Romania – The Sky, the Land and the Blood 

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Village boy outside of his home

Last year a dear friend introduced me to Pastor Dorin Dumitrascu. Neither party was aware of my Romanian ancestory. I was delighted to meet with him and enjoyed comparing notes. During the conversation I mentioned that my Grandfather was from a very small town over to the east of the country, on the river Danube, a place called Braila. Dorin was amazed as his church is based in the neighbouring city of Galati (just 10 minutes drive away). I explained that my Great Grandfather lived in Galati.

The coincidence was incredible and we could see God’s providence in our coming together. Over the past year Dorin and I have become great friends, he came to see us in Wales and we planned a visit to Romania so that I could explore my family roots and more importantly see the church.

I have just returned home from my trip and I was not disappointed. 

Like my Grandfather, the Romanian people are wonderful, caring, sincere, hardworking and amazing cooks! The history of Romania is fascinating as well as the geography and I was incredibly excited to see what God is doing in the church through my dear friend Dorin, his brother (Pastor Mihai) and everyone at Biserica Crestina Emanuel.

Pastor Dorin, me and Mihai

Pastor Dorin, John and Mihai

This blog will describe my trip in three sections that correspond to the meaning of Romanian flag. Blue – The Sky (the Heavens), Yellow – The Land and Red – The blood shed (the people).

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Yellow – The Land 

The Dacian Kingdom was rich in Gold, Silver and other mineral deposits (including oil) and was first exploited in 275 AD by the conquering powers of Rome, naming  the people “Romania”. 

For centuries various neighbouring powers such as the Austrian-Hungary, Soviet and Ottomon Empires fought over the mineral rich region, splitting it into the principalities of Transylvania, Moldova, Dobrogea, Muntenia and others. 

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Romania became an independent Kingdom in 1878 headed by an Anglo-Deutsche Monarchy that gave the people great support and investment from the worlds biggest empires. The monarchy united the Romanian people and modernised the country. 

Romania became powerful and conquered bordering nations creating “Big Romania”. Their ambitions of further growth were quickly quashed by impending world wars that saw the land overrun by Nazi Germany and then handed to Soviet powers in 1947. The King was forced to abdicate. 

Under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s brand of communism, Romania remained independent. It imprisoned up to 80,000 of its own people (Many Christians) and imposed horrific suffering across the nation. The revolution began in 1989 (which resulted in 1000 deaths), but from it Romania became a free market economy and welcomed large investment from the USA. Their transition to the west was completed in 2004 joining the EU and NATO. 

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Galati from the TV tower

These massive political fluctuations mirror the nations natural extremes from the wondrous peaks of the Carpathian mountains in the North West to the thousands of square miles of flat grass lands and marsh on the Danube Delta. Romania endures long cold winters and satisfyingly warm summers, rich with diverse Fauna and Flora. The land is rich and produces much grain and a variety of fruit and wines for EU consumers.

Journeying three hours east from Bucharest I was surprised by the immense poverty. The east of the country is yet to be impacted by the EU and remains in soviet living conditions. 

The villages have dirt track roads, open sewage, outside toilets and many of the people are living ‘hand to mouth’ through home grown vegetables and perhaps a cow or some pigs. The homes are heated by woodburners.

In the eastern towns and cities the roads are desperate and the pavements broken with potholes, exposed pipes, cabling and many wild dogs. 

The vast cultural transitions over recent decades have left an urban legacy of poorly maintained infrastructure that the successive governing forces would not take responsibility for. In just a short walk through Galati you can see surviving vestiges from the thriving days of the Monarchy, a skyline ruled by communist tower blocks, soviet swimming baths and factories reduced to rubble and creeping through the  decay and cracks of such long departed regimes the odd Lidl and H&M sign glows.

Since the revolution successive governments have allowed assets and funding to be mismanaged and some parts of Galati look more like Aleppo than a peacetime European city. However, in the defence of Galati, I visited at aesthetically the worst time of year. They had another a brutal winter with lots of snow. All the grass and plants had died, everything was cold, wet and brown. In the summer when the vines and trees bloom, what appears to be a derelict city can be transformed into a tuscan paradise.

