A Sticky Christmas

I am one of five boys in my family and as you can imagine at any time (let alone Christmas) our home was always full of fun and a dash of chaos.

I remember many Christmas’ growing up, by far the most memorable happened abit over a decade imagesago. As the brothers all began to get older and earn money we started to buy each other gifts (all be in $10 ones.) one year my older brother Cameron (yep the one heard frequently on LightFM) had remembered to purchase Christmas gifts for everyone but somehow had forgotten to purchase one brother a gift… Yep me. In his Christmas morning panic he quickly dashed outside found a stick (only Jesus knows what was running through his mind) came back inside, wrapped it up and placed it right under the tree buried beneath all the other gifts.

When it came time for Cam to handover the loot he was beaming with pride at his work, upon unwrapping the gift I didn’t share in his joy. I stared at it in shock, and for one of the first times in my life I couldn’t speak. I quickly assumed it was a prank present and that soon a ‘real’ gift would follow, boy was I wrong when he told me “I just forgot about you, sorry mate.”

StickCam & I are best of mates and often (especially at Christmas) joke about this and many other tales. The appropriately titled silly season can fill our lives & calendars, it also can empty our bank balances. It can also make us so preoccupied with presents, food and family functions that we actually forget the original focus of Christmas.

This Christmas in the middle of the shopping, that Christmas function and the cooking, guard your heart from drifting in focus. Christmas is all about God’s love for all of humanity that is seen in Jesus. Before that silent night their was no saviour and the world was crying out desperately for one. Heaven’s reply was a baby boy, and in him Endless hope and relentless joy started.

9 Objections to Christianity

Over the past 2 days I have watched much of the Resurgence13 Conference (you may have seen a lot of #R13 on social media.) This Seattle based conference had live sites scattered across America and also and online contingency of over 20,000 viewers. Over the 48 hours of the conference delegates and online subscribers heard messages from Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Judah Smith, James McDonald and Matt Chandler just to name a few. The heart of the conference was for delegates to learn lessons from ministry leaders who have seen God’s faithfulness as they respond to his call. Many of these sessions I managed to see and found all of them especially helpful, compelling and empowering. I’m sure in time these sessions will made available at The Resurgence.

In the final session of the conference Pastor Mark Driscoll shared of a number of new developments that he, his church (Mars Hill) and The Resurgence website would be working on. One of those is a project that will become a book, sermon series and small group studies on the 9 objections to Christianity
the unchurched and dechurched (people that haven’t attended church for a considerable amount of time.)

The market research (done by some of the market leaders in research) has already been undertaken and after numerous survey’s, focus groups and interviews Mark shared the summary of the Top 9 objections to Christianity. I for one, am incredibly thankful for the time, energy and expense that has been invested and await eagerly the finalisation and communication in full of the data, it’s findings and how we as believers are to respond. So these are the 9 and below also a quote from different participants of the study.

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Intolerance
“Some Christian groups are too intolerant”

Sex
“The Christian religion and I have different views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage

Politics
“I don’t like how some Christian groups meddle in politics”

Hypocrisy
“Most Christians are hypocrites”

Exclusivity
“There are lots of religions, and I’m not sure only one has to be the right way”

Inequality
“All people are not created equal in the Christian faith”

Scripture
“I don’t really share the beliefs that the Christian faith tells me I should”

Greed
“Christianity is about making money, not religion”

Irrelevance
“The Christian faith is not relevant to modern times”

I wish I could post the session as I greatly appreciated how in just 90 minutes Mark unpacked these objections, it would obviously help further explain what each subheading specifically spoke too. I look forward to this project and it’s findings being shared on the global scale in the first half of 2014.

I truly believe It’s important for us as believers to be engaging in the conversations our culture is having, and be able to speak the truth into issues, shortcomings and falsehoods people have about Christianity.

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The Civil Wars are changing my preaching

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I love listening to music, I’m pretty sure I can’t think without some kind of music in the background. So much so I’ve even begun to preach with full blown music tracks underneath while I preach. One of the albums I’ve been listening to for months is the latest project from The Civil Wars. I initially followed the groups beginnings having previously interviewed Joy Williams during her solo Christian music days, however, my interest in the group quickly progressed to something much deeper. I think I could safely categorise myself as a fan.

