10/10/21 - Jesus IS the only way, and sometimes that feels weird, and the importance of knowing Jesus personally.
Good morning parents!
This past week in Sunday school we kept pushing into the question "Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?" Obviously, scripture tells us that this is the case, but it can often feel like saying "Jesus is the only way to heaven" is a culturally insensitive statement. We spent the bulk of our time talking about how we live in a culture that tends to value acceptance more than objective truth. We discussed how using language like "my truth" and "your truth" isn't referring to objective truth at all, but a persons lived or felt experience. When we say that something is true, we are calling back to an irrefutable authority - the Bible. Obviously language is continually evolving and it can be hard to express the truth of Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life without people calling us bigots or judgmental. We leaned into a bit of practical application then, and talked about sharing the Gospel in effective ways.
It has been my experience that the best way to share the good news of Jesus (and it IS good news, despite how the world around us might respond!) is to listen to Jesus when he commands us to love our neighbors. Something that transcends the negative stigma that people in the world today attach to words like "Christian" or "evangelical" is simple love. I am by no means an expert evangelizer, but every time I have had the pleasure of leading someone to Jesus, it was because that person knew I was invested in their life beyond the desire to convert them. I had worked long and hard to know them, the good and the bad, to the point that the negative assumptions about church or Christianity couldn't stand. Evangelism and discipleship so often go hand in hand, and I have grown to enjoy the process of discipling people who don't know Jesus as their savior, and waiting for God to work miracles.
To summarize all of that, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through Him. This is good news, and its news that is most effectively shared when we align our lives with Christ and love God first, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Youth group was a bit of a surprise for all of us!
I decided on my way to get snacks for the evening that I wanted to talk about something other than the Bible Project that had been weighing heavily on my heart.
If you have had the opportunity to get to know "Noah the person" outside of "Noah the youth pastor," you would know that I am a pretty opinionated person. Dynelle might even say too opinionated ;) I love thinking and talking about theology, culture, the Church, effective ministry and how all of those things are woven together. You might also know that I grew up here in Zeeland, attending a church where I was one of 6 kids in the high school youth group!
Those two things often come together in interesting ways for me. One of the reasons I felt like God was calling me back to west Michigan in 2016 when I took this position was because I felt like I knew this culture - the good and the ugly. I grew up in a church that did an incredible job of helping me memorize scripture, learn the catechism, and nail the basics of all the bible stories you would hear at a VBS. They were always willing to let me teach those things in places like children's Sunday school or VBS when I was older, and in doing so grew my confidence as a leader.
There was one thing I somehow missed though, and that was a personal relationship with a risen Christ. I knew all those answers and it felt good to be someone who was seen as a "capable" teenager, but I don't think I regularly spent time in scripture, or time in silent prayer.
Fast forward to today, and Josiah and I have the pleasure of preaching this week. As we have been preparing material for our sermon, I kept hearing the same message over and over in the back of my head asking, "How are you teaching our students to really love Jesus and grow in relationship with Him?"
I know this is a huge wall of text already, but there is one more piece of context I would like to share. I have never considered myself a particularly charismatic Christian. My personal experience with Jesus hasn't involved being slain in the Spirit or speaking in tongues or miraculous special revelation. When I pray or spend intentional time with God, I experience his presence in ways that I describe as "heart tugs." Often its like a silly disembodied thought or emotion just springs up and doesn't seem logical. On my way to youth group I was listening to a podcast about the world our students are finding their faith in and I had one of those "tugs." I felt like I should talk about that instead of angels and cherubim, because while its super interesting to hear about how rich scripture is and the characters at work within it, I'm not sure that it is teaching our students to own their faith or causing them to fall in love with the Word.
So I bought snacks, went to church and scribbled on a notepad for a while. I asked our students a few questions to break the ice a bit. "What is the Church?" "What is a Disciple?" And, "Who is someone you look up to spiritually, and what characteristics do they have that cause you to look up to them?"
All of these questions were leading us into a discussion about the world that they live in, the unique challenges I see for them, and how I hope the time we spend here on a Sunday isn't the richest part of their faith journey.
Our students live in a post-pandemic, post-truth, hyper-connected-but-lonely world. The pandemic caused suffering for everyone, a post-truth world tells them that the Bible can't possibly be absolute truth, and their social structures serve them fake internet hearts or likes in place of deep interpersonal relationships. Without being dramatic, it's fair to say that they are living in a time where being a follower of Christ isn't exactly easy.
