Friday, February 15, 2013

If God is good and all powerful, why is there suffering?

I get to speak on suffering at Universities from time to time. The last one I should've given I had to pull out of because my son was in hospital. I might write about that another day.

Personally, I don't tend to frame The Suffering Question philosophically because I'm not sure that's the right way to approach it. I want to speak to those who suffer. I want to be compassionate more than clever. I want to win a person today and tomorrow and bring them to know Jesus.  The question comes:
I can't believe in God because I've suffered.. How can there be a God when he doesn't stop that from happening. 
There are philosophical answers to that kind of question and they're probably pretty secure and solid. However, they don't necessarily help. I could, on a good day, win the argument. But where does that get me? I'm reasonably sharp intellectually but delivering a few knock out lines just leaves someone on the floor.  It's even less great when you're talking about someone who is already on the floor.

I'd like you to come with me rather than to be defeated by me.

Suffering isn't a maths problem. (Though maths problems can be a form of suffering.)
Suffering is something we feel, its tangible, its physical, its emotional, its painful.
It needs tears and silence and company and space before it needs answers.
Taking it away would be good but that's rarely on the table.

I too face suffering in this world. I too know a little of the brokenness of life. More today than I did a month ago. We agree this world isn't as it should be. The stories behind our tired faces tell that story.

We feel it. We know it. We believe it.

We agree that we'd like the world to be different. Better different.

And nobody is delivering that today. Nobody.
Though they tell us we shouldn't suffer and that we can overcome it.
We'd like that. I'd like that.

I believe that one day the world will be put right, pain and tears finished. And I believe it on the basis of what has happened when God himself came and was bruised with us, and for us. My God bled. And I believe that he'll return to end the suffering forever. Death will die and I think I've got evidence for that.

In the mean time this isn't the worst of all worlds, because I'm persuaded that much evil is restrained. But we'll never know what - in something like the same way that we don't know when the CIA succeeds.

We yearn together for a better world. We weep together for it.

I don't have complete answers but I do have some answers.

Rejecting God can feel like a moment of satisfaction. Sometimes you feel like punching the wall. But such rejection of God still presumes he's there to be rejected. And ends up abandoning the prospect of justice and change, while still holding on to the bitterness of our suffering. Where does that get us?

We still live with our pain. It's chronic. It's exhausting. But there can be some hope.

Robert Jenson riffs on Martin Luther and observes that from our own reasoning we'd probably say that God is evil or just not there, but we don't work from our own reasonings. Rather, we cling to the cross and take that as our vantage point, and things look different through the eyes of the God who gets bruised, crushed, crucified for us and with us. I invite you to come and look with me, through bleary eyes.

See also, for much more helpful words than mine: 
God and Suffering - Our Story at Tanya Marlow's blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Religion for Atheists (Alain de Botton's TED Talk)

It's important to engage with the anti-theists of North Oxford, but Alain de Botton invites us to engage with another kind of atheism. The kind of atheism that forms the Sunday Assembly. The assumption of no god that wants to borrow the best bits of outward religion:

What would you say to Alain and his friends? You can get more from his book Religion for Atheists though the TED talk gives the core thought. What to make of the desire for ritual, for beauty, for relationship, for community, for significant moments... That inconsolable longing?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What should I do after University?

"Picture this: you're an up-and-coming manager with a FTSE company. In light of your stellar performance, your employer offers you a promotion. On the table sits more responsibility and a 25% raise. The catch? You have to move to another city 300 miles away."

Oliver Balch had a fascinating article in The Guardian on Monday on the importance of relationships to business and life. It begins with a senario. What would you do?

It's a real prospect for many students I work with, if you fast forward the clock a few years. The air breathed by today's student says go to London, follow the Money.

Balch draws on Michael Schluter's views in his article to suggest a different approach.
Relationships, Schluter argues, are what make humans tick. We feel better, work better, live better when our personal relationships are in sync.... For Schluter, the importance of relationships goes back to the Bible. The Christian notion of God, expressed through the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is an intrinsically relational concept.
Rings true for me. We're made for relationships. There's nothing wrong with moving location for work - I've done it twice in the last 12.5 years since I graduated, but each time it was hardest because of friendships it meant tearing apart - at work and church and beyond.  My advice to students is to invest in relationships so that it will hurt - otherwise in a highly mobile society we'll just pursue superficiality for the sake of self-protection...  but it might also mean we choose to bear the cost in different areas to protect those relationships.

