HAEMORRHAGING FAITH 2015 // DAY 2 //

Yesterday, I recapped the first day of the Haemorrhaging Faith conference which has been running in Melbourne this week.

The first day of the conference was spent wrestling with the data of the Haemorrhaging Faith study and whether it was true in an Australian context, whereas the second day was a focused response to finding stepping stones for churches and ministries to start to transfuse life into the Australian church.

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How do we move forward in a landscape where teenagers and young adults are leaving the church? Many of us have preached that faith is personal, but it has been picked up to the point that many people have made a distinction between Jesus and his church.  The church has not done a good job presenting our faith as one that is attached to a ‘body’ that impacts everyone.

Furthermore, there was also a very real experience for many young adults of an unexperienced God, unanswered prayers and unfelt presence of the Holy Spirit. What do we do with these experiences and all of this data? 

// KEYNOTE 4 – DAVE OVERHOLT // 

How do we respond to the research. Out of the 2000+ responses completed, researchers discovered four common barriers to church attendance and the factors that motivate Engagers to attend and grow in their faith.

PARENTS: ENGAGED OR DISENGAGED?

The faith commitment of parents has an enormous impact on the faith and church participation of their children. If parents attend church but don’t model what they believe, it is far more likely that children will not take part in church when they grow up.

If parents prayed more than just at meals, talked freely about their faith and the bible, served together at church, worshipped openly and could wrestle with tough questions, the children were more likely to live their faith out and attend church in their adult years.  Most Engagers had parents with high levels of spiritual disciplines. 

ACTION POINTS

  • Equip Parents: If we care about our young people, we need to create and take ministry to parents very seriously, encouraging them to model their faith at home. There are two reasons that parents fail to disciple thier children, lack of time and lack of training (Timothy Paul Jones). Churches, don’t let lack of training be an issue. Disciple your parents.  
  • Pray First: Whenever there is a time of stress, anxiety, pain, celebration or joy pray first. Make sure that the first response is to pray, whether that is in response to good news or bad news so that youth can see we believe that God is moving.
  • Email Out: During the week, email parents associated with your ministry all the positive things that are going on, how god is moving in their teenagers and questions to ask them that go beyond ‘how was church‘. Set parents up for the win, and everyone wins.
  • Mentoring: The reality is that many students grow up without Christian parents. Mentoring becomes key, the need to see real faith lived out, outside of programs and church is huge. Involve key secondary adults into teenagers lives.

GOD: EXPERIENCED OR UNEXPERIENCED?

Dave put forward that this generation recognizes truth from their experiences. If they don’t experience God, then for them, he does not exist. For many, God did not exist because he did not answer their prayers as expected. This was particularly true when the young adult had experienced relatives dying or friends who had committed suicide. Their perception was that God had not come to the rescue. 

ACTION POINTS

  • Write Down Prayers I think this is a great point. Encourage students to write down their prayers so that when they look back, they can clearly see how God is moving and working. God doesn’t just answer prayers positively, he can also answer them negatively. Celebrate when you can see God moving. 
  • Make Sure You Tackle Problems: Dave encouraged every ministry to have at least one night every year, if not more when you tackled the issue of ‘When God Seems Like He Is Not There”.  It’s important that students know that God doesn’t have to be felt to be followed. I’ve tackled this before here if you wanted some starters.
  • Encouragement Circles: In your ministries, have an encouragement circle where you share how you see God moving in your life and in the life of others
  • Ask Better Questions: Rather than asking the typical questions, like how your relationship with God is going, ask deeper questions. How are you being faithful to God? How do you see God moving? How is God being faithful to you? 

COMMUNITY: ALIVE OR DEAD?

For many teenagers, God is not the problem, it’s the community of believers. Young adults have grown up with friendship and intimacy as some of their top values and if the community of faith falls short, it is proof that the church is not for them.

Young adults see hypocrisy and being inauthentic  as a sign of a dead or dying community. They know we are not perfect, but if we make a mistake, we need to admit it and apologize. Many young adults felt like there was no place for them. There were no places for them to get involved and in many churches, it would take a short lifetime to gain the trust to do any significant ministry there.

This is huge, because Dave hasn’t seen anyone keep an alive faith without being connected to an alive community.

ACTION POINTS

  • Create Culture of Acceptance + Vulnerability: Work with influence leaders in the group to grow them in the areas of acceptance, vulnerability and purpose. Deal quickly with abuses of these values. Share life stories of your people that build up these values.
  • Have Young People In Places of Significant: The front of church is a place of power. Ensure you have teens and young adults in the front of the congregation engaged in significant ministry. Young adults need to see that they can be used in ministry and are valued. Get at least one teenager to do something significant in church every week.
  • Build Cross-Generational Relationships: Have prayer partners where older members in the church pray for younger members. Introduce your youth to people who have been faithful for more than ten or twenty years. Get mature disciples to tell their stories.
  • Actually Like Your Church: Dave asked a really good questions,  would you attend your church if you weren’t paid to be there. Young people see hypocrisy, and if you don’t want to be there, why should they? Make your community somewhere that you would actually want to be if you didn’t have a job there.

TEACHING: EMPOWERING OR RESTRICTIVE?

Many young adults leave the church because they believe that what the church preaches is repressive and behind the times. There are several topics that young adults feel the church is being left behind on.

These include topics such as, but are not limited to:

  • Sex
  • Porn
  • Marriage
  • Homosexuality
  • Gender Roles
  • Post Modernism
  • Ultimate Truth

Unfortunately, the church has recognized that people disagree with them and in many instances, shied away from confronting them head on. Young adults want the church to say what it means, and mean what it says. They also want teaching to have a real-life application, something to actually help you live out your life today. Stories with real life scenarios are a reason to come back to church.

ACTION POINTS

  • Talk About Tough Topics: Own what you believe, say it with grace and conviction and allow for true debate and discussions. Don’t shy away from difficult subjects just because some people will disagree.
  • Applications: Ensure that your messages have specific actions to tack. If, at the end of your talk, someone can still ask “How do I do this?” you have not applied it.
  • Questions are King: Have a number or system by which people can text in their questions to be asked. Sermons are fantastic conversations starters and can lead to deep one on one conversations.

