Sunday, August 2, 2015

How > Should

I've written about the place of life application in sermons a number of times (like here, here and here).

But the form of application usually takes one of two routes with one far more preferable than the other.

One option is to tell people what they SHOULD do in light of what the bible says.

The danger in this is that it can lead to legalism and promote guilt.

The second option is to share with people HOW they can use what the bible says.

This, alternatively, opens up an avenue for the listener to feel empowered (or at least slightly more confident) in living out what the sermon was all about.

The trouble is, churches can push the former over the later because telling someone how the gospel can change their lives is more difficult to measure than a black-and-white instruction to follow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The key question from Elijah

We’re all busy. That’s just how life is.

No matter what life stage you’re in, the hectic pace of living can crowd in around you.
Do you feel that right now?

By tomorrow, my youth group will have just concluded their series on the Old Testament prophet Elijah.
Even if you’re familiar with the story, go and give it a skim now (it’s in 1 Kings 16-19)… I’ll wait.

Before the rulers of his day, who put their faith in the neighbouring fertility God Baal, Elijah said that there would be no rain for three years. Whilst outnumbered 850:1, Elijah proposes a contest to see which deity would show themselves to be faithful.
In short, Elijah makes a mighty stand for God before the powers of his day and he’s able to do this for two reasons.

First, Elijah knew what he was standing for – complete devotion to the faithful God Yahweh, not a God/Baal hybrid religion.
Secondly, Elijah knew whom he was standing with - The God who can both shake the mountain, but speak with whispered tones.
It’s upon the side of mount Horeb where God asks Elijah the probing question “What are you doing here?”

Do you ever hear God asking you that question?

Do you ever stop before God long enough for Him to ask you that question?

Are you still enough to hear the whispered query?

Are the distractions of life far enough away for you to interact with the enquiry?

In our homes, schools, universities and workplaces…
Amongst our family, friends and colleagues…
Within our churches and our neighbours…
How would you answer the question from God… What are you doing here?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Refining or shrinking

Gideon was a failure as a leader.

His numbers went from 22,000, to 10,000 down to 300.

But his army was not shrinking; instead it was being refined down to a number which God could use and be seen through.

In ministry, sometimes things fail and shrink. But not always.

Sometimes, God refines the numbers of a group down so a He can undeniably move anew.

The challenge is trying to discern between the two...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What can settle the discussion for you...

Teachers change.
Ministers leave.
Principals of schools transfer.
Students graduate.

With some people and situations, every fight is not worth engaging, every hill is not worth dying upon and every argument is not worth having.

Why?

Because convincing someone of your point of view isn't always required.
With some people, when it comes to peripheral issues, you don't need to persuade someone.
Some issues don't need to be immediately resolved.

In some cases, the resolution of a problem will be found with time.

In place of structured arguments, perseverance will open up avenues.

You just need to outlast and out-survive.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The guest doesn't have to be difficult to find

Some people won't like me.
Some kids won't be moved by my explanations.
Some teens will get annoyed by my anecdotes.

Herein lies the power of the guest.

But, when we look for the alternate voice, we can cast the net far and wide.

In truth, we don't need to look that far...

This is why I have the minister of my church and an adult volunteer give the talk at our after-school children's ministry activity.
This is why I cycle through my youth group leaders to help me plan and deliver the youth group talks.
This is why, at the end of last term, the talk on a Friday night was split amongst my four leaders and, at least intended, the small groups were to be headed up by the four voices.

Because some voices will be heard louder than mine.
With a different voice, some truths will become clearer.
Some stories will resonate stronger when presented by someone else.
With a different leader, the dynamics of a small group can powerfully transform.

For, the advantage and power of the guest, can be wielded by the leader sitting beside you every week.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I. Remember. Nothing.

On Tuesday, for the next few weeks, I've got a standing appointment with a humbling.

After doing one semester of Biblical Greek a year ago, getting a darn good mark, I had the brilliant idea to finish the textbook and do the second level of Greek.

This week, unsurprisingly, I came to the cruel discovery that I'd forgotten everything.

After not using anything I'd learnt... I barely remembered the alphabet.
Having boxed up all my flashcards... Two dozen vocabulary words had dropped out of my mind.
Having filed away all my notes... Everything began to fade away.

As a result, I sat in a lecture with those who'd done Greek last semester - a mere four weeks removed from their final exam - and they were recalling things which, for me, were just a hazy memory.

All up, I recalled ONE answer during the class.
And got a high five from the lecturer.

