Thursday, 18 October 2012

100th post - Simple as 3-2-1

This is my 100th post.
Some might say it's cheating to use a link to material I didn't write, but this link is brilliant.

Not only that, but it speaks of the most important thing in my life.

Why not check out 321 for more videos like this.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Frozen Meals

Recently the mother of our pastor’s wife went to be with Jesus. Having not lost a relative so close it can be hard to really empathize. But, it is wonderful to know that there is a sure hope in Jesus.

I was at Al and Lucy’s house, the day after Lucy’s mother passed away, for our church staff meeting (which only involves myself and Al!). We started at about 7:30pm. Within the first 20 minutes of our meeting, not one, but two, people called at the door to drop cards in for the family and also deliver a home-made frozen meal.

This struck me as a simple, but incredibly profound, expression of the unity we have together as brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as a wonderful way to show love for one another. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one is joyful, we are all joyful. I think we are much better at the latter than the former, but often not great at either.

You might think I am over-reacting, you might come from a church where this happens all the time and if that is the case then keep going, but nevertheless, it is these small gestures which show the world around us something of what is means to be loved by Jesus and share that love with others.

This can not only be applied in the case of a bereavement, but I also know of times where 2 weeks worth of meals have been provided for couples with newborn babies. Again it doesn’t need to be set up as a rule that the church must keep, but should just be the overflow of seeking to love one another.

I can’t help but wonder if this kind of thing was more the ‘norm’ across the churches in the UK, would we be a much more attractive witness to the world around, because we would show that Jesus makes a difference to our lives in a really practical way?

Friday, 17 August 2012

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you........

Following my post on my final working day with UCCF I thought I'd post, on my final day of official employment with UCCF, a list of thank yous!

Thank you Jo McKenzie, Peter Dray and Hamish Sneddon (and even for a couple of months Tim Rudge) for being fantastic supervisors; wise, caring, generous, challenging and encouraging, much like Paul was to Timothy. God has gifted you to lead and teach and train, use those gifts for His glory.

Thank you Mark Stone, Matt Graham, Tim Dennis, Lewis Green, Tom Thrower, Lensa Woodcock, Simon Oatridge, Ellie Cook and Paul Oatridge. You guys were a pleasure to work with, your support and banter was amazing. I may never work with a more godly or joyful group of people. May you continue to grow in love for the Lord.

Thank you James Adair, Emily Bacon, Joel Forster, James Meredith, Edwina Thorley, Chris Simons and last but not least, Emma Best. My wonderful Relay workers who have taught me more than I taught them. Stay strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Thank you Queen's Campus, Sunderland and Teesside CUs for many memories, comedy stories, seemingly hopeless situations and faithfulness to Jesus despite varying trials. May you keep holding out the word of truth in love to the students on your campuses.

I could try and name every student I've worked with, but, although my memory is good, it's not that good! You know who you are - Thank you!!!

Thank you Forum conferences, CU Leaders' Training Weekends, Houseparties, Staff Conferences and Summer Schools for great teaching, deepening relationships, new friends and plentiful banter.

Thank you to the various Summer Team co-leaders, members and hosting brothers and sisters in Christ. You are all part of some of the most incredible experiences in my life.

Thank you to all my prayer and financial supporters. Your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now is a rich blessing from God, for which I am sincerely grateful.

Most of all, thank you to the One True Living God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all of the above and much more beyond.

Father, please continue to bless all those associated with UCCF and their work with the students of the UK. Please keep them loving Jesus. Please continue to make them more Christ-like by the Spirit and help them to remain generous. Please use UCCF for your glory and the furthering of your Kindgom. In Jesus' sweet and strong name, Amen!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

End of an Era

What a wonderful 5 years! I still can't quite believe it, but, I am leaving UCCF. Well, by that I mean I will no longer be employed by them from August 17th, but, as UCCF is a family of Christian Unions, their members, Relay Workers, Staff Workers and Supporters, I will always fall into that last category, having already fallen into each of the former.
I thought it fitting, on my final working day, to say a few words in the public arena of the world wide web about my experience over the last 5 years.

(The picture above looks ominous to say the least and almost apocalyptic in many ways. It will suffice to say, please don't read that into anything I'm about to say! Only the message of the sign has any relevance!)

During my time on staff I have learned so much about the gospel and about myself. There have been many ups and downs. There have even been times when I felt like giving up. But, by God's grace, and by understanding more of what Jesus has done for me, I have reached the end.

One lesson I have learned the hard way is, that no matter what happens, whether CUs grow or shrink numerically, whether the students you study the Bible with grow in Christ-likeness or decide to give up on Jesus, whether they all attend a training conference or none of them do, my standing in Christ before the Father does not change! The Father loves me as He loves His own Son no matter what! How that truth is beautifully liberating and wonderfully joy-giving. That is not to say I always remember this and live it out accordingly, but even grasping it initially changed my approach to my work, relieved the stress and kept me going.

The privilege of working with so many gospel-hearted, Jesus-loving and Spirit-filled people is beyond amazing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the family in this role, but those thank yous I will save for another post.

