Christmas Celebrations

it's been fun watching Youth Ministry blogs and Facebook pics to see the ways youth pastors across the country celebrate Christmas with their students. i'm not talking about youth talks and other lessons on the meaning of Christmas, but that not-often-blogged-about FUN and GAMES side of youth ministry!

so what do we do? our Junior Highers participated in a quick "Decorate-A-Student-As-If-They-Are-A-Christmas-Tree" game.

and the Senior High loaded the shuttle for our annual Christmas Extravaganza! what the heck is that? it's a progressive dinner, white elephant gift exchange, ugly Christmas sweater, fun night. we even throw in a little "Wright Family Christmas" game so that a few lucky kids can win some Starbucks' gift cards! cheeayyyyy! here's some pics...
so what do you do to celebrate with your youth?


"The Lord's"

Isaiah 44:5
"Some will say, ‘I belong to the LORD’;
others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, ‘The LORD’s,’
and will take the name Israel."

tonight i asked our students to consider this text. this, as i posted before, is about identity. this is about a people living in exile - living in a land not their own - surrounded by foreign customs, religious practices, foods, etc. this is about this exilic people holding their heads high, remembering where their hope, value, and self-worth come from - "I belong to the LORD."

so i challenged our students: "who do you belong to? would you be willing to write 'The Lord's' on your hand? would you, as a sort of exile in this world and in your school, be willing to stand up for your faith - be willing to answer for the hope you have?"

we busted out the Sharpies. i asked the students to only write, "The Lord's," on their hands after they thought about how they might answer that friend or acquaintance at school the next day when he says, "what's that on your hand?"

i remember the days of rockin' the WWJD? bracelets, and i even remember wearing some hideous Christian t-shirts to school in my "too on-fire for Jesus to know i was too fanatic, very nerdy, and most likely annoying" years. but i think this is different. this is straight out of the Bible y'all!

"some will write, 'The Lord's,' on their hands."
what would you say? are you willing to put your identity in Christ - to really put it out there that you belong to God?


Good News - Gospel

what is the Good News? what is the Gospel? i've been thinking about how to define this over the last week or so. it all began when i thought i was teaching on the concept of "Gospel" for our 7th and 8th grade Confirmation class. "what is the Gospel? how should i define it for Junior Highers?"

then as i was planning Sunday school on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the JOY Sunday, i found myself again asking, "What is the Good News? What is it about Christmas time that is so joyful?"

there is a handout i ran across a few years ago with many definitions of the Gospel form past and current theologians. it's quite interesting (if you want to see it, i can send it your way). i'll try and summarize these definitions:
the Gospel is Jesus, God in the flesh, who came to save humanity from sin by dying on a cross and raising from the dead. in dying and rising, Jesus cancels our sin and makes it possible for humans to once again be in relationship with God. and finally, Jesus ascends to the Father where he is seated on the throne. those who believe in him have access to eternal life through the forgiveness of sin, and are privileged to participate in God's kingdom. this is Good News!

but there's something that appears to be missing, or at least underemphasized in this "classic" Gospel message. something subtle, but something that i believe matters - especially as we communicate the Gospel to young people. it is the invitation to BELONG. it is the sense that God is again calling a people to follow him, to participate in something bigger than individual fame or fortune.

i've been reading through Isaiah this Advent, starting in chapter 40. i'm struck by the language God uses to remind the people that they are his - they belong to God. today i read Isaiah 44. verse 5 caught my attention, and i connected it to verses 21-22. check this out. remember, i'm reflecting on the Good News, the Gospel, and communicating it to young people.
"Some will say, 'I belong to the LORD';
other will will themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, 'The LORD's,'
and will take the name Israel."
there's the identity, the belonging, piece. and then, verses 21-22:
"I will not forget you.
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you."
The Gospel: We BELONG to God. He created us. He formed us in our mother's womb. Though we've strayed, he has not forgotten us. He is calling us to repent, to RETURN to him. And he has REDEEMED us. This work of redemption is DONE. Jesus did it - he accomplished it - it's done.

The BELONGING piece is huge. Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is about a father welcoming his son; it's about a father throwing a party for the child who returns; it's about a father who has already forgiven the son before he can say a word. And this is the story some say is "the Gospel in a nutshell." And...this is the story JESUS tells.

How do you define, or how would you present, the Gospel? What "Gospel presentation(s)" do you remember?


Contemplative Youth Ministry?

it's been awhile since i've read Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli. the book was published in 2006, and i quickly devoured it - this book spoke my language. for example, Yaconelli writes,
“[Contemplation] comes as a medicine to a church culture obsessed with trends, efficiency, techniques, and bullet-point results.”
contemplation as medicine. i like that.

tonight we gave a dose, albeit a small one, of this medicine to our youth. it's funny how easy it is for me to forget that contemplation, slowing down, creating a quiet, slower-paced space WORKS. now, when i say it "works," i'm not suggesting this as a formula, but that this is something we are all hungering for. we are hungering for moments where we can present with God and others, free from distractions. we are sick. the things we spend our time doing - the frantic pace of life - are making us sick. we need spiritual medication.
so tonight we practiced Lectio Divina, sacred reading. it was slow. we dimmed the lights. we lit candles. we read Mark 1:1-8, 14-15. we sang music from the Taize community. students and leaders connected with God.

i was reminded of how much of my life is spent in front of screens - TV, computer, iPhone. screens. visually trying to process all this data, but not taking enough of it in to justify the time i spend in front of screens.

so instead, tonight we listened. we listened to the Word. we listened to God. we believed that God would speak to us through his Word, for in Hebrews the Bible is described as "living and active."

how can you slow down? how can you make sure you get a dose of this medication?

have you had similar experiences with young people? what other creative ideas are out there for introducing the medicine of contemplative worship to students?


not another youth ministry blog...well, maybe

i'm trying to get back in the saddle here folks. i find myself seeking a creative outlet for writing, thinking, processing, sharing, and other words that are good that describe what i want to do here.

recently, i was asked to "guest post" on a blog i frequently read and felt quite honored. you can read that post at Average Youth Ministry, the blog of fellow Youth Pastor, Benjamin Kerns.

so here we going again, attempt #3 at bloggety blogging!