The duo are on a hiatus and depending on which journalist or blog site you read the reasons are varied. One thing is for sure this album has captured the beauty, the pain, tension and heart break of human relationships. Their current self titled album is probably the most emotionally charged and tense album I’ve ever listened too, and apart from something stunning being released in the next few weeks this album will be my favourite of the year.

Great Art is born from Great tension

Many of the songs on the album are intentionally vague blending fact and fiction which leaves the listener wondering whether the duo are speaking of their musical relationship, their marriages (not to each other) or something else. Recently in an interview JP (other half of the duo) spoke of his desire to leave their songs ‘vague enough, so that everyone can see themselves in it.

I was taught how to preach by some amazing men and women. One of the things they all taught me to do was to make it crazily clear on what I am speaking about but also how you want people to respond and live out what you are teaching. I know for me, what I have done too often though is in my endeavour to be clear is ended up preaching what I now refer to as ‘Friend’s Semons.’ These are sermons just like the 90’s sitcom friends that would start with laughs, have some tension/chaos/disagreement, then resolve it and after 30 minutes wrap everything up nicely. If you’ve ever preached multiple times chances are you may have done this too. Rather than embracing the tensions of the text, the pains of life or even seemed contradictions we try to quickly navigate them with well intended (and maybe even completely true) statements and verses quickly attempting to move to the next thing. I know sometimes I’ve made messages so specific and so free of tension and struggle that I end up alienating countless numbers of people that Jesus is wanting to speak to.

I’m learning more every week that it’s OK to not have all the answers to all of life’s questions and the theological hurdles that may arise because if it.

Sermons, just like all great art whether it be music, dance, painting, acting etc is meant to among other things, generate great conversations. I’m being more intentional than ever to not ‘land’ my sermons with a “one size fits all” solution, but more desiring to help point people to begin a conversation with Jesus and his people to wrestle the tension of how we are to live out the good news even in the midst of what can sometimes be chaos and contradiction.

That doesn’t mean I don’t give steps, principles or insights on how we are to live, but rather I’m committed to let God be at work in his people by his spirit and not think that their obedience to him is based solely on whether or not I preach the right 6 steps.

So let’s talk about it…
I pray I can be more like Jesus in this…

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The 3 F’s of Youth Ministry

I’ve been in youth ministry for over ten years! WOW, I just scared myself… In that time I’ve been blessed enough to see God at work in a number of churches across several different denominations. In that time I’ve learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Youth worker you could probably do the same, so rather than doing that (plenty of blogs, websites, conferences and mentors can help with that) I’d rather like to share so you 3 ingredients I believe must be apart of every time you gather together with your teenagers.

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FUN

If I’m honest this was probably that hardest one for me. I know for many youth pastors and leaders that may be the total opposite. I can so focused on Discipling young people, making sure they are hungry for God and are carrying the gospel that I forgot to even enjoy the ministry God had me doing, I quickly realised that fun is not contrary to gospel living. Jesus had fun, he enjoyed life and our youth ministry must have adequate doses of fun scattered throughout our nights. And don’t limit yourself to thinking this must only be in games. Have fun in groups, in your sermons, wherever. Fun, energy and passion are huge culture and atmosphere change agents.

FRIENDSHIPS

We want our youth ministries to be a place where young people can come and experience genuine friendships, not only with their peers but also with leaders. Relationships is the currency of teenagers, and if you have no relational connection with them you’ll find it almost impossible to be able to communicate anything of substance to them. Your young people are not a Missional tool or evangelism target but rather peoples whose lives matter to God. We must invest relationally into them, but trust and respect and love them because God does.

FAITH

If we don’t communicate Jesus we are nothing more that a cute little gathering of teenagers who entertain themselves with games and various outings. The youth ministry I inherited nearly 18 months ago was phenomenal at these first two F’s. I’d never seen a group of leaders so devoted to creating great moments in youth nights and so good at investing relationally in teenagers,seriously one if the best I’d ever seen. Over the past year our team has gone on a journey ensuring we are not just stopping there but are speaking the truth of Jesus (in love) and giving our young people an opportunity to experience, process and journey with God. Teach them the scriptures in a way that cones in with their world, let them dialogue, process and even wrestle with it

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Breakfast Ministry

I’m a parent of 3 beautiful children. Having kids is by far one of the greatest decisions that my wife and I have ever made.

