Been There, (Almost) Done That!

Just like the children’s song we sing so blithely, all it takes is one little “poof” to blow it out.

Pilot lights, that is.

If you’ve ever walked into a kitchen or room and smelled that awful, fear-inducing smell, you know the terror I speak of. There’s nothing quite like the smell of natural gas, seeping out of some unknown appliance, to get your heart racing.

And, unknowingly, I stumbled across a trend in the world of middle school ministry–apparently junior high boys will always blow out the pilot lights on a stove if they happen to find themselves in a kitchen.

The first time I experienced this strange phenomenon was when I worked with youth in St. Louis. We were having a “make-your-own pizza” night, as I recall, where kids were ladling strange toppings such as gummy worms and candy corn on top of their cheese and pepperoni pizzas. As an educator who attempts to seize every teachable moment, I saw the value of having our young teenagers learn their way around an industrial kitchen. All of us leaders were busy instructing kids on how to properly wash and sanitize dishes and sweep the floor, and somehow, a junior high boy got a little too close to the stove.

A stove where all of the pilot lights were lit.

He oh-so-helpfully blew out all of the flames without telling us he had done so, letting a slow ooze of gas fill the kitchen as we moved into another room to play games.

Some time later, one of my leaders happened to run back into the kitchen to grab something. He returned with a panicked expression and told me we needed to evacuate all of the kids into another building, as he smelled the strong scent of gas filling the entire kitchen and food court.

We rushed the kids out to another building and called the fire department. As we glumly watched the police cars and fire trucks come wheeling into our parking lot with their lights dancing across the pavement, we all had the same thought–“Please hurry up and finish and leave before the parents come back to pick up their children!”

Within minutes, the fire department checked our building and relit our pilot lights, deeming it safe to re-enter. The visions I had been having of a massive fireball streaking through the sky, raining thousands of bricks down on the neighborhood vanished as the firemen told us it “wasn’t a big deal” at all.

A few weekends ago, I hosted a lock-in at my church in Texas. Again, as I looked to grasp the teachable moments in our weekend together, I assigned various cleaning jobs to the youth attending the lock-in.

Just as before, our leaders were busy instructing students on the fine art of picking shreds of fun-sized candy bar wrappers off the sanctuary floor, when a junior high boy found his way into the kitchen.

This time, I caught the perpetrator in the act of blowing out each pilot light, patiently and methodically.Seizing upon yet another teachable moment as he grinned at me, I explained to him that he wasn’t supposed to blow out pilot lights because it would let gas escape into the kitchen. His smile quickly turned into a mask of fear.

“Wait”, he asked me, “What happens if the gas escapes?”

I answered as honestly as I could. “Worst case scenario, this whole place blows up and we all die.”

Nothing gets a junior high boy running for assistance faster than the threat of untimely death, apparently. Within a few minutes, we safely had the pilot lights relit and we had a good talk about responsibility and forgiveness.

I share this story partly as a tongue-in-cheek reminder to keep a close eye on your teenage boys in the kitchen, but mostly because it points to a bigger truth–the truth that every moment, good or bad, is one that’s teachable.

Each experience we encounter can be used to illustrate important life lessons, whether dealing with positive or negative circumstances. And, as we apply Scripture to each situation, we can point our students continually to Christ’s love and grace.

In Deuteronomy 6:5-7, we are admonished, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

What I’ve always found interesting about these verses is the emphasis on how we are to constantly talk about God’s commandments with our children. They are to be “impressed” on them, and we are to talk about them when we’re at home, traveling, getting up or going to sleep at night.

I don’t know about you, but that pretty much covers most of my average day.

God is at work all of the time, constantly showering us with His love and forgiveness. It makes sense that we never need to run out of discussion–or teachable moments–on Him, doesn’t it?

In other words, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be sharing the love of God with everyone around us, no matter what we’re doing. Every conversation we have can point to the Truth and hope that God offers us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

We can be seizing upon every teachable instance we encounter, whether it be as minor as a petty fight, an angry outburst, or the death of a beloved hamster or as major as a catastrophic natural disaster or horrific tragedy.

 For your sake, however, let’s hope that your next teachable moment isn’t a gas explosion at your church.