EEK! Here we are, already in the Advent Season, and we are tapped out. If you are still searching for something to do with Children, Teens or Family Ministries for Christmas Tide or after the New Year, we share lots of ideas on this podcast. Below are a few links of resources that we discuss. If you are not connected with anyone in a network to share ideas, please send a message. If you have some great ideas, please share in the comments. This will become a resource where we can send people to who are looking for ideas. We need to lean on one another as we lead during these unprecedented times!
We can’t tell the future, but we do know that we are not “going back to normal” once we are on the other side of this pandemic. A few youth leaders talk about what they see as the future of Youth Ministry, post pandemic. The key to all ministry is relationships. This was true pre-pandemic and it will hold true post-pandemic. As we move through this time of social distancing, be creative on creating community and keep an open mind on the definition of “community.” It is time youth leaders focus on relationships and discipleship and less on programs. We know that we can become “zoomed out.” Our students, after a long day on the computer for school, don’t want to be back on in the evening for youth group. This is difficult and requires us to be creative. This creativity is what needs to carry us into our time post-pandemic. Whatever you decide, leaders, do not simply think you are going to go back to what you were doing before. We are all changed people from our experiences from this pandemic; therefore, there will be a new norm. Our lives will be different and ministry will be changed.
We are talking about the effects of the quarantine in our lives and how relying on technology has impacted has changed ministry. This discussion also addresses how we will live into the future given these experiences. This particular podcast does not specifically address youth and young adult ministries, although it does affect these ministry areas.
We have been forced into using technology in new and exciting ways, but we miss gathering face to face. How will this change our future in ministry? While we may not have all the answers, offer some interesting questions that churches should be asking themselves.
How have we changed our definition of “community”?
Who have we reached while social distancing?
How can we make the worship experience more engaging?
How can we get more people involved in the worship experience? (beyond the pastor and musicians)
What do we want to continue after the quarantine?
What risks have we taken?
What successes have we encountered?
What improvements do we still need to make?
Ultimately, we have all been changed because of this quarantine. “Going back” is not an option for the church. We must figure out how we will lean into tomorrow taking all that we have learned with us as we serve our communities and engage others in our worship and discipleship experiences.
Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He had a key role in the story of the arrest and eventual crucifixion of Christ. Was Judas a pawn in this event? Was it free will or predestination? What if he had made a different choice? We dive into these questions and more in this podcast.
Scripture Readings: John 13:21-30 and 17:6-19 (focus v12)
Do you think everything happens for a reason? What situation could arise where this idea may be damaging to a person?
How do we answer that same question from the framework of our faith?
In the gospels, there is some suggestion that Judas was “used” in order to accomplish a greater purpose. What is your reaction to that?
Do you think God uses people to accomplish certain purposes?
How do we understand the relationship between free will and God’s will?
Can you think of other stories in the Bible in which it seems that people do/don’t have free will?
How does this help/change your perspective on your own life?
We spend a lot of time as humans wondering and talking about afterlife. There have been movies and books created to offer renditions of what things may be like after our time on earth is done. But what does the Bible say? What do you think? Take some time to listen to the podcast and read some scripture, and see what conclusions you draw.
Scripture Readings: Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31
The afterlife is a matter that concerns and interests Christians and, frankly, most people in general. Why do we suppose that is? How important is the idea of the afterlife to people’s understanding of Christianity?
What does the passage from Matthew seem to suggest about the afterlife? Is that Jesus’ central concern?
There are many images of hell, most of them from literature and other non-biblical sources. Regardless of how we envision it, what do we do with the idea of eternal punishment? How does that square with God’s character?
Similarly, most visual renderings of heaven come from non-biblical sources, and scripture does not paint a single, uniform picture of heaven. What are some of the ways that people define and understand heaven?
Is it possible that, through God’s grace, everyone will ultimately end up in heaven? Why or why not?
The parable of Luke paints a picture of the afterlife in which there is clearly a positive place (with Abraham), a negative place (Hades), and interaction between those realms and the mortal world. Is this meant to be taken literally? Does the author of Luke share Matthew’s view on how these outcomes will be determined?
Does this parable from Luke suggest anything surprising about who will receive blessing and who will receive condemnation and for what reason?
Today is a holiday in the church. One that not every Christian, especially protestants, observe. It may be one that seems a bit different, even a little odd. And even if we understand it, we may not know the history. This blog and podcast should help you as you reflect today, preparing for the Lenten season.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21
History of Ash Wednesday
The liturgical use of ashes originated in the Old Testament times. Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality, and penance. For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 BCE) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1). Job repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel wrote, “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.
The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons. Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must “live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes.” Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his The History of the Church how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness. Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.
In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes. The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” After the sprinkling, the priest asked, “Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?” To which the dying person replied, “I am content.” In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality, and penance is clear.
Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent. The ritual for the “Day of Ashes” is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary which dates at least to the 8th century. Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.
