Tag: youth

Notes from Dr. Kenda Dean’s sessions at Symposium on Youth, Religion and Culture (Spartanburg Methodist College)

Kenda Dean

Symposium on Youth Ministry with Dr. Kenda Dean

Spartanburg Methodist College

Thursday April 11th, 2013

Speakers: “Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dean is the author of several books on youth culture, including “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” This latest book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted from 2002 to 2005 and provides an analysis of teen religious practice.

The symposium will also include an address by Darwin Glassford, director of the M.A. program at Calvin Theological Seminary, book review editor for the Journal of Youth Ministry and a well-known speaker on youth ministry and culture.” (I do not have notes for his sessions because it was a lunch session – we were eating).  For more on the symposium click here.

(Session 1)

Biff, Christ’s best friend – wishes he could do what Jesus does (lizard story)

When we see what it is like to bring life like Jesus, we begin to say, “I want to do that too.”  (Finger around the clock exercise – perspective/hermeneutics) What you see depends on where you sit.  We are helping young people begin to see their lives through God’s clock.

Research – Christian formation isn’t helping children/youth see life from God’s way

*Flea video – behavior set by the lid put on the jar

Jane Magonicle – “Institute for the future” – Playing video games will save the world; in gaming the player is looking for the “EPIC WIN” (research on WOW); Gamers feel better about themselves in the game than they do in real life – how do they transfer their skills to real life (10,000 hours in video game – parallel education system) You need 10,000 hours of practice to make yourself a virtuoso at anything.

Video gamers are Virtuosos at:

(1) Urgent Optimism

(2) Tight Social Fabric (we like people better after playing a game with them)

(3) Blissful Productivity (we feel better about something if we work hard at it)

(4) Epic Meaning (gamers are immersed in epic stories – saving the world)

God in Jesus Christ gave us an epic win.

(National Study of Youth and Religion 2005) – Christian Smith

(1) Teens are not hostile toward religion (apathy)

(2) Teens faith mirrors their parent’s faith

(3) Teens are “incredibly inarticulate” about religion (kids shut down)

  1. Mainline protestant kids are least articulate
  2. Catholics were slightly better (symbols and iconography)
  3. Teens are articulate about many things, but in talking about their faith they just did not know how to speak
  4. Mormons were tops (they get top of charts)
  5. Conservative protestants next

(4) A significant minority (40%) say religion is important to them and makes a different in their lives (8 % were in the highly devoted category; pray, go to church, read bible)  The church is good with the small group that attends, not with those who don’t

(5) Religion is most significant for

  1. Mormon Youth
  2. Conservative Protestant Youth
  3. Black Protestant Youth
  4. Mainline Protestant Youth
  5. Catholic Youth
  6. Jewish Youth
  7. Non-Religious Youth

Conclusion: Most teens adhere to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as their unacknowledged religious creed.

(1) God exists that created world and watches over us

(2) God wants us to be good and fair to each other

(3) Central goal of life is to be happy

(4) God doesn’t need to be involved unless I need him to solve a problem

(5) Good people go to heaven when they die

The Apostles Creed is about God!  MTD is about us (self-centered)

Teens faith mirrors their parents.  Because the teens mirror their parents religious lives, the adults are as well – this is our country’s dominant religion.

Churches that teach MTD rather than Christ are not differentiated from the world.  Young Adults think it is honest to claim “No Religion” and become “Nones”

(1)                   Fastest growing Religious group in the US – 19.6%; 1/3 of Young Adults 18-26)

(2)                   More “nones” than Mainline Protestant Christians (most people are as religious in college as they are about to get, 23 is least religious year).  When people come back, they usually come back because of marriage (marriage age is going up), and as you age you tend to get less religious.

