God + Money

I found this in an old journal the other day…

On the 4th of April 2002 I asked God for money whilst on a break at Bible School. Less than 5 minutes later I returned to my chair only to find an envelope that said “To Brad, I love you in Christ, be blessed”. Inside was 150 SEK.

It may seem like a small amount or a petty answer to prayer, but over the course of that year, I was given a total of 20K SEK, and 50 036K the year before. That’s about £6500 in 2 years.

It got me thinking about my level of expectation. I remember that back then, as a relatively new Christian, I was naively expectant that God would simply take care of me when I quit my well-paying job and left my cheap apartment in Örebro to move cities and attend Bible school for 2 years. I really felt that God had called me to make the move, and figured he’d foot the bill too. But it’s so easy to move on from this sort of simple trust and start to take everything into your own hands, in an attempt to take responsibility and move towards maturity, and those are things I still strive for and will continue to stand by, but a story like this stirs me to believe God for the unexpected again, and to both challenge my own level of generosity towards others and trust in God’s provision for me.

Right now we’re seeing some amazing growth at New Generation UK, with 2 new bases running this year and more people engaging with our online resources, our training days, bringing us to youth groups and conferences to deliver content and turning to us for help in starting CUs and school groups. We feel God’s urging us to respond and to give them everything we’ve got, and to trust him for provision, but we’re splitting at the seams and struggling to go beyond 350 schools simply due to finance for travel costs and resources. This is why we’ve launched our Change a School for a Fiver campaign, and whilst we’re working hard to find other avenues of income, individual sponsors are invaluable as a source of support for us, and I’m asking any of you who feel compelled to give towards the work we’re doing. We really believe it’s good soil, and we hear stories every week about young people who have been impacted by our organisation. If you think you can give to a good cause, be it a one-off sum or a monthly standing order of just £5, all contributions are hugely appreciated and will make a massive difference.

Click here for more info.

Thanks.

Love & Theology

I’ve recently started studying a bit of theology in a more structured environment, something that’s been stimulating and thought-provoking. For as long as I can remember I’ve been an avid online reader of Bible-based blogs and theological threads on all kinds of sites from Relevant to the Resurgence, to the Gospel Coalition and various social networks, and I’ve always been one to jump on the “latest” books and look for new means and methods, opinions and interpretations on all things faith-related. It’s about the only thing I can talk about at any great length with real passion (just ask my poor wife!) and  I love banging on about the Bible, church-building, Christian ministry, theology, and the like for as long as the listeners will let me. It’s what makes me tick.

Having said that, it saddens me to see the petty nature of much of what’s written online when it comes to these topics. It seems every blogger and his budgie think they have the right to sling digital mud at anyone who’s not in their network or happens to have a different opinion to their own. Rather than giving people the benefit of the doubt, and being willing to engage with and listen to those with opinions that oppose our own, it’s all about scoring points and putting people down. It makes me sad. We have so much to learn from one another, and it’s not about us always being right and everyone else always being wrong, but about each member building up the body with what he’s best at and bringing the things that God has given him so that together we can be a wholesome whole.

I was listening to a podcast from my brother’s church in Sydney recently and his pastor Hans, said something that grabbed me. He said: “All the theology in the world doesn’t mean jack if you use it to win arguments & wound people. The question we should be asking is…when I walk away from that person, will they say ‘I am loved by him’ or will they feel wounded? You can have great theoretical theology but no compassion, like Job’s friends at certain points in the book, and your theology will do nothing but damage for the lack of love.” (Brad’s paraphrase)

Food for thought.

A Fortunate Life

At the beginning of the year, I vowed to read less books and to try to apply more from the few I do read…the idea being that instead of simply ploughing through one after the other, simply to be able to say I’ve read it and maybe get a few useful quotes, I’d try to re-read some significant books and find ways to implement the teaching and apply it to my life. Basically, I don’t want to read more faster, but less slower…in an attempt to really engage with the texts and grow through what I read.

The 5 books I’m focusing on are:

  1. Rework Jason Fried & David Heinemeier hanson
  2. The Art of Possibility The Zanders
  3. Leaders Who Last Dave Kraft
  4. Church Planter Darrin Patrick
  5. Doctrine Mark Driscoll

I can recommend them all.

With that said, my Dad recently sent me a huge package of treats from Down Under, including everything from the all-important Aussie sweets and mandatory macadamia nuts to clothes to a calendar full of photos (just to make me homesick!), and….2 books! I figured I’d let myself off the hook and break my vow, since both of them are novels and I could use a good relaxing tale to take my mind of all the attempts at application of the others heavy stuff.

