Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rend Collective: Brothers and sisters, come to the campfire

UCCF's training director Jason Clarke talks about us being marked by centred unity rather than boundaried. Centred on the gospel rather than with a fenced boundary. People sometimes say we gather around the flag of the gospel. Rend Collective who were guests at our national student leaders conference a couple of years ago, and Krish Kandiah's reflections tell this in terms of the image of campfire. It's a much better image.
It's an appealing vision - and often we get it wrong, but Jesus is a fire worth gathering around - especially for the kind of people who get it wrong.
The fire of the gospel, of life in Christ is the greatest place to be, a place to which everyone is invited, everyone is welcome to come, where there is warmth, conversation, somewhere marked by friendship, somewhere attractive, somewhere to share your trials and your joys, and to sing a song in the middle of it all.

News from Newcastle CU: Definite Interest Created

Durham University is divided into two sections. The Durham Colleges, eight in number; they are residential and grouped around the Cathedral and Castle, near what is certainly one of the finest river views in any English city, forming a kind of miniature Oxford or Cambridge. Then there are the Newcastle Colleges (Armstrong and Medicals) which are non-residential and most modern. The E.U. were separate until June 1933, when they were united, in the belief that official recognition and other benefits would accrue.

There are fourteen miles between the two sections, and apart from the sports club the E.U.'s are the only societies which have had any real fellowship and joint work. 
The present report considers the Newcastle section. 

When in 1932, Dr. Howard Guinness addressed over two hundred students at one of the City's most fashionable restaurants, it was a strange contrast to the modest beginnings of the Newcastle Christian Union.

For, only seven years previously, the Union had been born. Drs Tait and Vernon, then medical students, had followed the example of many undergraduates in other Universities at that time, and had decided to meet for prayer once in each week. For two years a handful of medicals composed the Union, whilst Armstrong College of nearly 1000 students remained absolutely untouched by evangelical witness.

In 1928, the writer when up as an arts student, at the weekly Prayer Meetings there were three, and often only two who met in the secretary's room, and there were often disturbed by noisy intruders during their few minutes stay.

One might perhaps mention here that the University College at Newcastle is non-residential. The members of the Union had many outside activities; but they longed to be able to touch the College for God. He wonderfully opened the way in the following year (1929), when Sir G.B. Hunter, very kindly entertained at his home some sixty medicals, and Professor Carless spoke.

From this time, the ambition of the Union was to hold one united evangelistic meeting each term; and, whilst there was little visible result, yet there was a definite interest created. In March 1932, taking advantage of Dr. Guinness' presence in the North, the Union arranged a weekend House Party with the Christian Union at Durham, when two undergraduates were brought to Christ.

Following the weekend, early morning Prayer meetings were held each day and a weekly Devotional Meeting, at which numbers were very encouraging. Occasionally one of the members led the meeting in the form of a Bible Talk; but more often there were addresses on a set topic by outside speakers.

The Daily Prayer and Bible Reading Meetings meant a great deal during those months. An engineering student brought to Christ at one of the meetings remembers that they made life entirely new for him. The spirit of fellowship and liberty forged a living bond between the members.

In the Michaelmas Term of 1932, the Lord Mayor entertained about one hundred Freshers. The interest was keen, and four were won for Christ. Mention has already been made of two "At Homes," when nearly four hundred students were brought face to face with the Challenge of the Lord Jesus. The Union is deeply indebted to Christian business men of the city, through whose kindness such large numbers have been reached.

The Union remains small - but we know that many have heard the call of Christ, and the day shall declare what has been done.

Presidents: J.Tait (1926-27), H.K. Vernon (1927-31), R.Whitehead (1931-33) from Christ and the Colleges, Donald Coggan (1934).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sir Ken Robinson: Anaesthetics and Aesthetics

This afternoon I watched my little boy slip under the influence of a general anaesthetic. I've never seen that happen before - at least not in the real world. It's been a bit like living in an episode of House this week, and we're not through yet.

In a moment of restbite this afternoon I stumbled across this video. A refreshing distraction. I'm a little late to the party, 9.46 million people have watched this before me.
There's something very striking in this play with words. We need ideas, imagination, beauty. Why is that? And how can we have more of it? I'm enjoying a bit of Sir Ken Robinson this week. His TED talks are TED at its very best, and this is a great animated version of his key idea.

What do you think? What do you see? Are you awake?

News from Manchester CU: Answered Prayer

In 1925 there entered the University an Arts student (Miss E. Kenadjian) who for two years prayed for some definite witness for God such as she had heard was given by the CU at Cambridge.

She knew of no one who sympathised with her in this, so during her second year she arranged a Scripture Union Meeting, to which five men and two women came. She was wondering whether to repeat this, when she saw in the press an announcement of the aims and work of the UCCF.

She now began to pray even more earnestly that God would open the way to form an evangelical union in her own University.

The same year a medical student, C.F. Stott, returned to college filled with a desire to make a definite stand for Christ among his fellow students. By a coincidence, as it might seem, he had been given the UCCF Summer Term Prayer leaflet. This he felt to be a confirmation of his idea of starting an evangelical union.

To do this, he prayed that he might be put in touch with just one other student in sympathy with him; and shortly after term started he met the Arts student mentioned above. So the first few days of October 1927 saw the formation of the Evangelical Union.

Two other students, Miss Hollis and Miss Smith, joined them almost immediately, and application was made to the University for a room for meetings. The first set back they were told that only the S.C.M., which was broad enough to include all shades of thought, ad the right to use rooms in the University buildings or to put notices on boards.The Union buildings were open to them but were not suitable for weekly meetings.

However, the Rev. E. Brammall helped the members by placing at their disposal his parochial room which was only seven minutes walk from the University. At the first meeting notices outlining proposals were drawn up for the for the boards in the Union buildings. As a result, the members were joined the next week by another student (H.Wroe) and by a member of the staff, the Rev. W. Thomasson. The Union was launched and the first committee elected under the presidency of C.F. Stott.

A rather stringent basis, which from time to time met with criticism, was adopted. It was, however, a source of strength in those early days, before the Union had acquired a definite tradition and was small in numbers. During this first term, numbers slowly increased as members were brought into touch with one and another who were in sympathy. Weekly meetings were always followed by united payer, while at least three always met for prayer during the week. It was marvellous for those who had known college without any fellowship in the things that matter most.

In March, Manchester was represented at the UCCF conference at High Leigh for the first time. The Union had been much encouraged at its commencement by a visit from Mr. Hugh Gough, who explained the activities of the UCCF.  The second year was one of advance in many ways. Although only three women members were left from the term before, about fourteen freshers came to a women freshers' squash. During the summer term a mixed squash was held in a private house. About thirty came, a large proportion of whom were unconverted. The speaker was a former president of the S.C.M. who was converted during his term in office.

During that year three evangelistic meetings were held. About fifty came to hear Bishop Taylor Smith (Chaplain-General of the British Army), and a good number when the Rev. Samuel Chadwick spoke. The third meeting was of a different type. The subject was "Social Work in Manchester slums." and two members of the staff of the Manchester City Mission and their Deputation Secretary emphasised the spiritual basis and aim of all their social work. During this session the first missionary tea was held, when Miss Horwood of the S.U.M. was the speaker.

From October, 1929, to October 1931, the Union continued to progress in numbers and in the knowledge of God and of his Word. There were morning prayers and weekly meetings addressed by visiting speakers and missionaries. A ramble each year and a weekend with the Liverpool E.U. at Parkgate were among the activities. Most important of all was the personal work.

During the Summer, 1931, University recognition was granted, and there was a growing feeling among a section of the members that reform was needed, and that wider principles should be adopted with regard to admission of members to the Union. So with the commencement of the session, 1931-32, the name was altered to the Manchester Inter-Faculty Christian Union, and the clause about belief in the Bible was erased from the membership card, but as an essential qualification for members of the Committee. At this point certain members, to the sorrow of others, felt they were unable to proceed with these new methods and resigned membership.

