Thursday, 28 February 2008

Search for Hero Inside Yourself (Mark II)

Tonight I gave a talk at one of the Lancaster small groups on the film Evan Almighty, which until today I'd never seen.

I suppose it was a reasonable film, with some funny one-liners and was fairly entertaining.

What the film did well was expose sin: the main character, Evan, and one of the supporting characters, Congressman Long, both rule God out of their lives and in so doing make a mess of things - including their own lives, the lives of other people and the planet. It was interesting seeing a film that closely linked environmental degradation with sin.

However, if the film was good at exposing the fundamental human problem, the solution it put forward was not good. Essentially it was this: just do more random acts of kindness. If God's design is best for us all, just do it. This (bizarrely!) is how the film interprets the story of the Flood and Noah's Ark. In other words, we're still to search for the hero inside ourselves.

Of course, that sounds great - but it's completely unrealistic. I can't just pull up my socks and be nice. I need a complete change of heart. And that's where the film is devastatingly quiet: there's no mention of Jesus. And so there's no hope of the radical change that my heart requires.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

PLEASE support us!

Many of you will have heard that me and my Relay Workers are raising money for UCCF's gospel project.

* If Peter and Sarah raise more pledges for UCCF's gospel project than Nick by the end of February, then hard-core Blackburn fan Nick must wear a Burnley shirt on the day of their choice.
* If Nick raises more pledges for UCCF's gospel project than Peter and Sarah by the end of February, they must each wear a piece of clothing of Nick's choice on the day of his choice. Nick has chosen for me to wear a tutu and Sarah to wear a banana suit.

Sarah and I are currently ahead at the time of writing ... but only by £3. Pledges will not be counted after midnight on Friday, so please, please pledge away. You can give your pledges here. Given 57p pays for a gospel, can you think of a better way of using your money?

Why I love Relay

The second round of Relay applications is drawing to a close. And has Mo has noted, there are places in the country where many people that are weighing up whether or not to do Relay are perhaps being persuaded that the better option is to do a church apprenticeship instead, on the grounds that theologically the local church is more central to what God is doing in the world than CUs.

Now I realise that pretty much everyone in Christian ministry seems to recommend whatever they did themselves as the path. I also have nothing against church apprenticeships. Many friends of mine have gone on the serve the church in this way and have learned loads. However, the basic principle of what Mo says is true: that encouraging recent graduates to do Relay is also an incredible way of growing the church. Far from draining the resources of the church, Relay is a brilliant way of growing Christians who can serve the churches whilst Relay Workers (in helping CUs to do what churches can't on campus) and, particularly, for the years afterwards.

I owe many things to Relay and I've spoken about my experiences both as a Relay Worker and on Relay staff before. Here are some of the other things that I love about Relay, and where I consider the programme to be a massive grace to the worldwide church:

  • The wonderful, wonderful emphasis on grace. Saved by grace, changed by grace, ministering by grace. Many of the people I know that understand grace best are those that have been touched by the Relay programme.
  • The gentleness and humility that comes through working alongside those of different evangelical convictions. It's sad to meet people who hold convictions and who loudly proclaim these convictions merely because it's the party line of the Christians with whom they have been built up. In my own experience (and in the experiences of many others), working alongside Christians from very different backgrounds and realising that these other Christians loved Jesus just as much as I do was very humbling.
  • A great theology of worship. It seems to me that overwork is one of the massive problems in Christian ministry. Relay taught me that Christian ministry is great - but it's not God, and that I can honour God through getting good rest and time off.
  • A holistic emphasis on growth. I love the fact that I get to share my life with the Relay Workers I supervise. Yes - I care about their ministry. But I also care about them. The fact that this is built into the Relay programme is a massive bonus.
  • Equipping for a lifetime ahead. Relay is equally valuable for life no matter what a Relay Worker choose to do after their year. The lessons learned aren't merely significant for the year of ministry.

I could go on. I know there's plenty of church apprenticeships that to some extent offer what I've mentioned above. But I hate to see just a good thing as Relay criticised just because it's not offered through local churches.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Look Around You: Little Mouse

Just found this on YouTube. Look Around You is complete genius... just spent the whole afternoon watching Series 1 with folks from church...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

UCLan mission on reflection

Yesterday the week-long mission at the University of Central Lancashire came to its conclusion, the third and final mission held by CUs in the region in which I work.

