Thursday, 15 December 2011

Early Fatherhood Lessons

Here are 10 things I've learnt about being a Dad in the first 10 days of my daughter's life:

1. The eat, sleep, poo/wee cycle is unstoppable!

2. Although that might make life sound predictable or monotonous, it is far from it! Baby = unpredictability.

3. Don't think you can survive without napping once a day while she is asleep.

4. Be faster at swapping dirty nappy out and replacing with clean nappy. Quick is not good enough, only lightning fast will suffice or chaos will ensue!

5. There is a fiercely protective streak which kicks in automatically.

6. No matter how many times I look at her, she will always be cute and I'll never get sick of saying so.

7. I really can jump into action at 3am and be alert.

8. Hand-washing at least 15 times a day is normal.

9. How helpless I am without God; I might think I control my life at times, but I am utterly out of control when it comes to my daughter.

10. If I care for and love my daughter this much, how much more does God our Father care for and love His children.

Suffice to say it's a learning curve, but a wonderful privilege having a daughter.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Our Beautiful Daughter

I am now the very proud Father of Anastasia Ruth Oliver, born 4th December 2011.
My wife and I think she is gorgeous, hope you agree!

Here are a few photos:

Apparently she looks just like I did as a baby in this one! Poor bairn.

Finally, sleep time!!!

I've taken loads more photographs already!!!

In summary: A very doting Dad!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Prayer News Nov/Dec 2011

Follow the link below to find the latest prayer news for work with students in Sunderland, Stockton and Teesside.

There has been loads going on and more to come.
God is good, people are getting to hear about Jesus. Some students are getting excited about sharing Him, some need to step out in faith and others need to fall in love with Jesus again.

Read all about it here.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

What is Freedom? Am I Free?

In mid-October I had the great privilege of speaking at a "meal with a message" put on by Queen's Campus Christian Union. I was asked to speak for 5-10 minutes and introduce the topic of freedom to provoke discussion.

Here are a few of the things I spoke about:

If we have a working definition of freedom which is something like this: "Doing what you want to do when you want to do it" then a few immediate problems arise.

1. Is a person who voluntarily puts his or herself in prison really free?
2. Is the person who lives a licentious life of sex and drugs and rock and roll really free?
3. Would we want everyone to have that kind of freedom?

Or could we agree with Jean Paul Satre who posed the question: "Am I condemned to be free?"

Thinking about point 3, is the paedophile, murderer, rapist, just exercising his/her freedom?
In light of that would we want to tighten our definition to "being able to do what you want, when you want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else"?
If so, have you just put a limit on freedom?

Even trying to define freedom in a way that gives all of us freedom seems to be tricky with only a surface glance.

What is it that drives our actions? Is it just the consequence of random chemical combinations and atoms bumping into one another, or is it our desires within us?

Is a system with a tyrannical cosmic policeman style god any better? Surely that's all "do this" "don't do that". Surely there's no freedom in religion. What can Christianity have to say to help in this area of thinking?

What does Jesus have to say on the subject?
"I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." and "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
Huge claims. Jesus is saying that human beings will only be totally free and be able to live life to the fullest when they have a relationship with God. He is claiming that its only when He, the Son, sets you free that you are really free. If He is the Creator of the universe then surely He would know the nest way to live, the path to a full life. If His claims are true they are worth listening to. Will you check them out?

Obviously I missed some huge areas and only really introduced some others which come into play when talking about freedom. There is a lot more that could be said on the subject, and indeed many people have thought and written extensively about it. But, maybe this will provoke thinking and discussion for you. It's definitely not as cut and dried as people would like it to be.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Crew in Crna Gora

After the last post becoming an overview of the 2011 UCCF Summer Team to Montenegro, I thought I'd write one with a few more specifics about some of the people we met.
(Note: the people mentioned are in no way my favourites, they just give you a bit of an insight into the situation and the task. Also, names have been removed for personal reasons)

Let's begin with Danijel.

Danijel was a staff worker in Serbia with EUS, but took on the task of pioneering the work in Montenegro (more info here). When I first met Danijel, in summer 2010, he was due to become a father for the first time at any moment! His wife, Martina, has since given birth to a wonderful and incredibly cute little girl. There are many things I could say about Danijel. He is great inspiration. He perseveres in a very difficult climate for the proclamation of the gospel, as mentioned in yesterday's post, but not only that, he does it with joy. He and Pete Stonelake, a British guy who originally lectured out in Niksic but now works freelance, regularly meet up with students, help them learn English, and generally build friendships to help break down barriers to the message of Jesus. They are both gifted with the ability to naturally get along with people. I am sure that many times they feel despondent and want to give up, but the conviction that people need a relationship with Jesus drives them on. They along with local church which has been established for 15 years are seeking to be a light in dark place, salt and light in their community. But it's tough work with very little obvious fruit. They are living, breathing examples of faithful gospel ministers. I'm sure they'd value your prayers.

Here are a few people we met on camp this year, but I am sure you could replicate very similar stories many times over across the country:

The first is A. A is a young girl who we met for the first time this year, but is good friends with a one of the girls from the church. Firstly, she nearly didn’t come to the camp. The, when on camp, nearly didn’t attend the evangelistic talk and Bible studies. Why? Because her father is a priest in an orthodox monestry and she didn’t want to upset him. Over the course of the camp a few people had some good conversations with her, we hope more opportunities will arise for her to hear about Jesus. She left camp saying she had loved it so much she didn’t want to go home!

The second is B. B is the brother of a girl we met last year in the local church called D. She is a believer, B isn’t and neither are their parents. But their parents love the influence the church has had on their kids so are happy for them to do anything with them. Please pray that B, who can be quite quiet, will have further conversations with Danijel. They are good friends and B has been thinking a lot about life after death, what happens and how a person can be sure of going to heaven.

The third is C. C lives in a coastal town which has no established evangelical church. It’s thought there may be up to 5 believers in the area. The camp was great for C, she really came out of her shell and we think the gospel content was a great foundation for her. As far as I know she doesn’t often get fellowship with other believers. Her parents are not keen on her being an evangelical Christian but allowed her to come to the camp because relatives of Martina (Danijel’s wife) live next door and they trust Martina.

Wonderful mission, lovely people, much to pray about!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lessons from the Black Mountain country

What do you do when you get a chance to go and partner with brothers and sisters in Christ on mission in the least evangelised country in Europe?
You go of course!!!
That's exactly what I have had the privilege of doing for the past 2 summers.
My colleague, Lensa, and I have taken 6 students from the CUs belonging to the NE and Yorkshire region of the UK to a little town called Niksic in the beautiful, rugged mountains of Montenegro.

Our aim: to help reach students with the good news of Jesus.
Our plan: to run and English and Bible camp for 5 days as well as some little events in and around the city building relationships in the week prior to the camp.
Our partners: EUS Serbia/Montenegro and the local churches.

(Check out IFES, UCCF for more information on the work worldwide and in the UK)

Danijel and Pete are two guys who are plugging away with conversation classes and general relationship building to try to make Christ know to students. They are committed to the only local evangelical church in the city and their perseverance is a wonderful thing to witness and a challenge to my weak faith. It was a privilege to work alongside them. Danijel is the first and only staff worker in the country.