During 1931-32 a number were able to meet for prayer each morning before lectures. There was a freshers' quash addressed by the Rev. B.S.W. Green, and other discussions and addresses with outside speakers were held.

Then came the visit of Dr. Howard Guinness during the Lent Term. In preparation about twenty eight members had three days of real fellowship in a quiet house in the country, and went back to the University thrilled with the message of Abundant Life. The Campaign took the form of midday meetings in the big debating hall, two or three meetings at 4.30pm and evening squashes. On the Sunday Dr. Guinness preached at an evening service at a church in the centre of Manchester.

All the week students had been going to see Dr. Guinness in his room in the university and talking things over with him, in many cases as the result of a conversation with some member of the M.I.F.C.U. When the Campaign was closed with a testimony meeting, there was abundant evidence that God had been working in many lives. To help those who had begun to follow Christ during the Campaign, a series of talks on 1 John was given, and most of the work centred round the Bible. Another striking result was the opening of work in both a women's and a men's hall, where keen interest was aroused and several were worn for Christ.

The next year was one which called for mingled praise and self-criticism. The freshers' squash was postponed rather late, as again Dr. Guinness was visiting the University. When he came in November interest was aroused, especially among the men. The climax came on the Sunday, when we "made history" by organising a Students Service which was broadcast from a church in Manchester. Dr. Guinness spoke on God's wonderful love; and, though only a few reports have been received of what that service meant to those who listened, one can praise God for the influence brought to bear on those whom one can never meet.

One of the brightest features of the year's work was the groups which met to discuss Bible characters. Even the youngest Christian felt at home in this, and the hours proved very helpful and most practical. During the Christmas vacation many took part in a campaign among the young people of Manchester. Though it must be admitted that the planning used much energy that might have been devoted to University work, members could not but be helped by the experience.

During the summer term, Prof. Rendle Short addressed a meeting in the debating hall which was filled almost entirely by men - only half a dozen or so women members and one outsider turned up. It is noticeable that men famous in their own subject do attract a crowd. The problem is the personal work afterwards. Some other plans did not materialise.

As we look ahead and realise the many problems which will have to be solved, our hearts might fail us, but when we look to the One who is able to overcome all obstacles we may well press on into the work which He has for us in our University.

Presidents: 1927-29 - C.F. Stott; 1929-30 A.P.L. Blakely; 1930-31 F.M. Braithwaite; 1931-32 C.G.Bridge; 1932-33 W.F.Nicholson; 1933-34 Miss M.I.Williams.

From Christ and the Colleges (Donald Coggan, 1934)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Video: Expect. Pray. Invite.

Michael Ots has recorded these great videos to help us prepare to share Jesus with people:




Monday, January 28, 2013

News from Reading CU: Faithful and fearless witness

In University life, generations are short; and, though our Union is but six years old, we have had to set to as historians rather than as writers of reminiscences, to read behind the lines of the somewhat limited records that our predecessors have left us of a movement, which, directly and indirectly, has helped to change the lives of more than we can ever know.

Our history falls into two parts: the early struggles of the years 1927-1930 culminating in the Rev. Bryan Green's mission in 1931, and the period after the mission.

Let us begin our story with the beginning of the organisation. In the autumn of 1927, a group of ten students (one man and nine women) who desired an opportunity for Christian fellowship and corporate witness, banded themselves together as the Association of Christians, a title replaced almost at once by Evangelical Union.

During the next three years, though numbers did not increase, activity and interest did. Weekly meetings were held for prayer and Bible study, and occasional meetings, open to non-members, were held in the University. While the Union was finding its feet, we received really valuable assistance from several people outside the University. Mr Sutton, Miss Welden and Dr. Lumsden helped us with study and discussion groups, which were our chief source of strength.

This was a time of inspirations. There were difficulties, numbers fluctuated, hardly any interest could be aroused among the men, the President suddenly resigned; but, inspite of these things, it was a time of joyous fellowship and faithful witness.

One of the pioneers has written to us describing the early days. The general attitude was, she writes, 
"that we were honest but mad... But over and over again we found that the very madness had aroused the interest of the most unlikely people, and they wanted to ask why and how. The ground was very, very hard - sheer indifference which slowly, slowly gave way to the wholesale general interest and definite seeking of the time of Bryan Green's mission."
In the Spring of 1931, at the invitation of the E.U. and S.C.M. the Rev Bryan Green came down to Reading with a  team of about twenty undergraduates, to lead a week's mission in the University.
(Note: Green is reported in his obituary as having been one of "the most effective evangelists in the Church of England", he was Rector at HTB during the second world war. In 1931 he was a chaplain in Oxford, aged 30).

The wave that had been gathering momentum burst with a crash that was felt by the whole University. It would be useless to talk of the Mission in terms of statistics. Enough to say that God used it far more wonderfully than anyone had faith to expect, and that we are still feeling its indirect results today.

The second period of our history started with great opportunities, but new difficulties. The Mission had wrought a change in the general attitude of the University, our ranks had been swelled by several keen but inexperienced Christians and there was far more interest, especially among the women.

But at the end of the session following the Mission, the original members had all gone, and we were left with a dearth of experienced leaders. Owing to this and to the attitude of some of the younger members, who, not realising the true significance of the E.U. and desiring more fellowship with the members of S.C.M. had tended to broaden their outlook too much, disunity grew up within the Union. [SCM and the Evangelical Unions had separated at Cambridge in 1919 over the centrality of the cross]

Now after a process of steady growth rather than of sudden changes, we are at one again, for God had strengthened the faith of individual members, and, partly through a weekend adventure of witness last summer, has given us a new realisation of our common privilege and purpose.

Though we are only a small group, and are not recognised by the Reading Students Union, we can say that we have now gained real stability and unity. We look now to the future rather than to the past, but even our brief history has something to teach:
  •  It is from the faithful and fearless witness of individuals that the Union takes its rise and draws its strength. 
  • The support and encouragement of older folk outside the Union is invaluable. 
  • When we have tried to witness together to others that we have most truly been at one with each other and with Christ
As to the future - in the University there is still much diffierence, especially among the men, but in the Union, rich hope, we "press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

CU Presidents: 1927-89 Miss J.Lea. 1928. W. Brind. 1929-31. R.W. Kettlewell & Miss D.S. Harper 1931-32. D.Draffen & Miss. M. Usher. 1932-33./ Miss M.M. Grinyer & J.H. Francis. 
From Christ & the Colleges (Donald Coggan, 1934)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brian Cox's Galaxy Song: What is life?

It's good to have Brian Cox back on TV again.

Confident. Cool. And doing little science experiments in beautiful locations.

Asking questions about the similarity of DNA of all the living beings on the planet - are we all related? Perhaps we just live on the same planet...  How confident can we be about what happend 4.6 billions years ago... where's the line between science and faith on something like that?

I like questions. And, so I liked Wonders of Life. #wonders

Photo: Anna Hopkins

Cox's gospel supposes science can explain everything, offering a universe destined for cold disorder... in which the laws of physics exercise their totalitarian rule.

It's doubtless part of the picture - though I can't help but think he missed the final few pages of the story... Yes, I think there'll be a wedding at the end of the universe, and that'll be the first page of something new.

Cox concluded, Riffing on a re-write of Eric Idle's Galaxy Song. (Original version of Galaxy Song.)

"The question "what is life?" is surely one of the grandest of questions. And we learned that life isn't really a thing at all. It's a collection of chemical processes that can harness a flow of energy to create local islands of order like me and this forest by borrowing order from the wider universe and then transmitting it from generation to generation through the elegant chemistry of DNA. And the origins of that chemistry can be traced back four billion years most likely to vents in a primordial ocean. Most wonderfully of all the echoes of that history stretching back for a third of the age of the universe can be seen in every cell of every living thing on earth. And that leads to what I think is the most exciting idea of all because far from being some chance event ignited by a mystical star the emergence of life on earth might have been an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics and if that's true then a living cosmos might be the only way our cosmos can be."
What do you think?

