Monday, 29 December 2008

Noticing God – a New Year Resolution

I never realised how many babies there where until my wife got pregnant.

Nothing prepared me for the sheer quantity of pregnant women & small children in crazy, non-steer yellow trolley-truck thingys that I suddenly saw in Tesco’s. And since September I’ve noticed nappy adverts, “Baby on Board” stickers & the price of toys for the first time.

These new observations have astonished me. Have I been blind to this all along or had it just not registered?

This has led to a first New Year Resolution in ages.

You see I’m not that big into NYR’s. I don’t understand why resetting the calendar fills us with so much unfounded hope that we’ll shift the bingo wings, befriend sunrise for jogging & meditation and procrastinate less on FaceBook… I mean give me two weeks & I’ll be back to a low-veg diet, booing joggers, snoozing instead of praying & addicted to WordTwist.

However, NYR’s are a good reminder that we’re not perfect; that there’s stuff about our lives that needs to change; that we want to be better or at least different. And this year rather than set a pie-in-the-sky high bar challenge, I’m trying to involve God in the NYR process - which leads me back to the baby observations.

I feel that God is calling me to notice Him more. To realise that He is around (even when I’m blind to His presence) and make a conscious effort to look for Him in everyday life - including the irritating teenager, the traffic jam situation or the failed ministry opportunity.

To steal a John Ortberg title, “God is closer than you think” so my NYR is to look a little more intently for His daily presence in the mundane, monotonous & frustrating, rather than just in the spectacular & unique.

Anyone else got a NYR?

Friday, 19 December 2008


“Those people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

We talk a lot about light at Christmas.

This isn’t just because we’re restricted to a few hours of daylight in this season (at least in the northern hemisphere), but because we remember ‘The Light of the World’ entering our sphere in human form.

Infinite God, Creator of the universe, the All-Powerful One came down and lived among us. He limited Himself to a human body; a body that felt pain, got tired, cried & couldn’t control His infant bladder.

I find this a weirdly wonderful concept.

Christ’s life, death & resurrection is the light by which Christians try to live.
Without this we stumble, fall, get hurt and experience the dangers that come with the darkness.
With Him we can see, we can live and experience the comfort & safety of His presence.

Christians are also called to be “the light of the world” reflecting God’s goodness & greatness, showing the way to The Way, leading our friends, family & communities to the Saviour.

I find this a terrifying, but also weirdly wonderful concept.

May you stop long enough to allow Jesus to bring light to your darkest areas this Christmas and may you let Him shine through you to bring this beautiful light to others.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 15 December 2008

"The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no-one to thank." G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 12 December 2008

Designer Dogs & Dirty Water

So I'm just back from a few days in London, the Big Smoke, with my wife.

I normally hate the place. Too many people bustling about, invading my personal space & using elbows as leavers to bump me out of the way. So rather surprisingly I actually really enjoyed this trip.

We saw "Wicked" at the West End (highly recommended, especially to Wizard of Oz fans), posed beside wax celebrities in Madame Taussad's, sailed over the Houses of Parliament in the London Eye, reset my watch by Big Ben standards & relived childish nostalgia in Hamleys.

However, one of the most striking moments of the trip was standing in Harrods, in the Pet Kingdom section, listening to "Do they know it's Christmas" playing on the radio.

Something just isn't right when you're offered the opportunity to spend (literally) hundreds of pounds on toys & designer clothes for your dog, while various pop stars remind us about needs in Africa. Never mind their lack of snow... their lack of clean water & sanitation is a much more pressing need.

Check this video out... I found it challenging.

Friday, 5 December 2008

For Dumb Fish

I’ve only been fishing once before. It was cold, quite boring & I wasn’t too successful.

But I do know something about fish… they are stupid!

In fact, they are perhaps the most stupid animal God has created. Their very existence has been summarised like this “they see food; they want food; they eat food.” All very well except humans have deployed this strategy to catch & fry little fishes for thousands of years. See it…want it… get it… destruction.

We can be pretty dumb at times too… especially men.

Lust has promised us freedom & happiness for years, but has only ever delivered us into slavery. The results are easily evidenced in the rise of sexual addictions, the sexual emptiness in so many relationships & a global porn industry worth over £30 billion.