// KEYNOTE FIVE – DAVE MIERS//

The keynotes ended with City On A Hill Pastor and prolific blogger, Dave Miers encouraging us in a landscape of haemorrhaging faith to keep the gospel on repeat. Here are some of the main points:

The first two missionaries to the islands of Vanuatu, within minutes of getting off the boat had been clubbed, boiled and eaten alive.  In the years that followed, there were many missionaries who went to talk about Jesus. More missionaries died, and yet that collection of islands is now dubbed by the Lonely Planet as the happiest place on earth.

Due to the work of missionaries who gave their life for the nation of Vanuatu, the vast majority of people in Vanuatu are now Christians. The great danger for Vanuatu is no longer whether you will be eaten or not for preaching Jesus, the great danger is that complacent cultural Christianity will move into their landscape like it has so many others.

How does complacent cultural Christianity arise? 

  • Generation one preaches the gospel
  • Generation two assumes the gospel
  • Generation three neglects the gospel
  • Generation four denies the gospel 

In a constantly moving faith landscape, how we do we avoid losing the gospel?

KEEP THE GOSPEL ON REPEAT

Christianity is not about new things, new ways or new ideas. It’s about rehearsing and going back to the old things again and again. There is not a soul in the world who doesn’t need to hear the message of the gospel. 

In the midst of all this bad news, it would be a tragedy to forget THE good news. In our desire for a silver bullet to fix our churches, fix our youth ministries .. we need to know that in the gospel God has given us everything we need.

What is the gospel? 

  1. That Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture.
  2. That he was buried
  3. That he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
  4. That Jesus is alive!

The message of Christianity is not a philosophy for living, it is a message about Jesus and the events surrounding him that happened in history in front of many eye witnesses, that happened in accordance with the scriptures that prophesied that he could come and be pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 52:5) and that he would rise again, defeating sin and assuring our salvation.

Do not fall into complacent cultural Christianity. Keep the gospel on repeat, for the gospel cannot be preached enough, heard enough, grasped well enough. Our primary task as ministers of the word is to keep the gospel on repeat.

We are only one generation away from denying or rejecting the gospel, but we are also only one generation away from changing the entire world. 

KEEP THE GOSPEL ON REPEAT.

Those are my reflections on the second day of the Haemorrhaging Faith conference 2015 in Melbourne.

HAEMORRHAGING FAITH 2015 // DAY 1 //

The Haemorrhaging Faith Conference has been run over the last two days. Inspired by Dave Miers, I’ll be writing a few blog posts across the two days summarizing some of key content and one responding to the content.

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Not only does the conference give an excellent opportunity to network and talk with some of the best youth pastors in Melbourne, but has a vital topic in “revealing important research into why youth and young adults are leaving the church and what we can do to arrest that trend”.

Haemorrhaging Faith started as a sociological study in Canada which investigated why young people raised in the church decide to either continue in their faith, or leave the church. Dave Overholt is one of the lead minds behind the study and was taking the keynote presentations during the day, alongside Rowan Lewis and Dave Miers from Australia responding to the content.

Here is my summary of the keynotes for anyone interested in youth ministry, research and the church.

//KEYNOTE 1 – DAVE OVERHOLT//

Currently, 12% of Australians and Canadians go to church two or more times per month. That means that Canada and Australia are closer together than for instance, America, where almost 30-35% of the population attends church two times or more per month.

Whilst this statistic is fairly constant, faith in teenagers is slowly fading away across both nations with statisticians recording ‘under representation’ of teenagers and young adults in comparison to the general population. This is especially problematic because youth ministry is one of the key drivers for mission in the nation. Many small group leaders, campus pastors, worship leaders (etc) start off as youth group leaders or youth worship leaders in their youth groups.

The Youth and Young Adult Ministry Roundtable in Canada commissioned a report into why teenagers and young adults were leaving the church in Canada and some of the data that came out of that was fairly alarming. 

For people who grew up in the local church, by the age of 30 about 70% of them will have left the church. If they do not come back to the local church by the age of 35, they do not come back despite what a number of people expect. The number that comes back with their children is only 2%. One Anglican Bishop said that ‘my whole denomination is waiting for their congregation to come back .. and they are not’. 

Interestingly, different denominations had different figures of youth and young adults leaving. The Catholic Church recorded 80% of their students leaving and never returning, Mainline Churches (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian etc) recorded about 60% leaving and not returning whilst the Evangelical Church reported that only 30% of their students who would leave the church and never come back.

The Haemorrhaging Faith research interviewed 2,049 young people and identified four kinds of spiritual orientations in students and young adults. They are summarized below:

1. Engagers (23%)

Engagers are those who are active in the church and open to God

For the most part, rated very highly on various measurements of faith. Most attended church ‘weekly or more’ (71%). Almost all had personally experienced God’s love and believed that God answered their prayers (99%). Many strongly believed that they had experienced emotionally healing in the local church (79%) and most believed in heaven (97%) and hell (89%)

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • Roughly, 70% of all engagers are women.. why are so few men engaged?
  • Only one in five will read their bible regularly.. what is sustaining them?

2. Fence Sitters (36%)

The statistically largest group, tend to have religious affiliation but have not claimed it as their own. 

In the report, Fence Sitters did not come to a conclusive answer on many of their questions. They did not ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ on anything. Most of them say that they have experienced God through His love (67%) and answers to prayer (68%). Fewer have experienced a real inner change of emotional healing (22%). A large proportion find the lifestyle demands of the church unrealistic (66%)

In many of the Fence Sitters, there was a cynicism that had bubbled up, almost like they were saying that “Christianity overpomises and underdelivers”. 

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • 76% of Fence Sitters believe that attending church is hypocritical.. why is it that walking in the door is akin to subscribing to the churches beliefs?
  • Only 40% believe that leadership are able and willing to answer their questions about Christianity .. why is that?

3. Wanderers (26%)

Wanderers are those who have Christian heritage through being involved with the church as a child, but would not now describe themselves as Christian. 

Most of them do not attend church, think Christmas and Easter. Very few of the Wanderers have experienced God, even to a moderate degree (10%). The same is true with experiencing any answers to prayer.  12% of Wanderers believe in a literal hell.  Most of the Wanderers believe that the churches lifestyle demands are wholly unrealistic (89%) and that attending church would be hypocritical (93%). Most (67%) believe that the Church is not making a difference in the community.

In general, the Wanderers do not consider themselves Christians. They do not attend church and cannot remember experiencing God.

