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    0 Be present in 2020

    As you start reading this sentence you are at risk of being distracted by other things crying out for your attention: incoming emails, traffic noise, phone notifications, children crying, thoughts of what you still have to do today; all distracting you from being present in this moment. We are slaves to the culture of distraction.

    Why not make 2020 the year of being present?

    Being present involves giving yourself to the moment, freeing yourself from the past, seeing people and awaking yourself to God’s presence.

    Shift how you view time

    Our understanding (and practice) of time can be one of the major factors of why we struggle to remain present in a moment. The Ancient Greeks had two words for time, ‘Chronos’ and ‘Kairos’. Chronos has purely to do with measurable resources and with the hours, minutes, seconds of the day but Kairos speaks to an ‘appointed time’, ‘opportunities and moments to look out for’. Even though we long to have the Kairos mindset, we easily get consumed by the Chronos style of living daily. Ephesians 5:15-16 illustrates beautifully what good stewards we should be of our time: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but wise, making the best use of time because the days are evil.”

    Allow yourself to have a Kairos lifestyle resting in God’s peace and presence, trusting His timing, rather than a Chronos lifestyle which results in unnecessary pressure.

    Letting go of the past

    Forgiveness frees us to be present and allows us to move on from the past without anger or seeking revenge. The power to forgive is what you hold, and you cannot teach others about it if you haven’t forgiven yourself and then forgiven others. Forgiveness is a gift from God that allows us to walk in supernatural freedom and remain authentic. Ephesians 4:32 says we are to forgive as Christ forgave. Can you? Or is unforgiveness stopping you going forward?

    Be present with people

    We are to cherish every moment we have with people. They are not projects or computer programs we work with daily.

    It was about a year and a half ago when I changed jobs. I reflected on my time before leaving and asked myself how many times did I say the following 5 things to my team:

    I’m proud of you,

    I care about you,

    I love you,

    How can I help you?

    I trust you.

    Sadly, I needed to admit that it wasn’t executed often. Instead of being intentional and spontaneous about empowering them, I rather waited for a special occasion or what I thought was ‘the right time.’

    I’m reminded of Colossians 3:12-14 when it speaks about clothing yourself with patience, humility, compassionate hearts and kindness, bearing with one another and doing this all-in love.

    See people in the moment. Don’t pass them by in the rush of your day.

    Be God’s presence to others

    Anything in life that is worth doing will cost you something. It’s important to know what it is, remain committed and to prepare for it well.

    Proverbs 16:9 “A man’s mind plans his way as he journeys through life, but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.”

    Counting the cost as a follower of Jesus, is not necessarily about something you do, but someone you raise. People watch you all the time. Never doubt who you might be raising through example. We can only do that by being present, awake to the presence of God and not always present on our phones.

    We are called to be diligent and selfless disciples who come together often to pray for our nation.

    In the middle of last year, Cape Town experienced excruciating pain with the killings and abuse of woman and children, and gangster violence. It left people feeling scared, traumatised, helpless but also a city filled with questions, rawness of ash, grief, pain and so many more emotions. We tend to ask the question, “Where is God?”

    Lamentations 3:19-27(MSG) says “I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.”

    This passage encourages us to continue to have hope and hold on to God’s love despite the darkness we sometimes face. How do you need to apply this passage into your life “to keep a grip on hope”? With the practice of prayer, allow God to fill you to be His hope-filled presence to others.

    Answering the challenge

    What will it take of you to be more present in reaching young people for Christ this year?

    Which area in your life do you need to work on to be a more effective and present in your daily lifestyle?

    What is your action plan to motivate others to ‘be present’ during this year?

    We need to be fearless by depending on Christ alone, we need to be watchful, not missing a moment and we need to be listening for God.

    0 Daily Habits to becoming a healthier family

    There is something about the pace and busyness of life nowadays that mitigates against healthiness in families. So many of us have forgotten that pursuing achievement (such as adult career success, or academic and extra-curricular pursuits in kids) while neglecting a prior and more basic pursuit of wholeness, will only lead to the implosion of lives and families.

    I have seen enough families in which many members are hitting it out the park in financial or schooling success but are nevertheless failing in something far more essential: a family culture that daily garners wholeness in all.

    Here are three habits to start with as your work towards family and personal wholeness:

    PLAY

    Every day make sure your kids do stuff for the fun of it.

    In the West (and actually much more so in the East!) we’ve been systematically reducing daily playtime from the life of kids. And it’s almost absent in us success-driven, productivity-addicted adults.

    Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting reminds us that the opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.

    Some ideas to do this.

    We must create time to have fun. Busyness eats into the unstructured use of time wherein play can thrive.

    We must not confuse the soul-numbing thrills of screen-entertainment for the revitalizing real thing of technology-free play. Entertainment is very different to recreation.

    We need to ask our spouse and kids the questions:

    • What do you like doing that makes you lose track of time?
    • What do you enjoy doing so much that you don’t want it to end?
    • How often do you just goof off, and forget about all the things that have to get done?

    In my house, our living space usually has an open box of lego, and a pile of papers next to pencils and crayons – it’s amazing how often our kids get into a creative space as a result.

