Last year I taught a weekly class during our Spring teaching series helping people to understand science and the Bible and how the evidence found on the ground, under the sea, in the skies and within organisms supports faith in God and the reliability of the Biblical account. This summer we are hosting a trio of Creation.com presentations. We like to have good relationships with other local church groups in our area and we are sharing the Creation .com presentation with a fellow church. I am in fact highly qualified to blog on matters of science and Christianity and history and philosophy. This is the result of many years of college and seminars and junior college classes but especially decades of focused study.
Of course to make such a statement is similar to Paul providing qualifications to the Jews before he began to discuss the concept of Christ as Messiah. I needn't mention my qualifications to anyone because frankly the content of my blog will be my representative, not my proclamations. I believe in what I write and therefore I write it.
This town is built around one of the biggest natural lakes in the area and was once a big tourist attraction. Now it is to some extent a bedroom community for the larger urban areas to the North, particularly Chicago. We have one of the most honored school districts in our state when it comes to academics and have been a regional power in team track and swimming in particular. Our school has won a couple of state girl's softball championships and made it to the finals in boy's baseball as well as having a couple of individuals who have won individual wrestling and track titles. We've also been dominant recently in the state academic olympics.
One thing I do well? Be a Dad!
We have a son who won a handful of gold medals in academic olympics and a daughter who was all-state choir and who won three consecutive gold medals in individual singing. We had a son who made it down to state in the show choir championships. We've had three kids who won individual honors in the County art show for high school. I am glad my school system is friendly rather than hostile to Christian kids and parents and has given them multiple venues to shine in extra-curricular activities, including things like engaging in community service. One son spent all four years working for Key Club, a service-to-the-community club. Our kids have four National Honor Society and two Junior National Honor Society medals. We had two kids make the top ten in their class in high school. We usually went to the yearly award programs and kids came home with awards and scholarships and medals and commendations. We are used to our children being recognized as good citizens. Call me stupid or fat or anything you like but I know one thing for sure, I am a good Dad and have been a second-string Dad to several young people other than those of my own blood. I seek to use those Dad skills to impact teenagers still, even though all of my kids are grown now and the grandkids are beginning to grow up.
In the light of God's Mercy on one hand and His Judgment on the other, I have devoted my life to teaching teenagers everything I can about God and the Bible and science and learning and daily wisdom. My wife and my oldest son also work in Youth Ministry with me. At our church we have about 14-15 adults who work together with the Senior High youth and we have a similar large staff who work with the 6-8th grade Junior High kids. Each group has its own night.
My church has some members who are scientists and teachers and a local historian of note. We have business professionals and business owners, we have police and firemen, we have housewives and union members and wage slaves and students and people struggling with finances as well as those who have money. We have some people who qualify as so-called geniuses and we have some fine athletes and artists and musicians and so on and so forth. The area is mostly white and hispanic people with a few darker-hued folks and so our congregation has lots of white folks but many mixed-race folks and a few very dark ones. We are just a slice of our community.
What is Youth Group like?
Well, I will tell you. Once a month (occasionally more often) I am the main speaker for the evening and that was what happened this last week. Two or three times a month Bill the Youth Pastor gives the message. Now and then another staffer gives the message and once a year the Teen Leadership group takes charge of the entire night. Anyway, before the night many of the staffers pray together and then the kids start coming in and check in at the entrance, signing in and getting a ticket for a bucket drawing. For awhile teens and leaders just hang out. At about 15 before the hour we talk and pray in Bill's office and check the night's schedule. At 7 PM we officially start.
We have varied things happening and we keep changing the schedules. We will have a few contests, play a group game, we might pick out a student or staffer to be interviewed. Will will draw the name of one teenagers to be teen of the week. We draw names from a bucket to get t-shirts or conversely get assigned a task or win a gift card. We throw dice to see if kids have to eat weird food or talk for 90 seconds straight or try to run all the way to the front lobby and back up to the third floor youth room in 60 seconds and all sorts of other stuff. We have games that are played in the dark with only glow sticks or cell phones as light sources. We have ball games. We have games where some staffers chase kids around with foam club things we call "biffers" and we have games based on timing and games based on wit and intellect.
When we do the dice throw, one choice is getting to hit a staff leader in the face with a whipped cream pie or eat an entire can of sardines in mustard sauce. Only staffers who volunteer have their names put in the cup as a volunteer to get pied. No kids ever pick the sardines!
Last week, I was speaking and naturally a teenager got the right number and got to pick a name out for a pie and my name was drawn. I walked up front and put a plastic bib on, stood on the plastic sheet and waited for a Sophomore named Brent to whap me in the face. But he went oppo and surprised us all...he said, "I will be Jesus for Kimbal..." and smashed the pie into his own face!!! Everyone cheered, what a shock, that had never happened before in my memory and I have been working with teens at this church for nine years now. It was just classic!
Meanwhile, while we were doing announcement and goof-offs and all that stuff, there was another story happening. About six weeks earlier, four youth groupers had snuck out and wrapped Big Smooth's car with plastic wrap - a few layers. Smooth came out after youth group and his car was one big giant plastic blob! Smooth aka Mike is something over 6 foot 2 inches and somewhere around 300 pounds with a glass eye and an eyepatch. He is a big lovable Christian guy but you really wouldn't want to attempt to hurt someone he cared about if you valued your own health. Anyway, Smooth discovered with a little detective work that one student was involved and coerced him into giving up the names of the co-conspirators. Then Mike called a friend who is high up in a special government agency and they cooked up a scheme. They made up dossiers with facebook front pages and pictures and typical government-style folders for each micreant and, as the night started, this big guy wearing a Agent's windbreaker with the acronym prominently displayed and called Bill and myself out to the hallway. We were in on the gag. Then the agent called out these teens one by one and took them into a side room to inverview them very generally about concerns of the content of their facebooks and their facebook friendships.
