Sabbath is…

The subject of Sabbath came up somewhat tangentially in our bible study on Sunday, so I’m finally posting this list of observations about what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath. I don’t have the time to unpack all the implications–and can’t pretend that I have come anywhere close to mastering the art of Sabbathing well. But here are some initial impressions.

#1 …a day of rest.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)

#2 …part of the creation order.
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day… (Exodus 20:11a)

#3 …a fractal reality.
But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 25:4)

#4 … a holy day.
Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:11b)

#5 …a day of Biblical teaching.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read… (Luke 4:16)

#6 …a vital ingredient of healthy family life.
Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. (Leviticus 19:3

#7 …a local celebration.
the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. (Acts 1:12)

#8 …an opportunity for hospitality.
On the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach… As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. (Mark 1:21,29)

#9 …a matter of social justice.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

#10 …a form of true fasting.
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?…
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord…

(Isaiah 58:6,13-14)

#11 …a covenant privilege.
Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezekiel 20:12)

#12 …a catalyst for righteous government and national revival.
“And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the Lord, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, 25 then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. 26 And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord.
(Jeremiah 17:24-26)

#13 …a secondary sign that points to primary priorities.
If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? (John 7:23)
“What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12)

#14 …a day of deliverance.
Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:17)

#15 … a delight not a duty.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14:5-6)
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

#16 …a deadly serious matter.
“They found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day… Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” (Numbers 15:33,35)

#17 …to be defended with zeal.
“Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:15-21)

#18 …a loss to be mourned.
The LORD has caused to be forgotten
The appointed feast and sabbath in Zion…

(Lamentations 2:6)

Acts 1:1-11 #HouseChurch

In Summary
After finishing working our way through Mark, we’re now moving on to the Book of Acts. Why didn’t the world revert to its intended perfection immediately after Jesus had died for our sins and risen again? Because He wants us to be involved in the task of bringing the kingdom of God upon earth as it is in heaven. This is the commission with which Acts begins: to be Jesus’ witnesses–here, there and everywhere! Luckily, we’re not left to complete!the task on our own — we’re promised the presence and power of the Holy Spirit!

Eating: Barbecue Chicken, Baguettes, Salad.
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Sophie, Lucy, and Ryan; Linda + Adam.
Passage: Acts 1:1-11

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

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On that subject…
— Wait on God, asking Him to fill you with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, with His presence, His purity and His power, so that you can be a witness to those around you. Pray specifically for opportunities to share the proofs that Jesus has given you of His reality.

20150829_193216

10 Highlights from David’s Tent

Merenna and Matt on Registration
We arrived and made our way over to register, and there was Merenna, who I know from the London Olympic Burn back in the summer of 2012, and Matt, who I met in Norwich with the Fire & Fragrance team. It makes an event seem especially welcome when those signing you in are people you’ve worshipped together with heart and soul.

The Helsers Leading Worship As A Couple
Me and Taryn have been listening to Jonathan and Melissa Helser’s album Endless Ocean, Bottomless Sea for the last couple of months. So it was cool to see them leading worship in person. But what was especially cool is that they are a married couple leading together, both doing their thing with ferocious passion and conviction. Like Taryn and I aspire to do!

Steffany’s Flashing Eyes
The first night in the Big Tent, with worship being led by Sean Feucht, Steffany Gretzinger, Amanda Cook and the Bethel Music team. Steffany’s album is another we’ve been listening to recently, its raw heart-bare songs of undone lovesick passion for the heart of God providing the soundtrack for all of our summer travels. But there was a moment as they were leading the assembled thousands in worship, and Steffany was dancing in shameless abandon before the Lord, when suddenly she paused, to share a word with the rest of us. The band stopped. The fire blazed in her eyes.

Her words were clear and simple (I paraphrase them now): ‘This is the one moment that all of us here have to worship together — this side of the veil. When we get to the other side, then we can worship Him together forever. But I believe there’s something unique that God wants to do, right here, with all of us, right now. So don’t hold back! Let’s give Him everything we’ve got!‘ And we did!

And as we did God spoke to me. About Elisha and the arrows, and about how I was like the king, and leading the R&R DTS was like him striking the ground with the arrows. It felt like a warning not to stop doing this costly annual leading a nine-month DTS after just three (which would be after this upcoming DTS–which has been the thought). But it felt also like a promise that if we can press on to do five or six, then we will see phenomenal breakthrough.

Lucy Grimble and her Band
You can listen to some of Lucy Grimble‘s music on YouTube, and it will give you a bit of a sense of her distinctively jubilant and soulful sound. But at David’s Tent she was playing with a band of black gospel singers and musicians: three other singers, and the funkiest keyboard player you’ve ever seen. They were fantastic, each of them sounded amazing, and they combined an authentic sense of reverent worship with pure unadulterated fun. So Good.

‘Light A Candle for North Iraq’
As well as the Big Tent filled with seventy-hours of worship, there were a number of other tents, including one filled with stands where you could connect with various minstries. At one of these, I met Kelsey, who is about to go to North Iraq where for the next two years (at least) she will be a missionary with Burn 24/7, gathering a community that worships Jesus, and bringing the light of the knowledge of the glory of God into the darkness of the world’s most contested war zone. As someone who has heard a lot of exhortations about going to the ‘hardest and darkest’ places of the earth, I was overwhelmed with a sense of astonished privilege to meet someone who refusing to let those words be mere rhetoric. We were able to pray for each other, and it was a real encouragement to feel like we are in this together, simply obeying what God has called each of us to do, both part of this movement of worshippers following Him wherever He leads.

Sean Feucht’s Heart For England
Most of the big names leading worship were American, and none more American than Burn 24/7 founder Sean Feucht, with his gleeful talk of being photographed with an AK47 in one hand and a guitar in the other while in that same Iraqi war-zone to which Kelsey is going long-term. But it was such a blessing to see the servant-hearted humility with which these American musicians came, declaring the greatness of God’s plans and purposes over Britain. I was particularly encouraged by listening to Sean in one of the afternoon break-out sessions, as he spoke about how he feels Britain is uniquely important in a number of ways: its Christian heritage of revival and reformation (this one I know), the way the international breadth of the Commonwealth means that the worship movement in Britain has a particular power to connect with the nations, and the impact that raising up worship and prayer in Britain will have on breaking the power of radical jihad (since a significant number of Muslims in Britain are being drawn into violent Islamism).

Awakening the Dawn
dt-worship
The main reason we were at David’s Tent is that we were signed up to lead one of the 24/3 worship slots. We were given the 5.20-6.40 am slot on the Sunday morning — the exact time that the sun was rising. And we played a set made up completely of our own songs, that have been inspired as we’ve spent time worshipping over these last couple of years. I was buzzing with a sense of anticipation, and couldn’t help but cry out for awakening — not just of the dawn, but of the nation!

Out in the Fields
Still buzzing with joy after that early morning opportunity to lead worship, I then took a guitar, opened up the hatchback of our car, and just sat there worshipping out in the field where the cars were parked. Watching as people walked up from the campsite towards the Big Tent, I was struck afresh by the idea of David, communing with the Lord in the fields, praying for the ark of the covenant to be returned to its rightful place. “Lord, remember David…” (Psalm 132).

Jonathan Helser’s Wisdom
Being 24/3 musicians, we were invited to a special Q&A in the break-out tent with some of the main musicians. And I was given the chance to ask the final question, which I asked about discipleship and worship, about pursuing excellence while releasing and encouraging everyone no matter what level you’re at. Jonathan Helser had a few things to reply,, which all seemed like God intended them to pierce me directly — he (not knowing my name) used the example of ‘Peter’, who was promised the keys to the kingdom, and in the next moment rebuked by Jesus. But one thing in particular stood out, and it was this phrase: “conflict is the price we pay for intimacy in community”.

The Volunteer’s Booth
On the final evening, apparently there was gloriously powerful moment of intercession, as Danny Calaghan talked about being set free from an orphan spirit and released to understand the Father heart of God–not just for himself, but for the nation. But we had slipped back to the tent, so we missed that. Instead though, we ran into a dozen of the David’s Tent volunteers, singing their hearts out in their booth next to the campsite, far away from any of the action happening onstage in the Big Tent. It was amazingly liberating and a reminder of the simple heart of worship to see that the glory of God was just as (perhaps more!) present there as in the midst of several thousand worshippers being led by the world-famous musicians.

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Just so you know, tickets for next year’s David’s Tent are already on sale.

ylg norway

‘The Future of Global Mission’

The Future of Global Mission – A Few Highlights from Norway LINK and YLG

1. Encounter on the bus from the airport to the city centre. Standing in the queue to buy my ticket I shot a quick prayer up to God telling him that if he would open up an opportunity, I was available to be His witness. I was the second-last passenger allowed to board the bus, as all the other seats were full, and managed to sit down just as the bus started moving. Next to me a man was tapping away at his laptop, his attention fully occupied with some business deal. There seemed to be no natural way to strike up a conversation — until he made a phone call, and I realized he was speaking in Hindi. Here was my chance! So I asked ‘To aap Bharat se hai, na?’ (/’So you’re from India, are you?’) And that led to a conversation about his work, about my work, about the refugee/migrant crisis, about whether one’s beliefs were important so long as one was serving humanity, about his own conflicting thoughts on the subject of migration, about how he had immigrated from Delhi to London because the European culture of integrity and fairness made business so much easier, about how such a European culture is perhaps the fruit of a biblical worldview. Finally as we drew into Oslo bus station, I was able to give him a gospel bracelet, and explain to him what we as Christians believe about the meaning of life, the love of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the assurance of eternal life that simple faith can give you.

2. Worship led by Jamie from Israel (I had a great conversation with him afterward: ‘-You’re from England? Why are you here? I guess I don’t really know why they invited me here from Israel either!’). Singing lines from the Song of Songs about our beloved Bridegroom King, in the original Hebrew in which the Scriptures were written.

3. First evening on ‘Loving our Enemies’: panel discussions including Jamie who grew up in Israel in the midst of the reality of deadly terrorism (“to have real reconciliation we have to address the real issues”; “not Judaism, not Islam – only the gospel gives us a real framework for reconciliation”); Ermal from Albania (“the gospel can change the heart of people”); and a former Norwegian PM (“we must be involved with evangelism – sharing the gospel; with debate – persuading each other of our convictions; but also with dialogue – simply listening to each other”, “there are values that Christians share with Islam – the value of human life, justice, the respect for the holy. There are also lots of point of disagreement, but the challenge is to live peacefully together”).

