Today, I want to talk to a special group of people. All of you may get something, but this message is designed for teenagers.
About a week ago, I had a chance to sit in on a brainstorming session at my church with junior high ministry leader Brooke McMahon and the rest of our crew to discuss a message that she is going to present in a few weeks to the congregation. It’s really nice that my pastors believe in our youth ministries so much that they give the leaders of the fifth and grade, junior high and senior high one week a year to showcase not just their teaching skills, but also their kids with the music and worship. It’s awesome and I always look forward to these weeks.
But after we get done, I drive home and talk to one of my close friends about this honor for the ministries and my friend knows that I spoke to teens quite often at BBC and other times the last few years. He asked me a tough question. If I had a chance to speak to teens again, what would I say. I thought about it for a couple days and God began to lay this message on my heart. I’ve been wanting to write it down for a week and share it with you.
A lot of people might think that I would do a salvation message. I’m average at them, but they hear that from so many voices that the inundation of one more, “you need to get your butt up to this altar and give your life to God” message may make them tune me out more than anything else. So below is a sketch of what I would do if I had one more shot with the teen ministry.
All of us love to laugh. God’s Word tells that a merry heart does good like a medicine. So I think it’s safe to say that God has placed comedy in our lives because he wants us to laugh. But have you ever been in places where something is really funny, but it is kind of inappropriate to laugh. Me too. All the time.
My wife and I lived in downtown Atlanta for the first six months of our marriage. This part of downtown was “the hood”. One night we come in from grocery shopping and I’m out at the car grabbing groceries and my wife heads to the apartment and suddenly, I hear a scream. Pulse racing, bags of groceries in hand, I run at my top speed to the apartment door where she is located. Just as I get there, the neighbor comes out and gives a look, and my wife says, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.” I’m thinking, “What?” We walk inside and she explains to me that this neighbor put his garbage bag in the hallway and as she passed it, she grazed it. She thought it was someone trying to attack her. For the rest of the night, every time I took something to the garbage can, I would start laughing, loudly. If looks could kill, I would’ve been a water spot.
Before that I used to live in Kissimmee, Florida. Yes, home of Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios. When I first moved there in 2000, one of the first people I ever met was my friend Ryan Greenough. My son’s middle name is Ryan as he was one of the two guys that introduced me to my wife. Ryan led the 20-somethings group and even though I was about to turn 30, he invited me along. Ryan’s other job is as an plane engineer. We went to his house and as we sat there, he told us that he had a tape for us to watch. I’ll let you see something similar to what I saw here.
The difference between the video and what he does is that the planes they were crashing cost tens of thousands of dollars to build. His college classes were designing new planes for people like Boeing, Virgin and NASA. So the group of about 20 people watch and much like you guys, cracked up over it.
I remember being in Sunday School the following week and telling the story of seeing these planes crash and how funny it was. I’m laughing telling the story. However, this one girl kept staring at me. I’m thinking, “What’s her problem?” and because I’m in inquiring mind, I start to walk up to ask her.
Ryan realizes what is about to happen and he gets my attention and calls me up. He tells me, “Hey man. I know you’re wondering what is up with _____, well one of her family members was in a crash about three years ago.” Uh-oh. It isn’t funny any longer. I feel about as small as a molecule. No wait, that’s how small I wished I were. A few weeks later, I finally got the nerve to apologize. It was incredibly awkward, but she did forgive me and we became good friends.
I love to laugh, but sometimes I do it unintentionally. You may have noticed by now, or maybe not, since we’ve all been laughing pretty hard. I occasionally laugh at the ends of sentences. It’s not on purpose and a lot of times, I wish I could stop it. I was born with a clef pallet. For those of you that don’t know what that is, a clef pallet is the flap in the roof of your mouth not being complete. This is usually accompanied by a hairlip, which makes your lower lip kinda curly and makes you talk really different. I can’t imitate and I probably wouldn’t, even if I could. Hairlips make people sound like their lips are numb from the dentist. Oh, it’s a gas when you’ve had a tooth pulled, but not really funny hearing it all the time.
