Blogs

Ladders & Lights

by Issy Davies

I love ladders. While most people shy away from their wobbling, it’s just enough of a risk-but-not-too-dangerous to give me a bit of a buzz. Plus, the child in me still loves climbing things…

After a few trips up the ladder, though, the adrenaline wears off and I get a little light-headed. I can still make it to the top but I’m slower with my steps, more grateful for the person at my feet holding me steady.

Cue Sunday afternoon, and find me at the top of a ladder the height of St Oswald’s Institute’s ceiling, stringing up fairy lights into a canopy (think Durham Marketplace Christmas lights, but not quite as impressive) to rest above our heads for the Guest Service. At the end of Lumiere weekend, it seemed only right to focus our theme on Jesus as our ‘Light Out of Darkness’. Miriam Swaffield (from Fusion) joined us to talk about what it means to know Jesus as hope in a world that seems to be steadily growing darker.

Life as an Intern is busy. I, personally, do not like being busy. I’m more of a be-er than a do-er and Intern life requires constant movement from placement to placement, from theology to Appleby Café, from one-to-ones and French lessons and studying, to everything else on the to-do list that seems to pile up as quickly as things can be crossed off. It’s hard to make time for resting with God, when it feels like something might fall off the delicately balanced pile of stuff on my shoulders.

If the Internship is like climbing a ladder, then I’m getting lightheaded. It’s full of wonderful things pushing me to live more like Jesus, but it’s also a learning curve. The up-and-down snatches my breath away and I need a moment of pause; a reassuring smile from the one holding the ladder steady.

These lines from ‘So Will I’ hit me every time:

God of your promise,
You don’t speak in vain,
No syllable empty or void.

Life isn’t always easy. Darkness creeps into our minds, our health, our relationships. We could build a hierarchy of issues that are bigger and darker than others – depression, illness, grief. But realistically, we all live in this world darkening like a dimmer switch and whether the heaviest things land on our shoulders or not, the weight is there. Sometimes things are busy when we don’t want them to be busy and finding peace is harder among the expectations to meet, the tightrope-walking, the fear of slipping.

But God is a God of His promise. Promising comfort when we need it; bringing good things among all our complicated bits of life. Most of all, He promises us future hope, when He will restore the brokenness of our world to its best and brightest and fullest.

With the snap of glow sticks across a dark St Oswald’s Institute, we lift up our dark situations to God, inviting His light in.

Week 10: God of Justice

by Sophie Bolton

I’ll be honest with you, when I first read through the chapters for this week’s bible passages, I felt a bit overwhelmed. They just seemed so full of rams’ horns, dragons and beasts that I struggled to see God through the confusing imagery. When I read through the chapters again, however, I tried to find answers to the question: ‘what does this passage tell me about God?’.  Through this process, I found that my eyes were opened to the goodness of God’s character, amongst the rams horns, dragons and beasts which feature in these chapters.

So here are a few of my reflections and answers to the question ‘what does this tell me about God?’ which I hope will help you in your reading as well:

God is true to His promises

In Daniel 8, God assures Daniel that one day he will be victorious over the powers of evil. Even though the reign of the wicked is long and they seem to be strong, God is stronger and we have a hope that he will conquer over all the brokenness we see in the world.

God is powerful over death

In Daniel 12, we read of the hope-filled prophecy of the bodily resurrection. There is a day coming when death will be defeated and everyone whose name is in the book of life will rise to eternal life. Therefore, we should live our daily lives in the hope of this eternal life which is to come.

God cares deeply about sin

At the beginning of Revelation 8, there is an almighty silence before God’s judgment on the earth. In a book so full of action and vibrant scenes, this silence is a timely reminder of the need to be still, in awe and reverence before our almighty God. Revelation 8 and 9 are a difficult read, but they ultimately show that God is just and will ultimately deal with the sin we see in the world. This is both an encouragement as we struggle with the brokenness we see in our world today, but a challenge as well, for us to repent and turn from our sins.

So let me challenge you this week to read these passages with your ear turned to God, and your heart ready to respond to what He says to you through your reading. Here are some questions for you to ask yourself as you read:

  • How can we live our lives in the hope of eternal life we have because of Jesus?
  • Do you need to hear the challenge of just being still in God’s presence and being in awe of Him?
  • God cares deeply about sin, and so should we. Do you skip over sin and turn straight to grace? Is there a particular sin in your life which you need to repent of and turn back to God?

 

 

Community, Faith & Getaway

by Chloe Blakesley

There is something about deliberately separating yourself from the subconscious pressures of day to day life which leaves you in a place of vulnerability, as well as giving you time to think. In my life, this is when the spirit has moved most powerfully and God has brought seismic shifts in my perspective of the world, the people around me and of myself. Kings’ student getaway 2017 was one such experience.

