Why Every Youth Pastor Should Watch ‘Spotlight’

Last week I saw the movie Spotlight on the big screen. I walked away thinking every Youth Pastor should see this film.

Spotlight

Spotlight is the story of how the Boston Globe, one of Boston’s most famous newspapers, broke the devastating news of sexual abuse by Catholic priests upon young children in its city. The movie follows the reporters investigating the story and gives an amazing account of their work to uncover such atrocities. It’s a harrowing story and one that needs to be remembered.

As a Youth Pastor I am responsible for the care of children. As I walked out of the flick I had a overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those under my care. Most of the time the role of Youth Pastor is amazing. It’s a privilege to be able to share and teach the Christian faith to those who are exploring it for themselves. Leading those who wish to see their friends come to know Jesus is exciting work. But, there are also times when certain topics or areas of responsibility need to be in order to make the church environment a safe place for young people. With this in mind I found Spotlight to be a good reminder.

1. It’s a reminder of how sinful supposed good people can be.

The Catholic priests in charge of young people were seen as safe people. And rightfully so. The church is meant to be a safe place for all people. Yet, like all people the priests are fallen and sinful people. This doesn’t excuse them of their horrid behaviour of course. But it is a reminder that good people are sinful and fallen human beings. The church is a collective of sinners, not saints.

2. It’s a reminder of how people look to the church for care and protection. 

This story broke around 15 years ago. The film depicts Boston as a city that trusts its priests and ‘the church’. It may not be so today but there are plenty of people who still look to the church and its ministers for care and protection, for guidance and help. The Church, as the body of Christians worldwide, should continue to strive in setting the example of love and care for others.

3. It’s a reminder of the responsibility churches have to care for children and their families.

As I’ve mentioned, the responsibility on churches and particularly those ministries dealing with young people should make best practice in child safety a priority. It is just so important to have policies and procedures, to have proper screening, and to be in alignment with government laws regarding duty of care for minors. Most people are trusting of others, but it is the responsibility of those in charge of events and programs to take the responsibility of caring for children and young people seriously.

4. It’s a reminder of how important it is to properly screen people working with children within your church.

In Victoria we have Working With Children Checks and a level higher would be an Australian Federal Police Check. These of course are the official documents, which may or may not pick up on everything. Ideally, we don’t want to have the attitude of suspicion but we do want to make sure we know the character, chemistry and competency of people who lead and have authority and care over young people. With this in mind it would be good practice to conduct interviews and checks regarding the appropriateness of a persons behaviour with and around children.

5. It’s a reminder of how devastating child abuse can be upon the individual and wider community.

The movie doesn’t go into vivid detail about what actual sexual abuse occurred but it let’s you in on enough to get the picture. It also portrays, as well as it can in a two hour movie, the after effects of such abuse and the consequences. It is a very sad situation, and is simply devastating on the individuals and families involved. The breaking of trust, the breaking of relationships, and the emotional turmoil is a stark reminder of why we must provide safe spaces for our young people to grow, learn, and thrive in our youth ministries.

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.

jesus-cleansing-temple.jpg

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!

Jonathan Edwards On The Nature Of Conversion

Jonathan Edwards on conversion, in A Faithful Narrative of The Surprising Work of God:

These gracious discoveries given, whence the first special comforts are derived, are in many respects very various. More frequently, Christ is distinctly made the object of the mind, in his all-sufficiency and willingness to save sinners; but some have their thoughts more especially fixed on God, in some of his sweet and glorious attributes manifested in the gospel, and shining forth in the face of Christ. Some view the all-sufficiency of the mercy and trace of God; some, chiefly the infinite power of God, and his ability to save them, and to do all things for them; and some look most at the truth and faithfulness of God. In some, the truth and certainty of the gospel in general is the first joyful discovery they have; in others, the certain truth of some particular promises; in some, the grace and sincerity of God in his invitations, very commonly in some particular invitation in the mind, and it now appears real to them that God does indeed invite them. Some are struck with the glory and wonderfulness of the dying love of Christ; and some with the sufficiency and preciousness of his blood, as offered to make an atonement for sin; and others with the value and glory of his obedience and righteousness. In some the excellency and loveliness of Christ, chiefly engages their thoughts; in some his divinity, that he is indeed the Son of the living Cod; and in others, the excellency of the way of salvation by Christ, and the suitableness of it to their necessities.

Inconvenient Evangelism

A great little post from Leon Brown over at Reformation21:

Sharing the gospel takes time, time we often do not believe we have. Sometimes we are so concerned with ensuring our plans are completed, we do not stop to consider that the Lord may have other ways he would like to utilize us. Sure, we know in theory God “establishes [our] steps,” but when the theory becomes a reality, it rattles our me-centered paradigm. That is one reason why some of us may not share the gospel very much, if at all. It is inconvenient, rattles our self-centered approached to life, and thwarts our plans.

Read the whole thing here.

