Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don't Neglect Your Gifts

Picture this...

It's the night before Christmas, and everyone is soundly asleep in their beds, awaiting the arrival of the 25th day of December and the gifts that will be under the tree.  Tomorrow is the day that children have been waiting for all year.

In the morning, the family is up at 6 a.m., wishing they were still in bed but knowing that the kids would surely be up as early as possible to open their presents and play with their new gifts.  

But no one runs in screaming with joy...and they wait.  And they wait.  And they wait.

The kids finally get up, around noon, and walk into the family room to see all of the presents under the tree.  However, they just walk past them and sit down in front of the TV to watch their normal favorite show on Netflix.  Or maybe play a little bit of their current video game flavor.  

The gifts sit under the tree, with seemingly no interest from those whom they were given to.  Money, time, and love spent to find, wrap, and place each gift for each specific person...yet none of them accepted, utilized, or appreciated.

An unlikely story, right?!

Maybe.  Maybe not.

On Sunday evening, we read 1 Timothy 4:11-16, which has been a focus passage of scripture for us recently in our Faith and Leadership curriculum.

We focused specifically this week on 1 Timothy 4:13-14 -- discussing our gifts and our role in receiving them.

1 Timothy 4:14 says,
"Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders."

Often, we're the children in the unlikely Christmas story when it comes to our spiritual gifts.

My question to you is this:

What gift(s) have you been neglecting?

For next week, we will continue the discussion of 1 Timothy 4:11-16, finishing with the last segment of verses 15-16.  If you're a high school student, join us in the Youth Suite at Second Presbyterian Church on Sunday evenings from 5:45-7:15 p.m. to be a part of our discussion on Faith and Leadership.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sunday Preview: Q&A

Following up from last week during Thanksgiving weekend, we will continue this Sunday morning with a Question & Answer session!

The two questions we discussed last week were:

"Prove heaven and/or hell is real without involving the word faith."

"Why is it that when we pray most people look down?  Why not up?"

There are many more questions from last week that we will try to get to this Sunday morning, so come prepared for discussion and with any other questions you might like to add into the pile!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Leadership Team for Fall Retreat 2011

Last night we had a great meeting with the leadership team to discuss how they are going to be a part of our Fall Retreat this weekend (Nov. 5-6) at Camp Pyoca.  As a group, we decided to lead a 10-minute session at the beginning of each group curriculum time to talk about prayer.  Our discussion notes are as follows:

What is prayer?
What should it be?
Something that speaks to you (music, poetry, art, etc.)
Personal prayer, public prayer, nonverbal prayer

Writing our own prayers (S. Clark "on the track" likes this)
Group prayer
Guide on how to pray
Breaking mental blocks to prayer

**Kirsten apologizes for the smudges, she's a lefty**

So we decided that for each of our four teaching times, we will lead a discussion on:

1) What is Prayer?
2) Personal Prayer
3) Group Prayer (in small groups)
4) Reflection on Prayer

Think about these things throughout this week and add more ideas and details or volunteer to lead certain things in the comments of the blog!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trek Preview: Romans Chapter 6

Tonight at Trek we continue our discussion series on Paul's letter to the Romans.  In preparation for tonight, please read chapter 6, and be prepared to answer these questions:

What’s the best gift you've ever received?

What’s the best gift you've ever given?

What is a gift? What makes it special?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Framing Leadership

As a part of our Sunday evening leadership team curriculum this semester, we have had a ton of great conversations about what it means to be a leader and to grow in your ability to lead.

This past Sunday evening, we ended our discussion with reading of a passage from
1 Timothy:

These are the things you must insist on and teach.  Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.  Put these things into practice, devote yourselves to them, so that all may see your progress.  Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

[4:12-16, NRSV]

As we continue in our discussions on leadership on Sunday evenings, we are going to use this passage to frame three areas in which we need to be continually mindful as leaders.

"...set the believers an example..."  
Growing as leaders, we must always be reminded that whether we realize it or not, we are setting an example for the people around us.  A lot of our discussion on leadership has mentioned the fact that if we are hypocritical or don't walk our talk, our effectiveness as leaders becomes nothing.  This doesn't mean we never make mistakes or have failings, but this does speak to how we handle those situations in our lives as leaders.

" not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you..."
A significant part of being a leader is recognizing our own unique gifts and using those appropriately.  Likewise, effectively leading in a Christian setting means always living into the fact that our talents and abilities are exactly that--gifts.  Effective leadership plays to the strengths and weaknesses of the gifts that each of us have been given, and keeps the perspective of appreciating those as gifts rather than taking them for granted in self-credit.  

" close attention to yourself and to your teaching..."
Self-reflection is an integral part of being a leader.  Not only does self-reflection allow us to see what example we're setting and how we are leading, but it allows us to always frame our leadership in something that is bigger than ourselves; something larger than simply what we are doing.  In this way, we can continually be a part of a wider picture and not be self absorbed in our own leadership.