Anyhow, I still have a pinhole in the roof of my mouth and if I don’t close my mouth after a sentence, the roof of my mouth vibrates the sound that comes out like a laugh. You guys have been really cool not making fun of me, but when I was a kid, a few of my classmates weren’t as kind. It went on into high school. Now because I look terribly imposing with this big, massive body, it doesn’t mean I like to fight. In fact, I can’t fight. I look about as awkward as Steve Urkel trying to throw a punch.
But one day in high school, it got to be too much. I had enough. You get picked on over and over by the same crowd and then you snap. Well, we were standing near the door of my biology class when this kid named John Babyak started making fun of me. John was not big, he was rather skinny. At the time, he wasn’t much larger than a pencil. I’ve seen pictures on Facebook recently and he’s buffed up some. One minute, John said something smart, the next minute, I had one hand around his throat about four feet off the floor. I remember him telling me that I was choking him and Mrs. Riffee telling me to go to the office. I must’ve dropped him. The next thing I remember was going down the steps to the office.
As a first time offender, I got two days in school suspension, which meant that I sat in a small room with no windows and did my class work. That was what I was supposed to do, anyway. Since I was the only one in the suspension, most of the teachers came in and talked to me most of the day. Most inevitably asked the question, “Why?” My answer was that I was tired of being picked on for something I couldn’t help. It was being called the retarded kid when I understood everything they were saying.
I let it go after that. No one picked on me anymore, for fear that I would choke them or use my physique to punish them. I always thought sitting on them might be fun, especially if I passed gas. That would be punishment. You’ve never smelled my gas.
But I felt horrible about choking John. I’m not saying John didn’t deserve it, but he became the sacrifice for everybody, like Jesus at the cross. I think there are a lot of kids who own John for taking one for the team. What always scares me nowadays is the events like Columbine. Kids start shooting kids because of being picked on. My teachers protected me a little after that by not putting me close to kids who liked to pick. Teachers and some of you have clues as to who is being picked on. Most times, the pain can be alleviated if not stopped.
So a couple years ago, I started teaching as a substitute in Effingham County and for those of you that have had me in class, you know that I like to have fun in the classroom, if you do your work. One day, I was teaching in Beecher City and a sixth grader was walking down the hall with me and asked me a question. “So Mr. Jenkins, I hope you don’t get mad about this, but why do you laugh after you talk?” I explained the clef pallet to her and thanked her for asking me. Now privately, we all know that the students probably asked among themselves, “Hey what’s wrong with the sub?” Right. Of course they did.
I know we’ve had some great laughs today, but the first thing I want you to leave with today is this. Never, ever, be afraid to ask questions. Even if those questions may be tough. Sometimes you might not get an answer. Sometimes you might be told to leave it alone. Remember that it’s OK. A person may not be comfortable answering the question. But you have planted a seed stating that you are concerned enough that you asked. People remember that. If you ask a question seriously, most people take you at your word.
Sometimes, though, you might learn something about that individual that will help you understand them. Understanding people is the first step in a friendship. I’m 40 and for 32 of those years, Brenda Hopkins Hinkle has been a friend of mine. She wasn’t my first friend, but she’s stayed longer than anyone else. We went to different high schools, but we still talked a lot during high school. She would often tell me, “They just don’t get you. Not everyone will take the time to know you. Most people just don’t care that much.”
She’s right. Times haven’t changed. Even in Jesus’ day, teens were discouraged from asking questions. If you look in Matthew 19:13-14, the disciples discouraged the children from coming to Jesus. The NIV called it a rebuke. It was as if Jesus was too busy for them. But as you know, class was always in session with Jesus. In verse 14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Jesus understood how important the youth are to the plan. I could’ve blown off that student and told her it was none of her business why I laughed nervously at the end of my sentences. I could’ve given the whole class an assignment being bitter that I was being talked about and probably being made fun of. But I think as adults, that’s where we miss the boat with teenagers. Sometimes we don’t respectfully take your question for what it is. Why? Because we have to let our guard down and be real. If we want you guys to mature properly, egos have to be put aside. Jesus could’ve looked at the children and gone, “You guys know who I am. You think I got time for a bunch of kids when I’m saving the world?” You know, Jesus don’t play that.