I've found that, of all of the sorts of universities in Britain, it's at university campuses of the nature of UCLan that are hardest to reach with the gospel. Whereas traditional universities have many things that facilitate proclamation (such as large halls of residence with fairly open access, and suitable central venues for events), at newer universities there are no such blessings. Add a large number of students that commute in from other towns, and university buildings spread right across whole towns and it sometimes feels like an uphill task. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the widespread perception amongst students at such institutions that the gospel is irrelevant (as I have written about before).

With this context in mind, then, reflection on the mission at UCLan gives plenty of reasons to be thankful to God. There were a wide range of events (from pub quiz to five-a-side competition to beginners' salsa lessons!) where the gospel was clearly explained in a down-to-earth manner by the ever excellent Steve Casey (who was in his element this week in the UCLan context). Each event had between 25 and 70 non-Christians. Many were intrigued and several have signed up for the CU's 'Encounter' course that starts next week. Unsurprisingly, most were the friends of CU members - but it's pleasing nonetheless to work alongside a CU that evidently isn't a Christian bubble, and where students have obviously sought to live out 1 Thessalonians 2:8. It's really good to work alongside other Christians that have deep convictions that lead them to live and speak for Jesus.

I was also really chuffed by the number of CU students that were willing to come and do questionnaires. We were given the full run of the student refectories: this meant that students weren't having to rush past in the cold and rain, but were willing to talk. I personally had several conversations that went on for well over an hour. Please pray especially for Dan and Owen. I also had a three hour long conversation with John at one of the events - really looking forward to carrying conversations on in the future.

Perhaps the highlight of the week came for me yesterday. Some of you will have heard me speak about Martin, a student who made a profession early in Autumn term, but who had gone incognito. It turned out that he'd been shaken by reading parts of the Old Testament and the character of God there.It was brilliant to meet with him, to hear about his concerns and ultimately to point him to the cross. He's certainly still trusting Jesus (perhaps more so now he's seen more of the holiness of God). A brilliant reminder of 2 Peter 2 - that God knows how to preserve his people, even against the odds.

Yesterday didn't really feel like it was the end. It felt much more like the latest step in ongoing relational evangelism. Pray that's the case.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Juno: love in a broken world

So it seems like everyone is going to see Juno, including me!

I really enjoyed the film. As others have noted, the screen-play is really well written. I loved some of the witty one liners (especially early in the film) and the characterisation was good too.

I guess that the film is really all about love. Like many more 'postmodern' films of late, though, Juno doesn't idealise the world in which we live. Perhaps the most poignant part of the film is where the lead character, Juno, asks her father about true love. His answer is this: "In my opinion, the best thing you can do is to find a person who loves you for exactly who you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person will still think that the sun shines out your ass. That's the kind of person that's worth sticking with." And yet this is juxtaposed alongside a tinge of sadness: Juno's father freely admits that he's made mistakes in the past, and is himself in his second marriage. Elsewhere in the film, we see portrayals of divorce and separation - and yet still glimmers of hope through love.

Of course, all this is true. It's true that we do live in a broken world, but as people still retaining something of God's image, we still have the capacity to love and to be loved, despite the fact that we all are hurt by and hurt others.

But my major gripe with the film is still the idea that love conquers all. As Juno gives away her baby, as another couple separate, as one woman starts a life of single motherhood, everything is still presented with a rosy glow. It's true that love is still a massive part of our existence, but so is pain caused by broken relationships. When we experience something short of what Juno's father speaks of (and inevitably we do), it really hurts. And that's something that is glossed over by what is an otherwise excellent film.

"Praise completes the joy"

In recent days, I've been working through Isaiah with Allan Harman's excellent commentary. I'm not sure I've ever worked all the way through Isaiah in one period of time, and I'm understanding the heart of his prophecy more and more.

One chapter that particularly stood out to me is chapter 12, which is a little gem. It looks forward beyond Jesus' death and resurrection (or, in Isaiah's language, the second exodus brought about by Immanuel), and the response of God's people.

The focus of verses 1-3 is the deliverance that God has brought his people ('although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me') and the wonder joy that saved people experience.