We’ll get to that in a moment – chronology takes precedence here. I remember my first year getaway clearly. I was still trying to establish friendships whilst navigating a self-esteem crisis and a slowly subsiding depressive episode. Not the best place, but God didn’t ask me for the best, He asked me for what I could give. So I went. I learnt two very clear lessons: Scotland is very cold, and I am not alone. I spent much of the next year continuing this battle, and with God’s generous love I made it to second year.

Now we get to the good stuff. November came around again, Chris and Alys wouldn’t stop talking about Getaway and, ever the perpetual ‘do-er’, the idea of spending two days investing in the importance of rest and taking time to prioritise our emotional spirituality didn’t really appeal. I was also aware that God was preparing me for the next hurdle and I wasn’t ready to face that. Nevertheless, I had an iPad thrust upon me after an evening service so it seemed like I was going anyway.

No prizes for guessing that it was really good in the end…

It’s a heart-warming experience to watch community blossom, even more so when you have the honour of being part of it. Seeing a group of Christians, all at different places in their spiritual journey with Christ, coming together to proclaim to the Father that He is good is incredibly powerful. It bonds us in a way that we can clearly see the world is seeking but not finding in the right places. If nothing else, a church weekend away is crucial to our discipleship because it reminds us that friendship is not based on convenience but on covenant – we all share in the greatest hope that God is for us and that we are adopted as fully entailed heirs. This is the foundation in which God-centre community is built.

Graciously, though, God blessed me (and many, many others) with more than covenant centred friendships. Through the talks on emotionally health spirituality, I realised how little time and effort I gave to investing in my own (rather than others’) emotional health. This process had been building over the last few years but reached a tipping point at getaway. I was challenged to revisit God’s command to keep the Sabbath and its place in our modern society as both buffer to stress and powerful witness of a God-orientated life. Sabbath is one of the most ancient and most underused blessings we have in our spiritual tool-kit. I know many of us Durham busy-bodies were challenged on this front last getaway, this is why the small discipleship groups you’re placed in for the getaway weekend are so valuable. You don’t realise how perfect God’s timing is until you’re sat alongside five or so other individuals who simultaneously share your feelings and challenge you in unexpected ways.

On the final evening, I was all out of tears and overflowing with peace. Yet, the negative voice crept back in, making me aware that tomorrow would mark a return to ‘normal’ life and that I’d have to apply all I had learned and been challenged on. It felt too great a calling, how was I supposed to change my lifestyle so drastically? It felt like a recipe for failing God again. Meditating on (or rather, getting caught in a downward spiral due to obsessing over) this, I felt the spirit prompt me to share part of 1 John:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’

We will fall short of the Christ-like lives we are called to, but God knows that, and we are not loved less because of that fact. Jesus Christ is our advocate; only through His work of sacrifice upon the cross, and giving our lives to Him in response, are we made righteous. Our works don’t count toward or against God loving us! Only in a place of being locked onto Jesus by recognizing this love, worshipping the Father and wanting to glorifying Him with our lives can we actually begin the process of changing the way we live. God reminded me that it is His power, not mine, that would follow through.

So here I am, writing to encourage you as a student to join us at getaway this year. Please forgive me the personal nature of this advert, but I can’t know what God is planning for and working in you. I suspect that His plans for you are greater than you can conceive and that they will most likely surprise you. I’m pretty sure that coming to getaway will both further your discipleship and your strength to follow Christ in your university life. All I know for certain, however, is that God is good and that He wants to bless you as your turn your life towards He who created it.

We Shall Have Spring Again

by Izzy Chia

Do you often think about hope?

Last Thursday, I found myself in a bright red Kings coat, standing outside St Chad’s College with Katie, Nicholas and Justin, and a question board almost taller than I am (Tina, Issy and Chris had another board elsewhere in the city). Attached to the board were large, colourful letters that spelled out, unapologetically, “what brings you hope?”. As I shifted from one foot to the other, willing myself not to feel the cold, I confess the only thing giving me hope was the prospect of returning to the warm indoors in an hour’s time.

It was kind of an unexpected time of day to be thinking about such a deep question, as many people good-naturedly pointed out to us as they struggled to decide on an answer. Still, the answers came.

A little boy wrote down “family”, then leaned into a hug from his mum, her arms squeezing him tightly to her chest.

A friendly local couple wrote “the sun rising each day”, then stopped to chat about life and faith with Katie and Justin.

