Category Archives: Youth

Sermon: Jesus calls us to love the outsiders

I preached this sermon on 22 January 2017, as part of a series called Jesus Encounter. Jesus calls us to love, unconditionally and extravagantly. He specifically calls us to love those who outside our circles.

Jesus calls


My sermon notes:

Jesus Encounter series start

Jesus Encounter series – until Easter

The stories recorded in the Gospels and Acts are not merely stories of what happened to a few people 2000 years ago – not just historical record. They were carefully selected in order to show us patterns, and help us understand how WE can encounter Jesus even today. As we read the Gospels and Acts we should be alert for those patterns in the stories, and look carefully for clues and instructions on how we can encounter Jesus and live Christ-like lives today.


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Sermon: The story of Esther

The story of Esther, the poor orphan girl who rises to be Queen of the greatest Empire on earth, is one of my favourites. Many years ago I told it to a youth group at a camp, and since then the dramatisation of the story has been one of my favourite sermons to share. I got the chance to do so last year at our church, and I’ve finally had some time to edit the various video feeds into a single video.

So, here is the story of Esther, preached at my home church. Enjoy.

Sermon: How to be a church entering a new land

I have not posted much on the blog recently due to work pressures. But a few weeks ago, I was able to preach at Heronbridge Christian Church, and the sermon was recorded.

I preached on the need for us to adopt the same mindset Moses and Joshua had to when they were leading the people of Israel into a new land. It requires a change in mindset and a future-focused attitude, not one that clings to the past or is frightened of change. I took the opportunity to overview an understanding of generational theory, and talk about some of the major disruptive forces shaping our world right now as well.

The sound file is available on their website here.

You can download my slides and follow along if you’d like to.

Let me know what you think.

Smartphones and the church of the future

Yesterday I spoke at the Gracepoint Fast Forward leaders conference. My topic was “Succeeding in a Changing World”, and I focused my attention on the impact of mobile smartphone technology on the way we might do church in the future.

You can listen to the 55 minute session on SoundCloud here or below, and follow along with the slides by downloading a PDF here.

For more information about our church, click here, and to get information about our Fast Forward conferences follow the Facebook page here.

Parenting in a world gone mad

I wrote this article a number of years ago for a Parenting Magazine. The concepts that had been birthed in me eventually turned into a book that I co-wrote with Nikki Bush, “Future-Proof Your Child” (Penguin, 2009 – see here for purchasing options).

It was the early morning of Thursday, 10 August 2006. We had just landed after a long haul flight, the overnight non-stop from Johannesburg to Heathrow airport in London. Even though we hadn’t slept very well, we were all excited – after all, it was the start of our two week family holiday in England. Imagine our dismay as we were told on landing that we had to wait on the runway as there was some kind of security alert. Having already spent a night trying to stop our three daughters, Amy (7), Hannah (5) and Rebecca (16 months) from dismantling the plane, each other and the other passengers, this seemed like an announcement from hell.

We soon discovered that it was the morning that British police had taken some terrorist suspects into custody. They were part of a plot to blow up airplanes leaving from UK airports. Heathrow had been shut down.

The inconvenience and extra security was a pain, but understandable, of course. You’d rather be delayed and safe, than have terrorists be able to do what they want to. But what really alarmed me that day was trying to explain to my daughters why bad men would want to blow up planes. “Daddy, why don’t the bad men just speak to someone about what made them so angry? Daddy, did they want to kill us?”

It’s a Mad, Mad World

Living in South Africa, and more particularly in Johannesburg, we should have been prepared for questions like this at some stage. My oldest daughter is increasingly taking in the information from half-hourly news bulletins. I fear that Hannah, outgoing and fun-loving as she is, is beginning to sense that there are many ways in which her idealistic world can be shattered. My youngest daughter is currently oblivious to the bigger issues in the world. But, as an orphaned Zulu girl adopted into our family, she is a daily reminder to us that the world is very much less than perfect.