The focus of verses 4-6 is on the response that saved people make. One of these is spontaneous praise and thanksgiving to God. The other is to proclaim how wonderful God is to everyone! ('make known among the nations what he has done ... let this be known to the whole world').

I'm currently on mission with the University of Central Lancashire CU. It's tempting to want to guilt trip people into getting involved in evangelism or to whip them up into an emotional frenzy. But what's Isaiah's approach? It's this: remember the truths of the gospel. As the gospel truths permeate your mind and your heart and your soul, then that will inevitably lead to joyful thanksgiving and the desire to tell others of God's goodness and wonder, shown in his saving work.

I once remember reading that CS Lewis commented wisely, 'Praise completes the joy.' When we see a beautiful sunset, or hear a wonderful piece of music or witness a terrific goal, we can't help but tell others. Praise completes the joy! I'm praying that for me and for members of UCLan CU, declaring God's praises to the nations represented on campus in Preston complete the joy of the gospel that we experience, and ever drive us deeper into the wonderful gospel and the wonderful God that's behind it all.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Persecution and proclamation (Acts 3-4)

Here's the draft of a talk I'm due to give on Thursday at the University of Central Lancashire CU. Any thoughts, as ever, are most welcome.

As chapter 3 opens, Peter and John go up to the temple to pray. And as they go in they meet a man, lame from birth. But instead of giving him some loose change, Peter heals him on the spot in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. You can sense the utter astonishment as the congenitally lame man suddenly gets up and leaps around the temple courts praising God.

Well, a crowd forms. And Peter takes the opportunity to address them. Everyone could plainly see that the man had been healed – and, not surprisingly, everyone was asking exactly how this could have happened. And Peter says this: ‘You have to understand that this happened because of one thing; in fact, because of one person.’ And so Peter speaks of Jesus. He speaks of how he exercised faith in the risen Jesus that this man could be healed. He says the result must be attributed not to chance, but to Jesus. In fact, in verse 12, he says that the crowd shouldn’t be surprised that this has happened. Because the power to heal came from no ordinary person! Look at how Peter describes Jesus in these verses – the author of life, raised from the dead by God (verse 15), the one who will restore all things to what God meant them to be (verse 21), the fulfilment of prophecy (verse 22) and the one through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed (verse 25)! The healing has come from the very author of life himself.

Now this is a very big claim. Peter is saying that the very one who gives life – in other words, the one true Lord of the Universe – has just healed the man. And so the healing had immediate significance for every single person there. Jesus, the Lord of the Universe made the healing possible, and given all of the people there were in the Universe, he was their Lord too. Yet they had rejected him. They thought he was a joke. And so, as we read in 3:19-21, Peter tells the gathered crowd to repent and accept God’s gift of a new life before Jesus comes back to restore everything.

But now let’s freeze the action. Because at this point a very surprising thing happens. The authorities step in. They close down the makeshift meeting and shoo people away. They cart Peter and John off to prison. It’s surprising because things seem to be going so well: the Spirit has come powerfully to equip the church. 3000 saved with just the first sermon. King Jesus is powerfully working through the church. So this disruption seems strange. What’s going on? Has God taken his eye off of the action? Well – no. Rather, what these chapters establish is a pattern common to the book of Acts. We’re going to see three characteristics of what happens as the gospel is proclaimed.

The first thing is that the gospel is rejected and Christians who proclaim the gospel are persecuted by some.

You might be wondering: why were the authorities so upset with Peter and John? The answer is spelled out in 4:2: “The authorities were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” It was the fact that they were talking about Jesus that riled the authorities. Specifically, it was the resurrection of the dead that really got them. ‘Resurrection of the dead’ is shorthand for the teaching that judgement is coming, and all people will be raised either to eternal life or eternal death. And Luke tells us who was upset: amongst others the Sadducees, a religious and political group who didn’t believe in the final judgement. And they did not like this talk about Jesus coming to judge and restore one little bit.

Additionally, given that the Sadducees didn’t believe in an afterlife, they lived as much as they could for the moment. And so they’d collaborated with the Romans to get themselves into positions of power. So Peter and John are doubly guilty to the Sadducees – not only as heretics, but also those who might jeopardise the good relationship the Sadducees had with the Romans. That’s why Peter and John are hauled off. To the Sadducees, the Jesus Peter and John spoke of did not fit their mould. He did not tick the right boxes. He did not say what they thought that he should say. Following him was costly. It might have cost them the benefits of power that the Roman authorities had given them.

