Finding a friend in Mary

Finding a friend in Mary

By Phillip C. Thrailkill

Hope and Michael were lead characters in the once-popular TV show Thirtysomething. She was a Christian and he a Jew. As I was reading Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew, I was reminded of an argument between the two characters during a December episode.

Hope is on the attack, “Why do you even bother with Hanukkah? Do you really believe a handful of Jews held off a huge army using a bunch of lamps that miraculously wouldn’t run out of oil?”

Michael explodes, “Oh, and Christmas makes more sense? Do you really believe an angel appeared to some teenage girl who then got pregnant without ever having had sex and traveled on horseback to Bethlehem, where she spent the night in a barn and had a baby who turned out to be the Savior of the world?”

The Christian story is an incredible one, hard to swallow for someone who doesn’t believe in an unseen reality, or that God might show up in the world. For such skeptics, the Christian story requires a major shift in worldview.

But even a person who believes the historical accounts of Jesus might still have a heart of stony unbelief. Faith is not something we produce by a combination of biblical knowledge, will power, and emotional zeal. Faith is not our doing; it’s a gift from God. It’s not just intelligent assent. It is experiential and experimental. Faith requires engaging God.

In our Christian lives we must do business with the Lord, just as Mary, the mother of Jesus, did. We must hear the Word of God, just as Mary did. We must receive the incredible news that God desires to implant Christ within us, just as Mary did. And we must surrender to an uncertain future in which God draws us out into his work in the world, just as Mary did.

In our Christian journey, which requires the whole person—our mind, our emotions, and our will—Mary can be a mentor and spiritual guide.

Mary, the magnificent insignificant.
What can we say of Mary but that she was a village girl, likely unable to read, with the whole of her life pre-programmed. As property to be traded between her father and husband-to-be with a dowry, she would have an arranged marriage, bear children one after another and be dead perhaps by age 30, having lived the religiously “insignificant” life of a female. Mary was young in a culture that valued age; female in a culture where men ruled; poor in a rural economy, with no children yet to give her status. She was among the powerless people in her society, and it is for this reason that so many poor around the world find in Mary such a friend. She is one of them. She understands oppression and the pressure of unmet needs.

God chose her when she had nothing but an empty, virginal womb to commend her—no priestly lineage, no long track record— just a simple Jewish village girl waiting for her wedding day.

But Mary’s faith was great, and to all who are poor she gives a new dignity. If God can use her, then why not me? If she can bear Christ physically, can I not bear him spiritually?

When God breaks in.
Then it happened. Into Mary’s world, likely her parents’ home, the angel Gabriel intrudes, unsheathes his presence and breaks the sound barrier: “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). There is a play of words here between the words hail and favored, both of which draw from the root meaning grace (charis). Gabriel bears the grace of God, which is not a thing but the gracious presence of God, to Mary. In essence, Gabriel is saying, “Good morning, Mary. You are chosen of the Lord whose presence and presents I bring to you.”

Mary’s reaction is worth notice. She responds on both emotional and intellectual levels. The Scripture says, “But she was greatly troubled at this saying [emotion], and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be [intellect]” (vs. 29). Mary is frightened and curious at the same time. The numinous is near.

When God comes near, all human capacities are put on high alert. For me, a clue that God is near is a shift of consciousness and an unusual focus of attention. An internal switch turns on. I am aware that the Holy Spirit is active in and around me; God is speaking, and it is time to listen. Perhaps an angel is present.

Encounters with spiritual reality always have multiple dimensions. Feelings are touched; the mind is set spinning. In religious experience, God claims the whole person. He may start with a part—a stirring in the heart or an illumination of the mind—but the goal is to focus all the powers of the person on the Lord. Therefore, we should not be discouraged by our own (or put off by others’) honest displays of emotion, by intellectual doubts, or deep wrestlings of the will. As with Mary, God may come to us through one of these avenues, but the goal is to align them all in obedience.

For me, the pattern is most often first the head, then the will, and finally the feelings follow afterwards. Yours may be a different order. For Mary, emotions were kindled first, then the mind was illumined. But still she had to make a decision, an act of the will that would reveal her heart. What did God want of her? And did she want what God wanted?

