Tuesday, 30 December 2008

MRTU: Season's Greetings?

What is the appopriate seasonal greeting from 26th to 31st December?

This may sound pedantic, but I'm one of those people who looks at his watch before he says good morning, to make sure I don't accidentally say it in the afternoon...

The way I see it, you can wish someone a "Happy Christmas" from around 7th December, although ideally on your last meeting with the person before Christmas day. And when you do, it means, "I hope you have a happy Christmas."

You can also say Happy Christmas on Christmas Day itself, which means something like, "Christmas is Happy, and I hope you agree."

But on Boxing Day? My relatives said it to me on Boxing Day, and it sounded weird. My brother's housemate said it the day after, and it was just wrong.

As far as I'm concerned, ""Happy New Year" doesn't come into play until it is actually New Year's Day, and you can say it for as long as you like, depending how you define 'New.'

So what do you say in the meantime? Is there an appropriate greeting, or should it just be "did you have a good Christmas" (which usually means listening to their reply).

Or maybe "hello"?

Monday, 29 December 2008

End of Year Preview

As the end of 2008 draws nearer, bloggers galore are offering their reviews of 2008. Bish reviews his blogging year, and also tells us his top Christian books, his top fiction books and his top films of 2008. Tom, Peter and Dave have also offered their top films of 2008, and the chaps at proGnosis have had a look back at their blogging year. I thought I ought to keep up, but I haven't exactly been the most diligent of bloggers. So I decided I'd do something a bit different...

The past year has been a bit mind-boggling. Loads has happened, and I've got a lot to be very thankful to God for. In fact, I'm not sure where I'd start (although probably here, here, here, here or here...). So, instead of a REview of 2008, I give you a PREview of 2009. Here are a few things I'm looking forward to in the coming year, God willing:

  • New Year in Southend - I'm going to be seeing the back of 2008 in Southend-on-Sea... seems sort of fitting really.
  • Staff Conference - a week with my quality colleagues, with some special guests. Apparently I'm signed up for something called 'Blitz', but I can't let my boss think I'm a wuss...
  • FREE Weeks - giving out hundreds of copies of Mark's gospel to students, then explaining what it means. Awesome.
  • New Leaders Training - Basically, getting together student leaders from all over the South East. This year Michael Green (Legend) will be joining us. I still can't quite believe I get paid to go to stuff like this.
  • Anna's 21st Birthday - she'd be grumpy if I didn't mention it...
  • New Word Alive 2009 - promises to be an exciting Bible-centred week of Jesus-related fun (although it's in North Wales, and I almost got hypothermia last year).
  • Summer Mission - more details about this soon, but it's going to be good.
  • Forum 2009 - basically, there is absolutely no way the weather could be as bad as last year, so things can only get better. Good job too - I've already volunteered to camp... But the weather is a minor detail. Forum is always a highlight, and this year I might actually have a clue what's going on!

And these are just some of the things I know about - I've already figured out that it will probably be a slightly unpredictable year. But I'm pretty excited. Bring on 2009!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 24th December

"But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
- Luke 2v10-11


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 23rd December

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
- Luke 2 v 4-7

Monday, 22 December 2008

Holiday Fun...

After a long time of it being rubbish, I finally fiddled around with my website yesterday and made it a bit more decent. I think it looks a bit cooler now (the seaside theme didn't really work now I live in the 'Ding), and it's a lot simpler.

In celebration of the update, I've added a couple of new items. They've appeared on this blog before, but I've added them to the website as pdfs. You can get them here:
Romans 4 - the infamous talk I gave at RUCU last month.
Colossians 4v2-6 - another talk from RUCU, this time from their houseparty. This one was made slightly more interesting by the excruciating pain in my chest after a nasty bundling incident...

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 22nd December

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
- Isaiah 9v2

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 21st December

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh."
- Matthew 2v11

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Surrey vs Reading: Round 1!

The CUs I work with are a talented bunch. A few weeks ago I posted RUCU's FREE week promo video. Now Surrey have followed suit, and have produced their own. In a characteristically diplomatic manner, I think both are great.

So first, hot off the press, here's Surrey's sterling effort...

And here's Reading's...

In the interests of healthy competition I thought I'd make things interesting - there's a poll on the right-hand side of my blog >>>. Watch both, and see which is your favourite! (You can vote for more than one, which I obviously have because I think they are different but equally good in different ways).

[Update: I felt a bit mean having the poll, so I removed it. I think I have a lot more FaceBook friends from Reading than Surrey, so it wasn't exactly fair. Let's call it a draw...]

Seriously though, if praying is your thing, then pray for both CUs. The FREE project is going to be a massive opportunity for people to find out for themselves who Jesus is. As the videos explain, we're going to be giving away copied of Mark's gospel, and giving people the chance to explore what it has to say. So please do be praying for us if you can.

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 20th December

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh."
- Matthew 2v11

Friday, 19 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 19th December

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh."
- Matthew 2v11

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 18th December

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'"
- Matthew 2v1-2

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 17th December

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
- John 1v1-5

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 16th December

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
- John 3v16

Monday, 15 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 15th December

"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! "
- John 1v29

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 14th December

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
- Luke 2v8-20

Saturday, 13 December 2008

More (possibly slightly too much) on Santa...

OK, maybe I've been thinking a bit too much about Santa today. I'm refraining from giving my own views on the (fictional) chap, but I saw this from Richard Perkins today and loved it:

Got a question today from one of the staff, "can you just remind me your views on Father Christmas...?"

Fair question. Don’t think she was expecting this: "Get rid of the fat man in the red suit - this is Jesus’ day, so he can butt out!"

Love it. And then I followed Richard's link to Abraham Piper's thoughts on the same subject, summed up in his usual 22 words. For any parents reading this (particularly parents of children I'm likely to meet in the next 12 days):

I worry what to teach my kids about Santa like I worry what to teach them about Rumpelstiltskin.

That is, I don’t.

Happy Christmas Charles!

OK, this isn't very original as a blog post (you can read it on about a million other blogs), but I thought I'd post it anyway. I was having a look at what Spurgeon thought about Christmas. Turns out he said this:
We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First because we do not believe in any mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be sung in Latin or in English: Secondly, because we find no scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior's birth, although there in no possibility of discovering when it occurred. It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the Church celebrated the birth of our Lord; and it was not till long after the western Church had set the example, that the eastern adopted it. Because the day in not known. Probably the fact is that the "holy" days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert that if there be any day in the year of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which our Savior was born it is the 25th of December. Regarding not the day, let us give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son. - 24/Dec/1871

It also turns out he wasn't a big fan of Father Christmas either (he used the phrase, "deceptive, worldly Santa Claus"! But I'm not going to risk blogging too much about my feelings on that one...

