Sunday, September 30, 2007

Snakes and ladders

On Friday lunchtime I found myself sat in a lecture theatre at the University of Bath. I have mixed memories of the venue, I've seen it packed with people hearing about Jesus but it's also where I found myself desperately struggling to understand fluid dynamics some eight years ago. I was there for a talk on 'who is Jesus?' - hosted by the CU as a talk to be followed by questions. The speaker was running a little late and as the most 'senior' student worker in the room my fingers flicked open the copy of John's gospel in front of me and began pondering what I might speak on if the speaker didn't show!

John 3 was in front of me. What could I say? We find Jesus met at night by religious leader Nicodemus. Nicodemus has heard a bit about Jesus and comes with more questions. He's a bit like the kind of person who comes to a 'who is Jesus?' talk - not entirely clueless, interested but still needing answers. And sometimes a little embarrassed to be asking such a direct question. Jesus tells him that contrary to his understanding of theology and biology he needs to experience a second birth if he's to enter into God's kingdom. Nicodemus is bewildered but Jesus continues.

1. Jesus, Son of God, was sent from heaven to speak to us (v12)
Often we struggle with the idea of knowing God because we think, how could we know him. He's unseen. And yet there is one very simple way we could know our Maker. God the Father sends God the Son to us. The shocker here is that while some followed Jesus the vast majority of those who met him rejected and despised him.

2. Jesus, Son of God, was sent to die to save us (v13-14).
But, Jesus isn't just sent as God's messenger. He comes as God with a very specific task to undertake. Nicodemus has the background to understand it. Once, God's people were in the desert on their way to take old of the land God promised to give them. They rebelled against him so he sent snakes to bite them. And then God told their leader Moses to make a bronze snake to be lifted up. If the rebellious people would look at the snake they'd be saved from the snakes. Not because of the power of a piece of metal, but because this look would reveal a change of belief.

And Jesus says - I'm the new bronze snake. In love God the Father sent his Son to be lifted up (v15) not just to save from physical death but to save from eternal death and so bring eternal life. A new life beginning now and lasting beyond death that centres upon Jesus. Like Piper asks Christians - would you be happy in heaven if Jesus was not there? Who is Jesus? Not one sent to condemn the world for it's rebellion against God - (v17) everyone already stood guilty by default for not looking to God's Son, for apathy to his infinite glory (v18). Jesus is the one sent to speak and reveal God, and sent to die to save us to an eternity of enjoying him.

How can you or I find our eyes lifted to look on him? On when God does what Jesus told Nicodemus was necessary - causes us to be 'born again' or 'born from above'. That's Bible language for something God had said centuries before, that God would take our rebellious hearts out of us and put his Spirit into us. See the finger of God intervening to save us! A world of rebels under judgement for apathy to God the Son. So God the Father sends his Son to be looked upon, and his Spirit to change our hearts. This is his love for a world who defaults to hating him by outright rebellion or indifference to our Maker. Remaining on that course of indifference ends with us under God's wrath, having God rescue us from it ends with us enjoying God's favour for all time.

Bob Kauflin riffs on some lyrics by John Newton who wrote of Jesus looking on us that both convicts and saves. Jesus invites us to look upon him and to believe...
Forever etched upon my mind
Is the look of Him who died
The Lamb I crucified
And now my life will sing the praise
Of pure atoning grace
That looked on me and gladly took my place
As it turns out the speaker turned up soon after, and so I never had to deliver these thoughts about Jesus, not this time anyway! With a bit more time there might have been a clearer approach I could have taken and there certainly are other angles (who is Jesus is a message that jumps off most pages of the Bible)... another thought I had was the end of John 1, where we find Jesus described as Jacob's Ladder - the one and only way we can meet with God. Snakes and ladders, but without the games.

What if we read the Bible with peope who aren't Christians?

Matt Graham & Bethanie Amey at Forum 2007 - how to open the Bible with non-Christians (MP3, workshop)

We ♥ Art

Dan Peterson and Ally Gordon on Christians and the Arts. Outstanding stuff from Forum 2007. Listen and learn and enjoy.

