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Is it pretty hard to believe that you guys and girls are juniors and starting the beginning of the end of your high school career? Over the past couple of years you have gone through some tremendous life changes. Some of you have gotten your licenses enjoying the freedom of the open road. Some of you have had your first real relationship, and maybe your first real heartbreak... maybe mistakes have been made. Goals have been reached. College is being mixed in. Calendars have been filled up and maybe you are starting to feel the pressure from everybody. Maybe so many people have been speaking into your life that you don’t know which way is up, which way is down, and who you are. Everybody expects you to be someone, to have something, go somewhere, do something. The reality is that you choose who you want to be. You choose who you want to become. You choose who you want to let define you, healthy or damaging. One of the most powerful things I heard a few summers ago came from a few students when I asked them about what they have learned over the past year. One answer really stuck with me and it might sound familiar to you… When I asked them about advice they would give to another student about high school he said, “choose who you hang out with carefully, because who you hang out with changes who you are.” What an interesting concept; that there is something about the people we hang out with that penetrates and effects who we are. From the everyday decisions we make such as what to wear, what to eat, who we hang out with, and even how we speak. The reality is: you need to examine who you are and who you want to become, because who you hang out with changes who you are and if you aren’t grounded, you’re gonna drown. As we kick off the year, my prayer for you is that God would give you the insight to examine your life and allow Him to determine who you are and what you are going to let define you. May he grant you the wisdom to choose. This year may be difficult, but we’re in this together. So you know, you might find that this year you are going to have to lean into your small group more than ever before. You might find that you are calling your small group leader more and more, but that’s what church is all about: that we are in the funk together. We love you. We pray for you. With lovingkindness, Steve Dang High School Pastor p.s. Over the next six weeks you are going to need your Bibles, so bring them. If you don’t have a Bible please let your small group leader know and we will hook you up. p.s.s. Here’s your challenge. In what we see trending in our youth group, I find that most students, if they leave the church, do so between the fall and spring of their sophomore year. Here’s my hypothesis: most of you will get your licenses this year. Licenses=freedom, and that freedom means choice. If you want to stay plugged in, you need to make the choice to stay plugged in. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be awesome.
Week 1: An Introduction to the end Leaders: this entire curriculum is about figuring out who God has created you to be. Who are you? what do you let define you? Who do you let define you? These are some of the big questions I want to be pushing these students towards. So don’t be afraid to share your own formational stories. You are more than what you produce. God doesn’t love you because you get good grades. God doesn’t necessarily love you more or less because of the decisions you make at school. Does He want you to do well? yes! Does He want you to make good decisions? yes! The point is that if you spend your life letting other things in life define you, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak. Start to think... if you are what you produce... how do you view people? Is the measure of a person based on what they produce too? Do they have to earn/prove your love? Do they earn your grace? Are some people worthy and others aren’t? Truth is: how you view yourself, the same standards you hold for yourself, are projected onto others whether you know it or not. If you are picky about yourself... chances are, that you are picky about others. The same rule that you judge yourself, is how you judge others. The good news is that you are not alone. One of the beautiful things about the Christian faith is the fact that we don’t have to do anything alone and community keeps you in check. Paul in the book of Ephesians writes to a number of churches in a certain area that were simply burned out and some of them were starting to blow up with infighting. The city of Ephesus was a center of a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religion port city which meant that ideas and culture were spread as people from all over the Mediterranean would come to this port city. The churches in the area were subjected to all of the marketing, trade, fast paced living, differing philosophies, religions, foods, and languages which made them really wrestle with what they were going to let define them and how they were going to live. In a lot of ways the crazy high school environment reflects the craziness that the church in Ephesus existed. High School is a subculture within a greater Bay Area culture, within a greater California culture, within a greater