So often people respond to Jesus in the same way today. Jesus gets in their way. He’s considered too costly to follow.

About 18 months ago, I’d just finished my afternoon’s work here in Preston one Friday and caught the train to Lancaster. I sat down and the guy next to me asks where I’m going. I say, ‘Lancaster’; he says, ‘You don’t sound from your accent that your from up here originally’; I say, ‘No, I moved up; He says, ‘Why did you move up’; I say, ‘Because of my job’; He says, ‘What’s that?’; I say ‘I teach the Bible to students; half of my time with Christians, and half of my time with people who aren’t Christians but who are interested in Jesus’ life and claims.’ He says, ‘Well that’s a bit like me – I’d like to know more about Jesus’ – and for the next few minutes we talk about Jesus.

So there we are, chatting about Jesus, and then all of a sudden, the man sitting opposite me, a scary Victor Meldrew look-alike decides to weigh into the conversation. His first comment is this: ‘Well, of course, you can’t trust the Bible as it was made up by the Catholic church in the 15th Century!’ And I say, ‘No, that’s not true, we have fragments from the NT going right back to the beginning of the 2nd Century.’ A little bit later, he says, ‘Well this all seems important to you.’ I said, ‘Well it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death how we respond to Jesus and his teaching.’ He then gets to look a little bit uncomfortable and says, ‘Well what is Jesus’ teaching?’ I say, ‘Well, he claimed to come from God and said that we have all ruled God out and need to be forgiven.’ He says, ‘What? I need to be forgiven by God?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He says, ‘What? You’re saying I need to be forgiven?!’ Slightly more angry now. I say, ‘Well, it’s not me saying it! It’s Jesus, God in human form!’ He’s now angry, ‘I don’t need to be forgiven!’ I’m still speaking nicely to him. I said, ‘I’m not saying you’re a nasty person; what I am saying is that you have ruled God out. Can you not think of any way in which you’ve ruled God out and hurt others so that you might need to be forgiven?’ By this time he’s standing up and waving his finger at me. The whole carriage has gone quiet, ‘No. I WANT TO LIVE MY LIFE MY WAY. AND I HAVE DONE NOTHING SO THAT I NEED TO BE FORGIVEN BY GOD.’ At this point, I decide to end the conversation, but unfortunately he decides to carry it on, shouting abuse at me for the rest of the journey home. I breathe a massive sigh of relief when the train finally arrives in Lancaster! Now what’s gone on here? Did I say something wrong? No. Was I particularly disrespectful or not gentle? No, I don’t think so. What went on? Well, the man saw something of Jesus and his claims, and reacted to them. He wanted to live his life, and he didn’t like being told that he needed to be forgiven by God. He hated that message and he rejected it.

This is a reaction we may well see next week as we tell others about Jesus, about their sin and their need to be forgiven. And when this happens, we need to know that it’s not necessarily because we’re doing something wrong. We often assume that it must be us that’s doing something wrong. It’s true that sometimes we don’t help ourselves, if when we proclaim the gospel we speak ungraciously. I hope that as a CU we commend the gospel by our manner and with our words. But in the final analysis, gospel rejection boils down to the fact that people would rather keep living their way, than bow the knee to Jesus. It's a very humbling experience to come face to face with Jesus and have him challenge everything we stand for and live for. It’s challenging to be told that we need to be forgiven by God. It’s challenging to be told that God is angry with us because of our rebellion. And some react angrily in response.

This isn’t a very happy truth but the fact that the gospel will be rejected by some is something that we’ll need to keep in the back of our minds. We need to remember that we live in a spiritual battle, and the main need that people have is not information, but a complete change of heart. We’ll need to remember this to keep going. If I think evangelism is just a matter of imparting information, then I’m going to lose heart. I’m going to have unpleasant experiences like on that train and think one of two things. Either, number one – the gospel message is ridiculous, or, more likely, number two – I can’t tell the gospel. If I make people angry when I tell them the gospel, maybe I shouldn’t bother. That’s what I thought immediately after my train conversation. But we’re in a spiritual battle. Peter and John faced exactly the same reaction. Even Jesus, the most gentle and respectful person ever, often got an angry response. Sometimes so will we. But it’s because people need a spiritual miracle, and not because we’re doing something wrong.

