Week 8- Heaven

Heaven Dante

This is my last post on the theological series we did called Clear. This series was based on the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee and a few of the verses, ideas, and concepts found within the pages were adopted and adapted to help create these lessons for my students.

The culmination of the series and of the faith is found in the belief in Heaven.  How that comes across, what that looks like, and how/who enters it is often a main topic of discussion.

We actually began our evening by hanging out and eating at Burger King.  (I know, I know…not the healthiest option!).  We were able seclude an entire section for our group and after about 45 minutes I introduced the subject and question of heaven.  It was nice for a change of atmosphere to leave the walls of our church and venture into the community and still be able to have focused group conversations.

I asked our group a series of questions and simply listened to the wide and diverse responses to the following:

What do you think Heaven will look like?

What will we do in Heaven?

How old will everyone be in Heaven?  Will there be babies in Heaven?

Where do you mostly get your views/beliefs/ideas/images of Heaven from?

*When providing space and freedom for students to share, it is amazing to hear their thoughts and questions.  Answers to each of those questions ranged all across the spectrum and what also became clear is that most students’ views of heaven come from society’s portrayal of it.

A few spoke of a heaven they hoped would be discovered, and those answers and dreams seemed to come from a place deep within their heart and soul.

We returned to our youth room and entered into our more “formal” teaching time.

Pelly, my associate, found a great online text messaging polling system that we used as a follow-up

Here is the link to our poll:

What will heaven be like? Poll

Naturally, you cannot introduce the topic of heaven without a musical theologian’s perspective on it, so this song was played in the background:

The bulk of our group discussion focused around a recently published and vastly popular book called Heaven is Real.

It documents the “real life” story of a young boy who supposedly went to heaven and reported back to his parents what he saw and experienced and who he met.

Here is the video that we watched:

Heaven is for Real

*I found the following video and did not have time to play it.  It does raise several fascinating questions about the diversity of beliefs on Heaven found in different religions and even within Christianity itself.  I would recommend using this if you have time, or even showing this video as the discussion starter with your students.

Barbara Walters on Heaven via MSNBC

Back to the Heaven is Real video.

Students shared whether or not the believed the kid’s story or thought it was fabricated and promoted by his father….who happens to be a pastor and now author of a widely successful book.

We then talked about the images and ideas that the boy’s story brought up

Everyone was young

People had wings

You can hang out with the Holy Spirit

Heaven was filled with many colors

It was crowded

I asked the group if those were common images or associations that people tend to have when thinking about heaven

*These are good to project onto a big screen or TV when discussing images of Heaven.

I also asked how do these contrast with what the Bible reveals heaven to be like?

Why do you think people are so afraid that heaven might be boring?

We divided our students into 3 groups. Each group was given a large piece of construction paper with around 8 words on them taken from the following list.  Each member in the group was asked to circle the top 3 words that, to them, depict Heaven.  After everyone in the group circles, the group passes on the sheet to the next.
We did this as another creative/expressionist way to discern public opinion on heaven before we looked at what the Bible had to say

Circle the words often associated with the term Heaven

Joyful                Depressing                Harps
Status Quo            Interactive                Friendship
Real                       Lonely                   Boring
Displeasing            Sorrow                  Family
Celebratory            Rewarding            Overwhelming
Mysterious            Music                    Feasts
Satisfying               Fair                        Victory

The Hope of Heaven

Jesus coming back to right the wrongs, set things back in order
return the world and humanity back to God’s orignal dream and design
*For some great Biblical references and theological insights into Heaven read the chapter from Clear.

We simply did not have time to dive into specifics about the nature of Heaven or what it will look like, but I did make a point of saying that the physical images represented in the Biblical do not have to be taken literally.  “Streets of gold” and “gates of pearls” are more metaphorical references to beauty and majesty than attempts to actually describe the physicality or location of heaven.

What we will experience….

A new body that will never die  (1 Corin 15: 54-55)

Freedom from Sin and its Destructiveness  (Rev 22:3)

Face-to-Face Relationship with God. (Rev 22:4)

We concluded that the Bible indicates certainly that Heaven will be hopeful and included the above mentioned aspects.  Beyond those, it really comes down to speculation, opinions, and personal hopes and dreams.

Here are the Small Group Questions that we concluded our time with:

Fusion YG- SG Questions
Clear- “Heaven”

1) What do you think Heaven will be like?  Are you excited about that?

2)  How would you describe Heaven to someone who asks?

3)  What do you think Jesus meant when he prayed for his followers to    bring Heaven here on Earth?  Would would that look like?

4)  Who will end up in Heaven?

*I have included some basic info from Wikipedia that you may use as general background for any lesson prep on Heaven.  You may or may not find it helpful or useful.

