Lord’s Prayer Stations!

27 02 2012

my favorite station: "Forgive us our trespasses..."

Last night, as part of our Lenten series on prayer, we set up a series of small group stations to take an interactive look at the Lord’s Prayer.  I’m including our planning resource as a free download if you ever want to use it!

Download here: Lords Prayer Stations

Here’s what made this work (for us…of course, feel free to adapt with your own group!):

1. We did NOT have the students go to the stations in order. At each station, the youth received a foam puzzle piece, on which they re-wrote that section of the Lord’s prayer (in youth-friendly words!)  After completing all the stations, each small group put their puzzle together to see their final version of the prayer.

2. We gave each group a candle to take with them to each station, as a way of marking that space as sacred.  This simple technique helped keep the youth focused throughout the evening!

3. These stations really engaged all five senses (including smell and taste, which  I find notoriously hard to incorporate into Bible study!)

4. We paired a high school senior up with each of the middle school groups…and it worked great!  Our seniors stepped up to the challenge of leading their groups, and the middle schoolers loved having a “fun adult” at the stations with them.  Afterward, one of the seniors remarked, “My favorite part was at the end, when I had them put their puzzle together and read what they had written.  That’s when I realized: they got it.  It worked.”  

(And when he shared that, I thought the exact same thing!)

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Loaves + Fish = Great Idea!

13 05 2010

So I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, when suddenly it occurred to me … Jesus would  have been a great youth minister!

I mean, look at this model of ministry:

1. Free Food! It’s a well-known fact that teenagers (and college students…and well, maybe everyone) are 10 times more likely to show up when there’s free pizza.

2. Flashy Miracle!  I’m not saying that multiplying the food was a gimmick…but it certainly gave people something to talk about.  And really, it’s not all that different from ministries that give away iPods, or ministers who offer to shave their heads when enough people show up for youth group.  Bottom line is, we want our meetings to be absolutely positively cool enough for our students to talk about with their friends when they get to school the next day.

But the best part about Jesus’ model is that it doesn’t stop there.  The next day, when the crowd shows up again, Jesus has some sharp words for them:

You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.  Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.

Gimmicks and free food are fine…at first.  But if we never challenge our students to move beyond a superficial understanding of faith, then we’re not doing our job.  If we feed their bellies every week and never feed their souls, then something’s missing.   As we introduce them to the Bread of Life, the invitation is always the same: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

Creepy, yes? This is what happens when you google "Jesus pizza." From brandius.net





Letting Jesus out of the box

19 02 2010

On Monday afternoon, while cleaning out the Sunday School closets of the Youth Wing, some of the youth and I ran across the big party box of the game Apples to Apples. (If you’re unfamiliar with the game, click on the link to read wikipedia’s version of the rules…very briefly, it involves matching nouns and descriptive adjectives).

So, during our Wednesday night Bible study, we put Jesus at the center of the game. (The youth informed me that there is apparently a Bible version of the game that may have been more immediately relevant, but we used the real game). I scattered all of the green cards — the adjectives — around the floor, and asked the students to find the word that best described Jesus. We discussed their choices, and then went on to read some Bible passages that showed some conflicting images of Jesus: i.e. the meek and mild moral teacher vs. the conquering king of Revelation. After each reading, the youth were invited to pick up a new card.

One thing I’ve learned about my role as a youth director: every week, I get to learn, teach, and experience the lessons, all at the same time. By the end of the game, I had collected cards that said “Revolutionary,” “Rare,” and “Stunning.” My answers surprised me, as they were different from the cards that I thought I would choose.

But that was what the lesson was all about: expanding our image of Jesus. Too often we put Jesus in a box and never let him out (like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, who insists on praying to little baby Jesus in a manger). But that’s no way to treat the Son of God!

The very next day, I began reading a book called ReJesus: A Wild Messiah For a Missional Church. Authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch argue that a “rediscovery of the biblical Jesus will reshape our view of God, the church, and the world,” but in order to open our eyes, we must “resist capturing Jesus for our ends or molding him to our theological or political agendas” (23, 24).

For this Lenten season, I challenged my students, as I challenge myself, to try to see Jesus in a different way. If you’re interested in trying something similar, I encourage you to check out this gallery of images called “Faces of Jesus.” Which Jesus is most familiar to you? Which Jesus is the “real” Jesus? Which Jesus is calling out to you today?





Wonder & Amazement

28 08 2009

prophetic-imaginationIn the sixth chapter of The Prophetic Imagination, Brueggemann juxtaposes several verses from the Gospels (a sample shown below, with a few more added in, for lagniappe):

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” (Mt. 7:28)
“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mk. 1:22)
“The disciples were amazed at his words” (Mk. 10:24a)
“When [the Pharisees] heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” (Mt. 22:22)
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” (Lk. 4:22a)
“But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” (Mk. 15:5)
“The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'” (Mt. 8:27)
“Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.” (Lk. 9:42b-43a)
“People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'” (Mk. 7:37)
“So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”
“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.'” (Lk. 5:26)

Here’s something cool: The word “amazed” appears 46 times in the Bible (NIV version). 36 of those times occur in the Gospels, with an additional 7 occurring in the Book of Acts.

And here are the patterns that I’m noticing, from Brueggemann’s list and my own concordance search:
1. Jesus amazed everyone: disciples, crowds, family, friends, Pharisees, and Romans. People responded in different ways to their amazement (some praised God; others plotted to kill him), but everyone was amazed.

