Monday, 24 December 2007

Peace with God in Christ(mas)

May you all have a Christmas celebrating the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. I pray that we'd all worship and enjoy our Father through him this Christmas, whether it's a time we find happy or tinged with sadness. Grace and peace.

Quote of the Day: brother vs. psychiatrist


The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Wordly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiastrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God's forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Confession and Communion," in Life Together, 1954, quoted in Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes

One touch from the King

I recently posted about several books, including One Touch From the King by Mark Stibbe. I said it takes a position on miraculous healing which is more balanced and pastorally helpful than most charismatics I've read. Pondering this more, I thought I'd have another flick through it and point out more pros & cons - comparing him relative to others I've read isn't a very helpful indicator! So here are some points, in no particular order:

Stibbe differentiates between gifts of healing (which he describes as gradual and/or partial) and miraculous healing (instananeous, total). He claims this distinction is implied from the fact these are listed separately, and the book is written about miracles, not gifts of healing. I'm not sure how much this is merited, but it makes the book's focus more clear.

The author's aim was to encourage us to seek God in faith. The book does this, and avoids the pitfall of making people feel guilty for lack of faith if they don't see healing, by emphasising that God is King - King of kings & Lord of lords - and is therefore sovereign over whether or not someone is healed, and over the timing. He has a chapter encouraging perseverence and patience with hope, which is helpful pastorally. This whole emphasis is often lacking in books which seek to encourage faith in God to heal - as if mentioning God's sovereignty or the need for endurance will decrease faith.

Another potential pitfall is that we can get so caught up in pursuit of the blatantly miraculous that we miss the more 'mundane' - and difficult! - ministry with which God calls us to serve the sick and hurting: ministries of mercy and compassion. Mark Stibbe has a chapter encouraging us to reach out to the sick in their pain and minister with compassion: commendable. My Mother visits the many elderly ladies of my parent's church in a nursing home (and hospitals) several times every week, checks their houses are ok, does their laundry, and sits chatting or in silence with them. I must say that I believe that the evidence of the power of the Spirit at work in his people is far clearer in this, with the community of God's people caring for one another, than in most healing meetings I've heard of or been in. So, commendable to encourage serving one another in compassion, in the long haul, and not only seeking miraculous 'fixes'.

Stibbe also notes that it is not always right to pray for healing: better sometimes to pray that God will enable his people to die well. This certainly rings true as I think of friends whose only desire was to depart and be with Christ. This present world had become too much for their bodies. So the author points out that Jesus left plenty of people dead, as well as raising the son of the widow from Nain. He also notes that miracles don't bring a pleasant life: that if we seek to see the Spirit's power, we may also expect to "experience a new appreciation of the Cross - both the message of the Cross and the marks of the Cross".

Having said that, I think some of his use of Scripture isn't good. He misunderstands the double healing in Mark 8, and takes it as a case of perseverence needed. Our Lord did not have God refuse his prayer! No, the context in which Luke places it show us that Jesus used this miracle to illustrate to his disciples (and Peter particularly) their need to see fully, as they grasp that he is Messiah, yet refuse him on what kind of Messiah he must be.

He rather abuses Elisha, by suggesting that unlike our Lord, Elisha didn't take the risk to have physical contact in compassion for Naaman, the gentile leper. It doesn't seem to occur to him that Elisha might have had good reason to humble Naaman before the Lord rather than meeting his expectations in the manner of healing! The record does not encourage us to criticise Elisha for a lack of compassion, but to rejoice in Naaman being humbled before God, and healed by His mercy.

There's at best a large hole in his use of Acts 4 & 5 - the church meet to pray for the Lord (vv.29-30):

"And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
And Stibbe says this was answered in ch.5: "Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles." But what do we see inbetween? Immediately after they pray, we're told,

"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness."
Is this not the answer? And if we're looking for miracles, then the answer in ch.5 doesn't actually give Stibbe what he claims: the miracles in ch.5 are done by the apostles - not by all the church who'd been praying. This is not a large point, but Mark generalises to encourage us all to seek miracles, like the NT church: yet if the answer to the NT church was found in the miracles of the apostles, then the answers we expect may be different from what Stibbe describes.

That leads into my next query. Stibbe doesn't show that the "signs of the apostles" are to apply to the whole church today. Now, I can't see any indication in the NT that certain signs are expected to cease at any time before the parousia. But it does seem that there were signs of the apostles - given to confirm their word as God's word - e.g. 2 Cor 12.12, Heb 2.1-4 - which are referred to in the past tense in Hebrews. It seems that these gifts focussed round the ministry of the apostles to bear witness to apostolic preaching. This is not to say that God does not chose to do these things otherwise: merely that this seems to be the focus. So when Stibbe encourages us to an 'apostolic Christianity', I think he needs to do more work to show why we should expect to each be like an apostle! Perhaps he attempts this in his book Healing Today.

Stibbe says of his summary aim, at the beginning:

God can radically transform your situation with just one royal touch. A
moment of divine contact can bring an invasion of heaven into your world.

Of course I am aware that there are many who are still waiting and we will not evade the tough questions on the way, questions like, 'What happens when the King's touch is not experienced?' 'What happens when people are not healed and transformed instantly?' But my overriding desire is to encourage you to a new level of faith in the King's life-changing touch. My aim is to help raise your level of faith in the ability of the King of kings to touch your life.

In this aim, he succeeds to a certain extent. He would do better if he addressed those concerns I raised above. But if I were to pick on one thing to summarise, that would improve this book on healing and miracles, it is an explanation of the incoming of the Kingdom in the now, while pointing to the hope of the not yet. It is Romans 8. It would answer the question left begging by Stibbe's book: If God is sovereign, and can intervene so powerfully to transform the lives of his children, to bring 'an invasion of heaven into your world', then why does he not always do so? The answer of Romans 8 would seem to be that the indwelling presence and work of the Holy Spirit does indeed bring an invasion of heaven into us, and in us, into the world. This is experienced partially now, and completely later - the King would have us not only seeking his 'touch' now, but moreover, longing for his return. Now we see in a dark reflection, and we groan in these mortal bodies; then we will be like him, for we shall see him face to face, receive the final redemption of our bodies and be clothed in immortality. We witness to the world of the King and his Kingdom now by the Spirit who dwells in us, transforming us to be like Him, but all the more we long for his appearing. Come, Lord Jesus!

I much appreciated Sam Storm's succinct statement:
I believe healing is in the atonement in the same way I believe all spiritual and physical blessings are in the atonement. Were it not for the death and resurrection of Christ we would have nothing but the eternal damnation that we deserve. But not all such blessings are experienced in their fullness until the consummation of all things in the New Heaven and New Earth. This would certainly be true of the healing of the body.

Out of the mouths of babes & infants

A man drinking in the pub in Belfast on Christmas Eve, with his partner, was watching two little girls as they ran around away from their parents. They came up to where the couple were sitting and the seven-year-old spoke to the man's girlfriend: "What's your name?" "I'm Mary," she joked. The child turned to him: "So you must be Joseph!" she said.

The man laughed. "Do you know who Mary and Joseph were?" he asked in reply.
"Sure I do. Mary was Jesus' Mummy and Joseph was his step-dad."

The man was thrown by this. He'd never thought of it before. Joseph, not Jesus' father, but his step-father? Who did that make Jesus? Why was that the case?

He got up from his pint, and with 'Mary' (who had no idea what had made her say that was her name), walked out of the pub... Round the corner, to the Evangelical Bookshop. There he told this story to the manager and asked whether the little girl had got it right. The manager talked with him about Jesus, his birth, and who he was, for a good few minutes. He gave him a gift of Lee Strobel's A Case for Christmas. "I can't take this!" the man said. "It's Christmas - gift from us!" the manager insisted. The man departed, leaving £5 'to charity' (the charity box beside the till comes into its own here) - and promising to read the book.