The country has only been independent for a short while and the history, both politically and religiously, makes it a tough place to be an evangelical Christian. Most people are nominally Orthodox from a religious point of view. They believe they have the history and tradition and therefore as Protestants, not only did we come out of the Catholic church, but we have less history and less tradition so why should they listen to anything we say. So they prevailing attitude is the evangelicals are a cult and so are treated with suspicion or apathy.

What we did this year was build on the work of the previous summer. Further relationship building, but also some sport on the university campus with anyone who happened to fancy a bit of football or basketball as well as an acoustic cafe in a local coffee shop took place in week 1.
This was really helpful and although none of the contacts made came to the camp, we really benefitted from meeting people and getting to know a bit about the culture.We sought to serve the local church wherever we could too through participating in Sunday services as well as through moving a whole load of gospels from storage into the church.

The camp was awesome. The students lead English lessons at 3 different levels, Lensa and I did evangelistic talks and the students followed those up by leading discussion groups. We also had plenty of fun playing sport, teaching the locals how to Ceilidh and learning some traditional Montenegrin dancing. There is also an hilarious video of our team and their tribute song at the talent evening, I'll try find a link for it!

A few encouragements and challenges:

1. The local student believers whom we met in 2010 had all grown in their faith and it was wonderful to see that God had been faithful in keeping them.

2. Some local believers really have no support day by day because their town or village doesn't have a church and they cant travel to 1 of the 3 evangelical churches in the country or because their parents are not happy about their new found faith in Jesus.

3. Students in Montenegro ask similar questions to students in the UK due to the world becoming a global city through the internet and other technological advancements.

4. The impact the camp had on a couple of individuals made it all worthwhile. One girl, not a follower of Jesus, said she didn't want to go because she had loved it so much.

There is so much more to say, but this post is already huge! I pray that the foundations of partnership laid, and contacts made, will bear fruit in the awesome plan of God to bring many people to know and love Jesus.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Bible Handling.......and your chance to do it!

What a privilege it is to be involved in Bible ministry on a regular basis.

Being a staff worker with uccf:thechristianunions gives me this privilege all the time.
One such example was last week, when my colleague, Hamish, and I spent a day training the Relay workers from out regional team.
We started after lunch with 2 sessions: One on basic Bible handling, looking at the author's purpose, context and structure tools (as they are described in Digging Deeper by Andrew Sach and Nigel Beynon). The other giving them time to put those skills into practice by working on some passages in teams of 3 then presenting their findings and an outline to the whole group. We purposely chose passages which studied in isolation from their context would not make complete sense, or lose their thrust.

The evening was then spent chilling out together with a little bit of healthy competition thrown in for good measure in the form of Cranium!

The following morning we embarked on a new set of sessions which Hamish and I had decided to introduce this year for the first time. We decided to specifically look at handling the Old Testament and how it is about Jesus. The format was the same, teaching of skills and helpful stuff about ways passages can point to Jesus. Then we gave them passages to go away and study and present their findings.
What was encouraging was that while some of the Relays had done a lot of Bible handling before, all of them seemed to really benefit from the concentrated time spent thinking and discussing together. The OT stuff stretched us as well as them, which is always a good thing. Hopefully we all will grow in love for Jesus and the word as we see it hanging together so wonderfully.

Final thing to say is, if you are a final year student, or you're wondering what to do when finishing university in a couple of years, why not think about Relay (see video below) and you too could enjoy some wonderful fellowship and excellent opportunities to sharpen one another through studying the Scriptures and discussing how best to understand it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Jeremiah 29:1-23

I recently had the privilege of preparing a sermon on Jeremiah 29. I gave it at a little church in Ouston, Gateshead as a guest speaker (11th Sept) and then at my home church, Calvary in Sunderland (9th Oct), as part of our series in Jeremiah.

I was keen, as with the passage on Elijah from 1 Kings (blogged about a while ago), to preach the passage in context but also show how it spoke of Jesus.
The transcript of what I said is linked below. As with the other sermon I posted on here, this is roughly what I said. Some parts get expended others shortened as I speak. My aim is not to gain plaudits by posting this, I'd love any thoughts or comments from anyone who preaches, or just wants to throw their thoughts in for good measure. Maybe I will try and record future talks somehow.

In preparation, I found Tim Keller's talk, which was mainly about the first section, looking our for the welfare of the city, helpful.

The transcript is available here.

Monday, 10 October 2011

More excitement!

At the start of last week both Teesside and Queen's Campus CUs had welcome events for the christian freshers who signed up to join or declare interest in the CU.

On Monday evening, I joined Teesside for some food in a local pub. On arriving I was expecting one or two sitting in a corner around a table because I was on time and students are normally late!
But a I entered the pub I was surprised to see around 12 fresh faces around a table getting to know one another.
As the evening went on and we order and ate our food, I think about 25 different people joined us for some or all of the time.
This was a great encouragement to me and to the current CU members. This was followed by the first CU meeting of term, where along with some local church leaders getting to know students and advertising their churches, I was given the privilege of speaking to the 20 or so students gathered about the purpose of a CU and the exciting opportunity there is for them to be part of the mission team on campus.
We looked at the gospel and thought about Jesus' high priestly prayer. Praise God for all of this.

On the same Tuesday, earlier in the day, QCCU had their fresher's fair, and though they were the furthest table from the entrance, had a bumper crop of sign-ups to the CU. Around 40 people gave their email contact details, which for a campus containing only around 700-800 freshers is great. I hope that many will come to the first meeting tomorrow.

But, the highlight of those 2 days is the conversation I had with the CU evangelism secretary for QCCU. She had been speaking to a friend about Jesus in the past. They got together near then end of the summer holidays, not long before returning to Stockton, and her friend asked if she would read the Bible with her!!! Awesome stuff! They are going to look at Mark's gospel together, and this all happened just after a training day at her house on how to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend. Added to all of that, when the CU met some of the freshers for afternoon tea, a muslim girl, who had just come along to find out a little bit about the CU, also got chatting to the same girl and they are going to look at Uncover (see below for details on Uncover)! Praise God!
(names excluded for privacy reasons)

Friday, 30 September 2011

Freshers keen to get involved

It been a great couple of weeks meeting new Christian freshers.
Both Sunderland and Teesside CU have given out, or posted through doors in halls, 1500 flyers.

Sunderland CU, despite not being able to have any rooms on campus during freshers' week for their events, and only finding that out at the very last minute, still managed to have over 50 students sing up at the table during the freshers' fair on Wednesday. What an answer to prayer that was!
Around 20 of them have been to two events designed to help them get to know one another and the existing CU members, which is a very promising start.
Another wonderful answer to prayer later on Thursday afternoon was the allocation of a room in the most prominent building right at the heart of the city campus. Again, the CU had had to put out flyers without a meeting room mentioned because rooms weren't going to be allocated until now, but God has both blessed them with finding Christian students and with a wonderfully placed room.

Teesside CU have also had a good response following the table outside on Wednesday (see the previous post). Around 12 Christians signed up then and another 25 or so at the freshers' fair. In total I think they have 40 new names. They are really praying that with good support from the local churches and the freshers who have signed up, this will be an exciting year of mission on campus.

