Divorce. Drugs. Teen suicide. Sex. Internet predators. We talked about all of this and more. It was another Wednesday night with a church youth group—maybe like one you belong to. We laughed a lot, a few people teared up, and at one point a teen asked to be excused from the group for a moment because she had to, and we quote, “take care of a wedgie problem.”
After the evening ended—and the last pieces of cold pizza and cups of room-temperature Mountain Dew were scavenged—we handed out response cards to the attendees. This is a Hafer brothers tradition. We hunger for feedback. We want to know if we’ve connected with a group. We want to know what we can do better the next time. And we’re insecure. On this particular night, the responses were rewarding, so positive that it was almost embarrassing. As we shuffled through our thick stack of three-by-five cards, we read comments like “Please come back soon,” “You guys are hilarious,” and “Please stay in touch.”
Then, at the bottom of the stack, we found one dissenting reaction. The note was printed in a scrawling, scratchy, asymmetrical hand that had to be a guy’s (because it looked like our handwriting). The feedback was terse and to the point: “Next time, bring more pizza.”
At first, this seemed like a real buzz kill after basking in all the compliments, but we ended up laughing and marveling at how God does such a good job of pounding home lessons in humility—even using our favorite food as a hammer.
We didn’t think much about the “Pizza Card” after that night—until it was time to start writing our latest book for teens and the adults who care about them. We were trying to come up with a theme, a “hook” as they call it in the publishing industry.
We knew what we wanted to do: Talk about what’s fresh, what’s hot. We wanted to deliver a devotional with the works. Then it hit us: Fresh, hot, deliver, the works. Pizza, of course.
“Okay,” you might be saying, “I understand why you titled this book Wake Up and Smell the Pizza, but why write another teen devotional? Like brands of frozen pizza, don’t we already have enough of them?”
Maybe. We know there are a lot of great teen-related books out there. We recommend many of them at the end of this book (check out the “Extra Toppings” section). But we couldn’t think about things like market saturation or duplication of effort. We simply had to write this book.
Why? Because we care too much not to. We have worked with teens since we were teens. As high school students, we taught Sunday school classes to our peers. We led Bible studies—one in the biology lab of a public high school. Try to get away with that today.
Currently, Jedd’s job is working with teens. He is a director at Children’s ARK, a treatment center for kids who have run away, been abused, arrested, and/or kicked out of traditional schools or programs. (The average ARK kid has been kicked out of four other programs. And as for the “above average” kids, you might not believe it if we told you!)
Todd is a parent to two teenagers, a reality that still amazes and frightens him regularly.
We also work with school kids, church kids, sports teams—you name it. Bottom line: The teen world isn’t just a book topic for us; it’s our life.
Much has changed about teen life since our own middle school and high school years, but there is one constant: Being a teen is hard. Do you know that almost one-fourth of eighth graders have tried “huffing”—using household chemicals like paint thinner or type corrector to get high? Or that almost four million teens get infected with a sexually transmitted disease every year? (That’s about equal to the combined populations of Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, and North Dakota!) Or that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among teens? Or that the 2003–2004 school year was the worst for school violence in a decade? School-related violence claimed forty-eight lives, more than the two previous school years combined. Want more cheery news? Millennials, people born in 1982 or later, are leaving churches by the millions.
Statistics like these are important to acknowledge, but we share them reluctantly. You see, sometimes when you talk about percentages and millions of people, the stats lose their personal meaning. And that cannot happen, because we are talking about individual human lives, and each one matters. When we walk through the halls of a middle school, for example, we look at the faces and it kicks us in the heart to think that about every fourth kid is risking his or her mental well-being—and even life itself—in a quest to get high.
So we didn’t write this book for “the millions of teens out there.” We wrote it for you, personally.
Maybe you’re strong in your faith and have been able to avoid the tragedies and heartbreaks that invade many teens’ lives. But you need encouragement and information to help you stay strong. And you want to be able to help your friends, some of whom are dancing with danger. We’re here to help you.
Or maybe you feel your life is a mess. You’re into things that would shock your parents if they knew. Perhaps, more tragically, they wouldn’t care. We’re here for you too.
If you’re like most teens we meet, you’re somewhere between the two extremes. Some areas of your life are under control, but you have a weakness or two. Secret temptations. Private but dangerous habits. You’re being pulled in two different directions. It’s like your heart is a chunk of meat that two starving dogs are fighting over. You’re not sure which one is going to win. Dude (or Dude-ette), can we help you! We’ve been there.