In most religions, Heaven is a realm, either physical or transcendental in which people who have died continue to exist in an afterlife.
Heaven is often described as the holiest place, accessible by people according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, faith or other virtues.
Entrance into Heaven
See also: Salvation and Soteriology
Religions that speak about heaven differ on how (and if) one gets into it, typically in the afterlife. In many religions, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a “good life” (within the terms of the spiritual system). A notable exception to this is the ‘sola fide’ belief of many mainstream Protestant Christians, which teaches that one does not have to live a perfectly “good life,” but that one must accept (believe and put faith in) Jesus Christ as one’s saviour, and then Jesus Christ will assume the guilt of one’s sins; believers are believed to be forgiven regardless of any good or bad “works” one has participated in.
Many religions[who?] state that those who do not go to heaven will go to another place, Hell, which is eternal in religions such as Christianity. Some religions believe that other afterlives exist in addition to Heaven and Hell, such as Purgatory, though many hells, such as Naraka, serve as purgatories themselves. Some belief systems contain universalism, the belief that everyone will go to Heaven eventually, no matter what they have done or believed on earth. Some forms of Christianity, and other religions believe Hell to be the termination of the soul.

Christianity
Main article: Heaven (Christianity)
Traditionally, Christianity has taught “Heaven” as a place of eternal life, the dwelling place of God,[17] and a kingdom to which all the elect will be admitted.[18] In most forms of Christianity, belief in the afterlife is professed in the major Creeds, such as the Nicene Creed, which states: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” In Biblical forms of Christianity, concepts about the future “Kingdom of Heaven” are also professed in several scriptural prophecies of the new (or renewed) Earth said to follow the resurrection of the dead — particularly the books of Isaiah and Revelation. In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) wrote that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself.[19] One popular medieval view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over man. The ancient concept of “Heaven” as a synonym for “skies” or “space” is also evident in allusions to the stars as “lights shining through from heaven”, and the like.
The term Heaven is applied by the Biblical authors to the realm in which God currently resides. Eternal life, by contrast, occurs in a renewed, unspoilt and perfect creation, which can be termed Heaven since God will choose to dwell there permanently with his people, as seen in Revelation 21:3. That there will no longer be any separation between God and man. The believers themselves will exist in incorruptible, resurrected and new bodies; there will be no sickness, no death and no tears. Some teach that death itself is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God (see original sin) so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God.
Not only will the believers spend eternity with God, they will also spend it with each other. John’s vision recorded in Revelation describes a New Jerusalem which comes from Heaven to the New Earth, which is generally seen to be a symbolic reference to the people of God living in community with one another; in a number of sects this is taken as more literal than symbolic. Heaven will be the place where life will be lived to the full, in the way that the designer planned, each believer ‘loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind’ and ‘loving their neighbour as themselves’ (adapted from Matthew 22:37-38) — a place of great joy, without the negative aspects of earthly life.

Week 7- The Church

We venture on in our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith

This week the theme was The Church. The idea being the church as the natural (and supernatural) follow-up of Salvation.

Salvation came to the early followers of Jesus and they gathered together to pray, worship, support and encourage each other as a community centered upon a shared vision and keen sense of mission and purpose.

I began by asking students and leaders to share the words, images, or other associations that come to mind when they hear the word “Church”.

some examples included:

building

old

robes

boring

scandals

choirs

preaching

Joel Osteen

*It was interesting to note that very few initial thoughts were positive.  Also most words were static, not describing the church as community or moving towards something.

Now, when we asked about Youth Group, things changed.  Terms like fun, community, friends, mission, acceptance, exciting, Jesus, spiritual, paintball, retreats, service, etc. were then thrown into the mix.

*This reaffirmed my fear and belief that The Church needs to find ways to bridge the gap between student ministry and “big church”.  Youth ministry students today, for the most part, do not see themselves connected to or with the church.  This needs to change from a philosophical/theological perspective and on very practical and tangible levels of involvement and participation.

But I digress…..

Rather then begin our large group discussion with an opening activity, we decided to jump right in with a video to introduce the subject.

One of our youth leaders, Josh, prepped the group for the following video.
Re:form Video-  The Universal Church

Gathered Group Discussion

We then launched into discussion about the universal aspect of The Church and the hope and dream of unity in purpose and mission.

Yes, church exists in different places, cultures, contexts, languages, expressions, but can and should be united in faith and love. We are connected to large and small churches; urban and rural, home churches and mega church and everything and everywhere in between.

We brought the conversation to a more personal level with these two questions that students discussed in smaller breakout groups:

What are things happening in your church that directly affect you?

What are things happening in your church that directly affect others?

For the bulk of the “teaching” times I had another volunteer, Will,  read through some Scripture passages and I briefly unpacked them

What is the Local Church Like?

