I am part of a team that trains the student staff in our YL region and I was talking to them last week about the book of John. In our region we are focusing on the book of John this year. One of the unique features of the book of John is the “I Am” statements. As you may know, when Moses encountered the Lord in the burning bush and asked the Lord what to tell people as His name, the Lord replied “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). So when we are reading through the book of John we find the author using this phrase “I am” as an important tool to communicate Jesus’ divinity and the Lord’s identity. As I was teaching this I gave our student staff some ideas about how to utilize these in club talks, campaigner talks, team devotionals, etc. Here are a couple of them:
1. I am… the bread of life (John 6:35)
Just like our need for food, Jesus is the food we need for life. I suggested using a loaf of bread as an illustration to talk about how we need food and what happens when we are hungry or don’t have food. A few of the Wyldlife leads said they thought this object lesson would work well with their kids.
2. I am… the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5)
Throughout scripture we see a contrast of the “light” and the “dark”. It starts in Genesis and works its way all the way through. I recall my leader, Kathy Mason, doing a talk when I was in high school when she turned off the lights during her talk to illustrate what it is like in the dark. This would be a good time to talk about what it is like when you don’t know what to do, when you aren’t sure where to go for help, when you don’t have answers, when you feel alone, and more. Then, after it almost gets uncomfortable and people’s eyes are getting adjusted to the dark (which is another illustration you can use), turn on a flashlight and talk about Jesus being the “light” of the world. Jesus lights up dark places, shows us the world around us as it really is, shows us who God is, allows us to even see who we really are, etc. There is a lot you can do with this!
3. I am… the gate (10:7)
Jesus is the gate, other translations say the “door”. This is a good opportunity to use… yes a door. Bring up a door in your talk. Think of all the things you can do with a door. You can shut a door, you can lock a door, you can knock on a door, you can open a door, you can walk through a door, you can open a door for someone else. I’ll leave it to your imagination about how you can work this into a talk, but one idea would be to use it as an incarnation/into-to-God talk and ask people to consider opening their mind and coming through the door of Jesus to come in and see what God is all about here at YL/WL. Obviously this is also a great appropriation illustration.
4. I am… the good shepherd (10:11,14)
I don’t know a shepherd in my neighborhood, but I do know that a lot of people that have coaches. A coach is not exactly the same as a shepherd, and Jesus isn’t merely a coach, but you could talk about what a coach does for his or her players. I’ve coached high school basketball for almost 10 years and some of my primary roles include: a relationship, teaching, correcting, celebrating, listening, talking, and in general helping them. This is an aspect of Jesus’ identity, he is the Lord, not a coach, but neither am I a sheep, I am a human. There are a lot of parallels you can use. I’m thinking of video clips from Coach Carter, Hoosiers, and many other great sports movies.
5. I am… the resurrection and the life (11:25)
I don’t necessarily have a great visual to use for this one (maybe you can suggest one), but in my opinion we all need to emphasize the resurrection much more in our teaching and preaching in YL, in the church, pretty much everywhere. Our emphasis is often Jesus’ death without much about Jesus’ life after death.
6. I am… the way, the truth, the life (14:6)
This would be a great time to tell a story of when you were lost. Maybe you made a wrong turn, or were not paying attention, or simply didn’t know where you were. Then grab a map. The map shows you the way/route, and it wasn’t just made-up, it is the truth, and being lost sucks, but getting to where you want to be brings you life, not regret. Jesus is a map, he shows us the way, which is true, and brings life.
7. I am… the true vine (15:1)
Last, and one of my favorites, bring out a plant or a small tree. Talk about how we were created by God to be connected to our source of life. Jesus is the vine of life. When we are not connected, or cut-off, from the vine, Jesus, we are powerless and things will get worse, even if at first things still look “green”. You can use this in a “need” or “sin” talk, or as an appropriation talk.
Now all of these are simply illustrations, and every illustration or analogy breaks down when taken too far. But we also should note that Jesus used imperfect analogies that were not completely perfectly descriptive of his complete being (i.e. Jesus is not actually a vine, or a door, or a piece of bread). When you look at the stories in the gospels, whether in John or elsewhere, look for the simple objects in the story. Maybe it is a stone in the woman caught in adultery story. Maybe it is the water jug in the miracle in Cana. Just keep your eyes open and look for these things. Often they help bring the story to life and catch the attention of kids who might be more interested in texting than anything else.