Any questions about UCCF

Open Forum at UCCF Forum 2007 - some excellent Q&A about Christian Unions. The highlight is probably Jason Clarke calling us away from soundbites and towards serious study of the issues.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

October at BeginningWithMoses.org

We're back after the summer with a selection of new articles for you at BeginningWithMoses.org...

"unless you understand fully that Jesus is the one to whom the whole Bible points then your heart won’t burn within you as fiercely as it should."

God gave us teachers

Over the summer I've read a number of books, and I guess I'll find myself referencing a number of them in the months ahead. First up was GOD'S SMUGGLER and LIGHT FORCE by Brother Andrew, and I'm currently reading SECRET BELIEVERS. In August I also spent some time in THE REFORMED PASTOR by Richard Baxter and read a little R.Paul Stevens at the recommendation of a friend.

I dipped into Jasper Foorde's THE THIRD BEAR and Chris Wright's THE MISSION OF GOD. Two very different books that I failed to finish. Em and I began to read Dave Harvey's WHEN SINNERS SAY I DO, which will take some time to work through.

At our new staff Orientation, Tim Rudge recommended GROWING LEADERS by James Lawrence which is a brilliant manual on leading from grace and developing transformational ministry. I'm a long way from knowing how to put this into practice but I've very keen to pursue it. More thoughts on it to come along the way. Most striking for me was Lawrence thinking in terms of starting with being accepted by grace rather than earning acceptance and the cascading effects that difference has upon the way we work.

Some books are like old friends and I'm not surprised that I've ended up once more in Barry Webb's FIVE FESTAL GARMENTS as I feast on Lamentations and Song of Songs. FFG is a good friend that always points me back to God's word.

Reading 'theology' is a priviledge in my job. What I could really do with are some recommendations of the very best fiction books (old or new) - I have some long train journeys in this job and a good book is a good friend at such times, especially since my MP3 player died last week :(

Friday, September 28, 2007

Seven Things

This week I've learned...

1. There are 3000 people on the waiting list for an NHS dentist in Exeter. Soon to be 3002. The good news is that there used to be 7000.
2. My sister lived with the Match of the Day's first female commentator Jacqui Oatley when she was at Uni. Which might be a better claim to fame than me going to school with Maps' James Chapman. You decide, if you care.
3. Water companies paint things blue to indicate where work needs to be done. Thanks to the man who came to survey us for a water meter.
4. Jane BH makes very good chocolate brownies. Alex delivers them well. And we ate them well.
5. Jesus holds all chocolate together, not just the fair trade stuff (discovered in homegroup...)
6. Bath is a building site at the moment.
And Ecclesiastes is very pertinent to 'gospel-ministry'.
7. House is great TV. I knew this before but felt like saying so.

Not yet learned: how Song of Songs is Christian Scripture... 'reflect on these things, the Lord will give you understanding'

When words are not enough

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fresh words

For the last couple of years I've provided tips for Freshers here, this year I'll defer to ex-Relay Ed whose managed to get in ahead of me: Hello Christian Freshers.

Two things I will offer - firstly a page from a talk I've not quite finished preparing on Luke 3v1-21 for Bath CU next week:
Firstly, Don't trust in your background. John calls the people to repent saying - "Do not begin to say to yourselves 'we have Abraham as our Father'". The Jewish people are descendants of Abraham. Dangerously they assumed that physical relationship saved them. John says no. You're vipers, evil and deceiving. Don't think this way “For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham”. God can and will miraculously raise up the kind of people he is looking for. Children of Abraham is Bible language for people who trust God like Abraham did, and you can read about that in the book of Genesis.

We might think the same – perhaps you have Christian parents or have attended church meetings, prayed a prayer of commitment to Jesus at some point. Rejoice in that, but don't think that your past can save you. God comes and he will find a people for himself. He comes to us – what will he find? Viperous self-rescuers who trust in their religion and background. The axe awaits such people. Our only hope will be when our only hope is Jesus.

