Our Greatest Christmas Hope

Our Greatest Christmas Hope

Nancy Guthrie:

Our great hope is not just going to heaven when we die, though that is so wondrously good. But God has much grander plans. Our great hope is that Christ will come again, not as a helpless baby in a manger, but as a magnificent king on a throne—a king who will be close enough, and gentle enough, to wipe every tear from our eyes. He will personally put an end to everything that has brought his people pain. He will “raise the sons of earth” by transforming “our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) to live with him forever on a gloriously renewed earth.

The wonder of it made the herald angels want to sing. And as the wonder of it begins to sink in, it makes us want to sing, too.

Read the rest here.

NSPCC warns of ‘blurred boundaries’ between YouTube stars and fans

NSPCC warns of ‘blurred boundaries’ between YouTube stars and fans

“Blurred boundaries” between prominent YouTube stars and their young, often impressionable viewers can put young people at risk, the NSPCC has warned.

They have created a helpline for victims and have urged those who watch YouTube videos to:

  • Never share your personal information online
  • Do not accept friend requests from people you don’t know in real life
  • Have conversations with your parents about where you are going and what you are doing online

Many people have come forward in the last few years to accuse a wide range of YouTubers, ranging from popular big names like Toby Turner to smaller creators like Alex Carpenter. Most of these accusations have not resulted in criminal complaints, but they remain archived in the pages of internet history.

Emily Cherry, of the NSPCC, told the BBC in an interview that YouTubers have a “responsibility” to make sure relationships with young fans are appropriate.

Ms Cherry warned that online stars have huge power and influence on young people and the way they think about the real world.  She told BBC Radio 5 live:

“One child told me that checking their social media accounts and what their favourite YouTube stars are up to was as important to them as eating”

If young people have been affected by any issues or need advice on staying safe online, on protecting your children, or as an Internet personality, the NSPCC has a helpline you can call on 0808 800 500 2.

‘Breakfast in a bag’ is a brilliant new simple initiative to support the homeless

‘Breakfast in a bag’ is a brilliant new simple initiative to support the homeless

A small gesture is all it takes to make a huge difference to the thousands of people sleeping rough everyday.  And that’s why one woman is asking you to donate just £3 so that a homeless person won’t go hungry tomorrow.

In a new initiative called ‘Breakfast in a Bag’, Michelle Clark, from Enfield, is handing out free, healthy breakfasts to London’s homeless.

Michelle told Metro.co.uk:

It dawned on me earlier this year that despite there being several soup kitchens feeding London’s homeless in the evenings, no one was providing breakfasts.

breakfast-in-a-bag-1For just £3, a homeless person will receive cereal or porridge, milk, fresh fruit, a cereal bar or similar, fruit juice and biscuits, together with disposable cutlery and a bowl.

According to figures released by Combined Homelessness Information Network (CHAIN), over 7,500 people slept on London’s streets in 2015.  This was a dramatic rise from the 3,673 in 2009/2010.

The simple but effective idea was started by Michelle earlier this month, but she’s actually been supporting the homeless and dogs living on the streets in London since 2010 with Off The Streets London.

She added:

‘I’ve helped several homeless people find permanent housing and I still keep in touch with most of them today.  I consider them to be my friends.’

The project is currently being funded by public donations with additional support from food manufacturers and supermarkets.

breakfast-in-a-bag

At the moment, Michelle delivers most of the bags direct to the homeless herself but she does have a small team of volunteers who help host the popular Breakfast In A Bag ‘Brekkie Stations’ on Friday nights.

The projects has already got huge support on social media, where @breakfastinabag has more than 2,900 followers.  Amongst its supporters are comedians Al Murray and Reginald D Hunter, Ian Danter from national radio, actress Linda Robson, Labour MP Jess Phillips and BBC’s Nick Knowles.

Michelle said:

‘We rely heavily on donations, every pound buys a pot of porridge for someone or a couple of energy bars.

‘Quite simply the more donations we receive, however small, the more breakfasts I can hand over.

