Celebrities and Religion

There is a new trend. Well, there are several new trends. Maybe the biggest right now is the app Tik Tok, but that’s not what we are talking about today. Today, let’s look at the trend with celebrities who are turning their lives to Jesus. Jordan Nations wrote an article titled, “Bieber. Chance. Kanye. Selena-and the movement Christians are missing”. I found the article interesting and a little thought provoking. The idea the maybe we have been a little too critical or ignored the fact that these performers, maybe because they are famous, are publicly talking about their faith.

My first thoughts always go to, “How are young people being affected by this?” (Listen to our podcast as we talk with a teenager about the article.) I hope that this isn’t just the next trend, but something that will be deep rooted. As the statics show (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/) Christianity continues at a decline each year in this country. We all know that “influencers” are starting to impact our young people from the clothes they wear to the music they listen to. So, we can only hope that if Justin Bieber or Kanye bring the “cool factor” to Christianity maybe it will be enough to spark some curiosity in a teen to explore church? Check out this post from Justin back in September. https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2019/september/justin-bieber-opens-up-about-how-the-love-of-christ-led-him-through-heavy-drug-abuse-anxiety

It’s quite clear that now more than ever, young people may claim to be religious, but they are not all attending our churches. So, being conscience of what is trending, and what these celebrities are saying and doing is important if we want to reach young people. It’s a great discussion starter. And like Nations says in his article, don’t be so quick to criticize, but celebrate lives being changed! And may we all get to be a part of something similar, and be influencers in our own right with our non-famous friends!

p.s. If you listen to the podcast, we talk about Kanye’s $250 sweatshirt. This price does include a pre-sale ticket to an event! 😉

Keep It Simple

Churches often ask me, “We want to reach young(er) people.” In fact, there are very few churches that I have come across that do not have this goal in mind. My first response is, please do not think that reaching younger people means they will be in attendance on Sunday morning. We have to start first with redefining “reach.” If you want to “reach” generation z (teens) or millennials (young adults), you need to start with building relationships with them. They won’t just come to church. If they want to listen to a sermon, they can do it via a podcast. But more times then not, they have never gone to a worship service, so they won’t just show up. And if they do, please do NOT immediately bombard them with places where you need volunteers. Get to know their name, find out what they are passionate about, take them out to lunch. Develop a friendship first. Then find out what they are seeking in a church. You may find that the one thing your church can offer is friendship. Start there. Then see where the spirit leads. It’s just that simple.

Father Abraham

Introduction: There are no fossil record, extra biblical support, or other historical evidence for any of the stories in Genesis or Exodus. (As opposed to early New Testament texts, for which we have ample supporting texts written by other folds outside the tradition.) So, the genealogies provided may or may not have any measure of historical accuracy to them, and they are certainly not reliable for establishing timelines or supposed time elapsed. So, it is assumed these stories were passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition in order to reveal how people thought about God and how they imagined their own origins and development. So, it might be a good idea if you are leading a group to start a chart of what we are learning about the character of God and of humans

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will understand the story of Abraham and Sarah
  • Students will explore what we learn about human nature through this story

Scripture Reference: Genesis 22:1-19

Teaching Points:

We are introduced to Abraham in the final verse of Genesis 11; his story begins in earnest in Genesis 12. It begins with a command and a promise that God will make a great nation of him and his family.

A few points will bear some explanation:

  • God makes a covenant with Abraham (Abram)to make a great nation of him, but God takes a long time to deliver on that promise. In the meantime, Sarah and Abraham take matters in their own hands in multiple ways. Sometimes these efforts have heartbreaking consequences, and we can learn a lot about our own human nature from these stories. (i.e. Hagar/Ishmael)
  • God is not always consistent in God’s response to human beings. Sometimes God seems quite frustrated and judgmental (i.e. when Sarah laughs), while sometimes God is quite forbearing (i.e. in his tolerance of Abraham having a son with Hagar and God’s later care for Hagar and Ishmael).
  • Once Abraham finally gets his promised son with Sarah, we encounter this bizarre and disturbing story in Genesis 22, in which Abraham is “tested” and asked to sacrifice the very son for which he has waited so long. It may help us contextualize this story to know that first-born children were sacrificed in many of the surrounding cultures as a way to gain favor and power with various deities.

Discussion Questions:

  • Springboard Question: Have you ever wanted something really bad, but had to wait awhile to get it? Please share.
  • What do we learn about human nature from the stories of Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael? Can you think of situations in your own life when you have taken matters into your own hands? Maybe were impatient about something? What happened?
  • What troubles you about this story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22? What are some traditional interpretations of this story? What do those interpretations suggest about Abraham? About God? Do you agree?
  • If child sacrifice was likely prevalent in the surrounding cultures at this time, how might it help us to reinterpret this difficult story?
  • Does understanding the historical context of this story change your thinking about the story?
  • Do you think God requires sacrifice from us? Are there other/better ways to think about loyalty/faithfulness?
  • Abraham was called by God even though he was flawed. Where do you think God is calling you?

