Archives For Jonathan’s Thoughts

What’s Your Purpose?

April 28, 2012 — 2 Comments

On Saturday 7th April I sat down in my college common room, with my friends, to watch the Boat Race. Since 1829 this amateur event has captured special attention and it is listed amongst the crowning achievements of any rower’s career. With demanding training for 6 hours a day, for 7 months, alongside full time Oxford or Cambridge studies, there is no sporting event like this on earth.

Oxford loosing a blade in clash with Cambridge

We cheered loudly as the lighter Oxford crew pulled away quickly from the start and held their slender lead through the first part of the course. Then, the interruption of the swimmer, the anxious waiting with the legs full of lactic acid, and of course, the restart.

It was a good restart. Oxford again pulling away – but then the boats came together and with an almighty clash of oars a blade snapped clean off leaving Oxford with only seven active rowers.

The commentators were tripping over their tongues to describe the shambles. At one point they were even suggesting Oxford were silly for continuing on. They should stop, it was suggested. Record a D.N.F. (did not finish) for the record books. But the commentators and the Tweeters simply did not understand what was happening.

The minds of the 8 men and one women in the Dark Blue boat were set on one thing. Their purpose had been established months ago. They were there to race; they were there to race to the end.

It may be an international TV spectacle. It may be a source of pride and honour for the top two universities in England. It may be “steeped in tradition”. But that’s not what a rower sees on race day.

Something almost mystical happens when you get in a boat. The world outside disappears. The noise and happenings around you dissolve into background hum. You focus only on the voice of the cox. You concentrate only on your work with the oar.

The 9 people in your boat become your micro-world. You have trained with these people day in, day out. You have come to know them and to respect them. On race day, you row for them.

The purpose of the Oxford boat was to row the best race they could. To give everything they possibly could. To unleash the sum of the preparation sacrificed together through freezing months. To give it absolutely everything. Their eyes weren’t on the record books. This was their moment.

So 7 men rowed on. They weren’t going to stop. The cox put her hand down and the team lifted their heads up and they rowed, they rowed hard. So hard in fact that the bowman, Dr. Alexander Woods, needed oxygen, an I.V., and a night in the hospital to recover.

And what is your purpose? The world may be full of commentators shouting their opinions at you. But you, what have you resolved in your heart to do; what are you going to live your life for?

Now watch the last video diary entry from Oxford. Helps to sum it all up …

For ten years Bill Watterson entertained the world through his cartoon series, Calvin and Hobbes. In these cartoons Calvin – an intrepid little boy – is always off on some grand adventure with his faithful sidekick, Hobbes.

Calvin’s father – a hybrid of Watterson’s own father and himself – is often seen trying to help little Calvin “build character”, usually in the middle of a camping trip gone wrong. Yeah, you may have been there too.

Calvin regularly fails to see the point of this character building exercise, often noting how the lessons in life his father so eagerly dishes out seem to save his father some expense.

For many of us, we can relate to little Calvin when we experience suffering. It may be personal and felt, it may be trivial and inconvenient, it may be grotesque and life-altering.

Calvin felt left alone to suffer without meaning and without support.

There is a difference however between the world of Calvin and Hobbes and this life. His name is Jesus. Christianity says that there’s nothing man can do to make it to God. Instead, God came to man. His name is Jesus.

When it comes to suffering Jesus suffers alongside us. We do not have a God indifferent to the human condition. He has been there. And he is with us in our pain, no matter the circumstances.

More than that too, Jesus suffered for us. He willingly, lovingly and purposefully laid down his own life to pay a price that was around our necks. He suffered in agony, alone for hours and he did it thinking of each of us.

There is a present, felt reality about suffering in this world. Some of us will go through more than others but all of us will suffer and all will die.

Jesus’ suffering wasn’t pointless. It had a purpose. More than that, it had ultimate purpose that speaks into this life as well as the next. And there’s more good news: Jesus can use your pain and your suffering and turn it for good.

Suffering and pain can devastate joy, tear up hope, bring the strong to their knees and cause us to cry out, “Why?” In this world gone bad Jesus came to bring healing. He came that we might be saved out of despair and into a living, lasting hope. He’s done it all for us.

Jesus suffered and died that we might see him through our suffering and live.

For more Calvin and Hobbes go here: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/

 

Is Alpha Backwards?

January 20, 2012 — 7 Comments

The Alpha CourseAnd so I found myself on one typically damp and overcast English afternoon, standing on a busy street in southeast Oxford inviting people to come to an ‘Alpha Launch Party’ – step one on the Alpha Course. Aside from the internal moral deliberation/dilemma – is it wrong to invite people to a “free meal” and then hit them sideways with the gospel? – I enthusiastically and creatively tried to grab people’s attention and, with a smile, invite them to the meal.

