Category Archives: Discipleship

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Waiting . . . . God’s Gratuitous Grace

Waiting is a pain.  In a queue that is shuffling along, at the front door waiting for your children to GET THEIR SHOES ON, in your kitchen for the kettle to boil, the microwave to ping (ours no longer pings, so you have to WATCH and wait . . . which seems to make it take twice as long).  Waiting for the cheese to melt on your toast, the phone to ring, an email to ping, . . . when I was younger I even spent a lot of time waiting for myself to grow (I was really short for ages, being mistaken once for a brand new year 7 at secondary school when I was – in fact – as I pointed out indignantly to the year 8 girls that where cooing and ahhing “are you lost little boy”, “do you know your form tutors name yet”, – I AM IN YEAR 11!) . . . anyway, waiting is a pain.

God’s people in the Old Testament spent a significant amount of time waiting and a significant amount of this was their own fault . . . they were “stiff necked” (Exodus 32:9), “forgetful” (Psalm 78: 40-43), “stubborn” (Nehemiah 9:16), . . . . pretty much like me.  I have the MASSIVE benefit of scripture (with the stories of people as both cautionary tales and examples of incredible courage and sacrifice AND the narrative of God made flesh, our saviour Jesus Christ), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – who IS the Spirit of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17) . . . and yet STILL I am too often a numpty. There is a cracking story in Judges and I used it recently in a family service.  Its the story of Gideon.  I only take the first bit of is sudden and unexpected encounter with the Angel of the Lord, but it was enough to be left totally gobsmacked at what GOD WILL DO . . . you know, despite Gideon.  It is what I need to believe and realise God will and is doing, despite ME.  Anyway, lets head to Judges chapter 6, reading from verse 11,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press to keep it from the Midianites . . .

Ok, lets stop there (I won’t do this for every verse, but a couple of things . . .!)  Firstly, the Abiezrites – the word / name Abiezer means “Father of Help” or “My Father IS help” . . . I love that.  Secondly, Here is Israel, in a right mess, and here is this little guy Gideon, “threshing wheat in a wine press”  hiding in a trench trying to keep the wheat hidden while he threshed it . . . this is where “help” was going to come from?  This scared little man?  Yeah, RIGHT.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Ok then, this statement – in the natural, normal “things that are said” kind of way is LAUGHABLE.  mighty warrior . . . ?!  That’s like me being called a “son of the King” or someone saying I am “seated with Christ in heavenly places” or, you will do “greater things than these” . . . you know, it’s just, laughable . . . . um.

But then, we have a response from Gideon – this little guy has a BIG mouth!  He isn’t shaken by who it is who is speaking (he maybe hasn’t grasped that from this initial introduction, but still, he seems pretty MIFFED as he answers),

Pardon Me, my lord – but, IF the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  WHERE are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, “Did the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?”  But now the Lord has ABANDONED us into the hand of Midian.

Forgetting and yet not forgetting seems to be what is going on here.  On the one hand, Gideon has remembered the stories of old, those passed down, what the ancestors had told the people . .  . so clearly, some remembering is going on among the people.  Yet, recent history – the more in the “lifetime of those still living kind of stuff” isn’t mentioned.  This is so often part of the problem, not just then but now.

We can look back with rose tinted spectacles to a happier time.  Why isn’t it like this now?  forgetting that maybe our own behaviour, attitude, choices have put us where we are.

Then we have the reply,

But God faced him directly: “Go in this strength that is yours. Save Israel from Midian. Haven’t I just sent you?

Wow, God faced him directly – faced him!  God.  The language has suddenly changed, this is no longer ambiguously a messenger from the Lord, or even “the angel of the Lord . . . ” this, this is GOD.

Go He says, in the strength that is yours – this is not vague encouragement or a motivational pep talk.  God is simply and clearly saying, you have what you need – go.  Which links with that final statement, “Haven’t I sent you?”  The challenge of reading scripture, especially those bits that quote God is, well, it is so hard to get a handle on the tone employed – was God exasperated, surprised, mildly irritated?  You can stick the emphasis in different places and it changes the meaning . . . “Haven’t sent you?” or Haven’t I sent you?” or even, “Haven’t I sent you?”

So, we have God facing this little man, we have God saying “Go” and we have God having to repeat himself . . . is this enough for Gideon?  Nope,

Gideon said to him, “Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan’s the weakest in Manasseh and I’m the runt of the litter.”

Ok then, I gave a wow above when the passage indicates this is God . . . now I am double wowing – Gideon is basically saying, you have got it wrong God . . . how could I be this mighty warrior?