Gathered- how we assemble (Ecclesia)
Acts 2:46-4
1 Corinthians 14:26
Philemon 1:1-2

Visible what we see right now on Earth
Acts 8:1
Acts 9:31

Unique- who we are geographically; understanding your culture and context

What is unique about Bedford (or Westchester county) compared to other areas?

I shared a few examples from recent travels comparing NY with TX, OKC, and Kansas City.  It is amazing just how different places are, not just in geography or topography but religious life, culture, worldviews, political alignment, stances on social issues, etc…

What is the Universal Church like?

Scattered How we Live wherever we live.
Acts 2:42-45
Colossians 3:17

“Tomorrow, I will “be the church” by doing____________________

Invisible- the expression of what we will see fully in Heaven one day

Mosaic- Who we are collectively…the body of Christ beautified and made whole and complete in community

Revelation 7:9-10

We concluded the large group time with an activity lead by Becky, a former youth group student student-now young adult

She divided the group into 3 teams and gave each one directions and supplies for the following:

A. Construct/ Draw your dream building for a Church

B. Create what “church” could look like without owning a building?

C. Envision and describe what staff, ministries, and programs you would want your church to have?
Create a Vision Statement and then how each of the above fits into it?

Closing Prayer-offered by one of our students, Chloe

God, who are we that you’d choose to let us be your hands and feet in this broken world? At times our version of your dream church can be very imperfect, but we’re thankful that you perfect and have placed your perfect faith in our imperfections.

I don’t want to be excited for you for only a few years and then drop away later on.  So please help me develop the kind of relationship with you and your church that lasts for the long haul.  Along the way, help me to reveal your identity to the world.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We typically end our evenings in small groups, which help nurture caring relationships and friends and also allow more time to dig deeper into the topic or theme of the night.

Here are the Small Group Questions we used this evening
Clear:  The Church

1) Do you go to church?  Why or why not?

2) Do you think you’ll go to church when you’re older?

3) What will you look for in a faith community or church?

4) What are your spiritual gifts and what can you contribute to your current (or future)  faith community?

*My small group of guys only discussed the first 3, but it was hopeful to hear what they are seeking and looking for in a church.  Most of their answers had to do with relationships, authenticity, and not being bored to death.  We still have a great deal of work to in integrating our students into the broader life of the church.  Some do a great job and are very connected. Others remain on the fringe and get involved only when we have an “official” youth group related service or event.  And yet others see no reason to be involved because they have our youth group, which I am not sure is a good thing…

Next week Heaven

Week 6- Salvation

This is our continuation on our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith (based from the book written by Chris Folmsbee)

*I was away this particular week, interestingly enough visiting Chris and others in Kansas City.  My good friend and colleague Eric “Pelly” Peloquin Follow Pelly on Twitter lead the evening and shared the lesson with the group.

Rather than try to rework his lesson or thoughts, I asked him to contribute to this blog and share with us

So, without further delay, the inaugural blog birth of Pelly…..

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

This week we looked at, and had a great conversation about Salvation.

Unfortunately Dan was unable to make it out tonight, so I (Pelly) had the honor and privilege to teach.  Also the Nyackers where unable to come as well, so it was just me and two other leaders.  But we enjoyed every minute of this night!

This chapter was broken down into three basic parts:

What is salvation?

What are the components of salvation?

What does it mean to grow spiritually?

For the opening story of “What is salvation” we looked at an illustration of the difference between camera’s through the ages.

Back in the day we see that old people (who may not have been old then) took 100 pictures to get one good picture.  They didn’t have camera’s like there are today, where you can point and shoot, and then look to see if the picture came out perfect.

We looked at this illustration and tied it into our topic of salvation.

Are you the person who (like myself growing up) said 100 “salvation” prayers, because you just didn’t know if you were saved every time you “backslid”.  Taking 100 pictures to get the perfect one, to get it right finally.

Or…

Are you the person who says the “salvation” prayer once and thinks they can do whatever they want.  Because well…. your “saved”.  Take one good family picture, and then treat your family like trash right after the picture is taken.

Off of this topic, and illustration, I could see the students thinking about this, it was great!

Like myself growing up, I didn’t know what salvation actually meant.  I know for many of our students, they don’t actually know what it means too!  God doesn’t want us to question salvation, and more importantly our personal salvation, so he gives us ways that we don’t have to question.

1) We start out in life disconnected from God
Romans 3:23

2) On our own we remain disconnected from God
Romans 6:23

3) God chose to be reconnected with us
Romans 6:23

4) We can start a new life reconnected with God
2 Cor. 5:16-17, Colossians 1:21-23, 1 Pet. 1:23

This brought up some great discussion mostly, on the justice, and love of God.
Because God is “Just” He needs to punish sin, but because He “loves” us so much its hard for Him to punish us.  So He sent His Son to take that punishment for us.

