Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Best of...

Since I don't have enough hours in the day to do a best-of list on New Years Eve (since I'll be writing a series of talks tomorrow, going to my niece's birthday, do the finishing touches on Sunday's kids talk (yeah... I'm working on New Year's Day!), getting ready to bring in 2012 and squeezing in a bit of gardening) here are the highlights of the past 12, Ramble-iffic, months.

EXCITING NEWS!!! (find out why next year should be a great year!)

Teens and suicide

Leading on empty

You don't have to be full time

Visionating a new name

The good words #2

Suffering 1, 2, 3, 4

This one time...

Youth group excuses

Problem input

Random Graham

Voice credibility

Why do they call Good Friday good? (my most viewed post)

How could God allow sin to enter the world in the first place?

Osama reaction

Losing your main players

The year that DOESN'T leave

Pulling the strings

Faith AND patience

Teddy health

Breaking in the newbie

Before I go...

Youth ministry costs

Really average?

Prayer answers

The road to manhood

Tiny Bible Bits

Space, Permission & Validity

Who is worthy?

Finding mission & purpose

Are all religions the same?

Festive postings

Thursday, December 29, 2011


So... What are you going to do all week?

Like many youth ministers, I expect to hear that question a lot over Summer.

Around writing camp talks for a gig I've got in a few weeks, over the next few days (if my work computer and I get along) I'll do my end of year money and kid audits.

Like every church, we keep track of the coming and going of both cash and young people.

Why bother cracking out the spreadsheets and crunching the numbers?

The reason is simple.

Cold. Hard. Facts.

Numbers don't lie and within them you can find out where we went well, where the system failed and what went totally off the rails.

Additionally, you are able to adjust your advertising and expenditure with your eyes wide open.

Sometimes you can fall into the trap of thinking a kid is a regular, but you find out that they actually only darken the door once a term. Hopefully, you are surprised the opposite way and discover teens who you thought were flakie, were around much more than you remembered.

Finally, once you discover how much moolah is in the war chest (or lack of!) you can then look at what resources you can purchase and what kind of advertising you can produce.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why does Christmas matter?

Today is a pretty big deal for Christians.

But why? Why does Christmas matter so much?

In short, Christmas is important to Christians, and a time to celebrate, as it marks the time when God Himself became one of us.

With the incarnation (God becoming flesh), God enters the world, making the effort to further reveal His nature, and ultimately, begin the process of removing the division between God and humanity.

Beyond this, the incarnation is significant as it changes the kind of relationship we can have with God.

He is not removed and distant from our experience. God is personally aware of what it is to live. He has laughed. He knows hunger. He has experienced loss and pain.

Through becoming human, we get a clearer revelation for what God is like. If we want to know what God thinks about the poor, or women, or those in authority, we have no further to look then when God took on flesh.

Christmas matters because it is a time when God became intimately personal, giving hope to the world and displaying the love God has for all creation.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Virgin = Pregnant?

I'll confess, the idea of a virgin having a baby is difficult to swallow.

My folks had the "bird & the bees" talk with me and I've glanced over the "Where do I come from?" book.

So... Could Jesus' birth have come about the way the bible records it? Is it believable?

At worse, in a Mythbusters-type-way, I think it is plausible.

As I've previously written here, when dealing with the miraculous in the bible, the first question we should wrestle with is one of the existence and nature of God.

IF, the God of Genesis 1:1-4a exists, cares for humanity and is both influential and powerful enough to create everything, then the concept of a virgin birth (though totally foreign) is much more tolerable.

If you can create everything, why can't you make a virgin pregnant?

But... Does it matter anyway?

I think it does since,
a) It is recorded in the bible as both prophecy and narrative,
b) It signifies a new beginning in the path of salvation history, and
c) It points to the uniqueness of the one born.

The most prominent place that the virgin birth is referred to in the Old Testament is Isaiah 7:14, but some say that the word virgin in the passage is mistranslated. Some argue that the passage should say "young woman/girl," not "virgin."

Surely this doesn't stand up against the simple logic. If the lass was a faithful follower of God and was a "young unmarried woman" then she WOULD BE A VIRGIN ANYWAY!

Additionally, if we take the narrative as written, then Mary would definitely know if she was a virgin. She asks the obvious question in Luke 1:34!

Is the whole topic a deal breaker?
If you don't believe in the virgin birth, will you be turned away from heaven's doors?

