Joyfully discontent

10 Ways to Make the Most of Forum 2014

Based on five years of coming to Forum, and heading towards my sixth, here’s my 10 top ways of maximising your Forum experience!

1. Be prepared for weather possibilities!forum

In my experience, Forum can guarantee you many things – vibrant worship, on-the-money workshops that scratch where you’re itching and glorious glimpses of Christ from the Scriptures – but one thing that can’t be guaranteed is the weather (don’t believe anyone who says different!). In my first Forum as a second year student I arrived forgetting that September wasn’t summer, and Shropshire wasn’t Spain and got, shall we say, a touch damp. Last year I arrived with wellies and I would say a very fetching raincoat only to be sunburnt within the first two hours. Lesson? Prepare for anything – expect the unexpected – and you’ll be just fine!

2. Get to know one another

You know what it’s like – term gets busy, deadlines approach quickly and it can feel like you have to rush from one thing to the next. It’s hard to build those deeper relationships with your mates in CU, and so some time away together, after a long summer apart (very long for some of you!), provides you with a tip-top opportunity to hang out and grow your friendships. So, if you’re cooking, cook together. If you’re eating, eat together. If you’re washing…well, it doesn’t work for everything, but make the most of this five-day time away.

3. Actually use the bookshop!

“But I have some already that I haven’t even read yet” said every Christian student in the UK – and that’s okay! Me, too. But you’ll never get books as cheap as when you’re a student, and IVP do a fantastic job of resourcing us with everything from Bibles and commentaries to Uncover resources and books on a whole load of juicy theological topics and everyday issues of the Christian life. Plus, my top tip: If you arrive at Forum early, make a beeline for the stall. They often make a limited selection of damaged books available at brilliant prices – so if you don’t mind a bent page or two, and love a good bargain, then you’re in for a treat.

4. Enjoy all of life

Coming together corporately to hear God’s word and sing his praise is special indeed. But God’s not only interested in preaching and praising but in pubs and pictures and playing (and even things that don’t begin with P!). God made the earth and everything in it, made us creative and physical not dull and floaty – so see Forum as a chance to enjoy your humanity with your mates from CU! How? Well make sure you plan the year, but also play in the football tournament. Design your mission strategy but also express yourself in the arts project. Plan your Uncover launch but bask in the Forum Fringe fun. Read by the lake. Sing by the fire. Enjoy!

5. Plagiarise your socks off

There aren’t many times in student life when plagiarism should be actively encouraged (although my degree mark could have benefited from some copying, that’s for sure) but Forum is absolutely one of them. Not sure how to reach arty people on your campus? Ask the Arts College CU members! Can’t think of how to deal with the restrictions of your SU? Ask the people in the tent next to you! Struggling to motivate Freshers / partner with churches / love international students / maximise Uncover? Well wouldn’t it just be a brilliant idea to get a field, and pack it with 1,000 other CU leaders brimming with experience and ideas for you to rub shoulders with for five days? Someone should definitely organise that! Oh… wait a minute…

6. Influence the way things are done

My experience as a student in a smaller CU and a Relay Worker and now as a Staff Worker is that UCCF is a family – of students, staff , relays and supporters. One of the ways in which this is expressed is that the views and thoughts and dreams and opinions of members of the family are valued and welcomed.

At Forum , YOU can play your part in shaping what’s going on! So, invite your region’s Student Council Rep over for dinner (you’ll meet them on night one) and give honest feedback about what’s going well and what you’d like to see different. Grab your regional Team Leader or even one of the Directors and discuss that genuine concern about the challenges of your patch. As Jack Johnson would say: “We’re better together” – so do engage with these opportunities. The family will be better  off for it.

7. Get to know your Staff Worker and Relay Worker

When I was a student, I ended up sharing an illogically small tent with Ben my Staff Worker which was interesting at times but it meant we got to know each other very well indeed! As well as him bringing food for me from the staff catering option (don’t tell anyone), I got to learn from him, realise he was a normal guy, ask questions, hear him snore, and have a laugh. These relationships work to their full when we all realise we’re brothers and sisters, so why not live that out over Forum? Invite your Relay Worker for dinner or to attend a workshop with you. Even if you don’t know them. Especially if you don’t know them! Go to a Forum Fringe After Hours gig with your Staff Worker. Maybe even play a prank on them… though when I arrived back at my tent in the pitch black to find that my sleeping bag had been swapped for an open carton of milk, that was probably a bit much.

8. Pace yourself

With so much on offer in the programme, it can feel at times like you want to get to everything that is happening. But remember, you have five days. Pace yourself, enjoy the free time and rest well. A way you can do this is by splitting up your crew to go to different things, then feedback the highlights over dinner!

9. Be real with the Lord

If you’re like me, summers are tricky things. Loads of fun, but no routine. It’s great because you might go back to your family for a period of time. But it’s hard, because you might go back to your family for a period of time. I often feel even now in the summer months that with routine gone, CU meetings absent, church programmes a bit quieter, I can grow really quite cold-hearted. Unlike His love for me, my love for Jesus yo-yos, and I’ve often landed at Forum with a glossy outside and a nice Christian smile but often feeling low, frustrated and beaten by sin in my life. Each year, I’ve been encouraged from the front to engage with the Lord as I really am, for that is the Rich Pitt He wants – the real me, the messy me. Don’t pretend at Forum. Why would we, when grace upon grace is available for those who come to Him they are? What a Saviour.

