Project 365: Day 85 Lazarus Bible Study


John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”

It is the time of year when we consider resurrection. At senior high Bible study tonight we discussed the story of Lazarus. Read Luke 11:1-44.

Found in John chapter 11, A quick summary of Lazarus is story is that Jesus and Lazarus were friends. Jesus is away but gets word that his friend Lazarus is very ill and needs Jesus’s healing. Before Jesus can get to Lazarus, Lazarus dies and is entombed. Once Jesus arrives, he finds that his friends are wailing and weeping & Jesus wept too. He opens the tomb (much to the objection of Mary and Martha and the others) and tells Lazarus to come out. Alive, a resurrected Lazarus comes out of the tomb.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a story that comes right before the leaders coming and turning against Jesus. Through this story of Jesus with his friends we can sense God’s humanity and his empathy for others.

What do you think about resurrection?
Do you think the next thing you’ll hear after death is Jesus calling you?
Which person in the story do you relate to best? Why?

An unexpected bonus tonight was that we talked about how to read and study the Bible. We still lack a clever acronym, but we came up with this process:

After reading a passage, ask:
What does the passage Say?
What does the passage say about God?
What does the passage say about Us?
What does the passage say about the Relationship between God and Us?
What else stands out?

I also shared that Google can be a great starting point as long as you’re careful.

We suggested following a Bible reading plan and I use this list of reading plans.

Where would you begin?&p;

I love you, Lord…But I AM MAD AT YOU!

This is an article I wrote for The YouthWorker Movement, thought I’d put it here on my personal blog, too:


Are we failing the students in our youth ministry by teaching them to be too polite to God?

I recently visited a different mainline church’s youth group program.  During the lesson time, the youth pastor asked the opening question, “What are different ways we can pray?”  The room contained a wide range of students from goofy 6th grade boys to mature 12th grade girls, so the maturity of answers varied a little, but the gist was: Prayers in church, silent prayer, singing praises, spending time in nature, prayer with movement, liturgical dance, writing down your prayer, reading the Bible, saying grace at dinner…and so on.

While listening, it occurred to me, all of the prayers we tend to teach and model to youth are very polite, reserved even.  And maybe even a little fake.

When I’m honest, there are times in life when I don’t feel polite at all.  When tragedy strikes and it’s on the news – innocent children murdered while at school, civilian hostages being shot and killed in a Kenyan shopping mall – the emotions I feel are shock, horror, sadness, grief, anger.  When I lost my job, I felt wounded, betrayed, stunned, hurt.  I’ve silently grieved the loss of unborn children lost through miscarriage.  These emotions boiling inside of me are neither polite nor reserved.

Learning to cope with strong, often changing emotions is one of the biggest challenges a teen can face.  If I reflect on my adolescent years, emotions I felt then were similar to the ones I feel now, more intense even.  I clearly recall specific times of anger, pain, grief, doubt, disbelief, betrayal, abandonment and more ugliness.  As a teen, I did not know much beyond my own personal experience and emotions.  What is different for me now is I have a faith mature enough to recognize that, no matter the circumstance, God is still good and God is still in control.  Teens don’t all know that yet.  Is there a way to help them deal with pain and anger and other strong emotions by teaching it is okay to feel these emotions, even to pray toward God with them?

What if we taught that it was okay to be real, to even yell at God?  

Here is how I introduced the concept recently:  In this clip from the classic movie, The Apostle (1997) you can see an entirely different model of prayer, one I know that my United Methodist senior highers had never seen before.  In case you haven’t seen the movie (it’s really good), what you need to know is the main character, Sonny, is a preacher that is a complicated, imperfect character.  He just lost the church he started and his marriage is falling apart.

(Follow this link if the above clip doesn’t play for you:

I showed this movie clip to my senior high Bible study last week, followed by questions on how they have seen people pray.  Well, no one had even imagined yelling at God before.  In church we tend to focus on the pretty parts of the Bible, but if you take a close look, there is a lot in Scripture about struggle, anger, pain, grief, jealousy and more.  We followed the clip with a Bible lesson on the wide range of emotions found in the book of Psalms, having the youth read to themselves.   Youth reflected on their week, read Psalms from the list in the lesson that spoke to them, prayed and then wrote their own psalm prayer.  (Here is the complete handout I used: How to Use the Bible to Improve Your Prayer Life, adapted from to “Holy Things for Youth Ministry“ by Brian Hardesty-Crouch.)

Maybe United Methodists in general are never going to feel comfortable with actually yelling at God, especially in front of others, but maybe we should.  What I learned through this Bible study is that there are deep emotions going on in the youths’ lives, even on an ordinary Wednesday school night.  We fail our students if we don’t teach them that it is okay to be honest with God.  Sometimes honesty is a painful thing, yes?  By giving a method to pray about their emotions, by giving permission to be honest and to deal with hard things head on, healing and growth begin.  By teaching how the Bible can give practical help in times of struggle, students learn to turn to God’s Word for guidance.   The youth and I also learned that they are creative and can make parts of the Bible their own story.  My prayer for you is that you can model honesty with God, even when the truth hurts.




