This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. On Monday we thought about reaching students at ancient universities; on Tuesday those at red brick universities and on Wednesday those at plate glass universities. Today’s post is on ex-polytechnic universities.

sheffield hallamExample Universities: Sheffield Hallam, Leeds Metropolitan, Central Lancashire

Ex-polytechnic universities in a nutshell: Polytechnics were formed in the 1960s, and were designed to be a Higher Education outlet that focused on degrees especially helpful for business and commerce. In the early 1990s, they were converted to universities: they then expanding very quickly, offering vast numbers university education. As a result, they had to acquire buildings as they could. Today, they are often sprawled right across cities. Degrees are still mainly vocational. Ex-polytechnic universities have a high percentage of local students, and those who are the first from their families to ever go to university. Ex-polytechnic universities have a low percentage of Christians in a wider university cohort who are less churched than those at other university types.

Opportunities at ex-polytechnic universities: Many ex-polytechnic universities have strongly under-developed extra-curricular activity, often making the Christian Union the most active group on campus – this can make it easier to attract a crowd, especially in the evenings, as there isn’t much alternative. Christian Unions are well placed to enrich life and to offer community in an environment where not much exists to those who can be easily ignored. Given that many students have never met a Christian, a witness with integrity is extremely powerful.

Challenges at ex-polytechnic universities: There are plenty. Students are spread across cities throughout the day – there are no ‘walking corridors’ like at other universities, making lunchtime events sometimes hard to build to a critical mass. Traditional halls of residence do not exist, reducing both the number of friendships that the average student makes and the options for evening events. Christians feel small in number and can cling together. Non-believers have often heard nothing whatsoever of the gospel, making evangelism slow. There is a widespread suspicion that the gospel is irrelevant to the real questions of life. Lectures are generally less didactic, meaning that the prospect of coming to ‘hear a talk’ can be somewhat alien. Students disappear on placement for long blocks of time. Others commute in and aren’t around at all in the evenings.

leeds met logoIdeas for mission for CUs at ex-polytechnic universities:

  1. The key this is to think small and to champion personal relationships – students at these universities can be at the most apathetic but can be challenged when they see Christianity authentically lived in community. Regular meals together can be powerful here
  2. The personal touch especially counts in this environment – water-bottling at club nights and ensuring students can get home safely is a proven way of making strong relationships
  3. All students love stories, but especially those at ex-polys. Getting Christians who are established in their profession to speak about the difference that Jesus makes at work can be powerful, especially if their profession relates to the most popular courses in the university. Similarly, profiling those whose life stories engage with the big apologetic questions – suffering, other religions, science etc. – brings these questions into a real-life realm that these students love
  4. Seeker Bible studies, such as Uncover, can be very effective in ex-polytechnic universities to introducing Jesus – its discursive, encourages questions and is best within the context of friendship
  5. Students at ex-polytechnic universities have loads of questions about Jesus and Christianity but little opportunity to ask them. A table where a student is giving a cake or a prize in exchange for asking a question can be just the catalyst for great conversation

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to ex-polytechnic universities:

  1. Arrange extra-curricular activities for students – many of the things that students take for granted at other universities (sports teams, societies etc.) are under-developed at ex-polys: a church football team can be a great way of meeting students if Christian students are invited to bring their friends
  2. Ask students to use the practical skills from their degrees within church life. Arranging an event? Advertise for the help of an Events Management student. Designing a flyer? Advertise for a Graphic Design student. Students will be keen to add the experience to their portfolios – and it can be a great way to make contact with non-believing students
  3. Students who’ve moved to be at ex-polytechnic universities especially are after a ‘home from home.’ Meal times together on Sundays (and even during the week) will attract both Christian students but also their non-Christian friends
  4. Try building in discussion time to church gatherings. As mentioned above, students at ex-polytechnic universities are less used to hearing long blocks of monologue, and will process what they are hearing better as they hear Christians speaking about real-life examples, and being able to ask questions
  5. Many students at ex-polytechnic students are practically minded and love volunteering. Advertise for students to join in community projects, and you’ll probably find yourself making good links with a range of students, including non-believing students

On Monday, we’ll think about the ‘cathedral group’ of universities.

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. On Monday we thought about reaching students at ancient universities; and yesterday those at red brick universities. Today’s post is on plate glass universities.

