Thanksgiving 2021

This is Thanksgiving week in the United States. In the last post (My 26), I referred to gratitude as a quintessential Christian virtue – a good lead-in to this holiday week. As I pondered what I might post this week, I was drawn to review what I posted a year ago. After reading it, I decided it was worthy of re-reading – enough that I would encourage others to do the same.

You can read the post, Thankfulness and Gratitude, here. Have a blessed week!

My 26

We worship at The WHY Church. We recently closed out a lengthy message series focused on Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The beginning portion of the last chapter (Romans 16:3-15) is dotted with personal greetings from Paul to specific members of the Roman Christian community. Twenty-six people in total. Twenty-six people for whom Paul shared an affinity. People that had shared in his ministry and/or shaped his own faith journey.

Our pastor, Bjorn, suggested we take a crack at listing 26 people that we might want to greet in a similar fashion. People that played a significant role in our own faith development and journey toward and with Jesus. So I sat down one day and made such a list. Some folks from that list…

Arlyce Dipple Morrell – my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher who helped me learn stuff (i.e., Psalm 23, 100, etc.).

Cal Ryan – my pastor when I was about 10. He preached Jesus.

Dan Bailey – my patient 6th grade Sunday School teacher. He helped me learn more stuff.

Barb Reynolds – for giving me The Robe to read, which drew me to want to know Jesus more.

The religion professor that taught The Life & Teachings of Jesus Christ course at NDSU. I can picture him but haven’t a clue his name.

Dave and Donna Peterson – for introducing me to Young Life which has greatly impacted my faith and theology.

Chuck Thompson – a local Christ-follower with great wisdom.

Cordelia Veit-Carey – for pastoring me in my Young Life beginnings. She was a godsend!

Pastor Murray Jacobson – for biblical mentoring via The Navigators‘ tools.

Larry Ostrom – as I began to understand the difference between Jesus’ Gospel and the gospel of cultural Christianity.

Jack Fortin – for amazing Young Life training times in the 70s. My favorite Fortin quote: “God is as interested (or maybe more interested) in the process than the outcome.”

Chuck Jamison – for pointing me to Colossians 1:15 – Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible God.

Dick Knox – for rich, weekly conversations related to my journey to know Him…to progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly… (Philippians 3:10, AMP). I posted some of that story here.

Byron Thompson – In a phone interview, as we talked over my eight years as a volunteer Young Life leader, he asked, “Who’s in ministry because of your ministry?” – not vocationally, but those with an understanding of a missional calling regardless of vocation. It has since shaped my view of ministry leadership and the development of others.

Terry McGonigal – Through a Fuller Seminary, Old Testament Survey course introduced me to God’s covenant loyalty woven throughout scripture: I will be you God and you will be my people.

Perry Hunter – During our many breakfast conversations at the old Pannekoeken Huis, we started to process the concept of Doing right things versus doing things right.

Jack Muhlenpoh – a 3M executive that served as a great pastoral mentor for me.  He helped me see the value of willingness when inviting people into ministry service.

Eli Morris – as a white guy who spent a chunk of his ministry serving urban young people, he played a major role in my ongoing journey of understanding biblical justice.

Bruce and Barb Barber – friends and encouragers in the faith for close to 35 years!

Craig Paulson – he encouraged me to pursue a doctorate in higher education, a quintessential example of Jack Fortin’s statement about the value of process outweighing outcome.

And it goes without saying that my wife, Barb, has been the greatest encourager and catalyst of my faith development over the past 46 years!

This was a great process to undergo – to reminisce about these treasures in my life and the jars of clay that embodied them.* I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. It postures us to be grateful – a quintessential Christian virtue!

* The “jars of clay” metaphor is an addendum thanks to an email response to the original post from my friend Brooke Filipovski, Young Life in North Macedonia & Albania.

Elijah the Tishbite 2.0

I remember going to parades when I was a kid. For a farm kid, it was a great source of entertainment (and candy!). I would sit on the curb on Main Street, taking it all in – the bands, horses, floats, clowns, and, of course, the Shriners on their little go-carts. My dad, standing behind me, could see up the street. He would keep us interested by informing us of what was about to come – what was about to pass by. Oh, the anticipation!

