“So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance?!”
In 1994, the movie “Dumb and Dumber” had every high school guy in America quoting that line and dreaming of riding a moped to Aspen, Colorado. At the time, my friend Tim Safley was about to enter his senior year of high school in Raleigh, NC. One of his Young Life leaders, Eric, was about to enter Med School, but had a few days until he had to move. Eric invited Tim, and his buddy Jason, on the adventure of a lifetime.
“Guys, I’ve got four free days, and they’re all yours. I’ll provide the wheels, you tell me where you wanna go.”
Tim and Jason responded without hesitation. “Let’s pull a “Dumb and Dumber”and go to Aspen!”
Eric made the guys clear it with their parents, but later Tim confessed that he’d just ask his mom if he “could go to the mountains with Eric.” He didn’t tell her he meant the Rocky Mountains.
That night, they left at 2am and began a 4-day road trip to Colorado. The three amigos only stopped when they needed gas. They made it to Aspen in under 24 hours. Upon arriving in the Rockies, they realized they had 3 more days to go wherever they wanted, so they just kept on driving, taking turns behind the wheel in 8-hour shifts. They climbed a mountain in Utah and then headed for Vegas. Tim and Jason weren’t yet 18, but Eric snuck them into the casino, just long enough to drop in a quarter before being kicked out. From there, they drove straight to L.A. and the Pacific Ocean. Next stop, Tijuana. In Mexico, they got pulled over by the Federales. By happenstance, the officer was friends with a football player at NC State University and since they were from Raleigh, they got off scot-free. With twenty-four hours left, they jumped on I-40 and took it all the way back east. They stopped in Tupelo to get a pic with an Elvis impersonator and finally made it back to NC. Instead of stopping in Raleigh, they passed through their hometown and added 4 more hours to the drive, just to put their feet in the Atlantic ocean and make it official that they’d driven “coast-to-coast.”
6,000 miles. 26 states. 4 days. 3 friends. 2 countries. 1 Ford Explorer.
Tim spent the next two decades on Young Life staff. I once asked him when he started following Christ. That’s when he told me the story of their road trip.
Before then, Tim had heard of Jesus, but had never surrendered his life to him. Over the course of those 96 hours, Eric, Tim and Jason talked practically the whole time. Tim told me, “Over those four days, Eric not only talked with us about Jesus, but he showed us Jesus. Tim said, “That trip sealed the deal for me. After that, I was all in with Christ. Cold turkey. My life has never been the same. And not once since that trip, over the past twenty years, has Eric ever forgotten my birthday.”
Ten years ago, Tim pulled into a Steak N Shake and I saw that same Ford Explorer. He raced into the restaurant and there was Eric’s dad, Steve. Tim walked up to him, pointed to the parking lot, and said, “nice wheels.”
Steve replied, “You probably don’t know this, but because y’all put 6,000 miles on it in only four days, without an oil change, that engine had to be totally rebuilt. Eric had to work a bunch of extra jobs to earn the money to replace it.”
Tim replied to Steve, “I had no clue. Eric sure does love me.”
2,000 years ago there was another crazy road trip.
3,000 miles. 13 friends. 3 years. 1 Rabbi.
The Teacher had a few years before he was heading off to his Father’s house, so he invited 12 guys, around the same ages as Jason and Tim, to take a 3-year road trip with him. The plan was to go about 3,000 miles on foot. The Rabbi asked them to drop everything, to abandon their jobs, leave their families, and to follow him. And they did. Isn’t that what most teenagers would’ve done when given the choice between responsibility and adventure? Over the course of those next three years, they talked quite a bit. But even more than with his words, the Teacher showed them what real love looked like.
That trip sealed the deal for 11 of them. After those 3 years, they were all-in with the Teacher. So much so, that 10 of them died a martyr’s death. They were so convinced that Jesus was the Messiah they gave up their very lives, cold turkey.
But during those 3 years, the twelve experience some incredible adventures together. They climbed a 9,000 ft mountain, just west of Damascus. Even though not all of them were 18 yet, they went into the temple and watched Jesus kick out some people who were playing slot machines and selling doves in the house of God. Then they made it all the way to the west coast and stuck their feet in the Mediterranean Sea. Soon after that, they headed south and got in a little spat with some Roman soldiers. One of the 12, a fisherman named Peter, misfired with his sword and cut off a guy named Malchus’ ear. Thankfully the Teacher reattached it, so they got off scot-free.