It’s almost as if we are in serious trouble, and there is a big punishment coming our way, that needs to be carried out, because of justice.  But because our parents love us so much they don’t want us to endure whatever the punishment is, so the step in and take it for us.

The wheels were turning at this point…..

Then we moved into what are the components of salvation?

What does a person need or not need to be “saved”.

I broke the group up and handed out a bunch of verses to each group, and had them read through each one, and tell the rest of the group based off their verses what do we need or not need to be saved?

There was an overwhelming thread of doing God’s will, and believing and following Jesus!

We walked through the general components of salvation:

General Awareness:
Person realizes that God’s figure prints are on everything, He created everything.

Truth Awareness:
We start to hear truth preached and see truth happen, the more we see truth the more out of the darkness we step

Sin Awareness:
People start to realize their sin and repent.

Identity Awareness:
We confess, and believe Jesus is Lord, we become a new creation, the old is gone the new has come.

Growth Awareness:
The Holy Spirit takes control of our lives, and will help us make decisions concerning God’s will.

And lastly…

Purpose Awareness:
Are you going to be in the game or on the sideline watching the game when it comes to sharing about the impact God has made on your life?

And then we moved into the last section: “What does it mean to grow spiritually?”

We basically looked at the fruits of the spirit, and someone who is living in God’s will, Loving God, and Loving Others, you should see these fruits.  We learned that the writer doesn’t say fruits, he says fruit.  Meaning you don’t only have a couple of these, but you get them all.

Love: Are you willing to love, or are you focused on yourself, and things of this world.

Joy: Do people get a sense that joy is bursting forth from your life, or are do you live in bitterness.

Peace: Are you content with your life, or insecure.

Patience: Do you take time to enter the world of others, or demand people do things your way.

Kindness: Are you kind to others, or known for speaking against other people

Goodness: Do I practice my faith to help others see God’s goodness, or do i frustrate, and anger people because of my attitude.

Faithfulness: Are you following God’s plan, or selective with the scriptures you read.

Gentleness: Are you a vise holding an unbroken egg, or a vise holding a smashed egg?

Self-Control: Are you watching what your saying and doing, or is your attitude that which you just don’t care.

In conclusion I ended by saying these fruits aren’t just what is supposed to happen when you are growing with Jesus, they make your life easier.  You love more, you have joy, your more gentle, you find peace within stress, and so on.  Following Jesus is the right way to live, the way He wants us to live

And we ended with this prayer:

Father, I want to keep growing so I remain on the fully alive path you have for me.

Cause me to be uncomfortable with comfort.

Create in me a love for the people I say I love, but don’t show love to.

Inspire me to think, Someone else will do it.

Deepen my understanding of you and my obedience to you.

Help me lead a person to you every day, and then please do your thing.

Show me how to help the Christian around me become fully devoted disciples.

Protect the relationships in my household with your sticky bond of love (try and pray that with out laughing… thanks Chris!)

And bless your church to do mighty things for you!

Kansas City…a new hub for youth ministry?

Last week I was able to visit Kansas City, Missouri for five days.

What in the world is happening in Missouri you may ask?

There are some incredible, ground breaking, and innovative ministry happening in KC.  I was excited to be a part of the voices being represented, but wanted to go there myself to see what it’s all about.

KC is quickly being a hub of sorts….men and women with deep theological insight and tremendous passion for student ministry rethinking…..

Camp ministry

Church

Community development

Youth worker development

Curriculum for Christian ministry

Spiritual formation for students

There are some great thinkers and practitioners involved in these conversations.  Many are interconnected and partner with each other, which brings a certain level of trust, collaboration, and collective vision.

Youthfront is really on the forefront of ushering in a new wave of camp ministry.   A dedicated, united, (and fun) team/family of passionate and gifted youth workers under the direction and spiritual leadership of Mike King follow Mike on Twitter are rethinking old philosophies and structure of camp ministry. I was able to visit their two campuses and witness firsthand the transformation of physical space into sacred places of spiritual formation.  The direction and vision are focussed on intentionality of spiritual formation, rather than attractions and programmatic.  They write their own content for the summer camps and additionally are produced some of the best curriculum and resources for camps and youth workers.

One of the main premises and dreams of Youthfront is to provide students opportunities to do life together and listen to God’s voice. Creating, nurturing, and allowing freedom for students to encounter God’s presence in real life.

Youthfront

Many of staff at Youthfront attend Jacob’s Well church, which is probably the most refreshing and intentional faith community I have seen.

Located in an old brick Presbyterian building in the center of midtown KC, they have reclaimed the physical space in the building and breathed new life.  The children’s program is by far the most innovative I have seen.  Storytelling, communal sharing, interactive learning, creative arts, sacred space for kids, etc…

The community has great aesthetic atmosphere and deeply values and includes all members of the family in worship and community life.