We live in a world seemingly gone mad. At a macro level, there is an increase in the “clash of civilizations”: East vs West, Poor vs Rich, First vs Third world, Christian vs Muslim, Black vs White, and so many other conflicts at a global level. The news is filled with war, natural disasters, crime, death and destruction. It is the same at the local level, especially in South Africa, as our fledgling country continues to grapple with the consequences of 40 years of simmering struggle, deliberate under-education of an entire generation and rampant unemployment. All of these contribute to unacceptable crime levels. Our whole world is very fragile indeed.

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Gen Y goes to church – or doesn’t

One of my favourite Christian bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, has recently turned her attention to some insights into the Millennial generation and their church attendance in the USA. She wrote a short blog on the topic for a CNN blog site, and sparked a very lively (if not useful) debate.

I was alerted to this issue a number of years ago by research from a variety of sources. The Barna Group and Walt Mueller’s Center for Parent/Youth Understanding have both been showing research about declining generational attendance at church for decades now. Mike Regele wrote about this in his book, “The Death of the Church” back in 1996 (buy on – still worth reading).

More recent research has emerged from Christian Smith’s National Study of Youth and Religion Project, and an excellent recent book is “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (buy on or Kindle @ or Rachel also recently listed some of her research resources on this topic – see it here.

Anyway, after her experience on the CNN blog, Rachel revisited the topic with an excellent post entitled “Why Millennials Need the Church“.

She then provided links to a number of people who had written responses to her original article. If you’re interested in the issue, you will find them useful:

Churches definitely need to be thinking about this. Gen Y are seeking for something to believe in, but much of what the church dishes up for them today leaves them cold. What do you think are the best ways churches can connect with Millennials?

Does Hashim Amla make you want to become a Muslim?

Hashim Amla is a South African cricketer – and fast becoming a legendary one too. He is sublime to watch, and is having the most phenomenal season. He is also universally acclaimed, by teammate and opponent alike, as the nicest, humblest, gentlest guy you’ll ever meet. A real sportsman’s sportsman.

And he is devoutly Muslim. He has the most fantastic beard, and by all accounts, in all ways, he takes his Muslim practices very seriously.

I only mention his religious faith and one of its outward expressions, because he has caused me to think about something that Christians do quite a lot. If, as Christians, we discover that some famous star – be they a sportsperson, singer, actor or celebrity of some kind – is also a Christian, we tend to venerate them a bit. And then we often devise evangelistic campaigns featuring that person.

I lost count as a child how many events I went to that featured some or other Christian sports personality telling me how his or her faith really helped them to become a famous sports star. Since I have two left feet – and that’s just counting my hands – and have never been good at any sport, these talks were never quite as inspiring as they should have been. But I wasn’t the target demographic I suppose. I still don’t think that they were the best approach.

My question is this: does Hashim Amla’s success combined with his most remarkable character and aura of calm, humility, authority, respect, class and confidence (a heady mix of all the things I think are best in humanity) make me want to become a Muslim? If a local mosque had an evening featuring Hashim Amla as guest speaker, I would definitely consider going. I’d sit enthralled, I am sure, as he spoke. And then, I’d politely sit through whatever short Islamic message that followed. I respect Islam, have some Muslim friends, understand the religion, have visited a number of mosques and a holy Islamic shrine, and even own a Koran (which I have read). But I highly doubt whether anything that Hashim Amla did or said would convince me to become a Muslim.

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Christmas is coming, and so is Saint Nick

Our current image of Father Christmas as a fat old man with red cheeks and long white beard was cemented into popular culture by Coca-Cola in the early 1930s, as part of a marketing campaign to get people to drink cold drinks during winter. The red-coated figure of Santa was created by a commercial illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, based on illustrations that had appeared in the New York Times in 1906, 1908 and 1925 (see below):

Santa Claus NYT 1906   Santa Claus NYT 1908   Santa Claus NYT 1925

But Santa Claus has been around for a long, long time in various cultures and traditions around the world. It is generally accepted that the earliest incarnations are based on the real life figure of St. Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor in the 3rd century AD. He seems to have been a wealthy man, who gave most of his wealth away to help others. Famously, he would go at night in mid winter and throw bags of money into poor people’s houses. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

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How Youthworkers are seen – and see themselves

Just for fun this weekend…

I met with a few people from the Portsmouth Diocese yesterday (we are working together on a project to put my “Mind the Gap” generations work into a DVD programme). Ben Mizen (Youth and Children’s Work Adviser for the Diocese of Portsmouth) alerted me to a video that was put together recently for a Youth workers conference here in the UK.