Queen's Campus begin next week. Hoping for more of the same. They have had a great start with quite a number of students linking up through the UCCF website and finding the CU on facebook.

I am really looking forward to speaking to each of these groups about what a CU is as they kick off their year. It is a great privilege they have to be part of God's mission, showing His love and pointing people to Jesus.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

"Who is Jesus?"

Yesterday Teesside University Christian Union had a table outside their SU with an A-Frame flip chart asking the question which is the title of the this post.
People were invited to write their answer on a post it note and stick around the question on the board (see picture).

It might not sound like much, but for the CU leaders it was big step, they were quite fearful but still wanted to go ahead with it.
God used them, and Emma and I as we helped, to bring about His purposes. There were many different answers, some quite comical written in jest, some very elaborate, some which you would expect like "A prophet" or "A man who brought people together through belief", and a surprising number who just said "I don't know"!
Here's a flavour of the answers given, some of them make for quite sad reading:

A Jewish, anti-imperialist freedom fighter.

A fictional character who was taken too far.

A top bloke.

A real person, but a judge. Keep an eye out and if you see Him, look busy.

The Dan Brown of 2011 years ago.

There were of course others who gave correct answers such as "Saviour and friend", "The Eternal Son of God", "The person who change my life forever".

But the highlight of the day, the one thing which stood out and made the whole time out trying to engage with people worth it, was this:
Emma (my Relay worker), who was a star all day being really bold and friendly despite being nervous, spoke to one girl who proceeded to write the words "a concept" on a her post-it note. Attempting to find out exactly what the girl meant by this, Emma politely asked her to explain. The girl went on to say Jesus was a concept to her because she had only heard of Him and didn't really know anything about Him. Emma's reply was almost instantaneous and I believe, totally prompted by the Spirit of God, she said "What if I could show you an orderly account of His life, would you be interested in looking at it with me?" The reply from the girl was a "yes" and they plan to meet for the first time on Saturday. What an exciting opportunity! What a testimony to the providence and love of God! The girl in question is from the FYR Macedonia.

Emma is going to go through a series of 6 Bible studies in Luke's gospel written by Rebecca Manley-Pippert called Uncover, check out the promo video here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Risen - A belated review

Earlier on this year, just before Easter in fact, Sovereign Grace Music released their latest offering into the ever-growing world of praise and worship music.
I own quite a few of their albums and I have to say that this is one of the best. Themed around the resurrection of Jesus and the theological and practical implications of that in the Christian life, the album beautifully combines contemporary music and excellent lyrics.
There is a real mixture of upbeat songs of celebration and slower, more reflective tunes. From the opening track, "Alive" which boldly declares that the life of the Christian is wrapped up in the life of their Saviour all the way through to "Hail the Day" with its melodic and majestic feel as the lyrics sweep through the life of Christ and focus in the chorus on His sitting on the throne in heaven, the album really warms the heart and informs the mind.
I'm not going to cover ever song on the album, as I'm not a music critic. But I will pull out a few of my favourites.
"To live is Christ" is taken from Philippians 1v21, and expounds some of the applications of that verse; not grieving the way the world does for love ones who belong to Jesus because they are with Him and it is gain, as well as the reminder for those of us here that we have a wonderful privilege of living for Jesus now before we go to be with Him.
"You are our Hope" was one of the first songs I heard from the album. Bob Kauflin taught it to a few thousand of us at New Word Alive. It's a very rousing track, good for congregational singing and once again focussed on the fact the Jesus' resurrection is our only hope. If He didn't rise, there is no hope, but because He did, he is the overcoming King.
"Jesus Lives" is my overall favourite track. I have taught it at my home church. In fact, anyone who spent time with me after Easter and over the summer will probably have heard me singing it. So much so that the students on the summer team mission trip to Montenegro this year were all singing the chorus as we went around places because I had been singing it and playing it a lot! "Jesus lives and so shall I, I'll be raised from the dust with Christ on high, Jesus lives no more to die and when He returns with Him I'll rise, Jesus lives." Simple but profound!
I will get told off by my wife for saying this, but, "We will rise" is a song I would love someone to sing as a solo at my funeral. It's a beautiful song, that's the only way I can describe it. It wonderfully speaks of how our bodies die, but our souls await the returning King Jesus when we will get a new, more wonderful resurrection body. "Thought outwardly we waste away, within we are renewed" is another wonderful lyric, taking on exactly what 2 Cor 4v17 says.

The other tracks not mentioned here; "O what a Day", "You have been Raised", "We have been Healed", "Your Name alone can Save", "He has Risen", "Name above all Names", "Behold our God" are all very good too. Name above all names is apparently excellent for congregational singing.

In conclusion, Sovereign Grace Music have once again blessed the wider church with a wonderful array of songs to build the body, teach good theology and empower personal reflection. Keep up the good work guys. I look forward to the next album!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Why I love team days...

One of the wonderful privileges of being a UCCF staff worker is being part of a regional team.
Ever since I was a Relay worker in 04/05 I have loved the team days which take place roughly every 4-6 weeks. Our region does them from lunchtime overnight to the following lunchtime.

Each year a new set of Relay workers arrive on the scene (the current crop are the 5th I have had the pleasure of serving with as a staff worker) and I wonder if I will pine for the previous year. Yet by the end of the September gathering those fears are allayed every time.
That's not because the group of Relays and any new staff are clones of their predecessors but because they all share the same passion, making Jesus known to students and because there is a real desire to love one another rooted in the unity we have in Christ.

We spent the first day getting to know one another with an apprentice style challenge around the town (soon to be city if the council get their way) of Doncaster.
Tasks included; writing a poem or song about Doncaster fitting as many landmarks or things Doncaster is known for into the lyrics, making a costume of a Bible character for under £5 and buying a fixed list of items for as little as possible.
There were 5 tasks in total and off we went in teams of 4 to complete them in around 80mins.
There were some amazing efforts in all departments and it was a great way to settle in and have a laugh as well as enjoy some healthy competition!

During our second day we had the joy of looking at Luke's gospel together, very ably and clearly lead by Arnold Bell from City Church in Sheffield. He took us through some of the themes that are unique, or at least more obvious in Luke when compared with the other synoptic gospels.
Here is a little taster of what we learned:

1. Prayer, The Spirit and Joy as a triplet are an emphasis along with the marginalized, a sense of imperative (Dei is a Greek word used in many places often translated "it is necessary") and also natural incomprehension (people not understanding things).

Jesus is recorded praying more times (9 compared to 2 in other synoptics), He teaches more on prayer in Luke as well as there being more stories/parables about prayer. The gospel open with a flurry of activity of the Holy Spirit. There had been none recorded for over 450 years. Luke wants us to know that a new era is coming. There are many more references.

Luke mentions 13 women who do not appear in other gospel accounts. There are a lot of outcasts of society spoken of, their encounters with Jesus often providing great teaching for us as well as a clear Kingdom priorities. Children too have an important place in Luke's account.

The word "Dei" mentioned above is only used 101 times in the NT and 41 of those appear in Luke and Acts. Jesus uses it when speaking of the need to preach the good news, His suffering that is to come as well as His death.