As I often say to my students, who I'm trying to turn into Spurgeon fans, I like to think that if he was still around today, we'd have got on.

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 13th December

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you. Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
- Luke 1v26-31

Friday, 12 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 12th December

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."
- Ephesians 2v4-5

Thursday, 11 December 2008

O Holy Night?

This used to be one of my favourite Christmas songs (mainly from the version featured in Home Alone). But now I'm not so sure...

My 'favourite' part is around the 3 minute mark...

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 11th December

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
- Micah 5v2

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 10th December

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- Romans 6v23

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 9th December

When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
- Luke 3v21-22

Monday, 8 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 8th December

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9v6

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 7th December

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9v6

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 6th December

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9v6

Friday, 5 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 5th December

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
- Isaiah 9v6

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 4th December

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
- Isaiah 7v14

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - 3rd December

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
- Matthew 1v18-25

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Waiting for the Coming of the King - Starts Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is 1st December, which means Christmas is only 25 days away! Here on the blog I'll be counting the days with a video advent calendar (which is a slightly jazzed-up version of my audio advent calendar from last year). Each day there will be a short (about 1min) clip based around a phrase of picture connected with Christmas. Some are the usual things you'd find in any advent calendar, others are a bit more unusual.

Join me over the next 24 days as we wait for the coming of King Jesus!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Grace is the Word!

Over the past few months, I've found myself talking about grace a lot. I think some of my students think I'm a bit like a broken record, saying the same thing over and over again. But I've told them I'm fine with that. In fact, I'd be quite happy to have it written on my gravestone one day! In my first few months working for UCCF, it's been made obvious to me again that the gospel of grace is the answer to whatever issue or question I happen to be taling about. And I'm excited about the effects grace is having and will have in the lives of people I spend time with.

Partly because of all this talk about grace, and partly because I spotted it on my bookshelf, I'm reading a great little book by D.L. Moody called "Sovereign Grace." It was published in 1891 (I don't think my copy is that old, but it does have a dedication written in it dated 1933). I've read a few chapters, and I love it. With no time-wasting and no apology, Moody gets straight into the life-transforming subject of grace, and passionately calls the reader to stop trying to earn God's forgiveness and accept it as a free gift. It's brilliant, heart-warming stuff.

I'd love to quote loads of it - it's a very quotable book. And I'm sure in future posts there will be more. But I loved this bit from chapter one. Moody quotes a letter sent to him by a friend (who sadly remains anonymous), and it got me really excited. It's a longish passage, but worth it I think...

"'By the grace of God, I am what I am!' This is the believer's eternal confession. Grace found him a rebel - it leaves him a son. Grace found him wandering at the gates of hell - it leads him through the gates of heaven. Grace devised the scheme of Redemption: Justice never would; Reason never could. And it is grace which carries out that scheme. No sinner ever sought his God but 'by grace.' The thickets of Eden would have proved Adam's grave, had not grace called him out. Saul would have lived and died the haughty self-righteous persecutor, had not grace laid him low. The thief would have continued breathing out his blasphemies, had not grace arrested his tongue and tuned it for glory."

Friday, 28 November 2008

Christmas comes to the South East

Since I made this, I've watched it about 30 times. And it still makes me giggle. Here are my colleagues (Nay, Dave, Lisa and Ben) and I getting our Christmas groove on...

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

And I didn't want the Relays to feel left out...

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

26 Days to go!!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Live for Jesus, Speak for Jesus... and Pray Lots!

Here's the text of a talk I gave at Reading University CU's houseparty last week. It's based on Colossians 4v2-6, with a brief look at some other bits of Colossians too. I gave it on Sunday morning, from a jumble of scribbley notes and crossings-out. It ended up rather long, but here's roughly what I said...

Well, it’s been a busy weekend, hasn’t it? We’ve heard some great stuff from Acts, haven’t we? We’ve heard about huge opportunities for the gospel, but also about the inevitability of persecution. And we’ve been challenged to think about how we engage with our friends and our world for Jesus.

So I wonder how you’re feeling, now it’s Sunday morning. Have you been challenged by what you’ve heard? Have you been inspired? Have you been encouraged or rebuked? As we think about going back to Reading later, are you excited and raring to go?

The truth is, it would be really easy to go away from here and leave it all behind. It all sounds great while we’re out here in the countryside, surrounded by Christians, maybe with a slightly rosy view of university. But it’s not much use unless we take it back with us. What we need is a take home message. Like the piece of birthday cake in a partybag, we need to wrap up what we’ve learned so we can take it home with us.

We’re going to do it by looking at Paul’s closing remarks in his letter to the Colossians. As you can see, this passage comes at the end of Paul’s letter. The way my Bible sets it out, this looks like a few random thoughts at the end before he exchanges a few hellos and signs off. I actually think it’s the end of the beginning, rather the beginning of the end.

Paul is writing to a church he’s never actually met – his friend Epaphras set it up. But he still prays for them constantly. And his main concern is that they’d understand what it means to live with Jesus as their Lord. Which is why he reminds them of the good news about Jesus which they’d heard and accepted. (We saw that yesterday in Colossians chapter 1).

He reminds them that Jesus is God himself, who made everything and keeps everything going. Every millimetre of creation, whether we see it or not, belongs to him. Including us. Jesus is superior to everything – and yet he died for our sake. He died so that people like us, people who hate God, could be reconciled to God (1v20, 22).

Reconciled is one of my favourite ways to talk about the gospel. When we talk about being reconciled, we mean a relationship has been restored. So it explains in a word what the gospel is all about. First, if reconciliation is needed, then a relationship has been broken. Our relationship with God is broken – we’ve rejected him, we’ve turned away to worship other things. But it also tells us what Jesus achieved in dying for us, because we can be reconciled – the relationship we destroyed can be put back together. We did nothing. God himself did everything to repair our relationship with him. Through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Colossians were reconciled to God, and so can anyone who trusts him.

This is foundational to what Paul says in the rest of the letter (and it’s foundational to the rest of what I’m going to say. So I think it’s appropriate to say that I don’t know most of you. It’s possible that some of you aren’t Christians. If that’s you, then let me say it’s great to have you here, and you’re really welcome. But I guess the houseparty has probably been a bit weird. We’ve been talking and singing about sharing this message, but you might be wondering, “why?”