What Schluter's observations might lead us to do is to at least ask the question - to think should I stay here for the people. If I'm a Christian student at Exeter University student should I stay and get a potentially less interesting and less financially rewarding "Devon job" and build my church rather than presuming that my future is either rent-free back with my parents or chasing a graduate job in London. The flipside of this is that there is a desperate need for Christians in business, media, academia etc. But the prevailing winds blow it that direction already...  I'm not prescribing a way, but asking some questions.

Either way a value system is shaping my decision, consciously or subconsciously... I'm valuing people, or money, or success, or something... The gods of our age aren't likely to tell us to prioritise our existing relationships - though we know deep down that those things matter hugely to us.

The Song of Songs is about Jesus...

I had the opportunity to preach at the Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union meeting last night. I love the opportunity to speak to a mission minded community, and especially as they've just concluded three weeks unpacking Glen Scrivener's 321 gospel.

Download MP3: I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine - Song 5:10-6:3. It's the brilliant news that Christianity isn't just a lifestyle choice or a system of beliefs, it's Jesus. You get Jesus!

The weekly CU meeting is a great opportunity to gather students together, to share stories from mission, to pray, to look to Christ again. It was great last night to hear Charlie's story, she'd become a Christian 12 months ago, through the witness of friends.

In my three years at University the 90 CU meetings I attended laid a great foundation for my life, a life-changing gospel education alongside my degree. It could be said that going to church does this - and being part of my local church is a non-negotiable joy and necessity, but Jesus is worth going deeper with. At its best, if students and  local churches buy into it the CU meeting gets to be a gospel academy for students, to prepare them for mission today and life beyond.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Take back your city with paint (Edi Rama)

Can you transform a city with paint? Edi Rama, former mayor of Tirana claims to have done just that:

Beauty changes us. Ultimately I think the paint peels, the colour fades and mess returns... but if beauty itself was marred for us, and took us down to death, and could cause us not just to be redecorated but reborn and made truly beautiful then that could last forever...

Monday, February 11, 2013

"The UCCF was born in prayer!"

Geraint Fielder, Lord of the years:

"Again Elijah prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops' (james 5:18).

'The [UCCF] was born in prayer' wrote Douglas Johnson in 1953, quoting this text in the report for the year. 

We echo and reinforce it thirty-five years on. 'Those undergraduates who met for prayer at Mrs C.T.Studd's house at the 1919 Keswick Convention prayed until two in the morning. They affirmed, 'We had never before known such assurance in prayer.' 

A few months later one of them was praying again in Trinity College, Cambridge when the vision came to him of the future UCCF. Norman Grabb wrote, 'I saw that not only must there be this witness in every university, but that God was going to do it...' 

'It is evident that God has answered these prayers. But we cannot be complacent. The need for the witness of the CUs is greater than ever. 

The problems we now face are more complex and the calls upon our resources more numerous. Now is the time for us all to remember Elijah's example and pray again.

'Pray for the students of today' (Keith Weston)

'How these young people love to pray' (William Still).

In this call to prayer to churches and prarents and in this praying concern of the student of today we see grounds to believe that, in the gracious hands of the Lord of the years, evangelical witness will continue to survive and revive in the education training-grounds of our land.

Yes in 1953. Yes in 1988. Yes in 2013.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Video: The Lost Thing

Shaun Tan's whimsical tale about The Lost Thing, narrated by Tim Minchin:

the lost thing from Vimeo.

Maria Popova comments: "an ageless treat of whimsy and quirk, telling the humorous story of boy who finds a bizarre creature at the beach and sets out to discover where it came from and who owns it, but is met with indifference by everyone he encounters. Magnificently illustrated and vibrantly poetic, the story is really about the search for belonging"

News from Leeds CU: Witnesses to the ends of the earth

In December 1924 a small group of students met together iwth the object of forming an evangelical section of the Leeds University Christian Union (affiliated to SCM). Meetings for Bible Study and Prayer were held each week at Woodhouse Lane Methodist Church for a time, but these activities ceased after the members mentioned above graduated.

Early in 1929 there was a growing conviction among various members of the University, including a few staff, that there was a need for a society or union of a definitely evangelical character. On June 20th a preliminary meeting was held to consider the desirability of forming a University Evangelical Union.

