Published: Chicken Nuggets or Gospel Nuggets?

I’ve had a daily devotional published as a blog post on digisciple.me:

“Formerly I was in a place that was foolish. In this position I sought to gain pleasure for myself, looking out solely for my own needs and wants. This leads down a path that is unhelpful and unhealthy. Seeking pleasure in the wrong place, and in pursuing wrongful passions, we end up being people who are prideful, egotistical, and self-centred.”

You can read it here.

Other pieces I’ve written can be found here.

We Like It, But Do We Care?

We all see the photos.

You know, those photos that depict the perfect life someone else is living.

matthew-smith-100638Those photos of beautiful sunrises. Those photos of the legs on the beach. Those photos of nights out with friends. Those photos of perfect families, all smiling and joyful and happy. Those photos of food. Oh, those photos of food. The ‘amazing’ smashed avo for breakfast, the ‘delightful’ quinoa salad for lunch, and the ‘huge’ burger for dinner. OMG. Like. Like. Like.

We’ve all seen these photos. They pop up all the time.

And as we sit on our couches scrolling through our phones, feeling sorry for our self and jealous of our so-called friends, I wonder whether we care about the other side…?

Because there is another side.

This other side is the side of people we don’t see while traversing the inter-webs through the 5 different social media apps we have on our phone.

It’s the side of sadness, unhappiness, anxiety, hurt, and brokenness.

A little while ago I was struck by how social media changes my perception the relationship I have with others. I noticed one morning one of my friends was with a new partner. I was stopped in my tracks. The last time I saw a photo they were with their spouse and kids, looking happy. Yet, here in front of me is this person with another partner. It was a bit of a shock.

It’s not a shock because of the relationship breakdown. No, relationships fail and marriages breakdown, that’s not the shocking part. The shocking part is that I felt I was in a position where I could reach out and ask how they were.

In reality I haven’t seen this person in over 10 years. We’ve got no real relationship. Yet, because of the way social media comes at you it makes you feel like you know them, and know them well. What kind of response would they have if I did reach out?

“Oh, you’ve been stalking me on social media”.

“Oh, you’re not really a friend but more an acquaintance, and now you want the goss on what’s happened to my relationship”?

“I haven’t heard from you in 10 years and now you want to connect because something seems to have gone wrong. In my world it’s been heading that way for over 12 months and this is the end result, which every one of my actual friends knows about”.  

None of this comes across well.

We all have friends who we haven’t physically seen in years, and have nothing to do with them outside of our digital world. Yet, because of the nature of social media we find ourselves believing we’re closer to people than we actually are. What we perceive on social media may well be what is happening at the time, but underneath there’s a lot more going on.

There’s always another side.

And so, I wonder whether we actually care about those ‘friends’ with whom we have no outside relationship with?

Where are those friends of ours who don’t post?

Do we think of them?

Do we touch base with them?

Do we care enough to like them too?

What Building Sandcastles Teaches You About Youth Ministry

On holidays our family has been hitting up the beach. With the beach comes sand. And while I know a number of people who aren’t big fans of such creation there are awesome sandcastles to be made with it. Yesterday was our opportunity to achieve such heights of awesomeness. 

Our daughter was sick of the beach after only 30 minutes. Considering the effort it took to get there we weren’t leaving anytime soon. So to help entertain her we began making sandcastles together. The conditions were perfect with the right balance of dry and wet sand. And after picking our spot we created a fairly sizeable sandcastle city with roads, tunnels, bridges, hills, castles and village houses.


Post-sandcastle fun I’ve thought about how this activity can teach those of us in youth ministry a thing or two. So, here are five ways building sandcastles can teach you (and me) about youth ministry. 

(1) You need a team

This was a great activity for my daughter and I to do together. The wife also joined in at times, while our young son looked on. But the experience of building this sandcastle city was made better by doing it together. I could’ve made the thing on my own but this wouldn’t have been as fun, nor would there have been as many ideas about what to build, and the shared experience of doing this together would be non-existent. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

Doing it by yourself can work but it won’t be nearly as good. Youth ministry is great fun together as a team, the ideas coming from each unique person involved is essential in growing faith and community. Furthermore, the shared experience of being on a youth ministry team, serving one another and the church, is something you hold dear for years and years. 

