"Good morning, LOSER!!" 12 year old Ryan greeted me with a resounding battle-cry on the last morning of camp - still relishing in his victory over me in chess the night before.
I knew in my heart that I had been accepted.
Last week I had the immense privilege of spending four days by the river with around 30 young people and their leaders. My brief was to facilitate an opportunity for campers to learn through God's story, but I got so much more than what I bargained for.
Being immersed in a community who are reaching some of the most disadvantaged kids in our city was one of the most enriching ministry experiences I've had so far - here are four lessons these guys helped me with:
1. RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING
I noticed that any influence the leaders had among the campers was deeply rooted in relationship. The young people in this community seem to carry an inbuilt resistance to anything that smells like authority - demonstrated by ignoring, talking over, or walking away.
When I heard some of their stories of how authority has been misused in their lives, it is little wonder that they discount any influence a 45 year old, male, teacher-type person might seek to exercise over them.
I found myself constantly monitoring my use of authority in the sessions I had with them, while still trying to facilitate an environment for learning. Shh-ing never worked, sometimes a hand in the air had some effect, a few times I found myself entering into the conversations groups were having while I was trying to present - sometimes I managed to steer their attention back to what I was presenting, other times I just couldn't.
What I did notice was that the leaders who had invested time and relational energy into the young people were the ones who were more likely to gain their attention - some of the time.
2. EXPECTATIONS MUST BE FLUID
I've never been one to hinge everything on "the last night of camp" for people to respond with faith decisions to God and His story, but I have found that the story of God often naturally brings people to a point of response. So, we planned a run for a response session on the final night of camp, but it just didn't go as planned.
There were a few contributing factors, not the least of which was when the time came for me to invite the community to consider trusting God for the first time, there were a group of girls nattering away about something completely unrelated, and if I put pressure on them to be quiet it would have completely blown any relational traction I'd gained with pretty-much everyone in the room - so I wrapped it up.
The whole week was a journey of me (and the other leaders) constantly adjusting expectations. What was really cool, was that often we were surprised by responses we weren't expecting - leaders told stories of how kids accepted me as a story-teller, or how they engaged with some of our learning activities, or even how the campers were happy for the leaders to pray for them.
3. VALUE THEIR FOCUS
Something that I really appreciated was the conversations I had with the kids - talking about their interests, their dreams - but it was usually in short bursts. More than once, campers would bowl up to me and start chatting, then, after a few sentences (and sometimes in mid-sentence), they would walk away.
It was during these momentary bursts of interaction, that I realised that often their focus would be fleeting - so rather than get frustrated with their 'lack' of focus, I began to intentionally capitalise on the focus they did give me, and I found I was gifted with some unique opportunities to speak into their lives.
This insight also shaped how I retold the Bible stories we shared with them.
When setting the scene for our Bible narratives, we usually give people a 'narrative hook' - short stories about life that introduce some of the feelings experienced in the Bible narrative.
During this camp, I found it far more effective to use the narrative hooks for large group retells than asking questions from the content of Bible narrative - my theory is that this at least replayed their experience of the Bible narrative through their association with the narrative hook.
4. CELEBRATE THE 'SMALL WINS'
The leaders at camp were exceptional at noticing and celebrating the contribution of the kids to the community.
One example of this was when some of the kids walked out on my session. Instead of just leaving the room, they asked their leader, John, if it was ok for them to go. As he allowed them to walk out, John had the presence of mind to validate them in the fact that they thought to ask - rather than lamenting the fact that they weren't in the room, John noticed this shift in their behaviour, and celebrated that as a contribution to the culture of the community.
All week, I was so encouraged by leaders noticing the small things of kids doing duties, looking out for one another, or lasting longer before relational conflict - and they celebrated the small wins.
This not only became a rich source of affirmation for the kids, but it provided the leadership team with some tangible examples of transformation - for many contexts these examples might be considered small and inconsequential, but here there is genuine cause for celebration.
There's probably a bunch of other things I still have to learn from this amazing community, but this is what I have for now: RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING; EXPECTATIONS MUST BE FLUID; VALUE THEIR FOCUS; and CELEBRATE THE 'SMALL WINS'.
I will never forget the love I felt from my new friends from Daveron Park - and I've come away with a deep assurance that God is at work in this community. Who knows how these kids might change the world?!
Monday, April 3, 2017
What difference would it make in our world if the thinking of Jesus held sway?
It might be in the midst of an impossible moral complexity, or a corrupt system of power - something that amplifies the human ache for things to be made right.
What would it look like for the thoughts and activity of Jesus to penetrate the complexity and corruption of our daily experience?
It would look like the fruit of people who are yielded to the life that God promises.
