The Rookie's Library December 30, 2005

What I'm Reading:

"Finding the Cure for the Common Life" by Max Lucado, (C) 2005 ISBN 0849900085
"Families of Faith" by Paul Varo Martinson, (C) 1999 ISBN 0800632222
US News and World Report, "50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2006" December 26, 2005
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Perspectives on a Prophet" December 25, 2005

What I'm Watching:

"Shallow Hal" (2001)
"Phil of the Future" on Disney Channel
"Frankenfish" on Sci-Fi Channel

What I'm Hearing:

The "Stress-Free Station" in St. Louis-- KEZK
"HomeWord with Jim Burns"
"Handel for the Highway" on CD

Where I'm in the Word:

Elisha heals Naaman the Syrian, 2 Kings 5:1-27


I'm Getting Myself Ready for You

"I've cut out eggs and turkey legs/
With corned beef hash, I'm all through/
'Cause I'm getting myself ready for you.
I'll never stoop to onion soup/
And pork and beans are taboo/
'Cause I'm getting myself ready for you.
To be sure of being worthy of you, dear, in every way/
I'm building the perfect physique/
Besides which, I want you to holler 'hooray!'/
When first you see me in my -- so to speak..."
--I'm Getting Myself Ready for You, from the musical "High Society"
It's Christmas-- the Christmas season, anyway-- and we're all teaching about what the birth of Jesus means for our students. To explain it, I offer this horrible bawdy song from a classic musical, and here, I offer my defense of this song.
The song is about a horrible old man seducing a young reporter the night before his niece's wedding at a party. Uncle Willie is talking about what he's going to do to get ready for his romance with Liz. He's planning to excercise and eat right and give up bad habits to be worthy of her. How is that not a Christian message, even disguised as it is in the language of sex and pursuit?
Jesus called people to give up old ways and habits and things we know are bad for us.
He reminded us that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit and that we have to be careful what we put into them.
Paul praised exercise, both physical and spiritual.
And David wrote that God can see everything about us, and that meeting God amounts to stripping off everything that we've put on to hide parts of ourselves from the world, and sometimes from God too.
So Jesus, this year, I'm getting myself ready for you!


The Youth Minister's To-Do List

What It Says:

Build relationships with students so that I can
Help students build relationships with Christ so that they can
Know their unique place for ministry in the church family.

What It Looks Like

Answer my phone when it rings after midnight
Indulge my Starbucks addiction to talk about grades
Send birthday cards
Go to middle school orchestra concerts
Chaperon high school dances
Judge debate tournaments
Drive a van full of other people's children into a city of 2.5 million
Pray through my youth directory
Invent creative ways to say "chocolate syrup dodge ball" so the church board believes it's theological
Remember all their names
Know who their parents are
And at the end of the day, say "God, I did not finish this job today, so I'll need you to hold my place until I come back to it."


Did We Kill Him Because He Cried?

"The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes;
But little lord Jesus, no crying he makes..."
--Away in a Manger, 1865 hymn LBW #67
Mary was very insistent. For several weeks before the pageant, she asked me every chance she got if we were going to find a real baby for the manger scene. Nothing else would do. A real person must represent our real Savior.
The night of the pageant, there was in fact a baby Jesus, a three-month-old boy who sat in Mary's arms quite calmly for about half of his time on stage, and then noticed mom was missing. He wasn't having any of that, and he started to cry. Backstage, the ushers asked "Is that baby Jesus?" and peeked through the sanctuary door to check. As they opened the door, he let out a wail that pierced ears from front to back in the church, halted the narrators and set the entire congregation asking "Why is baby Jesus crying?"
His mother walked quickly up the aisle with the backup baby, a doll wrapped in gold fabric, to switch the two so we could move on. This pageant is carefully timed and the show must go on. For just a moment, until it becomes awkward, Mary refuses to let go of the child, holding on, loving him even though he is disturbing the reverence of him.
Why is it important that the baby Jesus does not cry? More than that, if baby Jesus cannot cry from his cradle, how do we give him so much credit for the humanity he showed when he wept at Lazarus' grave?
I think many of us want Jesus to stay quiet and mild, the way we imagine him in the manger, for his whole life. Making Jesus cry is the ultimate threat in a Christian parent's arsenal for child-rearing, because that child knows if it makes Jesus cry, it must be pretty bad. If Jesus cries, something is wrong with our world, our behavior, our worship.
We killed him because he cried. If Jesus had always been the baby in the manger, making no unhappy sound, we would have felt justified. If he had come without condemning anyone, we would know he is on our side on our terms. As a quiet baby, Jesus makes us comfortable. But that was not what he came to do. And so, when he cried, we killed him.
At Christmas, the crying baby is a better picture of God's son in the world than the happy, silent infant. If Jesus cried from his cradle, we would all leave the church rattled this evening, because we made him cry. Jesus' heart must have been broken for the world his entire life. We must remember that, because it will teach us how much we need him.