4. Shared a room with Simon Kruger, who is involved with the Danish Israel Mission, and having just finished four years of theological education is thinking of doing a DTS some time this year! It was a real joy to connect with him. And the place where we were staying has the most phenomenal rooftop view over the whole of Oslo, which is an impressive spectacle after dark, with the shimmering city lights twinkling in the night sky.

5. Wednesday began with a panel of representatives from Norwegian mission agencies working with young people – including a YWAMer.

6. This was followed by reflections from a few other Norwegian mission agencies on ‘The Future of Global Mission in Norway’. Reminiscent of some of OMF’s reflections from the ‘Slow Boat in the Fast Lane’ event in Cambridge last January. My main thought was to thank God for the privilege of being involved in a mission (YWAM) that is actually already positioned to join is with the ‘everyone to everywhere’ nature of what God’s apparently chaotic missionary plan seems to be.

7. Lindsay Brown – who had stepped in at the last minute for Michael Oh, who’d been forced to pull out because of family health issues – then shared his first presentation on The Future of Global Mission.

8. For his presentation on ‘The Future of Global Mission in Scandinavia’, Stefan Gustavson gave a sobering statistical demonstration of the disappearance of gospel passion (as evidenced by decreased numbers of missionaries, decreased evangelistic focus of missionaries, and decreased voluntary giving to mission) in the Swedish church.

9. Lindsay Brown gave his second presentation on The Future of Global Mission. I was particularly impacted by his story of Adoniram Judson, who died in an ignominous death in Burma after serving as a missionary for thirty-eight years, suffering the loss of a wife and seven children, translating the Scriptures, but only seeing twelve converts. But now there are six hundred thousand Burmese Christians who all trace their spiritual heritage to this man’s faithfulness.

10. One event concluded, the YLG mini-gathering continued. First, introductions. Humility or insignificance?

11. Lindsay then shared a number of leadership dangers to avoid: -Perfectionism, -Lack of Focus, -Pride, -Trying to be ‘Superman’, -Dryness; -Jealousy and a Critical Spirit; -Trusting Human Leaders too much; -Short-termism; -Individualism; -Underestimating the Cost; -Giving Up.

12. Thursday morning started with Justin Schell leading us through a brief look at 2 Corinthians 4. Struck by Paul’s repeated declaration that ‘we do not lose heart’.

13. Reflections on how Lausanne has worked at better preparing itself for the release of young leadership and new vision, tips on how to prepare to make the most of the event, and a look at the YLG draft schedule.

14. Praying in triplets at the end with Simon and Sanjay.

15. Back at Ole’s house. Blessed by his hospitality. Stirred to hope again for such a house for my own family, that we might invite the nations to come and rest under our roof.

16. Provoked by one of Lindsay’s comments to meditate on the sovereignty of God. Among the evangelical church, there are some who use the word to imply (although rarely explicitly say) total determinism, with the implicit suggestion that to deny total determinism is a grave form of heresy. And there are others who feel that total determinism makes God the author of sin in a way clearly contrary to James 1:13. Could I be a bridge of unity and ambassador of reconciliation in this area? Helping to bring understanding to the warring tribes of the evangelical church?

Ten Truths in Tension

Dedicated to Ryan, with whom I was discussing Romans this past Sunday.

Dedicated to John Piper and Greg Boyd, whose ministries both inspire me, and who I am convinced will be great friends when they get to heaven.

Dedicated to my mum, who reads my blog, but doesn’t really like it when I try to start provocative and controversial conversations.

Dedicated to the Lausanne Younger Leaders with whom I have spent these last three days in Oslo.

Dedicated to my beautiful wife Taryn, whose destiny is at least now entangled with mine.

#1 Judicial Impartiality
For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11

This is a clear unambiguous sentence, and as we wrestle with the philosophical conundrums that the Book of Romans presents to us, it is a good place to begin. There is no partiality with God. He applies the same rules to everyone. He is fair. He is just. If he were not, then the devil would be within his rights to freely accuse God. And indeed the fact that God is patiently refusing to immediately punish people for their sins so as to give them the opportunity to repent (2 Peter 3:9) is what allows the devil to “roam about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8).

Now, God’s judicial impartiality does not mean that He cannot also engage relationally, personally and uniquely with each human being. But it does mean that these diverse interactions are all subject to the same standards of justice (and mercy!) — and, ultimately and foundationally, to God’s consistent nature and character.

#2 Personal Responsibility
God will render to each one according to his deeds. Romans 2:6

There is no avoiding it — we are all each accountable to God for what we do with our lives. Paul puts it even more clearly in 2 Corinthians: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”. Or as he tells the Galatians: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Most would rather avoid the unpleasant idea that God will hold them responsible for all that they have done. And thus there are many who say, like the Psalmist’s fool, “in their heart, ‘There is no God’ “. And we might note here that far fewer are willing to do the necessary intellectual examination of the objective evidence to be able to say ‘with their minds’ whether or not there might be a God.

But whether we like the idea or not, the ethical responsibility of each individual human being is an unavoidable biblical truth.

#3 Legal Impossibility
By deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20

We’ve mentioned that some recognize that they have done wrong, but dislike the idea that God should judge them for this. We should mention too that there are those who are glibly unworried by the thought of divine judgement because they think that, all things considered, they’re reasonably good people who — if there is indeed an afterlife — ought to be considered worthy of a ticket to heaven.

‘Well, I’m not a murderer! I’m not a rapist! I’m not as bad as Hitler!’

Unfortunately, the biblical reality is that it’s not only some exclusive list of especially bad sins that separate us from God, but all and any sin. The way I find most helpful and convincing to explain it is to remind whoever’s listening that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that sin at its most basic is anything that’s not love (for Jesus taught that God’s law could be simplified without reduction to the two ‘love’ commands, to love God entirely, and to love others as one’s self). ‘Love’ and ‘not-love’ can, quite clearly, not co-exist. Like oil and water, they inevitably separate. Thus we who have sinned are separated from God. And the most terrible judgement with which our sin will be punished is for that separation from God to be made complete and unalterable.

Aside: On Hell, Eternal Torment and Proportionate Punishment
Ah, I’ve strayed onto the difficult and controversial subject of divine judgment — in short, the subject of hell. This is perhaps the one idea of Christianity that contemporary believers find most difficult to accept. In generations past, when tyrannical kings more commonly subjected their citizens to barbaric cruelty and systems of ‘justice’ were less fettered by democratic ideals, it was maybe easier to accept a doctrine of vindictive punishment. But in an age where — for all the mistakes of modern man — there is thankfully a kinder prison system and a greater appreciation of the value of human life, hell seems obviously inconsistent with the character of God revealed in Christ.

And yet it was Christ who spoke more than anyone else in the Bible of the reality of hell. Jesus was the original fire-and-brimstone preacher! And if you don’t believe me, just read Mark 9, Matthew 5, Matthew 18, and Luke 16.

What then, can we say? First, that there is something about the doctrine of hell that resonates with the human desire for justice. We can, I believe, affirm this without giving in to the temptation of vengeful and vindictive unforgiveness — indeed, this is why when we hear of others’ suffering at the hands of evil, we feel that some sort of punishment is rightly deserved by the perpetrators of that evil, even though we ourselves have not been its victims.

Second, we should expose the logically flawed and mathematically embarrassing idea that the biblical vision of hell is one of infinite suffering. Here we must finely distinguish the difference between eternal and infinite punishment. A meaningless distinction, some might say, but they would be wrong (and have probably not studied Analytic Calculus!) Jesus clearly endorsed the doctrine of eternal punishment, repeatedly quoting Isaiah’s prophecy that “their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched”. But we must also mention the biblical doctrine of limited retribution, “[only] an eye for an eye, and [only] a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). And surely in a finite lifetime, it’s only possible to merit a finite quantity (though perhaps nevertheless a horrifically large quantity) of punishment for your sins.

Now although I have never heard anyone else point this out, it’s mathematically quite simple to envisage a situation where a finite quantity (in this case, of punishment) is spread out over an infinite period of time. Consider a point A moving towards a destination B. Each minute A moves half of the remaining distance l towards B, so the first minute it moves l/2, then l/4, then l/8 — constantly getting closer, but never quite arriving (and with ever-decreasing speed).

#4 Gospel Simplicity
For there is no difference: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith… Romans 3:23-25

Enough of tangential dogmatic discussions — let’s return to our central, glorious message, the simple gospel of Jesus!

This is the single fact that every human absolutely needs to know. This is the double-edged sword that cuts through all of our social differences and personal preferences, right to the very heart of who we are, confronting us simultaneously with the unattainable standard of righteousness that God’s justice requires, and with the limitless mercy that He lavishly delivers.

This is how much God your Father loves you — as much as He loves His perfect Son, whom He was willing to give so that you could be substituted out from the prison of your sin and back into the glorious game of life. This is how much Jesus Christ, God the Son, loves you — that He would lay down His life for you, so that you could be reconciled to your Creator, your surroundings, and indeed your self. This is how much the Holy Spirit loves you, and He now pours out that divine love into the hearts of all who turn to Christ.

Death has been overcome, the devil has been defeated, the curse has been broken!

Humanity’s cries are heard, God’s promise is fulfilled, God’s people are justified!

But it is necessary that you respond personally and turn to Jesus in faith and simple repentance.

#5 Eschatological Totality
Hardening in part has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And thus all Israel will be saved, as it is written… Romans 11:26
For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Romans 11:15

But “not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). Not all believe the gospel.

Although Jesus’ death and resurrection won the decisive victory over sin and Satan, nevertheless the battle wages on and we — like the Allies after D-Day — must continue to fight this spiritual battle until the mission is finally complete. ‘Will you at this time restore the kingdom?,’ the disciples asked the resurrected Jesus. And he replied by telling them that there was still work to be done, and He was trusting them — with the help of the Holy Spirit — to complete that work.

Here is the point that I want to emphasize that this work will be completed! Although for a brief (at least compared to eternity!) season, we are perplexed (“but not in despair”) by the lack of faith of some, nevertheless we can be confident that there is coming a day when the fullness of the Gentiles will come in. That means all of the nations! That means every tribe and every tongue! That means a great multitude which no-one could number!

And then there will be revival in Israel, and the Jews will be saved, and Christ will return with an army of angels–not to carry us away to some disembodied realm of ethereal vagueness, but to actually establish His heavenly kingdom on earth in all of its fullness.

We need a confident conviction that this will certainly happen to carry us through the trials and tribulations that will necessarily face us in the ministries to which God has called us. We need an increasingly clear and vivid vision of the hope we are waiting for, if we are to avoid being offended by the pressure that God will allow us to face. We need to pray for supernatural wisdom to right divide the word of truth, if we are to discern what God is actually doing in the midst of the complexity and chaos that will increase.

