War! Huh?

 

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This Sunday we remember the brave men and women who gave all to defend our country and our way of life. 

War is a terrible reminder of what humanity is capable of. It is a time where our innate hate is amplified as we fight other sentients over resources, ideologies and principles. 

How did we obtain the capacity to be so evil to each other and yet have the moral compass to know that war is wrong?

This dichotomy is amplified during conflict but remains part of the human condition in peace time to.

We all have the knowledge of (and the capacity to do) good and evil and each day we choose to do one or the other when opportunities present themselves.

It is illogical to conclude that a deterministic process such as natural selection would yield such a counter productive paradox. But what is the alternative explanation? Well there is nothing I have read in natural history, science, religion or philosophy that comes anywhere close to explaining this paradigm of the human condition as well as Genesis 3. So what is it all about?

In the beginning God.

He created the Heavens, the Earth. Next He made Humanity (Adam). Adam was made to glorify God by living in obedience to His life giving creation ordinances (that still apply to us today). Adam was to; work and care for the Earth (Genesis 2:19), observe the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3) and be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28, 2:22-24). God made Adam from what was already created (Genesis 2:7) and created him in His image so that he had the capability for the task at hand (Genesis 2:15). Adam was created from dust, to rule over the dust, never to be consumed by the dust. Adam was to fulfil his calling as God’s image bearer on earth (Genesis 2:7) by living, working and multiplying in creation as a creature in the total reliance of the creator’s provision (Genesis 1:30). What bliss!

Bonhoeffer suggests that Eve was made out of Adam to be a tangible reminder of his unique position in creation, above the animals as their caretaker and below God as His creature. As flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Genesis 2:23) Adam should have seen in his equal (Eve) his own physical limitations and this should have undermined any attempt of his to be “Sicut Deus” (like God). A desire that (because of his limitations as a creature) would lead to death (Genesis 2:17).

Adam’s tenure in Eden was dependant on his behaviour as a creature in ‘special relationship’ to the creator. But as we know his stay was short lived, the forked tongue serpent tempted Adam and Eve to brake their relationship with God (what the Bible calls sin). The serpent deceived Adam and Eve into thinking that their unique position as being ‘God’s image bearer’ gave them the ability to become “gods” like their creator despite being limited creatures (Genesis 3:5). They ate the forbidden fruit and as a result they became what they could never be “Sicut Deus” (like God). This disobedience gave humanity the knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s life giving relationship with his creator had changed forever and his current position as Garden caretaker became untenable. 

Adam and Eve were successfully tempted by the serpent, they willingly ignored God’s command and took the forbidden fruit (which in itself was not innately evil or poisonous). It was the disobedience (and thus the rejection of the life giver) that damned Adam and Eve. 

In this very act of defiance humanity in Adam and Eve became “like God”. For the first time their eyes were opened (Genesis 3:7) and they gained the knowledge of Good and Evil. They became conscious of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7) and they could see their own disobedience and frailty. As creatures now “like God” they carried their shame (that they could not bare) and naively attempted to cover themselves in fig leaves and went into hiding (Genesis 3:8).

The fall caused the human ‘creature’ to become ‘like’ its ‘creator’, Adam (humanity) gained the knowledge of good and evil and as a result he could no longer rely on the creators provision in the same way that he did before. Humanity would now have to survive outside of the Garden, not simply as dependent creatures in God’s creation, but as dependent creatures “like gods”, a curse that would lead to all conflict and our demise (Romans 6:23).  

In Adam, humanity now has to live with the ongoing knowledge of our physical and spiritual limitations. Because of sin, we aspire to be “like God” but at the same time, we are also well aware of our limitations as creatures, we now own our nakedness, our shame and weakness, we now have to eat through painful toil (Genesis 3:17). 

But God (being gracious) commences His redemptive work to save humanity. 

He begins by destroying the tempter. He judges the serpent (Genesis 3:14) and delivers the gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Rejecting the God of life logically leads to death. Adam’s breaking of the law led to the blood of an animal being shed, its skin was used to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Safely in their garments (Genesis 3:21) God honoured humanities choice to reject Him and they were cast eastward separating them (and all humanity) from the tree of life with cherubim and a flaming sword guarding the way back (Genesis 3:24).

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Regaining our special relationship

Genesis 4 onwards begins the greatest story ever told as God works out His redemptive plan. He calls out a distinct people for Himself (Israel) and through them births the promised Messiah who crushed the serpents head at Calvary and with it the curse. This opened a safe way back to God for humanity by faith in the promise fulfilled in the historic person, Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ). 

Despite our desire to be “like God” (and thus naturally rejecting the ‘God’), God still graciously provides for us through His creation (Matthew 5:43). We can still live in the knowledge of what is Good and are blessed with the enjoyment of creation ordinances such as the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), marriage and work.  By God’s Grace we can still breath and eat (Genesis 3:17) and we can multiply and live. But this reality of what is “Good” is constantly clouded (as the curse dictates) in the knowledge of “Evil”. As a result the benefits of work are now tarnished by toil, our perception of metaphysical truths such as our existence in time/space is now tarnished by the knowledge of our impending deaths. We can love, care and show charity to fellow human beings whilst lying and cheating and blowing others up. 

This dual nature that is uniquely human is a curse that is the cause of all conflict and it could have continued for an eternity if we were able to grasp the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). But by God’s Grace humanity was spared from this endless paradox by our expulsion from Eden. 

Now living on the “outside” we have but three-score and ten years to either choose to cause as much trouble as we can (being like gods) squabbling over our lusts and desires, fighting over mere material tokens that rust and decay, or we can choose to live as God indented, fully dependent on Him, in His service, in utter peace in the glorious promise of the Gospel.

If we choose the latter we become new creations ( 2 Corinthians 5:17) where we are no longer ruled by our desire to be gods. Instead we follow God into a promised eternal home of a far greater Eden (Heaven). A new home where we are regarded higher than the angels (Hebrews 1:4) and will live in perfect precious sinless communion with God (1 Corinthians 13:12). A home where we will never be tempted to be “like God” again but spend an eternity in peace, crowned as His adopted sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:5). 

I find no better explanation for the human condition, neither a better cure for it.

This Remembrance Day, as we ponder the sacrifice of war, let us relinquish our desire to be like God and simply follow the God. Let us cling together in peace and unity to the hope of a better world to come in Christ Jesus.

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Commitment in the 21st Century

In todays culture the concept of commitment seems nonexistent. We are in a pic’n’mix, individualist society where our ‘Freedom of Choice’ has become our god. Today’s concept of loyalty could be redefined as ‘committed only when convenient’ or “I do, until something better comes along”.

The tragedy is, we are applying this consumer ideology to our human relationships, sacred life-long unions such as marriage are now disregarded 42% of the time. We jump from person to person to get the best deal we can find. The word of the ‘enlightened’ secular citizen can only be trusted 58% of the time. We move house more regularly, change jobs, cars, phones, pets and schools, as we constantly try to satisfy our vacuous soul’s to seek the elusive concept of ‘happiness’. As a result nothing remains constant and nobody is ever content. It is no wonder that we have become such a litigious nation, nobody can be trusted in a world of constant flux. 

