Unity: The litmus test of Christ-centredness

Ben Moore guest-posts on Kumbaya, unity and Christian Unions.


I’ll never forget my first visit to the CU at my secondary school. After 15 minutes of introductions where we all said our name and an interesting fact about ourselves (most people’s interesting fact was ‘I love Jesus’), we all joined hands and sang Amazing Grace and, I kid you not, Kumbaya. I suddenly realised why most of the Christians at school didn’t go. It was completely inaccessible to a vast majority of them.

Obviously, I took this lesson to heart when I was on the CU committee at university and we were totally Jesus focussed and united. HAHAHA no, I tried to remake the CU in my own image. The only difference between me and the other committee members was that I had the audacity to disguise my sin as godliness. We isolated lots of the CU who stopped coming to meetings, so our mission team fell apart. Smallgroups were all but abandoned and our doctrinal basis got lost down the back of the sofa.

So what happened? How did we lose all semblance of unity? The answer is Jesus. No, I’m not saying it was his fault, but Jesus was not the main thing for us. Silly things were. We argued over the format, the content, and the minor practicalities of everything. In Colossians 2, Paul writes ‘Be rooted in Christ’, Jesus must be the main thing.

So what does this look like? It looks like love and dying to self.

Secondary Issues

When you’re standing side by side with another Christian sharing the gospel with someone, views on women in ministry, spiritual gifts, and Adam and Eve don’t really come into it. I’m not saying that these are not important topics or that no non-Christian ever asks about them. However, if they can share the gospel and are eager to do so, it would be madness to drive someone away because you disagree over who wrote Hebrews.

So, out of love for your siblings in Christ, you die to self. CU must be interdenominational. Only having speakers from one denomination, teaching one particular view of things (especially if they feel the need to tell everyone that believing in evolution is only for culture-pandering heathens) is unnecessarily divisive. CU is an evangelistic organisation, so have speakers who preach the gospel in an encouraging, uplifting, and challenging way that pushes you to mission. My committee had one speaker in who prayed, in front of the CU, that everyone would come to his church. We didn’t have him back. He didn’t get it. Don’t be like him.

Music

It’s amazing how much power music has to bring us together or tear us apart. I don’t mean what’s on your iPod. I mean the music we use to worship. Don’t underestimate the effect of your worship band on the CU. Playing the songs you love every week may not be as wonderful for everyone as it is for you. It may be discouraging them.

During my time at CU, we had a variety of songs each week. I love me a bit of Stuart Townend. ‘Beautiful Saviour’ is ineffably sublime, but every time the worship leader launched into an acoustic rendition of the latest hit from those worship albums all young Christians seem to listen to, I wanted to curl up in a ball and eat my own face. Over time though, I realised how helpful other people found these songs. So, vary your song choices, you never know how helpful it could be to some people! You’re never going to like all the songs, but you can make sure as many people as possible can worship freely and without distraction. It’s about Christ, not Matt Redman. Though I do love ‘Blessed Be Your Name’.

You

Above all, you must love all the members of CU and be willing to die to self in meetings. Don’t just talk to your friends or people from your church. Read 1 Corinthians 1:11-13. Where it says ‘Paul’, ‘Apollos’, and ‘Cephas’, substitute the names of your local church leaders. Christ stepped into our world, into our suffering, for you. Can you walk across the room and talk to the slightly weird behaving/looking/dressing/sounding/singing student who nobody else goes near in CU? Seek out the people you would usually avoid and love them. CU is not a social club for you and your mates. Friendships can and should be formed, but makes sure nobody is left behind. If the Kumbayarmy had shown up at CU at my university, my call would have been to love them and welcome them, no matter what I thought about their way of doing things.

Why?

What good is unity? Why should we strive for it? The more we are willing to set aside differences, the more we realise that we are all part of the same body – the body of Christ. Serve each other in love, and evangelism will come easily. When the focus is on Christ and his work in us, why would disagreements over secondary issues matter? Unity really is a litmus test for Christ-centredness.

You don’t have to eliminate anything and everything you find enjoyable or helpful in CU, but do spend some time thinking and praying about how you could make CU a place where people unite around Christ and the fundamental truths of the gospel (hello Doctrinal Basis). How can you ensure people aren’t driven out by unnecessary division? Where do you find it hardest to compromise and how can you become more Christ-centred?

How to motivate your CU…

For more on this, listen to this helpful session:


I remember it well, the moment when I was slightly too honest and nearly ruined my marriage.

It had been a fairly normal day until then, in fact abnormal, as I’d been a better than average husband for most of the afternoon. No, seriously. I know.  I’d cleaned the kitchen, AND hoovered, AND put the bins out. Lads on tour. What a time to be alive.