Lance Armstrong: The Death Penalty

Lance Armstrong said being banned from sport was a death penalty.

Overstatement? Perhaps, but I can believe it. 
Winning is his god. And to lose our gods kills us.

To tell us our god is 'sin' is offensive for all of us.
Because we love our gods, define ourselves by them. They make us happy.

Taking my sin from me would kill me. 
And it does. 

The question is whether you can come out the other side of death?
Could death's sting be taken?

Dodging death doesn't work. Lance beat death. He was the poster boy for a theology of glory, for human triumph. Live strong, inspire a generation?

We need a champion, but our best attempts are just faking it. 

Taking away Armstrong's Beloved would destroy him, like taking my sin and idols kills me.

But if there was a better love? 
A Love to kill me, to kill death, to bring me to life. 
That'd be a story.

Thoughts derivative from this morning's sermon and spending Saturday morning with some good friends. Photo: Anna Hopkins, used by permission.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

News from Exeter CU: Members of an immense family

"There are many difficulties, but it is a thousand times worth while," is the remark often heard as search is made again and again in the time table for a spare quarter of an hour when all are free to hold a meeting. It is worth while, and College life is worth while now that it is possible to meet together for the much valued prayer meetings, and times of conference over the Bible.

The Union began, without doubt, at God's distinct direction; for, in May, 1932, a second year woman student became very troubled by the lack of interest and consideration shown in the things of God among the students. At that time she received a set of [UCCF] booklets and a letter from three different people one of them was entirely unknown to her, and all three wrote independently of one another.

She could not but obey this three-fold call to witness. During the last week of that term, after thoroughly investigating the Word of God, she approached a few women students as to the possibilities of forming a Union, but only two responded and one of these did not return the next session.

During the vacation, however, another girl, who was to come up as a fresher the next term, agreed to help form the Union, and it was decided to send out individual letters to freshers telling them of the new movement. As a result of this a keen witnessing Christian joined them.

They seemed to be going out 'not knowing where they went' yet the positive statement that 'greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world' kept them following the call. As the second meeting (the first being a short one for prayer), they drew up a constitution and appointed officers; then, after a fortnight, which seemed like six months, Miss J.B. Strain came down to tell them about the [UCCF] and how to set about the great work so graciously entrusted to them.

In addition to the initial four, they persuaded another friend to come to Miss Strain's Coffee Squash, and she afterwards attended all the meetings, and finally joined with them as a keen, living witness for Christ. For the rest of the term they carried on with a weekly Prayer Meeting and study circle.

Having been almost solely occupied during the previous two terms with self-preparation, they began the summer term with a new realisation of the need in the College and of their own responsibility with regard to it.
This was almost entirely due to the new vision which was given to their leader at the annual [UCCF] conference at High Leigh, and which she shared with the Union on the first Sunday evening in College, when several hours were spent in prayerful preparation for the coming term. This meeting marked a definite step forward in individual lives and in the history of the Union.

Soon after this Prof. Rendle Short very kindly came to give the Union's first lecture, for which invitation card were pushed into every building and department of College. A good number came, and the interest was considerable. Though the membership was not increased, interest remained and several contacts were made privately, when Mr Mercer's booklets, the kind gift of Miss Mercer, were very useful.

The Epistle to the Romans was eagerly studied all that term. Members found out how they were to set out on this hitherto untrodden path of service - that of personal work; and God graciously gave his inexperienced workers a number of opportunities.

With the College porter doing his best for them, and the student council not wishing to be worried further, a notice board was put up at Whitsuntide, 1933, which at once gave the Union official standing. The first notice to appear was a signed testimony and declaration of beliefs and aims, which remained there til the end of the term.

During this term also members were helped and encouraged by our two corresponding Unions, Sheffield and Southampton.

At the end of this term, those who had not been at the [UCCF] conference made a wonderful discovery - they found out the meeting of Fellowship in Christ Jesus.  Member from the Bristol CU came over in extremely difficult circumstances as regards roads and weather, and laid plans for running the fresher's squash. Besides gaining much from them in the matter of E.U. organisation, members began to realise in a new way to what an immense family they belonged, that they were one in Christ Jesus with numbers of other students with one object before them.

Thank God for leading His three servants to send those [UCCF] booklets to Exeter.

Report from Exeter CU in Christ and the Colleges (Donald Coggan, 1934) by their first President, Miss E. N. Ireland.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Adoration brings Revelation (Various, on Psalm 45)

This is a song of a heart bursting out in praise.  A heart shaped by the gospel. A song of the Lilies - a song of Spring time - of Passover. It is a song of Korah's sons, those dead but resurrected temple singers.

As Andrew Bonar noted Psalm 45 "is Earth taught by Heaven to sing heaven's infinite love to man. Every clause is melody, every thought sublimity" 

The song's subject:
Psalm 45 expresses a good matter, the good spell, or gospel. Christopher Wordsworth.
A heart that receives the gospel, sings the gospel. It sings of Christ. The Psalm speaks of "You"... The Christ:
Hero worship in his case alone is commendable. Our precious Christ can never be made too much of. Spurgeon.
"I have a passion, and it is He - He only." Count Zinzendorf.
There is a great connection between singing and seeing:
A loving heart has the power to realise its object. The eyes of a true heart see more than the eyes of the head. Moreover, Jesus reveals himself when we are pouring forth our affections towards him. It is usually the case that when we are ready Christ appears. If our heart is warm it is an index that the sun is shining, and when we enjoy his heat we shall soon behold his lightSpurgeon. 
-- a great warning to a preacher. Is the sunshine of the gospel shining on the church as you preach?
There is none like Christ. The beauty of men and angels put together is nothing compared to the beauty of Christ. Not so much as the light of a farthing candle is to the light of the sun at noonday. Edward Pearse 
The light is not hard to find... if Christ is our subject. And if Christ our subject then will not hearts be changed?

There is no writing like that dictated by the heart. Heartless hymns are insults to heaven. Where the fountain is good good streams will flow forth. The learned tell us that the word may be read overflows, or as others, boils or bubbles up, denoting the warmth of the writer's love, the fulness of his heart, and the consequent richness and glow of his utterance, as though it were the ebullition of his inmost soul, when most full of affection. We have here no single cold expression; the writer is not one who frigidly studies the elegancies and proprieties of poetry, his stanzas are the natural outburst of his soul, comparable to the boiling jets of the geysers of Hecla. As the corn offered in sacrifice was parched in the pan, so is this tribute of love hot with sincere devotion. It is a sad thing when the heart is cold with a good matter, and worse when it is warm with a bad matter, but incomparably well when a warm heart and a good matter meet together. Spurgeon
Let us sing, heart-full hymns! Let them be written! Songs full of Jesus!
Verses 2-5. In these verses the Lord Jesus is presented,
1. As most amiable in himself.
2. As the great favourite of heaven.
3. As victorious over his enemies.
—Matthew Henry.

"Let him be crowned with majesty
Who bowed his head to death,
And be his honours sounded high
By all things that have breath."
Henry Airway (1560-1616)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

News from Bristol CU: The Lord called for further advance

The University of Bristol had not been without a Christian witness before the inception of the Evangelical Union in 1921. In addition to those who must have been witnessing alone it is known that Sunday evening services for students had been organised as far back as 1910.

Confession: This post isn't new news but old news... a faith building testimony from 80 years ago... do read on.

Those present at the first meeting were privileged to hear a message from Dan Crawford (1870-1926), in which he vividly described the earnest endeavours of the heathen of Central Africa to approach and appease an angry ‘unknown’ god. “They ignorantly worship – but we so often not at all,” he pointed out, and then continued to preach Jesus.