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • Wanderers experienced almost a 60% drop on experiencing God through His love or through answered prayer when compared to Fence Sitters .. why is that?
  • 14% of Wanderers believe that Church Leadership can help them with their toughest questions .. how can we get better at this? How can we know their questions?

4. Rejecters (15%)

Where Wanderers have a positive view of Christianity despite not being Christians, Rejectors have a strongly negative view of the church and have completely rejected the church. This group is mainly made up of Atheist, No Religion and Agnostic people. 

Most of them strongly disagree that they have experienced God (87%) and most strongly disagree that they have ever had an answered prayer (88%). Most strongly disagree that they have received any kind of emotional healing through the church (93%). Rejecters don’t believe in heaven (94%) or hell (99%) or that right or wrong is a personal opinion (66% agree) and the lifestyle demands of the Church are unrealistic (86%).

INTERESTING STATS + QUESTIONS?

  • 51% of Rejecters feel that their contribution to the church went unappreciated .. how can we make youth feel significant at church?
  • Many of the Rejecters had personal reasons for leaving the church (youth pastor had an affair, grandma died when I prayed for healing etc) .. how can we sit with them through this pain?

// KEYNOTE TWO – DAVE OVERHOLT //

What were some of the surprises of the Haemorrhaging Faith research?

Researchers discovered that the greatest drop in students losing their faith was between primary school and high school, and all noted drop points were in times of transitions. Dave noted that of all things, transitions should be of utmost importance in helping the faith of students.

Two types of key transitions were identified:

Grade Transitions

Simply put, between grades six and seven, and year 12 and university are some of the largest transitions where youth drop off. Early teenagers are establishing their autonomy from their parents and older teenagers are thinking about university and full-time work. How can we love them during this phase?

Staff Transitions

Youth Ministry is at the heart, a relational ministry. Youth workers and leaders build relationships with students and share the gospel and encourage each other on the marathon of faith. It’s no surprise then that when youth pastors (specifically) leave, that many of the students leave as well because the relationship that was pulling them in the youth ministry.

What were ways to slow down the ‘drop points‘ of transitions?

  • Build Anticipation

Make sure there is something to look forward to for your students. If they are receiving the exact same format time after time through children and youth, they have nothing to look forward to if they are not engaged. 

Dave mentioned ideas such as having a youth leadership team made up solely of students in year 10 and above, having a retreat for those in year 7 and year 8 and similar practices to build anticipation.

  • Reach Down One Grade Level

Help those who are in lower year levels by reaching down one grade level. Use your year 7+8+9’s to teach in children’s ministry so that when younger students get to high school, they already know a majority of those around them. It isn’t as intimidating to walk into a room when you know and like half the students there.

  • Ask Yourself The Question .. DOES IT WORK?

In a world where Google can give a million answers to questions, experience seems to trump rhetoric. How can we show the fruits of the spirit and the life change of faith to students so that they can experience it for themselves?

// KEYNOTE THREE – ROWAN LEWIS //

The question that Rowan Lewis wanted to answer during this keynote:  Is Australia haemorrhaging faith? 

Lewis thinks that we are.

Although there was not the exact kind of research in Australia, there have been major research projects in Australia that point to similar findings. Lewis noted that the kind of social changes in the first couple of years post high school, in sheer number of changes is only comparable to the two-year period that surrounds the arrival of a baby.

In both Canada and Australia, 12 and 18 are the major junction point for switching off or checking out of faith. Puberty starts at the age of 12, and 18 is post-high school.  We need to find better ways to deal with these ‘drop off points’.

Major Research Projects

There were two major research projects that Rowan referenced, although he noted more.

They were the Australian Youth Spirituality Survey by Phillip Hughes, and a book written thirty years ago called Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, by John Bodycomb (Thanks Bree!)

Throughout these research there was statistics that pointed to haemorrhaging faith in the Australian Church. 

  • 15-22 is the period of most involvement in church for students and young adults.
  • There is an increasing under-representation of individuals aged 15-39 in the Australian Church. This is a significant issue
  • There are 50,000 young people who drift away from the Christian faith annually
  • Over the course of 10 years, that rounds up to a missing 500,000 students who were Christians or had Christian heritage.
  • 80% of young adults are congregating in 20% of churches.

Rowan then asked the question about how to appropriate the Haemorrhaging Faith research in an Australian context? 

Rowan pushed back on some of the research, noting that the grouping can actually have a self-fulfilling prophecy of pushing lost faith onto searching teens if you categorize people like that.

Words that would describe the Engagers include phrases such as faithful, disciples and saved whilst words used to describe Fence-Sitters, Wandereres and Rejecters would include phrases such as backsliders, unfaithful, unsaved, lost and sinners. The words we use to describe them can be of huge importance in how they feel about themselves and how we view them.

Rowan ended asking: are we sure that the engagers the ones who are close and the rest further away from the cross?

Interesting day and a lot of food for thought. I will summarize and post day 2 tomorrow and then post some of my own thoughts and response on Friday. 

Our First Year of Marriage: What We Learnt (a lot)

It’s almost been a whole year since Sarah and myself got married. We thought it would be useful to reflect on what we’ve learnt in our first year of being husband and wife and share it with you, as there are so many friends of ours who have recently been or soon will be married.. There is so much more to learn, yet I feel like we’ve gained so much in such a short space of time.

sarahandjimmy marriage

We had not lived together before we got married, so there was plenty of change for our relationship. They say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but for some reasons, this hasn’t been the case for us. This is not to say we haven’t had a tough year, but it has been less difficult than we anticipated, relationally. Amongst all the chaos that life brings, it is important to stop and reflect on the fact that we are not who we once were, nor are we who we will be in a year’s time.

We decided early on in our dating relationship that we wanted our friendship to be the most important thing. We did our best to create a solid foundation for our relationship, anchoring it in our faith in Jesus, with his mission in mind. Part of this mission, we have realised, is learning to love one another like he loved us. However, when you have two people who are, by default, concerned with their own wants and needs this can get tricky. When sin entered the world, it broke everything, including relationships between people. This is no different once you get married. If anything, once you get married, you get to see more fo the flaws in yourself and your partner because you spend so much time with them

We wanted to share what we’ve learnt over the last year.

