The Grove Is On Fire

The Rev John Stott

Saturday, 30 July 2011

By now you'll know that Rev John Stott died last week. The Telegraph obituary gives all the facts, but there are plenty more personal testimonials at the John Stott Memorial site. If it wasn't for his vision and foresight my current job and workplace wouldn't exist so on a really practical note I'm grateful for that. On a personal note I'm grateful for his book The Cross of Christ. As Justin Taylor points out, when people die their book sales inevitably spike. If you're debating buying one of his books, this is the one to get.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Beautiful –if sweary– father's letter to his turning son. Says more about what it means to leave childhood and hit adolescence than a lot of developmental books I've read.

He's stepping into the light of being the main character in a story that evades the reach of my narrative. He's not my character to write anymore. He needs to be partially released to his friends and the perplexity of girls (or boys).

What's The Best Village To Camp On At Soul Survivor?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

After last year's amazing cut out and keep How To Find a Shower At Soul Survivor I thought I'd continue giving useful advice. Not that there is much more useful advice after "how to find a shower" but I feel my ten years of helping run the thing shouldn't go to waste. So, on to today's thorny issue: What's the best village to camp on at Soul Survivor?

The best village to camp on at Soul Survivor is the one you're given. Seriously, unless you want to spend hours queuing up on Day 1 –while your group sit on their packed bags in the rain– on the incredibly unlikely chance that Information will be able and willing to find you an empty enough village to move you on to just because you'd prefer another one, then just settle with the one you've got. However, if you are coming to Momentum where you do get to choose your own village this advice may come in useful. Also, if you do have a serious concern (disabled access, allergy to certain sorts of trees, phobia of cows) then you can let Soul Survivor know in advance and they will sort you out. Fill in your booking forms accurately and everything works better. Now, that said, what is the best village to camp on at Soul Survivor?

No village is terrible. In fact, they all have their advantages. What you're aiming for is the sweet spot between being close enough to be able to walk in easily without being so close that you've got loads of noise and disruption and between having enough space to throw a ball around while not being so remote that there are no facilities and between being able to find your village at night and being able to get to and from your village on arrival and departure day. If you and our young people really want space to play, you'll have to suffer the longer walk from Pink and Silver, and if you want to be near the action you'll have to suffer people trudging past your tents on the way up to Brown 6 in the earily-ish hours.

Given that, here are the pro and cons of each village:

PINK and SILVER: While being at the dog end of site and miles from anything are nice and quiet, have large open spaces to play games and feel like you're properly in the country. You can also get on and off them on arrival and departure day.

BLUE: Regularly floods (especially 8&9) and the geese on the lake can be really noisy. But then it does have it's own lake and a good selection of shower blocks, and very handy access to the centre of site. It is also the easiest village to direct people or find if you're lost.

ORANGE: Has the most interesting features including a windy gravel road, a show ring, and a stream. It also has great facilities, and a handy location for most stuff, though the worst traffic on arrival and departure day.

PURPLE, GREEN, and RED: Are the new build of semi-detached houses of site. There is nothing great about them or particularly endearing (although Green 9 and Red 2 have their charms) but also nothing bad about them either.

BROWN: Is the most mixed village. Brown 5 and 6 are pretty cool if you want out of the way seclusion and the world's least functional basketball court. They have nice remoteness while still feeling intimate. Also they're a great place to be if you're going to walk off site to the pub one evening. Brown 1-3 are probably the worst villages on site though, with failing water and bad access. Great hedge though.

YELLOW: Is almost entirely mythical. No-one ever ends up on Yellow that you know of. It's like the Hufflepuff of site, it exists but you've never heard it do anything. Apart from that one guy anyway, and Voldemort killed him.

GOLD / PUMICE / VOMIT (I forget what we're calling them this year) are fantastic for the big top (in which other village can you listen to the main talks while still in your sleeping bag?) but do have rubbish water supplies. And flood a bit. And still don't quite feel like they're actually part of the rest of site.

If I was forced to choose, where would I camp? For me, I'd probably pick Red 1, or Orange 6 or 7. It's got the sweetest distance to seclusion to facilities to not going to get your tent washed away in a storm factors.