Praise God for the words of a child to a stranger in a Belfast pub, and for the witness of the Evangelical Bookshop, and pray that God would give the man faith to believe in the Son of God, whose mother was Mary, and step-father, Joseph.


When I visit my parents for Christmas, I read. Clearly I also catch up with them, see relatives, help with the Christmas prep, meet with church, visit friends in nursing homes, and visit the home of the heart, but it's also a wonderful chance for reading. My parents' minister was rather concerned that I rest my brain from reading theology, but it is resting - especially like this:

I arrive back and first thing, I investigate what books are lying around. My Dad's reading Wright's
Surprised by Hope which looks interestingly non-novel, but I'd not get away with trying to read it at the same time as him. There were a couple of novels lying around - review copies my Dad had been sent to persuade him to stock them in the bookshop. Ha! I read one in an hour or so, which wasn't worth it. I think the lift repair man was supposed to be like Christ, but you'd be better reading a 'secular' novel that was actually well-written (Christians should lead with creativity, in the image of God, surely?) and discuss that with a friend, rather than reading a poor 'Christian' novel which isn't sure whether a lift repair man is a type of Christ or is pointing the characters to him.

Then it was a new biography of Frances Ridley Havergal, which needed to be reviewed for shop stock. It was ok, but I'd recommend Sharon James' biography of four women including Havergal,
In Trouble And In Joy which is more readily available.

The next book lying on the coffee table was
One touch from the King by Mark Stibbe. He advocates a position on miraculous healing which is more balanced and pastorally helpful than most charismatics I've read.

Atop the next pile on the coffee table (misnomer here: 'coffee' table should read 'table buried under piles of books') is Carolyn Mahaney's
Feminine Appeal, which I was interested to see. It's primarily for wives & mothers, but was of value to me nevertheless. I wonder whether the view of women remaining at home owed slightly more (ironically) to culture than to Scripture, as before the industrial revolution both husband and wife would work in the husband's trade from the home, or in the fields together, with the children around them both - or so claimed Pearcey's Total Truth. However, with slight feelings of middle class American culture, the book's good overall.

Having refrained from picking up my Dad's current read, I did snatch my Mum's -
Seasons of womanhood by Jean Gibson - and read it while she was off doing something else. Her only objection was that I couldn't possibly have read it properly to finish it that quickly. The book itself was mostly fine - short biographies of ordinary Christian women at various stages of life, their challenges and how they serve the Lord in them. One chapter seemed to say more about the Myers-Briggs(TM) personality test than about Jesus, but thankfully that chapter was out of place among the rest, and the book is a 'nice', short book, which will encourage some to be faithful to the Lord in all circumstances.

Deciding I'd exhasted the recent additions to the piles of books lying round the house (or the others being commentaries), I headed in to The Bookshop, and although I've asked for a list for Christmas, I browsed the second hand - and the rest of the shop which is mostly reduced. Picked up Josh Harris'
Stop Dating the Church, which has been variously recommended, and read it before I went to sleep - it is good. Just a pity it's not IVP so I can't as easily sell it to students.

Yesterday was Sunday, which is marvellous, and I also managed to finish Frame,
Apologetics to the Glory of God, which is good but hard going at times, and leaves me mostly agreeing but still feeling I'm not great at apologetics. Talks and written word, yes, but interaction with a buddhist-sounding nonrealist after a God is a Delusion debate, when he wouldn't admit he didn't live consistent with his nonrealism? Hmmm.

To top off Sunday, I read Krish Kandiah's
Twenty-Four before I slept, and thoroughly recommend it. Finally someone else who is prepared to advocate godliness while driving - he has a whole chapter on commuting! I find it rather worrying in the inherintly selfish activity of driving, when each is focussed on his own agenda, how easily frustration and irritation arise in my heart. Commuting is a hard test arena for grace.

Now I await my Christmas books...

Friday, 21 December 2007


Belgium finally has a government after 6 months of crisis (that's crisis à la Belgique, note: solid, not-very-bothered crisis, slightly moving into impatience at the politicians, of late).

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Exeter students vote in CU

The student body at Exeter University have voted to reinstate the CU to the Guild of Students, with the right that all officers and voting members of the society agree to its aims and values, expressed in a statement of belief. (The Guild now should ratify the vote of the student body.) The press release is here.

Also related are Julian Rivers on the legal rights of CUs and joint NUS - UCCF guidelines for faith societies on campus.

Pray that the Guild of Students at Birmingham University would soon follow suit, facilitating student faith societies existing and serving the student body with integrity of belief and action.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Quote of the day: being Church

CUs uphold the tradition that Christianity in essence rises above any denominational church. We see the spiritual significance of membership in a local church ... but do we see the spiritual significance of meeting with other believers as part of the universal church?

By identifying ourselves as interdenominational we are practising our belief in the community and fellowship of all true believers in Christ ... As student Christian Fellowships meet togehter week after week on campus, they are affirming and acknowledging the reality of this spiritual body - the church.

Angela Teo, for the Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Singapore, quoted in NB News.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Rockin' or rocky?

As final year students start to think about what to do next, and as not a few consider church apprenticeships and other year-long ministry schemes, I want to share some thoughts on why Relay rocks.

Specifically, finalists who want to test a calling into 'full time paid Christian ministry' (for lack of a better denominator) often think they should be a church worker / apprentice for a while. That may be so. But to help, if that's you, here are some questions I suggest asking, because I really want you to have the most effective year possible:

- How will you 'get a feel' for ministry in this year, more than you would do if you got a job and got stuck in in your church, serving more as a 'normal' member than as a student? Perhaps you should test your calling by serving as a normal member of the church (go read Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands). Perhaps you'll spend all your time doing extra activities (make sure that in this year, you're really trained, discipled, and equipped - see below) or maybe you'll just do what you should have done anyway as a full church member.

- Will you be discipled by someone committed to supervising you, in work skills, in applying your theology to your life and ministry, and overall in growing in grace? Will someone be investing in you, praying for you, and meeting up with you regularly to encourage and challenge you in growing as a Christian, as well as learning skills?

- Will you have a structured, intentional programme of theological study in which you get feedback and interaction with others? It's important to go deeper into God's word, not to run on what you already know and just learning skills to go with it. What is in place to make you study and help you learn and apply - or will you be able to let it slip when other 'more urgent' things crowd in?

- Will you be learning and growing and being trained in the main things of grace and gospel, or Things That We Think Are Cool Right Now (TM)?

- Will your year be equally useful for life no matter what you choose to do after, or merely significant for that year and deciding what to do after?

- Will you be trained on the ground, putting into practice what you're learning, ministering the gospel to others as you grow in it, being pushed and challenged in ministry so you have to grow more?

- Will you be pushed to think outside your cultural comfort zone, what church style you're used to, and encouraged to believe things because of the convictions you own, or just the company you keep? Will you have opportunity to think more about your part in God's mission for the world, the role of the workplace, and world mission, or will you be let alone to settle in the environment where you are?

And really, amongst many other things, the answers to those questions are some of the reasons why I think Relay rocks.

(There's also the experiential - I loved Relay Homestart, and I love my Relay Worker, meeting with her to reflect on God's grace outworked in our lives and the CUs and students we serve, digging into God's Word together, being gripped by it and encouraging each other in applying it,...)

