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Those poor children…

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I think I’ve always assumed that we are the rich ones.
I’ve believed that because we have things that we are the fortunate ones.
And having stuff means we are the ones with lots to offer to those with less stuff than us.

Spending time in Uganda this month underlined that this really isn’t the case. Of course when it comes to money and resources I have much more than the children, young people and families I met. And for that I am thankful…and know I have a responsibility to share some of those resources.

But amidst the open hands we found, the hungry mouths we fed, and the needy people we met, I found a richness that I often don’t experience here in the more affluent West.

A richness in community
Richness of relationships
Richness in family life
Children rich in smiles
People rich in their contentment
Christians, rich in faith

I meet poor children all the time
Poor children who think happiness is found in 100 likes on their profile photo
Poor children who choose online gaming over hanging out with their friends
Poor children who turn up their nose at a meal on their table
Poor children who can’t seem to let a smile cross their face
Poor children who haven’t had a decent conversation with a parent all week
Poor children who think that fun is found in the bottom of a bottle

At the end of an incredible fortnight, I now sit in my home thankful for all that I have around me. But I also remain determined to recover what true richness really is.

“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James 2:5

No one wants to get lost

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No one wants to get lost

When you set out on a journey, you want to reach the destination.
When you get on a bus, you don’t want it to take a wrong turn (unless it’s the school bus)
When I drive my car, I want to get to the place I’m going safely

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a story about a sheep that wandered off and ended up far away from the rest of the sheep. The sheep got lost.

Jesus didn’t say that the sheep was a bad sheep that wanted to escape. I don’t think the sheep wanted to get lost. It didn’t set out and see how far it could run away from the Shepherd. It just wandered off and got lost. Put it’s head down, got distracted and got lost.

None of you choose to get lost in your lives. In your faith.
None of you try to wander away from God and escape His grasp.
None of you set out to get messed up, or upset, or lonely or broken.
None of you want to get distracted and lost.
None of you are bad sheep.

But at times we wander off. At times we get distracted. At times we end up with our heads down, eating grass, attracted to stuff, and when we look up suddenly we realise that we’re lost.

The beauty of this story that Jesus told isn’t that the sheep had to find its way back. Or had to say sorry 1000 times before it got back in the fold. Instead it was the Shepherd who went looking. Searching until the lost sheep was found.

The sheep isn’t the hero of this story. The shepherd is.
And you aren’t the hero of your story either. God is.

It’s God who has gone looking, not the other way around.
It’s Him who has come for you.
It’s He who reaches out and forgives.

And so if you’ve got distracted.
If you are lost or alone.
If you feel far off…

Know that there is a God who is searching and looking for you, longing for you to return home.

Call out to Him. He is closer than you think.

(Check out the story here)

Still just water…

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So I’ve tried to resist talking or blogging too much about this throughout the year…mainly because I was scared that I wouldn’t last. Last December I took the decision that I would take on a year long challenge for 2013 that would push me, challenge me and also raise some money.

I decided to drink nothing but water for 1 year.

At times I’ve regretted it. Some days I’ve felt like giving up. In the early part of the year there were meals I almost forgot!

The warmer days of summer were tough. Some social occasions have been awkward. Constantly turning down some drinks has been annoying!

But I’ve done it. I’ve resisted. I’ve kept going the distance.

This New Year’s Resolution hasn’t been broken.

And the main motivation came from this moment…

15 months ago in Uganda I remember thirsting on a baking hot day for a fizzy drink. I was tired and drained from our days activities in the searing heat and I couldn’t wait to open the bottle of Fanta in my hand. And it tasted so good. But what was in my hand was such a luxury to all the natives and children around me…something that they couldn’t afford, a luxury they couldn’t have.

And so this year I’ve given up one luxury in my life to raise lots of money for children like these. And I would appeal to you to join me in this by donating some of your money to the charity and cause I’ve chosen – Standy by Me. You can donate over here at https://www.justgiving.com/rickswateryear – perhaps giving up one coffee or drink of your own this week might help to contribute to what you can give. I am aiming raise £1000 before the end of the year…or alternatively 100 people to give £10 each. Can you help?

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Stand by Me is dedicated to meeting the physical, educational, emotional and spiritual needs of children and youth who have no other reasonable means of support. They build homes and provide children with 24-hour care in a loving, family style environment. In many countries around the world children are cared for from infancy until the time they are able to function as an independent member of society. Their homes are designed to meet the children’s needs within the context of the culture in which they are living. Each individual child entrusted to them is special, unique, valued and loved. Most of their children take an active part in society, with some graduating from university.

Don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains…

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My dream is for every church in Northern Ireland to shape their activities with the next generation in mind.

Families shape their activities around what their youngest member can do. Often when families spend quality time together, the focus will not be on the needs, desires or likes of the parents. Instead the focus will be on the youngest members of the family.

