The Story of Creation (Genesis 1)—Why did God create the world?
Supplies: You’ll need Bibles; pencils; colored pencils; pieces of poster board; three to six movie posters (or DVD covers); and a box of random items (one per participant). Also, create and photocopy a handout divided into three columns: atop one column, draw a triangle; atop the next, draw a human stick figure; and atop the last column, draw a circle. (Optional: TV/DVD player and the Toy Story DVD.)
Have everybody grab one item from the box of random objects. Give everyone the challenge of creating and telling an impromptu story that somehow includes their object. Have teenagers form small groups of four, then give each storyteller just one minute to make up and tell their spur-of-the-moment story. When everybody’s done, challenge small groups to try to find five common threads that run through all their stories.
Ask a few kids to share the similarities they found, then say: One obvious trait of all good stories is that they have a beginning, middle, and an end. If you ask a child to tell a story, he’ll most likely include an incident that begins the story, rising action that builds tension, and then a resolving action that brings the story to an end.
Ask: Did your stories fit this formula? If so, how? If not, why not?
Next, hold up a Bible and say: This book is made up of hundreds of “small” stories—different people’s real lives, different incidents, different times and cultures. But these true stories all work together to comprise one large narrative: the story of God and his plan to save us. And this story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Teach about the elements of a good story’s beginning: it tells you something about the world of the story, offers characterization, and introduces an inciting incident in which the protagonist’s world is somehow thrown into disharmony. For example, in Toy Story, Woody’s world is shaken when Andy gets the new and exciting toy Buzz Lightyear on his birthday. This “problem” of Buzz Lightyear’s arrival is what propels the story into action. (If you want, show a clip from Toy Story as an example. Start at about 0:11:00 when the toy soldiers are in the planter; end the clip at about 0:14:45 when the screen shows Buzz Lightyear’s face.)
Invite the group to study the beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1 and 3). Give everyone a prepared handout and have them take notes on their observations, writing out key phrases and ideas (including Scripture references) that give us insights about God’s character (triangle column), humanity (stick figure column), and the created world (circle column).
Read Genesis 1:1-2:3 aloud as teenagers take notes. Then have them study and take notes on Genesis 3 on their own.
After about 10 minutes, gather everybody back together and reveal the movie posters (or pass out DVD covers). Ask the group about each movie poster: Based only on this image, what do you learn about the characters or the problem in this story?
Have kids re-form their small groups of four and discuss these questions:
• Based on your observations from Genesis, what conclusions can you draw about the character of God? humanity? the world? Why?
• In your opinion, what’s the incident that puts the story into motion?
• How would you describe the “problem”?
Give each small group a posterboard and colored pencils; challenge them to design a promotional poster for the story of God (so far), aiming to visually communicate the main “characters” and the problem. Have groups share what they created, then use the poster to spark a meaningful conversation about the possible solution to the “problem.” Ask questions like:
• If you’d never heard the Christian story before, what questions would you have at the outset?
• What sort of solution would you anticipate? Why?
• How does the beginning of the story shed light on what life’s all about?
Conclude with a quote from fairytale author George MacDonald: “God is the origin of both need and supply, the father of our necessities, the abundant giver of the good things …. The story of Jesus is the heart of [God’s] answer, not primarily to the prayers, but to the divine necessities of the children he has sent out into his universe.” Then say: As we’ll discover in our upcoming studies, this is an amazing story that solves humanity’s problem by God himself becoming the hero.
The Story of Abraham (Genesis 22)—What was Abraham’s test?
Supplies: You’ll need Bibles; 20 dice; fine-point permanent markers; and a few old, light-colored shoes (from a thrift store). Also, write this quote on a poster: “Abraham’s lonely journey up the mountain symbolizes the lonely, psychological journey of faith to the place of obedience and sacrifice.”—Bruce Waltke
Form four even teams, then lead the group in playing “Speed Yahtzee.” To play, each team sends a player to the middle of the room. Give each player five dice. Then call out a “Yahtzee” category, such as “fours!” or “full house!” or “small straight!” (If needed, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahtzee for Yahtzee basics.) Players get just one roll; whoever’s roll is closest (you be the judge) earns five points for his or her team.
Play for about 15 minutes, then declare one team the winner (based on points) and complement them on their outstanding skills. Lead the entire group in nominating and voting on an MVP. Together, light-heartedly discuss the specific “qualities” that made that teenager the MVP. (This should all be quite tongue-in-cheek—obviously, the game is completely random!)
Read aloud Genesis 12:1-4, then say: The story of God takes a dramatic turn here in Genesis 12. Out of all the people on earth, God chooses Abram (later called Abraham). Was this just a random choice? Why did God choose this obscure man over all the others? What quality made Abraham stand out?
Read Genesis 22:1-19 together, then invite kids to share their honest gut-reactions to this strange story. Ask questions like:
• Why do you think God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son?
