“Goin’ Up: The Death And Life Of A Teenage Saint” The Steve Robbins Story

You are about to read a short biographical sketch regarding a remarkable young man I had known back in the late 1970s. His name: Steve Robbins. I believe you will be blessed and inspired in your walk with Christ as you read about him over the next several days!

“Hey, Chuck! Guess what man? We’re playin’ at the high school graduation party!”

I was petrified at the thought and said to myself, “Thanks a lot Steve!”Such was my life for the next three years as I, a shy, introverted, not-so-confident young man, was thrust into a relationship with Steve Robbins, 10 years my junior, whose enthusiasm and confidence in the abiding presence of Christ wooed me to places I did not want to go — but needed to be.

This biographical sketch is about an extraordinary young man who accomplished more for his Savior in 19 short years than many of us accomplish in a lifetime. There are many unusual things about Steve and his background, even his death, that I thought should be made known so believers everywhere might become convinced that God is a good God, a kind Creator who is truly leading His children to a blessed future.

Though my association with Steve was relatively short (three years), writing his story has been a long time in coming! I’ve been telling it for years, sharing it with youth groups, Christian school chapel services, Baccalaureate services, in sermons — even funerals. My life as a husband, father of three children (now grown), and a pastor has kept me pretty busy — enough that I am just now getting around to fulfilling this dream. Fortunately, I have many things written down, Steve’s voice from recording multiple hours practicing our music together, concerts, etc.

One of my favorite rides at Disneyland is Pirates of the Caribbean. As your “ship” glides through one of the dark pirate caves, the words echo off the cave walls, “Dead men tell no tales.” Actually, they do! Though Steve left our planet on November 12, 1979, his “tale” is still being told — and is changing lives. Perhaps it will change yours too.

A favorite Bible passage for many a Christian is Isaiah 55:8: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (NIV)

So often God does the unexpected and creates the difficulty to help us become what He made us be: trusting and dependent worshipers. His ways of grace are beyond human capacity to fathom, yet the patient and obedient child of God is eventually able to look in the rearview mirror and see divine orchestration of his or her life.

On Monday morning, the 13th of November (1979), I received a phone call from my buddy Wayne Robbins. His “news” stunned me: “Steve was killed last night in an automobile accident.”

I’m sure most of us have received news that was not in the least bit expected; jolting information which immediately evoked the response, “Oh, you must be mistaken!”

Being the best of friends, Wayne and I often joked with each other, clowning around with some pretty absurd antics at times. But a call like this — well, I knew Wayne meant it, and I absolutely did not know how to respond. Our conversation was brief, and the details of that tragic November evening gradually unfolded — details which form perhaps the most amazing part of this biography.

News like that of Wayne’s hits us hard for many a reason: We’re reminded of our own mortality; we may have unresolved conflict with the person which, now, cannot ever be settled; etc.
Mom and Dad, Alta Loma 1972, Reese AFB, Lubbock, TX

As I ponder my own earthly sojourn, I can now clearly see indicators of Divine intervention. God leads, sometimes quite in spite of us.

With regard to that comment, I’m thinking of my parents. About six months after I graduated from high school, my folks moved from Baldwin Park, California to the new, growing community of Alta Loma — about 25 miles east of Baldwin Park.

This move got me away from some pretty negative influences. By December 1970, I enlisted in the United States Air Force.

The interesting thing about our move to Alta Loma is that Mom and Dad were not obedient Christians, seeking God’s direction about where to relocate to, yet He clearly led them in the decision. Alta Loma was to be a critical component in God’s plan for my life!

During my four years in the service, Mom and Dad became believers in Christ and eventually began looking for a church to attend. When discharged on December 6, 1974, they were visiting Foothill Baptist Church (now Foothill Bible Church) in Upland, CA.

I visited with them. Shortly thereafter they moved on — but I decided to stay. Foothill became pivotal in my life, for it was there that:
• God confirmed my call to full-time pastoral ministry
• I met and eventually married Laurie Wight
• Steve Robbins and I met — and ministered in music together
• Wayne Robbins and I became best of friends — and nearly 35 years later was partly responsible for my being called to pastor San Antonio Heights Community Church of Upland (SAHCC) where I served as senior pastor for eight years

The move to Alta Loma was also instrumental in our decision to attend the International School of Theology at Arrowhead Springs, CA (1980-1983). At ISOT I received an excellent education along with much hands-on experience, both of which helped prepare me for the next 30+ years of pastoral ministry.