Notice Gabriel’s word of reassurance to Mary: “Do not be afraid” (vs. 30). Why does he say this? Because that is what she likely was, terrified! An angel intrudes into the world of a peasant girl whose life script has been laid out by her parents, her husband-to-be, and the social expectations of Nazareth. When one of God’s emissaries interrupts us when we’re going about our life, this is not just for entertainment. Such encounters are storm surges down the ravines of our lives that push us into the deep flow of God’s river.

Mary, the God-bearer.
God is messin’ with Mary’s life. She is afraid, and rightly so. Gabriel then delivers the invitation, as if it were already a done deal, “And behold [angelic slang for ‘Getta load of this!’], you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (vs. 31).

What happens next is important. In the form of a five-line prophecy (which may have been sung), Gabriel gives Mary a glimpse of the future of this child. “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (vs. 32). This is a messianic promise. Mary is invited to bear the long-awaited Messiah, one whose reign will never end. With these lyrics, we see the focus of the story is not on Mary, the bearer; it’s on Jesus, the born. Jesus will be the one who fulfills all the promises of God. Mary’s role is always secondary to his.

When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the sixteenth century, he brought samples of art to illustrate the story for people who had never heard it. The Chinese readily adopted portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when Ricci produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had grown up only to be executed, the audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They much preferred the Virgin and insisted on worshiping her rather than the crucified God.

The temptation is perpetual. But Jesus came in the incarnation to die in the crucifixion, and then to rule by resurrection and ultimate return. Mary is to be honored for her part in the incarnation, but not worshiped. The central figure is Jesus.

Mary, the Trinitarian theologian.
Notice that Mary talks back. Hear her juvenile voice tremble. She engages Gabriel in dialogue. A pubescent girl carrying on a conversation with the greatest power this side of heaven! Pretty bold on her part. But God is not put off by questions that are genuine. “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” (vs. 34). Mary was not ignorant of how and why babies come. Village life was earthy; Palestinian homes had little privacy.

Gabriel answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Here, the Trinitarian dimension of God’s coming is made explicit, and Mary becomes the first Trinitarian theologian. Theology will be written, so to speak, in her very flesh. God the Father (the transcendent one) sends a mediator so that God the Holy Spirit (the immanent one) can carry out actions, as God the Son (the incarnate one) is planted in Mary’s womb. Think of it. Mary, a worldly nobody, was caught up in the life of the Trinity. The word of the Father to her, the power of the Spirit upon her, the presence of the Son within her.

We, like Mary, are made for God. Hearing the Father’s voice, knowing the Spirit’s power, having Christ formed within us. This is our true dignity and our final destiny as redeemed human beings. Mary is our model and her son’s first follower. She is the first to know the revelation of God as a Triune communion of love.

This was, when you think of it, the fittest means of God’s coming. Since only women bear children, and since the incarnation should honor both sexes, it was necessary that the Savior be male. And the child thus formed would be without sin, fully human and fully God in one person. Emmanuel. God with us. The great God would come, and be little among us. “The God who roared, who could order armies and our empires around like pawns on a chessboard,” writes Philip Yancey, “this God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food, or control his bladder, who depended on a teenager for shelter, food and love.”

Mary, the spiritual director.
But what will Mary’s answer be? If yes, the process and the prophesies thus outlined will unfold. If no, then the God who gives and respects freedom must search again. It is important that Mary’s decision be honored. Will she loan her body to God as his earthly mother? And so the angel, who has come with God’s offer, waits for Mary to come to the altar of surrender and the risk of faith. You decide for yourself how long the pause was between verses 37 and 38. Was it immediate, or did Gabriel have to twiddle his thumbs for a while?

There is a prayer I highly recommend. It is a summation of Mary’s prayer in only two words, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.” When my heart is cold or stubborn or rebellious, I sometimes repeat it over and over till I begin to sense the smile of God upon me. Mary is my spiritual director; she teaches me how to pray, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord;” she says, “let it be to me according to your word.” Mine is often less elegant, “Here I am, Lord; do it in me, do it through me, do it in spite of me!”

An Eastern Church father, Cabasilas, summed up the transaction, “It was only after having instructed her and persuaded her that God took her for his Mother and borrowed from her the flesh that she so greatly wished to lend him.” With Mary’s yes the mission was ended, the conception completed, and Gabriel departed. And the revolution that flowed from Mary’s yes continues to shake the world.