    We’ve been lucky enough to have a garden which has been turned to a wonderland – there is a zipline, treehouse, trampoline, stand-up swing and plenty of lie-around tyres. Thanks to my DIY friends who made this possible.

    Also, there are the dance-like-crazy times where the music blasts and I remind our kids by my example that we don’t do cool in this family, we do crazy fun. On the way to school this morning, Ivy (4) asked me, ‘Daddy, can you and me do ballroom dancing again tonight?’ Gush. Only a dad knows the feeling.

    PRAY

    Every day talk about some aspect of faith with your kids.

    Those of you with no faith, or other faiths, respect.

    I can’t speak for your translation of this point into your own situation.

    But I can say that Julie and I have found that our Christian faith is not only a great conductor of family values, and a glue that can hold people together, but it also seriously boosts resilience in the face of adversity – in both us adults and in our kids. As for physical health, there’s plenty of evidence for the faith-health connection.

    Some ideas to do this.

    Julie and I try to grab 30 seconds here and there to pray for our family. At bedtime, we pray for and sometimes with our kids.

    In faith-based families, there is plenty of research to reveal that there is actually a silver bullet that safeguards a marriage: it’s the couple praying together regularly. Pray together to stay together, is how preachers sometimes put it.

    I find that mornings and bedtimes create natural opportunities for faith-transfer to our kids: Most mornings (lately at least) I blast the Planetshakers playlist through the house. And I read a Scripture to my kids as I hand out smoothies.

    Bedtime is a chance to read Bible stories to them, and to discuss matters of faith on the points where they touch our kid’s lives. Raising Digi-natives, I also supplement these times with various Bible reading Apps (with dimmed, yellow-light settings on).

    There’s also church on Sundays. The family-orientated church we’re part of organizes its Sunday services around the idea that church should be enjoyed not endured. Not surprisingly, my kids can’t wait to go every week.

    LOVE

    Every day connect with each other in a loving way.

    Even though my family so often feels repetitive (it’s Groundhog day Monday to Thursday), chaotic (5 kids and 2 working parents) and battle-worn (with each kid surrounded by another 4, sibling conflict is inevitable), my kids often enough say that nothing matters to them more than their relationship to everyone in our dizzying family.

    The greatest predictor for physical health, longevity and even happiness is not a good diet, or regular exercise. It’s close relationships that are weekly, if not daily cultivated and celebrated. Its people spending time with each other and being ready to open each other’s hearts to one another.

    Some ideas to do this.

    I suck at this, but I am trying to stay more in touch with Julie via calls and WhatsApp’s throughout the day. (Steven Covey in 7 Habits of Effective Families made a big thing about this.)

    As for after-work, most days, Julie and I do our best to:

    • say a warm hi to everyone as we return home,
    • ignore our smartphones from 5 pm till our kids are asleep,
    • have a family dinner conversation,
    • be ready for cuddles while looking for opportunities for heart-to-heart chats at bedtime.

    For Julie and I, straight after kids bedtime, we try to touch base to discuss how to best use the rest of the night. We’ve found that too many nights in a month of work, surfing the web, or watching series or DVDs tends to erode the quality of our sleep, our emotional closeness, and the regularity of our ‘romantic’ life.

    Three simple verbs.

    Play. Pray. Love.

    Perhaps, at day’s end, you (and your spouse?) can ask yourselves 3 simple questions to evaluate how well you did this day as a family:

    Published with the kind permission of Terran Williams. The original article with the additional 3 habits of Eat, Move and Sleep, can be found here

    0 Are Men Trash?

    The rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana in a post office, just a stone’s throw away from a police station, has caused shock and outrage across the country. Uyinene is one more woman that has become a statistic in the war zone of gender-based violence in South Africa.

    BLEAK STATISTICS

    Let’s be clear, this is not an isolated case. South Africa has femicide rates four or even five times the global average. 20% of women in the country have experienced physical violence and astoundingly, the SA Medical Research Council has also found that 40% of men assault their partners daily. Over 40,000 rapes are recorded each year (over 100 a day) and this when studies show that only 25% of rapes are actually reported.

    However, due to news and social media coverage, this particular crime has heightened awareness and led to some ‘hefty debate’ in classes and schools up and down the country. As Christian teachers, it would be wrong of us to stay silent on this issue while girls are asking the question #AmINext and boys are confronted with the statement #menaretrash. It would be wrong, as salt and light in our schools not to ask ourselves, and our students, some difficult questions.

    RAPE CULTURE

    In Zaron Burrnett’s “A gentlemen’s guide to rape culture” he opens with a statement “If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. I know … that sounds rough. You’re not a rapist, necessarily. But you do perpetuate the attitudes and behaviours commonly referred to as rape culture.” 

    This is without a doubt a provocative statement. It is also representative of the current sentiment in the country. Is it true?

    Burrnett’s point is a simple one. A culture that demeans women, or allows misogynistic attitudes and behaviours, creates a climate for sexual harassment, abuse and rape. So you are not a rapist just because you laugh at sexually inappropriate comments about women, but you are part of rape culture.