These services were organised by Mr Rendle Short and Dr Frank Bergin; and, with the exception of the years of the War, were continued until 1921. During that year, five or six medical students felt the need in the University of a united witness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. They met to consider the possibility of a Union in which its members could be of one mind in regard to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian Faith.

A circular was compiled on November 30th 1921, and sent to thirty or forty students who might be interested in such a movement, inviting them to a meeting to discuss the possibility of organising a Christian Union on fundamental lines.

On [Tuesday] December 6th, fourteen met to consider the situation; and the ten who were of one mind decided then and there to inaugurated the University Evangelical Union. Mr F.S. Dymond, who later laid down his life for the Lord in China, was appointed the first President of the Union.

[A little online research suggests that this was Francis Spencer Dymond of the Dymond family of Methodist missionaries, and that was born in China, studied at Bristol before returning to China, where he died in 1929, born 1896]

The aims were briefly enumerated, namely, to unite once a week for prayer and Bible study, and to organise further Evangelistic meetings in the University. Though very much in its infancy, the Union soon found its legs, and a full programme was drawn up. The times spent over the Epistle to the Romans were abundantly profitable in deepening the spiritual lives of the members.

The Sunday Evening Services proved to be an attraction to the other students, the attendance at each meeting being between sixty and seventy. Speakers such as Prof Carless whose subject ‘Christian Hygiene’ aroused much interest and Rendle Short who undertook to expound ‘The Cure of Souls; prescriptions Old and New’ were given undivided attention, as they explained the simple truths concerning God’s remedy for sin in His Son.

The next step forward was that of official recognition by the University Guild in the Spring Term, 1925. This conferred the right of using University rooms for meetings and of advertising on the screens.

The session, 1924-5, saw advances in several departments of the E.U., revealing the life, which up to this time had been somewhat supressed. A desire to reach out further afield resulted in Open-Air Meetings; also the formation of what was called a Speakers’ Circle, which was run in connection with several Mission Halls in the neighbourhood. Medicals still continued to take the lead on the Committee, and the fact that these were also to the forefront in the University games, gave the Union a more favourable standing among the other students, and quite a number of the first teams were brought under the sound of the Gospel.

The membership of the Union had remained at about twenty, but the Lord called for further advance. The first thing was to double the number of prayer Meetings, and to advance on our knees before God. Not many of us will forget the times we had alone with the Lord, when surroundings had to be ignored – one day in a changing and ‘making up’ room beneath the stage in the Club, another day in Room 35, a bleak lecture room in the highest storey of the New Buildings!

The spring term of this year saw a contingent of eight members sent to the first (residential) [UCCF]. Conference at High Leigh. Many members were unable to get as far as High Leigh, and for these and any other students who would come, a weekend camp in June was arranged by kind invitation of Dr Frank Bergin, to be held at his bungalow ('Bergy's Bung'), overlooking the Bristol Channel. Our visiting speakers included Rendle Short and Rev. H. Earnshaw Smith and Douglas Porter; all of the twenty-five who were able to go could testify to the time of real spiritual strengthening and growth, as day by day we were brought face to face with the Lord.

Hampered by lack of convenient accommodation for meetings, the Committee sought from the Lord a room which could be used solely for the E.U. Within a few weeks we were able to thank God, not only for the most suitable room, but also for the funds for furniture and a year’s rent. The room was found to be particularly useful for Daily Prayer Meetings, as its central position enabled members of all faculties to meet before morning lectures.

Besides holding two or three Missionary meetings a term, when the needs of different fields were brought to our notice, the members of the E.U. undertook to raise funds to support a native evangelist in N. Nigeria, and to back the work up by prayer. Letters were received about every three months giving news for praise and prayer, and, in this more intimate way, the Union was able to take a more intelligent interest in Mission Work.

A departure from the routine was taken in 1931, when the Evangelistic work took the form of Faculty meetings. Speakers were chosen from the respective professions, and personal invitations sent out to the undergraduates concerned. These meetings were found to be most successful in reaching those students who would be unwilling to attend a public meeting in the University Club Rooms.

This history would not be complete without a reference to the way in which the Lord has led members of the Union to pray definitely for another University. Three or four years ago, several of the members felt their responsibility to pray that an Evangelical Union should be started in Exeter University College. Enquiries made in the College at that time appeared to be fruitless; but since then prayer, though sometimes very faithless, has been continuous, and it was with great joy that, in October, 1933, the Bristol Union sent four members down to Exeter to help with their first Fresher’s Squash. May the Lord lead the Universities more to bear one another’s burdens by prayer.

Report from the Bristol CU in Christ and the Colleges edited by Donald Coggan, 1934. Coggan had been a student at Cambridge (1928-1931) where he was the CU vice-President and Treasurer, after which he was an assistant lecturer at Manchester (1931-1934) before becoming a curate in London (1934-1937). In 1974 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Coggan's records list the following former CU members who had "sailed for the mission field" by 1934, whether as a full-time missionary or in employment. China: J.O. Fraser (1928), Miss C.E.M. Gale (1927). India: Rev C.M.Johnston (1934), Miss M.E. Page (1933), Dr. Dorothy Tripp (1930), Dr P. Christine Vine (1930). Africa: Dr. Leigh Ashton (1934), Dr. H. Brassington (1930), Dr A. Fisher (1930), Dr G. Gurney (1934), Miss M. Hill (1934), Dr. A Keevil (1920), Dr. E. Wide (1929). Europe: Mr E.Tenchard (1924), Miss F. Paget (1932).

Is monologue dead?

Preaching is finished, some would have us think. It's the internet age of short attention spans. It's the cinema age where you can hold someone for 180 minutes... if you do it with a huge audio-visual experience.

But, bucking the trend is TED. Inspirational talks between three and eighteen minutes long that are crafted to capture their audience. Speakers are used to saying more but the 18 minute maximum requires speakers to refine their material rigorously and say only what needs to be said. A lesson for preachers to consider!

When you experience good communication it makes everything else look amateur and clunky.

When you read Andy Stanley's Communicating for a change you discover story telling that carries you along. When you read Donald Miller you experience imagination and creativity that makes you realise you're often quite dull. Bad monologues can't compete.

Spirit-filled congregations will tolerate unengaging preaching for a while because they're hungry for the word. But, urgh.

I want to pursue better preaching and - alongside deepening communion with God - thinking about TED is a good way to do that. I've got a lot to learn. A lot.

Help is on hand.

Jeremy Donovan - How to deliver a TED Talk - 100 page Kindle book for £1.95.
  • Donovan's book is no TED talk, it's his research on the TED way of speaking.  He takes the lid off.
  • Excellent on opening a talk with stories and questions. And using them to keep re-engaging the listener, throughout the talk - don't just grab your audience, keep grabbing them again and again.
  • Don't miss his section on introducing a speaker - CU's and churches take note!
  • Tony Morgan summarises 10 applications for teaching pastors from Donovan's book.
There's much more to preaching than just engaging communication, but many a divine revelation has been made to a preacher in their study that has been buried beneath poor communication. At least I know I've done that.

I'm not saying TED is the perfect model for preaching. But TED speakers are undeniably among the best communicators in the world, the most engaging, and most impacting. We don't depend on wise words and rhetoric, but there is such a thing as good and bad communication. The same Paul who dismisses a dependence on Greek Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians is a master persuader, a builder of arguments and a masterful teller of stories.  So too, Jesus.
  • Watch TED Talks - just bask in a few videos and catch a vision for better communication. 
TED rests on its speakers having world changing messages, the Christian preacher has no place in the pulpit if they've not got the definitive world changing message. But if the preacher doesn't open their mouth, and doesn't speak a language that can be understood by the congregation, and doesn't convey a message then the preacher isn't preaching.

