Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Horror Stories of the Bible and Pumpkin Smashing 2009

Tonight at our student ministry meeting, we talked about fear. We discussed some of the things we are afraid of and why we are fearful. We also talked about there being good things to be fearful of and how we deal with fear. With Halloween approaching, I’ve been thinking about the things that scare me. Horror movies are one of my greatest fears. As I read through some spooky, gross Bible stories, it hit me that any of these could be turned into a modern day horror film. So, our 6th – 12th grade students got their chances to be the stars of these scripts as we acted them out tonight! We broke into groups and each group chose a story from Scripture to act out or summarize for the rest of the group. The spooky stories we looked at were:

* Elijah flames to Heaven / Mass murder of boys by bear from 2 Kings 2:11-17; 23-24
* The Madman and the Pigs from Mark 5:1-20
* Jael drives the tent peg through the enemy soldiers head from Judges 4:4-22
* Samuel's ghost / Witch of Endor from 1 Samuel 28: 3-25
* The Writing of a Disembodied Hand from Daniel 5:1-31
* Dry bones come to life / Ezekiel from Ezekiel 37:1-14

Over the past week, we’ve had several stations around Zion where members and friends could stop and write on a pumpkin the things of which they are afraid. The Bible has lots to say about fear! Like Psalm 34:4:

“I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears”

And 1 Peter 5:6-7:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”

If anyone had something to fear, it was Paul -

The apostle Paul found his strength in God, He reminds us that, “I …have …been in prison …frequently, been flogged …severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. …I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. …Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. …I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. …[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10).

The point, as I explained to our students, is we must CHOOSE FAITH OVER FEAR!! When we do that, when God is a priority in our lives, the easier it becomes to lift our fears to God. God then smashes our fears … but out of the smashed pumpkin comes something beautiful. From the seeds come a new, fresh, clean, beautiful pumpkin (with no fears written on it). To illustrate this point we stood above the ground on the breezeway of the Zion FLC and smashed our pumpkins that had fears written all over them. Even the 4th and 5th graders joined in the action. It was a
spook-tacular night … sorry, I don’t know where I get these things! Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Giant

There are only two things that I am really, absolutely, positively scared of: roller-coasters and horror movies. And, I've been thinking about both of these things lately because the state fair was in town and because it is Halloween! That got me to thinking even further and investigating the "spooky" or horror-type stories of the Bible.

So I came the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. You know the story: the Philistines and Israelites are battling and they come to a valley. Both sides draw their "battle lines" and refuse to move forward. The Philistines send forth their best fighter, Goliath. Goliath challenges Israel to send their best fighter forward and fight him. Goliath says that whichever side loses will be the slaves of the other side. But the Israelites were intimidated and none of the soldiers were willing to step forward and fight him. You see, Goliath was 9 and a half feet tall. His armor, alone, weighed 125 pounds. He was so massive that he had a soldier assigned to him just to carry his shield.

For 40 days (or a really long time), Goliath taunted and challenged the Israelite soldiers, among them, David's brothers. One day, by chance, David heard Goliath’s challenge. Now, David was not actually a part of the army, but he had been sent by his dad to the battle-lines to check on his brothers who were in the army. David, willing to fight Goliath, decided he was willing to step forward; he figured it couldn't be any worse than his “shepardly” duties. When a sheep would wander off or be taken away by a lion or bear, David would go after the lion or bear and kill it so it would release the sheep. So David went to battle with Goliath with only a sling and a stone in tow, no armor or anything. He takes one shot at Goliath, hits him in the skull, and Goliath dies. And here's the horror part ... a great battle begins and the Israelites kill all of the Philistine soldiers and their bodies are strewn everywhere. And what's further, after Goliath falls down David celebrates by cutting of Goliath's head and carrying it around. YUCK!

We all have "giants" in our lives. And if our teenagers are anything like I was when I was their age, they are facing spiritual (i.e. how does faith relate to my life), emotional (i.e. argument with parents/friends or tough decisions about college, etc.), and physical (i.e. self esteem) giants. And, it is easy to be intimidated by our giants! Even as adults, we continue to battle "giants."