Our societies post-Christian ideology teaches that ‘happiness’ can be found in freedom from the shackles of commitment. But this fickleness is clearly not working. NHS Digital reported a 108.5% increase in antidepressants being dispensed in just ten years, in 2016 this cost the NHS £9.2bn. Our post-Christian society clearly causes conflict with our wellbeing. Despite what car we drive or what iPhone we own we are not happy.  The human condition needs; real relationships, real accountability, unrivalled love and commitment. Queue the church!

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The church should be the counter-culture of such fluidity. It should be the home of patience, endurance and sacrifice (1 Corinthians 13). Church should be the one place in our modern society where you can guarantee commitment. A place where our Yes’ means Yes and our No’s mean No (Matthew 5:37), a place of loyalty and trust as we come together to worship an unchanging, eternal God, who stuck around even when things got tough (Ephesians 5:25), who keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5) and committed Himself to you in a covenant of His own blood (Matthew 26:26-28).

Sadly 21st century fickleness is creeping into the church and many excuses are given by Christians to justify a non-committal stance in regards to membership. I hope to lovingly address these points in this paper to encourage the saints to unite and commit to each other so that we can fight the good fight of faith against our divisive superficial society.

The main objection I hear about “church membership” is that the term cannot be found in the Bible?

Well neither can the term “Trinity” but we do not doubt it. We come to the conclusion that God is three and one because the scriptures tells us so. It is very dangerous to justify any position by whether it was explicitly argued for or against in the Bible. Jesus never spoke directly against Pedophilia but we all know that it is wrong based on the many other principles Jesus taught that would directly appose such a vile crime. In the same way the term “church membership” is not clearly mandated in scripture but there is clear evidence to support the process in the application of what was achieved by the early church.

Paul’s letters were all addressed to churches (Philippians 1:1), local bodies of believers that were all in one mind (Philippians 2:2), someone needed to be responsible to receive them and to distribute to people within the church (members). 

The scriptures show a clear distinction between those who are in the church and out of it (Romans 12:15, 2 Corinthians 6:14), people were chosen from within the church for special tasks (Acts 6:3)  and we are told that their numbers were being added to (Acts 2:41 and 47).

Now you may say that such tasks can all be achieved by a congregation without a formal list? Well Jesus keeps a list (Revelation 20:12) and a good shepherd counts His sheep (Luke 15:1-7, John 10:14).

Without such formalities as church membership, the microcosm of the local church and thus the wider body, would be in the same chaos as the world. Nobody would know who is in or out affecting pastoral care, teaching, mission and accountability.

In scripture we see the local church collected funds (Philippians 4:15-16) and distributed them to other local churches (Acts 11:29-30). We know that gifts were brought to the leaders and recorded (Acts 5). Local churches sent out teams to support other local churches (Acts 12:22), and they welcomed transfers between local bodies (Romans 16:1-2). Local church made provision for widows (Acts 6:1-6) and organised meetings and feasts. They created an administration (1 Corinthians 12:28, Titus 1:5) and had clearly defined functions within (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12:28). They had leadership (Hebrews 13:17) who were accountable to the local body (1 Timothy 5:20). People were met with ordered discipline (Matthew 18:17) and were also cast out (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Church leaders were given responsibility (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 4:2, James 3:1) to ensure the spiritual health of the flock and members were encouraged to meet (Hebrews 10:25) and respect those God has called to care for them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:7).

This would all be impossible to manage without any administrative formalities such as a membership list of believers, who were willing to commit to the church, following Christ’s example by sacrificing their individual needs for the greater good of others (Romans 12:5, Titus 3:12-14). 

As a church Elder and Pastor I know first hand the security and benefits such commitment from the saints brings to the local church. Having committed members that you can rely on allows the ox not to be muzzled as he treads out the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4), but this is not the reason why I write this today. It is out of genuine concern for the souls of those missing out on the joy of church membership.

Living in exile is desperately unhealthy for the Christian soul. By not joining a church you are living in direct conflict to the Bibles teaching (which is God’s letter to church). The Bible is full of information of how to relate to each other and to the world outside, it shows us how to corporately love and care for one another. The message of the Bible is about having life together, sacrificially loving each other through trials, sickness, sin and pain, building each other up as we walk in Christ’s footsteps to the eternal church that is Heaven. 

God Himself is in community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by a covenant of redeeming Grace He has saved us to commit to His bride the church (Ephesians 5:25-33,  2 Corinthians 11:2, John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:2,9-10). Many of the Bible’s commands for the Christian can only be fulfilled in the context of the local church. If you are a Christian and not involved in a local church, how are you knowing the joy of breaking bread (Acts 2:46), evangelising, baptising, teaching, discipling (Matthew 28: 16-20), sharing and caring (Matthew 25:40), giving (2 Corinthians 9:7), serving (John 13:1-17) and submitting and praying for elders (Hebrews 13:7), how are you being fed by the word? (1Peter 2:2), how are you corporately praying? (2 Corinthians 1:11), how are you subjectively sharpening iron with iron? (Proverbs 27:17), how are you visiting the sick? How are you meeting with Jesus? (Matthew 18:20). You are missing out on so much joy in the Christian life, you are missing out on significant family time!

There is no getting away from it, “church” is the vehicle of human fulfilment, ordained by God to be the bride of Christ Jesus. If you are living the Christian life as an individual, in isolation, I weep for your soul, as no Christian would choose to live out their faith in solitude. Those to sick and infirm to come to church long for visitors and in areas of mass persecution, Christians are risking their lives to attend private meetings, just to have a taste of fellowship that we in the west so easily take for granted.

Choosing to live out your faith alone, choosing to not be accountable to other believers (however flawed and broken we maybe), is the same call for independence in Genesis 3. It is a desire to seek and define the knowledge of good and evil on your terms and not on God’s terms. For your own wellbeing, you need to join a local church. It is the constant your soul needs to survive in a world of constant flux.

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Now some will agree with all of the above but say “I can’t find a church that is right for me”. Well to be ruthlessly direct, church is not about you, it is about God. Do not let such consumer ideology creep in! Yes, you have to make sure you are going to a church that can cater for you (to some degree). If you have children, do they have a Sunday school? Is it a Bible church (5 Solas) and does the ministry grow good grass for you to feed on? These are the questions you should be asking. But if you are waiting for the perfect church, you will not find one, because they are all filled with imperfect people. Yes there will be difficulties and heartbreak but this is family life and in it we share in all the joyous experiences to.

Friends, the local church is biblical and has a significant part to play in God’s redemptive plan. Christ is returning publicly to take His bride, we are the one body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:27) that He is coming for.

I pray that this blog encourages you to formally commit to your local church and become a member. I pray that you will stick with it through times of trial just as Christ has stuck with you. And let the witness of your commitment to the church, be a witness to the gospel in our superficial and chaotic times.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Hebrews 10:24-25

Why Pastors should support #EQUIP

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3

I have just returned from an inspiring two days at the Welsh Leadership Forum EQUIP conference.

Last year was a great success with world renowned speakers Os Guinness and John Lennox bringing many to attend the launch.  They were excellent to hear, but for me the content this year spoke far more directly to the needs of our mission field in Wales. 

But, however rich and applicable the content was, it was nothing compared to the feedback I received from our church ministry team who left feeling; valued, uplifted, empowered, inspired and confident in the gospel.

And this is what EQUIP is all about.

I fear that Church leaders and Pastors are far to quick to dismiss EQUIP because it does not have the theological depth of other conferences but this is not what EQUIP is about.

Although it is a real blessing for Pastors, the focus is not on us.

