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NYWC Atlanta 2012: Part 1

17 Nov

There’s nothing like a National Youth Workers Convention to jump-start my blogging!  So, I will once again attempt to record my thoughts, observations, and notes here…should anyone be interested in reading them.

I came a day early for the pre-convention spiritual retreat, “Coming Home: An Invitation to Rest in God” led by Mark Yaconelli.  This also gives me a chance to scout the lay of the land before the rest of our group comes up tomorrow.

This is the first time I’ve been to an NYWC in Atlanta that wasn’t at the World Congress Center.  At first I was very disappointed in the new location of the conference, but once I got here I fell in love with it!  The Atlanta Marriott Marquis is beautiful, well laid-out, and has great access to plenty of food options that are reasonably priced.  In fact, I can walk from the parking garage to the hotel to the Peachtree Center Mall without ever stepping foot outside!  I can see definite advantage in having the conference in the hotel!  It takes 30 seconds to get up to my room!

Now…on to more weighty matters.  My first day of retreat was very meaningful.  The Lord has spoken to me and revealed to me some deep things about myself.  We spent the day exploring the idea of “coming home,” with God being the one who is always “at home” in our lives.  We are the prodigals who wonder away and need to come back home to the Father.  We explored our childhood memories of home, we wrestled with the deep fears and longings of our hearts, and we laid ourselves bare to Jesus’ loving attention.   I really can’t write any more on this until I have some time to sit with it.

Finally, let me say that I’m thankful the bookstore wasn’t actually open for purchasing anything.  I gave it a very thorough look over, and if I could buy anything right now, I’m sure I’d blow a small fortune!  There are so many great resources and books there for student ministry and personal growth.  So, I’m now going to spend some time narrowing down my selections!  Tomorrow is going to be great!


Stand Firm in the Faith!

30 Sep

I have continued to meditate on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 over the last several weeks, but have fallen down on the job of blogging about it.  These two verses are a series of brief, pointed commands.  And I believe that they outline some of the key elements to being a strong disciple of Jesus in today’s world.

Here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every [action] must be done with love.”  –1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Stand firm in the faith” has taken on new meaning for me as I have been following the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran over the past several days.  This young Iranian pastor has refused to recant his faith in Christ.  As a result today the Iranian courts have sentenced him to death.  Whether this will stand, or will be repealed, remains to be seen.  The international community has risen up in united outrage over this blatant violation of basic human rights.  With this outcry and God’s people in earnest prayer, hopefully Pastor Nadarkhani will indeed be released.

This man is a living example of what it means to “stand firm in the faith.”  He willingly risks losing his life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.  He would rather die than deny his Lord and Savior.  THAT is true faith!  C.S. Lewis once said,

“You never know how much you really believe anything
until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

I hope that you will join me in prayer for Pastor Nadarkhani and all Christians facing persecution for their faith.  Here are some other things you can do with your church and youth group:

  • PRAY with your youth, Sunday School class, and church.
  • Educate them with help from Voice of the Martyrs and many other organizations out there.  I’ve recently discovered a powerful documentary entitled Love Costs Everything.  Below is the trailer:
  • Discuss with your group the difference it would make if they lived in a place where being a Christian was dangerous.  How do they stand firm in their faith?  How does that compare to how people like Pastor Nadarkhani stand firm in the faith?

Review–NCV Dad’s Bible

22 May

The Dad’s Bible (New Century Version) by Thomas Nelson Publishers is a well-crafted devotional Bible for fathers, full of articles, resources, and insights to help any Christian dad live out his faith in real ways that make a difference in his family, community, and world.

The Dad's Bible

The Dad’s Bible is presented in the New Century Version, a contemporary, easy-to-read translation.  I would describe it as a cross between the New Living Translation and the Message.  While the NCV is an actual translation, not a paraphrase, it does loosely translate many of the ancient idioms and technical terms (such as measurements) into modern day equivilants.  I wouldn’t recommend this translation for serious study,  but for public and devotional reading, I found it very fluid and enjoyable to read.

As a soon-to-be father I found the articles sprinkled throughout this Bible to be inspirational and encouraging.  The key features highlight areas of family leadership, godly character, insights drawn from the text and applied to modern day living, as well as specific and practical ways to pass on the Christian faith and biblical values to your children.  I also enjoyed the honesty of the “Dads in the Bible” feature which highlights key fathers in the Bible…the good, the bad, and the ugly, and draws useful principles out of their stories. Other helpful features include a great “Question and Answers Resource” perfect for helping dads answer sticky questions their kids may ask about God and the Bible, a topical index, and insightful Bible book introductions.