When we left off with Elijah the Tishbite’s story, found in 1 Kings 17-19, he had boldly challenged King Ahab and the 450 prophets of the false god, Baal, to a “duel.” For a prophet, speaking and demonstrating boldly to kings on God’s behalf was part of the job description. And Elijah did it well.

Elijah won the duel and subsequently won the people over. When all the people saw how God demonstrated his power through Elijah, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” The challenge to Baal’s prophets accomplished its intent – it turned the people back to their God, Yahweh. As a final act on God’s behalf, Elijah enticed the people to seize and slaughter the prophets of Baal. Then it rained as God, through Elijah, had promised. Now, the rest of the story…

As the much-needed rain fell, Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, about Elijah’s demonstration, as well as the slaying of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel, who had great influence in Ahab’s kingdom, sent a message to Elijah…

May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them [Baal’s prophets]. (1 Kings 19:2)

In fear, Elijah ran for his life. Deep into the wilderness, he hid under a bush and suggested that God end his life. But God was not through with Elijah. You see, God never asked Elijah to slaughter the 450 prophets. In his zeal for righteousness, Elijah committed an unrighteous (think unjust) act. God needed to readjust Elijah’s thinking and perspective. The zealous Elijah found himself in a state of crisis and weakness and was ripe for reformation. Carlo Caretto speaks to this in The God Who Comes: “It is so difficult to explain things to someone who is always right, who always wins, who is absolutely sure of himself” (p. 35).

Instead of ending Elijah’s life, God sent him on a three-month (minimum) journey that reformed and transformed his worldview. An angel was sent to provide sustenance for a 40-day journey through the wilderness to Mount Horeb, “the mount of God.” Arriving at Horeb, Elijah found lodging in a cave on the mountain. While in the cave, God came to Elijah…

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:9-11)

This is where the story gets really interesting. Elijah’s powerful God was about to pass by! Oh, the anticipation – the one true God was about to pass by! So Elijah waited. Suddenly there was a strong wind, strong enough to shatter rocks! Surely this was Elijah’s God passing by – the God that brought fire down on the alter in his duel with the Baal prophets. But God was not in the wind.

The wind was followed by an earthquake. Surely the God that provided food for a widow and raised her little boy from the dead was passing by in the earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. The earthquake was followed by a fire. But God was not in the fire, either. Then God passed by in the form of a still small voice.

God appeared in a still small voice.

Elijah, wrapping his face in his coat, stood at the mouth of the cave. As before, God asked him what he was doing. Elijah’s response was the same as previous: “I’ve been zealous for you, God. The people have forsaken your covenant, killing the prophets and I’m the only one left!” God then directed Elijah to go back to work, trekking 40 days across the wilderness, back to where he had come from.

This is what I suggest we consider: Imagine that someone had traveled with Elijah on his 40-day journey across the wilderness to Mount Horeb. Imagine the person asking Elijah to talk about his God and his experiences with God. As someone who was always right, who always won, who was sure of himself, I suspect he might have had a plethora of stories about his God. Maybe 40 days’ worth of stories. His was a God of power and victory!

Now imagine if someone traveled with Elijah on the journey back across the wilderness, asking the same question. I can imagine Elijah putting his finger to his lips and responding with, “Shhh…not right now. I just need to walk in silence. I’m not sure I understand God as I did a few days ago.” Reformation.

Sometimes, when we feel like we have a pretty good understanding of who God is and what he’s like, he allows crisis so he can shake things up a bit. And that’s a good thing. Just ask Elijah.

Elijah the Tishbite

I recently re-read Elijah’s story (1 Kings 17-19) – a familiar story that we should read and ponder periodically. Elijah, the Tishbite, was a prophet called by God. As we read the story, we see that he was successful in all he did. He predicted a famine that came true. During the famine, he (God through him) miraculously provided ingredients for a starving widow and her son – enough to feed them and Elijah as well. When her son fell sick and died, Elijah laid on top of the boy and brought him back to life. The God of Elijah demonstrated his favor in the midst of famine and pestilence.