A constitution along the lines of the IVFEU (UCCF) was submitted and approved, and an Executive Committee was appointed to draw up a programme of activities. The next few meetings were largely in the nature of committee meetings, and were concerned chiefly with the discussion of the proposed constitution.

Through the kindness of the President of the University Union, one of the Union committee rooms was placed at the disposal of the Evangelical Union for holding weekly meetings.

A welcome feature of the first term of 1929-30 was the visit of Kenneth Hooker of Cambridge, who gave an interesting account of the ongoing work in other Universities. By the second term a full programme of speakers, with subjects for each meeting, had been arranged. These meetings, through the kindness of a member of staff, took place in comfortable and more convenient rooms, with the additional attraction of being preceded by tea.

Inspite of examinations and many other calls, there was an average weekly attendance of twelve. During this session we were affliated to the Inter Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions (now called, UCCF), and the University Senate granted the status of a permitted society.

In 1930-31 publicity was given to the Evangelical Union by the insertion of notices in The University Calender, Students' Handbook and Diary. Dr. Howard Guinness in February and March 1932, included Leeds in his tour of the Universities. His challenging addresses convinced the members of the need for real personal enthusiasm, if the Union were to make itself felt.

1932-33 was marked by larger attendances, and more importantly still by a deepened spiritual life and far greater keenness throughout the Union. Visits by Dr Howard Guinness and Mr. Donald Coggan helped members a good deal. After Easter, six members returned from the national conference at High Leigh with many suggestions for extending the work.

Following an all-day pre-term, the summer was characterised by a new spirit of fellowship. The choice of the words "and you shall be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth, Acts 1:8" as the Union's motto is an indication of the importance which members attach to personal witness and to leading others in the University to a knowledge of Christ as Saviour.

Report from J.L. Stoves, in Christ and the Colleges (Donald Coggan, 1934). In 1934 Dr. Ruth Hooton, of Leeds CU sailed for India to work with the C.E.Z. Missionary Society. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Power of Vulnerability (Brené Brown)

Something worth considering, from a storyteller.

Forget wearing a mask, faking confidence, playing at being strong.
Vulnerability is a good thing because lying isn't a good idea.
Vulnerability is a good thing because it hopes for safety.

News from Southampton CU: Students convinced of the need

The Southampton University College Evangelical Union was formed in October 1931 with six members at the suggestion of the president of the Students Union.

Its inception was an answer to the continued prayer of the two or three students who were convinced of the need of such a witness to Christ in the College.

Their mission continues today.

They met to pray and to discuss the formation of the constitution in various rooms (including labs) until they were recognised by the College Union, and allowed the daily use of a lecture room. Having decided that a president was not necessary they elected Mr K.A. Lewis as secretary.

About a fortnight after the foundation of the Union, Dr. Howard Guinness came down for an afternoon, to encourage and give them suggestions as to how to carry on.

They continued daily Prayer Meetings and started weekly Bible Readings, taking the Epistle to the Romans as their subject.

The first public effort was made in March, when Coffee Squashes were held in both men's and women's halls, with Dr. B.F.C. Atkinson and Miss J.B.Strain as the speakers. As a result, the Union was made more widely known, some were brought to Christ and membership increased.

The session, 1932-33, was begun with a Freshers's Squash, when Mr. T.B.L.Bryan addressed about a hundred freshers, who constituted two thirds of the incoming students. He presented the aims of the Union - to unite in a Fellowship those who already knew Christ and to witness to the College to the power of His gospel. He then gave the simple message of Christ and Him crucified, and throughout the meeting the presence of the Holy Spirit was greatly felt.

Miss A. Blakely took on the leadership for the year, and Prayer Meetings and Bible Readings were continued with an additional missionary study circle started by a fresher (Miss Donald). For some time the possibility of having a UCCF preacher at the College Sunday Service had been considered. At the suggestion of Miss Blakely, the Professor of Education who arranges the services invited Mr Kenneth Hooker to come down for a weekend in the Easter term.

Having preached a very helpful sermon in the morning, he addressed a men's meeting in one of the halls in the evening. The number of men in the Union up to this time was less than that of the women, and more witnesses in the men's halls were greatly needed.