We live in the world of see it… want it… have it. But like the fish, our promising morsel of satisfaction becomes the bait leading to destruction. So if you’re struggling with lust in its various forms you’re not a lonely traveller. Here are some practices I’ve picked up along the way to help me in the battle with lust.

Make a promise: like Job make a covenant with your eyes not to sin. You do have the power to avoid glaring at the bosom, logging on to dodgy web pages & putting yourself in uncompromising situations.

Find a friend: the word accountability is used often & practiced little. Find someone with whom you can share your struggles, your battles and your victories.

Live a life of gratitude: all sin stems from dissatisfaction with what God has blessed us with. If you want to fight sexual temptation, start by opening your eyes & thanking the Lord for who & what He has given you.

Hope these help.

From a dumb fish.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Monday, 1 December 2008

Ripping off Jesus

Jesus gets a bad deal each Christmas.

I often wonder how I would feel if people turned up to celebrate my birthday, but gave gifts to everyone except me!

Bart Simpson once remarked that “we should get back to the true meaning of Christmas… celebrating the birth of Santa.”
I laugh, but seconds later a nagging thought enters the arena, perhaps that’s not a million miles from the truth.

Immanuel – God with us. The greatest gift we could ever receive. A mind-bogglingly brilliant present. God became flesh & moved into our neighbourhood. Not to be served as a king, but to live as a servant.

The Magi set a great example for us. They were overjoyed to meet Jesus; they bowed down & worshipped the baby, & gave him the precious gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

As we celebrate the gift of Immanuel this year, can l encourage you to consider what you will give Jesus this year. Here are just some suggestions…

The gift of availability – hang out with Jesus; listen, journal, enjoy time with Him, read the Christmas story (do it together; let the kids join in too!)

The gift of love – respond to those in need at Christmas, help feed the hungry, clothe the homeless or buy a bog in the developing world (

The gift of time – visit your elderly relative or play a silly game with your kids.

The gift of togetherness – join with His people to worship the King, enjoy the carols & share some craic over a mince pie.

The gift of appreciation – reflect on all the many blessings that Jesus has poured out for you this year & thank Him for them.

I wish you all a joy-filled Advent & Christmas season.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Why Sat Nav is better than a Wife

I don’t have a SatNav device. Even though I’m useless with directions I’m still too tight to invest in one. I feel it’s an affront to my masculinity to seek out this information. Even when I do ask for help, I may be nodding in agreement & look like I’m listening, but inside my head the monkey is banging drums & doing the Cha-Cha slide. I guess that’s why I end up lost so often.

To me SatNav seems infinitely greater than following your wife’s directions as she co-pilots towards the destination. For starters SatNav has a soothing, gentle voice when offering instructions. Secondly, when you ignore its advice, SatNav never huffs & says “fine well, find your own way.” Thirdly, when I get lost SatNav never calls me an idiot, but simply recalculates the direction in which I should be heading.

As in driving so in faith.

God often speaks to me with His soothing, gentle whisper offering instruction as to how best to experience life. Sometimes I listen, but all too often I think that I may know better than my omniscient Creator.

On such occasions I find myself lost in the wilderness or stuck in a dirt track. As I switch the radar back on I’ve often expected a huffing, “I told you so” response, and even though I would deserve that rebuke, my Heavenly Father fails to deliver. Instead I’ve found the same gentle voice re-calculating my path from where I am & guiding me on the way.

If you’ve been travelling with the SatNav turned off recently & are feeling pretty lost & scared to approach the Holy One for fear of rebuke, then listen to these words…

“Don’t be afraid, don’t despair. Your God is present among you, a strong Warrior there to save you. Happy to have you back, He’ll calm you with His love & delight you with His songs.” Zephaniah Ch. 3

Come home lost child. Turn on the SatNav, open the Word & listen for the loving, guiding voice of your Creator. It is His great delight when you come to Him.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Shack

The Shack has become a publishing phenomenon, a bestseller by a first-time author that has rocketed up the sales charts with rumors of an impending movie. That’s not bad for a book that was self-published by the author, William P. Young, and started out being sold out of a garage.The glowing reviews for The Shack hail it as everything from the new Pilgrim’s Progress (theologian Eugene Peterson) to "one of the rare fiction books that could change your life."