Podcast Watch

The number of youth who produce podcasts gives us a unique way to sit on the steps of youth culture (a phrase I really enjoy, even though I don't remember who said it first; my apologies) and hear what they think about issues in the world, and then ask serious questions of them with the programs as background.

I know I am probably the last youth minister in the world to realize this, but I would like to post a source for youth podcasting that we should all connect to. If there are others that I should know about, please post them here as well.

Generation PRX (Public Radio Exchange)

The Rookie's Library December 23rd

What I'm Reading:

"Here to There, Grief to Peace" by Diana Jacks, PhD. (C) 2006 Quality of Life Publishing, ISBN 0967553261
"Going Postal" by Terry Pratchett, (C) 2004 HarperCollins ISBN 0060013133
Imprimis, October 2005: "C.S.Lewis on Moral Education"

What I'm Watching:

"Mythbusters" on Discovery Channel
"Kim Possible" on Disney Channel

What I'm Hearing:

James Blunt, "You're Beautiful"
Carbon Leaf, "Life Less Ordinary"
Tonic Sol Fa, "Boston to Beijing" album
Minnesota Public Radio Internet stream

What I'm Researching:

Creative Commons licenses for copyright

C-and-E Christians

When I write my Christmas letter each year and start making the list of people to send it to, something funny happens. A lot of people make that list who never cross my mind in months that aren't December. The Christmas letter goes out to people from workcamps two years ago, and old friends who I promise in the card that I will be better about keeping in touch this year.

My friends want more than this from me. My relatives do too. Yet somehow, another year will go by and for easily half the people on my Christmas list, they will not hear from me between cards.

In two days, on Christmas Eve, the Church of St. Michael and St. George will reserve seats for people who need to be there, such as clergy members' families, because if the seats are not reserved they will not be available. The building will be full at all three services. This will happen around the country as well. For one magical day, God will be worshiped from every seat in the sanctuary.

But on Christmas Day, which this year falls on a Sunday, CSMSG is planning for a very sparse worship attendance, holding just one service and planning for 300 people or less. The very next day, after a day of record attendance, the near-empty church will echo.

What example does this set? How can anyone ask why youth drain from churches through every seam they can find when adults are making the twice-yearly pilgrimage to church and then disappearing? Maybe, during the rest of the year, churches should offer to supply Tivo boxes to their members so the football games can be taped and the fans can come to worship.

On the way to Toronto this past summer, a student asked me if people who come to church once or twice a year still go to Heaven. I replied that they did, so long as their belief in Christ was genuine, because that is the standard set in the Bible. At the same time, it would make youth ministry so much easier if there were a special sanctuary for people who come all the time, and our students couldn't see the difference in a congregation size between an ordinary Sunday and Christmas Day. In the end, I believe this is a big factor in a student's decision that the minimum is good enough for Jesus.


Toward a Faithful Reading

"God told you so, God told you so;
All those many years ago!
But did you listen-- no, no, no;
And now we say God told you so."
--from "Christmas in Reverse," a student pageant
I sat in the church today listening to one of our students' school Christmas pageant, and listened to these words, and wondered how many times the writer of the song heard his parents say "I told you so." It seemed to me that only a person who had a really bad association with those words would think to use them, even lightheartedly, in a song about God.
Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, is no theologian. But he does find the mark a number of surprising times describing the attitudes people have toward God.
"Your God person puts an apple tree in the middle of a garden and says, do what you like guys, oh, but don't eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting 'Gotcha.' It wouldn't have mattered if they hadn't eaten it."
"Why not?"
"Because when you're dealing with somebody who has that sort of mentality... you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end." --The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Where did this sense that God is waiting to catch us doing wrong come from? And how many of our students believe it? Worse than that, how many of our students believe it because of something we taught them?
The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said, is like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents; to another two talents; and to another one talent, each according to his ability.
As the man drove away, he said to his driver, "I know these guys really well, and I can't wait to see what they've done when I come back. The first one, I know he'll do something great-- he's the best I have, and he's usually right on when I give him instructions. He always asks for directions when he needs them and he's been trying to learn everything he can about my business since he started with me. So I gave him the most.
The second one, I see a lot of potential in him. He's a smart kid, and he has a lot of energy. When he gets it right, he gets it really right. All he needs is some more practice and he can grow to be great too. So I gave him enough money to put some pressure on him, and I think it'll push him just enough to make him shine.
And that third servant, well, I really hope. I hope he'll take my money out and use it. I hope he'll know that I'm trusting him. I hope this money breaks him out of the funk he's been in lately. We'll see when I come home. But my house is in good hands."