Love for Christ raises the bar for the preacher to communicate better. This matters. Content is king, but preachers are heralds of content - verbal artists who speak the word of God, speaking people who offer Christ to people. What is said and how its said. The gospel is the ultimate idea worth sharing, the invitation worth receiving, an encounter with the person - Jesus - who is worth knowing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

No love like this! (John Owen on Psalm 45)

"There is no love like the love of Christ to his church in the day of espousals. There is no love like to the love between Christ and the souls of believers."

John Owen unpacks this theme in preaching on Psalm 45:
The whole Book of Psalms gives a particular attention Jesus Christ. This 45th Psalm is a prophecy and description of his person, his kingly office and the marriage between him and his church. The song tells of the love of Christ to the church, and of the church to Christ. 
This love is our story. This is the story. Let us learn it:
The Psalm is a Maskil, a song to make wise or give instruction. There are things of Christ in this Psalm designed to instruct the church. The song expresses a "good matter, touching the King". The subject of this song is the King. No ordinary person. Rather, Messiah, Christ the Lord, in the Old Testament.
And let us sing, as Christ's life springs up in us:
The song refers to the bubbling up of water in a fountain or spring. The heart of the psalmist was so full of these things of Christ, things touching the King, that they did naturally overflow. Christ has promised to give his people his Spirit, that “shall be in them as a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
His life in us, brings revelation in the gospel:
The Spirit of God reveals to them the excellent things of Christ, his glory, and so they find them to be good. Strangers to Christ find them absurd and foolish things, and in no way to be desired. What is the glory of the Lord? Why, it is the glory of his person, the glory of his kingdom, the glory of his love. Where are these to be seen? They are all represented in the glass. What glass? The glass of the gospel. The gospel has a reflection upon it of all these glories of Christ, and makes a representation of them unto us. The consideration of these excellencies in Christ is exceedingly suited to increase faith and love in us.
More of the gospel, more of Christ and our faith will be stronger, our love more abounding.
More faith, more love... more quickly we'll go to Christ.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two Kinds of Community

The test of what matters in a community can often be best seen when there is trouble. In Christian terms,  what happens in the community when someone sins?

Some brief reflections from Galatians 6:

The Non-Gospel Church
My sin is scandalous or swept under the carpet. 
My sin is rule-breaking.
My sin is my effort to be holy.
My sin is an opportunity for you to trample me under foot.
My sin is why I want to avoid the cross.
My sin is overcome by effort.

The Gospel Church
My sin is to be expected. 
My sin is relational betrayal and return to slavery. 
My sin is when I follow the flesh instead of the Spirit.
My sin is an opportunity to restore you, to carry your burdens as Christ bore mine to Calvary.
My sin is, therefore, why I need the cross.
My sin is overcome by God's work of new creation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

You're beautiful (John Flavel on Psalm 45)

Ye olde affectionate (charismatic?) puritan John Flavel preached on Psalm 45. Like Sibbes and Owen he was captured by the espousal theology of the gospel, the love of God for us in Christ. He preached:
Psalm 45 is an excellent song of love. A heavenly wedding song. It tells, figuratively, with elegant celebration, of the marriage of Christ and the church.  It's subject is the same as the Song of Songs.
The Psalm speaks of Christ and of his bride:
Among it's rapturous and elegant expressions in praise of the glorious bridegroom Christ is this: "God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows."  This Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) is enriched and filled supremely with the Spirit's fulness. He is consecrated to his office and out-shines and excels all the saints. Yet, every Christian is anointed with the same grace. It is the saints' dignity to be Christ's fellows. Whatever grace and excellence is in Christ is not just for Christ but is shared. He was filled with the fulness of the Spirit for their sake and use. As the sun is filled with light, not to shine to itself, but to others - so is Christ with grace. Christ is the first receptacle of grace, he is first and immediately filled from the fountain, the Godhead, but it is for his people who receive and derive from him.  
First Christ, then the Christ-ians:
If they are anointed with the Spirit of grace, much more abundantly is Christ. By the oil of gladness understand the Spirit of holiness. Oil had a sacred and a solemn use, in the inauguration and consecration of the Jewish kings and high priests. to make their limbs more agile, expedite, and nimbler to make the face shine, for it gave a lustre, freshness, and liveliness to the countenance. We are first ingrafted into Christ, and then we suck the sap and fatness of the root: first married to the person of Christ, then endowed and instated in the privileges and benefits of Christ.
Borrowing from Psalm 133:
As this precious oil runs down from Christ, the head, to the borders of his garments, I mean, as it is shed upon believers, so it exceedingly beautifies their faces, and makes them shine with glory. The Spirit kindles and maintains the flame of divine love in their souls, and, like a lamp, enlightens their minds in the knowledge of spiritual things; the anointing teaches them.  From the saints' union with Christ, there does naturally and immediately result a most sweet and blessed communion and fellowship with him in graces and spiritual privileges 
The saints have no fellowship with Jesus Christ in those things that belong to him as God; such as his consubstantiality, co-equality, and co-eternity with the Father. The saints have no communion or fellowship in the honour and glory of his mediatory works, viz. his satisfaction to God, or redemption of the elect.
Christ is the light, our light is borrowed from him:
But there are many glorious and excellent things which are in common between Christ and believers, though in them all he has the pre-eminence; he shines in the fulness of them, as the sun, and we with a borrowed and lesser light, but of the same kind and nature as the stars.
  • Believers have communion with Christ in his names and titles; they are called Christians from Christ He is the Son of God, and they also, by their union with him, have power or authority to become the sons of God, John 1:12. He is the heir of ail things, and they are joint-heirs with him, Rom. 8:17. He is both King and Priest, and he has made them kings and priests.
  • Believers have communion with Christ in his death; they die with him.
  • Believers have communion with Christ in his life and resurrection from the dead; as he rose from the dead, so do they; and that by the power and influence of his vivification and resurrection ; we do not only partake of what is his, but he partakes of what is ours 
O that believers did but understand their own happiness and privileges by Christ, they would never droop and sink under every small trouble at that rate they do! Job was happier upon the dunghill, than Adam was in paradise.
The gospel gives us union with Christ, let union be matched with communion:
O it is sweet to have fellowship with those that have fellowship with God in Jesus Christ. The increase of your sanctification, by fresh participations from the fountain; as cloth which is often dipped into the vat receives the deeper dye, and livelier tincture; so will your souls by assiduous communion with God. 
All that is ours, comes from Him. We sing, "you're beautiful" because The Crucified One is beautiful. Our divine spouse - our saviour through his suffering. Incomparable beauty. And, by his death and resurrection, his giving of himself to us - he now desires our beauty too. A beauty objectively ours by his gospel, and increasingly seen through our communion with him.

The gospel says God is to be enjoyed and he enjoys knowing us.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Preach the gospel, die and be forgotten

A lot was said about legacy in 2012. Especially, the Olympic Legacy. A call to inspire a generation. Time will tell whether more athletes follow, health improves and the Olympic park stands tall. Given every football tournament failure leads for an overhaul of youth development it's easy to be a bit cynical. People chase celebrity, fifteen minutes of fame...

Equally, there are people who have lasting legacy and impact on our lives...

What about the Christian? What's our legacy? What's the right legacy for a CU leader to pursue from their year of serving the CU? I saw this yesterdya:
Ironically, Zinzendorf is well remembered. I think the actual quote from Count Nicholas Zinzendorf - the original 24/7 prayer leader... missionary movement leader... influential in the lives of the Wesley's:
 "The missionary... must be content to suffer, to die and be forgotten."    ---John Wesley, Journal (London: Robert Culley, n.d.), Vol. II, p. 11.)
Which given a missionary is a gospel preacher is basically the same thing. The Christian should be content to suffer, die and be forgotten.

It's Ecclesiastes 1, we're quickly forgotten. The student work has a blissfully short memory. It's common for a CU to say "This is the biggest thing our CU has ever done..." -- and it kind of is, except that that happened four years ago but no-one is left to remember. Which is fine! Student workers don't tend to stay in the work for long - I met another 12-year student worker yesterday which is rare.