York UniversityExample Universities: York, Lancaster, East Anglia

Plate glass universities in a nutshell: Plate glass universities date from the 1960s, and were mainly built as landscaped campuses on green field sites found at the periphery of cities. They typically have a higher percentage of state school students than both ancient and red brick students, still attracting a large number of international students (who are particularly congregated in certain departments). They offer degrees in a wide range of subjects: some more ‘vocational’ degrees are world renowned.

Opportunities at plate glass universities: Plate glass universities are often based on completely self-contained campuses based around bustling walking corridors – making them friendly, safe and social places where students enjoy spending time and available for the whole of the working day. There’s also often plenty of public space that can be booked. Lunchtime events can work particularly well, and hall groups can be very effective. Many first year and postgraduate students live on campus, making evening campus-based events (including international cafes) accessible to them. Some first contact initiatives can be run across the campus, capturing the wider university’s imagination. The campus is discrete, and this can focus Christians’ minds about their mission field.

Challenges at plate glass universities: It’s often difficult for returning students to live on campus, placing initiative on first year students to make the most of missional opportunities within on-campus accommodation. Many students often live a good distance away from the campus (sometimes needing to catch a bus to get to it), meaning that evening events essentially need to be pitched at one group or other to be accessible. It can be difficult to cater for evening events on campus as student kitchens become a limiting factor.

UYCUIdeas for mission for CUs at plate glass universities:

1. Plate glass universities are a type of university in which lunch bars can work very effectively, engaging a large number of non-Christians and training the CU in conversational evangelism
2. Campus-wide first-contact events (such as a campus-wide text-a-toastie) can realistically engage a huge percentage of those living on campus, sowing seeds and acting as an advertisement for other upcoming evangelistic events
3. Plate glass universities are often world-renowned for certain vocational degrees (particularly law, international business management, accounting and finance, computing etc.) amongst others. Arranging for a Christian who is successful in this world to share their story can be very effective, especially in engaging international students on these courses
4. CU small groups are well worth investing in strongly at these universities – campus life can be something of a bubble, and it’s possible for non-believers to get to know a wide range of Christians, to hear the gospel and to see the goodness of the gospel lived in community. These can be particularly powerful during events week, when a well-advertised series can become known about across the university
5. Consider running two follow-up groups after a major set piece event (such as a carol service or an events week) – one on campus and one in the city: that way, the course can be accessible to students wherever they live

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to plate glass universities – this can be quite hard, given that the campuses are often self-contained and miles out of the city but, beyond encouraging students into the local CU, here are a few ideas:

1. Many international students at plate glass universities are extremely lonely – the self-contained nature of the universities can draw international students away from experiencing life in the wider city. Many live on campus even outside of term time. Christian hospitality in real homes in these contexts can be extremely powerful
2. Arrange for lifts to and from campus to church, particularly for key church gatherings and guest services – without these, many non-believers will consider church too far away and effectively non-accessible
3. Offer to host or cater for a CU event – as mentioned above, the students will be severely restricted in their own food preparation on campus and will seriously value your help!
4. In some cities, churches are better placed to reach students on a night out in the city than the CU is, given that not all students live in the city. Liaise with the CU and with other churches to see if you might catalyse a late-night club ministry
5. If your church has the correct licences, consider showing major cultural and sporting events on a large screen – students may not have anywhere very exciting to watch these events on campus, so it shouldn’t be hard to make them attractive, and to use them to get to know some students

Next time, we’ll think about the ex-polytechnic or ‘new’ universities.

This is a series on reaching students at the various kinds of UK higher education institutions. Yesterday we thought about reaching students at ancient universities; today we’re considering those at red brick universities.

 University of Leeds

Example Universities: Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol

Red brick universities in a nutshell: Red brick universities were founded towards the end of the Victorian era in key British cities. Originally specialising in science and technology, they now offer a range of courses in many traditional academic disciplines, plus also in a few key vocational areas. International student numbers are high. There is a higher proportion of state-educated students than at some ancient universities. There is normally a ‘precinct’ of university buildings close to the city centre; first year accommodation is normally in halls of residence some distance from where lectures take place. Christian Unions are relatively large, and there is normally a wide range of local evangelical churches spread across the city.

Opportunities at red brick universities: Whilst life in a hall of residence isn’t quite of the quality of life in college, halls do make it easy to make a wide range of friendships which can be maintained over three years. There is often a very rich extra-curricular emphasis based around a thriving Students’ Union building. Whilst in the evenings, students can be spread out across the city they are often within a close proximity during working hours, making lunchtime events particularly easy to run. Like their colleagues at ancient universities, students at red brick universities enjoy ideas and aren’t frightened to think. Christian students are often spread across a wide range of churches, often reducing church ‘politics’ and making inter-denominational unity attainable.