No organisation is perfect. Not even UCCF. But, when an organisation is led by people who love Jesus, who are seeking to submit themselves and all they do to the Lord's will and are seeking to live by the Spirit, you can't get any better than that. I am sure that they would be the first to admit that they are not perfect, there have been mistakes made and there are still things to learn and change. But I can absolutely say that working for UCCF is excellent. They really care for you as an person. The study program is not just for you to gain head knowledge, but to warm your heart and develop your character. They model Christian generosity and make sure you have your priorities in place. For example, when you work overtime for a weekend, if you don't take time off in lieu, you're in trouble! Or, take the fact that I have been repeatedly told that my primary ministry is not my work with the students that I get paid by UCCF to do, but my wife and child. That, sadly, can be rare in Christian organizations I'm afraid to say.

There are many more things I could say, attempting to wax lyrical about the virtues and benefits of such a great organisation whose passion for the so called 'missing generation' is infectious. Their untold benefit to the church at large in the UK as well as to thousands of students and parents is enormous. But I think I have given enough of a flavour already and if not, their mission, vision and values speak for themselves.

Feel free to use the comments to ask any questions if you want to know more. Those who have had my prayer letters will know more specifically some of things I have learned and some of the experiences, good and bad, which have shaped me and my ministry in this area over the last few years.

Oh UCCF, how I will miss you, but long may your work continue!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Final Edition

Here is the final edition of Northern Letters, the prayer letter I have written for the past five years while working for UCCF:thechristianunions. For those of you who have read it and prayed for me initially, and then also my family as time has gone by, thank you, but not goodbye as the picture suggests. I will keep blogging here, my wife will keep blogging at thissideofthewardrobe and I am sure we will be posting family news and prayer letters as we settle into Doncaster and all that the Lord has in store for us there.

Northern Letters - July/August 2012

Friday, 29 June 2012

2nd Annual NE Cricket Match

After the roaring success of last years inaugural test match between Durham and Yorkshire, the final NE Team Days of 2012 saw the 2nd Annual test match take place.
With changes to both line-ups after Durham's rampant victory last year, Yorkshire, led by captain Simon Oatridge, were determined to avenge their defeat.

Once again the scheduled number of overs was 7 per innings with 2 innings for each side.

Durham opened the batting in ominous fashion as their star player and captain, Hamish Sneddon, slogged new boy, Paul Oatridge for 6 from the first ball. The match then settled into a steady rhythm with with the runs ticking over. In the 3rd over things took a turn for the worse for Durham, a lack of communication cost JJ Wyatt his wicket for no score and soon after, from the bowling of Zach Taylor, Sneddon surprisingly hit his stumps! Yorkshire sensed this was their big chance with an unexpected breakthrough and although there was some healthy resistance from Andy Barker, Durham were all out with 2 balls to spare for a modest total of 49. Mike Durant clearing up the tail.

Due to technological problems, the first innings from Yorkshire was not noted down and so apart from the excellent innings from captain Simon Oatridge, who reached his personal run limit of 25, it suffices to say that they survived their 7 overs and scored 67 in the process, giving Durham a mountain to climb in their second innings run chase. There was an incredibly controversial moment when the most stunning of catches was taken by JJ Wyatt behind the stumps, off the bowling of Sneddon, but the snick-o-meter didn't pick out an outside edge from Simon and he survived the review.

Durham began steadily once again, reaching 17 for 1 from 2 overs. In amongst that a boundary from Emma Best who, although her fielding left a lot to be desired, played her part admirably in the run chase. Sneddon once again was the main run scorer, but this time he was more the ably helped by JJ Wyatt who didn't make the same mistake as the first innings. By the end of the 5th over Durham were 42 for 2, Sneddon had gone due to a sliced 6 which went out of bounds. With nothing to lose Durham went all guns blazing attacking the bowling of Peter Dray and Mike Durant in the last 2 overs hitting 24 runs and losing 2 wickets. 66 for 4 from 7 overs left Yorkshire with a very manageable 49 to win.

Yorkshire opened in confident fashion reaching 15 with no lose of wicket. Lewis Green and Paul Oatridge doing most of the damage. Paul reached his maximum 25 and retired, but then Matt Oliver final made a meaningful contribution after dropping two catches and only scoring a couple of runs in the first innings by taking Green's middle stump. With two wickets down JP Wright the took out Dave Guy's middles stump as Durham sense the great escape may be possible. The biggest moment of the evening followed shortly after with Zach Taylor bowling brother Jonah in a moment which Simon Oatridge believes will be talked about for years to come at Outwood House. Simon then came in with Mike Durant, and with light fading fast, saw Yorkshire through to a dramatic and fully deserved win reaching their target with 9 balls to spare.

1-1 it now stands. I will be handing over the commentary mantle, but look out for next years test match, much rides on it!

Durham: Sneddon, Oliver, Wright, Wyatt, Barker, Best, J Taylor (with special guest E Taylor).
Yorkshire: S Oatridge, P Oatridge, Dray, Guy, Durant, Green, Z Taylor.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Song - Summary

Over the last 3 posts I have tried (not sure how successfully) to summarise some of the ideas we considered when looking at the Song a couple of month ago.
As I mentioned (in part 1, I believe), a lot of people today read the Song as purely about a human marriage relationship and use it as a manual for romance and sex. Yet this has not always been the reading of the book. Most of church history has regarded this as a book about Christ and His Church spoken about allegorically through a human relationship. The book shown about is a prime example of this teaching. Richard Sibbes' work was originally titled "Bowels Opened", which quite simply meant that this book was about the deepest desires. Although I haven't read this book (yet!) it is very clear that Sibbes believed the Song to be fundamentally about Christ and the Church.

