Five books I’ve found really helpful in 2015.

Reading is the best. And reading is fun. And reading is vital. And reading is hard. And many other things.

I’m really thankful for the people who keep nudging me to read, recommending books to me, and even though I go weeks and weeks and weeks without really doing that, and then binge a bit on days off, I’m very glad that I’ve been able to sit on trains, buses, station platforms, sofas and a bed and learn from wiser people through reading what they wrote.

These are the things I learned from the top five books (of like seven and a half read, to be up front) that helped me most as a Christian in 2015. Bible and Four-Four-Two magazine excluded.

5) Ministry on My Mind, John Newton

johnnewtonMore of a long pamphlet than a book, this is a collection of John Newton’s (as in Amazing Grace) random musings on entering pastoral ministry / being paid to do gospel work. It’s a beautifully written collection of his personal experiences as well as reflections on bits and bobs of Paul’s letters, and has been very helpful personally and in preparing for the 9:38 student conference in Birmingham, helping studes think about it themselves. The most interesting and encouraging insight to me was his re-telling of how he himself came to the decision to go and be ordained. No writing in the sky, but “my own serious deliberations, the advice of my best and most judicious friends and of course prayer”, or, in effect, what do I think? What do the best people in my life think? What does God think?

4) A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester

mealwithjesusRe-read this with some lovely people in our Churchcentral Life Group this summer, and was again so helped by it and inspired! What was God’s big strategy when he came to the earth? Knowing all the answers? Filling stadiums? No. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. Tim Chester unpacks this one core idea and reflects on food in the Bible, and while touching on communion, thankfulness and eating disorders, mainly unpacks the everyday opportunities meals and coffees and pints give us for relationships. Too weak to be an evangelist? Have a deep love for Jesus and share meals with people, and you’ll soon be doing it! Too busy to evangelise? 21 opportunities a week to share a genuine interaction as equals, friends, without adding anything to the diary. Such a helpful book because it is deeply theological while in almost every sentence being obviously applicable.

3) Preaching, Tim Keller

preachingWas recommended this by a friend, and enough people I respect loved it, that I picked it up this term, but was pretty reluctant if I’m honest. Surely this would be as dry as it comes? But not so. Two big ideas – preachers need to be faithful to the text, and preachers need to be engaging to the culture. And beautifully written! Kind. Wise. Less like a textbook and more like a granddad sitting down sharing wisdom with his grandkids. I didn’t find it intimidating but inspiring. Really helped me “go again” thinking about this whole topic, as a young and only-occasionally speaker, by lifting my eyes to what is possible – being genuinely faithful while being genuinely engaging, not choosing between the two. Smashing.

2) Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes

discilpinesHas a book ever had a less attractive cover? Or a more intimidating title? I don’t think so. Hence why it’s taken four and a half years to get to it having been bought it by some mates at Uni. In a way I’m glad it took me this long, as I think the whole idea of “discipline” – working hard to try and be godly – has been such a consistently confusing idea to me as someone who had his eyes opened to grace, grace, grace. I know there’s this danger of being a “legalist” – someone who thinks God loves him more based on a good day (or reading a book with the words disciplines and godly in the title), and less on a bad day. But then the New Testament is full of “work out”, “do”, “do not”, “train yourself”. Having thought about this lots and being in 3% less of a muddle recently over it, I landed in this book and so glad I did. Basically, it’s 16 areas of life – fatherhood, speech, work, church, family and so on – with the biblical basis for working hard at it, musings on the costs/benefits of ignoring/working at it, and then practical steps to grow in godliness. It must have taken years to write, with reflection questions, examples, case studies and all good extra stuff like that. My favourite chapter was the final one – which spoke of how to genuinely put these things into practice, emphasising the need for realism, working on three things this year with clarity and energy not 16 with broad guilt and then inevitable discouragement. New Years Resolvers, take note.

1) The Plausibility Problem, Ed Shaw

But by far the best, most helpful, tear causing, edshawemotive, informative, important book I read this year was the Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw. Written by an evangelical Christian (which I am) who is sexually attracted to those of the same sex (which I am, at the time of writing, not), it’s an incredible insight into the reasons why this man thinks choosing to be celibate for the rest of his life is not, ultimately, after the tears, and pain, that still come, a “loss” but a “gain”, because he’s got Jesus Christ.