There are a couple of lessons we can take from reading between the lines of the David and Goliath story. First, David didn't go to battle Goliath but he went to check on his brothers. Our giants are usually the same, they just pop up when we least expect them. Secondly, the more we put the battle off (like Goliath's 40 days of taunting), the more intimidated we can become and the further out of control things spiral for us. Thirdly, we need to celebrate our victories! I'm NOT saying we should go and cut our enemies heads off and carry them around but I am saying we should celebrate and give God appropriate credit.

A warning: we may lose a battle or two. But, the great thing about battles is, they are designed to bring us closer to God. We have to trust God to get us through the fight and that God will equip us with the right tools to win! We're not called to be successful ALL OF THE TIME; but, we are called to be faithful. The bottom line is we can't beat our "giants" if God isn't in our army!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are you called to be a student leader at Zion?

Zion 4:twelve students will be forming a leadership team! You can apply and elections will be held Wednesday, November 4th. Here's the deal:
*We will elect a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and several age level representatives.
*Turn your application into Jillianne by Sunday, November 1st.
*Job descriptions and applications will arrive in your mailbox next week!

1. A 6th – 12th grade student active @ Zion.
President and VP must be senior high student.

He/She should be a model of Christian living that
awakens a responsive desire in others to follow.
(A leader moves people by example, not by position.)

Having a good reputation is important.

How else will we plan a student events, calendars,
lessons, lock-ins, trips, service opportunities, etc.?

Are you willing to talk to your peers and ask what they
want out our student ministry? Communication is key!

We will meet approximately once a month.

The fine art of a balanced life

I don’t know about you, but, I have a very hard time finding balance in my life. So that got me thinking … today’s generations are the most overcommitted ever. Today’s teens face so many activities to fit in the 24 hours of our day, including schoolwork, youth group / church (hopefully), sports, duties and responsibilities at home, friendships, jobs, technology, and much more. All of this makes it easy to feel overwhelmed! It makes it really easy for God and church and family not to be our priorities.

It’s not easy to live a balanced life. So many people place demands on us (including ourselves). But finding balance is imperative if we are going to accomplish what God has in store for us. And the truth is, we can’t be effective if we’re constantly feeling exhausted, stressed, and / or overwhelmed.

By having faith in God and ourselves, letting God be in control, and a few helpful tips (from this great book I currently reading), I am convinced we can live a balanced life and understand that God called and allowed us to be exactly where we are this very minute … even if it is hectic and crazy or perfect and stress-free.

Tips for a leading a balanced life:

1. God first – ALWAYS. Enough said … see Deut. 6:5, etc.

2. Stay connected to God – duh … pray and praise (worship)! Frequent conversation and time with the other is important in any relationship. And, that does mean church, worship, youth group, Sunday school, service/missions become the ways in which we partially live into that relationship.

3. Get a planner – plan, plan, plan. Manage your schedule and time better will help you avoid dilemmas.

4. Delegate – figure out what only you can do and get help with the rest from those who are willing!

5. Sabbath – that’s a big word for rest. Even God rested, right? Take at least a day off … COMPLETELY!

6. Learn to say “no” – this is tough but sometimes you have to say no in order to keep your priorities straight.

7. Hang with your family – even if it’s just dinner. But what about movie night or a vacation? There’s only one you in your family and you can’t be replaced!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future ...

I don’t know why God hits me with the things God hits me with. And I wonder how often God sends a message my way and I totally miss it. Well, not this morning! I heard a quote this morning as I was driving to worship that hit me where it hurts and I have been in a tailspin ever since. Here it is … get ready … I hope it will impact you as it did me: “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” This quote comes from Paul Boese who was a Dutch botanist, more known for his quotes than his research.

It has become apparent to me that lately I am carrying a lot of emotional baggage in two current situations of my life. This morning upon hearing this quote, I had to stop and wonder: have these simple words provoked the wake-up call I needed to forgive the persons in these two situations who have wronged me? And further, what is my part in wronging them by not forgiving them and being able to move on with an “enlarged” future?

