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.