I am looking forward to making The Dad’s Bible a daily part of my adventures in fatherhood after our baby is born.  The humorous but thoughtful style to the articles makes it fun and encouraging to read, but also leaves the space for introspection and personal challenge we should all get from reading the Scripture.  It would make a great gift for any dad, whether their child is still to be born or heading off to college.

(Disclaimer: As a blogger I received a free review copy – no requirement to give it a positive review, just for the reviewer to call it like they see it.  The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Experiential Worship Services, Part 2

6 May

For most of my life I thought that the best and most biblical way of conveying the precious truths of the faith was through preaching/teaching.  And by preaching/teaching I mean lecturing. It was how all of my previous pastors, youth ministers, and Sunday School teachers did it.  It was the way all the camp pastors, guest evangelists, and featured speakers at conferences did it.  Wasn’t it the way Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets did it?

Now THAT is the question.  And HERE is the answer:  NO!  If you look at the teaching methods of Jesus, He did speak a lot (hence all the red letters!) but when He spoke it was usually in the form of stories, question and answers, and explaining object lessons.

  • Jesus loved object lessons–whithering fig trees, fields of grain, water wells, stormy seas, unleavened bread, wine, money in fish mouths, etc.
  • And Jesus loved stories: good Samaritans, prodigal sons, foolish and wise builders, weddings, and treasures buried in fields.
  • Even the Prophets used stories and object lessons, and visual displays…weird things like eating scrolls, lying around on your side naked for years, wearing yokes around your neck, and stories about rich men killing and eating their neighbors pet lamb.

In fact, many of the teaching methods of Jesus and the prophets were very hands-on, multi-sensory experiences that involved food and drink!  Take the feeding of the 5,000…or the woman at the well…turning water into wine…or, naturally, the Passover meal.  They obviously understood something that many of us in the Church have forgotten—people are more than just empty minds waiting for us to poor information into.  People also have bodies…hands and feet and eyes and mouths…full of billions of nerve endings and sensory receptors that convey information as well as (or even better than?) the ears!  So why not use all the senses in teaching?  Why not involve the WHOLE PERSON in telling and retelling the stories of the faith?

And so as part of our great experiment this year, we observed a Seder Passover Meal as a student ministry.  We timed it to coincide with Holy Week and our Storying of the Last Lord’s Supper in our Bible Storying process.  It couldn’t have timed out better!  Imagine students hearing the story of the Last Supper, then experiencing it in a Seder Meal together the next week, then going through a “Walk to Golgotha” Prayer Experience the next week, and then after celebrating Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday storying through the Death and Resurrection!  If they don’t get it after all of that…well, we’ve got issues to say the least!

This was such an amazing experience for our students and adults.  Not only was it multi-sensory, but it was completely emersive, totally collaborative (everyone was involved), celebratory yet serious, and it was intensely worship and thoughtful.  We sang together, retold the story of the Exodus, read Scriptures, prayed, served each other, retold the Last Supper, and worshiped the Risen King.

Many of our students commented how fun and interesting it was.  And for some, that may be as much as they got out of it.  But several more talked about the connections between the first Passover and how Jesus fulfills so much of that story–how He is our Passover Lamb.  Many were amazed at how much of the Seder Meal is fulfilled in Jesus, and some even wondered out loud how any Jewish person could celebrate this meal and NOT see the connections with Jesus!  The meal certainly raised good questions and provided opportunity for great discussion and reflection.

If you are interested in doing a Seder Passover meal with your students (or your whole church) visit this link for an indispensable resource to help you plan and take a group through the experience.

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Experiential Worship Services, Part 1

28 Apr

I’m tired of being a program director!  I’m tired of being a glorified cruise director!  God has called me to be a DESIGNER, not a programmer…a Designer of opportunities for students to experience spiritual growth and transformation.  WE don’t cause that growth or change…God does.  But we are to partner with God in that process.  We can create environments where growth is likely to occur.  We can create opportunities for transforming experiences to happen.  

That has been the goal of our student ministry this year.  We’ve been experimenting this year with several hands-on, experiential, multi-sensory and collaborative approaches to discipleship and worship with our students. 

We’ve been employing a “Storying” approach to teaching Scripture, taking all school year to walk students through 22 key stories of the Bible in order.  We began with Creation back in August, and this week have concluded with the story of Restoration/New Creation.  It has been a fascinating experience for us, and a valuable one for the students.  Each week we review the overall Story up to that point, narrate the new story, the students do a creative retelling of that story, and then we spend time in small groups discussing the story’s implications for us and how it fits into the larger Story. 