Disciples as well as the nation of Israel don't understand the mission of Jesus. Jesus is often having to explain. He opens the eyes of those on the road to Emmaus so they can understand because even after the events around Passover, the whole thing still doesn't click!

2. Luke is obviously the only gospel with a sequel. But this is significant in that Luke was travelling with Paul (Col 4:14 and 2 Tim 4:11) and so the events of Acts have already started to take place and so the gospel is written in that context.

3. He says he writes because he thought it would be a good idea for an orderly account to be written. He has investigated thoroughly all of the events that took place and presumably interviewed many eyewitnesses including Mary, Jesus' mother. Finally it is address to one man, Theophilus, and it is so he can be certain of the things he has heard. We too as a result can be sure that all we read about Jesus in the gospel is true!

A helpful thing I noted about the way Jesus doesn't just say "touch me" when He has come back from the dead because you can't communicate an experience to other people, Luke tells us that "beginning with Moses..." Jesus explained how all the Scriptures were about Him. We can communicate the Word of God to people and we need to. We need to speak truth in faith and trust that as we do the Spirit will work and things will happen.

It goes without saying too that great meals as well as copious amounts of quality home cakes were consumed during our 24 hours or so together!!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Train up a Child - Family Devotion

A few weeks ago my wife and I went around to have dinner with a family from church. They have 4 kids aged between 2 and 8.
We all sat down and ate food together, which was lovely, and then headed into the living room.
We chatted about various things while the kids played and showed us as many of their toys and books as they could.

Then as it approached the time for the youngest to go to bed we were asked if we would like to take part in family devotion time.
We were all given a Bible and took turns at reading a verse each from a Psalm. The dad of the family then led us in prayer and anyone else who wanted to pray followed on from that.

A couple of things struck me and I thought I'd share them:

1. The importance of the word of God in the life of a Christian family was clear, just because visitors were present that didn't change the fact that this was something important to be done as a family.

2. Children can sit and read and listen and take part in something so simple, yet so profound.

It was a great privilege to witness and take part in. It was an example of Proverbs 22v6 in action. I have much to think through about how best to go about family Bible time and other related parenting things but I hope and pray that Nancy and I will be good parents to our soon to arrive bundle of joy and any more the Lord chooses to bless us with.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Quotes from Forum 2011

Here's a list of really helpful quotes from Forum 2011.
It doesn't do all of the talks justice, but it will give you at least a little taste of the kind of things we were thinking about.
I've noted a little bit of context or passage reference underneath, thought it might be useful!

(Disclaimer: these quotes are as I wrote them down, they may not be word for word what was said, but my aim is that they convey the point of what was being said)

"Glory is all to do with God's essential nature....When God is most clearly seen for who He is. And here we see that it is most clearly seen in Jesus' death."
Tim Rudge showing us that it is at the cross we most clearly God's essential nature, that He is love.

"Come warm yourself at the great fire of my self-giving love"
Tim Rudge telling us that this is what Jesus wants us to do.

"We as Christians need to be radically identified, with the world, in love, but radically different in holiness."
Rebecca Manley Pippert explaining how we really have to be out there loving people, yet distinct in character, set apart, holy.

"The solution to life, ministry and mission lies in Jesus. Jesus is at the very centre of all we are about"
Mike Reeves, pretty self-explanitory stuff from John 15.

"True branches are never cut off....True, living branches are pruned....God wants us to know the pleasure of being fruitful....Because He loves us so much He will go to war on the things that enslave us. He does it for our joy out of love"
Mike again from John 15 helping us to understand the part of discipline in the Christian life as well as showing us the security of being a child of God (He used John 6 and 10 to back up the point that true branches are not cut off)

"Having His word abide in you means having your heart won to Christ"
Once again Mike from John 15, he went of to speak of the fact that we are to feed on the love of Christ and that wins our hearts.

"We must understand that our motivation is God, our model is Jesus and our means is the Spirit"
Becky Pippert on evangelism.

"Be prepared, the world will oppose you as you point people to Jesus"
Jason Clarke warning us that we will face persecution if we live and speak for Jesus. He also spoke of how knowing we are loved by God means we can face being hated by the world.

"If you want to be a messenger of the gospel you need to be in authentic personal relationships with non-Christians"
Danno speaking to us about the gospel and personal evangelism from 2 Tim 4.

"We need to be God's people in God's world cultivating it for His glory"
Once again Danno showing us the need to be in the world using our gifts and abilities to bring glory to Him.

"No-one is qualified for Kingdom work! A bombshell to the proud and a comfort to the despairing"
Mark Meynell helping us to be real about out role in God's mission to the world.

"God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called"
Mark again, after speaking about Thomas and Peter, clearly telling us we need to seek where God is calling us and trust He will equip us for the job.

"I'm no less than a forgiven sinner saved by grace and given a ministry by mercy"
One of Mark's closing sentences, helpfully summing up the standing of a Christian.

"The centre of the glory in heaven is the Lamb slain, the cross is where the glory is most clearly seen, because it displays His love, mercy and grace"
Richard Cunningham taking us through John 17 on the final morning.

"We are to be distinct from the world....Love what God loves, hate what He hates....It's about transformation of character not isolation"
Really helpful stuff again from Richard about not becoming a holy huddle but being salt and light in the world because we are being transformed to be more and more like Jesus.

"The Word of God is the instrument of the Spirit to transform us....If we love Jesus we will obey His Word"
Again Richard pointing out that we need to obey out of love which is radically different from legalism.

"All wills bowing in the same direction, all affections focussed on the same thing burning with the same flame, all actions heading for the same goal. Unity of heart, mind and will"
This is what Jesus' wants for believers in His High Priestly prayer in John 17 and what Richard encouraged us with as he effectively commissioned us for our ministry on campus as CUs, united to share the love of Jesus.

If or when these talks are available to listen to, I wholeheartedly recommend you download them and work through them.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Forum 2011 - A Nostalgic Review

Well, what can I say about my final Forum?
I know quite a few of my colleagues have already blogged about their experiences, but I thought I'd still add some more fuel to the fire.

I went into the week hoping it would be wonderful. I was not disappointed.
From the journey down in a lovely Ford Galaxy hire car to the exquisite camping food (see below) to the excellent teaching (read below) to the privilege of leading a seminar with MJ Axelson, Forum 2011 was a week I'll never forget.

What a privilege it was to hear great Bible teaching from the Directors at large of uccf:thechristianunions as well as Rebecca Manley Pippert, Graham "Danno" Daniels and Mark Meynell.

There was a really helpful focus on the heart and how it is the love of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, displayed in the gospel, most clearly at the cross, that captures our hearts and draws us to worship. We heard a lot about evangelism too, but it was in this context of being warmed by the gospel and so the motivation was never allowed to be anything other than the love of, and our love for, God and in the grace we have received. How refreshing and completely freeing that is.

Not only that but the atmosphere was superb. There was a real sense of unity amongst all of those present. A unity which wasn't forced but totally natural, or maybe I should say supernatural, because of our status as children of the Living God. The music and sung worship was a joy to be part of, ably lead by Olly Knight and the rest of the band we sang of the great salvation we enjoy, the wonderful unity we have and committed ourselves to running the race with endurance. Olly has written some excellent songs too. Check them out on the Forum Sessions via iTunes.