There is a focus on the eucharist, daily office, and learner style teaching on Sundays. The word on the street is that the music, led by Mike Crawford is profound, earthy, real,  musically amazing.

Mike Crawford music

Here is a brief blurb from their site….

“Welcome to Jacob’s Well. Thanks for joining us here.
Jacob’s Well began with a handful of people in 1998. We are joined together around a dream and a call to build a community in midtown Kansas City with Jesus Christ at the center. Our desire is that we would be an authentic, biblical community where people experience and express the reality of God’s love in the way of Jesus.

Our name reflects our dream and our mission. In the New Testament book of John, Jesus encounters a woman who is at the fringes of her culture, a woman with great hunger and great need. Jesus reaches out to her and invites her into his life and kingdom. In so doing she becomes a part of a new community. In the same way, Jacob’s Well is striving to be a place — like the biblical Jacob’s Well — where people who are searching can encounter God and find a place in his kingdom and community and join him in his work in the world.”

The focal of service and gathered worship is the eucharist, daily office, and learner-style teaching on Sundays with time constructed each service for the community to share their thoughts about the Scripture reading.

Jacob\’s Well church

Another visit while in KC was to the The House Studio, a very creative and artistic group working to create culture in Christianity.

The House Studio creates, comments on, and shapes the Church’s ongoing conversation—taking seriously good stories and making them available to faith communities.

The office is in a….wait for it….house!

It is located right across the street from the main headquarters of the Nazarene Publishing House

The good people at the House are pursuing a way of life together in intentional community

Their words:  “We publish. Not because this world needs more books. Not because the Church needs more resources. We publish because God is still telling stories.”

The House Studio

NPH (Nazarene Publishing House) was quite impressive. I was able to get a tour of the operations from ideas, marketing, publication, processing, shipping.  I am really honored and excited to be working with them to produced a number of forthcoming books and projects.

I had never been inside a major publishing house before, and it is quite extensive what goes into the inner workings.  Though part of a denomination, NPH is expanding its vision and reach and collaborating with a wide variety of authors and ministry partners.

NPH- youth ministry resources

The ministry in KC that I have personally supported and now partner with is Barefoot Ministries.  Under the leadership and vision of Chris Folmsbee,  follow Chris on Twitter Barefoot is really leading the way in producing great resources for youth ministry, as well as spiritual formation for students, and youth worker training.

In my opinion it is on the leading edge of creating thoughtful, innovate, and helpful resources for the church.   At my church, we use Barefoot products for part of our Sunday AM teaching time, spiritual formation and missions with our students, and all of our youth worker training.

Barefoot Ministries

Another cool thing I was able to learn about during my time in KC is an intentional community development project in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City.

Youthfront and Barefoot staff and friends are intentionally moving from the suburbs into this neighborhood to bring hope, redevelopment, social justice and advocacy.  They are seeking and working towards the ushering in of God’s kingdom-working in and for this community.

I was able to stay with one of the couples in their home during my time in KC and really appreciate their passion and long-term vision for the area.  One of the members  wrote a thoughtful piece on his blog regarding the reason he and his wife chose to move there.  It is well worth the read.

Aaron Mitchum\’s blog

*One final note:  If you do happen to visit KC, you must eat BBQ.  I have tasted some good meats in other places such as Dallas and Nashville, but nothing is quite like what you will find in Kansas City.  It is very much a passion and art for the fine folk there, and they take their craft very seriously.  I was amazed and impressed at how intensive and complex the process of smoking meat was, plus the importance of selecting (or making) the proper rub, spices, and sauces.

I ate too much that week, but it also was well worth it

And for the record, I do think Oklahoma Joes is the best!

Week 5: Sin

We began with a brief recap from the previous week on the nature and goodness of Humanity….at least the way it was intended to be.  I realize that many have different theological views on the nature of sin, specifically the inherent aspect of it.  Some people view small children as “little sinners” while others see purity, innocent, and God’s original image in them.

No matter what one’s view may be, what is clear is that eventually something happened in our Story (humanity) and happens in our lives (personal “sin”)

We had a group discussion on the prevalence of evil and the consequences of people’s willful disobedience and poor choices.

Selfishness, pride, neglect, abuse, theft, murder, adultery, divorce, wars, starvation, injustices, etc.. are all evident in our world.  Simply read the newspapers, watch TV, travel the world, or go to school and the evils of our world are on display.

Our students shared how sin has personally affected them-their homes; their hearts; their lives

To delve a bit deeper theologically into the nature and origins of sin, we begin with a sort of description:
Sin involves people withdrawing from God through their actions, words, and thoughts because they believe there’s something better.

Josh and Will divided up the readings this evening and in between each section of the story, I offered somewhat of a running commentary throughout.
1)  For the first part of our group dialog we examined this questioned:  What caused Sin?
The dream of God- our trust and reliance upon him

Genesis 2: 16-17
Genesis 3- The disobedience

A follow-up question was this:  How does sin affect us?