But if you're determined to miss out on Relay, at least make sure that you've got good answers to the questions above! It'd be rather sad otherwise.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

In Spirit and truth

Our expression of worship should accord with the nature and person of the God we're worshipping, and how he has enabled us to worship: his salvation in Jesus. Exuberant joy, declaring together the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his glorious light. Inexpressible longing in this present time awaiting the glory yet to be revealed when we will be raised like Him. Reverence and awe that we worship the creator and sustainer of the universe who dwells in unapproachable light; and wonderful thankfulness that yet we draw near to enjoy his presence without being consumed in the fire of his holiness because we are in Christ, clothed with his righteousness and indwelt by His Spirit. Love and deep respect as we call out to this God, "Father!" by his Spirit who dwells in us, who has made us joint-heirs with the Son.

How frequently our expression falls so short: not thankful reverence befitting his holiness and our approach in Christ alone, but mostly dullness of heart befitting a cultural reserve. Not joyful exuberance at the infinite glory of Jesus whom we know and love even through present suffering, but mostly excitement at good music. In this we're in Romans 8 - we long for the day when our bodily, spiritual, emotional, heartfelt response will truly fit the glory of the God in whose image we'll be made new at the final redemption of our bodies, like his Son.

In the meantime, let's encourage and exhort one another towards this. We may groan in this present suffering - but not at the musicians (or lack thereof) or the fellow members of the body of Christ, but at our own hearts and minds which do not worship as we ought. Let's not judge each other, or our churches, by our expression in sung worship. That is, according to the Spirit-breathed word, I may say my church shows wholehearted love and devotion to Christ not because they show it in song, but because they love one another in deed and truth (see James & 1 John). And I may say my church express in worship true reverence for the holiness and majesty of God not primarily by an awesome solemnity in song, or falling face down, but primarily by pursuing holiness for ourselves and each other: this is our spiritual act of worship (1 Peter 1, Rom 12.1).

Unsurprisingly, we will encourage each other in these things if we sing accordingly too, aiming at expression befitting the person of our devotion (see Col 3.12-17). Let's not aim for less, but more. But let's not judge each other by tests the Spirit has not given (cultural or emotional expression in sung worship). We might miss what he's actually working, and fail to give him the thanks and glory due his name.

Monday, 19 November 2007

I know; I control: I am god?

I've spent time today trying to sort out my car. As I was leaving the grounds of Wrexham hospital* at 01:30(ish) on Sunday, slowing for a give way at the road exit, a car swung into the road at speed, wide into my lane, and straight into me. I was fine and the car appears fine (the other car sped off to deliver its passenger to A&E, from whence the driver emerged a while later to acknowledge the fault). But my car needs checked so that I'm not driving with a weakened car susceptable to more serious damage should anything else occur (wise parental advice).

Which led to the experience of dealing with insurance company, provider, and garage. I know very little about this process: what must be done and what is merely recommended by all-too-interested parties. And I found that lack of knowledge infuriating. I like to know.

I have in the past recognised that I like knowledge. I like to use knowledge in the service of others: knowledge may be power, but power may be good when governed by love. The danger comes when knowledge is pursued for its own sake, not in service of God and my neighbour. Then knowledge puffs up (and its power corrupts). But now I find another danger. I like to know because I like to feel in control. Everything might cave in, but I know what to do - even if it's knowing that I can't do anything. So with lack of knowledge in this situation, I became frustrated. I was short with my parents who tried to offer advice to help. I was angry at my lack of control of the situation; at my lack of knowledge. What was going on was far deeper than a question of whether I had to get the car looked at, whether I had to use the insurance company's recommended garage, or whether the third party will admit fault so my excess gets paid. What was going on underneath was a challenge and battle for control. Why would I be angry and frustrated? I was angry because I don't know everything so am not in control. But who does know everything and is in control? Not the insurance company, nor the garage, but God. Wham. Another heart-idol exposed. I don't have omniscience, nor omnipotence. I'm not in control. I'm not God. Which just points me to give thanks that the one who does have all knowledge and control is my loving Father in heaven.

* NB to all fellow CUSWs: please try to persuade your CUs to ban the Wide Game. We don't need more broken bones and back injuries: it's a bit bizarre if the CUs keep Wrexham A&E in business in houseparty season.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Christian Arrogance? 3

Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?
[Lunchbar from Warwick CU - 3rd instalment]

Christians do claim to know the truth. But it’s not that we’re super spiritual and super intelligent and have it all worked out more than everyone else. No, as far as finding the truth goes, the Bible’s description is something like that we were like aspiring astronomers stubbornly sitting in a darkened room playing around with mud, while the teacher had set up telescopes outside. That’s how much we were super intelligent spiritual searchers. Christians don’t claim to know the truth because we were great, but because Jesus graciously stepped into the muddy dark room and blasted off the roof so we could see the stars, and then lifted our heads up so we’d bother, and enjoy. Jesus introduced us to God when we weren’t looking for it at all: he is the truth – he reveals God, he doesn’t just fit in with our search for him. Christians don't claim to know the truth because we were good, but because Jesus graciously stepped into our muddy darkness and took it on himself, so we could bear the light of God's presence without being destroyed. We know him and we want you to know him: not to know the truth as in to acknowledge that we’re right, but to know the truth as in to see that Jesus is true - we’re inviting you to see that and have the joy of knowing him.

But maybe you’re thinking, “I’m sorry, but so & so claims to be a Christian and is really arrogant when she talks about it!” Sadly, some of us do still struggle with pride and can come across as arrogant. There’s no question! And it's revolting. You might be mistaken of course – maybe your friend is a really confident person, or happy, or nervous how you’ll react, and it comes across as arrogance! But for those who really do seem arrogant, now you know we have no excuse. And here I’d speak as much to those of you who call yourselves Christians. Because we need reminded that knowing the truth (knowing Jesus) leaves us absolutely no place for arrogance. No place for boasting. No place for pride. We need reminded – so listen up as I say this to Christians – this is what you can say to an arrogant Christian friend. “You’re coming across as arrogant when you say that – but you’re supposed to believe this – it’s inconsistent.”

The Bible describes how we are all completely on a level – we might try to do our best by our conscience, or by some religious law, but we’re no better off than anyone ultimately: we’re none of us reflecting God’s glorious design for our lives, living loving each other completely and selflessly, and living in thanks to God for everything. It’s not that some of us are further up a ladder than others. No. Some of us have shaken our fist at God and yelled in his face, and some of us have just quietly & stubbornly ignored him and got on with what we wanted to do, but as any teacher will tell you, the kid who quietly but stubbornly ignores you and gets on with his own thing is just as much rebelling as the one who’s screaming at you. Some of us have said, “There isn’t any God!” and refused to give thanks to him, not even considering Jesus. And some have done the spiritual thing and said, “I think God’s like this…” and refused to acknowledge the true God who revealed himself in Jesus. Some of us have said, “To hell with everyone else: I’m doing it my way!” and some of us have said, “I try to be nice to other people like I want them to be nice to me”, but none of us is so selfless that we love others even like that – the annoying ones, the pathetic ones, the arrogant ones(!), even the ones in our own family. No, we’re none of us reflecting God’s glorious design for our lives, knowing him, loving each other completely and living in thanks to God. We’re none of us any better off ultimately. We may be on different rungs of the ladder of goodness, but compared with God’s magnificence, the ladder’s lying flat along the ground in the mud. We’re completely on a level when it comes to knowing God, to knowing the truth. We can’t do it and we not even very interested! There’s no place for arrogance.