During this time, King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, reigned over Israel, the northern Jewish kingdom. Influenced by Jezebel, Ahab abandoned the Lord, setting up a temple to establish the worship of Baal. The Israelites, the people God had rescued from Egypt, followed his lead, abandoning Yahweh to worship the god, Baal. God was not happy. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. Not something one would want on their résumé.

Elijah’s famine prediction was given to Ahab in person – a bold move since Ahab tended to eliminate (kill) prophets that brought bad news. But it was more than a prediction. At Elijah’s word only would rain break the famine. Ahab was not happy. Elijah went into hiding, as did all of God’s prophets. It was while he was steering clear of Ahab that Elijah encountered the widow and her son.

Then God instructed Elijah to go present himself to Ahab with updated information about the famine. God’s instruction to Elijah: Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth. Elijah’s God directed him to go see Ahab, the king that killed prophets, the king that referred to Elijah as “the troubler of Israel.” Elijah quickly pointed out that Ahab was the real troubler. He then proceeded to show Ahab which god was really in charge – Yahweh or Baal. This is where the story got really good.

Elijah instructed Ahab to assemble the people at Mount Carmel and to bring along the 450 prophets of Baal as well as 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah. Interestingly, Ahab obeyed Elijah and gathered up all the people and prophets. Elijah then spoke to the people: How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. The people had no response. Elijah suggested a demonstration, a lab test of sorts, to help the people in their decision-making process…

I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left*, but Baal has 450 prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.

The people’s response? “Well said.” So the demonstration began. The 450 prophets of Baal prepared their bull on an altar and called on their god. And they called and called. No response. From morning until noon they called. Nothing. At noon, Elijah couldn’t contain himself and started to taunt the prophets of Baal…

You’ll have to shout louder than that to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!

So shout they did – for a few more hours. Nothing! Then Elijah summoned the people. He rebuilt the altar that Ahab had destroyed years earlier. He had the bull prepared, dug a trench around the altar, and had the people soak the bull and the wood. They soaked it so completely that the runoff filled the trench. Then it was Elijah’s turn…

O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.

Immediately the fire of the Lord consumed the bull, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. Success! When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

Elijah then wrapped up the day by instructing the frenzied crowd to seize and slaughter the prophets of Baal. A complete victory! It’s the stuff movies are made of, starring the likes of Charlton Heston or Matt Damon or Liam Neeson. Good versus evil kind of stuff. It’s the kind of stories we love.

But this is only part of the story. It gets better. Next time, the rest of the story!

* This was hyperbole on Elijah’s part. Elijah knew that Obediah, the “Jarvis” of Ahab’s palace, secretly hid 100 prophets in caves before Ahab could have them killed.

Make a Joyful Noise

In my journey through the Psalms, I am presently spending time in Psalm 95. The English Standard translation (ESV) entitles Psalm 95 as Let Us Sing Songs of Praise. A.A. Anderson suggests No Worship without Obedience. The first two verses beseech the Jewish community to make joyful noises in worship of Yahweh, their God…

1 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Making a joyful noise to the Lord is a common thread throughout the Psalms (c.f. Psalms 66, 98, and 100). As I was reading this, I begin to wonder how noise can be joyful, especially to the hearer. By definition, noise is loud, obnoxious, and unpleasant. The etymology of noise is Latin nausea (“seasickness”) – interesting. For me, not only can noise be obnoxious, it actually hurts my ears (might be an age thing)!

So how can noise be joyful to the hearer? It might have everything to do with the source. Our youngest grandson, Elend, spent the last several days with us awaiting a flight to Arizona to join up with his family who drove to Scottsdale for a lengthy stay at their condo. (They literally didn’t have room for him in their vehicle, so Elend’s aunt flew with him to join up with his family. 🙂)

During his stay with us, Elend got a fair amount of time with his cousin, Grant. Grant and Elend enjoy life and know how to have fun – a lot of fun. And they make noise – a lot of noise. Loud, obnoxious, and unpleasant (ear hurting) noise…

One afternoon, as I was trying to work at my desk, the two boys took their enjoyment of each other to a new level – in both glee and decibels. It was deafening. And I loved it. To a grandpa it was truly a joyful noise! I wonder what it sounded like to God?

