GETTING PAST THE PAST
1. Yellow Passport—(You’ll need a TV, a VCR, a video copy of 1998’s Les Miserables, water-soluble markers, and white blindfolds.) Start by showing a clip from Les Miserables, beginning at 3:20 when the woman says, “Knock on that door” and ending at 6:16 when Valjean sits up (00:00:00 studio logo appears). *Say: Valjean’s past was stamped on the yellow passport that haunted him everywhere he went. Have kids form pairs, then ask them to *discuss: Have you ever felt as though something from your past would prevent you from achieving your dreams for the future? If so, what was it? If not, why not?
Pass out a blindfold to each young person and invite them to think about circumstances from their past that have affected their view of themselves or their future opportunities. Have them use markers to write words or symbols on their blindfolds that represent these aspects of their pasts. Have teenagers blindfold themselves.
*Say: Sometimes our pasts can prevent us from seeing the future God has in store. We’re limited by this blindness—we just can’t get past the past. In the quiet, as you’re blindfolded, ask God to show you how the words on your blindfold are holding you back right now. After a few minutes, have kids remove their blindfolds.
2. Painful Pasts—(You’ll need Bibles.) Form three groups and assign each group one of the following people and Scripture passages: the sick boy’s father—Mark 9:14-21; Rahab—Joshua 2:1-13; Joseph—Genesis 37:12-28. Have groups each read aloud their passage and discuss the following questions: What was your character’s life probably like up until this point? How might their past have affected the way they viewed themselves, God, and their future? Invite one spokesperson from each group to summarize their Bible story and their discussion.
*Say: The boy’s father faced years without hope, wondering if his son’s condition could ever improve. Rahab probably felt as if she could never move beyond the sexual sins of her past. Joseph grew up being abused and hated by his brothers—that abuse could have easily limited him to a life of failure. *Ask: How are their circumstances similar to or different from issues people face today? How are their circumstances similar to or different from what you wrote on your blindfolds?
3. A Clean Perspective—(You’ll need a TV, VCR, a video copy of 1998’s Les Miserables, small tubs of soapy water, and Bibles.) Have teenagers return to their groups and read their assigned verses: the boy’s father—Mark 9:22-27; Rahab—Joshua 2:14-21; and Hebrews 11:31; Joseph—Genesis 41:38-45; 45:1-8. Then have them discuss the following questions: *How was your character able to get past the past? How do you think his or her life probably changed? Invite each group’s spokesperson to summarize their discussion.
*Ask: What can we learn from these people about moving beyond the issues in our past to find hope for the future? Show a clip from Les Miserables, beginning at 6:45 when Valjean puts the silver in his bag and ending at 9:40 when the Bishop says, “I give you back to God.”
*Ask: How do you think the Bishop’s actions changed Valjean’s view of himself? of his future? Ask kids to take their blindfolds and wash them in the tubs of soapy water, rubbing the words and symbols away until they are only smears of color. Then have them form pairs and *ask: How is cleaning these blindfolds similar to the way God can help us get beyond our pasts? Close the session by asking teenagers to pray for each other in pairs.
RESTING IN THE PRESENT
1. Moldy Worries—(You’ll need a loaf of fresh bread and a chunk of moldy bread. To prepare moldy bread, simply put bread in a plastic bag with a few tablespoons of water, seal the bag, and wait about one week.)
Begin by telling kids that you went to the store to get some bread for the week, but after seeing that it was on sale, you picked up a few loaves for the rest of the month. Then, after you thought about it some more, you decided to buy bread for the next six months—just to make sure you’d have enough.
*Ask: What’s wrong with my plan? Hold up the loaf of moldy bread and *say: This is what would happen to my bread if I decided to save it for six months. God’s Word tells us that when the Israelites were wandering in the desert they attempted to do almost this exact same thing. Pass the moldy bread around while a volunteer reads aloud Exodus 16:11-31.
*Ask: Why do you think God destroyed the extra manna? What do you think the people learned about relying on God?
Hold up the loaf of fresh bread and *say: God promises to provide daily bread—to meet our needs for today. Have kids form trios to discuss the following questions: *What are some examples of daily bread in your life—ways God meets your needs? What are some examples of moldy bread in your life—areas in which it’s hard for you to trust God, so you worry about it yourself?
2. Enough for Today—(You’ll need Bibles, scissors, pens or pencils, and photocopies of a blank calendar page for the month.) Give a calendar page to each young person and invite them to brainstorm worries and concerns they have about the past and future. Challenge them to write specific worries or concerns on each of the blank days, but instruct them to leave the square for the present day blank. Ask a few volunteers to tell about some of the worries they’ve listed.
Invite all teenagers to look up Matthew 6:34 while one of them reads the verse aloud. Then *ask: Why is this verse so difficult to live out? How have you seen the truth of this verse in your own life? Have them each write the Matthew 6:34 verse in the blank square for the present day in their calendar. Then, as a representation of their commitment to not worry about tomorrow, have them cut away the rest of the calendar and throw it in the trash, keeping only the square for today.
3. Beautiful Day—(You’ll need Bibles, a loaf of bread, a CD player, and the song “Beautiful Day” from U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind.) Form trios and *ask: What do you gain and what do you lose by worrying about the future? How can focusing on future worries impact our “todays”? What’s the difference between worrying about the future and planning for the future? How much responsibility do you have for your future, and how much responsibility does God have? What is God asking us to focus on today?
