Monday, April 30, 2012

Really right or wrong?

I've written previously that everything in church isn't always are right and wrong (no matter how much we may say it is!).
Sometimes it's about perspective. From our viewpoint an activity is wrong.

Sometimes it's about context. When viewing something from our specific setting solely, we determine an idea won't work.

Sometimes it's about balance. A ministry may not be "wrong," just too heavily slanted towards one side of the theological spectrum. We judge an activity for what it lacks, not what the positive things it does bring to the table.

Trouble is, we spring straight to right/wrong and unhelpfully skim over the surrounding factors...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Listen to the building

It happened again on Sunday.

I promised here that I would change, and I think I've got better... BUT

On Sunday morning I was again told to slow down when I speak.

Today I was chatting to someone and he mentioned that my speed wasn't too bad... for this building.

But if it had an echo, like some churches do, my words would be tough to grasp for those with elderly ears.

He recommended that, when I prepare to preach in a new space, that I "listen to the building." Get a feel for the acoustics; especially any residual noise like an echo.

I think I'll add that to the mental checklist I use to "own the room."

I've discovered that my ingenious solution of putting "SLOW DOWN" in the header of my transcript had one fatal flaw.

If you're confident enough to talk without really referring to your notes (which I tend to pull off) you'll never notice what's written in the header...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Finishing lines?

You may notice that, with fatherhood, my posts are slightly less frequent and posted progressively later at night.

With that said, on with today's Ramble...

When I made my list of youth ministry drop out points, I missed one. Confirmation and baptism.

I've seen it before and heard about it happening at plenty of other churches.
Confirming or baptising young people out of the church...

Today I was thinking about the drop out points and how they might come about. One thing which sprung to mind was the, sometimes unhelpful, segmentation of our activities.

You "graduate" from kids club.
You "grow out" of youth group.
You "become" the demographic of a alternative church service.
You "achieve" the piece of paper.

If we set up a system where you can "finish," then is there any reason why we are surprised if people leave once "completed"?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Service stoppers

Unfortunate things happen...

Someone collapses before the service.
Someone passes out during the service.

Sometimes really bad things happen...

The minister has a car accident on the way to the church.
Someone calls the church threatening to blow up the building.
A child goes missing.

Sometimes the unimaginable happens...

Someone dies just prior to or during the service.
The minister has a heart attack five minutes into the service.
Someone walks into the church building with a weapon.

I've heard of all the above happening. For some, I've been in the church when they have occurred.

I wonder, what does it take to cancel a church service? Where is the line drawn? Does the size of a church come into the equation? (Since cancelling a service for 500 is different than stopping a service for 80)

I'm fairly confident in declaring that the vast majority of churches have little idea what they would do if any of the above situations played out this Sunday, never mind if they would pull the plug on the church service.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why Ramblings on the Way?

If each day had a significant word, today's would have been journey.

All week I've been thinking about the topic since it was the central gist of the church service I lead this morning and the thrust of my sermon.

But the theme also popped up in the evening service, was interwoven through a few emails, and appeared during the program I was listening to coming home from church.

All this reminded me why I chose the title of my blog.

This blog is often a ramble.

It will probably never be turned into a best-selling book and has been littered with liberal doses with grammatical... umm... specialness.

But this blog contains the ramblings of a journey about a life trying to follow and serve Jesus.

This blog is a jumble of thoughts which account for this phase of my journey, shaped by what has happened in my past and where I want the journey to go in the future.

It is a journey clouded with troubles and doubts. It is a journey of victories and defeats. And in the midst of the ups and downs, it is a journey with God.

And ultimately the Way is not my own. It is in the hands of God.

It may have taken more than a thousand posts, but that is what I was reminded of this week and what jogged through my mind in August 2008.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Could vs should

1 Corinthians 10:23 - “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.

Can a follower of Jesus date a non-believer?
Can a follower of Jesus drink alcohol?
Can a follower of Jesus not be part of a church?
Can a follower of Jesus get a car or home loan?
Can a follower of Jesus read The Message as their bible?