So, I decided to start with A Fortunate Life, and I just have to say, if you think you have it tough, you have to read this book! It’s the incredible tale of a man named A. B. Facey, who, growing up in Western Australia in the early 1900s, overcame all odds and endured one of the hardest lives I’ve heard of, all with an attitude of grace and gratitude. This guy was abandoned by parents, separated from siblings and lost other loved ones, all in his first few years. He was working 14 hour days long before his teens, was shot at and beaten with a horse whip by people he was living with, and slept on a mattress for the first time somewhere around his 10th birthday. I’m only half way way in, but it’s proving to be a great book, and I’ve not reached either of the world wars and all that they’re likely to entail yet, but it’s already put my supposed pains and complaints to shame and got me thinking about my attitude when I think times are tough.

Thanks Dad!

A Good Day

Today’s a good day because…

  1. My 7-month old today son Leon almost cracked his face in half smiling when I walked through the door after work.
  2. I got news my visa should be ready in time for my 1st Russia trip in 3 years.
  3. iPad 2 came out. Not to mention it’s nifty new pal Smart Case. (Not trivial!)
  4. I got to talk for an hour with my brother down under.
  5. Flannel released the new Basic vid. (I know it’s pretty trivial, but it’s also pretty incredible.)
  6. I’ve lived in my charming house on The Avenue for 1 year.

…amongst other things of course…like having an amazing wife, a great job, and a nice collection of Paraguayan Yerba Mate cups.

Back to Church(?)

The other week I started on a series I’m doing over the next weeks (and possibly months) on perceptions of the Church outside of its walls. The idea is to focus on young people, and my motivation comes mainly from stats and surveys that point to an under 30s exodus from the Church over recent years/decades.

I’ve had some great input and ideas, comments and conversations on the subject with people both in person and online, and have put together a few questions I plan to pose to some passers by downtown sometime soon in search of some fresh perspectives and perhaps some pointers to help us hold up that mirror and see where the spots are.

Before I do that, I thought I’d post an article that puts another slant on the stats and doomsday declarations that church and young people are soon to be no more, found over at the Gospel Coalition…a site that’s certainly been getting it’s fair share of hits over the last week, but we’ll leave that for another post.

Let’s hope that they’re right about this one at least…

Beware of the Over-Hyped Stat

World Book Day One Week Away

World Book Day is just one week away. That means in one week we have a great opportunity to talk about the world’s most-read book: the Bible. If you need another excuse, it’s also the 400th anniversary since the first official translation of the Bible in English was published.

To celebrate the occasion(s) Sara and I plan to head down to Birmingham city/university and see if we can turn a few heads and have some conversations with downtowners and students. We’ll have a pile of New Generation NTs with us to give away to anyone interested, and are hoping for some good convo.

We’re also hoping to see a lot of young people handing out Bibles, doing assemblies and having conversations in school next Thursday too, and have created a Facebook group to get the word out. Just this afternoon we had orders come through for 101 (!) Bibles, and there’s a girl in Southport currently saving up £5000 to get 2000 (!!!) for her college. P-retty incredible!

Here’s a few links to Bible-y stuff for those interested:

  1. Everyone Needs a Bible
  2. iPad/iPhone ESV+
  3. Biblefresh
  4. Trusted
  5. NT Cash

Basic/What’s Up With Francis Chan?

Wherever I turn right now it seems Francis Chan is there.

The same Francis Chan that stepped down from the senior pastor role at his church Cornerstone some time back because he was tired of being “caught up in keeping the machine running” and didn’t recognise his church and his church members’ walk when reading about Jesus and his followers in Scripture.

Ironic that the guy who “walked away from it all” partly due to fear of his own affection for affirmation and popularity now seems even more popular than before. Also ironic that the guy who “walked off his own megachurch stage in search of something smaller and simpler” is not only getting interviews and press coverage left, right and centre, but also strutting his stuff on stage at Catalyst and being given a go at John Piper’s Desiring God gig a few weeks back. No wonder people can’t figure the guy out! No wonder he’s being labelled a little OTT, or in some cases, just downright crazy.

But then that’s the beauty of it…

Hearing Francis lay out his own thoughts and his agenda (or lack thereof) on the Neue podcast over the last couple of weeks fills me with a deep respect for the guy’s authenticity, honesty, and transparency. Sure, he doesn’t have it all nailed out…but then that’s his own point. He’s still figuring it out…and he’s not doing what he’s doing primarily to point the finger at “the establishment”, or because he’s discovered the key to a better way, but as a means of making space and stripping things back in hope of finding that way himself.

Sure, he’s a little nuts…but he’s an inspiration, and his actions, whilst somewhat “irresponsible and irrational” to some, are at the same time a huge thought-provoker for the institutionalised church, particularly in the pretty comfortable confines of the US.