I don't believe there needs to be a split between the two views, as though they are incompatible.
I wonder if the best way to read the Song is as primarily about Christ and the Church, because the whole of Scripture is about Jesus, The Word of God. But also saying that, because all marriages are supposed to reflect Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5), the Song too speaks of human marriage and shows what it should be like. As for the explicit sex references, I guess you can make your own mind up on that, but I would say that some of the descriptions I have heard are more stretching metaphors than saying it is about Jesus and His Bride!

I have much to think through when it comes to the Song and I am not sure when I will get to do that. But, it has been stimulating to think about it speaking of Christ and showing Him to be ultimately desirable, loving and beautiful. As well as challenging and comforting to see His delight in His Bride whom He loves and protects.

Happy reading of the Song. May it warm your heart to Christ and build your marriage to more clearly reflect the mystery of Christ and His Bride.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Song - Part 3

Once again my aim is to throw out some ideas and stimulate your thoughts on the Song, not to completely convince you of an particular reading of it. Here goes.

When she is asked why she loves him, she replies with wonderful descriptions of him and his love, not will a list of things that he does (see ch5v10-16). He is the object of her affections, he is the the desire of her heart, he overwhelms her. When we think of Jesus, do we merely think of what He has done, or can do, for us? Or do we delight in Him?

Chapters 6-8 seem to speaking eschatalogically speaking of the consummation of the relationship and feasting together. She is "beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun" in 6v10 and like an army. Is this then a clear picture of the church reflecting the Sun and becoming like Him, an vast army collectively displaying the glory Jesus?

There is a wonderful, beautiful and moving verse in chapter 8. Verse 6:
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
     jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.
This love that is stronger than death is great description of divine love. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8) not even death. The church is sealed by God, kept in His heart, names are written in the Lamb's book of life. This certainly seems to be describing something greater than human romance.

A couple of other things that are worth thinking about. Ch2v7 and ch8v4 speak of not trying to stir up love. We cannot manufacture love for Christ with our own efforts. Love comes through a fresh revelation of the grace, goodness and love of Christ. If we are friends of the Bride, we will encourage her to look to Christ, not deflecting her gaze elsewhere. We will see to help our brothers and sister in Christ to captured by a beautiful vision of Him and we will seek to draw others to Him as well, so that His love is known and they may enjoy Him.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Song - Part 2

In our second session we focussed on chapters 4 and 5. We thought about the fact that fundamentally our God is relational. We see that in the fact that the Living God is Triune; Father Son and Spirit. But we also see a lot of marriage language in the Bible to describe God's relationship with His people.

As mentioned in the previous post ch4v9-10 we see that Christ is captivated by His Bride. He doesn't just tolerate us, he sincerely and abundantly loves us. Think about v7 "You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you." How clearly does that show us that we have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us? The Bride is perfect, flawless!

From 4v11-5v1 we have a wonderful picture of the blessings Christ pours out on His church, wonderfully generous. The fruit that the Spirit brings about in us is pleasing to Christ our husband, He takes delight in it. Not only that, but it isn't even the gifts she delights in. In chapter 1 it is Him whom she seeks and loves, not what He gives to her.
So it is with believers. We want Christ and not His gifts when we know how sweet and wonderful He is.
As we move further into chapter 5 we see a picture of the church losing delight in Christ as she is pictured not wholly desiring him but rather favouring sleep as he knocks on the door. (Link to Revelation 3 where Christ stands at the door and knocks). Interstingly, as she gets to the door, just as he has left, she smells him and touches what he has just touched and her desire for him is aroused again. We see her desire for him recover as she sees how kind he is despite her failings.
Chapter 5 is he major instance of declining affection, but there is also a small one in ch2v15 (little foxes).
Is this not true of us? As we are reminded of the beauty of Christ, the smell of life of the gospel, are we not drawn to desire Him more?

Here's another quote from Sibbes:
"It is the nature of love upon all occasions to reflect upon the loved"
What do we think upon and dream about? That's what we love!

Here's a final Sibbes quote for this post:
"Our duty is to accept of Christ's inviting of us"
Jesus accepts us, he woos us, he loves us, we need to accept and embrace that love! In accepting Him, we show His wonderful salvation and show His glory.
We need to enjoy Christ and feast with Him if we are to suffer for Him. Actually enjoying Him will mean we will want to suffer for Him and with Him.
We honour Him by taking and receiving.

Much to chew upon again!

The Song - Part 1

Song of Songs = The erotic part of Scripture that many avoid and others spend too much time speaking about and investigating in detail right? Summed up in the picture below.

Back in April our North East Team Days were in Doncaster and we had the pleasure of looking at the Song with Mike Reeves, UCCF's Theological Advisor.
I thought it might be useful to collate some of the stuff we looked at over our 3 sessions, partly for my own benefit of really grappling with it, and for the benefit of you the reader because, as one of my friends would describe it, it's tasty!
(The edited audio of the session will appear in the 'Sermons and Talks' tab soon!)

Let's start with a quote from the Puritan Richard Sibbes"
This book is nothing else but a plain demonstration and setting forth of the love of Christ to His church, and of the love of the church to Christ

Not a familiar idea to our ear is it?
Now, whatever you think to Sibbes' statement don't stop reading just yet. I, with you I'd imagine, think there is more than that to it, but, Sibbes' view was the prevailing view all the way up to the 1800s.
This stems from the very true and helpful belief that the whole of the Bible is about Jesus and His church first and foremost. So The Song must be about Jesus and the church even if it has a secondary meaning of a human marriage, sex and love.