Challenges at red brick universities: In the evenings, students can be spread across a wide area, sometimes making it difficult to find a venue that is easily accessible to a wide range of students. Security concerns in larger cities also put some students coming in the evenings, if they think they might need to walk home alone. Red brick university cities often have a strong music scene, lively nightlife options and a range of other activities offered by both the university and the city – if students perceive a lack of quality from Christian activities, they’re much less likely to come.

sheffield CU logoIdeas for mission for CUs at red brick universities – like CUs at ancient universities, there are lots of possibilities here, but here are five key ideas:

  1. There are normally loads of clubs and societies at red brick universities – encourage each CU member to join one
  2. CUs at red brick universities can arrange some large set pieces and can be creative with venues: people are used to go into town in the evening, and so a carol service in a cathedral or even events week activities in central venues allows more creativity than venues on campus
  3. It’s not unusual to be able to get several hundred people to a lunchtime event if it’s held near the most bustling point of the university precinct (often the Students’ Union Building): these apologetic events can engage with people’s real questions and train the CU for personal evangelism
  4. There may be opportunities to engage certain university departments – perhaps those with large numbers of Christian students, or those who Christian academics on the faculty. Lunchtime events can be particularly effective here
  5. International Cafes often thrive at red brick universities – there are vast numbers of international students who appreciate British hospitality in a city that can often feel large, threatening and impersonal

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to red brick universities:

  1. Like at ancient universities, there are lots of international students (and their families) who come to red-brick universities. Yet the larger city environment can mean that international visitors get swamped by the city and are desperately lonely; Christian hospitality has an amazing role to play here
  2. Quality both matters and appeals to students at red brick universities, who are used to being offered quality in everyday life in the university and in the city more widely. Who is gifted to a high quality within your congregation – in media, in design, in music, the arts etc.? How could these gifts be used in mission? Could they be offered to the CU to use too?
  3. Students will be likely be accommodated over a wide geographical area, some of them quite far away from where you meet – how can you make ‘guest services’ more appealing to students who may need to make quite an effort to get there? A free shuttle service? Walking buses? A meal afterwards? These little gestures demonstrate a commitment to non-believing students
  4. Red brick universities often maintain something of their original scientific specialism. A high-quality church day themed on Christianity and Science, featuring input from a Christian academic in science, will be of massive help to the Christian scientist students (as well as your wider church family), and may catalyse all sorts of other outreach in science departments
  5. Red brick CUs can sometimes struggle to attract enough ‘CU Guests’, graduates who work voluntarily alongside the CU during an events week, seeking to support and catalyse mission. Offer ministry trainees or members of your church staff for the whole week – they can then help to act as a local form of ‘follow up’ after the events week has finished, and personally invite seekers to church.

Tomorrow we’ll think about the universities founded in the 1960s – the so-called ‘plate glass’ universities.

This is Part 1 in a series of reaching students at the broad range of UK universities, and concerns ancient universities.

Durham University
Example Universities: Oxford, Cambridge, Durham

Ancient universities in a nutshell: These institutions have a global reputation. They are normally centuries old, collegiate-based and are concentrated into a small geographical area. There is a wide spread of traditional academic subjects offered, and a strong emphasis on research. Students are high achievers and are more likely to have been privately educated. Very high numbers of international students are in the student cohort. There are often well-known churches in the town, and a sizeable Christian Union with an influential history.

Opportunities at ancient universities: Plenty. It is easy to make a range of friends, both in quality and quantity. Shared college life accelerates the process of making friends, and there is often a developed extra-curricular and sporting programme (both in college, and across the university). The layout of the university means that students are never very far away from one another – it is relatively easy to draw a crowd of students either at lunchtime or in the evenings. Students at these universities often enjoy thinking (even beyond their own academic discipline) and can be willing to discuss ‘big issues.’

Challenges at ancient universities: The busyness of life at these universities can spread students very thin. The presence of a large cohort of Christian students often spread across a small number of local churches can sometimes lead to an unhealthy ‘competition’ between evangelical churches. Churches and CUs compete for time in what is an already crowded marketplace. ‘New atheism’ is at its strongest and most vociferous in some of these universities.