The story begins with Mackenzie "Mack" Phillips, a father suffering great pain because of the death of his young daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Mack receives a note from "Papa" to meet him at the rundown shack in the woods where police had found evidence of his daughter’s murder six years earlier. Mack, who was raised by a hypocritical, vicious and abusive father (who was also a pastor) already understands from previous experience that "Papa" is God.

Mack approaches the shack with rising anger, wanting to lash out at God for allowing his young girl to be killed. Instead of the expected old man with a long white beard, he's suddenly embraced by "a large beaming African-American woman" who introduces herself as Papa.
Mack is then introduced to the rest of the Trinity: Jesus, a Middle Eastern man dressed as a laborer, and the Holy Spirit, a woman of Chinese ethnicity named Sarayu. The rest of the story is a conversation among the three members of the Trinity and Mack as they work through issues of creation, fall and redemption.
So what did I think about it?
It made me think. At times I found it a little cheesy (dare I say American?), but it poked, prodded & provoked me. Young's intentions are good: he wants to introduce readers to a loving God who was willing to sacrifice his own Son to save us from our sins.

However, I wonder if he does this at the expense of revealing God’s holiness & role as the final Judge. It’s difficult to hold all these views of God together, but at times I got the feeling that God was presented as a loving, indulgent parent who never judges sin.

For example, Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

Also, whilst I welcome anything that challenges our “Gandalf-God stereotype” (white beard, long hair); I felt extremely uncomfortable with the anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities) of God the Father. I’m currently trying to explore this feeling. Perhaps it’s because God is Spirit, perhaps it’s because God never reveals Himself as a female in Scripture; either way it made me uneasy.

The Shack wants to make God accessible to a hurting world and I value how Young exposes different human fears & establishes that all fear is rooted in distrust of God. I’d encourage you to read the book with an open mind… But not so open that your brains fall out.

It is a book that promotes thought & discussion on the sacred so I’d suggest reading it with a friend & exploring your findings together (there’s even a Shack web page to help this process).

However, let’s remember that it isn’t God’s spoken Word – it is a novel. If we lose track of this, we’re in great peril.
If anything in it doesn’t agree with Scripture - bin it
If anything in helps connect you with the God revealed in Scripture – celebrate it.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts/reviews of it. Please post below.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Friday, 21 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 10: If all else fails remember this…

Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

God bless you in your ministry. Never give up, never let up, God is at work through you.

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 9: Old dogs can learn new tricks

One of my pet hates in youth work is that everyone thinks they are an expert. I understand this feeling. When I started in full time youth ministry I knew how to save the world & bring a generation to Christ. 60 months later life is greyer, youth culture is changing more rapidly than Newcastle United’s management & I often find myself with little idea of what I’m doing.

I need training. Not just that training event that I went on in 1991; I need regular training to keep on the ball.

Some benefits of training in youth ministry…
It provides an intentional space to reflect on what you are doing & dream about what you could be doing.
For education about current youth culture & ministry issues.
Developing new practical skills.
Meeting with others experiencing the same frustrations & joys.

Amongst other things, recent training events have helped me to develop communication skills, deepen my understanding of the changing nature of adolescence & realise that our church is not alone in its struggles to minister to teenagers.

It is sheer arrogance and downright stupidity to assume that you don’t need training. Experienced leaders value training & reflection; the best are hungry to learn & grow. Yes I appreciate that it’s not always easy to find the time, but let’s start valuing the importance of training lest we walk blindly into a wall.

So why not commit to going to a training event this year? Meet a youth worker for chat – supply coffee & there’s no stopping them. Get your team together to think, pray & dream. Read a book on youth ministry (anything by Duffy Robbins, Chap Clark or Marv Penner is useful).

If you’re fresh to this game make regular training part of your ministry & you are committing to a lifetime of excellence; if you’re older, go learn a new trick; if you’re involved in training – I salute you!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 8: Become a thief

I am not very creative. I am not a 100-ideas-per-day youth worker; in fact I startle myself if I have one creative idea per month. However, I confess to being an expert “thief.” I see your good idea, I think it’ll work in my context, I steal & adapt it for my purposes (incidentally, I stole most of this top tips series from a youth worker colleague, although I did ask permission… cheers, Graeme).