But the other major thing I want you to understand and take with you is that it doesn’t matter what is wrong with you. Anyone in here perfect? No. Me neither. I’m 40 and I have not arrived. I could be 400, but I still won’t arrive until Jesus comes for me. I think that’s a pretty common thought amongst believers.
The difference is that we tend to let our hangups hang us up. I could have always said, and did for a long time, no way am I ever going to speak and make a difference for Christ. Why? People might make fun of me. I might hear, “Hey, you talk funny,” or “You’re weird (with their imitation of my laugh at the end).” That one gets me once in a while. Especially when they nail it. I can’t nail it and I’m the one with the clef pallet.
So I hid for years. It was long after I gave my life to Christ before I began speaking about him. That isn’t entirely true. I spoke about six months after I got saved with a group of teens from Fairmont State’s Baptist Campus Ministry. I was their keynote speaker. I had ten minutes. Keep in mind, I did standup comedy at amateur nights for almost two years and had taught as a classroom teacher. People thought speaking was no trouble for me. But I was terrified that I would have a laugh while I was up there. I had a few and NO ONE cared. That’s when I knew I wanted to speak and talk about Christ. I’ve gotten some great opportunities since. I haven’t spoke in a congregation since 2004, but I can’t wait to do it again.
The point is not to let your hangups hold you up. You might have hair that won’t lay down, you might have a big nose or crooked teeth. You might sweat a lot on stage. I promise you won’t melt. I’ve tried. You might think you’re ugly. Look at your neighbor. Tell them, “You ain’t ugly.” I know, for some of you, that was very hard. We’ve already talked about when it’s inappropriate to laugh. I’m kidding.
You might think that what you say isn’t important to your friends. Let me be honest. When you are saved and your friends aren’t, what you don’t say may be most important. If you are not talking about God in your everyday life, most of those around will never know the difference between you and them. They also might miss out on sharing something with you that you absolutely don’t want them to miss out on. That’s Jesus.
When I was a child, I heard the messages at the church I went to. Preachers talked about “Hell, fire and damnation,” like they were terrible diseases that you better never catch. That didn’t scare me. In 1992, I laid in a coma for two days and found out I was a diabetic. That was what scared me. All of hope for an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment as Charlie tells us about how everyone would miss us and how it would change everyone’s lives if we weren’t here.
I didn’t get that. I got two days of no feeling. It was just darkness. I could hear occasionally, but it was black and dark. When I woke from that coma, I began to ask the question, “Why was I allowed to live?” I mean, I was depressed, really didn’t want to be there. Then I took a journey to ask that question. Sixteen months later, I was back in a hospital, hoping that I wasn’t watching a loved one die. I had figured out that God loved me. I remember praying for salvation that night in the hospital lobby at United Hospital Center, in Clarksburg, WV, April 7, 1994 at 12:30 am.
That night, I prayed admitting that I had messed up a lot of things and that I couldn’t make them all right. So I told Jesus, whatever you want, whatever your will, I will go. It’s been 15 ½ years now since that fateful night and it has been an adventure. It hasn’t always been wonderful. Sometimes I’ve been hurt by the people that said they loved me the most. But I wouldn’t trade the journey God has laid out. He brought me to a town with a 200-foot cross to let me know how small I was without Jesus.
With Jesus though, He has helped me navigate through. Do I still mess up? Occasionally. We all do. In closing, don’t let people take you from you helping God’s Kingdom. There are people out there who cannot wait to tear you down. Don’t listen to them. Keep striving toward Jesus and most of all, keep laughing.
I love you guys!