Little things can really add up

Jimmy: “I’m constantly surprised by how much little things matter over a long period. I mean, everyone tells you that the little things matter but it’s not until you see it in action that you finally go, ‘Ohhh, that’s why everyone says that‘. Example, Sarah really, really appreciates it when I give her undivided attention as soon as she comes home, not 10 minutes after she comes home I’ll often be home up to an hour before Sarah because of where we work and start writing, or reading or (more likely) play FIFA or NBA2K to relax after work. Sometimes I wouldn’t jump up immediately and greet her but I quickly learned that was a recipe for her to feel unloved (duh). I’ve lived with mates before, and no-one got upset if I didn’t talk to them for hours,  but this was really important to Sarah.

Little things like giving her 5 minutes of undivided attention as soon as she comes home, trying to pick up my dishes within an hour of using them or unpacking the dishwasher are really easy to overlook during a relationship when the bigger things – the way you make each other laugh or how happy they make you feel – attract your attention. In the long run though, those little things make a huge difference to how you work as a couple. It’s the small acts of everyday kindness, respect and love that keeps a marriage running. Romantic gestures like flowers or a date night are great, but in the long run, the sexiest thing you can often do is to clean the toilet, vacuüm the floors and unpack the dishwasher”.

Marriage will make you more like Jesus

Sarah: Most people know that they think about themselves a lot. We all tend to focus on our desires and needs. I was aware of this before getting married, but it wasn’t until we got married that I discovered how much I thought of myself. Living with someone you’re committed to for life presents an opportunity to have fun, get to know each other more, stay up late together, sleep in together and cook meals together. However, it also presents the opportunity to consider the needs and desires of others before yourself.

This hit me like a rock. All of a sudden things went from “I love you so much!” to “Why the heck don’t you do things my way?” Every day presents an opportunity to put the other person before yourself, whether it’s the fact that they don’t value cleanliness as much as you, or that they aren’t too good at communicating how they’re feeling. Although we fail to love each other as Christ has loved us, perfectly and sacrificially, he gives us grace in our weaknesses and teaches us more about his unconditional love for us.

God has created marriage as a wonderful platform for us to learn how to love like he does. As two sinful, self-centred people come together in marriage, fixated on Christ and his perfection, the Holy Spirit works to make them more like Jesus. What is it about Jesus’ love that is shown in marriage? It was sacrificial, costing him everything. It was unconditional, with no strings attached. It’s undeserved, yet given to us. It was costly, yet he valued us enough. It was servant-hearted, though we were hard-hearted.

These are the things I see exemplified in marriage. God teaches us to sacrifice for each other. He teaches us to give unconditionally without expecting payment. He teaches us how to show grace when grudges could be held. He teaches us to lay down our lives for each other, putting the others’ needs before our own.

Just as I have experienced acceptance in Christ, and come to know more of God’s grace, God has used marriage powerfully to show this all the more. When your husband or wife doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, it is an incredible opportunity to show the grace of Jesus. Through this, we understand more of the gospel.

In Sickness & Health

Jimmy: I’ve always been more susceptible to illness than the average person, but this year has been a really difficult year in terms of health for me. The very first week back from our honeymoon, I came down with a virus so strong that it left me bed-ridden and devoid of all energy. The year hasn’t gotten all that much better since then. As of late, I was diagnosed with Chronic Gastritis that was undiagnosed for  seven months. This has really affected my ability to give all of myself in the first year of marriage to Sarah, as there have been lots of time where I’ve been lethargic, uncommunicative and mentally absent due to lack of energy and pain.

I can tell that this has really frustrated Sarah at times, as she often gets the worst of me rather than the best. Often, she gets the 10% I have left after getting through the day, rather than the 100% I was able to give her before. At the same time, she has never been more loving, gentle or kind with me. I remember early on, I was taking a shower and was violently sick to the point of dry reaching all over the shower. Sarah wrapped me up in a towel, escorted me to bed, tucked me in, cleaned up the shower and took care of me for the rest of the day. I had nothing to give her, naked and covered in my vomit but she loved me anyway. That’s what love looks like for me. It’s messy and complicated and you won’t ever see it in the movies, but that’s what makes relationships work. Sometimes, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and love each other in sickness.

Boys aren’t the only ones who want to have sex

Sarah: This is something else that I didn’t expect, mostly because of everything those pre-marriage books told me. I had anticipated that the guy would be the one to initiate sex, but I’ve realised that it’s ok that that’s not always the case. Girls like having sex too. This is something the books don’t always tell you. What’s more, girls think about sex too! I don’t know how many books it took to misguide me to think that it was only guys who thought about sex or wanted it most of the time, but there were at least a few. I’ve also learnt that this isn’t something to be ashamed about. God created sex as a gift to us to be mutually enjoyed, not as a chore or a ‘duty’ to fulfill just because you ‘should.’

Jimmy: I think this ties into the sickness and health bit as well, a lot of the time this year I’ve just had to say no because I had nothing left to give. Sometimes things come up in relationships, whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual exhaustion and you have to take a break. Make sure you talk about it, don’t just cut off.  Otherwise you can make the other person feel unloved or rejected. Communicate about how you’re feeling, let them know it’s not about them and make plan to rekindle things with a special night when you’re feeling better.  Sex isn’t what makes a marriage work, but it is really, really good.

Celebrate your differences

Sarah: Before we got married I was a bit concerned as to how we would go living together knowing that I’m a bit of a clean freak and, well, Jimmy doesn’t value cleanliness as much as me. I also recognised that I hate being late. Jimmy doesn’t mind too much if we’re running behind schedule. It’s easy to think that these differences are the end of the world: “Why can’t you just be more like me?” Over the past 12 months I’ve realised that these differences are actually helpful. If he wasn’t so fussed about being late, I would continue to hold idols about what people think of me. If I wasn’t so clean, we’d be living in a mess. If he wasn’t so adventurous, I’d never take any risks. If I weren’t so organised, we wouldn’t get as much done as we do each week. Our differences become strengths when we start to see them as helpful, not hindering

Over communicate everything 

Jimmy: Sarah and I have a wierdly inverse relationship with communication. The happier I am, the less I want to talk. The more frustrated I am, the more I want to talk. The happier Sarah is, the more she wants to talk. The more frustrated she is, the less she wants to talk. This had led to several ridiculous conversations.

Sarah: How was work? How was your day? What did you do? How are you feeling?
Jimmy: It was alright
Sarah: and ..
Jimmy: I feel a bit tired?

20 minutes later.

Jimmy: What’s wrong? You’re not talking anymore. What are you thinking? Let me in!
Sarah: It’s nothing, I’m fine.
 

