Power, Money and Violence

Jesus talked much about power dynamics, money and violence, but yet those topics are not things we tend to discuss in church today. It’s interesting to look at 1st Century Palestine to see the similarities and difference of the time when Jesus walked the earth.

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-14 & John 1:1-14

Teaching Points:

  • As readers of the gospels, there is much we often overlook about the time in which these books were written. First century Palestine looked very little like the modern world, although we might stumble upon a few similarities. Bear in mind that both women and children were still considered property. Male children became “human” at a certain age when they passed into adulthood and were counted as citizens.
  • The entire New Testament must be understood as a Jewish writing. Jesus was born into a Jewish family and was, himself, Jewish. Even as the books of the New Testament were being written, after the life of Jesus, the authors were writing to the Jewish community to impress upon them the importance of Jesus. While there is plenty of talk about Jews and Gentiles, it would be quite some time (a couple hundred years) because Christianity would come to be understood as a religion separate from Judaism.
  • The temple in Jerusalem was the central (and “authentic”) place to worship. Jewish people were expected to travel to Jerusalem annually (or as often as possible) for Passover, and the Sadducees were the resident religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem. However, since the Jewish people were scattered, there were also synagogues (sort of like local churches), led by Pharisees. Jesus appears in a number of synagogues but (at least in the synoptics) visits the temple in Jerusalem only at the end of his early ministry.
  • King Herod worked rather hard at ingratiating himself to the Jewish community. He married into a Jewish family. He restored and improved the second temple (can explain) in Jerusalem. However, he was a brutal leader who held none of the values that the Jewish people theoretically observed.
  • The Roman empire was in charge, and they had a comfortable collaboration with Jewish religious leaders. As long as Jewish people behaved themselves, so to speak, they were permitted to worship and carry on relatively unscathed. However, this was not the vision that Jewish people had for themselves. They desired to be, once again, a proud and independent nation, not a people subjugated and dominated by the Romans. At this time, there were many people who came along claiming to be “the Messiah.” They typically attempted a violent uprising against the Romans and this often resulted in considerable loss of life and a tightening of restrictions on the Jewish people. (See, for example, the Maccabean revolt.)

Discussion Questions:

  • How was Jesus different from other so-called “Messiahs” who had come before? What were the people expecting? Does this help us understand anything about how they responded to him?
  • Talk about the notion of the Roman Empire and its values. What do we make of the fact that Jewish religious leaders had quite a good arrangement going with the Romans while everyday people found it to be oppressive and something from which they wished to be “freed.” Does this remind us of anything in our own time?
  • The US has often been called the new Roman Empire. What does we make of that?
  • We do not typically think about the issue of violence when we talk about Jesus and the gospels. But much of the difference between his ministry and the prevailing will of the Romans had to do with the exercise (or non-use) of violence. Where are we with the issue of violence today?
  • Our scripture readings today are from the beginning of the two gospels that do NOT have birth narratives. How do the authors of Mark and John introduce Jesus? What do they want us to understand about him?

Resources:

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography https://www.johndominiccrossan.com/Jesus%20A%20Revolutionary%20Biography.htm

God and Empire

https://www.johndominiccrossan.com/God%20&%20Empire.htm

Postcards from Babylon by Brian Zahnd

Jesus for President

https://thesimpleway.myshopify.com/search?x=0&y=0&q=shane+claiborne

Beating guns video: http://www.shaneclaiborne.com/videos

Youth Annual Conference

https://www.eocumc.com/yac/

When There Aren't Any Words

Talking to young people about life and legends and leaving a legacy.

Yesterday the world lost a legend. Kobe Bryant was a legend on the basketball court as well as in his daily life. We are shocked. I was on the phone with my son when he said I think Kobe died in a helicopter accident. I said, “Are you sure? It’s probably a hoax.” But unfortunately, a quick Google search confirmed the tragedy. Shocked.

I’m sure we are all asking the questions. Why? Why would God take him when he was so young? Take his daughter? Take the other parents and children in the helicopter as well? Good people gone so quickly. It doesn’t seem fair. So what do you say?

The honest answer…I…don’t…know. There is just no answer. It’s a question we ask every time we lose someone. And, we are not God. However, we know that God is good, and that there is more to our lives than this world. We must find the positive in everything that happens. When we are focused on finding good, we begin to heal. Somehow we need to cling to the idea that our lives have a purpose. We must celebrate the lives of those around us, taking advantage of every moment and being present with the people we care about the most.

When talking about losing a legend, like Kobe, it’s helpful to talk about legacy with young people. What is the legacy that Kobe will leave behind? What are his accomplishments that the world will always remember? What kind of things can we do on a regular basis in our own lives that help us to leave our own legacy? When we experience loss, it is often a time for us to readjust our own priorities.

No matter if you live or work with young people, make sure you are having the conversation. It is through discourse that we are able to process our emotions. Give teens and young adults the opportunity to express what they are feeling. Allow them safe places to ask the hard questions. And be OK with not having all the answers. Sometimes we just don’t understand, and don’t have the words to make it better.

Praying for Bryant family and for the families of those who were with him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding,” ~Proverbs 3:5

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! 😉

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.

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!