This weekend I'm teaching students on the question "Can we know that God exists?"  Tough topic, to be sure!  In my preparation I sat down today and watched the pilot for the Discovery Channel's new show "Curiosity" featuring Stephen Hawking answering a similar question.

Of course, Hawking's final thesis was that no, God does not exist.  Though I think the guy is INSANELY brilliant, I could go on and on about why I think his logic on this is flawed (check out my Facebook statuses from earlier today!).  But more importantly than that, I was reminded how important it is for us in YM to help our students navigate through some of the conflicting ideas that are out there regarding the existence of God and our ability to know Him.

I know it can be intimidating for the average youth minister to teach or lead discussions on this topic.  But take heart!  There are lots of great resources out there for you.  One of my new favorites that I led a group of middle school, high school, and college students through early this year is called True U: Does God Exist.

This is a fantastic video-based study that our students absolutely loved!  WARNING - some of the information can go a little over a middle schooler's (or a youth pastor's!) head, but I told my students to not worry about the information as much as the ideas.  Go for the big picture stuff, so to speak.  Check out the trailer below for True U and click right here to check out the website.

This is really important stuff - ask your students what conflicting worldviews they face when it comes to the existence of God, and then help them strengthen their faith by talking about and teaching on those issues!
 
 
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I had a great conversation with a student last week that is on her way to Jesus.  In the conversation she kept coming back to the idea of good vs. bad.  "I'm mostly good, and I think God only punishes bad people."  "I know I do some bad stuff sometimes, but I'm a good person."  This is nothing new, but I found myself really desiring some different language to frame things in.  After all, at the end of the day, I don't think the Gospel is reducible to morals or "good vs. bad".

As we talked however, we got away from using those words, and made our way more towards two different words I think will forever replace good and bad in my spiritual vocabulary:

Broken and whole.

Because isn't the Gospel less about Jesus coming to make bad people good and more about His making broken people whole?  Don't you find that when you talk about sin and the human condition in terms of bad vs. good that we tend to put degrees on it and keep score of how's bad, worse, worst, good, better, and best?  When we get away from that though and start thinking of broken instead of bad, we realize that we're all inherently flawed (sin) and we're all in the same sinking boat, no scorecard needed.  And thinking of the work of God in our lives as a journey toward wholeness sounds so much more appealing to me than thinking of myself as getting better (because often what I really mean is "better than you").

I love learning as much if not more from students than they learn from me.  Going to wrestle with this some more and see what God is teaching me...
 
 
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Every once in a while I'll pull an old post or article I've written and repost it.  I'd love any thoughts you may have!  This is from an article I wrote for YouthMinistry.com in January of 2010.  Enjoy!

One of my biggest struggles lately has been coming to terms with my inability to birth passion within the lives of students. Hard as I try, I just can’t seem to force passion on them.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that in youth ministry part of our calling is to foster passion within the lives of young people - passion for God's fame, His glory, His kingdom coming, and their story within that Kingdom. I think you could look at it as tending soil, if you're into agricultural metaphors.

The thing is though, you can water the ground all day long but if there's not a seed below the surface, nothing is going to grow there. In the same way, if there are no seeds of Godly passion within a young man or woman's soul, our efforts to inspire them for the sake of the Gospel are, ultimately, in vain.

Even though I know this in my head, I still get heart-frustrated when faced with the spiritual apathy of so many young people, especially the ones who have been in church their whole lives and think that the whole thing is one giant cliché.

At the core of this struggle, there’s a fundamental truth I have to grasp:

I am not God.

Shocking, right?

In John 6:44 Jesus says "…no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." I just have to keep reminding myself that God is the One doing the real work in the lives of the students in our ministry. I am, in a very real way, just there to work the soil of their lives. And in the same way that gardening or farming takes time, patience, hard work, and a willingness to wait for the right season to see the harvest, God will, in His perfect timing, plant the seed and cause it to grow.

So here’s my encouragement to you. Let’s keep working. Let’s keep watering. Let’s keep tilling the soil and getting down deep into the lives of young people and praying for the opportunity to witness God-planted seeds of passion take root and break through to the surface of their lives.  And let's remember that when we are frustrated with the blank stares, the apathetic attitudes, and the compromising behavior, this simple truth: we are not God.

But He is.  And He can do anything.

- Tim B.
 

Presence

04/08/2011

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If there's one thing I've learned in the last ten years in YM, it's that nothing, NOTHING, beats presence.  Being present in students' lives - whether it's at a sporting event, school choir concert, birthday party, or just hanging out with them at their house - means more to them than any lesson you'll ever teach, any event or trip  you'll put together, ANYTHING!

Just thought you should know.

- Tim B.
 
 
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If you're doing a message/study on spiritual growth any time soon, you can use a short quiz I came up with to get your students talking.  Click right here to download the "Ready.Set.Grow!" quiz.  (Tip: right-click on the link, then select "save target/link as".)

With quizzes like this, you have to be careful to remind students that it's just a piece of paper, not an official diagnosis of their spiritual health, and the whole point is simply to get them thinking about their spiritual growth. I used this quiz and then just asked one simple question after it, before leading in to the rest of the message - "In the last year, do you feel like you've grown a lot, a little, or not at all?"

Also, a great and more open-ended idea to get your students talking about spiritual growth is to create a "graph" like the one above I drew on butcher paper.  Label one end as "salvation" or "the beginning of my walk", and label the other end as "spiritual maturity" (using those words alone can lead to a good discussion about what spiritual maturity even is).  Give each student a post-it note, let them write their name on it, and then have them all - at the same time - come up and put themselves where they feel like they are on the "growth" spectrum.  Be sure to remind them that this is not a time to make comments or laugh because of where someone puts their name on the graph.  ALSO, make sure you don't make the same mistake I did - putting yourself up there first, as most if not all your students will assume they need to be behind you on the growth spectrum.  Oops!  Then ask one question and let them discuss: "Why did you put yourself where you put yourself?"  I was amazed at the honesty and insight our young people offered up during this exercise.  It was awesome!

If you use either of these ideas, let me know how it goes!

- Tim