DICCUIdeas for mission for CUs at ancient universities – there are too many here to list, and here are just five:

  1. There’s an opportunity to engage a high proportion of the entire university through a well-planned and advertised events week or carol service
  2. Those living in college will probably never have the number of good friends that they are sharing life with in college: college CU groups have one of the best opportunities for sharing their lives as they share the gospel anywhere in the UK – make sure they’re well-resourced
  3. Regular lunch bars will give you the opportunity to intrigue non-believers and train the CU to answer their friends’ questions – almost certainly you will have an accessible venue, and fellow students will genuinely want to hear how a response is made
  4. Have an alternative ‘Freshers Fair’ after an early central CU meeting, where CU members share the clubs and societies they are part of. Encourage everyone present to join at least one more – witness is much easier when there’s more than one Christian present
  5. The CU is probably big enough and well-enough resourced to be able to support and arrange evangelistic events to particular groups – within departments, those with particular interests, creatives etc. Encourage CU members with shared passions for these groups to get together and give them permission to try new ideas in engaging these groups

Five ideas for building mission for churches near to ancient universities:

  1. Start a ‘local link’ scheme through which church members offer hospitality to international students (and their families, where appropriate). As a church it might be possible to arrange excursions for international students too
  2. Encourage postgraduates and academics within church to informally mentor undergraduate students in their discipline – demonstrating how they have found satisfactory answers to the intellectual challenges within the discipline, and sharing opportunities for witness
  3. Let the Students Union and Volunteering Society know about community projects your church is involved in – these groups are often looking for local projects to support, and may give you contact with a range of students (Christian and non-Christian)
  4. Host a guest service the Sunday after key CU outreach points (e.g. Freshers’ Week, the carol service, events week), arranging a meal afterwards and making it easy for seekers to hook into church life
  5. The CU is normally poorly placed to reach the vast number of postgraduate students at ancient universities. Talk to the postgraduate students in your churches about how the church might better catalyse mission amongst postgraduates.

Tomorrow, we’ll think about red brick universities.

Going to university in the UK is far from a uniform experience. The type of university that a student attends strongly affects the sort of people that they will meet, the sort of activities they will spend their time in, and the sort of person that they are being shaped to be. In their book, Christianity and the University Experience, Mathew Guest and his team suggest that there are, in fact, five different ‘sorts’ of universities (ancient universities, red brick universities, the ‘plate glass’ universities of the 1960s, ex-polytechnic universities and the ‘cathedral group’ universities). I want to add a sixth – the specialist higher education college – which fell outside of their remit, but which is different in flavour again to the other types of institution.

To many outside of the university world this comes as quite a surprise: most people think that the university experience is effectively the same for all students. In particular, churches (and even Christian Unions) can overlook the particular challenges and openings that different sorts of universities bring for the gospel. Though I work for UCCF, this isn’t any sort of ‘official’ position; it’s just the reflection of someone who’s been in student ministry in the UK for more than a decade, who’s had the opportunity to work with each of these university types in some measure.

These descriptions will, naturally, only be brushstrokes. I’m particularly aware that they’ll apply to some contexts less than others. London, for example, requires a completely different strategy, given that so few students live close to where they study (and so many students commute in from their parental home). But I’m hopeful that these posts might stir some thought on how we might more adequately reach students across the nation.

I’m convinced that student mission works best when local churches are themselves active, but also when they encourage their students to be active in mission through their local Christian Union. This partnership also works best when churches don’t try to replicate ministry that the CU can do better, and vice versa. For that reason, I’ll suggest activities that both of these groups might undertake which can be of mutual benefit to each other.

After an unintended and very long break from the blog, I’m planning to put up a summary of my thoughts from the films I helped folk at Northumbria University engage with a few weeks ago. The first one is the schmultzy romance, The Notebook.

What people love about The Notebook is the relationship that grows between the central characters, Noah and Allie.  The tag-line of the film is ‘behind every great love is a great story.’  The Notebook tracks Noah and Allie’s story – from when Noah persuades Allie to go out to him, through different twists and turns, leading to Allie’s decision not to marry her rich suitor Lon but to marry Noah instead.  Noah and Allie are not only sexually attracted to each other; they find soul mates in each other.

That love continues into the couple’s old age, as the clip shows.  Allie develops dementia.  She can only remember who Noah is on the odd occasion.  And yet Noah’s love for Allie continues. He loves her, even though it is costly to him.  He loves her, even though most, if not all, of the features that initially attracted him to her have now gone.  No doubt the attraction of that love makes the film popular.