Three words stand out to me – “look at me”.  I have two incredible daughters and from time to time they shout these words to me, they usually mean “hey, Dad, look at me I am about to jump from this sofa to the other sofa and it is miles and oh by the way in mid air I am going to attempt a somersault and if I pull it off it is just going to be so incredibly AWESOME and If I don’t land it well it is probably going to result in a trip to casualty but hey, Dad, LOOK at ME!”  This is not the look at me that Gideon is talking about, he does not believe he is cool, he does not think who he is and what he does is amazing or worth noting . . . he is nothing, his “how?” and “what with?” add to that.

Gideon is maybe like us when we are called to do something, maybe we are not literally facing God – but, we have that response when asked to step up, do something, make a difference . . . “look at me.”  Meaning, “you have got to be kidding me – have you seen this” (and we point to everything we are – how we look, what we consider our worst qualities, we might even suggest other people . . . Lord, have you considered so and so, they would be great for this!)  That phrase “look at me” can also be one of total devastation, we cannot believe or hope for anything good to come from our own thinking or actions . . . “look at me.”  It is supposed to finish the argument, God has moved to be face to face – and Gideon has responded with basically a challenge – “ok, you have turned you gaze on me . . . but, have you really seen me God, have you really looked here – look at me.”

Then, another reply,

God said to him, “I’ll be with you. Believe me, you’ll defeat Midian as one man.”

“I’ll be with you”.  Those words should blow apart our reserve, our sense of personal defeat, our thoughts about ourselves and who we are.  I wonder if there was a pause in the conversation?  After Gideon had said, “look at me”, did God do that – stare intensely, up and down, drinking in all that Gideon was – truly seeing him and looking at him as nobody had ever done before?  Then he said “I’ll be with you.”  It is as if He says to Gideon, “Yes, I can see you Gideon, yes I have looked at you – now, you – you look at ME.”  It is a reminder of the times in the new testament when Jesus told his disciples, “I will be with you.” when they doubted, when they were afraid, when all they could see was trouble, pain, loss.  Those words echo down through the ages to you and me, in our circumstances, in our calling, in our disappointments and personal shame, in our brokenness – and we need to take hold of them and believe them – at the best and at the worst of times.  “I’ll be with you.”

BUT, we are not done yet in this conversation . . .

Gideon said, “If you’re serious about this, do me a favor: Give me a sign to back up what you’re telling me. Don’t leave until I come back and bring you my gift.”

Gideon is coming round to this.  As we sometimes do, but he is going to make sure – so, he has an “if”.  Alright God, I will do this . . . “if”.  Have you ever set something up for God in this way?  You know He is calling you to do something, be something, change something . . . but, you will just check first.  We can do this through “praying for confirmation”, which is a good thing to do . . . but, sometimes, we can “if” what we are being called to do into the realms of totally fantastic impossibility . . . for example, “Lord, I will do this thing, if an eagle flies down into my back garden and taps on the window to get my attention, nods three times and then flies away.” or “Lord, if three purple buses go past in the next 11 seconds I will do this thing you have called me to.” (we live on a bus route, but they are not purple) . . . you get my drift.

The other thing here that Gideon asks God to do is to wait.  “Don’t go anywhere . . . I will be right back.”  Gideon basically puts God on hold at this point.  This is incredible, what is he thinking?  But it gets more incredible,

“I’ll wait till you get back.”

God says ok, and then waits there.  Starts waiting for Gideon to get back.  I don’t know if he sat down, drew in the dirt, started counting the leaves on the tree and then thought (hang on, I made that tree . . . I know how many leaves are on it!) . . . what did God do?  He waited.  Stunning.  It seems incredible as we go through Gideon’s story – but, how many times have we effectively said the same to God?  “wait a minute?”  . . . “Can you just hang on?”  I don’t know if you have ever thought about the prodigal son in that way – there have been loads of different reflections on the parable that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15, but for me, this is the most gobsmacking bit of the whole story,

“When he was still a long way off, His father saw him.”