    If you teach boys, ask them these questions compiled by Olwethu Hugo, an educator in an all-boys’ school. If you teach girls, ask them how much they witness this type of behaviour. Check yourself too.

    Have you ever…

    • Trivialised inappropriate behaviour by men towards women with the saying ‘boys will be boys’?
    • Laughed at, or condoned sexually inappropriate jokes about women?
    • Remained silent in the face of sexually inappropriate jokes about women, without calling out the men that are involved?
    • Catcalled or wolf-whistled?
    • Used sexual slurs to refer to women for sexual exploits that men themselves are just as privy to?
    • Defined your manhood through aggression?
    • Put pressure on other males to get with as many women as possible?
    • Taught women to avoid getting raped instead of telling men not to rape?

    ARE MEN TRASH?

    Given that many men and boys will have been part of such behaviours is it then true that men are trash? From a Christian viewpoint, I think we can say this.

    1. Firstly the scriptures are clear that women and men are created equal and created in God’s image. Any argument that one gender is superior to the other is flawed. Just because the Bible was written at a time when the rights of women were not recognised does not mean that God somehow condones patriarchy.

    2. Secondly, the Bible has lots to say on our attitudes, language and behaviours. Jesus (Matthew reminds us) came to fulfil the law and hold us to the highest standard: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28). Likewise, it’s not enough to say ‘I don’t abuse women’ if our thoughts and attitudes contribute to a culture of abuse.

    3. Men and boys need to repent for behaviours that are not in accordance with God’s law. Repentance means a ‘turning away from’. This implies a deliberate shift in behaviour, a speaking out and standing against, as opposed to just a passive silence or inactivity.

    Given the first point, we cannot conclude that men are trash. Our boys are fearfully and wonderfully made. However, that goes hand in hand with recognising the same of women.

    A TEACHER’S ROLE

    For me it behoves Christian educators to hold and explore a tension for the young people in their schools. On the one hand, when it comes to #menaretrash we want our boys to know, with humility, that they are not. Simultaneously, on the other hand, they must understand the depth of hurt that fuels this statement. We want our girls to continue to valiantly express their pain while we as adults validate their voice.

    Yes, it would be wrong to say that schoolboys are trash. But it would also be wrong to excuse behaviours that they may witness, or participate in, that are trashy. Neither can we absolve them of their responsibilities to learn to stand with us against sexual violence.

    0 Significant adults change children's lives

    Written by Charmaine Manuel for SUmag

    Children depend on significant adults to understand their significance. Can you recall an adult who made you feel unique as a child? Or perhaps you remember someone who was there for you or taught you a new skill.

    In 1984, I was a shy, awkward, six-year-old who believed in the Tooth Fairy. I would put the tooth in my shoe under the bed at night, and without fail, a crisp two rand note was there in the morning. Two rand may not seem like a lot of money to an adult, but to a six-year-old, back in 1984, it was worth a comic book and some sweets.

    THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MRS SAUNDERS

    On one particular school day, after what seemed like days of tugging on a loose tooth, I eventually set it free, only to lose it! I was devastated! In the middle of the library class, my Grade 1 teacher, Mrs Saunders, found out about my turmoil and interrupted class with one mission: Find the lost tooth. She mobilised my entire class outside and onto the dusty playground. The lesson was stopped for me! Well, at least for my lost tooth. Finally, victory was ours as a boy came back to class with the little tooth in his possession. I proudly took my tooth home, and the tradition continued. More importantly, I learned that I was important to Mrs Saunders.  Though not a star pupil, my problem was significant to her.

    The story does not end there.

    Twenty years later, when I became a children’s pastor and life skills teacher, I was invited to present a school assembly. I waited outside the hall, while students began to line up for chapel.  In the distance, I saw a row of neatly lined up Grade 1 “ducks” approaching the assembly hall, faithfully following their teacher. As they neared, I recognised the face of the teacher whom I had not seen since primary school.  She stopped when she reached me and asked, “Aren’t you the one who lost your tooth?”  I was surprised out of my socks that Mrs Saunders remembered me.

    It was then that I found out that Mrs Saunders was a Christian.  She loved her students. I wonder if it wasn’t her silent prayers for her students, which led to my salvation and calling into children’s ministry.

    Today, Mrs Saunders is the HOD of a primary school in Windhoek.  She continues to be the best Grade 1 teacher alive.

    THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NELSON MANDELA

    Mr Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes.  I often quote his phrase, “There is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats her children.” Let’s translate this to the church, “There is no keener revelation of a churches soul than the way in which she treats her children.”

    Although Madiba was a big man, he was not too important for children. On his 90’th birthday, I caught a news flash where he was having a birthday party in his home. Dignitaries and celebrities should have surrounded him. However, he invited the children of South Africa to his party.  Madiba sat on the floor, in his suit, and was delighted as little children of all nationalities clamoured all over him, making him look like a human jungle-gym.

    I don’t know if Madiba was a Christian, but I do know this:  He followed the example of Christ by validating the worth of a child.

    THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JESUS

    When Jesus was caught up in the business of the Kingdom, teaching, preaching, healing the sick and performing various miracles, often for crowds of more than five thousand at a time, he would still stop everything to attend to the children (Matthew 18:1-14Matthew 19:13-14; 21:15-16Mark 9:3-3710:13-16Luke 9:47-4818:15-17).

    On one such occasion, Jesus must have caught a glimpse of children being brought to Him.  When the disciples saw them, their perspective was that the children were an interruption.  They leapt ahead of Jesus and chased the children away. When Jesus saw the response of his disciples, he publicly rebuked them.

    It was not an occasion for silent diplomacy, or a matter to be dealt with at a later time.  Jesus took the opportunity to make it known to the masses that children were important to him.  He was angry to see the children being turned away:  “Jesus was indignant”.  He called for the children to be brought to Him, put his hands on them, and blessed them.

    Jesus was not so important that he cared if his “suit” got wrinkled, or if during his business meeting, some infant’s grubby hands left a mark or a stain. He was not concerned whether He would appear less stately or grand if surrounded by children. Jesus stopped everything for the children. Nothing was more important to him at that moment than to take the children up into his arms, and to bless them.

    Here is where Madiba’s life parallels Jesus: To his legacy, Nelson Mandela started a hospital for children, to bless children. President Madiba would walk in townships and talk to the children playing in the dust.

    YOUR SIGNIFICANCE

    Would we stop everything to meet the need of a child?  Even if this need does not appear to be urgent, consequential, or significant?  Would you stop for a lost tooth, lost self-esteem, a lost soul, no matter the age?  Would you stop for the orphan, the poor, or the one who had nothing to give in return?

    Our children need significant adults.

    Mentors who will role model the character of Christ in their dealings with children. The Biblical mandate for child-rearing belongs to the parent (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but what about the child with no parents, or godless parents?  Who will stop for them?

    0 Youth Day 2019 : Honouring our Youth

    In South Africa, June 16 is Youth Day. It is a day where we honour and remember the hundreds of young people who lost their lives during the devastating events in Soweto on 16 June 1976. These young people were slaughtered for revolting against cruel apartheid education policies that were unjustly affecting poor, black students from rural communities.

    While we mourn the sacred lives that were lost, we remember their courage to stand up and fight against the injustices they were facing at the time. Their actions ultimately led to changes being implemented in the Education Act that young South Africans are still benefiting from today.

     

    Living in the present

     

    As we remember the heartbreaking stories of our past, we consider the many struggles that young people are facing today. The hashtags #MeToo, #FeesMustFall, #BlackLivesMatter and #MenAreTrash are all too familiar to us. These topics elicit all sorts of responses, but the hurt that young people are experiencing is undeniable.

     

    It is appropriate also to mention that the world is celebrating Pride Month in June. Many young LGBTIQ+ people still do not feel comfortable sharing their story with others, particularly with people that they should be able to trust like their teachers, parents and pastors. Regardless of your views on this issue, it is affecting millions of young people all around the world. If we are not earnestly listening to their struggles, we risk pushing them away and losing any chance of ministering to them in the future.

     

    In an age where depression, anxiety, sexual abuse and bullying are at their peak, young people need to be loved, honoured and heard in their journey through the roller coaster that is life. What better opportunity, as Christ followers, could we hope for than to introduce the young people of South Africa to the God who loves, honours and hears their cries?

     

    You can make a difference

     

    Our God is compassionate and assists us in grieving with those who are hurting. One of the most effective ways that we can honour the youth of today is with our ears. In his book, Compassionate Caring, South African Minister and author Trevor Hudson identifies three key ingredients that we can utilize to support those struggling in situations of turmoil.

     

    Learning to be present

     

    “In our distracted, frantic and hurried lifestyles we are often not truly present to those around us.”

     

    It is important to be physically present to those who need us. However, while we are often physically present, our minds are elsewhere.

     

    In Mark 14, we encounter a story where Jesus’ disciples are not truly present when their Lord needs them. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, he retreats with his friends to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks his companions to keep him company, to sit with him and stay awake. Unfortunately, the disciples let Jesus down three times by drowsing off and not being present where they are.

     

    Being truly present involves letting go of our constant preoccupations, immersing ourselves in the here and now and giving ourselves wholeheartedly to what is at hand. When with those in need, it means engaging with him or her with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. This requires much patience, time and effort, but is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to those around us.

     

    Learning to listen

     

    “If we intend to put our lives alongside those who suffer and reflect to them the compassion of Christ, our presence must always be a listening one.”

     

    It is nearly impossible to show real compassion unless we first take time to listen. Even though our intentions might be good, when we do not listen well, others feel isolated, unaccepted and unloved. As James declares, we should be “slow to speak and quick to listen” (James 1:19).

     

    While some people seem naturally gifted as listeners, most of us need to develop this vital gateway to compassion. Learning to listen involves practice. It involves less talking, more silent listening; less judging, more understanding.

     

    “The most healing gift you can give to someone in pain is the awareness that you are honestly trying to understand what they are going through, even if you get it wrong.”

