Cookie Night quotes for 2007

Last year we established a tradition with our middle school youth group that they would, at one of their monthly events, make care packages for the college students from CSMSG.

This past weekend we held our second Cookie Night. Part one of the evening is making cookies (we use big tubs of premixed dough for efficiency's sake) and part two is writing notes to the college students. I usually put up a few examples on the screen so our kids aren't shooting blind, but this year they were especially good at coming up with their own, like these:

(The High-Pressure note) "I hope you like these cookies, because I made them. So LOVE THEM!"

(The Guilt-Inducing note) "I hope you like these cookies, because a good friend would make them for you, but a great friend would also send you a postcard!"

(The one that isn't getting sent) "I hope you like these cookies. I added a 'special' ingredient!" (The writer's comment: "I think you'd have to be a college student to understand my note...")

(The Clever Holiday Song Parody) To the tune of 'Away in a Manger'-- "Away at your college/ Asleep on your bed/ With dreams of good cookies/ And 'A's on your tests! Well... maybe! At least you have cookies!"

(The One-Liner) "Get ready for your exams with these fresh-baked cookies! Well... they were fresh when we made them!"

(And, of course, the Nyah-Nyah-Nyah) "On the first day of Christmas, my youth group gave to me... 10 boxes of cookies... sorry, we only sent you one!

My favorite, of course, is the one with the drawing on it (which is supposed to look like me) "May God be with you as you work your way toward the outer life and pass your final exams. These cookies are to aid you in your quest to become whatever you want."
The most recent issue of the Journal of Student Ministries has an article by Chuck Bomar about how churches are making strides at connecting with college students; check it out if it's something your group has been talking about doing, or that you see the need for.


Up for an illustration

Take this news story, via Reuters, and use it to illustrate how people will grab at any solution, short of bringing it to God, to solve our problems.

Here's a quote:

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Having marital problems? Have you tried putting egg in your underpants?
A woman in Cyprus is on trial for sorcery after pledging to shake off a curse apparently plaguing a man's relationship with his wife and mother-in-law. [...]
"She cracked the egg into my underpants," the 37-year-old man told a district court in the capital Nicosia.


Shameless Plugging for Something Cool

I opened this book and the page I looked at was my "favorite" (when I'm talking to kids, and in a bad mood) Bible story: the one where the bears ate the children.

Get this book: "Rejected Sunday School Lessons"-- it's 20 or so perfect examples of how not to do Bible study, and would be useful for training new adult volunteers or Sunday School teachers.

It's also hilarious. With a capital Arious!

(Unfortunate information: The book isn't listed on the YS website or Amazon, yet, so keep looking-- or sign up for the NYWC in Atlanta!)


So I called this kid...

I had a list of phone calls to make in between our goal-setting meetings today, and called one of my not-so-involved kids to invite her back to our Wednesday night Bible study.

Me: Hi, I just wanted to find out if you were going to be here on Wednesday for Bible study.
NIK: Probably not.
Me: Oh, sad! How come?
NIK: (huge silence)
Me: Any particular reasons?
NIK: (starts crumpling a bag of chips near the phone) I think you're breaking up...

I definitely had something crumpled at me to get rid of me on the phone today.


My youth group just amazes me

Tonight we had our first regular high school group get-together. I'm much more creative when it comes to the middle school group, honestly, so when I was inviting people to this one what I said was, "This is your chance to tell me what the group will be doing the rest of the year."

We do a "Sunday night Coffeehouse" format, where I bring in my espresso maker (soon to be replaced with two permanent, youth group-owned machines) and make Starbucks-style goodness for everyone, and we get to relax a little bit. The original idea was to make this place a haven, away from pressure and deadlines and such.

This time, I asked the group to come up with problems they'd like to solve and efforts they'd like to be a more active part of.

The first comment was, "We should serve more." The group remembered a service project we'd done with a housing agency here in town and wanted to work with them again. We've had a kid in the hospital a lot this fall, so we wanted to do something for him, and then talked about expanding our vision to do more with people in the hospital in general. Then we talked about what we might do for the homeless people in our city.

Right now the crew is brainstorming ideas and we're going to come up with one to focus on deeply for a while. We're going to keep up the coffeehouse event as a time to relax and all check in, and add these other projects as we come up with them.

The best comment: "It's not like we could just go out and find homeless people and say, 'here's a blanket.' (Pause.) Wait, maybe we could!"