Perhaps this is an inappropriate use of Scripture, but these words resonate with me, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look, there is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

Some people are very possessive of good ideas. My response is to boo you & encourage you to get it copyrighted – then I will be willing to pay money to steal your ideas.

Can I encourage you to purchase & pinch ideas from a very helpful resource of recent years, “The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School” by Aaron Reynolds. Written for children’s leaders, but ideas that are very transferable to a youth ministry context. Go buy… read… steal… adapt.

Be brave and try something new today. And if you find anything in this blog remotely helpful… take it, nick it, own it, and use it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 7: The Ronseal Principle

You know your purpose. You know where you fit into the overall picture. Now it’s time to step back & practice the Ronseal Principle.

Does it do what it says on the tin? Are you fulfilling the purpose for which your organisation exists?

I hate the dentist. Not him personally, but I hate going to visit him for several reasons.
(1) I’m a big Jesse & loathe the scraping of my teeth with a chisel;
(2) I don’t like paying lots of money to people who cause me pain;
(3) It annoys me when I’m asked questions while my mouth is wedged open with a kitchen plug & a vacuum cleaner.

However, I realise that I had better visit him soon. I am motivated by the pain of my emerging wisdom teeth. All is not well & I need him to evaluate my mouth & fix me.

We’re a bit like that in the church. We wait until something goes wrong, until we feel the pain, before we evaluate. In the busyness of the “do do do” we rarely step back & consider how it is going. And if you don’t do regular youth ministry check ups; you will probably cause a lot of pain – to yourself and to teenagers.

Some starter questions to get you going… “Are we reaching our target audience”; “Have we met our specific intended outcomes?”; “Are leaders fulfilling their responsibilities for this programme?”

Does your ministry do what it says on the tin? If not, don’t be afraid to investigate the reasons why?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 6: See the bigger picture

Fresh from putting into practice Tip 5, you’ve clarified in your head what the point of your organisation or role is in the discipleship of teenagers. So now it’s time for some joined up thinking. Open your eyes to the bigger picture; to the purpose of your youth ministry as a whole & your church.

Questions you need to consider at this stage are… “What other organisations or people within our church/community work with teenagers?” “What are they doing? What’s their purpose?” “Are we doing the same thing or offering something unique?”

Jesus bids us shine” is an annoying little song with a crappy tune that I had to endure as a child. One refrain in particular is annoying, “you in your small corner & I in mine.” This sort of nonsense is preached & practised all too often in the church.

Let’s get over this quick, before more teenagers get disgruntled with religiosity.

“What is your Youth Fellowship, CE, Bible Class, Scout Group, Guides, BB, GB, Small Groups, Youth Club doing to minister to & disciple youth?” “Are we working together in our purpose or ‘competing’ for the same teenagers so that they are out 5 nights a week?” “Do we think that ‘our’ organisation is the only important one in youth work?”

Get your whole team together & make a joined up purpose statement*** to make sense of your programmes, utilize your volunteers more effectively, ensure all leaders are singing from the same song sheet & provide direction for young people’s spiritual development.

Let’s get our little candles out of our small corners and start burning a blazing fire in the centre of the room. You never know we may actually find some young people coming to warm their hands there.

*** Here is our purpose statement by way of example, “SRPC Youth & Children’s ministry exists to connect God & young people by encouraging them to love Him and become more like Jesus. We seek to incorporate them into the church family, to equip them & help them explore their gifts.”

Friday, 14 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 5: Ask, “what’s the point?”

Everything we ever do is motivated by a reason – some of these things are conscious, although many are unconscious.

For example, I have just visited the little boy’s room. This is because I thought to myself, “goodness, my peanut sized bladder feels very full from over-indulgence in coffee; I had better empty it for the fifteenth time today.”
This was a conscious decision.

However, last night I stupidly placed my hand on an oven ring. Instead of consciously thinking, “hey, I’d better remove my hand from this cooker as it appears that smoke is rising from my fingers”, I quickly whipped them away & placed them under a cold tap. An unconscious decision.