10. Remember it’s all about Him

Lastly, with all the meetings to run and speakers to book – let alone thousands of unbelievers to convert – leading a CU can feel like a huge weight on our shoulders. Well, come to Forum, and be reminded that it’s not about you, it’s about Him. Realise there’s 1,000 others walking it with you. Supporters giving and praying to enable you. Staff and Relays praying and preparing and doing what they can to support you. But even more than that – there’s a God in Heaven who runs out to the dirty, the filthy, the broken, the lost and embraces them and brings them home.

In the words of Graham Daniels from Forum in 2012: “It is sooooooo, noooooot, yoooooooour, woooooooork. JEEEEEESSSSUUUUUUUSSSS is the Looooooord of the haaaaarvest” or for those of us who don’t speak Welsh – “It is so not your work. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest”. What a truth – what a week to remember that. Glory to him! See you there.

Where is the Love? – clarification of my talk at AUCU’s Big Event

I enjoyed speaking last night at the Aston University Christian Union’s “Big Event” – amazing performances from Yvette and S.O among others.

The CU did a quite stunning job of putting on a varied and diverse event with singers, dancers, performing arts sketches and the mighty S.O! It made me smile that the event had brought these people together to think about the claims of Jesus. A fun night!

I just wanted to clarify something I said in my talk around the question “Where is the love?” as I’m aware that I may have been slightly unclear, or that some of the most challenging things I said may have left people open to a bit of confusion. Feel free to try this more readable description on the question of suffering and God and justice as well, but I’ve just tried to summarise what I said in this post to be a bit clearer on some of the points. I hope that’s okay!

What’s wrong with the world….Image

Just to remind, I began by acknowledging that all of us – regardless of colour or creed – can see that there’s something wrong with the world. Just as Will.I.Am cries out in the first lines of that song, so do we. I used provocative examples of this from my own experiences in Thailand around the child sex trade, and spoke also about 9/11, chemical weapons, Jimmy Saville, and “Christians” holding “God Hates Fag Soldiers” signs. I acknowledged that all of us – regardless of what we believe – find those things repulsive. Note that at least three of those examples of horrific evil are religiously motivated, and one of them explicitly “Christian”. I was careful to show that religion has caused it’s fair share of the injustice we all hate!

I then concluded that section putting into words my own thoughts and feelings, but that all of us have felt at one time or another; that with all of THAT going on in the world, the idea of a God – and more specifically, a God of LOVE – seemed RIDICULOUS to me.

I then shared that now, though, I am a Christian. A follower, a lover, a worshipper of that very God of LOVE – Father, Son and Spirit, revealled to us in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s a big shift and I asked if I could share how that came about for me.

My journey during that shift revolved around three questions. This is where I may have not been as clear as I could have, so please let me explain if I can.

1) What happens if you take God out of the equation

If we delete God, like an awkward facebook friend, by saying “There can’t be a God because of this suffering”, what happens?

a) The problem isn’t solved

9/11 still happened. Slavery is still happening. It doesn’t solve the problem.

b) A new problem arises

Because of the following three statements from leading Atheists about a universe with no God.

Richard Dawkins:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Christopher Hitchens:
“To the dumb question, ‘Why me?’, the cosmos barely bothers to reply. ‘Why not?’.”
Stephen Hawking:
“The human race is a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet”

Which led us to our second and most important question…

2) Do we believe that is true?

What I acknowledged as clearly as I could was that of course NONE OF US believe that child rape is indifferent. Not one of us believes that Jimmy Saville’s victims when asking ‘Why me?’ should be told ‘Dumb question…why not?!’. NONE OF US BELIEVE THAT.

My conclusion here was not that atheists think children should be raped!!!! I hope the way I communicated throughout the evening showed that of course I don’t think that atheists are heartless people who don’t care about slavery and rape. I hope that was clear!

My conclusion, though, which in itself is very uncomfortable to hear I’m sure, was that it proves we are not REALLY atheists! Because atheism, in the words of its leading lights, should lead us to deduce that everything is indifferent, that we’re just scum – and yet NOBODY LIVES LIKE THAT OR BELIEVES IT!

I was not in any way trying to attack atheists.

But I was in a big way trying to attack atheISM.

It’s bleak, it’s harsh, it tries to tell my head to believe things that my heart could never believe! And neither can yours.

I’m not saying atheists love child rape!!!! I’m saying people who hate child rape are therefore not REALLY atheists – because atheISM says “we’re scum”, and there’s not one of us that really believes that.

In the face of this bleak worldview, we were left feeling quite uncomfortable and so I asked the third and final question:

3) What’s the alternative?

Here, I asked you: “What if….”

What if you weren’t stupid for asking what’s wrong with the world?

What if the world was never meant to be like this?

What if longing for someone to come and fix it wasn’t stupid?

What if that’s exactly what we should be longing for?

What if someone did come?

What if that someone was God himself in human form come to rescue the world – the world we all acknowledged needed rescuing?

