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For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” – 2 Peter 1:5-7

Another occasion here where I’ve ended up looking at something pretty hard-hitting in the pursuit of making cushions. With a little bit of wider context, this is Peter’s challenge to Christians – to help us grow “active and effective in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And that’s pretty important to Peter. By verses 12-15, he’s making plans to keep reminding those he’s writing to about this, even once he’s dead.

This is a particularly challenging passage for me. Peter is reminding us that despite God’s grace, and His gift of faith, we can’t just rest on our laurels. And Paul makes that point several times as well, including in Philippians 3:14 (“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”) and 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever”) – even in just these two examples, we can see that Paul is urging us to continue striving, rather than just staying put.

Making a cushion with a Bible verse on it is probably not the best way of following Peter’s advice. That said, I hope it will prove useful when I need to be reminded of it. Especially when I’ve pushed it to the bottom of the agenda because of things that don’t really matter.

Bible Study

So at uni, I go to CU. Every Tuesday, our college groups meet together and study the Bible, with the aim of equipping us for mission on campus. I also go to Church Bible study, which also meets on a Tuesday (albeit at lunchtime rather than the evening), but has a very different focus. It’s a completely different style as well, and I appreciate that.

So then I come home from uni and my weekly pattern of Bible study is disrupted. But then I get invited to two different home groups on the same night and have to pick which one…

Each of the groups I’ve been to has a very different approach to Bible study.

In CU, the leaders prepare a set of questions and the focus is on the CU as a whole.

At Church, we read through a passage, and people will mention different things that jumped out at them, and we can have deep discussions about something that initially seemed so inconsequential but are actually deeply significant (see Doves), or we could move on quite quickly. There are no pre-prepared questions, it’s just a matter of what we hear when reading the passage.

At home group, we were going through a Diocesan Lent course, which included plenty of questions but was mostly focused on the Church and how the Church would seem to non-Christians. And how we as members of the Church display the characteristic of (in this case) courage. Other studies in the series included generosity and joy.

These three groups are all very different. Meeting with a very different demographic, discussing very different things, in very different contexts. And yet all of them are relevant.

Something that we often ask in Church Bible study is “why”. Why did Matthew mention this? Why does Isaiah emphasise that? Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible? And the answer boils down to this: Because it’s relevant. Sometimes it’s relevant to the context of the passage. Sometimes it’s relevant in define exactly who someone is. Sometimes it’s scarily relevant to the world we live in today.

The Bible has so much wisdom, and is so rich and varied – studying the same passage 5 times could bring up 5 different take-away points. And that’s the joy of studying it with a variety of different groups. The different demographics will always come up with different ideas, and it’s all valuable in coming to know God more.

Doves

“As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” – Matthew 3:16

In our Church Bible study on Tuesday, we were looking at Matthew 3 (Jesus’ baptism). One thing that particularly struck us was the fact that the Spirit of God descended “like a dove”. And we wondered why Matthew bothered mentioning it.

Looking back through the Bible it becomes much clearer.

In the story of Noah, doves are sent out to search for land. They eventually return with an olive branch; this is hopeful and promising.

Doves were also used as sacrifices, particular amongst the poor. Later on in Matthew’s Gospel we see the comparison “innocent as doves”. Perhaps this innocence is why they could be sacrificed?

So the Spirit of God descended “like a dove” – perhaps this represents Jesus’ sinless life – His innocence, and the hope and promise that He brings.

A New Term…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

Less than a week until I go back to uni. Less than a week until I’ve got an essay due in. Just over a week until an exam that actually counts for something. And what am I doing? I’m trying my hardest to revise but just keep getting distracted.

Part of it is possibly that I’m at home – so both physically and mentally far away from university. As well as the fact that for the vast majority of the holidays the exam was “next year” – adding further distance to everything I need to do. Which now is beginning to get me down.

This time last year was quite hard. I’d managed well in my first term, probably due to all the excitement of leaving home and starting new things. In second term, I arrived back at uni when it was dark, cold, grey, and all the excitement had worn off.