(3)                   Most “Nones” are raised in Religious homes

(4)                   Most of the “Nones” are not atheist or agnostic (no religion, practice religiousness secularly – have rituals, secret communities, culture, and prophetic witness)

What would it take to get the attention of Young Adults?  Where can they be honest about the toxicity of the world they live in?  The Church

Destroying Two Myths

(1) Young people will save the church

  1. If our church is going to survive, we need young people (only Jesus will save the church!)  Youth will not save dying congregations.  We should not use Young people for our own congregational needs

i.     VAMPIRE THEOLOGY – Young people are young blood that we need, and we proceed to suck the life out of them (this is an Anxiety Reaction)  This is survival, threatened thinking.

ii.     Entitlement goes into overdrive – we aren’t greedy, we are scared.  We can’t grow because we can’t take risks

iii.     Institutions cannot grow when you’re trying to survive, circling the wagons!

iv.     When anxious, we can’t access our whole brains (using reptile part of the brain) – classic reactions are fight or flight (freeze/protect) – we can’t think rationally, have no humor HOW MANY ANXIETY REACTIONS ARE IN YOUR CHURCH

We tend to think that Young Adults need the church, but it tends to be the opposite way around.  When you are a young adult, all the institutions that have tended to support you tend to be done with you when you hit a certain age.

(2) Making the church appeal to youth means we need to act like one

  1. Contemporary worship service is first way people try to solve the problem (critique of worship)  There is a lot of bad worship of all styles out there
  2. Marketers have learned that you don’t win teens by treating them like teens, you treat them like PEOPLE
  3. Pentecostals and Eastern Orthodoxy are attracting Young People
  4. Eastern Orthodox Saints are drawing for some
  5. Both of these groups (P and E.O. are High Expectation, Participative)  When we compromise ourselves to reach young people we say our church is “cheap”
  6. Mark Yaconelli (tells story of 4 year old who understands being a Christian has a high cost – might get killed like Jesus)
  7. When Resurrection happens – when young people are reached affectively they want to see

i.      Meaning – you have a part to play in this quest, people notice when you’re gone, living for the future because the church knows how the story ends

ii.      Belonging – being part of something everyone is playing a part in; Jon Stewart called the UMC the Univ. of Phoenix of Religions – we don’t want to inconvenience people by following Jesus into the dark places of the world .  When we invite young people to participate.

iii.      Radical Hospitality (Drew Dyson 2011) – people are appreciated for whatever they bring

  1. Story: A young admissions counselor dismisses UMC affiliation because they really accept anyone Kenda D: What!  Its because of your affiliation that you accept everyone!
  2. When was the last time you saw a community of Christians reflecting Christ so brightly that you said: “I want to do that too”?
  3. Example: A group of young adults face Neo-Nazi demonstrators dressed as “Coup Clutz Clowns” – Each time the demonstrators put their hands up, they would find something that rhyms with their slogans and turn it into something silly (ex. White Power/White Flour/White Flowers/Wife Power/Tight Showers) – tried to diffuse any potential violence (clowns defeat the clan)  People saw life, hope and thought: I’d like to do that too.

Young people are open to possibility, are not anxious about death, and are full of Hope.  Being young is not an age thing.  Conviction that the future is full of unlimited possibility.  Everyone whose future is bound to Jesus Christ is young (we have a different definity of youth).  We are participants of the Kingdom of God.  “Its not that the future belongs to the young, its that those who have a future are young.”  Ex. Pope John Paul II dancing with youth as they say “you are young”  Isaiah 40:30-31  – What if the church became known for its life, productivity, and live into their “EPIC WIN” in Jesus Christ.  How long before young people start saying “I want to do that too.”

(Session 2)

The “nones” have been around for a long time, but there is no social pressure or points to/for faking being a Christian anymore.

Sociological conclusions of how good a society is doing according to how we treat our Children.  USA is last of countries only after U.K.

Lois C.K. Clip – Nun is irritated with him and his friends who won’t pay attention in class and so they bring in an over the top Crucifixion storyteller (education debacle); Child feels responsible for Jesus’ nails and pulls them out to “make Jesus better” or make amends.  Mother doesn’t believe in Jesus and tells her son that she wanted her son to have “religion” but he doesn’t have to get it if he doesn’t want to.   (ex. I need to take you to church so they can give you religion)

The shift to the “Nones’ has been an incredibly fast sociological shift.  Break down: Atheists and Agnostics has been growing slowly, but Nones has grown rapidly.