During the Easter vacation three representatives were sent to the UCCF conference at High Leigh, whereas in the preceding year there was only one. Not only those who were present, but all the members found that High Leigh was a great help and strength to the Union.

At the beginning of the summer term, Mr Hooker again visited Southampton, this time with Miss Strain. Squashes were arranged for men and women, and a joint Lunch Hour Meeting, which was well attended. Although there was no increase in numbers as a result, yet it is certain that God will show the fruit of those meetings in His own good time.

A meeting particularly arranged for those graduating was the last special effort of the year, when the claims of Christ were brought once again before those leaving the College.

The guidance of this small Union during its short existence and its recent increase in numbers are reason for great thankfulness. The attendance at prayer meetings has grown from sometimes as few as two to fourteen.

A special branch of activities has been a missionary prayer meeting held in the Women's Hall on Sunday afternoons, when letters have been read from works in the field. These are sent from the headquarters of the Action Biblique in Geneva, by the suggestion of Mary Cutmore, one of the founders of the Union, who has since leaving College, attended a course at this Bible School in preparation for missionary work.

Secretaries: K. A. Lewis (1931-32), Miss A. Blakely (1932-33), Miss M.E. Donald (1933-34). From Christ and the Colleges, Donald Coggan (1934). Current Southampton CU Secretary Henry Pearson shares the original CU minutes pages from 1931, the source of Miss Donald's 1934 report no doubt.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The gospel roots of Jazz

Part of the Cambridge CU events week this week was an event with William Edgar on Jazz.
He's done it elsewhere here:
  mp3: Heaven in a night club - William Edgar

News from Durham CU: Then revival came

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 Durham section.

Its history begin in the early twenties and a somewhat shadowy institution known as the Durham University Bible Union. It did not last long. Durham is very religious. Its theological degree is widely known. In such an atmosphere the Bible Union seems to have died out. It has, however left relics of real keenness in a number of tracts and copies of Hymns of Consecration and Faith. We have evidence too, from the people in Framwellgate, a poor quarter of the town, that its members did a glorious work in connection with St. John's College Mission there. The Union seems to have been only in existence at St. Johns.

The next attempt was made in 1929. Two keen men had been in St. John's for a year together. They gathered others around them from their own college, and were joined by a Fresher from Bede, who was in touch with the [UCCF] through a God-guided meeting with Norman Grubb during the summer.

Weekly prayer meetings began, a Bible study circle was held each Sunday, and occasionally speakers came from the district for extra meetings. But the ardour of the Union began to fade in face of the atmosphere of merely formal religion, and it began to be regarded as a sub-section of the S.C.M. There was little witness to the saving power of Christ, and less to Bible truth.

At this point, March 1931, the former Bede Fresher wrote to the UCCF about a separate Union in his own college, where there were now some more keen men. The result was for him a visit to the national conferencce that year, and for Durham a new Union. Many were for remaining as a branch of the S.C.M. but there was no big storm, rather an agreement to differ. A few men banded themselves together for soul winning witness.

It was hard going for almost a year. Then revival came, and it was followed by renewed attacks of the adversary in trying to create division. Rather did his attacks prune out those who were not keen, and serve to create an especially fine branch in the women's colleges.

On one Saturday night in October 1932 we had the joy of seeing over twenty women trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The men's side at Durham needs special prayer. Men who came up keen and take theology, usually develop into merely nominal members, if they do not become avowed Modernists.

The great work of the Union outside the University has been a trek on the lines of the Missionary Training Colony and the Methodist Friars. The first trek was in 1932. It lasted for six weeks and covered five hundred miles of the Northern Counties. The trekkers did not count the number of those who decided - they always appealed for public decisions, and God gave them to them! - but there must have been almost two hundred.  They are still in correspondence with many of them, and it was their joy to see some of them this summer still on the Lord's side.

In 1933 an eigh weeks' trek was arranged with men from the E.U.'s at Durham, Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool. It may seem that this is not definite Varsity work. But it has been the means of many definite conversions in the Durham O.A.'s and of better personal evangelism in the colleges by those who have been on trek.

The latest event in the joining of the Unions at Durham and Newcastle. May it be used for the bringing down of the Holy Spirit's power on a Varsity which sorely needs it.

