First Testament: Lamentations resource

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My eighth (!!!) First Testament curriculum resource was released last week by the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of Lamentations! I’ve always loved the book of Lamentations; in many ways I believe our culture pushes us towards unhealthy ways of handling sadness, grief and suffering; Lamentations models a far healthier way to process difficult times. It’s beautiful poetry, haunting and terrifying imagery, and fascinating that it doesn’t have a happy ending. I think for many, this current season is a perfect time to embrace the five laments of Lamentations and work through them. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

Lamentations is a collection of five poems, or laments, that wrestle with the pain, grief and horror the ancient Israelites experienced at the hands of the Babylonians. Their nation conquered, their temple destroyed, and their children taken captive, they were a devastated people. Lamentations was written and/or collected by the prophet Jeremiah and read in unison every year on the anniversary of the destruction of the temple. Lamentations teaches the reader how to grieve. It also teaches lessons about God’s judgment, compassion and sovereignty.

Included with this study is a collection of 60 images to be used as a discussion opener for each study. Lamentations uses word images to convey message and meaning. In the same way, use the photos to get the participants to think abstractly, to identify and communicate message and meaning.

  • Week 1, Family (Lamentations 1): The importance of family and connections in the grieving process.
  • Week 2, Judgment (Lamentations 2): What does God’s judgment mean? What is its place in our lives?
  • Week 3, Compassion (Lamentations 3): Even when the end is not in sight, it is possible to see God’s compassion and hope in our suffering.
  • Week 4, Sovereignty (Lamentations 4-5): God’s power and authority is absolute; what does that mean when we suffer?

Tale of Tamar

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Download Youth Ministry recently released a one-off message resource that I put together called Tale of Tamar. I’ll be honest, this is one of my all time favorite messages I have ever done. In the message I use the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 as a launching point, noting that the gospel is proclaimed through the names chosen. In spite of tradition and expectations, as genealogies were used to enhance the purity and dignity of the person being traced – in this case Jesus – some shocking names are included. One of which is Tamar; a foreign woman from ancient Jewish history, whose shocking story of sexual mistreatment is actually a beautiful story how God sees each of us. In God’s story, Tamar’s presence enhances the purity and dignity of Jesus’ lineage.

All that to say, I love this resource. It includes the message manuscript, powerpoint, handouts, and a small group discussion guide. Doug Fields wrote about it, “I’d teach this tomorrow… actually, I probably will. Ha. Seriously, who wants to teach on Matthew chapter 1? Well, now I do. Well done.” If you want to check it out, here’s the link. Check out DYM’s description:

Are genealogies even important? In Matthew 1:1-17, we see the gospel proclaimed through the genealogy of Jesus. Shockingly, four women are mentioned, including Tamar, a Canaanite who was taken advantage of and abused by the men in her life. We read her story in Genesis 38. In God’s economy, Tamar’s presence enhances the purity and dignity of Jesus’s lineage. In this one-off message, you’ll challenge your students to find their identity and value in Christ’s story, not in their past.

Tamar’s tale, often forgotten, is a powerful one that is incredibly relevant today.

First Testament: Daniel resource

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My seventh First Testament curriculum resource dropped a few weeks ago with the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of Daniel! And yes, I was working on it BEFORE I heard of the Tiger King. I love the book of Daniel; it’s one that we may feel so familiar with after years of Sunday School lessons … but it’s far more edgy and thought provoking than our third grade teacher led us to believe. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

Perhaps one of the more well-known names in scripture, Daniel was a prophet trapped in a foreign land. Captured as a teenager when his nation was conquered and his family most likely killed, he was taken away from all he knew and forced to live in Babylon where he was castrated and given a new name. He should have lost his identity through all of that, yet he remained powerfully committed to God through a lifetime of captivity. His life teaches young people powerful lessons in God’s sovereignty, what it means to be faithful, and opens the door to conversations around ancient prophecies.