Both processes are important.

However, as a church we often forget, ignore or have been trained not to practice the former – conscious thinking. We run around at 400mph, trying to get everything done (“the way it’s always been done”) & rarely sit back long enough to ask, “Why am I doing this? Why is this organisation run this way? What is the point of this meeting? Why I am meeting with this person?”

My advice today is simple, verging on the patronising. Take some scheduled thinking time. Be intentional. Ask what is the reason behind your ministry? Why am I having this meeting? What is the purpose of our organisation? Why do we do what we do, in this way?

But don’t assess whether it’s meeting that purpose just yet, that’s coming up later!!!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 4: Relationship is Central

Take 20seconds and think about the person who most positively impacted you as a teenager.

(Stop cheating… stop reading & think)

Was it the music teacher who gave you confidence in your ability for the first time? A sports coach who encouraged you to keep going when you felt like giving up? A parent who didn’t send you to a borstal, despite your behaviour? Was it the person who actually wanted an honest answer when they asked “how are you?”

I’d be willing to bet that the person who helped change your life had a good relationship with you. I mean when did we ever value the opinion of someone we didn’t respect or who didn’t take the time to truly know us?

In youth ministry we want young people to have a life-changing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We want leaders to have solid relationships with one another, with young people, and with young people’s parents. We want young people to have accountable relationships with their peers and their parents. We want the wider church body to have a positive relationship with the youth ministry.

Every meeting with a young person is an opportunity. To inspire them… to build their confidence… to make them laugh… to listen purposefully… to point them towards God’s ways.

So let me offer some suggestions for how we might build relationships with teenagers (stolen & adapted from “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry” by Doug Fields).

R is for “Relational Approach” – have a serious conversation with a teenager at least once a month.
E is for “Encouragement” – praise good questions, answers, sincere sharing & their involvement.
L is for “Laughter” – pursue humour, smile (even when they goof it up); don’t let your church group feel like a funeral.
A is for “Acceptance” – of everyone, but especially the unpopular, the geeky & the hurting.
T is for “Transparency” – don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers & that life confuses you sometimes too.
I is for “Involvement” – young people should do 90% of talking; which means you should do 90% of the listening.
O is for “Outreach” – pray for nonbelievers & constantly talk about friendship evangelism.
N is for “Numerical Growth” – would new people feel welcome in your group? If your group isn’t growing in numbers, be brave & ask “why not”?
S is for “Spiritual Growth” – talk about faith, not just football, shopping & X-Factor.
H is for “Home-like” – when you haven’t seen a young person in a while say “Welcome back” not “Where you have been?”
I is for “Integrity” – try to be consistent with young people.
P is for “Professional” – be aware of parents’ perceptions.
S is for “Strategic” – if you don’t see a young person for a while, send them a letter or give them a call.

I’m off to try & practice what I preach.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 3: Don’t be a Lone Ranger

“Who was that masked man?” “Why, he’s the Lone Ranger?”

There are many different roles that need fulfilled to ensure an effective youth ministry. Everything from Bible teacher to toast maker; leader of fun games to taxi driver; prayer co-ordinator to administration expert; encourager/pastor to manager.

But just because there are many different roles doesn’t mean that you have to do these all yourself.

Yet most of us come from churches that promote a “Lone Ranger mentality” where the minister, youth worker or small group of people do all the practical work, ministry and everything in-between. Many congregations will have an attitude that because they “employ” or “elect” someone to a role, then they can sit on their backside & admire (or more commonly critique) from the stands. Also, some ego-driven or controlling individuals don’t like to empower others to help in ministry.

Don’t buy into this myth. Being a Lone Ranger will only lead to frustration, loss of passion, burn out and spiritual starvation. Been there, bought the T-shirt. It’s not nice and it’s not God’s intention.

Build up a team of people passionate about Jesus & passionate about introducing teenagers to Him… then use your team’s weird & wonderful personalities, skills and abilities to work together for the Kingdom.

Some vital words for your vocabulary are “Team”, “Delegation” and “Sorry I can’t do that, but _____ might be able to help you/”

If Paul Halliwell needed a Tonto; if Jesus sent His disciples out in teams; and if Paul gives us detailed instructions on working as a body (1 Corinthians 12) then you’d be wise to heed their example.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

Tip 2: Get over your Messiah complex

Let’s say together with me… “I am not God.”