After the crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples headed 70 miles north of Jerusalem, back towards their hometown of Galilee. Instead of stopping, they headed on to Lake Tiberius to get in one more night of fishing. That night nothing was biting, but as the sun began to rise, they saw a man standing on the shore, building a bonfire. The man hollered and suggested they toss their nets to the right side of the boat. As the nets began to overflow with fish, they realized who the man was. Peter jumped out of the boat and swam the length of a football field. He couldn’t wait to meet the Teacher on the shore once more.
Their Rabbi then invited them, “Come, and have breakfast with me.” And then he took the bread and broke it and gave it to them. And in the flicker of the fire and the early morning twilight, they saw the holes in his hands as he divvied out the broken bread. And at that moment, they realized they had no clue what their Rabbi had endured for them. Peter looked into the Teacher’s eyes and said “Jesus, you sure do love me.”
Safety first. That’s usually my motto. At least when it comes to my own kids. Natalie is way more of a risk-taker and I’m usually the enforcer of rules. I’ll pull in the driveway to 10 kids jumping on 400 lb. weight-limit trampoline and about have a heart attack. Nat just laughs at me.
When Tim first told me the story of his road trip, my jaw just dropped. Partly out of jealousy, but more out of sheer terror. As a parent, I can’t imagine finding out my own teenager was being pulled over by Federales in Tijuana, especially when I assumed they were eating barbeque on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But when I read the Gospels, it sure seems like Jesus was the kind of tour guide that would take people off the beaten path. “Hey guys, come see this waterfall that’s not on any map. I made it a long time ago and have just been waiting to show someone! Who wants to ride down? At the bottom, it’s so peaceful, such a perfect place to walk on water.”
It seems like Jesus was the kind of friend that loved to throw surprise parties. He wasn’t locked in by his to-do list and calendar. He was completely unpredictable, yet always reliable.
A few years back, my friend, John, took his son, Luke, to a local air show. There were helicopters, parachuters, fighter planes, and even the US Navy Blue Angels, but the highlight for them was getting to watch their first-ever hot air balloon launch. Before the balloons took off, they were able to actually talk with one of the balloon pilots.
Luke asked the pilot, “How do you know where you’re going and where you’re going to land?”
The pilot confidently responded, “We have no clue. It’s wherever the wind takes us.”
Then he asked Luke to turn around and pointed to a nearby truck. In gigantic letters on the side, it read “Hot Air Balloon Chase Vehicle.”
The pilot simply said, “We don’t know where we’re going, but we do know that our man in the truck is following us. And when we do eventually land, he’ll be right there.”
Jesus once described the Christian life in a similar fashion. He was talking to a member of the Jewish ruling council, a Pharisee named Nicodemus. In the same well-known conversation as John 3:16, Jesus tries to help Nic better understand what it looks like to follow him. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
We can try and plan our entire lives out, but what would happen if we just hit the fire button and went whereever the spirit blew?
As Young Life leaders, we know that spontaneity evokes excitement. What would happen if you tapped into your teenage friends’ instincts for adventure and went off-script for a change? I imagine the disciples woke up every morning with the same question stirring their minds and hearts.
“I wonder what He’s going to show us today?”
If we want the kids in our ministries to experience the fullness of Christ, then we’re going to have to become more like Eric, and that hot air balloon pilot, and learn to live lives that are blown by the winds of God’s breath.
Communicating the Gospel to teenagers isn’t effective when treated like a formula. It is much less like reciting a script and way more like dancing with the Spirit.
As we head into the summer, tap into your adolescent friends’ instinct for adventure. Be extravagant. Use the element of surprise. But most importantly, listen to the Spirit. He’s the giver of all strikes of brilliance!
“Sovereign God, My hands are often clinched around the plans I have for me. I open them in surrender to your will. My feet are often fixed in the direction of least resistance. I loosen them to go where you will lead. My mind is often stubborn, gripped by doubt and fear. Give me faith and courage to trust your perfect plan. My ears are often filled with the noise of the day. Let me get used to the soothing sound of Your voice. Father, be my king. Jesus, be my companion Spirit, be my guide.“Amen.
If you’d like to read more stories like this, check out the 2019 Christian Book Award winner for Best Ministry Resource: