This year I, along with many others, decided to throw myself into #God52, A series of weekly challenges, instigated by Martin Saunders, aimed at shaking me out of my little bubble and getting closer to God, and others, in the process. Check it out here.
I was excited to take part. I was excited to see how God might break into my comfortable little world.
Then Martin delivered the first challenge: radical generosity and I got scared. I started thinking of all sorts of excuses that would prevent me from having to give my time or money to other people: I don’t have any time to help people; my wife has just had a new baby and that needs to be my focus; We just have enough money to get by and giving more would put us into the red.
That familiar little voice in my head danced and laughed as I slowly resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t complete this challenge (and probably not any of the others). I felt defeated. I’d fallen at the first hurdle.
What was it that scared me so much? Why was my first reaction to doubt myself and spend time creating excuses not to participate? I realised that generosity scared me because it required me to invest time in others.
I remember being struck a few years ago about a fresh interpretation of the beatitudes.
“Blessed are those who mourn…”
I’d always found that saying odd. Why should anyone be happy when they mourn?
But in order to mourn, you have to have been close to something. If you mourn over someone, it means you invested time in them; you chose to give something of yourself to them. You can only mourn if you’ve chosen to step out of your little world and engage with something bigger than yourself.
It’s the same with generosity. In order to be generous, I have to connect with others. I have to put my interests behind the interests of others.
So I resolve to be radically generous this week. I resolve to enter into the lives of others. I resolve to follow the example of the Triune God: an ever-giving, ever-loving community.
Yesterday, the sermon at church was about discipleship, specifically around this passage in Luke 14:
“25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
The preacher said that your love and allegiance to Jesus must be above that of your family. He said it was that simple.
I don’t find that simple. I don’t think it’s that straightforward.
In two weeks, I’ll step down as youth worker of South Beach Baptist Church in Saltcoats and move my family three hours away to Preston where I’ll take up the position of youth minister at Hutton Grammar School. My last two weeks will involve a number of meetings where I seek to hand the work over as smoothly as possible to the youth work volunteers as the church is not seeking another full time youth worker for the time being.
I have many questions about moving away from the church. Is this God’s will? What about the young people who feel I am deserting them? Is this the right thing to do? How do you know if you’re following God’s will? Does God even have a plan for my life?
I know there are people in the church who will be quite happy that I am leaving; people that believe I am unbiblical. But there are also people who are really upset that I am going, including some of the young people. I know some of them think that I am abandoning them.
One of the older members of the congregation, who took the news quite hard, said to me, “well if you’re sure it’s Gods will for you…”
The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything from God on the matter.
Around Christmas time, a friend of mine said that there was a job coming up near where he worked that I should apply for. He is doing a similar job in a school and I saw how much he enjoyed it (and that the pay was really good too). So when it came up, I applied for it. There was no lightning bolt from God. No clear word that this was ‘right’ but I went for it and got it.
I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable doing church youth work as some of my theology is not ‘mainstream’ and I’ve had a lot of criticism for it. Also, church youth work does not pay that well either. The new job allows me to share my views without fear of judgement and gives our family financial security for the next few years.
So, I sat in church yesterday hearing that Jesus should be put first and I’m thinking, “well that’s all good in theory but does it work in practice?” It may have been Gods will for me to stay in the church (and get further into debt financially) but instead I’ve thought about my family and went for the better paid job. I’ll be honest. the wage was the reason I went for it in the first place. It’s the only reason I would move from Scotland to England; move away from the rest of my family and friends. Yes, the job will be challenging and exciting and play to my strengths but, first and foremost, it will provide for us as a family.
So I’m left wondering, am I putting Jesus first or my family first? Am I putting security and a ‘comfortable’ life over being a true disciple?
It’s a hard one isn’t it? It’s not the first time I’ve wrestled with this and it certainly won’t be the last.
On reflection, I guess this situation has taught me two things:
1) Trust. I have to trust that things will work out for my family as well as the church. In everything we do there is an element of trust that we are throwing out there and this situation is no different. I have to trust God. I have to trust those that have been left with the youth work.
2) I really don’t like pithy statements about faith. It’s easy to say you should love God more than your family but it’s far more difficult to know what that means in practice. Let’s not pretend that things are that easy. Life is complicated. Decisions and motives are complicated.
Do you agree? Surely I’m not the only one who thinks like this?
One of my final preaching opportunities at the church I currently work for (I am finishing up as youth worker there on the 19th of August) is on the 22nd of July where I will be speaking at both the morning and evening services.
In the morning I have chosen to speak on “the (re)newed heaven and earth of Revelation 22 as a symbol of hope in a hope-less world; the title being “God is not finished with you yet”.
I want to to tell a number of ‘hopeful’ stories during my sermon. For example, I’m going to share this story which I read in ‘the week’ this morning:
“when barry eastwood fell over on his way out of a bank in manchester, sending £1000 in cash flying off in the wind, he didn’t expect to retrieve it- especially when a crowd of youths began grabbing the £20 notes. the 54-year-old told his son to find what he could, and went to recover in his car. But then a young man came over and thrust a handful of notes through the window. Another followed…By the end, all but £20 of his £1000 had been returned”.
It’s a great story of hope but one with a challenge. This story challenges our view of young people.
Hope challenges our view of how things are. Hope has to be worked out, by us, in reality.
So, here’s where I need some help. I’m looking for other stories to use in the sermon.
Do you have any stories of hope that I can share? Any stories that bring hope but challenge you on your outlook of things?
I’d be most grateful if you did.
- Moving On (smoorns.wordpress.com)
“Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37
Odd words I’ve always thought. Until recently.
Here is our three year old (four tomorrow!) son, Owen. He, like I imagine most pre-schoolers is incredibly inquisitive.
Yesterday he asked me if he could play the PS3. I told him that maybe he could play it after lunch. He replied, “Yes or no daddy. Yes or no?“.
Maybe is not a word he understands. Or perhaps its a word he doesn’t want to understand. He wants a yes or no answer. He wants assurance either way. It made me realize that I use ‘maybe’ a lot.
For me, using the word ‘maybe’ is a way of saying ‘no’ without actually saying it. It’s like I dance around the word ‘no’ but feel better because I’m not actually telling my son that he can’t do something. Even though that’s what I am really getting at.
Saying ‘maybe’ is not telling the truth. Jesus declares the devil to be the father of lies. So saying anything other than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does come from him.
We beat around the bush too often. We’re not honest with people enough. About anything.
My son has taught me that I should be. If I’m not going to let him do something, I need to tell him that. I need to show him that being honest is important. That being honest is a virtue we should all ascribe to.
In the youth work I do, I should be honest when young people ask me if we’re going to do this or that. I shouldn’t say ‘maybe’. Because ‘maybe’ isn’t really saying anything to them. It might make me feel better but I that’s not what it’s about.
Let’s get rid of the maybes in this world and start saying what we really mean. Let our yes mean yes and our no mean no.
I wrote a whole post answering whether I felt the youth work I have been involved in over the last two years has been successful. I got to the end of the post, read it back and deleted it.
Something didn’t seem right about it.
And the truth is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Christian youth work. Yes we can use the questions I proposed in the last post and (kind of) measure if the young people we are working with are developing, moving on, making christ-like decisions but I’m not sure that’s the point.
I guess it depends on the type of work you’re involved in. When I think about our youth fellowship and our house groups, it is hard to evaluate them.
I look at the work that Jesus was involved in. He got to the end of his two/ three years (there’s debate as to how long it actually was) and what had he achieved? If we evaluate the work, what had he really done? The twelve he had worked with had mostly deserted him. On the face of it, that looks pretty poor. If in two months, when I move on from the church, there are no young people there to say goodbye, no young people left in the church, I’ll feel like I’ve failed.
I wonder what Jesus thought as he hung there on the cross. I wonder what he thought of his work?
I worry about the work I’m leaving behind. I worry about the young people. I worry about the church.
But at some point, I just have to trust. I have to trust that God is not finished with him. I have to tell myself that “I’m not Jesus”. I’m not their saviour. I guess that’s why I started writing about evaluation in the first place. I was scared that maybe I’d achieved nothing. That everything I’d done had been for nothing.
And without God, it would all be for nothing.
But there’s God. And I need to trust in that.
- Success in Youth Work (smoorns.wordpress.com)
How do you measure success in Christian youth work?
It’s a difficult question isn’t it?
I’m finishing up as youth worker for South Beach Baptist Church in two months and so I’ve been reflecting on these questions. Sometimes reflecting on how successful your youth work has been is like reflecting on whether you’re a good parent. ie it’s difficult.
One day things can be going great and the young people seem to be connecting but then the following day they have completely changed. It’s as if the Body snatchers have come and switched them.
(youth work) has three main goals. To increase the ability of young people to:
- identify and develop their capacities- physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social and emotional;
- identify and accept their responsibilities, as individuals, citizens, group members;
- evaluate the contexts in which they live and act accordingly.
Success in Christian youth work, I believe, can be measured in this way:
Are your young people becoming more Christ-like? Are they, by their words and actions, reflecting the character of Jesus? And do they own that christ-likeness? Does their faith depend on you being there to teach them?
That in essence, in my opinion, is how success in Christian youth work should be measured.
In my next post I’ll talk about whether I feel I have been successful in my time at the church.
Thoughts? Do you agree or have I missed something vital?
I watched “Alien” for the first time on Monday night. I really enjoyed it.
I had tried to watch it a few years ago but, from what I remember, it was pretty late and I got bored and decided to go to bed instead.
Our enjoyment of a film is entirely relative. It is based on a whole number of factors: time of day, how the day has been, how we’re feeling etc. The first time I attempted to watch “Alien” it was late and I was tired so I found the film boring. When I watched it this week, I didn’t find it boring. There is no objective way to watch “Alien”. It is based entirely on our subjective viewing of it.
There are many films that i can watch at one time or another and not enjoy, then watch it at another time and really enjoy.
I would argue that most of our life is based on our subjective readings. I don’t think that’s a new or radical idea. But I think to be aware of it, changes everything.
As a christian, my experience of God, the bible and faith in its entirety is subjective. I believe that God is an objective reality but I view God subjectively. The writers of the bible wrote subjectively about an objective God. We read the bible subjectively. We cannot read it objectively. Our reading of the bible is affected by how we are feeling that day, where we are born, our personality type etc etc.
Again, this is nothing new but I find it amazing how quickly many of us are to forget this.
The 5th commandment given to Moses on Sinai was:
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” or “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. A valid interpretation of the original hebrew would be “do not carry lightly the Lords name“.
When I was a child my view of God was affected by the boring church I was dragged to every Sunday morning and the boring talks of our school chaplain. They carried Gods name lightly. They told boring stories that bored all of us. Their theology may have been ‘right’ but it certainly was not captivating. As Christians, how we act and speak will influence the subjective viewing of God for others.
As a church youth worker, I may be the only ‘voice’ of God to the young people I encounter. How I speak of God will influence their view of God. How I treat them will influence their view of God. How I “carry Gods name” will affect how they view God. That’s a big responsibility.
Now we can hope and trust that God will use others to speak subjectively about the objective reality of God but that only helps to cleanse our conscience. That’s a ‘get out jail’ free card to make us feel better. We are the church. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the walking embodiment of the Eucharist.
How we carry the name of God, in word and actions, matter.