A young man wrote down his girlfriend’s name, eliciting a laugh from her and probably some brownie points as well.

I loved hearing these answers, because it felt like these strangers were opening up little snippets of their hearts to us. Not all the answers we heard were quite so light-hearted, though. One man, who used a walking aid, wrote “resurrection body”, then slipped away down the road to Kingsgate Bridge, leaving us wondering what his story was. Another man said that “very little” gave him hope, as he passed us without stopping.

I imagine that to some people, asking what brings them hope is nearly an offensive question – how can we expect hope in a reality full of chaos, inequality and heartbreak? As Andy said last Sunday morning in his sermon on Revelation 12 and 13, we live in a world with monsters that are terrifying and deceitful. The good news is that the story is not about human effort and ability, but about our true and living God who overcomes the darkness.

Looking at the state of the world can make us feel like we are trapped in a bitter, bleak and perpetual winter. More than just the thought of a warm house at the end of a cold day, however, Jesus is the promise that the winter will end, and spring will come again. Just like the creatures in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia waited with bated breath for Aslan to return, we wait with the knowledge that Jesus will come again. He is the eternal hope that can never be taken away from us, and the certainty of our future with Him enables us to live in the present with hope and joy.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Week 9: Rach, Shach, and Benny

by Izzy Chia

As a child (and as an adult with a healthy appreciation for animated movies), I loved the Veggietales version of how “Rach, Shach, and Benny” dramatically stood up for their faith and were miraculously saved from a fiery furnace. Daniel escaping a den of ravenous lions in his unwavering loyalty to God was also a staple of my Sunday School days. Decidedly less fun to explain to children, however, are a giant, disembodied hand writing on a wall to bring warnings of death and doom, and troubling visions of “terrifying and dreadful” beasts.

Talking about prophecy and visions can be awkward in a world which prizes the rational and scientific. The same goes with this week’s Revelation readings, which are filled with an assortment of otherworldly creatures and many, many eyes. It can be hard to reconcile such biblical imagery to our present reality, but Daniel and his friends give us insight on how to bring God’s word into a starkly contrasting environment.

Despite being literally attacked by the people they serve, the four young men never act vindictively or with ill-intention towards them. Daniel speaks with gentleness to King Nebuchanezzar, who literally tried to burn Daniel’s friends alive, when interpreting the King’s troubling dreams (4:19). King Darius’ desperate efforts to save Daniel from his own law also clearly reflect Daniel’s good conduct while serving in the royal court.

With God’s help, Daniel never compromises on his beliefs, but does not stop engaging with the culture he lives in, or loving the people he serves. Daniel is the hot or cold water in a world where being lukewarm would be much easier, and involve a lot fewer hungry lions.

  • Where are you a Daniel in your life? Do you know non-believers who could use some godly input in their lives?
  • Have you compromised on your beliefs in any areas of your life?
  • How well do you love the people in your life who do not yet know God?
  • “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” What is God saying to you this week in your reading of his work, and do you have the ears to hear?

 

New Book: Revelation

by Mark Bonnington

Revelation brings Holy Scripture to an end with a bang. The only prophetic book in the NT, it uses a series of theological images and numbers (3 – God; 4 – the world; 7 – completeness; 12 – the people of God; 1000 – large numbers) to describe the final purpose of God in human history – judgment on evil but salvation for God’s holy people. One good way of reading this intricate and involved book is to hear the big themes and not get lost in the details. Wild interpretations abound, but the book’s main message fits with the OT prophets: God will come in judgment and in justice. Prepare with holy living and faithful believing.

But in case you need more than that…

Most of Revelation is John relating four visions that he is shown after he is caught up in the Spirit four times (1.10; 4.2; 17.3; 21.10). In the first vision the risen Jesus walks among the seven lampstands – his churches. The letters to the churches lay bare their trials and tribulations, successes and failures and promise his rewards to the holy and faithful.

The second vision (chapters 4-16) is the longest and most complex, filling nearly half the book. After the vision of the heavenly throne room (chapters 4&5) there follow four sets of seven judgments (seals, trumpets – unnarrated thunders (10.1-7) and bowls). These are an accelerating and intensifying series of judgments roughly based on the idea of the plagues of Egypt in Exodus – warnings meant to lead people to repentance, but actually revealing their stubborn godlessness. Interwoven are reassurances that, despite God’s judgment, the saints will be kept safe for salvation even if they lose their lives (chapters 7&11). Chapters 12-13 are a kind of retrospective: God’s victory in the Messiah Jesus and his heavenly rule has left Satan with only the church left to pick on – this is why the church’s struggles are so intense.

