What Happens When All The Chocolate Has Been Eaten?

I’m currently trying to work out what I will preach on next Sunday.

It’s Easter Sunday and logic would suggest that the resurrection would be appropriate.

But, isn’t it the case that as we move through the Easter weekend we are more concerned with remembrance than on what’s next?

It goes without saying that we are to remember. It is a great time to reflect on the death and resurrection of our Lord. It is important to see and feel the gospel afresh again.

But are we missing something if all we do is stop there? 

Easter is a great time for remembering our Lord but it is also a great time to re-adjust our priorities. We can come closer to him, be convicted toward transformation, and seek to bring glory to God. The gospel changes and renews, and what better time of the year for this to make a tangible impact in our lives than at Easter.

So, what do we do once all the chocolates have been eaten?

Do we continue on our merry way like nothing much has occurred, only slightly slower from the extra calories?

Or, do we get a renewed sense of God and his purposes, a renewed sense of the gospel?

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The Sadness Of Ministry Closure

When things come to a close it can be a sad time.

When we come back from overseas after a wonderful holiday, when we say good-bye after a lovely dinner with friends, when the inspiring movie could have gone on much longer but had to come to an end. There is often the feeling of sadness.

So it is with youth ministries and programs that come to a close.

The Sadness Of Ministry Closure

At a recent ministry meeting a team of us decided to close a ministry that has been going on in our church for the last three years. For the past 18 months many of the main leaders in this program have left and moved onto other things. Others have simply stopped participating and helping out, not making it a priority. And some, sadly, have left the church and the faith altogether.

The feeling of the team was that it is best to lay the program down for a season or two.

And, it is sad.

It is sad because it is something many have put their hearts and souls into.

It is sad because it is a ministry that was loved by parents, students, and the wider church.

It is sad because relationships were strained because of the program and the stress involved.

It is sad because the investment of money, time, and effort into something like this brings with it an emotional connection.

But my pastor, who chaired the meeting, reminded us all of John 12:24,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

Our ministries, and church programs, including our precious youth group or camp or event, are like the grain. Sometimes they must fall to earth and die in order for more fruit to be produced.

Looking at this verse in closer context we see that some Greeks have come to see Jesus. From Andrew to Peter the message of these visitors is passed on to Jesus. Jesus responds by telling these visitors that his time to be glorified is close, very close.

What the…?

We find shortly after that Jesus is actually referring to his death. Through his death the disciples and the believers will bear much fruit.

But as Jesus continues to speak he says the following in v25-26:

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.”

What a challenge!

It seems we are to look to do the things of God, look to do the work of Jesus, which is to die and be a sacrifice to the world.

How then does this relate to ministries and programs dying? 

Well, maybe it is the case of having to let them die so that more fruit can come from the wider ministries of the church. And maybe, just maybe, it is the case that we are to adjust our focus to Christ and look closely at how we serve him, realigning our ministries with his.

Leaders Who Will Last by Tim Hawkins

leaders who will lastTim Hawkins has been involved in youth ministry  here in Australia for many years. ‘Leaders Who Will Last‘ is his second book on the topic of youth ministry. His first, ‘Fruit That Will Last‘, was written in the late 1990s and is a foundational text for youth ministry practitioners, particularly here in Australia. Before reading Leaders Who Will Last I’d highly recommend reading his first. 

Leaders Who Will Last, published in 2002, is, as you can imagine, all about youth ministry leadership. I have just finished my first reading of it and would recommend it to anyone in the youth ministry field. However, this book is not only for those in youth ministry on a paid basis, but for anyone involved in a voluntary capacity–parent, youth leader, small group leader etc. 

Leaders Who Will Last is grounded in scripture and gives good advice for youth leaders. There are three main sections of the book; one on vision, one on character, and one on skills.

It is under vision that the main biblical foundations are set. The issues of calling, shepherding, and servanthood are rightly portrayed as important. The main characteristics of a leader are to be faithful, reliable, and a follower of those in higher authority, such as the senior pastor, youth pastor, or lead leader.

In terms of skills, the emphasis is on teaching the bible, whether at the main youth gathering or through a bible study. This I find is a bit light, I think there are more things a youth leader should also be across, not just being able to teach the bible. In fact, I think some leaders may not even be able to do that, but there are other skills that they may bring to the overall health of a youth ministry.