Sometimes the bible is less than crystal clear about a topic or is gray in its modern application.

No matter what you think about the above issues (and I've made my opinions pretty clear), they are not salvation issues. You won't be turned away from the gates of heaven because you got a mortgage or lived out your faith in a cave.

There are plenty of things a Christian COULD do.

A follower of Jesus could date a non-believer.
A follower of Jesus could drink alcohol.
A follower of Jesus could not go to church.
A follower of Jesus could get a car or home loan.
A follower of Jesus could read The Message.

The better question is... SHOULD they do what is being considering.

These situations require wisdom.

When wrestling with a wisdom issue, the decision markers should be the effect the outcome will have on us personally and those around us. Will the action be to the detriment to the physical, emotional, relational or spiritual health of ourselves or others?

That is the point of 1 Corinthians 10.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A millennium of posts

From little things, ever so slightly bigger things grow...

Amazingly, this is my 1000th blog post.

If I had planned ahead I...
a) would have had a countdown,
b) would have had a give away and
c) would have organised a small street parade.

Oh well. Maybe for my 2000th post.

When I started with this first post, I half assumed this blog would be dead Internet fodder within 30 days.

Instead Ive blogged my way through moving back into youth ministry, changing church three times, moving home three times, seeing my first car get trashed and it's rubbish replacement be upgraded, getting a cat, twice become an uncle, both my Pop and my Dad dying, and despite two false starts, becoming a father.

I wonder what the next millennium have in store???

Monday, April 16, 2012

Should you lie to your parents to go to church?

My parents aren't followers of Jesus and, as far as I know, they have never seriously entered a church aside from funerals and weddings.

But my parents were always, at least externally, okay with me going to church and being involved in church activities.

Maybe they were just happy that I wasn't in a gang and hooked on drugs, or perhaps I got lucky.

But I know, and have witnessed, many families who are much more combustible when it comes to church attendance.

So... Should a teen lie to their parents about attending church? Should they say they are going to "hang at a friends house" when they are actually going to youth group?

I've had arguments about this topic before and understand that this is an issue with a LOT of grey.

But the first part of my response is easy. Don't lie. If you deceive your folks and they find out, you're busted and actually hurt both your chances to attend church in the future and the witness you will have before your parents.

My second response is more controversial. If parents,who are loving and should be looking out for what they feel is best for their kids, will not allow their child to attend church, then they shouldn't go.

I believe that this falls under the "honour your parents" guidelines which believers are instructed to follow.

As a youth minister, that answer can suck to hear. You want kids turning up, having fun and learning more about following God.

But, if we genuinely believe that parents are not the enemy, then (on this point) I think it is worth conceding.

I say this for a few reasons.

First, the discussion is worth having much, much more then maintaining an ongoing deception. If you are honest then you can find out why they are having reservations. Do they think Christians are all crazy brain washers? Do they have something from their past they is affecting their judgement? Are they just wary of new people taking an interest in their kid?

Once you are aware of their mindset then you open the possibility of moving productively forward. If it would help, they can have a chat to the youth leaders.

Second, there are plenty of other options aside from church in helping you grow in your faith. Go to the lunchtime group at school. Engage with the scripture lessons. Read your bible and pray alone or in a small group.

If you're not allowed to go to a weekly event, then perhaps you can negotiate a reasonable middle ground. Only go to youth group or the bigger events which are put on. Aim to attend camp, in place of the weekly meeting.

Either way, aim to live out your faith within your home regardless of their decision. Respect their decision.

Ultimately, one of the people you are trying to reach with your faith are your parents. It would be an incredible shame if the way you behave as a teenager sours your witness for decades to come.

As you get older, and your parents see you living out a Christian lifestyle, your parents might soften their stance (you can gently bring it again in six months) or, once you are able to transport yourself, you can take yourself to church.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Church Yodas

Every church has one. If they're lucky, perhaps two.
They are known by everyone. They seemingly have a line of people to chat with after every service.
They know everyone. And their extended families.
They know everything. And where you can find it.

