Category Archives: Reflections

Two Kinds of Heretics

Speech bubbles for Right and WrongI have been pondering for a while on why there seems to be only two options for talking about theology/Church/life/faith/God/Jesus in the public sphere.  Maybe it’s that these are the loudest voices and the rest just dont bother. Or is it that there are only two main options?  I’m talking about the clash between liberal and conservative that alwasy seems to lurk around any corner of social midea for most Christians. I came accross an interesting article today that i feel expresses a little of what i feel.  Frankly, they both make me uncomfortable and i can’t identify with either. i want to explore this more on here at another time but for now i’ll just share this link and leave you with my main questions which is, “Is there a third way?”

 

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Live like God isn’t watching

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What if as Christians we lived life more like God isn’t watching?

 

I was listening to “Can’t hold us” by Macklemore today and I heard a line that echoes a sentiment that I have heard in a hundred different songs.

 

“Raise those hands, this is our party. We came here to live life like nobody was watching.”

 

This idea of living life like no one is watching is such a captivating idea for so many people. It’s the sense of freedom to be who I want to be without the consequence of other people judging me. It’s the idea that I don’t need to be afraid of my flaws and the things that I am embarrassed of in myself because no one is watching. It’s about finding who I really am and letting it out and being proud of it.

 

As Christians we grow up with a looming sense of God watching us.  Even if it isn’t something that is preached from the front of a church, we still have a strong image of God as someone who is watching us, judging us, scrutinizing our behavior. When we do something wrong we feel like God disapproves, when we think we are being a good Christian we feel like God is more pleased with us. How much of our Christian life and conduct is lived out of a sense of God watching us – God on the outside looking down and critiquing our lives as we live them out?

 

What if we instead lived our lives like God was not watching? What if we chose not to base our decisions in life on whether God would approve or not?

 

What if our life was directed by something not outside of us, but something that was at the very core of who we are? What if our lives were not directed by a sense of God looking down on us and disapproving or approving our thoughts and actions; but instead started living out of a sense of God being the one who animates our life?

 

The One who helps us stand up and be proud of who we are. The One who gives us conviction and hope to live by. The One who makes life so beautiful and rich and diverse. The One who gives us the courage and freedom and sense of self to dance like no one is watching.

 

 

This, I think, is how God wants to be involved in our lives.

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The danger of affirming words

1337706956_WordsAre our encouraging words harming the teenagers under our care?

 In my last post I talked about the important role our words of affirmation play in the development of the teenagers in our care. I talked about how young people have too many voices speaking into their lives and how we need to provide a more impacting voice that speaks a deeper truth.

 But was I wrong?

 In “The Godbearing Life – the art of soul-tending for youth ministry” Kenda Creasy Dean & Ron Foster (p.65) talk about the dangers of affirmation. When comparing our affirmation to the story of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce her role in the incarnation of Christ in Luke 1:28, they say that

 “The danger comes when we stop with Gabriel’s opening line (greetings, you who are highly favoured) and fail to deliver God’s message in full. Right on the heels of God’s affirmation comes God’s invitation and expectation. Despite all the positive messages we send to our youth, affirmation without invitation or expectation subtly tells teenagers “We don’t really expect much of you or ourselves because God loves us no matter what”. In the face of abject rejection, anonymity, and powerlessness our words “you’re great”, “you’re special”, “you can do anything” ring hollow to suffering youth who simply conclude ‘grown-ups lie’.”

 How often have you been guilty of this: affirming a young person with hollow words, without following through with invitation and expectation to live out the affirming reality we see in them?

 When we fail to follow through with our affirmation, we run the danger of falling into a ministry of feeding a young person’s narcissism. We build up their ego without building their character. We give them lots of fluff about how great they are without actually helping them to live out that greatness and help them see it for themselves.

 

If all we give teenagers are nice words of encouragement, are we actually setting them up for a fall? 

 But it’s more than that as well.

 God created the young people under your care for more than feeling good about themselves and having a good self esteem. He created them to accomplish great things. He calls them into his ongoing redemption of the world.

 If we simply encourage teens and help them see the potential that is in them but don’t direct that potential with an invitation and a challenge, we leave open the possibility that this potential be directed in any manner of ways, sometimes with dire consequences.

 God created us for a reason, there is intention in his creation of young people. There is an invitation in knowing Christ, an expectation to live out – in all its fullness – who God made us to be. If we encourage kids without inviting them into this new way of living, we are simply setting them up with over-inflated egos that will either be expended in selfish and hurtful ways or, even worse, never really amount to anything, which will render our words empty.

 

How can you not only speak new life, but also invite young people to live this new life?