OT Scholar – Walter BrueggemanHelp young people become bi-lingual in faith. When conquered, the conquered people had to negotiate the treaty in the language of the dominant culture.  When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, they had to write a treaty in Assyrian, but they knew their covenant with God was written in Hebrew.  Behind the wall of Jerusalem, they knew that their identity was locked up in God.  On the wall conversation and behind the wall conversation.

(1) In our culture, we have to learn the language of the culture (don’t do Christianese) – On the Wall.

(2) Our inner-language – seeing an internal way to see the world – Behind the wall

(3) Kenda – There is a third part of our language (symbols, arts, rituals and practices) that express faith beyond words, and is a primary language for young adults.

Adults who want to care for these children/young people have to learn their language.

How do we translate?

*The best way to translate is to use people, not programs.  If we leave translating the Gospel to Youth Programs, there will be a wooden translation of the gospel.  Icrebreakers are not real life.  (We have a whole generation of parents who are not trained to be translators)  Video: Mom confronting Confirmand who reveals he’s an atheist.  The parent doesn’t have a way to respond (no conversation); her son Michael is outing her own doubts (the parents faith formation is pretty sketchy)

Parents want to be authentic with their kids, they want to do right.  Parents losing it are just trying to be honest.

Youth workers have thought that throwing information at people is the way to bring about faith growth – but it is really about transformation.  The easiest thing to share is what you love; it gets hard when we need to share what we know.  Kenda: her dad shared his love for White Castle hamburgers, and she remembers his love for her everytime she passes a White Castle.  She wants that love to be felt everytime someone passes the church. (example of sharing; History re-enactors, volunteers who want to share their love for history with someone else)

You Learn Best What you love the most.

When a person falls in love with a band, they hear the music first, and then the find out everything about the band, and then we share it with others.

Do we love Christ sufficiently to share Christ with our children (word and deed)

Get rid of things that get in the way of our relationship with Christ (embrace sacrifice) and dislodge us from our comfort zones ( A Big Adventure )

6 Tangible Ways (concrete Steps) for parents (Congregations can step in)

(1) Invest in your own Faith (you must live out faith in your own life)

  1. Profound Religious Experience (aside from parents faith)

i.     Answer to prayer

ii.     A moving worship experience

iii.     Witnessed a miracle

iv.     Sensed God’s presence in suffering

(2) Share what you love (its easy for you to learn what you love)

(3) Share your faith story with your kids (why do you follow Jesus?)

(4) Emphasize Good News over Good Behavior (counter the Jesus Jacket – compartmentalization of morality, just take it off)

  1. Kids that associate being a Christian with how you behave are the quickest way out of Christianity and Faith once in College (disposable kind of Christian identity)
  2. Who you are flows out of Christ, not what you do

(5) Speak Christian at home

  1. Do we talk about what happened at work like “the boss really showed you some grace.”
  2. Do you speak about and talk about Jesus OUT LOUD
  3. Congregations that talk about God as subject of sentences rather than an object (God as active and alive) have children of faith

(6) Do one radical thing for your faith in front of your children, and explain that you’re doing it because you love Jesus (because this is what it means to love Jesus)  (TAKING RESURRECTION SERIOUSLY)

  1. Acts of Radical Hospitality
  2. Acts of Radical Mercy
  3. Acts of Radical Grace
  4. Acts of Radical piety and practice of faith

How much are we willing to risk in our relationship with Christ?

Everyday Radicality.  The church needs to live out Resurrection and Transformation.  If we won’t be used, then God will find something other than us.

Beginning in Youth Ministry: Making a Proper Foundation, Planning, and Philosophy

Philosophy Definition

Building a Philosophy of Youth Ministry

Khufu’s pyramid in Egypt was a limestone masterpiece that originally stood 488 ft, towering on the skyline and impressing people with the weight of its magnificence.  A people do not undertake such a massive project without knowing a few things about how to build or without a guiding philosophy about what needs to be accomplished.  Obviously there needs to be a strong foundation for such a heavy structure.  As the tower of Pisa highlights, when you build on soft ground, eventually what you build will be in danger of falling over.  If the structure is too top-heavy, it will collapse under its own weight.  Not to mention that you have to have access to stone and the relationships and leadership and labor to pull off such a massive scale project.