I am not qualified to write on “following Jesus is so good that I can choose to be celibate and trust him with his instructions on sexual activity”, but Ed Shaw is. It’s such a brave book, and such a sensitive book, and so practical, tackling the underlying reasons why our culture can’t even begin to stomach the notion of celibacy for Jesus (the cultural assumptions like ‘we are what we do sexually’, that ‘identity is tied up in sexuality’, that ‘to rob someone of sex is to rob them of intimacy’). But I genuinely think it’s all of these things only because it’s written by someone who has walked this path, made these decisions, cried these tears and yet asserts plainly and warmly that Jesus is the best thing that’s happened to him, not the worst. He’s a celibate man, attracted to men, who is very, very, very glad he’s a Christian.

As someone who is tempted to think loving our gay friends and family = pretending the Bible doesn’t say what it says, and sadly sometimes tempted to think being faithful to Jesus = being a bit awkward and confused by gay people, this book is just the most helpful thing around, tackling those two equally wrong ideas at their root. I am so thankful I read this book, I really want you to read it. Ed Shaw is one of the bravest people, and God calling him to write this book was a really, really, really, really, really good idea.

Read it in 2016.

Three reflections from THINK

This week I had the privilege of joining 70 men and women at the THINK conference, a three-day event put on by Think Theology exploring 1 Corinthians.

Before going, I wasn’t sure how I’d find it. Three days of thinking thoughtfully with thoughtful thinkers about thinking thoughtfully doesn’t instantly sound very ‘me’. But once there and since leaving, three reflections have continued to bounce around my head that led to me learning lots and loving it.

1) The theological robustness of these leaders

This was three days of thinking, discussing, pushing, clarifying and challenging at, depending on your analogy, a deep / high level. That initially intimidated me. And then with some thought, encouraged me. Not all, but a high percentage of those attending were from Newfrontiers, and it made me glad and thankful to see once again that over decades and in the present day, this movement has been and is being shaped by people who are giving themselves to grappling with scripture, wrestling with the tensions, implications, applications and emphases, pouring themselves into the word of God and pouring themselves out trying to apply it and teach their churches. Encouraged. Thankful.

2) The theological humility of these leaders

In a room where most people shared similar convictions on, for want of a better phrase, “disputable matters”, it would have been no surprise if there had been a swagger and a strut to the whole affair. I would have joined in as the foremost strutter. Go us.

But no. The “we’re nailing it, God is lucky to have us” idea was nowhere (except for being giggled at for it’s arrogance and grieved over for it’s ugliness). In contrast, the “we really need to think about this, and may have got this wrong before” idea came through a number of times. Other theological streams were spoken well of. Opposing views were given a deliberately strong explanation in order to avoid straw-manning. Discussion was humble and eagre to learn. The tone was generous, applications to other people/opinions were swerved and applications to us were dwellt upon and prioritised. Alongside the robustness, I was seriously impressed with the humility.

3) How much young Christians gain from hanging out with older Christians!

My final reflection was simply what a good idea it was to go along! In the room were many hundreds of years of experience in Christian leadership. Roads have been walked down, problems encountered and thought-processes thought through that I hadn’t even thought of. But what a privilege to lap it up for three days. I only ended up in the room because an older Christian invited me. I sat with older men who, while valuing my contributions, were deliberate in including me and teaching me. Nothing complex, but such a helpful environment, for which I’m grateful.

So, y’know, you should totes go next year.

Marriage Lessons in 10 cringey rhymes

“Couples who pray together stay together”, so they say.

Here’s 10 other things I’ve learned from three years of marriage, in the trusty marriage-advice format of a pithy rhyming statement:

  1. Couples who sing together cling together.
  2. Couples who weep together keep together.
  3. Couples who dance together have a chance together.
  4. Couples who chuckle together don’t buckle together.
  5. Couples who apologise together will syncronise together. Sick rhymes.
  6. Couples who tut together hit a rut together.
  7. Couples who ask for help together don’t yelp together.
  8. Couples who dine together will do fine together.
  9. Couples who get it wrong together can still go long together.
  10. Couples who chill watching Amazon Prime together also benefit.