That is a typical argument that we will have. What I have learnt over the last year is that it’s far easier to over communicate early than it is to try and get back time wasted due to undercommunication. This comes in many forms, not just in conversation. It means sitting down once a week and having a ‘sync meeting’ to make sure we know what everyone s doing during the week, so I don’t try and double or triple book nights. It means letting the other person know how you are feeling during the day so that they know what to expect when they come home. It means letting the other person in when you are upset at them, and choosing to be active rather than passive.

When you are married, there is no where to hide. There is nothing that you can say to your partner that would be a surprise to them. Often, I’ve come to Sarah and said something like ‘I’m struggling to be organised, or clean or for motivation’. Not once has she ever said, ‘Are you kidding me? That is a HUGE surprise to me, I never would have realised‘. Your partner knows what is going on. They know what the silences mean, they know what your body language means, they see most of what you do and are just waiting for you to give the green light to help them out.

My partner will never be Jesus

Sarah: There are so many things to love and admire about my husband. However, I am also aware that he has flaws and fails me often. For this reason, I cannot count on him to be my Saviour or my ‘everything’. Jesus is my Saviour and my everything. Sometimes I look up to my husband and admire him so much that I need to be careful I’m not putting him in Jesus’ rightful place. Thankfully, God reveals areas that he fails, but Jesus succeeds.

We have so much more to learn, but taking the time to stop allows us to reflect on God’s goodness, faithfulness and grace to us in making us more like Jesus through marriage. Perhaps you’re married and haven’t given thought to what God has taught you over the years.

What did you learn in the first years of your marriage? What would be your top tips for people starting their married life? 

Learning to Love Those You Disagree With Theologically (even Heretics!)

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by Bad Christian and was struck by the conversation they were having. They had recently done an interview they with Jay Bakker, a liberal pastor with the emergant church who doesn’t agree with inerrancy, hell or that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Jay Bakker isn’t the first, nor will he be the last self-identified Christian to land outside of what most Christians believe.

This is on the back of listening to several interviews with notable Christians who have found themselves in theological storms over the last couple of years, such as Michael Gungor, Mark Driscoll Brian Houston and Rob Bell along the more typical ones thrown up like Joel Osteen, TD Jakes & Joyce Meyer.

Firstly, it made the think about the typical ‘Christian’ response to all these type of things: ‘You’re a heretic, enjoy burning in hell!’ but secondly,  how much I hate that response.

Here is why:

The very first Christian heretic was Peter, the rock that Jesus built the church on. He denied Jesus three times and that was his best friend – a guy he saw do miracle, after miracle, after miracle. The apostle Paul was a mass murderer of the early Christians, scattering them all across the Middle East and Europe. Do you remember Jesus saying that to either of them?

Think of the shame and guilt Peter had to live with when he not only denied even knowing one of his very best friends, let alone when he later realized that he was the Christ. Think of the burden that Saul carried with him because of his past . The question has to be whether they showed repentence first, or whether they were overwhelmed by love and grace.

In all honesty, maybe guys like Jay who don’t know whether Jesus is the only way or TD Jakes who isn’t on-board with the Trinity or Joel Osteen who preaches the prosperity gospel, well maybe they are lost. Maybe they are going to hell. Maybe their eternity is on the line.

Is our response then to condemn them, or to overwhelm them with prayer, love and grace? Think of how powerful Jesus’ love was to release Peter from his denial. Think of how much grace the earliest Christians showed Paul when only weeks earlier he was hunting them down like diseased dogs.

When Paul recounts his past in 2nd Corinthians, what set him free? I am the least of the apostles, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. Or how about later in Ephesians, It is the grace of God which has set us free. 

If you know, watch, listen or speak to someone you think lies outside of orthodoxy, drop the hate and condemnation and lead with love and grace. Pray for them, often and consistently. If you refuse to pray for someone, or don’t pray for God to open your eyes to your own inconsistencies, then I would go as far to say that you give up your rights to call out anyone on their sin. You never had any ambitions to love them from the very start. 

The grand story of scripture is saturated with sinners becoming saints through grace, foes becoming friends through forgiveness. Why should we be any different? Love them, give them grace, send them an email and tell them you love them before you ever drop the heretic bomb. By all means, tell them that you think they are wrong and call them to repentance but do so in a loving way. Downplaying truth isn’t loving, but neither is acting without grace. I’m not talking about cheap grace either, I’m talking about real, biblical grace that starts with the knowledge that apart from what Jesus has done, we are all nothing. If anything, that should motivate us to act in humility and love more than anything else, when we consider how God treated us, messed up and all.

Jesus spoke truth perfectly, but he led with love and grace. Both are important, and one is incomplete without the other. If you focus on truth at the price of love, you will very quickly lose your platform, friends and surround yourself in an increasingly smaller Christian enclave. We are called to be a city on a hill, bringing truth and love to weary travelers who desperately need it. Do not ignore some of the most profound truth in the bible. Your truth is worthless without love.

Let us be a people known for leading with love and grace in truth over everything else. 

Honesty vs. Orthodoxy in Prayer

I’ve wrestled with something big time over the last weeks and months.

Does God care about us being real with him, or is it more important being right in what we say to him?

‘God, where are you?
Why are you so far from saving me, when I am doubled up with pain
God, I cry all day and night but find no rest in you” (Psalm 22, the MSG)

This thought hasn’t left me since I listened to a sermon called ‘Approaching the Divine’ by Matt Chandler. Talking about this idea of whether God prefers us being real or theologically right when we talk to him, he wrestled with how God would have responded to some of David’s prayers, such as above, because they are so incredibly untrue. 

“Actually David, I don’t forget stuff. I’m God. Therefore, your prayer’s a lie, and I must leave you in the desert. I’m out. Good luck out there. It’s brutal.”No He doesn’t, but here’s the truth. That’s an absolutely false prayer. “How long, O Lord, will You forget me?” “Forget you? Are you kidding Me? Do you remember Goliath? Do you remember My mercy in the Bathsheba situation? Forget you?”

This is actually really important, because when I look back at some of my prayers and thoughts they are pretty much lies.  In my darkest times, the times where I have been miserable and upset and angry and frustrated, I have just quoted back scripture to God. Almost none of it was theologically correct, just rantings of someone who was pretty upset.