What was cool was that without any formal Bible study tonight, the group came up with most of Jesus list of things to do for "the least of these" in Matthew 25.


Interest in the Latin Mass seems to show people search for transcendent God

This story caught my eye this morning; I'd vaguely followed the debate over re-authorizing the Tridentine Mass in the Catholic Church, but hadn't made a connection to a book I'd read called "The New Faithful" which was about Christian orthodoxy and how young people are interested in it again.

“I have no memory of the Latin Mass from my childhood,” Anne McLaughlin said at St. Leo’s. “But for me it’s so refreshing to see him facing the east, the Tabernacle, focusing on Christ.”
Her daughter Aine, 15, agreed and said, “It’s so much prettier.”
Experts on the church say they have been surprised that young people have shown such interest.
“There’s a curiosity, and it is consistent with people looking for the transcendent and holy, which they maybe didn’t see in the Mass they attended growing up,” said the Rev. Keith F. Pecklers, professor of liturgy at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Imagine this: people who are looking for God are looking for something mysterious; something they don't understand. I think that's huge.


Books on God's existence, coming soon

An article in the New York Times magazine last week reviewed two books coming out in the next few months, one on an atheist turning Christian, and the other about a Christian turning agnostic.

This column, "Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God" summarizes both books.

[T]he central problem of theodicy [is] the existence of suffering and evil in a world presided over by an all powerful and benevolent deity. The occurrence of catastrophes natural (hurricanes, droughts, disease) and unnatural (the Holocaust ) always revives the problem and provokes anguished discussion of it. The conviction, held by some, that the problem is intractable leads to the conclusion that there is no God, a conclusion reached gleefully by the authors of books like “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great” and “The End of Faith.”
Now two new books (to be published in the coming months) renew the debate. Their authors come from opposite directions – one from theism to agnosticism, the other from atheism to theism – but they meet, or rather cross paths, on the subject of suffering and evil.

This article, "The Turning of an Atheist" describes Anthony Flew and his upcoming work.

"“There Is a God” is an intellectual’s bildungsroman written in simple language for a mass audience. It’s the first-person account of a preacher’s son who, away at Methodist boarding school, defied his father to become a teenage atheist, later wrote on atheism at Oxford, spent his life fighting for unbelief and then did an about-face in his old age, embracing the truth of a higher power. The book offers elegant, user-friendly descriptions of the arguments that persuaded Flew, arguments familiar to anyone who has heard evangelical Christians’ “scientific proof” of God. From the “fine tuning” argument that the laws of nature are too perfect to have been accidents to the “intelligent design” argument that human biology cannot be explained by evolution to various computations meant to show that probability favors a divine creator, “There Is a God” is perhaps the handiest primer ever written on the science (many would say pseudoscience) of religious belief."

Probably some heavy stuff here, but I'm planning to track down both books.


My favorite memory verse is #720

I just ran across this site via Dave Walker's blog at Cartoon Church, and it's got every verse in the Bible ranked according to its popularity on the Internet. The top 5 are:

John chapter 3 verse 16 "For God so loved the world..."
John chapter 1 verse 1 "In the beginning was the Word..."
John chapter 14 verse 6 "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life..."
Matthew chapter 28 verse 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."
Romans chapter 3 verse 23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."

1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 12 s is the verse I mentioned in my title: "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young..."

NYWC: Last day (and late post)

The most compelling thing Marko said yesterday when he closed the St. Louis YS convention was "In the future of youth ministry, let's be not-driven. Instead, let's be present." The comment came out of a conversation on his blog about what we in ministry hope the future looks like.

It's a really cool idea. What if we weren't pushed along by whatever system we were using, or striving to create one, but were able to respond to what our students really needed from moment to moment. Jesus had an agenda in his teaching, after all, but it was a simple one-- preach God's kingdom coming near and show people how much He loved them-- and it wasn't bound to a schedule or a checklist. Christ, when he came to earth, was able to minister where people needed Him. So why couldn't we work that way?

The other very compelling thing he said was "I don't know how to make this happen; we'll all figure it out." This is one of those instructions I give my church school teachers all the time. More than that, the message reminded me what a unique field we are all in; a field where the guys we respect as "experts" or whatever else we call them aren't expected to be able to give us foolproof answers to all the questions we have.

Finally, kudos for saying that while the philosophy of youth ministry that we're using today is different from the ones they used in the beginning, what the youth ministers who worked with us, or even before them, used the best methods they had, and those methods fit the way people thought during that time.

