so she called the police and, before you know it, the police came knocking on the door. So my brother sends me in the backyard to hide in the dog house while the police are coming, and he has two big dogs – a Doberman and a Boxer, and they're inside there licking me and everything while the police are – I'm listening to the conversation he's having with the police – "He was here, but he left, I don't know where he went."
Bob: When you called your mom to say, "This is why I ran away," what did you tell her?
Ron: I just told her my whole life was like Hades, and she wrecked my whole life, and I couldn't stand being there anymore, and I was so broken – I was a 15-year-old, just a broken, broken kid.
Bob: Had she wrecked your whole life, looking back on it now?
Ron: I can't remember one good memory as a child. It was pretty bad. Vacations were not fun.
Dennis: I mean, Ron, just – Bob's question – I looked at the countenance of your face, and when he asked that question, it was interesting. Your face took on the countenance of a man grieving almost the death of something.
When you were running away, you were not just running away from something, but you said you were running away to find your dad. Why did you want to find him?
Ron: Well, interesting, I didn't even know if he wanted me or not because of all the things my mom had said about him. And my older brother, having talked to him, "Oh, of course, he wants you." So I thought, "Well, this has got to be better than living with my mom. And so it turns out my dad did want me, and he had quit sending child support and quit coming to visit us because of all the Hades that my mom had put him through.
Bob: Was the reconnection with your dad the safe haven you had hoped it would be?
Ron: Well, the interesting thing is, the very first night I'm with him, he says these words to me, he said, "Now, son, if you're going to try any of that pot stuff, you be sure and bring it home so we can all try it together." These are the words of my dad.
Dennis: You're kidding.
Ron: And I'm thinking, "I've got the coolest dad in the world. He's going to let me smoke dope."
Dennis: He's going to smoke dope with you.
Ron: And so I brought it home, and we all smoked it together – him and me and my stepmother who, incidentally, was only 10 years older than me. And he married a young lady quite a bit younger than him, and …
Dennis: Hold it, hold it, hold it, you know, Bob, I'm just picturing Ron speaking to 80,000 young people in the Silver Dome in Detroit – that actually happened, didn't it?
Dennis: For Teen Mania, one of their rallies. I think I can begin to understand why teenagers can relate to Ron. This is a picture of this generation. I mean, they're hurt, they're wounded, they're identifying with where you came from, and I'm also marveling at how God has taken a broken young man, and he's birthed something great. You know, God is a marvelous God. He operates in the graveyard.
Ron: He does.
Dennis: Your family was a graveyard, of sorts. Okay, back to your father. I just had to stop and say that, though. I'm just picturing these teens really relating to you. What happened then as you moved back in with your dad? Did you bring dope and smoke it with him?
Ron: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, all the time, and my life, instead of getting better, just got worse. It got better in that I didn't feel like I was in prison anymore, but it got worse because I really became a party animal, and we moved down – he lived in Fresno, so I went to move with him in Fresno, California, and all kinds of drugs, partying, that kind of thing. Until a friend of mine invited me to go to church, and I thought, "Well" – and I was 16 at this point, and I'd been partying for a year. I thought, "Well, I went to church when I was growing up. God's cool, and I'm cool, we'll get along."
Dennis: If I'd run into you on the street – or actually, when you went to church, what would you have looked like?
Ron: Well, I had long hair. It wasn't down to the middle of my back, but it was long. I was just a wild heathen – you know, cool, hot car, and filthy mouth, and just into …
Dennis: So I might have found you a bit repugnant.
Ron: Oh, yeah.
Ron: Oh, absolutely. I was pretty belligerent. I was the guy that when my dad was taking the keys of my car away because I had done something wrong. He put them in his pocket – this is before I was saved, of course – I said, "Give me those keys." He said, "You're not getting them." I said, "Give me the keys, or I'll take them from you." I was a little bit bigger than my dad, and so I'm still embarrassed by this story now, but he humbly takes the keys out, because he knows that I'm going to tackle him to get the keys, and so I was that kind of kid. You wouldn't have wanted me in your home.
Bob: So showing up at church, you're thinking, "God's cool, I'm cool, this will all be cool." I'm betting the people at church went, "Who did we invite this morning to services?"