John Wesley On Love

John Wesley, in his sermon On Love from 1 Corinthians 8:3, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing”, articulates a love that must be rooted in a love for God for any of our works to be considered good. This is a good reminder of how we are to have a deep deep love for God grounding us in our love for others. An insight into the kind of love, and attitude of love, we should strive for when serving others.

Though I should give all substance of my house to feed the poor, though I should do so upon mature choice and deliberation; though I should spend my life in dealing it out to them with my own hands, yea, and that from a principle of obedience; though I should suffer from the same view, not only reproach and shame, not only bonds and imprisonment, and all this by my own continued act and deed, not accepting deliverance; but, moreover, death itself; yea, death inflicted in a manner the most terrible to nature: yet all this, if I have not love, [“the love of God, and the love of all mankind shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost given unto me”] it profiteth me nothing.

Better Together For Mission

The title of this post is the title I have for the sermon I’m preaching this coming Sunday.

It’s causing me issues.

I’ve spent most of this morning writing and deleting words from my screen. I haven’t been able to put into words the things I need to say and so currently have very little to say.

Part of this post is to enable me to write something that may actually trigger what I want to say come Sunday.

Of course, I’m hoping to say what God wants me to say. As I do every time I preach. But that’s all well and good when the words flow, the passage makes sense, and the topic is an easy one.

So far these have alluded me.

When thinking about ‘Better Together For Mission’ there comes to mind the group or communal aspect of mission.

Mission is not a solitary exercise between one individual to another, although it could be. But even when it seems to be this way there is usually prayers from church members or mission supporters that are being lifted up and heard by God, therefore having an impact upon the situation.

In a local church context there are programs run by numerous people within the church, another example of community working together for mission.

Where programs aren’t a big emphasis then the daily mission task of the average Christian is being encouraged weekly through the Sunday gathering with a reminder of what it is to be a believer during the week.

The point is that mission is not individualistic, it is communal. And so the partnership between individuals, the church, and God is evident in each and every mission activity we do.

But this still doesn’t resolve my problem.

If mission is something that is part of the whole of life as a believer then mission is life. It isn’t some part of life, it is the driving force behind a purposeful life.

The reality is this kind of focus and priority isn’t seen as regularly within the church and the Christian life as we’d like. Unfortunately it’s more like a bit part, something that comes to our minds only when we’ve been reminded that God has a mission for us here in the world.

On one hand we could say that mission is a communal exercise, even if we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with a language we hardly understand, and a culture we find confusing. But it must be ingrained in us to think that mission is a natural part of living. A life focused on another mission – to earn heaps of money, to climb the corporate ladder, to write a Pulitzer prize – is one that doesn’t give God the priority. These things may come our way but they aren’t the driving force in life, they are second to the mission of follow Jesus. be more like him, and see others come to know him too.

As I write these words my mind is cynical about what I’m writing. Is this the reality of the Bible? Is it simply simplistic to write this and how does this play out in life?

I’m not sure right now and I’m not sure when I’ll be sure. Perhaps this speaks more of me than of what God’s mission is for the world.

But if there is a focus on anything but Jesus then something is wrong. That I know for sure.

Perhaps that’s the answer right there.

We won’t be involved in what God is doing around the world, whether right next door to where we live or 4000km away, unless we have Jesus as the focus, priority, and central aspect to our whole life.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our life then his mission for us won’t be the centre of our thought.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our church then his mission won’t be the centre of our local ministry,

If Jesus isn’t the centre then something else will be and we will lose out on being part of God’s mission.

A Radically Ordinary Faith

There is much written about the radical nature of following Jesus.

The call to come and follow Him.

The call to take up your cross.

The call to be a radical disciple.

Whatever way you put it Christianity can be portrayed as some type of hyper-enthusiastic, always active, and amazingly awesome life.

And then you have to clean the dishes currently lying in the sink, change the babies nappy, make your bed, or put the rubbish out.

That’s not amazing.

That’s mundane.

That’s ordinary.

A Radically Ordinary Faith

And what do you do with a verse like 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…”?

Sounds pretty ordinary to me.

There can be a tendency to believe we’re not ‘radical’ enough in our faith,  that we’re not doing enough radical stuff with our lives. The implication of this is that we’re not being obedient. We’re not living up to the kind of discipleship required of us as followers of Jesus.

But when we think this way we begin to diminish the life God has given us.

If God has created us, made us who we are, and has us in the place we currently find ourselves in, then perhaps we can trust that our faith is ‘radical’ enough.

This isn’t to be used as an excuse for laziness, a reason to neglect serving others, and avoiding any form of growth in our faith. But, our faith must be something that relates to and be relevant to our daily lives.

I always find it inspiring to hear of the adventures and opportunities missionaries have as they serve God overseas. It’s inspiring to see people get involved in missions, church planting, and other evangelism initiatives. Every now and then I get an email from a university worker working with international students. The stories that are shared are quite incredible, hearing of the way people are attracted to hearing more about faith and understanding the Bible for themselves. Some of these stories are very encouraging.

And so it’s inspiring to see the work people are doing, and even more exciting to see people become interested in knowing more about Jesus. But I’m not sure they’d tell you they’re being radical in their faith because of the work they’re doing, and neither will a missionary or a pastor. The work is often very ordinary.