A) Sin damages our relationship with God, including peace, unity, and purpose

Genesis 3: 4-10

Who does the hiding?

Sin causes shame and hiding from God.  God is not hiding from us because of our sin.

B) Sin limits our relationships with others

Genesis 3: 11-13

Now enters into the human condition and story pointing the finger and blaming
Tension and drama, lies and deceit now occur between friends and lovers.

C) Sin distorts our relationship with Creation

Genesis 3: 17-19

2) For the second part of our group discussion we looked into this question:    Are there different kinds of Sin?
One of our recent college grads turned youth leader, Becky, lead our group in

7 Deadly Sins Activity

She had the group divide up into…..yes 7 teams and gave each one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” as recognized by The Church and this infamous movie…

*Truth be told, I wanted to show clips from this movie but just couldn’t justify it!

What we did though, was to create large posters with words, images, and definitions of each of the Deadly Sins.

We allowed students to use dictionaries on their phones to look up the actual words and find synonymous that were a bit more user-friendly than Wrath or Sloth

Once students started to realize the breadth of certain “larger” sins they were quickly able to depict many other “sins” within that category

Here are a few examples:

Gluttony:  obesity, indulging in too much of anything, over consumption, materialism, consumerism, not taking care of your body, drunkenness

Sloth: laziness, apathy, complacency, not doing what you should, not caring about people or things, not giving time or energy to God

Becky had some definitions in advance in order to help each team think more broadly and creatively.  Here is one sample she had:

Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
3)  Some noteworthy follow-up questions resulting from the activity included the following:

Are some sins worse than others?

What would be some examples?

Are there BIG SINS and then little sins?

What may be the difference?

4)  What might be some examples of the following:
(I spent just a minute trying to explain the differences of these categories)

  • neglectful sin
  • ignorant sin
  • willful sin

5)  My wife concluded our time together in leading a corporate time of Confession based from the 7 Deadly Sins

“Lord in times when we have acted out in wrath and anger towards you or something else, we confess….”

“God, forgive us for allowing pride to rule our hearts.  Show us times in our lives and conversations when pride has dominated.”

“Reveal to us who we may envy and certain things we may covet in our lives.”

*She spent a few minutes in each category, using the examples and illustrations the students came up with.  The hope for self-realization of the impact and scope of sin in our lives and how it affects those around us.  The hope and prayer were also to lead students in personal times of silent confession to God.

As soft contemplative music was playing in the background, we encouraged the students to find someone else they may want to open up and share things with.  Thanks to Christ, we do not need a mediator to confess our sins to God.  However, Scripture and experience attest to the power, beauty, and healing of sharing your stuff with someone else.

We allowed time for this to happen before, during, and after our small group session, but also encouraged students to send private texts or Facebook messages if that was easier.

6)  We try to end each night in small group time with the groups divided by age and gender.  Here are the questions provided in advance to the leaders.
Small Group Questions:

Can something be a sin for you but not for someone else?

What about certain things the Bible does not talk about?

Share a moment when someone’s sin affect you?

Share a moment when your “sin” brought separation between you and others?

Share a moment when your sin brought you closer to God?

Next Week:  Salvation

*Ideas and Concepts adapted from book Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith by Chris Folmbsee

Week 2: Jesus

Last week was week 2 of our series called Clear: Theological Foundations of Faith.

For recaps of the previous weeks and why we are doing this series, please check out the previous posts.

The theme for this week was Jesus.  Again, not an easy topic to do in one evening.  In the past, I have actually taught entire semesters on Jesus, and on other occasions taught one month-long series.

About 2 years ago, rather than teaching a series based on the chronological and “major” events of Jesus’ life, we focused on providing our students with an intensive and profound look at who Jesus was, what he has done, and how then can interact with him.

Based on the chapter “Reculturing Education” from A New Kind of Youth Ministry here was our outline:

Truth 1: The Deity of Jesus

Week 1: The Divine Names of Jesus

Week 2: The Divine Attributes of Jesus

Week 3:  The Divine Works of Jesus

Truth 2: The Humanity of Jesus

Week 4: The Incarnation of Jesus

Week 5: The Character of Jesus

Week 6: The Priorities of Jesus

Truth 3: The Ministry of Jesus

Week 7:  The Teaching of Jesus

Week 8:  The Miracles of Jesus

Week 9: The Atonement of Jesus

Truth 4: Our interactions with Jesus

Week 10: Praying with and to Jesus

Week 11: Abiding In Jesus

Week 12: Participating in the Suffering of Jesus

Week 13: Following Jesus Every Day

I find amazing embrace, engagement, and transformation in taking this approach with our students, so I kept this in mind in preparation for this one evening

Flashback: When I taught this series on theology almost 8 years ago, my entire focus was not on engaging students with the life and presence of Jesus.  I did not care as much about seeing them spiritually formed and transformed as I did with convincing them their need for Christ’s salvation.