However, I feel I’m doing better this year than last year. I started last term going to Church Bible study, which has been really valuable for me. I’ll admit that I never really looked much at the Prophets, and we’re going through Isaiah. It’s struck me so often how relevant it is to today. Carrying on going to that can only help. I’m also a lot more involved in CU than I was this time last year.

I’m wary about a lot of things this term, a higher workload being one of them. But hopefully I can learn to better trust God – and learn a whole lot more about Him. There’s a lot to look forward to as well.

CU Events Week is coming up in February. It’s a week of events (…) that we get a lot of people to, at which there is entertainment, free food, and plenty of Gospel! It’ll be tiring, but a lot of fun and definitely worth it.

Outside of CU there’s Unibrass, a Brass Band competition run by and for students. It will probably be a long day (and full of drunken students…) but I’m looking forward to it. The only problem is that there’s a strong probability that extra rehearsals will take away from some of my Church commitments.

And apart from anything else, I’ll be going back to a lovely house where I can have limescale-free cups of tea 🙂

Toasties: Thoughts, Trust and Encouragement

God is so good.

The first few weeks of term have been so encouraging from a CU point of view. We’ve had freshers turn up who are enthusiastic about sharing the Gospel. We’ve had freshers turn up who desperately needed the Gospel and are beginning to find it. And then we had tonight.

I really should be in bed right now – it’s been a fairly long day and it’s already gone midnight. But I have to get this into writing before bed. Then I feel I can properly reflect on, and thank God for, such a wonderful evening.

The day passed off normally. I went to the Church Bible study, then had a couple of seminars, and then started setting up for the café we have at CU. In everything we do at CU, we aim to love, to serve, and to spread the Gospel. The café is our way of loving and serving, and hopefully the Gospel shines through that – we don’t want it to be too evangelistic, but we want to build up a healthy relationship with the college so that our evangelism can be more effective.

After the café we had a Bible study. There were over 20 of us there. We started in prayer and worship. The passage was from John, and the study was interesting and I feel like I got a lot out of it. We concluded in prayer and, excited after the Bible study, started to prepare for Toasties.

We got, relative to other weeks, a lot of orders. There were a lot of questions. Thankfully there was a lot of people on hand to answer them. And from those half-baked questions that just came up in discussion with flatmates, we were able to have some fantastic conversations. There were questions about misogyny, LGBT, and even about dinosaurs (although I doubt that was a serious question, and was just an excuse to have a toastie…)

And from those conversations it was hugely encouraging to see some genuine interest. I’ll talk in a later article about someone who wanted to know more.

As we were setting down, we realised there were a lot of flyers for our event tomorrow left over, so we figured it would be a good idea to put them into as many postboxes as we could this evening. I managed to get round about 10 houses before I got to a house where there were people smoking outside. I explained that I was delivering flyers for the CU, and they seemed interested. I had a long conversation about music with someone, and invited them to CU.

Thinking back about earlier on in the day, it had seemed so normal. But little things happened during the day. As part of my French seminar, I had to explain the relevance of the birth of Jesus to Christianity (it was in comparison to the importance of the French Revolution in the history of Republican France, although naturally Jesus is far more important than revolutionary Frenchpeople. No offence to the French, bien sûr!). I was pretty excited that I was asked that particular question. And then things improved immeasurably at CU.

One of the things that I really felt made a difference was our attitude. Our College Reps were stressed, dealing with life and work, and so it felt like we were putting more and more in God’s hands. It is something we try to do anyway, but it is often so hard to let go and put our trust completely in God.

This week, I feel, we left so much up to God. The questions we got asked were not easy questions to answer. But we spent time in prayer, with faith that God would speak through us and that we might sow seeds in people’s minds, that we might intrigue and inspire them to know God a little more.

And I am so glad we did.

Today was better than I could have ever hoped. I will probably be crying tonight as I thank God for all His power, His love, His goodness. I will be praying for every person I met. Every person who has heard some of the Gospel tonight. Anyone who still wishes to learn more, or who didn’t have the confidence to ask this week. For those people considering coming to the lunchbar. For everyone that God used in whatever way.

