On Rob Bell…broken foots and deep mysteries

Who begins a talk about the mysteries of the cosmos with a story about a broken foot and a Polish jack-of-all-trades miracle worker?

Rob Bell does.

In my last post, which was a review of the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, I ended by alluding that Rob Bell spoke, without giving much print to him.

https://emergingyouth.com/2016/02/22/pym-16-progressing-in-the-cosmos/

Truth be told, Rob was indeed the featured “celebrity” speaker, the reason why some choose to attend the conference and for many the highlight of the weekend.

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For ten years, much of my youth ministry teaching and pulpit preaching drew ideas and insights from Rob Bell’s books and Nooma videos.  I have always appreciated his thoughts and admired his way of communicating.  I know he has received a bad rap by a sub-sect of more fundamental Christians, but I still applaud his vision and was very happy to see him invited to come and speak at this year’s conference.

In classic Bell fashion, he cleverly crafted a story that helped illustrate how every question (and relative answer) always lends to another question…with a set of answers that inevitably lead to more questions..  Etc.. etc.

Every question and answer leads deeper down into mystery.

One of the basic premises of his talk was the view that all discoveries of humanity thus far, have actually done little to make sense of the human experience and emotions involved.  Scientists becomes theologians the moment they exclaim “Wow” at some wonder they observe. Similarly we become theologians when we experience something profound that no discovery can address.

To Bell, the world will always need those who can create spaces for people to share in the unexplained mysteries of life.  The human experience is rife with raw emotions that cannot be simply explained or rationed away.  These emotions and longings draw us inextricably together in ways that modern science (such as quantum entanglement) may beginning to now realize.

The posture for people of faith towards the advancement of the sciences should be an openness without fear that it will limit our view.  Rather, all discoveries and “truth” should be claimed and celebrated as an expanding of God’s presence in the cosmos and our particular lives.

This mindset does indeed enhance, rather than inhibit, our sense of the inter-connectivity of everything and that the presence of God does permeate in all, through all and with all.  This seems to concur with the ancients view of God and Jesus’ own beliefs.  The great religious traditions have a beautiful role to still play in the world, but too often focus on creating (and then defending/protecting/expanding) their own particular “temples” i.e. institutions, buildings, doctrines, denominations, creeds, etc..

The challenge, Rob offered, is for church to build up the temple in order to inspire others but not to focus on the temple…rather tear it down and let the Divine flood into the world.  This does not insinuate that God’s presence and activity is not already permeable throughout the cosmos, but rather how often people of faith believe that it somehow exists and operates almost exclusively within particularities.   The Jews certainly believed that to be true with the Divine and the Temple.  Jesus came onto the scene and radially revolutionized that concept in many ways, one of which was his conversation with a woman at a well:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Sadly, many Christians have continued this false dichotomy and almost dualism by insisting that God can only be found, understood and experienced through very specific (and often limited) means.  This may include one’s particular creed, denomination, theological view, style of music, method of baptism, etc. etc.. etc…

What if….

What if the whole thing is a temple? 

Everything and everywhere.  The heights and depths.  The earth and the heavens.  The past and the future.  Those of homo-sapien origins and perhaps those of extraterrestrial existence?

It seems to me that if this were true, it would expand God’s majesty and beauty, while at the same time enhancing the importance of every aspect of life.  No more would the sacred -secular divide exist, which appears to be what Jesus desired and ushered in.

Well, every question leads to other questions, so I will ruminate on this idea for some time but am glad that Rob came to not only entertain us comically, but also enlighten us theologically in brilliant Bell fashion.

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A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry

This month I will be reading and reviewing the four-books series entitled A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry written by Andrew Root http://andrewroot.org

I am excited that these books were dreamed of and published, as they continue to speak theologically into the context of youth ministry.  Root offers excellent insights in the question often asked of youth pastors “What exactly do you do …..and the pressing question asked by youth pastors themselves “What is the point of all of this?”

As an amateur theologian who serves and ministers to the youth of my congregation, I am eager to hear what Andrew has to say and hope to find this series both challenging and inspiring.

If you are interested in learning more about these books, you can obtain more information here:

http://zondervan.com/series/a-theological-journey-through-youth-ministry

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“Youth Ministry Theology”- an Immerse Journal article

Picture this: You are staring at a dusty old bookshelf in a library with a codex, of sorts, as your guide. You scroll through each section then each aisle, until finally you come across a small book that you carefully and reverently remove. The dust is whisked away, and with great care the cover is opened to reveal a table of contents you have rarely observed before. This is the hunt for theology in youth ministry.

Over the years, conversations have circled around regarding the importance, or lack thereof, of theology in youth ministry. For some youth workers, this discipline is viewed as archaic and unnecessary while, for others, yearly curricula are structured around theological treatises. So which is it? Is theology important in youth ministry or not?

Here is perhaps a better question: Do students need to learn theology (i.e., learn about God) in order to follow him? Or can students begin to follow and then learn to trust and believe? Are students’ experiences more important than their beliefs? If we believe the answer to be yes, then how important is theology in youth ministry?

*To read the rest of the article, please click on the following link:

Immerse Journal-featured article

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

Talking theology and youth ministry with Andrew Root

Andrew Root

This week I had another great opportunity to speak with my good friend Andrew Root on his live blog talk radio show. I have been on in the past discussing ideas and chapters from his books.  This time however we joined together to talk about and promote Sparkhouse and their Re:form Confirmation curriculum.  I have written about this before as to the reasons why I appreciate the vision and teach the content.

Andy and I discussed one lesson/video that you can view here and now…..

Re:form offers 40 lessons that are question oriented and dialog-based for students.  This particular question was “Does God still create stuff today”. In our talk, we discussed the importance of affirming God’s continued active participation in this word.  There is a deep theological intention behind affirming that God still creates and recreates today…in the physical world and in hearts and lives.  Rather than ascribing to a form of moralistic, therapeutic deism, we hold God’s engagement and power to inspire and transform reality and our realities.

You will hear as well the practical implications and applications for the spiritual formation of students for the mission of God permeating through the lesson.

To hear our conversation you can download it for free on Itunes   Andrew Root podcast on Itunes \”featuring\” Dan Haugh

or listen to it here and now…..

live on BlogTalk radio

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…..

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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!