We seek to impact lives, we impact structures and strategy, and for a while our fingerprints are identifiable... Some things do last though few movements and churches thrive for multiple generations.Before long there's no one there anymore who knows how things were before. Our hard labours become just smudges on the window... unseen foundations.

The short memory is liberating.

There are no monuments and landmarks and celebrities in the new creation, and there ought not to be such here. Yet we're (read, I'm) easily starstruck. There are big fish in our small pond over whom we fawn, whose words we re-tweet and podcast.

I've seen students go wobbly kneed at a CU weekend away (where I was speaking) when they heard that a certain speaker had been there with another CU the previous weekend... Take off your shoes, this is holy ground.. ?!

Real gospel legacy is Christ's life-giving reign over all things...
I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever. (Psalm 45:17 ESV)
A verse about me? No, the Father says this of the Son. And I share in his life by my union with him. His name is remembered, and he remembers me.

Real legacy is the fruit of the gospel in people - people who become followers of Christ, people who grow as disciples of Christ. The legacy of ministry I did 12 years ago is sat in an office and a school and a mums and toddler group this morning.

Legacy is the teenager who becomes a Christian and is still sharing the gospel with people when he's 82 years old.  Real legacy is the student who becomes a Christian, marries a Christian, works as a Christian in a job, raises their kids in the sound of the gospel and a gospel adorning family home, whose kids grow up in the faith. And many other untold stories.

And then we're forgotten.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God is love. And we're invited.

We become like what we worship....
A sketch.

1. God is power. And we are his subjects.
  • Religious style? We must obey him. Distance and fear - 'reverence'
  • Leadership style? Over people. Key word: authority. 
  • Relational style? Formal, cold even. Cautious of guilt by association.
  • Missional style? If any, to stand against people.
2. God is love. And we're invited.
  • Religious style? Invited into the family. Doctrine is for delight. Key question: How is your worship life?
  • Leadership style? Self-giving love. Key word: service.
  • Relational style? Generous assumptions about others, seeking to win others. 
  • Missional style? Mobility towards people, all kinds of people. Conversation, listening, asking and offering Christ.

Me too?

CS Lewis wrote of friendship:
 “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one” 
Those moments are great.

Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism adds:
 "Resisting the 'me, too' response can free you to focus in the feelings behind the words of the other person, keeping attention on them"
Both are good of course and are proverbial wisdom - say me too and don't say me too. Or rather, sometimes instead of saying me too - show your me-too-ness by asking a question that draws someone else out. Still learning the basics and glad of Newman's help.

What about you?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Questions: Learning some basic social skills, aged 33 and a half.

We were eating dinner and my friend Sean said to me... "what have been the highlights of the year for you guys?" It was a great question and yet I found myself fumbling for an answer. Last year wasn't without highlights I just didn't know what to say, I fumbled my way to some kinds of an answer...

The question exposed something in me: that I'd not taken good time to reflect on the year or to be thankful.

The question served me well because I was subsequently able to go away and take time to reflect, and have many things to be thankful for, many memories to treasure. The kinds of things that dominate people's blogs in late December

The question served me because it got me thinking about questions. Sean's question was about information gathering, but it was - I think - as much about getting to know us, and to share in our lives.

Jesus said the heart is revealed by the mouth - or, what comes out of the mouth comes form the heart.
So, if you want to know someone's heart you have to get them talking.

I spend my days meeting people. And I love that. I worked in a bank for a while - because I got the job - and because I wanted to work with people. And it's one of the things I love most about doing the 'ministry' job I currently have. I love people.

However, I've wasted many encounters with people by my weak social skills. Things in which I can grow, by practice and with support from others.

I spent new years eve at a party. I'm not good at parties, especially when I don't know people very well. But I'd rather be there, struggle and learn than avoid being there. Life is for learning. Learning is messy and awkward, but worth while. Some people can work a room effortlessly, some of us bumble through, and some of us don't bother. I'd rather stumble through awkwardly than not bother, though I wouldn't have said that a few years ago.

A small proportion of my workplace meetings are with my peers. The vast majority are either with people with 10-15 years less life and ministry experience (students and student workers) or 10-30 years more life and experience (church leaders). How can I approach these?

Andy Stanley reflects on someone spending a day or two with his dad. The man was awestruck by his hero (Stanley's father) and just talked at him the whole time. He missed entirely the opportunity to ask questions and learn something! That happens to me (without the hero worship), and I do it to others.

Good meetings often entail the elder not telling the younger what to do, but enabling them to reflect and grow by asking questions, and genuinely listening. And the younger drawing out the elder with questions so that they can learn from them.

Oxford Professor John Lennox says, "keep asking questions until someone asks you one back..." - when you see me sitting silently, I'm probably having an introvert moment of precious silence in which I'm pondering good questions. The way to to break that silence does need to be a bit more imaginative than "what are you thinking?"

Meetings between people are learning opportunities for both, not self-exhibitions. I miss too many opportunities by talking instead of asking. There are occasions when I ask a question and it serves me by helping me learn from someone else, and by building heart-to-heart relationship. And there are occasions where I ask a question and it serves someone else by helping them to reflect, and by building heart-to-heart relationship.

What are your favourite questions to be asked by other people - and to ask of others?

With thanks to Dale Carnegie for his book, Andy Stanley for his leadership podcast, my pastor, and my friends who are helping me to grow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

FEUER: Raising up a new generation of men and women as Evangelists for Europe

Feuer is a network of evangelists working in the Universities of Europe. As Lindsay Brown stepped back from leading the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) a few years ago he was convicted of the need to raise up a new generation of evangelists. The first step was a gathering in Austria from across Europe which I attended about four years ago - and much more has followed.

The 20th Century saw the ministry of greats in student evangelism like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Michael Green (still very much active!), Francis Schaeffer and David Watson but who had come after them?

Lindsay has, alongside Directing the Lausanne Movement, been developing a network of evangelists - people involved in public evangelism in Europe's Universities.

This weekend Owen Brown and myself gathered 21 for 21 hours for the first FEUER STUDENT NETWORK. Not another conference, but a gathering of friends involved in front-line student mission. Aspiring evangelists from Wales and the South West, students, UCCF Relay and Staff plus Ann & Lindsay Brown, and Jonathan Thomas. Students came and delivered a short evangelistic talk from Luke's gospel - for many their first ever talk and received generous and constructive feedback.

We ate curry. We heard from Lindsay about Feuer and his Five Great Evangelists (above). He called for personal friendship, preparation, specific prayer, proclamation, perseverace in evangelism. Ann gave a sample talk on 'Is the Bible Anti Woman?' and from Jonathan on preaching the Bible.

It was a loose and informal gathering, for some a first taste, a beginning of a longer journey to involvement in God's mission. I'm thankful for the phenomenal hospitality offered by Christ Church Newport and Malpas Road Evangelical Church - above and beyond anything I've seen! And by the participation of all who came.

Our cry, for the fire of the Holy Spirit to awaken Europe, to empower preachers, to open eyes, to call people home.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Video: Stories expand our lives

Escaping into a story expands our lives, shows us that we matter. I want my boys to be people who don't have their lives reduced by computer games but have them expanded by great stories. A daunting but exciting task and I'm only a few years in - any tips from parents who are further along? Or from your own memories of childhood? [Comment]

Video  Via Together for Adoption
See also: Tolkien: On Fairy Stories
And Follow @donaldmiller

Doug Wilson, N.D. Wilson and Alan Jacobs on The Imagination of CS Lewis:

 And Follow @ndwilsonmutters

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Three Questions on Prioritising Mission in CU

These observations are drawing on the work of Tim Chester and Steve Timmis in Total Church, and Steve Tibbert & Val Taylor in Good to Grow. Two books I'd highly recommend. The latter is a particularly easy read and is full of leadership gems.