The good news of Jesus is foundational to everything the CU does. It’s what we live by, and it’s what we desperately want everyone else on campus to know.

If you’re here and not a Christian, everything else I say this morning is basically irrelevant to you, because it will just be moralising and doing nice stuff. But it won’t do you any good at all. You need Jesus as your crucified Lord. Can I plead with you to think about where you stand with Jesus. And maybe the challenge from this weekend for you is whether you’re going to keep being Lord of your own life, or if you’re going to hand it back to him?

I’ve said already, the Lordship of Jesus is foundational to everything else Paul has to say. He urges them not to get talked into following religious fads or human rules. Instead, they need to know Jesus better. He tells them it’s as if their old self died when Jesus did – so now they should focus on the right things, and live under the Lordship of Christ. Just before the bit we read, he gives them some practical examples of what that looks like, when he talks about husbands and wives, parents and children, and slaves and masters.

And so we get to this section. But I don’t think it’s a random addition – Paul is carrying on. This is more of what it means to live a life worthy of Christ. And in particular, this little chunk encourages the Colossians to be outward looking – it’s all about people hearing the gospel, whether from Paul or from the Colossians.

So we’re going to look at 3 things he tells the Colossians to do. Actually, we’re going to look at three things he tells them to BE. And as we reflect on the weekend we’ve had, as we think about going back, and particularly as we look towards the FREE project, these things apply to us too. These are three things we can take away with us as we think about reaching our mates with the great news about Jesus. The 3 things are:
  • Be Prayerful
  • Be Wise
  • Be Ready

Be Prayerful (2-4)
Paul tells the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer” or “devote” themselves to prayer (v2). And you don’t have to read much of Paul to see that he modelled this himself. He prayed for the Colossians constantly. But what does it look like? Does it mean that if we ever stop praying, then we aren’t devoted to prayer? Well no, it doesn’t mean that, otherwise how would Paul have found time to write a letter? What it means is giving prayer the right priority. This isn’t so much about the quality of our prayers, but more about the quality of our lives. He isn’t saying that prayers will only work if you arrange it so someone is praying 24-7. This isn’t about the quality of our prayers, it’s about the quality of our lives, which should be marked by prayer.

Paul knows prayer is wildly important because he knows who God is. He knows God’s part in reaching people with the gospel, and he knows Paul’s part in preaching the gospel. And he knows that Paul’s part is useless if God doesn’t do his part. It’s God who opens blind eyes and shines light into people’s hearts. It’s God who stirs people up and brings the dead back to life. Without God, everything Paul does would be fruitless. So prayer is the foundation of everything he does, and the same goes for all of us too. That’s why he prays steadfastly for other people, and why he tells the Colossians to pray.

He fleshes out more of what he means with the words “watchful” and “thanksgiving.” Which sounds straightforward, but you’d be surprised. “Watchful” for what? Giving thanks for what? People have lots of different suggestions as to what Paul means. But I’ll tell you what I think he’s getting at here. Basically, be alert when you pray. It’s possible to pray and not be alert. Your heart isn’t really engaged, you aren’t really very interested in what you’re praying about. But don’t be like that, Paul says, be alert.

We need to be engaged in prayer, not asleep on the job. Prayer is a serious business, and we need to be alert. Be alert to the needs around you, to the things you have to pray for. Be alert! We need to pray in a way which is connected to the world we live in, to our campus, and to the lives of our mates.

And we need to be thankful. Being thankful is connected to being watchful, in that we have to be on the lookout for God answering prayer, and be thankful. But I think it’s more than that. It needs to be rooted in grace. When we realise that we’re sinners who have been saved by grace, it will grow a grateful heart in us, and that will change the quality of our prayer.

A grateful heart realises that everything we’ve got come from God. A grateful heart knows that without him, we’d be alienated from him. And a grateful heart won’t stride arrogantly up to God with a shopping list of demands. A grateful heart will humbly ask God, out of the riches of his grace and mercy, to give us more of what we could never deserve. Do you see how that will change things?

Now I feel hypocritical even as I say this stuff, because I don’t think I could describe my life like that. And I guess a lot of you feel the same. But what we shouldn’t do is look at Paul and feel discouraged. We should look at him and realise what a difference really being prayerful will make.

There are loads of practical steps we can take. Praying with other people is a great thing to do as we try to be like this together. Whether that’s prayer breakfast, or just getting together with a couple of friends to pray for your non-Christian friends, praying with others is a massive encouragement and stimulus to pray steadfastly. But this is about our lives, not just about being in public. What can you do to help yourself pray steadfastly? Don’t think, “I’m going to pray for 3 hours every day” if you aren’t praying for 3 minutes! Be realistic. But here are two key things:
Be inspired by Bible prayers: Look at the prayers or Jesus, or Paul, or David, or whoever. Soak up Bible prayers, and it will help you to pray.
Pray God will help you to pray: It sounds silly at first (like a solar-powered torch), but it’s not. It’s a heart thing. Ask God to change your heart so you can pray the way you should.

So that’s how Paul tells the Colossians to pray. But he asks them to pray for him (and Timothy), and specifically for two things. Both of them are about reaching people with the gospel:
“that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ,” (v3)
“that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (v4)

Again, this is God’s part and Paul’s part in proclaiming the gospel. He asks them to pray for what’s going on out there (that a door would open for the message), and also for what’s going on in here (that Paul would proclaim the message properly). The two things have to go together. Paul’s attitude is irrelevant if there’s no chance to speak. And he could have all the opportunities in the world, but they’re useless if he talks nonsense. They’re different, but they go together. And they both need God to work, either in the hearers or in the speaker. So Paul asks the Colossians to bring both before God.

As we look forward to the FREE project, surely we need to follow Paul’s example and be lifting both of these to God too. We need to pray for doors to open – pray for your mates, for the people on your course, that there would be chances to tell them the truth about Jesus. And pray for Michael Ots, that when he comes to speak, he’s speak clearly, and explain the gospel well. But pray for yourselves too, that you’d be able to do the same.

So, be prayerful. Be steadfast in prayer. Be watchful and thankful. And pray there’d be opportunities to share the gospel, and that we’d take them and use them well.

I’ve spent ages on prayer, because I think it’s crucial. And please don’t think we’re leaving it behind as we move on. Paul turns his attention specifically to their evangelism, but he still wants them to be prayerful. Don’t think of these things as separate!

