What 2020 Has Taught me

I always tell my kids when they go through a tough time or a set back in life to focus on the positive. Find the lesson you have learned and look at the good in a situation. Even in the depths of grief and despair you can find good. So, I decided maybe I should take my own advice, and dig deep to find the lessons from 2020. Here is my list, they are in no particular order and this is not exhaustive, as I am sure there are plenty more things I have learned, so I will continue to ponder. What about you? What would you add to this list for yourself?

  1. Don’t ever underestimate being prepared. I am typically someone who does plan ahead. I don’t like to wait to the last minute to pack, to plan meals, etc. But what I didn’t typically do was stock up on necessities, like toilet paper! 2020 taught me to be sure to have the bare necessities on hand at all times.
  2. Creating community is very important. We created all kinds of communities in various ways. One community that I am taking with me into 2021 and beyond is a small group of ladies we now call, “The Dream Team.” We were supposed to plan a Post Prom together in 2020, but instead we created friendships and bonded over the misery of the disappointments our 18 year olds experienced being seniors and starting college. 2020 gave me a great group of new friends!
  3. Family dinners are important. We always made time in our home for family dinners, as much as possible. The pandemic has given us so much more time to sit together and eat. Not only do we gather together, we also spend ample amount of time after dinner at the table chatting. Even though we are in the same home all day together, with work/school, dinner is still our time to catch up with our day.
  4. Church is more than Sunday morning worship. Everyone learned to accommodate remote worship. Church leaders have learned to be so creative! From live streaming worship, to drive-in worship and everything in between. But I think we learned that church has to be a verb. Neighbors taking care of neighbors, that is also church. Also, the amount of people that can be reached with online worship is far beyond anything we would ever see in a building on a Sunday morning, but if you are not creating community, worship isn’t going to be enough.
  5. Breaking tradition can be very refreshing. Nothing has been “typical” about 2020. But for our family, a high school graduation celebration became something that had to be reimagined. The Senior Parade (Seniors were in their cars driving a route around town) was such a fun event, and it would never have happened without the pandemic. I also had to scramble to recreate a long standing tradition of a youth conference that I help head up at work, and after almost 50 years, we pulled together a virtual event. These are just a couple things out of many traditions that were broken for our family this year, but we still made so many memories together!
  6. Time is relative and timing is everything. What day is it anyway? We all lost our sense of time this year! No one knows what day it is. and how in the world is it already the end of December? In a sense, time slowed down, calendars cleared and it felt like we had all the time in the world. The lesson I learned was make each moment count otherwise days slip by. We made a move this year, in the middle of summer right before sending our daughter to college, and it was by far a great decision. In the midst of it, I was going crazy, but once we sent our baby off to school, I was so happy to have a fresh start. The timing was perfect, and it gave me something to focus on other than a quiet, empty home.
  7. Creativity is exhausting. When the calendar cleared overnight, I had to reimagine my job duties. With that came a clean slate and a rethinking of what the future could look like for the ministry I’m charged with. All of that was actually excited and rejuvenating. However, it is taxing on the brain. It is easy to do the same thing, week after week, month after month. The calendar dictated my to do list. But once I was freed from that list, and could start reimagining, it became exhausting. I quickly learned to take some time in fresh air to clear my mind give myself some space to think and at times, daydream.
  8. Quiet time is more important than you think. If we spent time on screens in 2019, you could multiply that by 100 in 2020. With all of the time we spend in front of our computers, on zoom, our phones and mindless TV (Tiger King, need I say more?) quiet time became evermore important. I have always had a creative, crafty interest. Pandemic+becoming an empty nester=time to start hobbies again! I refinished furniture, started painting again, learned to make hot chocolate bombs and got a Cricut for Christmas. So, I plan on using some of my quiet time in 2021 to continue crafting!
  9. Tik Tok is a black hole. I have always tried to keep up on the latest social media apps and trends, it’s part of my job, but also a way to stay in communication with my own kids. So, I have spent too much time on Tik Tok, I admit, but it became a late night past time with my daughter as we laughed until we cried watching all the silly things out there. Memories were made together over Tik Tok, if you can imagine! (I might have even let her talk me into participating in a couple!)
  10. God’s got this, don’t stress about it. As we worked through what we thought was going to be a two week shut down, that ended up being two months that we thought would ease up in the summer and then all the sudden it was Thanksgiving, things at times became stressful. This year has taught me that I am not in control. Our lives changed weekly, and there was nothing I could do about it. But, God remain constant and steadfast. We still don’t know when the end of this will come, but knowing that with faith, we will get through this has brought some sense of peace.