The Welsh Leadership Forum designed EQUIP to help and support the hundreds of volunteers who help run our; Youth Clubs, Sunday schools, and home groups. It is for our ministry leaders, elders and deacons, volunteers and our wives. 

EQUIP provides a fantastic and affordable opportunity for our closest and most committed church members to network and learn from their peers, rather than receiving second-hand, filtered information that we gather from a plethora of Ministers conferences that we attend.

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Some of the Noddfa Church crew at EQUIP

 

We are a relatively small church in the Welsh Valleys, yet managed to bring ten people to the event over the two days and it was a pleasure to support and share in their learning as “Pastor”.

I know that they will all be better and more confident in their ministries as a result of this week.

My wife returned home filled with practical ideals for Sunday school and was excited to share them with the wider team, it was lovely to see her face beam with such enthusiasm that I have when returning from other conferences. She thoroughly enjoyed the conference and I pray that others from the church will come with us next year.

I pray that next year many more Pastors will embrace the conference and bring their weary and hardworking flock to the good grass and still waters of the EQUIP conference so that they to maybe refreshed.

Welsh Leadership Forum EQUIP

Being in the presence of God – EMW Camps 2018

I am broken, exhausted and emotionally drained as I write to you all. This last week has been both a battle and a joy.

Last year I wrote a blog on my first camp experience as chaplain and the blessings we received. I encourage you to read it if you are thinking of supporting or getting involved in the camps. “Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp

This year I am not going to write about all the great activities we did with the campers, as far greater things were done by God.

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Australia was the camp theme

I enjoyed my time with the campers last year and listened to their pains and anxieties as they struggle to live the Christian life amidst the hostility of our secular age.

I hoped to address these issues this year with the theme of “Assurance”. 

I arrived on the Saturday afternoon with my notes and Bible studies prepared.

Every morning and evening we would go through each of the Beatitudes and study how salvation is expressed.

To summarise the weeks teaching;

  • Those who know their own spiritual poverty, grieve their sin and hunger and thirst for God are blessed. 
  • Those who have dealt with conflict at the cross and have made peace with God and who face persecution for living for Christ are blessed.
  • Christianity is expressed by inward reflection, outward action and outside reaction (we even had dance moves for this).

The officers seemed encouraged by the notes and came loaded with several questions. I am grateful for how seriously they took the task in hand.

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The first service felt lifeless, the wind was heavy on the tent and was distracting those who needed no encouragement. The projector fell mid way through the message and I knew I had lost them. 

The first few days were restless, their was conflict, tears and tiredness between the campers. The Devil was clearly attacking! It was going to be a tough week!

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This years camp was different in many ways, but the most significant was in prayer.

From the first night we all met as officers and leaders to pray for God’s blessing upon the week, we prayed for each child until the early hours and then we woke and met again to do the same.

Camp leader (Joshua Slade) lead the morning devotions taking the officers through Colossians. We prayed right up to the breakfast bell each morning and could have gone on all day.

Last year I was encouraged by the handful of campers that came to the early morning prayer meeting (comprising mainly of duty bound ministers children), but this year the early morning prayer meetings peaked at 21 souls desperate to see God work.

We prayed as officers again before the dorm Bible studies and at the very end of the day after the officers epilogues, when we were all exhausted, the officers and leaders still all met to pray again until the early hours ……..and the Lord was pleased to answer!

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As I have already said, the first couple of days were incredibly challenging (the enemy knew what was coming). But from Monday evening (where we truly felt God’s presence in our late night prayer meeting) things began to change.

I had preached earlier that day on Matthew 5:4, using the illustration of a life boat. “Only those who mourn their sin, know the desperate situation they are in and will accept the offer of rescue.”

This analogy struck a chord with a number of the campers, several stayed after the meeting to pray.

As we continued through the Beatitudes we could see a change in the Spirit of the camp, a number of the difficulties were ironed out, foes became best friends, the restless began to sleep and prayer was being answered.

God was with us!

At meal times, we were not singing dorm theme tunes or popular music, but Hymns to God’s glory. 

During the activities, campers were reading their Bibles, whether they were on the beach, or sat on the floor in the crowds at the zoo. They could not get enough of God’s word.

After each morning service half of the campers stayed to pray for the lost, one young girl even wept in utter confusion that there were campers who could leave the service seemingly unaffected. (This challenged me greatly)

Throughout the week we could physically and tangibly see God move through the campers.

In total we welcomed nine professions of faith (compared to zero last year) and several showed clear signs of growth and have gone home assured.

What excited me the most was that each profession was made secretly, personally and reverently.

None of the children were following the crowd, but spent days praying and speaking to the officers to make sure in their own hearts that they were not riding a superficial wave.

One young lady was walking back from the day trip to the farm on her own, praying I would retreat to her so she could discuss her conversion. She was not seeking attention, far from it, she distanced herself from the crowd to speak with me alone. She knew she was saved and had everything in Christ.

One young man who was not in the prayer meetings at the beginning of the week, started coming by the end. I asked him why? To which he proclaimed “Christ died for me”. I would not have known about his conversion if I had not asked. 

None of the converts were attention seeking, neither were they appeasing me. They called officers aside individually to share what had happened to them and although humbled in Spirit all were excited to return home to share their good news with friends and family.

Camp veteran and leader Joshua Slade said he had never known a camp like it.

We had all the fun of previous years, but the spirit of unity (that came out from a potentially difficult week) was clear. 

God drew these young souls to Him through the entire team on camp, every officer had a significant part to play as commitments were being made. Grace (our ladies leader) spent many hours with our young ladies.

On the last morning a number of the converts (and those who were significantly strengthened in their faith) came to me for an unplanned prayer meeting before they went home. I read from Mark 4.

“You can return home assured, knowing that you are in the lifeboat, but storms will come and Jesus will seam silent, but know that He is in the boat with you, have faith that He can calm the storm” 

The reality of the blessing we shared this week has already been evidenced by the storm, with various attacks that I have returned home to. I would value your prayer……

I asked the campers to write where they were at with God on Day 1.

I asked them to answer the same question on the last evening.

Here are some examples.

The Generous Leader – The Bala Ministers Conference 2018

Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:30-31

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(Photo by Hywel Meredydd Davies)

Amidst this busy period of events and various inter-church meetings I could not resist signing up to another Bala Ministers Conference. Owing to time constraints I booked late and did not even look at the program, such is the trust I have in the EMW for the content provided and I could guarantee the fellowship would be heavenly.

We arrived at Bryn-Y-Groes (Bala) at noon on Monday, registered and settled into our rooms. We were then welcomed into the dining area for lunch at 1pm where we caught up with dear brothers weary in the fight.

Jonathan Thomas began his three part series on “the Generous Leader”. We then broke for refreshments and gathered in small groups for a time of prayer. This worked incredibly well as we all shared our concerns and glorified God for the many blessings.

After Dinner we met again in the main hall to hear how a dear brother has “Bridged the Cultural Gap” between Christians and Muslims. I have been to many similar sessions but have not received as much insight into Islamic thinking as this one. I grabbed our friend during dinner on Tuesday and grilled him further on the topic. I now feel far better equipped to share the Gospel with Muslims, understanding their sensitivities and our areas of agreement.

The evenings were spent (as usual) in deep discussion and a gentle walk around Bala lake.