So what makes us think that we can go into such an important construction project like Youth Ministry without having a strong foundation and a vision for its growth?  Many have walked in with the mantra “Fake it ‘til you make it,” though that’s hardly ever a formula for true success in ministry.  There has to be clear guidelines for your leadership, your team, your students and the destiny of your ministry.  Remember that you are building for eternity in the hearts of young people.  Their lives will continue on in an everlasting line, and the trajectory of your ministry will be a strong parallel in their spiritual growth.  Like a good football coach or architect, you have to have a game plan to execute.

Take a few moments and vision out the goals of your ministry and build a framework based on biblical principles for how you’re going to accomplish your goals.   I begin with a simple purpose statement (see Doug Fields, “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”), and ours is simply “Saint Andrew By-The-Sea’s youth ministry exists to create lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ.”  It gets to the “Why” of what we are doing together.  Next, I dug into the scriptures, studied youth ministry a bit, and prayed through my passion to reach families and youth and discovered five principles that would guide our ministry.

A Short Youth Ministry Philosophy:

(1) Our ministry is Theological and Discipling in nature (Matthew 28:8-20). We need to encourage reflection on God’s work in the world (past, present, and future) and help students to live engulfed in God’s Word.  (2) We are a relational/incarnational presence in youth’s everyday lives (John 1:14).  (3) We are a family centered, equipping ministry (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16).  Parents are important to us, and by ministering to the whole family system, youth are better off and equipped to be strong and succeed in their faith journey.  (4) We are a life enabling and counseling as a community (John 13:34-35).  By connecting youth and families to one another, and by listening to the needs and concerns of all, we gain a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here and now.  (5) We are a team based ministry (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Love is spelled T-I-M-E, and it takes a lot of it to build a relationship with a student and more to walk with them in faith.  Because of this, it is impossible for one Youth Worker/Leader/Pastor to reach out to all the students deeply, and simultaneously.

So what does your youth ministry foundation look like?  It may look a bit different.  Take some time and seriously consider what heights can stand on the foundation of God’s glory.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Beginning in Youth Ministry: The Art of Pioneering

As a boy, I took part in a group called “Royal Rangers” which operated much like the Boy Scouts but with different colors and awards. Each year that I participated I was invited to attend the big camping event in Maine.  Hundreds of kids like myself would learn basic survival involving making fires, tying knots, lashing together huts, canoeing, and lots and lots of cooking. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the whole roasted pig we would later enjoy as a meal.  In these events, I would imagine myself as a wilderness pioneer exploring new territory.  Surely I wasn’t the best camper, but I had a huge imagination.  I enjoyed stories about pioneers like Daniel Boone, and the danger tales of the adult campers.  I realized that in leaving the concrete and painted world of civilization for the wilderness, there were challenges that one must overcome.  There were also processes and disciplines that kept oneself alive.

This paradigm of imagination remained with me as I began my studies in youth ministry.  Very early in my internships I realized that I was not in safe territory as I entered the world of young people.  Even as a college student, new culture was already being created and I had to ask what some simple exchanges between youth meant.  I felt uncomfortable in that period of time when I was charged with starting a small group Bible Study for Middle School students, which would then intensify in the first few awkward silences that occur when people of different age groups come together.  So I taught my lessons, I took attendance, I ran events and listened and learned.  It was a growing process involving sacrifice of my pride and giving in to the possibility of personal pain.

The same wilderness principles that I had learned from the rangers were applicable to this “survival” situation.  The goal was to create a meaningful series of relationships and programs that would strengthen young people’s faith.  To accomplish this task, I had to admit that I knew very little about this world, and I would have to observe, be patient, and hear the breathing of this particular community.   A process evolved of brainstorming and proclaiming solutions to problems (lack of excitement, lack of interest, lack of connection, lack of kindness, lack of Biblical appreciation and understanding), practicing the idea of the solution in the life of the youth community (being excited and contagiously so, hanging in the hallways and listening and responding to connect others together, being kind and teaching goodness, loving the Bible and teaching God’s ways through study, service and practice), and lastly reflecting on how the solutions fared and returning to brainstorming for the next big thing.  Many call this praxis, and in the beginnings of your ministry, I call this Pioneering.

