Scripture: 2 Peter 3:14-16
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Learning Game: Codenames (20-35 minutes)
From the back of the box:
“Two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their CODENAMES. In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first. Spymasters give one-word clues that can point to multiple words on the board. Their teammates try to guess words of the right color while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And everyone wants to avoid the assassin.”
This is a team game where the spymaster tries to communicate clues to their team about what words to guess. For example, if on the grid the spymaster had to get his team to guess “New York” and “baseball”, the spymaster might say “Yankees 2”. This means there are two words that correspond with the Yankees. If possible, the spymaster giving the clues should be someone who has played the game before.
Officially this game plays up to eight players, with one spymaster and three guessers per team. However, it can hold more per team if necessary. Fourteen players is probably the max I would try as more than six guessers might get a bit unwieldy. If the group has more than fourteen participants, it might be helpful to play two separate games. Depending on time, it might be possible to play two games as the play time is listed at fifteen minutes.
Post-Game Discussion Starter (5 minutes)
The goal of this discussion is to use the game experience to get the students to begin thinking critically. These questions also set up the deeper, scripture based discussion. Ask the following questions to prompt discussion:
1. Did you personally find that game hard or easy?
2. What made that game challenging? What helped you to make the connections and unravel the codenames?
3. In general, how good are you at solving problems or critical thinking? What kind of problems are easiest for you to solve?
Facilitator Instruction: With this last question, be mindful of how the students answer. It could be very easy for one student to make fun of another, and that should not happen. The point is that everyone has problem solving abilities, but we do not always have the same strengths. This can question can be referenced later in the discussion. A person who is very good at math may struggle with making thematic connections in scripture for example.
Bible Discussion (25-30 minutes)
Begin by making the following points: George Gallup did a survey about how well people read and know the bible, and in summarizing his findings he said, “"Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it.” The result is that even people who are Christians and regularly involved in church, do not know what the Bible says. For instance from the Gallup poll, 60% of Americans could not name five of the Ten Commandments. One of the most cited reasons why people do not spend a lot of time reading the bible, is because it is confusing.
It is true the Bible can be confusing and even the bible says so! Read aloud or have a student read aloud 2 Peter 3:14-16.
After reading the scripture, it is important to give some context. Remind the students that Peter was one of Jesus original disciples, and Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Many of the books in the New Testament are letters that he wrote. Peter is writing about Paul’s writings. Potentially, Peter is referencing Paul’s letter to the Romans which might have been passed around by various churches. In this scripture Peter affirms what Paul teaches, but he also clearly states that Paul’s writing contains “some things that are hard to understand.”
After reading the scripture and giving the appropriate background information, begin leading the students in a discussion. The goal here is to use the discussion questions to allow the students to explore the themes and teachings of the bible on their own. Leaders should facilitate the discussion and not dominate it. To help the leader's guide the discussion, there are facilitator points and extra information that might be helpful to share. Use the following questions to prompt discussion:
1. Do you find the bible confusing? What specifically do you find confusing?
Facilitator Instructions: There are several ways in which the bible can be confusing. The students will probably mention many of them, but here are a few examples. The cultural context is confusing. The bible is full of odd names that hard to pronounce. This is especially true for place names, since we are unfamiliar with them we have no context for where the event is taking place. The flow of the Bible is confusing. The bible was written largely in Hebrew and Greek. Not only are there translation difficulties, but sentence structure in those languages is radically different than English. This means that the way the Bible reads does not “flow” right. This makes it a lot harder for us to really get into what it is saying. The bible is confusing because of cultural differences. Jesus told parables to connect with first century peasants. Paul wrote analogies to connect with first century Greeks. Our cultural context today is dramatically different so those stories and analogies do not have the same connection. The bible is confusing because it deals with confusing concepts. For instance from the 2 Peter scripture what does the Lord’s Patience means salvation” really mean? Righteousness, justification, and reconciliation can all be very complex concepts to wrap our minds around.
2. Why is understanding the Bible important?
Facilitator Instruction: The 2 Peter scripture mentions that Paul wrote with the wisdom that God gave him. One of the more fundamental Christian beliefs is that the bible is divinely inspired. It should be pointed out that that Bible is our primary source of information on God.
3. Look at verse 16, do you think that people distorting the scripture is a problem? How do you know if the scripture is being distorted?
Facilitator Instruction: If the students need an example of how scripture is distorted, then a historical example is the old understanding that Ham, the son of Noah who was made subservient to his brothers, was black. This is not in the scripture, but this horrible distortion was used all the way up into the 20th century to “biblically” explain that African American are inferior. The only way we can know if scripture is being distorted is if we know the scripture ourselves.
4. How is understanding the bible a bit like the game we played?
Facilitator Instruction: To play Codenames requires two key skills. First the guessers need to be able to make (sometimes creative) connections between various words. Second, the guessers need to be able to get into the head of the spymaster and figure out how they make connections. Understanding the bible involves the same skills. We need to be able to make connections between the words on the page and the original context the words were originally written to address. Then we need to make the connection between the words on the page and our modern context. Second, it is helpful to get into the head of the writer of the scripture and understand not just what is written but why it is was written and what the underlying meaning might be.
5. What can you do to better understand the bible?
Facilitator Instruction: If the students struggle answering this one, a follow up question might be “How do you learn something you want to know how to do?” It should be doable to connect the answers to that question back to the original question. The biggest way to understand the bible, is to read it. The bible can be confusing, but the more time we spend doing something the easier it gets. If we do something every day there we can only get better at that activity. It could also be mentioned that there are a lots of tools for understanding the bible. For instance, if they read a confusing scripture, simply googling that scripture will give all kinds of resources. It should also be mentioned that praying for understanding is extremely important. If appropriate, the facilitator can share a bit about how they study the bible.
6. How can youth group or church help us better understand the bible?
Facilitator Instruction: This question can relate back to the game. A good pastor is a bit like a good spymaster in Codenames. They can take scripture that is hard to understand and give the right “clues” (the right message) that helps us make the connection we could not make. Also, small group bible studies or youth group is helpful in the same way that playing in a team is in Codenames. In the game, playing with other people makes it easier to figure out the clues. In the same way, discussing and learning the bible in a group puts more minds working together and we learn from one another.
It might be appropriate to pass out a bible reading guide or give some sort of bible reading challenge at this point. This session should be closed in prayer. The person praying might want to give thanks for the scripture, pray for collective understanding and pray that we do not distort the scriptures in trying to understand them.