(2) You get dirty 

It’s sand. Sand gets in places you’d never think it could get to. It isn’t the most pleasant flooring to kneel on. It gets in your eyes with every gust of wind. And in my case, it cakes on to my thick matte of leg hair. Building sandcastles means you need to be all in and be ready to get dirty. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

The obvious link here is to refer to the classic youth group night of “messy games”. Of course, you’re going to get messy when playing games involving eggs, tomato sauce, and cooked spaghetti. Messy games are part of any good youth ministry repertoire. 

At a deeper level, getting dirty refers to being involved in the lives of young people and their families. It is physically and emotionally taxing to be helping people with their mental health, sexuality, drugs, alcohol, relationships, family crisis, death, school stress, and other growing pains. It’s a dirty work in this sense. 

(3) You need patience

Building something from scratch, even something as small as a two square metre sandcastle, can take time. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

People take time to grow in life and faith. Being in a ministry that deals with young people who are 11-18 years-old means patience is required. You’re not going to see results in six months. It takes years for the seeds of youth ministry to sprout fruit. 

It’s been said to me by a number of long-term Youth Pastors that they felt most effective after six years. Six years! It is quite rare in the Australian context to find a Youth Pastor who sticks around for more than three years in one church, let alone six. More Youth Pastors need to stay, and recognise that patience in the ministry is required. 

This isn’t all about young Youth Pastors though. Long-term youth ministry volunteers are needed too. It’s the volunteers who more often than not have greater influence long-term than any fly-by-the-night Youth Pastor. 

(4) You make mistakes

At one point in our sandcastle building my daughter and I were digging tunnels under roads and castles. In a couple of areas we hadn’t evaluated the wetness of the sand and soon found the tunnels collapsing, the whole thing folding in on itself. When we tried to make a river flow, in order to create a moat, a group of village houses were taken away in a flood. We made a few mistakes as we build this little sand city. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

Mistakes are bound to be made when you serve in youth ministry. In fact, if you don’t make mistakes you’re probably not trying hard enough.

But mistakes can happen at a variety of levels. Not having enough balls for a game of dodgeball is one thing, writing an angry late night email to a parent is another. Hiring an expensive bus and not having enough kids to cover the costs is one thing, undermining your senior pastor in front of others is another. Not turning up on time to meet one of the young adults is one thing, choosing a person who hasn’t got the character to join the leadership team is another. 

The level and variety of mistakes vary in youth ministry. Some will be of little impact. Others, however, could derail an event, program or the whole ministry.

(5) You will find delight

There was little more satisfying than spending time with my daughter building sandcastles yesterday. It was a delight to play with her and talk with her about what we were doing. We searched for pieces of driftwood to build bridges, and joined hands in tunnels we made. It was a delightful experience. 

Youth ministry is the same. 

While youth ministry may have a number of challenges there is a certain delight that comes with it.

First, seeing young people grow in faith, connecting in with a community of people who accept them, and serving others together as a group, all these bring personal delight. Looking back after a number of years and seeing how young men and women have grown always blows my mind. Being able to help them and their families as they struggle with whatever life might bring is a privilege. There is a personal satisfaction and delight in being involved in such a work. 

Second, ultimately it is not youth ministry that needs delighting in. 

It is Jesus. 

It isn’t the ministry that’s important for young people, it’s the person who they follow. This person isn’t the Youth Pastor, or is it the Youth Leader, or the mentor, or the parent, or the friend. 

The person is Jesus. 

If young people find their delight in Christ then the inward delight will come to anyone involved in youth ministry. But may it be that they delight in their Creator as He delights in them. 

Jesus Invites You In – A Christmas Poem

Below is a Christmas poem written by someone who attends Rowville Baptist. It was written and shared last week at a local retirement village. I had the privilege of having it emailed to me and received permission to share it here. Enjoy.

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Jesus Invites You In!

Young Mary with Joseph a journey did make

Tho’ pregnant with child, this risk she must take

There were thieves along the way, the road was rough

By the time they reached Bethlehem they had had enough

They were hungry and weary, the babe was due any minute

When they saw the inn they hurried to get in it

They knocked on the inn’s door and asked to lodge there

The innkeeper refused, for their plight he didn’t care.