The novelist Frederick Buechner has written: “Whether he was born in 4 B.C. or A.D. 6, in Bethlehem or Nazareth, whether there were multitudes of heavenly host to hymn the glory of it or just Mary and her husband when the child was born, the whole course of human history was changed.…Art, music, literature, Western culture itself with all its institutions and our Western man’s whole understanding of himself and his world—it is impossible to conceive how differently things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever and wherever and however it did. And there is a truth beyond that: for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it.”

What is your answer? How many signs do you need to trust? How is God calling you to bear Christ to the world? Will you say yes and leave the rest to God?

Phillip C. Thrailkill is the pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Hartsville, South Carolina. He is the former chair of the board of The Mission Society and the current chair of the Theology Commission for The Confessing Movement. You can receive Pastor Thrailkill’s weekly sermon via email by contacting him at This article was adapted from his book Mary: Lessons in Discipleship from Jesus’ Earthly Family © Phillip C. Thrailkill. Published by Bristol House, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

Finding a friend in Mary

Faith on the blind side

By Terry Mattingly

In the beginning there was “Big Tony” Henderson, whose dying mother urged him to pull his son Steven from a public school on the bad side of Memphis and take him somewhere to get a Christian education.

But there was one big complication. Steven didn’t want to abandon his buddy Michael Oher (pronounced “Oar”), a street kid who slept on their floor most nights. “Big Mike” was afraid to return to the bleak foster homes he knew after police tore him away from his mother, her crack pipe, and her 13 children.

So Henderson took both boys to Briarcrest Christian School on the rich side of town, hoping for scholarships that would make a grandmother’s dream come true. School officials were impressed by Steven’s grades.
Coaches were impressed that Oher was 6-foot-4, weighed 340 pounds, could dunk a basketball, and looked like God’s gift to quarterbacks who needed a left tackle to guard their “blind side.”

The rest is a long story, one that weaves together themes of race, sports, money, and education. But a key player in the real-life version of The Blind Side stressed that this is also a story about faith.

“We’re convinced that faith guided and controlled this whole thing,” said Leigh Anne Tuohy, the steel-magnolia matriarch of the rich, white, evangelical family that finally embraced Oher as a son, after providing food, shelter, and clothing. “We absolutely believe that none of this was a fluke.…This was God-driven from the start.”

Author Michael Lewis didn’t hide that faith element while writing The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, a bestseller that mixed Oher’s story with information about how the left-tackle position evolved into a crucial, and lucrative, slot in football.

Then writer-director John Lee Hancock included religious details about the family in the new movie, while avoiding heavy-handed sermons. The Blind Side recently grossed $34 million at the box office on its opening weekend, while scoring a rare A-plus CinemaScore audience rating.

On screen, the Tuohys attend plenty of sporting events. The movie, however, does skip the ritual when everyone heads to Grace Evangelical Church, a growing congregation the family helped start. Oher began attending soon after the wet winter night when the family first spotted the shivering giant in shorts and a floppy shirt, walking back to the shelter of the warm Briarcrest gymnasium.

Leigh Anne Tuohy said that “from day one,” Oher was the first person ready to go on Sunday mornings. Church was part of everyday life, like homework, piano lessons, and trips to sports events and practices.

The key is that expressions of faith were a natural part of this true story, said actress Sandra Bullock, who plays Leigh Anne. No one was faking anything.
“This family, they were themselves for no other benefit other than because they wanted to reach out, lend a hand, and had no idea that they would get a son in return,” she told reporters, after a press screening of The Blind Side.
Bullock said that, while making the movie, she regained a little “faith in those who say they represent a faith.…I’ve finally met people that walk the walk.”

While Tuohy stressed that she can now see God’s work in the events that changed Oher’s life, and their family, that doesn’t mean the details were clear at the time.

The family had reached out to others before, but not to the same degree. Now, it’s impossible not to think about how many other talented, gifted children are, literally, on the run in America’s cities, she said. What is the family supposed to do now? What should Oher do, now that he plays for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens?

