Are we equipping kids and youth to engage the world?

As followers of Jesus we are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-18)
We are a part of this world, this culture, and cannot be separated from it – it is the water we swim in. At the same time, we belong to Jesus and we are a part of His Kingdom, which is not of this world.

If in our kids’ or youth ministry (or adult ministry for that matter!) we are trying to separate people from world and protect them with platitudes, Christian circles and discussing only in-house issues we are not serving them well or helping them grow to maturity in Christ. It will not go well for them when they encounter the real world or hardship! Further, it is not going to help them connect with people that have not been a part of the Christian subculture. It is not ultimately going to help their own faith or someone else’s faith.

Without realizing it our ministries we often encourage kids/youth to lead a double life – one life at church/youth group and another life at home, school and in their neighbourhoods.
We encourage this advertently or inadvertently
by only celebrating what happens in our ministry not in the community,
by encouraging kids/youth to only hang-out with Christians,
by talking about issues that are irrelevant to the rest of the world,
by encouraging them to miss out on other events/sports for the sake of the ministry,
by labelling certain things “bad” without nuance or discussion etc.
What if instead we celebrated kids/youth being the light in the world and equipped them to live their faith everyday, everywhere?

Here is my hope:
We would be leaders, mentors and parents that support and equip our youth/kids to know how to live in the real world, prepared for complexities and challenges.
Often kids/youth are in better positions than us to join God’s work in the world. They are a part of the culture and have lots of connections in their neighbourhoods. IF they have been prepared to recognize God’s work around them and have been given the tools and encouragement to engage thoughtfully with the real world, watch out world! We’ll see them join God’s transformative work in the places where they live, work, study and play.

My prayer is our youth/kids would…
• be in the world and know how to reflect Jesus in the world.
• be in the world, but know how to think rightly about what is going on. They’d be able to discern what is reflecting the messed up, distorted part of our fallen world and what is reflecting God’s goodness in the world.
• be in the world, but asking the tough questions.
• be in the world, knowing their deepest, truest identity is as a child of God.
• be in the world, showing and telling the Gospel in today’s culture
• be in the world as God’s light in places where they live, work, study and play.

Let me give one example of how we can equip kids/youth with tools to do this.
One big area that can lend itself to these conversations is media.
It is estimate that teens spend an average of 9 hours/day on media!

In talking to kids/youth about this I’ve stolen a line from Walt Mueller and talked about “using your head to guard your heart” (Here’s a great resource from him.)
Rather than mindlessly absorbing the messages coming at us, we talk about stopping and examining the messages coming to us in ads, songs, TV shows, movies, tweets, Instagram pictures, facebook feeds, YouTube video, snapchat… and compare it to God and God’s ways.

Look at an ad, YouTube video or song together and talk about it.
Ask these questions:
1. What’s the main message/topic?
2. How does the video/song/post/media make the person watching it feel?
3. Are they trying to make you feel, act, think, talk or live a certain way? What are they suggesting?
4. Are they suggesting a certain way to happiness/fulfilment?
5. How’s that line-up with who you are?
6. How’s the line-up with who God is and God’s best?
You could add more questions.

A song that is getting old now (2004), but it helpful, is “Cult of Cool” by the O.C. Supertones. It is a Christian song talking about not letting consumerism suck you in and make you believe its lies. Playing this song and giving kids/youth the lyrics can lead to an interesting discussion! (See the lyrics here)

One more resources – here is a youth group lesson about social media from the “Ministry to Youth” website. 

Friends, leaders, parents – help kids and youth be thoughtful engagers in this world!
We believe God is using kids/youth to join Him in changing neighbourhoods!

-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood


Availability and vulnerability

Over lunch recently a friend and I were talking about “Rules of Life” that is rhythms we need in our lives that lead to a fuller life with God and with others.

My friend suggested two words for a rule for life – availability and vulnerability. She discovered they are words the Northumbria Community are seeking to live out in their context.

I’ve been pondering the power of these two “rules” – availability and vulnerability.
Availability to God and others.
Vulnerability to God and others.

I really like them. The more I ponder the more it invites me into a richer community with God and others.

