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On the last day of 2018 I made perhaps the greatest discovery of the year. Cinema Nova, less than 3km from my house, offers $7 movie tickets on Mondays! $7! That’s almost ’90s cheap Tuesday prices! In the ’90s on Tuesdays, I would go to the cinema after school and watch up to three movies for less than the price of one movie today. Those were the glory days! And now I’ve discovered I could do that again! So one of my (definitely not dumb) New Year resolutions is to watch a movie there every Monday I possibly can. I may even review a few of them here on the blog.
I started the year with Eighth Grade. It’s a film about Kayla Day (played excellently by Elise Fisher), an eighth-grade girl enduring her last week of Middle School before she heads off to High School at the end of the summer. In terms of plot it is mostly very, very dull. Girl goes to school, girl goes to a party, girl goes to the mall, girl talks to Dad, girl graduates. But this movie is not dull at all. Because the whole film is told from Kayla’s perspective, it’s full of angst and anxiety. The small things become huge, and big things are monumental because when you’re 14 years-old sometimes whatever issues you have will fill any and all available space, whether they deserve the space or not.
Kayla is one of the most awkward kids ever put on the screen. Her difficulty in making conversation with anyone, her terrible attempts at flirting, her stilted relationship with her dad – she doesn’t seem to quite get how to do any of it. This is not a disaster movie, but much it feels like a disaster. In one scene Kayla vlogs about feeling nervous all the time, feeling those butterflies like you’re about to get on a rollercoaster without ever having the thrill of the rollercoaster or the joy and relief of having achieved something scary. Hearing that, I was reminded of how I felt nervous every day that I arrived at High School right up to year 12 for no reason other than I was arriving at school. School wasn’t particularly bad, it’s just that I was a teenager.
There is one scene where Kayla arrives at a pool party and has to go into the bathroom to get changed. Her private meltdown will resonate with anyone who hates pool parties. Another scene, that takes place in the backseat of the car, the film’s #metoo moment, is definitely not what you expect, it’s both tame, terrifying, and sickening all at the same time.
This is not your average teen comedy, it’s a whole lot better and more real than your average teen comedy. It doesn’t promise that the average girl can become hot if she just takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, or that if you’re persistent you can get the boy or girl of your dreams. It’s not full of good-looking 20-somethings playing 16 year-olds. It’s about growing up and learning to navigate the world and relationships. It doesn’t pretend everything will be fun or easy in the end. It could all be horrible, but you can make it through. You’ll be ok.
From what I can tell the film is a pretty accurate portrayal of what life is like as an eighth-grade girl today. However seeing as I am not one, and have never been one, I’d love to know what kids that age think of the film. Perhaps I’ll have a screening at youth group (though content-wise I probably couldn’t). But I would encourage anyone who works or volunteers in youth ministry to watch this film. It’ll remind you what it’s like to be a teenager. And it might also help you figure out what teenagers do on their screens all day.
Ok so January is mostly done (well, a third done at least) and by now you’ve probably not managed to keep your resolutions. But don’t worry, they were dumb anyway.
I half-heartedly made one resolution this year. I thought “I might try and do one of those one second everyday videos”. By 3rd January, I remembered I hadn’t filmed a second on the 2nd. But then I realised, those videos are so passé. And too long, like seven minutes. Who has seven minutes to watch my life? So I’m actually glad I didn’t waste a second every day filming my life, it was a dumb idea. Think how much free time I’ll have now that I’m not committed to that?
Were you the person who decided to run every day, and you’ve only done two runs this year? Did you know that running is terrible for your knees? Yeah, it is. What were you thinking? Making a New Year’s resolution to destroy your knees is absurd. Good thing you figured it out so early on. Future You thanks you.
Remember the diet you stuck to till last Thursday? Yeah, lucky you didn’t keep up with that. Food is important for community building, you would have spent the year saying “Sorry, I’m on a diet.” Dieting is just saying “I hate community. I hate people.” But now you’ve sobered up, it’s great to know that you’re gonna keep eating cake for the sake of friendships, new and old.
Remember how you were going to make a budget, and start saving more? But now you’ve already spent more than you planned to spend for all of January, and raided those savings you put away. That, in fact, was a wise move. Money is there to be spent. Do a survey in your mind of people you know with budgets and savings, now think about people you know who just spend money as it comes in. You know what you just noticed? People with savings are boring, people who spend money are fun. You’re a fun person, that’s why you can’t save. Obviously, you made a mistake trying to tame your true self. You spend your money – you be you.