What made their noise so joyful? Much of it was the way the enjoyed each other. And I enjoyed watching them enjoy each other. It did my heart good. Since we were created in God’s image, I have to believe that He enjoys watching us enjoy each other. I have to believe it does his heart good as well. (I wonder what it does to his heart when we don’t enjoy each other?) I also suspect that God enjoys it when we enjoy the rest of his creation.

Joyful noise is about glee and decibels

I am beginning to understand that the operative word in the phrase joyful noise is indeed joyful. As much as we love harmony, I suspect the Psalmist wasn’t necessarily suggesting joyful harmony.* Instead, I’m beginning to realize the focus is on the joyfulness of the noise-maker. I wonder if the making of joyful noise is about doing right things. Harmony might be focused on doing things right (see Doing Right Things). Joyful noise is about glee and decibels. With that it mind…

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! (Psalm 100)

* By the way, this is very good news to those of us that struggle to carry a tune.

Let the Juices Flow!

When facilitating a leadership development/training session, I will often have the group read and ponder something that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the topic at hand. The purpose? To get the juices going. Google “get the juices going” and you’ll see close to 50,000 hits. Getting the juices going is synonymous to jump-starting one’s thinking, maybe even waking up the mind (caffeine for the brain?). Artists and writers often refer to getting their “creative juices” going.

I’ve been writing this blog for 2 1/2 years now. I find I cannot just sit down and write a post without something first sparking those creative juices. Sometimes the juices are a result of a conversation with someone, but more often related to something from scripture that I’ve read and pondered. Like this post…

I am slowly working my way through the book of Psalms. With the help of A.A. Anderson’s Commentary, I park on a Psalm for a time, then move on when I feel like I’m done gleaning from it for the present. I just wrapped up Psalm 92 yesterday. From the Voice translation, Psalm 92 concludes with…

12 Those who are devoted to God will flourish like budding date-palm trees;
    they will grow strong and tall like cedars in Lebanon.
13 Those planted in the house of the Lord
    will thrive in the courts of our God.
14 They will bear fruit into old age;
    even in winter, they will be green and full of sap.

They will bear fruit into old age!

Living in my 8th decade, this got my attention. Poking around in Anderson and other resources, I discovered that a better rendering of the Hebrew for this might be “They will still be full of juice in old age.” My interest was completely piqued!

Still pondering this “full of juice” thought, I read John 15 today (Jesus’ “I am the vine and you are the branches” narrative). In this discourse we read…

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Here we have fruit-bearing again! I have read this passage many times. This time I found myself hearing it differently. Could the “full of juice” concept fit this? I think absolutely so!

In past readings, I think my focus has been on “you will bear much fruit.” I suspect I am not alone – who doesn’t want to bear much fruit? A lofty objective. So American and Western of us! We easily find ourselves focused on the outcome. But focusing on bearing fruit will not bear more fruit. Think about that! In fact, it might be a deterrent. In this statement, I don’t think Jesus was telling his disciples to focus on bearing fruit. Jesus was reminding them to dwell, remain, and abide in Him. Jesus wants our focus to be him, not fruit-bearing. Why?

I suspect that when we remain in him, the juices will flow from Him through us which results, organically, in fruit-bearing. We can’t stop it from happening. We will be green and full of sap! We will bear fruit! We don’t want to miss that fruit-bearing isn’t primarily numerical (again, Western thinking). More likely, we should be thinking of the fruit (not fruits) of the Spirit as described by the Apostle Paul…

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… (Galatians 5:22-23).

Well, my juices are certainly flowing. Hopefully this gets your juices going, too!

WYSIWYG

I have seen a lot of technological advances throughout my 50+ years of work experience, which started in the drafting department of the Cretex Companies between my junior and senior years of high school. One of the roles I played was the drafting of preliminary drawings of concrete manholes so we could mail blueprint copies (not Xerox) to the customer for approval prior to releasing the drawing to the factory for fabrication. The process added a week or two to the lead-time of delivering product – a BIG deal in the world of construction.

Then an amazing piece of technology showed up in our drafting department. It was a cylindrical fax machine. An 8-1/2 x 11 drawing was wrapped on the cylinder, a phone number dialed, and the phone headset placed in a rubber modem. Pressing “start,” the cylinder rotated with a needle slowly scanning across the drawing and voila, a copy emerged on the other end. The transfer took about 20 minutes, cutting days off the approval process. We were all amazed.