So the first thing we will see as we proclaim the gospel is rejection by some. The second thing is a need to stick by our convictions.

Let’s go back to the moment that Peter and John are arrested. The following morning, they are hauled before the court. Now what would you have done if you were Peter, standing before that court? Perhaps we’d be tempted to say something like this, ‘Well, your honours, I think there has been a terrible mistake. Actually I don’t really believe in the resurrection of the dead – there’s not really going to be a future judgement! And Jesus? Well, nice teacher – but not the Messiah. Now, why don’t we just forget this ever happened and I’ll get back to minding my own business?’

Is that what Peter does? Not at all! He’s made the mistake of betraying Jesus once already, and when he’s up against it a second time, he doesn’t flinch. Look at verses 10-12: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you completely healed. He is the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

What was it that gave Peter courage to speak in the face of such adversity? It was his convictions about Jesus. To the authorities, Jesus was a menace from a backend town in Galilee, crucified as a common criminal. But Peter knew they had made the biggest mistake of their lives. Because Jesus was alive, raised from the dead by God the Father. And all that goes to show that he really is the King of the Universe. He really is the Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords and given authority from God the Father to judge. So verse 12 Peter concludes, “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Do you see Peter’s thought here? Since God raised Jesus from the dead and has made him head over everything, then he is the only way to heaven. Trusting in him is the only hope of being saved from sin and judgement.

Peter was absolutely convinced that Jesus was the only Saviour. That’s why he said what he said. He was convinced that if you reject Jesus you reject God. And notice that this isn’t a matter of personal opinion. Peter says Jesus is the only Saviour who can save us. It’s as stark as that. He doesn’t pander to the atmosphere of the day, but says what he knows to be true. And that’s what we’ll need to do too. It’s not always easy speaking for Jesus. But if we believe the gospel to be truth for all, we will speak.

Well, the trial continues. Verses 13-17: ‘When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing that they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”’ There was nothing the authorities could say. Peter’s speech was breath-taking and the evidence of the healed man was quite literally staring them in the face. So they ask for a little time, finally coming to this conclusion. ‘Erm – would you mind not speaking any more about Jesus?’ That’s all they can do. But when Peter hears the verdict, he gives a blunt reply. Verse 19: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What a reply! He’s effectively saying that the authorities are standing in the way of God. It’s God or them, and there’s no choice. He’s obeying God. And what is God’s command? Well, it is for them to testify about what they have seen and heard: to spread the gospel. Peter was a driven man, sold out on obeying God and telling people about Jesus. Like us, he had a divine commission to do so.

Peter’s compulsion forced him to take a stand against the authorities. The same has been for many Christians true down the ages. An example is Andrew Melville. Melville stood up to King James VI of Scotland who was meddling in the spreading of the gospel at the time. This is what he said to the King: “We must discharge our duty, or else be traitors both to Christ and to you, for there are two kings in Scotland. There is King James, the Head of the Commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James VI is, of whose kingdom he is not a lord, nor a king but a member. We will yield to you your place, and give you all due obedience, but you are not the head of the church, you cannot give eternal life, nor can you deprive us of it. We charge you therefore to permit us freely to meet and to preach in Christ’s name.”

Andrew Melville knew where he stood before God and so he knew his priorities and refused the King of Scotland for the King of the Universe. Now we need to be careful how we apply this. It’s not as if we all go crazy, just annoying everyone on campus. We need to be gracious and wise. Nor does it mean we are freed from our earthly rulers so that none of us need turn up to lectures on Monday. But as we live in this world and are subjects of sort – to the Government, to lecturers, to the SU – we need to remember that at the same time we’re servants to King Jesus, whose word comes first. And salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

Peter’s priorities were shaped by the fact that Jesus was his true King and only Saviour. He had no choice but to tell people about Christ. I wonder how much of our fear and shyness would be dispelled if we remembered who it was we serve and that he is the only Saviour. I remember hearing a talk a few years ago on Acts 4. I wrote out Acts 4:12 on a notebook that I took each day to university. It was a great stimulus to speaking for Jesus. Peter was compelled to tell the gospel because he knew the gospel was true. For us, even when under pressure, even when our message is unpopular, we have to say: ‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’

So we’ve seen two characteristics of gospel ministry. Firstly – our message will be rejected by some, but secondly – even when things are tough we stick by our convictions and speak for Jesus. And the third and final characteristic is this: even when opposed, the word of God goes out unhindered. Look at verse 4: ‘But many who heard the message believed and the number of men grew to about five thousand.’