You are the adventurers who have decided that young people are worthy of discomfort.  You leave you’re civilization and age group for periods of time to build bridges in youth culture to God and make a way.  Like a missionary (which you really are), you forge forward and patiently build paths that others can follow.  It is this process of Thinking, Acting, Reflecting and Acting again that ensures that you’re pioneering will have an impact.

Like Abraham, a call of God is on your heart and He has said, “Go.”  You respond and begin to act, and the seeds you sow will bring blessing after blessing.  Jesus’ disciples heard the call to “Go” to the world.  So I pray for you, new and veteran pioneers, who seek to be world changers by building paths that others can follow to your God.

(This article was originally published in The Advocate, South Carolina’s Connectional Newspaper for the SC United Methodist Church)

Pastor’s Corner: Changing the World One “Salkehatchie” at at time

Changing the world one kind act at a time

Published Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Original Publication (Click here)
For the past week, I was with 70 teenagers at a camp called Salkehatchie.  The camp was started by a man named John Culp, who met a group of nuns ministering to impoverished communities in South Carolina. These women had a mission to educate and help provide as an extension of God’s love to all people.John came and spoke to our group and told some of his story. About how he saw this effort and wanted to bridge the gap between kids in the suburbs and people who lived in the legacy of slavery and often had been left by family who had gone up North to find jobs.So he started a Methodist camp for youth that eventually became known as Salkehatchie, named after a nearby river, by his wife. I was impressed by the “why” of what the camps accomplish: “Many of our neighbors in South Carolina live in homes needing repair, and Jesus has called us to love our neighbor (Luke 10:29-37). South Carolina United Methodist Youth need to experience Christian servant hood. And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ ” (Luke 9:23)

So here we are at this camp telling God that we will give all of who we are. We might not know what the need will be. We do not know what the homes and the families will need, but we’re going to go out there and love these people both spiritually and practically by fixing up their homes — many with holes so big in the floor that raccoons could climb in; and with roofs in such need of repair, that they bow down into molded troughs about to break. We are going to help people, many of whom who have suffered greatly in their lives from lost husbands, lost eyesight, lost children, lost incomes, and sometimes lost hope in the future.

Each year I pray that our youth will connect with the mission. I’ve found that the young people who sacrifice all week and see what kind of difference can be made with a fresh coat of paint and a new roof, and a lot of hugs, are in tears by the end of the week. The fact is, these kids get as muche experience as the families do. The host families are in tears because they realize somebody cares. The youth are in tears because they had never realized how little people can live on, and the people they were sometimes afraid of — due to a difference in culture and lack of understanding — are warm, loving people with hopes and dreams just like them. And I am in tears because I see God working in everybody.

The third night of the camp, I was alone in the sanctuary of Main Street United Methodist in Dillon with God. Underneath their huge cross, I knelt at the altar and prayed to see lives transformed. I’ve begun to see it happen.

Last year we brought five youth to Salkehatchie, and they were nervous. Their parents didn’t know much about the camp. We all took a risk and jumped into the mission, and they came back with a glow on their faces. They saw how some paint, shingles and plywood — with prayer and good intentions — can spark new life. Their muscles ached from the work, but their lives had begun a new course, one not marked by selfishness, but with a fresh desire to reach out and get beyond the bubble.

I felt my heart moved, and we returned this year with twice the number of teens. It is as simple as “loving your neighbor as you love yourself.” Why? Because God loves you, and we can return that act by caring for others.

Simple, sweet, and it will continue to change the world one kind act at a time until we are with God himself. I pray that your mission will begin now. God is with you, let’s go.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.


