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Saddle up your horses, we've got a trail to blaze, Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace; Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown; This is a life like no other; this is the great adventure -Steven Curtis Chapman, "The Great Adventure"
On your way! But be careful-this is hazardous work. You're like lambs in a wolf pack. -Luke 10:3, The Message
It had been three wet, miserable days since John Wesley Powell and his team of nine adventurers had crashed through the 14 miles and 35 rapids that make up the section of the Colorado River known as Marble Canyon. Powell and his crew were well into their fourth month of a grueling and dangerous attempt to navigate the entire course of river through the Grand Canyon. It was a journey that began on May 24, 1869, when four boats under Powell's command-the Emma Dean, the Kitty Clyde's Sister, the Maid of the Canon, and the No Name-were launched at Green River Station, Wyoming Territory. The opening quotation above was written on the morning of August 13, 1869, as the expedition team was ready to descend into the roaring water that would lead them into the steepest depths of the Grand Canyon-a journey of amazing adventure, or death, or perhaps both.
Perhaps it seems strange that these should be the opening words in the opening chapter of an introduction to a youth ministry text. We do not commonly think of the classroom as a place of adventure: "The Quest for Calculus," "Journeys in Biochemistry," "Expeditions into Spanish Verbs." We are confronted in these opening paragraphs with words that might give pause to any reasonable person: words such as "depths," "dangerous," "death," and, that scariest of all words for college students, "morning." But it is good that we should begin here on the banks of a wild, beautiful, unpredictable river, because this book is about a launch into a grand adventure.
A Great Adventure
The language of the journey-the quest, the adventure-has long been the language of the Christian life. At the very heart of the Bible, in the Book of Psalms, we find no fewer than 15 chapters of what might be described as "pilgrim songs" or "hiking songs," Psalms often referred to as Songs of Ascent. In reading through these 15 gritty and earthy psalms, Psalm 120 to Psalm 134, we come to understand why Eugene Peterson characterizes the Christian life as "a long obedience in the same direction." Life is marked "not so much by monuments as by footprints." It is a journey marked not by arrival, but by survival. The Christian life is about a quest, about pressing forward (Phil. 3:12-16, Col. 2:5, Heb. 12:1-3). It is about milestones, not tombstones. William Faulkner aptly sums up the idea this way: "A monument only says, 'At least I got this far,' while a footprint says, 'This is where I was when I moved again.'
So much of the drama of Scripture centers around journey, whether the study begins with that amazing call in Genesis, "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you'" (Gen.12:1), or that dramatic night, terrible and wonderful, when God led his people out of Egypt on a journey we call the Exodus. It is interesting to note that while Israel sojourned in the wilderness, the Tabernacle-essentially a huge tent-was always set up in a sandy place; yet, even with all the ornate furnishings for the Tabernacle, there was never any effort to cover the sand. The priests could always feel the sand under their feet-God's subtle but vivid way of reminding his priests and his people that they were on a journey.
In 1 Peter 2:11, followers of Christ are referred to as "strangers" and "pilgrims." Eugene Peterson notes that this designation as pilgrims
tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that "this world is not my home" and set out for the "Father's house." Abraham who "went out" is our archetype. Jesus answering Thomas' question, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" gives us direction: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6). The letter to the Hebrews defines our program: "Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" Heb. 12:1-2).
Paul's words to the believers in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 might just as well have come from the water logged journal of John Wesley Powell, staring up into distant sunlight from deep within canyon walls.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Adventure is inherent in the Christian life. In fact, it was that adventure of the Christian life that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to pen his wonderfully creative tales of Middle Earth, with hobbits, elves, wizards, and perilous journeys in pursuit of the Ring.
One writer, in commenting on Tolkien's work, noted
The Lord of the Rings is about a Quest ... A Quest is any journey in which some difficult goal is to be achieved, some challenge must be met, some initiation has to be undergone, some place or object or person is to be discovered or won. The reasons for its perennial popularity is obvious enough. It is just such a Quest that gives meaning to our existence. We are not where (or whom) we wish to be: to get there it is necessary to travel ... Each of us knows, deep down inside, that our life is not merely a mechanical process from cradle to grave; it is a search for something, for some elusive treasure. The same ultimate goal motivates us both in work and play. What the storyteller depends upon is a fact of human nature; that our imagination is always reaching out beyond the limits of the known and the evident towards the infinity of what is desired. The Quest activates our nostalgia for paradise lost, our yearning for the restoration or fulfillment to come.
Eldredge reminds us, "Life is a desperate quest through dangerous country to a destination that is beyond our wildest hopes, indescribably good. Only by conceiving of our days in this manner can we find our way safely through."
G. K. Chesterton argued that authentic adventure could only be known within the framework of a Christian worldview:
[The despair of pagan freedom] is this, that it does not really believe that there is any meaning in the universe; therefore it cannot expect to find any romance; its romances will have no plots. A man cannot expect to find any adventures in the land of anarchy. But a man can expect any number of adventures if he goes traveling in the land of authority. One can find no meanings in a jungle of skepticism; but the man will find more and more meanings who walks through a forest of doctrine and design. Here everything has a story tied to its tail, like the tools or pictures in my father's house; for it is my father's house. I end where I began-at the right end.
