Whose Books are Those?

Since we live in a town with a strong Roman Catholic presence, the question often arises among youth why their friends and classmates have more books in their Bibles than we do, and furthermore, what are these mystery books? 

Catholic Bibles add the Old Testament writings of:

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. Additions to the book of Esther
  4. 1 & 2 Maccabees
  5. Wisdom of Solomon
  6. Sirach
  7. Baruch
  8. Additions to the book of Daniel

Versions of the Bible one might encounter these books in include the New American Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible, and any large study Bible that includes the apocrypha (such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible).  These books are not bad in any particular way, and some are very worthwhile reads, but they are not regarded as authoritative in the same way as the rest of the Bible is.

 

God and Pronouns

In my youth lessons and materials, I will be referring to God using masculine pronouns.  This is not done for any definitive "God is a man!" type rationale, but rather out of respect for church tradition, and ease of speech.

Technically speaking, God exists outside the confines of gender, just as he exists outside the confines of age and time.  In the Bible, God is seen to possess both traditional masculine and feminine qualities.  For example, God's power is generally seen as a perfect masculine trait, while his love for his creation is typically interpreted as a perfect feminine quality.

Some find it shocking to see God referred to with feminine pronouns, but it is very interesting to note that the Bible refers to the perfect wisdom of God almost exclusively with feminine pronouns: most notably in Proverbs 1:20-22 & 9:1-6. 

Demons? A Companion to 5/6/2015 Youth Lesson

In the youth lesson for 5/6/2015, we studied a pericope (passage of scripture) about Jesus encountering and healing a demon possessed man.  This isn't too controversial necessarily, but when dealing with beings as fantastical and unrelatable as demons, it can sometimes help to dig a little deeper. 

Many people think of demons as fallen angels...servants of God who revolted against their heavenly creator and were thus cast down out of heaven as punishment.  The problem, is that those definitions cannot really be found in the Bible.  In fact, if angels had free will to rebel against God, it may require us to reconsider what exactly was special about man being "made in God's image".  Essentially every Bible text dealing with demons is found in the New Testament, and when Jesus or his disciples encounter them, they are generally an "evil spirit", or unseen force, which is causing a problem for a person.  It is not unreasonable, nor is it corrosive to the witness of scripture, to consider these "demons" as mental illnesses. 

While Jesus was God and thus all-knowing, he time and again interacted with people in a way they could understand.  He spoke in folksy parables, explained away his resurrections (Matthew 9:18 & 24), and healed people in ways common to the times (John 9:6...saliva was thought to have special or magic properties in ancient times).  One might say that Jesus didn't want to blow peoples minds...too much.  He met them in their own context. 

There is nothing wrong with believing in demons in a traditional sense, but do not let their mention cause you to doubt scripture.  The world is more rationally understood now than it was when the books of the Bible were being written.  If Christ would have waited until today to come, would it be less a miracle if he healed a paranoid-schizophrenic or split-personality sufferer by simply talking to them?  Of course not. 

It is not specific terms and ethereal beings that give the Bible it's credence, but rather the timelessness of God's love towards, self-revelation to, and reclamation of mankind.

This One's for All of Us

A colleague of mine doing youth ministry in Booneville Indiana shared this link with me. 

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-youth-stay-in-church-when-they-grow-up

It really hits home for me, and I believe it will for you parents as well.  If any youth want to read this, it will hopefully help them examine themselves...who am I going to be when I finish school or enter college? 

Ultimately, we aim to make disciples in the church...students, doer's, and followers of Christ and the word of God.  The author of this article is serving in student ministry in our own state; but up North in Wheaton Illinois, so he is hardly unacquainted with the context and struggles of church attendance and faithfulness in our particular area.  Really a great read.

The Assyrian Invasion: a companion to the 4/8/2015 lesson

The youth lesson for 4/8/2015 looked at quite a bit of material, so I thought it proper to back up one of the statements that I made in that lesson; that being that God's miraculous delivery of Judah was a historically verifiable event.

First, the Assyrian empire was truly a force to behold (they actually invented combat boots) and they did indeed destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  They laid waste to the Southern kingdom of Judah as well and captured many fortified locations; they obliterated the rural village and agricultural areas of the region (the Shephelah) as well.  Following that destruction, the Assyrian armies encircled the city of Jerusalem.  What happened next gets a little complicated. 

The king of Judah at that time was Hezekiah.  Hezekiah was one of the better kings in the Bible and foresaw the Assyrian horde before it became an immediate danger.  As such, he had measures taken to strengthen the position of Jerusalem.  An example of this is "Hezekiah's Tunnel", a long passage chiseled under the city, to a fresh water source (specifically the pool of Siloam) to help the city better withstand a lengthy siege (the tunnel still exists, and can be toured even today).  Jerusalem was also bolstered a bit by refugees from the Northern kingdom of Israel fleeing the Assyrian onslaught.  Regardless, the Assyrians did eventually come to take Jerusalem. 

