Are you hunting for some creative, gospel-focused, tried and tested, free ideas and resources that your church can use this Christmas?
Well, here are three that I have developed and used myself, and that you can use for free as well!
“When Santa Learned the Gospel” Carols Pack
I published my first children’s book called “When Santa Learned the Gospel” back in 2017. It’s a quirky Christmas book that shares the gospel in a unique and very engaging way, by looking at it through the eyes of Santa and his “naughty and nice” philosophy. Literally tens of thousands of people across the globe have used this little book as a way to start gospel conversations at Christmas, and churches especially have used it as a gift for visitors to their carols services.
Now the book isn’t free, but I also spend a year and thousands of dollars to develop a whole series of free resources that compliment the message of the book. These are all part of the “Carols Pack” and they include things like an original song, a theatrical script, a high-quality animated version of the story of the book, and a whole bunch more.
Watch the videos below or click on the button to find out more about the “Carols Pack”.
Last year (2020), like many in the world, my church couldn’t hold an in-person carols event, and so I directed an online event which featured all the elements of an entertaining and evangelistic carols night. You can watch the entire event HERE.
One of the features of this event was a play that I wrote and directed, called “A Zoom Christmas Story”. It basically tells the first few chapters of Luke’s gospel as if it was a Zoom meeting. As you can imagine there is lots of opportunity for humour, but there is also a really strong gospel message. The benefit of a “Zoom” production is you can actually have your performers reading off the script during the performance, which means it is much easier to put together with non-professional actors. It still requires some rehearsal (especially for knowing when to click on and click off) and it requires some editing after it has been recorded on Zoom, but if you are in lockdown, then this may be a great option for you.
Watch the show on the video below, or click the button to download the script.
I wrote a parody of the opening number from Hamilton which tells the Christmas story and message. I had lots of fun writing, filming and editing it and the video went a little bit “viral” which was fun and weird to witness. So, you can use the video to share or play at your church, but if you have a group of good singers/rappers, you might even want to perform your own version of it. I’d love to see that!
Watch the video below, or click the button to download the lyrics.
Giving a Christmas Gospel Talk – a conversation with Andy May
For years I have worked alongside pastor Andy May to put on the Christmas Carols Event at Bundoora Presbyterian Church. We have tried lots of different ideas over the years. But everything has been to serve the aim of communicating the gospel.
Watch the video below as I sit down with Andy and ask him how he thinks about giving a gospel talk at these events.
I hope something in this collection of free resources is useful to you, and if you do use any of it, I would love to hear about it, even I would even more love to see it if it gets recorded or livestreamed. Please put a comment or contact me privately below:
In The Book of Job, Elihu is a mysterious character in many ways. Young, passionate and with a name that means “My God is He”, Elihu speaks up for the first time in Job chapter 32, though he tells us that he has been a silent observer to the debate for a while (Job 32:4, 11).
He seems to come out of nowhere and once he is finished his epic speech, he disappears into thin air. Also, he is not mentioned at the end of the book at all. When God gives His assessment of both Job and his three friends, He doesn’t even acknowledge Elihu’s existence (Job 42:7-9). Consequently, we don’t find out if God thinks Elihu has “spoken the truth” or “folly” (Job 42:8). Is Elihu aligned with God, with Job’s friends, with Satan, or with some other position? Frustratingly, the text never really tells us.
Elihu’s purpose in the book
This mysterious nature to Elihu suggests that he has a special role in this point in the story. The epic and lengthy nature of Elihu’s speech presents itself as the great conclusion to the story – the answer to Job’s request to speak with God. Or at least, the only answer Job will get.
Elihu rejects the notion that God Himself would turn up to address Job personally (Job 32:12-14, 34:21-23, 35:9-15, 37:19-24). Elihu’s picture of God is mighty, righteous, just and holy, but He is also completely inaccessible. Like how the clouds are so high above us (Job 35:5) and how you can’t look directly at the sun (Job 37:21), Elihu is confident that Job’s request for a one on one audience with God is arrogant and in vain.