You might be a concerned youth leader, parent, or teacher looking for a way to connect more closely with the teens in your life. You are looking for a resource. Maybe this is it.
We sincerely hope this book will be meaningful to you, whatever your situation. Not because of our impressive credentials (we don’t have any; the only professional organization we belong to is the Subway Sandwich Club), but we do have a few things going for us. First, we truly want to offer encouragement and faith-based advice more than anything else. It’s not important that you remember our names or write glowing reviews of this book on Amazon.com. We’d much rather you forget all about us, but remember the biblical principles and time-tested advice we’ll be providing.
Second, we aren’t the smartest guys in the world, but at least we realize that fact. Thus, this book isn’t just a collection of our insights. If that were the case, it would be more like a pamphlet. So we relied on the wisdom and experience of people more qualified than we are. Some of them are authors whose books we recommend back in “Extra Toppings” land. (In fact, the section called “More Stuff to Chew On” might be the most valuable part of the whole book.)
Other insights came via teens from high schools, middle schools, churches, etc., who have helped us get a clearer picture of what it means to be a teen in the twenty-first century. So, thank you, students from Wasson High School, Doherty High School, Monticello Trails Middle School, Mill Valley High School, Colorado Springs Christian School, Pulpit Rock Church, The Children’s ARK, Woodmen Valley Chapel, and Southwoods Christian Church. Thanks also to those of you who shared your hearts via our Web site, www.haferbros.com. This book wouldn’t exist if not for you.
Also, we have enjoyed the humbling privilege of tapping the brains of some awesome colleagues and friends—see the “Acknowledgments” section for more info on these people.
Finally, we want to assure you—or perhaps warn you—that we don’t duck difficult topics in the following pages. One of the reasons we wrote this book is that we have noticed a trend in Christian publishing to deny the realities of life in today’s world or to quickly gloss over them. This doesn’t work. If a teen is addicted to pornography, for example, it’s feckless to say, “Just quit looking at the porn, dawg. Read Deuteronomy instead, and try to think of Moses or Elijah whenever temptation emerges.” Indeed, that is advice entirely lacking in “feck.”
If you believe that God is relevant to contemporary life (as we do) and that his Word is more than a quaint relic from a time unlike today, then you must trust that he will provide guidance for all areas of life. That means Internet pornography, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide, you name it.
We are trying to convey that guidance in a way we hope you will find relevant, challenging, funny, and memorable. In short, we hope we can deliver.
And, by the way, to that guy in the youth group: Dawg, we promise to bring more pizza next time.
Well, basically, you just read it and try to learn something. It’s not complicated. But since we have a page to fill here, we should tell you about a few of the features and benefits of the book. (And if we say “features and benefits” one more time, or use any other bit of soul-less Corporate America jargon elsewhere in this book, you have our permission to throw corn dogs or the projectiles of your choice at us if we ever come to your town to speak.)
As you dive into Pizza, you’ll see that each of the forty readings features an ingredient that will enrich your life in some way. The “meat” of each devo is a story, mini-essay, or interview that explores what the ingredient is, why it’s important, and how to incorporate it into the mix of your life.
Next comes a “Slice of Advice,” a Bible verse or quote related to the topic.
In some cases, a “Slice of Advice” will be followed by a brief rant titled “Please, Easy on the Cheese.” Here, we will take on so-called pop-culture experts or expose myths that too many teens are buying in to.
Topping off each devo is a challenge called “Deliver on This.” This is where you get practical. This is where you take what you’ve read and make it work in your everyday life, because the words we write aren’t meant to just lie there on the page any more than a pizza is meant to sit in the box until the cheese gets rubbery and the crust fossilizes and not even your dog will eat it.
This is stuff to live out. Ideas to put into practice. You can work on one idea a week or go at a quicker pace if you wish. Every so often, we’ll provide a “Time to Reheat It” section, in which we’ll review what has gone before and allow you to reflect on how you’ve been doing with your “deliveries.” So let’s get started. We’re at your door. We have something for you.
Here’s something fun to do next time you’re in an art museum. Okay, we know what some of you are saying: There will be no “next time” you’re in an art museum. In fact, there won’t be a first time. But don’t be too quick to say that. You might be walking around in a city someday and get lost and be forced to pop into a museum to ask for directions.