What other creative ways have you or your church taught about prayer?  About dealing with emotion?

Is there someone you know whose life would be changed if they knew it was okay to yell at God, to release their anger and hurt?

Talk about Hell – Discussion Guide

Talk about Hell

Is Hell real?  What is Hell like?  What really happens when we die?  How do I know if I’ll go to Heaven?  Is Hell like or unlike a junior high lock-in?

When your youth want to learn about Hell, prepare yourself.  Let’s face it, on some issues, take gambling or the death penalty as examples, the United Methodist Church is really clear on where it stands  (in case you’re new, we’re against them.)  Some topics are harder to find a clear UMC stance on – like Hell.

I knew I didn’t know all the answers to the questions my youth were asking.  Youth ask a lot of tough questions…and sometimes I’m still trying to figure out what I believe too.  Don’t let not knowing everything stop you from discussing important things anyway.  Allow youth to think and wrestle with tough issues with you.  The following discussion guide will get the conversation started.

Talk about Hell – A Discussion Guide (recommended for senior high)

Open with prayer.

Video background  (20 minutes)

To frame the discussion, have the youth watch three YouTube videos & jot down anything that sticks out in their minds:

Rob Bell – LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.(2:57)

Francis Chan on “Erasing Hell” (9:41)

What You Don’t Want to Hear About Heaven and Hell – Mark Driscoll  (5:16)

As you can probably pick up from the videos, Rob Bell wrote his book first.  He started a lot of controversial discussion when he stated that “Love Wins,” that every single person will eventually embrace Jesus.  If God’s nature is love, how could this God of love condemn millions of non-Christian people to hell?  Bell would say no…obviously faithful Christians both agree and disagree.

Questions for youth on first video: 

In the video, Bell says, “See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

  • Is this true?  If Heaven is real, what does that say about God?
  • If Hell is real, what does that say about God?
  • What do you believe are the characteristics of God? What is God like?

On the other hand, Chan explains that while we might not want God to condemn people, God operates in a way that is beyond our understanding.  Who are we to question God’s sense of justice?

Questions for youth on second video:

Chan says, “I’m a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.”

  • What characteristics of God surprise you?
  • Are there characteristics of God that you wish were different?
  • How do you learn about what God is like?

Driscoll reminds us that “there is a real hell and that it will be full.  Come to Jesus, or you’ll experience it.”  I especially like the use of the flame background on his set.  As a lifelong United Methodist, this whole fire and brimstone message is one  I am not accustomed to hearing.  Even if the Senior Pastor doesn’t preach this way, students can handle being prepared for discussions like this.  What stood out to the youth as they watched the video?

Questions for youth on third video:

  • Can God be both a God of Love and a God of Wrath?
  • Can wrath and judgement be loving?  Give an example of a punishment that is also loving.
  • Read Luke 16:19-31.  What is hell like for Lazarus?
  • What does holiness mean to you?

So where does the United Methodist Church officially weigh in on the issue of Heaven and Hell?

The basic beliefs of United Methodists can be found in the Book of Discipline in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules.  However, mention of “hell” and “heaven” as serious afterlife issues cannot be found in this section or any other part of the Book of Discipline.

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials  by Ted A. Campbell says, “The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the “bosom of Abraham” or “paradise,” even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment.” (source:

Questions for youth:

  • Does it surprise you that the United Methodist church doesn’t have a clear stance on this?
  • Is it okay to not have all of the answers?

Closing:  At this point I like to discuss the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, sanctifying and justifying grace – in my words.   As United Methodists, we believe God offers his grace and forgiveness to us before we even expect or know about it (prevenient grace).  Once we learn about Christ’s saving us and accept this gift of grace, we are saved.  Some believe that we were saved the moment Christ died on a cross for us.  Once we accept this grace, we begin a lifelong process of growing in our faith and growing closer to Christ-likeness.

My answers are not perfect and I believe it’s okay for the youth to know that.  We are on this journey together of trying to figure out answers to the tough questions.

Closing Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being in our discussion today.  Thank you for loving us and for saving us through your Son.  We have so many questions about what happens after we die and we don’t have all of the answers.  We ask that You guide us as we grow in our faith and learn more about your nature.  Help us to be love in the world so others can know you.  In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Be blessed,


Questions for you:

  • Have you talked about Hell/Heaven/Salvation with your students?
  • What would you add or take away in discussing Hell with your youth group?
  • What stuck out in your mind when you watched the video clips?
  • If you try this discussion with your youth group, how did it go?