God, where are you. In Romans it says that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus, but I honestly feel separated. Where the hell are you? In Revelation, it says that you will wipe away every tear, but what about these – Don’t you care now? In Ecclesiastes, it says that there is a time for everything but I don’t get your timing man. Don’t you remember that time when you said that You would never leave me and forsake me? No, I know you can’t forget. I just wanted to remind you God. because I didn’t know what else to do.

To be honest, there is so much I don’t understand about this world. Most of the time, I revert back to the prayers I’ve heard other people pray who were most likely saying things that they heard other people pray and in the end, no-one is being all that honest with God.

I am so done with that.

If I was being honest with God more often, I’d probably ask questions like this:

  • If we can only be satisfied in Jesus, why do so many of us feel unsatisfied?
  • Why do Christians have a reputation as assholes? If we have the HS, and keep being sanctified why do so many people outside the church see us as jerks? Also, why am I the worst at this?
  • Where are all the miracles?
  • Why don’t people fear you anymore? 

Don’t get me wrong, I will praise God through thick and thin. I have never been more satisfied than I have been in Christ, and my entire life is built around him. I trust him with all these answers.

I just think that God prefers honesty when we talk to him.

What would you ask God if you were being honest? 

Karma vs. Grace

Australia is overwhelmingly a spiritual nation – 70% of Australians consider themselves spiritual in some sense. If you had to have a guess at the leading spiritual belief, what would it be though? Christianity? Islam? Buddism?

In my experience and opinion, it is none of the major world religions which has captured Australia’s attention but the spiritual belief of functional karma.

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I do not mean karma in the sense of the Buddhist and Hindu construct of causality. I mean the western knockoff version – cheap, functional karma. Karma with a little k.

Functional karma shows itself in our language: ‘You get what you deserve, what goes around comes around’, or as one ad put it recently, ‘you deserve to be rewarded for your hard work’. Essentially, life is what you make it – work hard, be a good person and the forces that be will treat you well.

Bono, from U2 describes all of this perfectly:

“You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one.  Its clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe.  I’m absolutely sure of it”.

On the surface level, this idea of cheap karma is one of the greatest ideas that has worked itself into our cultural consciousness. I mean, when it comes down to it, who doesn’t want to sign up for this? The idea that good behavior will lead to a good life, that evil deeds will always find their comeuppance and that good will be repaid for good is genius in its simplicity and so many of us have subscribed.

It’s only the deeper inspection that raises real questions. Functional karma has a deep-seated flaw – it requires nothing less than perfection for us to confidently reap its rewards. You can work hard, be a ‘good’ person and have a positive impact – but how hard do you have to work for life to work in your favor, how good do you have to be?

Functional karma, at the end of the day will leave anyone trying to end on the positive side of the ledger exhausted. Look around, doesn’t that describe us as a people? The average person today has the same level of anxiety as a mental patient in the 1960’s. We are exhausted.

So we make short-cuts and sidesteps. We make ‘good’ and ‘bad’ subjective, so that anyone can be either as long as they believe it to be true. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a good person, as long as you believe it right?

Here is my issue though. I can’t believe it anymore, I’m not a good person, not even a little bit. On the surface I look one – traveled the world, married young and a friend to many – but when it comes down to it, I am not ‘good’.

I know who I am.

If I have to rely on my own excellence, my own goodness than I am done. I will spend my entire life trying to live up to expectations that I will not meet and will leave myself exhausted – bitter, twisted and alone. If good things happen to good people, then good things will not happen to me.

If you are anything like me, exhausted from trying to live up to impossible standards then Grace is the most freeing word you will ever hear.

Bono, again:

Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled….its not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven…

If you are exhausted from functional karma, from the endless effort of being good then this is the best news you will ever receive. Grace is the good news you have been looking for.

I am holding out for grace.

I’m holding out that when my time is done, I will not be judged not on my achievements but the perfect life of Jesus.

Unless God sends his Son into this broken, messed up world to set it free then this world will be shackled to functional karma – a never-ending merry-go-round of work harder, do more, be better that leaves us well short of where we need to be.

Jesus was sent into the world to set people free – to break the chains of everyone enslaved and that is good news. Jesus simply says: “whoever believes in my name will be saved”. Not our efforts, not our excellence, not our attempts to be good – because we’re not. It’s all up to him.

When it comes down to it, I am holding out for Grace because I know exactly who I am.

I’m holding out for Grace because I have no other choice.

I’m holding out for Grace because I am not ‘good’.

Nor will I ever be.

An Honest Letter To Parents From a Youth Pastor

Hey parents,

Have I told you that I love your kids? So much.

I love watching them growing up and starting to come out of their shell. I love watching them start to take risks and dream big. I especially love them when they stumble and screw up. It’s a pretty cool honor to be walking alongside them as they grow up.

German Alps Draw Summer Tourists

You know what else I love? Watching how much you love them as well.

I see all the little things you do that go unappreciated. I see how hard you work in providing and caring for your family, making sure they get a good education and a good start. You don’t want them to go through some of the things that you did when you grew up. I get that, my parents were without work for four years when I was a teenager. It sucked.

I know that everything you do, you do so that you can give your family the best foundation for life. I know that, because I talk to you and I hear those exact words coming out of your moth. I also see that you are quickly becoming incredibly time-poor. Between work, home, sports, schooling and all the extra stuff you do as a mum or a dad, it gets exhausting. You scramble from thing to thing and it’s burning you out. It’s like running a marathon without a finish line some days.

Can I ask you one more thing though?

Please, build a real, ongoing relationship with your children. More than all the things that you can give them like good schooling, a nice house and the latest gadgets, they honestly want you the most.

The average amount of time a dad will spend talking to his kids in meaningful conversation per week is 5 minutes.  For moms, it’s still only 25 minutes. That really sucks! I think if both parents were able to engage in meaningful conversations for even 30 minutes each a week, it would be a game-changer for our young people.

I totally get it. You under so much stress from all angles. You’re working longer hours than ever before and you take the stress home with you, and now your kids are growing up and they are weird and distant. It’s really hard work to have a conversation with them some daysIt’s totally alright to admit that it is difficult.

When they were smaller, it was so much easier. You could play with them, and they loved you almost unreservedly. They mostly forgot all the times that you came home late from work, or missed a game but now they are growing up and they don’t want to play with you anymore. They seem to want something called space, all the time and it doesn’t include you.