Our Sacred Space AKA Youth Gathering Room (oh the difference a year makes)

A little over a year ago, the Children’s Ministry at Saint Andrew allowed us (Surf Youth Group), to take over a large room in our administration building in order have more space for Youth Activities.  Here is what it looked like as we first utilized the room:

We inherited two couches, some green padded chairs, two directors chairs, and a large tube television.  I eventually brought in a ping-pong table (not shown), the stage behind me, bought a projector, and moved in a healthy stack of NLV Bibles.  Good to go for the time.

We quickly outgrew the half space we had, and I had to rearrange several times to accomodate.  The paint was aged (with years of handprints plastered about), so over the summer Amanda (my wife) and I did a major overhaul.  We painted the walls blue and a deep red.  Moved over to the other side of the room and enlarged the gathering space.  A donated couch arrived, we hooked up an HD TV for media, and brought in a Gladiator Gearbox, some lights and a laptop to do some really fun stuff.  Here is the current room:

I forgot to mention that I love the icicle lights – in person they make the room very warm.  This picture was taken after High School Youth Group on Sunday Night, and I love how the room feels.  Unfortunately, more work needs to be done.  We are already over capacity for seating space for some of our programs with Middle School youth, and so this summer we will likely work on some new projects – like taking out the back walls, painting the hallways, and making a unified youth space (we also have a teaching room and a Green Room that feels more like a coffee shop).

In all the youth ministries in which I have served families, having a fun and warm space is incredibly important for those who worship and spend time in the church.  A lot has happened as we have continued to redo the rooms including a new and growing High School Youth Group known as ACDC (Awesome Christian’s Digging Christ).  Summer missions is exploding, Confirmation is passionate, events are transforming lives, and God is doing some great and amazing things.   Nice to know the space is getting used ;D  God bless you and pray for us if you have a few moments.  Peace.

Being Human: If You Do All Things in Love, You Will Have Perfect Freedom

As a youth minister, I often hear young people talking about how annoyed they are with their parents rules.  These rules are seen as oppressive to some, while others just dislike the constraints and are waiting until they are older to come out from under them.  These rules usually are communal rules based on teaching responsibility or a value that the parents think is important for the family to live out.

An easy example is “We respect others.” This is a huge concept that is not easy to grasp, but I believe that all teens wrestle with it at times.  There are teachers, peers and neighbors that young people just don’t “respect” because they feel they have been wronged for some reason.  Say a teacher reprimands a young girl for talking too much in class.  The young girl feels that she was not the only one talking, others should also have been reprimanded, and she was ultimately embarrassed to be called out.  The young girl also seems unable to comprehend that one teacher, in a class of 20 – 30 students cannot individually reprimand each person in a group.  A teacher looks for a leader among the talking tribe, or someone who is closest physically, or someone they know will listen, and calls that person out, hoping that one reprimand will bring the talking girls back to focus in order to continue teaching.   That young girl from that point forward says that she “hates” that teacher, that teacher is “Horrible” “Mean” or “Nasty”.

The young girl’s father eventually hears the young girl on a tirade against the teacher, and quickly realizes that the daughter is not “respecting” the teacher.  Certainly there must be another side to this, and so a conversation happens.  Feeling pressed, the young girl, not understanding why the parent is supposedly taking the teacher’s side in the issue, lashes out and disrespects the father, furthering her family “sin” and is pressed for remorse and repentance and a genuine change is required by the father.  Punishments, like taking away ipods or video games, becomes a way of enforcing family values, and if the young person is stubborn, eventually the young person starts decrying their loss of Freedom.

Isn’t this America?  Aren’t we free to do what we want?  My parents are dictators!  Everyone is out to get me.  

To the adult this is selfish, but this is not uncommon among young people who are yearning to grow out of the boundaries of their childhood, but still are not capable of having their fences completely removed.  Trust is hard for parents who want to protect their children, and are not sure of how far their children should be able to go while making mistakes.  Each situation is different and in my opinion, the parent has more or less leigh way in proportion to how much danger the youth is actually in.  Parents have to maintain fences so that the impulsiveness of youth does not destroy the child, yet there can be a lengthening of the boundaries, and the conversation needs to change from directives to a two way discussion where the teen has some input (but not authority).

