Young People don’t need Elisha – A plea from all youth workers.

Have you got what we are looking for?

There is this great story in the OT about Elisha really early on in his ministry. Elisha is on a journey up to Bethel and on route a bunch of rowdy young people highlighting his distinct lack of hair suggests that he should, for lack of a better phrasing “disappear”. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they keep shouting no doubt with a lot of laughing and pointing at the reflective surface.

But Elisha’s response is, well a little bit harsh to be fair. I imagine him looking up at the lads (who I presume have high ground to be able to see the shiny surface so clearly) and with a grumpy face shouting something like ‘you think you’re funny do you? Huh? Well lets see who has the last laugh…’ and then as the Bears start chasing down the youth I imagine him saying ‘I may not have any hair left, but those Bears I’m commanding look pretty hairy…’

As we all know this story ends badly for the young people and what does Elisha do? He just keeps on walking. Cue the bad boy music and a slow motion gangster walk.

Clearly I have an active mind! But as someone with a similar fate seemingly coming their way, I often find myself wondering how I will respond to young people when that dreaded day finally arrives and I begin to wear hats in the summer. Let’s be honest, the hairs already migrating and the hats are being brought so the question is:

How do you respond to young people being cheeky, or challenging or just fairly random at times?

I ask this because there are many young people needing good role models and we need people who have got what it takes to work with them.

We need those who can commit time to our young people, to encourage, support, work with, invest in and champion them and we need those people now!

This is not a request for everybody, I would not have Elisha in my youth team, no matter how many axe heads he could float. This is an opportunity for those, not of a certain age, or stage in life but who love the Lord, love young people and want to work hard to provide them with the best opportunities to grow in faith, in self and in life!

If that is you, go talk to the Youth Pastor and get involved.

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Persecution should not be ignored

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Christian_Martyrs'_Last_Prayer_-_Walters_37113Picture the scene. The first Roman church gathers to read a letter from Pastor Paul. This church, a people who once called the Emperor their ruler, now live under the rule of another, a crucified Jewish prophet who claimed to have defeated death. The way they do life has changed: friends begin to see them as enemies; their discreet gatherings gradually become secret; their hope for a new tomorrow seems somewhat futile under the cruel Emperor Nero, who used Christians as human torches to light his garden parties. It’s into this reality Paul writes these words:

‘…we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’Romans 5: 1-4

As Paul’s words were uttered into the ears of the first persecuted church I wonder how they felt hearing ‘glory in our sufferings.’ I honestly cannot begin to imagine.

I wonder sometimes if I, a Christian brought up in a Britain where my right to religious freedom is mostly protected, will ever read the words of Paul and truly understand how the first church received this promise of hope. For them suffering was real and persecution a tangible reality that went hand in hand with choosing to follow Jesus. The concept of a persecution-free life doesn’t seem to be present in their story. Yet the truth is, for those of us who chose to follow Jesus today the story hasn’t changed.

I’ve been sitting on this fact for a while now. Uncomfortable with the noise of persecution and yet the silence of the church. Unable to ignore the insanely unjust realities people have been living, most recently in Syria and Iraq; and the incredibly comfortable place I’ve been reading about it from. It makes sense that in this place of conflicting feelings and aparent powerlessness about whether I am doing enough, that I would be asked to write about how to respond and draw the young people into the discussion and make use of the events and resources of projects like International Day of Prayer (IDOP) to do so.

My response is covered in the article written for ‘Threads’  and I invite you to read it. (You can read the article here)

But if you’ve had enough of reading my brain on paper let me leave you with this thought.

You are powerful, you have a voice, it may be quiet but it’s not alone. You are (most likely) safe and free to follow Jesus if you are reading this blog, so take advantage of that freedom and speak up for our Brothers and Sisters. Don’t feel guilty about how much you do, just do something.

Here are some quality charities and resources to get you started…

IDOP (International Day of Prayer)

Open Doors Youth

Barnabas Fund

The Voice of the Martyrs 

 

 

Injustice Acoustics 2 – Music Event

I like Justice (understatement of the century) and part of my work with young people is about finding ways to engage them in issues of justice in the local community. Now this is not easy at all, not because the young people are not willing (they are majorly up for justice) but its finding safe ways to do it! Last year a friend and myself realised we could use music and coffee to take peoples money and give homeless people beds…so thats what we did…and we are doing it again! 

May 28th 2011 @ Starbucks Park St, Bristol we are holding an entry by ticket only event where all the money raised, will be given to the Julian Trust. Simple. Buy a ticket, a coffee and enjoy music from talented young people and as you have fun we can change lives. Sweet. 

Reflection on the Mystery of God

Hi Friends,

So I haven’t blogged in a while which sucks so I thought I’d share a recent session/reflection I did on the mystery on God. Feel free to use it or ignore it. I don’t mind!