To understand the adventure of youth ministry we need look no further than these words cited above by Stratford Caldecott, "A Quest is any journey in which some difficult goal is to be achieved, some challenge must be met, some initiation has to be undergone, some place or object or person is to be discovered or won."
This is a perfect definition of the youth-ministry adventure: It is all about facing difficult goals and pursuing real challenges; it is about persons-in this case teenagers-who literally are to be "discovered" and "won." It is every bit a journey "down the great unknown."
That is not to say that youth ministry is always exciting, or that it will always feel as if you are engaged in a quest of epic importance. It will not. Edward Dolnick's account of Powell's journey through the Grand Canyon chronicles long days on the river-hot, hungry, grueling days:
Journal of George Bradley, July 14, 1869: The river seemed almost still now-so much for gliding along-and the men had to row hard in the broiling heat ...
Journal of John Sumner, August 8, 1869: Pulled out early and did a terrible hard work.
Journal of John Wesley Powell, August 8, 1869: It is with very great labor that we make progress, meeting with many obstructions, running rapids, letting down our boat with lines, from rock to rock, sometimes carrying boats and cargo around bad places.
It was not all splash and thunder, river mists, and rugged vistas. Neither will be the expedition that begins with this book. There will always be those times in ministry when you feel as if you are ready for the river, rafts inflated, hopes pumped up, only to find that some person or circumstance (or test grade!) has punctured your boat and deflated your dreams. Be forewarned.
Somehow the notion of "adventure" seems very distant when sitting around the table at a church meeting. Pulling on the oars of a heaving boat careening through roaring rapids-that sounds like the stuff of adventure. Talking a 15-year-old through the strong currents and dangerous waves of peer pressure-that just feels like a waste of time.
But understand this: Adventure is defined not just by story and landscape. It is defined by the heart of the adventurer. Herein is the grace that permeates every page of this youth ministry adventure story and binds it all together from cover to cover. God is at work in us, by his grace and mercy, and he gives us the will and the way to press on. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it" (1 Thes.5:24).
A Gracious Adventure?
In the four verses of 2 Corinthians 5:18-20,the Apostle Paul uses no fewer than seven main verbs to describe the gracious adventure of ministry:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:18-21)
What is so striking is that all seven of those main verbs have as their subject none other than God alone. In the words of John R. W. Stott, "The whole source of our reconciliation is the grace of God the Father."
What this means, in very simple terms, is that we are not in the boat alone. We are not the only ones pulling on the oar. Whether in rapids or flat water, good times or bad, the adventure of ministry, by God's grace and mercy, is a shared one. It is by grace that God ignites in us the taste for adventure. It is by grace that God equips us for the journey. It is by grace that Jesus goes before us as pioneer. It is by grace that Jesus travels beside us through the Holy Spirit (or paracletos, Greek for "called to the side of"). It is by grace that we are allowed the privilege of inviting others to join the journey. From the day we start to the day we finish, it is a grace adventure.
"Willie Juan," came the whisper once again.
"Y-yes? I'm here. I'm Willie Juan. Who are you?"
"To most I am known as Danger, Willie Juan. I make my presence known in water, wind, and fire. I am Spirit, without shape, form, or face. Those who seek safety try to summon me like a tame lapdog. They crave security instead of growth. They have no tolerance for mystery, certain that they can know everything knowable. The weak-kneed do not love Danger. They are afraid I will call them to become what they are not. They call me Comforter for all the wrong reasons and are surprised when no comfort comes to them ... Your journey has begun in promise, Little Friend, but it could end in failure unless you are brave enough to risk the next step"
JOURNEYING DEEPER: SWEET RELEASE Meditations on the Way by Helen Musick
It is nine o'clock on a Wednesday evening, and you are at the library. Tomorrow you will endure your last and most difficult final of the semester. Images of a great, relaxing summer come to mind every so often, but you have to push them away. They are too distracting, and you desperately need to keep focused on your notes and textbooks. You are stressed out and tired, but you have several more hours to study before attempting to get some sleep before the early morning test. AAAAARGH! You just want it all to end.
You reach your bed at 2:00 a.m. Getting up at 6:45 a.m., you are tired-very tired-but determined to do your best. The test is exactly what you expected: there are no surprises, but it is intense. The exam is set to last at least two hours, and you know that you are going to need every minute. Your hand does not stop writing for even a brief moment. "Keep going, keep going, almost there!" You become your own personal cheerleader. Just as your professor calls time, you finish your last response. You hand in the test and walk out of the room. Stop! Take a deep breath. How do you feel? You are done! You are free! What a relief! Is there anything better than what you are feeling right now?
I ask you to imagine this scene, because I have a feeling that you know the sense of peace I am trying to portray. Walking out of that last final each semester is always so liberating. In these first moments of freedom, before we actually begin to wonder how we did, we take deep breaths; we revel in the peace; we may even dance down the hall. This type of peace comes once a semester, but what about all the other days? There is so much stress and so many burdens.
There are two words that seem to go hand in hand when it comes to college: tests and stress. But here is the question: How do we get beyond the stress to living in the peace that God talks about in Matthew 11:28-30?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
In this passage, Jesus promises rest to the weary and burdened. Notice that he does not define what the worries and burdens have to be for him to provide his rest.
Excerpted from This Way to Youth Ministry by Duffy Robbins Copyright © 2004 by Youth Specialties. Excerpted by permission.
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