This would only have been possible, as his son was a long way off, if the Father – every day, all day, had been out looking, out waiting, out watching for his son to return.  It is not about His faith that his son would return – it is the longing and love of the Father that put him there (probably standing on his roof, day after day watching the horizon and waiting).  It reminds me of the words Paul uses in Romans 5, (as the Message puts it),

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

That is the incredible love of God.  “While we were of no use whatever to him”, just like Gideon (who is all the things he thinks about himself in some ways . . . )  There is waiting in all these stories, Gideon – where God waits for this little man, the least of his tribe and the least in his family to return with a gift . . . not something God needs, but for Gideon it matters and God, in his infinite grace and goodness waits.  In the parable of the lost son in Luke 15, the love of the Father compels him to wait, waiting is key . . . and when he sees the son, the waiting is over!  But he has waited for that moment.  For us, for all humanity – Paul says “Christ arrives right on time” bringing good news and salvation.  To arrive at the right time, there has been waiting – God’s timing, waiting to bring in his very self made flesh, the incarnation of God, coming after 400 years of waiting . . . between the Old Testament and the New Testament . . . we can look at that and think, man, how long God’s people had to wait . . . but, it wasn’t them who were waiting.  It was God.  So that the Christ could come at just the right time.

He is waiting still – this is the gratuitous bit of God’s grace.  There is waiting until Jesus returns, we have received the Holy Spirit – we are not to wait or tarry or hang about, we are to be urgent and diligent and constant in prayer and action, seeking to bring in God’s kingdom wherever and whenever we can . . . yes, even us, even with our “look at me” stuff and our “I’m no ready” stuff and our “but Lord, I haven’t seen a purple bus yet.”

He is with us, even to the end of the age.  The Holy Spirit fills us and empowers us AND because of God’s outrageous grace and while He is waiting to return – we need to get on with all that God has given us to do.

Can we hear him saying those words to us today,

“Haven’t I sent you?” (think about what you have been called to do).

“I will be with you.” (think about who is with you as you are sent).

Maybe, we need to find a childlike faith and trust – the kind my daughters stun me with on a regular basis.  God sees us totally when we think or say, “look at me.” and, in his outrageous grace He is waiting for us to step in to all that He has for us through Christ Jesus.

Four things a youth leader should say to young people

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love?  These are the real questions.  I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will be many fruits, here in this world and the life to come

Henri Nouwen

I have said a lot over the years to the young people that I have worked with – not always echoing the words from Henri Nouwen above!  As I move into a new phase of ministry life, I am in reflective mood.  I have been thinking about when it has actually made a difference . . . . you know, the things I have said – when have my words actually helped?  So – this is my list of top things to say to young people ::

1.  I believe in you.  This needs saying!  Even the most confident (outwardly) young person i have worked with has been racked with self doubt and a certain level of self loathing, not believing in themselves or what they can do or become.  It is important because it gets to the heart of what things are about, the words build a young person up – but, they cannot come from nothing.  You can’t say these words to a young person you do not know – they are not general words of encouragement – they need to be directed at a young person you really know.  They are at times incredibly frustrating, ridiculous, lovely a pain, a nightmare and hilarious . . . but then, you say these words.  They say, “you can do it”, they say, “I am FOR you” and they matter incredibly to young people.  So often our focus in youth ministry can be – “HOW on EARTH can i get this young person to BELIEVE in God!”  There are a lot of things wrong with that statement . . . but, essentially, it is hard to believe in anything if you are not sure that what YOU believe make any difference or matters – that is partly human nature, but it off the richter scale with many young people.  Having personal confidence and having personal dignity and just valuing themselves will make such a difference as they consider eternal truth and the claims of Christ.  “I believe in you” is powerful and helpful – but, it also needs to be said when you actually DO believe in them – you see a spark, a light, a bit of steel, a determination deep within that young person that maybe they do not see themselves . . . a bit like Jesus seeing something in Peter as he called Him.

2.  I don’t know.  Of the four things i am mentioning – this one is the most difficult of the four.  A youth worker is often seen by the church, youth group, parents as THE answer.  And, the one that knows the ANSWERS – the one that will solve the “youth problem” the church is facing, the one that . . . you get the drift.  From a young persons perspective – when there is trust and relationship, we are also the ones that they bring their unanswerable questions to :: “why didn’t my nan get healed?”; “why this . . . “; “Why that . . . ” and also, “Where does the Bible say . . . ?” We have two problems if we don’t simply say “I don’t know” when we don’t know.  The first is obvious, we are not being honest and our young people will suss that out fairly swiftly and trust is damaged – trying to blag our way through with a cobbled together load of nonsense just isn’t real or right!  Secondly, we are not OWNING our lack of knowledge, we have bought the lie that we are the answer and – even if we don’t know – we should!  Well, no actually.  The longer i have been involved in youth ministry the more I have realised i do not know stuff – in fact, there seems to be a SCARY amount of stuff I do not know.  We need to be honest and say it when it is true.  It is also liberating.  It frees us and also our young people.  There is a great work written, scholars think, in the 14th Century – we don’t know who wrote it and it is aptly titled, “The Cloud of Unknowing” . . . there is an understanding in the book that to know the deep things of God takes a lifetime, not only do we “not know”, but – in this finite life, there are things we “cannot know”.  It is a mystical work, not dissimilar to “The Dark Night of the Soul”, by John of the Cross . . . this unknown author – again – we think wrote a final work called, “The Book of Privy Counselling”, in this they wrote,

Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.