One of the situations is a family matter and I can clearly see how offering that forgiveness would enlarge not only my future, but also other family members’ futures. And, I want to and will do that. It scares me and honestly the reason I haven’t offered forgiveness prior to now is because I am afraid this family member won’t ask me for forgiveness for their actions but will instead continue to point out what I am doing wrong. But I have realized that I can’t dwell on that. This person loves me as much as she can, just not the way I need; I can’t change that and must learn to accept that fact. It will take some time for things to get back to normal, but I am unpacking that emotional suitcase!

But in the second relationship, I remain bitter in spite of the words of Paul Boese. Clearly this is the reason for my afore mentioned tailspin. And, it is a little different from the first situation because I have forgiven my transgressor in this case. However, I have no inclination or longing whatsoever to have an active relationship with that person so how do we have an “enlarged future?” BOOM … God wrestled me to the floor again! Maybe the “enlarged future” is not mine or about continuing a relationship with the person but that “enlarged future” belongs to my ex-transgressor because of my forgiveness? Maybe the enlarged future is mine because I have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and move on in a positive way. As much as I cared for this friend, my heart has become hardened (like Pharoah’s in the Old Testament) against this person. I know that if I do not separate myself from this person, this person will never change or be able to focus on their issues. As heavy as this emotional suitcase has become and as attached to it as I am, I just have to put it down and walk away. A metaphorical way to think of it is like this: perhaps the “airline” (i.e. God) just lost the “suitcase” (i.e. emotional baggage) and I am now headed home from the “airport” (i.e. our relationship) without the bag. I’ll still hang on to the “clothes” (i.e. our times together / memories / lessons learned) I wore that were in the bag, but I can’t carry it anymore.

You can probably tell, I have been thinking so much lately about forgiveness and the bitterness a lack of forgiveness can cause. And, for sure, God knew I needed to hear Paul Boese’s words this morning. Forgiveness is an emotion and emotions are what drive us (and our behavior). And I would argue that most of us know from personal experience...forgiveness works. When we are wrong, our first reaction tends to be anger and resentment. But not Jesus! Jesus, even knowing that his “friends” and “family” will soon desert him, He breaks bread and celebrates with these same people. I am so thankful for the example Jesus has set forth and for the words of his servant Paul Boese. Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cynical Samuel?

A teenager’s relationship with a local church matters. Yet, many teens today, have become cynical about going to church (and even their relationship with God). And let’s face it, there are lots of forces working against students today that keep them from embracing the truth: peer pressure, parents who don’t attend church and aren’t actively in relationship with The Holy themselves, sports, massive amounts of school work, the media, drugs, parties, after school jobs, etc. Louis Mellado – a Spanish youth minister – has written about the similarities between the young Samuel and today’s Christian teenagers. Mellado has noted that some of the forces Samuel faced were similar … yet Samuel overcame them and did not remain cynical.

His mother dedicated Samuel to God before Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:11). Samuel was not only taken to church, he lived there! Some of today’s teens seem to sometimes resent growing up “in” the church. But Samuel used it as an opportunity to embrace his religious heritage. In my seven years in youth ministry, I have seen this happen (both ways)! But, the on fire, all the time, at church whenever the doors are open students are (sadly) more difficult to come by. Teenagers are pulled in so many directions and are so overcommitted these days. Teenagers are not encouraged to even go to church. Some parents don’t want to “force” their child to go to church for fear that later in life they will “turn” from God for it. I’ve got news …. If you don’t get them here, I can’t introduce them to Jesus and teach them how cool that relationship is and how NOT to turn from it later. I can’t help them recognize how present and active God is in their daily lives and how any Christian topic could possibly relate to popular culture. I can’t introduce them to adults in our church who will mentor and love on them and affirm them. I can’t help them recognize what an important role they play in the kingdom of God. I can’t laugh with them, cry with them, worship with them, teach them or fellowship with them. I can’t introduce them to people whose lives they can impact (i.e. mission and service experiences).