My main focus was on a clear presentation of substitutionary propitiatory atonement.  Jesus Christ on the cross in his crucifixion or sacrifice fulfilled the wrath and indignation of God. The crucifixion or sacrifice of Christ conciliated (or appeased) God, who would otherwise be offended by human sin and would demand penalty for it.

Naturally, the main goals in this kind of approach was convincing students of their sin, convicting them of their need for help, convincing them in the reality of punishment and eternal damnation and then offering them a solution.  In some ways, it is very much a sales pitch.  Now, you may firmly believe in the idea and the need for others to want and have it, but nonetheless, you still must spend time and energy selling them on that as well.

*disclaimer: I do not necessarily think this is wrong or inherently bad and do still see a need for this message. Generally around Easter time we have this discussion.

Today:

As mentioned from last week, I am attempt to include more of our leaders in the actual teaching time and group discussions as well and am trying to work hard to create environments and opportunities towards that end.

My theme and focus was on helping our students understand the mystery of Christ and the beauty of who he was and is.

1) I had one of our volunteers, Mary, offer a communal pray for our group and invited the presence of Jesus in our midst to quite our hearts and minds, guide us into truth and unity, and fill our spirits with his love.

2) We first did a brief recap from the following week, led by our students’ recollection of theme, content, and activities

3) We began introducing the night’s theme by showing this video, as a way of clearing up common misconceptions about who Jesus was not.

Following that funny clip I played an old Johnny Cash song called “It was Jesus” from his Love, God, Murder album

\”It was Jesus\”- Johnny Cash

4) Another volunteer (who happens to be my wife and very gifted in engaging students in interactive learning) lead the opening activity.  She divided the group into 2 and had each smaller group go into separate rooms.  One group was given a picture of a body on construction paper and asked to come up with words, images, or ideas showing the humanity of Jesus.  How do we know that Jesus was Human?

The other group was tasked with a similar proposition of coming up with how we know Jesus was divine.

This lasted for about 10 minutes and each group came back into the room and placed their sheet on the wall and explained how they arrived at their conclusions.

It was interesting to see which group had an easier time at first.  Can you guess which one?

About 5 minutes into the assignment, the “humanity” group had the sheet practically full, while the “divinity” one had probably 4 words written down.

I had a youth leader, Becky, help out each group by giving them a few verses to aid in their thinking and conversations

Group 1 (Humanity) Matt 8:24, Matt 21:18, Mark 3:5, John 11:35, John 11:36, John 12:27

Group 2 (Divinity) Matt 1:21, Luke 1:31-32, 1 Thess 1:10, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8

You probably cannot see from the images but here were a few of their discoveries:

Humanity:  he was born, he felt pain, he bled and died, he was tempted, he slept, he was hunger and thirsty, he felt human emotions such as fear, sadness, joy, anger

Divinity: his “I AM” sayings, various divine titles given to him (Son of God, Son of Man, image of God, etc..), his was sinless, he performed miracles, he was raised from the dead, he appeared after his resurrection, he pre-existence as the “Word” of God, forgave sins, had moments of omnipotence and omniscience

When both groups came back in we create a Venn diagram and had a really good discussion about which qualities, characteristics and attributes intersect with both natures (human and divine)

Examples were Love, Grace, Compassion, Community, Justice, Miracles

Christ represents the fullness and completion of what humanity can be.

As Millard Erickson writes in Christian Theology, “instead of asking Is Jesus as human as we are? we might better ask, Are we as human Jesus? For the type of human nature that each of us possesses is not pure human nature.  The true humanity created by God has in our case been corrupted and spoiled…Jesus is not only as human as we are; he is more human.  Our humanity is not a standard by which we are to measure his.  His humanity, true and unadulterated, is the standard by which we are to be measured.”

Some key points are:

Jesus can truly sympathize with and intercede for us

Jesus manifests the true nature of humanity

Jesus can be our example

Human nature is good

God is not totally transcendent

5)  I chose 2 students to read the following passages:

John 1:1-14

The Word Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

A second student read these words about Christ found in Colossians 1:15-20

The Supremacy of the Son of God

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christ being divine meant that he is also fully God and can forgive us, redeem us, and restore our nature and relationship with God. We can and should worship him as God, as our risen and eternal Savior.

There is a mystery surrounding the dual natures of Christ.  100% human and 100% divine seem to add up to an incomprehensible 200%!

However, students (especially in postmodernity) understand and accept the existence of paradox in life and faith.

6) We concluded our corporate time together by asking who is Jesus to me?