It is not love to pretend we know when we do not, it is not love to make our faith one of simply “easy answers” . . . if we want to effectively disciple young people then there are times when we will need to say, “I don’t know”.

3.  You are Loved and Forgiven.  Number 2 was the hardest (i think) for a youth leader to say . . . this one is the hardest (i think) for a young person to believe.  It links with number 1, as we tell young people they matter, what they do counts . . . we tell them also that they are LOVED with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  One of the toughest things to communicate to young people is that they are loved and forgiven because – firstly, if you don’t love yourself it is hard to believe that anyone else can love you.  There are massive issues in our culture for young people right now – mental health problems, self harm and image problems, relationships, how young people view sex and sexuality as they are bombarded by unhealthy and unreal images of beauty and prowess and the pressure to achieve and attain at school and college and university . . . life is tough and many (adults too) feel a failure trying to navigate these challenges as a Christian.  We have somehow communicated an untruth in our explanation of the gospel – on the one hand, Jesus has died for our sin and rescued us and redeemed us – making us right with God – once he has done that though, the pressure appears to be back on “us” or – our young people – to then “live this out”.  They can’t and don’t – it is not possible.  It is sad that i so rarely hear good teaching on Romans anymore!  It absolutely nails it from chapters 5 – 8, taking us through what Jesus has done on the cross and the being “dead to sin, but alive to Christ” . . . why is this so important?  Because we have to live our lives “in the Spirit” (Romans 8) to be fully alive and be trusting, not our own strength to help us live as Christians – but to trust the Holy Spirit who is at work IN US!  It is not be force of will that i resist temptation, it is in the power of the Spirit.  We can miss all this stuff out in our teaching and somehow imply to young people that “now they are Christians” they should be able to obey the commandments and live like Jesus.  Messing up becomes cataclysmic in this scenario!  But, “i’m supposed to be a Christian!”, how can i have messed up . . . ??  Because you are a human being, because you are trying to “live” your life with Christ in your own strength . . . more so, when our young people mess up – they can descend into a spiral of criticising themselves for their failure, continuing to tell themselves negative things, go round in circles – asking for forgiveness even, but not receiving it (or rather, not believing they have been forgiven – because they can’t forgive themselves) . . . all pretty messed up – but, what we teach and model shapes our young peoples expectations of themselves – and also – their expectations of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives!  As youth leaders, do we live forgiven, restored, redeemed and free lives – or are WE racked with guilt about past mistakes, not forgiving ourselves and so finding this whole area a tough one to talk about and model to our young people?  Jerry Bridges, in “Pursuit of Holiness” says this, 

We’re more concerned about our own “victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve God’s heart

Think about that for a moment.  Somehow, even when we are coming to God to ask forgiveness we can still make it about ourselves – more concerned that we haven’t been able to “beat” something, than that we have grieved God’s heart.  Our lives, in Christ, are no longer our own!  We are HIS – we ARE forgiven, we can boldly approach the throne room of God, true “repentance” means to head in a different direction . . . our lives are now GODward rather than Inward or focused on what we want and desire . . . yep, this is all big stuff to unpack.  But, if we cannot ALLOW God to forgive us – because we don’t believe we deserve it, we have totally missed the Gospel.  Lets help our young people grasp this and truly live in freedom, mess ups will happen – just look at the life of Peter (especially after He has received the Holy Spirit at pentecost, throughout the book of Acts he does some amazing things for God – and, messes up and gets it wrong too!) . . . our young people need to know their worth, they need to know there is nothing they can ever do to separate them from the love of God, they are loved now and forever – they also need to receive His forgiveness when they confess their sin.  We need to teach them the truth about themselves and what God has done, that helps them to do this . . . .