But that’s where Jesus steps in. He not only claims to know the truth, and be able to tell us the truth; he is the truth. As I said, he blasts away the roof on our hovel and shows us the stars. He doesn’t reject God’s glorious plan and refuse to thank God; he lives reflecting God’s glory, as intended. He doesn't rebel against God: in Jesus, God takes our rebellion onto himself and does away with it, punishing it. He announces that despite all our level best being level awful and full of selfish pride at the best of times, we can know God through him. We can have full life, through him. Rather than automatically doing wrong, hurtful things – you know, you wake up the next morning and say, “Why did I say that?” – we can know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

Where does that leave arrogance? Or boasting? There’s absolutely no place for it! That’s exactly what Paul says in the NT actually, after describing what Jesus did for us: he concludes, “So where is boasting? It is excluded!” You haven’t cleverly found the way to know God – no matter how nice a person, we all were level in the dirt as far as knowing God went, and yet we all can know him & enjoy his glorious life through Jesus. So if the Christian on your corridor comes across as arrogant, you can remind them of that!

We all fail, and can forget and get proud, or appear arrogant. It's disgusting. Which just shows all the more that it isn’t through better intelligence or goodness that we can claim to know truth and share it with you. But we invite you to know Jesus. We invite you to not be arrogant yourself as to presume to dismiss him without reading the accounts of those who knew him best and did a load of careful research to share it with others. They invite you to see what the best explanation of the evidence is – not to boast in your achievement, but to know Jesus and have life through his achievement!

Christian Arrogance? 2

Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?
[Lunchbar from Warwick CU - 2nd instalment]

To claim to know some truth we want to share: it’s not that we know everything. But we can know some things truly. We look at the evidence and match up the best explanation. That’s how we all live, isn’t it? We don’t any of us claim to know the whole truth about life, the universe, and everything (unless it’s 42) – but we know some things truly enough to operate, to live our lives. That’s not arrogance: that’s just reality. We know some truths of history, by examining source material. (Our historian friends will tell us it's complicated: but we do know some truths of history in the end.) We know some truths of biology, by examining the body. Actually, most of us know those things on the basis of others telling us – testimony (whether a friend, a textbook, a lecturer or because it was mentioned on CSI!).

So while we don’t know everything, we know some things truly: we know some truths, and can trust them enough to live by them – enough biology to know what to eat and what meds to take, enough history to know never to start a land war in Asia, enough maths to be amused at Birmingham Uni’s engineering dept, who designed a carpark, which when built, proved not to be able to bear the weight of cars on the 2nd level. [NB to Birmingham students - sorry: but we are all amused by it, aren't we?] It’s hardly arrogant to claim to know some truth – we all do it and live by it.

To claim to know truth about Jesus isn’t any different. It’s not that we’re saying “We made up a nice system we know isn’t true but we’re going to impose it on you because we think it’s best and then we’re in control.” Not a bit of it! Not a bit of it. We’re saying, Look: there was a man Jesus who lived 2000 years ago who showed such authority in teaching, in healing, in making storms stop at a word, in raising the dead: this was no ordinary man. People concluded that he revealed God. That was the best-fit explanation! He died and came back to life himself, and he claimed on that basis to have authority over everything. We’ve looked at the evidence and we’re sure enough to trust him and wait for him to rescue us when he comes back to judge – and that transforms our lives. Here, take a look at the accounts for yourself, see what you make of him.” It isn’t arrogant to want to share that. But it would seem foolish not to consider it, or dismiss it out of hand.

Christian Arrogance? 1

Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?
[Lunchbar from Warwick CU - 1st instalment]

Imagine you’re in debt. No wait, that won’t take too much imagination! But I don’t just mean SLC debt and a student bank a/c overdraft. I mean that, and 13 credit card accounts frozen, your parents & friends have stopped answering your calls, and you can’t get a job. You just can’t get a job. Why didn’t anyone tell you career prospects were so bad with a Warwick degree in… maths?
One day you’re walking along outside, trying to think how to pay the rent on your room, when someone approaches you:
- Hey! You were in my year at uni, weren’t you? You were down the corridor from me in halls. Anyway, listen: I’ve got this ace job! They give you a house, a fab salary, they pay off your loans, they…
- What an arrogant… going on about what he’s got. “Who d’you think you are?!”
- No wait, I mean, I’m trying to say – you can have it too! It’s not as if I was qualified, mate – I did Classical Civilisations; remember? I couldn’t get any job, I was a mess; but they just gave me this one!
Now look here, you say, I don’t need anyone’s charity! I’ll make my own way!
- Oh. But… um… you don’t seem to be doing very well at that, and truth is, it’s really great – it’d be wrong not to tell you…
- What an arrogant ejit! Who’s he to judge me? “Look, that’s your perspective. I’m not going to sell myself to some benefactor. I’m glad you’re happy in it but you can keep your charity & keep your truth: I don’t want it.”

That's far-fetched. But that’s something like what a Christian feels like when someone says, “Christians are arrogant to go round telling people their opinion.” Your Christian friend is thinking: this is great news – I’ve got to tell everyone: they could have it too! And you’re thinking, how arrogant to think you know what’s what and that I need anything!

But the thing is actually; your Christian friend isn’t claiming to know everything about what’s what. They’re not claiming to be sorted. They’re not claiming they know more than you, are more intelligent than you, or are better than you. They’re not claiming exhaustive knowledge, as if they know the definitive answers to everything and you don’t. But they’re just wanting to share with you that they’ve been brought to know God through Jesus – not through their own intelligence or skill – and he said he’s the truth. We want you to share that: it’s too good to keep to ourselves!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Don’t waste your (university) life: Jesus is Lord

Congratulations. You’re here. You’re a student. A returning student, having survived placement year. A second year student, having survived first year. You’ve got loads of people trying to give you advice. Your parents. Your Guild. Your friends. Your tutors. Your great-aunt who you thought was dead until she sent you a tenner to “help you at college with all those books you need to buy”. Here’s some advice from The Aston Times editor:
Just a thought... have you ever wondered where your life is going? I turned twenty recently and re alised that a huge chunk of my life had already been lived, but what had I achieved? I answered myself that I had gone through school and got GCSE’s and A-levels and had, in turn, got into Aston University. I’ve passed my driving test, can play an instrument and have done things I never dreamed I would... bla bla. All achievements and landmarks in my life that I am proud of. ... Where are you going and what do you plan to achieve in your life? For me my ultimate goal is happiness for me and all those around me.
Where are you going and what do you plan to achieve in your life? I don’t want to pile on more advice. I’m going to turn to a small bit of God’s picture on life, and give you just one thing to remember when you think about university life. Jesus is Lord.

Does that seem far away from being a student at Aston? It’s the ultimate message of God and the universe. It’s the ultimate goal of all things. Look, other people can tell you that Keycom are rubbish. Other people can invite you to Gosta. Other people can tell you which meals are good in Café Lago! Other people can remind you to get your assignments in on time. But if you’re going to think about where you’re going and what you plan to achieve while at uni – if you’re not going to waste your life, then remember this ultimate goal: Jesus rules.