‘People are realising that by donating just £3 to us they’re buying a homeless person a healthy breakfast, all for the same price as a coffee and for much less than a pint!’

If you’d like to donate to Breakfast in a Bag, email: breakfastinabag@gmail.com.

YLG2016: State of the World

YLG2016: State of the World

The third Lausanne Young Leaders Gathering is happening in Jakarta.  YLG2016 is a gathering of 1,000 younger leaders from over 160 countries who will connect, pray, and discern together God’s leading of their generation for his global mission.  It’s a privilege to be here and to share my notes of Jason Mandryk and Molly Wall from Operation World as they give their State of the World address.

Largest religion by country & population

Most religions still tend to be concentrated in particular regions, especially Hinduism, Buddhism and to some degree Islam.  Christianity is the most global religion, 2.3 billion Christians in 38,000 denominations in every single country, with more cultures, ethnic groups, languages represented.  It is easy to see the prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples to have unity is still as challenging as before.

 

For about 100 years Christianity represents one third of the world population.  In 1960 29% of Evangelical Christians were living in Africa, Asia and Latin America, now in 2016 it is 78%, by 2020 it will be more than 80%.  This is true not just for evangelicals but every stream of Christianity.  We see that Evangelical Christianity is growing in 1960 there were 91 million (3%) now in 2016 there are 600 million + (8%).

 

Partnership

There is a greater degree of partnership and collaboration.  This is partly due to the size and complexity of the church and mission but also an increased willingness and even desire to partner together.

 

Prayer

The global church is seeing a deliberate focus on prayer, for every one initiative you know there are ten you probably don’t know such as the Holy Ghost service in Nigeria seeing 1 million praying together, and others much smaller.  Prayer is changing the church and the world.

 

Mission

In the last 25 years more people have entered the kingdom than in any other point of history.  A lot of this has happened in the context of persecution and suffering.  In 1960 50% of the world had never heard the gospel, now in 2016 it is about 29%.  There are 600-650 ethno-languages that have not yet received any part of the gospel.  Definitely mission has shifted from the West to the rest onto everywhere to everywhere – polycentric mission.  There is also a lot more reverse mission, former receiving fields are sending missionaries to the sending countries, a lot of people trying to reach places such as London.  The world’s mission force is more diverse in nationality, location, organisations and the range of activities we engage in.

 

Global Context

The story of humanity is a story of urbanisation from the garden of Eden to the City of revelation.  From 2008 the world population shifted over 50% urban population.  Cities contain not just the most people, but influence, energy, and more.

 

Human lifespan

Human lifespan is increasing, and the birth-rate is decreasing.  By 2050 there will be as many people aged 60 and over as those aged 15 and under.  In 1980 there were 100,000 who reached the age of 100.  By 2050 there will be 4 million who reach the age of 100.  This will impact employment, retirement and pensions, medical care, but also our Christian service opportunities.

 

Population Growth

As populations of global north decline (Japan, Germany etc.), half of all population growth will be in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, D.R. Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia and Uganda.  Or in other terms half of all population growth will be in Africa.

 

Poverty

Only 10% of the world lives in ‘extreme poverty’ according to the UN.  That still means over 700 million are living in injustice, exploitation, environmental degradation.  The 62 richest people in the world own as much wealth as 3.6 billion people (50% of the population).

 

Migration

Migration factors are the tip of the iceberg of the next 40 years.  They will be the context for much of the most fruitful ministry.

 

Data

Which movie gets 7 sequels in the cinema and which one goes straight to DVD, which advertisement and posts you see in social media is decided by data.  As the volume of data increases we are relying on others to prioritise and sort this.  We are influenced by those most closely aligned to our own values which narrows our learning and prevents us from relating to those who are different to us, and so we then abuse them.

 

What does it mean to be human?

This is increasingly important to us as morals, ethics, science and technology pushing up against boundaries.  Forming a sound biblical world view and ethic is essential.

 

As we look ahead we are facing critical unprecedented change.