While I won't quote all the Bible passages pertaining to this event, suffice it to say that Jerusalem was surrounded with little hope...twice.  The first time, Hezekiah was able to save the city by paying the Assyrian's a huge ransom...even going so far as to strip the gold plating from the door of Solomon's Temple (2 Kings 18:14-16) .  The Assyrians returned about 14 years later, and laid siege to the city once again.  God intervened however, and an angel struck the Assyrian army with a plague that killed many.  This seems to have made the Assyrian army go back home to Nineveh.  By all accounts this was a miraculous thing.  Even though the Assyrians would have certainly been weakened by losing so many soldiers to a plague, they could have easily captured the war-weary and besieged Jerusalem. 

Some historians believe that Sennacherib, the King of Assyria during both sieges, was actually forced to take his army back to Nineveh because he was facing political pressures at home.  While there is likely a kernel of truth to this argument, it would hardly be necessary to withdraw an entire expeditionary force for that reason alone.  Luckily, we can turn to a non-biblical source to offer support of something miraculous occurring. 

The Assyrian empire left many archaeological tidbits, inscriptions, and other such things lying about to be found by history.  One of these was the "Annals of Sennacherib".  Inscribed on 3 clay prisms, the "Annals" are essentially a boastful history of Sennacherib's conquests and victories.  On one, the following is found:

"Because Hezekiah of Judah did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to forty-six of his fortified cities, walled forts, and to the countless villages in their vicinity.  I conquered them using earthen ramps and battering rams.  These siege engines were supported by infantry who tunneled under the walls.  I took 200,150 prisoners of war, young and old, male and female, from these places...I imprisoned Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage...I reduced the land of Hezekiah in this campaign, and I also increased Hezekiah's annual tribute payments." 

So how does this support a miracle?  Firstly, note how matter-of-fact Sennacherib is in retelling how he took over so much.  Ramps and battering rams were rather essential aspects of ancient conquest and they are hardly worthy of mentioning.  However, no ancient king would ever want to brag about defeat...let alone a plague reducing his army.  Thus, we are able to garner support for the Bible's miracle by simple evidence of omission from the Assyrian king.  What's more, if he truly had encircled Jerusalem as he said he had...why wouldn't he take it?  Solomon's temple was still a noted and glorious building that any king would be proud to say he conquered.  Yet, Sennacherib can only say that he surrounded Hezekiah.  The final brag about increasing tribute is the only actual accomplishment Sennacherib made...simply reducing the holdings of Hezekiah would be meaningless as Hezekiah and the nation of Judah itself were tiny compared to Assyria, and were certainly not a threat.  It would be akin to the United States bragging about reducing the military capabilities of Ethiopia...what would be the point?  At any rate, God seems to have acted somehow on the Jew's behalf and delivered them from calamity, just like he did during the Exodus, and just like he would act later on behalf of all through Jesus.

Eventually, new invaders came from Babylon and did indeed destroy Jerusalem.  They shipped the elites of the Jews off to Babylon where they tried to make them assimilate into Babylonian culture and society.  That is where the book of Daniel picks up, and where the youth lesson from 4/8/2015 hearkens back to.  The Jews were flabbergasted when Jerusalem was captured, as following the events of the Assyrian campaign, they believed God would always protect Jerusalem personally from invaders.

Even St. Patrick Can't Explain

Authenticity is a prized commodity.  Products are advertised as "artisan" or "handmade", and legacies are stamped on bottles "Super-duper Cola: great taste since 1307!"  Why then do we always worry about having an answer?  When asked why they do not speak more openly about their faith and beliefs, most church-attenders say something along the lines of "I don't want to mess something up" or "I don't really know as much as I should."  That's okay...sometimes even the best teachers can't be completely clear.  That's okay...there is nothing more authentic than admitting you don't know something.  Sometimes, all you can do is say "it's a mystery!"  So, in appreciation of St. Patrick and the unexplainable doctrine of the Trinity, here is a funny video (which is right on in it's description of ancient heresies as a bonus)!


Describing Jesus

Occasionally, we speak of other religions in youth group.  While it used to be quite uncommon to know of anyone who was not Jewish or Christian, nowadays that is not the case.  We are often surrounded by people of differing faiths, or even no faith at all.  In order to fulfill the Great Commission, and to share our faith with others, it is simply logical to know some common ground from which to speak.  The following link can perhaps be of use in this regard, and if nothing else is an interesting read to see how the other religions of the world "deal with" Jesus.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/what-other-world-religions-think-about-jesus

In Matthew 16:13-18, Jesus asks his disciples who the people say he is.  Further, he asks his dearest followers who they say he is.  It would likely be good to ask our friends and acquaintances the same question; it would certainly do our children well.

For Parents: You are Batman!

Who spends more time with kids?  A youth pastor or a parent?  A parent of course! 

The majority of a child's faith formation ultimately comes from the parents.  This is not a bad thing!  Scripture in fact assures us that parents are to be the exemplars of their child's faith (Genesis 18:19, Proverbs 22:6).  With that in mind, here is a great Q and A piece by an editor for the curriculum publisher Group that relays a few helpful tidbits to assist parents' instruction of their families' faith-walks.

http://youthministry.com/are-you-batman-or-robin/ 

Do you feel the Church does enough to equip parent's to teach their children the Gospel?  What more could be done?  Want to share ideas, concerns, or further research things like this?  Email our Christian Ed director at scottgoodson@hotmail.com!