The final two visions (chapters 17-18 and 21-22) parallel to each other. Each describes a woman –  a harlot and a bride. Each is a city – Babylon and the new Jerusalem, one is impure, the other pure, one destined for judgment the other for glory. These are not hell and heaven but rather the final judgment of this world at the end of this age and final glory of church in the age to come. We are to flee from one as from a burning building and long for the other as a bride does her wedding. Between these two final visions Jesus comes in glory, rules on earth and the dead are judged (19.11-20.15).

Revelation is a hard book, chiefly because it focusses squarely on the ‘not yet’ rather than the ‘now’ of God’s purposes. The book’s view of the present age is nearly entirely negative. But because of this it is a book of intense hope. It has always resonated most powerfully with believers in the most desperate of situations who are most ready to cry ‘your kingdom come’ from the bottom of their hearts.

New Book: Daniel

by Stephen Harris

Daniel continues from where the historical book 2 Kings left off.  Jerusalem has been besieged by Babylon and ultimately falls; the King of Judah and the nobility are taken into captivity, and among them, we find Daniel and several of his friends.  In one sense, it looks like the journey of Jewish people has come full circle.  It was from Ur of the Chaldeans that Abraham was originally called back when God began to form Israel as a people (Genesis 11.31) and now they’ve come back – Chaldea being another name for Babylon (1.4).  Back to square one.  

Whereas the conquering of Jerusalem marks the tragic end of 2 Kings, for Daniel it marks the beginning.  The opening verses tell us clearly that God Himself is the author of this exile.  ‘The LORD gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand’ (1.2).  This was no accident of power but the inevitable consequence of Israel’s consistent rebellion. Now Daniel begins to tell the story of life in exile and how God hasn’t given up on His people, but there awaits a future restoration.  

The first six chapters of the book relate to events in Babylon over seventy years, including the well-known stories of Daniel’s friends being cast into the fiery furnace, and Daniel into the lion’s den.  The remaining chapters record a series of visions, marked out by reference to various kings and the year in which they were reigning.   Two languages are used.  Mostly written in Hebrew – the primary language of the Old Testament – but verses 2.4-7.28 are written in Aramaic, the international language of the day.

What kind of lessons could we draw from reading Daniel?  

Firstly, Daniel models to us living as an ‘alien and stranger’ (1 Peter 2.11) in a foreign land that has a vastly different value system and culture from that which we seek to abide by as Jesus’ disciples.  Daniel and his friends provide us with several examples of refusal to compromise their commitment to God despite being faced with the threat of death.  They recognised lines that should not be crossed and held their ground when the pressure of society told them to conform.  They follow in the line of people like Moses who chose to ‘endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.’ (Hebrews 11.25).   

Secondly, we gain confidence that despite the rise and fall of ruthless world powers, ultimately God will bring about the installation of His own everlasting kingdom, which will not pass away (7.14) and is placed in the hands of ‘one like a Son of Man’.  That last phrase which Jesus applied so often to Himself is found for the first time here in the book of Daniel and teaches us that when Jesus made that reference, we need to have in mind not only the concept of His humanity but also His being the ago long-promised King, coming in glory to rule the nations.

New Book: Jude

by Naomi Allen

Jude is not a cuddly book. With imagery of everlasting chains, dead trees, and corrupted flesh, this book is no one’s first choice of fridge magnet.

Not only dark and challenging, it is also downright confusing. Did anyone not scratch their head at the reference to the dispute over the body of Moses? If you struggled to engage with Jude, you are not alone.

Part of the reason we might find this letter difficult is Jude’s assumption that his readers have a deep understanding of Jewish literature. His short letter is littered with references to Old Testament texts and even non-biblical (or ‘apocryphal’) Jewish writings such as 1 Enoch. We have comparisons to Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, Balaam, and Korah (vs 7, 11) – all Old Testament examples of rebellion and corruption. For Jude’s primarily Jewish audience, these references could not have made his central theme clearer: there is an ongoing battle for the truth. Jude applies the consequences of these past events to the false teachers of his day (we think around the mid-60s AD) and urgently pleads with his community to ‘keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life’ (vs 21).

In my mind, the fervour of this letter can have two effects on us. On the one hand, it can scare us and shut us down. Too much talk of judgement and fire and we simply look the other way, dig out those fridge magnets that remind us of God’s good plans for us and how he so loved the world…

On the other hand, however, a letter like this can stir us to action. It can inspire in us a determination to defend the truth which we have been gifted. The passion with which Jude puts aside his intended subject (vs 3) to wage war on behalf of Jesus should call us to arms and encourage us to do the same. There are so many false promises made by our culture. They may not be the same lies as the false teachers in this letter, but they can be just as damaging. How do we respond when we hear our friends being sold the lie that they can find satisfaction in their appearance, their grades, their sex life, or their income? Do we feel the rage of Jude that they are being led away from the truth?