I showed this clip about the identity of Christ.

7)  Another leader, Jenny, invited our students to grab notebooks and pens and write a letter to a friend explaining who Jesus was to them.  This hopefully served as a good time for personal reflection on both their intellectual beliefs about Jesus, and their spiritual affirmations and experience of Jesus

ie. what Jesus actually means to them and who he is in their life

During these minutes we played two songs in the background:

Jesus Messiah- Chris Tomlin

We Love you Jesus- Shane and Shane

8)  A college student, Josh, then read the poem “One Solitary Life”, which still concludes the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular program each year in NYC

One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty

He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself

He was only thirty-three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life

9)  Josh then concluded with a prayer found in the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee

“Jesus, thank you.

Jesus. you are the Christ.

Jesus, you are the Messiah.

Jesus, you are the Anointed One.

Jesus, you are our Prophet.

Jesus, you are our Priest

Jesus, you are our King.

Jesus, you are the reason we have a relationship with God.

Jesus, thank you.”

10)  For the last 30-45 minutes we generally break up into 4 small groups.  Depending on the night and the theme, sometimes we have guys and girls together and sometimes we divide.  Here are the questions given to our leaders, serving simply as a starting point for discussion and thought.

Small Group Questions:

What is still confusing or hard to understand about Jesus?

Do you believe in Paradox?  How might that apply to faith in Jesus?

What does Jesus Humanity Reveal to Us?  How can it help us?

What does Jesus’ Divnity Reveal to us?  How can it help us?

Describe how you have experienced the reality of Jesus in your life?

*During the next 4 weeks for our Confirmation group, we will get more in-depth on the subject of Jesus and be looking at the following questions: (These are taken from the Re:Form Confirmation program from Sparkhouse)

a) Was Jesus of Nazareth God?

b) Did Jesus know he was God?

c) If Jesus was God why did he have to die?

d) Do I have to believe Jesus performed miracles in order to be a Christian?

e) Why did Jesus get baptized?

f) Is believing in Jesus really the only way to get to heaven?

Next Week:  Holy Spirit

Getting Clear with our students

Over the next few months I will be switching gears and diving into theological conversations with our high school students.  One may argue that everything we do is in fact theological, but over the next 8 weeks I will be systematically working through core doctrines of the Christian faith.

We will be using the book Clear by Chris Folmsbee.  Here is a list of the topics:

  • God
  • Jesus
  • The Holy Spirit
  • Humanity
  • Sin
  • Salvation
  • The Church
  • Heaven

I see myself much more as a practical theologian, however I still do appreciate systematic theology.  I was raised with that kind of thinking and approach to faith and do believe it has its place in our faith formation.  Over the next few weeks I will attempt to chronicle how my view of these “foundations” has changed or become clearer (or more confusing)

This whole year on Sundays we have been journeying through practical theological questions with our students.  Here is just a sampling of them:

How can a loving God allow such evil in the world?

Can it be proven that God exists?

Does God still create stuff today?

Why should I pray when God doesn’t answer all my prayers?

Do I have to believe Jesus performed miracles in order to be a Christian?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Why is there so much hate, violence, and intolerance done in the name of Christianity?

Can we find truth in other religions?

Is war ever justified?

How should Christians react to bullying?

Can we still love and include those we disagree with?

What does it look like to be a loving and inclusive community in our society?

At first glance I am sure you can tell how different those questions are from the ideas presented in Clear.

I believe that a combination of the two can be a very healthy approach in the spiritual formation of today’s adolescents.

What I appreciate about Chris’ book is that rather than attempting to present concrete answers and definitions, he offers ideas and suggestions and allows freedom for students to express their own thoughts in creative ways.  Structured within the book are intentional moments of reflection.  Here are two examples under the “Immerse”  and “Pray” sections of chapter 1: God

“Take a moment to quiet your place.  If it helps, close your eyes and take two or three deep breaths.  After you feel you’ve established a quiet place, take a few minutes to write in the space provided as many truths about God as you can bring to mind from this interaction.”

“Draw a picture that illustrates how you see God using his attributes around you each day.  After listing the attributes, take a moment to pray using very few words.”

“As you move through your day, find a place where you can sit and view as much of the sky as possible.  You won’t be able to view the entire sky without moving your eyes, so each time your eyes move, repeat this simple phrase” ‘God, you are amazing!  Nothing can contain you, for you are spatially limitless.’

As a youth pastor, I am thrilled to see such a resource out there for students, and as a help for my own teaching.  I am excited to see how this series sparks conversations and transformation with our teens.

This book is an excellent tool to help equip students in spiritual formation for the mission of God.

I intend to write a few more times updating our progress and how my students are interacting, tracking, and engaging with the themes. It will also be interesting to see how and what I teach this time around differs from when I did a similar series almost 8 years ago.