The word of the Lord does not return to him empty, even when there’s opposition. Many who heard Peter’s message believed and the number of men grew to several thousand. In fact, there’s a growth spurt. The Sadducees could arrest the apostles, but they couldn’t arrest the gospel. And that’s the pattern throughout Acts. The gospel message is opposed – yet it continues to grow and change people, through the power of the Holy Spirit. People may try to oppose the gospel – but it’s God’s work to save and he’s committed to it. And so we see through Acts that persecution does not hinder the spread of the gospel. In fact, often it increases its spread.

That's what’s been happening in China for the last 70 years. In the 1930’s all missionaries had to leave and persecution followed under Communism. But in spite of all that the church grew from half a million in 1930 to around 100 million today. Many Chinese church leaders have become bolder in spreading the gospel after experiencing persecution. It’s Chinese church leaders that are now making plans to reach the Middle East with the gospel, not worried about persecution they might face.

Let’s draw our thoughts to a close. I don’t know how the gospel message will be received in Preston, during mission week and afterwards. We’re in a spiritual battle. The pattern here suggests that some will be apathetic and at least some will oppose the message. But let’s not lose our nerve. Let’s remain bold in our witness. Because our message is true – there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. And we can have a quiet confidence that despite the opposition we may face – maybe even through the opposition we may face – God’s gospel message will continue to draw people to him by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Where have you been?

Sorry for the recent lack of entries. After two weeks of mission on the Lancaster campuses, I've needed this week to catch up with things that were left undone for a while.

There have been plenty of encouragements; the best being able to attend the baptism today of Jack (a guy from Lancaster University that became a Christian last term). Beautiful sunshine, beautiful view over Arnside and wonderful to be able to celebrate the powerful work of grace in another individual. I always love getting alongside my Christian brothers and sisters from Christians Alive church in Lancaster too.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

BlogJack! Mission Special!

Hi everyone! It's Gareth here again, masquerading as Peter!

A few posts ago, Peter talked about partnership in the gospel. I was one of the partners mentioned (although not by name, I noticed), and it was indeed a joy to work with some very cool people during the week. But the Gospel partnership spread quite a way beyond Lancaster during the week I was there. So I thought I would tell the story...

On Monday night, the CU at the Unversity of Cumbria in Lancaster held an event called "Text a Toastie" (or some variation on that - everyone called it something different). The concept was simple - maybe too simple we thought at first. We spent the day giving out flyers and putting up posters giving details. Then from 5pm, people could text in a toastie order and a questions about Christianity. Moments later, a hot toastie would be delivered to the door along with the answer to their question.

I have to admit, I was sceptical at first, but it is actually a stroke of genius. The difference between this and doing something like questionnaires is that people invite you to talk to them about the gospel. And you kick off by talking about something they're already thinking about. Genius.

At about 8pm, this question came in: "If there is life on other planets, and they haven't heard about Jesus, what would happen to them?" We were asked to deliver the toastie to NCL.
"Where's NCL?" we all asked. It turned out the question was from a girl in Newcastle who'd been texted by her friend. She said not to worry about the toastie, although the question was serious.

We decided to offer to either text a short answer, or call her with a longer answer. Then, just as we were about to reply, someone said, "don't we know anyone in Newcastle?" We didn't. But we knew that there would be a UCCF staffworker nearby. The next half an hour was spent calling everyone we knew who would know who it was, and how to get in touch. Eventually we got in touch with a guy called Lewis. He asked where the girl lived, and it turned out he has friends living in the street. Before long, some Christians were visiting the girl who'd texted in (I'm not sure whether they had a toastie with them or not), talking to her about Jesus. All very 'random'.

Apparently she had been wanting to talk to some Christians for a while, but hadn't met any. From her point of view (and I guess from ours too), it was a miracle!