That’s not just my take on life vs. last year’s editor’s take on life; it’s not just a lifestyle you might want to consider. It’s fact. I’m going to read a short section from the Bible – if you have one with you, turn to Romans 1.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints... [ESV]
This, Paul says, is the gospel, the good news, of God. This is the creator of the universe speaking: not just your student newspaper editor. And he says there’s good news all about Jesus Christ our Lord. If you’re not going to waste your time at uni, remember this: Jesus is Lord. If you’ve trusted him with your life, he’s your Lord. Not that he belongs to you. Look how Christians are called in v6: you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

That’s your identity: you belong to Jesus Christ. You’re not defined by being a student. Your lifestyle (sleeping in, lectures, watch neighbours, study, coffee, chat with flatmates, study, pasta, go out, sleep in, lectures…) doesn’t define you. Your bank balance (or lack of it) doesn’t define you. Your clothes don’t define you. Your subject doesn’t define you. Your gender and sexuality don’t define you. Your background doesn’t define you. Your identity is that you belong to Jesus – Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Look again at vv.2-5. You belong to the one all the prophets spoke about in the old testament. The one to whom all God’s people looked forward to in faith for 2000 years. The one who was God’s faithful Son where all the others failed through disobedience and mistrust of God’s word. The one descended from David - the rescuing King God promised for thousands of years. The one who was shared our humanity – perfectly man, he represented us but didn’t sin. The one who rose from the dead and is appointed to a position of power and authority, God’s King, to rule the nations and judge the world! The one who will bring about a new heavens and new earth which will be perfect, redeemed, restored, renewed. The one whom ALL will worship, giving praise and glory because he ALONE is worthy. You belong to him. That’s your identity, because Jesus Christ is Lord. Not an academic or social interest: he’s Lord. You belong to Jesus Christ our Lord.

So what? So what for you on campus? You trust in Jesus and believe he’s Lord. So what? Paul says this gospel sets him apart. It makes him stick out.

Imagine this: one day you’re walking across campus with a friend and as you pass the lake you see a couple of students creeping up behind a Canada goose with a net. As you stop and stare, they quickly throw the net over the goose, and while one holds it down, the other grabs it by the neck and wrings its neck. They start to drag it inside, one saying, “I wonder how long it’ll take to roast?” You turn incredulously to your friend, who sees your look and says, “It’s ok: Canada geese are classified vermin so it’s not illegal to kill them.” You reply, “It’s not just whether it’s legal! Those girls are in the vegetarian society!”

Y’see, no matter whether it’s permitted on campus, a vegetarian won’t roast a goose. That's not who they are! And a leeetle bit like that, no matter what’s permitted on campus, or what everyone else is doing, if you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, your life will be shaped by him: that's who you are! Look at what God’s looking for, in response to Jesus, his saving kingship and his rule: in v.5 we’re told he wants to bring about the obedience of faith in all nations, for Jesus’ glory. He wants people trusting in Jesus and living it out.

That involves 2 things on campus, which aren’t really all that separate – living lives belonging to Jesus Christ, shaped by trust in him, and telling others about Jesus Christ, so they can respond with faith and live lives for his glory too! All to see him glorified. “What are you doing and what do you plan to achieve in your life?” the Aston Times editor asked. Glorify Jesus. Magnify his glory. There is nothing bigger you could do with your time at uni and the rest of your life.

Magnify Jesus on campus. What's that about? Well, it means we want to be like a telescope, not a magnifying glass. A magnifying glass makes tiny things look bigger than they are, but a telescope makes you see humungous things more like the size they really are! You look down a telescope and see that tiny speck you thought was dust on the lens of your glasses is actually a ball of burning gas so heavy that if our planet were anywhere nearer it, we’d fall towards it and be burnt to oblivion!

That’s what our lives & words should do with Jesus: students around us think he’s about as significant and precious as a speck of dust on the lens of their glasses. Looking at us, and listening to us, they should see down a telescope: see how in reality Jesus Christ is Lord: he’s magnificent, glorious, merciful, gracious, powerful, just, yet saving, and infinitely precious, for who he is and what he’s done.

Jesus is Lord. That’s why Christian Union exists: to promote the good news that Jesus rules. To be a telescope for other students to look at Jesus. We live for Jesus and we speak for Jesus. We get involved in church so we learn from those who know Jesus better & for longer, and see how they live for Jesus & speak for Jesus in their stage of life, and we hear from his Word and obey it. We get together on campus to encourage each other in living with Jesus as saviour-King and Lord, and we get together to show campus what Jesus being saviour-King and Lord looks like. We get together to help each other tell those around us why we have this hope in Jesus. We get together to obey the good news, to call people on campus – from all countries – to faith in Jesus, so he’ll be seen more and more for what he is – absolutely and above everything we know, magnificent.

You will find, if you haven’t already, that you have some different views from others in the CU, some different experiences of living for Jesus, and we certainly won’t all like the same style or way of doing things: but Jesus is infinitely more precious than what style we find helpful, he’s infinitely more worthy than what makes us feel comfortable. And he prayed for God to put his glory in those who believe in his apostles’ message, so we’d be one, so that the world would believe that the Father sent Jesus. It’s hard work, but we get to work as the various parts of that telescope, magnifying Jesus for our campus: displaying his glory, declaring his glory. The Christian Union glows with God’s glory, not because we’re wonderful, but as in life, in word, and with the power of the Holy Spirit we testify that Jesus is Saviour-King and Lord.

So Jesus is Christ and Lord. How are you going to respond to that? God’s good news demands trust in his Son. Do you trust in him for your life & death? Then live for him & speak for him at university, to be a telescope for your campus to see him by the Holy Spirit in us. That’s what CU is: but that’s beside the point. It’s what God’s gospel is.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Perceived Readership

Or 'Why I don't usually post book reviews'.

I read a fair number of books, and both students I work with & other friends know well that I'm ready to advise on books at the drop of a hat (or, more conventionally, a request or when helpful). Yet I don't blog book reviews. I keep a rolling list of what I'm reading & have read on the blog, so you can always note that and ask me about it, but I don't blog book reviews.

This is because of perceived readership. When I advise a friend, a CU member or a relative, I know something of the context. Something of their background, their theology, how given they are to reading, what they enjoy, what they've been challenged by lately, and what challenges possibly face them. I can think of the book which would help, and why. I know of plenty of other titles which are marvellous, Biblical, helpful books but would not particularly help them at this present time. That is, I know to a fair degree of certainty that I can serve them well: above all, I can interact with them and work out which book will serve them best in the gospel.

In writing a review on a blog, however, I have no idea of readership. Therefore to accurately serve the Church (in the persons of my readership), I would have to put in so much explanation and so many caveats, that I get tired even thinking of it. Hence I don't post book reviews.

The one time I took exception to this went to prove the point: I posted some thoughts on a couple of books, including one 'Total Church'. I say, 'some thoughts' deliberately - they were hardly comprehensive reviews. Overall, I recommended the books, though for Total Church I possibly noted more by way of caveat than I did actual positive comment: very aware of the readership issue. I received some helpful interaction from one of the authors in the comments, and corrected / clarified a line of my post. When a friend in another local church mentioned the book with me rather critically, I was again reminded of how people in different situations read a book's emphasis differently (that is, of course, the value of interpretation in global, inter-generational, cross-cultural community - namely, the Church). She had been discussing it with church apprentices. Next I knew, one of them was telling me they'd analysed my 'review' of the book! Which just makes me more reluctant than ever to post thoughts on books I've read to the generic public domain. Now, if I'd been asked to join them in energetically analysing and interacting with the ideas in this book in person, that would be a different matter altogether!

There is a 'postmodern' reluctance to be judged by what we've put in print which is suspect. There is a 'postmodern' sickeningly-common cry of 'You haven't read him (w)right!' rather than engaging in discussion on the text in question.
There is a 'postmodern' doubt about being able to communicate at all, given our different frameworks of interpretation, and different ideological pre-commitments.

Yet because there is a living, true and self-revealing God who has chosen to interpret his acts to us in the medium of language, and because we are made in his image, I uphold that we can faithfully communicate and interpret. The postmodern mind more readily recognises the effects of sin in marring this: bringing doubt, confusion, and frustration in communication - both from the speaker and the hearer. (More readily, that is, than the modern mind - to ultra-generalise - which tended to think 'scientific', 'rational' means of analysis could overcome any problems, of communication or otherwise.) Yet the perversion of sin does not make communication utterly impossible or irredeemable. There is frustration, power play, domination, lies, deceit, and everything else found in Genesis 3. But there remains a living, true and speaking God who has not completely withdrawn his grace from the world and works redemptively throughout history.