I was brand new to the city. I was brand new to these people. The experience was actually fairly fun, probably in no small part because everything was so new to me.

Some people came to that launch party. Some even came because I handed them a flyer (much to my astonishment – yeah, that led to repentance). And after our meal and chit-chat a few left and a few signed up for the forthcoming Alpha course. We had our beginning.

Over the next few weeks we did the Alpha thing: food, talk, questions. As a basic format it’s great. It’s informal (helped because we held it in a home – not an awkward church hall), it’s relaxed, and it’s inviting. Alpha has known tremendous success as a programme and is continuing to work well in many places. But it didn’t work stonkingly well for us this time.

For a start, we had students. Now, I’m a student currently so I’d like to think I can see it both ways. The reality is students aren’t like normal people. We don’t hold normal schedules and working out how we prioritise tasks is as perplexing as wondering why the number 1 ranked test cricket side in the world suddenly forgot how to play cricket. So asking students to turn up at 7:30pm every Thursday was never going to work; let alone get them away for an entire weekend.

But one big question about my Alpha experience emerged after a period of reflection and contrast. As you may know, I started rowing last term and have had an absolute blast so far. I’m a bit gutted I came to love this sport so late in life (yeah – I’m only 28, but that feels ancient compared to these freshers). The group of lads I row with are great. Highly committed, motivated and a lot of fun.

There are four of us from good old Wycliffe that currently row for Queen’s. Inspired by Mr. Gwyn-Thomas (remember that name) – who made quite a splash with Queen’s Rowing last year (no pun intended) – we have got stuck in and had a blast. We’re making friends and looking to tell people about Jesus. Naturally a rowing movie, pizza and beer are on the agenda here.

And here is the contrast with Alpha. With Alpha I spent one day getting trying to get to know some people and then 3 months talking about Jesus. With my rowing buddies I’ve spent 3 months getting to know them and we’re going to put on just one day to talk about Jesus. Sure, Jesus comes up in conversation at the boathouse sometimes – but He isn’t introduced through a topic for the evening with bullet points to direct the conversation.

Getting Alongside

My friend Carl Beech has a few good things to say about running an outreach course (be it Alpha, Christianity Explored etc.). One of the key tips – noted especially so for men – is to do stuff that you’re good at. Get alongside people. Keep it real. Carl rides bikes up and down stupidly large mountains in foreign lands. But it works. People talk, they open up.

Now I’m far from a competent rower. But I’m learning all the time and giving it my all in every training session. That builds trust, friendship and opportunities.

It’s well worth asking the question: what are we inviting people to? A friendship with Jesus that manifests itself in programmes without friendship? Or do we seek to build real relationships, genuine friendships and then invite our friends to know our best friend? Life is relationships. We reflect God be being made for relationships. Let’s keep this in mind as we build our programmes.

Alpha is a fantastic course but for God’s sake, make it work for your friends rather than stuffing your friends into your programme. Let’s make sure our evangelistic efforts mirror the relationship that’s transformed our lives in the first place.

And finally, please pray that we have an opportunity over the beer and pizza coming up to show Jesus to our rowing friends well. It’s part of the wider Oxford University Mission Week coming up. Thanks! For more see thisisjesus.org

Pride and Fear

January 6, 2012 — 5 Comments

Pride and fear. Dream robbers. They usually go hand in hand these two. I’ve known both in my life and looking back on the memories they’ve produced is about as much fun as a naked paintball session in Scotland, in February.

I live with my regrets. My failures threaten to haunt me if given half the chance. “If only …”

Jesus saves the day

Here’s the good news. I don’t have an overweight statue as the head of my faith. I get the guy all the great Westerns have – the man on the big horse riding into town to save the day.*

Jesus: he’s more of a man than I am, in every way. Submission to him kills pride. Done. And yet the ultimate warrior, the King of Kings, is also tender. “A bruised reed he would not crush.”** There is no fear when Jesus is in control.

And there’s more …

Think you’ve missed it? There’s further good news. Jesus is in the business of restoration. Yes, this means you too. While you have breath you must choose: waste away sighing over what you think you lost, or, accept Jesus’ most-powerful grace to change and start afresh. Again.

The choice is yours. The means to give you this choice was completely out of your control and completely down to the sacrifice Jesus made. He offers redemption. He offers hope.

What will you yield to this year? Pride? Fear? … or Jesus?