The YS team put together a great convention, and one that brought up things I'll be pondering over the next couple of weeks here on the RYW.


NYWC: Mark Matlock on Mentoring

Mark Matlock, who founded Wisdom Works Ministries, led a seminar this morning on Mentoring with Wisdom in Mind. His main idea was that when we teach wisdom, we're giving students a framework of general rules and principles that they can apply to situations in their lives in order to make Godly decisions about them.

Since I'm in a teacher education program at the moment, backing up my youth ministry training at Wartburg, some of the concepts he used were very familiar. Mark is offering youth ministers an almost scientific approach to finding out where students are in their spiritual growth, using rubrics and surveys and keeping lots of notes on the students we mentor so that we can track where they're growing and where they're being challenged and tailor the experiences we provide for them to meet those needs.

Mark reminded us that youth ministers can only do this kind of deep mentoring with a few students at a time, so a minister who wants to use these ideas will end up spending a lot of time working with adults, training them so that there's someone to do mentoring ministry with each student.

He also leans on experience and practice, lots of rehearsal and role-play, to give kids the opportunity to practice the decisions they'll make in a situation where it's safe.

One challenge Mark gave us was to take our debriefing process farther when we go on trips or service projects or any other kind of experience that needs thinking about. He said that we typically go as far as analysis, but that we need then to talk about what we should do with our knowledge. After that step, we can do what he calls "problem-finding," looking for ways, once we're back in our regular life-zones, to go to the problems that need solving.

Mark's talk used a lot of info from Proverbs, which he calls "concentrated wisdom" that we don't usually need to interpret, the way we do with a lot of other passages we use. This spring, WisdomWorks will bring out a set of 55 proverbs on a deck of cards that students can sort through when they come to us with problems and identify wisdom that applies to their situation. These should be pretty cool.


NYWC: The Cure for Apathy

Timothy Eldred is teaching, this afternoon, on "Creating a Ministry that Launches Students into Action." His opening line was "Either I'm going to invigorate you this afternoon or infuriate you. And I'm okay with either one."

What he said:

The way we do ministry is flawed, and the way we feel shouldn't matter in how we measure results. What ought to matter is numbers.
Kids aren't apathetic; they just don't care about what we care about. Kids are disillisioned; both kids in and out of the body of Christ. We need to figure out how to help them walk "in their birthrights" as children of God.
We have moments in life that mark us forever. Frequently those are brought about by people who come alongside us in our lives and do/say something really tough.
The Eden story wasn't all about being naked, it was about being alone. Being out of relationship can mean a lack of accountability or absence of guidance.
What we remember isn't Bible study or lesson plans, but by relationships that change lives, and those take time. (Duh. But good to remember.)
God's gifts to us (all of them-- planet, students, Gospel, all that) require stewardship and give us the chance to represent God to His creation and His children.
We don't believe in kids the way God does.
And kids know they have the potential God gave them and get frustrated when they see adults, and ministries, not paying attention to that and investing in preparing them to be what God's planned for them to be.
The way Jesus coached disciples was training them to recognize needs, asking them what resources they had, and sending them out to connect the two. The story he used was the feeding of 5,000.
Our kids recognize the needs around them and one of the reasons they're not doing something about them is because the message they hear about their ideas and possible solutions is, "That's a dumb idea."
Ministry is management. It's about managing time so we're spending the most time building relationships with students. But most youth ministers want to be onstage.
Get out of God's way and get behind God's call for the kids, that they're hearing and we're missing. (The example he used was Samuel and Eli.)

  • God's passion is to be connected to His creation
  • Relationship with God is simply not enough.
  • We need intimacy with God and with others.
  • Revelation requires a response.
  • Response to truth births a revolution.
  • Revolution does not occur without change.


"Because I believe young people can make the same level of commitment to Jesus Christ as adults can, I promise to never do anything in the church for them that they can learn to do for themselves."

In a conversation with a Muslim man on an airplane, Tim asked "Why are Muslim kids more committed than Christian kids?" The answer: "We expect our kids to die for their faith. You expect them to show up and eat pizza."

What I think about it:

I knew God wanted me to go into youth ministry one morning in 1998 when I was a volunteer for a summer day camp program at my church. All the kids arrived and I walked through the group saying hi to them. When the counselors started up with some singing, a whole group of those kids ran over to sit next to me and I realized, "This is what I should be doing." I recognized that what happened was that my attention to them made them ready to listen to me, and what I wanted to tell them was how to be like Jesus. I may not have thought all of those words right that second, but I definitely thought, "This is what I want to do with my life."