The Rookie's Library December 16, 2005

What I'm Reading:

"The Godbearing Life" by Kenda Creasy-Dean and Ron Foster, ISBN 0835808580
"The Martyr's Song" by Ted Dekker, ISBN 0849944996
U.S. News and World Report, December 19, 2005: "Why Coffee's Good for You"

What I'm Watching:

Stargate: Atlantis on SciFi Channel
"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" in theatres

What I'm Hearing:

102.5 FM, The Christmas Station in St. Louis
"Handel for the Highway" on CD
"Best of Bach" on CD
A teacher in our high school Sunday School class came to talk with me a couple of weeks ago. He had run the students through an outline of the Old Testament and was beginning to talk about the NT. In between, he wanted to make sure that the material was engaging the class. What could he do, he asked, to make the topics they had covered grab onto the lives of the students?

"Tell your story," I told him. "Show them how the things you learned from the Bible changed your life." I was a little surprised, since he is a very articulate man of God, that he had not taken the time to do so already.

Three questions are important in exploring youth ministry methodology today.

1. How do we let our students know why the traditions we teach them are important to their lives? I am convinced that a great deal of the perceieved rebellion against faith doesn't have to do with the specific depravity of this generation. Instead, I believe it is connected more to the lack of elders who tell their stories and paint the picture of how the traditions continue to change lives today.
In fact, I can come close to proving it. A major study detailed in the 2005 book "Soul Searching" by Christian Smith showed that young people are not opposed to having and living faith; extrapolating from that, what they need are examples of how faith is genuinely lived.
Many members of Lutheran churches in the Northern Great Lakes Synod have traveled to the Eastern and Coastal Diocese of Tanzania to build a library at the Kisarawe school, and they come back with stories of rich traditions that have continued unbroken for hundreds of years in the same villages where they began. A key to these traditions is the togetherness of many generations in each family. While the younger members work to improve the family's circumstances, the older ones who have stepped back from the daily business preserve the history of the people.
And today in America, so many of the elders live in communities made up of other elders, telling each other the stories.

2. How do we bring back a rich tradition of storytelling, using all the resources our technology and growth as a world has given us? When Christ taught, he used images the people of his day would recognize; literary devices that were taught to his friends from their childhood; and all the technology that was available to him-- when used by a speaker to project voice and allow him to be seen and heard by his whole audience, boats and hillsides count as technology. Today, we have a technosphere like nothing the world has ever seen, and the people with the richest traditions and best stories to tell seem afraid to use them, as though the objects themselves could taint the message. At the National Youth Workers' Convention in Nashville this year, I was thrilled to see workshops on technology being held and well attended at nearly every session. The story we have to tell retains all its power regardless of the method of its telling, but if our delivery engages all the senses this generation uses most, would it hurt?

3. How do we prepare the current adult generation to be the elders?

As a start, Paul Hill and David Anderson, in "Frogs Without Legs Can't Hear" suggest breaking down the lines between generations that, unnatural as it is, we have grown. On a practical level, although it is the most uncomfortable thing for me to do, I am looking for ways to get my students into nursing homes, to worship and visit with the residents and begin to hear the stories of faith they need to model on.


The Rise of Christmasism

Tis the season for bashing society and all its failings. The Scrooges of the world get more screen time on the news and culture shows and in magazine articles because of the way their greed denies Christmas to those people who most desperately deserve it.

I won't add to that this week. Maybe next, when I've had to travel to the mall for Christmas presents again. Today, I want to talk about something else-- the response to consumerism. I'm going to call it Christmasism.