Just because all the nations will be reached (Mark 13:10), it doesn’t mean that every individual will be saved (Matthew 7:22-23). Just because the establishment of the state of Israel is a prophetic sign (Isaiah 11:11; Ezekiel 36:24), it doesn’t mean that the Israelis are necessarily in the right and the Palestinians in the wrong. Just because those Christians who try and prepare for the return of Christ frequently make moral errors and theological blunders, it doesn’t mean that we are excused from the task of discerning the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3).

#6 Sovereign Selectivity
He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. Romans 9:18

But why is it that some have faith, and others don’t?

We have mentioned those who are simply unwilling to listen to the message, refusing to examine the evidence because they know — perhaps only subconsciously! — that the implications are too great. Far easier to deny the existence of God than accept the difficult task of integrating every part of your life with the truth and beauty of His holiness.

But this unwillingness is not the case with everyone. I know people who have been ready to study the claims of Christ, who have even opened their hearts up in prayer asking God to reveal himself — but have not (yet) received the glorious assurance that for some reason has taken root in my heart. I do not think it is because I am more intelligent, or less prone to sin, that I have come to faith when others haven’t. Indeed I could name specific people who are more intellectually rigorous and more ethically consistent than I, who know and understand the gospel, but for various reasons, don’t believe it.

Why is this?

Paul is ruthlessly direct in answering the question with an appeal to the sovereign freedom of God to do what He wants to fulfil His purposes. We should maybe add to this sentence the clause ‘within the bounds of His rules’, for as we began by saying, God shows no partiality. He doesn’t bend the rules for anyone. But — as we also already pointed out — judicial impartiality does not prevent God from engaging uniquely and therefore differently with each person on a relational basis. And this means that although judicially the rules are clear (a person either receives Christ by faith as Lord and Saviour and benefits from the redemption from judgement that Jesus accomplished on the cross, or they must endure the condemnation that their sins deserve), this doesn’t necessarily prevent God selectively granting the gift of faith to some and not to others, thus qualifying those ‘some’ for redemption. Paul would call this “fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law”.

In the same way, imagine a running coach with a son whom he hoped would break an athletic record — say for the 400m. There’s a difference between the coach trying to cheat to help his son break the record (either by using performance-enhancing drugs, or fiddling the timing equipment, or whatever it might be), and the coach exclusively training his son, so that his son was able to genuinely achieve the necessary standard.

And yet, and yet — if faith is something God can just impart, then why doesn’t He grant faith to more people? Paul seems to indicate that the unbelief of certain people is necessary for certain purposes of God to be fulfilled: “a hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”. But what about Paul’s assertion elsewhere that God “desires all to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). What about God’s plea through Ezekiel: “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? And not that he should turn and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).

There comes a point in every Christian’s learning, when they are confronted with the question of how to reconcile these texts. And on the one side you have the ‘Calvinists’, who remind us that Paul says in Ephesians that saving faith is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and urge us to embrace God’s right to have mercy on whom He will — though it effectively implies that God doesn’t really desire all to be saved. On the other side you have the ‘Arminian’ position, which affirms God’s genuine desire that absolutely all individuals should be saved and brought to a knowledge of the truth — but seems to avoid the implications of Romans 9-11. (Although I have just discovered Greg Boyd‘s thoughts on Romans 9, which look to be a provocative read).

I had considered this question somewhat as a teenager, but was particularly confronted with it in my second year as a student, as I discovered John Piper‘s incredible array of free online (Calvinistic) resources, and found the CICCU Bible Studies for the term were focussed on the book of Malachi (from which Paul draws the verse “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated”). I found myself encouraged and liberated by the idea that God had specifically predestined me, that in spite of my mess and my struggle with sin, He had called me by name and though I might sometimes be faithless, He would be faithful. And on the other hand I found myself bemused and frustrated by what seemed to me at the time to be the way that some Christians seemed to be ducking and diving around this issue, unwilling to accept the teaching of Scripture just because it was something of a hard truth to come to terms with. It took more than a year, but eventually I had changed churches — and planted my roots in the committedly Calvinist soil of Cambridge Presbyterian Church.

CPC was not however a place, where all my convictions could fully flourish, committed as the church is to a cessationist interpretation of the Westminster Confession (I admit that to me this seems the obvious interpretation of the Confession cf. chapter I.6) as their standard of orthodoxy, and myself being a convinced believer in the importance of eagerly desiring spiritual gifts. I spent a year and a bit as a student at CPC, and then worked with the church for a year as an evangelist. God then called us into YWAM — a very different organization! For one thing, YWAM is unabashedly charismatic; for another, there do not seem to be many outspoken YWAM Calvinists (though YWAM is not committed to any doctrinal stance on the question of predestination; and it is committed to being interdenominational — so there is room for more Calvinists within YWAM!).

It needs to be said explicitly that there is no necessary contradiction between believing that God has specifically predestined individuals to salvation and believing that the Holy Spirit continues to give all of His supernatural gifts to the church today. John Piper would be an example of one who strongly holds to both.

Speaking of John Piper, I might clarify now that while I continue to believe in and be comforted by God’s predestination of individuals to salvation, I don’t believe in total determinism, limited atonement, or double predestination. And now we’ve thrown in three more bits of theological jargon that require explanation:

Total Determinism: This is the idea that not only the salvation of a certain set of believers has been predestined in advance, but that every single event has been absolutely and unchangeably determined by God. Piper would argue that this is the necessary corollary of a verse like Ephesians 1:11, which speaks of God working “all things according to the counsel of His will”. But I disagree, for two reasons. First, the most obvious interpretation seems to me that God works through time to work circumstances from the situation (which we are still currently in) when many things are not in accordance with his will, to the one (which we will eventually reach!) where all things will finally align with his will. Second, I see no indication that God’s will is immediately concerned with every single minute detail of the universe. God is not a micro-manager! He is concerned that all the world be flooded with the knowledge of the glory of God — but the way in which His glory is most magnified is by Him releasing control to the voluntary choices of the living creatures (not clockwork robots!) that He has created. God’s leadership is releasing and risk-taking — ours should be the same.

What I have said so far would apply even if God simply foreknew all events, but only actively predestined a certain subset of those (eg. individual salvations and important prophesied events). But I think we can go even further and embrace Greg Boyd’s idea that if God were to give us the freedom to completely make our own choices, then the future wouldn’t technically be there for Him to know or not know, and so without diminishing His omniscience, we can actually affirm the existence of genuine possibilities. Boyd’s ‘Open Theism’ is generally contrasted with Piper’s Calvinism — but I quite like the idea of what you might call an ‘Open Calvinism’ (where ‘Open’ is used in its technical, anti-deterministic sense).

Limited Atonement: This is the idea that Jesus only died for the sins of those who have been predestined — and not for those who have not. Piper would argue that ‘everyone limits the atonement–you either limit the extent of it [ie. to the elect, and not to the rest], or you limit the effect of it [ie. just making salvation possible, but not effectual]’. But this requires a simplistic and reductionistic understanding of the cross, where all that happens is punitory (not even penal!) substitution.

I like David Pawson’s helpful acrostic for the word CROSS: “with regards to the devil, it was a Conquest; with regards to the world, it was a Reconciliation; with regards to God, it was an Offering; with regards to the law, it was a Satisfaction; with regards to the sinner, it was a Substitution”. I would agree that actually the Substitution is properly not ‘with regards to the sinner’ in general, but ‘in regards to the believing/repentant sinner’ in particular. And I believe that this faith is not possible without God’s predestining help. (Though I find Wesley’s idea of ‘prevenient grace’ — that “enables, but does not ensure, personal acceptance of the gift of salvation” — to be an interesting one). But I am convinced that the legal satisfaction of objective justice accomplished by Christ’s death was more the result of the infinite value of His life as a divine person, rather than the specific quantity of punishment that He suffered.

On the other hand, I would be happy to affirm the idea of ‘Definite Atonement’ (though disputing the claim that this is an identical and equivalent doctrine to Limited Atonement), that the finished work of Christ on the cross is the direct and effective cause of the faith of all who will believe.

Double Predestination: The word ‘double’ here indicates that just as God predestines individuals to salvation, deciding unconditionally to grant them the necessary faith to believe in Jesus and thus be delivered from judgement, so he must predestine all remaining individuals to damnation, actively willing that they specifically be condemned. Here Piper goes beyond even the classic Reformed confessions: the Westminster Confession, for example, consistently distinguishes between God ‘predestining’ some to salvation, and ‘ordaining’ the rest to judgement. The difference might only be whether it be an active primary desire or a passive, secondary consequence. But to me it feels important.

This implication that predestining some but not all to eternal salvation means that some have been left to eternal damnation is without doubt the most difficult problem with the doctrine of predestination — even if God’s ordaining of the rest to judgement is subtly different from His predestining the elect to salvation. Paul gives three reasons (i. to show His wrath; ii. to make His power known; iii. to highlight by contrast the riches of His glorious mercy Romans 9:22-23) as to why God might be justified in creating someone “prepared for destruction” — but none of them seem relevant to the actual individual whose fate it is to have not been “granted repentance unto life”. Has Paul no empathy?

Anyway, I have a suggestion which I have found helpful as an idea — you are free to take it or leave it. It goes like this:
– first, remember our argument that suffering in hell is eternal but not infinite.
– second, suppose very simplistically that we are able to quantify happiness and suffering on a single dimension, such that one unit of suffering be equivalent to a negative unit of happiness
– third, we suggest that it is at least feasible that in a finite lifetime one could experience more joy (by virtue of the presence of God’s undeserved goodness encountered in so much of creation) than the finite amount of suffering that would be earned from the lifetime’s accumulated wrongs (to be experienced in hell) and that would have been experienced in that lifetime
– fourth, if we affirm a real degree of ‘Open-ness’, in which the choices of this person are not determined in advance, then in particular the possibility of whether the aggregate score of happiness versus suffering would turn out to be positive or negative would also not be determined (or even known?) in advance.
It’s just a thought–let me know what you make of it.

#7 Vital Humility
Indeed, o man, who are you to reply against God? Romans 9:20

In all of this discussion, an essential quality is humility. First of all, we must humble ourselves before God — who are we to require answers from him? Second, we would do well to stay humble in all of our discussions with other people — especially those whose position differs from our own. I present my thoughts here, not because I am convinced that I am right — but because now Ryan is asking these questions I feel a responsibility to try and elucidate the conclusions that I have reached, so that he can learn from them and decide for himself (hopefully with the help of whichever others of you join in this conversation — feel free to correct whatever you think are my theological mis-steps) how to make sense of all these things.

