Thursday, December 16, 2010

Walk of the Magi Youth Group

Last night at youth group, our mid and senior high students met to do a lesson called "The Walk of the Magi." My goal in putting together this lesson was to help the youth prepare for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas and to help them understand more about Advent and the nativity.

Originally I had a good plan where they were going to "be the magi." But on Monday I received an email that convicted me to change my plans somewhat. See my post here for the details of that email! In the end, I took 6 of the characters of the nativity and the youth traveled through "stations" focusing on that person and a topic that went with it! I got lots of my ideas from this site and LOVE their work.

Here's a run down of what we did:

Station 1: The Wonder of Mary
One of my 10th grade students, Jordan Sommer, drew an outline of an icon of Mary.
At this station, students first learned what an icon is and then filled in the blanks of the drawing by cutting out Christmas ads (thanks to all the church members who brought these in). Using the Christmas ads helped the youth to consider the commercialism of Christmas that is so prevalent in our world today versus the true meaning of Christmas.

We didn't finish the project but Jordan did take it home to do some more work on it. When it is finished, we will display it in the Narthex and it should look something like this:

Station # 2: The Obedience of Joseph

This staiton was an Advent prayer wall! Students read from Matthew of three examples where Joseph was obedient after angels appeared in his dreams. Often times that obedience meant waiting or that things would turn out differently than Joseph had planned. In Advent we wait for the birth of the Christ child; but sometimes it is hard to be obedient and wait.

There were two large pieces of newsprint on the wall that posed the questions: What are you waiting for this Advent season and what do you think God is waiting for? Youth were encouraged to write their anwers to these questions on sticky notes and post them on the wall.

Station # 3: The Joy of the Angels
At station 3, the youth considered the angels and read their announcement of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:1-10. The youth were challenged with the following statements:

Why were the angels so joyful? We can imagine the nearly uncontrollable excitement in the voice of the angel that spoke to the shepherds. And we can imagine the shiver of wonder that must have filled the shepherds as they heard the resounding sound of the angelic multitudes praising God. But, what was the source of the angels’ joy? What did the birth of the Lord on earth mean to them?
The angels knew that the Lord’s birth was only the beginning. Jesus would grow from infancy to adult life. He would undergo continual battles and would eventually die on the cross. The completion of His work would come as He rose from the tomb on the first Easter. He became the light of the world; a light to our darkness.
God is calling us to be joyous as the angels and to be the light of the world today.

The youth were then given Christmas light bulbs with wire tied to the end to make a hook to make an ornament. The youth were aked to paint or draw on the light bulb what it means to be the light of the world!

Station # 4: The Eagerness of the Shepherds

When considering the shepherds, the youth were given Bibles and a comfy place to sit to the story in Luke 2:8-14. After they read the story, I posed the questions:

What would it take, do you think, for us to have peace on earth? Where are the places that really need peace right now? What relationships are required? How might God be part of bringing that peace through us?

The students then sat silently and offered prayers for eagerness and peace (in the world, in their schools, in theirr relationships, in our church, in their homes). Once they were finished praying, there were pitchers filled with water and an empty bowl. They were encouraged to pour a small amount of the water from the pitcher into the bowl. This represented the way all of our prayers become one in the eagerness of God’s love.

Station # 5: The Determination of the Magi

The magi likely traveled over 1000 miles to bring gifts to Jesus. That takes some determination. Today, we give gifts as Christmas as a reminder of their gifts.

In this season of shopping madness and gift-getting and giving, I reminded the youth that we should really consider an understanding of "gifts" that goes beyond the material goods that will be awaiting us under our Christmas trees.
Several months ago, we did a study at youth group on Spiritual gifts and each of the youth were given the chance to take an inventory to discover their gifts!

I asked the youth to look around the room and see who was there and what their gifts were. Then, write the other people's "gifts" and "talents" down on strips of paper. They were encouraged to do this several times and then make a paper chain out of the strips of paper. The paper chain was placed on the Christmas tree at this staiton. Later this week, I will undo the chain and mail the anonymous remarks to the youth whom they are about.

Station # 6: The Peace of the Christ Child

At this final station, the youth found a handout on the table, were asked to find a space to sit, and read the account of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2: 1-20). There were also questions on the handout for the youth to consider:

When you picture the story of Jesus’ birth, how do you imagine it? If you were there as character in the story, what do you think you would see? What would you smell? What would you hear? What would it be like for Mary to give birth in that place? What do you suppose Joseph is thinking/doing? What is the baby feeling or doing?

There was Advent/Christmas music playing and there was a slideshow of nativity images being projected on the screen. The youth were asked to sit in silence and ponder the evening.

Here are a couple of pictures from the evening:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Catchy Little Faith Phrases ....

I almost didn’t open it. With the Christmas just 12 days away and busy youth ministry week filled with an interactive Advent experience I’m designing for the youth on Wednesday night and our annual youth Christmas party of Sunday night, how could I take a moment to read an extra email? After all, I had already perused, responded, or deleted 72 emails by 10:00a.m. But, something drew me to the email and I opened it. The email came from the SC Synod staff and here is what the email said:

“May this Christmas find you filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the magi, and the peace of the Christ child.”

-With love from your SC Synod office staff

5 little lines packed with an extra-ordinary message. Think about it! Read the lines again and ponder them!

I just love these (what I’m going to term) “catchy little faith phrases.” You know what I mean! You’ve heard them before! Like these ….

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”
“GRACE = God’s riches at Christ’s expense”
“Sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction!”
“With surrender, comes victory. That's the way God works.”

