The Grove Is On Fire

Help, I Failed My Exams

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

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

3 Things to Look for in a Youth Minister

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Without being too clickbait-y you might genuinely dispute the third thing to look for in a youth minister.

Silence That Speaks

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Emma's blog is always worth a read, but as youth workers what she writes on listening is very helpful. I am one of those who often finds himself waiting for the other to stop so they can speak. I am one of those who needs to be told repeatedly to stop and listen.

Some Things On A Theology Of Children

Friday, 3 July 2015

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.

Stop Giving Your Life To Jesus

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

If you haven't seen it, this is Glen Scrivener's new spoken word video for youth workers. It's good.

Mr. Thompson and the Vicar Invent Children's Church

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A fair and reasonable criticism, which also happens to be very cutting and funny (see also their fair and reasonable criticism of trendy youth work).

Not Your Average Paedobaptism

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

One of the things I increasingly think is important to get your head round as a youth worker is what baptism is and who God's covenant people are. I say one thing, because they're tightly linked. This little article seems a good place to start. What you understand on these issues will affect how you treat children of Christian families significantly.

Job: Children & Younger Youth Worker - St Mark's Kensal Rise (NW London)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Some friends' church St Mark's Kensal Rise are looking for a children and young youth (0-14's) worker. You can get the –impressively well written– job description here.

Context - St Mark's is a vibrant, multi-cultural local community church in the heart of North West London with a vision to 'Live and Share the Love of Jesus' through worshipping God wholeheartedly, growing in faith continually, loving each other sincerely, leading people to Jesus sensitively and blessing our communities generously. The church currently has a membership of more than 280 people with a Sunday morning service attendance of 150-250, of which 50-80 are children and youth. The role of the 'Children & Younger Youth Worker' is to build and grow the church's ministry to young people ages 0-14 enabling them to flourish as individuals and live out the church's vision.

Capital Youthworks Training: Purity and Pornography

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The folks who organise Capital Youthworks have organised a training day and youth worker meet-up this Friday (5th June). Blurb;

Helen Thorne will be speaking on Purity and Pornography and helping us to help others in our youth groups to deal with these issues. The morning is free, £3 for lunch if you want, Coffee and biscuits from 10.30 at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London. No need to RSVP just come along and bring a friend.

I'll be there (hopefully) so you can say hi if you want.

How To Make An Even More Perfect Rice Pudding

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The recipe I use for rice pudding is this one from the Guardian's 'how to make perfect' series. It's a pretty wonderful recipe (and a pretty great series) but it's not perfect. It's got one minor problem. The problem is that you want to fry your rice in the butter and sugar before you add your liquid to give it a more nutty taste, but if you fry your rice in butter and sugar before you add the liquid you cause the starch to breakdown and it'll loose some of it's creaminess. So you're left with a vicious choice; bring out the creaminess and loose the nuttiness, or enhance the nuttiness and lose some of the creaminess.

Of course, I'm not actually a food scientist. I just copy other people's work. So I only know this because someone else has done lots of work on risotto and what is rice pudding but dessert risotto? So stealing that method of fixing risotto, we can fix rice pudding. Pour the uncooked rice pudding into the milk you're going to use and stir it for a few minutes. Then drain the rice and let it dry out, keeping the milk. You'll now have starchy-milk and dry-ish rice. Then just melt the butter and sugar in a pan and tip the rice into it and follow the Guardian recipe the rest of the way. Now you should have extra nutty and extra creamy rice pudding. Even more perfect rice pudding.

This still though, isn't the best rice pudding to make. The best rice pudding has different flavours to this one. Cardamon and orange instead of bay-leaf and lemon. So here's the recipe I use for special occasions. Warning; it's a slightly ridiculous amount of effort for making what should be a simple dish, but like I said, special occasions.

Orange and Cardamon Rice Pudding with Candied Orange Peel

Serves 8 because why make it in smaller quantities?