     

    Learning to notice

     

    “Christ-followers live in the faith that the Divine Presence inter-penetrates all of our lives.”

     

    God’s grace is working all around us – in nature, in our lives, in the lives of our youth. It is one of our greatest joys as Christ-followers to notice God’s grace and assist others to do the same.

     

    While God is all around, we meet God particularly in our interactions with those who suffer. We learn this from Jesus himself who, as God in flesh, identifies deeply with suffering men and women. He touches the leper, befriends the outcast, delivers the oppressed, welcomes the sinner and forgives the guilty. On the cross, he becomes one with all who feel devastated or abandoned. In his resurrection, he invites all of us to join him in being vessels of God’s compassion and love to those who are hurting today.

     

    In what ways can we better show the love and compassion of Christ to our young people in a world that is extremely daunting and often overwhelming at times?

     

    0 The Assault on our body image

    Easy to define but harder to understand, body image is a complex issue saturated in lies that affects all of us.

    No group is more caught up in the body image struggle than our youth. Today’s culture makes it impossible not to focus on how we look, how we dress and what bodies are accepted or not. It’s not just girls either. More and more boys are feeling the pressures around the ideal body. They spend hours in the gym, obsessed with muscle tone and protein shakes. All of us are bombarded daily with the photo shopped images of models, holding us to an unrealistic and unattainable standard.

    So how do we help the young people in our lives navigate the difficult terrain that is body image and self-worth?

    Model self-acceptance

    We cannot teach the young people in our homes, schools and churches that they are enough as they are, perfectly created by a perfect God (Psalm 139:13), if we constantly moan about our own bodies. Do not underestimate how much our children notice. If you constantly put yourself down, highlighting your own flaws, they will learn to do the same. This is a difficult, but important, journey for all of us to take. Start teaching them to highlight their strengths, to point out the things they like about their bodies, and model that behaviour yourself.

    Talk about it

    Whether as a family, at your youth group, at camp or in your schools, body image needs to be spoken about more. Young people are in it; they understand the pressures that the world places on them to look a certain way. It is vital that we bring a biblical view and Godly truth to the situation. Because of Jesus, we are enough. We are worthy. We are invaluable. This is what we need to teach young people. Ask them where they get their self-worth from? Is it from God and all He has created them to be? They need to be reminded of this daily to help combat the lies they are hearing. Encourage them to use a devotional like WordSpace to help them connect with these truths.

    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

    Shift their focus

    Think about book characters we love and admire. We admire them for their words, their heart, and souls. We don’t care about their appearance. We need to teach each other that there is far more to ourselves than a body. People are brave, funny, kind, smart and courageous. Try to use words that speak to young people’s character when complimenting them, instead of using words about their appearance. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says:

    ‘Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight’

    Helping to remind them, and ourselves, of the kind of people we want to be, instead of what we want to look like, will go a long way in helping young people shift their focus from attainting the perfect body, to accepting themselves for who they were created to be.

    Get active

    Although we want to help shift the focus off of our bodies, sometimes it really helps to get outside and go for a walk, or join some gym classes that we really enjoy. Getting active not only helps to keep our bodies strong and healthy, but the endorphins released when exercising are great for lifting our moods! Make sure that the attention isn’t on trying to work out to look a certain way, but rather as a way to make us feel better.

    Exercise should be seen as a celebration about what our bodies can do. Not a punishment for what we’ve eaten on how we look.

    Body image isn’t just part of the human experience that most of us struggle with. It can lead to serious issues such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression and a host of other mental health problems. Some of these signs might alert you to issues that need to be sensitively but urgently addressed:

    • Substance abuse: many people try to lose themselves and their worries in substances
    • Sexual promiscuity: unfortunately, a desperate desire to feel loved, accepted and beautiful can lead young people to throw themselves into sexual relationships
    • Attitudes of materialism: in order to make themselves feel better and earn the acceptance of others, some people try to hide behind as much ‘stuff’ as they can. It might be worth speaking to that person or child about why they feel the need to have all these things
    • Dress sense: I don’t need to tell you how short shorts are getting and how promiscuous fashion has become. The young people in your life are bound to be caught up in trying to look fashionable, but at what cost? It might not help to preach about modesty in a way that makes them feel judged and makes you look out of touch with the times. Talk about the way people dress in a way that shows them that you understand the pressures, but draw attention to the dangers that come with dressing a certain way. Then try to get to the root of why they want to dress promiscuously. Chances are high it’s all about self-esteem and body image. It may take some time to convince them that they are beautiful even if they are more covered up than their peers.

    Ultimately, we need to be fighting on the front lines with our young people. We are fighting an enemy that is trying to break them down with the lies that they are not enough, they were not made with perfect purpose and their bodies don’t measure up. Our God is one of variety; look at the different flowers, the array of birds in the sky. Each one perfectly made in its uniqueness.

    Psalm 139:14 should not be just another fridge magnet, but our battle cry and deepest stronghold in the assault on our body image:

    “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.

    Start to change the way you think and talk about your body today. Encourage the young people in your life to do the same.

