Tonight is the first “real” lesson of the year. Over the first part of the year we’ll be covering The Ten Commandments. Our first lesson is a brief overview of the idea of finding freedom in following God’s Law.
We started off by playing a dice game in our small groups, the kicker however was that I did not provide any rules whatsoever. So the kids were left to their own devices. Just when it seemed like they were figuring out how their games would work I would walk in and change the rules. This activity allowed us to explore the importance of having rules to govern our actions. We were able to see how we, as humans, tend to act in our own self interests regardless of our effect on others in the absence of rules.
For the next part of our lesson we explored a story about a situation that could arise in any middle school setting. That story, and the questions that we answered are in the quoted text below:
Today we’re going to be talking all about rules, specifically God’s rules aka the 10 Commandments, and why we even have them. As we saw in the last exercise when there are no rules, on the whole, people act out of their own self interest. And when we are acting in our own self interest, we usually fail to see how it can affect others. It’s really easy to see this in a game setting because we all want to “win” and sometimes we’re even willing to change what it means to win so that we can get into the winner’s circle. But in order to better understand how this might play out in the real world I’m going to tell you a story about a girl named Halli.
Halli had gone through elementary school in a small school where everyone kind of got along. There weren’t many cliques. There were a few kids with learning disabilities, but they were accepted and no one really seemed like an outsider. When her parents announced that the family would be moving to a larger city just as she was entering Jr. High, Halli was determined to fit in at her new school. So she got her hands on a yearbook from the new school. She figured out what kind of clothes the popular girls wore. She even studied the way the cheerleaders styled their hair and got it cut that way. By the end of the summer she was actually looking forward to going to what she now thought of as a “real” school.
Question: What sort of social rules do you think Halli was expecting when she got to her new school?
Halli thought she was prepared, but she had no idea what she was in for. There was a definite pecking order in her new school and everyone seemed to know exactly where everyone else seemed to fit in. There were the popular kids at the top of the ladder – the football players and the cheerleaders and their friends. Then there were the middle rung kids – not popular, but not picked on either. Then at the bottom of the ladder, were the total outcasts. They were called “scums.” Halli definitely didn’t want to be a scum.
Even for Halli who was new to the school, it was pretty obvious that one person was at the very bottom of this social ladder. His name was Eric Spangler. He was a pale, skinny redhead with a big nose and nerdy glasses. He was really smart – He got all A’s- and was super nice, but everyone picked on him. Halli thought it was probably because of his clothes, his family was poor and couldn’t afford cool clothes for any of their kids. So, Eric and his siblings always wore weird, outdated stuff from thrift stores.
Eric was also allergic to perfume, so one of the jocks would spray some on him almost everyday. He would have to go take a shower and spend the rest of the day wearing gym shorts, with his skinny blue legs sticking out like a bird’s. Eric was so unpopular that his name became an insult. Instead of calling someone a “scum”, they would call you a “Spangler”.
Question: Where do you think you would be in the social ladder of this school?
Halli’s new clothes and hairstyle didn’t make her the instant friends she had hoped. The popular kids seemed to know that she didn’t belong despite her clever costume. So, Halli decided to join the Christian club at her school so she wouldn’t end up like Eric. The leader of the Christian group was Cindy and she warned me from the start that if i didn’t hide my cross necklace people might call me a Jesus Geek. The kids in the club were somewhere on the middle rungs of the social ladder. Halli didn’t have much in common with them, but it was nice not to have to eat lunch by herself. Eric always sat by himself.
It was at this point that Halli started noticing a punk-rock girl around the school. She was the only girl in the school who looked and dressed the way she did. Her hair was a different bright color almost every week. Her clothes were mostly black, but sometimes they’d have a pop of color to match her hair. She was pretty quiet and kept to herself. At lunch Halli would see her reading in the library or walking by herself across the gym. She wasn’t popular, but she wasn’t scum either. She had this look in her eyes that seemed to keep her from getting picked on. So Halli asked the kids in the Christian club who she was.
“Oh, that’s Lauren Meyers,” Cindy said. “She’s a Satanist.”
“What do you mean?” Halli asked.
“Well, just look at her.”
Halli didn’t say anything, but she was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the other kids in the club. The always seemed to be putting other people down.