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“Lone Duck” – Taken on my Tuesday night walk

The morning prayer meetings were lead by Mark Thomas. They were insightful and devotional. Ministers prayed for over an hour before coffee and then Jonathan Thomas’ second address. After lunch Pete Campbell took us through John Newton’s letters and then after dinner Dave Gobbet gave a sobering lecture on “the Pastoral response to Suicide”. A Late night of discussion ensued.

We woke up earlier for breakfast on the Wednesday and went into prayer until 10am. Mike Reeves then gave a passionate talk on Spurgeon’s Sorrows. How he dealt with his depression and utilized it for God’s Glory in the ministry. After a “bacon butty break” Jonathan gave his final talk and then we said our goodbyes, collecting a packed lunch for the journey home.

As I said in last year’s write up (Bala Ministers conference 2017) these three days are more than just a conference, it is a family reunion where brothers gather to stretch our brains and swell our hearts.

Gwydion, Catrin and the team at Bryn-Y-Groes all make us feel so welcome, it is home from home. We are incredibly well fed and cared for, allowing us to relax into learning. The EMW team were superb, well organized and professional. We were all in safe hands.

I would recommend the Bala conference to any Minister who takes the scriptures seriously. Whatever your denomination the content is presented Biblically and drenched in Christ centered love. Newcomers would benefit from the spiritual feast and we would benefit from your input to.

The organizers have a great relationship with many who attend; they truly have their ears to the ground and make a concerted effort to address our real-time needs.

Such an approach can come at the expense of trendy topics and thus seasonal registrants, but this is a cost the movement are willing to make to ensure that we receive a pedigree of teaching that is given in the intimacy of our own contexts.

I want to say a huge thank you to all the speakers, for their preparation and warm presentations. If I had written down a list of what I needed from this conference, every box would have been ticked. Jonathan’s messages spoke so directly into my situation as a Valley Minister. I feel as if I have been lifted of the burden to balance out being a Mary and a Martha (Luke 10:38-42), a Mother and a Father (1 Thessalonians 2) and a lonely let down Paul (2 Timothy 4:9-18). I have spent three days at the feet of our Generous Leader Jesus Christ and have been refreshed by His word.

As soon as the messages appear online I am sitting down with my wife to listen to them all again. – And I recommend everyone does the same.

Finally

We are so blessed in Wales to have such a depth of teaching and theological understanding on our doorstep, but with the increasing threats to the church, our resources are dwindling fast. So I also want to say a special thank you to our friends across the Atlantic at Ligonier . We have a great respect for the organization and mourn with them over the loss of RC Sproul who is now in Heaven. Ligonier have been kind enough to gift each Pastor at the conference their latest edition of the Reformation Study Bible and other tools including Studies and DVD’s (distributed via our fraternals). I can assure our friends at Ligonier that they are deeply appreciated and the materials will be well used for Christ’s Glory and His Kingdom in Wales.

I will close by quoting Jonathan Thomas to some up the experience of the conference.

The best thing about Bala is that we can talk together, we are friends” Jonathan Thomas Bala 2018

A loving reply to an Easter challenges

I have been handed back one of the cards that we (as a church) have been distributing to the community over Easter.

The card was sent out with the standard invite and warm welcome with a Bible verse and some points of interest.

This year I listed eight verifiable historical facts that support the gospel truth. Hard data that I hoped would assist people to at least question what they know to be true.

I accepted the returned card with great joy as it came with additional notation, giving me valuable feedback from the mission field. I am sure that this one voice represents thousands of people who feel the same. All of which I have a deep respect for although we would not agree on this matter.

In the greatest love I wish to address these comments. Not for a tit-for-tat debate on whether God exists, (the Bible is clear that we cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom).

I simply hope to show that our Christian world view is as logical, rational and evidenced as any other alternative (I assume atheism for the purpose of the blog).

Neither is this an attack on the author of the responding notes. I am sure that he/she is an intelligent, wonderful human being, doing the best they can to make sense of this crazy world like everyone else.

I respond simply to show a wider audience who may think the same as the Author and hope to show that Christianity carries a lot more weight than it is given credit for today.

The data

Just as the “primordial soup” theory has been dismissed and Darwinism is now being questioned, the argument for intelligent design continues to be explored across all academic communities.

Many of our greatest minds debate endlessly such fundamental truths as to why and how we got here. All of them have the same expertise behind them, they all review, test and contemplate the same data but they all come to different conclusions.

My case to those that take the same data as we do but disregard God owing to “the alleged lack of evidence” is that they contradict their argument simply by agreeing with many other non-empirical truths.

Those that disregard God still get married, they still have funerals (humanist or otherwise), they shun wrong doing and live for meta-physical concepts such as hope, dreams, ambition, love, grief, morality and justice. They support various ideologies, including atheism – which their is no conclusive evidence for either.

None of these concepts (that define personage) can be quantified in a lab, yet everyone attests to them. You can measure the release of Oxytocin, but you cannot measure the wonder of love and its application in our lives. You can’t measure your sorrow when grieving the loss of a loved one.

If you were to apply the same “lack of evidence” arguments that you quite happily hold against God to your own existence, you would cease to believe in the emotions that make youhuman.

To quote Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

Statement/Reply/Response

  1. The resurrection gives hope and meaning to 2.2billion people around the world today.

Assuming here we are talking about people who identified themselves as Christians including those coerced into Catholicism. Bit of a stretch to say the resurrection gives hope and meaning to all those. The majority of whom don’t attend any type of church.

The figure states that 2.2billion (or 31.2% of humanity) associate themselves as followers of Christ. Statisticians predict this will grow to 2.9billion by 2050 – I pray for even more.

These people come from all different cultures and far more advanced social, economic and academic societies than our own.

Christianity is booming in places such as South Korea (home of Samsung), Silicon valley (home of Google and Facebook) where billions of dollars are being made, but the spiritual void is not being filled.

Countries that are developing have seen huge growth, such as China where despite great persecution from a secular state there are 115 million protestants attending underground churches.

In 1979 there were estimated less than 500 Christians from Muslim backgrounds in Iran, today there are over a million.

They all identify themselves with a saviour who beat death and evidences eternity in His physical resurrection.

Whether Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Pentecostal, their hope is based on the same truth.

It is sad that many do not come to church or worship services, despite the Bible’s explicit teaching to do so. But this is not the point. I was reasoning a shared hope, not a roll call.

Furthermore, there are many professing “atheists” that when faced with tragedy deny their belief system and start praying. “There are no atheists in foxholes”.

When we come to the end of ourselves, we usually find the beginning of God.

The argument raised also implies coercion among these numbers, as it were a cultural indoctrination into the faith?

If a Hindu is only a Hindu because they are Indian, a Muslim because they are Iranian, then you could argue that “your” atheism has been born out of our secular, consumerist, post-war culture.

If you desire to undermine ones truth based on cultural inference, you undermine your own stance.

  1. Jesus’ teaching has defined our culture’s morality that we all live by today. Love, justice, charity and forgiveness.

Implying those outside this concept have no morals????

This implication is not made anywhere.

The Bible teaches us that bad people go to Heaven and there are lots of good people in Hell. Being a Christian is not about being good (although this is a welcome bi-product – read James 2:18). Those who think their good deeds put them right with God are misled and are not following the Bibles teaching (read Ephesians 2:9).

Christianity is not about being good, it is not a philosophy, neither an ideology or a system of governance. Christianity is about a person, whose followers can be in relationship with Him despite their failures.