Cain & Abel…Cities Civilizations

As we continue our journey through Genesis, our next stop is with the age-old sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel. This may be one of the most relevant stories for teens to relate to! (Not the killing part, of course!) But we have probably all, at some point, been frustrated with a sibling. (You may help an only child relate by talking about an extended family member, like a cousin.) And that is a great place to start the discussion and time of sharing. Think of a story of your own you can share, then ask them to do the same. But we will dive deeper than the surface story.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Have an understanding of how the main characters could be a representation of how cities and growing communities came about.
  • Acknowledge the pitfalls of jealousy
  • Discuss the character of God and human as we learn from this story

Biblical Reference: Genesis 4:1-22

Teaching Points:

  • It has been suggested that this story is an epic tale of the rise of civilizations (cities) and the end of agrarian nomadic communities. Using this idea, Abel represents the nomadic farmer who was “killed off” (metaphorically speaking) by settled communities that built walls and chose to develop the land.
  • The text tells us where Cain settled, that he had sons, and that his sons also settled cities. There are other details included (i.e. development of tools and musical instruments) that suggest the focus of the story was intended to be broader than simply a conflict between two brothers.
  • This is one of the stories that has been used to justify racism and slavery by suggesting that certain people (ethnic groups, skin tones, etc.) bear the “mark of Cain.” We would do well to acknowledge the ways that scripture can be harmfully interpreted to exclude or subjugate others.
  • Understand the phrase “mark of Cain” and how it has been used

Discussion Questions:

  • What is the root cause of the conflict between Cain and Abel? Do you think God shows favoritism for Abel’s offering without any justification?
  • Do you find anything else in the story unfair?
  • Why would God go to so much trouble to protect Cain when he was guilty of murder?
  • The “mark of Cain” has been used in a way that has been hurtful to many people. How would you respond to someone who would use this scripture in that way?
  • Do you think God shows favoritism today? Why or why not?
  • How can we avoid these interpretations of Bible passages?
  • Let’s review what have we learned about God and ourselves through the lessons so far.

The Fall

This discussion is on Chapter 3 of Genesis. Students sometimes have a hard time with this scripture, trying to understand if the serpent is actually speaking or if the serpent is the devil, etc. Once again, remind students about Fact vs Truth. And the over-arcing themes we can take away from this story. When I lead this lesson, I will begin with having students do a “readers theater” because you can almost act it out. Point out the import aspects: it NEVER says the serpent is the devil, notice the serpent goes to Eve, not Adam, God comes looking for them, Adam almost blames God by saying look at what this person you gave to me did, etc.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand Fact vs Truth as it pertains to this story
  • Knowing that even when we feel separated from God, He is right beside us
  • No matter what we do, or what we think, God love us, and we were created in His image
  • You can not be defined by your sins or mistakes
  • Having knowledge isn’t always a positive thing

Scripture Reference:

Genesis 3

Teaching Notes:

Begin by asking each student to share a vice. (Give them a personal example: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a T.V. show, etc.) It is helpful to start each lesson with a simple/personal question to “break the ice” for shy students.

This story can easily be read through “readers theater”. Ask volunteers to play the parts of Eve, Adam, the serpent, and God. Then have someone read and narrate the rest of the story.

Teaching Points:

Challenging elements of this story:

  1. The text doesn’t say the serpent is the devil
  2. It is clear that God created the serpent with all the other creatures on earth which also suggests that he created humans, rules and the pitfall that will trip them up
  3. It appears that what God said wasn’t entirely true. The serpent tells the unvarnished truth since humans DO NOT actually die upon eating the fruit.
  4. God doesn’t seem entirely omnipotent at every moment in this story. God seems not to know exactly what is going on and has to ask questions to better ascertain what has happened.
  5. One of the punishments of woman is for man to rule over her. So, God’s original design was for man and woman to be EQUAL.

IF we take this story from a non-literal perspective, we avoid some of the obvious pitfalls of a literal interpretation and have the opportunity to, instead, think about some of the deeper truths about our own humanity that run through the narrative.

Discussion Questions:

  • In what ways has this story been used to cause or justify harm to others? Or to ourselves?
  • What, really, is the “sin” that trips up humanity? Is it insecurity? A failure to recognize that we have already been made in God’s image and have everything we need?
  • How is knowledge and understanding different? When is knowledge bad?
  • Is there anything surprising or encouraging about this story?
Practically Honest Podcast

Building Relationships with College Students

This week we are talking about now that college students are home, what do we do with them? You might think that since they grew up in your church, they should be comfortable coming back in the summer. But you would be surprised. They have grown, and developed and may not feel like they will be accepted into our congregations again. Even as parents, our own young adults come home and may not think the same way as we do anymore. So, what now? This Podcast addresses these things. It is important for us to start treating young adults as ADULTS, and allow them some brave space to ask hard questions and challenge our way of thinking. Be sure you ask more questions than lecturing them. Share why you believe/feel the way you do rather than demanding them to think the same way. Take them out for coffee, to lunch or on a hike. Engage them in conversation and ask them what they have learned, what questions they have, their passions and what fears they may face. It’s really simple actually. What are you going to do to reach out to a college student this summer? Don’t ignore them!

Reaching College Age Students

Summer is here and so are our college students! What are you doing to interact with them in your faith community? We always think it needs to be a blown out program, but ministry with college age students can be simple and meaningful all at the same time. We talk about this very thing today in this podcast. I am excited to have Rev. Laura White, a lead pastor at a church in Ashland, Rev. Kyle Woodrow, the chaplain at Mount Union University, Char Messenger, Regional Coordinator and Director of Discipleship at a church in Canton all with us to talk about how they have connect with college age students in their contexts. I hope this will inspire you to find some way this summer to reconnect or begin a relationship with a young adult in your community. This is the first podcast in a series we are doing about reaching this age group, be sure to check out more to come!