Job’s final defence in Chapter 31 was like his affidavit of innocence. Within this courtroom-like scene, Elihu presents himself, in the absence of God, as the impartial judge to answer Job’s claims (Job 32:17-22). Elihu states he will teach them wisdom (Job 33:31-33) and speak on God’s behalf (Job 36:2). And judge he does! He judges Job’s friends for not being able to prove Job wrong (Job 32:12) and he judges Job for not speaking rightly about himself or God (Job 33:12).
The question remains, is Elihu right? Is Elihu’s role to just be another incorrect voice of folly in this great debate, or does he actually speak words of truth on God’s behalf? As we listen to Elihu’s speech, we will find both are actually the case. Elihu says many true things about God, but he wrongly dismisses Job’s claims of blamelessness and wrongly assesses God’s purpose behind Job’s suffering (Job 33:19-30, 34:34:11, 36:6-12).
Ultimately it seems Elihu’s role in The Book of Job, with both his correct and false words of judgement, is to prepare Job (and us) for the coming words of the true Judge. By the end of Elihu’s six chapter speech, Job is left with absolutely no hope of meeting with God face to face. As Elihu states in his conclusion, “The Almighty is beyond our reach” (Job 37:23). It is at that point in the story, with all hope gone, that God turns up.
It was the end of World War II and Hitler had just committed suicide. His soul flew off to the afterlife and Hitler found himself waiting in a queue to stand before the Judge with three other soldiers in the line in front of him.
The first soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The soldier replied: â€œWell, I was flying over Germany and Iâ€™d run out of bombs, bullets and was low on petrol. I was about to land in a field when I saw a convoy of Nazi tanks and so I decided to sacrifice my life and fly my plane into the convoy, killing several Nazis including one commanding officer.â€
â€œWell done!â€ the Judge said, and with an angelic sound the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.
The second soldier was a German SS Officer and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The SS Officer replied, â€œWell, once, I torched a whole village to the ground because the mayor refused to say â€˜Hail Hitlerâ€™.â€
The Judge shook his head and pulled a level, opening up a trap door underneath the Officer. He screamed and fell down to hellfire.
Then the third soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The soldier replied: â€œI helped smuggle seven Jewish families out of the country and when I was discovered, I was shot in the town square.â€
â€œWell done!â€ the Judge said, and once again the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.
Hitler was next and he was terrified, not knowing what he was going to say to save him from Hell. Then he got an idea.
He stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
He replied proudly, â€œI killed Hitler!â€
This is a silly joke, but it does express a few things about how many people perceive the final judgment. Or at least, it’s how some people think Christians perceive it.
I once had a non-Christian work colleague say to me, “Yeah, but you HAVE to do that because you think that will make God love you.” I was baffled as to how she got that perception of how I, or indeed any Christian, thinks about their realtionship with God.
The perception that Christianity teaches that “good people go the Heaven and bad people go to Hell” is one that is still out there, both in our secular society and indeed, I expect, amongst those who might think of themselves as Christians.
But that is not the gospel.
The Bad News part of the Good News
The first part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ teaches that no one is “good enough” to go heaven. Jesus himself said the words “No one is good, but God alone” (Luke 18:19) and other passages, like this one, make it even clearer:
…Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: â€œThere is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.â€
No one can stand before the Judge of the Universe and claim innocence. We are all guilty, no matter what selfless act of sacrifice we can claim to have done. The standard that God expects from us is not that we have one really impressive thing on our resume, or even that we have done more good things than bad things.
Jesus explains the standard to a Teacher of the Law in Mark 12:28-30, when he explained the two greatest commands of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.â€™Â The second is this: â€˜Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is what it means to be a “good” person.
And so, the line “good people go to Heaven” is sort of true. The problem is that, no one fulfills this “goodness” other than Jesus and so no one deserves to go to Heaven but Jesus.