Let's think about who the man and woman in the song are:

Who is he?

He is described at King and Shepherd, which makes him sound Davidic. But it's not David, it's Solomon, we are told in chapter 3.
As we look at ch3v6 we see a pillar of smoke, very reminiscent of the exodus and on top of that he seems to be a priest. There are lots of allusions to the temple in ch3v6-11, reminders of the Ark of the covenant and the 60 posts plus silver and gold.
Following that, in ch8v5 we have a beautiful description of the exodus, with the people leaning on Jesus.

Surely only Christ is King, Shepherd and Priest, is he not?

Who is she?

She is like a vineyard which should make us think of Isaiah chapter 5 where the people of Israel are described in that way. She is clothed with jewels which you could also link to Ezekiel 16.
But the biggest echo seems to be to Psalm 45. The king seems to be marrying a Gentile, v10f is a wonderful gospel, marrying the Lord.
Christ leaves everything for us, we leave everything that is rotten and bad for Him.
In chapter 4v8-9 she is sister and bride, which is fine if that relationship is to Christ, but illegal under Jewish law if it is person to person. This is also wonderful if it the Bride that captures the heart of Christ. It means He is delighted with us and loves us, we are beautified by the Spirit for Him.
We get everything that is His, because we, as the church, are in a covenant of marriage with Him!
(This idea of the LORD being brother as well as Father is seen in 1 Kings 14 in the meanings of the names Abijah and Ahijah!)

Some food for thought I think! Chew it over! I certainly will be.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Preaching - what is it?

Here's a very challenging quote that I recently read on the Pure Church blog by Thabiti Anyabwile. His post is much fuller than mine and has some links to some lectures, check it out here.

For now, just read the quote and mull over the weightiness of it.

The Second Helvetic Confession states:

THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.

Preachers, do we really believe this as we prepare and stand up to speak?

Christians, do we really expect this when we go to church on a Sunday?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Mumford and Sons - Gig Review

The Sage is renowned for its acoustics so I was looking forward to hearing Mumford and Sons playing there. I'd heard them before, at the Hop Farm Festival in 2009 and also live on TV at Glastonbury.
Having only one album, Sigh No More, and the second not out until late September, I was hoping the new songs would live up to the old ones and I wouldn't feel like I'd seen the gig before. I was not disappointed.

They opened their set with a new song, which is a brave decision, yet it worked, and then they roared into 'Little Lion Man' and the crowd responded in kind. Another of their well known and beautifully poetic hits, 'Winter Winds', followed.
On the left is a picture of the setlist which is borrowed (with permission pending) from another blog - Seas Would Rise

Of the new songs they performed, 6 in total, 'Lover of the Light' was the most polished and catchy, unsurprisingly as they've been playing it live for a long time. It's sure to be a huge hit on release. But, I was most intrigued by the lyrics to 'Broken Crown'. Very interesting spiritual analogies, from what I could pick up, much like the first album.
The mixture of old and new, fast and slow, reflective and bold, continued throughout the night drawing responses ranging from appreciative clapping to uninhibited jig-dancing.

They are a very talented set of musicians and the additions of fiddles and brass to their four-piece make it a veritable feast of sound. Marcus' vocals rise and fall beautifully expressing great emotion and the way their songs are arranged really do take you on a journey.

Overall, a brilliant night.

P.S. I will be uploading some videos from the gig to YouTube soon.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Jesus = I AM.

In early May I had the privilege of preaching the last section of John 8.

The passage is well known for Jesus' huge claim "Before Abraham was, I am." It is often said, correctly, and quite simply that Jesus is claiming to be God. But, it is much more profound, clear and bold than that.

The points I brought out of the passage and some very brief notes are below. Jesus makes 2 huge statements which begin "Truly, Truly..." and they formed the basis of the sermon.

Jesus is the only way of salvation
Looking at the declaration “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Jesus says if we follow Him, keeping His word, we will enjoy eternal life. This is huge for the Pharisees, and those listening, who have already been at odds with Jesus, because they know that Abraham and all the prophets died. They firmly believe that those guys kept the word of God, so for Jesus to be claiming this is massive.
But Jesus' word is the word of the Father, and He Himself is the Word (John 1v1). Jesus' humility is clearly seen in the fact that He is not glorifying or testifying about Himself, but His Father does it.
The Father, who the Jews claim as their God, glorifies Jesus. The harsh truth for those listening is that if they reject Jesus, they reject the Father whom thy claim to as their God. Jesus has already said earlier in the chapter that it they knew the Father they would love Him.
The question for us is, do we love Jesus? Or do we love tradition, law-keeping, biblical knowledge or doctrinal rigour rather than loving Jesus?

Jesus is I AM
The second declaration really riles the leaders and their response of wanting to kill Him shows just how riled they were.
The key to this one lies back in the OT.
If you go back to Exodus chapter 3 where the LORD reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush you will notice something incredible. The Angel of the LORD is in the bush, but then it is the LORD who speaks to Moses! Jesus is saying to the religious leaders that it was Him in the bush speaking to Moses. Jesus is I AM!
John is wanting us, in the whole of His gospel, aiming to show us Jesus so that we may know that He is the Son of God and that by believing in Him we may have life in His name (ch20v31).
So we need to ask ourselves here, what is our response to Jesus?
The religious leaders, shockingly, want to get rid of Him completely.
Where do you stand? Jesus is telling you that He is the second person of the One Triune God, and that through Him you may have life, which is know Him and love Him.
Will you accept it?