V16. Secondly, don't trust in your behaviour John has told people to change. People ask him, v10, what shall we do... He says, v11-14, change your way of living – be generous, act justly, be content. But, notice what he's doing. He says bear fruit in keeping with repentance. John Piper explains this:
“this means that repenting is what happens inside us. Then this change leads to the fruits of new behaviour. Repentance is not the new deeds but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds. Jesus is demanding that we experience this inward change”
There's a lie going round that those who live good lives are the people God loves. That Christians are good people. Two thousand years ago, in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, John the preacher showed that wasn't the case. People can't just change, we need God to grant us repentance. We're selfish, unjust and greedy and only by repentance can we change. John prepares the way by calling for repentance. But he's not the One. People even asked, v15 – are you the Christ, are you God's promised rescuer? And John said, v16, no – he comes next, he does more.

John gives external washing called baptism with water. The Christ who follows him, v16, will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The Christ will raise up children of Abraham by changing hearts. Raising up rocks to be children of Abraham. Rescuing rebels in the desert. Good behaviour can't save us – we need to bear fruit but we're dead unless he changes our hearts. What gloriously good news! No need to impress – a bath from John might clean you up a bit but the Christ comes to give you a new heart! You can't earn it, nor can you be too bad for it. Don't fake it, and don't despair. See that your only hope is when your only hope is Jesus.
And a secondly: Learn to read the Bible like 3 year old Isabel

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

AutoHands™ etc


Kauflin on feet
and Reynolds on AutoHands™

(not very secret, occasional) diary of a UCCF Team Leader

8:13 I ran out of the door, slightly later than planned. Quickly across the first pedestrian crossing before being halted by the second. I saw the train pulling into the station, released by the green light I ran up the stairs and dived in the doors of the 8:14 train. Changing trains at St Davids I boarded the 8:40 train to Bristol Temple Meads. I like trains because they enable me to travel and work or rest. This morning I was feeling fairly alert and so after spending a little time in Lamentations I was able to make a few phone calls and edit my notes for a talk at Bath CU next week.

Just after 10am we arrived in Bristol. Birthplace of my wife and the city where we were married. Ahead of me a 3 mile journey. I was tempted to get the bus but wanted to drop into the Wesley Owen on the way, and with a day sitting in meetings I figured a bracing walk would be good for me. Bristol unfortunately has several big hills. Halfway up the hill and away from the bus route regret and hindsight aren't very helpful.

Heading for an address on a long road is tricky, I hit the road a somewhat down hill from my destination, reaching the OMF offices by just after 11am. Laura greeted me at the door, a former colleague of my wife, and swiftly supplied me with a coffee. This was a meeting of the UCCF South West Missions Partnership. Eight mission agencies partnering with UCCF, laying aside their own agendas to promote the cause of world missions in Christian Unions. Technically I'm co-chair but I entered my first meeting very ignorant of what was involved. The group meets twice a year to review and prepare. It was good to hear back from Summer Teams and 'Go Global Roadshows'. The highlight was the story of Steve being waylaid at a Missions evening six months ago by a non-Christian and then being told by another member of the group that the girl has since become a Christian. God delights to interrupt our plans!

Next up was a meeting with Nathan Smith from Grace Church Bristol. Nathan is a gospel-loving Sovereign Grace Ministries pastor. SGM pastors only meet in Starbucks, which wasn't really a problem for me. We had a couple of very encouraging hours together talking gospel stories and church partnership. We then got a little stuck in traffic on the way to the station. I would have missed my train, except it was delayed by 45 minutes.

Tuesday was a rare 'Three Block' day and concluded with the freshers week meeting of the Exeter CU at which Nigel Styles was speaking and we sang some cool songs like From the inside out. Met a number of people including Joe, Tim, Scott, Suzanne and several of the CU leaders. Returned home, enjoyed a warm relaxing bath, reading a review copy of Celebrating Life that Becci sent me. Checked email which was a mistake, I should have gone straight to bed.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sanctifying the Ordinary

The wonderful people at Sovereign Grace Ministries have made their MP3 library available for free download! Among the multitudes of messages I found this series which on the ordinary... the outworking of the conviction that Jesus claims all things for himself...
This sort of stuff was also the subject of a conversation with Pod & Becci at Tom & Carolines wedding about the area of life God has had his finger on with each of us this year...