1. What's our primary focus as a CU? 
Hopefully for a CU (and a church) the answer is obviously mission... but is it in reality? Tibbert says: 
“The church exists to grow. Mission must take centre-stage, we must build mission-focused communities.” 
Jesus came into the world so that we could know him. Mission is about that. And as CU is a subset of the local churches in a particular town or city, mission first too. There's a room focus on numbers but bottom line: numbers are people, and Christ died for people. He continues:
“Prioritising mission requires sustained, focussed leadership otherwise we will drift towards a pastoral mode.” 
This drift is easy to observe in many CUs and local churches, in my life. Many default to an inward pastoral approach. This is good and cosy and supportive (and often how a CU is perceived) but flawed. We need always to be asking the mission question. What are we doing to provoke people to ask about the one that we love? What are we doing to capture the imagination? If we're on mission it'll be evident that we're besotted with Christ, persuaded of the gospel. I'm not calling for activism or for big programmes, but for ordinary life in pursuit of Christ. Timmis and Chester:  
“People often ask if they can come and see our ministry. But all there is to see is ordinary people doing ordinary things. The ordinary is a vehicle for Christian mission if there is gospel intentionality”    
How's the CU going?

2. What kinds of gifts and priorities are shaping the CU? 
Everyone is called to mission, to witness and to do the work of an evangelist. But, there are some people who are gifted in Evangelism. Steve Tibbert reflects: 
"I once thought I was an evangelist, until I met one, but I have always been a leader with a passion for the lost..." 
Me too. Mission-mindedness needs to be nurtured. He continues:
“We need to ensure that we identify and train leaders to have mission focus and skills.” 
You might be pastorally minded, administratively minded, but mission should run through the blood of all of that. And Steve Tibbert observes:
“To build mission-focussed communities we must make space for the gift of the evangelist to shape us...” 
In CU the evangelists might not be in the leadership roles. Often pastorally and administratively minded people are the people who get the jobs. That's not all bad, though there are many gifts for leadership. Think of Cambridge CU 60 years ago. John Stott was a CU member. Best evangelist in the CU. Not chosen to lead to avoid burdening him with administration. But, that doesn't mean you don't give Stott a voice! The Stotts need to be listen to, invited to Forum, and have their stories told frequently. Speakers at Team Meetings should included evangelists. We need to be shaped by all kinds of different people - pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets (and apostles!) who will equip us for front-line ministry serving other people.

3. Where are we allocating our resources? 
“What comes first when it comes to allocating resources? You need an agreed ‘philosophy of ministry’ in every area. Teams clash more over this than over personality, values or even doctrine” observes Tibbert.
Many CUs act like they're a local church and are dominated by the concerns that their pastors and elders carry, yet they're neither equipped or required to do such things. 

The philosophy of ministry of the Christian Union has to be 'for mission'. Mission trumps other concerns. It overrides the way I like things. An exception worth noting here is that mission isn't an excuse for being divisive because unity fuels mission -- but its easy for people to use unity to advance their own agenda at the expense of the decisions that mission requires. Equally, making mission primary doesn't mean doctrinal softness - substantial doctrine drives mission and shapes our persuasive proclamation. But Christ transforms us for mission.

Allocating resources is about where money goes, it's about where time goes. It's evidenced in where we build relationships and in the subject of our conversations. It'll show in the answer to the question:
What's the riskiest thing we've done in the name of mission this year? 
If mission isn't our driving philosophy of ministry then we probably wont have any answer to that question or at least nothing particularly risky. By risk I mean, the kinds of things that make no sense if we don't believe the gospel -- things in the same league as praying for healing and giving to your church (both of which are stupid if the gospel isn't true)... what would that be for you?

This doesn't mean we don't pour resources into training the leaders and members of the CU - in fact a sustained mission focussed makes us more likely to do just that. We want to be equipped, we need to be motivated. And mission focus doesn't mean no nourishing and feeding of the members with Christ from the Scriptures as often as possible. Quite the opposite, the more we want to pursue mission the more we'll want to look to Christ, and the more we look to Christ, the more we're moved to mission.

1. What's our primary focus as a CU? 
2. What kinds of gifts and priorities are shaping the CU? 
3. Where are we allocating our resources? 

All three questions are pointing in the same direction... all ask questions about what our philosophy of ministry is, all three look to set us back on track again.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

"Stop worrying and Enjoy Your Life"

It's about four years since I saw my first 'Atheist bus' climbing Park St. in Bristol. I remember referring to it in a talk I gave in the Physics Building at Bristol University that term.

It was tempting to speak of it's a misnomer, to retort:
There probably is a God and that's why we can have joy. I think I probably said that at some point. I definitely thought it.

And we can have joy.

The logic of the absence of god meaning joy is really the triumph of the rebel who says - Actually we think there is a god but we've made it acceptable to ignore him... so all those things you enjoy that you think you're not meant to you can go on and enjoy. It's the cry of someone who thinks they've pulled the wool over the headmasters eyes.

Joy is a real concern. The Bible speaks of joy as part of the Spirit's fruit in the life of a Christian, and that there is joy everlasting in the presence of God. I spent several years being schooled by the Christian Hedonists and I'm thankful for that. Piper never said life would be easy. We say we mean a joy you can experience when sorrowing.Like Paul under great pressure. And that's better. But what does that really mean?

Then Francis Spufford. Heir to the title The Cussing Pastor (though not a pastor) observes in his book Unapologetic that joy is a strange luxury. Spufford says most people don't get joy/.. joy is good if you're privileged and healthy but most people don't and aren't.

I didn't get that four years ago. Four years ago my wife was 8 months pregnant with our first child.  Since then we've had the joy of a second child too. This is brilliant and has stretched us beyond what we'd have thought possible.
And it's brilliant.
Yet our income has fallen. Our costs have risen.
We go to the hospital more often than ever.
Little boys have developing immune systems.
And they run into things. A lot.
A good night's sleep means we only got woken up 4-5 times.
(from about 5:25mins)
Things that were once very ordinary, like leaving the house, become epic conquests :)

The reality is there's more challenge in my life today.
This isn't "a patronise the naive younger me" post. I don't mean it to be.
And this isn't to moan about it. Its good.
And in any case, any pressure I've experienced is decidedly moderate in the big picture.
I know fractionally more today about struggle in life than I did four years ago.
Which is still not very much.
Meanwhile grace abounds abundantly.
And I've not always handled that the weakness or the grace well.
Even recognising that is helpful. Thanks Pete Scazzero for aiding my emotional health.

In Imagine Church, Neil Hudson, helpfully advises towards a church culture that isn't set on avoiding suffering.  Less "I'm a Christian get me out of here." and more on how to grow in suffering.
As someone has said "Manure grows extraordinary fruit."
I've had my seasons of self-indulgently wallowing in the situations I've faced.
Of grieving over lost opportunities.
And lost luxuries. And physical stresses. Of self-righteous strops.
Those effect other people.
It's good to talk. It's good to listen.
Its good to be silent. Sometimes even speak of joy.
I could do with listening more too.
Many have it much harder than me.
I may be a bit bruised but many more are badly broken.

Enjoy your life is too simple. More prosperity gospel than gospel.
"Touch the screen and you're gonna be healed." 
Jesus never said that. Thanks Martyn.

BTW, Ambulance because I'm in need of help.
The giraffe because its part of life now, and sometimes you just have to laugh. 

There is joy but Christian good news comes from the God who is both with us in the pain - not offering us a holiday from it - and whose being with us guarantees that evil will finally lose its grip, death will lose its sting, tears will be wiped away. The God we know when we know Jesus - the one who isn't supervising from on high, who doesn't like holier than thou attitudes, but who in love sends his Son to be involved, to face suffering, to suffer, to struggle, to die.

This God is good news for real people. Joy is great, hope is better.
And God is with us. And I still have very little idea what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Christians say Atheists are right

I've spoken in the past, and I'm due to do so again later this term, about the subject:

How Atheists Are Right

The basic thought here is that there is a god that some people don't believe in. And some of the people who don't believe in this god are very vocal about the god they don't believe in. The late Christopher Hitchins was a particularly strong example of this, with a flare for brilliance with language.