4.  What do you think?  Teaching young people how to think for themselves is critical if we want to make life long disciples.  Do they believe what we say the Bible says simply because we are saying it?  Think of the answer to a child who asks, “why?” and the reply they constantly get, “because i said so!”  We cannot disciple like this!  It isn’t discipleship.  Jesus had some great dialogue with his disciples and asked them what they thought.  The classic example is when they are discussing who people think Jesus is . . . and Jesus basically says, “thats great, people think this – people think that – but, who do you say i am?” (Mark 8:29) . . . er, um yes, well . . . then Peter steps up and nails it!  Jesus recognises it is the Holy Spirit that has enabled Peter to get there . . . in saying it though, Peter then discovers who he is and who is to become . . . thinking stuff through and yes, reaching our own conclusions prayerfully under God – is what many of us do as adults – we need to teach discernment to our young people, but this is very different from deciding for them!  It is the difference between teaching and telling – a difference brilliantly illustrated by Paulo Freire in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, chapter 2, as he highlights the attributes of “teaching” without dialogue and questions, 

the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
the teacher talks and the students listen — meekly;
the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;
the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

Just to pick up on one phrase above, the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher – in this i think of charismatic leaders who simply expect young people to emulate them, to believe and trust in them (which is not the same as putting their trust in Jesus) and, actually, there is an illusion of personal faith – but it is built upon another persons faith – rather than the faith of the young person, they don’t believe something themselves, they believe something is true because the youth leader has said it . . . 

A questioning, exploring faith – as Jesus encouraged in the disciples leads to the young person working out their faith – developing their relationship with God, it is interesting that we theologically and doctrinally believe that (as Paul puts it), “there is one mediator between God and people.” (1 Timothy 2:5), and yet – so often in practice, we can introduce an additional mediator, the pastor, the priest, the youth worker . . . we MUST create conversation and dialogue as we explore faith together with young people . . . “what do you think?” tells a young person their view matters, “what do you think?” gives a young person a chance to accept or reject what they are hearing, “what do you think?” gives a young person permission to share their view, “what do you think?” is following Jesus’ example . . . and, for me in my practice – i have been challenged and inspired in my faith as young people have answered that question.  

So there are my four key things to say to young people, there are obviously other things!  I have just found that these four have born fruit more than anything else i might have said or done in my youth work practice . . . give them a go!

The Plans for our Future!

Dear Friends,

mega update! I have left the whole of what was posted on 10th May – but, a quick update! We now have the start up costs – all £2000 – this is truly humbling and amazing. Thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support – for those of you who have already got in touch saying you would like to go on ‘The Resource’ distribution list to receive updates and news – we plan to put the first of those out in the 2nd week of June. Hopefully, a mix of great resources to recommend – a bit more information about how ‘The Resource’ is going to work AND a couple of dates for the autumn that will be regional ‘resource evenings’ one looking at resources for children’s work and one focusing on youth work – sign up through the email address highlighted below if you haven’t already done so!

Many of you know that there has been a re-structuring process at Church House, Diocese of Chichester and, as a consequence, my post “Adviser for work with children and young people” has been deleted and I will be taking redundancy at the end of July 2014.

As a family, we have been on a difficult journey since we first received notification of the re-strucuturing plans in November, but, first we would like to say a HUGE thank you to all the people who have supported us during this time.  We have been very aware of your prayers!

We have spent a lot of time praying and seeking advice from some wise friends and family.  Through all of this, we have continued to feel that we are where God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to be doing.  We are passionate about seeing children and young people meet with Jesus, know His fullness of life and have their lives transformed by His grace and love – and we remain committed to serving God by encouraging, equipping and supporting the church across Sussex in its work with children and young people.

Therefore, at the beginning of September, we are planning to launch “The Resource”, a ministry which will be available to support and equip anyone involved in work with children and young people through training, consultancy, mentoring and running equipping events.

This is both exciting and daunting!  In many ways we are stepping out in faith and trusting that as we follow what we believe is God’s call on our lives, He will provide for us.  Our desire is to generate sufficient income that every church who wants support from me can receive it, regardless of their budget!

And so we are asking if you would pray for us.  We have an amazing support team made up of local church leaders and youth workers and, as we meet with them, please pray we would clearly see God’s footsteps and follow in them.  That we would have wisdom as we begin this next part of our adventure with God and that God would use this ministry to transform the lives of children, young people and their leaders.

If you would like to be on our regular mailing list to receive future updates from us as well as the resource e-news and details of any training events then please let us know on this new email address Email Me .