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The true power of the Cross: Giving students a stronger foundation

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I am gaining a new understanding of the power of the cross this Easter, and it is desperately something I want to pass onto the teens in our youth ministry. Something that I believe will prevent some of them walking away from their faith.

Now, when I say “power of the cross” what do I actually mean by this loaded Christian word? It’s this strange thing that us Christian understand about good coming from suffering, about life coming from death. This is why we call it Good Friday right?

Now, this is a pretty standard line of thinking in Christian circles. “Out of the hardest of times and the greatest of sufferings God can bring life and peace and something new. This is the power of the cross. This in itself is an idea that has so much power to change us and challenge us if we were to simply sit with it and think about the implication it has in our life.

But this Easter God is taking me one step further than this. But before we go there let me just jump back to the last point.

WHERE IS GOD IN MY SUFFERING?

One of the questions I hear teens express most often is this one. “Where was God when this was happening” and its cousin questions “if God loves me, why did God let this happen”. These questions get asked time and time again. I have seen teens leave our ministry and give up on their faith because of questions like this.

We need to be talking about this in your ministry, this needs to be on your radar. However this is another discussion for another post. What I really want to talk about today takes this thought a step further,  to a question gets to the heart of this topic. It confronts the deeper theology behind this conversation and maybe reveals why this conversation can sometimes be shallow and lacking in dealing with the reality of life for the teenagers we are working with?

The greater questions is

WHERE IS GOD IN MY SIN?

I have professed with my mouth for many years the fact that God is over everything and is in everything. God is always present. God is a part of every situation and every moment. This is the thinking that so heavily influences the understanding that God is present in my suffering, ready to do something good there.

But I am starting to see that I actually haven’t always believed that.  What I have actually believed is something different.  I have always maybe subconsciously believed that God is present in almost every part of my life, except when I am in the middle of sin. In those moments I suppose I felt like I had turned my back on God, and so God needed to wait until I was done and turned back around to him that he could come and redeem that moment. My thinking was actually that God was present in every situation in my life, except for the ones where I ignored him or turned my back or worked against his will for me. In these moments, God grace and goodness and power were not present.

However, if I truly believe that God is all powerful and all present in every moment of life. Then where is God in the middle of my sin? This is a question we need to ask ourselves and help our young people explore.

This understanding that God cannot be present in my sin is why you hear so many young people say “but God could never love me after what I have done”. I was always baffled by kids who said that because I thought “well. God just loves you, deal with it”. But now I understand. They are so caught up in their life of sin that they can’t see any way for God to be present in it because God is the opposite of Sin, and where sin is, God is not.

But if we truly believe that the earth is the lords and everything in it – Psalm 24:1

If we really believe that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God – Romans 8:28

If we really believe that God is present in every situation, willing to redeem it and grow something beautiful out of it, then we need to believe that God is present with his goodness in the middle of our sinful acts. Think about that for a while. God’s goodness and grace, present and working as you are sinning.

When you ponder on this, it is truly an incredible thought. Suddenly my sinful acts lose their power over me. They are not as strong and dark as I thought they were. Now that I understand that God is there redeeming me right in the midst of my rebellion against him, suddenly his power grows and the power of my sin weakens.

How, can we help young people break out of this understanding that God is only present in my life when I am doing good, when I have it all together and he is somewhere else when I am being Bad? This is toxic thinking and will be a shaking foundation for a young person’s faith.

How can we help them see God in the midst of their sin? Not just their suffering. How can we help them experience God right there is that moment. How can we help loosen the power of sin in their lives and reveal to them the power of God over every situation they find themselves in and the situations they create for themselves?

HOW CAN WE HELP THEM EXPERIENCE THE TRUE POWER OF THE CROSS?

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Stick around long enough and you will fail

I am being haunted by the feeling of failure.

When i first felt the call into youth ministry, it came out of a deep longing for the church to do youth ministry better than it was at the time. i felt that God had called me into the church to make a difference. to help it be more effective at youth ministry. maybe this is arrogant or naive but still it was my heart and and still is.

As i come to the end of my forth full year in my current role. i am starting to see the cracks in the ministry that i have built up. i’m starting to see that things are not as i would like them to be. this ministry that i have created is starting to show signs of failure.

I have this overwhelming feeling that i have simply created another ineffective youth ministry like all the ones i vowed to revolutionist. that instead of changing the church, i have been sucked into it way of doing things.

I am seeing Students that were on fire for Christ 6 months ago, walking away from their faith.

I am seeing Students who are passionate and committed going elsewhere to get spiritual fed.