 

The first Human Geno was sequenced in 2004 and cost hundreds of millions and took years.  Machines can do 18,000 genos in 1 year.  Long term strategic planning is nearly impossible

 

Complexity

The world is getting increasingly complex.  It is impossible for one group to understand everything.  Increasing uncertainty as the push of a button can end the world or the release of a virus.  Our lives have never been more secure and comfortable and yet insecure.  Terrorism happens everywhere.

 

The capacity to do the most good: all these technological changes mean we can communicate the good news to more people.

 

Secularism

We hear the narrative that religion is dying out but the global statistics doesn’t show that, in 2025 around 90% of the world will be religious.  Secularism declined since the 1980s due to China and Russia.

 

Future Growth

Most future growth of the church will happen in Africa, Asia and Latin America, partly due to higher birth rates as well as large numbers of conversions.  The global south will become an ever larger majority of the church.  They will increasingly provide leadership and set the agenda for the global church.  This is delayed somewhat from being proportionally represented as Western Christianity is very comfortable being in charge.  But many current key leaders are from all over the global South: Pope – Argentina; World EA – Filipino, IFES – Chad, OMF – Hong Kong, SIM – Nigeria, Interserve – India, OM – Singapore

 

The % of unevangelised is smaller (50% down to 29%) but due to population increase it is actually 600,000 more people (1.5 billion to 2.1 billion).  80% of those working in cities live in a slum context and yet only 1 in 6 Christian missionaries work in a slum.  Rural ministry can’t be ignored yet either.

 

There are 230 million migrants (5th largest population by country size) with an average stay in a refugee camp of 17 years.  They are not camps but cities.

 

81% of the world’s non-Christians don’t personally know a Christian.  For hundreds of millions of people they are the only gospel they may encounter.  There maybe Christians in every country but the spread is very uneven 90% to 0.001% of population.

 

Our Response

It is about the tough slug of discipleship and making disciples throughout the body of Christ and the world.  We have to radically demonstrate the power and the love of the gospel.  We must do it because the King of Kings has commanded us to do it, we must obey; but we can do it as the one with all power has commissioned us to do it and therefore we can.

An Infographic on Anonymous Apps and Teenagers

An Infographic on Anonymous Apps and Teenagers

One of the most frequent questions I receive from parents is about apps that teenagers are using and what a caring parents perspective should be on them.

The team from Rawhide.org have released a helpful infographic which gives a quick and concise overview of these anonymous apps – something you can share with parents.

Temporary and Anonymous Apps

 

Origins prayer course

Origins prayer course

Over the last two months I’ve been running the Origins prayer course with a group of 11-14 year olds in our local church.

The resource has been developed by 24-7 Prayer, and describes itself as

a tool to help you teach young people to pray … our aim is that the outcome of this course will be young people developing healthy spiritual lives, equipped with tools to help them grow in prayer throughout their lives.

The 7 sessions are:

  • What is prayer?
  • Why do we pray?
  • Who do we pray to?
  • How do we talk to God (Part 1)
  • How do we talk to God (Part 2)
  • How to listen to God
  • Keep growing

OriginsSpreadWe have found the resource to be helpful.  Each session includes an icebreaker, food, game, talk, response, discussion and a challenge.  Within our context we did not do the meals – that isn’t something we would currently be able to do, but everything else was easily adaptable to fit to our context without much preparation.

The course whilst aimed at those with some faith is easily accessible for those with little or no faith.  Our particular group has a number of youngsters who would be unsure of whether or not they have a faith, but they thoroughly enjoyed these sessions.

Priced at just £5.00 for a leaders manual this really does work for all types of churches.  Do go and order yourself a copy here.

 

40 Acts: Do Lent Generously

40 Acts: Do Lent Generously

Lent is usually about ‘giving stuff up’, isn’t it? What if you could add something transformational to the traditional?

40acts is the multi award-winning challenge from Christian charity Stewardship that invites you to do Lent generously.