Christmasism is what happens when people try to escape the focus on material stuff and start looking at Christmas for all the things they can get spiritually out of it. This sounds like a much better way to look at the holiday, but it still misses the point.

Christmas isn't about getting anything at all.

Christmas is about taking the very best thing you have and giving it away.

God didn't get anything at Christmas in Bethlehem. Instead, He took the best thing he had-- Jesus Christ-- and gave him away. So did the shepherds-- the best they had was their time and attention, which they took from their work and gave it to the Christ child.

Please notice that "best" does not automatically mean "most expensive." My car, for example, is the most expensive thing I own. This was not true until a few months ago. When I owned a junker, my computer was the most expensive thing that belonged to me. But neither of these things are the best things I own. In fact, I'm having a lot of trouble thinking of what the best thing is. When I figure it out, though, it will be my mission to give it away.

What if we practiced Christmas this way? What if we challenged our students to find their best and give it away this year to celebrate Jesus' birth? It would turn our Christmas practices from reactions to the world's festival to actions leading toward discipleship.

And "giving away" does not mean "giving up" either, the way we talk about doing at Lent. Just the other night, a parent said to me that Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, was a season of quiet penitence. And had I been paying more attention, I would have objected to that remark, because Advent is about expectation and watchfulness, with light and music and joy. "Giving away" can be a one-time permanent giveaway or it can be an ongoing daily goal.

"Don't forget your gift," Paul tells Timothy. "Practice it out in public." In other words, take the best you have and give it away to build up the church.

I think we can say this doesn't even mean physically giving an object to another person. In a Timothy sense, practicing our gifts in the church gives ourselves away.

What if Christmas, to us, weren't about objects and possessions at all?


God's Unlikely Voice

"Last year we had 16,000 people come through here over the four days," a volunteer at the door of Harvester Christian Church's Journey to Bethlehem told us. "This year we think it's way down. It always depends on the weather." Right outside the door we had just walked through, a gentle rain was slowly wetting those still waiting in the line. It had rained off and on all the way to the church and, since we knew it took 45 minutes of walking outside to go through the Bethlehem trip, the sound of raindrops splattering against the windshield like a flock of clumsy bugs worried us. Mary and Joseph must have had to deal with some weather on their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, I told myself, but did we have to experience all the unpleasant details to appreciate the good part?

The cast of the Bethlehem story stressed at every stop that the groups of people they were leading along the path were all family. While we the audience had little part of the play itself, we had been given Hebrew names, with the English translation at the top, then the Hebrew letters and the original pronounciation. Below that was a list of facts about each person; his or her family, the meaning of the name, and the role each played in the community. Andrew was a "warrior scribe" at the beginning, but traded with Riley almost right away to become a fisherman. My name was John, son of Joel, a musician, of the tribe of Judah.

My senior pastor's daughter was along on this trip and came up to me during cookies and hot chocolate to ask a question. "What would Mary and Joseph have called Jesus?" I thought back to the Aramaic name used in "The Passion of the Christ" and explained that his name would have been pronounced "Yeshua." She looked me straight in the eye, a sure sign that a serious question is on the way. "Why don't we call him what his parents called him?"

I hope that only the inside of my face frowned. It's tough being shown up by an eighth grader. But, like Moses, "would that all my students were prophets and the Lord would fill them with His spirit."

"It has to do with the way the name was translated," I went on. "From Aramaic to Latin, and then Latin to English, it comes out as Jesus." The next sentence was my udoing. "When people learn a language, they're lazy. They like to have all the words in their own language rather than learning another one at the same time." Please laugh with me at how silly I sound when I'm not listening.

"But doesn't English have words from Latin and Spanish and German and all the others?" she asked. Sure enough, it does. Many of them are brought directly from the original language and either given a new pronounciation or left just as they were. What *are* they teaching in the schools these days? My theory about Jesus' name has a big hole in it, and this student knows my answer is not good enough.

I promised to find out more about Jesus' name. And it made me think today. What other words are we letting slip? One of my mother's favorite phrases when I was growing up was "words have meaning!" She would use this any time one of us said something we didn't really intend or made an inappropriate response to a question. She wanted us to know that even if we didn't mean them to, words are powerful and can hurt people, or build them up in false ways.