About 20 years later, I was introduced to (now discontinued) Lotus 1-2-3, IBM’s precursor to Microsoft’s Excel. It ran on the IBM System/34 that the company I worked for used to support engineering and manufacturing. I was amazed. I could set up repeat calculations on the green on black monitor. What a time-saver. The output wasn’t very pretty, though. There was no formatting available, just standard IBM Green Bar print-outs. In time the System/34 monitors were replaced by IBM PCs which opened up a whole new world with the potential of software add-ons.

One of the first add-ons that I got to experience was WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). We, for the first time, were able to format our spreadsheets into formatted documents, impressing ourselves and our customers. We would complete the technical part of the spreadsheet then hit the F2 key to for a format-able view. We couldn’t calculate inside the WYSIWYG view, we could only format and get a glimpse of the final printout. The official definition of WYSIWYG: denoting the representation of text on screen in a form exactly corresponding to its appearance on a printout. By pressing the F2 key, what we saw on the screen, was a visible expression of the (now invisible).

In the last couple posts (Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney and The Rest of the Story), I alluded to the fact that involvement with Young Life in the early days of my faith development has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.” Immersed in an outreach ministry such as Young Life not only helped the development of my theology, it helped me develop a working philosophy of ministry, nay a philosophy of life (for which I will be forever grateful!).

Much of my early training in Young Life was “on the job.” Young Life had developed effective methods of ministering to high schoolers who were far from and disinterested in God. As I learned the “what and how” of the ministry, I was also taught the corresponding “why” (again, for which I will be forever grateful!). Early on I was pointed toward Colossians 1:15, which in the J.B. Phillips New Testament reads:

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God.

Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah – is the visible expression, the exact representation of the invisible God. After discovering Colossians 1:15 and pondering its significance, I came to the realization that I didn’t know God. I knew about him and I knew how I was supposed to act. I knew what I was supposed to do (and more importantly) what I wasn’t supposed to do, but I didn’t really know God.

I remember thinking, “How can I possibly tell disinterested kids about a God that I don’t know very well?” This caused me to embark on a year-long, turned into a life-long journey of discovery. I wanted to know God so that I could help disinterested kids to know him as well. This why I am continuously immersed in the Gospels. This is why, as a start-point of my ministry training and development of others, I help them get immersed in the Gospels.

The timing of all this was absolutely perfect. At just the right time, God showed me a different way. Through Young Life, God caused me to rethink my understanding of the Christian faith. As an engineer I was ripe for a Christianity that focused on how one should live. I was ripe for deductive learning, focused on application and not discovery. In short, I was ripe for moralism.

At just the right time my focus began to shift away from simply figuring out how to live the Christian life to Jesus himself. I discovered why Jesus was absolutely central to our talks at Young Life. We wouldn’t tell kids about God. Instead we would show them Jesus – God in the flesh, the visible expression of God – allowing them to get a glimpse into the character of the true God.

In time I began to understand that it would be good to help ALL people see Jesus, not simply confront them with the tenets of the Christian faith. Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, used to say that if kids could see the real Jesus, they would fall in love with him. If any person could see the real Jesus, wouldn’t they likely fall in love with him? Thus my philosophy of life: To know him and make him known. And it all started by taking 10 kids to Frontier Ranch in 1973.

The Rest of the Story

This is a continuation of the previous post, Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney, written at the suggestion by a young friend (Björk) who encouraged me to capture the story of the beginning of my journey with Young Life. Interestingly, I was visiting Björk’s company offices earlier this week. I looked at the office building across the street – it’s where I was formally introduced to Young Life.

In the last posting I mentioned that a couple from my community had providentially stumbled onto Frontier Ranch, suggesting that I check out Young Life as a solution to a vision that was evolving to better care for the kids in our community – kids of various and/or no church backgrounds. This is the rest of the story…

Wanting to find out more about the ministry, I looked up “Young Life” in the Yellow Pages (yes, Yellow Pages) and placed a call with what turned out to be the regional office. They connected me with a Young Life office located closer to my community. Calling that office, I had a 5 minute conversation with the Area Director, Jim Green. He gave me an “elevator speech” of the mission of Young Life. It was only a five minute conversation because Jim was literally headed out the door to serve at a Young Life camp for a month. He said we should reconnect in a month to explore this further.