To keep it all in perspective, it’s healthy to remember Paul’s caution to the Colossians (2:8) that we should “beware! lest anyone cheat [us] through philosophy and empty deceit”. These questions of free will, determinism, the nature of time, and the existence of the future are incredibly complex topics once you begin to consider them in a philosophical manner — but such consideration can sometimes prevent us from hearing the straightforward and primary call to faith and obedience.

On the other hand, we cannot shrink back from the subject either. Paul says in Romans 11:25, “I do not desire that you be ignorant of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own opinion”. He may be talking primarily of the destiny of Israel, but it’s all in the context of the mystery of predestination and the sovereign will of God. And there’s nothing like trying to wrestle with the subject of predestination to keep you from feeling ‘wise in your own eyes’!

#8 Gloriously Unfathomable Divinity
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Romans 11:33

I think the key is to not rest content with whatever philosophical conclusions you might reach, but to turn it all into fuel for worship. Praise God for His inscrutable greatness! Praise God for His impartial justice! Praise God for His individual love! Praise God for His sacrificial generosity!

At the end of this deep discussion of the most profoundly challenging questions of the faith, Paul breaks out in doxology, and then goes on to tell us that our ‘logical act of worship’ (12:1) is to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God.

#9 Evangelistic Necessity
How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Romans 10:14-15

And let’s not forget that in the midst of all of this, Paul is speaking as one who knows that not just he but all of us “have received grace and a missionary mandate to call forth the obedience of faith among all the nations for the sake of His name” (1:5). The gift of predestined saving faith is not just beamed directly down out of heaven, but is activated by the preaching of the gospel — this seems clear from Acts 13:48: “And when the Gentiles heard this [ie. the gospel], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”.

It seems to me that while God may have predestined people to salvation, He’s not made any decisions about who gets to share the gospel with those people, and have the privilege of being the labourer God uses to sow the saving seed of the gospel into their hearts. Whoever you are that be reading — there are people on your street, in your city, in your sphere of influence that God has appointed to eternal life, and if you step out in faith and courage you will have the privilege of being the one that they point to when they share their testimony of salvation in heaven, before the myriad angels and watching angels. This, says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, is a believer’s joy and crown — precisely those other believers who are the fruit of their evangelism. If you don’t share the gospel with them — well, like Mordecai says to Esther, “if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place” (Esther 4:14), but you will have missed your chance.

I realise this seems a novel way of looking at things — it’s certainly quite different from the way that the call to evangelism is typically fuelled by the fear that many will burn in hell because you failed to do your Christian duty. Some will complain that in thus taking the pressure off, I’m undermining the need for evangelism. But what if it were the case that our evangelism would be more successful if we were not motivated by guilt, fear and condemnation but instead propelled into conversations about Jesus by a joyful sense that the purposes of God will certainly be soon fulfilled, and we have freely volunteered to be involved in the glorious final chapter of history that the Holy Spirit is finishing writing even as we speak!

#10 Intercessory Agency
My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved… Romans 10:1

As well as the necessity of evangelism, I also want to highlight the agency of intercession. Paul mentions his prayer for Israel, as well as asking that the Roman believers “strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe…and that I may come to you with joy by the will of God and may be refreshed together with you” (15:30-32).

One of the reasons I am not a determinist, is that 2 Peter 3:12 teaches that we can be “hastening the day of God”. And although that passage doesn’t quite say it explicitly, I believe that prayer is one of the primary ways that we do this. In Revelation, John sees “golden bowls, full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8), and then as a result of this incense, the power of God is released upon the earth (Revelation 8:5). I believe that many of the things that God wills are bowls of incense that are waiting to be filled with the incense of our prayers before God’s power is released and those promises are fulfilled.

This will not always look like we expected! Paul asked the Roman believers to pray that he would be delivered from those in Judea who did not believe that he might come with joy to Rome and be refreshed. I doubt he expected that God’s deliverance would come through him being put under arrest and his arrival in Rome would be as a political prisoner! But nevertheless, those prayers were undeniably answered, and God’s power manifestly poured out on and through Paul.

May the same be true of all of our generation who have been granted the gift of faith.

Rooted (Original Song)

I wrote this song while on holiday with my family in the Lake District, inspired by the title of Simone Weil’s book. It’s mainly Psalm 1, with the chorus from Ephesians 3:17 and John 15:2,7, and the bridge from Psalm 23:2.

Intro
(D/F# Asus G G)
Night and day, day and night,
Let my joy, my delight,
Be in your word, in your promise to me

Let me be like the tree,
rooted by the riverside
That I may be (constantly) bearing fruit for you!

Chorus
Root me, ground me
In your love!
In your love!
Prune me, tenderly,
I want to abide in your love.

Bridge
(D/F# Em G G)
The waters of this world are so polluted
And my branches are broken, I’ve been uprooted
But you will plant me in green pastures, beside still waters
You will take good care of me

Outro
And when the winter comes, I won’t be afraid
For I am rooted in you, deeply rooted in you

And when the winds blow, and the chaff blows away
Still I am rooted in you, firmly rooted in you

Excellence, Brokenness, & Simple Obedience

I’ve meant to put some of these thoughts into writing for some time now–and thought I should finally put out at least a sketch of my thinking, even if I’m not able to write an eloquent essay. In fact, that this subject should be addressed in this manner is very apposite, as you shall see.

The Call To Excellence

Our topic is ‘The Call to Excellence’, a subject which some may think so blindingly obvious that to waste one’s time discussing it is needless, though I have encountered others who seem of the opinion that this is one of the more important messages that needs to be declared to today’s church. My own take on the matter is that this is an important issue to think through, not because I want to straightforwardly affirm the usual encouragement to strive to be the best you can be for the sake of the glory of God, but precisely because I want to dismantle the simplistic power of such rhetoric.

As Christians we are called to excellence—but in a way that is counterintuitive and quite contrary to the world’s pursuit of it.

We begin by acknowledging the biblical basis of this idea. There’s Paul’s call (1 Timothy 4:12) to Timothy to be exemplary in all of his conduct – and we rightly apply that same exhortation to all Christians. And Paul again tells all believers that whatever they do, they should “do it as unto the Lord” – therefore with all the excellence they can muster.

And then there’s the various biblical heroes of the faith whose lives we are called to imitate, like Daniel who distinguished himself because he had “an excellent spirit” (Dan. 6:3).

Certainly in the environment in which I grew up (specifically, Christian boarding schools), the idea that Christians are called to excellence was a very familiar one. I have been privileged to have been given an education in which I was consistently encouraged to grow in knowledge, skills and understanding, and given opportunities to develop in academic study, sport, and drama. “Study to present yourself approved unto God”, Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15), and the same exhortation was applied to us – though whether Paul meant quite the same thing by ‘study’ as did my teachers, I’m not entirely sure.

And I excelled: nine A*s at GCSE, four As at A Level, I was captain of our school football team and we won the interschool tournament twice, I broke most of the athletic records for the track events that I ran, I was named Sportsman of the Year, Scholar of the Year, and Best Actor for my part as Hook in Peter Pan. I applied to Cambridge University, ranked the best university in the world, and I was accepted.

True Excellence is found in Christ Alone

Unfortunately the sorts of achievements that the world might consider ‘brilliant’ and ‘excellent’ are nothing but what the Bible calls ‘confidence in the flesh’. In Philippians 3:5-6, we find Paul’s list of reasons that he might be ‘confident in the flesh’, but he concludes it thus:
“Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.”

As Christians we affirm the ‘call to excellence’ – if and only if the definition of ‘excellence’ has been narrowed to include only “one thing… the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

Now, this doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn from those who aren’t Christians. From the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 4:20-22), credit is given to those outside of the family of faith for the cultural and technological advances they achieved.

But what it does is radically shift one’s perspective on the significance of such achievements. What’s the point of being a pioneer in the field of music or metallurgy, if ultimately you will be destroyed by the wrath of God?

Brokenness, Not Brilliance

And particularly in Christian ministry, the implications of this need to be integrated into our practice. Paul says to the Corinthians, “when I came to you, I [deliberately!] did not come with excellence” (2:1), “lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect”.

Paul is speaking of the eloquence of his words, but surely the same applies to the proficiency of a worship band, the impressiveness of church architecture, to so many things that we think are necessary to impress the watching multitudes!

I don’t know quite how hard to press this theme—because, as I began by acknowledging, there is biblical truth in the idea that we are called to excellence. And even as I write about worship bands, I know that someone will point out Psalm 33:3 instruction to “play skilfully”; even as I talk about architecture, I’m sure someone will remind me of the “beauty and glory” of the Tabernacle of Moses.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that our primary task is to let our flaws and our brokenness be visible and unhidden – “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Simple Obedience Changes History

This becomes particularly relevant because God is not a distant, silent deity who has merely revealed principles that we must work out how to put into practice, but rather a living, active communicator, who answers us when we call to him, and speaks to us when we listen.

And as we surrender our lives – not just our religious identity, not just a tenth of our income, not just a few hours on a Sunday morning, not just our intellectual assent to some doctrinal propositions – as we surrender our lives to Jesus, He will begin to lead us by His Spirit. And the situations that the Spirit leads us into, may be precisely those situations that our strengths and skills seem least suited to.

Certainly this is not always the case. God has plans to prosper us, not to harm us. And as we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. But the reality is that our ultimate satisfaction is found not in superficial success, but in a growing and deepening revelation of the reality of Jesus Christ.

And this is good news. Because if we are supposed to ‘achieve excellence’, then we all too easily find ourselves locked into the rat-race to be better than everyone else – which is clearly a game that not everyone can win! But when we realise that all the excellence belongs to God, then we are set free to obey whatever he calls us to do, confident in the knowledge that through the power of His excellency, our simple obedience will change the course of history.

The YWAM Cambridge story thus far

In 2006, the founder of the largest missionary fellowship in the world was invited to come to England and speak. His reply was simple: ‘I will only come if God gives me a word for England’. Loren Cunningham prayed — and God gave him that word. It was a word about a coming wave of mission that would go forth from the British Isles to the ends of the earth. Loren came and proclaimed the word in five different cities on five consecutive nights: “I believe Britain is ready for a new surge in missions”. Loren reminded those listening of Britain’s missionary heritage and declared that this coming wave of mission would be even bigger than anything that had been seen in the past. YWAM England called it the Global Passion Tour.