We have also had some experiential worship opportunities using Prayer Stations and a Seder Meal.  Below are some pictures from the “Follow the Star” prayer stations.  We used Lilly Lewin and Dan Kimball’s excellent resource Sacred Space to plan and prepare this worship experience.  I highly recommend this book w/ resource CD.  It explains very well the ideas behind and benefits of this form of worship and learning as well as helps you through the process of preparing these kinds of experiences.  They include over 15 different themed worship experiences, each consisting of anywhere from 3 to 10 different parts/stations.  

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It was a powerful and moving experience taking down these stations, reading the things students wrote on the strips of duct tape about the things in life that keep them stuck in their spiritual walk, the prayer requests they put on the world map, and the things they said they would do less of and do more of in the next year to help them better “follow the star” of Jesus.  

It’s amazing how middle and high school students can surprise you with their depth and how seriously the take their Christian faith and walk with God!  We seldom give students opportunities to wrestle with these issues and express their struggles and hopes and fears.  But they need these opportunities.    And as youth ministers, we’re called to design these kinds of opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation.  Here are some invaluable resources that are transforming how we approach student worship and discipleship.  I can’t recommend these to you too highly!  They are revolutionary.  



In my next post, I’ll talk about the Seder Meal experience and share some pictures.  And then I’ll wrap up this mini-series of blogs with some of the thoughts from our students about our process this year.

Happy New Years!

25 Nov

“Um…David, aren’t you a little early in your well wishes, there?”

Absolutely not!  Because this Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent!  And for the Church–for Christians–that is the beginning of the new Church Year!  Most Christians just may not know it.

The Liturgical YearIn The Liturgical Year: the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life, Joan Chittsiter says:

January 1st isn’t really our “new year” at all.  It’s not the beginning of the “new year” of our soul’s search for wholeness.  Instead, January 1 is simply the day that makes it possible for the secular world to mark centuries, to keep track of its earthly ways, to coordinate itself with the ways of the rest of the world, to begin again its cycle of civic events.

But the season of Advent is our journey through the predictions of prophets, the lineage of kings, and the struggles of a people to the realization of a promise made to a man named Abraham, that “through his descendants God will bless the world.”

For Christians, the 1st Sunday of Advent is the beginning of THE story!  And it begins a cycle–a journey–of Scripture, prayer, worship, reflection, fasting, and feasting that lasts an entire year.  And we enter into the Story again and again and again.  Only to discover over the years, that the Story has entered US!

Chitsitter goes on to say:

The liturgical year is the process of slow, sure immersion in the life of Christ that, in the end, claims us, too, as heralds of that life ourselves.

And as we live into (and live out) the story of Jesus’ life, we discover what kind of community the Church is to be and what kinds of individuals we are each to be.  My challenge this year is to not only live into the story of Jesus by acknowledging the Church Year, but to use that to inform how I teach, lead worship, and work with our students.

Both Mike King and Phyllis Tickle refer to the ancient spiritual practices of Christianity (prayer, fasting, Sabbath, pilgrimage, Scripture reading, the liturgical year, etc.) as long lost spiritual heirlooms.  I believe it’s time to dig them outta the attic, dust them off, and put them back into use in ours and our student’s faith formation.

May I challenge you this Advent season, to not only take time every day to “prepare for the coming of the Christ”  through daily devotionals and prayer, but help your students embrace this as a time of spiritual focus.  It’s NOT about lights on trees, Christmas cards, and the latest electronics.  It’s about so much more.

Here are some Advent Resources that can help you and your students to prepare for Jesus, and enter into the story of His birth:Behold the Lamb of God

  • Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson has an amazing album called Behold the Lamb of God: the true tall tale of the coming of the ChristIt is my absolute favorite Christmas album (but is probably better called an Advent album).  He starts with the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt and takes us on a musical journey through hope and despair, promise and fulfillment.  It puts the birth of Jesus into the larger story of God’s redemptive work in the world.  It’s a MUST get!

Preparing for Jesus

  • Walt Wangerin, one of my favorite authors, has an amazing devotional called Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the coming of the Christ, Advent, Christmas, and the Kingdom.  It begins with the 1st Sunday of Advent and takes us through Epiphany.  He is a masterful storyteller, and paints with words.  You will FEEL what Mary and Joseph felt, experience the awe and fear of the shepherds, and find yourself bowing with the Magi at the young child, Jesus.  It’s better than any movie could be.

FBC Advent

  • And finally…this is a bit of a shameless plug…our church produces an Advent devotional every year, written completely by members of our church.  We are offering this online as a blog this year for the first time.  Please check out FBC Advent Online for a new daily advent devotional.

God bless, and Happy New Years/Advent!