These are things I have learned personally. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to stay employed, and our family has remained healthy. Not everyone has been as fortunate. So, please know we are praying for those of you who may have more heavy hearts and trials that you are facing.

Revelation

People have been obsessed with the end times pretty much since Jesus left this earth. Every generation has thought they were living in the “end times,” including this very moment. This blog/podcast addresses this topic head-on. Take a listen and dive a little deeper with us. 

Scripture Readings:

  • Revelation 7:9-12
  • Revelation 14:14-20
  • Revelation 17:1-6
  • Revelation 21:1-4

Teaching Points:

  • The book of Revelation belongs to the literary genre of apocalypse. It was a known genre at this time and is not the only example we have of apocalyptic writing.
  • Revelation was controversial even as the biblical canon was being developed. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the bible and some parts of the Eastern Christian Church still do not accept it.
  • Eschatology is a big word for the way we think about the “end times” or the end of life as we know it. The book of Revelation has been used to frame Christian eschatology (or expectations about how this world will end). However, understood as a work of the apocalyptic genre, it may not be reasonable to read it as predictive of the future. Rather, it tells a story about how people imagined a future in which God finally cleaned up the world and punished those who had caused them so much suffering.
  • A big chunk of Revelation tells a rather wacky story about beasts, trumpets, scrolls, angels, plagues, death and destruction on a massive scale. There is also a large portion that is quite beautiful in its description of a hoped-for future in which all nations and peoples join together in worship (ie. Rev. 7).

Discussion Questions:

  • Can you think of ideas you have about the “end times” or things you have heard that might come from the book of Revelation? (mark of the beast, 666, rapture, 1000 year tribulation, etc) How do you respond to those ideas?
  • Revelation 14 describes a scene in which a figure like the Son of Man swings his sickle and “reaps the harvest” of the earth such that the blood runs as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of 200 miles. This is death on a massive scale, arguably at the hand of Jesus… or a figure who is reminiscent of Jesus. What do we make of this?
  • Revelation 17 talks about the “great whore” named Babylon. Can you theorize as to who or what this metaphor might have meant to people at the time Revelation was written? Does that give us any clues as to the meaning or significance of the book in general?
  • Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture, often read at funerals. How does that contrast with some of the earlier passages in our reading for this podcast, and what do we make of that contrast?
  • There is interesting food for discussion about the way we use scripture out of context sometimes. For example, a famous worship song of the 1990’s borrows text from Revelation 7. Does it change the meaning of a worship song to recognize that it comes from such a difficult and controversial part of scripture?
  • There was a book series called “Left Behind” that was popular in the early 2000’s. (There were also movies of the same title.) The series presented some very literal renderings of ideas that are presented in Revelation. The central tenet of the book was that, at some point, all the “genuine” Christians in the world will be raptured (taken up/away to somewhere else), and everyone else will be “left behind” to deal with tribulation. Is this thinking helpful or harmful? Why?
  • How does our eschatology shape the way we live and make decisions? Is there any danger in an eschatology that believes God will eventually come and “fix” everything for us? Is there any other way to imagine a hopeful eschatological future?

Podcast

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_Ep_32

Image by annamaria anderson from Pixabay

In the Beginning…

Many teens struggle with the creation story.  Once they start learning science and  history in school, things no longer add up. We are living in the information age and teenagers have that information at their fingertips. So, it is our job to help them know how to filter all that information to find truths. It is also VITAL for us, as people who live and work with young people, to give them space to explore their thoughts on faith and life. Providing a safe place for teens and young adults to see how faith, science, history and life in general collide. If we don’t clear away time for this, there is a high probability they will walk away from their faith.

So, why not start in the beginning. Below you will find some resources below to help you walk through a small group discussion. Remember to give space for questions and don’t feel you have to have ALL the answers!