“No room” he said, you cannot stay,

“Go to the stable, go sleep on the hay”

The tills were overflowing, business was good;

Take in these straggling strangers? Couldn’t see why he should

But he paid a price when “No room” he cried

He missed big time when the shepherds arrived

He never got to hear how the heavenly host did sing

He missed being at the birth of our Saviour and King

We recall this story each year for a reason

Lord, help us reach out to others this season

As the day approaches and we are all set to rejoice

Help us remember those who have no voice

Lord may we not reject with a word or a glance

And say “We have no room”, not give others a chance

With your heart and your eyes help us to see,

And pray for the suffering, for those who aren’t free

We pray for ourselves to do unto others

Remembering always they’re our sisters and brothers

Lord we think of the many souls that are lost

We thank you, you saved us at such a great cost

How thankful we are that You made Yourself known

Visited us as a babe, left behind Your own throne

We are so thankful Lord Jesus, that you love us so much

Others who don’t know You, they too need Your touch

Now as Christmas approaches, You stand at the door

Saying “Come in, come in, there’s always room for more”

– Marlene S

I’ve Never Been To Aleppo

I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

I’ve been to Damascus.

I’ve been to Palmyra.

I’ve been to Homs.

I’ve been to Bosra.

 I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

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In 2003, as a fresh faced 20-year-old, I had the opportunity to visit Syria for the first time. With a friend I travelled by taxi from Lebanon, through the mountains that border the two countries, and arrived in Damascus for a one-night stay. It was the sights and smells that did me in.

I was one of very few Westerners. I ate amazing chicken kebabs with garlic mayonnaise and hot chips. I drank beer at a seedy bar that supplied weird nuts on the side. I visited a hammam, a men’s bath and massage centre, and came out the cleanest I’d ever been. I took in the sights of a city that had been around for over 3000 years. I sat in the Umayyad Mosque and attempted to see the “head of John The Baptist”. I stood inside the mausoleum of Saladin. I walked the Al-Hamadiyah Souk, with its storefronts lined with gold and the shopkeepers trying to convince me to buy special silk garments their grandmothers made. I wandered the Old City taking in the history and culture. I paid a visit to the National Museum, full of artefacts from millennia ago. I made my way down the Street called Straight, where Saul turned Paul walked 2000 years ago. I visited Ananias’s House and sat in those two dark rooms thinking about the many followers of the Way who’d been through.

When I visited Damascus I feel in love with the place.

A city that was, and still is, my favourite city in the world.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

In 2006 I took a road trip with another friend of mine. We crossed the border into Syria and after a few days in Damascus we took the local bus to Palmyra, in the middle of the Syrian desert. We explored the ruins and met the bedouin locals.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

On that same trip we visited Homs. We had a brief look around a city that was off the tourist trail. We had our haircuts and made some friends. We took a taxi to a local castle and nearly got beaten up by the driver.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

When my parents came to visit us in Lebanon I took them across the border once again. We took a mini-van to Bosra. The rain came through the rusted out roof, and water was collected in a snap-lock bag. We climbed all over the Roman Amphitheatre and took some funny photos near various Roman ruins.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

#prayforaleppo

O, LITTLE TOWN OF ALEPPO
How scared we see thee lie,
Above thy ancient, ruined streets
Unholy stars collide.
Yet in some backstreet shelter
A newborn infant cries,
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And Herod smells the blood
Still Rachel weeps, but angels keep
Their bitter watch of love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth,
Let weeping cease, and foolish peace
Be born again in us.

How silently, how violently
The wondrous gift is slain
A mother cries and though he dies
Her son shall rise again.
Perceive his broken body
Conceive his future form
And as you grieve, yet still believe
The birth of Isa dawns.

Pete Greig

You’re More Than A Number

Hey,

Tomorrow you find out your VCE results.

This is a big day.

It’s a day where you find out where you’re academically rated amongst your peers after 15 years in the education system.

Tomorrow is also a big day for your parents. For 18 years they’ve been encouraging you, praying for you, and helping you learn and grow into who you are today. For them it marks the final hurdle in seeing you complete your studies and the beginning of a new season – university, work, and other adult-like activities.

As much as family, friends, and teachers have told you that your ATAR score doesn’t define you, I know it doesn’t feel that way. I’m sure you’ve been in conversations about what you’d like to get, what course you might like to apply for, and what you’d like to achieve in 2017 and beyond. People can say this moment doesn’t define you but I’m sure you can’t help but feel nervous and anxious about these results. The text message you receive tomorrow may well dictate the mood of your coming days, weeks, and months. It’s certainly not easy to be in the middle of it all, let alone have others try to convince you that it’s not as important as everyone makes it out to be. Everything from school to family to culture implies something different.