They know the back story of every event.
They recognise the name on every plaque.
They are the first person you run a new initiative past.
They are the person you knows who to call and what the procedure was "when this happened ages ago."

Who? A Church Yoda.

The person who has been around to see it all and is liberal with they way they dispense wisdom, advice and encouragement.

As time goes on, and elderly congregations die off, I wonder if the Church Yoda will become an endangered species.
As life-long members of a church become increasingly rare, is the Church Yoda going to go the way of the dinosaurs?

I hope not.

The Church Yoda is a phenomenal resource to have in a new ministry position and are one of the reason churches are so warm and welcoming.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The essential toolkit of a community worker

This is not an original thought which was birthed our of the depths of my subconscious. I've previously heard this idea touted by the regional advisor (for lack of a better term) for the denomination I work for and weaseled into my mind whist gardening this afternoon.

When churches want to connect with people in their locality, they often look to hire a "community" based worked.

As I keep thinking about the nature of modern ministry and how it looks within a context where people are increasingly wary to "enter our turf" cold, I think these "community" based position are increasingly important.

As I ponder these roles, two vital things spring to mind in equipping these ministry agents.

First, spend the cash to do a barista course and hire a coffee cart. Use this to encounter people. Go to the local park. Hang out at local sporting events and shopping centers.

Second, learn how to have spiritual conversations. This could come in the form of doing evangelistic or apologetic courses, but it need not. The aim isn't primarily to "dump the gospel on them." The aim is to meet people where they are at and engage them where God is already working.

Oddly, enough these two are linked as relationships are developed over a quality cup of mocca.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Criticism from Mr X?

Criticism happens.

In ministry, criticism will definitely happen.

And given enough time, you'll probably be a recipient of anonymous criticism.

I've been criticised. Often with good cause.

Although I've never had an unidentified note-to-point-out-a-way-which-you-can-improve, I know people who have. Ministers. Youth ministers. Family workers. Worship leaders. Teachers. Speakers.

How should you respond to anonymous criticism?

1 - Share it with trusted people who give you honest feedback. The person may just be blowing off steam and you are the innocent target. See if the criticism is on the right track. It may not be, but then again it may.

If it's not leading down a useful path, ignore it.

If it is...

2 - Take it on board. What points are accurate? Are they pointing out a blind spot? Have you heard this before? Do your own personal self reflection about the situation. Listen to the responses those in the first point gave you.

3 - Even though the perp didn't put their name to the complaint, they are providing a chance to learn. Chat through some of your thoughts with someone on the outside. If you need to make changes, do so.

4 - As hard as it is, don't try and track the person down. Don't over-analyse the wording. For whatever reason, they don't want to be known. Trying to track them down like an Agatha Christie detective will only sow mistrust.

5 - Finally, and this point is HUGE since it is unsolicited criticism, let it go.

It's hard, but burn the letter. Delete the email. Erase the text message.

There's no point keeping the criticism and allowing it to kick you in the guts for weeks or months.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Bible Bits

Previously, I've mentioned here the Facebook page Tiny Bible Bits (which I write) and have given you a look at some of the posts from earlier this year.
Leading up to Easter I've been writing reflections on the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross. So, being Easter, I figured I've post them here also for you to ponder as well...

Matthew 27:46 – About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

There are only seven Tiny Bible Bits until Easter and seven statements which Jesus made upon the cross. Leading up to Good Friday, we’ll be looking at the words from the crucifixion in order of how they appear in the New Testament.

This first statement points us towards the depths of Easter.
This first statement is anguish filled.
This first statement undeniably revealed the separation Jesus experienced from the Father.

This statement is also the first line of Psalm 22.

We need to be mindful that the Psalms were the songbook of the Jews, memorised and loved by all. Those listening would have been familiar with the words of Psalm 22.