I don't think so.
But, if you're skeptical, perhaps you should evaluate why this is the case.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Evil "Xmas"?

In some circles, calling Christmas "Xmas" is an issue to get all hot and bothered over. Some think this is "taking Christ out of Christmas."

So... Is this is case?

Not really.

Xmas can certainly refer to Christmas due to the first Greek letter in the word Christos (the anointed one). It is from this term we get the word Christ.

If anything the X is just an abbreviation and not one to get flustered over... Unless very minor forms of time efficiency get under your skin.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas = Pagan?

I mentioned yesterday that their was significance to the date chosen to remember the birth of Christ.

Like many dates on the church calendar, this date was originally attached with pagan festivals, celebrating the lengthening of the days (the Winter solstice being a few days prior to December 25th).

It wasn't an uncommon occurrence for the church to give an already established time of celebration new meaning, making the transition simpler for all.

The connections that many of the traditions of Christmas to previous practices do not transform what they point towards today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why December 25th?

Was that the ACTUAL birth date of Jesus?

In short, the answer is... probably not. There is a slim change that Jesus was born in late December due to the cold Winter weather. It is more likely that Jesus was born in the northern hemisphere Spring-Autumn (since the shepherds were in the fields and in Winter this would be improbable). Furthermore, the census would have been called during these warmer months due to the travel required.

The precise date of Jesus' birth is lost to history.

So... Why do we celebrate on December 25?

Simply, early Christians wanted a consistent date to remember the birth of Christ. Why not December 25?

There was significance in the date selected (I'll post why this is the case tomorrow).

In fact, depending which calendar you acknowledge (the Julian or the Gregorian) and what tradition you are attached to, Christmas is celebrated on alternate dates (such as January 7 in many Orthodox and Coptic Churches and January 10 in the Armenian Church).

Whilst we are in the realm of dates, Jesus wasn't born in 1AD.

The bloke who devised the modern division of BC/AD, a monk by then name of Dionysius Exiguus, miscalculated by a few years.

First, Herod the Great died in 4BC, and he is mentioned in the birth narratives.

Second, due to the multiple positions that Quiuinius held and the amount of time that a census took to span the Roman empire, we are fairly confident that Jesus was born somewhere around 7-4"BC." We know this due to the information we are given at the start of Luke 2 where we are told about Quirinius, who was the Roman governor of Syria, and the census that required Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why do they call it Christmas?

I'd figure I'd start with an easy question first.

December 25th is called Christmas for two reasons...

1 - The date remembers and celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. He said He was the Messiah (the long awaited, promised saviour from the Old Testament). The term Christ is not Jesus' surname, but refers to the term anointed (Christos in Greek).

2 - The later part of the title comes from celebration of communion that is held in many churches on Christmas Day, called Mass in the Catholic tradition.

Combine 1 & 2 to get CHRISTMAS!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Festive postings

This week I'm going to do a series of posts based on common questions about Christmas. The posts are going to be on...

Why is it called Christmas?
Why December 25th?
Is Christmas really a pagan festival?
Is calling Christmas 'Xmas" bad?
Can you really believe the virgin birth?
Why does Christmas matter?

Is there one other question you would want answered?

2012 Reading plan

For years I had a fairly structured bible reading plan.

Each fortnight I would focus on reading one book and make notes from what I learnt through study aids, sermons and other miscellaneous thoughts that popped into my head. As a result, I now have a dozen notebooks that I can refer to when doing sermon prep.

But this system started to get old around the start of the year and in 2012 I'm doing something new.

The system is not a brain-child of mine, I stumbled over it on a blog which I now cannot track down, and takes you through the entire bible in one year.

On Mondays you read 4 chapters of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the bible).
On Tuesdays you read 5 chapters of History (Joshua through to Esther).
On Wednesdays you read 5 chapters of Wisdom (Job through to Song of Songs)
On Thursdays you read 5 chapters of the Old Testament Prophets.
On Fridays you read 3 chapters of the Gospels.
On Saturday you read 3 chapters of the Epistles.
Finally, on Sunday, you have a day off, since you'll be hearing from the bible at church!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Always meant to be like this?

At the end of a camp it is inevitable that you'll hear someone say that church "should always be like this."

I don't think so.

Conferences can be brilliant. Camps are great. Taking time out to re-energise and have some focused time with God is amazingly fruitful.

