Pitch and Praise – It’s For Grandpa’s Too!

by contributing writer Brian Austin

How does a grandpa like me give a fair evaluation of a weekend with 1,500 youth? How do I measure the energy in that huge tent full of youth singing, clapping, and many of them dancing as they praise God? When the beat of the drums has my chest feeling like someone is doing CPR, how does an old guy like me still enter into the spirit of praise?


I love youth, but like many of my generation, I love them in small doses. I confess to a bit of trepidation in committing myself to this weekend. I enjoy the passion and energy of their music, but I long for some of the old hymns in the mix. I rarely give much thought to the bit of hair I have left, but I’d have gladly had enough to cover my ears so I could discretely wear ear plugs. I’m not a guy to dance and wave my arms, but there is something contagious about that many youth more focused on God than on what this old grandpa might think.

 Old school as I am, I’m uncomfortable when guys wear hats in church, especially during prayer. But there was no disrespect in the prayer times when hats were totally forgotten by everybody but me.

One of our own youth has this crazy talent for be-bopping. (Is there a right way to spell that?) He made it to the finals in the “Pitch Has Talent” competition with a huge fan club cheering him on. The laughter and cheering brought a wonderful and needed break from the sometimes intense soul-searching. I’d have arranged things a bit differently, especially giving a longer transition time between those soul-searching moments and the celebration – party-atmosphere times that followed so closely. Yet I find no room for criticism. I saw God touching lives. I heard God speaking into my own life.

It was no great sacrifice for me to go. Our youth are great kids and are worth it. I thought I was going primarily for them and was content with that. But it wasn’t just for them.

Little (perhaps not so little) things stood out. The weather threatened as we packed up to leave Friday afternoon. We drove through rain much of the way. But it was dry as we set up tents, and we had only one light shower during one of the main sessions. Nights were chilly but not freezing. We had times of brilliant sunshine followed shortly by light clouds. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ask for in May when sunburn and frostbite in any 24 hours are very possible. Dynamic speakers gave powerful challenges to these youth, yet still spoke strongly to this grandpa. Words of healing and worth were spoken to the broken and wounded.  “Power in the Blood,” one of those old hymns I love, boomed through the tent and beyond with passion I’ve never heard in those words before. I attended one workshop on prayer and found it rich and rewarding, especially as youth crammed into that room when there were a dozen other planned events they could be doing at the same time.

I came home exhausted, but full of hope for our youth and our world – and challenged in my own spirit to give of myself more fully in reckless abandon to God.

Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.  [Articles by Brian]

*photo courtesy of @pitchpraise on twitter

Navigation Tools

by contributing writer Brian Austin

A recent trip to the Bay of Fundy brought something home to me rather forcefully. Navigation tools are far advanced from the time Samuel Champlain established a settlement at present-day Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in 1605. In many parts of the Bay, narrow channels can be easily crossed at high tide in 10 minutes with a small motor boat or even a row boat. Most of the people who regularly make those crossings have all the navigation tools available. Some of the more seasoned ones can read patterns in the waves and currents as easily as most of us read print. But every year a few of them get caught when a fog bank comes in quickly. Every year a few get caught in a sudden storm. Most make it through somehow. But a few don’t.
Present day print resources provide outstanding tools for navigating life. Very few people who attend our churches and use our libraries will not own a Bible or at least have one in their home. How many of them are making the crossing, but their GPS is sitting on a shelf at home? It’s usually easy, quick and comfortable. They’ve done this before and had no problem. Yet life has a way of bringing fog-banks and storms. Our churches are full of people who don’t read their Bibles. Their GPS is sitting on a shelf somewhere and not turned on. They have all the right tools, but they’re not using them.

Virtually everyone coming through our doors has access to the Bible and many Bible Literacy tools. It’s a Spiritual GPS with the maps and charts astonishingly accurate and up-to-date. Probably 2/3rds or more of those people rarely if ever use those tools. I can’t fill that gap. Our pastors can’t fill that gap. But together, just maybe, we can stimulate enough interest that people will begin to read the Bible for themselves. Together, just maybe, we can bring enough balance to the bits and pieces they know that they will begin to hunger and thirst for a deeper grasp.

Maybe what we need as a church – maybe what the people listening to the preaching and using our library need is a storm – not enough to shipwreck us, just enough to remind us that the tools so readily available have no value for us unless we actually use them.
Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.

Read Any Good Books Lately?

By contributing writer Brian Austin

As church librarian, I have the privilege of managing a treasure of almost measureless value. I love books. The eyesight issue that has created a personal struggle for the last number of years has not diminished that love at all, although it has reduced my personal reading drastically. The HMC Resource Centre has been a personal work of love and ministry for more than 31 years now. I suspect the time is coming soon when it would be healthier for the church and Resource Centre if I stepped aside and someone else gave leadership, but I count it a privilege and an honour to still be deeply involved. 
I take delight in watching toddlers love for books. It is a rough love and torn pages are part of it. But the simple joy they find even before they can read – not caring what page they open to or even if the book is right side up – just caught up in something full of wonder. . . 
 I want so much to have our teens reading – though a part of me cringes when a new book gets carried in a backpack for a week. Signed out once it shows more wear than a book stamped 20 times that our seniors have been reading. Still, from my perspective, finding another book that will grip that teen is one of the places real ministry happens. 
 A lot of main-stream teen fiction is scary stuff. Some of it is brilliantly written, way beyond my skill as a writer. But if the message is dangerous, and it often is, the very brilliance gets a hold on a young mind and draws them back for more. It thrills me when I find wonderful teen fiction with biblical truth woven into the story. When I get that into a teen’s hands and they come back for more – then a prematurely worn out book is an excellent investment from my perspective. 
I don’t know how to compete with TV and iPads and computers. Kids are growing up with so much technology and according to some research, with increasingly short attention spans. I can get all uptight about that, or I can remind myself that the greatest teacher of all time used sound-bytes 2000 years ago. I don’t think any of Jesus’ parables take five minutes to tell. I wonder if there is a message there for us authors. As a librarian I can focus on what I can do something about – searching for and buying the best children’s and teen books I can find, and encouraging the kids who do love to read, getting to know their interests a bit and pointing them to books that fit. 
For me there is another huge, almost impossible hurdle to overcome. An ever increasing percentage of the people who use our library have never read the Bible for themselves. If they come regularly to our church they have heard preaching that is always Bible based, but at best that gives them snippets of the Bible’s message, not the whole of it. The best intentioned preacher joining forces with the best intentioned authors cannot fill that void. As a church librarian with a treasury of rich, theologically and doctrinally sound resources available, I cannot fill that void. Reading about the Bible’s message, no matter how beautifully done, is not and cannot be the same as actually reading the Bible for itself. 
If I can ever summon the nerve to do it, people will come into our church some Sunday morning to find the library door locked, a big poster of an open Bible, and the question in huge block letters: “Have you read any good books lately?” Maybe I’ll picture an e-reader on the poster as well, a nod to people younger and more technologically connected than me. It will be a reminder to me as much as to anyone else, because with eyesight issues, my Bible reading has also suffered. 
Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.

Have You Ever Wondered?

Guest Post by Brian Austin

A number of Bible passages tell us that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and that He created all things.

Have you ever wondered what it cost the Creator of the Universe to commit Himself to nine months in the womb of a teenage girl? And why an unmarried girl, a virgin? How do you convince anyone you’re still a virgin? Some of you know the pain of carrying a child when there’s no wedding ring and no husband in the picture. But back then, there was a very real chance you would be killed if you showed up pregnant, but unmarried. Why bring Jesus into the world that way, with such a stain on His reputation before He draws His first breath?

Can you imagine having the kind of power we see in creation, but choosing a stable for a birth-place, a feed-trough for a bed, diapers and potty training, learning to walk and to speak?

We forget, sometimes, that the Bible tells us Jesus was with God in the beginning. We forget sometimes that He left all that to come to us. We forget sometimes that the shadow of the cross hung over that manger (that feed trough) in Bethlehem; that He was “The lamb slain before the creation of the world.” He knew what was coming. He was involved in planning it.

And what about His training as a carpenter? Did Joseph get frustrated, because his step-son, the Son of God, didn’t automatically know how to do carpentry work? Historical sources suggest that a carpenter of that time may have also been a stone mason, so there may have been two trades to learn. The first two chapters of Genesis tell us over and over again that He said: “Let there be. . .” and it happened. Would you take the years to train for a trade, so you could spend two days making a stool, then have people complain about the price – if you could just speak and a whole world would appear?

We forget sometimes that the man in the carpenter’s shop, smelling of sweat, getting blisters and slivers—is the Creator of the Universe.

Have you ever wondered how and why God put such value on your life? Why would He send His only Son—to be born, to live, to die? Have you ever wondered why Jesus accepted the plan—why He entered into it fully?

I wouldn’t have done it that way. I don’t have the courage or the patience. Aren’t you glad God’s love is bigger than mine? – or yours?

Key Verses:

John 1: 1-5
Genesis 1 & 2
Revelation 13:8
Isaiah 55:8-9

Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.