The transcript is here and the sermon audio can be found in the Sermons and Talks tab at the top of the page.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Creation Inspired

Recently we studied the doctrine of revelation as a staff team. A fuller post of thoughts from that will appear soon, hopefully.
But, for now, this thought came to me as I was at Yorkshire Wildlife Park with family earlier in the week. There was a 'meet the reptiles' session. After seeing the snake and thinking about how all of creation has a purpose and speaks to us of God in some way, not merely that it is amazing and must be designed, but that it sings of its Creator, I noted this down.

As real as the snake that slithers through the grass is Satan, that ancient serpent, the father of lies, he is merely a fallen creature. But, as surely as the sun rises and sets, the Son, Jesus Christ died and rose again, to redeem mankind and reign on high, over all, forever.

Obviously my interpretation of the creation revelation is controlled by the written revelation, but it's exciting to see things around and see spiritual truth in them.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

New Life

At the start of this academic year my team leader challenged us as a staff and relay team to try and study Uncover with someone seeking to find out more about Jesus.

I must admit that I was a little skeptical that I'd either a) have time to do it or b) be able to find someone to do it with.
Anyway, in freshers' week my relay worker Emma took the plunge and boldly invite a Macedonian student to look at it with her (see previous post). They began and as a met with Emma for supervision each week it was wonderful see how they were both learning about Jesus and growing in different ways.

A few weeks later, through the CU, I was introduced to Y from Malaysia. We had a bit of a chat and I asked if he wanted to meet up for coffee. He agreed. We met and got to know one another a little and decided to study Uncover together. As we progressed through the studies, straddling the Christmas break (we started in Nov and finished early March), it was clear that he was intellectually ascenting to the truth the Jesus is the Son of God, but he didn't think he had enough faith to step out and become a Christian.

His brother had become a Christian a few years ago and Y himself had been along to church a few times, and since moving to Teesside Uni for study had been attending the local Chinese Methodist Church where he was regularly hearing from the Bible and studying it.

At the end of the Uncover course I asked him where he thought he was in terms of becoming a Christian and he said he believed it all but wasn't ready to commit. So we decided we would keep meeting and as he read the Bible in his own time he would note down any questions and we would them chat about them when we next met up. By this time it was nearing the Easter break. We met a couple of times like this, but due to holidays and assignments for Y as well as holidays and busyness for me, we had a few weeks without meeting.

Just last week we met once again to chat. But this we mainly spoke about his course finishing, his plans between now and heading home to Malaysia, job prospects and the future. I finally asked him where he now thought he was in terms of trusting Jesus. He smiled and began to tell me that he had been challenged to commit to following Jesus a couple of weeks previous at his church and he had prayed with a friend.
I didn't quite catch what he said the first time, but had caught enough that I ask more directly whether he had prayed to trust Jesus and become a Christian. He had!

I was so excited, and told him that I was too!!! God had been working all along, in my weakness, in my skepticism, and while I wasn't even meeting up with Y. God has it all in His hands. New life is a work of the Spirit, not my efforts.

He worries that His parents think he is just trying to be like his elder brother. He believes they will be supportive of his decision, but wonders if they think he has just jumped on a bandwagon, to use a western phrase. He knows what he believes.

Pray for our new brother in Christ. Praise God for new life. Pray for deep roots to be put down into gospel truth and the character of God. Pray for Y to grow in love for Jesus and find a good church to be part of when he gets back to Malaysia.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Shocking Statistic

I have seen and heard an incredible statistic a couple of times in recent weeks.
The fact that 73% of students professing to be Christians before they head to University don't get plugged into a church or any other Christian group once they get there.
That is pretty shocking, even if some of those who make up that statistic were merely religious church attendees rather than followers of Jesus.

Hearing the statistic has made me more thankful for the work of UCCF. Not because I work for them but because without their work with students in Christian Unions, I fear the statistic would be much higher.
This is because UCCF as an organisation is committed to the local church, working in partnership, across denominations, to reach the universities of this land with the good news of Jesus. They seek to plug students in to churches as this is their primary place of life-long discipleship. (To find out more go to

It has also reminded me of the challenges we face to love Jesus and love people in an increasingly hostile environment. Having a big Christian presence on campus is in Freshers' week is key to finding, engaging with, and encouraging these young believers to keep running the race of faith during their time at university.

Praise God for keeping UCCF going over the last 80 odd years. By His grace they have remained firmly evangelical, committed to the task of living and speak for Jesus, and training students to do just that.
Pray that the Lord would stir people by His Spirit over the coming months to really make a stand for Christ in this academic year, get plugged into a local church and join others in reaching their campuses with the love of Jesus.

If you know of a Christian student heading to university, why not get them linked up?
*image courtesy of Canterbury CU
*statistic from CUE project research in 2011

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

What's Next? May/June Prayer Update

Not long until I finish working with UCCF. Here is my penultimate prayer letter.

Plenty to be thankful for including: a mini-mission week, planning days, a new job (all being well), an exciting year ahead for CUs etc!

God is good.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Planning fun but serious thinking done

A quick post featuring some of the things Sunderland and Teesside got up to on our planning day at the end of April.