What if you could give up chocolate and give the money to your favourite charity? What if you could turn the TV off and spend more time helping your neighbour? What if Lent was a preparation for a lifetime of big-heartedness that reflected God’s amazing generosity?

40 Acts encourages you to do one act of generosity each day from February 10th to March 26th 2016. 75,000 people signed up last year to receive the challenges and reflections by email and this year’s sign up is now open. You can also download resources for churches, small groups, families and schools here.

Teenage artists wanted for Group Publishing’s Biblica Bible project

Teenage artists wanted for Group Publishing’s Biblica Bible project

Group, a US based, non-denominational Christian publisher, is partnering with Biblica to produce a New Testament Bible for youth. What will make this Bible unique is the editorial and visual elements featured in this Bible will be created by teenagers.

They are looking for teenage artists to do interpretive illustrations for the introductions to the books of the New Testament. Based on samples submitted by young people, they will select four teenagers who will each illustrate up to six of the Bible introductions.

What they are looking for…

  • Teenagers age 16-19 who love to draw very expressive and interpretive art.
  • The interior of the Bible is 2 color (Black plus another color). So the art will need to be one/two color line art.

What’s in it for the student…

  • Each artist will be given credit in the final printed piece.
  • Their art will be used in marketing efforts to promote the new Bible.
  • Students can include their finished work in their own portfolios as commissioned commercial art.
  • Each student will be given a write-up in one of our blogs promoting them, their art, and their school.
  • Each student will get “real world” experience with an art director and publisher.
  • Each student will receive 5 free copies of the Bible after it’s been printed.
  • Selected student artist will receive a contract for up to 6 illustrations and be paid $99 per illustration completed.

The only requirements for this opportunity…

  • The student must be between the age of 16 and 19 years old.
  • Students selected to work on the project will need to complete all illustrations contracted for in 5 weeks. (We will contact artists directly to determine the number of illustrations they believe they can complete in this time frame.)

Submissions begin now.

  • Students need to submit a sample of their art style to Jeff Storm, Art Director at Group Publishing.
  • Attach 1-2 samples as a .jpg file to an email addressed to jstorm@group.com (please limit attachment size to 5 MB).
  • Please make subject line in email- Biblica Bible illustration submission
  • Include your full name, attach the samples to the email, and let us know a little something about the samples you are sending and why you’d like to be considered for this project.
  • Sample submissions must be received no later than Feb 21, 2016.
  • The selected artists will be notified by Feb 26, 2016
  • The selected artists will have five weeks beginning Feb 29, 2016 to complete the illustrations contracted for.
    Biblica Youth Bible release is scheduled for September 2016.

Click here to download a summary to hand out to young people.

 

Reflections on nearly 40 years of ministry

Reflections on nearly 40 years of ministry

Sam Storms, the lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, has written a fascinating blog post reflecting on nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry.

I’m not sure I full subscribe to everything he has written – for example I would fully subscribe to women being fully involved in church leadership.  But there’s a lot of gold in this article – a few highlights that resonated for me:

1. I wish I’d known that people who disagree with me on doctrines I hold dearly can often love God and pursue his glory with as much, and in some cases more, fervency than I do. The sort of intellectual pride that fuels such delusions can be devastating to ministry and will invariably undermine any efforts at broader Christian unity across denominational lines.

3. I wish I’d known how deeply and incessantly many (most?) people suffer. Having been raised in a truly functional family in which everyone knew Christ and loved one another, I was largely oblivious to the pain endured by most people who’ve never known that blessing. For too many years I naively assumed that if I wasn’t hurting, neither were they. I wish I’d realized the pulpit isn’t a place to hide from the problems and pain of one’s congregation; it’s a place to address, commiserate with, and apply God’s Word to them.

6. I wish I’d known how vital it is to understand yourself and to be both realistic and humble regarding what you find. Don’t be afraid to be an introvert or extrovert (or some mix of the two). Be willing to take steps to compensate for your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with people unlike you, who make up for your deficiencies and challenge you in healthy ways to be honest about what you can and cannot do.