And, finally, if you can give financially that would be amazing – please let us know if you would like to do that – we reckon, to kick off in September, we need a start up amount of about £2000 (for the purchase of equipment such as phone and lap-top and to enable travel and meetings in the first few months).  As “The Resource” becomes established, we are hoping for an income of about £1500 a month – whether through gifts that enable the work and / or from paid work.

Thanks again for your support, friendship and encouragement.  Do keep in touch and feel free to pass on this blog post!

The Pyramid of Purpose – 3 Keys to remaining focused

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# Attitude. The ‘smile’ represents an attitude that is within it does not mean you must walk around and grin and bear it. Jesus Christ had a purpose. His eyes were fixed firmly on the cross from about half way in each of the synoptic gospel accounts of his life (Matthew / Mark / Luke). Nothing was easy about his goal, his purpose – what enabled Jesus to see it through was the attitude that Paul comments on in Philippians Chapter 2. Jesus is not striving or stretching or overreaching, he has laid everything down. Becoming ‘nothing’ – as the passage says,

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! [Philippians 2:7, 8 NIV]

Other versions of scripture refer to this ‘attitude’ as mindset. Think for a minute about how you think. Your mindset will often determine your ‘purposefulness’ – foe example, if you stub your toe when you get out of bed in the morning – is your day a total write off? Jesus held onto NOTHING, he claimed for himself NOTHING, did not allow ANY sense of entitlement to mess with his focus and purpose on earth. He wore His ‘Being God’ lightly . . . . I don’t know about you, but sometimes in life and ministry my attitude can stink. I can be thrown off course by thoughts of ‘ this isn’t fair’ or ‘why isn’t this happening?’ ‘How come stuff at the church up the road is working out – but not for me?’ Attitude! Linked with attitude and flowing from it is our heart motivation, our very values and the things we say are precious to us – like actually BEING a servant (as Jesus came to be) can grate or be hard to actually LIVE OUT if our attitude is wrong. So, first thing, check your attitude! The first and most important part of the ‘pyramid of purpose’.

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# Creative Thinking. We were MADE to be creative! I have met a bunch of youth workers over the years who have told me they are ‘not creative’, but – they can write a cracking drama, they can inspire their youth group with an illustration, they are a technical wizard, they can think of the perfect video clip to go with a talk . . . Creativity is simply about having time to THINK. Our attitude (which is why it is #1 will obviously affect our ability to think. I love what we are encouraged to think about in scripture,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Philippians 4:8 NIV

Try this test. When you get to the end of a youth work session or a piece of work, and you are FED up – maybe your whole team or those you work with have HAD it. Instead of picking over the disaster like vultures, why not read that passage – we find it MUCH easier to think negatively, this stifles and can kill our creative, hopeful self. Regardless of what has happened – there is something worth celebrating in there somewhere!

I love NCIS (an American criminal investigative drama), the main character, Gibbs, has a bunch of rules he tries to live by. Rule number 5 is ‘you don’t waste good’. How many times do we waste good, because we don’t think differently about what is going on? An evening session might have been a disaster in some respects – but – that young person who was always dipping in and out has been regularly for the last three weeks. I have even simply settled for, ‘I know this whole thing is a disaster (a youth group I am running for example!), but if we know that – and the young people know that – God MUST be doing something, because they keep showing up!’ That might not feel like much sometimes, but let’s not make the BEST or the IDEAL the enemy of the simple straightforward ‘good’ that is staring us in the face. Get creative with your thinking . . .

Our attitude (giving us the right mindset) and our thinking (giving us space to be creative and ‘see’ in new ways) should then lead to the ‘out working’ bit of this pyramid of purpose – which is:

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# Service. The hand, open and out stretched for me represents me asking the question of myself, ‘how can I support, encourage, enable, serve, equip, bless, nurture others?’ IF our purpose is self promotion or some kind of self actualisation, I don’t believe we will ever be satisfied – purpose is about pursuit – but not for ourselves, for the sake of others. A calling is a HIGHER thing than that! Maintaining our purpose, and fulfilling our purpose is tied up in our willingness to serve. IF we get to a place where we don’t want to serve others or can’t be bothered – alarm bells should be ringing!! Maybe we need time out, we might need to examine our attitude and how we are thinking about who we are and what we are doing.

Serving takes us out of ourselves. True serving is also about the other (not the benefits we get from serving), we CAN do stuff for others . . . We can even tell ourselves we are being generous and sacrificial, unless they don’t notice or don’t thank us and take it for granted – THEN, well, THEN we take our ball in and don’t play! We need to find contentment in the act of service. Back in that Philippians passage, Jesus took the nature of a servant. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, at least initially, the LAST thing they were thinking of was thanking him. Peter especially was horrified.