It was more than just an inspirational message–it was a prophecy, from a man whose adventure in hearing God’s voice has led to millions of young people being trained as missionaries through the YWAM Discipleship Training School, and who prophesied that the Berlin Wall would come down years before it actually did. As a sign and seal of this ‘Next Wave’, God gave YWAM England a million-pound sailing yacht, which was purchased with the largest one-off gift ever received in the history of YWAM England.

Assisting with the organisation of Loren’s Tour was a reserved Englishman by the name of Andrew Taylor. He had done his DTS almost three decades previously, after the Church of England had responded to his sense of a call to the ministry with the advice that he ‘go and get some life experience’. He had stayed in YWAM, led the Operation Year (an attempt to restructure the classic five-month DTS into a full gap-year that would fuel YWAM’s pioneering efforts in English cities), married Connie–a fiery ginger-haired evangelist from California, pioneered (with his wife) the first ever YWAM school in Estonia, and had spent years contending in intercession for revival to break out in Scotland. But he was finding that his administrative abilities — of which YWAM has a continual shortage! — were causing him to be locked into a more limited set of roles than he might have liked, and was wondering whether he might finally have enough life experience (!) to be accepted into Anglican ministry.

Andrew was marked with a conviction that Loren’s word was true, and the promised next wave of mission would come — but that they couldn’t stand passively back waiting for something to happen, but must take this promise and pray it into fulfilment. The Taylor family was coming to the end of a chapter, having spent the previous couple of years in Kent seeing to the affairs of Andrew’s deceased parents. Where should they go? How could they best respond to this incredible word from the Lord? What place was there that had seen this sort of missionary movement in the past, that they could go and pray for that ‘well’ to be unblocked? How about Cambridge — birthplace of England’s Reformation, and the launchpad of the missionary Cambridge Seven –; might God open up the door for them to move to Cambridge?

….

Meanwhile in the summer of 2006, a missionary kid by the name of Peter Prescott had just discovered that he had been accepted into the Mathematics course at Cambridge University — despite failing to quite achieve the results for his Conditional Offer. (This kid would be me!) My parents had been Cambridge students twenty years before, and had met and married and moved to the Philippines to plant churches and reach Asia’s billions with the simple gospel of the love of Jesus. Now, having encountered the fiery power of the Holy Spirit in my final year of school, I was heading to university with a sense of being sent back from Asia as a missionary to England.

But upon reaching Cambridge, I soon found myself struggling: struggling with the workload, struggling to make the most of those fleeting student years which too many describe as ‘the best years of life’, struggling with personal discipline, struggling with pornography, struggling with the question of what all this study was for, struggling to achieve any sort of missionary impact. By the time that I hit second year it was clear that I had neither the motivation nor the mathematical brilliance necessary to thrive in my chosen degree.

In my second year, I was involved in a week of 24/7 Prayer in which I encountered the presence of God in a way that marked me with a burden to continue to pray for night-and-day prayer and worship to rise up in Cambridge, and to do whatever I could to convey the love of Jesus to those around me. Not long afterwards, Andrew and Connie Taylor arrived in Cambridge. I remember being introduced to them by a mutual friend in the very house that hosted that life-changing (at least for me!) week of prayer. We didn’t spend too long on formalities—within minutes we were crying out together in passionate prayer for the power of God to break through and bring a revival that would propel students out in mission to the nations.

….

Around that time, a number of people were beginning to talk about the possibility of a permanent ‘house of prayer’ being established in Cambridge. It was even suggested that a certain old Anglican church, inhabited by a very small congregation, might be converted and made available for such a vision. Andrew wrote an email to a couple of the key people involved, suggesting that there be a meeting to pray and discuss the possibilities that lay ahead. That email was forwarded on to a few others interested in the vision, who forwarded it on to a few others—and about a dozen people (rather than just the three or four initially invited) appeared at the appointed time and place (Inge and John Ruddock’s flat), eyes bright with hope for what might happen. As we started to pray, the Spirit fell – and by the time the meeting had to be brought to a finish, we all knew that God had just started something that must continue. Neil Prem (himself a former YWAMer who had just moved to Cambridge) summed it up in sharing a prophetic picture about the first of a series of flaming beacons being set alight, and we decided to continue meeting on subsequent Friday lunchtimes.

Over the next year or so, those Friday lunchtime prayer meetings continued (and in fact still continue at the time of writing) – occasionally, the strong sense of the Spirit’s anointing would dwindle somewhat, and someone would suggest whether perhaps we should cease to meet in this particular way. After all, we were all busy people and this particular meeting didn’t fit neatly under the remit of any one of the various ministries that we were involved with. But whenever this thought would surface, the next time of prayer would invariably witness a renewed outpouring of spiritual zeal—clearly God was committed to this thing that he was bringing to birth!

So two distinct yet interconnected ventures were beginning to take shape: YWAM Cambridge, and the Cambridge House of Prayer. Andrew had been accepted by the Church of England to begin training at Ridley Hall in Cambridge – the first step in his being ordained as a pioneer minister, and then appointed to lead the Cambridge House of Prayer. Connie was thus the de facto leader of YWAM Cambridge, whose ranks were joined by Andy and Collette Henman and their two daughters—almost a year after deciding that God was calling them to Cambridge, they had finally managed to sell their house in Derby and move. Neil and Esther Prem however had decided that they were not called to be involved full-time with YWAM Cambridge.

….

I graduated, was commissioned as an evangelist by a church in Cambridge, and given a small living allowance to release me to share the gospel and mobilise prayer and evangelism. Except that between graduating and starting work as an evangelist, I had married a beautiful Indian girl called Taryn – and her visa to join me in England was denied. We were forced to spent three of the first months of our married life estranged on opposite sides of the globe, in heartbroken bewilderment as the principalities and powers of international immigration bureaucracy prevented us from seeing each other. The situation could have left us broken and disillusioned. Instead, we pressed into the heart of God, and found that our experience was an echo of a spiritual reality. Just as I longed for my bride to come and join me in England, so Jesus longs for His Bride to come and abide with Him in the place of prayer. Taryn took the psalms of lament and poured out her heart before God (we would later record and release as ‘Songs of the Bride’). I took God’s word to Pharaoh and paraphrased it to synchronise my prayers for my personal situation and for revival in the nation: ‘Thus says the Lord, Let my Bride come to me!’

We appealed the decision and eventually it was overturned: Taryn arrived in England the night before Christmas. Then came the challenging task of learning how to serve together in the work God had called us to. This was my fifth year in Cambridge–this was Taryn’s first time in England. I was rushing around the city, doing whatever I could to connect with kingdom-minded Christians to pray and reach out. Taryn was rushing around behind me, doing whatever she could to work out to work out what was actually happening.

One morning Andy Henman drew us both to one side, and told us he’d been praying for us. ‘And I feel that God’s saying you need to step back for a season, to lay a foundation for your marriage and ministry’. He suggested that doing a YWAM Discipleship Training School could be an appropriate way of doing this. That evening as we talked and prayed about Andy’s advice, we agreed that he was right about us needing to step back for a season. After investigating several possibilities, we finally heard about a one-off ‘Wilberforce DTS’ that was starting that September at YWAM’s forty-acre Harpenden base. Wilberforce had been a Cambridge man, and his heritage of ambitious faith bringing reformation to every sphere of society (as well as battling the slave trade he had also founded dozens of other societies for social reform) had been something we had already spent a large amount of time praying into, and when we went to visit the YWAM Harpenden base everything seemed to fit into place.

We signed up for the DTS, and were then invited to stay on as staff, before returning to Cambridge to help start the first YWAM Cambridge DTS.

….

The first thing we were involved with as YWAM Harpenden staff was the School of the Circuit Rider. Inspired by the early Methodist revivalists, this was a two-week crash course in simple evangelism and fiery faith. On the YWAM Cambridge side of things, Connie had been leading ‘Call of the Wild’ summer mission trips from Cambridge to China each summer for the previous few years, but was persuaded to put those on hold and instead mobilise people to be part of this Circuit Rider school.

As well as staffing the school, myself and Taryn, were appointed leaders of the outreach team sent immediately afterward to London. We were hosted by the London Burn 24-7 team, who were doing non-stop worship during the Olympics in a north London church that had also made their vicarage available to host visiting teams. We began each day with a couple of hours of prayer and worship, and then from that place would scatter in pairs out to the streets of North London, ready to share the love of Jesus with whoever we encountered. And whenever we regrouped, there would be incredible testimonies of what God had done—souls saved, bodies healed, the kingdom advancing!

I woke up early on the final day of the two-week outreach, with a burning sense that this was the day I would see revival come. That evening we took our team to join a youth group in Brixton. The numbers were disappointing, the kids unruly, the meeting the antithesis of what I expected ‘revival’ to look like. But after it had finished, myself and another girl on our team had the chance to pray with two of the boys, that they would encounter Jesus. And – at first I thought they were making fun of us – as we prayed they began to describe what both of them were seeing: ‘I see a man in a white suit’ – ‘Yeah, and he’s got a gold scarf’ – ‘That’s right, and gold shoes!’ – ‘His hair is white’. They were describing Jesus, as he appears in the first chapter of the book of Revelation, but as only two kids who had never read that chapter of the Bible could.

It was our first experience of missionary leadership, and it felt like we had tasted something of the authentic glory of the presence of God. The outreach came to an end, and we returned to Harpenden longing to experience that again: ‘What if in Cambridge we had a house where we could live in worshipping community, and see revival break out from that place of intimacy with Jesus?’ But of course, even just a four bedroom house in Cambridge would cost perhaps half a million pounds—far more than we could even dream of being able to afford.

….

The next morning as I was reading my Bible, the seemingly impossible thought of such a house refused to go away. I was reading Romans, and tried to focus on the text. It was about Abraham, a man who received an apparently impossible promise from God, and who “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:20-21). What particularly caught my attention was that God sealed that promise to Abraham with a specific sign – circumcision. ‘What,’ I wondered, ‘might be the sign of God’s sealing this promise to me of a big community house in Cambridge?’ Immediately into my mind came ‘£100 – today’. And immediately unbelief rose in my heart – because it’s easy to belief vaguely that someday somehow it might be possible to have a big house. But it’s difficult to believe that by the end of today someone would give me £100.

Sometime that afternoon, no-one having yet given me any money (!), I decided to check my online bank account, just in case. And as I opened it I was astonished to see that the most recent gift was a gift for £100. I looked again – it was not £100 but £1000! I called up the generous giver to express my gratitude. They told me that they had given in response to a dream from the Lord: “God told me I should give it to you ‘for the baby’” – and they explained – “it’s not necessarily a physical ‘baby’, but some project that you’re beginning”.