I was extremely privileged to serve on the prayer team this year. It was amazing. Many students were really touched by what they heard and the challenges from the Word, applied to peoples' hearts by the Spirit, were many and varied. How great that, in my own weakness, I given the opportunity by God to pray with a number of students over the week, and even see prayers answered right there and then!!!

Although camping has the downside of being at the mercy of the elements (as we experienced on the first night) and generally means far less or lower quality sleep, those factors pale into insignificance when compared to the added value of team bonding and proximity to students. This was of course helped by having a team leader who loves to cook and took the time to work up a wonderful menu, the like of which I have never experienced while camping. The photo below is a breakfast of scrambled eggs and prosciutto with toasted bagels!!!

The final thing for me to say on this matter is regarding this being my final Forum. It has been a privilege to attend and take part in all of the last 5 Forums as a CU Staff Worker. I know that the Lord has used the conference to really challenge people and most of all to further Kingdom work amongst students.
As I looked around at various times during the week I realised how much I will miss it and how great the need is. May God continue to use CUs for HIs glory, to display His love and bring many people into His Kingdom.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Prayer News

I am planning on writing up some reflections on the summer mission I co-lead in Montenegro this summer. But for now, I thought I'd upload the latest edition of my prayer letter which has a section about Montengro on it.

Read it here

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

In Psalm 139, King David is in awe of God and waxes lyrical about the amazingly complex and wonderful creation of a human life within a mother's womb.

Today, with the advances of technology, we are able to see life growing within a mother's womb. A great example of man using his God-given creativity for good purposes (although that same technology is used for the convenient destruction of human life).

My wife and I were at the hospital for the 20 week scan of our baby at the end of July. The detail is incredible and we didn't even have one of those special 3D scans! (the picture above doesn't do it justice) We were able to see facial features, tiny finger bones and even the chambers of the heart!!! We were amazed and incredibly excited to see our baby and we are so thankful to God for the blessing and privilege of becoming parents.

But, at the same time, I also found myself reflecting that this same technology which drew praise of God from us it the same technology which will mean many parents will choose to terminate the life of the baby because of an abnormality or genetic defect.

Nancy and I had made the decision long ago that whatever happened we would continue with the pregnancy believing that we have no right to "play God" and because we know God loves us, loves this child and we wanted to witness to His love and grace in our lives whatever the situation. As it stands we are reliably informed by the hospital the our baby is perfectly healthy so we aren't faced with any decision. But we knew we needed to have made a theologically informed decision before being faced with a very emotional situation which may well cloud our judgement.

The question I know that is always raised is; "is it loving to let a child come into this world knowing its quality of life will be poor?"

As genuine a question as that is for many, I often wonder whether if it is a just a capitulation to the world's ideas and principles for others.
It is true that love should drive our every decision, but I don't think we can judge the quality of life of a human being when there are many living examples of people who in the midst of these so-called abnormalities have led joyful, fulfilled and at times unbelievably inspirational lives.

Who is to say what God's purposes are in the life of this child, in the lives of the parents as they look after the child and in the lives of those around as they see the grace of God working? The opportunity to love the child once it is born and display the kind of self-sacrificial love of Christ to the world in doing so is surely far greater than 'loving' the child by ending its life.

Let me end this brief, and possibly very emotive, post by saying I do not in any way wish to judge anyones decisions (past or present), I hope the post does not come across that way. Any comments or questions are welcome as always.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Mumford and Sons - Awake My Soul

I think this will be my 4th and final blog post on songs from Mumford and Sons debut album "Sigh No More". If you don't own a copy, I highly recommend it.

Awake my soul is yet another interesting song. As with the other posts I have written, I am not going to comment on every word or line, but just a little section of the lyrics.

In these bodies we will live
In these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love
You invest your life

The mortality of humanity is evident all around us, you only have to turn on the news, read the BBC website or check your twitter feed to see something about a famine, a murder, or a tragic accident. We do live in these bodies and die in these bodies, 1 in 1 people die. The Bible tells us our days are like grass, we are like a morning mist that passes away.
With this in mind, it no surprise that many of those who believe there is no God try live fast and die young, or seek as many pleasurable experiences in the here and now before they disappear into the darkness. That is a consistent way to live.

Two things for us to consider though. The first is from the title of the song and the line that follows:
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your Maker
Our bodies do die, but we have eternity built into our hearts. We are made in the image of God. Our souls will go on beyond this life in the body. We were made to meet our Maker.
However much a person may deny it, the existence of God is a reality that we supress (Romans 1). We were made to know and meet our Maker. The creation around us shows His invisible qualities, His divine attributes. Supremely we see Jesus, the exact representation of His being. Jesus, the one by whom, through whom and for whom, all things were created, that includes you and I.
The question then arises, "Am I ready to meet my Maker?"
For Christians the wonderful truth is that because Jesus died and rose again physically, we have the promise of a new resurrection body, far greater than this earthly body, and we will live on the new earth forever enjoying our Maker. (See what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15).
The Bible also warns that those who do not know Jesus will also meet their Maker, but that it will not be a day of joy but a day of terror, because they will still have to bow the knee and confess with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, but they will not receive joyful life eternal, instead it will be just punishment.

The second thing I want to draw out briefly is the second half of the first quotation above.
There are many places where we can invest our love; spouse, children, family, friends, job, sports team, dreams, ambitions etc.
It is totally true isn't it, that where you invest your love, you invest your life? Whatever you love, you spend time on, you commit your finances to, you prioritise. In short, your actions betray your heart. Whatever it is that you love will be evident in your life.

What does your life show that you love?

This is something that has been cropping up in various places over the last year. The heart is the centre of the affections, desires and love in our lives. It is the heart the drives the will. You do what you want to do because your mind is controlled by your hearts desires.
So it is very true that wherever your love is invested, your life will be too.
Jesus makes it very clear in Luke ch10 that the summation of the law is this:

Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself

The reason this is the sum of the law is because if you love God and love neighbour your actions, your life, will be for them. Rules will not change behaviour because the heart is directs the will.
If you love God you will keep His commands. This is clear in 1 John. It is NOT if you keep God's commands you love Him. It's one-directional, because you love God, you will keep His commands, you will love what he loves and hate what He hates. You life will be invested in God because you love Him. "Where you invest your love, you invest your life" is a wonderful line, very profound.

The only place worth investing your love is primarily in God, because He is love; Father Son and Holy Spirit eternally existing in perfect loving relationship. Also because we were created out of the outflow of that love to meet out Maker and be drawn into that love. This will then flow out in love for other people.

Check out the song here

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Inaugural UCCF NE Cricket Trophy

This years end of year team day at Outwood Oval saw the first annual (hopefully) cricket match between Durham (north of the region staff and relays) vs Yorkshire (south of the region staff and relays).