As an exercise, see if you can sing the next line of the following songs -
Australians all let us rejoice…
My Jesus, my Saviour, Lord there is none like you…
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

When those at the cross heard the cry of Jesus, their minds would have been filled with the lyrics of Psalm 22.

Take a few minutes to read Psalm 22. Consider the way the Psalm flows and, despite the dire circumstances of the Psalmist, the way it trusts in God.

Luke 23:34 – Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

I’m not expecting to be the victim of the worst kind of death humanity has devised, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t utter the words Jesus did.

Jesus did not pray for vengeful justice. Jesus offers forgiveness.
“Father forgive them…”

Who is them?
The Romans? The Jews? The bystanders? The actual executioners?
All of the above?

To those who didn’t deserve it, Jesus offers them pardon. Jesus does the same for all of us.

Upon the cross Jesus not only laid before us an example of how we are to treat our enemies, but also teaches that no one’s actions make them beyond the reach of prayer.

Are there people in your life you feel are undeserving of prayer? Follow the example of Christ and lift them before your Heavenly Father now…

Luke 23:43 – Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There is no better example of grace in the bible then the interaction between Jesus and the repentant criminal beside him.

This crim deserved to die. He was judged according to the law and rightly found guilty.

He had nothing to offer Jesus. He couldn’t offer his time. He couldn’t offer his actions. He couldn’t spread the gospel for years to come nor could he build a church in his honour.

All this man had in his future were a few excruciating hours prior to dying.

But Jesus accepted him nonetheless.
Despite this man’s previous failings, Jesus forgave him.

This exchange shows that it is never too late to trust in Jesus.
The quick conversation between Jesus and the criminal can remind us that no one is beyond the love of Christ, no matter what they have done in the past.

If there are people in your life who you feel are really far from God, especially family or friends, take confidence in the exchange between Jesus and the man hanging at His side.

In fact, pray for that person now. If this criminal can hear these words of grace, so can the person you just prayed for.

Luke 23:46 – Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

If you could go back in time and successfully rescue Jesus from the crucifixion, would you?

Supposedly, according to one atheist blog, this question would stump any Christian.
How would you respond? Would you save Jesus?

If I’m completely honest, knowing what I’m like, I suspect I would have deserted Jesus just as quickly as the other disciples. They travelled with Jesus for three years solid and left Him in His greatest hour of need. Personally, my dedication to Jesus wavers on most days ending in the letter y.

But I think this question arises from the false assumption that Jesus was a helpless victim.

I’m not sure He was.

Sure, Jesus was brutally killed. But the cross is ultimately an expression of love in action. Jesus Himself could have stopped the events of Easter, but He didn't.

Furthermore, completely mindful of the results that the cross achieved (a right relationship between us and God), I'm not sure Jesus would want me to save Him.

The words Jesus cried upon the cross aren’t the words of a helpless victim, but the history-controlling-God doing what it took to bring humanity back to their Creator.

John 19: 25-27 – Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

This passage opens up the very human elements of the cross. Here we encounter a son and a mother. After hearing the angel declare His conception... After watching Him “grow and become strong; filled with wisdom, and the grace of God...” (Luke 2:40)... After feeling the anxiety of losing Him at the temple... After seeing Him turn water into wine... After hearing His teachings... When the majority deserted him, His mother stuck by His side.

Now she is grief stricken at the foot of the vile execution device.

Even as He hung on the cross, Jesus thought of others. This is a scene of tender love. Jesus committed the care of His mother to the lone disciple who saw His final moments.

In all likelihood, Mary’s husband Joseph died before the public ministry of Jesus, and with one of His dying breaths, Jesus takes care of some earthly business. As her eldest son it was His job to make sure she was provided for.

Remember, as you strive to follow God, don’t forget your responsibilities.

John 19:28 – Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

Upon the cross the Water of Life was parched.

In His final few moments Jesus was aware that the scriptures had to be fulfilled. With this simple cry a vinegar drink was raised to His lips, fulfilling the words of Psalm 69:21.