It screams make or break.

A friend of mine received a score lower than 30 when he went through VCE. It was disappointing for himself and his parents. Yet over the years he has held a full-time job, completed studies in Marketing, and in the world’s eyes has become ‘successful’. Another friend scored over 98. She had her pick of all the courses in Victoria but chose to continue her passion and study Psychology (a course that didn’t require such a score). A little while after completing her degree she switched to teaching and has enjoyed it ever since.

I mention these examples because as much as their scores reflected their academic results in the year they completed year 12, they didn’t let it define who they were.

The culture you’ve grown up in, the culture you continue to grow into, tells us that it is what we DO that defines us. It is what we achieve, what we accomplish for ourselves, what we are ‘successful’ at, that makes us who we are.

For those of us who follow Jesus this is turned upside-down.

Rather than having to impress God with the things we do and achieve, we are made free because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we have our faith in Jesus, recognising that he has taken our brokenness upon himself, and turn to follow him, we are made new. We are a new creation, a child of God, one who has been bought back to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since the middle of the year our Sunday services have focussed on our identity in Christ. In the Letter to the Colossians the author makes clear that because of this Good News we are now considered holy and blameless in God’s sight (Col 1:21-22).

Our identity is not defined by what we’ve done, good or bad, or by what we’ve achieved, successful or unsuccessful. We are defined as one who has been made alive in God, forgiven and free (Col 2:13-14).

When you get that text, or make that call tomorrow, the knowledge that you are ‘in Christ’ enables you to have a different perspective.

No longer does the result you achieve define your intelligence, your gifts and abilities, or who you are. Rather, knowing that you are ‘in Christ’ brings perspective and redefines who you are. Look at yourself. God has made you to be you. And nobody else. He’s given you unique passions, abilities, gifts, and ambitions for his good and the good of his kingdom. Therefore, high marks, low marks, bettering your friends or bombing out, do not define who you are.

When we move away from understanding that we are ‘in Christ’, the perspective we have of ourselves becomes distorted. Our self-worth, our identity, and what we deem to be valuable turns inward. We begin to consider ourselves more important and valuable than God and soon enough those things that we DO are defining us again.

So tomorrow, remember that you are worth incredibly more than the number you are given. You are a child of God, made in his image to reflect who he is. You are valuable, someone worth dying for. And you have been made new by the grace and freedom given through the work of Jesus on that cross.

Whatever happens tomorrow Jesus continues to love you and seek you.

Remember, you’re more than a number.

The Presence of God

I’m once again attempting to read the whole Bible through in a year as part of my daily devotions. It’s a yearly goal. Sometimes it gets done, sometimes it doesn’t. This year I’ve been inspired by Melissa Kruger to take on this program which allows for the weekends off. If you’d like to join in it’s not too late!

Today’s reading was from Genesis 28-29 and Mark 11. I found it interesting how they dovetailed each other.

In Genesis 28 Jacob, on his way to find a wife, has a vision from the Lord while he is sleeping. This vision is essentially God promising Jacob that he will continue the line of Abraham. After this vision Jacob wakes up and realises that God is present. He wakes and says:

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

As a result Jacob builds a pillar of stone in honour of the Lord and makes a vow to Him.

In Mark 11 Jesus enters Jerusalem with much fanfare. He is praised and honoured and arrives on the back of a donkey. He makes his way around the city and heads to the Temple, the place where God is supposedly residing. Here he comes upon business activities that are unbecoming for a place of worship. He clears the Temple Courts and curses them.

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As I read these two passages side by side this afternoon I was struck by the reality of God’s presence in the world. In one God comes through a vision to Jacob and by the time the first century rolls around there is a temple representing the presence of God among the people.

But with the arrival of Jesus these things become redundant.

We may still have visions and we may still have places of worship representing God’s presence but it is the presence of Jesus that brings the presence of God to us. For it is Jesus who is the True Presence, he is the one who is the reality of God in the world.

We celebrate this every Christmas when we remember how God entered the world as a baby. We remember every Easter the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so that we may know the presence of God in our lives. And we live each day knowing God is present with us through His Spirit.

What a wonderful encouragement for us to know that the very presence of God is with us wherever we are in the world!