Push-Ups for Donuts!!!
A Modern Example of Jesus’ Sacrifice
For those of you old enough to remember the days before facebook, twitter, pinterest, and blogging, you might remember the good ‘ole days of the ‘new and amazing’ technology called e-mail. Those of us who were adults at the time, and had a work or personal email address, were most likely familiar with the countless ‘forwards’ that included jokes, chain letters, poems, and inspirational stories.
Many of us read the ‘good stuff’, forwarded the chain letters (just in case it was going to result in good luck or a large sum of money headed our way), laughed at the jokes, and were occasionally left in tears by that amazing story which left us wondering if it was actually TRUE or if someone had made it up.
Sitting at my desk one day at work, one of these amazing “Is it true or made up? Who cares, I’m in tears!” stories was delivered to my email inbox. As I read it, I was amazed, left in awe, and of course I rapidly forwarded it to everyone I knew! I knew instantly that I would share it with my High School Youth Group Kidz at our next youth group meeting. It was the perfect time of year too, having been just a week before Easter.
As I drove home from work that day, I started thinking how awesome would it be to have witnessed that (if it really happened). And suddenly, sitting in rush hour traffic on The Palmetto in Miami, the lightbulb lit up….DUH!!! Forget reading the story to them, I’m going to DO the story with them!!!
I have done this now 4 times over the course of about 14 years. It is ALWAYS powerful and amazing and it is a wonderful meeting to do during the Easter season. (Although it would be powerful at any time of year).
Push Ups, Donuts, & Sacrifice…
There was a certain Professor of Religion named Dr. Christensen, a studious man who taught at a small college in the Western United States. Dr. Christensen taught the required survey course in Christianity at this particular institution. Every student was required to take this course his/her freshman year, regardless of his or her major.
Although Dr. Christensen tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel
in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as
nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused
to take Christianity seriously.This year, Dr. Christensen had a special student named Steve. Steve was only
a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going onto seminary for the
ministry. Steve was popular, he was well liked, and he was an imposing
physical specimen. He was now the starting center on the school football team, and
was the best student in the professor’s class.
One day, Dr. Christensen asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk
with him. “How many push-ups can you do?” Steve said, “I do about 200 every
“200? That’s pretty good, Steve,” Dr. Christensen said. “Do you think you
could do 300?”
Steve replied, “I don’t know…. I’ve never done 300 at a time.”
“Do you think you could?” again asked Dr. Christensen.
“Well, I can try,” said Steve.
“Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you
to do about 300 push-ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I
need you to tell me you can do it,” said the professor.
Steve said, “Well… I think I can…yeah, I can do it.”
Dr. Christensen said, “Good! I need you to do this on Friday. Let me explain
what I have in mind.”
Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room.
When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts. No, these
weren’t the normal kinds of donuts, they were the BIG, extra fancy kind, with
cream centers and frosting swirls.
Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the week, and
they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr.
Dr. Christensen went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia,
do you want to have one of these donuts?” Cynthia said, “Yes.”
Dr. Christensen then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten
push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?” “Sure.” Steve jumped down from his
desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Dr. Christensen put
a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
Dr. Christensen then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you
want a donut?”
Joe said, “Yes.” Dr. Christensen asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so
Joe can have a donut?”
Steve did ten push-ups! , Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first
aisle, Steve did ten push-ups for every person before they got their donut.
Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christensen came to Scott. Scott was on
the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular
and never lacking for female companionship.
When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was,
“Well, can I do my own push-ups?” Dr. Christensen said, “No, Steve has to do
them.” Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
Dr. Christensen shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would
you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect
obedience Steve started to do ten push-ups. Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t
Dr. Christensen said, “Look! this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and
these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he
put a donut on Scott’s desk.
Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on
the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and
down . You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow.
Dr. Christensen started down the third row. Now the students were beginning
to get a little angry. Dr. Christensen asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a
donut?” Sternly, Jenny said, “No.” Then Dr. Christensen asked Steve, “Steve,
would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?”
Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.
By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were
beginning to say “No” and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks.
Steve also had to really put forth a lot of extra effort to get these
push-ups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor
beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the
physical effort involved.
Dr. Christensen asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the
class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten push-ups in
a set because he couldn’t bear to watch all of Steve’s work for all of those
uneaten donuts. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could count
the set and watch Steve closely.
Dr. Christensen started down the fourth row. During his class, however, some
students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps along
the radiators that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor
realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the
room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
Dr. Christensen went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near
the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot
more time to complete each set.> Steve asked Dr Christensen, “Do I have to
make my nose touch on each one?”
Dr. Christensen thought for a moment, “Well, they’re your push-ups. You are
in charge now. You can do them any way that you want.” And Dr. Christensen
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and
was about to come in when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t
come in! Stay out!”
Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, “No,
let him come.”
Professor Christensen said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will
have to do ten push-ups for him?” Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a
Dr. Christensen said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way
right now. Jason, do you want a donut?” Jason, new to the room, hardly knew
what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.” “Steve, will you do ten
push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups very slowly
and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
Dr. Christensen finished the fourth row, and then started on those visitors
seated by the heaters. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each push-up in a
struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. By this time sweat was
profusely dropping off of his face, there was no sound except his heavy
breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.