Christianity teaches of a God who has revealed Himself in a Messiah who bridged the gap between God and Man and redeemed a people for Himself by faith. Morality does not come into salvation. It is all about Grace!

With that said, shared morality from a “higher source” is vital for human society to function. Without it we have chaos because nobody would have any authority to define or impose right and wrong on others.

Western culture is just about holding together through a thin veneer of a shared concept of consumerism and a “try not to kill anyone” ideology. But when tested, a godless society falls.

The proof of this (sadly) comes during tragedy.

Take for example the recent terrorist attacks on our shores.

Our cultures secular atheism, if taken to its logical conclusion would state that the lives lost were meaningless accidents of a natural selection process, that any trauma caused was simply a chemical imbalance in the brain, of no meaningful consequence.

But this viewpoint does not work. Everyone agreed that the needless loss of life was tragic, everyone seeked justice and for that moment secular atheism was abandoned as we all got on Twitter to #prayfor…..

Our society’s ideology that “Truth is relative” is simply an oxymoron as the statement itself is an ‘absolute’ and thus a contradiction

A ‘relative truth’ simply sounds nice as it works for people in the short term, because it justifies a life without the challenge of their being an absolute judge (God).

This argument is not a modern phenomenon, it is innate to the human condition, and can be best explained in Genesis 3.

To quote one of our finest academics C.S.Lewis

““All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

You can of course have morality without God.

But without God, you have no higher authority to defend or protect a view of right or wrong (whatever that may be).

If truth is relative to the individual, how good is good, how bad is bad? If a paedophile is not hurting anyone, do their thoughts become ok? If someone did something “bad” to you, but they felt it was “good” how can you defend the injustice if morality is subjective to personal opinion and not a higher authority?

The Nazi’s thought they were right to commit genocide and if you apply a Darwinian world view to Auschwitz then they were! An external observer (with no moral compass) would simply see one “animal” dealing with a perceived threat to its survival. More on this here

Now you could argue that morality has evolved and is a natural consequence of our advanced brain. But again this is a philosophical contradiction as evolution by definition is deterministic and morality is not.

You could also say that we can uphold moral principles in law without the need of a deity, but history would disagree.

Chairman Mow tried this and killed 45million of his own people in just four years, Stalin did the same and killed 25million. When humanity becomes the product of natural accidents, the powerful can dispose all those who cease to be productive without any moral consequence.

Furthermore I politely request that you read your history books before any generic comeback that “religion causes death”. Statistics say otherwise and it is humanity that causes death, because of the very ideals that the Gospel seeks to free us from.

  1. Over 500 witnesses saw Jesus resurrected and stood by their testimony even unto death

all of who had vested interest”.

Becoming a Christian today in our liberal democracy is hard. We are mocked and disrespected. Professionals, politicians and academics are discredit because of their faith – where is the vested interest? Being a Christian is hard!

History tells us that the early Christians lost their homes, families, jobs, they were imprison and tortured, fed to beasts, turned into human candles, placed on hot seats and giant frying pans to be cooked alive.

Even today we are the most persecuted people in the world with an estimated 90,000 murdered each year, for our faith. Where is the vested interest?

To quote Charles W. Colson

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

  1. Rome spent 300 years suppressing Christians when all they had to do was present Jesus’ body (that they were in charge of) to the end the church. Jesus’ body was never found.

Suppressed Judaism as well”?

Yes, but in the time that Jesus walked with us, the Jews did have freedom to worship and freedom to demand from Pilate that Jesus was Crucified.

Christians were an offence to Rome for three centuries as they would not bow the knee to Caesar. The church (and all of its problems it caused the state) could have vanished if they simply presented the body that they were in charge of.

  1. The Stone was moved and the tomb really was empty

Says who

Well the Bible. Without going into a rant about its inerrancy, it is the source text of our faith and for much of human history. It is supported by innumerable archaeological, scientific and third party evidence. Outside of the miraculous, the dates, the kings, the battles they all add up. The Bible is used continuously as source material for other historical events during its time that you would never question.

The New Testament was written in the lifetimes of the eye witnesses and authors, so they are considered as primary sources. Compare that to any written account of Muhammad that did not occur until (at best) 70 – 200 years after his death (secondary sources).

The written evidence for the Battle of Hastings is based on a few lines in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1066 and part of a letter sent by William of Normandy in 1070.

William of Malmesbury, gives a better account in the Deeds of the Kings of the English, but this was written in 1140, 70 years after the event took place.

I am not questioning whether the battle of Hasting happened, just showcasing the treasure trove of evidence we have to support the Christian claim.

  1. Jesus’ body was buried, secured and guarded by the worlds superpower (Rome).

Allegedly

The previous answer covers this. You can also read, non-Biblical, non-Christian historical accounts such as Josephus “Antiquities of the Jews”, Tacitus “Annals” , Pliny the Younger, the Babylonian Talmud, Lucian of Samosata and many others that support the Bibles claims.

  1. Jesus really died on the Cross

Romans never crucified on a Cross

This is the most surprising reply of all, because they did.

Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus crucified 6,000 as reported by Appian.

In the Dolaucothi Gold mines in Wales have evidence of Roman Crucifixion.

Roman Emperor Constantine banned crucifixion in the 4th Century that proves it was functioning prior.

Sadly Crucifixion was a “thing” in Rome.

But, the issue may not with be the torture but with the cross itself? By this I mean the cross as depicted in Christian artwork throughout history?

Now there may be a case for this.

The Bible does not describe the cross, and no Christian claims that renaissance art has an authority on this matter.

What we know, is that the cross could have been two planks of wood crossed in the centre “crux immissa” (X) or as traditionally assumed a “crux commissa” (T) or even just one poll. The ankles could have been affixed on the front plank, or to the side, the hands pierced above the head or horizontal to the body.

The term for such a punishment (however delivered) was “stauros”, or stake, known and translated as the Cross.

The cross is not described in detail in the Bible because it was a known colloquialism for the punishment. We can guess it was crux commissa (T) because of the practicalities of the sign. In John 19:21 it states that “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.”

So Jesus did really die on the Cross.

However this torture was administered, His death by the collective means known as “the cross” fulfilled many distinct prophecies that predated the event.

700 years prior to the crucifixion

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,    stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5.

Pre-explicitly (580 bc)

“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” Psalm 22:16-18

  1. Jesus really lived

I agree

I am pleased. To deny Jesus’ existence would be to deny all historical figures of that era. The question then is, is Jesus who He claimed to be?

If He is not, then you have to justify how an impoverished Palestinian carpenters son, who spent His first night on earth in an animal feeding trough in Bethlehem, who grew up in a relatively unknown village in the deserted Middle East, with no formal education and was homeless at the age of thirty, a person who clearly had severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia and Dissociative identity disorder and died a criminals death…how did this person come to change the world? Explain that!

Why are we talking about Him 2,000 years on, 6,000 miles away in our remote Welsh Valley?

Why does His message of love, grace and forgiveness still cause so much of an offence?

How has His teaching built our legal system and our cultures morality (that allows for atheism)?

How has His ministry caused billions of human beings (that can’t all be crazy) to give up the trappings of this world to follow Him?

How has He convinced rational, educated people from all cultures to give up everything to travel across oceans to share His good news?

For me these are far bigger questions that need to be answered if the truth of the Gospel is rejected.

Why does His teaching cause millions of people who reject Him to give up their time debating well meaning people who are at least motivated to share His Good news?