What if you’re feelings of value and worth and longing for people to be treated right was not a trick or a lie but was because you and they were made by a stunning, bustling, vibrant, joyful God of love who knows the hairs on your head he cares for you that much?

What if he promises that one day he’ll come back and finish the job – perfectly restore the world and rid it of all evil and hurt and pain and injustice and tears?

Well…that’s Christianity! Where is the love? Atheism says “No such thing, just indifference” Jesus says: “I’m here. I came for you. You can have me!”

I hope that is a clearer description of what I said. I would absolutely love to grab a beer or a coffee or indeed ANY DRINK (!) with anyone who’d like to chat more, whether you’re in the CU or not. I’d love to know what you think too!

Song list – Forum Midlands 2014

Did you hear the one about the 200 leaders, 23 staff + Relays, 7 chefs, 5 washer uppers, a preacher and a techie?

Not the start of a bad joke, but Forum Midlands 2014 (#Fmid14), where the UCCF family in the Midlands came together to meet with God, worship him, and be trained and equipped for a year of gospel witness on our campuses.

A few people asked for a list of the songs we sung – so here it is: Song List – Forum Midlands 2014

If you or your CUs would like copies of chord charts so you can introduce some of the newer songs in your context (This Is Amazing Grace, All I have is Christ), email rpitt@uccf.org.uk and I can send them over :-)

Also – try this beautiful video animation to go with “All I have is Christ”.

What I hate about life…

There’s lots of things I love about being alive; football, coffee, kissing my wife, watching a film at the cinema, harmonies. Lots and lots.

But there’s something I really hate about life.

It’s not the most highbrow viewing, but I saw the final minutes of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy this week.

It tackled a subject familiar to hospital shows, familiar to our screens. Familiar to you, to me, to us, to all of us.

Death.

Having watched eight series of 24, where Jack Bauer kills more people than I can count, I’m used to seeing death on my screen. Watching the news, I’m used to seeing death on my screen. Doctors in Grey’s Anatomy are used to seeing death on their wards. Doctors in Birmingham like Ruth are used to seeing death on their wards.

Rarer is seeing it as it really is. Not a passing moment in 24-episodes of entertainment. Not the tragic yet common occurrence for someone working a hospital. Not the nameless, foreign, faceless faces in a disaster on the news I’m scared to really think about. But as it really is. When the someone is your someone. This is death and death to the full. Like when this successful, sees-death-every-day surgeon is confronted with the body of her husband.

I’ve not experienced much death in my 25 years; two grandmothers and my uncle who I dearly loved. Dearly love. I’m deeply thankful for my relative ignorance in this area. I am not in a position to speak about this subject. I’m not pretending to be. I don’t know its depth, its pains. What I know is more than enough for me. I don’t know it fully.

But I will.

Perhaps you know it. Perhaps you don’t. But you will. It will be a subject familiar to you. To me. To us. To all of us.

Cross the seas, cross the ages, cross genders, politics, religions, classes, sexual preferences and each one will know – now or one day – the reality of unadulterated loss. History reveals death to have a 100% conversion rate. The New Testament puts it bluntly: “People are destined to die”.

We cannot beat it. We cannot escape it. We cannot fix it. We cannot avoid it. And it hurts.

And that’s what I hate about life. Death.

I want an answer. I want a solution.

No-one has found one.

Not Einstein. Not Muhammad. Not Ghandi. Not Hitler. Not Steve Jobs. Not Bin Ladan. Not Princess Diana. Not Hayley in Corrie. Not my Nan. Or my Gran. Or my Uncle. Not you. Not me. Not us. Not any of us.

I long for someone to buck the trend. To take on the enemy and to beat him. I want a death-defeater.

Do you?

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus…the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!

Making the most of a Dial-A-Doughnut…

In recent years, CUs around the country have excelled in combining technology, good food and the power of questions to engage their campuses in investigating Jesus.

Text-A-Toastie, Call-A-Cookie, Message-A-Mince-Pie, Dial-A-Doughnut… the options are almost endless and the format is simple.

ImageThe CU invite the campus to text in any question – and they mean any question – about God, faith, the Bible, Jesus or church and in return, a couple of friendly faces from the CU turn up, with the beginnings of an answer to the question and some free tasty treat.

These events have tended to be much loved and extremely well received, as seen in this story from Nottingham, and this one from Southampton.

It’s my view that these are amazing events, for so many reasons. Here’s just five:

  1. These events take us to people, rather than asking people to come to us!
  2. These events are unique – no other society is doing it!
  3. These events respect other people, seeing their opinions and their questions as valuable.
  4. These events make people smile – Texters love it. CUs love it.
  5. These events get everyone involved – making, organising, delivering, answering, discussing, the whole CU has a role.

But how do we make the most of such an event?

As a student heading to knock on the door, how do we maximise the impact of our visit? We might only get 30 seconds with people. What are we to do?

There’s a couple of approaches. Of course, there’s the “Advance, knock-knock, BOOM, dominate, retreat” technique…

It’s a real hoot. In this approach, we’re to verbally vomit our views on to people. Look up a proof text and read it at them. If possible, take offence at any rude or aggressive questions. And at very least we can make sure we finish the conversation having “won” the contest and come out on top. Did I mention it’s a contest?