Sanctifying the Ordinary:
1. A Biblical Understanding of Sleep (C.J. Mahaney)
2. A Biblical Understanding of Work (John Loftness)
3. A Biblical Understanding of Eating (Robin Boisvert)
4. A Biblical Understanding of Leisure (Jeff Purswell)

The first one is worth it for the ice cream story!

Back on the rails

Blogging should resume as normal soon. We're online at home which is nice after five weeks without that. I've missed a lot of bloggage but it's good to see that Adrian Warnock is promoting John Owen. Owen's work has added ballast to my Christianity which I've deeply grateful for. And I know I've got a lot more to read of him yet.

Yesterday was Tom & Caroline Price's wedding. A wonderful day and a priviledge to pray for them during the service. Great to catch up with Adam & Jo, Pod & Becci, Dan & Steph and run into a load of other ex-Reading CU and UCCF people.

In the last week I've had the pleasure and honour of starting to supervise those on my team who fall under my responsibility. I'm supervising Andy on the Relay programme and we'll meet week by week for Bible study, prayer and training to prepare him for service with the mission team at Exeter University. There are also five Staff on my team. So far I've met with Alex, Kenny and Claudia and will be seeing Jim and Su Ann in the next week.

On Wednesday I travelled to London for a CU mission speakers consultation. Around 30 evangelists were able to attend as we shared some best-practice and experience together. I hope to speak at missions in future so it was great to sit and listen. I think we'll do this again in future. I'm acutely aware that we probably need to be able to gather 100 evangelists to match the growing passion for regular evangelistic events. Jim was among the CU staff in attendance.

Ten reflections from the day, nothing particularly new but good to remember:
1. We need to equip students for friendship that goes beyond triviality
2. We need to create contexts that provoke and facilitate questions
3. Missions are great for the friends of CU members
4. Running courses (like Alpha/Christianity Explored) before missions is good.
5. Help students to articulate their testimony clearly
6. Use creative talent within CUs
7. Equip CUs with a range of toosl for mission - like evangelistic Bible study, apologetics, courses etc.
8. Prayer mobilises mission.
9. How they come is how they stay. i.e. Use the Bible as the means of conversion and the new Christian will always read the Bible and will use it to introduce others to Jesus.
10. Take students to visit missions in other locations to share ideas and vision.
On Thursday I travelled to Cornwall for a gathering of students (like Liz Cowie) and supporters in Truro. It was an opportunity to express our thanks for those who have funded Kenny over the last three years and to share stories and needs for prayer.

On Friday morning I had my first supervision with Kenny. We've known each other since we did Relay together and it was great to spend time together, in the sound of God's voice (from Ecclesiastes) and in view of the river flowing into the sea. Later in the day I broke my train journey back with a stop in Plymouth to meet with Claudia. Looking ahead as partners in the gospel was a real joy. I ♥ the South West Staff.

In case that all sounds far too optimistic (though I make no apologies for present joy), let me end with these words from Bonhoeffer that I'm loving at the moment:
...the very hour of disillusionment with my brother or sister becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds but only by that one word and deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.

Dave Bish Ministries

It has a nice ring doesn't it? Thankfully Dave Bish Ministries doesn't exist. And it had better never exist. Not because I don't want to do 'ministry' - everything I do should be. But, because it might suggest I was trying to build a name for myself. My self-deceiving heart could probably come up with reasons to do that, which is at least one reason why I need to feel the sea-breeze of Eccesiastes.

This little book is fresh-air for our celebrity-intoxicated culture and it's christian imitations. Ecclesiastes gets under the paint and corrodes away the lies, trite-answers and escapism we covet. From the outside Dawkins says we're the climax of history, inside the liberal Christians look down on their forebears as primitive... but 3000 years ago The Preacher had already said it all. Innovation was already bunk by then. Nothing's new. Problems are not new. We're not the best generation, just the latest. And before long we'll all be forgotten. That's truer in the student world than most other contexts. Three years and the slate is clean.