Just read 1 Samuel 3:1b and you will know that God’s presence was rarely recognized in Samuel’s society. Was God not there? Absolutely not; of course, God was present, the people just missed it! Most of us do that everyday. Further, teens are naturally attracted to the world and all of its temptations and offerings. Because of this, as much as we church leaders and Christians do not want to admit it, in many ways we are moving to a secularized society and a post- Christian era. Perhaps teens feel they are on the outside looking in … which brings me to the next point:

One example from Samuel’s day were Eli’s sons … just read 1 Samuel 2 to see their story. Samuel didn’t fall prey to this situation, but, as children become adolescents they are able to see and identify the weaknesses and mistakes of their parents, church leaders, friends, mentors, society. In my experience, this definitely leads to cynicism about the church and most of the rest of the world feels this way too. People love Jesus, but not the church. Oh, I could go on and on about this and how bad I am at it too, and the lessons I have learned, but that is for another blog entry on antoher day ...

We know that from 1 Samuel 3. Samuel knew the Scripture and the songs but he didn’t know God. There is a difference in knowing ABOUT God and being in a RELATIONSHIP with God. So many times God calls us (just like he did Samuel) and we just miss it because we don’t know God’s voice.

Medallo makes a great point. We know Samuel was active in relationship with God. This is what prevented him from being cynical about the church. We know this because Samuel stopped keeping his distance from God. Samuel did more than just go through the motions. Samuel listened more than he questioned and acted more than he talked. What a great lesson for our teens today (and we adults)!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Do you think God is just sleeping on a pillow in heaven?

God is at work in creation, afterall, God is the author of life right? Romans 1:20 reads, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.” So, where have you witnessed God’s eternal power and divine nature? This was basically what the senior high Sunday school class was debating this morning. Some of the most common answers were at the mountains or beach. But I also thought of how we can sense God's presence in the changing of the leaves. Or how could anyone doubt God's existence after getting on an airplane in the rain, flying above the clouds, and witnessing the beauty that exists above those rain clouds.

Candice and Paul, who were teaching today, brought in some quotes about God's presence in nature. And one quote, in particular, caught my attention. The words came from Martin Luther. “God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, behind and before you. Do you think God is sleeping on a pillow in heaven?” I love it!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More thoughts on the mirror

I have been so convicted by the statement from the skit guys "what do you see when you look in the mirror?" Here's the link to the video:

Usually I am rolling on the floor laughing a good belly laugh when I watch the skit guys, but, this is one of their more serious clips! At Sr. High Bible study this morning, I talked about this video and proposed the question "What do you see when you look in the mirror?" to our youth and Pilgrim's youth. Do we see beauty? Do we see a great new haircut? Do we see our imperfections like something stuck in our teeth or a zit? Do we someone pretending to be something they are not?

James 1:23-24 tells us: "If you hear the message and don't obey it, you are like people who state at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave ...."

The bottom line is that we all have the imperfections, zits, warts, and bruises. If we don't look in the mirror then we'll never know they are there. That's the thing about mirrors (good ones anyways) - they always tell us the truth. Thanks wicked witch in snow white ... mirror, mirror on the wall. Let's be honest, when we look in the mirror, we're not always going to like what we see. But God does! And, I'm not convinced that God can see the imperfections. We know that God is Emmanuel or God with us. If we think, symbolically, of the zits and warts and imperfections as our sins, then I don't know that God can look on them. Sin is something that God forgives (if we ask) but it is also something that separates us from God. If God is a God with us then how can God check out those imperfections we see in the mirror? God loves us no matter how many zits we have!

And, there are a lot of mirrors / things that reflect our image in our lives (sybolically speaking, of course). Think about a spoon or aluminum foil or a puddle. The image we see there is not clear; it's blury. We can think of this like the world and culture - there's not necessarily a clear view of right and wrong. Think about a broken mirror. In this reflection, things aren't quite acurate all of the time or are distorted. It depends on your view or where you are standing and the reflection changes easily. This is like our friends. Think about a small mirror versus a full length mirror. The small mirror is good but you have to get close to see the strengths and weaknesses of your reflection. The small mirror is like the Bible.

I think what James is pointing out to us is that a "forgetful hearer" is someone who sees themseleves / God's reflection but then goes away and does nothing about it. In reality, we wouldn't walk away from a mirror and jjst forget what we look like or what we're wearing or which was we parted our hair. When we look in the mirror and we see a problem, we fix it. That's just like our Christian journey. When we look in the little mirror or the Bible and we see a problem, we should fix it (or at least try). We all have the zits and warts and imperfections, we always will. But using the small mirror, getting really close, in that we will be shown by God the way to fix those imperfections.

