I got a chance to go sit outside and pray and worship again today. October in Alabama is a beautiful time. Here we are with Halloween fast approaching and the leaves are only just now beginning to show small bits of orange around the edges. Of course so many of the trees around here are pines anyway and so you don’t get the dazzling fall display that you do in many places. But October is a good time in Alabama because it is a time when the wind is cool, but the Sun is warm and you can sit and feel the warmth from the sun as the cool breeze keeps you from getting too hot.
As the father of two little boys now I don’t get a whole lot of time to just sit outside and pray and read and connect with God the way that I used to. When I have free time I want to be with them and there isn’t a whole lot of free time to go around anyway. But today, the day was just too perfect and it seemed to call to me, inviting me to come out and play.
I spent a good deal of time today reading through Job as I prepare to tell the story to my students on Wednesday night. It is a fascinating story that teaches us a great deal about God, but for a group of students who are starting to come alive with questions it is also a scary story to teach. In so many ways it raises as many questions as it answers.
Of course that is the beauty of Job. It is an answer to the question. Job asked God why and got an answer. Of course he didn’t get the answer that we have, the answer to the why that we see at the start of the story. But Job got an answer to his question. He asked God why and God answered and His answer was simply: I am God, and you are not.
That is an infuriating answer if you are stuck in the middle of crap and just hear it on the surface, but it is a freeing amazing, perfect answer if you really let it sink in and permeate through you. God is God, I am not, and that means that I don’t have to know all of the why’s of the world. I can simply trust in him.
As someone who is desperate to know everything there is to know in the world that can be hard sometimes, but as someone who learned long ago that I can’t know it all it is good to know I can trust in the one who does.
We are up to the Flood in our trip through the Bible as a story. If you haven’t been following along be sure to check out www.echothestory.com for the stories we are using.
This week I was battling a cold and didn’t have a whole lot of focus, but the students still seemed to really dig into the story. Of course the story of Noah is one that they have heard often, but there were still some new parts that they discovered. But the really fascinating part is since we are going through the Bible from the beginning I am getting lots of questions about the origin of things such as the origins of God. (People trapped by time have a hard time wrestling with the concept of God as always existing) The origins of evil (why did God give us the tree in the garden and why didn’t God banish the serpent before he tempted eve. Why didn’t God just kill Satan when he first rebelled, etc).
Now very few of these questions had much to do with Noah, but you can see students really wrestling with real issues of the faith. It has been fun to lead them as they search for answers that lead to more questions. Of course that is the great truth about God, the more you learn the more you have questions. When you can find the joy in that search you can spend a lifetime learning new things about Him, and as your understanding expands so does your worship.
Next week we are going to take a little detour from the Echo the Story stories and talk a bit about Job. It is sort of outside of this redemption arch that I am telling, but I really like what it teaches us about God and about things that are going on beyond what we can see. Hopefully students will continue to be engaged.
Our youth group is on a journey “storying” our way through the Bible. I am using the really great story set from http://www.echothestory.com/. It has been a very liberating couple of weeks. Here are some of my observations.
- This is how I was created to teach. I like to preach, and have fun doing it, but I am a storyteller/discussion leader at heart.
- I also learn best in group discussion. This was always true in college. There were classes where the teacher wanted to just lecture that I would interrupt with questions because to be engaged I needed to be discussing. (my classmates didn’t like me)
- Because I am using prepared stories and because I know what comes next preparation time can be spent on prayer and focusing as apposed to finding a good game or illustration.
- There are some students who really love this style of teaching. They are engaged and involved.
- There are some students who are still a little confused about a teaching style that requires this much of them, but they are trying.
- Then there are some students who just would rather talk to their friends and this teach style is terrible for them because it forces them to be involved in the group rather than in their own world (which is exactly why I like it)
My favorite part of these stories so far has been asking students what they noticed about the story for the first time. One student said, “I never realized that part of the punishment was that men and women would have relationship issues.” Later when we were talking about God making animal skin clothes for them I asked, “What does it mean that their clothes were from animal skins” After some discussion students said, “That an animal had to die.” When I made the observation that because of sin someone had to die to cover it suddenly half a dozen students went “O, that’s like…” It was pretty cool, even though I didn’t really run down that path because we are trying to take these stories as they come.
That has been the most eye opening thing for me. I have been trying to look at the story of the Bible as if God is telling me about himself for the first time and here is how he decided to do it. It is neat to look at Genesis 3 without more a more Old Testament idea of God. To see Him walking with his people and to get a new glimpse of His heart as He lays down His punishment.
Well, in case you can’t tell, I am really having fun with this series.
A while back I read a book on Chronological Storytelling. It told of the process that missionaries use to teach the Bible to non-literate people. I remember thinking at the time how great that would be for student ministry. Students aren’t exactly illiterate, they are what I like to call post literate. They know how to read and write, but reading and writing isn’t how they process information. Here are a couple of quotes from Shaped by the Story.
First, a good majority of the students struggled with reading and comprehension. Many couldn’t define simple words and struggled with reading aloud. This was especially surprising coming from upper-middle class families within highly rated school systems. Yet, basic literacy is essential to many Bible-study methods, so this was a big problem. (20)
Writing and reading are becoming a means to manipulate other media. (49)
I picked up this book Shaped by the Story by Mike Novelli and was immediately thrown back into those ideas. Finally someone else took the time to talk about story and how it relates to youth ministry. Novelli has a site www.echothestory.com that has a host of storying resources. I have to say that I was pretty excited about it.
As I have been reading through this book and thinking about storying again I find myself getting excited. I am a storyteller. Whatever else I play around with at my heart I want to tell stories. So I think I am going to take my students on a journey through the Bible starting in Genesis and going all the way through Christ’s ascension. The idea is to tell the Bible in such a way that all of the many parts connect and students are able to see God’s story as more than just verses to live by, but as an complete narrative of redemption.
I am excited because I have seen how much stories can change lives. Here is a great quote from the book.
The new conversations, on which our very lives depend, require a poet not a moralist. Because finally people are like other people; we are not changed by new rules. The deep places in our lives–places of resistance and embrace–are not ultimately reached by instruction. Those places of resistance and embrace are reached only by stories, by images, metaphors and phrases that line out the world differently apart from fear or hurt. (Walter Brueggermann)
This past Wednesday I did a little pre-story sort of talk that you may find helpful. The basic idea came from Deuteronomy 4:9 “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
When we let the things we have seen slip from our minds we will find ourselves in trouble. When we forget the basic of our own God story we can start believing anything. Just take a look at the Israelites. They saw God drop 10 plagues on the Egyptians, walked through the Red Sea, we led by fire and cloud, and were fed by mana and still made a golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sanai. They forgot their own story.
So on Wednesday after I walked through some of my story (I talked about how someone could come to me and tell me that my dad who died 20 years ago this month didn’t love me, but I wouldn’t believe it because I remember the stories that proved his love) I had them write their own God story or at least a few chapters of it and then we broke into groups and they shared some of their story. It was pretty fun night.
I will keep you posted on how the storytelling through the Bible progresses.
Want to have a very strange conversation at church? Just tell a bunch of high school students that Cain had to sleep with his sister (or I guess his niece). It leads to talk about mutations and babies and genetics and all sorts of less comfortable places.
But overall the Cain and Abel story was a fun one.