Maybe, we need to horrify people with our service! We aren’t doing it for ourselves, and – in some ways – we aren’t doing it just for them either. It is what Jesus calls us to if we are in ministry!

None of these three things are reliant upon what you (or I) are actually doing for a job. We don’t need to have the job of our dreams or the perfect boss or the ideal working situation to work with this pyramid of purpose.

We need to cultivate the attitude of Christ in our heart and mind (get HIS mindset); we need to think – in such a way that all the creativity that begun the universe – is at our fingertips, because we are made in Gods image, creativity and imagination and ideas are in our ‘born again’ DNA . . . and we need to get on with serving others – right where we are, right now. This IS purpose!

4 things to know about “calling”.

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‘What is your calling?’ Ever been asked that? Ever asked yourself that questions? Do you know what you were put on this earth to do? Are you still searching for the ‘thing’? I have 5 thoughts on this that have helped me, maybe they will help you.

#1. You ARE called to follow Jesus.
When Jesus calls his disciples to ‘follow him’ the ‘calling’ is just that. It begins and ends with following Jesus. Everything else we do, every ambition, dream, thought, hope and aspiration must be submitted to this. The call to follow Jesus. It is a call with a couple of parts – Jesus says,

whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me
Matthew Chapter 16 : 24

That’s the first thing – denying ourselves. To be someone in the Kingdom of God, rather than try to gain a place or BE someone – we must lose ourselves and simply follow. The second thing is this,

if you love me, you will obey my commands
John 14 : 15

Now, I am not being funny – but this seems pretty clear. Every follower of Jesus is called to – er, you know FOLLOW, deny themselves and in our loving devotion to Jesus – obey His commands. That is our primary calling as Christians – I have to say, when I started out in ‘ministry’ at 18 I hadn’t grasped that I just WAS in ministry and I was called to something great and wonderful – simply being a disciple. So, first thing is – don’t wait for a ‘thing’ living your life after Jesus IS the thing. This is the basic vocation for every Christian, the general guidance for ALL of us – applicable right now, in whatever we are doing, wherever we are doing it – summed up nicely here,

and whatever you do, in word or deed – do it all in the name of Jesus – giving thanks to God the Father through Him
Colossians 3 : 17

#2. You will not always see it coming!
I did not know that 28 years after beginning to work with children and young people as a volunteer I would still be doing this work. I did not envisage the path things would take – I have been amazed and humbled at what I have ‘joined in with’ that has had God’s fingerprints all over it! Part of following, letting go of our stuff, pursuing this ‘calling’ is trusting that in it ALL (whatever life throws at you) God is sovereign and leading you somewhere. Those called in scripture whether it is simply ‘follow me’ or they are called for a more specific task – often had no CLUE what was about to happen. Mary had not CLUE; Moses had not an inkling; Paul never saw it coming! Only now, looking back do I see where God was at work – bringing things together, people into my life, experiences that I would draw on, times of challenge and learning and growth – all shaping me for where I am now and what I am doing now. In God, nothing is wasted!

#3. Something MUST be done – the answer might be YOU
I had a friend who was always having amazing ideas about what the church should be doing. They were great! This person often felt that God was showing them some of these things – and he spoke with such passion and intent. However, no matter who these things were shared with – nobody picked them up, they never seemed to happen. He got frustrated, angry and disillusioned. We had a chat about something in particular, his latest thing the church should be doing. He said to me, ‘why has no one caught the vision?’, I said, ‘you have!’ – it hadn’t occurred to him that GOD was telling him about this stuff because God wanted HIM to do it! Do you feel something passionately? Is there something that should be happening – but isn’t? Are you watching and waiting for someone to step up? Are you thinking, ‘why don’t they get it God? I can see what you want to happen here – why hasn’t anyone got the vision and drive to get stuck in God?’ All the while God has been telling YOU and showing YOU what he wants. Crazy! Get up and DO IT!

#4. You don’t need a blinding light or weekly prayer ministry
This took me a while to figure out.
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3 Reasons you might be better off in the dark while still walking in the light

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My car has been a total nightmare for about 8 weeks. For some bizarre reason half the dash board lights have stubbornly remained ON after I have turned the engine off, locked the car and walked away – illuminating the inside of the car with a pulsing glow. This is a BIG problem! No garage has been able to sort the problem, leaving it like this just drains the battery. I had an isolator switch fitted next to the battery to sort this out (every time I drive the car I have to turn this on, ever time I leave the car, it’s an extra thing to remember to turn off).