Here's the review of the 2 tests (only 6 overs per innings!):

Durham: Hamish Sneddon (C), Andrew Simmons, Chris Simons, Edwina Thorley, Matt Oliver, James Meredith
Yorkshire: Simon Oatridge (C), Ed Preston, Chris Burrows, Andrew Beattie, Naomi Locke, Hannah Dean

In the opening test Durham chose to bat first. Which looked like a very wise decision as Hamish Sneddon and Andrew Simmons began to find a steady rhythm and score some runs. Durham were looking pretty comfortable but a few sloppy mistakes lead to some nervous tension, but Chris Simons came up trumps with some helpful late run scoring before he was eventually all out for 48.
With nothing to compare that total to (this being the inaugural match) no one had any idea if it would be enough.

Yorkshire, lead by captain Simon Oatridge, took to the crease. Durham's bowlers seemed to have their eye in early and took a couple of crucial wickets in the opening two overs which left Yorkshire floundering. They recovered a little, but were bowled out for just 18 meaning that Durham could force the follow on. They duly did.

As Yorkshire psyched themselves up for for some high run scoring they were in for a huge surprised. Wickets tumbled left right and centre due to some excellent bowling and a fantastic hat-trick of run outs by the returning James Meredith. He hit the stumps directly from the field each time. Unfortunately for Yorkshire that meant they were all out for just 4 runs meaning Durham won the first test by an innings and 26 runs.

As the first test finished quickly, a second test was immediately declared and so Durham once again headed out to see if they could improve on what turned out to be an excellent first innnings score in the first test.

They continued their good form and reached 47 all out. The whole team contributed well.
Now it was Yorkshire's turn to see if they could get within striking distance. They acquitted themselves very well and reached 35 all out.

So it all came down to the final innings.

Durham began batting with a 12 run lead and the innings couldn't have started more brightly. Sneddon and Simmons setting and new opening partenrship record of 25 runs before the former was caught out by a slower ball which bounced twice and removed the bails. Another wicket fell almost immediately as Simmons went for a slog only to be caught. This gave Yorkshire some hope but Simons and Oliver steadied the ship and were aided wonderfully by Thorley and Meredith as Durham reached 59 all out.

Needing a mammoth 72 to win Yorkshire faced an uphill battle. Runs were hard to come by as Durham kept their bowling and fielding as tight as possible. But, Simon Oatridge persevered and turned in a captains performance leading his side well. With deliveries running out Yorkshire went for it. A great catch from Oliver saw Oatridge finally removed and some late session aggression from Simmons in the bowling attack saw the tail swiftly removed leaving Yorkshire 37 all out.

Bring on next year! Do you think you can do it Yorkshire?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

1 Kings - Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath

I recently had the privilege of preparing and preaching 1 Kings 17v8-24, which for those of you who don't know is the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.

My biggest challenge and concern was how to preach Christ faithfully.
Attached is my sermon manuscript. I tend to preach from a full script, but it often changes as I go. So what you read it not exactly what I will have said, but near enough.
From what I can remember when I preached on Sunday I expanded a bit on Jesus' resurrection and what it means but other than that if you'd been there you would have heard something very similar to the text.

My reason for posting is not for recognition, but for any helpful thoughts or feedback on whether I hit the right notes in terms of preaching Christ. Preaching Christ from the OT is something I have not really had the chance to do before, and when I have preached from OT passages in the past I have not thought as much about specifically preaching Christ in a very explicit way.

Here it is

Friday, 17 June 2011

Mumford and Sons - Roll Away Your Stone

Finally, the third installment of the series looking a some Mumford and Sons songs.
You will have noticed that after doing the first 2 songs on the album, this one is number 4. My plan is not to look at each track on the album, but just a selection.

Here are the lyrics:

Roll away your stone, I'll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don't leave me alone at this time
For I'm afraid of what I will discover inside

You told me that I would find a home
Within the fragile substance of my soul
I have filled this void with things unreal
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don't you think
And yet it dominates the things I've seen

Seems that all my bridges have been burned
You say that's exactly how this grace things works
It's not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Darkness is a harsh term don't you think
Yet it dominates the things I've seen

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
So I'll be found with my stake stuck in the ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

You, have gone too far this time
You have neither reason or rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.

There are just a couple of things I'd like to comment on.

The second verse in which the song-writer speaks of filling the void in his soul or his life with "things unreal" is a very poignant thought.
Here is a quote from Bernard Levin which speaks of something similar:
Countries like ours are full of people who have all of the material comforts they desire, yet lead lives of quiet (and at times noisy) desperation, understanding nothing but the fact there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motorcars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well-balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of aches.

The world in which we live is all about instant gratification. We want everything yesterday. The advance of technology serves to fuel those desires within us. I wouldn't say that family, friends, and possessions are unreal in the sense that they have no value at all, but if they are what you live for, ultimately they are unreal. All these things are good gifts from a wonderfully loving and gracious God. They are to be enjoyed in the context of a relationship with Him.
Tied in with this is a sense of something greater that we all feel, even if we have suppressed it so far that we would claim not to. The interesting thing is the the song-writer realises it steals his character.
I think that is because we are made to delight in God alone. We are made for a relationship with the Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can only find true rest, satisfaction, joy, meaning and purpose there.

The chorus is also a very honest assessment of the world. Darkness does sound like a harsh term, it sounds a little bit extreme. But as the writer says, it dominates what he sees. That's right isn't it, the news spekas of it daily, facebook pages, tweets and other sources often contain stories that make us sad, angry and despairing, do they not. Yet, this is exactly what the Bible speaks of; the world being a dark place, full of sin, sadness, sorrow, suffering. And even more strikingly that we are the source of it.

So what is the solution? Well, the song hints at. It does seem that all bridges have been burned. Paul writes in the letter to the Romans that no-one is righteous and before God we stand guilty, how can a holy God forgive, justify and yet remain just? (See Romans 3v21-26) It is grace in Jesus Christ.
The song speaks of grace, and it is right. That is exactly how grace works, its not a long walk home that sorts the problem of the heart, but the welcome you receive with the restart. In Christ Jesus we are freely redeemed by grace through faith in Him. What an amazing salvation!!!
We get a new heart and a new start in Christ!

I am sure there are many more things that could be discussed here, but I feel the post is long enough. I haven't really touched on the final lines of the song or the bridge. The last lines I missed as I don't now if the writer is speaking to God telling Him that He has no right to take His soul or not.

Comments welcome as always!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Jesus in the OT

Here is a great little article about the Glory Cloud in the OT.
It shows how the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, who would come to earth in human form as Jesus was living and active in the OT.
There is much more that I have not read and much more I would have to think upon to see Jesus more and more in the OT but I liked this little article as it was quite simple, clear and to the point.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Happy Birthday Bob.

Legendary song-writer. Awesome song. I echo John Piper's prayer!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Rael James Poetry: I Met a Girl

Check out this great poem by Rael Mason.
He is a very gifted writer. May God continue to bless and use him for His glory!

Rael James Poetry: I Met a Girl: "I'm convinced that pretty much every song ever written is a love song. They might not all be about romantic feelings for a particular indivi..."

Thursday, 12 May 2011

TGC Asks About Cautions for Christ-Centered OT Teaching

Sorry for the lack of blogging recently. I will return to Mumford and Sons amongst other things very soon.
In the meantime I found this helpful!!! I'm busy working on a talk for a CU meeting. it's Hebrews ch9 and there are OT references in there and I came across this.