1 Corinthians 2:16 - for the Scripture asks, “Does anyone know the mind of the Lord well enough to become His advisor?” But we do possess the mind of the Anointed One.
In the midst of the Corinthian mindset of "possessing higher knowledge" and rampant competition and celebrityism among each other, Paul unravels their sense of self-importance with the statement: "we possess the mind of the Anointed One."
That's quite a statement - Paul discounts our ability for us to ever know God's thoughts, then He asserts that as followers of Jesus, we can "have the mind" of this same God.
Moral complexity and corrupted systems are no match for a people who have recognised who they belong to. Human pain and confusion can find resolve and peace through the wonder, clarity, and compassion found in the mind of Christ.
The way of His thinking is available to us - albeit mysteriously - through the Person described in the Bible story as the 'Spirit'.
Check out a talk on this passage/theme here
Posted by trav johnson at 12:12 PM
Monday, March 6, 2017
It's a common experience. The plane lands, the captain welcomes you to the destination and suggests you adjust your watch to the new timezone.
The thing is, I don't wear a watch. All I need to do once I've landed and the seatbelt sign is turned off is take my smartphone out of flight mode. It picks up the signal pretty quickly and I immediately know what the time is where I've landed.
I'm not a big fan of keeping my smartphone next to my bed, but when I need to wake up at a designated time, it's far more reliable than the old digital alarm clock. All it took was a flick in the power, or a kick of the lead, and the dreaded flashing red digits would confront my bleary eyes.
There's been a change in technology. Rechargeable batteries and 4G networks mean I can tap into a signal beyond me and I'm not caught out by my self-regulated attempts at trying to keep synced with the world around me.
The disposition of an alarm clock is one of being separated - once it loses power, it needs some serious outside help to re-create the illusion that it's a reliable source for tracking the time.
The disposition of a smartphone is one of being connected - sure, it might be offline once in a while, but once the choice is made to sync in with the network, it doesn't take long for it to fulfil it's desired function.
This technology change shifts our experience from a default of separation to a default of connection.
I need a technology change - an 'upgrade' if you will. Something on the inside needs to shift my settings from separation to connection. From an isolated, manually driven, unreliable, indication of what it means to be human, to an interconnected and consistent reflection of true human experience.
Sure, my battery might still go flat, or I might put myself in flight mode once in a while - but to have a disposition of being "connected" - that is a compelling reality to pursue.
The more I reflect on the death to life story - the more I can see that this sort of internal technology shift has already been made available to us.
This shift promises a change in our disposition from separation to connection - being in sync with who God actually is and what He's doing in this world. Jesus' death and resurrection is an invitation for us to live out the new disposition toward God, rather than living out a default setting that moves us away from Him.
Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! - 2 Corinthians 5:17
Posted by trav johnson at 4:55 PM
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Recently I told a story at my home church where I introduced the concept of "the fairy-tale controversy".
The genre of fairy-tale can be described as:
"a short narrative often used for children - often beginning with the phrase “Once upon a time …” - the story is often set in a far-away kingdom or forest, where human characters interact with magical or mystical beings. The good side ultimately triumphs over evil, and the promise of a happily ever after ending is realised.”
In the story, it was argued that the way in which the good news message of Jesus is communicated often resembles the story-line of a fairy-tale - where:
“The familiar canvas of the FAIRY TALE leads us through the battle between GOOD & EVIL and leads us to a life of HAPPILY EVER AFTER.”
Sure, the use of the term "fairy-tale" is a little controversial, but the point is that the canvas of the story we're telling has been smaller than what our culture seems to require.
When we've been condensing compelling stories to pamphlets, comic strips, and perhaps the odd feature film, our culture is exploring the wonder of deeper character development and morally complex plot lines found in film franchises and extended TV series.
It's a bewildering contradiction to observe a generation who have no trouble in binge-watching entire seasons on Netflix, when they are accused of lacking the ability to span their attention beyond 3 minutes.
Could it be that in the midst of our fleeting SnapChat stories, deep down we long for a larger canvas?
Which brings us to the 'modern epic':
"A long narrative poem written in elevated style, in which heroes of great historical or legendary importance perform valorous deeds. The setting is vast in scope, covering great nations, the world, or the universe, and the action is important to the history of a nation or people."
An epic shows us that we long to immerse ourselves (perhaps even escape) into the lives of the characters over an extended period of time and journey with them to shift the culture of a community, city or nation - as if we are writing history with them - where:
"The broader canvas of the MODERN EPIC leads us through the landscape of MORAL COMPLEXITY and leads us to the experience of TRANSCENDENCE."
If we moved from the canvas of 'fairy-tale' to that of 'modern epic' when it comes to the story of God ... what would that look like?