To quote Professor Lee Strobel “To continue in atheism, I would need to believe that nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I simply didn’t have that much faith.”

Conclusion

What I wrote in this card were the cold hard facts of the Easter events, I left out the spiritual or circumstantial, yet they still caused offence.

To dispute our claim that Jesus is the Son of God who in sacrificial love gave all for His people, this is one thing, but to deny the historic evidence is another. With that said, I thank the author of the comments for it.

As I said, I cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom, this blog could push you away or raise further questions and rebukes.

Only God can draw you in and without His sovereign work in your life, we can never agree on this subject, although I am sure we would on many others. So I wish any doubters every success and pray that you will one day share in the joy that I have received by Grace in Christ Jesus.

Schools Bible Exhibition 2018

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Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

This month our church took over 600 children from Garnteg, Cwmffrdoer and Victoria Village Primary school(s) on a journey through the Bible.

The exhibition (provided by the Open Air Mission) comprised of 18 boards that included pictures, infographics and bite size narrative for the children to follow*.

The first board told the story of creation, the second the Garden of Eden and so on.

The children could see how wonderful the world was when God first made it. There was no death, no pain, no sickness, what a wonderful place to be.

God then made Adam and Eve and gave them all that they could possibly have wanted. With just one rule to follow, “do not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 2:17).

This rule gave Adam and Eve freedom, they now had a choice, to love God or disobey Him.

As we all know the devil entered into the garden as a serpent and convinced Adam and Eve to break this rule and partake in the forbidden fruit.

The children were then invited to share some of their school rules and the punishments they would receive if they break them. (Times have changed).

The children could all see from this simple exercise that (just like in school) God gives us rules for our own benefit and safety. They could also see that God has every right to punish people for breaking His rules (which is what the Bible calls sin).

Adam and Eve sinned, they broke God’s rule. For the first time they knew that they were naked. They felt ashamed at what they had done and were banished from the garden to live in this cold, hard, fallen world.

But in love, we are told that God covered their shame and comforted them with animal skin.

The children could see right at the start of the exhibition (and the Bible) that rejecting or ignoring God’s life giving rules, logically leads to death. God loved Adam and Eve and did not want them to die, so innocent blood was shed, so that Adam and Eve’s shame could be covered.

This theme pointed all of the children forward to the promised Messiah who would fix the problem of sin in the same way by His death.

The display moved on to Noah, then the Tower of Babel, we looked at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel, God’s family whom the promised Messiah would come into the world). The Exhibition took us then to Joseph and his journey to Egypt, the Story of Moses, the Ten Commandments, the Passover and Exodus. Always reaffirming the point that God (who made us) gave us rules to live by so that we could be happy but (just like today) the people in the Bible constantly rejected God and broke His rules (sin) and that such action requires punishment, just like when you break the school rules.

The children could see for themselves that for the guilty to be reunited with our loving God, innocent blood had to be shed, so that God can also remain just in His punishment, whilst at the same time remaining merciful to those who He love who did the wrong.

The exhibition progressed onto Elijah, the Judges, then King Saul and David, the Babylonian captivity, Daniel and the prophets, before ending with Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, explaining again the significance that for the guilty (us) to be reunited with God by grace, innocent blood has to be shed to make atonement for our wrongs, so that God can remain just whilst at the same time being merciful to us.

The display ended with a clear lesson.

Christian’s believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who God sent to deal with the problem of sin (that alienates humanity from our loving Father in Heaven).

Jesus did not break a single rule, He was totally innocent, yet on the Cross He took the just punishment for the sins of all people who love Him. (1 Peter 2:24).

A truth that we asked each of the children to consider.

Volunteers from the church dressed up as characters and spoke through their story (in first person) at different stages throughout the exhibition. The children then had the opportunity to interact one to one with the “heroes of faith” that brought the teaching alive.

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The exhibition gave clear Biblical themes throughout to help the children come to their own conclusions.

The Christian world view was presented to them fairly and in the greatest of love without putting any pressure on them that could damage the witness in the future.

The exhibition takes just one hour out of the school day and is interactive (so the children stay focused throughout). Head teacher Garnteg Primary School Susan Roche said: “The whole week last week was great as it gave the children something different. It combined very important aspects of the curriculum like RE, history and the humanities and brought it together in an interactive way which made it very meaningful.

We can thank God that many children still know the key events of the Bible today; from the fall to Passover, David and Goliath to the birth of Christ, but the exhibition illustrates superbly how all of these historic events fit together as one big story of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

 

 

At the end of the exhibition the children filled out a quiz, which volunteers from the church marked. The following week the Mayor, local councillor and the press joined us to present prizes to the children.

Each child was rewarded with an information pack that includes games, treats and information about the church.

We hope that such outreach will inform the children and their families of the many services that we provide for the community and that through this outreach the elect would come to church, hear the gospel and know a changed life that will glorify God.

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Read the Article online here

 A huge big thank you to the wonderful volunteers at the church who gave up significant time and resources for this to happen and to the OPEN AIR MISSION for their support.

*Narrative by JP Earnest (Field Operations Manager) Open Air Mission

Music and Worship

You have all heard of the expression “if a tree falls in a wood and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a philosophical question about perception that can be asked with music to.

Some of you may wake up to birds tweeting and perceive it as “bird song” others may hear it as just noise. Is the Bird singing a song or is it simply a vocalised tic or a natural defence mechanism? To quote the Philosorapter; “What if birds are not singing, they’re just screaming because they’re afraid of heights?” (I would hate to think that was true – poor birds).

Some people may hear the sound of a rushing river and relax; others will run to the toilet. When I hear death metal “music” I want to hit my head on the wall until it stops, but I can rest content listening to the Delta Blues for hours on end. Music, however it is defined, can be equally endearing as off putting. Whatever your perception, it always causes a reaction.

Recent studies have shown that when listening to music every part of our brain is engaged, you could say that as a species we were built for it. Like us, music functions as both body and soul, it is transcendent and meta-physical but can only exist within and through a medium. Even a mere memory of a song can lift us up, or bring us down. Music can promote joyful motion (Ecclesiastes 3:4) or send us to sleep (1 Samuel 16:23 and Daniel 6:18). A song can inspire armies to war and it can anthem a nation. Music evokes memories and expresses transient truths into physical reality.

The appreciation of music is unique to the human experience.

Without a human being present to define and enjoy it, Handel’s Messiah would be no different to the noise produced in a traffic jam. Both circumstances are just vibrations.

To listen, love and appreciate music is one of the unique privileges of humanity. Music is found in every culture in every country, so no wonder our instruction manual (the Bible) is full of references to it.

Music is first mentioned in scripture as early as Genesis 4:21-22 with Jubal the father of one who played the pipes (an organist for a traditional Welsh chapel goer). Moses wrote a song in Exodus 15 that Israel sung in celebration over the triumph of Pharaoh. The longest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms which contains a 150 songs, many written by King David who was a musician in King Saul’s court. In the Old Testament we have clear evidence of music prescribed by God to use in worship (2 Chronicles 29:25-28). In the New Testament Angels sang at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14), Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn at the last supper (Matthew 26:30), Paul and Silas sang hymns whilst in prison (Acts 16:25), Paul teaches us to sing to God’s Praise (1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), in James we are also told to sing (James 5:13) and the Angel’s were singing in Heaven holding harps (Revelation 5:8-11).