TGC Asks About Cautions for Christ-Centered OT Teaching

Friday, 8 April 2011

Mumford and Sons - The Cave

It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears and all the
faults you've left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater you see
But I have seen the same I know the
shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

'Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth which will
refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
And know my call despite my faults and
despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And i won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence when
you know the maker's land

So make you're siren's call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

'Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

So, second song on the album, second blog post about Mumford and Sons and their interesting lyrics.
The opening verses speak poetically of someone facing up to shame and feeling empty inside because of it. But they are walking away from it, somewhere. There is real barren feel to the situation, no food, defeat, shame, emptiness, fears and faults left behind.

Then the chorus speaks of hope and the way the music changes and builds brings that feeling too. Holding onto hope, finding strength in pain, changing ways and waiting for the calling of their name, again, presuming there has been a previous calling and the result of that was positive.

The middle verses again have interesting contrasts, in the midst of sad images of widows and orphans there are tears shed. Despite there being a mind that is broken, the hope of a broken mind being refreshed by the truth is longed for. Not only that but a call is spoken of which is known despite failing and fears surrounding it.

Again the chorus kicks in and is rousing this time. Building on the last one.

The final set of verses speak of knowing dependence when you now the maker's land and needing freedom as well as how to live life the way it's meant to be.

These are not small or insignificant topics. Freedom, life, hope, shame, truth. I think there is much in this song that resonates with the way we experience life. Even if each verse, chorus or line does not directly apply to you as an individual I am sure that you see it around you in people you know.
Where do you find hope when you're empty, fearful and ashamed?
Where do you find strength in pain?
Do you long for truth, real truth that will inspire, refresh and renew your mind?
Do you want to now how life should be lived fully?
Have you experienced true freedom?

If none of those relate to you in any way, I question whether you are being honest with yourself.

The gospel has much to say about all of these things. We are beings created by a loving God. The Bible makes that very clear. Not only that but we are made in His image. Just like an inventor, God knows how His creation works best. So the longing in the song of wanting to know how to live life as it's meant to be can only come from God. He is the only one who can define that. And he doesn't leave us in the dark about it!

The truth that can refresh the broken mind needs to be truth which again can only be imparted from God. We can know true things, we can speak true things, but they cannot renew the mind and warm the heart and change a life in the way the truth of God can. Jesus said he was the truth (John 14) and the Spirit is also the Spirit of truth. We find truth in Jesus. Getting to know Him is the way to truth which will refresh the broken mind.

It is true that our minds are broken too. We are broken people, living in a broken world because we have all rebelled against God, not only in action, but firstly by not loving Him as we should. The problem is between us and God and it needs to be fixed. Only the God-man Jesus can fix it. There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy).

Jesus comes to bring life and life to the full (John 10). Jesus bring true freedom to those who trust in Him for forgiveness of sin, which in turn takes away shame, and offers real hope for the future because the future is secure in Him. The freedom He brings is freedom to live the way we were meant to live. True hope is found in a relationship with Jesus. When the song-writer speaks of changing his ways that is all well and good, but we all know if we have tried that, that we can't do it. We always fail. But, the wonderful truth for the Christian is that through a relationship with Jesus we have new life and the Spirit lives in us to change us. We then really can change our ways, because it's done in his strength.

I don't even have time to go into finding strength in pain because there is true contentment in Jesus. But there really is.

As always, any thoughts or criticisms are welcome!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

the blue fish project (dave bish): Rah! The Good News According to Jack Wills

More helpful stuff from Dave Bish. Well worth mulling over. It applies to more than Jack Wills too!

Let us quench our thirst with Christ.

the blue fish project (dave bish): Rah! The Good News According to Jack Wills: "Jack Wills has a gospel and they're keen to proselytise you. If you're rich and beautiful enough or just prepared to give your hea..."

The First Ever Rap Song About the Heidelberg Catechism

For good measure after posting a rap on the Westminster Catechism, why not the Heidelberg Catechism too!!!


The First Ever Rap Song About the Heidelberg Catechism

Westminster Catechism Rap

"West Side!!!"

Westminster Catechism Rap

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

the blue fish project (dave bish): Spreading Love Wins

A generous and kind look at Rob Bell's book "Love Wins."
It shares some of the sentiments I spoke of a couple of weeks ago that, if we have understand the Triune God of love as He is so wonderfully displayed in the Bible, we truly do have a more loving God to speak of than Bell presents and love really does win.

A challenge for us is to know the Triune God of love well, so we can speak of Him in a wonderful way. God really is beautiful. God really is love. He is therefore not to be ashamed of but boasted about and delighted in.

the blue fish project (dave bish): Spreading Love Wins: "Reflecting back on reading Love Wins last week a few things come to mind... Rob Bell wants people to be generous rather than mean-spirited. ..."

Michael Horton on God’s Strategy for Making Disciples

Here is an article I found interesting and stimulating to read.
We really do have a wonderful gospel to proclaim.
If we do not proclaim the message and pray for the Spirit to bring life to people through it, we are deviating from the Scriptural model for mission.
People need to hear! We are called to speak! Some need to be sent! (Romans 10).

Michael Horton on God’s Strategy for Making Disciples

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More

After re-listening to this album recently I thought I would write a few blog posts about some of the lyrics from the songs.
As a debut album I think it is fantastic. I know that the band have a Christian background, I don't know where they all stand in terms of faith in Jesus, but that is not going to be the point of these posts.
I want to try and engage with some of the ideas that come out, and try to show, with my limited wisdom, how they could be used to engage in fruitful gospel conversations.

So, without further ado, the opening track is the title track, "Sigh No More."

Serve God, love me and mend
This is not the end
Live unbruised, we are friends
I'm sorry

Sigh no more, no more
One foot in sea and one on shore
My heart was never pure
You know me

But man is a giddy thing
Oh man is a giddy thing

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be

What I find interesting are little references such as "my heart was never pure" and being "more like the man you were made to be." These are both things Christians can totally get on board with.
We know that everyone is fallen, we most certainly do not have pure hearts. Jesus made that clear in Mark 7, it is out of men's heart that sin comes. The old saying that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. We know we can't live up to our own standards never mind God's and not matter how hard we try we can't give ourselves a pure heart. We need a heart transplant, we need to pray with David in Psalm 51 "create in me a pure heart, O God."

But what about the real emphasis on love in the song. Love we are told will not betray, enslave or dismay, but it will set us free. That is a popular thought in many places, is it not? Many Hollywood chick flicks present this idea of finding the right person solving all of life's problems, or bringing true fulfilment.

Can love do this?
Does love never let you down? Does love never betray, dismay or enslave?

In our experience love does let us down. Relationships break down, family members let us down, and some relationships are totally enslaving, because the person they are "in love with" becomes their idol!

If we define love the way the Bible does (1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 John 4) and we see that "God is love" (1 John 4) we can affirm that love will not betray, dismay or enslave, but truly does set up free as human beings. The love of God displayed in the gospel truly does set us free from slavery to sin, it frees us to be the people we were created to be. When a person accepts the love of God shown at the cross and repents, they become more fully human, and the Holy Spirit continues to make them more and more like Jesus each day. Jesus after all was the perfect human being. He shows us the real way to be human.