After one of her Southern chuckles that Bullock had to master to play her on screen, Tuohy said that it’s hard to talk about the future when she is still trying to understand the wild changes that have changed her family forever.
“A miracle is what this is,” she said. “Childbirth is easier to explain than all of this.”

Terry Mattingly ( directs the Washington Journalism Center in Washington D.C.

Finding a friend in Mary

Can good really come out from bad

By B.J. Funk

Could anything good possibly come out of the horrible nightmare of the Bubonic Plague in the 1600s? Well, actually it did. The origin of the Oberammergau Passion Play gives validity to the verse in Romans 28, which claims all things can work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes.

The Bubonic Plague was also referred to as Black Death because the skin of the diseased person turned a dark gray color. The plague spread through rats and fleas and moved easily in Europe because of poor sanitary conditions. Death was swift. Someone wrote that the victims often “ate lunch with their friends, and ate dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” The disease caused enormous pain and brought on a grotesque appearance.

In 1633, after months of suffering from the Bubonic Plague, the people of Oberammergau, a Bavarian village in Germany, vowed that if spared they would perform the story of Jesus every 10 years. True to their vow, the first performance was held in 1634 and continues today.

As the bubonic plague lessened, the Passion Play grew in popularity, with the theater being modernized through the years. Today, the theater can seat over 4700 people. For the past four centuries, this play has been staged every ten years. In 2010, audiences from around the world will once again flock to Oberammergau to see the performance. Lord willing, I plan to be one of those making that trip.

Sometimes, the “all things working together” aren’t revealed so easily, and we don’t always see the good. Faith can put glasses on our skeptical vision, reminding us that the verse does not say “some things” but indeed “all things.” Oberammergau gives credence to Romans 8:28; yet, each new tragedy or challenge brings us once again to examine this verse.

My daddy’s stroke at the age of 88 took away the movement of his left leg and arm, his bright mind, and his ability to reason. The medical expenses were enormous. The cost for in-home care was astronomical. For many years, I could not see the “all things” principle. Then, it happened. My daddy always had an aversion to taking Holy Communion. I never knew why. It worried my mother, whose relationship with Jesus was personal. For her, partaking in the Eucharist was a natural outgrowth of her life in God.

One Sunday, about five years after his stroke, daddy’s helper pushed his wheelchair toward the front of the church. My daddy allowed the elements to be served. My mother was shocked, yet thrilled! You might question God using a stroke to answer a wife’s lifelong prayers to get her husband to the altar. I don’t.

All things…the good, the bad, and the ugly…are working together, not separately….for ultimate good…for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes. It is this belief that catapults the Christian into a faith that sees beyond circumstances.

Author Elisabeth Elliott has written, “When things happen which dismay or appall, we ought to look to God for his meaning, remembering that he is not taken by surprise nor can his purposes be thwarted in the end. What God looks for is those who will worship him in the midst of every circumstance. Our look of inquiring trust glorifies him. This is our first responsibility: to glorify God in the face of life’s worst reversals and tragedies. The response of a faithful Christian is praise—not for the wrong itself, certainly, but for who God is and for the ultimate assurance that there is a pattern being worked out for those who love him.”

A pattern being worked out for those who love him. When we glorify God and praise him, not for the difficulty, but in the difficulty, then all things will work together (in God’s time) for our good.

William Moon of Brighton, England, became blind in early manhood, thus giving up his idea to be a priest. He said to the Lord, “I accept this talent of blindness from Thee. Help me to use it for Thy glory.”

I pondered a long time his thought, “I accept this talent of blindness.” Those words challenge my walk with Christ. They come from a man who could see God at work, even in the darkness, a man who trusted that God could use the darkness for his purposes. He devoted himself to the blind. Since Braille was difficult to learn, William Moon invented another embossed type, which became known as Moon type. He printed his first sheet of raised characters on a wooden hand-press in his house at Brighton in 1847. The next year he began stereotyping the New Testament, and the Bible was completed ten years later. Did William Moon turn the difficulty of blindness into a talent of blindness? Definitely.

Can good really come out of bad? It seems to happen over and over when faith places glasses on our limited vision. God is not finished with the situation. We can trust him to complete what he has started in us.