Gathering pictures and phrases from newspapers and magazines to build a profile of the type of students they are seeking to reach with the good news of Jesus on their campus. Also at the same time getting a feel for the university culture as a whole. You need to know who you are reaching in order to most effective relate to them.

One of the profiles, along with a map of the university campus with coloured dots indicating where students spend their time studying, hanging out in both the day and the night and also where most students live. The aim of this was to get them to think about where they run events, what time of day they run them as well as practical ways they can really care for those on their campus.

Honesty and humility was required for this section. The CU health-check. Not to make them feel proud or despairing, but in light of the gospel analyse where they feel their CU is doing well and other areas where work is needed. They also spent time praying, thanking God for His work in and through them and for the Spirit to help them change in the areas where they are weakest.

Here we have the stadium model which helps CUs to see where the balance of their outreach has been. It has 5 sections: 1.Hospitality tents where the aim is to introduce people to Christians to show that we are normal human beings and not weird! 2. Back of the Stands. This type of event is aimed at answering questions people may have which are really far back, may question like "Could thee even be a God?" or "Isn't Christianity totally irrelavant?" 3. Front of the Stands. These are events answering deeper questions which the gospel speaks into: "How could a loving God allow suffering?" "Is Jesus the only way to be saved?" 4. On the Track. At this point people believe the gospel is true, but need to be challenged to respond to Jesus and hear what is means to follow Him. 5. In the Race. Opportunities for people to begin studying the Bible, meeting with other Christians and getting support as they take the first steps in their walk with Jesus.
We don't emphasise events as the only ting to do, we wholeheartedly believe that evangelism is a way of life and that we must live distinctive and integrated lives building real friendships and loving people. But we do also know that events help people along the way and are key for reaching those without any Christian contact.

This is just a bit of fun. Post the planning and dinner together, a couple of the students were testing their logical skills using my daughter's toys! The concentration was etched all over their faces and provide much entertainment for the rest of us as we observed.

Suffice to say it was a very enjoyable and productive day. I pray the Lord will use is for the furthering of His Kingdom and that the Spirit would bring many to know Jesus through the CUs next year.

Friday, 4 May 2012

What is Love?

Not the Haddaway song from the early 90s, but one of the questions Teesside posed to their campus last week.
It is a very interesting question, as the range of answers they received proved.

The most popular answers, perhaps unsurprisingly, were along the lines of feelings and relationships, each of those received about 20 answers. They varied in complexity but the main thrust of the opinion was along the respective line.
But a couple of answers that you may not have expected to feature so prominently were:

Unconditional - 7
Don't Know - 15
Sex - 8
Chemicals - 6

I imagine some of the 'don't know' responses may have been due to the pressure of thinking of an answer on the spot, but it does show that love is something we speak about daily and yet find very difficult to define. It isn't a huge surprise that 'sex' featured, as many of the most popular TV shows and magazines lead us to believe that sex=love.

The other two answers I have featured lend themselves to a little more analysing.

Is love just a chemical reaction in our brains? Or as one student put it "my favourite chemical reaction". Is it possible that what I feel for my wife and daughter, for example, is merely down to chemicals? Well, if we live in universe without the God of the Bible, then that's exactly what I would have to conclude. There is no rhyme or reason behind love, everything is chance, time and processes. Can we really live like that? For example, I don't think any spouse would like to hear their partner say "I chemical reaction you!"

Unconditional is a totally different type of answer. It gives the sense of wanting someone who will accept you as you are, warts and all. Someone who will always be there for you, care for you, do what is best for you and never leave you. Someone who will love us at our best and our worst. This resonates with us doesn't it. But can we really find that in another human being?
We can make love into our God and our search for perfect love can be relentless and ultimately fruitless. In doing that we often place unreal expectations upon the people we seek to find this love in.
But there is a solution.

The answer the Bible gives to the question "What is love?" is staggering.

1 John 4:8-10 - "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

God is love. Father, Son and Holy Spirit define what love is. Love is outward focussed. Love looks to the interests of other above self. The love of God is most clearly and wonderfully displayed at the cross as Jesus Christ lays down His life so that those who would trust in Him might come to know the living God, being found in Him and enjoy Him forever.

If yo know this love, you know it to be truly satisfying. If you don't know this love, look to Jesus, check Him out.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Think about Easter

Why not think about the claims of Jesus this Easter?
Here's a few things you could do:

1. Read a gospel. Mark is the shortest.
2. Ask a Christian friend to tell you what he/she believes about Jesus/Easter and why.
3. Sign up to a course. Christianity Explored is suggested on the video but churches also run Alpha, or maybe check out Identity.
4. Or if you are a student, why not ask a friend, or contact the CU, and look through Uncover (a set of 6 Bible studies designed specifically for those wanting to engage with the person and work of Jesus).

It's a win/win situation for you:
If Jesus really did die and rise again then that changes everything = WIN!
If He didn't, you can pity Christians above all men, as the apostle Paul himself states in 1 Corinthians = WIN!

What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The LORD is Peace - Judges 6

The church I am a member of is currently working its way through the names of God on a Sunday evening. At the end of last month I had the privilege of looking at "Jehovah Shalom" - The LORD is peace, as revealed in Judges chapter 6 when the Angel of the LORD meets Gideon.

I thought I might post my thoughts on the passage with this theme of "Jehovah Shalom" in mind.
Generally I find thematic sermons harder to passage than straight exegesis of a passage.