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Yesterday at breakfast I was struck again by a spiritual truth that came out of a regular conversation with my oldest son Caleb. His current flavor of the month breakfast is to have a bowl of corn flakes and some honey drizzled over the top (really a poor man’s crunchy nut corn flakes.) That morning however, I realized I’d run out of honey and had forgotten to mention it to my wife for our weekly shop which was done the day before. I had to break this to Caleb that he wouldn’t be able to have honey that morning on his cereal. What followed was a 4 year olds version of his world collapsing as he was unable to get what he wanted. I said to Caleb ‘Son I know you want honey, but I can’t give you something I don’t have.’

No sooner had that sentence left my lips I felt the urging of God saying the exact same thing to me. ‘MJ, you can only give people that which I have already done in you.’

After being in pastoral ministry for over a decade now (outside of radio work it’s been my only real “job”) I have to admit that too many times when I’ve come to preach or share leadership thoughts with my teams and I’ve found myself coming to God and his word for content to deliver rather than for transformation of myself or intimacy with God as the ultimate objective.

Before I teach it, preach it, tweet it, heck even blog about it I must ensure that I am transformed by it and living it

You can only draw water out of a well that’s already dwelling inside. So too we can only give out that which God has already done within us.

Lets not become mere professional Christians, rather let us live out and be transformed by God so that we can give out that which has been done within us.

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Projection Problem

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Recently I was setting up my MacBook for youth & attempting to project the image from the computer to the screen. A pretty normal function and one I thought would be pretty simple task. However, somehow and God only knows (or a Mac expert) that the image from my computer began to project a completely different visual. I quickly became incredibly frustrated after several failed attempts to fix the projection problem. How hard can it be to take one thing and authentically project it somewhere else without anything being different.

In this moment (if I’m honest I was über close to using some words probably not uttered by a pastor in the church walls of Heathmont Baptist Church) I felt the voice of God speak to me saying “MJ you do this in your life too.” “What are you talking about” I said to God, I should by now know better to argue or question him on things.

God was gracious with me again and explained “isn’t it frustrating when the real picture isn’t shown but rather an imposter is projected? Well in the same way their are times where who you are projecting is not who you really are.” I felt immediately convicted and repented in that moment fully aware of my sin and also my own inadequacy. I know in my life when I feel inadequate or that I believe I’m not good enough these are the moments I’m most likely to project a performance image rather than the real image. In these times I need to learn to once again lean more onto God and put more of my trust in him and not myself.

We need to be accurately projecting who we really are and who Jesus is. People can spot a fake from a mile off, and also become quickly frustrated once they realise their is a difference between the real picture and what we are projecting. Don’t be who you think others think you should, but rather project an authentic image of who you are and who Jesus is.

10 thoughts that are changing my life

Manning_smAs a teenager my mum strongly encouraged me to read a book by the now late Brennan Manning, It was a book called The Ragamuffin Gospel. As a 15 year old I had no interest in anything my mum had to say, but to encourage me to actually read a book? HA! What teenager does that?

However, several months ago (14 years later) I came across this book, somehow it had appeared in my bookshelf at work. I pulled it off the shelf and began to read, since then I have just read everything I can find from its author Brennan Manning.The shift that is taking place in my life at the moment I can place down to God using this man and his words to change me. So I wanted to share with you just 10 quotes from a few of his books that are changing my heart and life.

1. How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car. ~Ragamuffin Gospel

2. Only reckless confidence in a Source greater than ourselves can empower us to forgive the wounds inflicted by others. ~Abba’s Child

3. When a man or woman is truly honest, it is virtually impossible to insult them personally. ~Ragamuffin Gospel

4. We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground. ~Ragamuffin Gospel

5. Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. ~ Abba’s Child

6. The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.~Ragamuffin Gospel (popularized by the 1995 dc Talk track “What if I stumble?”)

7. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. ~Abba’s Child

8. The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God. “They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.” “What are you complaining about?” said God. “They won’t let me in either.” ~Ragamuffin Gospel

9. Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last “trick”, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

“But how?” we ask.

Then the voice says, “They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There they are. There we are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” ~Ragamuffin Gospel

10. I have been seized by the power of a great affection. ~Ragamuffin Gospel

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What about for you? What are some of the thoughts, quotes from books, things in sermons, thoughts mulling in your mind that are changing you for the better? I’d love to hear them.