You don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains.

I now realise that when I was a child most of my parents’ decisions were taken around what suited my sister and I.

  • Mum and Dad didn’t choose fine dining restaurants or the most expensive places for us to eat, but most of the time we ended up either in McDonalds, Pizza Hut, or somewhere with a good children’s menu.
  • Our family trips to the cinema incorporated Disney classics and feel good family stories, rather than the latest Horror Blockbuster or the recent crude comedy.
  • The choice of music on long car journeys wasn’t Tschicovshy, Pavarotti, Cliff Richard or Daniel O’Donnell, but instead was a dubious mix of Psalty Kids Praise Songs, Thomas the Tank Engine stories & the commentary of the major sporting event taking place at the time.
  • Our choice of family activities were often more energetic things such as ten pin bowling, crazy golf or ice skating, rather than traipsing around a museum or marvelling at an art gallery.
  • The conversation around the dinner table didn’t revolve around politics and philosophy, but was more likely to include playground incidents and problematic friends.
  • And when we were teenagers our holidays didn’t involve lying at the side of a pool, as much as my mum would have loved that. Instead knowing how much energy I had we ended up at hotels with tennis courts, tickets to some sort of sporting event and parks with large grassy areas where I could play football with a tired dad.

You don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

So how should it be for the family of God?

This is in no way a call for all age worship all of the time. Of course we need age-appropriate teaching, and specific space for young people to develop in their faith.

But the Jewish people believed strongly in passing on their faith to the next generation. They rightly grasped that unless they as a people effectively passed their heritage, beliefs, cultures and faith on to their children, that within one generation their whole identity as a people group would be gone. Their faith would be dead. And so they shaped everything they did around passing their faith on to their children.

That was their focus. Their priority. Their dream.

The book of Ezra beautifully portrays this dream in reality as the people of every generation come together to listen to the book of the Law being read. They followed the words of their patriarch David when he wrote: “We will tell the next generation the praise-worthy deeds of the Lord, His power and the wonders He has done.” Psalm 78:4

I dream that the church in this nation would be radically re-shaped with the next generation in mind. I believe too many decisions taken in our churches are about passifying the generation above rather than attracting the generation below

One example of this is a common approach to church music:
Sing one old hymn and a more modern number in each service
Or use the organ for half of the songs and the drums for the other half

This approach is based on a flawed principle of tokenism or the false ideal of keeping people happy. It certainly isn’t missional & it simply doesn’t work.

Consensus causes church to wait around for everyone to get on board.
Consensus doesn’t lead people anywhere.
Consensus is over-rated.
Balance is over-rated.

Of course we need to hold on to our heritage.
But we need to make sure we are holding on to the right things.

You don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

Practically
I am part of a church that has made a conscious decision to shift its vision and it’s practice to reaching the next generation. It has led to discontent, misunderstanding and disagreements, but it has also given us clarity, focus and the tools needed to reach out to those younger than us who remain outside or on the fringes of church.

So let me share 3 key ways we are trying to do this:

1. LEADERSHIP
We need to be prepared to not just share some of our leadership, but also give it up from time to time. We have tried to do this by:

  • Finding ways to allow younger people to lead ministry at every level
  • Letting younger leaders have a go – having them lead things, speak at the front, host gatherings, own projects
  • A focus on developing leaders in their 20s & 30s right across our church createing a pathway for the next generation to see & relate to. It is not the minister that the kids are looking to on Sunday morning – it’s the teenager leading actions or the student playing guitar

We don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

2. ATMOSPHERE & STYLE
I’m not sure why this is important but it is. Too easily we scream that it’s not about the outside when we know deep down that it does matter. Not to God, as Samuel was told, because He looks on the heart…but God also reminded Samuel that man does look on the outside. And for young people atmosphere is hugely important because it is the world they have grown up in. We have tried to do this by:

  • Transforming the look and feel of our Sunday gatherings
  • Adopting a musical style in our services that unapologetically pushes the boundaries
  • Pushing for quality in our graphics and visual representation
  • Creating spaces & using venues that young adults, students, and those younger are attracted to and are comfortable in

These might seem surface and peripheral but in a world where we now have accepted standards for what is okay, we have got to be consistent. But actually we have found that devoting time in God’s presence brings life and vibrancy to our gatherings meaning that the atmosphere goes so much deeper than it just being about a style. In the end, I think this generation just want to know that it is real. It creates an environment into which younger people want to belong.