A few months later, I was investigating possibilities for rented accommodation in Cambridge, when I came across a large guesthouse (with fifteen ensuite bedrooms) for sale for just under a million pounds. And as soon as I saw it, I felt God give me faith that to purchase it is possible. He gave me the verse from Revelation 5:11-12 (which immediately came to mind), “I looked and I heard… thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb…’” So I felt that we should be asking (in prayer and to whoever might want to partner with us) for a ‘thousand thousands’ – ie. one thousand donations of £1000 (which would make £1 million). And God had already given Taryn and me the first thousand pounds as a seal of a promise for a big community house in Cambridge.

As I started to share this story, several people immediately began to respond with their own thousand pound gifts. I was given an envelope stuffed with fifty twenty-pound notes; I received a cheque for a thousand pounds; I discovered another thousand-pound gift quietly transferred into my bank account. Within a few weeks there was about seventeen-thousand pounds sitting in YWAM Cambridge’s ‘House Fund’. It was an impressive release of supernatural finance – but it was nowhere near enough to purchase a property, and in spite of our attempts to tell the owner our story and invite him to become a part of our faith venture, we were unable to buy that particular property. In the meantime we continue to remind ourselves of God’s promise, and to steward the gifts that have been given towards the eventual purchase of a permanent property.

….

It was now five years since the Taylor family had moved to Cambridge, and YWAM Cambridge still had only two full-time staff: Connie Taylor, and Andy Henman. Growth was coming—but before God multiplied the numbers, He would first bring the breakthrough that would be imparted to those that would later come.

Global Outreach Day 2013 was the moment that breakthrough occurred. The vision for Global Outreach Day is that, on the Sunday after Pentecost, Christians all around the world should take the opportunity to share the gospel with those around them. Connie Taylor had invited whoever she could to join the Cambridge team in marking the Day with evangelistic outreach in Cambridge: Taryn and I were there coordinating the outreach for a team from Kona, Hawaii; there was a Wildfire team of Christian families from around the country; and several others—perhaps forty in total. In order to help this disparate collective connect with people and share the simple gospel, Connie had got hold of some elastic and six different colours of beads, and prepared an arsenal of Good News Bracelets.

We were still in a church hall for our initial time of worship and training, when there came the first testimony of someone giving their life to Jesus. Mario was a Portuguese man looking for a job, and had for some reason wandered in to the church building—when one of our team had used the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and invite him to put his trust in Him! And by the end of that day we had seen about forty people on the streets respond to the gospel by praying a simple salvation prayer.

….

We had decided that YWAM Cambridge’s first Discipleship Training School would begin in September 2013 – even if there were just three people signed up, better to get the ball rolling and see what might happen after that. We wanted to put a particular emphasis on prayer and worship, and to impart that breakthrough we had experienced in simple street evangelism. We didn’t want YWAM Cambridge to become just another training base, but we wanted to gather a team of faith-filled disciples of Jesus who could impact the city in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God! God had given us the words ‘Revival & Reformation’ with which to title our particular DTS – a tribute to Cambridge’s Christian heritage, and a declaration of faith that God would ‘do it again!’ – and we had agreed that if we were to have time to engage with life in Cambridge during the lecture phase, the DTS would need to be nine months long, rather than the typical five.

Taryn and I were still living in Harpenden, so Connie and Andy would drive over so that we could pray together about the DTS. Mike & Jane Askew had also been persuaded to help with this pioneering DTS: their three sons had all done the DTS and Mike’s retirement had given them the chance to theirs in Kona, where they had also subsequently staffed another school.

Also joining our DTS staff team was Bethany Breed. She had been to the city previously on a DTS outreach team that Taryn and I led from Harpenden to India, with a couple of week in Cambridge at the end. Our time in Cambridge was something of a challenge—it was the middle of the English winter, making any sort of outdoor ministry less appealing; and our accommodation had no shower, meaning we had to trudge across town in order to have a wash. But the outreach had the incredibly significant outcome of bringing Bethany onto the YWAM Cambridge team. She was an eighteen-year old American doing her DTS, and the day that we arrived in Cambridge, as we joined the Friday lunchtime prayer group (that I’ve already mentioned), she heard the voice of God telling her that this was where He was calling her.

….

As it turned out, the Revival & Reformation DTS didn’t turn out to be YWAM Cambridge’s first school. Cliff & Amaris Davis, from YWAM LA, were invited to consider coming to Cambridge by Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian apologist who was connected with Christian Heritage. As it happened, Vishal ended up not continuing in Cambridge, but Cliff & Amaris were persuaded by Connie to come and run their Chronological Bible Core Course (three months of intensive inductive bible study). So YWAM Cambridge was having twins!

The CBCC began in mid-September with five students and another staff member, Heather, who Cliff had recruited for the school from YWAM LA. The school was hosted by John and Inge Ruddock, in their newly renovated Oak Villa, thirty minutes to the west of Cambridge in the village of Madingley. Meanwhile, we were still searching for somewhere to host the DTS – which had six trainees arriving in a couple of weeks! Our dream of buying a property had been put on hold, and our attempts to rent a house kept meeting with landlords suspicious of the sort of group (A family? No; Professionals? No; Students? Not exactly…) we were. Finally we found someone willing to let their house to us. The contract was ready to be signed—but it needed to be ratified by the YWAM England board, who happened to be on retreat in the Lake District and seemed impossible to contact. It wasn’t until three days before the school was to begin that we had actually agreed terms and been given the keys—and the house was still unfurnished! But through some miracle of divine provision, various local Christians donated the necessary beds and tables, and the house was furnished literally as the students arrived. When our first student arrived, she was shown to a room with one bunk-bed and told that she would be sharing it with three others—the second bunk duly arrived a couple of hours later, just before her next roommate.

The DTS continued to experience the manifest power of God as we stepped out in faith beyond the boundaries of our own human strength. The impartation of evangelistic effectiveness we were hoping would take place happened within the very first week, and each week there were testimonies of people responding to the simple gospel. We felt the tangible glory of God within touching-distance as we worshipped for two hours each afternoon. We went to Hull for a weekend to do outreach with Wildfire; we went to Norway for a week to join the Circuit Riders. We absorbed into our number a seventh student: the son of a local pastor who had tragically died of a recent heart-attack, and he was filled to overflowing with the irrepressible joy of the Holy Spirit. But it wasn’t all miracles and glory-stories—in spite of our prayers, our friend Inge died of cancer, after a long and painful battle against it.

….

In January 2014, YWAM Cambridge was joined by Gary and Caroline Morgan, the leaders of the Year For God, who moved from Holmsted Manor to Cambridge. The Year For God places young people from the Western world in DTSes in developing nations – Uganda, Bolivia, India – where they then continue on staff for the rest of the year after the initial five- or six-months of DTS is completed, thus making for a fully cross-cultural missionary gap-year. It is bracketed by a week of cultural orientation at the start and a week of debrief at the end—the only parts that actually take place in Cambridge. There are two points of entry each year: in August, and in February.

….

We sent our first DTS Outreach team out from Cambridge on March 3?th 2014, to Kenya—to work with the YWAM Atthiriver base, and to serve among the tribal Pokot people.

Taryn and I were unable to go with the team, as she was pregnant – and had been for the precise duration of the DTS! She gave birth to Isaac on May 28th – and we remembered the word we’d been given: “It’s not necessarily a physical ‘baby’, but some project that you’re beginning”. Our first year with YWAM Cambridge had brought forth both.

Our second R&R DTS began in September 2014, this time with nine students (though one left prematurely a couple of months in). As well as all the staff from the first DTS, we had two of our students from the previous year, Hannah, and Lukas, and also Simon, who had done a nine-month DTS with YWAM Coventry. YWAM Cambridge was now renting two houses on the same road, and Taryn and I had rented another for ourselves just around the corner.

We had planned to run a second CBCC—but Amaris had also given birth to a baby, and so that had to be postponed till April. And then she found she was pregnant again, so that too was cancelled! Instead we are planning on starting a full nine-month Chronological School of Biblical Studies, which will begin in September 2016.

Rather than the CBCC, we therefore made plans to start a classic five-month DTS in April 2014. Two more of the students from our previous R&R DTS—Akira and Haley were recruited to join the staff team, as well as Teresa from Germany, and Brandon from the USA.

But all that YWAM Cambridge had begun to do could so easily have been brought to a standstill.

In September 2015, the UK Visa Authority came to inspect YWAM England and found that our record-keeping was not quite up to the new standards. This meant there were three possible consequences: at worst, we could completely lose our visa sponsorship licence (meaning everyone on YWAM visas would have to leave the country, and no more could be granted—and thus putting in jeopardy much of YWAM Cambridge’s work); or, we could be down-graded and have our licence suspended (meaning those already in the country could remain, but no new visas could be granted for six months); or at best (but this seemed almost too much to hope for!), we might be forgiven and our Grade-A status maintained.

Just days before Christmas, we were told that it was going to be the worst-case scenario. After an appeal and much united prayer, that decision was completely reversed – and we were given the best possible result! This meant we could go ahead with the April DTS. Within days of the nine-month R&R DTS heading out on outreach – this time to Albania – this other DTS was beginning, with six students from England, France, the USA, Zimbabwe, India, and Israel.

Before we joined YWAM Cambridge two years ago, there were just two full-time staff: Connie Taylor, and Andy Henman. This September, it looks like will have about twenty, not counting families.

Looking forward, Taryn and I are committing to be in Cambridge with YWAM Cambridge for at least the next five years. Last summer, I mentioned that I was considering Anglican ordination — I have decided that God’s call to us to see YWAM Cambridge established means that I am not to pursue this any time in the next few years. I have however been selected by the Lausanne Movement as one of their ‘Next Generation Young Leaders’, which means that for the next ten years I will be mentored and equipped for the task of mobilising and releasing ‘the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world’.

Two years ago, I tried to put into writing the vision God was giving us for YWAM Cambridge. I wrote that
By 2020 I hope to see, by the grace of God,

– non-stop 24/7 prayer and worship taking place across the city, involving a growing team of more than forty intercessors and musicians;

– daily evangelism taking place within the city;

– at least one hundred Revival & Reformation DTS graduates committed to serve at least two years in cross-cultural mission;

– at least twenty churches planted;

– summer outreaches taking at least forty students in international short-term mission each year;

– at least seven University of the Nations-accredited courses happening in Cambridge each year;

– seven other Revival & Reformation DTSs pioneered in other cities;

— and whatever else God might want to do.

We are making progress on some of these–on others there is still much work to be done.