Take some time this week to reflect on these areas and how they pertain to leadership.  While not comprehensive nor definitive, there is a rich learning opportunity in these words from 1 Timothy chapter 4 about being effective leaders.  

What else can we learn?

Trek Preview: Romans Chapter 5

This week in Trek we will dive into chapter 5 of the Letter to the Romans, continuing our study on Paul's writing.  As you read chapter 5 in preparation for our discussions tomorrow night, think about these questions:

What is love?  What does the word love mean to you?  
What are the ways in which you can tell someone loves you?
What ways do you try to show others that you love them?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Trek Preview: Romans Chapter 3

Tonight for Trek we continue with our study and discussions of Paul's letter to the Romans.  In preparation:

  • Read chapter 3 of Romans (and possibly re-read chapter 2 -- if you feel like an overachiever)
  • Read Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7 (compare this to Romans 3)
  • Write down any initial questions/thoughts you have so that we can jump right in tonight!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Trek Preview: Romans Chapter 2

Tonight in Trek, we will wrap up our discussions from last week (Romans chapter 1) and dive into Romans chapter 2.  Bring your thoughts/questions from last week, and think about these questions before you arrive tonight.

  • How would you describe Christians?
  • Why do you think Christians can be disliked in popular culture?
  • What do you feel like when someone judges you?  Why do you think it feels that way?
  • What happens to relationships when judgement enters the playing field?

See you tonight!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sunday Evening Recap: What makes a leader?

So in the past few weeks on Sunday evenings we have been discussing the basics of leadership.  Starting our leadership team (which YOU are invited to be a part of!), we have started defining leadership and what makes an effective leader.  We hope that through this discussion we can have a foundation for more specific issues of leadership later this semester.

This past Sunday, we asked the students to break into small groups and decide on a number of character traits that leaders have.  We encouraged them to think of character ideals, not necessarily simply personality traits or style.  We then had discussion on what makes a good leader, and effective leader, and what similarities/differences were found in both.

[the raw results] 
Group 1 said that a leader is/has:
caring/loving, respectful, honest, wise, relatable, strong minded, brave, accountable, loyal/patriotic, humble, hard-working, dedicated, passionate, trustworthy

Group 2 said that a leader is/has:
respect, responsible, open-minded, flexible, enthusiastic, honest, trustworthy, forgiving, level-headed, easy to talk to, awesome

Group 3 said that a leader is/has:
caring, honest, responsible, respect, faith, says things in a way that doesn't make you feel attacked, humble, considerate, sets a good tone, empathetic, open to change, able to step down when needed

[compiled results - items with multiple mentions]
According to our groups, a leader is/has:
relatable/empathetic/easy to talk to
flexible/open to change

[for next week: homework]
We asked students to think about the 5 qualities of a leader that they feel are most important, and write them down.  Then see if there are bigger umbrella character traits that are behind those 5, write those down.  Try to boil it down to 1-2 things that leader almost always is.

Also, come prepared to say what one character trait you would use to describe yourself.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Faith in Politics

Interesting article from the NY Times regarding the place for religion in politics.  Read it here, then a few thoughts below.  Thanks to Brian for the link!

The article brings up a compelling argument while stating what should be obvious -- Politicians are people, and people have beliefs.  The idea that politicians' beliefs and faith background shouldn't be publicly scrutinized knowledge or relevant to their office has always been somewhat ridiculous to me.  However, this article does exactly what disheartens me in politics and media in general, which is to define a person simply by who they are associated with.

If the Facebook Age has taught us anything, it's that you are who you surround yourself with.  The people and things that you involve yourself with say a huge amount about who you are as a person.  But too many times, and especially in politics, we choose to single out one or two of the associations that we don't agree with or don't like and assume that the person in question is a perfect microcosm of that association.  Can you honestly pick any single person, organization, hobby, belief or ideal that completely defines you or that you completely parallel in your daily living?  I would contend that most of us couldn't even make a short list that felt like it accurately described us to someone who had never met us but was familiar with all of the items on the list.  In a striking conundrum, we are who we associate with, yet our associations are what we make of them -- it's a two way street that is never static.  None of this even takes into account the fact that the same ideal, belief or organization represents different things to different people in perception, whether in minute or gaping degrees.

So let's do something different for once.  Maybe instead of just assuming that Mitt Romney is a polygamist due to his association with the Church of Latter Day Saints, or that Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are anti-gay due to what you've heard about Evangelicals, or even that the author of the Times article is a liberal who clearly disagrees with Republican-based positions and views based on his writing style and subject, we could actually come up with ways and take the time to find out who these people really are.  Is Barack Obama a racist because of the views that his pastor had?  It always seems so clean cut when we're the ones judging, but there is a lot more gray area when we're the ones being judged.