"Awesome." How many things are truly awesome? Is a movie really so great and powerful that we are a little afraid of it in the midst of our passion?
"Wrong." A phrase I hear a lot is "that's just wrong!" When my mother used the word "wrong" you knew a line had been crossed. Does our sense of what is right degrade when we use its opposite so lightly?
"God." The classic exclamation. I'm pretty sure there's something specific about this somewhere...

My senior pastor's daughter is not the Unlikely Voice of God my title today speaks of. Instead, the Unlikely is a comment by Butters, on South Park.

"You can call a shovel an ice cream machine, Mom and Dad, but it's still a shovel!"

If we look honestly at our words, how many ice cream machines are lying around that ought to be renamed for the sake of the Gospel? If we allow too many meanings for our words, where does the power go that they might hold?


When you see it as a gift

On Friday, as a youth minister, I did very little. There were any number of projects I could have attempted to work on, but my largest accomplishment was driving out to Pattonville to begin judging a high school debate tournament.

I converted no heathen. I intervened in no life-threatening situation. I made no telephone calls. Why? Because I was tired.

"If God made me gung-ho, He also made me tired-- and not just because I needed more sleep. My soul was on empty; I was running on fumes, and the ministry entrusted to my care was too. The depressing truth was youth were not the only ones who needed more substantial faith; so did I. The college students I met for lunch were not the only ones in spiritual jeopardy; so was I. What a humiliating revelation. Here I was supposed to be teaching them to pray, immersing them in Scripture, involving them with the poor-- and when was the last time I did any of that for the sake of my soul and not for the sake of my job?" --Kenda Creasy-Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life pg. 42; "Fatigue as a Spiritual Gift."

Rather than doing inauthentic ministry on Friday, taxing my tank of spiritual energy, I spent the time reading and dreaming, asking through the text of the books I paged through and my imaginings, "What does God want to teach me?" It was one of the healthiest days I can remember, and guilt over the lack of accomplishment did not stick to me. Today, Sunday, my energy was back up and I went into the service and Sunday School classes refreshed.

One of the hardest things for me to do is to sit still. My day off each week is filled with busy work that has piled up while I've been in the office the other days of the week. When I have a free Saturday, if I spend the day on the couch arguing with the television remote, I feel crushing guilt all night while I toss and turn trying to let myself sleep.

Because true rest is such a vivid experience for me when it actually happens, I am so thankful to ministers like those who wrote "The Godbearing Life" for their change in perspective on fatigue. When I read the Creation story, for example, I read the amazing work God did each day and nearly ignore the seventh day of rest. I never have seen fatigue and the rest that should follow it as a gift, but instead as a sign of weakness, the classic American approach.

I think we would be better off as a people if we had a tradition of siesta, like they do in Spain. In the afternoon when the sun turns hostile, business shuts down and people go to rest. Work is for the early morning when it's comfortable, and the night is for celebrating.

Most days, I enjoy having any problem other than fatigue. Every other situation I face will permit itself to be wrestled with. I can apply my logic and my imagination to any problem in my program, and a solution happens. But the only way, I am learning slowly, to defeat fatigue is to surrender to it.

How ironic is this? Why should I give fatigue what it wants? And then I win?

Step one for me; admit when I am tired, and allow myself to make the decision to tank up my body, mind or spirit, rather than push through on pretend energy.

It's a hard quest. The ability to see fatigue as a gift from God is a profound change that will make it much more possible.


The Rookie's Library December 8, 2005

What I'm Reading:

Book: "Messy Spirituality" by Mike Yaconelli-- (C) 2002 Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-23533-2
Magazine: Christianity Today Dec. 2005 "C.S. Lewis-- Superstar"

What I'm Hearing:

On CD: Quincy Jones-- 100 years of swing; Power: A Classical Music Collection
On the Radio: 106.5 "The Arch" St. Louis

What I'm Watching:

On DVD: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005 edition
On the Big Screen: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The Cult of Perfection

I read in the latest issue of "Youthworker Journal" that a company called College Discovery charges high school students around $2,000 to match them with the "right" college. The posting, from the youth culture update section of the magazine, went on to say that for new students, applying to and attending the perfect college is a goal that can eat up a great deal of time and money. The pressure on these students comes from their schools, from their parents, their friends, and their own ideas of how life will be with the perfect education. If you watch these students while they sleep, you can see the visions of big paychecks and beautiful spouses dance in their heads.