EU legislation has protected the people and helped them to manage their funds better. But their membership has also inflated prices and wages have not caught up. Fuel and other goods are the same price across the EU but the average Romanian teacher (for example) earns just 400euros a month. The country was hit extremely hard by the 2008 crash and has not recovered.

This economic pressure has forced many to return to more subsistent living and 17% of the population (30% of all 18-30 year olds) have migrated into Western Europe for increased income. 

Although they do send money home (which helps the local economy), this economic migration has caused a demographic catastrophe as many young workers (who could maintain the buildings and infrastructure are now absent). Many much needed skills in rural communities are dying out with the ageing population.

Red – The Blood

As discussed the Romanian people have shed much blood as Empires (including our own) have fought over finite resources across the continent. This culture of occupation has made the Romanian people rather fatalistic. There is an old tale of three Romanian Shepherds. One became successful, so the other two plotted his death. One of the sheep heard of their plans and reported it back. On hearing the news the successful shepherd wrote his will and testament. That is the end of the story! No fight back, no heroism, just resignation.

The nation has endured years of oppression resulting in a tired, melancholic people (voiced perfectly through the unique style of their beloved poet Eminescu), even the Romania national anthem is in a minor key. 

The Romanian’s perspective of history is also quaint. In just one generation the country transformed from a Kingdom to a communist state and then to a secular western democracy. Such dynastic cycles would take centuries to unfold in the UK.

Such suffering, exploitation and disorder has built a society of deep and philosophical thinkers who are wonderfully generous, honest, hard working, kind hearted, gentle spirited and welcoming beyond all measure.

Driving through the city streets you are confronted with rows upon rows of corrugated iron sheets and tall gates. Hidden behind each are beautiful bungalows and houses where the people live. At first you would assume that such guarding would be because of a high crime rate but this is not the case. It comes from years under the soviet regime where your personal space was invaded by the state. People barricaded themselves into their homes in response to this and out of fear that there actions (however appropriate and inoffensive) maybe reported to the security services. All perimeters are covered owing to a nationwide distrust of a neighbour. But behind these tall gates lay beautiful gardens, vegetables, chickens, orchards, pigs, grapes, wells and watermelons. Every inch is productive and worked organically and sustainably.

Westernisation has brought many problems, namely the aforementioned demographic crises. Romania is filled with economic orphans whose aspirational parents have migrated west leaving them at home with ageing family members.

These children all have the best clothes and iPhones sent home from the shopping Malls of Milan, the London Arcades and the boutiques of Paris by well intentioned parents, but this has created a generation of children needy for attention and hungry for western treasures – a dangerous combination that can be easily exploited. 

Galati and Braila have outrageous figures when it comes to sex trafficking. I was told of many incidences of bribery and kidnap of young girls and I was horrified to see the below advert in the local shopping mall brazenly recruiting young women to perform on online chat rooms. The potential weekly earning is astronomical for the average Romanian and such work is increasingly seen as empowering and thus accepted.

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Blue – The Sky.

The spiritual state of East Romania is remarkably similar to the Welsh valleys. Both are on the borders of the EU, both have lost their industries and have been let down politically for generations. Unemployment is high, the ambitious youth have departed to find work elsewhere. Galati is still heavily influenced by Nicolae Ceauşescu’s ideology. There is a deep seated atheism, contrasted with a nominal patriotic support for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Evangelical Christians are seen as a cult. I met two young men in the church that had both been assaulted by Priests (on separate occasions) as they evangelised the villages. One incident let to police intervention as the Mayor and the Priest supported by hired thugs came in force to close the village church down.

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The Eastern Orthodox Church claimed 85% support but recently suffered an embarrassing shock at a recent referendum. The constitution (written decades before the LGBT movement) states that marriage must be between two “partners” (assumed heterosexual) but progress was made to define this legally stating “man and woman” exclusively. A referendum was called and support for this amendment was at 90% (Praise God), but only 20.4% of the population voted, below the required 30% needed to write the change into law. If 85% of the population were in support of the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Church (as claimed), then they would have voted accordingly and the motion would have past. Sadly, Christianity is lower than 20% in Romania and 2% attend Evangelical church (most of which are in the west).

