Archive for the disciplines Category

.:: A Prayer from Solitude for My Students

Posted in adolescence, disciplines, Prayer, spiritual disciplines, Theology with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by Walter

One of the courses I teach is Spiritual Disciplines and a significant portion of that class is actually practicing the disciplines when it is feasible in class.  Today I got to share in practicing solitude with them as we dispersed across the green on campus and spent a hour in solitude on an amazing fall day.  Here is a prayer that I wrote for my students during this time:

My prayer for them is that they could be FULLY PRESENT with you God as we commune together in Solitude.

May the peace of Christ dwell in their hearts as they declutter their lives from the noise of the start of a busy week.

May they be taken to the dark parts of their souls and do the difficult work of self-reflection.

May they see you God in the delicate beauty of Autumn that is breaking through.

May their souls be still.

May they be taken from loneliness to intimacy as they experience Your Presence.

May the warmth of the Autumn sun be a gift and reminder of Your Grace.

Father, they are so busy-they had tremendous amounts of stress bearing down upon them–please come near to them in this time.

Give HOPE to those struggling with classes, grades, homework.

Give PEACE to those with problems with family, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates.

Give HEALING to those with health issues and medical problems.

Give RELEASE to those with financial struggles, job schedule issues, and those who need just another hour in their day.

As they encounter Your Presence in solitude whisper into their souls that You are Fully Present with them.

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.::A Rant on Reading

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Parenting Teens, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, youth ministry on January 18, 2012 by Walter

I came across this article from Canada about teens and their desire to read:

“Fewer kids say they like to read. A new report from People for Education — using data from the provincial Education Quality and Accountability Office — says the percentage of Grade 3 students who report they “like to read” has declined from 76% in 1998/99, to 50% in 2010/11.

In Grade 6, the percentage of students who say they “like to read” has declined from 65% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11.”

Granted you may want to file this under the “Duh” column and blame TV, the Internet and Online Gaming as the cause to kids not wanting to read. But let us look at the glass as half full.  There are teens who LIKE to read!  These statistics show that HALF of our kids still LIKE TO READ!  So I want to ask the question, “Does the way we do ministry encourage or discourage reading?”

Think about this:

  • How often or how much does our teaching with teens depend on people to be IN the text as opposed to talking ABOUT the text?
  • Do our ministries have a cultural expectation for teens to bring their Bibles, to be in the Word, to look at a text, etc. in our youth ministries?  I have heard kids say, “I don’t bring my Bible because we don’t use them.”
  • Is your teaching more topical and less textual?  In other words, when was the last time you taught through a book of the Bible?  I have found that most topical teaching uses the text as a launching pad for the day’s topic.  A textual study requires you to stay in the text and deep in the word.
  • Does the reading up on PowerPoint contribute to your students NOT bringing their Bibles?  After all, why should I poen my Bible when it’s going to be up on the screen?
  • I have heard language like, “Today we are going to look at a story from Acts, you don’t have to open your Bibles” which was then followed by a poor retelling.  Does this send a message to teens that says “the text is not that important?”
  • Do we use more references and clips from movies than the Bible?
  • What does the rise of digital texts (Kindle, iPhone Bibles, tablets) mean for people’s reading of the text?  Are we reading the Bible more or less?  There is some room for great research here.

I confess that I was one of the first to use PowerPoint but have begun to regret that usage.  I know it is helpful for visitors and guests, but how might we enable/encourage/expect people to use their text?

My rant here is how might we ENABLE our students to be more readers?  How do we engage them with the text?  How to help help them DIVE into the word instead of away from the word?

Think of all the contemplative, visual learners and those who learn best by reading.  How might we teach to them and give them the opportunity to savor the text and taste it like “honey on their lips?”