I don’t know what other resolutions you’ve made and broken. But don’t worry, it was for the best. I promise. Resolutions are about fighting the inertia of your life, inertia is physics. Do you really want to be the person fighting the laws of physics? I don’t think so. See, your resolutions were dumb, as dumb as destroying gravity, disproving light, or silencing sound. When you break your resolutions you’re not giving up, you’re embracing truth. You’re choosing not to live the lie that January 1 is any different from December 31.
Good on you for choosing to no longer pursue the arrogance of change, the folly of improvement, and the stupidity of hope. As the great saying goes, “Shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll get stuck circling the earth, before burning up in earth’s atmosphere due to orbital decay.” Your resolutions were dumb anyway.
As someone who suffers from the life-threatening, lifestyle-destroying Celiac disease, and who also happens to be a Christian, I have become increasingly aware that the Bible is not safe for those of us who are celiac or gluten-intolerant. As a result, I propose that we make a few small changes to the Bible so that it meets our specific dietary requirements, either by removing, editing, or with small additions to the text. I will make my suggestions below, but no doubt those in the lactose free, egg free, nut free, fructose free, and artificial food colouring free communities will also want to weigh in to make sure the Bible can meet all dietary requirements, and ensure God’s Word is safe for all.
Manna from Heaven – Warning
In Exodus, we are told that God sent manna from heaven. Manna is a bread-like substance that arrived every morning like dew on the ground. I suggest adding a note to the text that this manna would have been gluten-free. There is no chance that a loving God would have inflicted those of his chosen people with gluten sensitivity to any dangerous food. It is theologically inconceivable. So I would make sure that the text is clear about this so that God’s loving character is not defamed in Scripture.
References to Wheat and Barley
Throughout the Bible, there are many references to wheat and barley. As you probably know, these are both trigger foods for those in my community. Over recent years Gluten-free Bible scholars have raised doubts about whether the Hebrew words chittah and seorah can accurately be translated as wheat and barley respectively. They suggest that it is unclear exactly what grains are being talked about here, and there is high likelihood that these are in-fact ancient grains. As a result the Bible should be translated to reflect this. So, for instance, the Gluten Safe Bible (GSB) would more accurately translate Ruth 2:23:
Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the quinoa and sorghum harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
In John 6:35, Jesus Christ calls himself “the bread of life”. While it is important to remember that Jesus is speaking metaphorically here, it still doesn’t mean that this title for Jesus is acceptable or appropriate. I would suggest that Jesus, while obviously very spiritually wise, was also a man of his time, and unaware of the harm the use of such a traumatic self-designation might cause. As a result, I recommend that John 6:35 be rewritten to read “I am the rice cracker (or corn thin) of life”. I would also say that Jesus should always be referred to as Jesus Crisp (instead of Christ) as a reminder that yesterday, today, and forever, the second person of the Trinity will always be gluten-free.
For thousands of years, communion has been a wonderful reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for all personkind at the cross. However, celebrating it can be incredibly dangerous. Imagine if a devout follower were to take some bread as an act of worship thinking that acts of devotion nullify gluten’s toxic qualities. They may soon find themselves bloated or perhaps even worse, endangering both their bowels and faith. This is not a risk we can take. My solution would be to remove communion from the Bible altogether, so that those who identify as having a gluten disability will not be caught out when celebrating the sacraments. If churches insist on continuing to celebrate this dangerous ritual, I would demand that churches clearly post signs stating that the sanctuary is a gluten danger zone and glutards best not enter, and verbally remind each person taking communion that there is gluten present and they partake at their own risk.
There are obviously other references to danger foods within Scripture, but I think these four changes will at least get the ball rolling. Hopefully, this will raise awareness so that the public will take our safety more seriously and we celiacs and gluten intolerants will be free to worship without the spectre of wheat, barley, oats or rye hanging over our heads as we read and study God’s word.
We’re onto the second day of 2019 and I’m going to tell you about my future. This is one of those life update posts, so feel free to ignore if you don’t really care.
New job, who dis?
On Friday I’m going to have my last day as a gas meter reader. While it’s been a good money-getting and podcast-listening job (and great for the glutes) I’m happy to be moving on. “To where are you moving on?” you ask. Let me tell you.