Or you might be right outside the doors to a museum when a sudden hailstorm hits—and you’ll have nowhere else to go.
And, of course, some of you reading this actually might like museums and visit them frequently.
Whatever the case, here’s your museum assignment: Find a large painting and stand as close to it as those burly museum guards will allow. Get your nose millimeters from the canvas if you can. Then stare really hard at the painting.
What you’ll see, most likely, is an unintelligible mass of paint globs and brushstrokes. From this vantage point, you can’t tell what the painting is supposed to represent. In fact, if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not even be able to tell it’s supposed to be a painting. It might look like a clown blew up—or threw up—on a slab of canvas.
To understand what the painting is about, of course, you have to take a few steps back. You have to take in the whole thing to see what the artist was trying to achieve. You must have perspective before things make sense.
You know where we are going with this analogy, don’t you? That’s right, our friend, art imitates life, and life is all about perspective.
Our first chapter is about perspective, because perspective will set the tone for this book, and your life. It will determine how you perceive what happens around you and to you. It will determine how you react.
We are convinced that so many of teens’ life tragedies—from suicide to sexual promiscuity to running away from home—happen because teens and the adults around them lose their sense of perspective.
We don’t want this to happen to you.
We’re about to hit you with a key truth that will be vital to keeping your life in perspective, no matter what happens. It’s a deep, profound truth, so you might want to write it down so you won’t forget it. Here goes: Jesus loves you, this we know, for the Bible tells us so.
Pretty cool, huh? Somebody ought to turn that into a song or something.
And please don’t dismiss those words just because they rhyme and you maybe heard them in Sunday school. Don’t say, “Sunday school Jesus is just for little kids. He is not relevant to life in the twenty-first century.”
Wrong. Jesus isn’t just for Sunday school. He is By-Your-Side-on-the-Way-to-the-Crisis-Pregnancy-Center Jesus. He is Holding-Your-Hand-While-You-Clutch-the-Bottle-of-Pills-That-Could-End-Your-Life Jesus.
The Bible promises you that nothing—NOTHING—can separate you from Jesus’ love. Addicted to pornography? Jesus still loves you. Gay? Jesus still loves you. A habitual liar too terrified to let anyone see the real you? Jesus sees the real you and loves you like crazy.
Everything else you will read in this book—more important, everything you encounter in life—should be evaluated with a clear sense of perspective.
Right now your nose might be pressed up against an ugly mishmash of colors and textures that make no sense—and are frightening, to boot. But take a few steps back. You are a work of art. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Your life is in the hands of a Master Artist. He has a purpose for your life. Don’t ever forget that. Trust in him. Watch as he reveals to you more and more of the Big Picture masterpiece that he wants your life to be. And as you see portions of the painting come together, hold on to that knowledge when you encounter a new section of the canvas of your life—a section that is murky and unfinished, or empty. So empty that it’s scary.
Perspective will revolutionize the way you live. So take two giant steps back and use it.
It’s hard to see the Big Picture when your nose is pressed up against it. Actions you take (and decisions you make) in the darkness of confusion and despair will likely be mistakes. So don’t act, don’t conclude, don’t decide until you’ve seen things in the light of God’s love. Because only in that light can you see clearly.
Every time you are depressed or face a crisis in your life, before you respond, please go through this exercise. Consider these words from Isaiah 54:10: “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
Say this verse out loud, then ask yourself, “In light of the fact that I am adored unconditionally by my Lord, Friend, and Creator, how should I respond to what is happening in my life right now?”
APPRECIATING THE VALUE OF “IN HIS IMAGE”
HERE BY CHANCE? NOT A CHANCE!
You’ve probably heard a teacher utter the cliché, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Well, actually, there is.
We have asked many stupid questions in our lives, including a few we’ve posed on purpose. Example one: When getting a tour of a bomber jet at the Air Force Academy, we just had to ask our guide, “Excuse me, Captain, but what junkyard did a whirlwind blow through so that a bunch of spare parts, wires, and scrap metal could accidentally form this complex jet?”
Here’s another one, from a tour of the Louvre art museum in Paris. “Excusez-moi, Monsieur Guide de Tours, but how many random spillings of paints did it take before this here Mona Lisa was rendered?”
As you might imagine, one of these questions brought us a profanity-peppered tirade and a threat to “tear off your arms and beat you to death with the bloody stumps, you ignorant maggots!”