The real enemy of the church in Romania is consumerism (just like in the UK) and this week I had the opportunity to share the gospel into it. Speaking at the Friday evening Fusion meeting where most of the twenty teenagers are unchurched and again at the Valentine youth meeting. I was greatly encouraged by the professing Atheists who came. Unlike our teenagers who would simply dismiss any worldview other than their own, the Romanian teen is far more philosophical and engaged. They want to hear other opinions and make educated decisions for themselves.

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School in Romania is split in two, the younger children meet at 8am to 11am then the older children use the same classroom 12-6pm. Whilst the parents are at work they are left to their own devices. “Generatia cu cheer la gat” the children of the (door) key around their neck. 

Biserica Crestina Emanuel saw the need in this situation and built Proveritas. An after school club that caters for such “economic orphans”, improving their behaviour and study. Through word of mouth they now welcome over forty children, many from horrific living conditions to very wealthy sons of state officials. This work allows the church to influence many families with the Gospel. Proveritas also goes into local school to speak on the dangers of trafficking and drugs all with a Christian ethos. I had the privilege of teaching in this school during the week and got to meet several of the children. Like the Gospel, maths has no language barriers.

I enjoyed visiting a number of churches in the area. I went to the village of Schela, where I visited a church that was built overnight during the communist times. The people gathered and worked tirelessly to avoid officials. On inspection the Mayor was shocked to see a building that was not there the day before. They did not have the resource to demolish it at the time, but the church elders were severely penalised for it. It survived the regime and now welcomes 80 people from the village each week.

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I also spent some time with Vlad who came to the UK as an atheist to work in 2008 (during the crash). He was influenced by his flatmates and became a drug addict. Eventually Vlad found work through a muslim family in Liverpool, he was tasked to clear out and renovate a building for them, he lived onsite.  He found a Bible in the mess and began to read. He was saved and came back to Romania (drug free) and now Pastors a church in Braila. 

Saturday evening I was taken to one of the many village church plants to preach. They could not get a licence to build a church, so they bought a house, that they are secretly converting. I prepared a 15 minute message allowing for the translation, hoping to be finished within 30 minutes. I was rebuked quite sharply. The  small group were risking so much to be in church and wanted to be taught the Word of God, anything under an hour will not satisfy their craving – I had to quickly change plans on the drive up. 

We sang hymns, psalms, prayed and discussed the scripture, we were one in Christ despite the thousands of miles that divide our culture. It was a beautiful experience.

On the Sunday morning I was invited to preach at the main service at Biserica Crestina Emanuel. I was encouraged to see so many people, over three hundred gathered. The singing lifted our hearts to God and the people were so welcoming to the word. It was the first time I taught the Bible with translation you can see the message here.

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Biserica Crestina Emanuel is a pentecostal church based in the centre of Galati, prime location to serve the needy and witness to the influential. They are under tremendous cultural pressure, but under Pastor Mihai and Dorin the church is thriving, it is alive and well, filled with deeply committed Christians who fast and pray and long for the word. Under such pressure they put the church in Wales to shame.

“Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.” Exodus 34:10

This word came to me in my devotions during my stay in Romania and I pray that it will be so for both Wales and Romania as we fight together in the name of Jesus in the boarders of our secularised continent.

During the trip I worked with Dorin to build a business plan to gain funding to turn Proveritas into the first Christian school in the East. To achieve this goal they just need $250,000 dollars over four years – a relatively small amount to impact an entire city for Jesus. If you wish to prayerfully support their amazing work please visit our website at www.NoddfaChurch.com and we can arrange to send more details to you and collect funds on their behalf.

I would like to thank my dear brothers Dorin and Mihai Dumitrascu, Pavel Trifu and the team at Biserica Crestina Emanuel for their warm welcome. I also want to thank my adopted Romanian family Dan and Mirela Tanase who hosted me for the week and went above and beyond to show me the city and the culture. They are the most beautiful warm hearted people I have ever met and now friends for life.

God has blessed me with a week I will never forget, I have seen how a church can thrive under cultural and economic oppression far worse than what we face in the Welsh Valleys. I pray God will use me in the same way. #PrayforRomania

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Crazy love?

Many people ‘believe’ our cultures myth that science has disproved God.

The roots of such dogmatic atheism does not come from academia, neither is it a scientific statement. It is a mere ideology born from our monotonous western materialism.