Doesn't mean we can't achieve anything meaningful, we can. The investment of the greatest treasure is the key. Not your savings in Northern Rock, but the gospel into image-bearers, the gospel of God into the lives of those whose names have been written in the book of the slain Lamb since before the world began. That'll last forever. After seven years in Reading I'm aware that I'll soon be forgotten. And that's absolutely fine. The only one who needs to be remembered is Jesus.

Ecclesiastes is the kind of book that you wouldn't think belongs in the Bible unless God put it there. Which he did. Without it we'd be left to fantasy faith in which we imagine triumphalism and total satisfaction are on offer here. There is great joy but perfection eludes us in the frustrated creation. Admitting that leaves us free to engage in life rather than to play at escapism. It permits humility and confession of the experience of frustration. It liberates us to fail and to embrace life, banishing all forms prosperity theology.

And that's half of why I decided to study Ecclesiastes 1v1-11 with Kenny and Claudia last week. Meanwhile I started reading Lamentations in the train the other day...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Seven days


Still offline at home

1. Team

Gathering the South West Staff and Relay for 48 hours of gorging ourselves on a meal that oozes grace in Hebrews 10-12. And walking the Teign Gorge.

2. Revelation

Ken McLeod burning with the gospel at Trinity on Sunday. Revelation 12

3. Sky

TV we have, internet we lack.

4. Weekend

Rest is great.

5. The next week

Trains to London and Falmouth.

6. Growing Leaders

By James Lawrence, an excellent book. Also re-reading The Glory of Christ by John Owen.

7. Congrats

To my little sister on passing her driving test.

Mark Dever in London

Theology for All - September 22nd, Christ Church Mayfair

Monday, September 10, 2007

NUS-UCCF Guidelines

New guidelines from NUS and UCCF on Christian Unions and Student Unions working together.

Press Release:
Guidelines for students’ unions and Christian unions, ‘a real step forward’

The National Union of Students (NUS) and the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) today launched joint guidance to help students’ unions and Christian unions manage good local relationships. The guidance comes after tensions were reported between these groups in 2006.

The guidance, drafted and agreed by the NUS and UCCF, with advice from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), is in line with the law, university regulations, union regulations and the democratic principles of liberty, equality and respect for diversity.

Gemma Tumelty, NUS National President said:

“These guidelines are a genuine step forward for positive interfaith relations on campuses across the UK.

“NUS greatly values the contribution that faith societies make to campus life and we are absolutely committed to helping SUs and CUs work together to resolve any issues that they both may have.

“We hope that these guidelines help in those few instances where students’ unions and Christian unions have had problems, whilst reinforcing the excellent relations that the rest have.”

The Revd Richard Cunningham, director of UCCF: The Christian Unions added:

"In the vast majority of universities and colleges up and down the country, the CUs play an active and valued role within the students’ union - indeed, they are often the largest society on campus.

"We hope these guidelines will help in the very rare cases where certain student guilds have had difficulty understanding the deeply held convictions of the members of the CU, and will also help CUs play an even more active and productive role as members of the SU."

Moussa Haddad, Policy Officer - Race, Religion and Belief, Equality Challenge Unit said:

“Equality Challenge Unit is delighted to have worked with NUS and UCCF in developing these important guidelines, and that agreement has now been reached. We are confident that they will encourage the amicable resolution of disputes that may arise on occasion between students’ unions and Christian unions, helping to ensure that they can both continue to make positive contributions to campus life.”

Seven Days (and a bit)


Still offline at home but we should be back online in the next 13 days or so.. this is a catch up on recent weeks...

1. House

We're in and that's nice. Settling in but missing people from Reading.

2. Richard Cunningham

Playing seven degrees of Kevin Bacon at Orientation over a nice beer in Northampton.

3. Reeves

On 1 Corinthians. Champagne and Caviar, once more.

4. In praise of... listening.

Over breakfast with Brother Andrew. I had nothing to say and everything to hear.

5. Sickness.

At idolatry. Acts 17v16.

6. The beach.

The whole earth proclaims the glory of God. Listen up!

7. Studying for Jesus.

Teaching about it at Forum.

And Jason's quality session on what it means to be human!