The ‘M’ factor
Recapturing the mystery of God

There are many things that we as people can predict, like the results of eating badly, drinking to much, not revising, or running in front of a car; but should this human skill of reason be used when it comes to understanding who God is? and if so how much should we rely on our reason? People still over eat, drink to much, fail exams and take a trip over a land rover. So even the best results of our reason are not perfect, yet we can so easily fall into the trap of claiming we who are not perfect can fully understand perfection. Its a bit odd and very unreasonable really… To think we can put God in a box and presume he will stay there. The Catechism states that the ‘Chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever’ and whether you like the catholic church or not, I think they hit this nail on the head. Do we have to know everything about something before we can enjoy it?

We are all guilty of this, even the most holiest of youth workers (that is a joke). To question, search and dig for understanding and worth, is part of the way we were made and I would like to suggest that is one of our most fascinating attributes, but is it really going to work on God, can we fully know God?

What am I not saying is that we cannot know God or better put that we can’t trust the Bible, quite the opposite! The Bible is full of stories that show us snap shots of what God is like and most importantly, we have Jesus! Through whom we see God in action still today with hands and feet and a cheeky bit of whit (maybe thats just in my mind). What the bible isn’t is a text book of answers. It is full of answers but it draws you into the journey not the exam room. The difference? the journey doesn’t stop, the exam ends and you forget everything about it. the journey is exciting and energizing whereas the exam is daunting and a means to an end.

Paul is often made out as the person who knows it all, he is the most dominant writer in the NT and is very good as making things tangible, ordered and simple to understand. The problem is he has this little rant in Corinthians 13 which I love because in amongst his practical letter to the Corinthians he basically says, but its not even about what you know its about how you love; because we don’t know it all, we can’t know it all, but we know love and we can do love:

‘We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.’

(Corinthians 12-13)

Part of our gift as humans is to develop and make something simple extremely complicated. Take the wheel. One bloke made a circle, someone imagined putting two together to make a cart and now we have space ships! Things you think you ‘know’ for a fact now, may change and develop and what you would fight for now may seem absolutely crazy in the future! you just don’t know, until the day Christ comes and all is restored. But as Paul makes clear until that day, you can have faith that God is good, otherwise he is not God, you can hope that Revelation 21 is the end game otherwise life is meaningless and you can love, which is the perfect expression of faith and hope and humanities greatest God like characteristic.

Get some head space:
1. Are you excited or scared by the thought that faith is a journey not an exam?

2. Paul says above all things we should love, what is your capacity for love, when someone says the phrase ‘Unconditional Love’, How does that make you feel?

3. Whatever you answered to 1 and 2 spend some time praying into it with God.

  1. – He wants you on this journey and if scripture is anything to go by God is gracious enough to walk it through with us.
    – Read Luke 24:13-35

Hope this was insightful!

Shalom.

Spotting real tangible growth

God and the Young People

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
Amos 5:21-24

Ouch. Sometimes when we read scripture we just have to stop and re-think how we are doing this Christianity thing. I love Church, I love festivals and cool God slogans (one of my all time favs -‘GSUS, more then a chord’) and I must confess that noisy music with some ambient lights and some profound lyrics like ‘oooh oooh oooh’ really excite me and make me feel great about being a Christian. But is all that stuff what following Jesus is all about?
According to Amos, God just isn’t interested in that stuff as much as we are. Sure we can glorify God through that stuff, but it is a very small part in Gods plan. What excites Father Gods heart is to see his people being little Christ’s where it really matters- in our ‘living it’.

This is what has been on my heart as the youth worker. Father God, let the young people know what it is to be a true follower of Jesus, if the traditions are getting in the way, scrap them. When I first started at Cairns I would always worry about numbers on a Sunday morning and began thinking through how to get young people into the doors. I thought, ‘maybe if I preached more or enticed them with sweets and maybe even money that will do it and then as soon as they get through the door BAM, God will reveal himself and they will love Church and come every Sunday’. Seriously, I really thought that! and I must confess I did try coaxing some young people in with the sweets thing, but realised as time went on that my perspective was all wrong. God reminded me that if I really wanted young people to meet him, then I had to truly show them His heart and not just parrot the same old ‘right answers’.

We over complicate things really. What is on Gods heart is simple, he wants his people back and he wants them to look like Jesus in the everyday. To be more concerned about their neighbour’s welfare then whether or not they should go to church on sunday. To put scripture into practice and not just into memory. So what should we do? Scrap Sundays? of course not, it’s the body gathered. Change it so that it doesn’t look like the contemporary culture from the 80’s, yeh maybe someday…But its not even about that. It is simply about getting our hands dirty again. Doing the stuff we so often talk about on sundays–being the light God has called us to be (Matt 5).

Now we have arrived at the reason for my rant.
I’m excited! Because God is moving in the young people I work with and they are growing into mighty fine followers of Jesus and action has been the catalyst. From what I have seen the young people understand what following Jesus looks like when they clean up some single mums garden they don’t know from Adam, but knowing it just might making a difference to her life. They get it when they spend a week serving in orphanages and the most powerful message is not a ‘God slot’ preached but simply holding a little boy that even in Europe seems to have been abandoned by government and worthless in society. They get it when they can fight for the things that are on Gods heart, like justice and fairness, equality…you know the kingdom stuff.