Doubt and faith in the middle of the story

I’m not one of those doubting Christians. I hope you’re impressed? Yep? Good.

I’m proud to say that when I came to Jesus I experienced no doubt whatsoever. I know, amazing isn’t it! Utter confidence. Total zeal. Complete conviction. I never wobbled.

Until day two.

At a party, a good friend, in response to hearing that I’d become a Christian, frowned, paused, and then quite bluntly asked: “So you deny evolution and think I’m going to hell?”.

I replied with a pause of my own. And then sort of mooed. “Mmm”.

Pre-party I had been trouble free. But suddenly I was confused. Questions entered. And for the first time, doubt. Not an all-out rejection of Jesus, which is clearly never commended, but an uncertainty, an unsureness. And it’d only been a day.

Why do we doubt?

Charles Spurgeon – a big dog, amazing Christian hero guy – said, when asked if he ever doubted: “I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him”. I like that a lot. This beardy, fiery, godly man can’t help but almost laugh at the idea that someone would profess to be doubt-free. For the real Christian, Spurgeon says, doubt is part and parcel.

But why is that the case?

There’s lots of things we can say, but here’s one thought:

We doubt, because we’re in the middle of the story.

Watching Divergent for the first time, I wasn’t exactly gripped – it’s not the best film evarrr after all – but at various points, I found myself drawn in by the plot twists, questioning characters, unsure how it would resolve. This led to the heart-beat rising. Some surprises. Some shocks.

But last term, through doing some film nights with students, I had to watch this movie a total of five times. I’m now almost word perfect. And I’m in the know. I watch Tris as she nervously waits to see if she’s made the grade in boot camp, and while those around me bite their nails and stress, I smile. She makes it. And she wins. And I know.

That’s because I sit at the end of the story. And when I’ve seen the end, it all makes sense. I see how it all resolves. I see that the twists and turns are within the context of the over-arching story which I already know.

The question is, where do we sit, as Christians?

Do we sit at the end of the story? Has the plot line resolved? Have all the characters been reconciled and all the questions answered? If so, then doubt wouldn’t be an issue at all!

But I’d suggest that’s not where we live. As Christians we sit, not at the end of the story, but right in the middle.

Of course, the kingdom has come in Jesus – and he’s been kind enough to give us a sneak preview of the end. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know the one who Holds the future, and all that. And Christianity is not a “buckle in until heaven” faith, but a living, present-day, active one.

But just as it would be wrong to deny that the kingdom is “now”, it would be just as wrong to deny it is “not yet”. As Christians we are not at the end yet. The Revelation 21 scene is not here yet. And so, in the meantime, it makes perfect sense that we have questions. Uncertainties. Doubts.

Oh, there will be a day when doubt disappears. It will be cast into the memory banks, never to be seen again. Everything will make sense. As Paul says to the Corinthians: “Then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But the other half of that verse is just as true. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part”. Yes, as Christians we know. And yes, as Christians we can see. But in part. And dimly. Because we’re in the middle of the story.

How does this help?

The cash value of this in our lives is that we don’t need to panic.

The Christian life, this side of Jesus’ return, was never meant to be question-free. It makes perfect sense that there’s questions, struggles, doubts. Things have not resolved yet.

We have a God who promises to wipe every tear and abolish death. And yet, for now, we have newsreaders who point us to tears and death, all over our planet. We’re meant to engage with that. Not, as Spurgeon says, to claim “I never doubt”, and not to claim we live in the “know fully, see completely” era, when we’re actually in the “in part, dimly” era.

This isn’t all there is to say. We must come to Jesus with our doubts, we must seek to honour God and live by faith, not by sight. Doubt is not a glorious virtue in itself, as if scepticism is more spiritual than certainty. But maybe that’s for another day.

For now, let’s not panic. We’re not bad Christians when we see dimly. At least we’re no worse than the Apostle Paul! Could it be that the questions and complexity of day two of my Christian life is much more what the New Testament expects than the doubt-free, crest-of-a-wave of day one?

For thought:

– Are we willing to be real about our doubts?

– Where are you experiencing the “in part, dimly” nature of being a Christian?

– How can we grow in being community where doubt is not condemned but engaged with?

CU at its finest!

In my job working with three creative and courageous Christian Unions I’ve seen a fair few events, but one afternoon this term really stood out.