But when we turn to scripture and think about the people who were the fathers and mothers of our faith, we see that often they came from places where it was hard to follow Jesus too. Deep and resilient faith is not formed in a spa, its formed in fire. The question we are left with then is simple. How are we shaping our students to live in the flame when they leave our homes, our churches, or even our circles of influence?
Josiah and I are going to try and answer that question more generally this Sunday in our sermon, but as far as youth group goes I simply encouraged our students to be people of prayer, who are steeped in God's word. One of my greatest fears as a leader is that I churn out high school students who believe and talk like me without giving them the tools and knowledge necessary to own their faith for themselves.
As we keep pushing into that idea, I might switch up our teaching schedule a little bit to allow for some of our students and leaders to talk about some things that they are growing in or positively impacted by. I love the Bible Project, and maintain that an informed reading of scripture is an excellent thing to dive into, but I think we might need something different to hit the bullseye in this moment.
If you made it this far, you're a legend. Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness, and I'd love to hear if your student brought any of this home to you!!
Have a great week!
Good morning parents!!
This past Sunday morning we kept digging into the question "is Jesus really the only way to heaven?" It's been very interesting to hear what our youth think about other religions and the status of their salvation. In my own life, I have found that many of my peers are more prone to thinking that "all streams lead to the ocean" that is God. I'm happy to report that this does not seem to be the case with our youth! We spent some time talking about how Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Mormonism all view Jesus and his role in salvation, and how the Bible is really only compatible with the Christian view.
Speaking of the Bible... if you ever want to hear some fun stories, ask your kids about my soapboxes. In both youth group and Sunday school this past week I spent around 5 minutes trying to impress the importance of being in God's word on the students. I fear that we live in a world where the pinnacle of the average "Christian" experience is a Sunday morning. I don't want to contribute to a generation of Christians who only hear the Bible (the very Word of God Himself!) through the mouth of whoever is behind their pulpit that Sunday, and a huge part of what we are trying to do in both of our high school programs this year is instill the confidence that scripture is accessible, and meaningful. As Josiah and I are working through some other potential parent resources, we think that there is a gaping hole in the heart of the next generation that their personal interaction with scripture is supposed to fill. If you can find ways to keep fostering that love and desire at home, that would be amazing. I know that there are all sorts of unique challenges specific to your family and its not as simple as just forcing them to read the Bible, but I feel an incredible sense of urgency surrounding this topic.
We spent some quality time together in the evening before spending some time talking about the original languages of the Bible and how we might read the Bible differently than the original audience would have. One of the key things that we miss out on when we read the OT is the presence and impact the authors of the Bible seem to give to spiritual beings in General. We see references to "the holy ones" and "the council of Yahweh" pretty often, but the western church doesn't have a great paradigm to interpret these things. We know that Paul says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but we rarely have words to describe what that practically means for us as followers of Christ.
It may be an interesting thought exercise for you too! What do you think about when you read Ephesians 6 and see the words "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms"? I often think about Jesus being tempted in the desert, or driving out demons into pigs, but rarely do I apply those words to myself.
The authors of the Bible go so far as to imply that the crucifixion of Jesus was primarily the fault of the "rulers of this age," and not people! 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 explicitly states this two times!
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. "
This is something I never grew up thinking about, and it seems to add a whole layer to the narrative arc of scripture that I just didn't have the perspective to see before!
I ended our time of conversation by simply posing a rhetorical question - "What are the 'rulers of our age' and is it possible that some of our current struggles might have a spiritual component that we weren't even aware of?" (Your students identified some of the "rulers" we grapple with as technology, politics, money, and influence. Y'all have some smart kids!!)
The Bible Project is incredible, and if this kind of stuff is interesting to you, you can watch the same videos we do HERE and find the study material that I summarize and riff on HERE!
Next week we plan to keep hammering away at both of these excellent pieces of curriculum!! Thanks for reading this giant wall of text, and please reach out if you have any questions or comments!!
Good morning parents!
To say that this update has been a long time coming is a criminal understatement. It almost feels appropriate to reiterate why these posts happen and how I hope they can be of use to you!
Every week that we have programming, you can expect one of these posts to go up and fill you in on what we are talking about and give you a few key ways you might be able to continue the conversation at home! I try hard to keep my "voice" in these posts as well, so as you read them I hope you feel like you are able to get to know me a little better as well!