You are not the Messiah (although you may be a very naughty boy).
You are not the Saviour of the world, your church, your ministry or even yourself.
Your young people need Jesus not you.

Phew, let that truth sink in for a second. Because if we really believe it deep down then it will save us from the ugly headed monster of arrogance and the inner destruction of despair & depression.

Unfortunately, I am over-qualified to talk about this complex as it is a real struggle for me.

To illustrate let me share an example. Last year our Youth Club was going through a difficult period. I’d taken a week off & phoned another leader to see how it had gone. His response was that it had been a fantastic week with kids listening for a change & opening up about faith….

… And inside I was disappointed!

Disappointed because I wasn’t there, because they weren’t opening up to me – the youth pastor, the “expert”, the “professional”. Inside the demon of pride had wanted to hear that the evening had been a disaster, that leaders couldn’t cope without me and a pleading to never leave them again. How arrogant, insecure & messed up is that?

God is constantly teaching me that I am not the Messiah. That He does not need me. And on the days when I really accept this fact, I am at my most useful to Him.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Top Ten Tips for Youth Leaders

It isn’t easy leading teenagers. Relating to them, understanding their world & nurturing their faith can be a roller coaster ride, so over the next two weeks I want to share my top ten tips for fulfilling this calling. I hope you find something helpful.

Tip 1: First things first

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me.” Jesus

We often start in the wrong place. Who will we get to be a youth leader? Who’s young? Who’s funny? Who’s gullible enough to take on this responsibility?

Yet the Bible’s call is always to put Christ-like character above all other criteria.

Yes we need people who have relational skills, musical talent & teaching abilities; yes we need people who can invent crazy games with marshmallows & shaving cream BUT ultimately listening ears, caring hearts & spiritual passion come from a Christ-centred heart.

Do you want a healthy youth ministry? Well start by taking seriously the power of God in your own spiritual life. All too often I’ve let my team down by overemphasizing ‘how to do the work of God’, at the expense of ‘how to be a person of God’ – so let’s get our priorities right.

Teenagers are lonely & have buried their hurt deep beneath the surface. They need God’s Spirit, but He is not to be found in a programme – He is found in the lives of ordinary believers like you & me.

If you’ve bought into the myth that you need to be funny, cool, busy, creative or whatever. Forget that. What our youth need is for you to be God’s child. So put the lesson plan away, forget the funny video from YouTube, and spend time worshipping the Saviour this week.

And if doing too much ministry is drawing you away from being with the Master… the ministry has to go.

“they were so absorbed in their ‘God projects’ that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road” Romans 9

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Youth Ministry & Puke

I rubbed her back as she barfed down the toilet.

Not a pleasant sight, but inside I had mixed feelings. I hate sick, poo & blood. I run a mile from smells. But inside I was smiling.

Something special was happening inside my wife. A baby was being formed. New life had been created. In the midst of something horrible (the puking), something amazing was going on (the pregnancy).

A wise friend once described (youth) ministry in similar terms. “When on the outside it looks like a complete disaster; inside God is growing something special and life-changing.”

So on the days when ministry to adolescents looks like a mess, like a disaster, a waste of time, a pile of puke…. remember through your faithfulness God is at work, growing something special, building His church and the gates of hell won’t stand against it.

Monday, 3 November 2008


“Men want to be him… Women want to be with him.”

But enough about me....

There is nothing like sitting back and enjoying a cinematic experience of Bond. Despite disappointing some critics, I found "Quantum of Solace" a well spent fiver. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond is even competing strongly against my long-standing affection for Sean Connery in the role.

He’s brought a human element & vulnerability back to Bond again and new plots which revolve around more believable issues of terrorism, rather than the “I’m-going-to-control-the-sun” and “I-will-now-drive-my-invisible-car” nonsense. I also like Craig’s dark side, the demons that torment him and his struggles with revenge.

And if we’re honest there’s a part within most guys which craves that life of adventure surrounded by fast cars and fancy toys, not to mention the beautiful women.

But this last observation puzzles me somewhat.