For a couple-ish days a week I’m going to be the Youth Minister for the Inner North Youth Group. About a decade ago, a number of churches in Melbourne’s inner-north got together and started a youth group. They didn’t have enough youth in each church to have their own but with their powers combined they were able to start something. Now they have decided it’s time to put on a Youth Minister to take this ministry onto the next step. And I’m that guy!
It’s pretty exciting to be getting back to youth ministry. It’s going to be interesting to figure out how to be the youth minister for six churches, but I’m looking forward to all the great stuff of youth ministry – helping teenagers know and love Jesus, fostering community, supporting and training leaders, training youth to be leaders, and helping young people who don’t know Jesus get to know him. I’ll also be working to help a bunch of churches grow in how they can best minister to young people.
I’ll probably share more about this later, but this ministry isn’t exactly flush with cash. Over the last few months, there has been a lot of work done to try to get enough money to employ me. At the moment there is enough money to pay me for a day and a half a week. This is great, but if you know anything about ministry, you can’t get a lot done in 12 hours. We’d really love for me to be employed for at least two days, to really invest well in building this ministry.
If you’d like to be able to support my ministry with the Inner-North Youth Group, you can give a tax-deductible donation through the Melbourne Anglican Fund, which is supporting this venture. You can give by going here, and filling out the details. Any amount would be a blessing and I would be super thankful. Plus, did I mention it’s tax deductible?
And if you want to get my updates about the youth ministry you can sign up for the email updates right here.
What about the other days?
If you’re really good at maths you may have figured out I’m going to have some time on my hands. This is also exciting because it means I can focus more on writing and speaking. I have a bunch of ideas about how to fill the time, so let me tell you the things I’m dreaming about, in order of how likely they are to happen.
Release two new books
I’ve got two books that I’m working on. One is a short book on how to write and give Bible talks for teenagers which I plan on giving away for free or making very cheap. All things going according to plan, that will be available in the first half of the year. The second is a book about all the dumb stuff the disciples did. That one should be out in the second half of the year.
2018 was a bit of a bust for the regular blogging. Turns out gas meter reading makes blogging hard. I hadn’t expected that, but there you go. Having more time I should be able to get back on my weekly schedule.
Youth Devotional Podcast and Videos
For many years now I’ve had this dream to start a daily youth devotion. I’m going to try to give that a shot. The plan is to get a pilot season done, with short devotions released as an audio podcast, and as videos, and then see if it’s sustainable in the long run.
Support Youth Ministry People
I’ve been thinking for a year about how to give agenda-free support to youth ministry leaders. I plan to keep working on that idea and see what comes out.
Start a Podcast about Preaching
Another dream I’ve had is to start a podcast in which I interview preachers about a particular sermon they preach. Kinda like Song Exploder for preaching. I can’t see many people being very excited about it, which it’s why it’s way down my list of ideas for this year, but I might get to it, and the preaching nerds of the world may rejoice.
If you have any other ideas about how I should spend my time, or things I could do which might be valuable, let me know. I might just agree with you.
More of the Same
Aside from all those dreams, I’m also going to keep speaking at youth groups, camps, conferences and churches when I can, and keep promoting Weird, Crude, Funny, and Nude. I’ve got trips to Sydney and Perth booked in, and a few other things in the works. Which reminds me – if you want a speaker for your evening service in Sydney on 10th February or Morning and/or Evening on 5th May, or for your youth group on 3rd May, send me an email and we can figure it out. If you wanna book me for any other time, you can email me too.
And that is the plan for 2019. But you know, I can make plans and God will do what he wants. We’ll see what actually happens.
A few days ago I received the following message from a friend:
Tom can you please write a blog post about whether listening to Christian podcasts and sermons is adequate these days to be a good Christian? It’s a brave new world and I have always struggled with just reading straight from the bible. In our digital era, is reading directly from the word still a must?!?!?!!?
So I’m coming out of my unintentional blogging hiatus to answer this question because I am a wise sage of Internet advice. I want to begin at the end of the message: there are too many question and exclamation marks in this question. I know that’s not the point, but it was emotionally difficult for me to read. Just one of each next time will suffice. Thank you.
What even is a good Christian?