“Because I said so” will no longer work.  The reasons must be discussed, weighed, and values need to be communicated, lived out and permeate the experience of the child.  And those things which a parent does not budge on become the framework with which the child builds their adult life.

But what about Freedom?  From the young person’s perspective, this is the ultimate aim.  To be free of constraints and able to do whatever they would like to do.  If only I could play Skyrim (a video game) for three days straight, drink nothing but energy drinks and eat nothing but candy and Pringles all day.  Or Why can’t I tear up my clothes, wear all the makeup I want and date as many boys as I like?

Obviously all these questions revolve around the natural yet selfish need to satisfy Number One.  Freedom to the young person is the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want to and go wherever I want to go as often as I want.  The world really is still new to them, whereas an adult has already “been there and done that” and so the appeal is not so great to drive the car downtown, or to take a first date to the movie theater.  These moments of great excitement within safe boundaries are wonderful.  But that lack of experience, and overvaluing of the rewards versus risk make for a dangerous mix.  For example, an adult would not  likely jump off a bridge to impress their wife if the place does not look safe.  A young man would be much more likely to take such a risk, if a girl he likes is present, even if she is scared of him doing it.  Even to impress the buds.  A parent who discovers this activity will likely shut it down.  Lockdown would ensue.  Long conversations and lectures would happen until the point is drilled.  And still the young man could sit there and think about how awesome it would have been to get those “cool points.”

It is in response to this ethos of youth that I’ve been pondering a simple tool for helping teens realize true freedom.  I discovered it recently while reading John Wesley’s early sermons and diary entries prior to visiting Savannah, GA.  In the sense that we are all sinful creatures, all burdened by our passions and desires of the self, and unable to stand up on our own to “lift our eyes toward Heaven”, we need a path to throw off that burden, to be free from that guilt which comes from harming ourself and others for our own desires, and essentially to be Truly Free.

The only path to freedom is to rid ourselves of the desires of the self.  Our rebellions all come from our nature, fallen since the time of Adam, to put ourselves before everything else.  A baby knows how to cry for its wants, a child knows how to make a scene in a toy store, a teen knows how to argue to pursue unhealthy relationships and adults know how to burn out friends, jobs and marriages.  It comes natural, and it takes a certain discipline to keep one’s “self” from taking over one’s whole universe.  We forget that the people of the universe outnumber our “one” vote, and that the needs of those people might be worth considering, even before our own.  The young person who has never been overseas, and who has never seen poverty, sits in their mansion, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich thinking of how his or her parent’s have abused him/her for not cooking steak for dinner.  It is a matter of perspective, and our perspective is skewed towards self satisfying and sinful behavior.

If one were to live life and make every decision according to the principles of Love, that person would suddenly find that they have been set free.  As Wesley spoke about in his early writings.  True freedom comes from putting others first. Primarily, putting God, our creator, as primary among all things.  Once we recognize that we are not a god, and all we do is not divine, we can begin to let God’s will to work in our lives. As we empty ourselves, and begin to ask God what we ought to do rather than what we want to do, we find ourselves in a refreshing stream, moving us forward, rather than using all our strength to push against the waves of God’s Holy Spirit.  Wesley several times quotes Jesus’ primary command, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.”  We learned this in Sunday School, but barely have put it into practice, because by putting God in a primary position, and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe, we threaten the most streamlined version of the universe that we could imagine.  No person would naturally want to see themselves as a secondary creature, but that is the truth.  God has placed us on a planet, it has the resources we need to live good lives, we are surrounded by people who we are to care about, and we have to decide how we will work within this system.  God has given mankind responsibility to govern this world as either good rulers, or as we often do, as tyrants.  If we live in sin, we dictate our own desires and plunder the earth.  When we push off the burdens of sin thanks to the guilt destroying power of Jesus Christ (and his great love for all people!), and the washing and cleansing we receive, our heads are enabled to look up towards heaven, realize our position in the universe (as a creature and not the creator), and we can finally be unleashed to do the greatest amount of good possible.  Not in the Mark Twain way, of doing good only to satisfy one’s own need to be recognized, but because we were originally made good, and we are being restored into living in the image of God – which is the perfect image of Love itself.