Halli past Lauren in the halls a couple of times. She had a very calm and confident way of walking and looking at people. Halli wondered what made her able to do that. It didn’t look like she had any more friends than Eric, so it didn’t make much sense.
One day a couple of cheerleaders poured an entire bottle of perfume on Eric. He screamed and tore at his clothes. “It’s not funny! I can’t breathe!” he screamed gasping for air.
Everyone stood in a circle and laughed at him. Halli felt a knot in her stomach. She wanted to stop them, but her feet were frozen to the floor. Then she saw Lauren pushing her way through the cheerleaders. She shouted, “What are you doing? Can’t you see he’s really sick?” and lead him to the nurse’s office.
Someone snickered, “Eric has a new girlfriend.”
“Dude,” someone else said, “Lauren’s a Spangler now!”
Question: What do you think was stopping Halli from helping Eric?
After Eric went to the hospital the popular kids stopped dumping perfume on him, but they still found other ways to torment him. One day, when Halli was heading to lunch she saw a group of guys literally stuffing Eric into a garbage can. Then out of the corner of her eye, Halli saw a blur of black and bright green running towards the group of guys. It was Lauren to the rescue again. Before Lauren could get there, Halli felt a surge of courage.
“Hey!” she shouted at the boys. “Leave him alone!”
The boys were startled and let Eric go. He climbed out of the can and ran away. Lauren finally reached the boys and Halli, completely out of breath. “Why do you do that?” she asked the boys , her clear, confident eyes drilled into the them.
They looked uncomfortable and Halli thought they would start making fun of her or Lauren, but instead one of them said, “I don’t know.”
“Well think about it.” Lauren said.
Without discussing it, Lauren and Halli walked away together, leaving the stunned guys behind them. “So, do you want to eat lunch?” Lauren asked.
“Sure,” Halli said. “But I think you should know that I’m a Christian.”
“What makes you think I’m not?” Lauren laughed.
“Um…I guess the way you dress.”
“I don’t care about the way you dress. Why should you care how I dress?”
“I’m sorry. I just thought you wouldn’t think it was cool to hang out with a Christian.”
“Do you think Jesus was cool?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that a lot of people didn’t like the company he kept, but he didn’t let that bother him.”
“Yeah, that’s true. He just did what he believed was right, no matter what.”
“That’s what I try to do.” Lauren wasn’t bragging or anything; she was just being matter-of-fact. “It makes me feel free.”
Lauren and Halli may not have realized it, but they were following God’s rules. The rules God sets before us in The 10 commandments are really a call for us to stop being selfish like Halli. In the story she was rooted in place when the popular kids were hurting Eric. Maybe it was because she was afraid of losing what status she had gained in her new school by reaching out to Eric. It turns out that she had become a slave to the idea of being popular.
A lot of times when we think of rules we think of them as restricting us and maybe even keeping us from being what we want to be. And sometimes that’s true, but not with God’s rules. Lauren knew what it meant to follow God’s rules. It means you are free. Free of any of the need to gain power, wealth, or popularity and free to reach out to the people in need. God calls us to be selfless rather than selfish.
Question: How do you think rules could help us to act selflessly?
We can be sure that God’s rules are there to help free us because they come from a time when God selflessly freed the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. After many many generations in slavery God frees his people from a life where they’ve been told exactly what to do each and every day. This means that they may not have had any idea about how to live together and look out for anyone other than themselves, because selfishness is what was required to survive in Egypt.
Even though the list of commandments may feel like a list of “Don’t”s, this is simply not the case. Because this list really isn’t about what happens when you break the rules, It’s about what happens when you follow them. This is easy to see when we look at the punishment and reward section of The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5-6). The punishment for not obeying only lasts 3-4 generations, but when we are faithful the rewards last for 1000! God’s grace is much greater than any punishment and that is Good News for us.
This week, I’ve asked your children to look through the Ten Commandments as a whole. God tried to give the Hebrew people a set of rules so that they could focus on becoming the best version of themselves rather than worrying about how they should act. So, I have tasked them with creating their own version of “Commandments for Surviving Jr. High”.
Your student’s challenge for this week at home is to share what they’ve come up with during small group with their parents, and to ask for their parent’s input. What would they change about the list? What do they like about it? Then at the beginning of large group next week we’ll get to share what you found with your small group!