After I became a youth minister, I discovered that I was also good at writing program material, and at telling stories up front. I can relate something that's happened to me, or to someone else in our group, to a point from Scripture that Christians need to know. And that's a bunch easier than grinding out phone calls or sending postcards and going to find kids every day, which are relational, time-intensive things that I need to be doing.

This year I am improving my ratio of time out finding kids to office and prep time, (here's sort of a post about it,) and this workshop has been a solid reminder. It also challenged me to get more kids involved in leadership, even if that means slowing down the "progress" we make. More about what that means in my post-convention reflection.

NWYC: The Truth at last!

So this is what youth ministers really do at conventions... thanks to the folks at Uth Stuph for bringing the tricycles!


Tonight, for dinner

A lot of the places downtown seem to have limited hours; why not explore a little more of the St. Louis area? (Okay, that sounded super-cheesy. Sorry.)

Get on the Metrolink going west (exit the convention center and go left on 7th St. to the escalator down to the tunnel. Get off at the Richmond Heights stop and wander across the street to the St. Louis Galleria mall. Before you even cross the street there's Maggiano's Little Italy and a P.F. Chang's, if you're in the mood for predictable, and a little local Chinese place called Yen Ching, on Brentwood Blvd. In the mall there's a Bread Co., Fuzio Universal Pasta (my personal favorite Galleria restaurant) and the food court downstairs.

St. Louis loves you all! (Jesus does too.)

NYWC: Lynne Hybels at Gen. Session 3

Lynne Hybels spoke this morning at the general session and told a very personal story about how she acted for years as if God daily "sucked the life out of his followers" by giving them heavy burdens of work and obedience, how she did ministry with her own soul on "empty" and finally, in her brokenness, met God who loves her and showed her the real way He called her to follow. She talked about the importance of knowing one's spiritual gifts and, in ministry, developing the ones we have and not worrying too much about the ones we don't. She reminded us not to fear because God is with us, and if we ask for guidance, He will give us the strength and resources to accomplish what He has set aside for us.

This is a message we desperately need to hear, because there are people in our ministries who are constantly on the move, who equate busyness with Godliness, who think if they take on enough, they won't notice how much energy they lack, and we look at the surface of them and think, "That's exactly the kind of volunteer I want to have!" And if we think that way, we are participating in a dangerous lie.

The kind of volunteer we should want to have-- and, for that matter, the kind of leader we should want to be-- is one with her soul in the right order. I want people who are comfortable saying "No," explaining that another commitment to the youth ministry would interfere with a spiritual practice she values and is fed by. I want someone who says "I need to pray about that."

And in order to become that kind of person, or recruit that kind of leader, we need to make our gatherings safe places to talk about souls. We need to ask soulful questions: "What are you hearing from God lately?" "What was the most challenging piece of Scripture you read lately?" "How are you?" I'll develop this idea more in the near future-- help me with ideas of what we can do!

Lynne's message was especially good to hear because it painted a picture of what a cry for help from someone who's deeply involved in God's life, but not being fed by it, looks like. I was disappointed by how many people slipped out early; I just hope they were the ones who already know how to give their volunteers Christ's light burden and easy yoke.


NYWC: What the Monks can Teach Us

I'm blogging this morning from a seminar with Dave Ambrose subtitled "Rediscovering the Ancient Art of Listening to God." Originally, I intended to take a lot of student leadership courses, and then the schedule had them all overlapping. The other theme that caught my eye was soul-care and spiritual direction type topics, and I took those two circumstances as a little sign to adjust my course for this year's convention.

Here's my notes:

Goal: Become more in love with Jesus every day, so that I know that a) following Jesus is the hardest work I've ever done, and b) that it's worth it.