I am seeing kids that I have poured my life into, simple give up and walk away and look for life elsewhere.

and this all hurts me terribly.

many people in youth ministry only stick around for 3 years or even less. just enough time to make something amazing, feel really good about it and then move on. if i left after three years i would have been so happy with the revolutionary ministry i has built. but i stuck around to see at all start to fall apart and reveal itself and something much less.

maybe this is the only way we can grow in ministry. to stick around long enough to fail. after four year you start to see your own shortcomings in your ministry and in your leadership team. you start to see the long term fruit of what your doing and if it is fruit that will last or fruit that withers.

I believe that this is one of the reasons why we should aim to stick around in ministry. so we can see our own effort fail and then learn and grow. to see what we do wrong and then work toward fixing it. learning all the more along the way. what will we learn if we don’t stick around for this season of ministry?

don’t get me wrong. God has done heaps of group stuff and there are stacks of amazing teens who love Jesus and will continue too.  but the cracks have shown themselves. a number of students have left and i feel like i have failed them because i can see that i didn’t do things as well as i could have.  i was to busy running programs to really nurture faith. to create a culturing my leaders that nurtures faith.

That is a wake up call for me. a call to get back to the heart of God and his intention for ministry and his heart for Students. at the moment this journey hurts but i feel that God may be at work here as well.

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A year of very much and very little

So this year has been busy. Not only have i been working full time and probably taking on to much responsibility but also i have been studying on the side as well which has taken me out of ministry for another solid month. So to say that i am worn out is an understatement.

here is the thing. I thought i was doing it for God. I thought i was glorifying God through all my busy work. I thought that if i didn’t do it God couldn’t work in students lives. I was doing lots of ministry and programs and events that other people looked at and Said “WOW, your doing such a good job tom”. this is what i was feeding of. only now as i come to the end of the year am i starting to realize how little my “so much” has produced. maybe in Man’s eyes it is amazing and a good effort but for the Kingdom, i have my doubts. Sure God has used it, but i can see the cracks as well.

In trying to “do everything” for God, i am starting to realize that i have done very little.

I have been to busy to catch up and care for my leaders.

I have been to busy to spend that time listening and caring for students

I have been to busy to walk with new Christian and help them grow a solid foundation in Christ

I have been to busy to care for my own spiritual welbeing

I have neglected the core things of Christ to pursue to big things of Man. I have chased after my own need to achieve and do a good Job and have others approve, that i have made myself too busy to simply nurture souls.and this is the core of youth ministry.

you see, the nurture of souls is not something that can be measured with key performance indicators. It isn’t evident in any big and flashy way. It cant be seen with a big event and it’s not something i can easily get up in from of people an say “look at this, this is what i have done”.  It’s life, it’s the simplicity of being alongside kids as they navigate life. Equipping them with spiritual tools to help them along the way and grow them closer to God. sometimes this work takes forever to bear fruit, to even be sure if you are making a difference.

As 2011 comes to a close i realize that i have committed the number one youth ministry sin. i have run events and programs at the expense of being with people and helping them know and grow in God.

How did i ever get here?

Easy really.

1) I thought i has the skills and knowledge to do good ministry (instead of relying always on the spirit working in me).

2) I thought that the more “I” did the more God could work through all these great things. but in fact, the less i do, the more i must turn myself and the people I’m working with towards God.

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Being busy for Jesus is still a sin

It’s it funny how things strike us. how something that now seems so obvious come as a surprise when the voice of God confronts us. i was at the end of a very busy few weeks, or months you could say. however my devotional time had been lacking and i hadn’t spent any decent time with God in a few weeks.

i got up early in the morning to get back into it (not that early really) and i sat down and started by apologizing to god for not having the time for him over the last couple weeks. it went something like this, “I’m so sorry God that i haven’t had much time for you recently, it’s just that i have been doing this mission trip and this church event, and this youth camp and ……..” before i could finish the list in my head i was interrupted by a strong and confronting thought. in the middle of me making excused for not being with God, God interrupted me and clearly said “your being busy working for me, is not an excuse for you Sin of neglecting me”.

Wow, i was taken aback. God’s rebuke was so strong and sure that in a flash he had revealed what was really going on. here i was trying to pretend that i was being all holy and important in serving him, but the reality was that i was being busy propping up my self worth and reputation. God never called me to be busy, he never asked me to fill up me weeks so much that i don’t even have time to be with him.

i had forgotten that this is Gods first and most important call on my life. to be with him.everything else is secondary. in Matthew 7 22-23  Jesus says “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

WOW

just because i do things for Jesus doesn’t mean that i know him. in fact, the heart of Jesus and what he requires of us is to know him. that’s it. First and foremost before anything else Jesus wants us to know him.  Don’t ever let your doing things for God substitute your being with God. they are not the same, not even close

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