* Revelation 19:11
** Isaiah 42:3 and Matthew 12:20

One of the greatest delights of the programme I’m studying right now are my fellow students. It truly is an honour to be surrounded by such an extraordinary bunch of people who all have a certain joie de vivre.

Here are some of their blogs. Well worth following.

Ian Martin

Jon Morrison

Micah Ruelle

Seth Rikard

Wedding Morning Suits

Groom and Best Man

I have just returned from one of my favourite weddings of all time. My best friend married his new best friend in a beautiful ceremony with a fantastic reception in Bristol.

The church was packed out with friends and family keen not to miss this couple, loved by many, make their vows before God. Everyone I talked to agreed it was a top-class wedding, with lots of fun and a deep sense of purpose about the proceedings.

The day belonged to the happy couple; the glory belonged to God.

From the readings in the church, to the message during the service, to the toasts (yes, Jesus got a toast at this wedding) to the speeches,much was made of what God had done and will do through my friends.

It was my honour as Best Man to offer a speech. What could I say of my friend? What should be said? It’s not hard to see the central point of his life as that time when he took Jesus seriously. That decision had serious consequences and marks his whole person. So it was clear, by making much of my friend, I was making much of Jesus and His transformative power.

As an apologist I love to make much of Jesus. The wonderful thing is that this time it went hand in hand with honouring my friend.

In an age when weddings have greater significance that marriages, when money is splashed around in the name of good times with scant regard for the significance of the proceedings there is an opportunity to go with it all, or return to the core and give thanks to God.

People are marked by what they choose to celebrate. It was such an honour to be a part of a very special day where God came first and we could all rejoice together!

Rowing in Oxford. Image from National Geographic.

It is pitch black outside. It will be dark for the entire session on the water. The morning light will only begin to infiltrate the gloom as you hoist the boat back to the boathouse. The sweat threatens to freeze on your ears as your thoughts turn to coffee. Your friends are only just stumbling from their beds to join the day you greeted hours earlier.

When I started my studies in Oxford I did not think that I would find myself this close to the River Thames at this hour of the day. Yet deciding to row with Queens College (Wycliffe’s sister college) has been a wonderful addition to my time here.

Discipline

I have just started rowing. I am not going for the top boats. Yet still to do well I, along with the rest of the crew, need to train. There are the early starts on the river. There are sessions in the boat house on the “ergs” (rowing machines). And whilst we are at it let’s chuck in a few sessions at the gym for general strength training too.

If I was taking this uber-serioulsy (as the guys in the best boats do), I would triple the above.

When that alarm clock rings at 5:30 I have two options: get up or ignore it. My body argues for the latter, my mind struggles to win with the former. Across Oxford, 8 others are going through the same thought process. It is an act of discipline to kill the desire of my body.

It is not easy to get up but I can tell you, strolling through town afterwards – celebration coffee in hand – it is totally worth it.

The benefits far outweigh the immediate rush of endorphins too. The discipline focusses my day, structures my efforts and even bleeds over into other tasks. Busting out an extra couple of hours study one night, or getting up to read my Bible, are both made slightly easier by the ‘wins’ I’ve been experiencing in my training.

You Go Further In A Team

When we row we are in a boat with 8 guys and one cox (little shouty person who’s in command that we all love). With 8 in a boat, pulling hard, we go places. We fairly zip across the water.

We go further and faster, yes. But it is not on the water that I’ve felt the teamwork the most, it is in the boathouse. A few weeks ago I attempted a ’2k’. The goal is simple – how fast can you row 2 kilometres? It is an absolute killer.

I boarded my rowing machine next to a few other guys, ready for the command. The music starts – it’s fast and hard and forces you to row to the beat set. 1km in and the legs are burning, your lungs are bursting. 1.5km and it is agony. But then the guys in the boat house will crowd around and start shouting at you. The shouts turn to screams. “COME ON.” “PUSH IT.” “KEEP IT UP.” And some other choice phrases.

With each yell there comes an injection of motivation. You find another gear. You tap into a reserve of energy that you would have bet your last power bar didn’t exist. Finally, wrecked, you reach 2k and collapse.

The entire experience requires absolutely everything that you have but it requires everyone around you to help you to give your all.

How can I apply the same level of motivation to my brothers and sisters in the church. Just think, if we were to adopt this, what results would we see?

William Lane Craig UK Tour

November 14, 2011 — 5 Comments
Reasonable Faith

For an introduction to Dr. Craig pick up Reasonable Faith

It has been a couple of weeks since William Lane Craig visited the UK. I was privileged to catch Dr. Craig a number of times – twice in London and then at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (see below for the full video of that evening).