If you are – or ever have been – in youth ministry, you’ll find it laugh out loud funny. It’s true, and funny, and a bit sad all at the same time. Enjoy. And share with the youth workers you know:

YouTube link if you can’t see the video above.

How (not) to speak of Christmas

Sometimes I really do despair of evangelical Christians. I claim to be one, on the basis that I believe the Bible when it teaches us about God and how He is reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus, and that we as humans need to respond to that fact. As such, I do understand that there is an imperative to share what I believe with the world. I try to do this humbly, acknowledging that truth exists throughout the world and that I do not know it all. But I also do it boldly, believing that God is knowable, personal and involved in the world, and has revealed Himself to us. I believe this is good news for everyone.

But I do sometimes cringe at those who also call themselves evangelicals and take a very different approach to telling others of the “Good News”. For many, more fundamentalist evangelicals, the only version of the good news they ever tell is that “if you trust in Jesus you won’t go to hell when you die”. This might be true, but it is nowhere near the whole truth.

Last Friday night (23 December), my 12 year old daughter excitedly invited two of her unchurched school friends to join her at a special pre-Christmas youth group evening event, with a group of about 30 other young teenagers. They were expecting an evening of fun activities and a brief Christmas themed talk to wrap things up – a fairly standard evening at the youth group. What they got instead was a long “Gospel” message from one of the church’s pastors that went something like this:

You might be a young teenager, but you still need to think about death. When I was at high school, two of my friends died: a motor cycle accident and falling off a cliff. It could happen to you. If you die without knowing Jesus you’ll go to hell. So, make sure you take this seriously and accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour so that if you die you’ll go to heaven. You’re never too young to think about this.

Although I might argue with the theology of this, let’s leave that aside for now. This is not an appropriate message 36 hours before Christmas. This is not the message the angels brought to the world. It’s not what Mary thought of as she gave birth to the Saviour. How can this be “good news”? The good news was good news for everyone. It was news that a King had been born. Yes, this king would die – and rise again. Yes, this king would be a Saviour. But the good news was not that “you can avoid eternal conscious torment when you die.” The message had to do with the king and his kingdom.

Surely a more appropriate Christmas message is that God, the Creator and Sustainer of this universe and our world, is so committed to restoring His Creation to its original glory that He was prepared to humble Himself and come into His Creation to be born as a humble child into a humble family in a nation that had been humbled by history. He came to show us that God’s Kingdom is breaking into the kingdoms of this world, and that what is wrong will be made right; what is broken will be fixed; what is shattered will be restored. Jesus did not come to solve your personal sin problem: He came, as promised, to be the culmination of God’s story unfolding across time, and to reconcile the world to God through His life, death and resurrection.

Our response is not to accept His message because we fear the consequences of what might happen if we don’t. The correct response to the good news of Christmas is to realise that the One who created the world has also supplied us with a model of how life is supposed to be lived in the world He created. That model comes in multiple forms: there is the model of a family, of a nation, of a temple, of leaders and rulers, and the ultimate model of the God-man, Jesus. Our task is to learn what it means to live a life worthy of the calling we have received in Christ, and to do our part in “making earth as it is in heaven” as we await the final transformation of this world into the paradise God-connected place it was always meant to be.

There may be place in this story for a bit of fear and dread. But that time is not a few hours before Christmas. And I’d suggest that this approach to evangelism, especially of young teenagers, is precisely why so many of them abandon what faith they might have when they leave school. It is not a good foundation on which to build a life of discipleship.

To put it more plainly: it’s wrong!

Christmas reminds us very clearly and very precisely that the coming of a Saviour to the world was – and is – first and foremost: good news! It would be a very strange definition of “good news” if it is nothing more than escape from hell after you’re dead.