The final thing I want to draw out of this song is the design, alignment and cry that the band say comes from the heart to see the beauty of love the way it was meant to be. I may well be reading too much into it, but does that not echo the fact that the Bible says God has "...put eternity into man's heart..." (Ecc 3:11)
There is something inside every human being which they suppress (Romans 1:18-32) and try to hide away that longs for something more than this world, something eternal, God. God is Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect loving relationship. That is where we see the beauty of love the way it was meant to be. The beauty of the Trinity is supremely attractive.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

LOVE WINS - Rob Bell

I know that I am well behind the furore that has hit the blogosphere over the last few weeks regarding Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. But I just watched his promo video for it (featured above) and thought it was worth making some observations.

I have not read or purchased the book, and I was not privy to early release of selected chapters for review. Many are saying this is the final straw for Bell and that he has clearly outed himself as a heretic.

My aim is not to answer that question, but to observe a couple of things from the promo video itself which give me cause for concern even without reading the book.

It seems from the video that Bell is keen to distance himself and the Christian faith from a God who needs to save us from Himself. He makes it clear that if that is what God is like, then He can't be good, and that the news about Him can't be good news either.

He wants us to see that God is love, which is biblical, "God is love" (1 John 4).
But that chapter goes on to say that God is love and that "this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
And atoning sacrifice, or propitiation, or required precisely because a penalty must be paid, the offend party must be appeased.

So the question is, when it comes to sin, who is the offended party? Who do we need to be saved from?

It's not the devil, because he is quite happy that we sin. He is not God's equal opposite, whom God has to bribe or pander to in order to save our souls.
We are not ultimately the offended party. David is clear in Psalm 51 that in all that he did in the Bathsheba and Uriah saga, it is against God that he has sinned.

Precisely because God is pure, unadulterated and holy love, He must punish sin. The outworking of that love against evil is wrath. Wrath is not some kind of add on to God, it is love responding to sin, to evil. Romans 3 asks the question, how can a righteous, holy and just God remain just and have a relationship with imperfect, sinful, rebellious people? The answer is that he remains true to Himself and punishes sin, but He deals with the problem by punishing that sin in the person of Jesus.
This is not cosmic child abuse either. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity in human form, willingly dies an horrendous death out love for His Father and love for us, taking the punishment we deserve that we might be free.

God truly is love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfectly loving relationship from eternity past (John 17). That love is so great and beyond our imagining.
If God does not save us from Himself then we have no way of being saved.
A God who does not act in wrath, a settled conviction and response to evil, is not a loving and just God. God cannot remain just and leave evil unpunished when it is ultimately lack of love for Him.

The God of the Christian faith is even more loving that Rob Bell wants us to see He is, because he does save us from Himself.

The final note, which I don't have time to expand on is the question Rob Bell raises about a select few being saved. 1 Peter 1 and Romans 9-11 and Ephesians 1 are some passages I would want to encourage you to look at and see what you make of them. Revelation makes it clear that those whose names are in the Lamb's book of life are the ones who will live in the new creation and that they are an innumerable number from every tribe, nation, people and language.

That does sound like a major rant, but let me end with some things that this current furore has been good for, and some ways I believe it should challenge us:

1. God is love. We can often be heard to say that Jesus is a "get out of hell free ticket", trust Jesus and you will go to heaven rather than hell when you die. That is true, but the Christian gospel is so much more than that. Jesus said He came to give life and life to the full. We are not just saved from something, we are saved for something. We are saved for a wonderful relationship with the Triune God of the universe. Surely we should be shouting that from the rooftops.

2. Some people, particularly the so-called New Atheists, see God as a bit like Lotso from Toy Story 3, warm and cuddly on the outside, but a real nasty tyrant on the inside. We need to be clear that this is not the image of God we present to people, because it is utterly not the God of the Bible. Rob Bell is right to want to present the God of the Christian faith as a God of love rather than a tyrannical rule giver who might lash out at any given moment.

3. This whole debate should challenge us to be really clear and really sharp on what we believe and why, because challenges to the gospel will come from inside and outside the church.

4. There is s real need for the gospel to be proclaimed week in and week out so that people can hear it and respond to it and be saved. But also so that Christian don't forget exactly what the gospel is!

Any comments would be warmly welcomed. For a long review of the book from the Gospel Coalition in America see this link.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

What Bob Dylan Got Right

I really like the Bob Dylan albums; Saved, Slow Train Coming and Shot of Love.
Whether He is a Christian or not is much debated. But whatever you think, he is a masterful songwriter and he declares some wonderful Biblical truths that really warm the heart and challenge the mind across those three albums. Here is a blog from Desiring God I thought I would repost as it caught my eye.

What Bob Dylan Got Right

Monday, 28 February 2011

Show us Jesus!

That is the job of the preacher, to show His congregation Jesus! That's is exactly what Mike Reeves did for us over the weekend.

We had a wonderful weekend away at Forum NE (25th Feb - 27th Feb). We learned so much about Jesus from the book of Leviticus, a book I imagine most students would have thought was "boring" before the weekend, and everyone came away excited about reading the OT and seeing Jesus there!

Please pray that we all remain firmly established in the gospel of grace and remember that we have been saved for fellowship with the loving Triune God of the universe. Pray that as we look at Jesus we grow in love for Him and for others. This in turn will lead to holy living because the summation of the law is loving God with everything and loving others. It wont just lead to holy living but also evangelism. Because as we grow in love for Jesus and love for others that will be attractive to the world around. Out of the overflow of our hearts our mouths will speak!!!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Missionary God

Check out this great new video from UCCF about mission. We have wonderful God who is a missionary. He seeks us. He wants to reconcile people to Himself. The love within the Trinity; Father, Son and Hoy Spirit, flows outwards. It is because God is love that He seeks after us, that's why Jesus came to save us and that's the glorious message Christians have to proclaim to the world around us. He wants us to know His love. He wants to adopt sons and daughters from every nation, tribe and language. AWESOME!!!

Oh, and see if you notice anyone you know?!?!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

God and Science: A leap of faith?

Last week I had the privilege of helping the christian union in Durham University with their week of events entitled "Rescued?"
I, along with a whole load of CU guests, had opportunities to get alongside Christian students encouraging them in the gospel and training them one on one. But not just that, we also had some wonderful conversations about Jesus with non-Christians, sometimes on the back of excellent talks by Andrew Sach and Rico Tice, sometime because we were wearing bright yellow hoodies and stood out a mile, and other times because students had been faithful living and speaking for Jesus over the last few months and we got the opportunity to back that up.

Here is a talk from the Tuesday Lunchbar, the title of which is the title of this post. I thought it was excellent, any comments or questions are welcome below.
With rise to prominence of atheistic thinking (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al) and the continued trust in science as the answer for most things this talk really helps uncover the inconsistency in the thinking of many and challenges people to really weigh up the evidence, not just scientific, but historic etc, and see where it leads.

Go here, and click listen to talk! Enjoy.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The blessing of the Word of God

Just watched this. We are so privileged to have had the Word of God in our language for such a long time. Have we lost the joy shown by these people upon receiving the New Testament in full for the first time?

The Kimyal People Receive the New Testament from UFM Worldwide on Vimeo.