Be Wise (v5)
He tells them to conduct themselves wisely towards outsiders, making the best use of the time (v5, you might have “every opportunity” or something similar). An outsider is someone who is outside God’s people – it’s someone who isn’t a Christian. So this is about Christians relating to non-Christians. But what does he mean by “wise”? Does he mean be clever? Or be really good at apologetics? Or plan really carefully when you’re going to speak so that you get your friends in exactly the right mood?

I don’t think so. This is about living wisely as you relate to people who aren’t Christians. Paul opened the letter with a prayer that God would fill the Colossians with “the knowledge of God’s will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…,” with the aim that they would live lives worthy of Christ. Paul’s already explained that, through Jesus, the quality of our lives will be different. And he’s applied it throughout the letter – the way their new life in Christ will affect how they live. Now in chapter 4 verse 5, he’s taking all of that and applying it to people on the outside. As people look in, they’ll see the results of the gospel in the wise choices you make.

I guess this prompts the question, “are you being wise in the way you act towards outsiders?” Are you making wise choices which allow people to see the gospel at work in you? Or does it make no difference to you. Would your friend look at you and see no difference between them and you? Sometimes as Christians we make a lot of effort to fit in with our friends (and to an extent that’s good). But if we get to a point where there’s no difference between us, then we’ve pushed it too far. What will your friend think of Jesus if you get hammered at the weekend just like they do? What will your friend think of the gospel if you sleep around just like everyone else? What will your friend think if you lie or cheat? Be wise.

It sounds like Paul has one eye on the future here. “Make the best use of the time.” There’s a sense of urgency in the words Paul uses. When time is limited, it becomes important that we use it wisely. We need to use the time we have to tell people about Jesus.

Are you making “the best use of the time”? Are you using it wisely? That will mean looking for opportunities – the open doors we’ve already heard about. Are you on the lookout for chances to tell people about Jesus. Hey, wait, here’s one [at which point I produce a FREE gospel]!
Or it will mean making opportunities. Like, for instance, getting an allotment so you can get to know the other people who have allotments. (Which is what I’m in the process of doing). OK, that’s probably not practical for you lot – I just wanted to mention my allotment. But what opportunities are there? Do you ever invite people round for dinner? Are you too busy to go to the pub with people from your course? Make the best use of the time.
And, of course, all of this depends rather heavily on actually having contact with outsiders. Being wise is irrelevant if your only ever wise hiding in your bedroom or at a CU meeting! Be wise.

This is all linked to the final verse, verse 6. Paul has told the Colossians to be prayerful, and he’s specifically asked for prayer for his evangelism. Then he’s told them to be wise, to live out the gospel for outsiders to see, and making best use of the time that remains until Jesus comes back. But once they’re doing that, Paul says, they need to be ready.

Be Ready (v6)
Again, we can ask “How?” Do I need a PhD? Do I need to read all the books on the bookstall? Do I need to become a Relay worker?

They’re all good ways to be prepared to talk to people about Jesus (particularly the last one), but knowledge and training aren’t Paul’s priority here. He’s more concerned about attitude.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (v6). Your version might say “full of grace,” but I think this gets the sense about right. He’s still talking about being wise towards outsiders. Part of that is about making the best use of the time. But another crucial element is speaking to them properly when you have chance. Basically, you need to be gracious in the way you speak to outsiders.

I think this can only properly flow from experiencing grace ourselves. When we realise that God should have hated us for what we did, but instead he loves us enough to die for us, that has to transform us. And in turn it has to transform the way we treat people especially outsiders.

That’s what Paul is getting at when he talks about salt. If you look at the other ways salt is used to refer to Christians, it’s used as an illustration of the difference between Christians and the rest of the world. Our conversation should be seasoned with salt – it should be tasty. There should be something different about the way we speak which makes it attractive to outsiders. And that difference comes from being transformed by the gospel, and showing it in the way we live and the way we speak.

So what will it look like?
  • Speech which is gracious isn’t aimed at winning an argument, but about helping people to see the hope you have in the gospel.
  • Speech which is gracious isn’t about showing how much you know, but about showing people the Saviour you know.
  • Speech which is gracious sometimes means being silent and listening, rather than trying to shout someone down.
  • Speech which is gracious and seasoned with salt cares more about the person you’re talking to than your reputation.

The fundamental point is that with this attitude, you put the person you’re talking to before yourself. That’s the principle Paul’s been trying to get the Colossians to see in the family situations he mentioned, and it’s the same here. It’s the heart of what grace is all about. The Lord Jesus put our welfare above his own and died for us. That’s what will make our conversation gracious. That’s what will make out conversation tasty.

And this isn’t something we just wheel out when we spot a non-Christian in the room. “Let your speech ALWAYS be gracious…” This should be our default setting. So no matter who we’re talking to, whenever the opportunity arises, we’ll be ready to respond in the right way.

Is this what your speech is like? Do you need to pray that you’d be more gracious in your speech? Do you need to pray you’d appreciate grace more so that it would overflow in your speech? I’ll leave that for you to think about…

We’ve seen a lot in this passage, haven’t we. Be prayerful, Paul says. Be wise in the way you act. And be ready by being gracious in the way you speak. Have you noticed what I noticed? (And I didn’t do it on purpose). If you want a summary of this passage, it’s basically “Live for Jesus, speak for Jesus. And pray lots.”

That was Paul’s take home message for the Colossians. That was the cake in their party bag, and I think it can be ours too. Live for Jesus… Speak for Jesus… And pray lots.

Friday, 21 November 2008

UCCF Bloggers

Another clever idea from Bish:

UCCF Bloggers

By virtue of my job (and not the quality or frequency of my blogging), I qualify. Plus there are plenty of other cool people on the list. Get in there.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Introducing... FREE @ Reading

I am very excited about this! These guys possibly have too much time on their hands, but you have to admit they make a classy video!

Bring it on!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Plot Thickens...

I've been meaning to blog about a very exciting development in my new life in Reading...

That's right - I've got an allotment! It's 125 square metres, and I'm very excited about it. But why on earth would I want an allotment?

Working for UCCF, I say "Live for Jesus, Speak for Jesus" a lot. (I think some of my students think there's some kind of prize or commission for saying it). But I don't just say it because it's my job. It's how I want to be living my life.

So in a roundabout way, that's why I decided to get an allotment...

The fact I even have it is a bit of a miracle in itself - there should have been an 18 month waiting list, but for various reasons I got one in just over 2! And the cost is ridiculous. The rent works out at about 20p per square metre per year. Quality.