Now, with the days counting down until I drag my carcass into another lecture, I have to relearn 274 words and everything I'd forgotten about Greek noun, adjective, verb, adverb systems.

On top of anything new I need to absorb...

I wonder, is this is a problem which will haunt me now that I've finished my degree?
Is educational forgetfulness something which dangerously stalks all ministers?
For, without actively engaging in theology, Christology and church history (especially!), are you destined to have your learning fragment?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The two outcomes of knowing what's under the surface

The following is a warning to those who are in ministry or who have done serious study on self reflection or psychology...

The following is for those who, for whatever reason, will be familiar with the internal workings of what they're watching...

The following is for those who are intimately aware of the inner fears and insecurities of those they're viewing...

No matter it is due to study or experience...

If you know something which puts you in the head of another, then you have two outcomes ahead of you.

a) You have increased empathy for the person. You're personally aware of what the other person is thinking and feeling, so you extend to them extra grace.

or b) You, armed with the ammunition to cut through their defenses, can inflict significant damage through uninvited judgment or criticism.

When you're watching someone who you can understand or identify with on a deeper level than others, especially if the other person is also aware of the fact, then you must decide if you'll use your advanced knowledge for good or ill.

As Spiderman knew... With great power...

Monday, July 13, 2015

The 7 questions to ask when reading the bible

It only took six years, but last night we finally did this activity and intentionally read the bible during church in place of a sermon.

For 25 or so minutes I gave everyone a copy of the book of Philippians and allowed them to read it in light of the following seven questions.

What stood out to you?

What was the key message?

What does it say about Jesus?

What does it say about the Christian life?

What does it say about the church?

How might us, as a church, live this out?

How might we, as individuals, live out the message of this passage?

If, whenever you read the bible, you engaged with these seven questions, then the meaning and application of the scriptures, I feel, would be far clearer and the prospect of engaging with the bible far less intimidating.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What someone who's messed up sexually is actually like...

At the end of my sex spiel I argue that the oft-used analogies for someone who has messed up sexually - a damaged flower, a chewed up piece of gum or a used piece of sticky-tape - are completely crap and contain a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God and the message of the gospel.

If I had to use a prop to compare with someone who had "gone too far" sexually, I would use a hundred-dollar bill.

Originally, the green polymer note would be worth a hundred dollars.

And, no matter how much I scrunch it up, spit on it (lucky we have plastic currency!) or step on it, it doesn't lose its value and is still worth pursuing.

If you're no longer a virgin, you are far more like the hundred dollar bill than a crushed rose, masticated gum or furry tape!

This message aligns with the character of God, in whom all people are made in the image of, giving them worth.

This message aligns with the actions of Jesus, which offered forgiveness, not judgment, to those who had messed up sexually.

This message aligns with the message of the gospel, which says that people - all broken by sin - retain value, enough so that God Himself would come amongst them and lay down His life so they can be eternally united with Him.

Monday, July 6, 2015

I can see > I know

When you're in pain people say a lot of things. Some are comforting. Others make you want to swear under your breath.

One thing that is all to common, which I unsuccessfully try to avoid, is the phrase "I know."

The reason this sentence sucks, when someone is in pain, is because, most probably, you don't really know.

You don't know their grief over a deceased loved one.
you don't know their sorrow at a bad diagnosis.
You don't know their heart-break from a miscarriage or divorce.

Why?

Because it is THEIRS not yours.

A response which trumps "I know" is "I can tell" or "I can see."

When you avoid saying "I know" but use one of the later two, you still convey that you're empathizing with the other person's pain, but avoid the implication that you've got a complete grasp of everything they're going through physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and relationally.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The high-five of peace

In many churches, an element of the service (or at least communion) will be the passing of the peace. Usually, this will involve going around those nearby, shaking their hand, and extending to them the peace of God.

For kids, this can be a little weird.

They don't shake hands.

Ever.

With anyone.

But, what is the point of "the peace" anyway?

For me, a large part of it - particularly tying into communion - is to physically establish the communal nature of the gathered church and express goodwill, in the name of Jesus, towards each other.

This doesn't need a handshake.

So, in every church I've ever worked at, with the younger kids - especially the boys - we have the high-five of peace.

Why?

Because, first of all, it's fun... and fun in church is ok.

Second, it means that I get to connect with the kids during the service itself.

Finally, this starts to lift the stigma of "the peace." Once the kids aren't required to shake hands more adults see the value in including the kids in a way that they are comfortable, and actually enjoying, doing.

Then, "the peace," I truly extended to the child.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to lose me from your church

In my last post I wrote that small children, especially if they are of the noisy variety, are a good indicator of the welcoming and accepting nature of your congregation.