Hawkins also describes, in 16 points, the various aspects to youth work and the type of person a youth leader can be, i.e. a pray-er, an organiser, a counsellor etc.

Overall I thought the book was good. An area of improvement would be a deeper theological basis for youth leadership and youth ministry in general. While a biblical theology of youth ministry is not what this book is about I continue to search for such a work. They’re hard to find, even among all the youth ministry books at the theological college I attend. 

Much of what was written applies directly to me, particularly the issue of getting right with God and staying right. I must set my heart on his ways and his agenda. This book pushes me to pray more, I don’t pray nearly enough for my leaders, my peers, my kids, or my church.

And finally, it is a book that I will recommend to fellow youth leaders. There is so much information in this book that is helpful to any leadership position, but specifically to those in youth ministry.

Romans And The Next Generation

This past week I have spent time reading the book of Romans.

It is such a great book.

Paul beautifully sets the foundations of the Christian faith in chapters 1-8, focuses on God’s hand and work in our lives in chapters 9-11, and then highlights the response we are to make in chapters 12-16.

It is a wonderfully written sermon which really nails the gospel of God.

In recent days mission, outreach, and evangelism has been on my mind for the first time in a long time. My ministry as a Youth Pastor needs to be focused on these things and Paul reminds me of their importance in Romans.

The gospel is needed desperately in the inner-eastern suburbs of Melbourne and very much needed by those in high school.

A vision of the Almighty needs to be cast for young people to see that there is hope and purpose in this life. There is no point in carrying out a ministry that doesn’t make hope in Christ front and centre. He should be placed up high, worshipped, magnified and made known to those who need Him–the next generation. He is surely more satisfying than Facebook, Flo-Rida and McFlurry’s!

Where can hope and purpose be found? Christ. Not just what He has done but also who He is.

As I evaluate how to be culturally appropriate to those under my care I continually think of how I can magnify Christ to them too.

May the Lord give grace upon grace in reaching this generation.

Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35 is all about forgiveness.

It is the parable of ‘The Unforgiving Servant’.

Do you know it?

A servant can’t pay his debt to his master. However, he is shown mercy and released from his debt. The servant then goes outside and sees someone who owes him money. This person can’t pay the debt so instead of showing the same kindness given him, the servant puts his debtor in prison. Upon hearing this the servant’s master is furious and throws the servant into prison until he has repaid the whole debt owed.

However, it is the final verse that struck me this morning.

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

What an amazing statement!

If we do not forgive our friend, partner, husband, wife, work mate, family, acquaintance–anyone we come across, then we ourselves will be in the same peril as the servant was.

And no wonder, for Christ has shown immeasurable grace toward us, depraved and sinful beings. Surely we can forgive sin against us when Christ has forgiven all sin for those who have faith in Him.

I know I need to practice forgiveness.

How about you?

I know it’s my pride that gets in the way of saying “sorry” to those I know.

How about you?

I know it’s my pride that gets in the way when I hold a grudge against someone for the way they have behaved.

How about you? 

Lets look to the cross and find full forgiveness from God. And through our forgiveness of others may we show the glory of God.

Humility And Politics

barack-obama-1

There is no doubt that the biggest news story today is the inauguration of Barack Obama to the President of the United States.

It’s strange, looking on from the other side of the world, to watch such a whoo-ha about the appointment of one man to one position.

This morning in my devotions Mark 9:35 struck me as particularly relevant as this new President takes up his post. Jesus says to his disciples, as they debate between each other who is the greatest, If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mr Obama has been offering great hope and a great future to the US, and to the rest of the world. He is in the most powerful position in the world, and one could well think that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Here we are reminded of what makes someone great — humility — someone willing to serve and put others before themselves.

Those in elected office, whether here in Australia or in the US, are deemed to be public servants — serving their constituents and the needs of the community.

When we look to Jesus we see he was the true servant.

His death and resurrection served us, by pardoning our sin.

Jesus showed true humility, and the true meaning of this verse by, taking our punishment for sin on Himself and fulfilling our true needs — forgiveness and reconciliation and hope.

So, while I admire the way Mr Obama conducts himself and pray that he acts with integrity and wisdom I am also conscious that true greatness and true servanthood starts at the cross.

I pray that I’ll be able to apply the cross to my life today, looking to be humble and willing to serve those around me.