Or what if we were to take a different approach?

  • What if we took the “I’m a person, you’re a person, it’s so great to have a conversation” approach?
  • What if we were to see the people we visit as, well, people?
  • What if we were to visit not so much demanding on delivering an answer but committed to having a conversation?
  • What if we knocked on a door with a big smile, and thanked people for their question?
  • What if we told them we thought it was a fabulous question, and asked what made them text it?
  • What if before answering, we asked them what they thought of the question?
  • What if we explained we had a few minutes and asked if we could come in and chat about the question, ’cause we’d love to know what they think?
  • What if we didn’t need to know every answer?
  • What if we weren’t judgemental and rude, but apologised for the way that Christians have been judgemental and rude?
  • What if we said “Well, what do you think?” more than we said “Well, I think…”
  • What if we sought to move from “God” and “Christianity” and “Church” and asked them what they thought of Jesus?
  • What if it wasn’t a robot delivering a statement to a stranger, but a person introducing a person to a Person?

As we arrive at people’s doors, and knock, just imagine how they feel…

No doubt nervous, no doubt awkward, no doubt worried or cynical about the people who are stood just outside their flat. Perhaps they’re just after a doughnut. Perhaps they’re out for a fight. But whatever their intentions or expectations, what if they opened the door to find people strangely similar to them? Who are friendly to them? Respect them? Thank them? Honour them? Have an engaging conversation with them? Who asked good questions?

‘Cause questions draw people in…….don’t they?

Thinking as a global Christian on campus

How often do I think about international students? How often had they been in my conversations as we’ve planned events? How often have I prayed for the nations to come and taste and see? How often have I applied any talk, Bible study or discipleship meet-up to what this might mean for our interactions with internationals?

Yeh…not so much.

I’ve spent some of the summer thinking about what it means to be a global Christian on campus, after it became very clear to a few people around me that this was a big blind spot for me.

As a way of getting my thoughts together, Stevie B suggested I wrote a response to the question below. I hope, as you grab a cuppa and take 15 mins to read this, or send it the way of international teams or CU execs who can do the same, that it will be a helpful intro resource, causing us to think through again what it means to really give every student on campus the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus.  I also hope it may give encouragement to those already involved, as ignorant and selfish staff workers like myself can often neglect or even forget about the important work they are doing. I’m thankful to people like Maddy Brown, Joe Sturman, Fred O Loughlin, Matt Fox-Lilley, Nay Dawson, Mini Song and Andy Briggs for their example in this field and for all their hard work and gospel service in this department. The fact that in writing this response to the quote below, it’s still a quote I can imagine coming out my mouth if I’m not careful shows just how much I, and we, need to think about this area.

“I don’t see the point in Globe Cafe, or in going out of my way to reach out to international students on campus, they speak a funny language, they have a different religion and they are different to me! Let me just reach the British students with the Gospel.”

A response:

Firstly, let me say I’m in many ways so encouraged by what you’ve just said. For starters, your specific, whole-hearted, focused passion to reach British students with the gospel is something I deeply admire. It’s wonderful that you have this passion. Secondly, I think it’s brilliant that you are under no illusions about what it might be like to meaningfully reach out to those of other cultures – it will indeed be hard! They do indeed speak a different language. They are indeed different to you. It’s good that you know this. So many students would glibly say we should do this and that for international students without really considering what it might cost, and thus they give up or never get started – you are strongly aware of the potential cost of this specific mission effort. That’s good. I’m encouraged by these points.

However, alongside the encouragement, I’d also want to challenge you in several places. I have come to believe that reaching out to international students is not an optional extra in the life of a Christian Union – the thing we do if we have enough people or some extra money – but rather that it is a fundamental core ingredient. Although not every single CU member will be involved in the weekly running of the Globe Café, it is the responsibility and duty and privilege of every Christian on campus to see cross-cultural evangelism as a priority – in prayer, in giving, in lifestyle. I speak these words deeply aware of my own need to constantly repent in this area, so I hope we can grow together in our convictions in the coming discussion.

Motivations

Firstly, and I suppose my main question which underpins all the other smaller points would be this: “Where does your passion for reaching British students with the gospel come from?”

Because I’d strongly suggest that with a little bit of thought, we’d see that almost any good motivation for reaching British students with the gospel would also send you out to internationals. Let me show you what I mean.

For example, if you are motivated to reach British students because the Bible tells you to, then you should also be motivated to reach internationals, because the Bible is clear on the cross cultural aspect of mission. Paul went across boundaries. The early church went across boundaries. Jesus went across boundaries. Outwards is our trajectory. The ends of the earth is our destination.

If you are motivated to reach British students because of God’s love, then you should also be motivated to reach internationals, because God’s love is for people of every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus died for Jew and Greek. And Korean and Malaysian and French. There will be a great multitude from every tongue, every nation, every people group. God’s love for the British lad in your rugby team is no greater – shocking, I know – than for the introverted Chinese computer science student in your flat. We may find it hard to love across boundaries. So did God. And yet he loved. He loves! And every student on campus belongs to the God of love.