But what does it have to do with living and speaking for Jesus? I'm hoping and praying the allotment will be a way for me to share my life with people. Hopefully I'll be able to rope Christians in to help me and share my life with them. But more importantly I want to be sharing my life with the other people who have allotments. Plus, I don't really know how to grow vegetables, so I'll need all the help from my neighbours I can get... And as I get to know my fellow allotment holders, I'm praying I'll have an opportunity to tell them about Jesus.

To be honest, there's not much to do for a while. The council are going to rotivate it (whatever that means), and then I'll need to keep the weeds off until I can plant things (although apparently I can plant Rhubarb in December. I'm planning to mainly grow potatoes this year, because apparently they're good for the soil. But after that, who knows. In the meantime, I was delighted to find there's a compost heap in my back yard. So I spent some time on Sunday afternoon filling it with leaves.

If praying is your thing, I'd appreciate your prayers for the allotment as I get stuck in, both with the gardening and with the people at Scours Lane.

The next job is applying for permission to build a shed...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Aren't you glad it's about faith, not works?!

Wow, I've managed to miss an entire month. Oops. Well, here's a super-post to make up for it. This is a talk on Romans 4 I gave at RUCU last night. I don't normally post entire talks on here, but it's easier than putting it on my website...

If you went out and asked people around campus, “what is Christianity all about?” what do you think they’d say? If you asked people, “What is the heart of the Christian message?” what kind of answers would you get? How would you answer that questions?

I suppose you’d get all kinds of answers. But you’d probably get a lot of people saying it’s about being a good person, doing good things, so you can get to heaven. You probably know people who think that. You may even think that yourself…

Well, if you’ve been here in previous weeks, you’ll have seen already that we have a serious problem, and something has to be done about it. You’ll know that Romans is a letter, written by a guy called Paul to a group of Christians in Rome (hence the name). And as you read it, this letter gets really uncomfortable really quickly. In the first couple of chapters Paul explains how we’ve rejected God, how we’ve turned away from him to worship other things instead, and how we face the just punishment for it. And he explains that we’re all as bad as each other. Moral people or religious people are no better – we’re all in the same boat. It’s pretty grim reading to begin with.

But then, in chapter 3, Paul explains that we can be made right with God, we can be justified, through Jesus.
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

(Romans 3v22-24)

It’s like a light going on against the background of the first couple of chapters. Jesus died in our place, so that our sin could be paid for. And now instead of seeing us as sinners, God considers anyone who trusts in Jesus to be righteous, and we can be reconciled to the God who made us. It’s what the Bible calls GRACE – it’s God’s undeserved goodness to us.

That’s incredible news, isn’t it?! That although we’ve turned our backs on God and we deserve to be cut off from him, he’s made it possible for us to be made right with him, through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

But the message Paul presents would probably have provoked some questions. Paul said it applies to everyone equally – all have fallen short no matter who they are, everyone needs this rescue plan no matter what they’ve done, and everyone has access to it. But the Jewish people were God’s special people, and they’d been observing God’s law for centuries. That was how they related to God, by keeping rules and offering sacrifices as payment for their failures. So it’s understandable that they’d have all sorts of questions about how doing stuff fits into this idea of grace – being made right with God simply by trusting that he’s sorted it out through the Lord Jesus.

Paul answered some of those questions at the end of ch3. God justifies everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, he makes everyone right in his eyes through faith in the Lord Jesus. But Paul needs to convince his readers of that. And so he does that here, in chapter 4, by going right to the roots of their faith. What about Abraham? He’s the acid test – if this doesn’t apply to Abraham, then forget it.

As we go, I hope you’ll see that this whole chapter is about God’s grace – the grace we’ve already seen in chapter 3, which Paul colours-in in chapter 4. It’s all about God’s undeserved but overwhelming goodness. You might look at this chapter and think, “that’s lovely, but I’m not a Jew living in the first century,” and you might think it’s not particularly relevant. But let me tell you that it really is, and you’ll see how as we go along. In this chapter we’re going to see God’s grace to Abraham. Then we’re going to see how God’s grace to Abraham extends to every single person who share’s Abraham’s faith. And then we’ll see how the massive extent of God’s grace applies to every single one of us here.
If you like subheadings, you can use those:
  • God’s Grace to Abraham
  • God’s Grace to All
  • God’s Grace to Us

I really hope you won’t be able to get to the end of this chapter without being blown away by God’s grace to the whole of humanity, but especially to you personally. Let’s see shall we…?

God’s Grace to Abraham (v1-8)
Paul asks the question, “what about Abraham?” Abraham was basically the first of the Jewish people. He was the one God picked out, and all of Israel descended from him. So he’s the crucial test case. As Paul points out, if Abraham was justified by works, then he had something to boast about. But if he was justified by works, then everything Paul has said falls apart. It would mean it is possible to be made right with God by being good. This is important. So he turns to the Bible, and asks: “What does the Scripture say?” The Scriptures say (v3):

“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul’s quoting Genesis chapter 15, where this promise was made. I think we need to have a proper look at Genesis 15 so we know what we’re talking about. Turn to Genesis 15. (Abram is the same person – God adds an extra ‘ha’ to his name later…)
[Read Genesis 15v1-6]

God promises to give Abraham a son, and through that son he would have more offspring than all the stars in the universe. Abraham’s response is to believe God. And God credited it to him as righteousness.

But what does that mean, to believe and have it credited to you as righteousness? We need to go back to Romans 4 for the answer. Paul explains the principle, and then he backs it up with another Old Testament example.

Look at verse 4. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
Who here has a job, or has had a job? When you go to work, you expect to be paid. Your boss doesn’t just give you a gift out of the kindness of his heart. But that isn’t how it works with God. If you trust God, who declares wicked people right with him, then you’re declared right before God. Not on the basis of anything you’ve done, but because of faith. But don’t misunderstand this. It’s not because of the faith in itself, but because of the one you’re putting your faith in. And that’s GRACE – that God would rescue people who hate him.

This has always been the plan. It isn’t just something that God had to throw together because he suddenly realised the law wasn’t working out. Justification by faith has always been the plan – it’s who God is. And to prove it, Paul explains something King David wrote. King David was the greatest king Israel ever had, but he wrote the words which are quoted there in verses 7 and 8.
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
Those words are taken from Psalm 32 – don’t turn there now, but read it later if you have time. The whole of Psalm 32 is about sinners who trust God and are credited as righteous. Not because they earned it or deserve it but because they trust a merciful God who will forgive sin.