I share all this background to make this point: God is sovereign; He has plans that include believers and unbelievers alike. He promises to lead His children — and says that He causes all things (and that certainly includes people) to conform to His foreordained plans. As George Mueller (1805- 1898) put it,

“‘The living God [Daniel 6:20].’ How many times we find this expression in the Scriptures, and yet it is just this very thing that we are so prone to lose sight of! We know it is written the living God; but in our daily life there is scarcely anything we practice so much lose sight of as the fact that God is the LIVING GOD; that He is now whatever He was three or four thousand years since; that He has the same sovereign power, the same saving love toward those who love and serve Him as He ever had, and that He will do for them now what He did for others two, three, four thousand years ago, simply because He is the living God, the unchanging One…”

The early 1970s saw a flurry of interest in the subject of Christ’s return. Hal Lindsey’s best-seller “The Late Great Planet Earth” was, I think, a catalyst for much of this fascination — and anticipation! Pulpits across the land were heralding the imminent return of Jesus!

This emphasis remained all through the decade of the `70s. Steve Robbins was intensely focused on the Second Coming — and wrote a song about it entitled “Goin’ Up.” We sang it often at our concerts.

Because we were truly committed to impacting the people we were ministering to, we always took time to introduce each of our songs — and “Goin’ Up” was no exception! For example, in April of 1979 we were invited to play at Va l ley Center Community Church, located in north San Diego County (we called our little band “ Ballad of Jesus” — eventually adding another band member: Bob Barnes).

The third song in our repertoire for the evening was “Goin’ Up.” Steve introduced it by saying:
“Today I was reading some Scripture and at the time I was reading it I had no idea I’d be presenting it tonight. But we got together before we ate and we had some prayer. And while we were in prayer the Holy Spirit just kind of spoke to me and said ‘Ok Steve, I want you to use this!’ I’m reading out of Luke, chapter 12, verses 36 and 37. And what this is trying to convey is the importance of these times and how we need to be ready. It goes like this: ‘…like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.

“The importance the Holy Spirit showed me was that we need to be, as Christians, ready. We’re servants, and pretty soon the Master’s comin’ back…”

Here it is: “Goin’ Up”:
When we see Jesus, Jesus Comin’ in the sky
We shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye! (repeat)
Chorus
Goin’ up (goin’ up),
In the clouds (in the clouds)
We’re goin’ to heaven Sing it loud, loud, loud! (repeat)
When He ascended into heaven He told the disciples
He’d come again someday. Now we read His Word And notice all the signs, Wait for the day
When He’ll take us all away! (chorus)
Now the world will wonder What’s goin’ on
They’ll be confused and — We’ll all be gone! Now if you’re lis’nen and you don’t know Him
You’d better accept Him We want you in heaven’! (chorus)

The song was fun to play, and communicated a clear message to those listening: Jesus is returning! Are you ready to meet Him? The theme of this song captured the essence of Steve’s drive and passion in life: knowing Jesus and making Him known.

I’ve rarely seen anyone so concerned about making their life count — and so enthusiastic about Jesus as Steve was! The peculiar thing about this was Steve’s age: I saw the “fire” in him at 17 and he only got hotter with age! At Alta Loma High School — and later Chaffey Community College — Steve was well known for his commitment to Christ.

In fact, he once told me that at Chaffey College (Alta Loma, CA) he’d sometimes find a grassy area on campus and, after dark, he’d take his flashlight and just sit there reading the Bible. This would inevitably arouse someone’s curiosity and they would promptly approach Steve and ask him what he was reading. Of course, this was a set-up! He’d then seize the opportunity to present Jesus to his captive audience!

I want to emphasize that Steve was not some wimpy, fringe, pinheaded nerd in high school or college! He was popular, well-liked, and respected by almost everybody that knew him. Indeed, he was an attractive, winsome young man that made a difference wherever he went.

In the end, the length of our life will not matter much. The degree of our impact on this world, whether good or bad, will be the critical factor. As Solomon put it, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13

Middle School — what can I say. These were formative years of discovery! Girls began to interest me, and at the same time, I discovered pop songs on the radio that had a lot to say about them! “Love Me Do” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” were at the top of the charts — and so was my interest in playing music.

Beginning at about age eight, I discovered an aptitude for playing guitar and so taught myself how to play. My dad had an old Stella acoustic guitar that I’d hear him playing. When he’d head off to work, I’d grab the ole’ Stella and simply copy what I’d seen and heard him play. (Though painfully shy, I recall playing and singing a tune for my third-grade class; I even participated in the all-school “Talent Show” one evening. I was introduced as “Chuck McCament and his guitar”!)

When I got into the 8th grade I put together a little band. We eventually called ourselves “The Surf Four” (this was the era of some of the great surf instrumentals getting air time on the radio: “Wipe Out”, “Point Panic”, “Pipeline”, etc.). We’d set up in the garage and play in the evening. Kids from the neighborhood would come, sit in the driveway, and listen to us jam — until the cops would show up to shut us down: too loud for the neighbors!