If you are motivated to reach British students because of the great need and the strategic opportunity at Uni, or by the lack of other opportunities your British mates will get to hear the gospel in this declining post-Christian culture – then you’ll be motivated to reach internationals too, many of whom come from cultures that haven’t ever heard of Jesus. There are students in our halls of residence from countries where missionaries are banned. They have never heard of Jesus. They are now on a campus in Britain seeking to engage with this culture for perhaps just one year. We have an opportunity here to win converts for Christ from nations where they are no converts for Christ! Yes we must reach British students. And YES we must reach internationals. For the need is great. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Chinese students, Indian students, Pakistani students, German students, American students, Italian students, Latvian students – they have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is only one mediator. They’ve not heard of him. The need is great.

If you’re motivated to reach British students because people are broken, and God calls us to display and live out his loving character in kindness and compassion, then you’ll be motivated to reach internationals, who are from cultures as broken as ours and who are perhaps uniquely in need of love and compassion as they arrive in a strange land, a strange city, a strange campus. How would you feel if you got the plane to China, and you got all the way to the campus, and you got into your room, and no-one really engaged with you. Imagine not knowing what to eat, what to say, where to go. Imagine the locals basically ignoring you, perhaps even avoiding you because you “speak a funny language”.

Now imagine a group of locals putting on an evening for international students, saying they believe in a God who loves all people, and therefore they want to welcome and love as he does. Imagine someone greeting you, and sitting down with you. Imagine making a friend. Imagine you’re excited conversations with your home friends over Skype if even one local invited you round for food. Would it not be one of the coolest stories you’d have to tell? Would it not be one of the most heart-warming, kind moments of your stay? Would you not appreciate them so much? Yet we put on evangelistic events that don’t even account for other languages. We find it awkward to sit with the international in our lecture. We can’t be bothered ‘cause it’s hard. What a shame! If we really have a heart of compassion, if we really love because he loved us first, then we’ll be motivated not just for the Brits, but for each student. I normally deeply dislike the “What would Jesus do?” sentiment that’s so easy to justify almost anything by, but, I have to suggest that if Jesus were in our lectures, he’d gladly choose being pushed to the fringes of the in-crowd in order to love that Muslim girl from Oman who no-one speaks to. How challenging this is!

And so if you’re motivated to reach British students – I have to suggest that (unless your motivation is shallow, not centered in God’s word and his character) it follows that you’ll want to reach international students too. I feel the pinch of this too. But it is clearly true. How little we really know and love this God! Praise God that he’s transforming us to be more like him.

People or peoples?

Secondly, as John Piper so helpfully puts forward in his book Let The Nations Be Glad, there’s something beautiful about having a diverse spectrum of people won to Christ, as opposed to just as big a number as possible, and we get to play a part in that by reaching internationals. God is deeply invested in seeing a variety of peoples come to him, not just people.

What does this mean? Well, God is not merely interested in culminating for himself a big group of believers. If he were, it would logically mean we would focus all of our missionary efforts on the majority group – the biggest countries in the world would be the only ones we’d send missionaries to, or, closer to home, we’d only reach out to the “majority” student on campus – the white, British, undergraduates.

But Piper suggests that though God is clearly interested in bringing “many sons to glory”, he actually, on a more fundamental level, is seeking to win to himself people from within every people group. On the last day, Christ will be broadly and diversely glorified by the fact that from every single people group, people will praise him. We say, fair enough, but surely it’s the number of individual souls saved that is the highest priority, and so we should focus our efforts on the biggest group? This carries some weight, but if we think about it, what will more show Jesus as supreme on the last day – a big army from one nation, or a huge army of every nation? Surely he will be more glorified on the last day if those before him represent not just many people, but many peoples.

Adolf Hitler won admiration from masses in one country. Kim-Jong Il is ‘worshiped’ by 24 million North Koreans. But outside of their countries, their appeal doesn’t cut the mustard. History shows them not to be as great as the masses in their nation, at the time, would have suggested. But God the Father wants Jesus to be worshiped not just by a number of people, but by all the peoples right across the nations and throughout the centuries. He will then be shown to not simply be a fad or a phase in one big country, but an eternal and diverse, all-satisfying Saviour to people from every age, in every land. How sweet he must be, to win the adoration of the Tokyo Businessman and the Amazonian tribesman and every tongue and tribe in between!

For a band to win elation from thousands or even millions in the UK is one thing – but for them to be loved and adored and for their songs to be sung and name to be celebrated across generations and around the entire globe shows their greatness is far superior to that of even the most well-loved home growner who doesn’t make it abroad. It’s the same for Jesus. For him to be praised and worshiped, not just in Israel, not just by white, British undergraduates, but by 13th century Frenchmen, 21st century Chinese, 1st century Corinthians, 19th century Indians, 22nd century North Koreans will show his supreme worth on the last day. It is uniquely glorifying to Jesus to talk to a student from another tongue about his salvation. For if the two of you – from opposite ends of the world, in different mother tongues, with all your different prejudices and biases and politics and upbringing – agree that Jesus is the best, how stunning and glorifying to the King of kings is that?! In this context, suddenly, Globe Café doesn’t feel like a drag. It feels like the sharp end of what God is doing on campus. It’s often smaller in size, it’s often less snazzy in feel which means we’re often less interested. But true to the pattern of Jesus’ kingdom, the weak things, the small things, the looks-pathetic-as-he-dies-on-a-cross things, are the very things which God uses the most. Let the peoples praise him.