Finding a friend in Mary

Editorial: Believe, Experience and Increase

By Rob Renfroe

The bad news, as you know, is that the United Methodist Church is declining. Membership, attendance, and giving have all decreased. In fact, membership in the United States is at its lowest point since The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church merged in 1968.

The good news is that many of our denominational leaders are now talking about the decline openly and honestly—and it seems they are committed to doing something about it. They are to be commended. Of course the question is: What is to be done?

Several groups have been commissioned to address the issue, most notably the World Wide Nature of the Church task force and The Call to Action Committee. The WWN team has focused primarily on renewing the church through structural change. The CTA, which has only met twice and is still determining its direction, seems inclined to work on structural issues and to determine a list of metrics by which churches and pastors will be held accountable for being vital and vibrant congregations.

We are grateful for all who love our church enough to care about its vitality and its future. No doubt the structure of the church needs to be re-thought and reformed to be effective in reaching a changing world for Christ. John Wesley took the structure of the early Methodist movement seriously, as did Francis Asbury when he came to the American colonies. Because of their organizational genius, Methodism became more than a powerful but brief revival. It became an enduring force for spiritual renewal and social holiness on both sides of the Atlantic.

Believing that churches should grow and developing criteria by which congregations and pastors can be held accountable is not only justifiable—it’s important. Too much emphasis can be placed on numbers. But in the 8,200-member congregation I serve, we look at numbers all the time. Our senior pastor Ed Robb often says, “We count people because people count.” And we count how many people join every year; how many attend church, Sunday school, and small groups; how many are going on mission trips and serving the poor in our own community; and how many give regularly to God’s work, because all of those markers provide some indication of whether people are growing in their faith.

Structural change—certainly necessary. Markers to determine growth—important. But the United Methodist Church and its future will not be transformed by either.

What is required for United Methodism to become a powerful movement of God again cannot be engineered by task forces, boards and agencies, or denominational leaders. They can remove some barriers to growth and they can hold local churches accountable for growth. But they cannot produce the movement of God that will produce real growth and they cannot create the dynamic spiritual leaders who will lead local congregations in effective ministry.

The United Methodist Church will never see dynamic growth again until our pastors and our congregations:

Believe that people are lost without a saving faith in Jesus Christ. John Wesley instructed his preachers that they had nothing to do but to save souls. Of course, he was committed to helping the poor and transforming his culture. But his primary task for his preachers was to bring people to faith in Christ so that their souls could be saved from judgment and hell. I once sat in a meeting of 30 UM preachers who were asked why we need to take the gospel to people outside the church. Many answers were given but they all had a common theme—so people can have a better, more meaningful life. Not one said because their sins have separated them from a holy God and unless they come to faith in Christ they will spend eternity apart from his love. When the pastors believe that the main reason people need Christ is a quality of life issue—it does not create the passion or the urgency found in Wesley’s early preachers who believed that eternal souls were at stake.

Experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The work of the church is spiritual work. In fact, it is spiritual warfare. It will not be won in the flesh, no matter how well-meaning or how well-structured or how well-measured we are. When Jesus began his public ministry, in Luke chapter 4, he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me….” He did not begin his ministry until he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, after his resurrection he told his disciples not to begin their ministry until the Holy Spirit had come upon them and they had received his power (Acts 1:8). God is free to anoint his preachers and his churches with the Spirit whenever he chooses. But the pattern we see in Scripture is that the power of the Holy Spirit most often comes when persons have committed themselves to times of prayer, worship, and fasting. Personal revival among our pastors, I believe, will be required before we see a revival in the true effectiveness of the church.

Increase their vision for ministry. Some of us by our inherent nature are more visionary than others. But all of us can become more visionary than we are at present. How do we do this? First and foremost, we get our eyes off ourselves and spend time contemplating a God who is sovereign, omnipotent, and passionate about lost people. He is a God who can overcome every obstacle we face and inadequacy we possess. Second, we must spend time looking at a world that is lost. When local congregations focus on themselves and their needs and their problems, they die. When they look at the world God loves and Christ died for, when they care about the lost and the hurting, and when they believe that others are more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3), their hearts and their vision are enlarged. And as a result, their mission increases in impact and effectiveness.