When Ruth came home, though, something went wrong. She. Didn’t. Instantly. Notice.

shock

I know.

She didn’t fall down on the floor in adoration to the Husband Most High. Bad wife, I thought, tut tut.

So taking matters into my own hands, I decided it was the time to announce my achievements. “Have you not noticed my hard work today?”, I chirped, or something equally self-involved. “I don’t know why I bother,” I continued, hideously, “I only did it so you’d be happy with me.” Ouch.

And as it slipped out the mouth, and my lovely wife looked at me, I realised what had happened.

Sure my actions looked good. The cleaning had been done. I had done something worthwhile. But man, my motivations were all over the place. In fact, my good deed for my wife had turned out to not be for my wife at all. I didn’t do it out of love. I did it for me, effectively saying “I think I need to buy your affection with hoovering, now I’ve done it, so worship me”. Not a good line. Not a good day. And actually, in the end, not a good deed. Praise God for grace and a kind wife.

What does this incident teach us? This: that we can do the right thing in life, but for a whole load of wrong reasons. We can, in the short term at least, get the external stuff looking good and shiny, do some stuff that is good to do, but with poor motivation, it’ll only be short-lived. It’ll be guilt-driven. Self-serving. And it’ll fizzle out.

nike

It’s the same with evangelism right? And the same with motivating our CU. We know we’re to be an outward, missional community, sharing the good news of Jesus with our friends. We know we don’t want to be one of those CUs that doesn’t share the gospel, or that is just a social club, and as leaders, we rightly see it as our responsibility to motivate others. This bit is true. It IS our responsibility, our primary responsibility in our roles as leaders, to motivate our members to share Jesus. But I hope my little marriage confession can help you see that how we are motivated to do something is absolutely crucial. Take the Nike slogan and shout it loudly? If not, how should we motivate our CUs?

Well what should motivate my occasional hoovering spree? Not guilt. Not “to do the right thing”. But love! She’s not my boss, she’s my wife. I love my wife. And I like her! She is lovely! And if that’s true, then more and more I’ll serve her gladly, joyfully, naturally, consistently. Not to gain anything myself but because I want to give to her. Genuinely serve her. Not to get anything from her but simply because I love her.

Paul says it’s the same with evangelism.

What got Paul going in evangelism? What got him talking about Jesus? What got him sharing his faith? What gave him the mouth to speak and the courage to go for it?

He sums it up in this simple sentence: “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

The love of Christ!

If it was mere duty, he’d hate it. If was from guilt, it would be joyless. If it was even about love for his friends, primarily, he would give up when his friends got rude or unlovely. But it was none of these things. It was the love of Christ!

Being loved by Jesus draws us to respond in love to him. “We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We all know that from experience. Our hearts are hard but when we hear of Christ’s love, his gritty, self-slaughtering, rugged, compassionate love for us when we were totally helpless, we begin to melt. He saw your worst sins, he knows your deepest insecurities, the hidden darkness, the lies you’ve told this week to make yourself look more respectable, he sees it all, and knowing it all, he bled out for you because his heart wells with love for you. What a love.

And so in response, we love him! Not because we have to but because he’s lovely.

THAT’s how you motivate people to do evangelism. We show people the love of Christ. In turn we’ll love him more, and we’ll speak, because we speak about what we love, don’t we? As Jesus said:

nike

Notice how I’ve talked about Ruth a lot (a sickening amount, no doubt). It’s because I love her. “Did you see the football!?” is because we love football. “Game of Thrones is back!!!!” is because we love Game of Thrones. We speak about what we love.

And so that’s how you motivate a CU.

You seek to develop in them an ever-new and ever-real awareness of the love of Jesus for them. They will be drawn to love him in response. And they’ll speak of what they love.

It might take longer, it might not get the instant results that the guilt stick would. But I tell you what, one minute of hoovering done out of love is worth twenty times more than a year’s worth of chores done with a selfish heart.

Of course we need to call people to share their faith, to be brave, we need to share stories of God at work to inspire, give training to equip, and pray for boldness, but central to a Christian Union must not be merely “LET’S DO EVANGELISM” but “JESUS IS WONDERFUL, so let’s share him”.

  • So, how will you help your CU be absolutely thrilled with Christ’s love for them?

  • How will you avoid your talks and notices being “SO DO IT OR ELSE”, but calling people to share the love that Christ has for them?

  • How will you make sure your main emphasis in your own relationship with God is not “I must do these things as a CU leader” but “you are lovely God, and wonderful, and I love you”?

 

Three thoughts from my journey through Pilgrim’s Progress

Having found a lovely, dusty old version in a charity shop, in my time off this Easter I’ve been reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. 