  • 100g unsalted-butter
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 200g pudding rice
  • 2 litre full-fat milk
  • 10 whole green cardamons, bashed so they're slightly open and the seeds can fall out
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 300ml double cream
  • An orange, with two strips removed with a sharp potato peeler, the rest of the skin zested
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar

Note; You should use the widest pan you have that can hold around 3 litres of liquid, the more surface area your pan has the easier it is to fry the rice. If you have a big Le Crueset style cast-iron casserole dish you can do the entire process in one pan.

Rice Pudding

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 140°c /120°c fan
  2. Pour the milk and rice into a bowl or measuring jug. Stir with your hands or a spoon to make sure the rice is thoroughly coated. Pour the milk through a sieve into the widest pan you have (that can comfortably hold 3 litres of liquid) and let the rice dry in the sieve. (at least 5 minutes, giving it a good shake every now and again)
  3. Place the pan full of milk on the stove and add the 10 green cardamons. Turn on the heat to medium-low and stir. Don't let the pan simmer. Leave for at least 5 minutes no more than 151. Taste the pan and see if it's absorbed enough cardamon flavour.
  4. Dump the milk back into the bowl or measuring jug through a sieve to remove the cardamon.
  5. Wipe out the pan and place the butter and sugar in it. Turn up the heat to medium. Keep stirring till the butter has melted and is a smooth mixture.
  6. Pour in the rice and fry for around 5 minutes till the rice swells a bit.
  7. Pour in the milk, the cinnamon, nutmeg, the orange zest, and the cream. Stir to make sure it all mixes properly.
  8. Empty the mixture into an roasting tin or casserole dish and place in the oven for 1 ½ hours. If you're using a cast-iron casserole dish, just place that straight in the oven. The mixture should look ridiculously milky, like it's a handful of rice floating in milk. That's fine. The rice will expand.
  9. Check on it fairly regularly. It's easy to dry out or over-cook the rice and as it keeps well warm and reheats fine, it's better to take it out sooner rather than later.
  10. If you don't want skin, cover the tin with foil after 30 minutes or so.

Candied Orange Peel

  1. Take the two strips of orange peel and with a very sharp knife cut them into long thin strips like match sticks. You want them to be about 2 or 3 mm thick at most. Their length is less important.
  2. Place them in a non-stick sauce-pan and cover with a very small amount of boiling water and leave them to sit for a few minutes (straight from the kettle, you don't need to boil the water in the pan)
  3. Drain the peel and repeat the process.
  4. Drain the peel again, this time add the same amount of boiling water and the 50g of castor sugar. Turn on the heat to medium-hot and let the water start to bubble and boil. Stir them every now and again and allow the water to start to boil off.
  5. When the water's nearly boiled off remove then pan from the heat and taste one to see if they're sweet and edible. If they're still a bit hard, put some more water in and continue the simmering down process
  6. Remove the peel and place it on some kitchen roll to dry.


Serve a lump of rice pudding (it won't look pretty) with some of the candied orange peel on top.

If you do decide to reheat it in the oven, you might want to stir in some more milk or cream before you put it back into the oven.

If you don't like the skin and have the energy, you can make the entire rice pudding on the hob. When you add the milk and other ingredients, turn up the heat till the pan starts to simmer then stir it regularly. It'll cook through like a risotto this way in 20-30 minutes. It needs careful attention to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan or drying out though.

1 I don't know enough about extracting flavour from cardamons to make a good judgment here on how long you should leave it for. The longer you leave it the more flavour you'll get out of, but if they're anything like other spices and seeds you run the risk of pulling out bitter flavours if you leave it too long. If you want it more cardamon-ny I recommend added more caradmon but not increasing the length of time too much. If someone wants to send me a massive bag of cardamons, 6 litres of milk, and 12 hours, I'll do the science on it and come back to you.

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The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it. - Psalm 24:1