Dr. Craig is one of the foremost Christian philosophers of his generation and argues in the Academy that belief in God is credible. It was fascinating to hear first hand from him of the ‘renaissance’ of Christian Philosophy in the last 40-50 years. For more on that take a look at God and the Philosophers edited by Thomas Morris.

Hype

Before Craig came to England an invitation was extended to Professor Richard Dawkins to a debate in Oxford. Dawkins declined the offer, blowing off the evening with contempt. He then penned an article in the Guardian the week prior to the event stating his reasons for not attending.

This article, laced with invective, drew responses from fellow Oxford academics and atheists. Daniel Came responded in the Guardian a couple of days later labelling Dawkins’ refusal to debate as “cynical and anti-intellectual”.

Tim Stanley added to the conversation in the Telegraph, who asks if Dawkins is a coward for his no-show.

Peter Hitchens, who attended the evening at the Sheldonian, sums up the evening from his eyes in An Evening Without Richard Dawkins.

It is encouraging to hear that Christianity is once more being taken seriously in philosophy departments across the world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Professor Dawkins and his fellow ‘new atheists’ need to catch up to a conversation that is moving at a rapid pace and of a very high quality.

The Take Home

William Lane Craig has devoted his life to defending Christianity through his academic field and has committed to doing it at the highest level. It is a commitment spanning decades and with much toil. Academia is tough. The processes involved are rigorous and require skill and commitment.

His passion isn’t a fleeting feeling or a spur of the moment inspiration. It is born of conviction.

So I ask, what are you called to? What will you spend your life for?

For more on William Lane Craig check out his website. For more audio and video recordings check out Unbelievable? on Premier.

William Lane Craig at The Sheldonian

Hypocrite

November 11, 2011 — Leave a comment

We are over half way through term here in Oxford, with only 4 weeks left before the Christmas break. It has been a whirlwind of lectures, meetings, essays, church events, rowing (look for a post next week on this!) and the like so far. Yet already Christmas is on the horizon and heading towards us at great pace.

We are the point in the cycle of settling in where the novelty of the new is perhaps wearing off. At any rate, I know that for myself the excitement of the unknown has given way to the rhythm of the increasingly familiar. All it takes at this point is a careless word, a sleepless night and I can become easily flustered.

Perhaps that is why Michael Ramsden’s lecture on Monday hit home with such weight.

‘Divorce From Reality’ sounds interesting and starts well. A little bit of economics, throw in some philosophy, talk about how to fix the world’s condition etc. etc.. It’s interesting; it’s safe; it’s abstract.

But then a question cuts through the lesson and explodes in my cortex, bursting my heart at the same time.

What Would Jesus Ask?

In a moment, Michael moves from explaining the big ideas shaping our world to doing that unnerving thing that Jesus would do – turning the spotlight on me.

It is quite comfortable to talk about worldviews, theology, philosophy. It’s even pretty comfortable to write a paper. What’s not comfortable is that introspective moment when it all gets real. Sure, the big financial institutions have been playing a game with reality. A game with a finite timer where the goal is to get rich and get out before the buzzer goes off. So we shout at them, call for reform, demonise bankers and everything they do.

But what about my heart? What games am I playing? What do I hope I can get away with in this life before time is up?

The word hypocrite means to ‘play a part’. Sometimes it feels that Christian culture is theatrical training – we’re all given our parts to play, now just make sure you don’t fluff your lines. In this regard Shakespeare may be proven true when he wrote that, “All the world’s a stage.”

It is so incredibly easy to focus our energy outward, spending our time to fix the world, when at first we should be letting God fix us.

Hypocrisy isn’t healthy. As Michael said,

“What does it say about the church that many people instinctively feel that they are the last people we can tell about sin?”

Take a look at this little video. It’s funny, because it’s true.

A Typical Day in Oxford

October 30, 2011 — 2 Comments

I thought I would provide a snap shot of what a day in my life looks like right now. Take for example, Thursday:

  • 5:45 Off and at ‘em
  • 6:30 On the water for river session with Queen’s College Boat Club
  • 8:30 Coffee
  • 9:00 Chapel
  • 10:00 Morning Lecture
  • 12:30 Lunch
  • 13:30 Afternoon Lecture
  • 16:00 Research and writing time
  • 19:00 Co-lead Alpha Course
  • 22:00 Drink in the pub
I’ve noticed an amazing surge in energy since starting this course. With vision and purpose a lot can be achieved. Without either, apathy can creep in and sap motivation. This is a reminder to motivate myself and others around me on a daily basis.