Now, the word “gospel” means “good news”, but the reality is that everyone stands guilty before God is not really good news. But it is the problem that Jesus came to solve. It is when we accept this bad news, that we see our need for a Saviour and hear the good news that he came to declare.
The Good News
The Good News is that God does not leave us to face the Judge and the Judgement without hope of forgiveness.
Jesus came to not only show us how to truly be “good”, but also to take the punishment of behalf of the “bad”.
Jesus came to call people to turn from their sin and to put their trust in him.
Jesus came to offer forgivess and freedom and eternal life and reconciliation.
And all those who would see their need and respond to his call, can stand before the Judge when they die and not pretend that they are good enough for Heaven. They can be honest about their deservedness for judgement because they know that that judgement had already been taken for them in Jesus’ death on the cross.
That is why the gospel is not “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell”.
The gospel is “There are none good enough to go to Heaven. In fact, those who think their good enough end up in Hell. And bad people like you and I are offered Heaven as a free gift in Christ.”
Or to simplify it: “Good people go to Hell and bad people get to go to Heaven”.
I’ve been hearing a few Chicken Littles have gotten all flustered about a new character on The Wiggles.
Meet Shirley Shawn the Unicorn.
It is being reported that this is The Wiggles first non-binary and that her pronouns are “They/Them”.
Some conservative commentators like Lyle Sheldon have gotten their hetero-normative nickers in a knot and written some very stern words about the development.
In a recent Eternity News article, he wrote:
“Shirley Shawn the unicorn might seem like a harmless, colourful, larger than life character but dubbing him/her (or should I use the politically correct pronoun â€œtheyâ€) non-binary, the Wiggles are now helping the rainbow political movementâ€™s project to indoctrinate everyone from toddler to tertiary level into contested genderfluid ideology.”
And: “They preach that just because a baby was born with a penis or a vagina, it doesnâ€™t make him or her a boy or a girl.”
Now, my first question is, why on earth do we NEED a mythical creature like a unicorn who only says the word “Scrumptious” to be either a woman or a man? I mean, they don’t exist! Maybe they reproduce asexually through their horn! Do we really need to wonder whether Shirley has a penis or a vagina?
But more important than the genitalia of a unicorn, the most important question I’ve got is…
where on earth do we get the idea that she is non-binary??
And yes, I said “she”.
And apparently, The Wiggles say “she” as well.
Here are the first couple of verses of her theme song:
“Oh, Shirley Shawn the Unicorn
In the sun she trots
Everybody loves her,
from grown-ups to tiny tots
Oh, Shirley learnt to talk
from a Danish duchess
Her favourite word indeed was the word
That seems to put an end to it. This is the only official statement I could find from The Wiggles themselves and it seems pretty conclusive. Shirley is a she.
“Shirley Shawnâ€™s pronouns were revealed to be they/them, making them the first non-binary wiggles character.”
But I can’t find any evidence of where this was “revealed”. I mean, anywhere!
Of course, LGBT websites such as this Pink News article are also reporting the introduction of a gender-diverse character, but I wonder if they actually fact-checked it?
After a bit of digging, I found another interesting claim in a Ladbible article that The Wiggles founder, Anthony Field, said: “I got a beautiful email from someone who said they came out because of Shirley Shawn the Unicorn; they said that we gave them acceptance and helped them accept themselves.”
But again, there is no source for the quote and I can’t find it anywhere else (other than in an Advance Australia article, which just linked back to the Ladbible article).
So, maybe it’s all bs? Maybe people see a unicorn holding a rainbow umbrella and make an assumption about her gender identity.
Maybe people just like to rage without double-checking the facts?
Maybe exciting lies spread quicker than boring truths?
And, whether or not they are supportive or enraged, it is quite possible that all those who are claiming that Shirley is the first non-binary Wiggle character, may be actually committing the cardinal sin of misgendering her.
If this is correct, then it seems that it is definitive…
The question may be now… did they misgender Shirley in her theme song?