Yes – When one lives in love, one lives in perfect freedom.  If a person considers their neighbor as if that neighbor was oneself, and we realize that others deserve consideration, great things become possible.  When I was in college, I remember realizing that if everyone tended to the needs of three or more others, all our needs would be met.  Putting aside logistics of who would help who, if a need was seen, it could be met.  This is a good pattern for a marriage.  Often people go into a marriage thinking that the other person is going to satisfy that God sized hole in their being.  That person is merely a drug, used and consumed, until there is nothing left (because only God can fill that place – only he can eternally fill the human with love), and then the marriage falls apart.  The more selfish a society, the more hardship the institution of marriage will have.  Why? Because marriage requires that the man and the woman put God first, and find nourishment and sustenance from the Creator.  Then, the married person must put the other before one’s self.  If each person does this, even if one fails and repents and tries to make things right, they are still far beyond what two selfish people could ever accomplish.  God first, spouse second, and then everything else.  If both give of themselves all in all, the marriage has a greater ability to succeed, to be full of love, and to have two members who feel complete freedom – to love the other.

Being free, means being in love.  When individuals and societies fail to love, wars become reality, walls are built, words become venomous and full of poison.  Storage containers become filled with atomic weapons and militaries march to meet enemies who are no longer seen as human.  In our regular lives, we sit in separate rooms, we live within our gadgets and leave home to find fulfillment in other people in things (all of which cannot satisfy the heart, and the body will wither away as it is abused seeking happiness and satisfaction).

To find happiness, to be fully free, to hope for a better future, we will have to live our whole being in a state of love.  First for God, and because God made us all and loves us all, we will begin to see the people of the world as they were created – as children of God worthy of being brought into the family.  To love is to be completely free. 

(Top Image Source: here, Bottom Image Source: here)

UMC Youth Rock at Revolution Retreat in Columbia, SC

Friday though Saturday March 16 – 18th, thousands of young people from across South Carolina came together at the Colonial Coliseum.  To describe it in a few words: “It was BIG.”  We worshipped with the Spark band, danced to hip hop with Humble T.I.P. (To Increase Praise), rocked with DecembeRadio, and were challenged to the core by Jennifer Dake concerning our discipleship and understanding our relationship with Jesus Christ.

We were created perfect, we became imperfect, we need to be perfect, Christ was perfect, Christ died to make us perfect, and we can have faith in an amazing God of grace.  The challenge to discipleship, to put away sin and walk forward with Christ was amazing.

Here is a bit of the worship from The Spark:

We also had an opportunity in mission to pack bags full of protein, vegetables and rice to send to East Timor, where some of the most impoverished conditions on the planet exist.  We put on hair nets and weighed 8,000 packets that were ready to ship out in the weeks from the Stop Hunger Now warehouse in North Carolina.  And we also learned the game Ninja while we chilled ;D

It was truly an amazing event packed with the funniest (and most fun) Intermission Dance (see below).  We had fun in Columbia getting to know each other at the hotel, while walking and driving around Columbia, and while seeing youth from last year’s Salkehatchie trip, and went deeper in devotions each evening.  God did some amazing works in us, and we can pray that our hearts remain passionate and on fire.  God is good.   

Here is what one of the youth wrote on Facebook: 

“Wow. Revolution was so amazing, The Spark was there, Demberadio, Humble T.I.P. and mrs. Jennifer. It was so amazing to see a HUGE group of teenagers get together and just praise God. Not even thinking about what the person beside them thought of them. There were tears of pure salvation and SO MANY hearts were opened to God and to letting him consume our bodies. Im never.ever. Going to forget this weekend. Even though I was sick and had NO voice, it’d come and go, it was a blast.”

Thank you Amanda and Tina for being amazing leaders, and thank you to our youth who went and soaked in God’s goodness all weekend long.  You made the retreat fun for everyone.