Here are a few things we might consider:

  • Bible Text 101:  Lets go back to Elementary school and educate ALL our students on those things we all take for granted:  the difference between OT and NT, what the different numbers mean, the difference between red and black words,  and the Books of the Bible.  Let us get ALL our students familiar with the text so their love for the text is an easier road to travel.  (Better yet, let students who know this teach others!)  Maybe kids don’t read the Bible because they can’t find their way around it.  We can’t assume anymore that just because a kids comes to church they know their way around the Bible.
  • Simply saying, “Let’s open our Bibles to  . . . “ to encourage a culture of reading the text.
  • Read the text out loud as a group.  After all, much of this was written to be read out loud.  CAVEAT:  Let prepare to read it BEFOREHAND so we do not do mediocre readings of scripture and we bring the text alive as we read it.  Nothing kills the life of the text faster than a poor public reading of it.
  • Let students participate in a Lectio Divina during class where you give them extended time to spend time in just one passage of the text and THEN teach and talk about it.
  • Silent Readings:  Have students read the text silently in their bibles.  I know, silence is painful for some, but think of the students who LOVE silence. . . give them the gift of a few minutes to read in silence and absorb the word.
  • Program in Quiet Time:  Everytime I had retreat, camp, mission trip, etc. we would write daily time guides for quiet reading and reflection on scripture where we gave students guides they were welcome to follow for a daily devotion.  Whenever we did evaluations, this always ranked the HIGHEST!  Kids like to read and like quiet time!  How great!

I am not advocating Biblioidolatry where the Bible takes precedence over gospel.  I do want to see us foster a faith that is informed by the actual text and not what we think the text is saying through our poor recollections and cloudy remembrances of passages.

Remember:  There are teens who LOVE to read!  These statistics show that HALF of our kids LIKE TO READ!  This is still Good News!  Let us foster that love.

.::Canon Within a Canon

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, youth ministry on January 11, 2012 by Walter

About a year ago, I was fortunate to be in a short term study with NT scholar Amy Jill Levine. She made a really interesting observation where she said, “We all operate with our canons within the canon.”. What she means is that we all pick and choose which parts of scripture are weightier and which don’t merit much study,thought, or reflection in our faith traditions.

My experience in the Churches of Christ has shown that we have traditionally spent more time with Paul and Jesus (in that order) than we have with the Gospels, the Prophets, Genesis, Revelation, well this list goes on and on. Tony Campolo makes the observation that for many evangelicals, we look at Jesus through the lens of Paul.  When we do this, our vision is skewed and tainted with legalism as we see Jesus through the ethical codes and legislation of Pauline writing.  He suggests that Catholics look at Paul through the lens of Jesus.  When we do this, then the ethical codes of Paul are given a much better context to accept those teachings.  Campolo had a good Catholic friend of his observe that when you look at Jesus through the lens of Paul you get televangelists, when you look Paul through the lens of Jesus you get Mother Teresa.  While this may not be completely accurate and even a bit unfair, there is a valid point worth considering.

I want to propose that our canon within the canon has resulted in a more legalistic view of Jesus than is possibly warranted or even accurate.  When we spend soooo much time looking at Paul’s ethical codes for holy living WITHOUT the context of JEsus, Jesus’s life, Jesus’s teachings, and JEsus’s character, it is far too easy to condense the christian life to a list of rules and regulations and faith becomes formulaic (See The Prayer of Jabez craze from a few years back).

For example, I have sat through far more classes and sermons on Colossians 3 that detail the list of rules for holy living than I have the Christ hymn in Colossians 1 that gives us the lens to understand.  If I am honest, I have look at teens far more with the lens of Colossians 3 and measured a student’s spiritual growth based on whether or not they they were students of “Anger, sexual immorality, lust, greed. etc.” then to really look deeper and see if they exhibited the character and qualities of Jesus as described in Col 1.

I have been struggling a lot with performance-based faith lately.  Donald Miller suggests that the two words that kill the human soul the fastest are: “Ought To.”I reflect on those externals that I used to subject my youth group students to . . . externals like:

  • attendance-how often are they at youth group and not “forsaking the assembly
  • quite time devotion-how often are kids diving in the word and journaling.
  • participation-are they at everything we are doing in youth group?
  •  bringing their Bibles-You know that “good Christians” bring their Bible to church
  • sacrificing a game to attend a retreat-this is almost the mark of martyrdom.

Don’t misunderstand me.  These things are not bad things.  However, when we use them as measuring sticks for faith and devotion, we are probably measuring the wrong things.  When we put these things up are the measuring sticks for faith, we put artificial hoops up for our students to jump through.