What’s at stake?

Perhaps you’re not convinced. Perhaps you’re still a “let’s just go for numbers” person – and, who knows, perhaps Piper is wrong. Perhaps I’m wrong in the way I’ve come to see the nations – plural – as being the emphasis of the mission field. Let’s say for a second that it is just about numbers.

Even if that was so, it would be immensely foolish to ignore international students. For the University of Birmingham, around 18% of their entire in-take are international students. That equates to nearly 5,000 people! Imagine if the CU ignored that number of people because “they speak a funny language”. Frightening. Or at Aston University, where over 20% of the campus is internationals, equating to about 2,000 students. To give you some idea, where I went to University, on my campus, in TOTAL there was about 3,000 students. So for Aston CU to ignore international students, numerically, is like Eastbourne CU ignoring two thirds of their campus! What about Wolverhampton? Well for Wolves CU to ignore internationals would be ignoring just under 3,000 students. This would be the equivalent of deciding never to tell anyone at the Eastbourne campus the gospel. If we are keen to reach people for Christ – we have to take notice of this! I don’t think God’s primary reach is for NUMBERS. But even if it was, then the % we’re ignoring if we just go for home students is staggering.

 The chance to shine bright

 But stats, though helpful in painting a picture for us, tend to be fairly void of life and love as they are, well, just numbers. Numbers about people, admittedly, but we tend to forget that. We tend to much more like “relational reasons” – motivations for doing something that are driven by a love for God or a love for people. Reasons that will comfort people and bring much glory to Jesus. Now, because as Christians we are called to love, we really do have an opportunity here to shine bright, bringing much glory to Jesus. Because anyone can love their mates. But loving internationals will make Christians visibly different.

First, it makes us different to other students. No-one on campus will go the extra mile to be kind to an international student. Much less to whole groups of them. Imagine what it says to the international student, but also to the British students who are watching – and perhaps scoffing – if we go out of our way to welcome and befriend!

But also, it makes us different to the Uni. Forget other students, what about how the Uni and the SU would react?! In Eastbourne, the SU weren’t doing much at all for internationals. A bit but not loads. And after some phone calls and a meeting, we asked if we could run and pay for a Quiz Night for them. They were blown away that we’d run a quiznight for 300 new arrivals for free! They even let us advertise the CU! It was amazing. The next year, with a change of staff, they asked us to come and do a quiz at their welcome evening, and provide a meal for every international. All well and good, a great opportunity, but with an annual budget of about £70 (!), we couldn’t afford it. We still went and did the quiz, but to our great surprise the SU had not coughed up the money for a meal. So there we were, around tables, at the welcome meal, with no meal. Can you imagine? People have come from China to study at the Uni. The Uni ask a group of 10 students with accounts amounting to a box of pound coins hidden in their wardrobe to cover the cost, which we couldn’t, and so they simply pulled the plug! Those internationals, those nervous, new, lonely international students didn’t get a welcome meal, because if we didn’t do it, the Uni wouldn’t do it. How terrible! And yet what a chance to stand out as Christians if we love and give in a world where even SUs are cutting corners! Nobody loves like the Trinity. But next in the list should be Christians. What an opportunity we have to stand out in this area. What a witness we could be!

He embraced the foreigner

Lastly – and this is perhaps the biggest thing that will change our cold hearts here – even with our cold hearts,Jesus didn’t treat us like we treat the internationals. He didn’t say “they speak funny” and “they’re different” and “it’s too hard” and “I’ll stick with what I’m used to” and “someone else will do it”. No he came to be one of us. He became a foreigner. Became like us. Endured the cross. He left heaven’s glories to be spat at and murdered so that foreigners like you and me could share the lavish love of his Father. If we grasp that, we’ll leave the chaplaincy, we’ll leave our cliques, and we’ll go to the nations, no plain ticket needed, no visa, no vaccinations, perhaps just moving rows in our lecture. But we’ll be at the very sharp end of God’s purposes on campus, calling the nations to be glad in him, calling the peoples to praise him.

IdeasWhy not use this video in a CU meeting to help people get passionate about international outreach?

- Pray!

- Watch the video to the right, be inspired, and be ready to see what God does!

- Be intentional – try and meet one international student this Freshers Week.

- Leaders – Run a CU evening international style, to envision the CU: The talk, internationals praying in their own language, maps around the room, praying in groups, food, flags everywhere! What fun! Click the photo for a video that may be helpful for such an evening

- Nag your CU Exec to go for it in Mission Week… could you have a series of international events at tea-time, before the main evening event?! A separate speaker? If you got 30 people there each night, would that not be worth it?! It needn’t be too much extra work. A core team could mastermind and run with this. Why not?!

- If that’s out of reach, can you run one good quality welcome meal in Freshers Week? Good food cooked on mass, go out with invites for the couple of days before? So do-able! Such potential.

A word for those getting results

If you’re reading this, I suppose you may well be a student, getting results this month or next.