And so what does a radical faith look like for freshly minted teaching graduate who is in the middle of a long first year, struggling to find time to read their Bible because the nightly preparation takes so long. Or the plumber who has been dealing with crap all day, trying to spend time with the family among the household chores. Or the mum who looks after the children, who is waiting for her partner to arrive home from work in order to help her out.

What does ‘radical’ faith mean for them?

It may be me in my most cynical moments, where I totally turn deaf to this call to be radical, but I’m not sure whether telling people to be more radical is helpful. To me, it adds another burden, another layer of guilt, where I end up feeling my faith isn’t good enough and I need to do more. I see the need to make the call for people to be more radical in their faith, many of us aren’t. But at the same time, what does it mean for my faith to be relevant in the mundane?

What do you think?

The Eighth Sin: Apathy

I’m inspired by today’s The Dailypost topic “The Eighth Sin”.

image

First, I’m intrigued that sin is still talked about. Outside of the church I don’t hear too many people talking about sin. It should be talked about more. I’m glad to see it on the radar here in this little exercise.

Second, what came to mind when thinking about what might be the eighth cardinal sin was apathy.

When reflecting on the past couple of weeks I can’t help but think we’re an apathetic people.

This is an apathy that is best wrapped up in the saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. But because of the information age we’re in there is no real excuse for being out of sight. My social media feeds are filled with people sharing articles and posts written about the persecution of Christians in Iraq and the terrible conflict in Gaza. Yet, as I reflect further I notice that it’s only a handful of people that are talking about this, or commenting or liking.

I don’t expect everyone to have their say. For some it’s not a forum where people wish to discuss or even mention their views on anything. Yet, that is one of the main reasons we are so apathetic.

Apathy allows us some emotional distance from what is going on for others. Apathy means we don’t make a stand when we should. Apathy means we don’t give a voice to the voiceless. We let injustice run its course.

To be apathetic means we don’t care. And that’s sad.

Not everyone can care about everything. That’s impossible in such a complex and issue-ridden world. But on things that aren’t ‘issues’ but are to do with the life and death of human beings, then perhaps we do need to care. Perhaps we need to shake off the comfort and ease of apathy. Perhaps we need to confess we are sinners and one sin that affects us is our apathetic nature.

Thankfully sin is forgiven, even our apathy. Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t have to change. Just as the sin of apathy is forgiven through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the ability to change and work toward a more just world, a world where the voiceless are heard, is achieved through the continual trust in Him and His rule.

Jesus And My To-Do List

tdlistWhy is it that I often walk out of church on a Sunday morning feeling more guilty and with more on my to-do list than I did walking in?

I’ve had this occur numerous times over the last couple of years. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the church service and preacher. I can’t help wondering whether it’s my expectations of what it is to go to church and worship that leaves me wanting. Nevertheless, I occasionally walk out having that sense of needing to do more in the coming seven days.

I’m a preacher myself, so I know I need to work hard on the application of my sermons. The explanation of the Bible and understanding of the passage can be worked through slowly or quickly but application needs to be there…somewhere. And it is within this application section that I need to know that the burdens I’ve been carrying for the last however long can be lifted. That my cares can be taken care of. That I can hope and know God is in control of all things.

I need to be reassured that I don’t have to do anything more this week to have God love me more. 

I know God. I know God because of my faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. Through that work he has enabled me to have my sin forgiven and be in a relationship with Him.

I understand this will mean I will need to change. Following Jesus means growing as a disciple. This happens over time and with the Lord’s help.

But when I am weary from a week where I know I’ve sinned throughout, where I didn’t read my Bible as much as I’d like, where things haven’t gone right, then I come to church seeking comfort, seeking encouragement, and to be reminded that God still loves me and is taking care of me.

Of course, I may know this at a cognitive level. I may know this at an emotional level. But I need to know that this is the case again this week. Just as it was the last.

This reminder may happen through the Scripture passage, or through the words of the preacher in explaining the text, or through the application part of the sermon.  Whatever way it may be it needs to occur in a way where the application doesn’t mean I walk out with more to-dos this week.

Because guess what?

When Jesus died he didn’t add a single to-do to my list. He took many, many, many to-dos away though. When Jesus died he didn’t add guilt to my burdens, he took them all and dealt with them.

So, preacher (and I speak to myself as much as any other), preach Jesus. Preach Jesus in such a way as to articulate what he’s done without adding more to my week and my to-do list. Please.

God and Vocation

Aimee Byrd recently wrote a little post about vocation, with a pretty cool story to go with it, and used a Gene Veith quote. I thought it was relevant to yesterday’s post on where God is.

…vocation is played out not just in the extraordinary acts—the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday—but in the realm of the ordinary. Whatever we face in the often humdrum present—washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with our friends—this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love. We are to love our neighbors—that is, the people who are actually around us, as opposed to the abstract humanity of the theorists. These neighbors constitute the relationships that we are in right now, and our vocation is for God to serve them through us. (p59)