What can our leaders do to help the United Methodist Church grow? Yes, address structural concerns and the issue of accountability. But every bit as important, if not more so, they need to speak to us as if people without Christ are lost and souls matter; call us to prayer and worship and fasting—that we might experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit; use the resources of the church to bring us in contact with the most effective pastors in the country, men and women who are passionate visionaries whose love for God and the lost is inspiring and infectious.

Our leaders also need to pray for us. I’m sure they do already. But they need to pray for our pastors and our churches. This battle for an effective United Methodist Church that reaches the lost and impacts our culture will not be won by power or might, but by his Spirit.

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.

Finding a friend in Mary

Speaking to the heart and head

By Duffy Robbins

As a young college student and a relatively new Christian, I still remember devouring Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It had just been released, an almost encyclopedic inventory of facts and historical references that gave credence to the claims of the Christian faith. It made a huge impact on my faith in those early years. But, that was over three decades ago—the first edition practically came out so long ago it appeared in Sanskrit.

If you’re involved in youth ministry today, you’ve perhaps observed that evidence has nothing to do with the verdicts reached by a lot of teenagers.
They make all kinds of decisions that seem to fly in the face of all the available evidence. So, how do we move those kids to a verdict? How do we communicate to them a Christian faith that stirs them to commitment?

In the last few issues of Good News, we’ve been addressing precisely this question, and thinking about it in terms of an action continuum that tracks audience attitudes all the way from hostility on one end to obedient belief on the other. In my last column, I talked about how we might communicate to the hostile kid. In this issue, we want to think about how to shape our communication for the student who’s skeptical.

These are the students in the room who’ve already formed strong opinions against what we’re teaching. They aren’t neutral, but unlike those who are hostile, they are willing to listen. Our main emphasis will be providing information.

But—and here’s the important part—this isn’t simply a matter of presenting evidence. Communications specialists tell us that there are several steps in this dance from a mind that is closed to a mind that is willing to embrace, and what is most significant is that the primary ingredient in each step is an emotional response rather than an increase of knowledge. It’s more emotional than intellectual. In other words, ultimately it will not be just the evidence that demands a verdict. The door that inches open is hung on two hinges—heart and head.

Typically, the persuasion process comes in small steps. Communication researchers call this the foot-in-the-door syndrome. Essentially, it’s based on the observation that people who respond positively to a small task are more likely to respond later on to a bigger task.

Perhaps some of you reading this column were, at one time, adult volunteers who were willing to help behind the scenes but had “no intention of teaching or leading a small group of adolescent delinquents…,” and your pastor or youth pastor said, “Oh, of course, we just need you to help with refreshments.” And then, one ask led to another ask, and that ask led to another ask, and now you’re in charge of the youth ministry! It was a step by step process—a progression from small ask to big ask that appeals to the head and the heart.

But, are there ways we can increase our students’ willingness to take these steps? Let’s consider just one.

Program Flow.
To some extent, the speaking part of your ministry hinges on every other facet of your ministry.

Think about, for example, the way this principle plays out on the average weekend retreat. Kids begin forming their opinions about the credibility of our spoken messages from the moment they arrive at the church parking lot: the way they are greeted, the vibe on the bus during the trip to the venue (i.e., Do the adults interact with kids? Is any effort made to help newcomers feel welcome? Is the music or other media played on the bus congruent with the other messages of the weekend? What is the attitude of adults and people in authority?), the quality of the accommodations and the food when they arrive, and any programming prior to the message. By the time we get up to speak, any one of those elements can sabotage or salvage the talk before we ever utter the first word.

I remember a time when I was doing a denominational weekend event, and, literally, the first words to come out of the emcee’s mouth at the very first meeting on Friday night were, “Okay, look, we had somebody pee on the wall of the men’s room at this event last year, and we’re not going to have that this year.” You could see it on the kids’ faces: they were looking at each other and thinking, “Gee, this is going to be fun!” Unfortunately, the second phrase out of this guy’s mouth was, “Now, here’s our speaker, Duffy Robbins.” I was so taken aback, all I could think to say was, “I promise, it wasn’t me!” All of a sudden, I’m no longer starting at square one; I’m starting at square negative five.

We’ll look in the next issue of Good News at some other ways to increase our students’ openness to the gospel message.

Duffy Robbins is Chairman of the Department of Youth Ministry at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.