Now let’s get down to the actual business of the question. Firstly, what is required to be a “good Christian”? This bit’s easy. The only thing needed to be a “good” Christian is to trust in Jesus. Because our goodness comes from Jesus’ goodness being applied to us. You’re either a good Christian or your not a Christian at all. But if you’re a Christian you’re good, you’re righteous, and God has adopted you into his family no matter whether you read the Bible for hours every day in the original ancient languages (like me) or if your only exposure to the Bible is through scrolling past clips of American preachers in your newsfeed. So that’s pretty good news. In fact, that is the good news!
Bible reading is hard
But here is what I think your question is really asking: do you need to read the Bible for yourself in order to grow as a Christian, or will podcasts and sermons (and other Christian teaching) suffice?
Contrary to the lie above, I struggle to read the Bible. Sometimes I’ll read a small section of the Bible in my (not-quite) daily quiet time, and think, “Great, that’s done, now I can get on with the day”. Sometimes, I’ll read a big chunk of scripture, and I’ll think, “I don’t remember any of what I just read.” Every now and then I read the Bible and notice something, or feel God pointing something out, and think, “That’s amazing!” but that probably doesn’t happen the majority of the time I read the Bible.
However, when I’m reading books, listening to sermons or Christian podcasts, or chatting to a friend, and they are talking about the Bible, then I feel like I’m much more likely to experience a “Wow!” moment. So I think, at least to some degree, I understand how you feel. That said, I still think reading the Bible for yourself is vital to your growth as a Christian, and I’ll tell you why.
If the Bible really is God’s word to us, then when we read it we are hearing him speak to us. Better to hear a message firsthand than secondhand. When we hear the Bible only through the teaching of others it will always come through the lens of someone else. Some of their insights will be great, but some of them will be tainted by their personal opinions and unconscious bias, and some of what they say might even be wrong. This is one of the reasons why I always want people to have their Bibles open when I teach – I want people checking what I say against the Bible.
In this “brave new world” where we can curate our own collection of our favourite teachers from all over the globe, we are inevitably going to have a bias towards to the people who say things we agree with. I know the books, blogs, podcasts, and preaching that I digest consist mostly of people who I like to read and listen to. As much as I might try and fight against it by listening to alternative voices, I’ll always slide towards the people who are my people.
When you go straight to the Bible and cut out the middle-men and women, you give the Bible a chance to speak as it is. It challenges you to think for yourself, to discover parts of the Bible not often spoken about by your theological tribe (or any theological tribe), and to ask, “What does it really mean when it says…” before you get someone else’s opinion. If you’re a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit, and one of the things he does is help you hear from God as you read his word. Of course, as you read it you’ll have your own biased lens but better to have only one bias at play, than yours and then someone else’s on top. And if you put the effort in to learn to read the Bible in its literary and cultural context you’ll do a better and better job of identifying what’s the Bible and what’s you as you read it.
The other thing I have found is that while I don’t often feel like I hear God speak to me at the moment I am reading the Bible, I am much more likely to find that a part of the Bible will come to mind at some later stage, when I am mulling over a particular problem or facing a difficult situation. It seems the Holy Spirit is applying the Bible after the fact of reading it. The more I spend time in the Bible the better I know the Bible and the more I leave myself open to that happening.
Other people can help
All that said, it is good to hear other people teach the Bible because they have insights you won’t have. And they will show you how to read the Bible. The more I hear the Bible taught, the more I learn how to teach the Bible to myself. The Bible was written to ancient people in ancient cultures, thousands of years ago. We’re gonna need some help from others to know how to understand it. So definitely listen to others, but don’t only listen to others. Go to the source.
Lastly, I would say, reading the Bible is hard but it pays off. Like training for a sport or learning an instrument requires hard work to actually be any good (which is why I do neither of these), reading the Bible will take work. But it will pay off, you’ll see the results if you put in the work. None of this is easy, but hard things often lead to better things.
So if you find it hard, let me give you some suggestions that might make engaging with the Bible as it is a bit easier.
You can listen to it read aloud. In this digital age, there are plenty of apps that have audio versions of the Bible free for you to download and enjoy. I sometimes use Bible.is, it’s not too shabby.
You could read it with someone else. Sit down with someone and read a passage of scripture together, you don’t have to make a big deal of it, but reading together can keep you accountable.
You could try lectio divina. You could do it with a big chunk of scripture or just do it on just one or two verses at a time. That’s a small commitment but it can have a huge payoff.