These two postures, availability and vulnerability, could be especially helpful to the millennial generation (Here is a previous post about millennials). If you try to fake availability and vulnerability it won’t get you very far at all and life will stay on the surface. If you start plunging into availability and vulnerability it is contagious, particularly to millennials seeking something real.

I also like how having just these two words for a “rule of life” allows rhythms to look different for each person and in different seasons. What availability and vulnerability look like for me will be different than what they look like for you. They likely will look different in this season compared to the next season.

Availability and vulnerability.
Launch off these two words and ponder what they would mean for our discipleship, our leadership, our church, our life in Christian community….
Powerful right?!

Let’s think about them in the life of Jesus.

Jesus and availability

Jesus, fully available to God – Jesus took time to listen to the Father (e.g. Mark 1:35), Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing (e.g. John 5:19) and Jesus came to earth to do God’s will not His own (e.g. John 6:38). What does it look like for you to put yourself in places and in the posture where you are fully available to God?

Jesus, available to others – We see this throughout Jesus’ life in the Gospel – Jesus ignoring His hunger and thirst to speak to the woman at the well (John 4:4-26), Jesus stopping to talk to the woman who was healed from touching His cloak (Mark 5:25-34), Jesus stopping for the blind bagger on the side of the road (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus stopping to bring Zacchaeus down from the tree and go to his house (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus taking time with the twelve disciples even inviting them to group time away from the crowds (e.g. Mark 6:31). The examples here could go on and on. Jesus was available to others, served others, yet was not ruled by others. Jesus was ruled by God, available to God and that overflowed into availability to others. God made Himself fully available to us in Christ. God continues to make Himself available to others through His Holy Spirit in you, if you are willing and cooperate.

Jesus and vulnerability

Jesus, vulnerable to God – Jesus did not hide His feelings, confusion and disappoint from God. Think of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked the Father – “Really? Isn’t their any other way? Do I really have to drink this cup?” (Paraphrase of Matthew 26: 39, 42). Jesus let it be known when God felt distant as He hung on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46) How can you enter a new level of vulnerability with God?

Jesus, vulnerable to others – Jesus, the Son of God, entrusted Himself to human beings. Jesus, the Son of God, depended on us and shared His heart and life with others. Jesus depended on others for food and hospitality (e.g. Mark 15:41), Jesus let his disciples in on what was coming during the last supper (Matthew 26:17-30), in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) Jesus invited others into his anguish (even though they weren’t there for him at this moment), Jesus entrusted the Kingdom message to the disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus entrusted His own fate into the religious rulers and political rulers of his day (Jesus before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and the guards) and the ultimate vulnerability, Jesus hung naked on a cross, exposed and tortured for us all. (John 19:17-30)
If Jesus, the Son of God, entrusted His life, heart and message to humans, even while knowing they would disappoint and fail Him to a certain degree, surely you and I can open our heart and life to others more.

Availability and vulnerability in our lives
Ponder how they are key to opening the way to more, to deeper community and relationship with God and with others.

What does it look like for you in this season to lean into greater availability and vulnerability with God and others? I don’t want to prescribe specifics, as it’s going to look a little different for all of us. Instead I want to invite you to reflect deeply on what it means for you to become available and vulnerable to God and others. I am asking myself these same questions.

Availability in our lives
Availability to God – How could you put yourself in environments where you are ready to listen and respond to God? What is the posture of your heart towards God in this season?

Availability to others – Are there times when you can give yourself to others’ agenda instead of your own agenda? Are you ready to pay attention to nudges from the Holy Spirit? Who needs you to listen generously to them? Who could you create space for in your life? As you go through your day are you prepared to stop and be interrupted? Are you available to only those you deem like you or available to whomever God chooses?

Vulnerability in our lives
Vulnerability is not over-sharing – that is just attention seeking. Vulnerability is getting rid of pretenses and being your real self. Being real about what is happening in your life, church, ministry, community… It is not pretending current reality is better or worse than it really is.