A month? Patience was a virtue that I lacked. Somehow I ended up with a book written in 1963 by philosopher Emile Cailliet about the Young Life Mission. I spent the month waiting by reading the book – twice. Everything I read drew me in. I couldn’t wait for Jim to return from his month at camp to find out more.

Upon his return, Jim suggested I come to his office (across the street from Björk’s present-day office) for a bag lunch together. He wanted to show me a couple movies (movies, not videos) about Young Life. I took a long lunch and drove 40 minutes to meet with him. He had a couple reel-to-reel movies tee’d up for me to watch. The first one was a general, very well done, informational movie about the mission of Young Life.

The second movie blew me away. It was called A Time for Living, an award-winning film featuring Young Life camps across the United States and Canada. I was hooked! I had never seen anything like it in my life. I went to Bible camp once as a kid but it was nothing like this!

I was 23 and wondered how I might get to attend a Young Life Camp.

Asking what next steps might be, Jim suggested I round up a handful of adults from our community for an informational meeting about Young Life and the possibility of starting the ministry. A week later 20 adults crowed into my living room to listen to Jim and his committee chair describe what Young Life could look like in a community like ours. We were all spellbound. Why had we never heard of such a thing?

At meeting’s end Jim told us that a group of kids and leaders were headed to Frontier Ranch in a couple weeks and I should try to round up a few kids and tag along. Long story short, two weeks later I was accompanying 10 high school kids on a trip that would turn out to be the “best week of their lives.” And it turned out to be the best week of my life, too. What I witnessed that week was transformative for me…

I witnessed unconditional acceptance. To my utter surprise, Frontier Ranch had a smoking pit. Since the ministry drew kids that were far from God, as one can imagine some might have been smokers. The kids were invited to camp to discover Jesus, not to expereince behavior modification. In a world where American Christendom was moving toward what Christian Smith described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, this was extremely good news to those expecting religious people to tell them what they should not be doing. As an early Christ-follower, I found it quite intriguing.

I witnessed high adventure. The movie A Time for Living showed high adventure and it wasn’t just a marketing ploy. The kids (and I) experienced things few of us had ever dreamed of doing. For example, one day we took buses up to St. Elmo, CO, a mining ghost town, then proceeded to climb 12,822′ Chrysolite Mountain. Not many have experienced hiking close to 3000′ above treeline!

I witnessed excellence. In 1950, Young Life had the opportunity to purchase a resort in British Columbia that was originally designed to attract Hollywood-types. As they considered the purchase Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, took the board of directors to visit Malibu Club. As I understand it, a board member asked what would need to be changed to turn it into a youth camp. Rayburn’s response was something like, this: “We want to bring kids to camp to meet the King of Kings. If this place is good enough for Hollywood folks, then wouldn’t it be good enough for the King’s kids the way it is?” I witnessed the attitude of excellence for the King’s kids that week at Frontier Ranch.

I witnessed leaders engaged with kids. My prior observation of adults involved in youth ministry was them primarily playing the role of crowd control. They often stood off to the side while the kids participated in the program. During “chapel,” they stood or sat around the perimeter, shushing kids as needed. That week I saw leaders fully engaged, participating, hanging out with, and sitting among the kids they brought to camp. Years later Guy Doud, 1987 national teacher of the year, referred to Young Life leaders as “Jesus with skin on.” At Frontier, I witnessed kids fully engaged with everything going on, including the talks about Jesus. Leaders engaged with kids and kids engaged with Jesus! Wow!

And I witnessed Jesus in a new way. I heard Jesus talked about in new and fresh ways. The speaker, Mal McSwain, talked about Jesus in a manner different than I had ever experience. He was a story-teller, helping us picture Jesus in a way that brought him to life. Jim Rayburn always said that if kids could meet the real Jesus, they would fall in love with him. And kids did.