I wrote a blog post a few days ago that caused a bit of controversy on the comments and on twitter. read it here
One aspect of bible college that I really miss, and that I find in the blogging world, is that of discussion and debate. At bible college you can throw out an idea and people can grapple with it together. This is what happened with this post and it has resulted in me learning more about some of the nuances of original sin and I’d wanted to offer a follow up post.
(One helpful insight I have learned is that ‘original sin’ does not have to imply that we are all sinful because of what a ‘historical’ Adam did. This is helpful for me as I do not believe in a historical Adam.)
So here’s what i think.
I still do not believe that we all stand condemned from the point of birth. What I do believe is that we are born into a broken world because of the ‘sin’ of others. We have inherited those consequences. Because we live in a broken world, we ourselves are also broken because a) our world is not how it was intended to be and b) we are influenced by said world. We have the ability to live sinless lives (just as Jesus did) but on a daily basis, because of our brokenness, we choose to reject God through a number of actions.
And we cannot fix this problem by ourselves. It is not simply a matter of being better people. We need jesus. We need the cross. We need the wisdom of God. The cross is a symbol of God’s reuniting with people. It is God bending down and embracing our brokenness (not just us personally but the entire created world) so that we may become whole again.
So that’s where I stand. It is a nuanced belief and the main difference for me between my view and a more conservative evangelical view is from birth I would define humanity as ‘broken’ rather than ‘guilty’.
This is still only the beginning of the discussion for me and I hope to hear other peoples responses.
This is now my fourth post dissecting the film, “Cabin in the Woods“.
For a film I rated three stars, it really has taken up a lot of my time. And I always knew that would be the case.
What the film tries to do is be a dissertation on horror movies whilst still being a horror movie itself. I think Joss Whedon (co-writer) and Drew Goddard (co-writer/director) do an amiable job and I praise them for taking a shot at something really different but like a dissertation paper, it all feels a little too academic.
In my previous posts I discussed the connection between the film and the concept of the atonement and its connection with ‘the hunger games’. In this post I wish to discuss the film and its connect with the theology of ‘thin places’. Like all the previous posts, this will contain SPOILERS.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
There are numerous accounts in the Old Testament where Heaven seems to invade earth. One of the most famous is when Moses encounters God in a bush in Exodus chapter 3. In the Jewish tradition, Moses built a tabernacle that claimed to hold the very presence of God. Later, King Solomon built a Temple (a large scale tabernacle) where it was believed that, in the very centre of the temple (the holy of holies), Heaven invaded earth. The Priest could enter through the curtain and come face to face with the living God. When Jesus was crucified, the gospels record that the curtain was torn in two as a sign that Heaven has now broken out on earth.
There have been times in my own life, where like Moses, it felt like the ground I stood on was holy. That in that moment I encountered another world; that for a brief second i was able to, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,
“fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I believe that the mythology of “Cabin in the Woods” also includes this concept. The cabin is the ‘thin place’ where the physical world and the spiritual world collide. It is where the doors open and the creatures and beasts of the spiritual world are unleashed into the physical world. The film conveys that there are ‘thin places’ all over the world where these two worlds collide.
In the film, only ‘Marty’ realises that the cabin is a ‘thin place’. The rest are oblivious. I believe that in our own lives, we can be so focused on the day to day things that we miss the thin places in our lives. Jesus talk his disciples to pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.
In that simple prayer, he was showing the disciples that they need to take their eyes off of their lives and open themselves up to the bigger picture. It’s the same with us. If we focus all our attention on our own lives then we miss out on what God is doing, and in some way prevent the Kingdom of Heaven from expanding. There are times when instead of advancing the Kingdom of Heaven, through our words and actions we actually advance the dominion of Hell. When we lie, cheat, steal, horde and oppress, we force the Kingdom of Heaven to retreat.
Here are some questions to explore with the young people you work with who have seen the film?
1) Have you ever encountered a ‘thin place’ where there seemed to be more going on that what you could see? Where things felt differently?
2) What stops you encountering these places more often?
3) What can we do practically to see the Kingdom of Heaven spread wider?