• (Set out the old shoes in the front.) What do you imagine Abraham was thinking or feeling as he was walking up the mountain? Or when he was actually tying up his son?
• What would you have felt in his shoes?
• How do you think this experience changed or affected Abraham?
After the discussion, focus the group on three key factors. First, Abraham’s son Isaac was himself a fulfillment of a previous promise by God (12:2). Being asked to sacrifice him must have been incredibly confusing to Abraham. Second, Abraham feared God, which is the quality made apparent by the “test” (22:12). In the Old Testament, “fearing God” means revering God, trusting God, and obeying him; in other words, it means faith. Third, Abraham commemorates God’s actions by naming the place “The Lord Will Provide” (22:14). Ultimately, this story illustrates that God will honor our responses of faith by remaining true to his promises. Say: God began forming his people by choosing a single man. When he chose that man, he focused on a single quality: faith.
Post the Waltke quote in the front of the room and set out the permanent markers. Read it aloud, then say: Just as he led Abraham, God also leads us on journeys that test and strengthen our faith. Ask teenagers to reflect on their own “journey” using Abraham’s climb up the mountain as a sort of allegory. Prompt teenagers to prayerfully consider these questions:
• What has God challenged you to journey through?
• When has God used a difficult or confusing experience to teach you to be obedient to him?
• How were you changed by that experience?
After time for individual reflection, invite kids to come up front and draw or write something on the shoe to represent the journey of faith and obedience they thought about: it could be a word, a doodle, a letter, or just a dark scribble.
When the shoes are all marked up, have teenagers form pairs to talk about this question:
• How does Abraham’s journey and example personally challenge you in your own journey of faith and obedience?
Wrap up by having partners pray for each other.
The Story of Joseph (Genesis 50)—Why did Joseph suffer?
Supplies: You’ll need Bibles, a CD player or MP3 player, J.J. Heller’s song “Your Hands” from the album Painted Red, TV/DVD player, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade DVD.
Welcome kids and explain that you’ll present the group with a series of “What if?” scenarios. They’ll decide how upset the situation would make them and will express it by standing somewhere in the room. Identify one wall as “10” (the most upset a person could possibly be), the opposite wall as 1 (not even slightly upset), and the middle of the room as a “5” on the spectrum.
Offer a variety of mild and silly scenarios (like, “What if your cat decided your bed was her new litter box?”) as well as mid-level and seriously upsetting situations (like, “What if you lost your wallet or purse?” and “What if a teacher accused you of cheating on a final?”). Be certain to include these three scenarios:
• What if your siblings beat you up?
• What if you were kidnapped and sold into the slave trade in a distant country?
• What if you were imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit?
Afterward, point out that three of the upsetting things actually happened to Joseph in the Bible: his brothers attacked him and sold him as a slave, then he was taken to Egypt where he was imprisoned for a sexual assault he didn’t commit.
Read Genesis 37:18-36 and 39:1-20 together, then say: If anybody had a good reason to despise his family, hate God, and completely lose his faith, it’s Joseph!
Explain that years later, Joseph had the perfect opportunity to take serious revenge on his brothers. Read Genesis 50:15-21 together, then ask: Why do you think Joseph responded this way?
Help teenagers really “step inside” Joseph’s story using follow-up questions like:
• What would be the natural response to this situation?
• How do you usually instinctively react when you’ve been wronged? Explain.
• What do you think gave Joseph this perspective on his situation?
Show a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade starting at about 0:26:50 when Indy approaches the library; stop the clip at about 0:29:05 when Indy says, “X marks the spot.”
Say: For Indiana Jones, he couldn’t see things clearly ’til he got a completely new perspective.
Talk with your group about clinging to God’s perspective, zeroing in on Genesis 50:20. Emphasize that it would be completely justifiable for Joseph to bitterly take revenge on his brothers. Instead, he saw his situation—all of his terror and pain—from God’s perspective.
Have teenagers form trios and ask them to discuss these questions:
• How does a person get to this point—how can somebody honestly step out of their pain or frustration or rage and see their circumstances from the perspective of God?
• By the time Joseph said this, a lot of time had passed. He was able to see the tough times in hindsight and see how God used them. Describe a situation in your life that you can look back on with hindsight and see how God was at work.
• Rewind back to a lonely, dark night in prison for Joseph. What about then? What does trust in God look like when you’re smack dab in the middle of suffering?
Emphasize that there are times when life feels completely unfair, utterly painful, or absolutely infuriating. But we can learn from Joseph’s story that God still loves us and is still at work!
Read aloud Romans 8:28, then invite your teenagers to spend some time quietly praying about their desire to trust in God’s during times of pain and frustration. As they pray, play indie artist J.J. Heller’s song “Your Hands”—kids can use the song to guide their prayers.
David Trujillo (a Bible teacher) and Kelli Trujillo (a writer) love discovering new Indie musicians (with the help of much cooler high school and college students!). They mentor teenagers in Indianapolis.