My Facebook news feed has been full of Wolverhampton students last week, and Birmingham students this week, getting their grades. It’s a big moment, and for no-one more than those in their final year. Three years, maybe even more, and it all boils down to one moment, one “log-in”, a scroll down, to see the verdict. Will I have made it?

For me at Uni, I experienced the thrill of scrolling down, and finding a bizarrely high mark – far higher than I’d expected – and what a thrill it was! A sweet sensation!

I also experienced the stomach-churning moment where I found out that I didn’t get away with it after all, that the lack of revision really did matter. Worse, the moment the low mark arrived, despite a huge amount of effort. I tried. I really did do my best. I wept tears over this exam, pushed myself, and yet at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough. And it stings.

Whether you’re celebrating today, weeping, or somewhere in between just quietly unsure, if you’re a Christian, and you’re like me at all, then your heart could be in grave danger today…

For any time in which we find ourselves awaiting a verdict, we face a battle in the warzone of our hearts to place our confidence elsewhere, in the one true Verdict that counts.

What do I mean? Well the world sets before me a brand new exam each day. A new mark to reach. A new height to attain. A new set of qualifications to fulfill. Take walking through the Bullring, for example. I do it a few times a week, and if I’m not careful, I leave feeling strangely glum, silently excluded. For I rarely reach the standards.

Do I have the right computer, as I walk past the apple store?

Do I look like the guy on the poster?

Do I look the the people on the escalator?

Do I wear the clothes like the model in the shop window?

Am I slim enough to get into the Medium clothes in Topman?

Am I tall enough to fill out the Large clothes in Topman?

Am I as happy as them?

Am I as beautiful as them?

Am I as successful as him?

Is the holiday I have booked as good as that one?

I put myself on trial. A simple stroll from New Street to Aston becomes a mini-Judgement Day, as I stand exposed, feeling that I’ve missed out on life’s best by not attaining the standards set all around me.

Exams at Uni have this same power, don’t they? As we log-in for the verdict, awaiting a thumbs up or a thumbs down, it leads us to joy as we are declared good enough, or condemnation if we’re declared a failure. How should we respond?

Well if your heart is like mine, there’s good news.

For in the courtroom of God, in the assessment that matters, the Divine Decision has been made. It’s done. It’s signed. It’s sealed. And the result? I’m justified.

I breathe a sigh of relief. I feel the weight come off. For a word has gone out that declares how I’m viewed by God, how I’ll be seen by the eyes that matter. And the word is this: justified.

And there’s more. The Judge has declared words over me, that are more beautiful than “Not Guilty”. More beautiful than “Pass”. For in Christ, I’m not just “not guilty”, I haven’t just “passed”.

No, in Christ, I receive the declaration that belongs to Him and Him alone. It’s too good to be true, for a non-Redbrick, non-Mac-owning, non-Topman-sized sinner. But it’s true.

I don’t have to type in my own name, my own password, and fear the results. No, I get Christ’s log-in. And as I scroll down, I find this final, decided, steady, certain, passionate, beaming declaration from the Father:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Phew.

Easter Sunday: What if it really happened?

If it did, then in Jesus…

…Death loses, life wins.

…Darkness loses, light wins.

…Sorrow loses, joy wins.

…Pain loses, pleasure wins.

…Lies lose, promises win.

…Sin loses, forgiveness wins.

…Ugliness loses, beauty wins.

…Cold loses, warmth wins.

…Silence loses, singing wins.

…Despair loses, hope wins.

…Disappointment loses, fulfillment wins.

…Hatred loses, love wins.

…Betrayal loses, faithfulness wins.

…Evil loses, goodness wins.

In Jesus, if Easter Sunday happened, a great victory has been won.

Jesus wins. And his victory is my victory. Hallelujah!

Please add your own below!

Snapshots of the past few weeks

Here’s a few snapshots of the term, mostly for the benefit of the wonderful, faithful people all around the country who support me in prayer, encouragement and financially. These guys give, pray, support the work that the CUs are doing, but rarely get to see what it looks like “on the ground”. I hope these brief glimpses encourage you and help you to know that the Lord is at work.

A University of Birmingham CU evening event during Focus Week – they catered for 100, but 130 turned up to hear the gospel. Throughout the week, we understand that 17 people became Christians. 70 or so asked to find out more, some of whom are on an Alpha course now.

The Tea Tent: at the very centre of campus, where every single student can see it, the marquee where Adrian Holloway spoke at lunchtimes. Some lovely Aston students came and helped on a couple of days, ahead of their own Mission Week which is coming up this month.

Big questions: Students flyered and advertised with signs like this, ushering folks in to hear a talk on the big question of the day.

See for yourself: Hundreds of Uncover Gospels were given out, giving students the chance to “see for themselves” in Luke’s gospel.

Joey and the Jammers: Three musicians entertain 60 students, around 35 of whom were non-believers, at Wolves CU’s “Why Jesus isn’t for the religious” Acoustic Night. A superb evening in the Student Union Bar. The SU Activities officer called this: “By far the best event a society has run this whole academic year”.

Jesus isn’t for the religious: I spoke from Luke 7 about how Jesus is for anyone who will come to him for forgiveness. Having a fairly long gospel talk at an event was a scary thing for us at Wolves, but the guys were bold in deciding to go for it, and it seemed to work. A friend of a CU leader said on the feedback form that they wanted to hear more. This is something we could see more regularly, which would be wonderful!