Vulnerable to God – When is the last time you poured out your heart to God? Do you put on an “air” of pretenses in your prayers? Have you told God what you really think – about life, about Him? Have you sat in silence and allowed God to examine your heart and reveal what you’ve been trying to ignore or hide? Are you allowing the Lord to speak to you? Are you willing and ready to receive from the Lord?

Vulnerable to others – Have you invited others in? Have you asked others to help you? Who knows your story? Who knows exactly “where you are at” in this season?
C.S. Lewis has said “… your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses?”
Will you be available and vulnerable to them? It will change our neighbourhoods, it will change our world.

I’m on a journey to be available and vulnerable to God and others in my neighbourhood. How about you?
-Renée @r_embree #1neighbourhood

Got the Time?

What does your schedule for the week look like? What does your schedule for the month look like? How much of it is full of sports practices? How much of it is full of work activities? Household repairs? Family reunions? Doctor appointments? Free time? What about all of your church activities? Church Sunday morning? Small groups? Leadership meetings?

…Oh wait! Don’t forget! Have you set aside time to actually reach out to your neighbour and make disciples? The last thing Jesus tells us before He leaves? Feeling stressed out yet?… I know I am just by writing this. 

Here’s some good news. You can combine the disciple making with all the stuff that is already on your calendar. You can still do the very thing Jesus commands us all to do without it being another “tacked on” activity. Truthfully, it was never meant to be a tacked on activity. Oftentimes we see outreach, evangelism, and disciple making as separate events. When really, Jesus models these things within everyday life moments. The best example where we see this is when Jesus meets the woman at the well in John 4. In that time the well was a common place in which many people would go and draw water from. It was the hub of the community. Jesus in a very common moment of life for this Samaritan woman shares the plan God has for the world. This wasn’t a time Jesus set aside just for outreach. Jesus models for us that every Christ follower has a responsibility to find the mission in the mundane.

Many times church goers define their time of sharing the gospel or ‘outreach’ in the context of a scheduled event. We need to get away from this paradigm and begin to shift to a new one. The new paradigm must be one that calls every Christ follower (not just pastors) to see every opportunity in every rhythm of life as a way to live on mission. Whether your are at work or at play Jesus calls us all to find moments ‘at the well’ to proclaim the good and life changing news of Jesus Christ.

If you are looking for some practical ways to do this in your ministries and in your own life check out this resource below. Summer is the best time to start practicing some of these!

Have some examples of your own? Have some great stories of how you have found ways to find mission in the mundane? Share your thoughts and stories below! 

Go, Tell it on the Mountain – 7 pieces of advice for sharing the Good News today

We had a very excited happening in my family this week. My first nephew was born, healthy and strong. I was full of such joy, I couldn’t wait to share the news and the cutest pictures ever. However, I had to wait, it wasn’t my news to tell. I had to give my sister and her husband a chance to share the news with who they wanted and how they wanted. It wasn’t my news to tell, even though I was bursting with joy.

Jesus is our news to tell.
If you are a follower of Jesus, go ahead, burst with joy and share about Him.
That’s how it is suppose to work. We can’t be quiet about God stepping into our world as Jesus. We can’t be quiet about what God has done and is doing in our world.
If you’re anything like me though, somehow that joy of Jesus seems to wear thin. Rather that talking about Jesus because were bursting with joy, many of us Jesus followers could be accused of being silent about Jesus because were crumbling with fear.
I know it’s crazy, but it seems way too easy to be silent about the good news.
I’m guilty of it.
This got me thinking…

What if the shepherds were silent?
What if they didn’t share their joy at Jesus birth?

An evangelist is someone who shows and tells others how great God is. All followers of Jesus are meant to be evangelists. The shepherds were bursting with joy and spread the word about Jesus and who He was everywhere they went.
Really there are many evangelists in the Christmas story – Elizabeth, Zechariah, Angels, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna and Magi.
I’m bias. The shepherds are my favourite.
They were ordinary guys, about their usual routine and work. They were not the high and mighty, not the prim and proper. They let God come into their ordinary day and interrupt it. They let a sign from God change their routine, change their plans.
Yup, God’s just as likely to do something in the middle of your ordinary day at work as He is in a church service. Don’t forget it.

