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.


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.


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.


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.


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.