10. I wish I’d known about the destructive effects of insecurity in a pastor. This is less because I’ve struggled with it and more due to its effect I’ve seen in others. Why is insecurity so damaging?

 

Assembly: Tolerance

Assembly: Tolerance

This was the assembly I gave this morning at one of our local Junior schools, on the theme of tolerance:

The past few hundred years have been marked by ethnic and racial conflict, as the Holocaust, the Rwanda genocide and the ongoing war in Syria demonstrate. There have also been individuals who have stood above the hatred and violence, however, and called for peace and cooperation. One of the most famous fighters for peace was Rev. Dr Martin Luther King.

Can you imagine a time when black people were only allowed to sit on certain seats at the back of a bus? When black people were not allowed to vote in elections? Can you imagine a town where black and white children had to attend separate schools? Where black and white young people were separated at dances by a line down the middle of the room?

Sixty years ago, in the southern states in America, this was how it was. Let’s hear about three ordinary people who had the courage to speak out.

An ordinary clergyman, with a minister for a father and a teacher for a mother, organized peaceful protests and boycotts against discrimination. Here was an ordinary black man who spoke out against the injustice that he saw. This ordinary black man delivered extraordinary speeches with memorable lines like ‘I have a dream that one day down in Alabama … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’

This man was Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1964, assassinated in 1968, at just 39 years old.

In the town of Montgomery, like most places in the deep south, buses were segregated. On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks left Montgomery Fair, the department store where she worked, and got on the same bus as she did every night. As always, she sat in the ‘black section’ at the back of the bus. However, when the bus became full, the driver instructed Rosa to give up her seat to a white person. When she refused, she was arrested by the police.

In protest against bus segregation, it was decided that from 5 December, black people in Montgomery would refuse to use the buses until passengers were completely integrated. For 382 days, the 17,000 black people in Montgomery walked to work. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a decision by the Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to accept integration.

An ordinary woman showed extraordinary courage. This ordinary woman became known as the ‘Mother of the Civil Rights Movement’.

On 28 August 1963, two to three hundred thousand Americans converged on Washington DC. This was the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’. The organizers had many aims, but what unified the march was a call for greater freedoms for African-Americans. The date chosen for the march fell on the one-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the United States of America. Racial inequality was still rampant, however, and African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens in many states.

President Kennedy was attempting to pass the Civil Rights Act at the time, which would provide greater freedoms for African-Americans. While many marched as a show of support for the President, others marched to criticize the Act for not going far enough.

Dr King was tasked with giving the final speech and he captured both the anger and the optimism of the march. ‘America has given the Negro people a bad cheque’, he said, referring to the centuries of slavery and racial injustice, but ‘we’ve come to cash this cheque’ by marching together. The civil rights leaders had come together to the nation’s capital to demand a fair deal for all.

Yet it is the ‘I have a dream  . . .’ segment of his speech that has passed into history. Dr King called not for acts of revenge against oppressors but understanding and cooperation. The most famous line of the speech – ‘I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!’ – carries a promise of peace, reconciliation and an end to racial conflict.

Those two examples are completely true. This one is not. It is taken from the 2007 hit movie Hairspray. It’s Baltimore, 1962, and Tracy Turnblad, an ordinary young girl, is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show. Tracy auditions for the show and gets to appear – a dream come true! However, she becomes aware of the way that her black dancer friends are being treated and realizes that she has to do something. As she tells her father, ‘I think I’ve kind of been in a bubble … thinking that fairness was gonna just happen. It’s not. People like me are gonna have to get up off their fathers’ laps and go out and fight for it.’ This ordinary young girl brings about an extraordinary integration.

This, too, was the power of Mahatma Gandhi – the humble little man in peasant’s clothes who, armed only with the weapons of love, peace and justice, brought the mighty British Empire to its knees. Gandhi believed passionately that if his cause was a just one he would win – no matter how powerful the forces against him. He famously said: ‘Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.’ Gandhi was ‘one man come in the name of love’.