And these shepherds, ordinary, everyday shepherds, become evangelists. They meet baby Jesus and then could not be quiet about it.
We read “they spread the word about this child…”
And “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen…”

Worship is showing and telling God how great He is.
Evangelism is showing and telling others how great God is.

These folks in the Christmas story seem to be doing both.
Their hearts were so bursting in worship of God they couldn’t help but overflow with such joy that other people noticed.
The shepherds declared this young baby was (and is) the Saviour of the world! The one who will save us from our sins and restore us to God.

What if they had been silent?
What if the angels didn’t sing?
What if Zechariah and Elizabeth had stayed silent?
What if Mary hadn’t sung her song?
What if Simeon didn’t dance?
What if the shepherds didn’t tell?
What if they hid what they saw?
What if they hid their joy?

What if the shepherds were silent?

You know what? I’m often silent.
I know God has done and is doing incredible things in the world and my life.
But, I’m often silent.
How about you? Have you gone silent?

I fear that many of us that are followers of Jesus have gone silent.
I get it, it’s not popular to talk about Jesus or your faith in the world today.
I get it, we are not even sure how to talk about it.
I get it, you and I both know Christian “talk” and evangelism has sometimes been very brazen and very unhelpful.
However, we’ve got to find a way to get over those hurdles and show and tell the Good News.
This news is TOO GOOD!

Sharing the good news about Jesus is one area where I’m trying getting better and I’m trying to equip others to get better at it too.
I’m challenging leaders to get better at this and equip others around them to get better.
We need to tell the good news.

Here’s some advice on telling the good news today:

1. Be good news before you tell the good news. You have got to know people and care for them before you can point them to Jesus. They are not going to believe Jesus is good news if you have not shown them God’s good news through your actions, care and friendship. Your life towards them should encompass good news. The deeds almost always come before the words.

2. Drop the Christian platitudes. They are not helpful, they make you seem fake. They make it seem like you don’t live in the real world. It’s much more effective to say something like “I’ve wrestled with that too”, “that’s terrible” or “I’ve questioned God on that one!” than to pretend you’ve got it all figured out. Plus, people will want to talk to you more.

3. Be in your neighbourhoods and share. Wherever you work, study, live and play don’t be quiet about the “G” word, “God”. Naturally share what you are praying about, where you know you need God’s help, where your dependent on your Christian community, when you’ll pray for someone (then do it!), what God seems to be doing in your life… Let God overflow in your speech and life.

4. Live with questions – Invite others to share their opinion and thoughts and respect their perspective especially when it’s different than yours. Feel free to share your perspective too, thoughtfully. Don’t expect things to be resolved in one conversation, this is on on-going conversation, with you, with others, with what God is doing in someone’s life. Conversations that bring up more questions than answers are good. Be okay with leaving a conversation (or even a talk/sermon) with unanswered questions.

5. Get creative in telling – We need much more creativity in how we tell the Gospel. There is not only one way to tell the Gospel (e.g. 4 spiritual laws, Romans Road…) In fact I’m very concerned today that we seem to think the ONLY way to tell the Gospel is to convince people how sinful and bad they are. I’m not sure that’s as helpful as we think (before you cast me off, hear me out.) People can see the brokenness and sin in the world. It can be harder to see sin in ourselves. There really are lots of good people that are not Christians – good people, like the shepherds, like the Magi, like Mary and Joseph, that absolutely need Jesus too. But they may need a different starting place in coming to Jesus than starting by convincing them of their sin. Yes, it is absolutely true that Jesus is our redeemer from sin and we need Him to do this for us. Yes, we do need to come to an understanding of how only Jesus can deal with the sin that separates us from God and restore us to a relationship with Holy God. However the Bible also describes the Gospel, what Jesus has done for us in many different ways – adoption, sacrifice, reconciliation, victory, restoration, healing…. Jesus told Nicodemus to be born again, He told the rich young ruler to give everything to the poor, He invited the woman at the well to ask for living water, He invited Himself over to Zacchaeus house, He said to the disciples “follow me”, He broken bread and drank with the disciples. Let’s use the whole gamut of creativity and explanations we have to explain what God has done for us, as we invite others to become Jesus followers.