The existence of God would be a bad thing. It would be like living in North Korea. 
This is god as Kim Jung Il - who as it happens died in the same week as Hitchins in late 2011. A god of power and supervision and invigilation and suspicion.
A Christians hears of the god being described - or invites the question:
Can tell me about the god you don't believe in?

And almost always has to say: I don't believe in that god either.

The Atheist is Right. But the conversation is not over. We've talked at cross purposes. Hitchins and co. decided they're atheists (anti-theists) for a god that not very many people (if any) really believe in. We're each using the word "GOD" differently. This isn't just about playing word games - the gods of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity simply aren't the same and its both patronising and ignorant to say they are.

At its worst you hear it said that the religions are like blind people touching an elephant, each getting different parts of the picture... or different paths up a mountain. In these stories the all knowing atheist who sits relativising everyone else's position claims to be able to see where everyone else is blind. Imagining everyone can be right is all very John Lennon.. all very unrealistic.

In our day to day language, God is a homonym for various things. Wikipedia notes:
"a river bank, a savings bank, a bank of switches, and a bank shot in pool share a common spelling and pronunciation, but differ in meaning"
And of course, atheist has a broad meaning - the First and Second Century Christians were known as 'the atheists' because they didn't believe in the Greek and Roman gods. We're all atheists to certain gods, and we're all theists to others - even if our 'god' is less personal and more a value.

So, what do you mean by 'god' - and why should I care...

A simple reason for caring is that if true a lot rests on the claims of Christianity - what's the harm in investigating. Sometimes people appeal to Pascal's Wager to say that you may as well bet on Christianity on the off chance that it's true. That everyone doesn't do so exposes that we're not neutrals in this debate. Logic would say believe but we act against that...


My first move isn't believe, but consider the evidence (which from my point of view isn't just evidence but divine revelation...).

I want to appeal to two kinds of evidence to support the Christian claim to the existence of God... Which God? When a Christian says GOD they mean who you know when you know Jesus. Jesus whose purpose is to introduce his Father. (Luke 10) God who is firstly Father, who sent his Son into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Not power, but a person - a person who is universally acknowledged to have been good and kind and innocent, and who was nonetheless executed and then it was claimed resurrected. There is a story to consider, to read.

Firstly, there is emotional evidence.
Secondly, there is historical evidence.


By emotional evidence I mean that inconsolable longing we have for community, for answers, for hope, for love... but why? We live in a society where two comedian's just started an Atheists Church - with the form of a church meeting but none of the content. The very nice atheist Alain de Botton published 'Religion for Atheists' advocating this and many similar approaches. People still go to Carol Services at Christmas. There is something in us that feels like there should be something more. Despite the protests from Nietzsche to Hitchins 'god' hasn't gone away... the church is growing in the UK and much more globally, and we long for more.

And atheism isn't working... it's all well and good to send out an atheist bus telling people to stop worrying and enjoy their life, but most people don't have the option of enjoyment. Life is harder than that. And kick back and enjoy life is no good answer to suffering people.


By historical evidence I mean that there really are eyewitness documents that tell us about Jesus - both from the Bible and other sources.. John Dickson writes:
Jesus is described by Josephus as a mere "wise man" and "doer of strange deeds", expressions that no Christian propagandist would have employed. Those responsible for his execution are "men of the highest standing among us." It strains belief to think of a Christian penning such a thing; so too with the concluding comment that "the tribe of Christians, named after him, has still not disappeared to this day," which sounds like the author believed Christianity was on its way out. How wrong Josephus was! Taken together, the non-Christian references "provide us with certainty" about Jesus's life and death, insists Professor Christopher Tuckett of Oxford University (certainly no friend of Christian apologetics), and "render highly implausible any far-fetched theories that even Jesus's very existence was a Christian invention." This is the consensus of non-religious experts today and no amount of sceptical huffing and puffing can change that. There are, of course, some forceful arguments against Christian belief - the problem of miracles or alternative religions, the existence of evil and suffering, the scandal of hell, just to name a few. These require grown-up responses from thoughtful believers. These belong to the real heavyweight contest.
Which brings us full circle, perhaps when it comes to the anti-theists the real issue is that Christian belief comes with some challenging subjects and the Christian answers don't seem palatable, or good answers haven't been given. Maybe the issue is that despite the warmth of the invitation in Christianity we're no different to the people in the days Jesus walked around the streets of Palestine... some loved him and received him... and some hated him, plotted against him, and rejected him because his free invitation to relationship with God undermined the way they wanted to live, the power structures of their worldviews, the place they held in society.


Our invitation, is to see for yourself. Consider the questions you have, and consider Jesus. Read Luke's Gospel which is a kind of biography of Jesus, biased because it intends to inform us and lead us to be convinced about who Jesus is, but nonetheless good history that seeks to persuade us precisely because what Luke uncovered is such good news.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Your love outbids!

It's funny to hear someone take something you've preached and put it into a song. It's happened a few times, a word or phrase sticks. And it did last February. Olly Knight lyricised, in his great new song The Father's Love:

"Your love outbids, your love outshines them all."

Songwriters are the most influential theologians in churches - and the pulpit needs to think hard about pastoring such people well. Pastor the songwriters and worship leaders and they'll serve the church by embedding the gospel in the hearts of the people.

We need to capture imaginations, we need to consider our phrasing and language.

Where does this word "outbids" come from?

I got it from puritan hero Jeremiah Burroughs who unpacks the idea of the LORD alluring us like this as he preached from Hosea 2:14:

The Lord says, firstly, I will unfold the beauty and excellency of the infiniteness of my goodness and loving-kindness and set in array before their souls the exceeding glory of the riches of my grace. They went whoring from me because their hearts were allured by their lovers, giving to them various contentments, and so subtly beguiling their minds; will I not dwell with them in a more powerful manner than their lovers possibly could? I will outbid them all. 

Or, to put it into 21st Century terms, for a student gathering:

“My people pursued their lovers:  They went after KPMG, PwC and Lloyds TSB, for money offered comfort and control. But I will outbid them! 
They went after celebrity gossip, social media status and pornography for they offer intimacy. I will bid more! 
They went after H&M and Ben & Jerrys and HDTV for retail therapy, over-priced ice-cream and Brian Cox talking Science on the BBC break the numbness of life. I will bid more” 

Burroughs then:

Did their lovers offer to them comfort? I will bid more than they. 
Did their lovers offer gain? I will bid more gain. 
Did they offer more honour and respect? I will outbid them in this too; so that I will persuade their hearts that they shall enjoy more in me, than they possibly could in all that their lovers could do for them. And indeed, then the gospel has the true, full and gracious work upon the heart of a sinner, when it yields to its invitations, finding that all that the world can bid is now outbidden and that there is more gain in Christ than in all else besides. 

And to push the point home, he picks up an everyday image:

You know, when one comes to offer so much for a commodity on a market stall, and another outbids him, he carries it away. So when the world and sin offer to the soul such and such contents, if God comes and outbids all, the bargain is made and God carries away the heart.

Jesus comes to the marketstall where I am the produce. And Jesus bids for me against the bidding of idols. How humiliating that he would even pursue me into my sin. That he would contend against such worthless "not gods". Yet he does. Jesus fights for me, to carry my heart away with him. And he does not offer a price, he offers himself - through death and resurrection to union with him.

Burroughs contemplates that "seeing leads to singing, and singing leads to reformation".
Play a chord, write a song, let the band play for our Saviour outbids all by giving us himself.

READ: Of Lovers and Whores by Jeremiah Burroughs
LISTEN: Three Sermons on Hosea 2:14-23
BUY Olly Knights songs
DISCUSS: Three Bible Discussions on Hosea 2:14-23.