This is a serious challenge and it might not sit very comfortably with you. Thankfully, Jude ends on an incredibly reassuring note. Verse 24 reminds us that it is God who keeps us from stumbling and who presents us to himself without fault. It is Jesus who ultimately receives the glory, majesty, power and authority. No false teachers, no rebellious angels, and no weakness on our part can rob him of that.

For more context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UoCmakZmys

Bonfire Night and Fireworks Extravaganza

by Tina McKee

Most people have a favourite season. If you like autumn there’s a good chance you like a few of the following things: baby marshmallows, hot chocolate, sparklers, fireworks, bonfires…sounds nice, doesn’t it?

I know that I like the sound of that, and luckily it’s a great time of year for all of these things! They all seem to be reunited into a single evening: Bonfire Night. As I grew up outside of the UK, this year was the first time in my life that I attended not just one, but several bonfire parties!

Indeed, this past week has been like one extended Bonfire Night. Friday was a particular highlight: I started helping with the Pipsqueaks Fireworks Party and made a brief appearance at the Kings Bonfire Party, before heading to Friday Frenzies youth group, one of my placements, for a Bonfire Night celebration with the young people. Joy and happiness, fire, excitement, the promise of marshmallows, hot chocolate and sparklers were all an integral part of this experience. All these things come with a warm and cosy feeling as we celebrate Bonfire Night. Isn’t it strange to think that what is now a yearly celebration originated from a terrible moment in history? Bonfire Night is now celebrated in many countries all over the world. It’s something that brings people together.

Looking for inspiration, for something to write for my first entry in the Internlog, I spent a week pondering over different ideas, leading me to think about why such an event was so important. Is it for the history that lies behind it or is it for the fellowship that flows from such events? While roaming the creative side of internet, I came across this wonderful phrase: « bonfire night and firework extravaganza ». This summed up this past week so well!

While celebrating with friends, I was reminded of how important it is to take time to enjoy the company of friends and family. We live in a busy world and lead busy lives. That means it can be hard to see the beauty in the quiet moments. I have often told myself that sitting down and relaxing is the same this as being lazy. But it’s not! Everybody needs time to relax and whether that’s attending a bonfire party or just reading a book at home, it’s still important.

As time seems to go past a lot faster around this time of year, it’s so nice to be able to stop and appreciate a few wonderful moments. I can only encourage you to spend time doing things that are important to you whenever you can.

New Book: Philemon

by Chris Rousell

God seems to hold a special place in his heart for runaways. The entire sweep of scripture is littered with accounts and parables of those, as the great hymn ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ puts it ‘prone to wander’.

Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden, to Jacob avoiding Esau, Jonah hightailing it to Tarshish, Jesus’ parable about the lost son, the disciples deserting Jesus after Gethsemane; the Bible oftentimes feels like the grand story of runaways.

Paul’s letter to Philemon fits rather snugly into this narrative. Paul is writing from a prison cell in Rome to Philemon, one of the leaders of the church in Colossae, about a runaway slave called Onesimus. Although we do not know the reasons why, we do know that Onesimus ran away from Philemon’s house, crossed paths with Paul in Rome, and became a follower of Christ.

Letter writing was an expensive undertaking in the 1st century so despite our craving for details, Paul keeps Onesimus’ testimony incredibly brief: ‘I appeal to you for my son, Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains’ (v10).

As an interesting aside, Onesimus’ name means ‘useful’; feel free to chuckle along with Paul as he explains to Philemon ‘Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me’ (v11).

Though Onesimus is proving useful to Paul in his ministry (v13), Paul does not use his authority in the church to demand Onesimus’ time from Philemon, but appeals to him from a place of love: ‘Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love’ (v8-9).

The letter to Philemon has been called by some as a Christian justification of slavery, presumably due to an apparent lack of condemnation on Paul’s part (for Paul’s thoughts on slave trading, see 1 Tim 1:10).

However, Paul exhorts Philemon to welcome Onesimus back ‘no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother’ (v16) and to ‘welcome him as you would welcome me’ (v17b). In a society which gave masters free reign to exercise capital punishment on runaways, welcoming Onesimus back as if he were welcoming Paul was radically countercultural.

So in Philemon, we see once more, as ever in God’s story, the repentant runaway is to be treated as if they were a member of the family. Onesimus, the lost son, me, you.

Subscribe