Journey to Hope (An Ash Wednesday Lesson)

In case you are scrambling for what to do for a lent study, I have gotten to write another great resource with the team at RETHINK Church.  Below the video is the experiential element and Bible discussion for the Ash Wednesday lesson.  You can download the entire curriculum free at the RETHINK site.

In the original language of the Scriptures, the word repent means to turn. When we decide to accept forgiveness and attempt repentance, we set off in a new direction with our old life at our back. What an adventure! For a long time, we may have been taking a well-known path of sin. We likely have become comfortable with its direction. The turn of repentance takes us in the opposite direction. It takes us into the unknown. It is an act of risking adventure. That is what the ashes of Ash Wednesday are about. They are a sign of repentance; they are a sign of risking adventure!

Imagining Adventure:  Tell the students that you are going to spend some time together using your imagination. Ask everyone to close their eyes as they walk through this imagination-focused story:

You are standing in front of a massive plain. It is as flat a piece of land as you have ever seen. You see an occasional tree or bush, and you have the distinct feeling that you can see everything. Ahead of you are no surprises. The colors are as plain as the landscape, browns and brownish- greens. A few small animals walk freely. They reflect the landscape. What kind of animals do you see? (Pause.)What colors are they? (Pause.) What are they doing?

In the distance, you can see someone headed toward you. You remember that you are here to meet someone. The man is far away, but your eyes are fixed on him. You can’t stop looking at him, but you begin to hear things behind you ... wild things. You can’t quite make them out, but you know that somewhere in the distance behind you is danger. What do you hear? (Pause.) At the same time, the wind comes from behind you, and you smell some of the most intoxicating smells you have ever experienced. They are like your favorite foods all rolled into one hunger-producing scent. What do you smell? (Pause.) It is clear that no matter what those sounds and smells are, there is definitely one thing back there: Adventure. What are you feeling? (Pause.) Are you scared? (Short pause) Are you excited? (Short pause) At the same time you wonder what it is like back there, you are unsure if you are really interested.

You’ve spent so much time listening and smelling and feeling that the man has nearly reached you. You recognize him. You have never seen him before, but you know exactly who it is. It is Jesus. He is there to meet with you. He leans forward and says softly, “It’s time. I need you to trust me. It’s going to be an adventure. Let’s go.” Then he takes your hand. As you turn, you realize your adventure has begun.

After the experience, ask:
  1. What sorts of emotions did you feel? 
  2. Were you surprised that Jesus wanted you to turn around and head into the danger/adventure? 
  3. Which do you prefer in life going into the known or the unknown? Why? 
  4. What makes the unknown scary? 
  5. What is the risk of following Jesus in this scenario?

Experience Scripture: Have the youth open their Bibles and read John 8:1-11. Discuss the Scripture using these questions:

  1. What would have happened if Jesus had not been there, but another person had stood up for the woman?
  2. If you were in that situation, would you have risked the crowd turning on you if you defended the woman? Why or why not?
  3. What do you think happened when the woman left that place? 
  4. How was this situation similar to the story we imagined earlier?
  5. The word repentance means to turn from sin and head in the opposite direction. Understood that way, how is repentance risky?
  6. As we sin over and over again, we experience the negative effects.
  7. We know the bad consequences. What makes us choose to continue sinning instead of moving in a new direction? 

Make an Impact on MLK

I was talking to a friend of mine a couple weeks ago and she told me about this interesting project that RETHINK Church is doing.  It's called America's Sunday Supper.  Basicaly, they're teaming up with Points of Light Institute and HandsOn Network for this program to promote community and involvement around societal issues. 

The event happens the Sunday evening before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  You decide to host a meal and work to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to share a meal and discuss issues that affect your community and possibly serve in some way.  What a great way to get your youth not only involved in community issues, but inviting all sorts of peers to dialogue about what is happening in their world.  

As I understand it, the goal is to get people talking or acting or both.  So how about hosting a dinner that focuses on bullying, cheating, discrimination, civil rights, or... you get the idea.  It is much easier to get non-religious and nominally religious[1] teens to an event with this sort of focus than some Christian band they've never heard of.  To sign up to host or attend one, just go to Let me know how it goes!

[1] Yeah, I stole that great terminology from Church of the Resurrection

Why Ashes This Wednesday?

"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, 'This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.'" Luke 11:29

The practice of using ashes as a sign of repentance and/or mourning stretches back millennia. Tamar tore her robes and put ashes on her head after she was raped by her half-brother, Job sits in ashes as his life goes to ruin, and so on. What is interesting is the way that the ashes connect mourning and repentance. This connection allows us to see clearly one interesting aspect of repentance. True repentance has at its root a mourning over the profound disconnection created by sin, and when worn on the forehead as a sign of repentance, as we do on Ash Wednesday, the ash is a sign to others around us that we are taking time to mourn the loss created by sin and reconnect with God.

In Jonah, we see a man coming with no name or reputation and delivering a simple message of the judgment of God unless the people repent. This is what many believe Jesus meant when he spoke of the “sign of Jonah.” Jesus was talking about those times when we hear the voice of God through a stranger; when someone we know little or nothing about speaks words that resonate in our soul as if God himself were speaking.

This is an excerpt from the youth curriculum I wrote for Fearless: The Courage to Question. The material is free, a media bundle with videos and graphics is only $25.

Thrive and Fearless: Two Great Resources!

I am very exited to let everyone know about two resources I have been working on with UMCOM and RETHINK Church that have just been released. They are Thrive and Fearless.

Thrive is a four week church-wide study that challenges you to live a physically and spiritually vital life in a global community. It is a partnership with the Imagine No Malaria project that is helping to eliminate the problem of malaria in Africa.  Each week has options for things to help you work on your physical health, spiritual health, and things you can do to help fight the spread of malaria in Africa.

Fearless: The Courage to Question is an advent series that helps churches not only discover the truth of God through questions but reach out by creating an environment where Questioning is acceptable.

These resources are $25 each and represent some of the highest quality work coming out of the United Methodist Church. I am proud to be a part of it, and look forward to hearing how these go in your Churches!