Not only did we play popular surf tunes, but we also wrote some of our own classics. While not all of them were of the surf genre, they did have creative names: “The Fly” and “Driftwood” to
name a few!

Of course, these earlier days of playing were the formative years for me musically and would contribute to the music ministry Steve and I would later enjoy together.

Our Middle School (called Landis Junior High School in those days) was only about three-quarters of a mile from our house. Being that close it was obviously no big deal to walk to and from school. This required crossing Main Street, a fairly busy street.

There was an elderly crossing guard who would walk us. I still see him in my minds-eye, off in the distance, sitting in his folding chair waiting for us kids to come. I gave him the nickname “Cap” because he wore what looked like an old sea captain’s hat. It had two little anchors embroidered on the front. He’d be sitting there, smoking his pipe, waiting for us to come along. I remember him as a gentle, quiet, peaceful old man, perhaps in his mid-to-late 80’s. I really enjoyed talking with him.
One day he heard us kids coming and got up from his chair, preparing to cross us. I mentioned something about some children I saw playing in their yard across Main Street — and Cap just stood there for a while, looking at those youngsters at play. Then he said something I’ve never forgotten:

“Ya know, it seems like just yesterday that I was a kid. Just yesterday that was me playing over there.”

We crossed together and I walked home.

Of all the conversations I had with Cap for the two years I attended Landis, those words are all I remember. Why is that? Why did those particular words stick with me? I believe it was God very graciously allowing me to hear and remember what Cap said that day. Why else would a twelve-year-old kid be so impressed with it? After all, at that age growing old and dying isn’t usually at the top of your “to-do” list!

At 68, I can see what Cap was getting at: Time passes so quickly! Just “yesterday” I was playing guitar in the garage with my buddies; just “yesterday” I had that conversation with Cap. In our senior years, we discover the most important thing about how we spent our years is, “For what, for whom did I live? What did I do with my life for Christ?”

Near the end of our set of songs played at Valley Center Community Church (mentioned in my previous post), we presented a composition by Steve which he entitled “Years.” He got the gist of the lyrics from a birthday card he’d received on his 16th birthday.

Introducing the song, Steve said: “We were kind of at a loss for originality so we took the words for this song from a birthday card. It was a really neat card given to me for my 16th birthday a couple of years ago. The words were beautiful, they were pretty, and yet at the same time, they had a super neat message just sharing how neat Jesus Christ is. He’s got everything in control. And if you’re a Christian, you realize how neat Jesus Christ can be. He’s got everything perfectly timed out. He’s the Master Architect. He’s got a blueprint for each of our lives. It is just so detailed. We just cannot comprehend how He would have everything so well planned out as far as timing, as far as what things we have, people we meet, people we know, etc., etc.

“And this song kind of expresses the almightiness I guess you could say of God’s plan for each of our lives. And [it also shows] that our lives are numbered and are short. In fact, the psalmist says that we are a mere breath. What is man that Thou art mindful of him? And we need to realize that time is very precious…”

None of us of course could know that Steve would die just five months later. The lyrics for “Years” are: “Your years are not numbered by decades it’s quite true; life is full of happenings, exciting and brand new! Your future holds much promise and your dreams are soaring high. They never could be harnessed, but you wouldn’t want to try! And isn’t it marvelous that Jesus holds
the key to life that can be wonderful, fulfilled, and truly free? He’s the Master Architect, who plans each life with care because the love He has for us is way beyond compare.

“Your years are not numbered by decades it’s quite true, so give your life to Jesus and He will live through you.”

Both Cap and Steve were right: Time goes by very quickly! We can’t change that — but we can choose how we will invest the time God gives us. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-2,
“…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

The idea is that of shifting our life-focus (the passions of our heart and the thoughts of our mind) from the temporary things of this world to the timeless things of God. In other words, Paul is exhorting us to live for eternity and not for time. Steve modeled the application of this very truth.

If you are of the Baby Boomer generation (1946-1964) you no doubt have at least a basic familiarity with some of the legendary rock bands, particularly from the era of the mid-to-late 1960s. For instance, out of Los Angeles came Jim Morrison and The Doors, perhaps best remembered (at the pop-level anyway) for their Billboard #1 hit song “Light My Fire” (1967). They even got a spot on the Ed Sullivan show performing this very tune.