Presidents: J.H.Stringer (1931-32), W.F. Jenkins (1932-33) J.C. Willcox (1933-34). Report in Christ and the Colleges, Donald Coggan (1934)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sometimes you have to follow the facts

An Uncover promo from Durham CU:

News from Hull CU: A good tradition

When old College friends meet anything may happen, but when two old London E.U. men meet in a provincial University College the formation of a new E.U. is the only thing that can happen. When an experienced ex-Cambridge CU man - now a professor - throws his lot in with them it is certainly an auspicious beginning for that Union.

This is what happened at Hull. Since that first surprise meeting in the autumn of 1931, the Union has passed through infancy to early adolescence. Its short history has been quiet and entirely unspectacular, but growth there has been.

Numerically the Union is still small, but its members have been alive to their responsibility and are establishing a good tradition of personal evangelism. Throughout this period, the Union has enjoyed official College recognition.

Even at the risk of being commonplace, it is necessary to mention one activity which has loomed large in the Union's programmes - the Squash. These have been the occasions par excellence, when the "still small voice" of God has been heard and answered. There are at least two drawing-rooms in Hull holding hallowed memories for many members.

Rightly dominant in the College crest is the legend Lampada Ferens (Carrying the lamp of learning). What better reminder of our duty and privilege? May the H.U.C.E.U ever "bear witness of that Light" which alone can "lighten every man."

Presidents: W.H.Hodge (1931-32), E.Dobson (1932-33), A.L.Mayfield (1933-34), Miss Lois Brooks (1934-35). Report in Christ and the Colleges by Donald Coggan, 1934

Monday, February 04, 2013

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Why is Apple successful? Because 'We make computers?'...
Why did Martin Luther King lead the line? I have a plan, or I have a dream?
Why did the Wright brothers fly first? Why them and not Simon Pierpont Langley? (Who?)
It's one thing to lead with what we do... it's quite another to lead with why.

Simon Sinek's 18 minute TED talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action:

Provoking isn't it? Do I know why I do what I do? Or am I fuzzy about it? Am I trying to win people with what, and wondering why it feels like hitting my head against a brick wall?

Why is where the heart is. Why is the interesting question. Why gets to motivation and desire and aspiration and hope. I might not want someone else's why but I'll be drawn to them if they're clear on their why.

In my work with students we produce copies of gospels, we gather people to pray and read the Bible, we invite people to join with us. Not to build student societies. Not to get popular. Not to be a publisher. But because we think to know Jesus is better than anything else. To know Jesus is the why we're made and the what we're for.

Students take on leadership of CUs positively when they are able to see that vision caught. Programmes aren't goals, they're means to an end. Real change happens at the heart level. You can chase and harass a crowd but you can't stop people who catch a vision. The Christian why is Jesus. I'm not sure there is a greater why than that. But, I'll listen to your why.

More News from Bristol CU: Renewed Visibility

From Geraint Fielder's Lord of the Years:


Prayer and perseverance saw an extraordinary turn around. The picture in the CUs in the mid 1960s was one of unbounded opportunity, against a background of moral flux. 'It is doubtful if CUs have ever been in such real touch with non-Christians.' 

Bristol CU was a good example. Take this account which appeared in the student newspaper.
'A graduate student from another university was making his first visit to the Students Union, but soon after entering the building he was found recumbent on the slab in the union bar... staring fixedly into the middle distance and sipping a small lime juice.' Was he drunk? No, what then was the matter? He was suffering from 'severe shock'. Asking some humourist the way to the bar he had been misdirected to the hall next door to it, where the CU held its regular Saturday Night Bible Readings. Bursting in upon 250 people enthusiastically engaged in this activity had been too much for him. He is reported to have said that he had never seen so many Christians in one place in his whole life. 'Why' asks the journalist, 'is Bristol University so strongly Christian? ...Is it the climate, the geology of the area? The spirit of John Wesley?'
In early 1970s Glenys (Gig) Goulstone (later with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship) arrived to study medicine at Bristol as an unsuspecting, contented agnostic, with very little Christian background.
 'I did not know it then but the first five people I came across were all Christians. One of them, a Chinese fellow medic, because a good friend. Through her witness and the prayers of the hall group I became a Christian about four months later, at a CU houseparty entitled 'Dead or Alive?' It made the issue rather black and white. I experienced the touch of God in a very real way, and have not got over it yet, fourteen years on. I'm glad to say. Reading the New Testament for myself in the first vacation was an important factor. But the faithfulness, patience and love of my Christian friend was vital. Subsequently I led a prayer group, helped with international student events and ran a Christian folk group. These student days were absolutely crucial for me in my Christian growth - and birth.'  