     
    0 Loving an unloved Generation

    Imagine you meet a young orphan who always had to fend for themselves. You passionately tell them they are loved by Jesus. Would they understand? How does someone who may never have experienced love on this earth understand the genuine, unconditional love of heaven? The young people you and I work with every day may or may not be orphans. But the world is redefining the word love for today’s generation and I am challenging us to up our game in the way that we love them.

    A twisted view of love?

    Consider the child whose father told him how much he loved him, before abandoning him and his mother. The reality is that many South African children are fatherless. Or the teenager whose first boyfriend told her he would love her forever… before dumping her for her best friend. When they look beyond their own lives, there is not much to see. The image of love portrayed by Netflix is fickle. The one portrayed by Instagram is image without substance.

    If this is the fickle, transient way that our teenagers see love, how can they believe us when we tell them that Jesus truly loves them? Furthermore, how do we show Jesus’ love to a generation who has learned that love always has an ulterior motive, a “what’s in it for me.” Love which is conditional. The young people whom we love and serve are a generation to whom unconditional love is largely unknown. Yet, more than ever, we are compelled to reach young people with Christ’s love. How do we do it?

    Untwisting their view of love

    “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – thought perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

    Jesus talks about a self-sacrificial type love towards those who don’t deserve it. The kind of love that we don’t often find on Netflix or Instagram. The kind of love that we need to be showing our teenagers. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But if you’re anything like me, when we are around people for any length of time they see our flaws, our frustrations and our vulnerabilities. I’ve found that teenagers are particularly good at seeing through my “got-it-all-together” mask.

    How do we love like Jesus?

    I am challenged by author Danny Silk (look him up!) to make the constant decision to love others. Choosing to love our young people in a genuine way challenges our natural response to many situations, particularly those that make us angry or frustrated. It’s in these moments that we may be tempted to withhold our love.

    Fear can also tempt us to withhold our active love for our young people, particularly when they sin differently to us and leave us thinking “but I would never do something like that! How could she?” But of course, this sends the all too familiar message that our love is dependent on their behaviour. We haven’t really stopped loving them, but if we allow ourselves to not show active love, it matters little to them.

    There are areas of theology that attract a variety of interpretations. But Jesus has not left it open for us to interpret whether we should lovewhen we should love or whom we should love.

    Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44, 45).

    In the end it comes down to who we are, not the fact that we work with young people. As Christians we are the children of God. Our identity is based in the One who made us, the One who is Love in person (1 John 4:8).

    So our identity is love.

    This remains no matter what conflict situation we find ourselves in or how another is behaving. God is love and therefore so are we. It is our identity and we cannot let another person’s substandard behaviour rob us of that.

    Our teenagers need to know that we will actively choose to love them, no matter what they do. It may be the clearest picture of God’s love they get on this earth. Whilst loving confrontation is important, pursuing connection is vital. I remind myself that making someone repent to get them to God’s love is seriously backwards (Romans 2:4).

    They will know Christ’s love by the way we love them

    A friend of mine displayed this love while volunteering for Red Frogs, an amazing organisation that chooses to love young people where they least expect it.

    The Red Frogs team were making some pancakes for some hungover teenagers at the Matric Rage festival. My friend knocked on a room door and presented its sleepy occupant with a fresh pancake. The young man looked down at his pancake, back at my friend and asked “Why do you guys do this? What do you get out of it?” My friend assured him that the “frogs” do it because they genuinely love him and his friends. The puzzled young man’s response? “Are you guys Christians?”

    “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

    The challenge to love

    To the youth workers, pastors, parents and teachers, here is our challenge.

    To live out our identity as those who are loved by our Heavenly Father and love our young people genuinely in everything that we do, that they may know that they are loved beyond measure by their Father in heaven.

    For why else are we doing what we do?

    0 Meet the new Chairperson of Scripture Union South Africa

    We had a chance to catch up with Ant Ryan, the new National Chairperson of Scripture Union South Africa.

    Ant, are you a soccer or rugby supporter, and dare we ask what teams you support?

    I am an unashamed Rugby man. Played it at school and club level, certified as a school, club and provincial level coach, and then finished off my rugby phase as a provincial rugby referee. As we don’t have DSTV, my passion has waned a bit, but I still cheer for Ireland and anyone else who beats the All Blacks.

    If our readers met a younger you, what differences would they notice?

    1. They would notice how different I look as a younger me – My youthful chest has slipped about 6 inches and my red hair is now a figment of the imagination.
    2. How miserable I look as a younger me – I have been married to Sue for 38 years and she is the one who puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
    3. How lonely I look as a younger me – my 4 daughters and 3 grandkids are all in our close orbit and are never very far away – this is what keeps me a happy chappy

    When did you first connect with the ministry of SU South Africa?

    As a 12-year-old I came to know the Lord at a S and V camp. Stan Fish was the Camp Commandant. My tent officers were Les Underhill and Charlie Paine. I went on to lead SU Froggy Camps, Holiday Missions and Holiday clubs. Then Sue,  and I headed up the Adventure Outreach programme for YFC for a few years before I returned to the SU fold as part of the SUMMIT committee and then as Chairman of the Western Cape region.