Hence I will not cease from all attempts at communication (to the despair of some, no doubt), nor will I cease from recommending and discussing books. But I will be extremely reluctant to post book reviews generically, unless God gives me a lot of energy to note background, context, and many caveats, for a diverse readership.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Quote of the day: enjoy all in God

Matthew Henry (concise) on Habakkuk 3

When we see a day of trouble approach, it concerns us to prepare. A good hope through grace is founded in holy fear. The prophet looked back upon the experiences of the church in former ages, and observed what great things God had done for them, and so was not only recovered, but filled with holy joy. He resolved to delight and triumph in the Lord; for when all is gone, his God is not gone. Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease.

But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation, the salvation of the soul, and rejoice in him as such, in their greatest distresses.

Joy in the Lord is especially seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world. Even when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man lives not by bread alone, we may be supplied by the graces and comforts of God's Spirit. Then we shall be strong for spiritual warfare and work, and with enlargement of heart may run the way of his commandments, and outrun our troubles. And we shall be successful in spiritual undertakings.

Thus the prophet, who began his prayer with fear and trembling, ends it with joy and triumph. And thus faith in Christ prepares for every event. The name of Jesus, when we can speak of Him as ours, is balm for every wound, a cordial for every care. It is as ointment poured forth, shedding fragrance through the whole soul. In the hope of a heavenly crown, let us sit loose to earthly possessions and comforts, and cheerfully bear up under crosses. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry; and where he is, we shall be also.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The Legal Rights of Student Christian Unions

Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Bristol, responds to Mark Shaw's adjudication at Exeter with The Legal Right of Student Christian Unions. I confess I found my eyes glazing over at some points of legal issue in the early sections, but the introduction is a good reminder of the background to Christian Union groups and the issue, and point 6. "The human rights of religious associations,including Student Christian Unions" sets out a number of our current legal rights according to the European Convention on Human Rights and case law on it - helpful to know in summary. These include evangelism, having a religious test for members & officers, and holding views deemed offensive to others:
Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such a
society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of
every man. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10 (art. 10-2), it is applicable
not only to "information" or "ideas" that are favourably received or regarded as
inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock
or disturb the State or any sector of the population. [From case law based on article 10 of the ECHR]
Julian makes a point on discrimination, basing it on pluralism, which I confess I'd never quite seen to do:
The indiscriminate application of non-discrimination standards to clubs and societies is destructive of the very pluralism that characterises Western democracy. A political party must draw distinctions on political grounds if it is to retain its identity. An orchestra must select on the basis of musical ability and instrumental need if it is to perform well. A sports team must select sportsmen and women according to sporting ability. These criteria of dstinction might be objectionable in another context. A political party should certainly not select on the basis of sporting ability, for example. It should also be noted that the application of certain criteria may be highly situation-sensitive. This is very clear in the case of gender-specificity, which may rightly play a role in some sports and not others, or in some musical contexts, but not others. A students’ union has no interest in destroying (e.g.) single-sex rugby or the male voice choir, by insisting on the admission of women, let alone the abandonment of trials or auditions.

By the same token, a religious society may decide to protect its identity by stating its religious position and requiring members to adhere to that position. The students’ union has no interest in promoting a particular type of religious society, for example, by permitting a ‘Christian society’ but prohibiting a ‘Roman Catholic society’. Nor does it have any interest in ensuring that all religious societies take the form of interest-groups rather than that of a group sharing a commitment to a belief. Its role is limited by the need to respect pluralism – i.e. to allow students to form whatever clubs and societies they choose. That form might be open to all interested students, or it may be restricted to those who can share the identity of the society. It is up to the students! Mark Shaw QC’s failure to recognise the significance of pluralism at para. 92(4) of his ruling is one of its most disturbing features.
Julian then deals with 'Necessary and proportionate limitations on the rights of Christian Unions' in section 8, before drawing conclusions in section 9.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Quote of the day: I feel I want I need


The real gospel is the good news of the Word made flesh, the sin-bearing Saviour, the resurrected Lord: "I am the living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore" (Rev. 1:18). This Christ turns the world upside down. One prime effect of the holy Spirit's inworking presence and power is the rewiring of our sense of felt needs. Because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, we keenly feel a different set of needs when God comes into view and when we understand that we stand or fall in His gaze. My instinctual cravings are replaced (sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually) by the growing awareness of true, life-and-death needs:

  • I need mercy above all else: "Lord, have mercy upon me." "For Your name's sake, pardon my iniquity for it is very great."
  • I want to learn wisdom, and unlearn willful self-preoccupation: "Nothing you desire compares with [wisdom]."
  • I need to learn to love both God and neighbour: "The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith."
  • I long for God's name to be honoured, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth.
  • I want Christ's glory, lovingkindness, and goodness to be seen on earth, to fill the earth as obviously as water fills the sea.
  • I need God to change me from who I am by instinct, choice and practice.
  • I want Him to deliver me from my obsessive self-righteousness, to slay my lust for self-vindication, so that I feel my need for the mercies of Christ, so that I learn to treat others gently.
  • I need God's mighty and intimate help in order to will and to do those things that last unto eternal life, rather than squandering my life on vanities.
  • I want to learn how to endure hardship and suffering in hope, having my faith simplified, deepened, and purified.
  • I need to learn, to listen, to worship, to delight, to trust, to give thanks, to cry out, to take refuge, to obey, to serve, to hope.
  • I want the resurrection to eternal life: "We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."
  • I need God Himself: "Show me your glory." "Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus."

Make it so, Father of mercies. Make it so, Redeemer of all that is dark and broken.

Prayer expresses desire. Prayer expresses your felt sense of need. Lord, have mercy upon us. Song expresses your felt sense of who God is and all that He gives. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. But there are no prayers and songs in the Bible that take their cues from the current therapeutic felt needs. Imagine, "Our Father in heaven, help me feel that I'm okay just the way I am. Protect me this day from having to do anything I find boring. Hallelujah, I'm indispensable, and what I'm doing is really having an impact on others, so I can feel good about my life." Have mercy upon us! Instead, in our Bible we hear a thousand cries of need and shouts of delight that orient us to our real needs and to our true Saviour.

- David Powlinson, in The Therapeutic Gospel, Journal of Biblical Counseling Vol.25 #3. Article appears to be available online from 9 Marks.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

(Un)common grace in a common park

The autumn crispness in the air has not yet reached biting point; the sun still hangs over the tree tops to warm my back as I watch. Against a copse's background shadow it lights up a sprinkle of silver fluttering from a tree, while a moment later at the foot of its neighbour a golden wave shimmers over the grass: leaves lifted by the wind. A rustle overhead as a solitary dry leaf falls, jogs against a twig, then spirals silently to join the patchy carpet. The horsechestnuts, bravely reaching up tall from dense base of holly and laurel, chorus with birdsong - a riot of calls in chiming competition amidst the foliage. Squirrels run from ground to trunk to branch, occasionally pausing, front legs suspended in midair, eyeing me: threat? Curious? A terrier charges past noisily, faintly hailed by human voice. Squirrel doesn't stir. Curious, then. Brambles bereft of fruit: picked, no doubt, by eager juice-stained fingers; now in vain nettles reach to sting, vainly to keep that which they could not enjoy. What joy in grass, in undulating surface underfoot, crisp leaf. Squirrel bounding unawares. Radiant white drifting softly: feather floating, sun-reflecting, touches down. Consider the trees: the many hues, shimmering in the breeze with a gilding of death. Grace?