While Phyllis Bennett was a student at Bristol University the CU was galvanised into life by Ken Bergin, a Cambridge student who changed to Bristol to complete his medical studies. It was a turning point for the CU at Bristol, for he brought with him something of the best of the Cambridge CU commitment to 'think big' for God. When Phyl Bennett came up the CU was a small affair of about twenty, rather timid, meeting in a small room undernearth a stage in the Victoria Rooms. In her third year, that changed through the sheer dynamic drive of Ken Bergin, son of Bristol pioneer Dr. Frank Bergin. Ken was destined for days of valour in war and service close to royalty. He was soon co-opted onto the CU committee. His reaction to its low visibility was swift.

'What are you doing hiding under the stage?' he exploded 'you have the greatest message in the world. You should be holding your meetings in the finest lounge of the Victoria Rooms, have the best speakers, the most attractive invitation cards. You should put on superlative meetings and expect up to 200 students at your open meetings.' He insisted we had a prayer meeting at 7am once a week, this being the only time the whole committee could meet. Phyl Bennett dodged. 'I'm not sure I can get there as I live in a suburb.' 'Yes you will' he countered, 'I'll fetch you in my car as I haven't to travel to get to the prayer meeting.' And he did. We then had breakfast with the Rendle Shorts.
Rendle Short (1880-1953, surgeon, Professor of Surgery and Bristol University) was a smallish man with the toughness of a first-class surgeon. A marvellous intellect, an ordered mind, a shining apologetic brilliance went hand in hand with a firm Biblical faith. His great sweep of knowledge stood out in a  period when there were hardly any evangelical professors. His capacity to answer questions off the cuff gained the ear of students, and many vividly recall their first encounter with him. His strong point was to bear witness to the truth of the Bible and he was highly gifted in marshalling evidence that confirmed its reliability. All this was combined with a concern for a person's relationship to God, not with intellectual questions in a vacuum. His Thursday evening Bible studies drew men from the St. Phillip's district of Bristol and many were converted... He was generous in finance and hospitality, and nationally and locally the student work benefited.
We prayed and planned. Howard Guinness came for a mission which was held in the main lounge of the Victoria. We had been deputed by Ken to get 200 spoons. Not all were used but well over 100 came - for us an excellent meeting.

I was the president of the Netball Club and I had persuaded a member to come with me. When Howard Guinness finished he invited people who wanted to hear more to go to Frank Bergin's home nearby. I turned to my friend, Betty Price, and asked, 'would you like to come?' 'Yes'. I was too shy to speak to Betty on the way home, but some time later she was converted and we did Bible studies together. Betty subsequently became President of the CU and eventually principal of a teacher's training college. The CU didn't look back...

Phyl Bennett went on to serve CUs during the war as part of the [UCCF] Staff team.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Saints of old still line the way: reflections on the early Christian Unions

I've posted news from the beginnings of the CUs at Bristol and Reading, Exeter, Newcastle and Sheffield Universities in the 1930s.  More stories to come next week.

In each CU we catch the story of a grassroots movement, students finding one another by the providence of God, and banding together for mission. Stories of people like Arts students, 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. Similar stories are heard elsewhere. The story is the same today - there's a legacy to inherit, but the Christian Unions are built on Christian freshers turning up in halls and standing together. We stand on the foundation of home churches and youth work, we stand on the work of God in people.

Seems to me we catch these values in action:

Newcastle reflected: "The Union is deeply indebted to Christian business men of the city, through whose kindness such large numbers have been reached." I'm struck by this opportunity that I'm not sure we're taking much today.... to use academics and business people who are Christians to speak with authority to students. The Universities doesn't stand apart from its city, nor the CU from the churches. We saw an example with a former high ranking Hong Kong government official speaking at Bath recently.  Reading: "we received really valuable assistance from several people outside the University." It's hard for any of us to ask for help, but we need it. And much is on offer. Manchester reflect the same: "It is noticeable that men famous in their own subject do attract a crowd. The problem is the personal work afterwards."  A helpful caution of the need for follow-up, that was a challenge then as much as today!