Nevertheless, the vision remains the same. The vision is Jesus. The vision is an army of young people. The vision is night and day worship overflowing in mission to the ends of the earth. The vision is revival and reformation impacting every sphere of society and igniting Cambridge with whole-hearted love for God. The vision is an exponentially multiplying movement of discipleship that would fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. When I close my eyes, I can see it! And yet when I open my eyes, it still sometimes seems a long way off.

We cannot do this alone. We need your help. Will you join us in making this vision a reality?

You can contribute financially;
You can commit to pray for us;
You can come and join us.

Your partner in the gospel,
Peter

Ancient Wells: The Spiritual Heritage of Cambridge

Cambridge-Heroes-of-the-Faith-captionsIn our prayers for revival & reformation to be released from heaven into the streets and gutters of Cambridge, one image that has profoundly inspired us has been that of the ‘ancient wells’ being unblocked.

The image is from Genesis 26, after Abraham has died. Again there is a famine in the land, and Isaac is tempted to follow the example of his father and give up, at least temporarily, on God’s word that this promised land will be his inheritance and a place of blessing to all the nations. But then the Lord appears to him, repeating the promise and commanding Isaac to abide in the land. “And,” we’re told, “Isaac sowed in the land, in the year of famine, and reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him”. How did God make it possible for Isaac to reap a hundredfold harvest in the midst of famine? According to the text, it was not simply through some supernatural miracle, but through Isaac “redigging the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father”.

For us in contemporary Cambridge, the famine that we face is spiritual, as is the hundredfold harvest that we long for. And so the question is, what are the ‘spiritual wells’ that we need to unblock if we are to see spiritual water again begin to flow, and spiritual seeds begin to grow? The answer is the testimony of our forefathers in the faith, which is of course what ‘Abraham’ represents paradigmatically. As Hebrews 13:7 exhorts us, “Remember those who have gone before you, who spoke the word of God; considering their way of life, imitate their faith!”

And as we have begun to realize, Cambridge’s heritage is full of faithful witnesses who testify to the power and truth of God. Here are seven of those heroes, and the spiritual ‘well’ that they represent:

C Simeon
Charles Simeon: Prayer

Saved while a student at King’s College, Cambridge, Charles Simeon then became the vicar of Holy Trinity Church. His evangelical preaching was initially met with fervent opposition: his services were frequently interrupted, he was insulted in the streets, his parishioners would even lock up their (privately-owned) pews to prevent the possibility of other people hearing him preach.

But by steady, faithful discipline in prayer, Simeon overcame public prejudice and eventually gained a remarkable and lasting influence particularly among the university’s undergraduates. And it is said that when he died, half the city attended his funeral to pay their respects.

The story goes that to help him stay disciplined in spending the early morning in private prayer and quiet time with the Lord, he resolved that if he did not rise he would give a half-crown to the servant who cleaned his room. But one cold morning as he struggled to get out of bed, he found himself rationalising that the woman was poor and could doubtless use his charity–and thereafter he decided instead to throw a guinea into the river!

Apparently he only did this once, since “he could not afford to pave the river bed with gold” — but nevertheless, our vision for Cambridge is that students would again be converted to a Christianity committed to costly prayer, and that this would empower them to endure opposition and win people over with the gospel.

W Tyndale
William Tyndale: Bible

Tyndale did his undergraduate study at Oxford, but complained that although he was supposed to be receiving training for Christian ministry, the course included no systematic study of the Bible. In fact, at the time it was a crime punishable by death to be in possession of an English translation of any portion of Scripture! He then spent a few years in Cambridge, where a few years earlier Erasmus — who put together the first scholarly Greek New Testament — had been teaching.

His conviction that the Bible needed to be made available to everyone was incredibly controversial. He famously got into an argument with a certain Catholic clergyman (this was before the Church of England had broken away from the Roman Catholic church), who told Tyndale that, “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou!”

Tyndale’s life was not spared quite long enough to translate the entirety of the Bible into English — he was betrayed and arrested for his ‘heresy’, and then strangled and burned at the stake. But his dying prayer that God would “Open the King of England’s eyes!” was answered, and within two years an English Bible had been authorized that was mostly Tyndale’s own work.

Our vision for Cambridge is that God would again raise up people with a fervent zeal to do whatever it costs to make the Bible available and understood, in England and all the nations.

JC Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell: Wisdom

Cambridge is famous throughout the world for its scientific research: this was where Isaac Newton wrote his ground-breaking Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, almost single-handedly establishing a new standard for ‘natural philosophy’ (what we now call ‘science’) in which experimental evidence would be explained by mathematical models. In more recent times, Cambridge has been the home of several scientists that have given some the impression that scientific study and religious conviction are incompatible: Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary theory seems to so many to be a considerable hurdle to biblical belief, was a Cambridge scientist; so was Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA, and an adamant atheist.

But of all these great scientists, it was a man called James Clerk Maxwell whose discoveries were said by Einstein to have “changed the world forever”. Maxwell formulated the theory of electromagnetism, unifying the understanding of electricy, magnetism and light. He was one of the founders of the University of Cambridge’s physics lab, the Cavendish Laboratory, and he was also a convinced Christian. To this day a visitor to Cambridge can see, inscribed over the door of the Cavendish Laboratory, the words of Psalm 111:2 which Cavendish chose as the science lab’s motto: “The works of the Lord are great; sought out of all them that have pleasure therein”.

Our vision is that God would again raise up Christians who would be able to demonstrate that there is no contradiction between trusting in God and studying the world He has made, and whose wisdom would impact not just academic study, but every sphere of ordinary life. And our conviction is that God is able to bring that wisdom not just through the educated elite, but through the simplest student of His word and His ways.

CS Lewis
C.S. Lewis: Creativity

C.S. Lewis is probably the best-known Christian author of the twentieth-century, having written both the children’s fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as numerous works of popular apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Problem of Pain. But perhaps it is less well-known that all of this writing was really just a particularly fruitful hobby! — for his full-time employment was as an academic lecturer in the field of English Literature.

His academic career began at Oxford, where he studied as an undergraduate and later became a Christian through the witness of friends such as J.R.R. Tolkien. But he had to move to Cambridge to be given the senior position of ‘Professor’ — apparently his colleagues disliked his open and confident Christian faith.

Our vision is that God would again release Christ-centred creativity from Cambridge that would demonstrate the beauty and truth of Christianity. Like CS Lewis, we pray that this would happen both directly — in formulating persuasive arguments for gospel truth–, and more indirectly — in telling stories, singing songs, creating art that would captivate imaginations with the glory of God.

W Wilberforce
William Wilberforce: Justice

The name of William Wilberforce is now almost synonymous with the fight against institutionalized evil — his battle against slavery is one of the greatest stories of persistent moral of the last few centuries. But Wilberforce was not always on the side of justice and right. As a student he spent his time drinking and playing cards, and he initially bribed his way into politics.

But he then agreed to go on holiday with a Christian friend from University, and as they spent time reading the New Testament together, Wilberforce was convicted of his need to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This prompted a crisis of calling–could he stay in the political world that he had so selfishly become involved with? Through the advice of his godly mentor John Newton, Wilberforce was persuaded that he could in fact use his influence for God’s glory, and spent the rest of his life pursuing what he described as his “two great ambitions: the abolition of slavery and the reformation of ‘manners’ [ie. society’s standards of living]”.

The battle against the slave trade took his whole life–Wilberforce died just days after hearing that the government had made concessions that guaranteed that the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery would at last be passed. But Wilberforce was also involved with numerous other societies focused on social reformation, involving everything from education to animal cruelty. The fuel that powered all this commitment to social justice, was the revelation that the justice of God is a free gift that can be ours through faith in Jesus–this was the subject of his best-selling book contrasting authentic biblical Christianity with the nominal religion of his time.

Our vision is for another generation to experience the revival of heart that comes from understanding the gospel, and for this to release a reformation of every sphere of society.

H Roseveare
Helen Roseveare: Mercy

Helen Roseveare was an atheist when she came to Cambridge to study medicine, but became a Christian through the witness of the University’s Christian Union. She then went to Central Africa, where she was involved in what we in YWAM today describe as ‘mercy ministry’–she set up several hospitals.

But the mercy that she ministered went far deeper than merely alleviating the physical suffering that she saw around her. This is demonstrated overwhelmingly by her response to what some would see as an unforgiveable sin–being brutally raped by a soldier during the Congolese civil war. She later returned to Congo and had the opportunity to meet the man — now in prison — who had humiliated her, and she took that opportunity to tell him face-to-face that he was forgiven.

Our vision is that God would release this sort of supernatural mercy again from Cambridge, that would indeed alleviate physical suffering, but also even more profoundly release spiritual mercy and forgiveness.

CT Studd
C.T. Studd: Mission

Perhaps the one hero of the faith from Cambridge’s past that has most inspired YWAM Cambridge’s vision for Cambridge is the converted student and cricketer C.T. Studd, who went as a missionary to China as one of the Cambridge Seven, then to India (where he pastored the church in South India where I was baptized!), and in later life — in spite of being rejected by the existing mission societies as medically unfit — to Africa.

As well as giving up his career as the most celebrated sportsman in England, he also gave up a massive fortune of £29,000 ( equivalent today to about £2.3 million), and left everything to obey God’s call on him to become a missionary.

CT Studd summed up his life vision in this little rhyming couplet:
Some wish to live within the sound of Church or chapel bell,
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

Our vision is that young people in Cambridge would again say Yes to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ–wherever God calls them to go, whatever God calls them to do, however much the cost might be!

Every Simple Salvation Prayer Counts!

Download this essay as a PDF

This post is intended as a brief defense of the practice of street evangelism, and in particular, my habit of counting responses.

Since taking part in the School of the Circuit Rider, I have been persuaded of the power of keeping count of the number of people who respond to the gospel when we are involved in evangelism. It’s particularly helpful when on a regular basis you are going out onto the streets trying to share the simple gospel, and having to wage a constant battle against disillusionment and discouragement as you find more people closed to the message than are ready to hear it, let alone respond. Because the fact is that even though most people might be disinterested, there are *always* at least some who are open. Matthew 9:37 *promises* that “the harvest is plentiful”, and I am convinced that this is a truth that applies in every place and at every time — not just to first-century Galilee. The gospel is always the power of salvation, and as we lift up Jesus, people will be drawn to Him.