At the heart of the Christian faith there is also ‘one man come in the name of love’. Jesus enters Jerusalem knowing that it is there that he will come into conflict with the might of the Roman Empire and face the fury of the Jewish religious establishment. And so he comes armed – armed with the weapons of love, forgiveness and peace – and he comes riding the humble donkey.

Into a world of division and barbarism and violence – a world, in other words, not unlike our own – comes the Prince of Peace, whose power lies not in military might but in selfless love. And here’s the thing: his kingdom, established by the power of love, rather than bullets, has lasted far longer and been far more influential than the kingdom of any military conqueror?

Time for reflection

What are you and I prepared to do in the name of love?
Do we have even a fraction of the courage of the Tank Man
or Rosa Parks
or Martin Luther King
or Gandhi?
Can we walk with Jesus on the way of the cross?

In the face of a world of greed, violence and oppression;
here at school in the face of the bully and the aggressor
or in the face of those who simply do not care –
what will you and I do in the name of love?
Prayer
Lord,
give us vision that we may see a better world,
and give us courage that we may act to make it happen.
Amen.

The secret to better listening

The secret to better listening

Youth work is all about quality relationships.  A good youth worker needs to be a great listener.  So how do you do it?

Repeating back what someone is saying to you, or what’s known as “reflective listening,” is a great way to show that you’re really hearing what they say. Repeating their exact words like a parrot, however, is not always ideal.

People like good listeners, and knowing how to show you’re listening is a valuable skill. Dr. Travis Bradberry, the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, explains the best way to do it:

When you practice reflective listening, don’t simply repeat the speaker’s words to her. Use your own words to show that you’ve absorbed the information.

Paraphrase and re-interpret what they’ve said so it’s clear their words are resonating with you and they aren’t just bouncing back to them. Parroting what they say can sometimes be worse than not saying anything at all.

You can find more listening tips at this great article from Entrepreneur – The 7 Things Great Listeners Do Differently

Ofcom’s Children’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015

Ofcom’s Children’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015

The 10th Ofcom report on ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report‘ has just been published.

This report examines children’s media literacy. It provides detailed evidence on media use, attitudes and understanding among children and young people aged 5-15, as well as detailed information about the media access and use of young children aged 3-4.

The report also includes findings relating to parents’ views about their children’s media use, and the ways that parents seek – or decide not – to monitor or limit use of different types of media.

Summary of key themes

This year’s report shows that:

  • In 2005 levels of take-up of key media among children were higher than we might recollect, and not dissimilar to those of today. However, the experience of using these devices has been transformed, leading to a much richer and more expansive online experience than was the case in 2005.
  • Over the last few years, tablets are increasingly being used as a default entertainment screen, particularly among younger children. This is set alongside a small but important decrease in the numbers watching TV via a TV set.
  • The content children are consuming is increasingly curated by digital intermediaries, including providers like YouTube and Google. As well as attractive sources of content, rivalling traditional broadcasters, they are also seen by some children as legitimating brands, helping to vouchsafe the veracity or trustworthiness of content accessed through their sites.
  • The move towards smaller screens makes supervision more difficult for parents, and the proliferation of devices increases the need for parents to keep up to date with technology. For example, while over half of parents use any of the technical tools we ask about to manage their children’s online access and use, and around a quarter use ISP network-level filters, less than one in five parents whose child uses a smartphone or tablet use any of the tools for restricting app installation or use that we asked about.
  • The wider range of sources of content, set alongside the increased exposure to advertising, the use of services like social networking and the relatively low levels of critical understanding raises challenges for how children keep their personal information safe, understand the implications of sharing personal information and content and navigate the increasingly complex online environment in a way which allows them to reap the benefits and minimise the risks.

Pages 4-12 contain the Executive Summary with key themes and findings – if you don’t have long, do take the time to read these few pages.  Section 3 also contains some fascinating charts on the difference in usage by children between 2005 and 2015.