  • Week 1, Babylon (Daniel 1): A challenge to recognize God’s control and have the faith to stand for Him.
  • Week 2, Belshazzar (Daniel 5): A warning about pride and how it can negatively impact decision making.
  • Week 3, Lion’s Den (Daniel 6): A powerful lesson in just how important prayer is in the life of a believer.
  • Week 4, Prophecy (Daniel 10-12): A reminder that we are precious to God and have overwhelming victory in Him.

Star Wars Movies Definitively Ranked

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This is it people, the authoritative ranking of Star Wars movies. If you disagree, you’re wrong. This list is based on a lifetime of study and repeat viewings. Decades of intense research culminating in this list.

  1. The Empire Strikes Back (Episode 5). The boldest of all the movies. The bad guys win. The introduction of vital new characters. An incredible deepening of the mythology. It’s not even a contest.
  2. A New Hope (Episode 4). The original. The reason why this list even exists. It shattered movie expectations, invented the repeat audience, and launched a fan base who would spend the rest of their lives trolling each other with ridiculous lists.
  3. Return of the Jedi (Episode 6). Yes, I like the Ewoks. I think they’re cool. Even as a kid, however, I was uncomfortable with Leia’s claim that she always knew Luke was her brother. Probably should have left that unsaid.
  4. Rogue One. This movie was so much better than I expected! I loved the backstory to the originals, loved how the director was able to incorporate unused cockpit footage from the original Star Wars. And yes, I teared up at Leia’s appearance at the end. The first time I saw the movie was the day Carrie Fisher died; I had no idea she had done voice work for Rogue One.
  5. The Force Awakens (Episode 7). Yes, it played to nostalgia, and I ate it up. Loved the story, loved the action, loved seeing Han Solo back in action. His death? Brutal. But so good.
  6. Solo. I’m convinced this movie disappointed in theaters because Disney didn’t advertise it and they bumped up its release to only a couple months after The Last Jedi was still in theaters. The story was great and set up a new section of the Star Wars universe that hopefully still gets explored.
  7. The Last Jedi (Episode 8). Yes, it ticked off a lot of people. But I like that the director took risks with the story. It’s good that Luke wasn’t just another version of Yoda. It opened the door to new stories. I didn’t really buy into the slow motion space chase, though. That was obnoxious. And throwing away Snoke after building him up so much? What the heck.
  8. The Rise of Skywalker (Episode 9). Hey, lets try to jam multiple movies worth of story into one film. And pack in too much fan service. Make Rey a Palpatine (that was cool) but then call her a Skywalker (what?!?). Bring back the Emperor with little to no explanation. And a massive secret army. And using the force to have Star Trek transporters. Oh yeah, and Rey and Kylo should kiss, because that would be gross and awkward. And yeah, Kylo should be good after all even though it would have been cool to not have the same story as Return of the Jedi. I have more, but this comment is already too long.
  9. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. I was so hype for this movie when I was a kid! It wasn’t great … but it definitely great to have more story from the Star Wars universe. Plus, I love Ewoks. They’re just so cool.
  10. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. More Ewoks! I’m super frustrated with Disney+ that these two movies are not on it yet. Get on it, Disney!
  11. The Star Wars Holiday Special. Oh my word. Search for it on YouTube. So bad it’s … well, it’s still bad, but you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for getting through it. Also, it has the first appearance of Boba Fett. So there’s that. George Lucas has been trying to bury it for decades; I can only hope that after his eventual passing, Disney restores it and releases it in all its ridiculous glory.
  12. Attack of the Clones (Episode 2). Yoda as a Tasmanian Devil. Painful love story between Anakin and Padme. The convenient arrival of a massive clone army. Jar Jar Binks only has a few seconds on screen and dooms the entire universe? That was cold.
  13. Revenge of the Sith (Episode 3). Obi-Wan Kenobi makes the prequels bearable. And there are some awesome space battles in this one. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of Anakin. And younglings.
  14. The Phantom Menace (Episode 1). The preview trailers were amazing. I was so excited. But then it was all pod racing and Jar Jar Binks. The best part of the prequels? Darth Maul … and he only got a few seconds of screen time before being killed. Bummer.