The very last two students in the room were two young women, both
cheerleaders, and very popular. Dr. Christensen went to Linda, the second to last, and
asked, “Linda, do you want a donut?” ;Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank
you.” Professor Christensen quietly asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so
that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve
did ten very slow push-ups for Linda.
Then Dr Christensen turned to the last girl, Susan. “Susan, do you want a
donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Dr.
Christensen, why can’t I help him?”
Dr. Christensen, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone.
I have given him this task, and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has
an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to
have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is
the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped
class, or offered me inferior work.
Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do
push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid
the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”
“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very
slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had
accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled
beneath him and he fell to the floor.
Dr. Christensen turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our
Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘Into Thy hands I commend
My spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was
required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many
of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”
Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically
exhausted, but wearing a thin smile.
“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding “Not all
sermons are preached in words.”
Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might
understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been
given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He
spared not only His Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, for the whole
Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the
price has been paid.” “Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying
on the desk?”
What you’ll need:
A copy of the story
A few dozen donuts (enough for every person/teen in the room to have 1)
A bottle of water for your ‘Steve/Jesus’
How to go about finding your ‘Steve/Jesus’
I was fortunate the first two times i did this to have teens who were physically capable of the push-up task, as well as mentally capable of the focus needed, and faithfully capable of the message and power of this task. The last two times I did this, I did not have any teens who were currently in my group who could physically complete the push-ups so I had my husband do it once, and the last time I had one of my former youth group members who is now a 23 year old alumni and young adult volunteer for our group to complete the task.
In order to make sure my ‘Steve/Jesus’ could complete them (although tired and physically hardly able to complete them as the story requires), I counted all the teens in the room before we started. Each time, based on the actual amount of push-ups my ‘Steve/Jesus’ was able to do as the story requires, I modified the push-up amount per teen. (ie. the first time I did this I had over 30 teens in the room so my ‘Steve/Jesus’ did 7 push-ups per teen. The last time I did this, I had 21 teens in the room so my ‘Steve/Jesus’ did 10 push ups per teen as the story actually dictiates).
I ask my ‘Steve/Jesus’ to read the story first at home and then ask him (as Dr. Christensen does in the story) if he is physically able to do this and if he is mentally and faithfully up for the challenge. I usually do this at least a week in advance so he is prepared.
How to begin the meeting:
I have always started my meeting as usual. How was your week? Go over announcements, etc. I then let them know instead of regular snack items (I always put out pretzles, m&m’s, etc.) that I decided they deserved a special treat and got donuts as a nice surprise for the evening. The last time I did this it worked out perfectly because it was St. Patrick’s day so I used that as an excuse and was sure to by the pretty and special St. Patrick’s day decorated flavors and designs.
I put all the donuts on the table and give them this little chat about how we are going to do th one at a time and in an organized way because I don’t want donut sugar and powder and frosting all over the floor to have to clean up later. (Yes, it’s a bit of a fib, but necessary so they don’t all attack the donuts as they walk in since typically I have snacks ready and on the table for them to grab as they enter). I tell them I will invite them up one at a time to pick their donut. Then, I simply ask the first teen, “Michael, would you like a donut?” When he says “Yes” then I say “Ok, Chris, would you please do 10 push-ups so that Michael may have a donut?”
The course of the meeting:
Typically, they laugh and tease and “ooh” and ‘ha ha” that poor Chris has to do some push-ups.
(sorta the same response as when someone has to go down to the principal’s office)
About 4 or 5 sets in, you start to hear, “Wait, why does he have to do this?” I always get, “Jenn’s gotta have a point here somewhere. She always makes us do crazy things and then she turns it into a discussion.” You will also start hearing a teen at some point say, “No. I do not want a donut.” eiether because they actually don’t want the donut, or often beause they don’t want to make your ‘Steve/Jesus’ do push-ups for them.
The Powerful Part Begins-
As your ‘Steve/Jesus’ is having a harder time with each set, you will start notice your teens getting quiet. They might ask if they can do the push-ups for him (just as the story dictates). They might start cheering him on. You mght have a few that are confused, sad, or even tearful at that point. One of the times I did this (about 3 years ago), I had a teen start doing push-ups alongside my ‘Steve/Jesus’ for his donut. And then, he continued for the next few teens. By the time we were coming down to the last couple of teens, EVERY ONE OF THEM was down doing or attempting to do the push-ups with him. I WAS IN TEARS watching them!
Whether other teens have done push-ups alongside or not, I always end by reading the full story to them. I explain how I came across the story, how I had asked ‘Steve/Jesus’ if he was up for the challenge, and then we discuss how they felt, how that puts a new perspective on Jesus’ sacrifice for them, and I always ask them to share the story or the ‘actions of the meeting’ with at last one person.
How it went:
THIS IS ALWAYS a powerful night and I would highly recommend, if you are able to, trying it with your teens. Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words to get a message across and this is one of those meetings where teens go on to graduate, go to college, and come back years later and tell me that it is one of thei most memorable and favorite youth group nights.
If you decide to use this story/activity with your group, please let me know how it goes. I am sure that they, and you, will be moved by the message and example of how ten push-ups for 1 donut can visually help us understand in a very simple way that whether we choose to accept HIM or not, Jesus has ‘done the push-ups’ so that we have the choice!!!