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Nearly 5,000 Christian teens are screaming in anticipation of the Rapture. "Jesus is coming soon!" their preacher yells as he paces and waves his arms, the veins in his neck visible to the jocks, cheerleaders, skaters and goth kids shouting cheers from the front rows. "That's what this weekend is about, to remind us that Jesus is coming soon."
Dressed in a "Jesus Recycles" T-shirt and jeans, 42-year-old Greg Stier still resembles the awkward kid who was preaching in parks and malls around Denver thirty years ago. The founder and president of Arvada-based Dare 2 Share Ministries is a self-proclaimed dork, but whatever he lacks in cool, he makes up for with enthusiasm — and production. On this Friday night, he's in Chicago for the last stop on his 2007-2008 conference tour, called Survive. He gets the kids' attention with bright lights, loud noise and video streaming across the six massive screens hanging behind him. But between the Christian rock and hip-hop performances, skits, movie clips, funny anecdotes from his childhood and the testimonial of a former NFL player, Greg keeps repeating the same simple message: Hell is real, and it's where all your non-Christian friends are going unless you save them. Soon.
"But I don't want to just talk about the Hell they're going to," he says. "I want you to think about the Hell they're going through. I don't know how people make it through the tough times without the hope of Jesus Christ in their soul...
"If you had the cure for cancer and your friend had cancer, you would do everything you could to get your friend to take the cure. Listen, we have the cure to something infinitely worse than cancer, and our friends who don't know Jesus are heading somewhere infinitely worse than death, and I want to challenge you to share the cure with your friends.
"I'm not talking about being pushy. I'm not talking about trying to coerce your friends to convert. I'm talking about lovingly, gently, patiently sharing with them the good news of Jesus."
Greg Stier is a preacher 24/7. Ask him about his background, and the events of his life are broken down into neat little parables or humorous anecdotes that he can use as icebreakers to begin a sermon. One of his books, You're Next: Outrageous stories from my life that could change yours, is a memoir in which every chapter actually ends by spelling out a lesson and discussion questions, complete with space to write in answers. In Chapter 1, "Death Encounter #1: War of the Womb," Greg introduces his tough single mother and his upbringing in poor, "inner-city Denver" — an apartment at 20th and Federal. He writes that his mother almost aborted him and that he never knew his father. Decades later, on her deathbed, Greg's mother asked him if he remembered what he used to say to kids who made fun of him for not having a dad.
"You used to say, 'God's my Daddy.'"
Greg's lesson: "If you have put your faith and trust in Jesus as your only hope of going to heaven, then God is your daddy, too."
Greg says his beliefs have never wavered from this childlike simplicity. He's never questioned or doubted the existence of God. "It's as real to me as when I was little," he says. And for those who find that hard to understand, he offers this: "You got to realize my situation. I was raised in a family full of pain and doubt. Once I believed in Christ and I saw the impact he had on my family, I didn't turn back."
When Greg was five, he watched his mom take a baseball bat to her bloody and screaming husband, who'd left the family. A nervous kid, Greg was agonizing over the meaning of life and wondering if there was a God and how he'd get to heaven by the time he was six. At eight, he remembers getting into closets and cabinets with a flashlight and the Bible, hiding from his uncles. They lived in the neighborhood and were always around, bodybuilders with big tempers who drank a lot and got into fights. "Some of my most vivid childhood memories were people spitting teeth," he says. "But then Christ came in, and literally one by one through various circumstances...."
The first to get the call was Uncle Bob, a bouncer at the Silver Dollar. One night a guy came in and stabbed his best friend. Bob found the guy hiding behind the bar, slammed his head against a brick wall and kept hitting him until his heart stopped. As paramedics tried to resuscitate the man, Bob was in the back of a squad car realizing he might have committed murder. "God, if you get me out of this one, I'll follow you," he prayed. The guy survived, and Uncle Bob became a Christian.
Then one day Uncle Jack — who for a long time thought there was something wrong with his "wussy" nephew Greg, always with his nose in a Bible instead of out playing with the other kids — had a scared preacher knock on his door. Ralph "Yankee" Arnold, a Georgian who got the nickname because he was born in Pennsylvania while his bootleggin' father was running from the law, had started Colorado Bible Church in Arvada. Jack Mathias's daughters had joined his church, and kept asking Yankee if he would go see their dad. "I had heard some scary tales about Jack Mathias, so I wasn't too eager to go see him." Yankee was met at the door by a German police dog, but then Uncle Jack and his wife, Earlene, invited him inside. Yankee told them that no matter what they'd done wrong, they could go to heaven. "I trusted Christ right there, because I always thought I was so rotten I didn't have a chance to go," Jack recalls.