The Death Of A Loved One

Monday, 25 July 2011

Amy Winehouse is dead. How, we don't yet know. It's unlikely it's not linked somehow to her history of alcohol and drug abuse. It's sad and horrible. Death is a curse that is on all people and it is an evil and wicked thing. It hits us even more when the person who dies is young and talented. "She had so much and it was wasted!" we cry "Why did she throw away all the great things she had?". But is that not exactly it? Amy Winehouse achieved fame, musical success, love, and money and yet found that none of those things could satisfy her and give her happiness. And if those lofty things can't satisfy, those things that are so highly prized that people spend their lives trying to find them, then no wonder she turned to drugs and alcohol. She had achieved everything, and as the writer of Ecclesiastes says "everything is meaningless". To say "if only she had learnt moderation" or "but look at all that great stuff she had" misses the point. Why learn moderation if the end turns out the same anyway? Is it not better to find out that life is unsatisfying while you are young than to find out after years of striving? Why should she cover up the emptiness of it all with empty moderation? Why not burn out? Why waste your life and breath of things that you know will never satisfy you? As if having all the things of this world could have made her happy! If only though, if only she had known not of moderation, but of Jesus! Jesus who satisfies and feeds and gives us true joy and lasting delight.

Sons or Slaves

Monday, 25 July 2011

If you think that a task is burdensome then you're unlikely to want to do it. Rather you'll avoid it as far as possible. However if you are given a task that is a joy and the strength to do it, then you'll do it and rejoice. This is the difference between being a slave and being a son. If you are a slave you will crave freedom so you can avoid the task and hide from the job. Freedom for a slave is to not do what you have to do. For a son though, freedom is being able to do the task you've been given and rejoice in it. This is the freedom that God gives when he adopts you. Not that you are free from duties, but that you are free in your duty to obey and rejoice. John Owen puts it like this.

Slaves take freedom from duty, children have liberty in duty... The liberty of slaves or servants comes from mistaken, deceiving conclusions; the liberty of sons comes from the power of the indwelling Spirit of grace.

Communion With God - John Owen

Divided the Movie Reviewed at Challies

Thursday, 21 July 2011

If you watched Divided as I told you to the other day you'll also want to read Tim Challies' review of it. Spoilers; he hated it. His argument as to why it's a flawed documentary are compelling; it's a subject that needs proper engagement and this isn't it.

Having thought some more about it myself, I think the two things that stand out for me are these. First, for a film that claims to bring youth ministry back to scripture it doesn't offer a lot of scriptural argument. Second the observation that you can rob a parent of the joy and privilege of raising their children up to love Jesus has a lot of weight behind it.

Divided the Movie

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

For what seems to be a limited time, a film called Divided is up on the internet to watch for free. The film is an hour long exploration of the problems with youth ministry. The answer that's given is that youth ministry is inherently flawed because it takes from parents the teaching of their children, which is something that is solely their role. I think perhaps overstates it's case but it's compelling and worth watching.

Letter to an Incomplete, InsecureĀ Teenager

Saturday, 16 July 2011

John Piper writes a letter to a teenager in his church.

But God is good. He has his plan and it is not to make this metamorphosis easy. Just certain. There are a thousand lessons to be learned in the process. Nothing is wasted. Life is not on hold waiting for the great coming-out. That's what larvae do in the cocoon. But frogs are public all the way though the foolishness of change.

Note how he does not see the answer to their insecurity as building-up their self-esteem.

Youth Workers or Youth Ministers?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

There is an interesting full summary of the talk Jon Jolly did on the current purpose and lack of in Christian youth work and ministry. I think loads of stuff he says is great, particularly his summary points and his call for Christian ministry to be clear and authentic.

  • There is great confusion and division over the distinction between youth work and youth ministry.
  • If the purpose of Christian youth work & ministry is to explore the Christian faith and encourage young people to commit to it, then it has been largely failing. We need to re-evaluate why we do what we do and ask honest questions about our motives.
  • There are great opportunities in the current climate for Christian youth work and ministry, but it must have a clear and authentic identity.

...I believe that more than anything else, the key for Christian youth work and ministry is to rediscover its authenticity and to stop being ashamed or apologetic about its mission. Obviously this needs to be done with sensitivity and respect, paying attention to the values of youth work practice, but faith should be honest about its intentions, and secure enough to discuss them openly.

On that stuff I agree strongly, we do need an authentic identity, we do need to ask honest questions about why Christian youth ministry is failing to attract young people to the Christian faith, we desperately need to stop being apologetic about our mission. Jon says that part of this is accepting our work as a specialist discipline inside the field of youth work. I disagree here. I think we need to reject the idea of being seen as a subsection of youth work. We're not youth work, we're a ministry.

I think youth work in the secular sense, as set out by people like the National Youth Agency and in books like The Art of Youth Work is at odds with Christian mission on some very basic levels. For example, on just one issue I've been thinking through this week, secular youth work states that young people contain the potential to be empowered and it's the youth worker's job to do this. The Bible tells us the only God has the power to set us free. You can't have both. And this isn't the only tension between youth work practice and youth ministry practice. You can see some of this come through in the notes from the talk:

Does this mean that Christian workers are seeking to convert young people? Is this ethical and is it at odds with the wider values of respect, dialogue and democracy in youth work practice?