    We are curious, what does the chairperson of SU South Africa actually do?

    That’s the million dollar question – I had hoped it involved lots of good food and gentle conversations with sweet people. In reality it is to support the National Director in developing and executing a strategy for the movement that will see young people introduced to Jesus Christ and then grown in their faith, in a way that is financially sustainable and Kingdom building.

    Tim and I meet on a weekly basis. We dream dreams and try to make sense of the puzzles we encounter. I have a dream of SU re-establishing itself as a strategic partner with local churches and schools in presenting the gospel in a dynamic and relevant way to children. I would love to see our volunteer base growing and our staff developing, and growing as experts in their fields and as facilitators who can grow the next cohort of leaders.

    What do you believe are the key issues young South Africans are facing?

    This is what keeps me awake at night and what makes me grateful that I am old! Basically once we have banked the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, virtually all of life is up for debate and dialogue. Increasingly it seems that yesterday’s answers are often not the solution to tomorrow’s questions. We need to sharpen our skills in allowing young South Africans to question many of the things that we took for granted. We need to become more comfortable with the reality that God does have the answers. Our challenge is to learn to look in the right places. Young South Africans have the privilege of developing into game changers and leaders, as we need men and women of faith, character,  and competence to lead us into the many opportunities that lie before us.

    What is your vision for the role SU can play, given this point in our history in SA?

    I believe that SU can be instrumental in empowering young people to do the right thing in a world dominated by political, academic and economic leaders who are often flawed role models. If we have the joy of leading young people to see life through the lens of “What would Jesus do” we will be growing leaders who are worthy of having followers. SU should be at the forefront of the faith and moral revolution that we need in South Africa.

    Any inside info / dirt on Tim Black? (we had to ask)

    He only begins to talk sense after the second cup of coffee. Provided it is a bigger cup than the first one! Tim and I both serve on the leadership team of a local Church. He is one of those ‘what you see is what you get’ guys. The better one gets to know him the more one likes him. If I could choose a younger (and uglier) brother, he would be in the running.

    Ant, a last few quick-fire questions.

    A book you recommend everyone should read.

    Anything by Yuval Noah Harari. A modern historian who applies a sharp mind to the crazy world we live in. Helping me to unlearn some stuff I thought I knew. And (sorry, I am a bookaholic, and one is never enough) ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling. Another author who reminds us that what we think we know is probably wrong, and needs to be rethought.

    One of your favourite movies.

    The Sound of Music – it always makes me cry.

    A favourite or significant Scripture.

    Genesis 1.1 – “In the beginning God…” On a daily basis I love that fact that the God who was, is the God of the now and that He holds the future in the palm of His hand.

    0 Why Teenagers are worth more than their school report

    By Tim Jarvis for SUmag

    As we head (mercifully) towards the end of the school year, parents are about to receive reports of assessment grading their teenagers into various academic categories (unmercifully for some). For Grade 12’s around the country it is the big one, a piece of paper containing seven or so numbers upon which their fate seemingly rests. Twelve years of schooling reduced and distilled into just 14 digits.

    We live in an age where we can measure almost everything. Phones and Fitbits can track steps, heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns continuously. Likewise some schools are opening up their electronic mark books for parents to log in (bad news for pupils certainly, but also for parents and teachers) and get an instant snapshot of their child’s academic health. It can be a fairly Darwinian existence where a young person’s self-worth is constantly up for grabs.

    For me the Kingdom of God exists to remind ourselves that, if we choose to build it in the right areas, our worth is not measured in such graceless tones. Rather it is underpinned, undergirded in timeless fashion by the Rock of Ages.

    BY THE NUMBERS

    Recently one of our seamstresses who worked in the school laundry retired. It was estimated she had sewn 130,000 labels onto clothes. That tells a story. It got me thinking what my life would look like by the numbers. Most of this is ‘since records began’ so does not capture everything.

    Here goes:

    • 1,223,460 steps I walked since May this year
    • 44,031 the number of sent e-mails between 2006 and 2016
    • 16,897 steps walked one day in September when I had evening duty
    • 9600 estimated counselling appointments with students
    • 4500 (at least) reports signed for university applications
    • 284 goals I have had the pleasure of witnessing my Under 14 soccer teams score
    • 119 heart sinking moments experiencing my teams concede a goal
    • 56 sermons I have delivered in the school Chapel
    • 53 my Discovery Vitality age (measure of your health relative to your actual age, based on blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI)
    • 47 my actual age
    • 14 end of year staff parties attended

    WHAT YOU CAN’T MEASURE

    Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

    As the quote by William Cameron suggests the numbers tell you something, but not everything. They don’t tell you about the steps that took you down to school in the evening to be with a student battling with anxiety. It doesn’t measure the steps taken with a beating heart down the aisle to preach for the first time in the school Chapel.