Paul has made his point. Abraham had to trust God to make him righteous. It wasn’t because of anything Abraham did, but because of the faith he placed in his gracious God.

Take a second to let that sink in. Aren’t you glad that being made right with God is based on faith, not on works?!

If we’re honest, this goes against how we think the world should work, doesn’t it? We’re brought up to earn what we need, and get what we deserve. If we’re going to realise how great this is, then first we have to swallow our pride. We’ve got nothing to be proud of, just like Abraham had no room to boast.

But aren’t you glad that we’re justified by faith, and not by works? It’s great because we’re rescued where otherwise it would have been hopeless. If it was based on stuff we do, we’d have no chance.

But it’s more than that. It’s SO much more than that. It’s a whole different kind of relationship. A relationship based on grace is completely different to one based on working.

I was shocked to hear about a previous vicar of the parish church near where my parents live. Apparently he used to tell people, “I don’t really understand God, but we have a good working relationship!” I think he was basically trying to admit that he wasn’t a Christian. But at the very least that’s really sad, isn’t it? He certainly hasn’t understood Romans 4.

If our relationship to God was based on keeping the law, then the responsibility lies with us. And everything we get from God would just be him fulfilling some kind of obligation to us. Only we’ve seen that we’re rubbish at following the law, so we’d never quite manage to live up to his impossible standards. Basically, we’d be slaves if it worked that way.

But it’s based on faith in a gracious God, which changes things completely. The initiative comes from him, as he reaches out to bring us back to him. All we have to do, all we can do, is trust him, like little children have to rely on their parents. Do you see the difference? Aren’t you glad it’s by faith, not by keeping the law?

Paul doesn’t end there. He goes on to ask, “does this just apply to a certain group of people?” This is an obvious question, given that he went to such great lengths to point out that we’re all as bad as each other. Does this rescue only apply to one group? And as Paul tackles this question, we start to see God’s grace to all…

God’s Grace to All (v9-17)
Look at verse 9. Here’s the question: “Is this blessedness just for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?”

Circumcision, for those of you who don’t know, is a minor operation performed on boys, where a certain piece of surplus skin is removed. Circumcision marked out a man as a member of God’s people. Remember that promise we looked at in Genesis 15? After God makes the promise, he makes a covenant with Abraham. He basically makes a contract. And to show that he was living in this covenant with God, Abraham was circumcised, along with every Jewish male since. When foreigners wanted to join God’s people, the men had to be circumcised too. Being circumcised and being part of God’s people were basically inseparable. So the obvious question arises: what about those who aren’t circumcised? How are they counted as righteous? Does this grace apply to them too?

Paul’s answer clear: it applies to everyone! He goes back to Abraham to show why. Abraham believed the promise, and then he got circumcised to show it. Abraham was circumcised because he was counted righteous, not the other way round.

Think of it like a marriage. When two people get married, one proposes to the other. Then they exchange vows, and exchange rings as a sign. When God made the promise to Abraham, he basically proposed marriage – to Abraham and all his millions of descendents, even though none of them deserved it. In faith, Abraham accepted, and God made a covenant between them – they exchanged vows. Then just as a married couple exchange rings as a sign of their marriage, Abraham was circumcised as a sign that he belonged to God.

So this is still all about grace. Membership of God’s people isn’t about having an operation, it’s about faith in our gracious God. Anyone who shares Abraham’s faith becomes one of his offspring, and part of the promise. “He is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (v12). Faith, not works. Being circumcised doesn’t get you in, and being uncircumcised doesn’t keep you out.

The next couple of paragraphs reinforce his point. He explains that if being part of God’s people depended on keeping rules, then we’d never be able to trust the promise. Instead, the promise comes by grace. If the promise comes by grace, then it doesn’t depend on our achievement, it depends on God who is infinitely more dependable than us. So the promise can be guaranteed, and guaranteed to everyone! Circumcised or uncircumcised, Jew or non-Jew.

Aren’t you glad it’s about faith, not works? Because this is based on faith in a gracious God, not on keeping rules, membership of God’s people is thrown open to everyone. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, the door is open.

This is crucial if you aren’t a Christian. You need to know that there’s nothing you could have done which puts you outside of God’s grace, because it’s not about what you’ve done. It’s about what he’s done. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, God’s grace covers you.

But please don’t think this stops being important once you’re a Christian. Once you’re a Christian by God’s grace, don’t try to make it about doing stuff. There’s still nothing you can do to earn it. Don’t fall into the trap these Jews did, and start thinking that it’s rule keeping which keeps you in. They were thinking, “I don’t have a foreskin, so I’m OK” – maybe not a mistake you’re making. But are you thinking, “I go to CU every week, so I’m OK.” “I give money to charity, so I’m OK.” “I don’t swear so I’m OK.” Those things themselves aren’t bad – it’s the I at the beginning of the sentence which is the problem. When we think like that we’re making it about us, and shifting the responsibility back onto our shoulders. That’s not how it works! And the truth is, once we get into thinking like that it’s a crushing burden to carry, and life as a Christian will just be a slog. Don’t abandon grace. Become a Christian by God’s grace, and stay a Christian by God’s grace.

This is really important as you think about reaching out to the rest of the campus too. Isn’t this the most phenomenal news you could possibly have to tell people?

But you need to be getting it yourself if you’re going to share it with others. And you need to realise who this applies to. It applies to every single person on campus. There isn’t a single person who isn’t covered by the scope of God’s grace. It doesn’t matter what someone’s done, what they look like, what their lifestyle is like. Does your CU, the way you treat people, the things you do, communicate that to everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done?

God’s Grace to Us (v18-25)
So we’ve seen God’s grace to Abraham, and then we’ve seen how that applies to all, regardless of anything they do. But then Paul makes it personal. He brings it back round to us, and (more importantly), he brings it back round to the Lord Jesus.

The promise to Abraham was eventually fulfilled, but at the time it looked ridiculous. “Against all hope,” Abraham ended up with millions of descendents. It was ‘against all hope’ because God had promised Abraham a son, even though he was old – 100 years old in fact. His body was as good as dead. And Sarah was long past the age of having children. But Abraham didn’t waver – in fact, his faith got stronger. And eventually he did have a son. But the promise to Abraham wasn’t fulfilled through his son, or his grandchildren or his great, great, great grandchildren. The promise would be fulfilled through one man…

We’ve already seen that righteousness by faith wasn’t just for Abraham, it was for all of us who share his faith. And the last few verses spell out what that means. The words “it was credited to him as righteousness,” apply to all of us who “believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Our justification depends on the Lord Jesus. God declares us righteous based on what Jesus has done. He was “delivered over to death for our sins” – he died on the cross to pay for our rebellion against God. And he “was raised to life for our justification.” Through his death, the sin which stands between us and God is cleared away, and his resurrection proves it. Through his victory over sin, displayed in the resurrection, we’re declared right with God.