6. Practice – seriously. Start practicing to share the Gospel. Listen to how others share it, how a friend or Pastor talks about the Good News. Try explaining what God has done for you in your own words.

7. Pray – Pray for God opportunities
a. Pray – God brings Himself up in conversations with a friend, a co-worker, a fellow parent, a gym buddy, a family member…
b. Offer to others – What can I be praying for you? I have found people of all different backgrounds, including those who declare themselves to be atheists, are open to this question. Make sure you follow it up and actually pray for them.

Friends, this is a call to go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere.
Share the good news where you live, work, study and play.

Check out some more advice in this previous post: Evangelism WITH this generation 

By the way – I’m visiting my sister, her husband, and their new baby boy in Ontario and will keep telling you how wonderful my young nephew is. smile

-Renée @r_embree

Is there an extra chair at your table for me?

Do you have an extra chair at your table?
I could use one.
There are a lot of people that could use one.
They are waiting for an invite from you, especially at Christmas time.

And yet, so many circles are closed.
So many tables are closed.

Would you open your table?
Is there an extra chair at your table?

One of my favourite stories in the Bible is about Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9).
I invite you to try and imagine what Mephibosheth felt like, because I’m guessing you’ve been there a time or two. I know I have.
Mephibosheth felt
not good enough.
Mephibosheth figured others thought of him as “good for nothing.”
He was from, quite literally, no place (Lo Debar). 30 km beyond the middle of nowhere. (I know some of us Atlantic Canadians can relate to that!)
He was left out of temple (a.k.a. – church) activities because he wasn’t consider good enough (he was consider “unclean” by the religious institution).
He was scraping his own life by, it was ok, but it was not easy.
His name literally means dispeller of shame. You could smell his shame a mile away. He knew, just knew, he didn’t fit with others.
He refers to himself as a “dead dog”, that is a stray dog, left out in the tough world to fend for himself he figured he was as good as dead.

And Mephibosheth certainly didn’t feel welcome at your table and mine.
He most certainly didn’t feel welcome at a King’s table.

You ever feel like that?
Not welcome.
Not wanted.
Not quite good enough or cool enough or “something” enough.
Not quite like the others.
No room for you at the table.
Remember that feeling?
I do.
That’s Mephibosheth.

And yes, let your mind go to the refugee, the stranger, the poor, the person of a different religion then you, the person of a different race then you (this list could go on) and how they may feel that there is no room at the table for them.
That too is Mephibosheth.

And yet, another character is in the story, King David. And King David chooses to invite, welcome and fully embrace Mephibosheth to his table and into his family. Mephibosheth – crutches and all, shame and all, loneliness and all, insecurities and all – is invited to the King’s table!

That’s powerful.
To go from feeling not wanted, unwelcome, a nuisance, a bother…
To being embraced at the King’s table.

I want that.
I want others to experience that.
I want others to experience that through me. Too often I’ve given off a different vibe of “not welcome”, “not one of my kind.” Too often church circles give off this vibe – “you are not one of us.”
What made it so seemingly easy for David to extend such deep hospitality?

I have a hunch about David. A hunch that David so freely gave this kind of welcome to Mephibosheth because David had tasted this kind of welcome from the Lord.

See this same David had written down in poetry “You (God) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)
David had experienced what it is like to be welcomed to God’s table.

“You (God) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
It was a place of safety.
In the ancient world, if you were enjoying hospitality at someone’s table it was like yelling “home free.” While you were enjoying hospitality at someone’s table the tax collector couldn’t come after you, your enemy couldn’t come and lay a hand on you, that person to whom you owed a debt couldn’t come and bug you about it, you were home free. You were safe. Safe to enjoy the company around you. Safe to be real. Safe to express your struggles and worries and know that no one would come after you or criticize you. David had experienced this from the Lord. In the Lord’s presence we are safe. Safe to be real.