Have trios read aloud the following Scripture passages and discuss how they answer the last question: Psalm 119:9-11; Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 6:31-33; Ephesians 6:18; and Philippians 4:4-8. Pass out a piece of bread to each young person, then *say: In The Lord’s Prayer, we say “give us this day our daily bread” as a way of telling God that we trust him to provide for our needs. As you listen to this song, take some time to pray, giving your worries about tomorrow to God.
As you pray, eat your bread as a symbol of thankfulness for the way God provides. Play U2’s “Beautiful Day” as kids pray.
TRUSTING GOD WITH TOMORROW
1. Ideal Futures—(You’ll need 3×5 cards, pens and pencils, and envelopes.) Pass out 3×5 cards and give teenagers two minutes to write a description of their ideal future. Then have them form pairs and talk about what they wrote. Give kids each an envelope and invite them to seal their card inside and write the words “my future plans” on the front.
*Ask: What does it mean to trust God with the future? What are the risks involved? What are the benefits?
2. Plunging Into the Unknown—(You’ll need Bibles.) Ask a volunteer to read aloud Luke 5:27-28. Then *ask: What did Levi leave behind? Did he know what his new future held—how his life would change? What are some of the unknowns Levi faced? How are these like or unlike unknowns that we face? Have another young person read aloud Luke 18:18-25.
*Ask: This man was given the same invitation as Levi, but his response was different. What do you think held him back from plunging into the unknown with Jesus? Prompt kids to consider ways that their own plans for the future could hinder them—are they focused on money or personal comfort? Are their own plans too important to them?
*Say: God knows what’s best for our future! Look at Levi—in giving up the security (and probably the boredom) of being a tax collector, he gained a life of adventure. He saw miracles! He came to know and love God! Will you be like the rich young man who held on too tightly to his own plans? Or will you be like Levi and plunge into the unknown with Jesus?
3. Choosing His Plans—(You’ll need a large candle, Bibles, and empty sealed envelopes.) Light a large candle, then turn off the lights. Have kids take out their “my future plans” envelopes and ask them to each pray about choosing to trust God fully with their dreams for the future.
After a few minutes, *say: Just like Levi and the young man, we face the choice of holding on to our own plans or trading them in for the unknown—trading them in for God’s plans for us . Ask young people, if they’re willing, to take their envelopes to the front of the room and exchange them for empty envelopes that represent their decision to trust God with the unknown in their future.
1. Was Paul a Weirdo?—(You’ll need newspapers with obituary sections, a TV, a VCR, the video The Mighty, and Bibles.) Start by showing a clip from The Mighty, beginning at 1:24:30 when Max wakes up, and ending at 1:27:30 when Max collapses on the factory floor. After the clip, ask kids for their reactions.
*Say: Death is never easy to deal with. Sometimes it’s expected—sometimes it comes as a surprise. Form trios and give each one a newspaper obituary section. Have teenagers look through the obituaries, select one, and discuss the following questions: *What did this person leave behind? Do you think his or her death was expected or unexpected? Explain. Would you be satisfied with your life if this was your obituary? Why or why not? Are people ever “ready” to die? Why or why not? Ask a few teenagers to report on their trio discussions.
Then *say: As Christians, we don’t need to fear death—we have the security of knowing we’ll be with Jesus forever. But for many of us death is still a really scary thing. Have trios discuss these questions: *If you found out you were going to die tonight, would you be afraid? Does the idea of dying bother you? Why or why not?
*Say: The Apostle Paul had ideas about death that seem pretty weird compared to the way we think about it today. Ask a volunteer to read aloud Philippians 1:20-24, and then ask kids to describe Paul’s attitude toward death. *Ask: Can you relate to Paul in this passage? Why or why not?
2. Boooring…Right?—(You’ll need a marker and a piece of poster board.) *Say: Paul had a strong desire to go to heaven, and that may be hard for us to relate to. Part of this may be because of our perception of heaven. Draw a vertical line down the center of the poster and write the word “earth” on one side and the word “heaven” on the other. Ask kids to brainstorm the things that they like about life on earth and list them in the earth column. Then ask them to think about heaven and list their thoughts in the heaven column.
*Ask: How do the two columns compare? Does one seem better than the other? How does our perspective of heaven influence our desire to go there? Why do you think the things on your earth list won’t exist in heaven?
3. Our True Home—(You’ll need Bibles with concordances in the back, or a list of heaven-related Scripture passages.) *Ask: What does the Bible say about heaven? Have trios use a Bible concordance to find and discuss Scripture passages that reference heaven (or give them a list of passages you’ve prepared in advance). Ask them to come up with at least three descriptions of heaven that aren’t already on the “heaven” list. Have trios report back—and then ask a volunteer to read aloud John 17:3.
*Say: One important thing we know is that the best part about heaven is knowing God. We’ll experience him more fully than we ever can on earth. In their trios, have kids share with each other the times they’ve felt closest to God. Then have them read 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 and discuss times when they’ve felt a longing to know or experience God more fully.
Ask a volunteer to read aloud Philippians 3:20-21. Then *say: C.S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Have you ever felt a desire like that? We’re made for paradise with God. We’re citizens of heaven, our home.
*Ask: Can we still love and enjoy things on earth without being “at home” here? Does a right perspective of heaven help you relate better to what Paul wrote about death? How can you live out your heavenly citizenship here on earth?
Close by asking kids to pray together, thanking God for the good things about earth but also praising him for the life that awaits them in heaven.
Kelli Trujillo is a veteran youth minister and associate editor of youth ministry books at Group Publishing in Colorado.