Bond is nothing like Jesus.
Bond is violent; Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Bond is a misogynist; Christ is a Liberator of women.
Bond is sophisticated & cool, Christ was the opposite.
Bond refuses to die; Christ gave His life up willingly.
(Of course Bond is also fictitious; Christ is real)

So which character depicts what it means to be a real man? Jesus or James? Who do you really want to emulate and follow?

I suppose the tussle between the desires to be Bond and the desires to be Jesus exemplify the desires of the sinful nature and the life of Spirit within believers (Galatians 5:19-26).

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Scan

So I met my foetus yesterday for the first time.

As you may or may not be able to see from the photo “it” looks a bit like a cross between ET & Skeletor and has already developed David Healey legs after “it’s” father. We’ve known about our arrival since late August and it’s such a relief to be able to share the excitement with other people now.

Once again I can’t help, but turn to that marvellous Psalm, number 139, where David is praying to his all-seeing, all-powerful and everywhere-present Creator. That God is already at work in the life of our child.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully & wonderfully made” (v13).

I already know my greatest delight for Johnny or Annie Junior. It’s to see them grow to love and follow God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

I appreciate there’s a long way to go before their arrival in this world (never mind the hard work of adapting my life to sleepless nights and dirty nappies), but two things I am sure off…
1. God is good.
2. Newcastle will have another supporter by the end of the season.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Not as unique as I thought…

I like to think of myself as pretty unique. That God broke the mould when He made me. That I'm special. The only Johnny Bell around… But these egotistical hopes evaporated as I clicked on the following web page

According to their stats there are 302,354 people in the USA with Johnny as their first name, making it the 211th most popular. Thankfully 98.48% of these people are male, but who are the 4,535 female freaks with this as a first name?

Bell is even more common with 357,328 USA residents sharing this surname - although a small Scottish city probably has a similar number - with famous Bells including Alexander Graham (inventor of telephone) and Jamie Bell (aka Billy Elliot).

There are even 354 people specifically called "Johnny Bell" – although unlike Dave Gorman ( I have no desire to track them all down. Incidentally there are 43 people called Homer Simpson, 6 called Jesus Christ and 4 poor creatures called Ben Dover.

So if my name is as common as man flu in October or a new manager at Newcastle, what is it that makes me unique?

Well if God is to be believed, we are all individually, crafted masterpieces. The perfect workmanship of a loving Creator. Someone who knows exactly how we tick, what makes us smile & what causes us to flip out. If you don’t believe me check out Psalm 139.
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvellously made.
I worship in adoration – what a creation.

You know me inside and out. You know every bone in my body.
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”

If we could only meditate on and integrate the words of this Psalm into the depths of our heart; our lives would never be the same again.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Are the British a miserable lot?

You can waste your life on the internet.
There’s always a story, article or game to help you procrastinate when there’s something more important to do. And so it was when I came across an interesting article entitled, “Why nothing makes the British quite so happy as being miserable?”

Eric Weiner (a Yank) suggests that “we are a nation of Victor Meldrews taking a perverse pleasure from our grumpiness” and as such we are one of the gloomiest countries on the planet. **

Is Weiner correct? Are we a grumpy lot? Do we revel in complaining? Are we a nation where the happy are strange anomalies and regarded suspiciously? Is this why we find David Brent, Jim Royale & Basil Fawlty hilarious? Do we scowl at everyone who laughs out loud on public transport or in a restaurant? Is happiness a sign that you are not intelligent enough to realise how miserable you should be?

Or is it that Mr Weiner himself suffers a sense of humour failure? Does he not appreciate our sarcasm genes, teasing and self-depreciating humour?

Are we actually miserable? And if so, how does this reconcile with “living out the Gospel”? Should it change how we read verses such as Philippians 2:14 - “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God”?

** Incidentally the five happiest places he claims are Bhutan, Iceland, Thailand, India & Switzerland (with all that Milka who couldn’t be happy?)

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I found John Boyne’s book extremely powerful, so I’ve been eagerly expectant waiting for the big screen version.

What can I say about the movie? Well, I probably wouldn’t recommend it for a first date – it’s not exactly a snog-&-snuggle-in-the-back-seat sort of movie, but it is the most moving & remarkable film about childhood I have ever seen.