American culture, and in the midst of all that, everybody is trying to get your attention. Did you know that teen culture (YOUR CULTURE) is what drives a majority of American economy? Corporations pay attention to what you buy. They market everything to you. Every company, every trend, every music video is trying to form you into something. Maybe you are wrestling with what it means to live in this culture. Maybe you are wrestling with what you are going to let define you. This is what the churches in and around Ephesus were dealing with. Maybe you can relate. Before we begin, just a quick note about what we value in Student Ministries: 1. To those of you who know what’s up-‐ Please be open to learning new things. Please realize that faith is a journey and you don’t need to be frustrated because others aren’t where you are. Please listen in, and be courteous to those who have differing views that you own. If you feel like you need to keep growing, then take faith into your own hands and start exploring faith on your own and start challenging yourself. For each series I will have a reading list for you to check out if you want to see more. Most of the books I have in my office if you want to check out more. Also, feel free to schedule some one-‐on-‐one time with one of your small group leaders and look for more directed discipleship. We’d love to do that for you. 2. To those of you who are just checking us out-‐ Don’t feel pressured, don’t feel like you need to be embarrassed because you don’t know how to look stuff up in the Bible or where to begin (trust me... we were all there once). Just listen in and be courteous to those who have differing views than your own. Feel free to chime in and let us know your thoughts without feeling like you are being judged. Know that this stuff takes a lifetime to master, but we’ll help you get there. If you have some more questions please feel free to schedule some one-‐on-‐one time with one of your small group leaders to follow up on more questions you have about God, life, love and the pursuit of happiness. 3. To everyone in between-‐ Know that there are going to be weeks where you think you know the answer and there are going to be weeks where you are going to be challenged. That’s the beauty of faith is that it’s a ride, with ups-‐and-‐downs. We know that there are going to be weeks where you don’t care and
you’re wondering whether or not God cares. We know there are going to be weeks where you feel like God is literally walking right next to you. We know there are going to be weeks where you wonder if God is even real. Voice these, jot them down, see if you notice a pattern between what you experience in life and what you experience in your own relationship with God. Please don’t check out because you are a very, very, very vital voice and opinion to your small group. Let God surprise you. Please schedule one-‐ on-‐one time with one of your small group leaders and see if you can work some of your doubts out, see if you can work some of your questions out, after all, we are here for you. A couple questions for the beginning: • What challenges do you anticipate for this year? • What challenges have you already faced from freshman year until now? • At this point in your life, church needs to be something you want to be apart of… what makes church different from everything else in your life? What keeps you here? • Probably relationships… perhaps this is what makes church so special… it’s not so much the building or the pastor, but probably the people. • Why is this community different from your other communities? • What role will church play in your life this year? • Highlights and lowlights of your summer. Week 2: Hello, my name is... The letter to the Ephesians is written as a way to calibrate us (think about iPhone owners who periodically have to move their phone in a figure 8 looking like an idiot trying to get cell reception). Calibrating helps us figure out which way is up and which way is down. It help us figure out if our GPS device is off or not, so it’s not surprising that Paul would do a little re-cap about what the relationship we have with Jesus as His followers. It’s Paul’s way of reminding us of our identity (who we are) as followers of God. He tells us what kind of relationship with have with God. Reading: Ephesians 1:1-23 Connecting: • Highlights/Lowlights: Here is your opportunity to share about your life?
• • • • •
Are there ever times when you feel like you don’t know who you are? What things make you who you are? What do you think defines you? What things try to define you? What things do you allow to define you?
Reflection: Our relationship with God is important because it tells us who we are. I want you to go through the first chapter and circle or highlight words/images that identify us as a Christian community or as God’s people. (Here is a hint: “adopted sons and daughters”) • What is the significance of being identified with family? • Are families perfect? What if your family is not perfect, do you find surrogate families? What makes a family? • What kind of images/thoughts come to mind as you go back over your list of Ephesians 1? • How does this effect the way that you think about yourself?
• What does this say about community and the way that you relate to each other?
