Student Freshers’ Welcome – Alfred Place Baptist Church, 22 September 2013
Welcome and an especial welcome to Aberystwyth – 'the place no one likes to leave.' As proof of that statement, I came as a lecturer on this very day, 22 September, for an expected 3 or 4 years, that was in 1976! Notably, it rained for the next 30 days. And we were told that they call Aber the Biarritz of Wales – I don’t think so!
So what can I say to you freshers, so youthful and keen? Old people like to reminisce about their university days. About 9 am lectures on Saturday mornings. About meeting girlfriends and boyfriends – I met my first wife as students at Leeds, and she still is my first wife! About free places with no tuition fees – I hope you get value for your £9,000 each year. But I mustn’t ramble on about the past.
What I really want to say is wrapped up in a mnemonic or an acrostic – I’m not sure what the difference is. The word is appropriately FRESHER. And I have two points. The sharp among you will recognise the F as FIRST and the S as SECOND – how convenient is that?
So, why are you here? It's a good question. Is it that Mum and Dad brought you and dumped you here, or you failed to get into Oxford, or Aber was alphabetically near the top of the UCAS handbook?
F R E, FIRST, REMEMBER EDUCATION. This is your prime reason for being here. This is the great educational adventure, the time to blossom, to learn and develop – it is the most wonderful opportunity to ask the big questions, like, why is the sky blue? Why do power lines travel in threes? Or more usefully, when does human life begin? That is an important question that will determine what you think about abortion, stem-cell technologies, human embryo experimentation, and so on. And it just so happens that I have written a booklet on that very question for the Christian Institute – there are free copies for you all.
So you are not here just to pass some exams, get a degree and a so-called passport to a job for life. Above all, you have these three unrepeatable years to learn how to think critically, to read widely, to engage with others – to educate yourself generally. Therefore remember education. And you are to educate yourself theologically – we are all little theologians – we study God. Use these three years to ground yourself in biblical truth. I tell you, there is nothing more important to comprehend than the depth and range of the Book. Now, in times of relative ease, develop a systematic theology that will stand you in good stead when the times get rough and tough – and they will. Some of you want to be school teachers – I can think of no other profession that will be tougher in the coming years for Christians. We will pray for you, but you need to prepare and educate yourself now. As an absolute minimum, grasp Genesis 1 - 3, and the book of Romans. Do it before Christmas.
S H E R, SECOND, HAVE (and HOLD) EVANGELICAL REALITIES. If you are not a Christian, or you are uncertain, make sure you HAVE Christ as Saviour and Lord – now, this first week at University.
Some of you may have ‘a parental faith’ derived from Mum and Dad. You need to stand on your own two feet. When one of our sons was a fresher at Birmingham, he wrote a treasured letter, saying that, while he always believed in God, being away from the security of home and parental influences, forced him to make Christ his own.
And if you HAVE those EVANGELICAL REALITIES, then make sure you HOLD onto them. It’s the walk of faith – the Christian disciplines. Personal Bible reading, prayer, helpful books, and so on. The gathered Church – Sunday worship. We meet twice – don’t become a ‘oncer’. If you do, I shall ask you, what is it you do on a Sunday morning or evening that is more important than worshipping the True and Living God, twice? Then you have the privilege of attending CU meetings. All of us who went to University bless those times.
So HOLD those EVANGELICAL REALITIES. They are true – true objectively and true subjectively. They will make you a stronger Christian, a better FRESHER.
Finally, there is another little acrostic or mnemonic I want to bring to your attention. You will have seen the latest adverts from O2, the mobile phone provider, with the catchphrase, ‘Be More Dog’. I don't want you to be that. I want you to be more CAT.
C is for CONTENT – content with your providence that you are now here in Aber. It comes from Philippians 4:11, where Paul states, '… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.'
A is for AND
T is for THANKFUL – thankful for His goodness and grace to you. Paul bluntly states this in Colossians 3:15, ‘And be thankful.’
To be content and thankful are wonderful marks of Christian maturity. May it be so for all of us.
Enjoy your time in Aberystwyth. Grow in grace and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.