Bruno is the eight-year-old son of a Nazi officer. When his father is promoted from a desk job in Berlin to commanding a death camp in the middle of nowhere, Bruno can’t quite understand the sudden frosty tension between his parents, or why he is forbidden to visit the strange “farm” with the electric fences.

Exploring the area one day, Bruno meets Shmuel (a boy on the other side of the fence) and the two strike up a friendship. One review describes this relationship as having “the rhythm of a children’s adventure, spiked by unspeakable adult truths.” The boys laugh, talk, play games and struggle to understand the prejudices & propaganda that separate them.

The film evokes various emotions with several memorable themes arising including boundaries, betrayal, guilt & forgiveness and a non-forgettable moment when the words “thank you” have never seemed so powerful.

As a youth worker, I’m glad this book/film has been produced. It engages with the complexity of the Holocaust in a language that can move youth as profoundly as adults. Whilst there is the danger that this can be branded a work of fiction, it is important that as the “Holocaust generation” dies off, those successive generations never forget the horrific evils of the past. This movie should leave us with the chilling reality that these unspeakable events could happen again.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Good stewardship the new name for stinginess?

Credit crunch this… credit crunch that… we’ve still got our game consoles & we’re still getting fat.

I’m fed up of people saying “they’ve no money” (as they walk along the street swaying to their IPODS with fancy phone in pocket) which better translates as “I’ve no money to have a nice meal out every weekend or to buy every gadget, game or garment that I want.”

So what? My greatest fear with the credit crunch is not that I won’t be able to buy Tesco Finest anymore or that new clothes are costing me more money… No, my greatest fear is that I’ll get even stingier with my giving.

The media tells us that we have no money to play with anymore and as we run for the hills, we stop giving to church & overseas charities and who suffers? Those who are truly poor… who have no clean water… who are dying of malnutrition… those who have no money!

You see despite our “awful” new financial circumstances & escalating house prices, we still hold the keys to solving one of the greatest evils in this world… the unjust distribution of materials and stomping on the poor for cheaper jeans.

Yet I still find myself struggling to increase my giving to Tearfund, trying to find evidence that a tithe isn’t a Biblical precedent and blocking out any messages that suggest developing world communities have been ripped off in bringing me a bargain.

Jesus doesn’t mince His words to the CHURCH on this one in Mathew 25. He claims that those “goats” that overlooked the hungry, ignored the thirsty, disregarded the homeless and refused to visit those in prison, will be deprived of the eternal reward given to the “sheep.”

Forget budgeting and tighter pockets, that’s something worth thinking about.

Monday, 8 September 2008

“My grace is sufficient…”

I’m convinced that we don’t actually believe Jesus’ words most of the time. We don’t think He knows what He’s talking about. If we believed Him like Paul did, we’d live our lives very differently.

For example, there’s a strange little dialogue between Paul & Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12.

Paul receives astounding visions & revelations from God… God gives Paul a “thorn in the flesh”, some debilitating situation to stop Paul becoming arrogant or self-sufficient… Satan uses this to torment Paul, to get him down… Paul begs Jesus to take the thorn away… Jesus refuses, but whispers these powerful words...

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I relate to this situation; perhaps you do too. The visions & revelations from God is pretty cool… the “thorn” is a pain, a hindrance, a stick for Satan to beat me with... and when I beg for it to be removed, Jesus replies, “No… I’m all you need. My power is perfected when you’re on your knees dependent on me, not when you’re self-sufficient and proud.”

So let me ask you - what is your “thorn”? What is a hindrance for you? Is it a debilitating physical condition or continual struggles with mental illness? Is a habit or addiction that you can’t seem to shift? Is it a fear of the future - a new location, a new job, a new start at university?

Whatever it is, there’s a sure bet that Satan will try to use it to beat you with, to cause you pain or anguish, to remind you that you are inadequate. And when he does will you believe Jesus? Will you accept His words of comfort and integrate them deeply within your daily living? Will you be driven to knees & into the arms of your Saviour or will you despair because you are inadequate to face the situation you are in?

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into it’s own in your weakness.
I love you.”

Jesus Christ to you today.