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will understand that there are two creation stories in the Bible
  • Students will learn the value of both stories

Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:3; Genesis 2:4-25

Teaching Points

  • First, acknowledge that there are two creation narratives. They are completely different and demonstrate very different attributes of God. They cannot both have literally happened.
  • The first narrative is organize and poetic. On each successive day, God calls elements of the created world into order out of the existing chaos. It point us to a God who is organized, calculated, and in control. It is worth noting that this is a story about bringing order out of chaos, not a story about creating the world out of nothing. In this story, male and female are created at the same time, as the culmination of the creative process.
  • The second narrative is less organized and much less poetic. It jumps from subject to subject and from creative process to creative process. In it, the male human is the very first creative act.
  • There were many, many creation narratives being told at this time in history. Most of them involved a god (or gods) who created the earth or elements of the earth by slaughtering/conquering other gods. It is notable that in both of the narratives in the Bible, God is portrayed as peaceful, non-violent, and is perfectly capable of being creative without being destructive or threatened by other deities.

Discussion Questions:

  • What have you learned in school about creation/evolution?
  • Why did the biblical authors include two creation narratives? Why be confusion? Why not just pick one?
  • What is valuable and instructive about each of these creation myths?
  • Are there any dangers in over-literalizing these stories?
  • What might it mean for us to let go of the notion that these stories happened and start viewing these as stories that happen on an ongoing basis?
  • Is there anything helpful or empowering about considering that God might be persistent, creative in overcoming obstacles, adaptable, or some of the other qualities we see in these stories?

Resources:

 

 

 

 

What the what?!

How often do you give teens or young adults the opportunity to ask the really hard questions? I mean the really hard questions about faith/the Bible. We are about to embark on a study this school year that will help you, especially those youth leaders, like myself, who have not been to seminary, dive into a Bible study that will allow the Bible stories teens learn as children to collide with the knowledge they gain in middle and high school.

We MUST give them a safe place to explore and ask questions now before they leave us. So often we see young people leaving high school and leaving their faith. I believe there are several reasons for this fleeing, but one excuse is that they never make faith their own. The church does not give them the opportunity to grapple with their faith and really question it. Teens so often are afraid they are going to hurt our feelings if they question us, so they just go along to make the adults around them happy, giving us all the canned answers to our questions.

Throughout the school year, I will be teaching a high school Sunday school class along the way, they will be my “field study group” as we develop questions. There will be podcasts for you to listen to and/or to share with your group and this blog will give you questions to ask. It doesn’t matter if you are a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, or young adult, we hope that this study will help you navigate through the Bible in a new and exciting way, and in the end, we pray that it will help you draw nearer to God and strengthen your faith. If you chose, these studies can all be done one after another, or pick and choose the ones that fit into other studies you are doing.

Here is how I recommend you begin week one with your group:

Start with expectations during the study of the group. What are the expectations of the students/teens of one another and of the leader? What are your expectations as the leader?

How would you describe the Bible to a non-believing friend?

Establish it wasn’t meant to be a science or history book.

Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Ask the following questions:

  • When Paul wrote this, what did he mean by “ALL” scripture? (OT, the gospels were not considered scripture yet.
  • What does it mean to be “inspired” by God? Has God ever inspired you? Has the Bible?
  • The Greek word “theopneustos” is being used here and translates to “inspired by God.” See if students can guess the meaning of this compound word: “theo” (God) and “pneu” (to breathe out).
    • Interesting that scholars think Paul made this word up because it is not found anywhere prior to Paul using it here. What are some words that have been made up in our language in the last 5 years? Why are new words made up?
  • When else have we read in the Bible about God breathing? (Gen 2)
    • We are going to get to this story next week, but why is God’s breath talked about in Genesis? (God breathing life into man.)
    • How is God breathing life into man similar to God breathing into the authors of scripture?
    • What about His breath actually breathing into scripture?
    • Is scripture alive? (You want them to get to a place where they see that it is alive and relevant in our lives today.)

What Biblical stories did you learn as a child that now you think, “What the what”?  -start a list-

Ask if anyone can (or maybe see if they can work in groups) write out a Biblical timeline (this only works if you students have grown up in the church).

There are plenty of resources available, but I have found Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton helpful and the basis for this lesson.

Let’s start this journey together with our young people. You don’t have to have all the answers or agree with everything we discuss in the podcast/blog. The important point is to just open up the discuss and allow teens the opportunity to ask questions and make their faith their own.