Here’s what I’m seeing on the ground though. I see that we are currently raising one of the loneliest generations that has ever existed. I’m seeing one of the most anxious, stressed and depressed generations (statistically) grow up before my eyes. I’m seeing more openly broken relationships between young kids and their parents than ever before, despite the fact that many of them have the latest things, a beautiful house and all the activities they could ever want. The kids I work with who are the most well-adjusted, often have healthy and growing relationships with their parents.

My intention isn’t to condemn you or to beat you over the head with it, I only want to speak the truth in love. Consider this an on-the-ground report from someone who loves your kids, thinks about them a lot, talks to them a lot and prays for them a lot. I want them to grow up to be world-changing, emotionally and spiritually mature adults and I’m really concerned about them.

Please, please, please make building a good relationship with your kids a priority in your life.

I’ve seen too many moms and dads who thought that having a nice house and the latest things would lead to harmony in the family. It never has, because kids don’t want things, they want you. Don’t be that mum or dad who works so hard to give everything that they trade it for a relationship with their kids. Everybody loses.

You might be busting a hump trying to get them into a nice private school, where someone can educate them. The lessons they learn at school will get them to university, but the lessons they learn from you will affect every major decision they will ever make in their life, positively or negatively. They need more than education, they need to be shown what is right and wrong, how to be married well, how to treat men or women with honor and respect and many other things.

Tell them your stories as often as you can. All of them. The funny ones where you tried to chug a full litre of milk and threw up, the ones where you were the hero and saved the day, but especially the ones where you fell short and stuffed up. They love it when you can be honest with them. They know you’re not perfect, but they want you to be able to say it as well.

Spend time with them one on one. Take them out for dinner and ask them questions about what they think. Go camping, even if it’s a bit weird. Have discussions where you build them up and encourage them but also conversations where you let them hope and dream.

Eat dinner as a family, every night. On a real table, without the television on. Ask them about their day, and what they think about things and what they believe about the world and their friends and how you can love them. Always be asking them how you can love them.

20 OF THE MOST AWESOME C.S. LEWIS QUOTES

C.S. Lewis is one of the most inspirational and quote-worthy authors in the last 100 years.

There are some books I want to read again as soon as I have finished, because they fill me with hope and good feelings. Lewis has written many of them. Most will have heard of the Narnia Chronicles, but to leave Lewis’ influence at Aslan would be to sell him short. Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are just some of the books I’ve read multiple times.

He is a man whom I find infinite amounts of joy reading and I find myself using lines he wrote almost daily.

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TWENTY AWESOME C.S LEWIS QUOTES

1. The Four Loves

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

2. God in the Dock

“One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

3. Mere Christianity

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

4. The Voyage of the Dawntreader

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

5. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

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6. Narnia: The Last Battle

“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

7. Prince Caspian

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different”

8. Mere Christianity

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

9. God in the Dock

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

10. The Four Loves

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one”

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11. On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

“Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil.

If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu [State Police in the USSR] and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.

12. On Three Ways of Writing for Children

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

13. The Screwtape Letters

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

14. The Abolition of Man

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

15. Prince Caspian

“Aslan: “You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are”

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16. The Weight of Glory

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

17. Surprised by Joy

Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” 

18. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

19. Prince Caspian

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.”

20. The Weight of Glory

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

What is your favorite C.S. Lewis Quote? Post it below

The Problem With Everything

Why does everything seem broken?

Look around you and the world looks totally messed up.

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I hear stories about broken hearts, broken homes and broken people almost every day from the young people I know and love. I’m someone who loves stories but these are hard to hear. For sure, there are also lots of wins in our conversation, but it seems that struggles and suffering are surface problems.

This leads to one of the most common questions that I hear when I sit down with young people: “Why do people suffer? Doesn’t God care about me?”

It’s such a good question because it’s simple, powerful and something most people can empathize with.

If God is real, what’s the deal with suffering?

The reason I find it’s a good question is because it’s also personal to me.

Tim Keller, philosopher and pastor noted that before we address the philosophical problem of suffering we must enter into the local, personal problem of suffering.

My family is one that has suffered: especially my mum. I look up to my mum a lot, she hasn’t had an easy life but because of that she is an inspiration to me.

At the age of 25, a doctor told my mum that she would never walk again after being in a serious car-accident. She was not at fault. She was taking home a young girl from a girls guides event, a driver ran through a round-about without stopping and the mini-bus that she was driving was hit, flipped over several times and the force of the accident threw mum out of her seat and severely injured her spine, almost killing her in the process.

My mum has done nothing to deserve that kind of suffering. Someone made a bad decision which affected the rest of her life, including her marriage and parenting. She has lost friendships, opportunities and work. What the hell has she done to deserve that? 

Broken People do Broken Things

Around a month ago, we did an activity with some young people I know where they listed everything that was wrong with the world that we live in. They wrote down things like:

  • Sexism
  • Depression
  • Bullying
  • Death
  • Broken Homes
  • Parents who don’t love their kids
  • Physical and Sexual abuse
  • Disease

This is by no means an exhaustive list, or even a full representation of what they came up with, but it shows that there is plenty that is wrong with the world that we live in. Why?

Almost all societies over time have given meaning to suffering, but I think that the Christian account of evil and death is both the most logical, and most loving that I can conceive.

The book of Genesis begins with an account of how evil and death came into the world. Tim Keller writes that ‘Genesis 3 confirms in great details the origin of the worlds darkness, and how it unfolded out of our refusal to let God be King. When we turned from God and we lost that relationship, all other relationships fell apart. Because we rejected his authority, everything about the world – our hearts, emotions, bodies, our relationships with other people and our relationship with nature itself – it stopped working as it should”.

I think this is an incredibly nuanced, and insightful account of why we see so much suffering around us. Everything about us has stopped working as it should because of evil, death and sin.  The reason that we suffer is because we are broken.

Broken people do broken things to each other. The reason that people suffer is because the world is filled with broken people.  My mum didn’t deserve to be in an accident, but it happened because some person made a terrible decision which changed her life forever.

Where is God in all of this suffering?

Walking alongside young people, the quick response to this explanation is:

“If God loved me, he would do something about my suffering. The fact that he does not points to either God not loving me, or God not existing”.  This is a fair comment, especially from someone who has experienced suffering and is crying out ‘God, where the hell are you?’