And I’m always on the lookout for inspiring phrases like these to share with others and to help make myself feel convicted! So, I thankful to get to share this one with you today.
And I wonder, which of these challenges speaks most to you today, this week, or this season of your life?

My prayer for each of my youth and parents is that you be filled with each of these, especially joy and peace! Advent Blessings!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Yesterday I was moved to tears ... twice!

Suprise, suprise! But I am happy to report that this time, they were happy tears. I love Advent and worship during Advent. Both times I cried yesterday were during a worship experience. And, a little background you should know, I've been thinking a lot about my definition of worship lately; hence spurring this blog post. Honestly, I haven't thought much about it since my seminary class on worship. But then, over the past couple of weeks, worship and its meaning has been on my heart. And, then I was moved to tears during worship, twice yesterday. It's been a long time since the Holy Spirit has stirred me in that way during worship. And, it is good. God is good.

Of course, there are different types and ways to worship God. For me, types of worship was the most logical place to start when I began thinking about worship. If I'm being honest, I think I prefer contemporary or blended worship experiences (in general) because I love guitar music, I love to sing, and I love the relaxed, yet, respectful atmosphere. In fact, I was so interested in this topic that I decided to do my thesis paper and master's degree project on contemporary and blended worship and how to begin that type of experience in a church setting (and involve youth in it). And, then at the last church where I served, I led youth worship each Wednesday doing series like "Jesus Did What?" where we explored Jesus' life and example and its practicalness in the lives of youth. I've led silent worship expereiences on ski trips (this involved the ever popular twinkie/mayo trick ... just ask a youth about that). I've led worship services where we painted our offerings and praise to God and where I did mandala prayers with the youth. I love that creative aspect to contemporary worship and connecting youth (and myself) to God in creative, practical, and meaningful ways.

On the other hand, there's just something to traditional worship that is important to me also! In fact, life does not seem complete without the traditional worship during Advent / Christmas season. I'm sure this is because of the wonderful memories from my youthhood and familiar feelings that it stirs in my heart. Every Christmas Even when the candles are lit and lights turned off, I feel so connected to my dad (who died when I was 10) and happy tears flow! There's just something about hearing the organ as we sing traditional Christmas carols and about seeing the beautiful Chrismon trees and the Advent wreath being lit each week of Advent. It's just necessary for me.

But, that's precisely what I've been struggling with. Is worship about me? Should it be?

In seminary, my worship professor gave a metaphor for worship that really made sense to me. Dr. Meyers said that worship can be thought of like a play/actors. We (the congregation) are the actors. The worship leaders/pastors are the directors/stage hands. God is the audience.

I think that way of thinking about worship is spot on. But it flips my way of thinking about worship upside down. When I come to worship, personally, I prefer to walk away having "gotten something" out of the experience. And, usually, I do "get something" out of the worship expereience whenever, whereever, and however I worship.

Bottom line for me - worship should be a chance to praise God for the many blessings of my life and to thank God for God's activeness in my life. It should not be about me. However, often times through my authenic and sincere praise of God, I do get something back ... a conviction from the sermon, familiar memories stirred by the singing of a favorite hymn, etc.

Yesterday, we had the Christmas Cantata during our worship time! The choir was phenomenal. The orchestra was outstanding. It's beggining to feel a lot like Christmas! But, I was moved to tears when 8th grader, Savannah Wingard, sang her solo. In talking with Savannah prior to the worship service, I knew she was nervous, but I was very proud of her! Several months ago, I'm not sure if she would have so willingly stepped out of her comfort zone and praised God with her voice as she did. But yesterday, she did and she did an amazing job. I was moved to tears because that moment (and the rest of that worship service) was an authentic, honest moment of praising God.

I truly feel my heart is more "prepared" for the coming birth of Christ at Christmas after attending this year's Catata. And, I'll be honest, I was moved to tears because I couldn't help but think of the many things happening at Zion right now and the possibility that I might not get to experience another Christmas Cantata here as Savannah's (and the other 59 youth on rolls) youth minister. Not having the privelege to further feel and see God at work as Zion's students stretch, grow, and step out of their comfort zones isn't something I want to think about. But, I was moved to tears because I am confident that God has a plan and that God's plan is good. I was moved to tears because I can see God at work in Zion and because in that moment, I felt so lucky to have been a part of God's plan, here at Zion, for whatever amount of time it turns out to be (which is hopefully years and years more!). God is good.

The second time I was moved to tears was with the senior highs at "This Man Called Jesus" yesterday afternoon. The account of Jesus' life that the members of Lake Murray Baptist share is authentic and moving. It's not the first time that I've been to see it, but it was the first time for some of our senior highs. Throughout the experience, it was truly a privilege for me to sit and watch some of our 9th-12th grade students as they were awe-struck by the performance / worship serivce. I couldn't beleive how "glued" to the performance our youth were, barely taking their eyes off of the people acting out the life and times of Jesus Christ. It moved me to tears ... the music was solemn, it was during the crucifixion scene, our youth covered their mouths and one even shook her head in disbelief, and my tears flowed. These happy tears came because I knew the outcome of the scence and that even death would not defeat Christ. He loved me, each of the 9th-12th grade students with me, everyone in the room yesterday, and everyone period, so much that He endured such great pain and suffering. The tears flowed as I realized that because of that, this Advent season truly is a time of hope, mystery, love, joy, and miracles.

I couldn't need that hope, mystery, love, joy, and time of miracles more than I do right now. And, I couldn't be more undeserving of it. But the amazing thing is, for me, for my students, for Zion, for the world - none of that matters to God. There's nothing any of us could EVER do to make God not love and want us. Now, that certainly doesn't justify the things that we do that are wrong, but it does make the happy tears flow .....