Even though this verse could have been overlooked, Jesus made sure the words of the psalmist came true. Jesus lived a life in absolute submission to the will of the Father and the salvation story which God was weaving.

Not for the first time, during His penultimate hours, Jesus displays His humanity.

Jesus can sympathise when we feel alone and abandoned by God…
Jesus dealt with His family responsibilities…
Here we are reminded that Jesus can sympathise with our physical sufferings. Jesus thirsts.

As we draw closer to Good Friday (and we’ll look at why it has this title on Friday), be mindful of the events from Gethsemane to Golgotha, and be thankful for the price which the incarnate God paid to fulfil the scriptures and open a way for you to be one with your Creator.

John 19:30 – When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

it was a day when a completely good... absolutely innocent man... was betrayed by one of his closest friends... abandoned by all... endured a fixed court case... with false witnesses... with no presumption of innocence... held under the cover of darkness... prosecuted by the wrong person... with no defence entered or allowed... was beaten... spat on... whipped... tortured... overlooked for a murdered... who heard those who cheered Him then cry for His death... who had to transport His own death implement... held to it by five inch nails... stripped naked... mocked by those who passed by... insulted by those who orchestrated his murder and those who were killed beside him... who endured an excruciating ordeal... dying a death reserved for the lowest of the low... the worst of the worst... a demise off limits for those under Caesar... the victim, in Jewish eyes, being cursed by God... who in his own words was FORSAKEN BY GOD…

It was the ultimate injustice. Before his own mother, a son, a friend, a teacher, the King, the Messiah, the SON OF GOD was killed. The day the bread of life was broken and the blood of the Lamb spilt.


The only reason we can dare call this day Good is because of what it achieved. It tore down the division between humanity and God. The work of reconciling humanity and God was finished.

The results of Jesus’ death and resurrection are the reason we celebrate Easter and can call Good Friday Good.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fat silences

Tonight our church is having a Tenebrae service and the aim is to end with a "fat silence."

A what?

A time of silence, intentionally creating an opportunity for someone to reflect and connect with God.

Church services usually have a few chances for "fat silences."

Maybe a settling time at the start of the service.
Perhaps a moment after the sermon to ponder how it may apply to their lives.
Often, during the prayer of confession or prayers of the people, to "insert your shortcomings to God" or "life up those in your heart."

Tonight, as people leave in darkness, the hope will be that they leave in the middle of a "fat silence."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Choosing Hagar

In Genesis 15 God makes an agreement with Abraham. God tells him, despite the old age of Abraham and his wife Sarah, they would conceive a child.

By Genesis 16, Abraham and his wife hatch a plan to speed up the process involving a woman named Hagar, an Egyptian slave of Sarah. Sarah suggests that Abraham bears an heir, but with Hagar, not Sarah.

Today I met with a bloke with a burning, God-given, vision which he struggles to see realised within church structures.

As we were chatting my mind wandered to the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar.

The plan they hatch backfires as they attempt to navigate around God's plans and, more importantly, God's timing.

I think this passage is applicable in two areas. Ministry and dating.

In these two spheres it is tempting to manipulate God's plans and timing. We can try and take a short-cut to what we want and in doing so "turn to a Hagar."

When God told Abraham he was to become a father, Hagar was nowhere in the equation.

Hagar was the idea of man not God.
Hagar was a compromise.
Hagar was second best.

In ministry we can choose the Hagar option by settling for an easy option and not persevering when times get tough.
In ministry we can choose the Hagar option by turning from the vision God has laid upon us and make concessions to "entertain" or "provide a safe baby-sitting service."

In dating we can trade waiting for a Christian to date and settle for the "nice bloke who doesn't believe in God" or a "chick who is pretty cool with the whole God thing."

I've seen plenty of people take the Hagar option, and like what happened to Abraham and Sarah, the consequences of impatience are worse than could have been imagined going in or what was initially promised by God.

Sometimes we need to wait for God's plan to unfold in His timing, not substitute our own tactics.