What’s interesting, though, is that a significant number of people hate The Notebook because they consider it to be unrealistic.  Many people say that Noah and Allie’s relationship is just too good to be true. In real life, they say, that sort of relationship doesn’t exist.

Even those involved in making the film were split on this.  Ryan Gosling, who plays Noah, admitted, “I don’t know of anybody who has had a romance quite like this.” Producer Lynn Harris admitted that, whilst dedicated romances exist, the film is in her words “a little bit of a fairytale and a little bit of fantasy of what romance should be.” She went on:

“Everyone wants to believe that somebody could love them that much, that somebody could have that much dedication, that somebody could have that kind of faith in the bond that connects people.  As few and far between as these kinds of movies are, when they work, they work really well because they hit that heartstring in everybody.  You can be as cynical as you want… but everybody wants to believe in real love.”

No-one really disputes that Noah and Allie’s love for each other is attractive.  All of us long for a love like that of Noah and Allie.  We feel as though we’re wired for this sort of relationship of intimacy and acceptance.  And yet our experiences of love in real life don’t seem to match up to the love that we believe in.  As good as relationships can be – and they can be very, very good – they still seem to fall short.

This leaves us with a few options:

  1. Become a pragmatist – abandon such high ambitions for love, it doesn’t exist – just enjoy romance and relationships as best you can
  2. Force the relationship that you’re into meet the ideal – but perfection is a very unfair expectation to place onto someone who wasn’t designed to carry the sort of emotional burden that you are placing on them
  3. Keep hoping that maybe one day Mr or Mrs Right will turn up

A Christian might suggest a fourth response. Our pursuit for love leaves us still unfulfilled if we look for it in human relationships alone.  So if even the best human relationships cannot satisfy, and our inbuilt desire is so high, then is it possible that we were made for another relationship?  Is it possible that we were made to relate to a loving God?

The Christian view is that your desire to be loved unconditionally and forever is real.  But to seek it in human relationships alone is to look for it in the wrong place.  It can only be ultimately fulfilled by the God of relationship.  The tragedy is that because our romantic desires seem to so closely match what we feel our lives our missing, we can get easily sidetracked.  But the relationship that God offers us – with all its intimacy, acceptance and unconditional love: that is what we’re wired for.

Jesus’ love for us was demonstrated in his death. He looked our death and judgement in the eye and willingly and voluntarily took it upon himself.  The death of Jesus wasn’t a tragic accident.  It was the supreme demonstration of the love of God.  And it comes to people that are sinners; to people who – at best – have treated God as a footnote in their lives.

It’s this quality that makes God’s love so radically different.  He loves you at your worst.  He loves you even at the moments when you spurn him most.  It means that God doesn’t love you because you’ve wowed him through your excellence.  He loves you and desires you at your worst.  He loves you because he loves.  And the fact that you didn’t earn his love for you means that there’s nothing you can do it lose it.  It’s a love you can build your life on.  It’s a love you can build your death on.

True love is when someone knows you through and through and yet still they desire you.  And that is true of the love of the God of the Bible.  Although you were his enemy, he pursues you.  He has shown his love through an extravagant act.  That whilst you were still a sinner – failing to love him as you ought – Jesus died for you.  He knows everything above you.  He paid a great cost for you.  He desires you.  Even death won’t rob you of this relationship, but even perfects it.  And if you love him, you’ll live for him and discover a satisfying relationship you didn’t think was possible.

Rachel McAdams, who plays Allie in the film, described The Notebook like this: “Ultimately, it’s just a grand love story.  And love’s just about one of the most important things, to me anyway.  Honestly, I think that if you can find a good love that will last you that long, you’ve got the key.”  The more ferociously we seek to find fulfilment in human romantic relationships alone, the more frustrated we become.  Frustration can lead to obsession, creating deep hurt within us and even in those we love.

But instead Jesus comes to us tonight and says: “Get away from what is destroying you and satisfy your heart with God himself.  He is what your heart has hungered for all along.  Here is the key to knowing love and fulfilment, just the way you are.  I have done everything that you might know him and enjoy a relationship of unconditional love with him forever.  Will you come to me?  Will you satisfy yourself in my love forever?”

This is Part 2 of my talk, ‘What kind of God interferes with my sex life?’ In Part 1, we thought about how God’s design for sex helps us enjoy sex. Here in Part 2, we think about how God’s design for sex helps us enjoy God himself.