We don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

3. WHOLE CHURCH
It has to be about church and not about young people. The whole direction is to prioritise winning the next generation to faith and discipling them within the context of church. We don’t want to encourage young people into remaining as young people or as an isolated generation. We want them to be alongside the generations. And so church has to be accessible and somewhere they can understand. We have tried to do this by:

  • Emphasising that youth stuff always has a place at the table – we try to make our church a place where kids feel like they belong.
  • Our themes and topics need to be punchy, relevant, well presented and easily understood.
  • Development of a One to One mentoring programme for older Christians to meet up with young people, supported by Exodus.
  • Investing so much time, volunteer capacity and funding towards our youth provision.
  • We choose not to run separate groups for young adults or students. Everything done in church should be accessible and relevant for this age group. Often this age group brings the most life and vitality and so they should be brought into the centre of the church.

Over the last 2 years I have most been encouraged by the increasing presence, and over time, participation of our 15-16 year olds in our evening gatherings. They have to feel it’s their church, not just the organisation attached to their YF. The onus isn’t on the young people – the onus must be on the whole church.

We don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

Closing
In no way am I wishing to diminish the role or the place of the generations above me. On a regular basis I serve with older leaders, listen to the advice of elders, and laugh with retired friends from my small group. I am humbled by the prayers of the elderly, amazed by the generosity of faithful followers and thankful for the mentoring from those who have seen it all before.

But instead I am calling for us to release this older generation into a new dream, a fresh calling and a different reality. As role models, mentors, dreamers, providers and Patriarchs to the coming generation.

Instead I am urging us not pander to the needs of those who are older at the expense of those who are younger. If we do we may see neither of them around church in 20 years time.

So instead I am stating that my dream is for the whole church to realise their calling to reach the next generation and to shape their approach and activities around this.

Don’t expect toddlers to climb mountains

Going slow doesn’t stop living…

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It was the event of the year for this African village. The whole community was buzzing about it. All week they had been talking about it in their excited Ugandan tones. We couldn’t wait for 10am on Friday morning to roll around to experience it all.

10am on Friday came and hundreds of children, teenagers, and parents filled the large grass area in front of the stage. Yet nothing much else seemed to be happening. Set-up was only beginning and there was little sign of the event starting. A couple of hours later and this was still the case.

You don’t have to be in Africa too long to realise that time doesn’t seem to mean much to the African. Schedules don’t dictate. Starting times are loose. A little time could mean a thousand years. The old African Proverb states that being in a hurry doesn’t prevent death, and going slowly doesn’t prevent living.

But perhaps, rather than time meaning nothing in Africa, what if time actually means everything?
What if rather than rushing to the next thing, they are content to dwell in the present?
What if instead of ignoring the interruptions of the day, they see them as opportunities?

Perhaps this is why African culture seems so beautiful to me.

What if we learned to worry about deadlines less and care about time more?

Now I don’t mean constantly turning up late for things, disregarding appointments, or ignoring the challenges ahead of us in our days. Our culture runs by time and we need to respect that.

But how much more could our relationships be transformed by slowing down and enjoying time together? How much greater could our focus be in the things we are involved in, rather than allowing our minds to be distracted by all that is coming next? And how much more could we see God in the divine interruptions rather than the mundane appointments?

It seems to me that Jesus understood this.

“A man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years,but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.” Luke 8:41-45

Life presses on us from all sides. People make incessant demands. Diaries dictate where we should go. And all too often we just go along with the flow.

So let’s create more space to breathe. Let’s make more time for the people around you. And let’s be more present in the present.

Going slowly doesn’t prevent living. In fact, going slowly may just help you to find it.

My Water Only Year

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I love a challenge. I enjoy trying to do something new…something I haven’t done before. Distance running was that challenge a few years ago, and it’s something I’ve continued and really enjoy now. But I fancied a new challenge….a different challenge.

And so this year I am only drinking water. That’s right, in 2013 no other beverage will touch my lips. No tea/coffee. No alcohol. No fizzy drinks. No pure orange. Nothing but water.

Every meal. Every day. Every week. Every month. This whole year.

I’m doing this for 3 main reasons:

1. To test my willpower and prove to myself that I don’t NEED certain things in life. Some things are a luxury & I want to be grateful for small things in life that others don’t get to experience
2. To raise a stack load of money for an amazing cause – the charity Stand By Me.
3. To take on a difficult challenge that will add to my general health and well being.

I am also being joined by 12 young people from church, who will each be taking on the challenge of drinking water-only for a month at a time.

I’m a couple of months into it all and it hasn’t been easy I’ll admit. Hard to get out of the routine of drinking whatever I fancied. Difficult to resist the temptation of sugary drinks with a pizza, a hot drink when I’m cold, or a flavoured drink with my dinner. But I suppose that’s the idea….and I’ve managed okay.

So this is our small sacrifice for one year. I would love you to join us by sacrificing a small amount of your money that will go towards raising a stack load of money for Stand By Me – a charity that works in a part of the world where water is considered a luxury.

Join me over here

Thanks…

Walls

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