So we trust in the same promise Abraham did, because it’s ultimately all about Jesus. We can be made right with God thanks to the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And we join a long line of people who’ve done the same since Abraham. We look back on what Christ did and trust him. Abraham was looking forward to the same promise.

So do you see how this is massively relevant to us? We can’t just say, “he’s a Jew, and I’m not.” It’s all one story, one plan, with Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of it, the ultimate expression of God’s grace. That God so loves us and wants us to be reconciled to him that he delivered his own Son over to death in order to forgive us and make us right before him.

This is the fundamental reason why it has to be based on grace and not on works. It’s all been done by Jesus. There’s nothing else we could do, even if we wanted to. This is what it took to sort things out – the death of God himself. What work could ever come close to this? The cross shows just how ridiculous our attempts are to earn our way back to God.
The almighty creator of the universe gave up his life and died on a wooden cross.
What have you done?

Can you think of an answer to that question that isn’t pathetic?
“I let an old person sit on my seat on the bus.”
“I read my Bible every day this week.”
“I gave a talk at CU.”

Ditch your pride, because it’s stupid. Don’t try to earn God’s love and forgiveness. Instead, throw yourself on his mercy, and trust in the Lord Jesus. If you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, maybe now’s your chance to do that for the first time. But if you are a Christian, live the reality of this. Live at the foot of the cross, live in God’s grace, and enjoy getting to know the God who loved you enough to die for you, to put things right between you and him

Aren’t you glad it’s based on faith not works?

Friday, 26 September 2008

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Forum 2008 Part 3 - Other Assorted Highlights

I thought I ought to post the more serious highlights of Forum 08 first, which I have. (Have a look at The Important Bits and Home and Away). But there are a bijillion other reasons I loved Forum. So, in no particular order, here are my assorted highlights...

Chatting to random smoking tramp at Oxford station
Started well, as I explained I work for a Christian charity. Went slightly pear-shaped when I mentioned students... he's not a fan.

Looking like a well-dressed farmer
To be honest, this was the most appropriate look for Forum 08. And Mr Martin didn't laugh at my wellies for long...

Realising my new Team Leader can get me to do anything
One of the joys of Forum was getting to know my new colleagues. I got chance to bond with my lovely South East team mates, which was quality. And I soon discovered the uncanny ability Nay Dawson has to get me (and quite a few others) to do mad things. As a team we visited the Darkie Tunnel, a 421m long, unlit canal tunnel "to sort out who the wusses on the team are." I'm not sure any of us were wusses, so I may have been picked arbitrarily. Then on Thursday we provided dinner for poor water-logged Reading and Surrey CUs. The lady on the checkout thought we were mad, but in the end it was quite fun. Sadly, the range of pinnies in Sainsbury's was quite limited...

Reading and Surrey CUs
Two of my CUs were at Forum - Reading Uni CU and Surrey Uni CU. They were a lot of fun, if slightly lame at providing tea (it took Surrey 28 hours to make me a cup of tea. RUCU never managed it). I was amused to walk into the Big Top one evening and see RUCU sitting in a row eating chips. And I got very paternal when Surrey and RUCU were being nice to each other. It's nice to see the kids getting along.
The RUCU boys were also spectacularly rubbish at putting their tent up. It took three goes, and over an hour...

Close encounters with the dish washer
One of the privileges of being a new staff worker is that you get the joy to serve by supervising the washing up. Seriously, it's more stressful than it sounds, although I like to think I maintained an efficient but fun kitchen. Except on the day the drain clogged up. I had to step up and do the manly thing - I had to stick my arm in (up to the elbow) and remove the tinned pears, lemon slices and two forks that had ended up in it. I washed my arm 3 times and it was still pretty manky.

Serving Tea
On the last day I found I was part of the masterplan to provide everyone at Forum, campers included, with a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. Along with Jema B, I manned one of the tea stations. It was a mad idea, but in the end it was quite fun.
"Do you have coffee?" "No, but that one's quite strong."
"Get your tea and get out!"
"Is it just tea?" "Would you prefer hot chocolate?" "Yes" "Oh. I haven't got any, I was just asking."
I'm not sure how many teas we served, but it was at least 150. I particularly enjoyed Nay's masterplan, which I think could be a plan for world domination if it was scaled up.

A legendary game, created by Chris Oldfield. Quite simply boule, but with veg. I played with two onions, but lettuce and sweet potatoes were also involved. Eventually, an aubergine won, having been expertly wielded by Adam Wilson. I'm hoping for a rematch in a year's time. Sadly, John Piper was too busy to play, but he was definitely keen.

Back to the real world
On the way home I got a text from a northern colleague, telling me that they were in a northern cafe where toast was 10p cheaper if you had a crust, and you had to pay 30p to rent a tray. I, on the other hand, was in a service station where I had half a chicken, some reconstituted mash (we actually asked) and a diet coke. My dinner cost the same as lunch for Peter's entire party. You've got to love the south.

Forum 2008 Part 2 - Home and Away

I called my first Forum post "The Important Bits," because there were lots of other less-important-but-still-pretty-fun highlights. But then I decided there were two highlights which decided a post of their very own. And they're probably the most important bits of the whole week!

The whole point of Forum was to equip and encourage students for sharing the gospel on their campuses. Conferences, fun as they might be, are only a means to that end. And there were two evenings which really distilled what Forum, and UCCF itself, is all about. They were the launch of the FREE Project and the World Service.


The moment lots of people had been waiting for finally arrived on Tuesday night - the FREE Project was officially launched! On one level, the vision is simple - UCCF have printed 400,000 trendy-looking copies of Mark's gospel, to be personally given out to British students. Simple as. And there are oodles of resources to go with the project: All sorts of Bible studies and training materials to equip CUs, graphics and publicity resources, beer mats, carrier bags, tiny badges. Even a great promo video featuring my friend Lisa Norbury who became a Christian during the last gospel project. But even with all of that, the fundamental conviction behind it all is that God uses his word to change lives as people meet the Lord Jesus. The trendiness and publicity is just to help people engage with the words. And that's what I love about the gospel project - it's about getting God's word into the hands and hearts of students. Come on!