(The Air Force captain got mad at us too.)
Clearly, the two aforementioned questions were ignorant, even by Hafer brothers’ standards. Intelligent design, such as a bomber jet or masterpiece painting, screams in a big, booming voice, “AN INTELLIGENT DESIGNER DID THIS, NOT SOME RANDOM BOO-BOO!”
And yet there are people, even some from the scientific community, who claim the universe, including human beings, is merely the product of billions of years of random accidents. This is, if you’ll pardon the use of scientific terminology, “a load of horse-puckey.”
Just as the vision, passion, and talent of a great painter can be seen in his or her art, God has revealed himself to us through his creation. We should be awed and moved by the intricacy, wonder, and beauty of God’s handiwork—the expanse of the sky peppered with stars, the vastness of the oceans, the complex marvel that is the human body.
Do you ever really look around and consider how amazing creation is? Do you take time to ponder the beauty of God’s handiwork and how awesome he is? Ever thought of the mass of the sun, which, by comparison with other stars, is average at best? And it’s just one of millions. In fact, in the Bible’s account of creation, only a handful of words are devoted to the creation of stars. Much more ink is given to the creation of women and men.
God made light. How cool is that? Where did he get the idea for that one? Have you ever truly pondered this? He invented, created, and is busy right now sustaining all of the world, all of life.
Sadly, with the growth of technology—and a few people’s egos—we are less and less in awe of God’s artistry. We have supposedly figured out so many things that we have forgotten how great God is. Recently, we heard about an association of biology teachers who came to the learned conclusion that the universe came into being without any help from a Supreme Being.
What does all this have to do with you? Simple. If you believe that you and all around you are just the by-products of some cosmic accident, you might live as if this lie were true. If we are all just accidents, merely “ooze that got lucky,” then why does life matter at all? What possible meaning could it hold?
Ever wonder why so many people sleepwalk through life, check out of life (via suicide or chemical dependency), or treat other people’s lives like a used Kleenex? You might have to look no farther than some college and high school biology texts.
By contrast, knowing the truth—that human beings are beloved works of art, crafted by the almighty God—compels us to check into life, do a big, off-the-high-dive cannonball right in the middle of it.
Think about it: Michelangelo toiled on his back for four years, painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, carefully rendering the details even in the dark corners because, as he explained to critics who claimed no one would look at those parts of his work, “God will see.” Would he have suffered for his art if he thought he was just a hunk of ooze, painting for the amusement of a bunch of other ooze blobs?
Would Mother Teresa have devoted her life to loving and caring for the poor and diseased if she saw them as just a bunch of little accidents rather than God’s children?
Would thousands of people (i.e., Jesus Freaks) have sacrificed their lives for their faith if they believed they were just biological accidents, by-products of “lucky ooze,” randomly happening upon a cause with no meaning, in an accidental world? Quick, how many nihilist martyrs can you name? How about nihilist humanitarians, then? Okay, time’s up. It’s time to talk about Bach.
What kind of symphonies would good old J. S. Bach have composed if he signed every sheet of music (all ten thousand of ’em), not with Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be the Glory), but rather with Soli Whatever Gloria? Would he have written music at all?
Like Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, and Bach, God put you here for a purpose. And he is not distant from his creation. He is involved. He cares. You are not just a work of art; you’re a work of heart. The all-powerful Master Creator of the Universe made you in his image, and he loves you personally. He wants to have a close relationship with you. He wants that so much that he sent his singular Masterpiece, Jesus Christ, to draw you to his side.
Tonight, go outside and look at the sky. (The Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” [Psalm 19:1].) Take some time to stare at the vast canopy above you, the stars, the moon. As you take it all in, commit to living in light of the fact that you were designed by the almighty God, the same one who placed every star in the sky. You’re not an accident. You are a marvelous creation, already in the process of sharing your gifts and making your unique impact on your world.
We promise not to ask you to memorize too many verses in this book, but here’s one worth tattooing on your brain: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV). Remember this one whenever anyone suggests you are an accident. Here’s the real deal: When God was knitting you together in your mother’s womb, you weren’t an accident waiting to happen; you were a miracle waiting to emerge.
Wake Up and Smell the Pizza by Todd & Jedd Hafer
Copyright © 2005 ; ISBN 076420033X
Published by Bethany House Publishers