Music is a huge part of the human experience so it is obvious that it should be a huge part of our worship. But like everything else we do in God’s service it must be undertaken reverently, seeking only to do the will of the Father in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24). We are not to worship God how we see fit but follow His perfect will (Cain and Abel – Hebrews 11:4).

You can see from the references above, music with instrumentation was clearly prescribed by God in the Old Testament. However in the New Testament we do not have such a command, all we are told is to sing with gladness in our hearts (Colossians 3:16).

The clear distinction between the Old and the New would imply that instrumentation in worship was a facet of the formal religiosity of Judaism and was thus made redundant in the New Covenant church (Hebrews 7:12 and 10:9). With that said, when you look at the context of the early church in the New Testament they were under great persecution and had to worship in home groups or underground, so having a ten piece band would not only be impractical but also life threatening as it would attract attention, thus (you could argue) instrumentation was omitted from practice just for that season.

It is true that the New Testament only commands singing, but neither does it condemn instrumentation, whether organ or guitar, panpipes or bagpipes. So the principle I would take from the scripture is that instrumentation is fine, but should be moderate and tasteful, with the sole purpose to encourage the church to sing with gladness in our hearts. Instrumentation should not overpower the believers praise or unnecessarily add to it. God is glorified when the saints are in one voice (Romans 15:6).

Scripture is clear, music (playing or hearing it) in itself is not worship, neither is music a tool to get us “in the mood” for God. Music is one method that enhances worship, it gives opportunity for Musicians to use their God given talents and the church to honour and Praises God together in song. All in preparation for word ministry which must remain the central and most significant part of the service, for it is only by the word of God that we are saved and edified (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Hebrews 4:12).

There is no biblical justification for music to be used to create an atmosphere of worship; this would be to substitute the Holy Spirit with a tinkling of the ivories. To say that you could conjure the presence of God by playing an instrument would imply a priesthood and it is a claim of sovereign control over God. To credit the Holy Spirit for creating an atmosphere that can easily be achieved at any worldly event, whether a concert or gig is simply blasphemy (Matthew 12:31). If you leave a service saying “I love that song” and not “I love the Lord” you are worshiping the vehicle of expression and not God’s revelation of Himself.

To use music to manipulate emotion or to entertain is to manipulate the church by worldly means. Marketing companies use the very same techniques to draw and entice the masses to increase sales (1 John 2: 15-17). The church is to be counter cultural (Matthew 5:13), we do not need such gimmicks and extravagances when we have Christ! (Philippians 4:19).

This now brings us to the type of music to use as a means of worship.

I am a conservative when it comes to hymn choices; I love the older hymns; Wesley, Newton McCheyne, Watts, Havergal etc. It takes significant time for me to prayerfully choose the hymns for each service, I make sure the words resonate the truth and put across more succinctly the message for the day. With that said, I am also aware that I come to these older hymnals with history on my side. Time has wiped away from memory the tripe that was also produced in their era. So I am of course not put off by contemporary hymns, as within today’s tripe there are many superbly written pieces that contain deeply profound gospel truths that will stand the test of time alongside the classics. I like a mixture of both, whatever fits best with the message – no prejudice.

I enjoy a good old fashioned hymn sandwich, but I have no biblical premise to support this position, other than it breaks up the service in an orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:33 and 1 Corinthians 14:40) and encourages times between where we can be still with God around His word (Psalm 46:10, 1 Kings 19:11-13).

The Bible teaches that the word is our authority (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and this is true in all forms of worship. So if you like a Christian song whose lyrics have been written to fit a catchy tune with endless repeated choruses and a three minute guitar solo, then enjoy it in the home or in the car. It is a pop song about our saviour – Praise God for it- but it is not a hymn. If the melody fits lyrics with clear Biblical doctrine that encourages the congregation to sing God’s praise (as commanded in Scripture) then use it for worship.

Music is a uniquely human privilege given to us as a gift from God, and when performed well in humble spirit and in good taste, for the purpose of encouraging the believers to sing words that venerate our Saviour with gladness in our hearts, then it is God glorifying and thus a truly wonderful thing.

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

Can Christians serve in the Military?

This question is very popular, more so from conscientious teenagers who see Military service as a viable career choice, but have many concerns over serving an institution that seems to contradict one of the moral imperatives found in the Ten Commandments – “You shall not murder”.

On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also clearly tells us (Christians) that we are not to murder (Matthew 5:21) and in the face of evil we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42).

People have used such teaching to justify pacifism in the assumption that Christians should be meek and mild and not fight in or support any conflict, but simply live in peace.

“They say peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

I have a lot of respect for pacifists and know that such a stance is often the bravest course to take. I also know that many have abused this stance to get out of front line duties and such cowardice has tarnished the reputation of others who have acted in the utmost integrity with a real conviction and a deep love for their fellow man (Matthew 5:44).

But such a stance (however respectable) is not what Jesus taught on the mount, so such verses should not be used to defend this case.

Is Military Service Biblical?

Before we answer this questions, we need to remember that God cannot stand sin (Isaiah 59:2), He cannot lie (Hebrew 6:18), He is unchanging (Revelation 1:8), and His words are perfect (Psalm 12:6).

In Genesis 14:14 we read that Abraham forms an army of 318 men to bring back Lot from the four Kings. In Exodus 17, Israel beat the Amalekites in battle, God Blessed when Moses raised his staff into the air. In Joshua 1 the Lord speaks to Joshua telling him to be strong and courageous (v6) as he goes out to take the promised land, the Lord also told Joshua when to attack Ai (Joshua 8:1).

King Saul had an army (1 Samuel 13:2) and so did King David. The Lord even gave him battle strategies (2 Samuel 5:23). David had mercenaries fighting for him (2 Samuel 15) and a part time army working on shifts (1 Chronicles 27). People were also commissioned to provide weaponry and chariots (1 Kings 10:26).

We also know that Jesus is not going to be a pacifist on His return (Revelation 12:7) and throughout the Gospels we see many instances of soldiers being praised as Christians, God-fearing men and of good character (Matthew 8:5; 27:54; Mark 15:39-45; Luke 7:2; 23:47; Acts 10:1; 21:32; 28:16).

Jesus did not shun or rebuke the centurion but showed respect for his sense of leadership (Matthew 8:5-13). When John the Baptist was asked by soldiers what they should do (in light of the gospel) they were not told to stop serving in the Military, but to be content with their wages and not abuse their power or authority over civilians (Luke 3:14).

All this evidences to the truth that you can be a soldier and lead a godly life. You can be a Christian and serve in the Military.

So what did Jesus mean on the Sermon on the Mount, if it were not an argument for pacifism?

We know that Christians are not to kill or murder, but we also know that Christians should neither sit back and allow injustice.

Throughout scripture we are told to defend the weak (Proverbs 31:8-9), seek justice (Isaiah 1:17), and if necessary lay down our lives for others (John 15:13).

We are to love our neighbours (Mark 12:31) but if your neighbour broke into your house and desired to rape your wife and kill your children, you are not simply to turn the other cheek and hope that this witness would lead to conversion. Call the police! And when they arrive pray that they are not pacifists. Christians all have a Biblical mandate to protect our families (1 Timothy 5:8), our society and to defend the weak (Psalm 82:3).