I heard back from The Wiggles. They have confirmed that Shirley is indeed non-binary and that they have updated their song after being “educated” on the matter.
One wonders what “being educated” means? Did Shirley tell them herself (a bit tricky when all she can say is “Scrumptious”? Did the psychologist who apparently consulted with them about their new show “educate” them about the importance of including gender diverse characters? Or was it a condition of their new contract with their US distributors?
In any case, here is their new updated song for Shirley the non-binary Unicorn. Personally, I think it’s nowhere near as catchy as their original.
This picture represents Complementarianism for me.
The husband and the wife in perfect unity and balance, creating something together that is beautiful and harmonious and uplifting.
They are both completely equal partners and yet they have two distinct roles.
His leadership role is not being used to crush or dominate or to have his way or to push her down. Quite the opposite. His role is to serve and to bear the weight and to place himself underneath as the strong foundation so that she can soar.
For him to do that, her role is to respect the responsibility he has, submit to his self-sacrificial leadership and trust in him to uphold her.
Lest we forget Is a warning It’s an acknowledgement That it’s easy to forget Easy to take things for granted Easy to let history repeat itself Easy to lose the peace and freedom we currently enjoy Easy for them to grow old and for age to weary them And so we must each year Work hard at peace Work hard at freedom Work hard at remembering Lest we forget
In 2002, I started a theatre company called The Backyard Bard and for nearly the last two decades, I have been committing to memory and performing Scripture. This theatrical artform is called “Biblical Storytelling”, though it isn’t limited to Bible stories. I also love performing sections from the epistles, prophetic writings, and Biblical poetry.
Narrative texts however, give me the wonderful opportunity to play lots of different characters, which is always heaps of fun. The most fun character I love to portray is an angel, and if you’ve ever seen a storytelling performance by The Backyard Bard, you’ll have noticed that our angels always have Scottish accents. See below as an example:
Once I performed at a very prestigious private boy’s college for the school chapel assembly, and even in that formal setting, there was an angel in the story, and so the Scottish accent came out. I recall being introduced to one of the teachers on campus who was actually Scottish. The school staff member introducing me told them that I had performed the angel in a Scottish accent and wanted their reaction. Without a beat, this teacher cheekily shrugged and said in his thick accent, “Aye, I’ve always thought angels were Scottish.”
Many have asked, so what’s with the Scottish angels? I often answer jokingly, “Well, if you ever meet an angel that doesn’t sound Scottish, tell me and I’ll do their accent instead!” But there actally is some thought that went behind choosing that accent for the angels, so I thought I’d explain it here.
Choosing an accent
Firstly it’s worth pointing out, I love doing accents. My Pharisees and kings often have posh British accents, my shepherds sound Aussie occa, Pilate and the Roman guards sometimes sound Italian and with the occasional character I might play with a bit of a Yiddish accent. I even once told the story of Samson from Judges, giving him the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger (check it out HERE).
Each of these accents plays into stereotypes and so I am careful when or if I use them. But sometimes those stereotypes can really help communicate some aspect of a character’s personality, like with the posh British accent reflecting affluence, status and a sense of arrogance, whereas the Aussie occa shepherds communicate their humble status and simple good nature.
The accent would of course, only be one in a smorgasbord of creative tools the actor has to create a distinct and engaging character. I’d also think about how I’d move my body, my hand gestures, my facial expressions and what simple props (either mimed or physically present) I might use. I generally would avoid costumes, because with Biblical Storytelling, you’d be switching between characters so quickly it would not be practical. In light of that, accents in particular, became a very useful device to make each character distinct and memorable.
What do angels sound like?