Upon returning home from Frontier Ranch, I started a Campaigner group with the 10 kids that I accompanied to camp. In Young Life, “Campaigners” is the name of the small groups focused on helping kids grow in their [newfound] faith. Through Campaigners, leaders continue to walk with kids as they learn how to follow Jesus. That group of Campaigner kids, their friends, and I ended up starting Young Life in our community – introducing kids to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith for over 20 years. And it all started with a broken down station wagon on the road to Buena Vista, CO.

(In the previous post, I suggested that my involvement with Young Life over the past five decades has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.” That’s the next post.)

Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney

Over time, several people have asked me about significant events that have shaped my journey and theology as a Christ-follower over the past 50ish years. Some of those events are scattered throughout this blog. One, however, is not – the story of how I got involved with Young Life back in the summer of 1973. As I have alluded previously, my involvement with Young Life over the past five decades has had a most significant affect on my theology and my journey to becoming a “practical theologian.”

In a recent conversation with a friend, I shared the providential story that led to my involvement with Young Life. He encouraged me to write a blog post, sharing the story. Key to the story (and totally unbeknownst to him) was a gentleman named Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney. Let me tell you a bit about Goldbrick…

Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney (circa 1960s)

As the story goes, in May 1951 the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn, met Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney and his wife, Jerry, in Harvey Cedars, New Jersey while speaking at a camp. Goldbrick and his wife worked for a Philadelphia catering company. “Next thing you know,” Jerry said, “he’s asking us if we’d come work for him at a big kids’ camp out in Colorado. We said ‘no,’ so he said he was going to put us on his prayer list.”

“Andy and I looked at each other, both knowing what the other was thinking. ‘This guy is crazy. Put us on a prayer list?'”

The Delaneys didn’t know what it was like to be in Jim’s prayers! Within a month the they were working at Frontier Ranch in Colorado! In an early conversation between Rayburn and his new cook, Jim said, “Camp travels on its stomach. You can have the best program in the world, but if you don’t have good food, the program isn’t going to be any good.” Goldbrick looked at him and said, “Boss, it’ll be good.” And it was. And still is. Today Young Life camps are known for the quality of their meals.

Fast forward a couple decades. In my early twenties, I began attending a church plant in our community. A couple, Dave and Donna, invited me to consider helping start the youth group at the church. I said I would be interested, but it would have to be significantly different than my youth group experiences as a kid. I was bored to death by adult leaders who didn’t seem all that interested in getting to know us kids or discovering what interested us. They took a risk with me, giving me free reign to do what seemed right to me and God’s prompting. (I think of the early church leaders saying It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us… Acts 15:28).

So, Dave, Donna, and I got all the young people from our church together (6th-12th grade, all TWELVE of them!) to talk about kicking off our youth group. Though I had no idea how to do it, I told the kids I wanted us to create something that any kid in our community would feel safe attending and want to come back. The kids (as well as Dave and Donna) bought into the vision and we brainstormed what it could look like.

We kicked things off in February 1973. 40-50 kids came to everything we did – for a while. By the end of the semester we were back to the original twelve kids.

After the obligatory period of beating myself up for a failed experiment, I began to connect with some of the high school kids with whom I had built a relationship. I was interested in knowing why they quit coming. My goal wasn’t to get them to come back, but to discover what we might have been missing so we could make it better. Looking back, it was a form of Design Thinking before it became a thing.

Each of the kids I “interviewed” said basically the same thing. They liked coming to our stuff but it wasn’t their church and their parents wouldn’t let them attend. “But you don’t go to church,” I retorted. “No, but our parents don’t want us to go to your church,” was the common response. (People were much more parochial in the 70s.)

I went back to Dave and Donna with my findings. I told them we needed to start something non-denominational. They asked me if I had ever heard of Young Life. I said, “No,” asking them what it was. They had observed Young Life at a weekend ski camp at Frontier Ranch a few years prior. This is their story, a very providential encounter…

Dave and Donna were on a ski vacation, driving somewhere between Colorado Springs and Buena Vista, CO, on a Friday afternoon. They came upon a man with a broken-down station wagon. It was Andy “Goldbrick” Delaney. He was on his way to cook for a weekend ski camp at Frontier Ranch. He was running late and didn’t even have time to deal with his car. So Dave and Donna offered to take him to Frontier Ranch so he could get started on the weekend meals.