First, the people of Israel are in the land of promise and at the end of chapter 5 we are told there has been 40 years of peace; no war, plenty of rest, and prosperity/well-being.
But, as chapter 6 begins, it all goes pear-shaped again. As we so often read in the book of Judges, "the people did evil in the eyes of the LORD". In chapter 6 the LORD gives them over to Midianites and Amalekites to be raided and pillaged for 7 years. The people of Israel are experiencing covenant curses (no time to go into this).

The people then cry out to the LORD to come to their rescue. They are utterly helpless. As we read what follows we are surprised. The LORD doesn't just reach out His hand and save them, He sends a prophet who reminds them of what the LORD has done for them and then declares that they have not listened. If the passages stops there the people are in deep trouble. They merely want the LORD for a rescue, a return of their prosperity and protection. They do not want the LORD for who He is, just His blessings.

Fortunately the story doesn't end there, and this was the second things I looked at. The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon who is threshing his wheat in a winepress to he can hide from the raiding parties and have some food.
The dialogue between the Angel and Gideon is fascinating. The identity of the Angel becomes clear, and it is wonderful. He declares that He will be with Gideon. In verses 14 and 16 He is clearly identified as the LORD, not just speaking on His behalf. So, who is this Angel? He is the Eternal Son of God, the second member of the One Triune God, the pre-incarnate Christ. Gideon meets Jesus.

Gideon comes to realise this very fact as he returns with a sacrifice which the Angel burns us with the tip of His staff and then disappears. Gideon's reaction to this speaks volumes. He is terrified. He thinks he is going to die, because he has seen the Angel of the LORD face to face. He equates the Angel of the LORD with the LORD Himself. I think it is fair to say that Gideon believe in a Triune God.
Gideon need to know the peace that the Angel then declares to Him. He need to know the he is safe, secure, not in danger of death. He needs to know shalom.

My final point was, how does this apply to us. How does we know "Jehovah Shalom"?
Quite simply, we know Jesus. We know peace with God because of Him. Here's a list of verses I read out to show peace linked with Jesus (there are many more); Luke 2:14, Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 2:14-18, John 14:27, Romans 5:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:16. Not to mention Isaiah 9 where the Messiah is called the Prince of Peace.
Interestingly enough, one writer says this about the word shalom, that its core meaning is: "reconciliation brought about by payment of a debt, the giving of satisfaction."
That's exactly what Jesus does. Gideon needed to know it because he was a member of rebellious Israel who had turned to worshipping idols, we need to know it because we too worship idols instead of the Triune God of the universe. Jesus dies for us, making peace, defeating sin and death. In Him, and in Him alone, we are made right in the sight of the Father, Jesus' righteousness being credited to us, meaning we can be in relationship and at peace with God.
The Angel who meets Gideon is the One and same Lord Jesus Christ who dies on the cross.

Knowing the peace that Jesus is, brings and gives to us frees us to live lives that are truly fulfilled and satisfied. We are freed from legalism because we do not, and can not, earn this peace.

There is much more to say, but this post is fairly substantial already. Here is the manuscript I preached from. Check it out if you want to see more of the application and content.

(As always, any feedback, comments or questions are welcomed.)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Gospel, Gospel, Gospel Care

Once again, a privilege bestowed upon me by my current job.
This time it was receiving some training on "Gospel Care" from Steve Timmis (Founder of the Crowded House in Sheffield and also Director of Acts29 Western Europe, amongst other things).

It was a wonderful reminder that the gospel really is the answer to all of life's problems, and just when you think a problem to hard, too big, too deep or too complicated has arisen, that tempts you to adopt worldly practices, or give up, the gospel remains the one true hope.

One of the main reasons for this is summed up in the following quote: "The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart."
One way to view the whole of the message of the Bible is God saying "Trust me!". Then what we see is that the essence of human sin is failure to trust God.

We spent the first of our two sessions unpacking Hebrews chapter 3 and 4. There we see that human hearts are hard, wandering, evil and unbelieving. This is terminal problem. It requires outside intervention, open heart surgery on a spiritual level.

We always do exactly what we want to do. The desires of our hearts control our wills.
The heart is the control centre of the person; affections, will and actions all flow from the heart. That's why the gospel is such good news because we are given a new heart, and that is what we so desperately need.

Our new heart is in dwelt by the Spirit and He changes us from the inside to see Christ as more beautiful and satisfying than anything this world has to offer. This in turn is the answer ultimately to all of the psychological issues that we have or situations we face. Jesus really is the answer for all of us, not just for Sunday school kids!

So, when we come to caring for others, dealing with pastoral issues and seeking to counsel people biblically, all we really need is the gospel. We need to know it well and be able to apply it. We need to be able to exegete people as well as we (hopefully!) exegete Scripture.

Alongside this teaching day we (as a staff team) are currently reading "How People Change" by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp. So far, an I am only about a third of the way through, it is excellent. It too advocates really applying the gospel to every situation. (why not check out the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation)

My thoughts on this, as my blog sub-heading suggests, are not fully formed and may seem a bit sketchy. There may well be another post on this as I think it through further and finish the book, but suffice it to say I find it liberating and challenging to truly trust that the gospel is really the answer to all of life's issues.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Saltshaker Day

We recently had the wonderful privilege of hosting Dick and Becky Manley-Pippert in the North East region of UCCF.
On the 10th of March, in Durham, Becky led a group of CU students through one of her Saltshaker training days (aptly named after her excellent book "Out of the Saltshaker" published by IVP).
It was great to hear stories of great boldness and wisdom from her vast experience but also very honest stories of God working in and through her weakness.
She is a gifted speaker and excellent evangelist.
It was also very encouraging and challenging to hear that Dick; seeing her gifting from the Lord as an evangelist, but also her ability to train others in evangelism, sold his business and used the money to enable them to travel around the world and train people.
God has been, and I'm sure will continue, to use them both to further the Kingdom and ignite a passion for Jesus in people's lives.

