Lifetimes were made for these
It feels like lifetimes have been stuffed into the last fortnight. So much to thank and praise God for.
We had a Chinese-German staying with us having come down from the north to check out the PhD fair. Barely sensible, running on post-talk adrenaline, i went home to chat with her over dinner. “I really would like to be a Christian,” she said,”I love the community and the love that Christians have for one another and for others like me. But I have too many intellectual doubts”. Well, I’d replied, it’s really a matter of being systematic in examining the evidence for yourself – was Jesus a historical figure? Did he really die? Was he really resurrected? If so, then this proves that what he says was true – that we are all sinners under the wrath of God and that the only way we can escape from his wrath (or actually, be saved from his wrath) is through Jesus’ death on the cross. We left it at. A few days after she returned up north, someone emailed from Sheffield to say that she’d decided to put her trust in Christ. What a privilege to witness what must one of the last links in a long chain, though the story isn’t over yet!
And Romans has been great so far. We’re working through the entire book in a year – which seems a bit artificial since it is a letter that is meant to be read all at once – but it is so meaty that we’ll need all that time to really chew over it. The leaders of Bible studies usually meet together to thrash out the meaning of the set passage for the week before the Bible studies themselves, and the leaders of these Study Leaders’ Own Bible Study (SLOBS) groups have their own Bible study before that (Super-SLOBS – a name so American that it is universally disdained). We’ve got a great group this year that isn’t at all slobby – everyone spends hours working on the text themselves before we meet, which has made for marvellously intense discussions that are ultimately God-glorifiying rather than academic.
It’s early days yet but there’s a lovely partnership going with the co-leader. Being a summer camp man himself, we’ve had good times illustrating dense Romans passages – most recently Romans 2:12-3:8 with a Penguin Slam. And the Bible study group has been brilliant in really engaging with God’s word and asking good questions – ensuring that they don’t just accept what we teach, but that it comes from the good book.
Philippians has been going well too, though much less intensive, considering the time constraints of the working professionals who make up the groups. With these, we have very directed catch-ups over coffees or drinks at the bar before everyone heads off for their next scheduled appointments.
Switching gears to teaching toddlers has been an exciting variation. Here mornings and afternoons stretch on with a mess of glue and glitter, stickers and sticky fingers, gospel stories and green snot. Repetition and very simple questions are key, as are bright colours and being in control. But the message is the same: trust God because he is good and can be trusted.
And then another gear shift to visiting hip-replacement patients to encourage them – sitting in their backgardens under old apple trees alive with squirrels and sipping cups of rooibos tea and nibbling on chocolate croissants and talking truth.
Then back to the slightly less-real training of School, where the tutor who was earlier unsure of a talk i gave in class said that after a week of thinking through it, the tutor realised (1) it must have been quite alright after all because all the points remained as clear as day in the mind even 7 days after; and (2) my main point was indeed the main point of the passage despite the class disagreeing with it. Somewhat vindicated, but more importantly, reminded of the fable of the man, the boy, and the donkey (wisdom does exist in the world!).
Helped at another church’s weekend away and somehow managed to remember 67 names of men, women, and children (and their lifestories) within 2 days. An amazing feat for someone as scatter-brained and short-term-memoried as me. The kids were a very well-taught bunch and extremely lovely to each other, even looking out for the one girl who was new to the group. A great privilege to be able to hang out with them.
Now all these opportunities to mull over God’s word and tell people about how wonderful he is would have been absolutely fantastic without anyone saying so much as a “thank you”.
So the kindness of people grateful for the work being done has been the cherry on the cake. There have been generous amounts of Tesco vouchers and Amazon.co.uk codes tucked in envelopes and left anonymously in pigeonholes or handed over directly, train tickets offered shyly over lunch; taxi fares paid for, many good meals provided in various houses, glasses of port bought at bars, unemployed sisters sharing beans and rice.
And then many have cared enough to have prolonged discussions about my plans for the future including several senior staff who talked to me over lunch about how to start thinking through how to spend the rest of my life (with great doses of practical truths), a professor from a major American theological college who argued strongly over dinner that observable leadership skills and intelligence suggested that getting to a place of academic influence would be the best use of my life for the gospel, a lecturer at an evangelical college in the UK who extolled the virtues of theological education over supper. Having never studied much in my life (other than, desperately, the few days before exams), I currently have little patience for more study. Further, there is an urgency in telling more people about Jesus before The Day. Still, lots to think about.