I went to Auschwitz last year and will be forever horrified by what I saw. If our nation took a “pacifist” position to Hitler during the war, the genocide of the Jews, Polish, Russians and Gypsys would have continued, millions more lives would have been lost to evil forces. The Nazi’s had to be stopped and doing so would honour the Christian values of Justice, defence, law and order.

“There is a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

Even Jesus chased everyone out of the temple courts with a whip and overturned the money tables. (John 2:15).

So what was Jesus teaching on the sermon of the mount?

Well, to fully understand we have to look at the context……

Jesus was giving life lessons to individuals in society.

Jesus was teaching His followers not to repay evil with evil in the context of our daily lives.

If someone aggressively beeps the horn at you in a Tesco car park, you are not to get out of your car and seek retribution, but simply turn the other cheek, or even better, show them kindness (1 Peter 3:9).

If a relative is being malicious behind your back, do not react, but leave it with the Lord, for such things are His to revenge (Romans 12:19).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount does not apply to institutions that require Military intervention, He is talking to individuals, not heads of state.

As Christians we are to do what is right, live by God’s law and the law of the land, respecting the authorities who are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:3-4).

We are to submit to those God has put in charge to defend, preserve and protect our societies freedoms (1 Peter 2:13-14), a freedom that allows us to turn the other cheek in our daily lives.

We now have an understanding of the context in which Jesus was speaking on the Mount and we can see how the teaching should be applied to us (individually).

Jesus is not promoting pacifism, neither undermining the authorities or services that protect and defend our freedom.

On the Sermon of the Mount Jesus is teaching that we are to be good and loving citizens by not taking the law into our own hands, by not seeking revenge or retribution on those who have harmed us. Instead we have to trust the authorities to deal with the wrongdoer and leave any ill feeling towards our assailants with God.

Scripture proves that you can be a Christian and serve in the Military and the Sermon on the Mount does not contradict this.

If you are a Christian called to such a duty, you must live by Jesus’ teaching and be honourable in your service as a “sword bearer” for the Authority God has bestowed. Do not abuse your power but be a tool of justice as you fight against evil.

If the authority sends you into war to punish the “wrongdoer” and you kill an opposing “sword bearer” in battle, you have not committed murder, you have not taken the law into your own hands but have followed orders given by the state who were appointed by God.

However, if you abuse your dominance, act cruelly, go beyond just retribution, act in revenge, knowingly attack innocents or seek any unjust gain from your position then you are being unchristian in your service, you need to repent, confess your sin to God and accept the grace of Jesus Christ.

Final points to consider

The state authority has been established by God for the good of the church and we are to submit to it, unless it becomes the “wrongdoer” and goes against Biblical teaching (Acts 5:29).

The government is God’s vehicle for Military action, not the church, we are to rend to Caeser what is Caesars (Mark 12:17) whilst living in Christ’s Kingdom (John 18:36). For our battle is not against flesh and blood but evil forces (Ephesians 6:12), as soldiers of Christ (Philippians 2:25) each day putting on the full Armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) fighting with our divine weapons (2 Corinthains 10:4) and join in Christ’s suffering (2 Timothy 2:3).

The Death of a Christian

Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? 1 Corinthians 15:55

Sunday afternoon I entered the room of a dear brother in Christ. He was in bed surrounded by family who were coming to terms with the inevitable. His wife was sat next to him, hand in hand as she said her goodbyes to her husband of 64 years.

There was a sense of relief as his long battle with Parkinsons was coming to an end.

I read from the book of Revelation (21:1-5) which gives us an amazing window into eternity and a taste of the wonder and the glory of what is next for a Christian when we meet our end (in this life).

John was told to write these things down for these words are trustworthy and true. So we have every right to get excited about them. Paul speaks of his confidence in the truth of what is to come, in 2 Corinthians 5: 8 where he declares that when we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord.

It is a certainty then (if you are a Christian) that when you depart from this life, your next conscious experience will be with the Lord Himself.

So I can say in full confidence, knowing of my late brothers Christian profession and faithful witness to Jesus Christ through the pangs of Parkinsons, that today he will be in paradise (Luke 23:43).

By the Grace of God, our brother has now heard the words “well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). He has now seen the Lord face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and now knows more about Jesus, more about the Bible, more about the profound truths of existence than any preacher, theologian or seminary professor ever will (in this life).

Our brother is no longer under the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4), his Parkinsons has gone and he is with Christian friends and family from every tribe and nation (Revelations 7:9) bathing in the glory and wonder of God.

Our brother is now in eternity, worshiping the Lord (Revelations 22:3) and in constant rich and fruitful learning (Ephesians 3:18-19, Colossians 2:3).

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (Revelations 22:14-15)

I write with such enthusiasm and certainty about our brother’s current state because of the Gospel that puts salvation in the hands of God and not in the works of humanity.

We are confident because it is Christ who has the victory over death and it is in Him we put our trust!

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart that Jesus is the Christ, God the Son, who left the glory of His Fathers embrace to take on this world at its worst, being born in poverty and living a life despised and rejected by His own people.

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart that on the cross Jesus took the consequences for the failures (sin) of His people and buried them in His death.

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart Christ’s resurrection as evidence of life after death and assurance of a fresh start.

Our brother had faith that Jesus was His substitute, mediator, Prophet, Priest and King and as a result he did not fear death, knowing with certainty that the Son of God was with him (Psalm 23:1). Christ Jesus was his anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19)

As Christians, we know, that in Christ “we are chosen, predestined, and sealed with the Holy Spirit guaranteeing our inheritance to God’s Praise and Glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14). This truth allows us to live a life in this corrupt and fallen world (that is ever increasingly hostile to our beliefs) in the utmost joy and contentment.

Whatever trial, disease, heartache or mocking that we may face we know that we need not fear, for God is with us and will strengthen us (Isaiah 41:10).

In God’s hands, we cannot be beaten, for if God is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31).

This truth goes someway in explaining why us Christians are joyful in our trial, because we have nothing to fear, not even death, for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)! And when the worst this world can through at you is of absolutely no consequence, it is truley liberating! Believe you me!

So liberating, that when sat at the bedside of a dying man, we were not in deep mourning and grief (as you see from those lost in the world). No! in Christ we could gather together in utter peace around the word and prayerfully praise God because of the certainty of our brothers future.

As Christians we can all face the last enemy without fear and this gives us greater freedom in this life.

Yes the enemy is fierce, so fierce that the richest most powerful person alive today cannot defeat it (try as they might)!

But in Christ we can say with confidence “Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55

If you are reading this and are not a Christian, please consider our late brothers faith that got him through life’s trials and let it be an example to you as you remember the shortness of your days and the certainty of your end.

Do not wait until your death bed before accepting the reality of God.  Do not let your pride cause you to meet the end of yourself, before getting to the beginning of God.

Come to Him now! It is the perfect time! Come to God today and accept His Son Jesus Christ as your Saviour!

Come to God today and know the most profound joy, meaning and purpose, that goes beyond anything this corrupt and fallen world can tempt you with.

To find out more about this most amazing truth…..come to church…it is great! There is no place like it on earth! You will meet people of all ages and backgrounds that are bound in the total unity of God’s love. You will be fulfilled as you grow in Grace and see your life transformed as Jesus builds you up, giving you meaning and purpose in the body of believers. A community of sacrificial love.

I leave you with the lyrics of In Christ Alone (see below)

death

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm,
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save,
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again,
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny,
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
Songwriters: Keith Getty / Stuart Townend