This week I want you to schedule a lunch/coffee/dinner/hang out time with one of your small group leaders. I just want you guys to hang out. No agenda, but if there something that has been on your mind... maybe some things that you feel completely alone in that you would find helpful just to kick around with someone else. Your small group leaders love you and we’d love just to hang with you, so give us a call. Prayer Take this time to find out some stuff that is going on in your small group and lets pray for each other. Week 3: Stalled… The first time I learned how to drive a stick shift car I was in high school. My little brother was teaching me how to drive his rice rocket (if you don’t know what that is, think “Fast and the Furious”… I know, you don’t see them around much any more, but they use to be sick). My brother gave me instructions, “o.k. Steven, you are going to press in the clutch, step on the gas until you get to the number 2 and then let off the clutch and you’ll go.” I put the car in neutral, engaged the clutch, started giving it a little gas and let the clutch go... FAIL! The car jumped forward, the engine turned off and I felt pretty embarrassed. After what seemed like the 100th time, embarrassment quickly became frustration. As I got more and more frustrated that I couldn’t get the car going I punched the steering wheel and my brother punched me (it was a really nice car). Obviously just getting instructions wasn’t helping me. I was doing exactly what he was telling me and it was not working. So my brother told me to relax, bought me a pepsi from Taco Bell and he started going about a different approach... he started to explain to me how a clutch worked by using his hands like gears and “CLICK” all the mechanical physics started making sense and I began to see how my foot and my body became an extension of the car. I needed to understand the physics before I could understand how to properly drive the car. Success! Do you ever feel like faith isn’t working for you? Do you ever feel like things are too complicated and no matter what you try nothing seems to be working for you? Maybe for some of you understanding how it works before you just jump in there and start following directions is the best way that you learn. In the passage that you are reading today, Paul is writing to an Ephesian church that has “stalled” its engine and they start trying everything, but nothing is really working for them. So now Paul is starting from the beginning... maybe before you get frustrated with the walk, you need to learn what it’s all about. How it works. Learn who you are. Reading: Ephesians 2:1-22 Connecting: • Highlights/Lowlights: Here is your opportunity to share about your life? • There are a lot of metaphors for our spiritual journey, I think God can speak to us in everyday life if you let Him. Think about your week, did you meet God anywhere? We’re you reminded of Him at any point this week? • Have you ever felt this before?
Reflection: Knowing that you are an adopted son or daughter of God might be a nice concept... but you might we wondering what it really means for the way that I live, or for what my faith looks like. Maybe you are tired of stalling in your faith. Maybe you are just burned out on having super high high’s and super low lows. This passage is a beautiful passage that speaks to those who are just
frustrated, to those who feel like they are too stuck, too enslaved that maybe you don’t understand the physics. Maybe you are trying too hard to be good, but the reality of it is, it’s not easy. You keep messing up. But Paul in this passage says, “all of us mess up”, it’s not about how hard you try, but how much you cling on to God (v. 1-5). So many of us fail and think, I’ll just try harder next time not to do that again, and it becomes a vicious cycle. It’s not about allowing your failures to identify you. When you failures define you, you self-destruct. And as one person put it, “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s self-destruction”. Allowing God to tell you who you are (v. 67;10) is faith, and in that we can say, God is truly bigger than my sin and God is truly bigger than my desire to sin (v. 11-13). You’re going to fail. Don’t let that define you. Learn from it. Ask God to help you get through it the next time. Set up networks of people that will keep you accountable, but don’t self-destruct over it. I love the way that Paul writes this passage because he lays down pretty hard what they used to be... but he does it not in a condemning way, but in a way that is supposed to give us hope... This passage is poetic, it speaks to the beauty of redemption. He takes the reader through a situation that seems hopeless (v. 1-3) and spends the next 19 verses telling us that those things don’t define us anymore. • DON’t say it out loud, but take a few minutes and fill in the first four verses with your own struggles and your own sins.... Fill it in by saying, “I was addicted _____, i.e. I was lustful, I was mean spirited, etc...” and then read the next few verses (3-10 allowing the words of Paul to affirm you. • Do you notice that you are not defined by your sins? Do you notice that you don’t define yourself? But that God defines you? And it’s not about your work, but God’s work in and through you, I think it’s pretty cool.
• • • •
What makes it hard to accept? Is it hard to believe that God is bigger than your desire to sin?