So when it came to a story that included an angel, I had to make a call – what should the angel sound like? Well, the most important thing I knew I wanted was for them to sound DIFFERENT. They were angels! They aren’t little cute cherubs with sweet sounding choir voices. They are awesome celestial warriors! Messengers from God that shone with the holiness and glory of God! In the bible, when people meet an angel they are either bowing down in worship, terrified for their life or wracked with guilt over their sin exposed by the presence of God’s holiness. That is why the very first words angels often say are “Do not be afraid!” Sometimes, like in Judges 6, the angel literally says â€œPeace! Do not be afraid.Â You are not going to die!â€
So I knew I needed the angels accent to not sound like any of the other accents I used for other characters. It needed to be powerful, arresting, terrifying, warrior-like and clearly “not from around here”. It needed to be… Scottish.
Why Scottish works
The first time I used the Scottish accent in a Biblical Storytelling was back in 2005 in the performance you can see in the video above (the full video can be viewed HERE). It was the Christmas story from Matthew’s gospel and the angel appears and begins bossing Joseph around.
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.Â She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Then a little later in the story he does it again!
Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.
Sure, you could also imagine that the angel spoke in a soft, comforting tone, but I wanted to shake people’s stereotype of what an angelic appearance was like. It was exciting! God was doing something! The brash boldness of the Scottish accent worked really well. It probably also helped that films like Braveheart and Rob Roy had culturally made the Scottish accent synonymous with being a warrior (at least in my mind) and this was the type of angel I wanted to portray.
I remember, in 2006, a year after I had introduced the Scottish angel, the movie The Nativity was released. I wasn’t overly impressed with the film, but the scene portraying the angel’s visitation was particularly disappointing.
The angel is relaxed and talks and looks just like anyone else she might meet on the street except for being dressed in white (and not as bright as lightning like in Matthew 28:3). And Mary’s reaction! So deadpan! One thing I learnt in Biblical Storytelling is that the performer is the “emotional guide” for the audience, helping them know when something is important or terrifying or news that will literally change the course of history!
Anyway, this film solidified for me that the choice of a bold and larger-than-life Scottish warrior that was one part William Wallace and one part Billy Connolly, was the right way to go.
Good news of great joy!
I mention Billy Connolly, not only because that’s the type of Scottish accent I try to go for, but also because he is a comedian. Inevitably (as you can see in the videos of my performances) the use of the Scottish accent will inevitably cause people to laugh. It’s just undeniably funny to hear a Scottish angel. Unless you’re that teacher I referred to at the start, it’s unexpected and disarming and people consistently respond to that surprise with a laugh.
Is that a bad thing? After all, the angel is a messenger from God Almighty! He should be feared, not laughed at. Isn’t inspiring laughter during a presentation of God’s Word disrespectful or ireverent or even blasphemous?
Well, as you can imagine, I don’t think so. And in my many years of portraying the Scottish angel, I haven’t found it to take away from the seriousness of the scene. That is partly because I take care to play the angel seriously. When he speaks with authority, I portray that. When he speaks tenderly, I change my tone. The Scottish accent is surprising but it is not silly. The laughs always come right at the beginning, but people quickly get used to the voice of the character and the initial comedy does not distract from the angel’s message or the point of the scene.
Also, often, bringing a smile to people’s faces is very appropriate at the arrival of the angels. Although the other characters may be terrified, we know their message is often one of hope and wonder. Or as the angel says in Luke 2:10 “Do not be afraid. I bring youÂ goodÂ newsÂ that will causeÂ greatÂ joyÂ for all the people!” I have often found, including humour and allowing laughter in a Biblical Storytelling performance lifts the mood right at the moment when the mood needs to be lifted. And when done intentionally, and not just for laughs, it can draw people into God’s Word far more than distracting them from it.
Anyway, I hope that answers your questions about why my angels are Scottish.
If you know of any angels that speak in a different accent and are feeling misrepresented, please do tell me.
I’m sure, on the day I actually meet an angel, they will speak with such a divine voice that I could not possibly try to immitate that now.
Or maybe… they’ll sound like Billy Connolly. I guess we’ll find out.
If you haven’t had enough of the Scottish angel, you can enjoy this Christmas play that I wrote and directed for my church’s carols event last year. It is a modernised adaptation of the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel and the angel pops in now and then.