The days of the Doors came to an end on July 3, 1971, when Morrison, age 27, was found dead in a bathtub in Paris, France — an apparent heroin overdose. Posthumously, the Doors released an album entitled “An American Prayer.” One track includes a live version of their song “Roadhouse Blues.” Jim sings, “…Well I woke up this mornin’, got myself a beer; woke up this mornin’, got myself a beer; the futures uncertain, the end is always near. Let it roll, baby roll Let it roll, baby roll Let it roll, baby roll All night long”

At the end of the performance, Morrison has a “chat” with the crowd — a very revealing monologue in which he clearly states what and where his focus was in life. He ends his “revelation” with these words:

|“I don’t know what’s comin’ next, but I’m gonna get my kicks in before the whole house goes up in flames!”

Most of our concerts included a song written by Steve, entitled “I Rest.” It reflects the heart of a young man contented with life both in the present — and with whatever his future might hold.
Steve writes, “I rest in Your comforting arms as my heart overflows with Your love. I need not worry about tomorrow, just lookin’ at Jesus above. My joy it flows like a fountain, Your peace surrounds my heart; You’ve given me all I could ask for: a new life, a fresh start. But Lord it pains my heart to think that many of those around me don’t know of this wonderful life or my Jesus of Calvary. Thank you that I can share your love with some of them in my life. But Lord I wish I could share it with more, to free them from their toil and strife.”

Both Steve Robbins and Jim Morrison chose how they would live their lives; both of them died young. Morrison lived for self, Robbins lived for Jesus Christ and for others.

No mortal can know his or her future, but all of us can choose how we will live our life. Does the choice truly matter? Assuming it’s true what the Bible says about man and his Creator, about life, death, and an eternal existence beyond the grave, wisdom dictates we ask ourselves this question:
“How would Jim Morrison describe his present? How about Steve Robbins?”

Several years ago I went on an all-day motorcycle ride with my brother Dave. On the tail-end of our ride, we stopped at the cemetery ( Valley Center Cemetery) where many family members are buried: aunts, uncles, our parents, and grandparents.

Every headstone in that cemetery has a name and then two dates: date of birth and date of death (except of course the ones where someone has died and their spouse is still living). Every headstone also has a dash between the dates — and that dash represents time.

That line is ours. God gives us life and in His time He takes it away, but that line in between is ours to do with as we may. We determine what God will write on that line when our work is done.

And boy, is that line drawn quickly! James writes that our life is a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). I made note of that in the last chapter when I told the story of ole’ Cap. As someone wisely put it: Just one life, ‘twill soon be past; Just what’s done for Christ will last

On the evening of November 12, 1979, Steve was returning home from a revival meeting at church. He’d dropped his girlfriend off and was making an exit off the 10 freeway at the Euclid Avenue off-ramp (Ontario, CA). As he reached the top of the off-ramp the light was green so he proceeded into the intersection and prepared to make a left-hand turn to go north on Euclid.

At that exact moment, another vehicle was proceeding south on Euclid at a high rate of speed. The driver was intoxicated, running the red light. His truck slammed into Steve’s Pinto wagon, hurling it through the air some 4 feet off the ground, slamming it into a light post. Steve was killed instantly.

Firemen were among the first to arrive on the scene. The first fireman immediately went over to Steve’s car and could see he was gone. This same fireman saw that Steve’s Bible had flown out of the car onto the pavement. As he was looking at it lying there, up walked a rather distinguished-looking, elderly man — described by the fireman as “a silver-haired man.” He picked up Steve’s Bible, walked over to the car, and put it on Steve’s lap. The fireman, thinking he might have been Steve’s pastor, asked him “Did you know him?” “Oh, yes,” he said, “I knew him very well!” The fireman later recalled: “Those words sent chills through my body!”

At that point, the fireman turned to go about his work, and when he looked back, the “silver-haired man” was gone. The Robbins family did everything they could to find out who this mysterious person was. They never did find him.

Who was that silver-haired man? I think I know! You see, even in death, God is there, ministering through his holy ones! Angels (nearly 300 references to them in the Bible!), servants of the living God, and ministers to the children of God.

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10

Many years ago the great evangelist D.L. Moody said, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody [1837-1899], of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal — a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.”

So it was for Steven Elliot Robbins. On November 12, 1979, the local newspaper bore the headline: “Youth dies in Ontario auto crash.” Don’t you believe it! The Bible emphatically declares that for the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be at home with Jesus (II Corinthians 5:6-8)! Death is simply the moment of transition — like walking from one room into the next.

I think a fitting application of this biographical “snapshot” would be to ponder the lyrics (abbreviated) of John Michael Talbot’s song “The Empty Canvas”:
The empty canvas waits before the Painter,
It waits to be the painting it must be,
To this end, it has rightly been created,
To reflect rightly what the Painter sees,
So an empty canvas waits before the Painter,
An empty canvas destined to be hung,
Within the gallery, once it has been created,
Will the canvas bear the beauty of the Son?

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