Why? So how do you get through this? Well, first, like an alcoholic they say in AA, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, you’re always going to struggle with sin, but I think there is something we can do as a church to help each other: • Confession: telling the truth can set us free and sometimes when we confess things we realize that we aren’t on our own. • Accountability: Accountability is more about cheerleading than it is about policing. I think we hate accountability because it has been made more to look like policing… what if it was more like, “hey you! Don’t let this mess up define you! Remember that God defines you. Now, how can I help you?” Movement: This week I want every time you feel like you are giving in to sin to claim that promise... that you believe that God is bigger than your desire to sin. Every time you feel condemned by your mistakes I want you to re-read verses 4-22 and let them define you. Prayer: Take this time to find out some stuff that is going on in your small group and lets pray for each other.
Week 4: What I learned about kids in school I used to substitute teach and this is what I learned: you guys are mean to each other. Truth be told, it’s not just in high school. The same stuff you experience when you are 14-18 years old, unfortunately, can be seen in 28-48 year olds too. School is diverse and it seems like there is a hidden code in which everyone knows their roles. You see them clumped together at lunch tables and you can quickly come up with one or two words that define those kids. I hate bullies. I hate bullies because in elementary school I had a brief one year stent in Elementary school as a bully. I hate the idea that for a few kids, I might have been one of the reasons that kid hated going to school that year. And I hate that now as 28 year old, these kids might associate my name and face as the kid who was a total jerk in elementary school. Now I realize that it was out of my own insecurities that I beat up on a couple of kids because I was the fat kid. If you weren’t the funny fat kid, or the bully fat kid, you got made fun of. So I choose to be the other two. Why do I tell this story? We all choose who is good enough to hang out with us. We all choose who is or isn’t worthy of our love. Everyone has a label. In Paul’s day, the people struggled with the same thing. Everyone had a label. You were a jew, and if you weren’t a jew you were a gentile and there were disagreements over who was bigger or better. Jews were starting to get out numbered and so sometimes they would start to bully the gentiles by putting unnecessary religious weight on them especially in regards to behavior. That doesn’t happen in church today, does it? But Paul does something interesting he reminds them from what you read last week: you are all jacked up, but in your jacked up-ness, God saved you. Not because you earned it, not because you are awesome, but because He loves you and see’s you as his sons and daughters. This week he says, you’re a family and families are messy, but you never give up on each other. Let love win! That’s what makes God’s family awesome. (my paraphrase). Verses 3:14-19 is almost like a plea from Paul… he’s begging them to get their act together. We all have family members, friends, groups we don’t like, but the truth is that we’re family. Reading: Ephesians 3:1-21 Connecting: • Highlights/Lowlights: Here is your opportunity to share about your life?
• How have you experienced God this week? • Did God surprise you this week? • What are the different “labels” that you have placed on groups at school? • Which one(s) are you? • Are there people that you deem are worthy or not worthy of your love? Who and why? • Paul establishes that we’re all cut from the same clay, what do you share in common with
the people you don’t love?
• How does that help you see them in a different light? • Think about the people you don’t love, maybe there are people in this youth group that you
don’t see eye to eye with and re-read Ephesians 3:14-19. • Does this speak to you? how?
Reflection: Prayer brings together love and power: the relation of love that grows up between God and the person who prays, and the flowing of power from God to, and especially through, that person. Prayer changes your attitude and thoughts about God and it changes your attitude and thoughts about others. If you are a Christian, how has Jesus changed your attitudes towards other people? If not, how do you view Christian’s attitudes towards others? Is it good? bad? other?