Traditionally, the palm branches from Palm Sunday of the previous year are used to create the ashes. This is intended to suggest that even the jubilant crowds on Palm Sunday were ultimately at least partly complicit in Jesus’ death. While the literal truth of that is questionable, the fact remains that even the most faithful Christian still sins and falls short.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21
‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When you attend an Ash Wednesday service (or when you have in the past), what is the tone or mood of the service? What are some memorable moments in the Ash Wednesday liturgy?
Mourning, mortality and penance are not exactly concepts we discuss every day.
What do we make of this idea of mourning for our sins?
Is there value in remembering our own mortality from time to time?
What is the purpose of penance? Is that a helpful concept for us?
Many folks eliminate a food or habit during Lent. Others try to adopt a spiritual practice (or discipline) during that time. What is the purpose of that exercise? Why might we choose to make such a change during Lent?
In the Catholic tradition, confession is offered to a priest. In the book of James, it is suggested that we should confess our sins to one another. Many churches have a moment of confession in their service, and it is a part of the United Methodist communion liturgy. What is the purpose of confession, and does it help anything?
We generally think of shame as being a negative thing, but the idea of shame is sometimes associated with Ash Wednesday. Is that helpful? Is there a better way of naming it?
What is repentance? How does it relate to all these other things (confession, shame, penance, etc)?
How might this passage from Matthew help to orient us for the season of Lent?
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
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.)
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?
We will spend the next couple of weeks looking at the gospels and the beginning of the New Testament or Christian Testament.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be looking at the gospels and the life/ministry of Jesus. It is important to understand that these are not the earliest or most raw accounts we have of Jesus’ life. In fact, Paul was our earliest New Testament writer and the most likely person to have actually met Jesus.
The gospels appear first because of their narrative structure, and they were given priority as the most thorough accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
They are not in chronological order themselves. Mark was the earliest gospel, probably written sometime around 66-70 CE. Matthew and Luke were written somewhat later and almost certainly had the gospel of Mark available to them as they were writing their accounts (thus the many similarities and overlapping stories). The gospel of John was the last to be written, roughly around the turn of the first century and has relatively little in common with the other three in terms of content.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are the Synoptic gospels, each giving narrative account (“synopsis”) of Jesus’ life. John is quite different and does not take the same narrative approach.
It’s important to understand that no one was taking notes or making recordings as Jesus taught, healed, and traveled among the people. In that day, it was common for stories to be passed down by oral tradition and the stories of Jesus were no exception. Bear in mind that the literacy rate at this time in history was roughly zero, and everyday folks did not have access to paper, writing utensils or books. The bibles (Old Testament) in existence at that time would have been incomplete, meticulously copied on scrolls, and guarded carefully at the temple or synagogue to be read by an educated religious teacher.
All of the gospel accounts have come to scholars in fragments. We do not have a single, complete version of any of the gospels. Rather, fragments have been found over many years that have enabled scholars to piece together their best possible effort at a complete rendering of each book. There are many textual variants and differences between the various fragments, so biblical scholars do their very best to sort out copy errors (we can explain this) and determine which variations date to the earliest possible manuscript of each text.
General Talking Point(s):
Each gospel has a particular author, context, target audience and intent. Each gospel tells the story of Jesus a little differently, with a unique voice and with special things the author wishes us to understand about Jesus.
Often, it’s a waste of our energy to get very hung up on particular words or phrases because many have been subject to translation decisions and may even be one of several textual variants. Instead, we are wise to look at the “big picture” that each gospel paints about Jesus and to read each story for its “more-than-literal” meaning.
Podcast 16 – Birth Narratives & the Epiphany
Scripture Readings: Luke 2:1-20 & Matthew 1:18-2:12
Only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) contain a birth narrative.
We tend to roll these two stories into one rather implausible narrative for our Christmas pageants and nativities, but we lose much of the significance of each story by doing so. Matthew is all about honor and establishing Jesus as the new Moses/king of the Jews. Luke wants us to understand that Jesus is humble and is here for the humble, telling us a story in which shepherds are the first recipients of the good news.
These two gospels each contain a genealogy of Jesus, and they do not agree with each other. These genealogies are also part of the story, meant to establish Jesus’ lineage and tell readers something about his importance and place in history. They do not need to be understood literally or subjected to vain attempts to make them agree.
On Epiphany (often observed on the first Sunday in January), we essentially tell Matthew’s version of the story, in which wise persons from the East see a star in the sky and follow it to Jesus, bringing expensive gifts to honor him. These wise men travel right past King Herod (the real king at that time) to seek out Jesus, a story meant to establish Jesus as the king the people actually needed.
There are a number of elements of the birth narratives that are miraculous in nature, and some of these things have become stumbling blocks for contemporary readers. A good example is the notion of the virgin birth. In the interest of allowing folks to be fully informed, we must acknowledge that many powerful leaders at this time had virgin births attributed to them. It was written into the stories of kings and powerful people to establish their “special-ness” and give them an almost supernatural importance. We have to wrestle with whether the idea of the immaculate conception of Jesus was literally true or was a story told after his lifetime to establish his “special-ness” and tremendous importance to the people.