If you haven’t come across it, in rather blatant form using aptly named characters, we follow the journey from The City of Destruction to The Celestial City of our central character, Christian. He is started on his journey by, yep, Evangelist, and along with his friends Faithful and Hopeful, he encounters such baddies as ‘Little-Faith’, ‘Talkative’ and ‘Obstinate’. I know.

If I’m honest, at times it was a bit of a struggle, I found I couldn’t read much in one go, but I’m glad I kept going. Three big things stood out from reading Bunyan’s take on the Christian life.

1) Bunyan expected the Christian life to be immensely difficult

The Slough of Despond, the Hill of Difficulty, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Doubting Castle (and its owner the giant Despair) are all – for Christian, Faithful and Hopeful – stops en route to the Celestial City. 

Encounters with monsters, scorn from onlookers, mockery from friends and family, temptation from false teachers are all par for the course. And for Faithful, as he and Christian arrive in the area most familiar to my modern eye, Vanity Fair, it ends in a brutal murder. 

Nowhere is there a hint of “your best life now”. For the Pilgrims, the journey is long, tiring and tough. And responsible advisers along the way, and indeed Evangelist right at the beginning, make sure they tell Christian this in no uncertain terms. Food for thought there in our evangelism. Come and have life, but come and die to find it.

2) Bunyan expected genuine Christians to get it wrong a lot

Refreshingly, Christian is not the hero of the story. I was surprised at how often Christian turns aside from the way, ignored the advice given to him, forgot truths he had been taught along the way and lost sight for a while of his pilgrimage. However, the Lord sustains him. He does remember. He does get up again. I took immense courage from this, that in our countless missteps, true believers are held in his grace as they come back to the way and walk again.

Interesting that what keeps Christian going seems to be in equal measure:

  • The certainty of salvation, in the form of a scroll he is given at conversion
  • The counsel and encouragement of his fellow pilgrims, who in turn often need his counsel and encouragement
  • The hope of the glories of the Celestial City

Let’s be friends that look back and look forward together.

3) Bunyan expected heaven to be absolutely mind blowing

The journey is treacherous, and long, but throughout it is clear that it is a journey worth making. His description of heaven, to the weak, wobbling but faithful Christian, as he enters the final hurdle, the River of Death, is quite beautiful:

You must there receive the comforts of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears and sufferings for the King by the way. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One. You shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes will be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. 

Lord, help me take up my cross, follow the narrow way, and do it gladly! For one day I will see you, and you will swap my toil for comfort and my sorrow for joy.

Book Review: Luke Cawley’s “The Myth of the Non-Christian”

It was a great pleasure to buy a copy of Luke Cawley’s first book “The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians and the Spiritual But Not Religious” and read it over two or three days this Easter. It’s also a great pleasure to recommend it. Here’s why:

As I see it, the book’s main premise is this: that “non-Christian” is so broad and vague a term that it is almost entirely redundant as a way to describe or relate to a human being.

Yes, technically, if someone is “not a Christian” they can accurately be described as a “non-Christian” – of course – but in this book Luke is suggesting we can do much better than lumping all the “others” into one big pot of people who don’t believe what we believe.

Instead, Luke wants us to see people as individuals. He wants us to respect the nuances in people’s life stories, experiences and worldviews. He wants us to engage with people in a way that is relevant to them, that listens as well as speaks and that is not only faithful enough to bring the essential, age-old good news of Jesus to people, but flexible enough to do this with people of all backgrounds, by intelligently and sensitively adapting our approach.

And so he dives into a refreshing, funny and at times bizarre series of stories, interviews and insights to help us do just that.

nonStyle: Stylistically, I personally found it a breath of fresh air. Luke’s not predictable or stuffy, which means this book is an exciting book, it’s not heavy. And it means even just the first page of each chapter is either some heart-wrenching or curiosity-tickling encounter from his travels as an evangelist, or some odd story from his own history of asking big questions about God and life. It’s a fun book to read.

Impact personally: The result of reading it for me as a follower of Jesus was that I felt that the duty and privilege of sharing Jesus with other human beings around me was strangely do-able. Not in a “this has all the answers way”, but almost the opposite of that. There is no one way to do this! It’s speaking to people, listening, asking questions. It’s relating. It’s being real. Even I can do that.

Impact in terms of ministry: And as someone who is training students in evangelism with UCCF at the moment, it left me feeling a great desire to be MUCH more creative and at much more liberty in the different ways we try and reach people. I would love all my students to read it, but particular those who are at smaller, newer universities seeking to reach a quite different group of students than at a redbrick or collegiate uni.

You can get it here. And follow Luke on Twitter here.

Or if you’re in Birmingham, ask Kristi Mair, cause she’s got some copies. I think she knicked them off the back of a lorry.

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” (!).

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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!