Five books I found helpful last year…

Do you ever think: “Reading a Christian book sounds like a good idea”?

Do you ever think: “I want to know Jesus more and grow in my walk with him, and God seems to have used reading Christian books in the lives of those I admire and want to follow”? Do you ever think: “Reading what a wiser Christian has to say on an aspect of the gospel or of the Christian life is a no-brainer”?

I do. And yet with the wealth of resources out there, it’s very hard to know which book to pick. How are you meant to know which ones will be helpful? There’s just so many.

Well, wiser folk than I have recently been helpfully sharing their top books of the last year (Matthew Weston, Tim Challies, Cat Caird, Kevin DeYoung). This has given me lots of new books on new topics which I can trust will be decent, having had a recommendation.

I’ve been really helped and guided by people doing such lists, so here’s one of my own. It’s considerably more limited, but might offer one or two people just one or two places to start. So here’s my top reads of 2012.

1. The Good God, by Mike Reeves

Some of you (if you’re students) will have heard me talk about this book a whole lot, but I think with good reason! It changed my entire view of God, and therefore my view of everything… and many others say the same (check out this review from Newfrontiers-er Andrew Wilson - it’s excellent reading in itself! – who called it “the best Christian book I have ever read”)

This book is short, funny, quick and easy to read, but none of that is why you should read it. The reason you should read it is because it’s a book all about God… not the dictator god that atheism rejects (rightly), not the headmaster god, the grumpy god, the resentful god, the unhappy god, but the Good God – the Trinity, a Father who loves a Son, the outgoing, bustling, life-giving, exploding-with-love God of the Bible. He really is that good – and Mike Reeves helped me see that more clearly than ever before. Buy it, read it, read it again, give it away to your mate, and then begin that cycle all over again.

2. A Meal with Jesus, by Tim Chester

First a book on the Trinity, and now a book on how Jesus ate his food… I can hear you saying it already… “You’re really scraping the barrel now Rich!”

No! This wonderful book helped me see the beauty of the gospel of grace (meaning I wanted to share it), and helped me see the ease and simplicity of sharing this gospel (enabling me to do it!). No secret formula… just you, some non-believers, some good food, some good wine, and see what happens.

This book is the book I’ve recommended to friends and churchies most frequently this year, the book that most surprised me (I read it with my supervisor last year and I thought I’d hate it!), and the book that has most transformed the way I think about sharing the gospel. It’s also a book I’m enjoying re-reading with Relay Rob and some of his really engaging students at Aston CU. Tim Chester tracks Jesus through Luke’s gospel in six excellent chapters, allowing us a seat at the table with the Lord as he ate at six different meals.

Seeing just how shocking Jesus was in choosing to eat – in THAT culture – with tax collectors and sinners drew me to love the love of Jesus, and long to share it with my family and my pals.

Chester argues that if we love Jesus, and we eat meals with people (nothing more complicated than that, and we do it 21 times a week anyway…) then we will be doing mission. We tend to make it evangelism very complicated, but “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. Simples.

3. Dealing with Depression, by Sarah Collins and Jane Haynes

This lovely little book is small enough to fit in your back pocket but was profoundly helpful for me and many others I know this year. It’s not a brand new book, and it’s certainly not handling a brand new topic, but this is one of the most sensitive and robustly Christian introductions to the topic of depression that I’ve read. I gladly recommend it!

It’s no quick-fix, self-help tripe, so look elsewhere if that’s what you’re into. No, it’s boldly realistic, confidently Christian, appropriately careful, and it oozes sensitivity, gentleness and love – something that, amazingly and sadly, books on depression often lack. This helped me and numerous friends a great deal throughout 2012, and though it is very much only an introduction to the issue, it is my recommended starting place.

4. Knowing God, by Jim Packer

First given a copy of this by my Staff Worker while at Uni, I was nudged to finally read this by Brum student Ben McNeely, and we’re now reading it as a group of guys in Birmingham CU on a Tuesday morning over a fry-up! This is somewhat a Christian classic, that has shaped the lives of Christians for years, and it’s been doing the same for us. Packer beautifully unpacks different aspects of God’s character, from his love to his grace to his justice to his glory in such a way as to draw the reader to not be content with being puffed up with head knowledge, but in a way that informs the mind and thrills the heart! I love God more because of this book, and am enjoying sitting at Packer’s feet with some brothers at Brum. Read it! A chapter a night would take 20 minutes… it would be an excellent month!

5. A Praying Life, by Paul Miller

This was on the staff study programme and is the best book on prayer I’ve read. So gospel-centered, the first section speaks little of prayer and just helps you see just how much God has done in saving us! We really are his children! The implications of that are that we can pray!!! Not waiting til we feel more holy, but right now! In the thick of the mess and the dirt and the chaos, our Father enjoys even the thought of hearing us speak to him! And the implications of this are that we should plan to pray more often, more boldly, more honestly, and the book finishes with a few chapters of really practical tips on prayer diaries, prayer cards, when to pray… some of which hasn’t really worked for me, but some of which is still helping me now to enjoy prayer as a child of God. Get it!

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