But, the second reason that a church should welcome, accept and include small children is rather simple.

All too often, in a hundred different ways during a church service, a parent can feel insecure abut their child.

Are they being too noisy during the prayers?
What happens if they start singing oddly during church?
What happens if they start meowing, like my daughter did on Sunday, during the sermon?
What happens of if they have a "disagreement" with another child during church?
What happens of they say aloud that church is boring?
And on, and on, and on...

By welcoming, accepting and including my toddler, you welcome, accept and include me, her parent.

By making space for her, you make space for me.

But, if you judge, grumble about or exclude her, you'll loose me.

Instantly.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The acceptance litmus test

Do you want to know if you have a welcoming church?
Want to find out how accepting people are in your congregation?

Just add a whining baby or chatty toddler to the middle of their church service.

Over the last few years I've been in plenty of church services with both.

And some churches have been lovely, accommodating and downright pleasant and patient.

Others, not so much.

But, as someone who works with families, it occurred to me today why it's so important to both include and welcome those with small kids.

The first reason is because, I believe, it reveals a great deal about the nature of your congregation.

When you toss in a cooing baby or rambling youngster (for example, my three year old thought it would be a grand idea to bark like a dog during a part of the sermon this morning), you'll get a good idea who sees the church service as a place open to all - including those who might be less than quiet.

The second, I'll deal with in my next post...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Everything isn't first-run

Last night I gave the devotion to kick off our latest church council meeting, giving a quick overview on the book of Hebrews.

This, while not being an arduous task, is just one more thing on top of what I churn out each year...

38 weeks of the Friday afternoon children's ministry. 
38 weeks of youth group.
40 weeks of Sunday morning Kid's Church.
140 scripture lessons (35x4).
25 sermons in the evening service.
4 sermons in the morning.

And this doesn't included any high school scripture lessons, which I have done in the past, or outside speaking gigs.
On top of this, I spit out 150 posts on Tiny Bible Bits and 120-150 blog posts.

All told, I "produce" in excess of 550 thoughts/lessons about God, Jesus, Christianity, the church and ministry.

AND I'm not extraordinary nor overworked.

But, whenever someone asks me where I draw inspiration for much of this, my answers can be a tad underwhelming.

If I produce a half-millennia of things, probably, only half are purely original.

The rest, largely, flows from - hopefully improving upon - what I've done in the past (thus the advantage of longevity) or is drawn out of what I've done earlier/going to do later in the week.

Thus, the Tiny Bible Bits will, most often, be drawn out of a scripture lesson, sermon, or children's address (thus linking with the Lectionary).

Inevitably, you'll do the same topics in scripture, the children's ministry, youth group and as a sermon series.

But, from the outsiders perspective, it can appear that a lot of what someone in ministry "presents" is original and this, realistically, could never - an need not be - the case.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Levels of Leaving

As I've written plenty of times before, longevity matters in ministry.

But, it's unrealistic to believe that you'll be at a church forever.

Every church worker is, ultimately, inly ever an interim minister.

No matter the precise timetable, there are progressive levels of leaving.

Open. Available. Looking. Legacy.

Open - You're not ready to leave, but you've achieved enough things that you'd look back with pride. Now, if you're dream job found you, you'd be open to exploring the option and possibly jump at it. Ideally, I wouldn't imagine someone would be at this point during the first four or five years of their placement.

Available - Now you've available to move on, but are more than content to stay. By now you've established a culture you're happy with and have an increasing awareness of any opportunities which may be on the horizon. Now, if a fantastic opportunity arises, they don't have to knock on your door, you'll give it a sniff. Ideally, I wouldn't imagine that you'd get to this point until you're seven or eight years in.

Looking - Once you've been in a place a decade, having cycled through a few generations, you might move towards to next stage in leaving - Actively looking. Now, while you'd loved to stay, if a healthy succession plan is in place, you can move to the next step freely.

Legacy - You don't leave cleanly, but - again, with a healthy succession plan in place - transition into another complementary ministry at the same church/denomination.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The well-dressed disclaimer

When a guy wears a suit, when he doesn't require it for work, it usually says something.

Depending where I'm speaking, I'll wear a suit.
On most occasions, I'll wear a suit for weddings.
I will always wear a suit for funerals.
And for job interviews.

Today I didn't wear a suit, but I did dress noticeably better than usual.

But I wasn't speaking somewhere that required me to dress up...
And there wasn't a wedding...
Or a funeral.