This week in Sunday school, Liz Boerman launched us back into one of our favorite curriculums. We are working through a book series published by the Fuller Youth Institute that is designed to help your students grapple with some of the harder questions they will encounter in faith. The beautiful thing about this material is that it intentionally doesn't give us an answer, so there is no limitation on what we can or can't discuss. The question we are looking at in the next couple weeks is "Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?" I wasn't able to be at Sunday school this week because I am coordinating the Fellowship Sunday school class in Pastor Roger's absence, but I hear that the conversation was excellent! Your students were asking questions about things like predestination and "Does God know when he creates someone that they will be a serial killer?" Heavy stuff, but good stuff! If you are looking to continue the conversation at home, it sounds like predestination might be a good place to start!!
Youth group was fantastic. We had pizza, played some family feud, a little dodgeball, and began our Bible Project series on Spiritual Beings. The material we are using has the potential to be a little "heady," but I think that as we continue to push into it it will get a bit easier. This week we talked about the existence of spiritual beings and the nature of the Hebrew language that describes them. One of the pitfalls that the RCA can fall into is thinking that the only "main characters" within scripture are God and humans. The Biblical authors did not think this way, and spiritual beings played a large role in their concept of the world and humanity's role within it.
We primarily focused on the creation story in Genesis 1-3, but where modern Christians tend to hang up on the chronology and detail of how the world was made, the author of Genesis spends significant time describing the heavenly host and humans interaction with them. God creates all that we know in those chapters, and He often gives authority to certain things to "rule" over that creation. Light and dark rule night and day, and humans are charged with ruling the land. God seems to give "authority" to what we would consider inanimate objects, but most people in ancient near eastern culture would have seen them as "heavenly beings" that were spiritual in nature.
I'm not advocating that we engage in star worship all of a sudden, but I do think that we need to be willing to reframe how we might see things from a 21st century lens. So as we press into this study and talk a little more about who these beings are that scripture references, you might have some questions come home! This week felt a little like I hit them with a fire hose, so I'm planning to take it a little slower next week! We're planning to focus on just one word - Elohim. It should spark some fun discussion!
Thanks as always for stopping by to check on what we are talking about! Have a wonderful week!
Good morning friends!
This past week we finished up talking about whether or not the Bible contradicts itself and began to ask the question "Can I be a Christian and believe in evolution?" This next topic has a lot of potential to stir up some deeply held beliefs, and the purpose of the curriculum is to prepare students for confrontation in the real world. We aim to have a healthy discussion that fosters mutual understanding throughout. This would be an awesome opportunity to talk with your student about what you believe and why! They have been encouraged to talk to an adult in their life that they respect, and I think you might be surprised to hear what they think!
In Youth group we spent the last week of Faith in and Anxious World talking about how we were designed for community, both with God and with each other. Kevin McCleery lead us through Jesus feeding the 5000 and focused on how Jesus didn't feed them by Himself, but he also didn't leave the disciples to do it alone either. We ended our time by breaking bread with one another and stressing the importance of a good community.
This is also a good time to mention that we are going to be starting our In God's Image curriculum this next week! We hope to have three weeks of that curriculum before spring break and a small insert about what it means to be Reformed before we take off for the Summer!
Thanks for stopping by as usual!!
Two relatively heavy topics this past week, but both conversations went well. Sunday school continued to address apparent contradictions within scripture and how we reconcile them as believers. We are trying to dive into this question well, but I know that students are anxious to move on to some more culturally significant topics as well. We hope to finish up this question next week!
We had the pleasure of hearing from Nancy Mccleery in youth group on the topic of depression and how to deal with it. We encouraged students to be present to those around them and to correctly asses their feelings and seek help if necessary.
We hope to finish up Faith in and Anxious world next week and keep pushing through "Can I ask That" in Sunday school!
Good morning parents!
This past week I got back into my groove and rejoined the students in the "Can I Ask That?" material. We have just started to ask the question "Does the Bible contradict itself?" and will likely stay here for another week or two. This book is designed to facilitate discussion and help students ask themselves hard questions in a safe environment. As we continue this discussion, this would be an excellent opportunity to connect with your students about what they believe and why! You may find that your student is passionate in ways you weren't aware of before!