So if, like me, you have been worried about how much the young people are growing when they seem so disengaged with traditional Sunday morning ‘church’, then ask them what they are doing instead and if they are getting their hands dirty with God. Why not ask them what they think is on Gods heart. I think, you’ll find something is happening and its spot on… And when you find that out, give thanks!

The not so well know Easter story…

Ever thought about what would happen if you asked your young people to write their own Easter stories? I did and I must admit some of them are pretty funny!

Here is one of the best:

The Mean Egg by CP

There was once a little Easter egg,
who hated all the other Easter eggs.
But then Jesus raised from the dead
and told him to like other Easter eggs.
The little Easter egg trusted Jesus,
So he made friends with all the other Easter Eggs.

So whats Easter really all about? Eggs, Jesus, Nothing?

Well I don’t know about you but for me Easter is a really special event. It can be seen as a really sad story but at the same time it is an amazing picture of Love. When I eat my egg I think about what the egg really represents. We actually have Easter eggs because an egg is an example of NEW LIFE! Jesus came back to life on Easter day all those years ago to bring new life to everyone! Because of Jesus we have new life, we get to be us, but the best us! Jesus took away all the dirt we get covered in whilst walking through life, guilt, shame, pain, in Jesus it is all gone! AMAZING.

So this Easter when your eating your eggs and feeling a bit sick, take a break and think about what that egg of chocolate-ly goodness actually means…

🙂

Hell: What the Hell is going on?

At our Youth house group a few weeks back we looked at the subject of hell and tried to get a better understanding of what, as Christians we are really meant to believe and then tell other people. I love it when the young people pick the subject, no sweat ay?!

We asked a few key questions:

  1. What is our perception of hell? (what does it look like?)
  2. Where has this view come from? (who or what was the source?)
  3. What’s the bible say?

What amazed me as a ‘liberal’ (not a very helpful definition) was how clued up these young people were. We discussed Dante and the ‘Divine Comedy’ of which many pictures of Hell have taken there influence and we also took a brief look into medieval life and the use of Hell there too. What I found fascinating was that they were the first to critically break down the myths of the Devil and his pitch fork and a place under the ground where naughty people go, but I wanted them to go deeper, i wasn’t planning on stopping there. So we went straight to question 3 and opened up dialogue about how we read the verses that use Hell for describing and criticizing. We looked at the original Hebrew and Greek words such as Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, etc and the way the people of Jesus’ time would have understood them. Then we unpacked the Context.

Context
The surrounding verses of a verse are what make the verse make sense. A lot of our understanding is taken from what one verse tells us. That’s OK, but it’s settling with half the story. We studied the verse on Hell using 3 simple rules:

  1. Who’s speaking?
  2. Who are they speaking to?
  3. What is the context in which they are speaking?

It is amazing how a verse makes much more sense in context, here’s an example:

Matthew 10:28 NIV

‘Do not be afraid of those kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.’

Nice and easy going verse ay? lets use our rules:

  1. Jesus is speaking
  2. He is speaking to believers, the 12 followers to be exact.
  3. The context (Verses 1- 42) he is telling them to not be afraid of people who are against them and who can kill them for what they are about to do. He makes the point that God is the one ‘who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ emphasis on destroy and the use of Hell is Gehenna (physical dumping ground where nothing can inhabit outside Jerusalem) . He also makes it clear that this is not a utopian idea that he is bringing but something that will break through even family ties (It’s pretty heavy stuff).

This is just one example and i’d be shooting myself in the foot if i then said this is our definition of Hell, we don’t need to read any of the other verses. But what this does show is that there are verses (this is among many) that speak of Hell (in this circumstance Gehenna) of which there is no eternal punishment, it just destroys and ends! Shock horror! But what does this mean for our theology on Hell? how does this fit into the bigger picture? Now telling you my opinion takes the wrestling with God away from you which doesn’t help you at all. But I will say this.

More then one word
Hell is more then just one word and it means a variety of things in context and in it’s original wording. If you take one verse out of context and put your own agenda on it, your not bringing the kingdom of God, your making your own religion. We have a collection of scriptures in the Bible that are around 2000 years old, so why do we settle with the images we are given from the middle ages interpretation? God surely still speaks to us right?!

Anyway, Here’s a bit of a challenge i will give you a some of the verses on hell and I want you to read them all using our rules above and without having a prepared answer in your mind from your up bringing that explains what is being described.

Gehenna Verses
Matt 5:21-25
Matt 10:28
Matt 23
Matt 23:33 (Geena – gay’ (Hebrew) – a valley, deep…)

Hades Verses
Luke 16:19
Acts 2

Tataroo Verse
2Peter 2 (Greek Hell)

Every Blessing,

J