Ron: Well, this is what happened, is that, you know, I'd been raised in dead churches. If God showed up, you'd never know it. And then I was invited to this church, and I walk in, and these people – it's jammed full of 200 people, a small, little church, and they were singing with all their heart. I'd never been in a church like that, and I didn't know what those songs were, but it sounded like love songs, they were sung so passionately, and they were all looking towards the front, and I'm standing in the back, literally, on my tiptoes like, "Who are they singing to," because it looked like they were singing a love song to someone. And, like, "I can't see who they're singing to, and finally I started listening to the words about after a half hour and I thought, "God – they are singing to God. They're acting like He's real or something." And here I had been in church my whole life, it never dawned on me that God might actually be real, might be alive and that you could really love Him.
And I thought, "I'm going to listen to this," and the preacher got to preaching, and it was the first preacher I ever heard in my life that spoke English. I could understand this guy.
Bob: He's making sense.
Ron: I thought, "Now, why didn't anybody ever tell me this?" And afterwards, these people are – they're coming up, and they're shaking my hand, and they're really friendly, and I'm thinking, "What do these people have? They look like they have something alive on the inside of them." Little did I know how true that was, and I thought, "Well, I don't know what these people have got, but I'm coming back next week to get me some." And I came back the next week and totally committed my life to the Lord and walked away from all the worldliness and just got on fire for God.
Dennis: Oh, now, wait a second – overnight?
Ron: I did, I'm telling you. It was the end of my junior year, and I found something so much better, I don't want any – no one told me to stop doing drugs or alcohol or anything. I just thought, "You know what? I found something so much better, I don't want to do any of that anymore."
Bob: Did your dad ask you why you're not bringing pot home anymore?
Ron: Well, no, they thought I was freaked out.
Ron: My stepmom and my dad thought I had gone off the rocker, and, you know, I was a hard worker. I worked for my dad in his business, and this kind of thing, and I still worked and all that, you know, the summer job with my dad, but they thought that I had just freaked out because every spare moment, I was hanging out with the young group and this kind of thing. And after three weeks of being turned in to the Lord, I went back to home one day at my dad's house, and the door was locked, and all of my stuff was on the front porch. I'm knocking on the door, and no one is answering. Finally, my younger brother came to the door and said, "Dad said you have to leave."
I said, "What?" He said, "Yeah, Mom," which is my stepmom, "said you're just a Jesus freak now, and she's either leaving, or you have to leave, and so dad chose you to leave."
So I jumped in my car and – what do you have when you're 16? I had weights and an alarm clock or whatever, and I'm driving away in my old Labamba car, driving down the road …
Dennis: What are you thinking?
Ron: I was crying. I'm, like, "God, I don't even know where to go. I don't know what to do. All I know is that I love you, and you've changed my life," and I don't even know where to go, so I drive to my church, you know, and I didn't have any money, and I looked in my glove compartment, and my younger brother had put $5 in there and, anyway, I went to my church, and I ended up about a week later was my 17th birthday, and my pastor invited me over. I ended up staying with some friends of friends of the church, and about a week later was my 17th birthday, and my pastor invited me over to have a birthday dinner with him and his kids, and then the next day they invited me to come and live with them, which was really a miracle, because he had three beautiful teenage daughters and then a younger son, and he invited this rascal who had just gotten saved to come and live with him.
Bob: A step of faith right there.
Ron: Oh, I'm telling you – and I lived with him for most of my senior year, and he took me to school and really played a big part in my very early growth in the Lord.
Dennis: Did you keep your distance from the three …
Ron: We became great friends and they're like sisters to this day.
Bob: And for the first time in your life, you're living in a functional home with a functional family with a mom and dad and kids. What did you think?
Ron: I'm, like, "This is awesome." They thought they had problems. I'm thinking this is the best home I ever heard of, you know, ever been in.
Dennis: So you got a picture of what it looked like?
Dennis: I'm picturing you – you've been married 21 years, you have three children, as I mentioned earlier, and I thought, as you were telling the story, where did Ron learn how to be a father? Where did you learn how to be a husband? Did you get most of it from that pastor?
Ron: Well, that was a great start. I went away to a Christian college, and I didn't know anything – I'd only been saved a year or so, but I thought I just want to grow in the Lord and find out what I'm supposed to do for Him. So in the middle of my college years, I'm realizing that I'm not going to have a great marriage and be a great father just because I really, really want to. I'm going to have to reprogram my mind and really learn what is God's idea of parenting, what's God's idea of marriage, and so I started reading every book I could read. I started going to every teaching conference that I could, taking notes on things. I cut off having any kind of romantic relationships because I thought I don't even know what romance was meant to be.