Tonight was so special. I pray that we could continue to trust in God, and continue to be a blessing to the members of our college. I pray that we could continue to answer questions thoughtfully, prayerfully and in a Bible- and Gospel-focussed way. I pray that we could continue to form relationships with our college, so that many more may come to know His glory.

Perhaps the Lord…

Can we be Good without God?

Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard, and all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ.” – Romans 3:23-24

Can we be good without God?

I have my reasons for asking this question today, which I’ll get to later.

Anyway, my answer to that would be yes. By our standards, anyway. We can do good things, we can be kind to people – that all counts as good, right?

Well, for many people, that’s the way it seems to be. Do as much good as you can, and there might be some future reward.

But we are told that we cannot be good enough. All of us, as it says in Romans, have sinned. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. That’s why God sent Jesus. He sent Jesus to die in our place – because anything we can do is never going to be good enough. (This reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:25 – “Even the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”)

We are also told many times that good deeds done without faith are simply worthless. Equally, we are warned against faith without deeds, but we cannot expect to simply do good and get good in return. Having faith in God is also fundamental.

In terms of why I ask this question, it’s something I’m doing over summer. When accidentally taking part in a quiz (don’t ask…), me and my housemates came up with a phrase. I took that phrase, and am now making something for the house.

It’s a pillow embroidered with an enquiry about a particular religion.

It’s a Christian Question Cushion.

I’m sorry.

Thursday Evenings

“You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other.” – Hebrews 10:25

One of my favourite days of the week at the moment is Thursday.

Why?

Well, I’ll work backwards. The late evening is usually filled with great discussion and quite a lot of fun! It’s after CU, so people are a little tired. Not so tired that they’re ready to go to bed, mind. But tired enough that they start to do hilarious things. Like trying to force-feed people ham. That was an interesting night (and a story for another time).

CU is great. When I started university, I told myself that I’d just go to the smaller college groups – I wasn’t convinced about the main CU where all the colleges came together. But now, I love it. It’s a great way of socialising, learning, and worshipping God. And yes, one of my worries was the music, that I knew would be mostly modern worship songs I wouldn’t know. And yes, that is quite often true. But that’s only a small part of CU – and I do know some of the ones we do.

I’m far more comfortable when I know the songs – I feel that I am better able to focus on worshipping God through music when I know roughly what I’m doing, rather than worrying about the tune, or the structure.

Before CU I go to Christian Persuaders. This is a group that meets up to essentially learn good techniques for evangelism. This includes evangelistic talks, discussions, answering common but difficult questions, whilst trying to make the Gospel accessible – we have recently been trying to explain ‘Christianese’ words in simpler, clearer language. It’s really useful practice for things like Text-a-Toastie, with a little preparation for answering the kinds of big questions we might get.

Christian Persuaders is also great because there’s food.

But of course, that’s not the focus 😉

Before Christian Persuaders, there is an hour set aside. This time is used for individual Bible study, quiet prayer. And it’s time that I really value.

It means that I have a specific time where nothing else is going on. I can focus. I’m in a room with others who are doing the same thing. I say the same thing, but they might be focussing on a different part of the Bible, or going through a different study. It means I can just sit and read, without distraction, but with the encouragement of having other people also reading the Bible.

I’m reading a book on quiet times at the moment, which is useful in terms of encouraging me to find time to spend with God. It talks about how important it is to find a time and a space to worship, pray, and read the Bible in solitude. It talks about being alone. Whilst that’s useful, I find it incredibly helpful just being with others. I may not be alone, but I can still find a quiet place to study the Word of God.

I look forward immensely to Thursday evenings. Particularly the 5pm Bible time. It means I have a time set aside for God. Yes, I should be doing this more often. But it is a start. It means I can enjoy time with God without worrying about what I should be doing instead. And ultimately the more time I can spend with God, the better.