World Service

In many ways, the idea behind the World Service was the same. IFES, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, exists to make the gospel known to students around the world. It was great to hear from brothers and sisters from all over the world. It was even better to see hundreds of students committing to crossing cultures and reaching the nations with the gospel. And John Piper helped us to widen our understanding of exactly what that means. The scale of the task is huge, but the commitment of the students present was beautiful to see. It felt like a world-changing moment - I'm excited to see where it leads in the coming years...

This is what it's all about. In John Piper's words, mission exists where worship doesn't. And that's what the FREE project and the World Service, and the Fellowship as a whole, are all about - taking Christ to the world, at home and away, so that he might be glorified all over the planet. I have the best job in the world!

Forum 2008 Part 1 - The Important Bits

All the cool people are blogging about Forum. It was the wettest, mankiest, smelliest Forum ever, but it was quality. Bish has already written loads about Forum - he live-blogged and has been following up with lots more great stuff. And check out what Rosemary has to say about the response of the students to what could have been a pretty depressing situation.

John Piper took us through Ruth as only he could. We saw the reality of God's sovereignty in the tragedy that Naomi and Ruth had to deal with, but also in his love and care for them. It was a great reminder of things I should know, but which can often get lost.

Graham Daniels rounded off the week with two passionate talks on Matthew 10, challenging and encouraging us to share Christ with those who don't know him. It was a great end to the week, as all the excitement was focussed in commitment to the thousands of lost students on campuses around the country.

A real highlight for me was the Digging Deeper track called "Serving our Missionary God." Over three days we saw the mission is not just an idea God had - it's who he is. We covered loads over the three sessions, but the key thing was that God is jealous for his own glory. He wants all people to worship him, and that's why mission exists. It's a world-changing, brain-expanding truth, and it was great to work through it a bit with the South-East guys in my group. John Piper's book "Let The Nations Be Glad" was recommended to us, so I was delighted when every student was given a free copy of LTNBG! It was a hugely generous gesture from SIM and IVP, and one which could potentially have a massive impact if even half of those students read it and find a passion for God's glory.

And the Digging Deeper track was a great background for the nights which focussed most clearly and powerfully on mission. But more on that in Part 2...

Friday, 22 August 2008

Bring It On!

I've spent the past week being orientated for my new job as UCCF staff worker for Reading and Guildford. It was busy week, packed full of information which it will take a while for me to digest. It was also quite fun. All of the colleagues I met (new and not-so-new staff) are great. I also did some checking, and the three new staffworkers in the South East (Ben, Lisa and me) score a fun rating of 36/30. Good news.

Highlights included getting to know my fellow new staff and people who will be my colleagues for the next few years; Mike Reeves getting VERY excited about doctrine; studying the whole of 2 Peter; the hilarious collapsing camp-beds; getting excited about the theology of Santa Claus and peas (not together, that would be ridiculous); lots of lovely admin (OK, the admin wasn't a highlight, but it was good to have it all spelled out); the invention of an exciting new game - look out for Vegetaboule 2008 at Forum! And there were lots more...

But above all it was great to be reminded constantly what this is all about proclaiming the gospel on campus. I got a sobering reminder of this in a session on evangelism by my new team leader Nay, and Dave Bish, my predecessor in Reading and Guildford. There are apparently 21,000 students in R&G. And there are 190 Christian students involved in Christian Unions. That's a huge challenge, and a huge opportunity. If it was anything else, I think I'd give it up now. But this is the gospel. It's relevant to every single one of those 21,000 students. And it's not just a marketing exercise - it's world-changing news. And I'm really excited to be here to help the CUs take the gospel to those 21,000 students. Bring it on!

Monday, 18 August 2008

All Change

In the last few weeks there have been some pretty big changes going on. Today I officially start working for uccf:thechristianunions as their Reading and Guildford staffworker. As you'll note, Reading and Guildford are quite a way from Southend, so I have also had to move house. I now live in Reading!

I've been here less than a week. In fact, I've only been here for a few days, because I went on holiday to Derbyshire for a bit. But I'm already beginning to feel that I will be able to settle in Reading.

I've already seen God's provision in a big way as I moved. The house I'm in was literally the only option I found. When I came to look at it, I found out it's in a great location (near to the centre, near to the station, and in a cul-de-sac with a church on one corner and a pub on the other!). It's also owned by missionaries, which is quality - I'm supporting world mission by paying the rent!

I'm sure I'll have lots of things to say about Reading in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned. But for now, I'm thanking God that I have a roof over my head (which is good - does it ever stop raining in Reading?!), and it's a pretty nice roof. With no pigeons (long story...).

Later today I'm off to rural Oxfordshire to be orientated (if that's even a word) in my new job. While I'm away, why not have a look at RUCU's new website. And so they don't feel left out, look at Surrey's too.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Amusing Theological Discussions #2

On The Wright Stuff this morning. Richard Bacon, Anne Diamond, Craig Revel Horwood and the woman off of 10 years younger, discussing something like "should religious myths be taught to children?" I especially liked Anne's comment: "Remember, the Bible was written a very, very long time ago." Thanks Anne.

[OK, so I didn't actually post Amusing Theological Discussions #1. But it was June Sarpong on the Andrew Marr show. I think there was lots of talk about knife crime, so they had a young-ish person on to look through the newspapers. I think she was a bit out of her depth when she started discussing the Lambeth conference. Thanks anyway June.]

Friday, 1 August 2008

MRTU: It's a Tragedy

There's definitely more to come on reaching non-readers with the gospel - I've found lots of resources which I'll be working my way through. But I thought I'd take a break to have a More Random Than Usual post...

I'm currently finishing my job. Technically I finished working for Ferndale Baptist Church yesterday, and am unemployed until I start my new job with UCCF on 18th August. Oddly my first day of freedom seems quite similar to yesterday - I'm still sitting at my desk doing odds and ends. I think I may be like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption, institutionalised and unable to function in the real world...

But it's been having a weird nostalgia-inducing effect on me (I was actually looking at my old school's website today quite randomly). And then I found this on youtube:

Why does no-one do it like this anymore? This was probably my favourite steps cover (even including Better The Devil You Know)! I miss cheesy pop with hideously complicated dance routines. And I miss Steps, (even though they ruined Christmas 2001 by splitting on Boxing Day). So, for your viewing and listening pleasure, here are some more classics...

(Specially selected so you can see the dance moves!)


Last Thing On My Mind

And, of course, Tragedy