It was probably the smallest CU event I’ve been to this year, one of the cheapest, and the idea only came about five days before the event. And yet in many ways this event was the one that brought me the most joy to be a part of.

The event was: A frisbee tournament with a talk about Jesus.

I know. Impressive right? Ground-11639608_10206004581348090_30272991_obreaking right? Explosive and headline making right? Wrong. But there were a few ingredients that combined to make this seemingly unimpressive afternoon a wonderful example of CU evangelism.

1) CU members living life among non-Christians

The afternoon came about because three people in UBCU play in the university’s Ultimate Frisbee team and wanted to reach their mates with the gospel. They put their heads together, and put together a simple event that their mates would love. 15 or so mates came along to join a good number of the CU, but none of this would be possible if these three had been hiding away. Consistently, in my own life and those of CU students I work with, one of the biggest stallers of evangelism is that Christians are too busy with Christians, living an “in here” Christianity, talking about their “non-Christian friends” rather than making some! But these three have spent a couple of years every Wednesday playing Frisbee. They’ve gone on bus journeys to games, hung out and trained with their teammates and probably missed early morning prayer meetings (God forgive them) as a result. But what has happened is that they have 15 friends who want to come to a tournament where some old-bloke-staff-worker will speak about Jesus Christ! Jesus, The Godly Human, was nicknamed the friend of sinners, and wore that badge with pride. CU is at it’s finest when we own that title too!

2) An engaging event that serves the guest

Not only did they have friends who trusted them enough to come along, but the event was put on in such a way as it engaged their friends where they are at, and also served the guests superbly. Not only was there a Frisbee tournament, but there was a prize for every team. Not only was there a half-time break, but ice-pops and water bottles were given to everyone attending. Not only did the tournament run its course but afterwards there was a barbeque. All paid for and prepared and planned by the CU, for the good of the guest. With a small bit of thought and a little bit of cash, the guests were treated as if they mattered to the CU, as if the CU saw them as people not just projects. These extra touches say so much and added so much to the atmosphere of the event.

3) A talk, about Jesus, with a next step.

Friendships, food, extra touches and a creative event are all excellent, but if that’s where it stops then this would not have been a Christian Union event, but just an EXCELLENT Frisbee team training session.

Good CU events are always MORE than speaking about Jesus but never less. I was invited to get up at half-time (while guests were enjoying their ice-pops and water) and spoke just for five minutes about why I found Jesus compelling. Seeds planted. And that’s all we can do!

But not only that, each guest was given an Uncover Luke’s gospel as a summer gift to take home with them. It would have been easy to forget this, leaving intrigued guests with no way of finding out more over the gaping, three-month Redbrick summer! But the CU had simply thought ahead, and brought with them these gifts, wrapped up individually.

I’m told that lots and lots of conversations have taken place, that afternoon and since, and that many were genuinely intrigued at Jesus, and loved the event.

It was a small and unmemorable event, and quite easy to put on – but with these three ingredients, it soared!

So what about you?

If you’re involved in a CU… here’s three questions for you:

1) Where am I intentionally living among people who don’t love Jesus?

2) Do our events treat people as human beings who we love and care for, or like projects to pounce on?

3) Do we leave it as an engaging event or do we make sure people get the chance to hear about Christ, and take a next-step?

No matter the size of your CU – an event like this is WELL within your reach. So go for it! And who knows what might happen…

This time six years ago…

Excitement. Joy. Pride. Terror. Fear.

I remember it well. That moment, those feelings. Two lovely committee members had invited themselves round to a few of us Freshers’ flats for dinner that week. This didn’t scare me – they were great! It’s what they said after dinner that got me so churned up:

“We’d love you to help lead in the Christian Union for the next year!”

Gulp. Then came the tangible excitement, the genuine joy, the sinful pride, the sudden terror, the bubbling fear. And that was before pudding was over!

It’s an immense privilege to be involved in a Christian Union and for the following year I helped three others lead our little CU to do what we could to get the gospel out in Eastbourne. (My highlights were the Prezzo Meal where we paid for our mates’ meals, they heard a gospel talk and then each CUer did a ‘matchstick testimony’, or the footy tournament where everyone gathered in at half-time to hear my testimony, including the now very cringey statement “It’s not for everyone, but I’ve found it a great help to me!” – ooooooops).