Look within, you’ll know I’m right.

Exodus: Babies, Burning Bushes & Plagues, oh my!

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My latest resource, a four week teaching series, went live over at Download Youth Ministry! I’m pretty excited about it; it was selected as an ‘Editor’s Choice’ AND Doug Fields gave it a recommendation. You can find it here.

I had a LOT of fun putting this one together and teaching my way through it. On a whim, I connected it to illustrations from The Wizard of Oz … and it really seemed to work. When I was young I used to read all of the classic Oz novels, so it was an entertaining challenge to find quotes and examples that fit. Exodus is an important book and the story is a powerful one. Here’s the description from DYM for the resource:

Editor’s note: This is a really solid resource! It’s well-written, well-themed, and fun. It also dives deep into topics that students won’t normally hear about (like free will vs. predestination), but it handles those topics in a way that’s relevant for students.

Doug’s note: Love it! So creative!

This four-week series walks students through the book of Exodus, using The Wizard of Oz and the yellow-brick road as a launching point for looking at the narrative of the book as well as the ways in which it applies to our lives today. Students will finish the series having a better understanding of this important Old Testament book, as well as being challenged to courageously follow the leading of God.

Week 1: “Be a Lion, Not a Mouse”
Looking at the opening stories of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and their refusal to obey Pharaoh’s command to kill Hebrew baby boys, and the story of Moses killing an Egyptian in secret and fleeing to Midian, students are challenged to have the courage of a lion in following God and standing against what is wrong.

Week 2: “How About a Little Fire?”
In Exodus 3–4, Moses speaks with God at the burning bush, giving five excuses for why he cannot do what God says. Students will be challenged to both follow God’s leading, as well as find hope in God’s encouragement to Moses.

Week 3: “If I Only Had a Heart”
Ten times Exodus records that Pharaoh hardened his heart against God. Ten times Exodus records that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In this lesson, students explore the concepts of free will and predestination.

Week 4: “There’s No Place Like Home”
The second half of Exodus is focused on giving the law and creating the tabernacle. Exodus closes with God dwelling in His new “home,” the tabernacle. Students will explore God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and His presence with us.

This Resource Includes:
• 4 Complete Message Manuscripts
• Small Group Discussion Guides
• Title and Background Slide
• Social media images and story graphics for each week
• PowerPoint presentations
• Student Handouts

First Testament: Numbers resource

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The sixth edition in the First Testament series I’m writing for the Youth Cartel is out! It’s a four week small group resource on the book of Numbers. Numbers, the fourth of Moses’ five books, was one I really enjoyed working my way through. Originally named, “In the Desert,” in the ancient Hebrew, it records Israel’s forty years wandering in the desert before invading the Promised Land. As such, it’s packed with some pretty wild stories as a generation of Israelites who refuse to have faith in God gradually die off and a new generation of followers grow into leadership. I really like how this Bible study came out! Click here to check it out, and let me know what you think! It’s four weeks of curriculum for less than six bucks!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! There’s now a First Testament Five Pack option where you can build your own bundle of five different First Testament series for only $19.99 (that’s five months worth of curriculum for less than a buck a week!). Check it out!

First Testament: Hosea resource

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The fifth edition in the First Testament series I’m writing for the Youth Cartel is out! It’s a four week small group resource on the book of Hosea. Hosea, the first of the twelve minor prophets, is a fascinating and somewhat disturbing book. It’s one of those ones that forces the reader to think, brings up questions, and allows groups to wrestle through some difficult passages together. It’s famous for it’s opening chapters about Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, a prostitute who is unfaithful to him, but there is a lot more to this book even beyond those surprising chapters. Hosea contains powerful messages relevant today on the dangers of allowing idols in our lives, the need to use leadership and influence for God’s honor, the importance of being intentional with our actions, and most importantly, an incredible look at God’s limitless love. Click here to check it out, and let me know what you think! It’s four weeks of curriculum for less than six bucks!