Who am I as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Where in my life can I experience silence and solitude daily?
We often tell kids to go to the Bible for information, but spiritual practices like lectio divina are designed to "let the Scripture read us." Hebrews 4:12-- "For the Word of God is living and active..."
Pay attention to senses when reading the Bible.
Scripture memory: we make excuses for not practicing this discipline but we know the lyrics of all the songs we like. It's more important to know what Scripture says than to know the chapters and verses precisely.
What you memorize is important too-- some of the things people traditionally memorize are the Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, Beatitudes, Fruit of the Spirit, Psalm 23, and the Ladder of Virtue (1 Peter chapter 1 verses 5-11)
Daily Office: Prayer at specific times during the day (fixed-hour prayer), intentionally taking out time from work or other commitments to worship. General format is 3 Psalms, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. The services help establish a rhythm and give us a base of time with God.
St. Ignatius' Daily Examen: An examination of one's conscience. There are several forms, but one of the simplest is two questions-- where did I see God today? and where did I miss God today? The goal is to prepare for tomorrow and be a little more ready to see God.
The Jesus Prayer: from Luke chapter 18, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector at the temple. "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Pray back each word-- say each word or phrase in the prayer, then stop and pray over what that means.
Guided Meditation
Bodily Approaches to Spirituality (via activa): Fasting-- different kinds of fasts, fasting from different things-- all fasts are a way to gain control over something that owns me and to learn self-control.
Stations of the Cross
Creative Prayers: Use symbols, actions. Don't underestimate the power of putting your body in various postures; kneeling, bowing, standing, raising hands.
Sabbath: from Shabbot, means "ceasing"-- let God mess up your life and give you His rhythm instead
Service: start within your family, then in your church, then move to the world in need.


"In the spiritual life, the word "discipline" means 'the effort to create some space in which God can act.'" --Henry Nouwen
"All of the world's problems stem from the fact that man does not know how to be alone in his own room." --Blaise Pascal

And my responses:

We did a Lectio form with the story of the healing at Bethesda, John 5:1-15. I walked through the story as one of the disciples, and the thought I had was, when I watched Jesus heal the man, "I SO want to be able to do that too."

One of the reasons I've had trouble with spiritual disciplines lately is because I've been trying to find and practice the ones I love the best, and missing the idea that sometimes you do need to work at a discipline (imagine that) to make it something that you love and value. As I'm trying some of the new things that Dave offered us this morning, I think a better way than what I've been doing would be to work out a balance; practice some spiritual things for the sheer joy I get out of them, and others for the sense of diligence and self-control that I need in my life.


Quick addition

St. Louis' local newspaper: The Post-Dispatch has a pretty good entertainment section that reviews restaurants and other fun places and events.
And the Riverfront Times, an independent newspaper in town, does even more of that.
And Sauce Magazine focuses just on places to eat. If you have time to do some research, use these links to help you get the most out of St. Louis!

Hey NYWC, welcome to St. Louis!

You're about to spend a week in my hometown, and I'm thrilled you're here! Here's a few basic notes about St. Louis that might be helpful.

Every St. Louis Bread Co. location has free Wi-Fi. So when you're eating lunch and need to quick check your Facebook, go there. The convention center has it too, for those of us who tend to type during things.

Forest Park is here, and one of the largest city parks in the US. If you need a quiet place to relax away from downtown, the Zoo, the Art Museum, and the History Museum are all in the park and free.

The restaurants downtown near the center are probably going to fill up pretty fast. If you want to branch out a little and find some non-crowded food, get on the Metro (go out the 6th Street door at the America's Center and walk left to the train station, about half a block away) and go to Clayton Station. Clayton is full of neat little restaurants, (and also my church, St. Michael and St. George, if you'd like to visit us on Sunday morning and check out what the youth ministry has going on. Ask somebody to find Isaac for you.

Speaking of the Metro system, my friend Sam (who flew in from Belgium to come here) says not to be afraid of public transportation in STL. It's clean and easy and the people who run it are friendly.

Here's some great restaurants:
Fitz's American Grill (makes their own root beer, and lets you watch)
Jimmy's on the Park (little fancier place, bistro-like and try the flash-friend spinach)
Nadoz' Cafe (on Lindell Blvd in the Coronado building; peek into the grand ballroom while you're there)
Kaldi's Coffeehouse (read the story of Kaldi painted on the wall)
Stratton's Cafe
Serendipity Ice Cream (both a little farther out, in Webster Groves, but they're awesome when you have a block of time or need to skip something and decompress)

Indie Community has a lunch going on Saturday at the City Museum, and going to the lunch gets you free admission to the museum. This is a very cool place; a more hands-on experience than most museums, and it's definitely worth a look around.

When you just need to talk to God, head over to the Catholic Basilica here in town. Doesn't matter what denomination you serve; you'll love the mosaics that the cathedral is famous for. There's also the Episcopal cathedral downtown; they're near-always open.

Once again, welcome to town-- I'll try to post helpful things every day; if you have a question while you're here, post a comment on the blog or email me at isaac(AT)csmsg(DOT)org! All God's best on your convention experience-- I'll be praying for us all!