In the fall of 2001, in an address to freshmen at Hillsdale College, a history professor named Dr. John Willson stood up to give a few words of advice to the young men in the room. His shaggy gray hair shining in the stage lights, he strove to be the grandfather all of us needed living on campus. One phrase of his stuck in my mind. "Relax," he said. "Take five years to do four." In Dr. Willson's eyes, college was a time to explore more than a time to achieve. Changing majors, he assured us, was allowed and even expected. He did not believe that any of us in the room really knew what we would end up doing, and gave us permission to take our time to find that out. Willson wanted the freshmen in the auditorium to take classes that interested us, not just ones that advanced us toward a major. This kindly old professor definitely wanted us to graduate, but he saw the diploma as a means to an end-- the end being a complete and well-rounded life as human beings-- and not the sole end of our four years.

Most of us did not take Dr. Willson's advice. For most students, it's very difficult to take a fifth year of classes. Colleges could make this easier by offering a punch card like the ones grocery stores, gas stations and laundromats use. "Buy four years, get one free!" it would say, and it would be the most popular thing in any school's bookstore. Personally, I was called out of school with two years of classes behind me to go into full-time parish youth ministry. Dr. Willson's words never left me, though. Now that I am shopping for a school here in St. Louis to finish my undergraduate degree, I am pondering them once again.

The trend that bothers me the most, more than consumerism or "moralistic therapeutic deism" or "spiritual but not religous" is the practice of "tracking" students, starting as very young children, so that all of their activities lead toward one goal. Sometimes this is done by parents who want their children to be good at A) the things the parents were good at or B) the things the parents wish they had been good at. Other times, teachers pick up on one special ability that seems to live in students and push this on them. And still other times, the students themselves become focused on just one aspect of their lives.

The worst sin in this, in one rookie's opinion, is that it sets limits on God's call. Riding with a missionary who works in Brazil and had come to Michigan to visit my father, I made a comment about why I don't plan to be ordained as a minister. "That's not where my gifts are," I told Dave. Even though he was driving, he looked straight into my eyes long enough to say, "The Holy Spirit working in you is not limited. Don't say for sure where you won't go."

What would the world look like if we made honest disciples instead of perfect ones? A dear friend of mine in Michigan, who has been in youth ministry for longer than I have been alive, once asked a student why he planned to attend a Bible college. Did he want to go there because it was the best place for him, or because his parents wanted him to attend a school where it was easy to be a Christian? What would our ministries look like if we let students off our tracks for long enough to let the Spirit speak to them? What could be the harm in letting ourselves spend time broken, where Jesus can most easily reach us, rather than adding one more polished, perfect piece to our puzzle day after day?

When Christ spoke, although this isn't often noticed, he gave two ways to be reconciled to God. One is to follow Him. The other is to be perfect. And you can't be both. All of Scripture gives us very clear instructions for how to follow God through the Law. And Jesus always acknowledged that. "I have come to fulfill the Law, not set it aside," were some of his words, for example. And Jesus set a higher standard for perfection than any of the Law had before him. "So what if you don't actually physically commit a sin? If you think it, that's just as bad." And when people started to ask why he wasn't paying attention to the people who had followed the whole law, Jesus told them, "If you're healthy, you don't need a doctor. If you're perfect, you don't need me. I go to the people who admit their need."*

One day I introduced a game to a youth group called "Chocolate Syrup Dodge Ball." The rules of the game, should you ever want to play, are simple. Dress your youth group in plastic raincoats or garbage bags with holes for arms and head. Get two beach balls and a bottle of both chocolate and strawberry syrup. The youth leader is the target. The other adult leaders are the guards. The youth group pours syrup on their team's beach ball and tries to hit the youth leader in the middle of the circle with it. At the end of the game, taste the front of your raincoat. The side you can taste more of wins.

I got covered. I got slimed. And it happened because I kept moving around, making it impossible for my guards to keep me protected. So many times, in our pursuit of perfection, we forget that the only way we are saved is by hiding behind Jesus. We hide most of ourselves, but when part of our lives seem good enough in our eyes, we stick it out beyond Jesus and dare the world to slime us. If we just stood still behind Jesus, admitting we can't do anything beyond him and living like we mean it, we could take the tiny steps toward discipleship that are all we are capable of.

Behind Christ,