But as well as being a privilege, it’s a responsibility. For this reason I was extremely glad to be invited to this thing called “Forum South East”, a training weekend put on by these weirdos called “staff workers” and this charity called “UCCF” (!).


There, this nervous fresher had teaching from Colossians on how Jesus is all we need. He had training on planning events. How to lead. How to help our little group be bolder and more strategic and loving. He met other Christians doing the same thing in other CUs. He also played a lot of football! And I think there was a quiz. I love quizzes.

Every year, weekends like this are put on across the UK to help students like me back then, perhaps like you right now, to make the most of their year in CU.

If you’re around in CU next year – involved in a team, a committee, or you simply know you’re around and want to get stuck in – then what a privilege!! And what a responsibility…

So however you’re feeling about it, why not meet with others? Why not have your eyes lifted? Why not be trained, and encouraged, and helped? Why not get yourself along to your Forum Regional event?!

Midlanders, there’s still time to book for Forum Midlands. And others elsewhere, you can book in here!

As someone who was nudged to get along to just such a weekend, I can say I’m very glad indeed I booked in ;-)

See you there!

Our post-Forum choice…

Lots of us are fresh off the back of #Forum14 and what a week it was!forum

It’s hard not to miss the fellowship, the fun, the field – even the ducks! Yet we were reminded on the last day as we prepared to leave that, as we kiss goodbye to the Quinta for another year, it’s not the end. It’s the start. That was the warm up, now for the game.

Warm ups are important, you see. You can’t run straight into the action without giving it any thought. You need to be prepared. That’s why every football club in the country has a pre-season – they need to get ready. They need to have a game plan. They need a strategy. They need to know their team-mates. Otherwise the year ahead could well grind very quickly to a disappointing halt (insert Man Utd pun here).

And so it is with Christian Unions. Land in September bleary eyed and wondering what the plan is, and you can be 3-0 down before you’ve got your bearings. But get yourselves ready, work on a strategy for the year, dream big and pray bigger for your small group or CU and you can hit the ground running, ready for action.

That’s what Forum 2014 did for me – prepared me for the action. It wasn’t a conference for a conference’s sake (what use is a warm up if nothing comes afterwards?), but it got my eyes up to Jesus and out to my mates, out to the year ahead. And what a year it could be…

With the launch of Uncover John and the momentum from Uncover Luke, it seems to Uncover Johnme that this could be perhaps the most exciting year in the history of Christian Unions. Within an hour and seven minutes of them becoming available, all 5,000 copies of Uncover John had gone. Gone! Gone into the hands of students who see the beauty of Christ, the lostness of their pals, and who with knees knocking, want to have a go at opening Scripture with their mates. This country could be changed this year, by Christian students giving it a go. Wow!

But there’s a truth that stings to say, and sobers even me, the keenest of conference attendees. And that’s that it’s all worthless if it stops here.

If we go on the pre-season tour but lose our focus, then it’s worthless. Completely pointless! If we all have fun in a field for a week but it goes no further, well, we might as well not have bothered.

So here’s the choice. For me and for you: Will we be CU leaders, small group leaders, individuals, Staff Workers and Relay Workers who live life for the warm-up, loving the buzz of a dark marquee and a fantastic Welsh preacher but who hide in the chaplaincy come Freshers Week? Without the grace of God, that’s what we’d do! We’d take this good news, and hog it all to ourselves! It’s certainly where my heart has gone since coming home – unlike our outgoing God, retreating is my instinct. And I’m very well trained in it.

Or will we be those who weakly, with knees knocking, not stirring ourselves up but looking to the Saviour, ask our God to so deeply burn on our hearts the things we heard, said and prayed at Forum that we might have a go? Step out? Text a mate, flick Uncover open, go for coffee and see what they think?

In a moment of clarity, by God’s grace, right now, I know which I’d prefer. But in 10 minutes my heart could be cold again! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

And so we simply MUST pray. Pray that he might change us more, loosen our apathy, deepen our convictions, melt our hearts, strengthen our spines, open our mouths and use us by his grace this year.

Thank you Lord for the warm up. Now Lord, use it.

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 and I can send them over :-)

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