A concession to 'diaryblogging'

The day started at 8am with battling the traffic to pick up the Relay Workers Stu, Helen & Rach from Bournbrook and Bournville, proceeding to JB's where we gratefully received some rather good filter coffee and spent a couple of hours preparing a study in Romans 1.16-2.1 & 3.9-20 for CU small groups in the West Midlands. Our prayers were answered that we would not only study, or prepare a study, but that God would do some open heart surgery through his word, by the Spirit who breathed it out.

From there Helen joined me in heading straight to Hartpury College: over an hour's drive made more enjoyable than usual by chat with Helen about theology of church, the importance of things of secondary importance, denominations, church governance and various other things, and a soundtrack of Sovereign Grace Music. Arriving 15 minutes early, we paused for a picnic lunch in the car before joining the CU leader/founder Jez for freshers' fayre. Jez had already singlehandedly produced flyers, stuck CU publicity on cans of beans / spaghetti and arranged for them to be delivered to each flat on campus, booked a stall for the CU and made a sign for it. Then, on his own student-wise, in a small college of strong relationships where everyone knows him, he stood and manned the stall - only having asked me to join him for help because he thought it'd be more welcoming to girls! Between welcoming freshers and others who signed up - both Christian and non-Christian (Jez's witness being key with some there), he chatted about how God had arranged for him to play for the college's football teams without going through the ungodly initiation stuff, and how he doesn't drink when he's out with the team since the only point of it is to get drunk. He gets a bit of stick for it, but we had some guys signing up to come along to CU, and taking evangelistic books we had on the table, who've been asking him questions as a result of this witness. I was thrilled again to see how God is at work through just one young man who's prepared to live for Jesus & speak for Jesus on his campus. After prayer, Helen & I headed back glorifying God for what we had heard and seen.

After half an hour touching base at home, it was on to Aston for the evening. By this stage I was exhausted, and on rounding the corner into Aston carpark shot up a brief prayer: "Lord you know how tired & weak I am, and I know this is really small for you, but/so could you please turn the heart of the security man so I don't have to spend as much energy as last time trying to persuade them to let me into the carpark?" Rolling down my window on approach to the intercom post, I reached out my hand to press the button - and before I could touch it, the barrier raised! Small mercies, bringing much thankfulness to God. So then, dinner and planning with Agape office staff who also serve on Aston campus, before it was back to Aston CU's first main meeting of term. The room was packed, and I was up to speak on what CU is, introducing UCCF. Actually I spoke more on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, based on Romans 1.1-7, and the implications for being students - which does include what Christian Union is, but that's not the main point. It's glorious and precious to speak of Jesus being both Lord and Christ, even if all I could feel was my weakness. Still praying for the word to take root and live on in those who heard it - both Christians and those who aren't yet, but who came to that first meeting. Gave away free copies of Areopagus by Roger, and sold a couple of Pure, while catching up with returning students and meeting new ones. Following a chat with a student at Birmingham Christian College who wants to help the CU reach out to Muslim students, we headed home, Helen rejoicing in having helpfully shared with a student about what we'd seen in Romans at the very start of the day. Thus we collapsed at 10.30pm, rejoicing in God's gospel being his power to save believers, and I close with quoting Helen: "You have the best job in the world, but oh boy we need more staff!"

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Quote of the day: our mission

The greatest cause in the world is joyfully rescuing people from hell, meeting their earthly needs, making them glad in God, and doing it with a kind, serious pleasure that makes Christ look like the Treasure he is. [John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life]

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Communicating culturally

Trueman turns to Tolstoy and the BBC to illustrate how not to make the gospel culturally relevant, here.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Fighting snakes barefoot

To stand or fight against false teaching in the church cannot leave us proud or complacent. If it does, we have not sufficiently fought against the false teaching in our own hearts, not sufficiently held on to the gospel in our own minds nor been shaped by it in our attitudes. The fighting of false teaching must come from love, and that not self-seeking or self-serving, but the love which lays down his life for his brothers, and who when they despise it, loves them still. Let us bind Ephesians 2.1-10 ever to our foreheads and our blog posts, so that we may be the strange sort of warrior of whom Philippians 2.1-13 is true.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


... is the 'leader in land based studies and sport'.
... has the best College rugby team in the UK (British College champions 2007).
... has the best University rugby team in the UK (2007 BUSA shield winners).
... has the best University football team in the UK (2007 BUSA champions).
... hosted the FEI World Para dressage championships 2007.
... has a lovely compact campus in the middle of gorgeous countryside, with views over hills in Wales.
... has a student initiated, student led CU, just started last year.

It may take slightly over an hour to get to from Birmingham, but I'm rather excited about this CU, and so thankful to God for the dedication, enthusiasm and creativity of the leader. Pray that God would use them powerfully to save their friends in this close college community, through the power of his gospel.

Sunday, 9 September 2007


Some Christian students earlier this week were sharing that they were concerned about their Christian friends going out with non-Christians. One said her friend was justifying it because 'she spoke of Jesus to him the whole time'.

My principle concern with this is not that they're going out with non-Christians. That is the symptom. They think, "I won't drift: I'm strong in my faith." But that's still not the ultimate concern (though it probably will happen): that's a symptom. The principle concern is that they are treasuring being in a relationship, or this relationship, or this man, more than they treasure Christ. That is my main concern. That is the root issue.

Why do I say that? Surely knowing God's love means that we overflow with more love for others, indiscriminately, as his? This is true. But if we treasure Christ supremely we will not be joined to one who considers him a liar ("a good man"), a fraud ("a revolutionary") or a lunatic ("sincerely misguided"). If we consider that Jesus is Lord, we will not become one with one who considers themselves to be lord. If we are a new creature in Christ, with the Spirit of life dwelling in us, we will not unite with a stinking corpse. If we are reconciled to God in Christ, we will not join with one who's a slave to the enemy. So I say, my principle concern is that they treasure the relationship or the man over Christ, who is infinitely precious and gloriously sufficient.

So the problem is idolatry: putting a right desire (that for relationship, marriage, etc) in the controlling place of the heart, where only Christ should reign.

So how to respond? To merely say, "But you shouldn't go out with a non-Christian: you'll drift" falls far short of addressing the problem. The heart issue is idolatry, and it's probably exposed like this: how do they justify going out with said non-Christian? 90% of the time, the answer will somehow express that "It'll work out". The relationship will be a success. "We love each other; he respects my faith." In other words, their ultimate aim is a sucessful middle-class marriage. That's the idol. Since when did God tell us his plan for us was a happy middle-class marriage??

Another response which may come is this, "I go on to him all the time about Jesus: and I did say I wouldn't go out with him unless he comes to church with me, and he does." But it doesn't matter tuppence if the girl goes on to him incessantly about Christ with her words: meanwhile, she is proclaiming with every inch of her being that he / the relationship is more important than Christ. More precious. More desirable. More fulfilling. Supreme. He doesn't hear "Jesus is Lord" but "You are Lord - and Jesus is a nice optional extra."

So when a friend is going out with a non-Christian, or considering it, why not study the person and work of Christ for a while with your friend? Colossians, perhaps? Do some demolition work on the idols of the heart, and pray that the Holy Spirit, through His word, will build a proper altar in place of the idol-rubble: that of Christ and his finished work. Not going out with non-Christian won't do much good. Being filled with covenant love for Christ in response to his initiated love will change everything. And while you look together at God's word, don't despair for your friend but pray with this hope: a right passion has got in the wrong place (the controlling place) - but the Holy Spirit yearns jealously for Christ's Lordship to be restored there, and therefore will give more grace. (James 4)

Saturday, 8 September 2007


"Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday."