When the agent came back in with the three, he had them lined up in back, we turned on the spotlights back there and he began making a general statement about questionable activities, finally ending with something like..."Did you three really think you would get away with....shrink-wrapping Mike's car and not get pranked back?!" Hahahahahahaha! The looks on their faces...they all started laughing and everybody hugged it out and the agent stayed for the rest of the night.
Knowing that three kids would probably get at least a little scared (I think they were all kind of thinking maybe they were getting scammed, but still...) I began my message by showing a Mark Lowry comic song about dating and then taught on the several times the religious leaders sought to toss Jesus off of a cliff or stone Him when Jesus announced that He was the Son of God or the Messiah and how Jesus just managed to slip away unscathed every time - until it was time for Him to be beaten, despised and crucified as the Lamb of God and Atonement for the sins of mankind. He had a mission, He would not be led away from that mission. He would do everything the Father wanted Him to do, heal every sick person, give sight to the blind, raise people from the dead, make water into wine and teach the Law to those under the Law so they could clearly see that they could never keep the Law, they needed God to step in and step up to save them from sin!
Points to ponder
Jesus stayed on mission, did everything just right and never abused anyone and never allowed anyone to abuse another in His presence and did not allow anyone to abuse Him until it was time for Him to give Himself up for sacrifice at the time of Passover. Jesus was the Passover Lamb to end all future sacrifices. I wanted the teens to remember that no one had the right to abuse them, even parents or teachers or relatives and that they had no right to abuse anyone else and that included all family and dating relationships.
Each small group leader has their own way to memorialize a year and keep a connection going during the summer, when Youth Group is shut down. Last year I took all the guys to a pizza joint for dinner and then gave them all a two-dollar bill. I put a two-dollar bill in an envelope with their name on it. I promised that if they brought the bill back next year I would give them the bill I kept for them as well. I told them I would look at the envelopes and their names and remember to pray for them. Then I put the envelopes in my top desk drawer so I would see them often.
This year I took them all to Dairy Queen. Not sure what to do for our last meeting. Not a two-dollar bill. But I will think of something symbolic to remind us all of our connection.
Smooth is taking his group to a movie. Debbie made some cool hand-made jewelry for all of her girls. Every leader has his own style and plan and some make summer plans, too. I want all my guys to come over for a grill-out this summer.
Those who do not know much about Christianity get lots of things wrong. A "Christian" is not one because he goes to church or used to go or because his parents did or because he filled in a box on a form. If you are a born-again believer, you are a Christian. Otherwise you might wear the nameplate but you aren't the real deal. The vast majority of folks who identify themselves as a Christian in school, in the army, on polls, in jail, on resumes, whatever...they are just borrowing a label they do not understand.
I am not a person focused on outward appearances. I am pretty old and was a wild worldly guy for a long time, so I developed some tastes and preferences that would not be typical of a raised-in-church kid. I have a full Led Zeppelin CD collection even though sometimes their words were awful. I watched "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" probably three times through even though there were a couple of shaky parts. I even liked watching "Fargo" and "Pulp Fiction" once. They were too nasty to watch a second time but they were artful and part of culture. I doubt I could be dragged to ever see anything by Tarantino again but I am saying I am not a prude or a pharisee. Now and then I drink a beer or two or have a seven and seven. I do not curse anymore, but I did make up or borrow some weird things to say if I whack my thumb with a hammer, like "Dirtyrackefratch" or "Grumblegreep!"
I gave up smoking and illegal drugs after being saved and for many years I gave up alcohol as well. I am sure moderate alcohol consumption is okay but I don't drink around people who think it is wrong so they are not freaked out. I can take it or leave it, so why hurt someone unnecessarily? I usually watch sports or a few science or history shows but I have some series that I am addicted to, like Blue Bloods or White Collar (and despite it's sometimes ridiculous twists and silly IT antics, I miss 24)! America needs Jack Bauer!!! (Maybe he had something to do with Bin Laden going down)? Har.
We love dogs and love kids. We love people. In fact I do this blog to love people. I want the ignorant to know truth, the believers to be supported, the unbelievers convinced and the propagandists and censors exposed. CRU. NCSE. Talkorigins. Richard Dawkins. Miscreants all!!!
Our Youth Group carefully screens staff. We do background checks to be sure no one has ever had anything to do with child abuse or a sex crime of any kind. We carefully consider group activities and monitor what is going on during all Youth events to be sure no one is sneaking off and doing something wrong. I would not have allowed myself to join the group when I was first saved, as I had been an admitted drug addict and dealer (although having escaped the law) back in the 70's. But after a few years of Jesus in charge I am in no danger of returning to such ways. Peace and Joy I have found in Christ beats any high I got from pot or hash or LSD or speed or cocaine or peyote or 'shrooms or anything else. Although reading the Bible never causes me to trip out and see dancing hippos in tu-tus falling from the ceiling. I get my imagination straight rather than from lysergic acid now.
Jesus changes people from the inside out. It is inside that is important. Outward appearances are over-rated. Some guy with a suit and tie and a Bible and a television program might be darker within than the gang-banger on the street corner in South Chicago! You can sing hymns with a piano or jam for Jesus with electric guitars, it is a matter of style, what moves you is what matters. Just let it be based on truth.