God could act as a shield for everyone who believes in him, making sure that no suffering, no toil, no evil or death comes close to his people but it wouldn’t actually deal with the problem. At best, it would be a cosmic band-aid.

If broken people do broken things to each other (resulting in even more brokenness), then what actually needs to change is our brokenness, not our situation.

The great news is that God has done something about our brokenness.

Ed Stetzer writes that:

“God is determined to turn evil and suffering that we have caused into good.  God implements a master plan for redeeming his world and rescuing fallen sinners. In the person of Jesus Christ, God himself comes to renew the world and restore his people. The grand narrative climaxes with the death and resurrection of Jesus”.

God saves his people by dealing with their biggest problem.

What is the alternative?

Cultures answer to most suffering caused by people at the moment is education.

When something awful happens, the immediate answer from most corners is that the perpetrator needs to be educated. This is a good thing.

When someone is physically assaulted, the person will either go to jail so that he can either know the pain he has caused, or think about what he has done.

When Brian Taylor makes multiple gay slurs on live, national television, the immediate response is that he will undertake education to better inform himself and to stop him from unknowingly hurting anyone else.

When someone runs a red light, runs into a car and changes someones life, the response is either that they need driver education or reform through a jail sentence or a fine.

When Elliot Rodgers goes on a misogynistic murderous rampage, one of the major responses was #yesallwomen which raised awareness of sexism that women experience, often from people they know. 

Here is the huge problem though.  Education will not save, change or help people’s real problem – their brokenness. 

I sit down, every single week with one of the brightest, most intelligent, most educated[iii] generations that has ever existed and I see so much brokenness. Depression, anxiety and social disorders are rising.

The average individual in today’s society has the same average level of anxiety as the average mental institution patient in 1940. Anecdotally, I talk to primary and high-school teachers who know that more than half of their classroom is seeing a psychologist, councilor or equivalent.

Education has enormous potential to change people’s minds, but it won’t change peoples hearts. The #yesallwomen tag will educate men and women about sexism, and I pray that it changes their actions, but it needs to change their hearts to last.

Let me say this again, we are the most educated generation that has ever existed.  In your opinion, is society getting better or worse?

I truly don’t think that anything will ever really change until our hearts do.

Atheist scholars, such as John Gray admit this:

“In comparison with the Genesis story, the modern myth in which humanity is marching to a better future is superstition. As the Genesis story teaches, knowledge cannot save us from ourselves. If we know more than before, it means only that we have greater scope to enact our fantasies.  The message of Genesis is that in the most vital area of human life there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our own nature.”

When it all boils down, people suffer because they are broken due to sin. God has dealt with the problem through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

What we need isn’t more education.

We need more Jesus. 


[i]  Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain & Suffering (2013), p114

[ii] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/november/big-story-of-scripture-creation-fall-redemption.html?paging=off

[iii] http://education.qld.gov.au/projects/educationviews/talking-point/2012/nov/gen-z-21112.html

[iv] Keller,  Walking with God through Pain & Suffering (2013), p123

3 Stories Every Christian Should Share (Right Now)

What’s your favorite story of all time?

I bet a couple came straight into your head.  Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Remember the Titans and The Power of One are some of my favorites stories. I re-read them all the time.

storytelling-sharing

Stories are really important, and stories that we tell other people are really important. It shows what kind of things happen to us, what we think is important and what we believe about the world.

Stories are especially important for people who believe in Jesus.

For one thing, Christianity is a story which has been passed down over thousands of years, shared from person to person through re-tellings, writings and illustrations. Christians are a storytelling community.

The ability to share your story has never been more important. We live in a very post-modern world where people distrust grand, all-encompassing stories and they like personal, mini-narratives. We like to talk about what is happening to specific people, rather than what is happening to everyone.  That’s one of the reasons reality television has exploded, because there are so many personal, specific mini-narratives.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit and listen to people telling their story. Christians have heaps of stories to share, but for whatever reason we sometimes find it really hard to talk about them. I think that’s a shame, because our story is really God’s story.

I would really, really love to hear your story.

Here are three really awesome ways that Christians can share their stories.

THREE IMPORTANT STORIES TO KNOW AND SHARE

WHERE HAVE I COME FROM? [STORY]

One of the best stories you can share with people is where you have come from. My favorite stories about my parents and my friends are when they share about where they grew up, or funny things that happened to them. I especially love it when they open up and share about some struggles they had when they were a teenager or a young adult.

It really encourages me to see that they were experiencing the same emotions, experiences and expectations that I went through as a teenager. Jon Acuff has a great quote here:

“Your parents and mentors have been to the future, and if you ask they will tell you about it”

When you talk about your past, you might be describing someones future. You might be explaining someones present situation and how you were able to get to where you are.  Show people the path that you have taken to get to where you are.

Where have you come from to be who you are today?

What are some key moments that happened in my past to make me, me?

What is my family’s story? Am I the first Christian in my family?

WHY DO I FOLLOW JESUS + HOW WAS I SAVED [SAVED]

I love hearing how God saved people.

There is very few things as encouraging and uplifting as hearing how people have been saved. Unfortunately, some people feel like their testimony is not exciting or interesting but a bit boring.

I really like what Dave Miers says about this:

There’s no such thing as a boring Jesus Story because Jesus is the exciting bit! 

Whatever was good news for you in the Good News, could be good news for someone else as well.

God didn’t give us a personal story of how he saved us so that we could make it mysterious and vague. It’s something that should be talked about often. It doesn’t need to be a big testimony in front of a whole church, but we should share how God saved us all the time.

Talk about why you personally believe in Jesus, include it in your everyday conversations.

Why do I follow Jesus? How was I saved? What was I saved from?

Why do I go to church?

How has Jesus changed me?

HOW DO I SEE GOD WORKING IN MY LIFE [SANCTIFICATION]

The awesome thing is that God isn’t distant, but he really cares about us right here and now. It’s all well and good being able to use big theological words, but what I really wanna hear is HOW God is working in your life right now?

I get that sometimes it’s hard for people to see how God is working, but we rarely stop to talk about it.

Rick Warren, suggests to keep a notebook of journal of how you see God working in your life. Write down the insights and life lesson God teaches you about himself,  about yourself, about life, relationships and everything. Record these and tell other people!

How do I see God working?

What is God teaching me at the moment? 

Where is God leading me?

I would really, really love to hear your stories.  I’m going to write my story in the first comment below, how about your share yours as well?