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Dark Days?

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I suppose being from Northern Ireland means that we love talking about the weather. And our default can be to complain. Combining those things means that we spend a lot of time complaining about the weather.

Even during our recent ‘heat wave’ I saw this to be true. 2 days of glorious unbroken sunshine leaving us exhilerated and dehydrated. We had found an oasis of sun and we were loving it! But it was on the 3rd day that I heard the comment in my local shop.

A few clouds loomed on the horizon. A slight breeze began to float through the air. And that was when I heard the comment…

“Looks like the weather’s on the turn. That’s us back to doom and gloom.”

A small cloud, some wind and the weather was on the turn. She wasn’t wrong meteorologically, but something jarred with me in that moment. We love to point it out when things aren’t quite as good as they used to be. We constantly hark back to the former days of old that seemed all so glorious. We notice the slightest sign of doom and gloom, and use it to predict some sort of demise.

I’ve heard it a lot recently.
Society is going downhill.
Morals have been lost.
The church is in decline.
We live in darker days.

But I don’t buy it. (As if this country was in a brilliant place 30 years ago or the church had it sorted anyway…!)

Now I don’t deny that the world is a broken place. In fact, I see signs of it all the time.
But I also refuse to believe that these are darker days than before. Because I see signs of the opposite all the time.

These are times of hope and opportunity in society.
These are days of change and promise in the church.

I see this in growth of a Food Bank ministry that is literally feeding hundreds of families a week.
I see this in a community of people raising thousands of pounds for a young family devastated by sudden death.
I see this in the 800 young people I stood among on Saturday night travelling across the world this summer discovering what it means to serve others.
I see this in the desire of churches in our area to unite together to show love to their local community through SPARK.
I see this in many people in this land, albeit slowly, leaving past hatreds between us.
I see this in a team of young people who have visited their local residential home every month for the past year.
I see this in the transformed stories of many people who have been joining our church recently.
I see this in small and simple acts of kindness shown by normal people every day.
I see this in the forgiving response of an American church following the bullets of a gunman.
I see this in the joy and sense of community within a Ugandan community close to my heart.

So I guess it depends where you look. And depends how you perceive it.
Don’t swallow the myth or allow the potential of your impact to be disarmed.
Society is being shaped. The local church is serving. The worldwide church is on the move.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

Change coming.

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change-architect-sign1

Of course change is inevitable for all of us. At times it’s unexpected or unwelcomed, but at times we get to be part of shaping those changes for ourselves.

However, I’ve been learning that even in the times we get choose or make a change for ourselves, it can still be a difficult process.

This week I shared with the young people I work with that sadly I wouldn’t be their youth leader next year. This is because I have recently accepted a job offer from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to become their Discipleship Development Officer, and will be making this transition over the summer.

As you might imagine, I have had mixed feelings about all of this. I haven’t been seeking a change. I have loved the journey of the last 4 years. I love what I do. I was in no way discontent. And I’m gutted to step away from working with our young people, especially at this time.

The last few months in particular have been a special time of movement among our teenagers with many of them growing deeper in who they are, others stepping out in new ways, and many following Jesus in deeper ways. A hungry and passionate tribe of young people combined with a brand new halls complex just around the corner, means that in human terms it feels like a crazy time to be stepping away. The depth of relationships and trust built up over time make it difficult to walk away.

However, amidst my uncertainty and sense of sadness, the job that I have accepted has felt like both a new call and a fresh opportunity. It is a daunting role for me, yet is a position that I feel has the potential to be a help & significance for our denomination. I will be based centrally in Church House, but will have responsibility for working right across the denomination, helping to provoke, resource and support churches to make disciples. And I’m excited that a key focus of the role will be on the young adult age group. It feels like a challenge, but seems to be a fit with who I am.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked as part of the Staff Team at Carnmoney Church. I have learned so much and been sharpened in all kinds of way. I feel like I’m a more rounded person, a more passionate disciple and a better leader than when I came here. In many ways, without it, I would not be stepping into this job with the perspective that I now have for equipping disciples and leading young adults. And the silver lining of this change is that Sarah, Noah and I will continue to be part of the Carnmoney Church family, albeit in a different way.

I leave the role with so many fond memories. I think of dancing like crazy on youth residentials, laughing hard during yet another game of Empires, or singing together under African skies. I remember the profound conversations in packed living rooms, challenging individuals to step out of their comfort, and watching young people flourish in leadership. I’m thankful for the moments of honest conversation, painful tears and speaking into lives.

And now my attention for the next few months turns to finishing well. I want to keep leading with all the energy and passion I have, and to transition well for who and what will come next. There is always more to come!

Fight the battles that count…

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sheila

Today as a large proportion of the Christian community reacted online to news of a local court ruling, I received news on my Facebook feed of an all together different tragedy.

In Uganda last summer, the group of young people I was with were served diligently by a beautiful young woman called Sheila. A woman in need with a young family to support, Sheila left some of her children for a few months to come and work with the Kasozi family who were providing her with much needed income for her family. Sheila worked for us tirelessly. She cooked for us, cleaned for us, washed our clothes and served us in every way she could find. While language was a barrier, she built strong bonds with our team, learning our names, hugging our girls and laughing at our fashion.