Posted by trav johnson at 1:13 PM
Monday, January 16, 2017
It wasn't difficult connecting with The Creator as I walked to church on Sunday morning.
The warm summer sunlight danced across my face - filtered by the large pines which surrounded a cemetery at the back of our estate.
A dense carpet of pine needles took me past the historic graveyard and led me to a quaint red-brick & sandstone chapel.
The chapel was empty, but laughter and warm conversation drew me to a fibro hall across the near-full car park. As I stepped across the threshold, I was welcomed with a smile, handed a newsletter, and ushered to a seat.
I took a moment to survey a room not much bigger than a double garage, and I was compelled to imagine the stories of the grey heads that filled my immediate horizon.
A mission report.
An time of open prayer.
The 86 year old lay pastor - with a prostrate the size of a pomegranate (his words) - then opened up his Bible to Ezekiel 22.
In the midst of a broken city wall, God laments the judgement His people had fallen into through their rejection of Him - He could not find one man to 'stand in the gap'.
As the elderly pastor lambasted the media, longed for parliamentarians to return to God's Word, and bemoaned the evil we are surrounded by, he challenged his flock to be people who would "stand in the gap."
As he pleaded for his people to be a voice of truth in our sin-soaked society, a thought came to me:
"I think it's too late."
I appreciate that I sit in the midst of a generation who have always carried the assumption that they live in a nation fashioned on Christian principles, but even if their assumption was once true - it seems it can no longer be assumed.
So, if there ever was a time to "stand in the gap" and call this nation back to God, perhaps that time has passed.
If we are going to use the ancient people of Israel as a metaphor to engage with our culture, then perhaps we need to take up their story in Babylon, rather than in Jerusalem.
The ransacking has happened, God's people have been exiled, and we now find ourselves as "guests" in a foreign land.
The reality of sin and judgement and corruption and depravity is still the same, but the perspective as exiles revolutionises the approach of God's people.
Our posture is transformed from "standing in the gap" (Ezekiel 22:30) to one of "planting gardens" (Jeremiah 29:5)
- to live where God has placed His people with a generational expectation.
Where we're still longing for the day of ultimate deliverance, but we exhibit a passionate commitment to be the blessing of God in the land He has planted us.After some courteous conversation, I stepped outside, across the carpark, and as I meandered back past the graveyard, I wondered:
"Where are the people of God in Fountain Valley? And what are they planting?"
Posted by trav johnson at 1:51 PM
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Sure, things like 'chemistry' and 'attraction' and 'compatibility' have had a part to play, but these things have little to do with lasting companionship and intimacy.
When we've relied on chemistry and attraction to be the source of emotional and sexual intimacy, then we fall into a cycle of trying to impress one another - rather than truthful connection with each other.
We are super grateful to God that the union He has given us is resulting in the development of four young men, and our hope is that they too will experience the joy of intimacy through the choices they make.
We have found that we are immersed in a culture that screams the priority of 'who you find yourself attracted to' as the guarantee for relational fulfillment, but as I look at Gods Story, and as I reflect on my own experience - it seems that the fulfillment we seek will only emerge through sticking to the choices we make.
Posted by trav johnson at 7:01 AM
Thursday, September 22, 2016
It was a dreary day.
The northern Victorian sky disclosed more of a winter tale than it did a spring sonnet - a song which would have made more sense when composed in an Australian September.
But the cool air and heavy clouds confessed the mood of the sombre, umbrella-carrying crowd who gathered at the local cemetery - anticipating the rain to fall at any moment.
As a family of falcons danced in the air at a distance, the motorcade pulled up behind the hearse, and a grieving widow made her way to the graveside accompanied by her six children.
"Where can God be found here?"
Almost as if on cue, a lone falcon breaks ranks from the cast and hovers just metres over this family - as if God Himself was watching over them in their grief - palpably present through a minuscule, yet majestic, agent of His creation.
Those who noticed the solitary bird were prompted towards hope as they stood in support of the family in their loss. If they could breathe deeply enough they would encounter a resounding peace - found through a gentle tear, a heaving sob, and a determined embrace.
After the Pastor shared some heart-felt words, each family member released a balloon into the dark sky - symbolising their surrender to their new reality - a reality of life without their beloved husband and father being with them.
The pain of aloneness hung as heavily as the dark clouds for moments that seemed like forever, until a family friend ushered his way through the crowd and held them - embracing each one individually, deliberately and compassionately. It was almost as if God Himself had broken through the crowd to hold them... and hold them.
Respects were then paid as people filed past the casket. The crowd were dismissed with unopened umbrellas still in hand. Not a single drop of rain had fallen - as if God Himself had something to do with it.
Posted by trav johnson at 5:50 PM