“You anoint my head oil”
Oil throughout Scripture is a symbol of God’s presence, His setting aside someone for something special. God has something special for you. Oil is also seen as a symbol of joy, overwhelming joy. God is overjoyed you are at His table. He takes delight in you, delights in you sharing your heart and shares His heart with you. David had experienced this joy from the Lord. In the Lord’s presence there is joy and delight.

“My cup overflows”
Another tradition from the ancient world was around the cups on the table. If your host stopped filling up your cup it was their way of signalling to you that it was time to skedaddle, you’d out-stayed your welcome. However, if your host kept filling up your cup, it was their way of saying to you, “You are welcome to stay longer. Please stay longer, I am so enjoying your company.” And well, if the host filled your cup to overflowing that was a whole other story, stating “Please stay forever! I will keep providing for you. I am so enjoying your company.” David had experienced this from the Lord, a welcome that does not go away. In the Lord’s presence we are welcome to stay forever.

David had tasted what it’s like to be at God’s table, a place of safety, joy and a welcome that doesn’t go away.
And what does David do?
He turns around and gives this same safety, joy and welcome to others.
He wants others to taste what it is like to experience God’s presence through him.
He wants others to taste what it is like at God’s table through his table.

How about you? Will you let others get a taste of God’s safety, God’s joy, God’s welcome through your tables? God is using ordinary kitchen tables, picnic tables, Tim Horton’s tables, caf tables, and circles all over to welcome people to His table.

I’m not talking about inviting people into your circle so you can preach to them.
I’m not talking about inviting people into your circle so you can “give them the Gospel.”
I’m not talking about inviting people into your circle so you can “set them right.”
I am talking about inviting people into your circle to give them safety, joy and a deep welcome. Trusting God for what He’ll do with your table.
I am talking about inviting people into your circle to get to know them.
I am talking about, trusting Christ is living in you and through you, get into some new circles.
I am talking about getting to know and value people, especially those who have been outside your circle.

Create a table of safety, joy and a deep welcome.

How? Simply create safety, joy and welcome in your circles.
Safety – listen non-judgmentally
Joy – delight in who the person is today, not who you think they should be or could be
Welcome – intentionally set aside time to linger. Lay aside other things to give your attention to those around the table, linger around the table, linger in the conversations, linger in the storytelling, linger in asking deeper questions, linger.

Is there an empty chair at your table for Mephibosheth?
Is there an empty chair for those that are feeling like stray dogs in our world today?
Is there an empty chair for those who are getting treated like stray dogs?
Is there an empty chair at your table for me?

Let me push this a little further.
Why is your table closed? Sit with this question for a while. Examine the excuses that come into your head. How can your excuses/reasons be overcome? What fear do you have? If you say your table is not closed – are you sure? How often do you learn from others that are different than you? Where are you building genuine friendships outside those that are “like you”?

What’s one step you could take this season to open up your circle a little more? Not as a drive-by task to fulfill on your list, but as a genuine extending of a welcome.

Here are a few idea:

1. Invite to your table: Refugees, the financial struggling, a young adult, neighbours, someone that does not have family nearby, a single person, a Senior, someone that struggles with illness (physical or mental), someone that struggles with addiction, someone that seems to have it all together but could use a genuine friend, someone new…

2. Go to a soup kitchen, to sit around the tables and hear stories and share stories, to genuinely get to know people.

3. If you’re a regular somewhere, get to know another person or two there. Maybe you’re a regular at a coffee shop, the hockey rink, the gym, a church, a lunchroom, a gas station…

4. Buy a refugee or newcomer to your community a bus pass and travel with them to help them get to know their regular routes.

5. Share and donate clothes, furniture, toys and time and get to know those working where you offer these items.

6. Give to those supporting the arriving refugees. Take time to understand the situation refugees are facing. Listen to their stories.

7. Reopen your small group/Bible Study/LifeGroup or Youth Group for new people to join. Specifically invite someone to join you.

I’m sure you’ve got many more ideas. Please share.
Who needs a welcome at our tables?
How do we welcome them?
Add your ideas to the comments.

May our tables be places where people taste the Lord’s safety, joy and deep welcome.
May God use our tables to transform our neighbourhoods.

-Renée @r_embree