The paper football slid off the table and Jeremy was pleased at the diversion it created. All eyes turned toward him.
“What’s up, Jeremy? You’re not enjoying the Bible study?” Pastor Jonah asked.
“No, sorry, it’s fine, it’s just kind of .... just - I don’t know, I don’t get it.” Jeremy stumbled.
“What don’t you get?”
Jeremy let out a loud sigh and rocked back hard in his chair. “I don’t know, it’s just that well, what kind of a person sets impossible standards? I’m just a kid who likes to have fun. I can’t be perfect, why try?”
“Who wants you to be perfect?” Pastor Jonah asked.
“God says stuff like ‘you must be perfect like He’s perfect’” Jeremy wished he was somewhere else. “How can anyone do that?”
Pastor Jonah felt challenged and was pleased with a small breakthrough in reaching this youth. “Anybody have any thoughts on this?” he asked.
Mia put a tentative hand in the air and Pastor nodded for her to answer.
“It sort of reminds me of Mr. Fitz, a teacher we had,” she said. “He gave the hardest tests ever. Nobody got more than a ‘B’. After our first test, my friend Darcy asked Fitz ‘How’s anybody supposed to get an A?’ Fitz said to her, ‘remember those handouts I gave you?’ - He gave us like a half inch thick pile of handouts. Darcy held hers up. She said, ‘you mean these?’
Fitz said, ‘Yes, those – know everything on them.’ Fitz didn’t cut us any breaks. I don’t think he even liked any of us, he never even learned our names.” Mia finished.
Pastor Jonah shook his head slowly. “Is that what you think God is like?” he asked.
“Well, He did give some tough handouts,” Jeremy was pleased with his own wit. “The ten commandments, and he expects us to follow them. They’re ‘commandments’, not ‘suggestions’, like the saying goes.”
Riley added, “Yeah, and Jesus made it harder because He said things like ‘It has been said do not kill, but I say do not even think about it’, not that I’m thinking about killing or anything - just that we’re not even supposed to think bad things.”
Several heads around the table nodded.
Jonah was pleased to be having such a lively discussion, but disturbed to hear the concerns of his youth group.
“Listen, all of you,” he began. "God did give us the ten commandments, but He knew we couldn’t save ourselves by following them. His ‘handouts’, as you so cleverly analogized, showed us how far we fall short. And Jesus did tell us to watch even our thoughts, but He lived as one of us and He understands what we go through. He lived a perfect life, He showed us how to live and maybe that makes us see how far we fall short, too.”
Pastor Jonah continued, “But then God gave us His ultimate ‘handout’, a handout of a different kind. The ultimate handout is the free gift of salvation. It doesn’t show us how much we fall short, but how much we’re loved. It’s like having Jesus take the test for us and scoring the highest possible grade.”
“Isn’t that cheating?” Mia asked.
“No.” Pastor Jonah shook his head. “It’s Jesus saying - ‘I know everything about you. I love you and gave my life for you. Remember that handout of salvation I’ve offered you? All you have to do is accept it, I’ve done the rest'."
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