Gospel partnership is great, isn't it?!

The controversy

In less than an hour I'll be teaching 1 Timothy 2 at Lancaster University with small group leaders.

I'm keen that this study doesn't get hi-jacked by one particular issue when I think that the rest of the chapter has a lot of good things to say to a CU. But, of course, the interest is likely to fall upon what Paul says about women teachers in the church.

I guess what's particularly struck me as I've prepared this study is the way in which all too easily the proponents of the two viewpoints caricature each other. I remember meeting a church leader about three years ago who labelled those that allowed women to speak in church as 'so-called evangelicals.' It appears to me that both egalitarianism (the position which stresses the equality of men and women in holding roles in church life) and complementarianism (which stresses diversity between men and women, and which precludes women from holding certain roles in church life) can be argued scripturally. I have no reason to believe that those scholars holding these views hold them for anything else other than exegetical reasons, and certainly wouldn't want to tarnish them with the brush of just giving into culture in some respect. What's sad is when a dialogue sinks to the level of jabbing out dogmatic statements without ever giving time or thought to passages that seem to point in other directions.

The other thing that has struck me is that God's goodness very often gets lost in these discussions. 1 John 5:3 has become very precious to me: that God's commands are not burdensome. All too often, particularly from complementarians, their position is taught in a harsh manner. But if the complementarian position is closest to the Biblical model, then we must say that the lack of women teaching in church is for our benefit.

I don't think that this is a comment on the ability of women speakers. Rather, could it be that, just as God invented marriage roles as equal but different (so that the gospel might be modelled in an Ephesians 5:22-33 manner), so God has designed church leadership that men and women might play roles that are equal and different? Could it be that, by male headship in the church and female submission, we are modelling elements of the gospel to each other?

I don't want to trivialise, but could God's design be so that conversations like this happen:

Visitor into church: (to woman) Why aren't women in leadership here? Are women treated as second class?
Woman: No - we are all truly equal. It's more of a case that in our gender roles, we are modelling something of the very nature of God. Just as the Son submits to the leadership of the Father, so as women we submit to the male leadership here. It's not always easy - but points to the Trinitarian nature of God. And the men are called to make decisions that don't just benefit the men of the church, but the women too. As we love and serve each other in different ways, we model the Truine God, whose persons are equal but different, and serve each other in love.

Monday, 4 February 2008

To exist or not to exist

Those of us engaged in campus evangelism will be well-used to the argument that Jesus either didn't exist or that the gospel accounts exaggerate Jesus' actions and claims.

Amazingly, however, this survey by UKGold TV shows that it's not just Jesus that people are confused about! 65% of Britons think that King Arthur existed and 58% believe that Sherlock Holmes really lived. Perhaps even more bemusingly, 47% of Britons think Richard the Lionheart didn't exist, whilst nearly a quarter of those surveyed thought that Winston Churchill didn't exist - despite being voted just a few years ago Greatest Briton in a BBC poll.

Those conducting the study noted a marked change in how people acquire their historical knowledge. Over three quarters of the nation (77%) admitted to no longer reading history books, or watching historical programmes on television (61%). One in eight (15%) admitted they rely solely on the history that they learnt at school. A sad state of affairs when one concludes that this probably means that the vast majority of people's view of the historical Jesus roots in opinions formed at junior school...

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Partners in the gospel

So the long fortnight of mission in Lancaster has now finished, with hundreds of students having heard something of the gospel. Across the two campuses over the past weeks, there have been dozens of Christian students involved, 19 talks, a number of small group events and one amazing evening which led to the gospel being shared in Newcastle!

One of the real highlights was working alongside some of my very best friends, including Chris (a former Relay Worker that I supervised), friends who were fellow students in Bristol days, family (including my sister-in-law, Sarah), folks I know from church in Lancaster, and my good mate Michael.

There's something very special about working alongside friends. I guess there's always the danger that things just become nostalgic, but Paul seemed to craved working alongside his friends and partners in the gospel. It's great to work alongside people knowing the sort of way in which they think, how they will react in certain situations and how their gifts can be best utilised.

It's exciting that the merry band that assembled to partner us in Lancaster are spread across the country, serving Jesus in many different contexts, but I hope and pray that this won't have been the last time working with them.