2. Jesus amazed people with his teachings. Brueggemann wrote, “His teachings evoked radical energy, for they announced as sure and certain what had been denied by careful conspiracy.”

3. Jesus amazed people with his actions: healing, calming storms, raising the dead to life, ignoring traditional customs, eating with the unclean. His ministry was extraordinarily surprising; he did not pander to the ruling elite, nor did he hobnob with the religious leaders. Instead, he reached out to the poor, the broken-hearted, the sick, the mourning, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. To the people who had never had reason to hope, he gave them a new future.

Here’s what Brueggemann has to say:

“His ministry evoked a passion and an energy that had disappeared in the old helplessness. Both his adherents and his enemies sensed the same thing: An unmanaged newness was coming, and it created a future quite different from the one that royal domination intended to permit.”

In true prophetic form, Jesus’ ministry on earth paved the way for the coming newness (brought about by his death and resurrection) by preparing people for that newness. Before opening the way for new life, he first had to equip his people with the imagination to believe in that possibility. He had to create room for wonder and amazement.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
– Isaiah 43:19





Transfiguration and the Prophetic Imagination

6 08 2009

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

– Matthew 17:1-5

Although I’ve always thought Peter’s suggestion (“Lord, let’s build three shelters”) is incredibly random and slightly ridiculous, I do understand the sentiment behind it–or at least, I thought I did.  This is a “mountaintop experience,” and Peter wants to hold onto the moment for as long as he can, as if by erecting tents he might be able to prolong the vision.  Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge the suggestion, because, of course, there’s work to be done below.

That’s the interpretation I’ve always heard.  However, if you could not tell from yesterday’s blog post, I am in the midst of reading Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.  And as I made my way through the second chapter, I began thinking about the Transfiguration in a different light.  So here goes:

In Matthew 5, Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  And previously, I thought chapter 17 was a pretty clear allusion to that fulfillment: Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophets.  Obviously.

But Brueggemann expands the notion of prophecy to include Moses as a prophet, as well, and devotes the entire first chapter to the alternative consciousness that Moses represents, in complete opposition to the Egyptian empire.  The gods of the Egyptian empire were “static” — meaning, the religion existed only to serve the ruling elite.  Under such a system, the poor and oppressed — that is, the Israelite slaves — had no reason for hope; after all, if the gods were on Pharaoh’s side, why should they care about their plight?

But the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he heard them.  And into this prosperous and stable empire entered a God who would change everything.  Omnipotent and all-knowing, this God answered to no one.  He did not confine himself to a temple or to the Pharaoh’s palace; he was, in Brueggemann’s word, free.  Free to do as he wished, free to answer the cries of the Israelites.

This God was a god of the wilderness.  He led his people through the wilderness, and in spite of their complaining and at times, lack of faith, they followed their God through the wilderness, hoping to reach the Promised Land.  His Ark of the Covenant lived in a tent, and that suited Him just fine.  He, of course, was not confined to a tent; he appeared in a burning bush, in a cloud of smoke, in a pillar of fire.

This was the community from which arose the prophet Moses.  This was the God for Whom he prophesied.

Fast-forward several hundred years.  God, of course, did not change; he never does.  But the community of Israel had left the wilderness and moved into the cities.  Against God’s wishes, they appointed a king and set up an empire.  They even built a temple for God within the city of Jerusalem.  They wanted their God to stay in one place, where he might be more manageable.  Brueggemann notes that “Solomon was able to counter completely the counterculture of Moses: 1. He countered the economics of equality with the economics of affluence … 2. He countered the politics of justice with the politics of oppression … 3. He countered the religion of God’s freedom with the religion of God’s accessibility.”

But, of course, God did not just go quietly into his little temple and stay there.  No, he commissioned prophets to confront the kingdom and imagine another consciousness for the people of Israel and their religion. This alternative consciousness was concerned with justice and with sacrifices that actually meant something; it recalled a time of wilderness for both God and His people.  These were the prophets who shaped our collective understanding of prophecy: Samuel, Nathan, Abijah, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, Daniel, Amos, etc.

And then we have this passage of the Transfiguration from Matthew 17.  What should we do with it? How should we understand Peter’s suggestion?

Like Moses and Elijah, Jesus spoke out against the prevailing culture and religion of his day.  Interestingly, he spoke often of the kingdom of God, even proclaiming that the “kingdom of God is at hand”   (Mark 1:15).  His audience loved it. They thought their Messiah was igniting a revolution against the ruling Romans and paving the way for Israel to re-establish its kingdom.  They expected a king-Messiah who would use force to take over and save them.

They were missing the point. And so was Peter. Whether consciously or not, I think Peter’s suggestion displays a Solomonic affinity for temple-building, for putting down roots and erecting long-lasting structures.  But the kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke was vastly different from the Davidic monarchy.  He had not come to build a temple: he was the temple (John 2:19), free to call and choose and love both Jews and Gentiles, and by so doing, to set them free, as well.  Like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus was in the business of proclaiming an alternative consciousness and an alternative kingdom.  His was the sort of counterculture that could — and can — only be found by stepping into the wilderness and meeting God there.

Listen to Him! Listen to his vision, his prophecy, his new Law, his transformative message! Listen to His voice, crying out in the wilderness to proclaim His kingdom! Listen!