And while we could never match the depths of her service for us, I loved watching our team care for and look after her little 3 month old baby Martha. The baby that she was providing for in serving us. The baby she laid down to run after our needs. While we left her with some practical resources, she left us with an example and a memory of what it means to serve others.

And yet today news came through that Sheila had passed away. Only discovering that she was living as a carrier of HIV in December. And passing away in May. And leaving little Martha as a 1 year old baby without her mummy, and also facing the same battle with the same illness that her Mother had faced.

Tragic. Devastating. Unjust.

Right now medication and education for her 2 children seem a priority for those of us whom she served. We are working out how to respond, but all day I’ve been left with a nagging thought.

This story won’t make any headlines, and nor should I expect it to.
This news won’t go viral, and nor would I want it to.

But I can’t help think at times that the battles we choose as Christians are often the ones that we have no need to fight. Or the energy we waste arguing about issues that don’t concern God as much as we think. And all at the expense of other situations and injustices that are so obviously on the heart of God.

Last July, Sheila sat quickly in a room with our team as we read together these words:

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

What might seem like genuine religion to us, might look completely different in the eyes of God.
But the life of Jesus and bible passages like this should leave us in no doubt.

Today I am resolved to fight the battles that count.
To speak out against the injustices that matter to God.
To pray and care for those in distress.
And to break my heart for the things that break His.

“the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Young Disciples

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Just some of the brilliant young people I get to work with

Stop supporting. Start challenging.

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Fishing Boat
On the shore sat a failed fisherman.
All night he had fished and the results weren’t good.

“We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Luke 5:5

To the experienced fisherman, the carpenter comes along and offers a new angle, a fresh approach. He calls Peter into deeper waters. And Peter follows.

“Now go where it is deeper…” Luke 5:4

In our more honest moments we can admit that the church’s nets aren’t always bulging.

Of course we work hard,
we try everything,
and at times we fish all night.

But often the results don’t change.
The nets don’t bulge.

And so I’m intrigued by the response of Jesus.

He doesn’t ask them to fish harder
Or to go to a different lake
He doesn’t tell them to keep going
But instead to try a fresh approach

The place Peter was fishing in was too shallow.
His depth of fishing didn’t match the depth of Jesus’ vision.

We often ask the question how do we support young people?
I would argue that the question is too small.

We often ask the question how can we attract teenagers to our churches?
I would argue that the question is too small.

Jesus didn’t support the disciples. He challenged them.
He didn’t attract the 12. He called them.
He didn’t pastor Peter, James and John. He provoked them.
Jesus didn’t hold the disciples’ hands. He launched them into mission.

Last week I sat in hospital with my Granny as she was attended to by a nurse still in her teens. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook to the world in his early twenties. Ed Sheeran, Ella Henderson and Sam Smith, current shapers of British music are all under the age of 24. Rory McIlroy won his first major titles at the age of 21.

The world is constantly shaped by young people. In our society many young people perform life saving operations, run businesses, make major policy decisions to shape society.

And yet in our churches too often we engage young people in talking shops, tame projects, and token roles.
At best they are entertained or accommodated.
At worst they are overlooked or ignored.

We don’t protect young people from the dangers of the world & keep them in
We equip them for the world & send them out.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19

now.

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fast+food
“Excuse me, I ordered over 5 minutes ago and I’m still waiting on my food. Is everything okay?”

I found myself uttering these words last week as I stood in a queue in McDonalds. I wasn’t annoyed or overly hungry, it was just that I expected my food to come within a few moments of ordering it.

Just today I found myself getting impatient because I had stood behind a woman who was blocking a shop aisle for around 10 seconds. I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t need to get anywhere.

It’s either our humanity or our culture that has conditioned us this way.
We send a text message and expect a reply within the hour.
We order a package online and click next day delivery.
We click on a youtube video and groan when we have to endure a 20 second ad.

Maybe it’s okay that things are like that in our world, but I don’t want to live all of my life in this way. I don’t want that attitude to creep into other areas of my life. In my decisions, my friendships, my experiences….even my prayers.

Significant growth demands patience, consistency, time and process.
Character is formed, friendships are built, projects are developed.
Things that last take time.

And so I don’t want to be a person who walks away when it isn’t working.
Or rushes the process.
Or abandons the friendship.

I don’t want to stop praying the prayers.
Or miss the learning points.
Or give up hope.

And I’m thankful for the picture painted in the Bible of a God who doesn’t give up
A God who refused to abandon His people even when they abandoned Him.
who continued to love humanity even in the biggest of messes.
who persevered through suffering and death
and who still reaches out to me despite my own failings.

“I have fought the good fight
I have finished the race
I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7

The Gospel

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It’s huge and yet it’s personal

It’s rich and yet it costs nothing

It’s bigger than me yet it involves us

It’s embodied by one yet it’s open to all

It’s focused upwards yet it points outwards

It’s weighty but it helps to lighten our burdens

It impacts my future yet it shapes my present

It’s steeped in history but it speaks to us now

It’s intensely spiritual but extemely practical

It’s wonderfully complex yet incredibly simple

It’s debated by the learned yet embraced by fools

Libraries are dedicated to it yet it can be summarised in a sentence

It’s wider than we know yet remains a narrow path to walk

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