There are other elements of the birth narrative of Jesus that are questionable in their historicity. Though good records were kept at the time, there is no evidence that a census took place like the one described in Luke. It may have simply been a way to explain how Jesus could have been born in Bethlehem instead of his hometown of Nazareth. There is no evidence that King Herod actually killed all the young boys under a certain age, an event that would undoubtedly have been recorded. In all likelihood, King Herod was unaware of Jesus’ birth. The story serves as a way for Matthew to tell us that Jesus had come to establish God’s kingdom in direct opposition to the kings and kingdoms of this world.
Why have people combined all of the gospel material and attempted to make a single narrative about Jesus’ birth and early life? What do we lose by reading the stories this way?
If we take a look at Luke’s birth narrative, what does the author really want us to understand about Jesus? What about the author of Matthew? Are there truths that really hit home if we read each story on its own?
We just celebrated Epiphany, which means to “reveal,” and is the day we tell the story of the wise men. What are some of the truths Matthew wishes to convey with this story? What are some of the perceptions about the wise men that we have come to believe that are not in the gospels?
How does it feel to hear that some of the elements of our Christmas stories may not be literally (or factually) true? Does that really matter in terms of what we can learn about Jesus?
Why do you suppose Mark and John did not include birth narratives? Instead of supposing that they just forgot or didn’t care, what does the omission tell us about their understanding of Jesus?
We sit down with “Anna” an 18 year old from Generation Z (born 1999-2015, according to Barna research and here) who is open and honest about safety, isolation, anxiety, depression, faith, church and religion for her and her peers.
It is fascinating to hear how teens struggle with feeling safe and the anxiety that comes about because of the lack of feeling secure. We talk about how this has developed over the years. Generation X (born 1965-1983 according to Barna) may have helped contribute to this through our exposure to things such as, the missing persons on our milk cartons as school. “America’s Most Wanted” was a TV show that came out in the late 1980’s hosted by John Walsh whose son was abducted while at a department store, so we became very aware of the safety concerns and the “bad guys” who were out there taking children. Neighborhood Watch groups started popping up, and I remember there were signs that we put in our windows so that children knew where the safe homes were in case we needed a place while walking home from school. We were not afraid of mass shootings, but we still were aware of safety issues at a young age. Could we have manifested this fear into our own children? Think about how we felt after 9/11/01. If you had children then, or even after that tragic event, we are raising our children differently. Couple all of this with Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, and there is no denying why Gen Z is anxious.
This podcast also addresses the fact that Gen Z has been labeled the most isolated. They spend plenty of time alone and in their rooms. We could argue this is no different than any teen in any generation before them. The difference now is they are never alone. There is a phone, computer or video game that allows teens to be connected to anyone in any place in the world. “Anna” suggests that she doesn’t believe she is isolated. However, she does acknowledge the difficulties of having her phone and social media at her fingertips 24/7.
Finally, we ask “Anna” about faith, church and religion. It is very interesting to hear her take on these subjects. While her opinion may not represent all of her peers, she does make some valid points that probably resonates with many.
Hopefully, this podcast will inspire you to reach out to teens or young adults in Gen Z. Ask them the questions and see how they feel about these or even other topics. Remember how important it was for you when you were a teen to have an adult listen to you? Give that chance to another young person. Allow them the opportunity to speak, share and maybe give solutions. Let us know what you learn!
In our last week of Advent, we take a look at some verses from minor prophets as well as Mary’s song in Luke. We are using a traditional picture of the nativity for our blog. This may also be a good opportunity to talk about how often times we misrepresent Jesus’ birth with people who look like us, with kings present or even snow! But also talk about how when we relate to Christ’s birth personally, we can see the importance of the story in that He came to free us all of our sin. Enjoy the podcast and discussion. Have a very Merry Christmas!
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16 (Advent lectionary) and (perhaps) Amos 5, Micah 6 *Also Luke 1:46-55*
We are looking at some of the minor prophets this week. (Minor= smaller books).
The prophets were prophesying during times of crisis. The podcast goes into more detail about these crisis’s. It is important to help students understand the place where the prophets were when they were writing.
The message being sent here is, “God wants His people to create a just society.”
Social justice is helping change systems of power to give voice to the voiceless
If you have the time, or would like to bring in some New Testament, look at Mary’s Song in Luke.
What, really, is the point of telling this Advent story again and again each year? Are we really expecting anything new and different, or is it just a nice story to tell?
Mary’s song shares her words of joy about God. Why is she singing praises to God? (Help students see that God first appears to this poor, unmarried girl. Not to a rich powerful man.) What does this say about our God? How does this compare to how our community, or the world views God? Where do you go to find God?
Some of the prophetic voices speak powerfully of the transgressions of the people that must be overcome in order that a new light might come into the world. What does this mean in our own time? Are we, perhaps, too “tame” in our expectations and in our willingness to use our own prophetic voices during this season of Advent?
What are YOU hoping for? What light would YOU like to see come into the world? What social justice issue are you passionate about? Where could you bring a voice to the voiceless?