I would rather we find ways to see Jesus living IN and THROUGH our students.  How might we see Jesus living in our students?  Challenging our students?  I think the only way we can do this is to SPEND TIME getting to KNOW our students.  Sitting down with them over coffee. Listening to them articulate their faith, talking about Jesus, hearing their perspective on faith.

In order for us to know what to look for and listen for, we must spend more time in the Gospels AND the prophets AND the rest of the Canon of Scripture.  But let’s at least spend some time in our Sunday morning curriculum or small group times looking just at Jesus.  Luther sought for sola fide.  Perhaps we can strive for sola Jesus . . . at least for just a season this year.

.::Life Is Good pt. II

Posted in church, disciplines, Life, Ministry, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , on November 29, 2011 by Walter

Colossians 3:17 is one of my life verses. Its one of those verses that I try to live my life by. It is one of those verses that have camped out in my heart and I can’t seem to let it go. Paul teaches, “And Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:16).

As you can see this is one of the “Life is Good” verses. It describes a life that is really dialed in to the fact that Life is Good. I used to think that Col 3:17 was all about the little things. I used to teach that it was about brushing your teeth and taking out the trash. While Paul probably includes those daily mundane tasks in those activities, I think it is a much deeper passage than that. What Paul is really doing here is defining a lifestyle. He is cross-referencing his passage where he describes us as ambassadors of Christ. When one is truly in tune with the fact that God is the Creator and Sustainer of Life, Jesus is the Savior of All, and the Spirit is the Comforter of all our grief, one can do everything in the name of the Lord and do it with thanksgiving. That is an amazing lifestyle that God offers for all of us. It frees us from the tyranny of worry, grief, anger, jealousy, envy, hatred, etc. We no longer are slaves to those forces when we understand God is on control.

Paul is prescribing that we do EVERYTHING in the name of the Lord. Yes it is the teeth brushing and the garbage taking, but it is also facing the plummeting GPA, the girlfriend who just broke up with you, the extra stress that your after school job is giving you, your SAT scores that can’t get you in to the school you want, the checkbook balance that reads red, it is that pinging noise coming from the engine compartment of the ailing mini-van, it’s the recently emptied cubicle next to you wondering if yours is next. It’s the late payment slips, struggling marriage, a torn relationship with your teen. But one living Colossians 3:17 looks at those things not as problems, but as God’s crazy, inexplicable, unintelligible at times, provision. Yes provision.

Colossians 3:17 is all about “Life is Good” living. It is realizing that while not everything is great, or easy, or fun, or without pain or problems, the overarching umbrella that God covers our lives with is GOOD. Yes there are struggles, but god is still GOOD. Yes there is pain, but God is still GOOD. No that may not help you right this very moment, but the more you are able to live out Colossians 3:17, the better life will be. The higher your lows will become. So take today and meditate on Colossians 3:17. Here are a few different translations to help you:

The Message
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

New Living Translation
And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Amplified Bible
And whatever you do [no matter what it is] in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in [dependence upon] His Person, giving praise to God the Father through Him.

.::What is Technology Doing to Our Souls?: No Cell Zone

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Life, rant, spiritual disciplines, Tech, Technology, Theology, What is Technology Doing to Our Souls?, what matters, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2011 by Walter

Several years back I had a really interesting conversation with a mom in my youth group.  She came up to me and said, “I am so tired of my daughter getting woken up in the middle of the night with her friend’s texting her.”

I replied, “Why don’t you have her charge her phone downstairs in the kitchen?”

“But it’s her alarm clock.” She said.

I thought, “If only there was some magical device you could purchase that would make a noise at a predetermined time of day . . . ”

What does it do to the soul to have ourselves connected to our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, year after year?

According to Time Magazine Online,  “35% of Android and iPhone owners in the U.S. fire up mobile apps before getting out of bed, according to a survey by Ericsson ConsumerLab.”  Maybe this points to the fact that we are overconnected?  Do you feel like you and your students are TOO connected?  Is there a time when you or your teens is not able to be reached by the outside world?  Didn’t Jesus have to get away from everyone just so he could listen to his Father?

We haven’t set up barriers that tell technology to keep out.  This is “Me” Time or “We” Time.  I remember only having a landline in our home and having dinner together as a family, whenever the phone rang during dinner, mom would proclaim, “Let it ring! This is family time.”  Which begs the question:  Do we even still have a time like this when we just let it ring?  Do we have family time?