On Friday, inexplicably – I turned the engine off and ALL the dash board lights went out. Plunged into darkness – it felt like a minor miracle!

I got to thinking, it’s not always BAD when the lights go out! This is true in our spiritual lives too – here are three reasons it’s good to be in the dark!

#1. Look Up. I used to live surrounded by light pollution, it was ‘night’ outside – but still ridiculously bright when I lived in London. Street lights, signs, buildings lit up like it was Christmas (only 24/7 and all year round). Now, I live in the country and I am plunged into darkness just beyond my front door! So – I spend more time looking up! When I was in London it was hard to see the night sky – now, on a clear night in the country it is breathtaking to look up and see such brightness, see so clearly an incredible array above me! When it is dark around us, it should always be a reminder to look up, the creator who put the stars there also put us (you and me) here, we are set in our place – His hand is on us. An amazing night sky reminds me of this, however dark it seems.

#2. Shiny Shiny! Sometimes, we need to WALK AWAY from bright and dazzling lights. Magpies are attracted to shiny things. Sometimes as followers of Jesus we are too. We can find ourselves more interested in what another follower of Jesus is doing or saying or writing than Jesus himself! We are attracted to a BIG speaker or a MEGA leader, we might be attracted to an AMAZING opportunity that is a bit like someone dangling a bauble in front of us ‘look at the shiny shiny!’ and we are mesmerised. Not every ‘golden opportunity’ is a God opportunity – often we might be called to live out our lives for God out of the limelight, away from the flashing bulbs and in the darkness of obscurity. Shiny, shiny is not always good for us, it can even sometimes lead us away from the true light – ignore the ‘shiny, shiny’ it is not the ‘light of life’ (see Psalm 56:13)

#3. Walk by Faith. Another advantage of the dark is that we have to rely on our other senses, in fact when it IS dark these senses often feel heightened anyway. Especially our hearing. I am amazed what I can suddenly hear when it is dark, that I don’t notice when it is light. The challenge we have of the imagery of ‘light’ is it conveys, almost always the idea of being able to see. However, walking in the light is not just about us being able to see – it is also about being seen. Who has his gaze constantly fixed on us? Who keeps us from stumbling?

He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber
Psalm 121:3

If we simply walked in ‘the light’ (and it meant an actual light) we would not need to worry about stumbling! However, that is not all there is – in the New Testament we are reminded,

We walk by faith and not by sight
2 Corinthians 5:7

Then, as we look at those great heroes and heroines of the faith in Hebrews we are reminded again and again that though they walked ‘in the light’ they often set out with no idea where they were going . . . ! When it seems dark around us it can be a good place to use another of our senses that is heightened by the dark – listen! The evidence of our eyes, as we have seen can sometimes deceive us – we need to cultivate our listening! What is God saying, shouting, whispering to us when things seem dark. It CAN be good to find ourselves reliant on that voice when we cannot see the way.

So – look up today, ignore the shiny shiny and when it all feels dark – listen!

Values don’t Trend

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This is fairly blunt – but, we can easily get distracted from what is eternal and timeless (and priceless) by what is immediate, offers the ‘latest’ or most ‘current’ thinking, gives us a recommended formula, is something that – despite the 2000 years of a Christian history that we have yet to realise – something ‘new’!

The truth is that what MAKES for great ministry is not the latest thing but eternal things. The values that we have have as we go about our ministry with children and young people are far more important than what we actually DO.

– No programme can beat authentic relationships.
– No charismatic leader that likes the lime light can beat a dedicated volunteer who desires the best for the young people.
– No special events to keep it ‘interesting’ can match week in week out commitment to ‘being there’

My previous 4 posts were focused in what young people need from the church: acceptance / love / guidance / significance – these ‘needs’ do not change, they have not changed in the time I have been doing children’s and youth ministry – I have to confess though, I have sometimes disappeared off after the latest idea or trend or ‘transform your ministry’ model. Sometimes it can be a subtle thing that distracts us – the church up the road tries dome thing different (it might be right for them) and then I have assumed I can ‘transplant’ that thing to what I am doing . . . James Dobson once said,

comparison is the root of all inferiority
James Dobson

Equally true in ministry as for whether my six pack (ha) matches up to the guy who just ran past me . . .

The values we have and the values we instil in our young people are the things that will last. Don’t loose your values in a desire to keep up – let values drive your work with young people, let those values shape the kind of ministry you lead and invest in.