As a “Thank You” to Dave and Donna, Goldbrick invited them to stay the weekend in the adult guest lodge. They got to participate in all the activities, enjoy the meals, and witness Club (like chapel, they said, but nothing like chapel). They couldn’t believe the camp facilities. They couldn’t believe the food. They couldn’t believe how obviously far from God many of the kids seemed. They couldn’t believe how engaged the leaders were with the kids.

And they couldn’t believe Club. They told me that 300 kids were fully engaged – singing up a storm, roaring with laughter at the goofy program humor. But what really struck Dave and Donna was the attentiveness of the 300 kids when the speaker took the stage to talk about Jesus and his deep interest in them. “You could hear a pin drop,” was Donna’s description.

I was hooked and wanted to know more. In the words of John Wesley, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” I needed to find out about this Young Life thing, which is yet another story. That will be the next blog post. So, stay tuned.

Dust

One of my go-to sources for a small group discussion starter is Garry Poole’s The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion. One of my educator friends put me onto the book shortly after its publication. A perusal of the table of contents reveals several types of questions ranging from Light and Easy to Personal Preferences & Viewpoints to Spiritually Speaking. If my memory serves me well, the book contains several questions related to whom we would like to spend time with, past or present, and why. In responding to the “why?” question, people usually indicate that they would like to learn from the person, asking lots of questions.

There is an old Jewish maxim that goes something like this: “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” The idea behind the saying is that a rabbi’s disciples were to follow him so closely that as they walked with him, their own feet would become caked with the dust from his sandals.

Sometimes we tend to forget that Jesus was seen primarily as a rabbi by his contemporaries. If you have spent time watching The Chosen, his role as a rabbi is quite evident. In the first century rabbinical system, students asked learned rabbis if they could become a disciple (learner), as we discussed in the post He Picked Me! A rabbi would then invite the students that he thought worthy of his investment to become his disciples. In first century terminology, a disciple was invited take on the yoke (teachings) of the rabbi. There were several expectations of the disciple when he took on the yoke of a rabbi…

The first expectation of the disciple was to be with the rabbi. In the first century that implied that the disciple would live in the proximity of the rabbi, possibly requiring him to physically relocate to his town. It also implied that being a disciple was a full-time endeavor. Jesus, as an itinerant rabbi, invited his disciples to literally become followers (cf Matt. 4:19, Mark 2:14, John 1:43). They left their day jobs to travel with him for three years. In a quick read through the Gospels one realizes that for them, following Jesus translated into a three-year road trip. They often journeyed into territories they never expected. Come be with me no matter where I go.

Secondly, the rabbi’s disciples expected to learn from him. Rabbis were the first century theological teachers/professors. Imagine getting to spend extended time with one of your favorite college professors. Imagine what you could glean from his/her knowledge. I spoke of one such experience in the post, Hesed and Emet – a transformative experience. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… (Matt. 11:29).

We know full-well that we become like the people with whom we spend time. We become like our parents. Spouses become like each other. Disciples became like their rabbi – it was expected, anticipated, and frankly couldn’t be averted. When Jesus invited people to follow him, he assumed they would be transformed, imitating and taking on his character. The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40).

And finally, rabbis expected their disciples to put their learning to practical use by joining them in their mission – likely to also become rabbis, teaching people to know and obey the 613 Jewish laws (or, at least, the laws the rabbi deemed most pertinent). Jesus invited his first disciples to follow him and become fishers of people (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17), not keepers of the Law. After his death and resurrection, Jesus clarified their mission: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20). Replicate the process. How were they to do this? Just like he did: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John 20:21).

Fast forward a couple thousand years. What does this mean for us? Actually, I think this tells us how simple (I didn’t say easy) following Jesus really is. We be with him (reading the Gospels regularly). We learn from him (he really was a great teacher, story-teller, and question-asker). The more time we spend with him and learn from him, we can’t help but become like him. This sets us up to naturally join him in his mission of helping others be with him, learn from him, become like him, and join him in his mission. And he modeled it all for us. I wonder if we haven’t made this all too complicated?

May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.