What if your family had a no cell phone zone?  For your fmaily it might be the dinner table, or the living room when you are all watching TV together.  For some of you it might be the bedroom.  Have the entire family charge their phones far away from their bedrooms so they can sleep without being interrupted.  Might this become a solitary place like Jesus often needed in order to refocus.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Luke 5:16

Over and over we see time when Jesus gets away from the frenetic pace of life so He can just LISTEN.  Is it possible that our cell phones actually keep us from LISTENING?  Might the Verizon mantra, “Can you hear me now?” have been a prophetic voice warning us that these shiny little devices would actually KEEP us from listening to God’s voice?

What other places might be Cell Free Zones for you?  Church? Restaurants? Movie Theaters? Friends homes?

What I mean is that you might still have your phone on you at these places, but you might actually turn them OFF so that you aren’t unnecessarily interrupted when you are at these places.  Simply power it back up when you are leaving and resume your connection to the rest of the world.

So I challenge you to find ONE PLACE that will be a Cell Free Zone in your world this week.  

>::Cutting Edge Graduate Studies in Student Ministry

Posted in adolescence, church, disciplines, Life, Ministry, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry on November 9, 2011 by Walter

I am excited to talk about a program Lipscomb University’s Hazelip School of Theology is starting to help train and equip the youth minister, youth volunteer, youth deacon, parent of teen, and all else who love the next generation of Christian.  We have developed a Graduate Certificate in Student Ministry that educates students with the most cutting edge research on adolescence as well as equips them with the practical tools to address their own contexts effectively.

The first class is only $500 for 3 hours of graduate credit. If you are part of another Masters Program and need three hours of elective or ministry credit, you should check it out.  CLICK HERE for more info.

.::What is Technology Doing to Our Souls?: Tech Sabbath

Posted in adolescence, disciplines, Life, Tech, Technology, Theology, What is Technology Doing to Our Souls? with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by Walter

I have been fortunate to present a body of work I have called, “What is Technology Doing to Our Souls?” to all sorts of parents around the nation this past year and a half.  It has been a rich and rewarding experience to partner with parents and help them navigate through this vast sea of choices, boundaries, and wisdom that is required to know what is the best course for my son or daughter?  Over the next few posts, I want to share a few of those nuggets that we talk about during these events to give you a taste of what this is about.   If you think you’d like to have me speak to your church, school, parents, teens, elders, scout troop, coffee clutch, ladies class, mime troupe, etc.  I’d love to partner with you.  E-mail me for more info:  walter.surdacki@lipscomb.edu

TECH SABBATH

If there is one thing that I would say to parents regarding technology and your family, it would be, “Do you practice any kind of tech Sabbath?”  Here is what I mean,  “Do you have a time each day when you aren’t accessible via cell phone, text message, e-mail, etc.?”  I believe that if we find ourselves constantly connected 24 hours a day 7 days a week, we run the risk of developing a God-complex that fools us into thinking that the world can’t run without us.  Do you intentionally power down these devices so that the temptation to check your e-mail is gone.  Do you power off so that you won’t get distracted by the buzz of a text message while trying to have dinner together as a family?

How about looking at this not as a form of denial, but as a chance at freedom?  What if you had an hour each day where you didn’t have to worry about these things?  What if in that hour you were able to be fully present with your son or daughter?  What if EVERYONE in your family powered down so that when you were together, you were really TOGETHER!  Can you imagine that kind of freedom?

CONFESSION:  I know that when I am with my kids and I feel that buzz of a text message in my pocket, I instantly become 50% LESS available to them mentally.  In my mind I am wondering, “Who texted me?  What do they need?  I am important!” and I am instantly transported mentally away from my daughters and to a nether region of text-a-topia where the world is allegedly more interesting.

But that is a lie.  A false story that I have bought into.

So do this today…don’t start with an hour…just try 15 minutes or 30 minutes and ease into this discipline.  Because that is what it is…a discipline.  We have immersed ourselves into technology so much that it is going to take initiative, discipline, courage, willpower, and wisdom just to find the power button on those shiny little devices that hold so much power over us.

Baby steps . . . one at a time . . . you can do this . . .