So I stopped dating or going out with girls at all and just trying to get a healthy understanding – what did God first intend when He invented romance, when He invented marriage, when He invented fatherhood and family, because I'd seen a lot of people with good intentions who were never going to get divorced, and they ended up getting a divorce. Or – "I'm not going to treat my kids the way I was treated," but they end up doing it. And I thought I’m going to deeply learn so that I can give my marriage and my kids the best shot possible of having a great …
Bob: You know, you learned something in your college years that we had a lot of listeners who have been married for 10 or 15 years, and they haven't caught on to that – that good intentions are not sufficient for marriage and family unless you – you said, "reprogram" your mind. It's renewing it. So you were doing what Romans 12, 1 and 2 says we've got to do – we've got to not be conformed to the culture but be transformed by renewing our mind with what God's Word has to say. And there are folks today, again, struggling in marriage, struggling in their parenting relationships, because they've never pulled back and said, "What does God's Word have to say about this and how can" – I'm thinking, Dennis, of the people who show up at our Weekend to Remember conferences who have come up to me at the end of the conference and said, "Why have we never heard this? How come nobody has ever told us this?" And, you're right, good intentions aren't sufficient.
Dennis: They aren't, and I was thinking of some of those same people, Bob, who could be – well, they could be playing the victim card. You know, this is a culture if ever there has been one that could scream "Victim." This is a group of damaged people.
Ron: Yeah, and the thing is is that if you don't intentionally relearn the way that it ought to be, you'll accidentally do what you've seen and what you have modeled around you, and I just didn't want to be a victim of that, you know, where I'm trying my best, but I'm falling into this pit, and my kids end up hating me, and so on and so forth.
Dennis: And to the victim, I just want to hitchhike off of what you've illustrated and what Bob just said – to the person who is feeling like the victim, no matter where you came from, no matter what has been done to you, Jesus Christ offers hope. And to that parent who has a son or daughter who may be a 15-year-old maniac like you were, there's hope.
Dennis: You know, even if your mistakes as a parent impacted that child to become who he or she is today, look to the cross. Ask God to do something in your son or daughter's life and to redeem it. I mean, Ron Luce's life, Bob, is a story of redemption.
Bob: Yeah, we're back, really, to where we started our conversation talking about revolution, because that's what happened in your life. It was revolutionized, and that's what can happen in anyone's life. Jesus is the ultimate revolutionary.
Dennis: And you can see why Ron has a burden for this generation of young people and why his ministry is so on target and so why this book, "Battle Cry for a Generation," is not varnished. This is no gloss-over. This is a get down-and-dirty look at young people today, who they are, the struggles they're going through and what we, as pastors, senior pastors, youth leaders, and parents need to do as we address the needs of this generation.
Bob: Well, you can have looked at these issues clinically and studied what's going on among today's youth, but it's another thing entirely to have personal experience, to have a background that parallels where so many of our teenagers are today, and that's what gives your book real heart. The book is called "Battle Cry for a Generation, the Fight to Save America's Youth," and it's a book that parents need to read, a book that youth pastors ought to read, it's a book that helps us understand what's going on and what we need to do in response to what's going on in the culture to make sure that teenagers hear about the hope that is found in the Gospel.
We've got copies of the book, "Battle Cry for a Generation," in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if you'd like to get a copy, you can contact us by going online at FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go," right in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the page where you'll find more information about Ron's book and other resources that are available that we would recommend to you as you look at this issue. Again, Ron's book is called "Battle Cry for a Generation," and you'll find it on our website at FamilyLife.com. You can order online or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to place an order, if you'd like. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
We are about four weeks away from celebrating the Lord's Resurrection, and many of our listeners in past years have contacted us to get a set of Resurrection Eggs to use with their children or their grandchildren to help tell the Easter story. Resurrection Eggs are a dozen colorful plastic eggs, each one containing a different symbol representing some aspect of an event that took place in the life of Christ during His last week on earth. This month we wanted to make a set of these eggs available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, and even if you already have your own set of Resurrection Eggs, we'd be happy to send you a second set that you can pass out to friends or neighbors, relatives, as a way of sharing the Gospel message this year at Eastertime.
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Well, tomorrow Ron Luce is going to be back with us, and we're going to continue to hear more of the remarkable journey God took you on that led you to the founding of Teen Mania. I hope our listeners can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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