So, when people commented on my attire, I wondered if I should give a reassuring disclaimer that I wasn't dating another church.

For, if I unexpectedly saw a youth worker who's dressed up, I would wonder if they're clothed to impress a potential employer...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It doesn't matter if two or more are gathered...

Yesterday I wrote that we don't need to invite God into our church services because He is already present.

This inspired the post I wrote in Tiny Bible Bits based on Matthew 18:20.

For, it's this verse which gives people the erroneous mindset that God is especially "present" once a duo of believers are together.

And, in the past, I took the bait hook-line-and-sinker.

In my younger days, we used to joke that we could begin church from the point the second person entered the church building now that "God was present."

The primarily problem with this is that it's an absolute falsehood that God is "more present" once there are two or more believers.

Because, no matter how many warm bodies are present, God is there.

And the danger of quoting Matthew 18:20 out of context, removed from the setting of judgment/restoration within a faith community and, instead, applying it to the presence of God is the damage it can cause.

For this mindset can be hugely damaging for those who are alone and feeling lonely.

Do we, subconsciously, send the message that God is NOT as present because they aren't in community?

Do we, regrettably, harm those struggling with their connection to God during a church service by reminding them that God is ESPECIALLY present but they are missing out?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Being aware is better than inviting

At the start of the evening service at my church, which I routinely lead, I'll light a candle and say a prayer. During this time I'll occasionally make a mistake which many make at the dawn of their services.

For, many church services - no matter what style or structure they happen to take - will have a time when someone will "invite" God to be amongst them.

As was helpfully pointed out here, invite is not the word we're after.

We do not control or dictate the comings or goings of God.
Nor do we need to.

We need not invite God into our church service: He is already present.

What we need to do, if anything, is pray for an increase in our awareness of God's presence and an openness for that to work in and though us.

With this, we can get into the mindset to meet with our omnipresent Maker.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Not being a prayer thief

I regularly lead the prayers in the evening service of my church. Routinely, upon getting prayer requests from members of the congregation, I'll open and close the time of prayer.

I'll admit, it's not revolutionary. But, everything doesn't need to be on a weekly basis.

One thing that has been mentioned is that my opening prayers can be... a little generic.

This is quite intentional.

Upon taking prayer requests, I deliberately try to avoid using these points to open the prayer-time.

The reason?
I don't want to be a prayer thief.

I don't want to snatch away an opportunity for someone in the congregation to pray for something aloud because I've already "covered it."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Should we give a F@#K about swearing?

As a disclaimer... 
I do it.
In fact, I've done it on this blog.
In order to make a point I might slip in a considered "salty" word.

One reason I write this blog is to get my thoughts ordered when it comes to issues surrounding church, faith and ministry, especially with young people.

A while ago someone asked me about swearing and why Christians shouldn't do it.

In response I said (while fluffing my way through some of the points bellow)... umm... because... they... umm... just shouldn't.

But, the query deserves a far better answer.

To begin, I'm not talking about blasphemy. That fact that it's mentioned as one of the ten commandments and the first line of the Lord's Prayer give a clear indication that God takes His name seriously and it shouldn't be used in a meaningless, careless or mocking manner.

Personally, I think the strongest augment against frivolous swearing is that our words matter and we will be accountable for them (Matthew 12:36-37).

Our words matter since within them are the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). We have the ability, with the words we speak, to build someone up or tear them down.

James 3 says that we shouldn't curse another made, as we are, in the image of their Creator and, importantly, the word which flow from out tongues should be a reflection of our faith and character.

This aligns with Jesus' teachings that the mouth will reveal what is within the heart (Luke 6:45). Instead, our words should reflect our new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17) being a barometer of what is within.

When it comes to swearing, what matters is the intention behind the words (this would also apply to saying "gosh-darn-it" or some other "censored substitute"). If they are directed harmfully towards someone else then they are clearly wrong. If the swear words someone uses adds nothing to the conversation then they are, at best lazy, devaluing our contribution to the world around us.

Importantly, Titus 2:7-8 reminds believers that the words they use will affect their witness to those around them.

But, some days, can and, arguably, should be called shit.
This is the exact word someone might be searching for in order to describe their day.

And here the issue, to a degree, becomes one of conscience.

Does your conscience permit you to use that word?
What is the internal intention behind the word?
Are you using it to build up and add something of genuine value?

Does your conscience feel comfortable using that word in the presence of those around you?
Will the hearing of that word cause a negative example, harm others or impair your Christian witness?

If the last question is answered affirmatively, then any freedom you might have to swear should be restricted in light of those around you.