I think that is what Paul’s prayer here is all about. Essentially, it is a a prayer that the young Christians my discover the heart of what it means to be a real Christian. It means knowing God as the all-loving, all-powerful Father; it means putting down roots into that love- or, changing the picture, having that love as the rock-solid foundation for every aspect of one’s life. It means having that love turn into a well-directed and effective energy in one’s personal life and relationships. I heard a pastor say once that, “prayer changes the person praying. It doesn’t necessarily change God.” Prayer re-aligns you. It re-aligns what you really want with what you need. It realigns you by saying, “not my want, but what you want for me.” Do you pray as if you are trying to change God’s mind, or do you pray as if you are allowing God to change yours? Do you need God to change your mind about someone? Movement / Prayer • This week I want you to pray while walking through school. It’s simple. If you don’t know what to pray, start here: God grant me the ability to fully understand what it means to be a member of your family so that Christ may dwell in my heart and root and ground me in love. Help me to be able to understand the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ. So that I might be fulfilled with the fullness of God. Help this truth the effect the way that I view others. I pray these things to the one who is more than able to do what I might ask or think. To you I give glory in all aspects of my life. Amen. Week 5: Thanksgiving Plays When I was first learning English from kindergarten to third grade I was never allowed to be in the Thanksgiving plays… well, at least any parts with lines. Its was sort of embarrassing, everyone would have a part but me. I tried to figure out where I fit in, but because I was chunkilicious I always ended up playing some prop with a costume that fit. “Now Steven, you’re going to be the big Thanksgiving rock this year... just stand there and smile”, my teacher told me. As if I wasn’t already self-conscious... I started to feel like I didn’t have a place because I didn’t know the English language really well (I grew up in a home that spoke all vietnamese so I didn’t learn English until I went to an English speaking school). I felt like the teachers were embarrassed that I had an accent or didn’t trust me to read my lines right or speak in public (look at me now! boo-yah!). Early in this passage Paul wants you to know that you all play a major role in the kingdom of God (verses 9-13). Everybody is important and no one is left to be the Thanksgiving rock. Everyone has a role whether you have been following Jesus for a week, a year, or a day the reality is that God is going to give you a great part in what he is doing in the world (verse 12-14). The weird thing about humanity is that we tend to think one role is more important than the other. We can be childish that way. The reality is that every role needs to be played otherwise the show won’t go on. Paul is urging the Ephesian church to value each other’s gifts because if we don’t, we’re going to be destroyed and destroy each other (verses 14-16). He urges the church to put away their old ways of being impure, slandering one another, ripping each other off, and deceitful by helping each other grow by being Jesus to one another (verses 15-32). Reading: Ephesians 4:1-32 Connecting: • Highlights/Lowlights: Here is your opportunity to share about your life?
• How have you experienced God this week? • What were some phrases/verses that stood out to you in the passage? • Was there anything that challenged you?
Reflecting: • One of the things that marked the early church was the way that they treat each other. I think that we are tempted to think that the early church was perfect, but in these passages what Paul is saying is that we needed to practice at it. Paul tells the church to be “humble, patient, united, etc...” why does he need to say this to them? (the answer is more simple than you think, could it be because they weren’t humble, patient or united?) • (Verse 25-32) I want you take a look at everything Paul says a Christian community should look like... how would church be better if we practiced what he taught?
• How would practicing these things make us a better church... a better community? • We’re limited by our own human faults, but how can we work through them to
achieve our Kingdom potential? church and sometimes we are being equipped and ministered to by the church. • Life is about pouring out and being poured back into, what does this look like in your life? How do you do this? (leaders: this might be a good time for you to share about how you get filled up) • Notice how Paul doesn’t start talking about how to live until he’s spent two chapters talking about who we are... why?
• Paul talks about different roles in the church, sometimes we serve the
• Leaders: what we do is an outflow of what who we are. Movement: • Take a look around... I want you to maybe spend time affirming each other and maybe sharing what each person brings to the table in your group. • (Verse 25-32) This year I want you and your small group to take this passage literally... to work at being a community that is kind to one another... to be a community that edifies each other... to be a community that builds each other up... Prayer: Take this opportunity to pray for each other.