Throughout the Bible, God gives us a series of metaphors to describe his relationship with his people. But the most common metaphor is that God is like a husband, and that his people is like his bride.  This means that there is much more to sex than meets the eye.  It’s not that God wants to have sex with us, but that the exquisite and deeply satisfying intimacy between a husband and wife in sex is a pale shadow of the relationship that God offers with his people.

So often we assume that God – if he’s there – grades us like a teacher.  It’s as if he tots up all of the good and bad things we’ve done, and then judges us accordingly.  The God of the Bible is beyond our wildest imagination.  He comes as a husband to us, and offers us everything.

In the book of Song of Songs in the Bible, there’s a beautiful poem about the romantic relationship between a king and a peasant woman.  The king has everything, she has nothing to offer.  But when they marry, the woman becomes a princess.  She has everything because she is united to the king, and he shares everything with her and experiences intimacy with her.

And that picture is used in the New Testament to describe how God wants to relate to each of us.  Through coming in the person of Jesus, God has done everything to relate to us just as we are.  Jesus lived the life we should have lived and then died the death that we deserve, so that if we trust him, we can be loved and accepted by God our husband forever.

Do you remember part of the marriage service, “All that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you”?  Being a Christian is placing ourselves in that scene.  When we say to Jesus, “All that I am give to you, all I have I share with you”, I’m saying this: “All the times I’ve failed to live rightly, all my lovelessness, all the times I’ve reduced God to a footnote – I place these all in your hands.  You take it Jesus and you deal with it, by your cross.”  And in return, Jesus says to us, “All that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you – all my love, all my loving nature, all that you need to be made right with God forever – it’s yours because you are mine.”  Jesus is a God who loves us, who comes to us, who woos us, who sweeps us off our feet.  He is a God who knows us inside out and yet who has paid the most costly sacrifice so that we might be his forever.  Like the language of sex, he says: “All I am, for all of you, always.”  He truly is a God worth loving.

In one sense, then, sex within a man and a woman marriage is a parable.  Just as a man and a woman are different, so are God and humans.  We don’t come to each other in exactly the same way.  But as a man and woman open themselves up to another in love and intimacy, these two independent beings open their inmost selves and experience not a loss but a gain.  I don’t want to push this too far – but the Bible teaches that this most human act has been given to us to reveal something of the nature of reality and how he wants to relate to us.  The more that we experience sex as it was designed to be experienced, the more understand what God is like and how he wants to relate to us.  And, of course, the converse is true as well.  The Bible’s blueprint excludes sex with a member of the same sex, or with an animal, or by oneself because in doing so we damage our own experiential knowledge of what he is like.

God wants us to enjoy sex within marriage – and the main reason that he wants us to enjoy sex within marriage is because it’s such a powerful illustration of what he’s like and how he wants to relate to us.

And that brings me to my final point.  As we consider sex, each of us will be acutely aware of our own failure to live up to God’s beautiful design for sex in some way.  At some level, we have all failed.  We have all hurt others, disappointed ourselves and rejected God in so many areas of life, including sex.  That means that none of us has the right to point the finger, because none of us is the person that we should be.

But that leads us to the great news of Christianity that I’ve already hinted at.  Jesus did not come to condemn us, but to save us.  John, one of Jesus’ followers, wrote: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Jesus lived and died so that we might be forgiven and enter a marriage-type relationship with God.  As he died on the cross, Jesus took the guilt and shame of all our sin.  He experienced the shame of every wrong choice and every selfish motive.  He took what we deserved, so that we might be accepted by God.  Whatever we have done, however we have failed, we can know forgiveness and a completely fresh start.  It meant that a woman who had had five husbands and several prostitutes amongst his early followers.  And Jesus promises to live with us by his Holy Spirit.  We will still know something of the pain of foolish choices in the past, but Jesus helps us even in pain we experience.

To those who have had their heart wooed and won by Jesus, he brings real life.  Jesus once said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Following Jesus doesn’t mean missing out on life, it means finding real life.  Jesus says that following him will mean dying to our way of living, but discovering his new way of living.

I want to suggest that God is not out to limit our fun, nor that his blueprint for sex is repressive.  Rather, in his great love and wisdom, he has revealed himself and shown how this most precious of gifts is best enjoyed.  Sex is great, but it is not the most important thing in life.  Rather, it points us to the ultimate thing: an intimate relationship of love with God himself.  Only in him can we find ultimate joy and satisfaction.