I was at the wedding of one of the Wolverhampton CU members today, which was lovely. Pastor Steve Uppal of
All Nations spoke better than the above. One thing he said caught my attention: "At marriage we give up our right to behave as individuals." Now that must be good advice at a wedding. But it got me thinking: surely the right to behave as individuals is one we don't really have? In the church, we belong to each other as we belong together in Christ. Western individualism and individualistic rights are not only surrendered when joining to another by choice in marriage, but are surrended when joined as the Bride of Christ. We join God's people. We're in God's family. Unlike in most Western marriages, we don't choose those with whom we're joining: but we behave with them not on individual rights but on serving as Christ served. On Philippians 2.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Refusing God glory

Hard times, sad times, or even those niggling periods which don't really qualify but still upset me: these are opportunities to give glory to God. Too easy to withdraw into self, not turning to God from a well-founded suspicion that he won't affirm my self-pity. Selfpity is selfcentred sin: stubbornly refusing to honour God or give thanks to him.
I know I need You, and I know you deserve all glory and blessing and honour no matter what; but if life is like this, I'm going to mope about it. I'm not going to turn to You; I'm not going to give thanks to You: I'm upset. I'm going to make myself more & more miserable as if that'll get at You, even though I know I can't blame You.
I thank him for his grace which won't leave his child growing hard-hearted like this, but yearns jealously in me by his Spirit - giving more grace so that he once more has the grateful affection of my heart.

Opportunities to give God glory.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Waving wildly

Since Peter Williams has become Warden at Tyndale House, Justin Taylor has interviewed him and John Piper recommends getting to know him. I recommend it too, not that that means much! I do thank God for the wisdom and hospitality of the Williams and how they patiently showed it to this Norn Irish girl when I arrived at La Panne 7 or so years ago, and since. I had the privilege of, well, trying to help Kathryn with the children for a week this summer, and at least doing the washing up while she did look after the children. [Hi Kathryn! You may tell Pete I've just bought a course to learn Dutch... And I hope you like the King the Snake and the Promise which should have popped through your door mysteriously, or soon will do. Ahem.] In between reading more languages than most people know exist (or probably while reading etc...), Pete blogs at Evangelical Textual Criticism. His study goes over my head by about a league, and he admits that the theses of the PhD students under him won't be intelligible to the bulk of the church - but I admire how he is serving the Church. Read his vision for it in JT's interview. Whether as a lecturer Warden of Tyndale House or giving evangelistic talks to passers-by on a prom in Belgium (in French or Flemish), being involved in his local church or explaining a Bible verse to children on a beach, his vision is to serve the church. It's that sort of vision & practice, in God's grace, which makes me argue back rather at Total Truth when it seems to denigrate the role of the 'professional' theologian (see review below). [Even if all Pete's weight of linguistic scholarship couldn't shake my Norn Irish cynicism on whether Ulster Scots should qualify as a language.]

Thursday, 16 August 2007

2 excellent books

Total Church, by Chester & Timmis, isn't a one-stop book on church. It doesn't treat church history, nor give a comprehensive theology of Church. Thankfully, in the plethora of books recently issued on the topic, neither is it a Use This Programme To Transform Your Church (TM), nor a How all that's been called church before is wrong and I'm going to whine about it, write it off and wheeee there goes the baby with a splosh-thud. Ahem. Also thankfully, it's not a Thank God Our Church is Sorted: Now Copy Us (halo enclosed, polish can be purchased from all good supermarkets). What it is, is an exploration-cum-exhortation of church as gospel community. Or, in my prefered words (or those of the Reformers?) a community of the Word.

This is something I've been thinking about and increasingly challenged about for a while. The challenge has come most recently in the form of my church in Bournville, who are being community in a way which is most, well, challenging to me. There's the challenge of the odd hours I work. There's the challenge of being involved in community as a single just moved to the area when I've never really done it before. There's the challenge which accompanies my conviction that much as I love mulling over theology, it is actually a church activity: i.e. to be done as a community of the word. Underlying it all (or undermining it, perhaps), there's the challenge of being in church as a community of the word when naturally my heart is selfish with its time and energy, proud of its own knowledge and seeking to be served ('have my needs met') rather than to serve. To this, Total Church honed the challenge I was pondering regarding sharing the gospel - not just to be involved in communities outside of church (work, other activities, sports) individually seeking to witness, but actually witnessing as a community. Not so much putting on programmes and activities, but living as a gospel community and inviting others to join in as we hang out together, talk about Jesus, study the Bible, meet for worship...

I didn't agree with everything in Total Church. [Edit: I had written that the authors may need to engage with a wider constituency, but that is perhaps unfair - it's not a one-stop book on church and I need to continue my study in a wider constituency!] I thought they were overly denigrating of Christian theologians in theological institutions, seemingly presuming that none of them could possibly be doing theology with a love for the church and in service of her, engaging with church-building, gospel-furthering issues. Having said that, all too often I meet young men who are studying theology perhaps more to satisfy their own potential idol of knowledge than to serve God's people (I know I have the same temptation with knowledge in general). But as Coffey also says, where you don't agree with the authors, you are made to engage with them, and even answer back out loud. And overall, I reached the end and cried to our Father in heaven for grace to be a part of his church more honouring to him.

Highly recommended - get it from IVP.

Married for God, by Christopher Ash, is an excellent new book, again IVP, on marriage. I had a quicker read through this than the above, as I've a friend in Belgium to send it to, and happily it seems excellent. Ash's practical theology means it's just as helpful a read for those currently single as for those married or engaged, and he also deals pastorally with those who are married and childless. For those who've read Pure, I'd say it's the next thing to read. Where Pure leaves some things up to the course to flesh out, Ash talks through them, and generally spends the greater amount of time and pastoral input that you'd expect from the larger book. Also provides questions at the end of each chapter which I'd think would be especially helpful for an engaged couple - but are generally helpful. Pity about the cheesy cover (have IVP employed an American in the design department?) but there have been worse! Albeit from a speed read, recommended!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Jiving the psalms

I'm currently enjoying playing Stuart Townend's recent album Monument to Mercy. I like the song Kyrie, mostly because anything even verging on psalmic lament should be welcomed.
Still beneath his mother’s eyes
She’s asking why a God of love
Would give then take away

For every self-made man
Doing everything he can
To fill the void that’s deep within
Eating at his soul

Oh have mercy...
Have mercy on us all

For every wife who cries
When her husband’s lying eyes
Give the sordid game away
And something dies within

For those who walk the street
Destitute and desperate
We shake our heads and wash our hands
And hurry on our way

Oh have mercy...
Have mercy on us all

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on us all

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on us all

O God forgive us for the wrong that we have done
The night is filled with weeping and we’re aching for the dawn
O God of love this world has suffered for so long
Have mercy on us all

We want to see the light we want to see the day
When hope is realised and hatred washed away
When justice rules the heart compassion leads the way
Have mercy on us all

Forgive our driven need
To make a virtue out of greed
We’ve set our hearts on worldly things
That cannot satisfy

We’ve used tomorrow’s gold today
While nature chokes long the way
How many years before we pay?
Perhaps we’re paying now...

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Have mercy on us all

Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2006 Thankyou Music
But why, why, oh why, is this done upbeat and major? Stuart has done a few good songs like this which are ruined by the style. I don't really want to bop along to a Kyrie. In fact, I'm quite sure that psalms of lament, of petition, and impecatory psalms were not designed to be danced to or musically celebrated. I'm not exactly a traditionalist, but perhaps the old minor Welsh hymn tunes have a good place (when not dragged flat and dirge-like anyway :)) Sample here. Still, do check out the rest of the album. 'I'm grateful' is a nice opening track, and 'My God' is a great gospel style piece.