The Grove Is On Fire 2.0

Yesterday The Grove Is On Fire ran an increasingly fragile engine, slowly tearing itself apart under the weight of the Internet. It sufficed to get text from my computer to the internet, but even that simple action was fraught with peril. How many blog posts went unpublished as they were swallowed by rogue lines of code?

Today I razed it to the ground and built this instead, running on new software -software I don’t fully understand but  work. Imagine ripping out your cars increasingly janky tape deck and installing a touch screen display with all the options. You know how the tape deck works even as it gouges your copy of “Now That’s What I Call Music 38”, you have no clue how this touchscreen works and what it can do, but it’s definitely better.

In consequence this site has lost its older layout and some links may no longer work as well. Bear with us and let me know if you find anything terribly broken.

I aim to keep posting the same kind of stuff I’ve always posted. Youth ministry, Jesus, the gospel, that kind of thing. More on that tomorrow though.

The Bible-Centered Youthworker Conference 2016: 40 years From Now

In the last couple of years The Bible-Centred Youthworker Conference has, in my opinion, got a lot stronger. I don’t think it’s because my youth work friends are now all over the country and it’s more a joy to see everyone. There was a move to different format a few years ago and and it’s made it a lot more welcoming and engaging atmosphere. Bookings are open for this year, and the two announced speakers are great.

I have no idea if what I’m doing in January allows me to be at this conference, but I’ll be sad to miss it if I’m not.

Links on Depression and Despair

A week ago I got to preach on Psalm 119:25-32 at church. It’s part of a Psalm about clinging to God and his promises in times of deep darkness. You can listen to the recording here. As I was preparing for it Glen Scrivener published thoughts as he preached on Psalm 88 an even darker Psalm. More helpful even than that though, was Mark Meynell posting a deeply honest series about what it’s like to struggle with depression.

Happy Bullies

It’s one study so take it with a pinch of salt, but this research says that bullies are generally happy with themselves

“Researchers at Simon Fraser University surveyed a group of Vancouver high school students and found bullies were the least likely to be depressed, had the highest self-esteem and the greatest social status.”

This is worth noting for two reasons. First, this again shows the emptiness of the self-esteem movement. “If only these bullies thought more highly of themselves then they wouldn’t bully” is not the direction this research is pointing to.

Second, this reminds us that there are many unhelpful ways of talking to your young people who are being bullied. Here are gospel-less ways to counsel your young people: “you’re better than the bully”. Maybe, maybe not. But the bully is still feeling happier than the bullied. As well as being a dangerous place to make a stand, a moral high-ground doesn’t offer any really comfort. “The bully is really unhappy deep down”. Maybe, but according to this they’re not as unhappy as the person they’re bullying.

What do you say instead? To start, recognise this is a biblical concern; see for example Habbakuk 1:1-3 (“For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. v.3”) or a large number of Psalms (3, 4, 5, 10, 37). Why do those acting sinfully seem to not only get away from it, but profit from it? This is a good and proper question to ask.

Some of the answer to this can be found in Psalm 37.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (v. 1-3)

Why shouldn’t you fret even though evildoers are succeeding? Why shouldn’t you be envious of those doing wrong? Because soon, they’ll fade like the grass. Their brief success is just a temporary thing. The Lord does not forget their deeds, but is waiting patiently before he judges them. But those who trust in the Lord and obey him instead, they’ll be blessed. “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.” (v. 9) Wait patiently for the Lord to take care of you, and the bully will be no more soon enough. Hopefully the Lord’s patience and mercy —and the person’s they are bullying’s witness— will bring them to repentance (Romans 2:4). And if Jesus isn’t judged in their place, then they will have to bear that judgement themselves. Regardless, the Lord will care for his people and bring them safely home.

Help, I Failed My Exams

If you’ve just failed your exams, or you didn’t get the results you were after, that’s rubbish. Sorry. People fail their exams for different reasons. Maybe you didn’t put any effort into studying. Or maybe circumstances out of your control –an illness, bad news– meant you couldn’t do your best on the day. Or maybe you revised hard and you could concentrate but in the end didn’t do as well as you’d hoped.

And so maybe right now you’re feeling disappointed and guilty. If only you’d tried a little bit more you’d have got the grades you wanted. And maybe other people –your teachers, parents, friends– are also feeling disappointed in you. You feel like you’ve let them down. You might even be thinking you’ve disappointed God by not doing as well as you could have.

If this is you, this is what you need to hear; How well you do at exams is a terrible terrible place to go looking for happiness and fulfilment. There is no lasting joy in fixing your identity on being good at studying and being smart. The Bible says the place to find your identity is in Christ Jesus, and says that if you come to Him, He’ll give you a new and better identity as a beloved child of God the Father. So trust that in Jesus God loves you eternally and sees you as perfect. When everyone else is disappointed with you know that God isn’t. When you can’t bear to share your results with your friends or your parents or even look at the results slip yourself, know God knows and delights in you. Whether you did badly in your exams because you were lazy in your revision, or because you weren’t smart enough, or because you just had a really bad day, God sent his Son to die for you and secured his delight over you forever. He’s always overjoyed for you to come to him in prayer and worship. If neither angels nor demons, death nor life, height or depth, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38), how can bad results? His love is carved into granite by Jesus’ death on the cross, not your grade in an exam.

What next? Well, the good news is that for those who love God –those people He’s saved and rescued– He’s promised to work out all situations for your good (Romans 8:28). So in failed exams results and missed university places and re-sits and cancelled 6th form plans, God is going to work this out for your good somehow. That means He’s going to use even these poor results to make your more like His Son Jesus. How He uses them might remain a mystery till heaven, but He’s promised He will, and He keeps His promises. So you can relax, knowing you haven’t screwed up your future forever, but that God is working things out even now for your best.

Practically, your school or college is probably the best place to find out about other options, they can help you with alternative courses or point you in the direction of other people who can help. You might want to consider taking a year out to work or volunteer with maybe some part-time courses if it’s possible, giving you space to look again at university or further education with a bit more perspective.

I originally wrote this for Youthwork Magazine a couple of years back

Some Things On A Theology Of Children

There’s been discussion on the internet around a theology of children. If you want to reduce it to a specific question, the debate is “if a child asks you ‘am I a Christian?’ what do you say”. Andrew Wilson has a good summary of the various responses going back and forward and it’s worth reading all the articles. There’s also a further post responding to more of the questions. The whole subject of covenant membership of children, baptism, and entry to communion, is a huge issue that youth workers have to wrestle with and get their heads around.

A couple of thoughts of the debate above. One of the responses seems to be that if you baptise babies but then don’t let them take communion till some older date when they can affirm their own faith then you’re making exactly the same judgement about a child’s faith that credobaptists are making; you’re in effect saying you’re not a proper member of God’s people until confession of faith. This is a good and fair point. This is why having baptised babies you should allow them to receive communion. Here’s a short explanation of how this can happen in the Church of England with some of the common objections.

Another thought is that laying the blame of children leaving the church at the feet of paedobaptism seems slightly suspect. Both paedobaptist and credobaptist churches see children drop out of them when they hit their teenage years. Both paedobaptist and credobaptist parents seem guilty of not teaching their children to trust and obey God from their heart. Sure, parents giving their children false assurance that they’re saved is one of the reasons for children dropping away from church, but it’s one of many, and found equally (in my experience) in paedo and credo churches. It’s also worth noting that Paul tells (presumably) baptised church members to examine themselves to make sure they are in the faith. One would hope any paedobaptist is encouraging their child to do this.

Finally, if your theology of baptism is so strong that you can be accused of saying baptism saves you well, you’re in good company.