If it seems like this isn’t working, then the problem isn’t the gospel, nor even the hardness of the hearts of those that we’re trying to reach. It’s that we’re called (Matthew 9:37-38 tells us) to pray for more labourers. We’re not just called to win the lost to Christ, we’re called to mobilise the saved, and we’re called to pray. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again: one anointed evangelist that led a thousand people to faith every night couldn’t reach the whole world even in a thousand years — but if two people would both win one person to Christ and each train that person to win another person, and train them to do the same, and so on, and so on, then every year their number would double, and in less than forty years their numbers would have equalled that of the world’s population.

Now, one might conclude from this that we hardly need to worry about evangelism at all–surely those figures show that it’s discipleship rather than evangelism that should be our priority! But the truth is that in the kingdom very rarely does the same person share the gospel with someone, lead them to the Lord, disciple them, and continue to train them as they develop as a leader. Rather, Jesus tells his disciples, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (John 4:38). If we want to see a movement take place in which new converts find themselves easily leading others to the Lord, we need to be prepared to put in our share of hard work, in prayer and apparently-fruitless sowing of the word of God.

And — to come back to our original point — it is a vital encouragement when you have embraced the call to live a lifestyle of evangelistic seed-sowing to remember that there are people responding to what you are doing. And as you repeatedly go out and share the gospel message, and a few of those with whom you share consistently respond in faith or at least interest or openness, then the number of those who have responded will grow! I at least find this very encouraging.

However, it is true (I have found!) that some dislike this practice of counting the number of responses. There are a number of objections that I have encountered, and I will now try to respond to them.

Objection #1. Didn’t Jesus explicitly say not to rejoice in outreach testimonies, but in personal salvation?

The reference here is to Luke 10:20, after the seventy short-term missionaries that Jesus has sent out come back rejoicing that even the demons submit to the power of the name of Jesus, and Jesus tells them “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

But I would argue that Jesus’ comment is about maintaining perspective, not about an absolute prohibition on sharing outreach testimonies. Indeed, their testimonies have the immediate effect that Jesus is filled with joy through the Holy Spirit. One could also point out that this passage in fact affirms that salvation is the thing we should prioritise in our rejoicing!

Objection #2. Counting the number of ‘salvation prayers’ devalues the other parts of the process.

I have to admit that this has sometimes been an unintended side-effect of my energetic persistence in rejoicing in the number of responses where people respond to the gospel and pray a simple prayer receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus.

Our friend Abigail has written eloquently on her blog to this effect–about how a simplistic celebration of someone turning to Christ “misses out all the doubt, waiting, patience, confusion, praying, and more doubt”, and can cause a Christian to start “comparing myself to other Christians, and feeling truly rubbish”. (And let me take this opportunity to say briefly how amazing Abigail is: she was one of the first people we met when we moved into Arbury (that’s North Cambridge, for those of you reading who aren’t from ‘ere!), and has been part of our discipleship-group/house-church since the beginning; she’s now just finished her first year of university, and spent the summer in mission in Ukraine).

Certainly there are many things that I still need to learn about how to encourage people to engage in evangelism. Maybe in our numerical record-keeping, we should record and rejoice in every single gospel conversation (or even just conversation with a stranger–particularly for those of us who struggle to start talking to new people), not just the ones that end positively. But hopefully at least as people get to know me they will see that my heart is not to convey any sort of competitive condemnation.

Objection #3. It’s about individuals — not numbers!

I absolutely agree that God loves each individual person specifically, uniquely, and infinitely. As Jesus encouraged his disciples: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father knowing it. But in fact, your Father knows the very number of hairs on your head. So do not fear–you are more valuable than many sparrows!”

But I disagree that counting the number of responses diminishes the significance of the individuals concerned. If we look at the book of Acts it is clear that Luke is thrilled — almost obsessed! — with the numerical growth of the church: from the original count of “one hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15), then on Pentecost “there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41), then later “the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). One could also look at Acts 6:1, 6:7, 11:21, 14:21, 16:5, 19:26 — all these verses emphasise the growing number of responses to the gospel.

Objection #4. It’s meaningless without follow-up.

Sometimes this objection appears on its own, sometimes it is given in reaction to my response to the previous objection–‘Ah, but the numbers in Acts are referring to newly baptized church members, not just apparent responses to some simple gospel presentation’. Even when people aren’t objecting per se to the keeping track of numbers of responses to evangelism, the frequent question that appears in answer to an attempt to enthusiastically share this evidence of gospel breakthrough is something like ‘Hmm, really?–and what about the follow-up?’

And I readily concede that it is good and important to do whatever we can to help those who respond to the gospel to transition into some Christian community where they will be able to be taught and discipled and encouraged and held accountable to continue growing as a Christian. I believe just as passionately in discipleship as I do in evangelism.

But on the other hand, I am convinced that even if there is no way for us to ever connect with someone again, we have still been commissioned to share the gospel with them. And even if the fault for failing to follow-up does lie fairly on us, then we can still trust that God is able to use whatever seed of gospel truth we succeeded in sowing when we had opportunity to do whatever he wants in that person’s life. “God’s word will not return void!”

In fact in the Book of Acts (specifically ch. 8:26-40) we see that God engineered a situation such that an evangelist was unable to arrange any follow-up: when Philip shared the gospel with the Ethiopian, the man responded instantly and was baptized in some water that happened to be at hand, and immediately “the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away”.

Aside: A Parable
Still considering the question of the effectiveness of evangelism without adequate follow-up, consider this hypothetical situation:
Imagine a person who knew nothing of God, who was struggling with all sorts of serious sins, who one day encountered one of our simple evangelists as he was walking through town. ‘Hi, do you have a minute?, can we share the message of Jesus with you?’ The person is too shocked by the offer to immediately refuse to listen, and our evangelist takes advantage of the pause to begin sharing.

She explains how everything starts with the God who created everything, whose love is infinite and irresistible–but does he know that love? No? Well, that’s because all of humanity has been cut off from God ever since the first human beings turned away from God in mistrust and unbelief. But God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to die for us, to demonstrate his love for us–and there’s no greater way to show love than to lay down your life for someone! And because of his death, the penalty for our sin has been paid! We can be forgiven, we can have assurance of eternal life, we can receive the indwelling personal love of the Holy Spirit!

Our evangelist asks, ‘Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to receive this gift of salvation?’

Suddenly the Holy Spirit pierces through a lifetime’s apathy to spiritual things, and ignites a tiny spark of faith in the heart of our hypothetical person, and to his surprise he finds himself saying ‘Er okay, do I have to do anything?’

‘Well, like any gift, you have to unwrap it and receive it! May I lead you in a simple prayer right now?’ And before he knows it, he’s repeating a simple salvation prayer: ‘Father God, I’m sorry for the wrong I’ve done; Thankyou that Jesus came and died to set me free; I believe–I want to receive the gift of salvation; In Jesus’ name, Amen.’ To his astonishment, his eyes are beginning to fill with tears — before the evangelist can tell quite what’s happened, he’s made a quick exit.

Now suppose that person fails to connect with any Christians who are able to encourage him to grow in his faith. He doesn’t have a Bible. He continues to be trapped in various ungodly addictions. A neutral human assessment would see no convincing evidence of clear sanctification in his life. Suppose that he dies, just a year later, in a tragic car accident.

His body is buried; his spirit ascends before the judgement seat of God. The devil appears, cackling diabolically: ‘I think this one’s for me!’

But suddenly Jesus speaks: ‘Just hold on a minute, let’s do this properly!’ An angel is dispatched and returns within an instant with a large book — the devil grabs it out of his hand, and opens it. He starts flicking through the pages, which reveal a series of incriminating photographs. ‘See what he’s like! Pornography, theft, cheating, stealing, bullying, lying, swearing, fornication, sexual abuse, rape, abortion, murder! He’s mine, I tell you!’

‘Hold on’, Jesus repeats, and he turns to a page where there’s a single photo of the man standing talking to our evangelist. Beside the photo is written a transcript of the conversation that took place. Jesus lays a finger of his nail-pierced hand next to a particular phrase, and reads it slowly. ‘What? What are you saying?’ the devil rants, increasingly agitated. Jesus repeats it louder, and then louder: ‘Jesus came and died to set me free’. And then, so soft it’s barely a whisper, in a still small voice: ‘He’s definitely mine’.

A mighty angel appears with another book, from which is read out: “FOR WITH THE HEART ONE BELIEVES AND IS JUSTIFIED, AND WITH THE MOUTH ONE CONFESSES AND IS SAVED”. ‘What about all this?’ screams the enraged devil, reaching for the first book, and trying to find again the condemning evidence. But now there’s nothing but blank pages. ‘Argh, where did they go?’ screams Satan. The mighty angel speaks again: “HE CANCELLED THE RECORD OF THE CHARGES AGAINST US AND TOOK IT AWAY BY NAILING IT TO THE CROSS”. The devil disappears in a cloud of fury. Jesus beckons the man towards a banqueting table where a lavish feast has been set out. Too stunned to immediately respond to the invitation, the man mutters to one of the angels, ‘Whew, that was close!’ The angel’s booming voice thunders forth again: “WHO COULD BRING A CHARGE AGAINST GOD’S CHOSEN ONES? IT IS GOD WHO JUSTIFIES. WHO IS HE WHO CONDEMNS? IT IS CHRIST WHO DIED, YES RATHER, WHO WAS RAISED FROM THE DEAD, WHO IS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, WHO ALSO MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US.”

Objection #5. How can you reliably judge whether people are sincere in their response?

I admit that this is difficult. Some would say it’s always impossible to say with certainty whether someone — certainly a new convert! — has saving faith.

But Paul writes to the Thessalonians saying, “we know, brethren loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. And if we believe the Book of Acts, Paul was only in Thessalonica for “three Sabbath days”, so not long enough to see the long-term fruit and sanctifying evidence of the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

Strictly speaking, we try to make clear that the numbers we share are numbers of salvation-prayers prayed, rather than of guaranteed salvations. And certainly in many situations there is not the visible evidence that Paul speaks of. But on the other hand, sometimes there is! Sometimes you see the tears running down people’s cheeks, or the joy in their faces, or just the light coming on in their eyes. And I don’t want to undermine the authentic reality of assured salvation which simple faith guarantees, just for the sake of erring on the safe side in my reporting of numbers.

I speak sincerely, in the fear of the Lord, when I say that I don’t want to be guilty of exaggerating our evangelistic success. But I confess that my greater concern is that I would never fail to respond with exuberant joy whenever it seems that one who is lost has been found, one who was dead is now alive. It so strikes me that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father doesn’t even wait for the son to finish saying his ‘sinner’s prayer’ before leaping on him in inappropriately extravagant celebration. And I don’t want to be like the older brother, critical and self-righteous, refusing to join in the rejoicing. I want to be like the Father.