So, what do you see when you look in the mirror? Ultimately I pray it will be Jesus!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

So, as I was prepping for Wednesday night's graveyard scavenger hunt at Zion, I came across a really funny video! It's by the skit guys! I LOVE the skit guys; I got to see them perform live at a conference I attended in the summer of 2007 ... Amazing! They are so funny. They are two guys who have made these videos of just about any Christian topic you can think of. They really have a good thing going and are appealing to youth.
In this video that I saw over the weekend, one of the actors is playing God and asks the other actor who is playing an every day human: "what do you see when you look in the mirror?" The everyday guy starts to explain what he sees. He sees a fairly handsome fellow who could stand to loose a few pounds in a green shirt. But "God" interupts him and says something like: it sure would be nice if you humans could look in the mirror (or at each other) and see My Son, Jesus Christ; I really want you to be the image of Christ.
Wow, that hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so convicted by the statement. I mean, it makes perfect sense; it's what we are called to do and be and see. It's what other's should see when they look at us and our actions. Yet, if someone had asked me what I see when I look in the mirror, I probably would not have given the answer, "Christ."
When I think about Zion or look in at Zion, I have to say, I do see Christ. Just last week we made a plea for you to help us collect backpacks for Lutheran family Services. There were 29 children who had been taken from their homes recently who had NO or ripped and torn bookbags. As of today, we had collected enough backpacks and donations to give LFS 35 bookbags. Way to reflect Christ Zion! I'm impressed and proud to be a part of your family.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dr. Pepper Devotion - 9/30/09

After sharing my faith / life story with the congregation last night at the Zion Coffee House, I invited the youth and their parents out to parking lot to participate in a devotion related to one of my favorite chapter of Scripture. We distributed a can of Dr. Pepper to everyone and we did, what like to call, a Dr. Pepper devotion (because Dr. Pepper is one of my favorite drinks).

Psalm 117, the whole chapter, is only two little verses. But, those two verses contain the answer to some of life’s biggest questions --- questions about who God is and why people are on this planet. This shortest chapter in the Bible gives the “Who, What, and Why” of Christianity. It’s so important that even Paul repeated in Romans 15:11. If I had the privilege of titling the Psalm, I would title it “How’s your praise life?” or “The Basics of Christianity: who, what, why.”

Here’s what the Psalm says:
Praise God, everybody! Applaud God, all people! God’s love has taken over our lives; God’s faithful ways are eternal. Hallelujah!

Who is this Psalm written to?
Everyone … Praise God, everybody. Applaud God, all people! His love has taken over our lives. No matter what language you read this in … the message is the same. God loves us. All of us. I asked the youth and parents to shake up their Dr. Pepper, if they were WHO these verses were written for. Everyone shook their Dr. Pepper!

What should we do in response to God’s love? Verse 1 tells us we should praise God / applaud God What does it mean to praise God? Our youth and parents had several suggestions. But, the Dictionary says Praise means to extol, commend, or honor, often in song. I had the youth and parents sing praises … they did well! I then explained that praise is like bragging on someone --- loud enough that everyone can hear. Finally, I asked the youth and parents to shake their Dr. Pepper up if they are good at bragging on others, themselves, their friends, their church, their favorite sports team when they win (like the Gamecock’s beating Ole Miss), God, or anything.

Our youth and parents shared many of the reasons why God deserves our praise: God died for us, everything good we have comes from God, God first loved us, etc. I mentioned that Verse 2 tells us exactly why God deserves our praise! Because God’s love has taken over our lives … and God’s faithfulness to us will last FOREVER! Even when we turn away, God will remain faithful to us. There is nothing we can do to make God not love us. My guess is there probably aren’t very many in our lives that are like that?

The point of the devotion was that once we have and acknowledge and live in God’s love, amazing things can happen. The Holy Spirit fills us up and we begin to explode and get others wet with God’s love! With that, we shook our Dr. Pepper one more time, popped them open, and exploded them all over the Zion parking lot! Dr. Pepper went EVERYWHERE!! For sure, that is just where Zion’s youth ministry is headed!