Here are a few quotes from Becky from the day. I hope they will be encouraging to you.

"It's not about new techniques or methonds, it's about knowing the message better....theology effects methodology"

"Humans are the only ones who resent their form. Why? Because it reminds us we are not God, that we are weak and dependent"

"Your inadequacy is your first qualification in evangelism"

"When you're on fire, people love to come and watch you burn" Wesley via RMP.

"Because God is love, evangelism is then about love....imaging God....God sends us, not tracts"

"Being relevant is important, but to be relevant all the time you have to say things which are eternal" I think this was Pascal via RMP.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Prayer Update March/April 2012

Once again, for anyone who prays for the work of the gospel among students.
Here is my latest prayer letter outlining the work with students in CUs in Sunderland, Teesside and the Queen's Campus of Durham University in Stockton.
Feel free to ask any questions or request further info in the comments.

Friday, 9 March 2012

What is wrong with the world?

Another day, another question.
Sunderland CU were out earlier today asking people what they thought is wrong with the world we live in. Again there were a mixture of answers ranging from the sublime (lack of love) to the deadly serious (war) to the utterly comical (JLS and One Direction). (see below)

I wanted to, very briefly, pick up on the answer "lack of love".
I recently gave a talk at Huddersfield CU events week titled "Is love all you need?" the short answer being yes, but only when defined the way God defines love.
So this post-it note answer to the question of "what is wrong with the world?" is very much on the button.

Jesus said that the law and the prophets is summed up in loving God first and loving neighbour.
It's not that God has made a mess, but we have. It's not that God is lacking in love, for "God is love" we are told in 1 John, we lack love.
But....we know love because Jesus Christ has laid down His life for us. He has perfectly revealed God to us.
In relationship with Him we can truly love God and love neighbour.
In Jesus is true love, and in Him we can truly love.
Lack of love is what is wrong with the world, but the love that is needed is defined by God and only found and spread abroad in Jesus.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

What questions would you Tweet to Jesus?

Today Sunderland CU asked the question: What question would you Tweet to Jesus?
This was the second in a series of question boards for their events week.
There were a wide range of answers given and many for whom the question just left them thinking. A few just said they had no idea what they'd ask Jesus either because they'd never thought about it or because they didn't believe in Him.

Here's a picture of the board and some of the answers.

1. Are you real?
2. Why do bad things happen to good people?
3. Why am I who I am?
4. When will you return?
5. Why is life so hard?
6. Do you believe in me?
7. How is everyone up there in heaven?

It would be great if some of these short encounters raise longer lasting discussions about Jesus and make people really serious question the big issues in life.
It once again showed me that however little people seem to be interested, everyone has something they want to know, or has issues they want to talk about.
We do live in a messed up world and Jesus is the answer!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

In spite of my sin

Earlier this evening I had the great privilege of speaking on Ephesians 2:1-10, twice!!!

But this story really begins earlier today. My wife had earlier asked my how my preparation was going for speaking at Teesside CU. I replied and told her that I was using a talk I had given previously on the same text and would re-read it and make the application more specific to their context. In my sinfulness I think I was relying on having a talk up my sleeve and partly in the fact that it is almost impossible to preach a bad sermon on Ephesians 2:1-10 because it is such a wonderfully clear passage! My wife rightfully rebuked me, in love, and told me that what I needed to do was pray and ask God what it was He wanted me to say, from the text, to the students.

Not having a lot of time to start writing a talk from scratch, I prayed and asked God to speak through by His Spirit and that all the glory would go to Jesus. I was in the car at the time, heading to Middlesbrough to meet some students.

I spoke at Teesside and although my lack of preparation was evident to me, God graciously used me in my weakness and sin to speak to the students. I hope that there is real fruit as a result.
But God's grace did not end there...

I headed over to the Queen's Campus CU in Stockton to catch up with the students and arrange some meetings. When I arrived I found out that my colleague, who was due to be speaking from Hebrews 11 on a hero of the faith, had broken down on the A19 and was awaiting the AA to come and sort his car out.
To cut a long story short, I spoke on Ephesians 2:1-10 again and God graciously used it. There was a real sense of His presence.

So, I learnt a good lesson, once again, that I need to prepare well and yet totally rely on the Holy Spirit to take the Word and bring it to life in people. On top of that I was reminded, that in spite of my sin, God graciously uses feeble jars of clay, like me, for His glory. I got what I didn't deserve because God is good, gracious and loving and His plan is far greater than I can know.
How great is this God who brings spiritually dead people to life (one major point of the passage) and who works in spite of our failings to bring about His purposes?!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Prayer News Jan/Feb 2012

Here is the latest prayer update for my work with CUs.
I hope that at least some of it will be an encouragement to you.

Look out for a fuller post about my Uncover study mentioned in the prayer points at the bottom of the update!

Read it here