Manchester reflected: "Most important of all was the personal work." By which they mean personal evangelism. This is and has always been the key, living with people, listening to them, opening the Scriptures with them. Events are good, proclamation is good, but we stand on a foundation of personal work.

Students reflect on hearing returning missionaries speak, of building relationship with mission partners and Coggan lists CU members sailing for the mission field. Its not that this is forgotten today but there is a deep world mission commitment in the DNA of the CUs.

Exeter: "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." The family of students on mission is bigger than ever, but there remains a need to see the bigger picture. No empire building, just a big family. Today resourced by established charities who can fund workers, but no less an organic movement for mission. Unity issues in the early CUs were more the encouragement of others on mission than disputes over the ministry of men and women and other issues. They gathered round the campfire of the gospel as they went together for Christ.

Men and women at Universities took their stand for Christ together and won many. They received help from the best that the church had, evangelists like Bryan Green and Howard Guinness seem had a particularly strong impact. There were disputes, such as the 1919 divide with the S.C.M over the centrality of the cross (a hill worth dying on) - as there will always be. We speak of seeking New Testament Christianity but that means trouble as much as it means fruitfulness. There were spectacular moments and apparent lack of growth, there were advances followed by many students graduating and stripping the CU of its experienced leaders. People move on, but the gospel stands.

The life-blood of the movement, then as today, was personal witness, Bible study together, and prayer. Bristol reflected: "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." The gracious work of the Holy Spirit and an acute awareness of his grace runs through the stories of the Christian Unions.

Now it is for today's generation to carry God's call forward.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Bill Hybels: Courageous Leadership is Generous

I posted this 18 months ago, but it bears watching again. The video shows Bill Hybels responding to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultze withdrawing from speaking at a leaders conference. Schultze denied himself the opportunity to invest in leaders out of fear and pressure from others, and Hybels responds with grace, modelling the ways we can out do people with our generosity and love:

News from Sheffield CU: God's quiet work

The origins of Sheffield University Evangelical Union provide yet another illustration of the marvellous workings of our God.

His instruments for the founding of the E.U. were remarkably brought together in such a quiet, unostentatious way that the Union, as it were, just happened, and yet there was not the least doubt in anyone's mind that the power of God was behind it.

A Methodist minister who was taking a degree course at the University, a Church of England vicar of the city, a University lecturer, a doctor of medicine, and two students, one at the end of his third year and the other at the end of his first, united in this venture.

Neither of the students knew each other before June, 1932, but God had been working beforehand and the way was prepared. Both had been led to pray for an E.U. in Sheffield some time before. Then at the beginning of 1932, the third year student met the Rev J.I. Brice of Cliff College, Calver, in the Varsity, and spoke to him about the possibility of an E.U. As both were very busy working for exams, it was arranged that, if another should be brought into touch with them who was also eager for an E.U. it should be taken as a sign that something definite must be done.

Two terms passed, exams came and went, and then the two students were introduced at a Bible Class in the city. Incidentally, it was not by any means a regular occurrence for either to attend the Bible Class. Again, some time elapsed and the second of the two students met a Christian doctor and a lecturer from the University in Fulwood vicarage. They were both found to be eager to see the formulation of an E.U.

It was learned that Dr. Howard Guinness proposed to visit Sheffield to investigate what could be done for Christ in the University. Subsequently events moved quickly. The two students met frequently for prayer. They opened communication with one keen lecturer whom they knew. They met several times in her house,  where Mr Brice joined them, and there all the plans were made, in conjunction with their Unseen Leader, to arrange a meeting for Dr. Guinness.

Eventually in November, Dr. Guinness arrived, and held a small squash in the Men's Club and a larger open meeting in the Varsity. He did not stay in the city two full days but left behind him an E.U. ten strong.

From then onwards, the S.U.E.U. experimented. The first year was spent almost entirely in consolidation. There were still ten members at the end of the year, June 1933, and the Union had been officially recognised and had been promised a room exclusively for the E.U. on the Varsity premises.

The first birthday, November 10th, marked a great decision. Hitherto little had been done with regard to corporate witness, and it was then decided that this must be rectified. The first men's squash was held on November 24th. Although the number of outsiders present was small there is reason to believe that a beginning was made which will issue in great things being done for God.

Report from CU President, J.S. Turner (1933-34) in Christ and the Colleges (Donald Coggan, 1934)