In youth group we are continuing to talk about faith in the midst of an anxious world. This past week Nick led us through the call of Simon Peter and we spent some time in small groups asking ourselves how we might be able to handle conflict better in our homes. I am of the opinion that 90% of student/parent communication breaks down because of a lack of "shared meaning." When a parent says "No, you can't go on a cross country road trip," its not because they enjoy making their child suffer. They are likely trying to protect their child from possible dangers or are aware that a cross country trip isn't financially viable. Unfortunately, the student may hear "My parents don't trust me," or "They don't want me to go because they hate me." This might seem a little contrived, but neither side is adding to the shared meaning. The parents are communicating love in the form of protection or concern, but the student sees it as restrictive and responds in a rebellious way.
We asked students to talk to you about the things that they have noticed help in the midst of disagreement and the things that make it worse. I would encourage you to dive into that conversation as deeply as you are willing. I'm very passionate about parent/student relationships and I think that taking the time to have hard or even potentially awkward conversations about strengths and weaknesses in times of tension can really help both parties understand one another better.
Thanks for checking in as usual!
Good morning parents!
For those of you who may not have heard, I am officially a dad now! Dynelle gave birth to our son Ezra on 2/4/20 and we are figuring out what parenting is like :)
This past week my volunteers covered Sunday school and youth group, and from what I hear it all went very well! We are still going through Can I Ask That in the morning and we will start week two of "Faith in an Anxious World" at youth group!
Ill be sure to leave a more comprehensive update next week!
Have a wonderful rest of your week!
I'm updating the website from a hospital room at 4am! So obviously, I wont be at programming this week, but programming is still going on!
This upcoming week in Sunday school we are continuing the question "Can I trust the Bible?" and in youth group we will be beginning our "Faith in an Anxious World" curriculum!
Our wonderful volunteers are going to be taking over for me for the next two weeks while I am on paternity leave, but I will try to throw a few pictures up here and update as necessary!
Have a great week!
Good morning friends!
This past week we began our new Sunday school material and wrapped up some Deep Discipleship stuff in Youth Group!
Some of you may remember the "Can I Ask That" book series we went through right when I came to FRCZ, and it's back by popular demand! The seniors who caught some of the books are still interested in going back through them, so we are going to begin by simply asking the question "Can I trust the Bible?"
This is a curriculum designed to help students think about their faith for themselves and prepare them for a world that asks hard questions. The tagline on the book is "Doubt isn't toxic to faith - silence is." This is a discussion based curriculum and has the potential to get pretty emotionally charged. My leaders and I are all ready to dive into those places, but its also helpful if you all are aware of what we are talking about. I would love to talk to you more about this so if you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email!
Youth group is going to begin Faith in an Anxious World on February 9th! This series is designed to help students identify and manage points of anxiety in their lives by putting full trust in God. I'm very excited to see how our students respond to that material and I will update you here!
Please pray for a healthy baby, and an easy delivery! Dynelle and I can't wait to meet our little guy! Have a great week!
Good morning parents!
This past week we spent our Sunday school hour talking about king Josiah and the unique nature of his reign. Without the law of Moses in hand, he abolished idolatry at the age of 16 and rebuilt the temple. There is a lot we can learn from Josiah, and its a pretty inspiring thing to know he did all of this at the age of our students! Ask your child what their takeaways were!
In youth group I tried something a little different and I just asked two questions for the teaching time. the first was "If God had it His way, what would our church look like?" The responses were pretty incredible. We talked about worship that wasn't focused on worshiping a particular way or focused on ourselves, inclusivity, and lots more. This would be another great question to talk to your students about at home! I left them with this question - "What is stopping our church from looking like that now?" I think this is a question we can all afford to ask ourselves from time to time, just to make sure that our hearts are in the right place and we are on a course charted toward Jesus.
Just to keep you all in the loop, Dynelle is going to give birth to our first child in the near future! There is a plan in place, and the High School volunteers are going to be standing in for me while I'm on paternity leave. I only intend to be gone for two weeks, but Friday nights are going to have to move! For the next 8-10 weeks I will be asking members of the congregation to host our Friday night fellowship. If this is something you would be interested in, I would love to have you check out the sign up under the "Schedule information" tab! This is to make sure our little guy can develop a strong immune system before we put him in the same house as 20 some teenagers. The new Friday night schedule will be 6pm - 10pm during this time and we will reassess how we are doing at the end of these couple months. Thank you all for the support you have already given Dynelle and I and I can wait for you all to meet this little dude!
Have a wonderful week!
I'm Noah. I do High School things. Expect this page to update every Tuesday morning!