So there you go. I hope I answered the question and I hope you’ll think twice before using so many exclamation and question marks in the future. If anyone else has a question they want me to answer on the blog, just email me [email protected] and I’ll see what I can do.
If you want to experience me teach the Bible so you can be influenced by my personal opinions and unconscious bias, you should get my book, Weird, Crude, Funny, and Nude: The Bible Exposed. Get it right here, or from Amazon, iBooks, and more. Or if you want to listen to me preach, you can subscribe to my podcast, but most of all you should read the Bible for yourself.
When I was in Bible College there was a big emphasis on the importance of taking a Sabbath. We were taught, three days for college, three days for church/work, one day of rest. I wasn’t a great student, but I did get that sabbath thing down. Probably did sabbath more than recommended, to the detriment of my studies, which I don’t think was the intended outcome. But if Sabbath was a subject it would have been on track to be one of my best.
Since college I’ve remained pretty good at taking a day off, making sure there is at least one day a week where I’m not doing anything that might be considered work. On those days I don’t do paid work, I don’t do talk prep, I don’t write my books or blog posts. I take a day off.
The problem I have found is that while I am pretty good at the negative aspects of Sabbath (things that I don’t do), I’m not so good at the positive (things to do). I don’t quite know the best things to do to replace the things I’m not doing. I think it’s probably because I’m not thinking about what a sabbath is, only what it is not. I definitely have room to grow in my sabbathing.
One of the things I have always found helpful and important about Sabbath is that it teaches us trust. By not working we’re saying it’s not us who is our provider but God. We’re saying we are not vital to our own provision or success, and we are not vital to whatever goal or institution we serve. “Unless the Lord builds the house the builders labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) Sabbath says that we trust God as our provider and builder. If done right, it frees us from slavery to work, and idolisation of busyness.
But as I have realised, Sabbath needs to be a positive experience, an is, rather than just an is not. Sabbath has to be about enjoying God and his creation. God built sabbath rest into the scheme of his very good creation. It’s isn’t about just not working, but actively resting. Resting in God and his provision. It’s about the enjoyment of God, his world, and his people. I haven’t been so good at that. Spending your life working for God, it’s hard to take a rest and just enjoy God.
I was talking about this with Em and we both acknowledged that we were not sabbathing in the way we’d like. So we have decided that we will start taking a sabbath together. Not just not working, but actively resting so that we might enjoy time with God and others. Let me tell you our plan. Then I’ll check in again in a few months to let you know how we’re going. (Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath, so I suspect if we get it right, it’ll be good news).
The Guidelines (not rules):
We are going to take a what I call Jewish Sabbath (I’m not sure if there that’s the technical term) where you rest from sundown on one day to sundown the following day. That’s as opposed to a calendar Sabbath (also not probably not a technical term), from midnight to midnight for one calendar day. Generally, this will be Saturday evening to Sunday evening, but we can be flexible.
Rest from work and study
We’re not going to do money-earning activities or uni study activities. Anything which we may consider pressing, everyday work. However if we find our neighbour’s donkey in a ditch, or someone needing medical attention, we will help them.
Rest from social media
This isn’t because social media is a sin, but it is a distraction, and it stops us from noticing much of the world around us. So goodbye FB, Insta, Bebo, and Tinder.
Rest from TV
TV is our default rest activity. Not turning straight to Netflix to relax will help us be more intentional in how we rest. Probably we’ll just nap. Note that a rest from TV is not a rest from the cinema. I made sure we were clear on that!
Eating with others
We want to make sure that we Sabbath with others. So in our Sabbath rest we will endeavour to find time to have a meal with others. We can enjoy the gifts of God together.
Spending time with God
Obviously, this is important. While we try and make time to spend with God regularly throughout the day, we can have a longer, more relaxed time with God.
Reflecting on God’s word together
Seeing as we’re both trying to Sabbath together, we thought it might be good to make sure we’re reflecting on God’s word together. This might mean that we read our way through a book of the Bible. Perhaps we will read a Christian book. Maybe we’ll watch some Vegetales.
So that’s the plan for Sabbath. These are just guidelines, they’re not rules, and we’re not making moral judgements one way or the other. We’re just hoping to better participate in the rhythms that God made for us and enjoy the rest Christ won for us. We’ll let you know how it goes.
But before I go, do you sabbath? What does Sabbath look like for you? Help me out, we might steal your ideas.