But, in reality, we aren't meant to live in that space 365 days a year.

The end of camps usually remind me of Isaiah 40:30-31 and what I wrote about the passage on the Tiny Bible Bits Facebook page.

We are not to run at full speed constantly.
It is unrealistic to always be at "maximum warp" with God.

Usually, we are walking.
Usually, we are making a steady pace.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why we appreciate the mountain-top experience that camps provide.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Your story?

Christians, when they speak about their church to non-believers, should seek to answer these three questions...

What is their church struggling towards?
What does their church stand for?
What difference does the church make in their life?

These three areas are good to share because they speak against the negative stereotype that is often attached to the church.

The answers to these questions should show that the church is relevant to their community and purposefully heading towards a goal, is actually FOR something (as opposed to against everything) and the message they share is applicable in real life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When symbols hurt

Font sizeLast night at church we had communion and included bread that had no gluten or lactose.

Earlier that day I had a conversation with someone who would have appreciated this since he, like my wife, has an adverse reaction to certain foods.

Our discussion revolved around the numerous objects which the church symbolically uses which may hold negative reactions for some.

If you are lactose intolerant or react adversely to foods containing gluten, communion is probably a struggle. How do you react when the "body of Christ" makes you feel ill?

More simply, what if you despise the taste of wine or grape juice?

If you had an absent or abusive father, how to do respond when you hear that God is your Heavenly Father?

I particularly wonder about the bread example since the number of food in-tolerances are on the rise and, in the past, many of then went undiagnosed.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What do they know?

Churches hold within them tensions. All of them. Everywhere.

This isn't a sign of ill-health or conflict, it's just reality.

As I've written previously, these are different to problems since they are not designed to be solved, but managed.

One tension involves the congregation and staff/ministers.

The following is a tension I've seen and heard at every church. All of them. Everywhere.

The tension? What do the people know?

Lately, I've come to realise that this tension will never go away since
a) people are complex and retain/value different information,
b) new people (ideally) should be continually joining the faith community and
c) you can't teach everything about God, discipleship and the church immediately.

What I can to to manage the tension? Stop complaining about it and systematically work on point c).

If you don't intentionally teach those in the pews, you can't be annoyed when they are lacking in knowledge...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sunday AM connections?

I wonder who serves the people who are about on a Sunday morning?

Generally, the vast majority of Christians are either in a church service or sleeping in (one of the great reasons to attend later in the afternoon/evening).

Who is being the Christian witness to all the families who spend Sunday morning down at the beach or at the park with their kids?

Sure, those people can and, in an ideal world, should be bumping into believers during the est of the week... but what about Sunday morning???

One idea, which I always thought was impractical, was to release a portion of your morning service to serve and make connections during "church time" on a Sunday. Could a church every, instead of having their building be full of young families, intentionally invite them to make connections in their community in this time frame?

Saddleback is doing a pretty good initiative along these lines this Sunday, as reported here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Question one

There's nearly an infinite number of good ministry ideas and events that churches could initiate. If you can think of it, and it helps the community, then it is within the realms of possibility.

One question that needs to be asked from the onset of an embryonic idea is simple... Can we actually pull it off?

Churches need to realistically ponder, with their physical space, financial resources, manpower and desire for implementation, can they really put another thing on their plate, or should this idea hit the cutting room floor?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tag identifier

Every year I have to wear name tags on multiple occasions, whether it be church services, special events or conferences. I've written about my personal dislike of donning them here.

Yesterday I wore one on the the base of my shorts, about knee height.

The incident reminded me of a youth ministry conference I attended earlier in the year.

Since it was a mixed event, you could promptly tell those who worked with teens based on us all sharing the same odd habit... Our name tags were in obscure positions (like on the sleeve of the shirt, or back of the hat).

Turns out, to be a youth worker, you need to try and make locating your name tag a virtual game of "Where's Wally."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Planning time zones

As the year winds down my church is conducting its "annual" staff reviews, and with this opportunity, my mind has been churning over the future and forward planning.

This Sunday, all going well, I'll look to speak in three time zones.

One Month. One Year. Five Years.

These are the margins most ministries tend to live in (along with this week!).

They ask...
What is happening immediately (this week)?
What is on the near horizon that needs to be set up now (one month)?
Where do we want to be in the short term (one year away)?
What does success in the longer term look like (five years)?