So, whilst nobody really knows what’s up with Francis and where he’s going, one thing I’m grateful for is the film project he’s put together with the Flannel guys, of Nooma fame. Flannel and Fran have teamed up to make a 7-part series of 15 minute films called Basic, and the 2 videos released to date are both visually breathtaking and weighty in content.

The first three videos are on fearing God, following Jesus and rediscovering the Holy Spirit. The next four will be on the primary pillars of the early church as seen in Acts 2: teaching, prayer, communion and fellowship. Really looking forward to seeing the rest of the series as they’re released one by one, and highly recommend the two that are out to anyone looking for a good resource for use in small groups, youth meetings, services and the like. They’re pretty good for simply watching at home alone too for that matter…I’ve come away moved, inspired and challenged to strip it back to basics, starting with a renewed awareness of the need to truly Fear God.

http://basicseries.com/

Noah&Noelle Dot Com Goes Live

Today saw the much-anticipated launch of our good friends at Noah&Noelle’s snazzy new website. These guys have an eye for smooth design and are already producing some great babywear, and there’s more in the pipeline. They also have some good-looking models. Yes, that’s our Leon up top on his first modelling job…all from the comfort of his own home! Check out the site and buy a drool-catcher or two for your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews…you get the idea. Support these guys now and you’ll be seeing more great kids clothes coming down the line.

www.noahnoelle.com

Silence

Last night I got back from a few days away in Sweden, spent with 30 or so of the Team from NG Sweden. We left civilisation Monday morning and headed for the hills of picturesque Dalarna for an annual retreat. With a room (cell) per person and strict silence, the only words spoken were our communal prayers 4 times a day (mass, midday prayers, vespers and completorium), and for me, a couple of Bible passages read out loud for people to reflect on in the chapel mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I’ve never been a huge fan of sitting still, I’m not much for written prayers, and my tinitus has caused me to fill nearly every waking moment with either music of conversation for the last 15-20 years…so, a silent 3-day retreat based around the communal prayers of the hours tradition isn’t something I would have naturally chosen some years back. But…I’ve been on a few personal retreats to monastaries and retreat centres before and they’ve always impacted me greatly. This one was no different. Praying several times a day, in community with others, and praying the prayers that David penned and prayed 3000 odd years ago, and that people have been praying ever since…that’s something! To be given so much space to think and reflect in between…mobile free, laptop free…yes, even iPad free…that’s also something! I feel refreshed and renewed, and most importantly, I feel like God has had the time, space and attention needed to be able to give clarity, direction and solutions for the coming season. An amazing gift.

If you’ve never been away for a few days of tech-free silence, reflection and prayer, I can highly recommend it.

Church

Over the next month or two I’m planning to do a series of posts on perceptions of The Church. The motivation behind it is simply that I love it and believe that it is (in the words of Mr. Hybels) the hope of the world. At the same time see fewer and fewer young people engaging with it. This concerns me.

According to whychurch.org.uk in a few decades 65% of the UK church will be over 65 years of age, and in the last couple of decades 49% of all males under 30 have left the church. At the same time, statistics say that over 80% of young Europeans are interested in faith and spirituality.

Similarly, denominations in the US such as the Southern Baptists have experienced a 52% drop in the number of people baptised into their churches over the last 2 or 3 decades, whilst the Barna Group recently published findings that 67% of adults in the US claim an active personal relationship with Jesus.

All of this suggests that faith and spirituality are as relevant and real to 21st century citizens as to previous generations, but that the Church is no longer the obvious place for those interests to be nurtured and nourished.

I’m hoping to spark some conversation and find out a bit more about why young people are leaving (or never finding) the church, and also ask some hard questions about how we (the Church) are perceived, particularly amongst people who are either new to church or don’t attend church at all.

So, there’ll be some surveys on the streets and some questions to people I know who are new to church or don’t do church at all, and there might be a few links and references to books and articles along the way too.

My aim: to hold up a mirror for us to look at ourselves more clearly and see the spots and stains that might need removing (Jonathan Acuff paraphrase), so that more people can engage with God’s community, be built up with Bible teaching, served in prayer and join Jesus’ mission.

I’d like some help though…

  1. – If you’re not a believer, used to be a believer, or are a believer but don’t regularly attend church, I’d love to hear why. Feel free to post any questions, criticisms, frustrations or suggestions here and we’ll throw them in the mix.
  2. – If you’re a churchgoer and want to help me come up with some questions to ask people outside of the church, hit me up here and I’ll try to incorporate those questions in my surveys and interviews.