Which is correct, evangelism and conversion or dialogue and democracy? On one level these two things aren't mutually exclusive, but at some point you have to pick one or the other. But also who cares if the wider values in youth work practice disagree with you seeking to convert young people? If the values of youth work practice in the secular youth work world say that we shouldn't try and persuade people that Jesus is Lord then shouldn't we just ignore the values of youth work practice? Of course there is a more complex answer than this and in the context of a conference about youth work (and a blog about youth work) you can delve into that question more deeply. But surely our answer always be something along the line of we must obey the ethics of God not the ethics of men?.

I don't get the attraction of making youth ministry a subset of secular ministry. We have better news for the young people, better news that teaches of true hope, life, and the knowledge of God! That christian youth ministry and secular youth ministry consequentially end up in tension shouldn't surprise us, after all Christian ministry should be something that can only be done though the Gospel and the Spirit's power and should seem at least somewhat nonsensical to someone who doesn't believe in Jesus.

Morality and Films

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Transformers 3 is out in the cinemas this week. It's terrible, but that's to be expected from Michael Bay's sequel to Transformers 2. But with it comes the endless debate on what films are a good idea to watch as a Christian. And what films should you tell your young people to watch. Often we go by the moral standard of the day. Is there swearing, violence, sex, swearing, guns, and sex in it? Are there lots of bad things in it? If it crosses the threshold with enough bad things then our young people shouldn't watch it. If it crosses a further threshold then we may not even watch the movie.

While there is merit here, I wonder if there is a better question to ask is "what does this movie delight in? What is held up as beautiful and gives me pleasure in watching this?" Because if the movie is done well you will end up delighting and enjoying that too. And so one of the problems with just checking for sex or violence or whatever is that films with really anti-gospel messages –films delight in things that teach us the opposite of the good news of Jesus Christ– don't necessarily contain sex and drugs and violence.

But before we look at films that don't contain sex and drugs and violence, let's look at one that does. Let's look at what the main delight of Michael Bay's greatest film is, let's look at Bad Boys II.

Bad Boys II for those of you who haven't watched it, is Michael Bay's greatest achievement. It is a distilation of everything 'good' about a Michael Bay film- car chases, gun fights, explosions, snappy comic dialogue all delivered in an impressively balanced amount. It's as if Michael Bay heard all his critics slamming his movies for having too much action and explosives and comic moments and set out to prove them wrong, not by directing a serious epic, but making the best possible action explosive gun-fight car chase film possible. It also misses out the gross sexism, racism, and stupid giant robots from later Michael Bay films. Bad Boys I is also pretty great, having Will Smith and Martin Lawrence definitely helps both, but what makes Bad Boy II is the level of excessiveness it goes to. While Bad Boys I ends with an impressive blow everything up gun fight, Bad Boys II ends with them invading Cuba and winning.

It also is one of the sweariest films around. And for a film that's not grossly sexist and racists it's still at times quite sexist and racist. But it's underlying delight? It is something like "isn't it awesome to be some bad-ass who blows up stuff and shoots things and get's the praise of everyone". This clearly isn't the world's greatest message, but then it's not perhaps as bad as the message of that great twelve year old girl film; Grease.

What does Grease delight in? Being really cool, independent, and disaffected and in changing yourself to be that person. That and retro fifties delight and cheesy songs. But as much to become this cool person. Worse still it's the outcast girl who has to change to meet the lifestyle of the popular and cool guy who doesn't have to give up anything. That's not the exact opposite of the gospel, but when we believe in the story of the man who gave up literally everything in the cosmos and become a servant to come save and woo his bride from her inability and unwillingness to change, it's pretty far wrong. And it's wound up in a saccharine glitzy love story that slips below your radar.

Which of the two films is more damaging? I know I'd rather go away from a filming thinking "hey wouldn't it be cool to be a hard-ass cop who gets to blow stuff up" than "hey wouldn't it be great if I was this cool person who refused to change for my beloved".

The Arrogance Of Dressing Up Jesus

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Francis Chan on believing we can make Jesus more attractive through hiding who he is.

Here's what I had to repent of: I had felt the need to soften a lot of Jesus' statements, because in my arrogance I think, "Okay Jesus, I'm not going to say that like that. Trust me, people will like you more and be more willing to accept you if I say it like this."

...I know I have backed away from certain things because of my arrogance I thought I could attract more people to Jesus by hiding certain things about him." I had to confess my arrogance.


Reaching the Unreached 2011 Conference Videos

Monday, 4 July 2011

I highly recommend watching these talks from the Reaching the Unreached Conference 2011. I particularly recommend Duncan Forbes' talk on victim mentality. Here are my accompanying notes on the talk.

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