Monday, February 28, 2011

Five reflections on CU Mission Weeks

I've just come out of speaking at two CU mission weeks. My second and third as the main speaker.I feel like a novice, I've felt out of my depth, weak, feeble, socially awkward, but loving it. I've known a fresh sense of the love of God for me, and of love for people, and a growing inquistiveness about others.
My reflections on eight days on the front-line?

1. The gospel is really good news. It's possible to tell it like it isn't, but it's beautiful when we manage to tell it well. I love trying to persuasively speak of the love of God. I love being able to warmly invite people to come and know God with me. Our gospel is so expansive and inviting. He's not a god with a gun to my head to enslave me, his love wins my heart to love. His love burns with jealousy for us. His love burns against evil. His love cleans the stains of sin.

2. If you put on a good event in a good location with good food and good publicity three groups of people will come and all can benefit. Christians. Friends of Christians who aren't Christians. People no one in the Christian Union knew before. Best training for a Christian is to think hard about Christianity in public with real questions. Serving and listening in CU missions with Nigel Lee, Roger Carswell, Michael Ramsden, Ian Marlow, Krish Kandiah, Richard Cunningham, John Risbridger and others shaped me richly. Hoping to do the same for students today.
(Picture - our main lunchtime venue at the centre of campus)

3. People ask great questions when you give them the opportunity to do so. Sometimes they ask them genuinely, sometimes to trap you. I've tried not to be a smartass but instead to honour the questions and love the questioner. I'm convinced my manner matters as much as the words I say. The most common questions were:
  • Why would God let me be an atheist? And other questions around whether God forces us to believe or should force us to believe. Lots of questions which are about the nature of God, his revelation and how people come into relationship with God. I'm struck that for many people their questions assume a picture of god who isn't the God of Christianity. Michael Ramsden on Logical fallacy helped me a lot. As has Mike Reeves on God.
  • Am I going to hell? And other questions around whether there is a hell and what it is. Never going to be easy to speak about this. We think the alternative is mean and petty, but we've not even begun to figure the horror of hell and sin. If we don't have 'eternal life' clear then it'll be even harder to see clearly. Eternal life is physical and personal - to know God and to be in his renewed creation. I don't want to quickly tell someone they're going to hell when they've not even got categories for who God is. Questions need unpacking.
  • What about Elizabeth Fritzl? And other evil and suffering in the world and why God doesn't stop it and what would happen if he did. We have some answers, some hope of justice and cleansing, and of God's comfort and compassion for people. And I find myself saying 'I don't know' quite a bit, because I don't.
  • What about the way the Bible clashes with our culture? What about the Bible being old and so too far off to speak to us and to communicate clearly. Many questions around sexuality.  Tim Keller on Literalism helped me a lot with this. Lots of issues raised that have been taken from Dawkins books.
4. You can pull of something decent at fairly short notice, but a bit more attention to detail can really improve things. The best way to get detail right is to plan several months ahead - and that's more than possible! Advance planning is also the gateway to creativity - because once you get the basics nailed you get to play more...
5. Students are great. They're able and ambitious and pull off great exploits. I love the students of Cardiff and Bath Spa Uni CU's who got stuck into the mission our God has given them.

There is not much that is more encouraging than a Christian who risked his relationships by bringing four of his mates to an event asking when I can come back and speak to them again. Encouragement is underrated and so needed. I can definitely speak better than I did but I'm trusting I spoke well, I feel some sense of progress from the mission week I did last year, and a longing to step up again even though its scary.

We didn't see anyone become a Christian during these two weeks (that I'm aware of), several said they'll visit church, others said they'll come again to similar events, others wanted to meet with people to chat further. A mission week is only ever part of a bigger picture.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 Things that Matter in Evangelism (Richard Sibbes on Espousal Evangelism)

It's the time of year many Christian Unions raise the temperature for a week of additional events designed to give others the opportunity to encounter Jesus and explore their questions. I've been immersed in last week's Cardiff Uni 'But God' week and next week's at Bath Spa Uni. I'd value your prayers for myself and the students. I'm seeking to follow Richard Sibbes' lead, so here he is on Espousal Evangelism:

1. The Character of the Evangelist Matters. 
If we would be happy instruments to convert others, being converted ourselves, labour to be such as the world may think to be good and gracious. ‘you fairest among women,’ fair in the robes of Christ took out of his wardrobe. All the beauty and ornaments that the church has she has from Christ. Let us labour to be such as the world may see are good persons. We say of physicians, when the patient has a good attitude, the cure is half wrought. So the doctrine is half persuaded when there is a good appreciation of the speaker.

2. The Manner of the Evangelist matters 
Labour to be earnest. If we would kindle others, we must be warmed ourselves; if we would make others weep, we must weep ourselves. The church spoke this with large expressions, indeed, more than can be expressed.

3. The Affections of the Evangelist Matter 
Let us labour to be deeply affected with what we speak, and speak with confidence as if we knew what we spoke, as the apostle John does, in the beginning of his epistle, to bring others to be better persuaded of his doctrine. He affirms ‘that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with these our eyes, which we have looked upon, and these hands of ours have handled of the word of life’ he delivered to them, 1 John 1:1. For when we are confident from spiritual experience, it is wonderful how we shall be instruments of God to gain upon others. So Peter. ‘We followed not,’ says he, ‘deceivable fables, when we opened unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but with our eyes we saw his majesty,’ 2 Pet. 1:16.
Do not think it belongs only to the ministry. There is an art of conversion that belongs to every one that is a grown Christian, to win others. That which most of all stirs up holy affections to search after Christ is the large explications of his excellencies. Be in love with the ministry of the gospel and the communion of saints, who have their tongues and their hearts taught of God to speak excellently. Their tongues are as refined silver; their hearts are enriched to increase the communion of saints, Prov. 10:20. Mark this one excellency of that excellent ordinance of God in Christ, where Paul says, Eph. 3:7, 8, ‘To me is committed this excellent office, to lay open the unsearchable riches of Christ;’ such riches as may draw you to wonder, such ‘as eye has never seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man to conceive,’ 1 Cor. 2:9; and so to draw the affections of people after them.

4. The Message of the Evangelist Matters 
It is the special office of the ministry to lay Him open, to hold up the tapestry, to unfold the hidden mysteries of Christ, therefore we labour to be always speaking somewhat about Christ, or tending that way. When we speak of the law, let it drive us to Christ; when of moral duties, to teach us to walk worthy of Christ. Christ, or somewhat tending to Christ, should be our theme and mark to aim at.

5. The Aim of the Evangelist Matters
Those who hinder the preaching of the gospel are enemies of the conversion and calling of God’s people, and of their comfort. Like Cain they are vagabonds, wandering without submission and keeping themselves out of the great opportunity to hear of the excellences of Christ which might draw their own hearts to him. We are made forever, if we are one with Christ. If we have the whole world without him, it is nothing; if we have nothing in the world but Christ, we are happy. Oh! happy then when this match is made between Christ and the soul! The friends of the bride and of Christ lay open the unsearchable riches of Christ to the spouse, drawing the affections, working faith, and so bringing the bride and the bridegroom together.

MP3: Hosea 2:14 - Christ Loves (Dave Bish, Cardiff CU)
More on Espousal Evangelism: I will allure her