Week 6: Big Clothes When I was a little kid I used to pretend that I was grown up. There were some people that I wanted to become like and others I didn’t. Have you ever been caught saying, “I don’t want to grow up to be like my dad/mom”. Maybe it’s been the opposite and there are things that you do want to grow up to have. You’re always becoming some thing, or becoming like someone. Some things are genetic, like your hair and eye color... some things you have to develop like personality and social skills. “Imitation” is one of the key words in the passage today. It means, “to be-like something/someone.” We normally think of imitation as something that is really a fake version of something more real. Artificial Cheese, imitation crab meat, artificial sugars, etc... In this passage, however, the greek word that is used in this passage which gets translated to “imitate” really means, “to become.” Paul writes, “become like God” like as a child becomes an adult. As His children we want to grow and become and embody some of His personality. As His children we have the capacity to be like God, living out His personality and character... to be merciful, forgiving, loving, righteous, holy, etc.. Are we perfect all the time? no, but that’s why Paul encourages us to work at becoming like God. Theological note: becoming like God is very different from becoming God. Becoming
like God is like me being a reflection of my father. I might have some of his qualities, but I am not my father. I can develop some qualities and others I inherited, but I think Paul is telling us that as we grow in our relationship with Christ, we should become more Christ-like. Connecting: • Highlights/Lowlights: Here is your opportunity to share about your life? • How have you experienced God this week? Reading: Ephesians 5:1-33 Reflection: • Who are some people that you want to become like?
• What is special about them? • Looking at the life of Jesus and even some of the characteristics that Paul lists... what are
some things about Jesus that you want to become more like? • How will becoming like Jesus define you?
• Specifically, why do you want to become like them?
Movement • This week I want you to take some time and read through a Gospel (Mark is the shortest) and write down some thoughts or some ideas of the kind of person that Jesus was using adjectives. • What things do you like about Him? • What things don’t you like about Him?
• Think about how you will let that shape who you are.
Prayer Take this time and pray for one another. Week 7: Unshaken and Unstirred
There are lots of things trying to get your attention. Every class, every teacher, every adult, every friend, and every company. Some things you can see... others you can’t. In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes a fictional correspondence between a young demon named Wormwood and an older demon (a mentor figure) named Screwtape. The whole dialogue is Screwtape giving advice to Wormwood on how to mess with his “patient” who is a Christian. What is so interesting about his correspondence is the fact that he doesn’t do something crazy, like you would see in some horror movie. Screwtape encourages Wormwood to be much more subtle, using normal things to distract him because to use “supernatural” means cause an opposite effect and make him cling to God. Screwtape encourages him with a more effective way to keep someone from following God, which is to fill his life and his mind with things to make him so busy that he doesn’t have “time” to think about God or about spiritual things. I think that this is what Paul is warning the Ephesian church to be on guard against. I think that Paul is warning them not to get too distracted, not to get too busy, because that’s what distracts us from our true calling, which is our identity in Christ. Connecting: Pay attention to your Highlights/Lowlights... What do you find distracts you in life? What things bring you closer to God, and which things pull you away?
Reading: Ephesians 6:1-24 Reflection: Paul writes, “put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11). Paul doesn’t write this to scare you. He writes it to encourage you so that you don’t get shaken and you don’t get stirred. Paul writes this so that you can be on guard about getting so distracted that you don’t have time for God. How do you envision “the schemes of the devil”? Do you think that they can be more subtle? I’ll admit that this used to scare me until I read the Screwtape Letters Do you think that maybe some of the things that regularly distract you? Have you ever thought of those things that get you so busy that you don’t have time for God can be part of those schemes? Movement: This week I want you to start writing down your schedule. Not what is planned or things that are set in stone like class, lunch and sports. But what happens in between those times. I want you to take a look at those little moments where you have the option to stop, or fill it with something else. What do you find yourself filling it with? What do you allow yourself to get distracted with? Prayer: I pray that at all times that I would be alert, that you would allow me to reflect on all those times that we have the option to connect with you, but quickly fill it with other things. I pray that in those moments that I would be reminded of you. There are many things that compete for my attention and I pray that you would always win out. I pray that you would continually remind me that I am your son or daughter and my identity in you gives me purpose and direction. Strengthen me that I might stand against anything that might come against me and my relationship with you I pray. Amen. For more reading check out C.S. Lewis’, Screwtape Letters