The questions posed in the linked article are a great start, and we should be encouraged to ask them.  But are we really ready to accept the answers?  Or will we simply reject the ones we don't want to hear...and then throw the candidate back into the assumptions that we started with...and define them as who we want them to be rather than who they are.

This all leads to a much bigger question than politics.

How would we want people to define us?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Promotion Sunday 2011 - Second Thoughts

After a few days to think about the ideas that our students threw out for us this past Sunday, here are a few thoughts.  

First, things I feel as if we've already been doing for a while and are generally doing well:

  • Discuss scripture.  This was on every group's list in some shape or form.  Discussing (and elaborating on) scripture is something that we do every single week.  A few of the groups put interesting modifiers on this topic, however, by adding "open discussion" and "participate in discussion".  It seems these two groups were onto something -- we can teach scripture as much as we want, but students must be involved more than that.  We need our students to be open and honest in their discussion (if not being real, then what's the point of having a talk?), and more than that, we need our students to be active participants.  I believe that students will always learn more through and from each other than they necessarily will through any of their adult leaders.
  • Make friends.  Pretty self explanatory -- we do introductions every. single. week.  Everyone is included here.  And if you don't feel included, we need to know so that we can check ourselves.  Seriously.
  • Community Service Opportunities.  We try very hard to set up opportunities for our students to be able to serve others.  Outside of the many opportunities at Second (Bazaar, Christmas Benevolence, IHN, etc.) we try to set up group outings to places such as Gleaners Food Bank.  Your next opportunity as a group will be on September 17th, so be on the lookout for info about that.  We are also always glad to help individual students or small groups to set up mission and service opportunities whenever they're interested!
Ok, so how about some things that we might not do enough, or might not do at all?
  • Silent confession and meditation.  We've done more than a few silent meditations and lectio divina times on Sunday mornings, and I think students have generally enjoyed having that time to reflect personally on scripture and have a moment away from the usual fast pace of the world.  Could we possibly integrate this on a more regular basis into our Sunday morning lessons?  The other question I have is based around the fact that students have the opportunity for silent confession and meditation in worship every Sunday morning.  Are they missing this?
  • Journals.  I really, really like this idea.  I'm just not sure how to implement it.  Envisioning a time where students could write in their journals as part of our weekly curriculum is exciting to me, even possibly allowing them to do so as part of a silent meditation time (see above), but I still have a few concerns.  Would the students bring their own journals every week?  Probably not; only a select few would actually remember.  Is the alternative that we keep journals here?  Seems impractical and messy with so many potential students.  I'm open to suggestions...
  • Students/Youth lead.  Best suggestion (in my humble opinion) of any of the lists.  For the record, I'm counting "be God's hands and feet" in this category.  Some of our students have long past realized that they can lead by doing things that we've already listed in this post, namely participating and pushing and leading discussions by example on Sunday mornings.  However, for some students that's not what drives them or where they feel they fit.  So we're starting (re-starting, really)  a leadership team for high school students.  Sunday evenings throughout this school year, students can expect to spend time in study, discussion, reflection and planning that will help prepare and equip them to be leaders in their communities, whether here at the church or otherwise.  Part of this leadership education will probably (see: definitely) include "communicating with the older crowd" and "not letting anyone tell you that you can't".  
What's left?  There are a few things that must be mentioned that didn't quite fit these lists:
  • 10 minute focus on real life application of scripture.  This one is tough, because I'd really like to hope that the entire time we study and discuss together that it would be centered around "real life application".  If we aren't talking about real life application, then we're missing the point of talking about scripture at all.  That being said, if there is a want for a weekly moment in our lessons where we deliberately focus on how we take what we've learned out the doors with us, I'm all for it.
  • Church spirit days.  And Tacos!  Don't know how we're going to integrate these, but if we manage to go the entire school year without having a church spirit day then you can all point back to this blog and be really angry with me.  As for the tacos, not sure that 9:30 am is the perfect time, but I'll see what we can do.  :)

Until next here if you'd like to be a part of the leadership team! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Promotion Sunday 2011

Read 1 Timothy 4:11-16 with our students this morning.   After small group discussions, asked each group to compile a list of three ways that we could implement practical things on Sunday mornings that would help each of us to live more like the way that Paul implored and encouraged Timothy to live from the passage.

Here are the raw results:

Open discussion
Silent confession and meditation

Participate in discussion
Students lead
Communicate with the older crowd
Find community service opportunity

Discuss and elaborate [on] scripture
Youth lead Sunday school
10 min focus on real life application of scripture
Church spirit days

Be God's hands and feet
Don't let anyone tell you you can't
Discuss scripture
Make friends

I'm going to let these sink in a bit and then follow up with a few of my initial thoughts.