    The e-mails don’t tell of the hours of communication with the parent whose child is in serious trouble, nor the plethora of phone calls and WhatsApp’s that accompany a student who is struggling. Statistics about goals scored, or win/lose ratios, can’t tell you of a young man’s tears when he is told he is being dropped, nor the boy on the bus home who rests his head on his friends shoulder after injury rules him out for the season.

    Jesus, it seems, puts very little stock in conventional measure of worth and value.

    SELF WORTH IS NOT A NUMBER

    In his wonderful book ‘What’s So Amazing about Grace, Phillip Yancy has a gem of a chapter on the ‘atrocious mathematics of the gospel’ in which he reminds us of how the good shepherd was happy to leave the 99 to go in search of the 1, a move that makes no economic sense. There was also the time that Jesus was prepared to waste a bottle of perfume (worth a year’s wages) being broken over his head.  Unless you’re stuck in ‘Numbers’ the Bible seems to look beyond the conventional measures of value and instead raises up ‘the things that are not’.

    And so it is with those values on a school leaving certificate. No matter how high the numbers they can’t get close to measuring what God thinks about a young person. God’s thoughts towards them are precious and more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach.

    Whatever you do, don’t let them attach their sense of worth to a piece of paper with a few digits on it. Whatever their exam results, good, bad or expected, help them get some Kingdom perspective.

    They will always be worth more than the numbers.

    0 Is there still value in camping for young people?

    By Sam Otigo for SUmag

    My journey with camping goes back twenty years. As a student, a group of us waited in earnest for the year-end holidays to join with friends from across the province at a local campsite. Camp was fun and gave me time to re-connect with friends I hadn’t seen or talked to for a year. No cell phones back then.

    My character, calling and knowledge of the Lord was mostly shaped by these camps. The exposure and experience in a different but safe environment, far removed from the noise, proved to be ‘rich soil’. The seed of holistic transformation of self could effectively take root and blossom into a big tree bearing fruit, bringing life to its surrounds.

    So all these years later, do I still believe camping has great value for children and young people?

    FUN, FRIENDS AND CHARACTER FORMING

    Our environments shape us, one way or another. When that shaping forms someone into a permanent, and sometimes ill-fitting configuration, it’s difficult for them to ’break out’ unless they get out into a new environment.

    Camp allows kids and teens to get out into an environment filled with others who see what is in front of them, rather than what they’ve been trained to see through years of false reinforcement.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that all environments besides campsites are toxic and unhealthy for young people. The point I am trying to convey is that our structured daily environments have the ability to turn us into ‘robots’, programmed to operate in pre-determined sequence. For example, a typical week would consist of a young person waking up at 5am, prepares for school, dad or mom drops them off and fetches them at 2pm, home work, family time etc. Their lives become a routine based on what is at home and school, there is little time to experience ‘out of the norm’. Yet life is much more than school and home!

    Camping can bring the best out of people. In my years of camping, I have heard many young people say, “Wow! I never thought I could do that!”

    The adventure involved on camp, coupled with a safe environment (less judgemental for the most), pushes people out their comfort zones and has the potential of bringing their best out, resulting in positive character formation.

    I cannot overemphasize the obvious fun and valuable friendships that form on these camps. Some of these friendships last a life time, even leading to marriage.

    MENTAL STIMULATION AND INDEPENDENCE

    Even if you think your kids are the most independent in the neighbourhood, nothing brings out and tests that independence more than a time away on their own, away from family.

    Without mom, dad or a familiar adult around, who inevitably makes all the decisions for them, children mature to making their own decisions. The call for responsibility naturally sets in, which can only be good for young people. Who is going to tell them to brush their teeth? Make the bed? At camp, they do it themselves!

    I have seen so many parents cry tears before letting their kids go into the hands of camp leaders, often not understanding that their kids will not miss them until the end of camp.

    I have watched parents come mid-camp to check on their son or daughter, who has been gone for 3 days, only to be met with the response, “Mom, I am fine, please go back!”

    Camp allows children the opportunity to truly understand the thought process that goes into making a good decision, learning so much about themselves in the process. Children can also lean on peers for support, if they do need additional help.

    There are a number of other life skills kids and teens can establish at camp, too.

    • Team building teaches them team work
    • An obstacle course allows them to build resilience and pushes them beyond comfort
    • Group games instill in them the principle of appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, provoking the lesson that individual winning is not the ultimate.
    • Kids and teens realise that there is greater good when things are done together.
    • It is even better when groups are diverse (which should be done intentionally). This allows young people to appreciate each other regardless of their perceived differences. A key component of our national fabric.

     

    I have watched over the years with unparalleled satisfaction kids attending camp at Grade four (10 years old), moving through to Grade eight where they become camp assistant leaders (work crew), and then finally onto camp leadership.

    Some of these young people even join the ‘elite club’ of camp directors. Finally, while at University, some become camp planners. It’s truly a long journey through their formative and prime years. It is fulfilling to watch their leadership abilities and skills grow exponentially.

    I would largely attribute this growth to tests of independence in the safe camping environment. I have watched so many timid and withdrawn kids come out of their shell and transform into fantastic leaders.

    There is immense value in kids doing camp today, even more than before. The ‘gadget child’ needs to go out to the woods!