Our societies obsession with ownership (or the appearance thereof) has caused us to collectively reason that if something cannot be seen, touched or measured it is false.

This view has lined the pockets of many and relegated Christianity (the world-view that brought us grace, compassion, freedom and charity) into a remnant of delusional fantasists.

Is this your view?

Do you discredit the existence of “God” because He exists outside of the constraints of our cultural norms?

Do you believe God does not exist because He cannot be seen, touched or measured?

If so, I would like to ask you to think very carefully about how you will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year….because a (godless) material world view dictates that love is simply the release of testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin from the hypothalamus.

In a godless world love is not a beautiful emotion that transcends physical limitations and can drive humanity to do wonderful selfless acts, rather it is an instinctive impulse evolved (with no meaning or purpose) over billions of years whereby you secrete hormones caused by external triggers.

Ask yourself – is this all that love is?

Our materialist culture has relegated Christianity into stupidity, at the same time as encouraging you to go out and buy; cards, roses, chocolates and jewellery to add meaning and purpose to what they believe is meaningless and purposeless. Can you see how ridiculous this is?

Without God your life is just chance, you are of zero consequence and “love” is just a chemical secretion from a soulless organism (you), so why bother celebrating it (or anything else for that matter).

If there is no God, why write love letters, why go on romantic trips, why get married? It’s all hypocrisy if you are an atheist!

Now we all know deep down that love is so much more than just a chemical reaction. – don’t we? This is why the world celebrates “Love” on Valentines day.

Because love is transcendent, love is beautiful and love is powerful.

So, if I may, I would now like to now park the atheist world view of what love is and get real with you!

Below is what the Bible says about “love”.

As you read it I would like you to ask yourselves which description more accurately describes what you know to be true of love.

A mere chemical imbalance of an advanced shaved ape (you) or…..

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...”

Is the Bible’s definition of love more in line with what you believe to be true?

Does the Bible’s description of love more truly represent the wonderful truth of what we all know and celebrate on Valentine’s Day?

If you have answered “yes” to the above, then you have accepted that the Bible is correct in this case and that their is truth that exists outside of the material world.

1 John 4:7 says “Let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

God is love and just like Love, God cannot be seen, He cannot be touched and He cannot measured. Just like love, God can be felt and He is very real and should be celebrated and worshiped. (Now here comes the best bit 👇👇👇👇)

In the same way that you express your feelings to your beloved by giving them gifts this Valentine’s Day. The Bible teaches us that God expressed His immeasurable love for you in the gift of His Son – Jesus of Nazareth.

In love, God the Son left the Glory of Heaven to take on the likeness of human flesh as the historic person Jesus. So that He could experience this fallen world for Himself and come alongside us in it and live (on our behalf) the perfect life that we cannot on our behalf.

Then in the greatest act of love Jesus willingly presented Himself to die the death we all deserve (for rejecting the God of love), so that on the cross God’s justice could be satisfied and God’s Love revealed.

In the greatest act of love Jesus gave every part of Himself on the cross for those He loves, all so that we can be reunited with God, despite our willing rejection of Him.

Romans 5:7-8 says ”Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus is the very pinnacle of loves expression, He is the full embodiment, the full revelation of God’s love to us and He offers all of Himself to you this Valentine’s Day.

Friends life is not simply material, there is so much more to it. The Atheists are wrong and how they celebrate “love” proves their hypocrisy. They give cards and roses to give meaning to what they claim is meaningless.

Love is not simply a Chemical reaction, it’s crazy, and you know it!

Just like God Himself love is beautiful, powerful, immeasurable and defies all logic. But isn’t it the most amazing of truths.

This Valentine’s Day the source of all love, Jesus Christ, calls you to follow Him.

Will you continue to live in the lie of our culture, or will you choose a greater joy that can set you free from our cultures material constraints?

Find out more www.NoddfaChurch.com

What is Truth?

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It should not surprise us that at this time in history when God has all but been forgotten, secular media has coined our era “post-truth”.

Rather oddly, “truth” is no longer defined or determined by an absolute (God), but by popular consensus (irrelevant of the facts). Any person can now publish their version of “truth” to wide audiences who can engorge themselves in the contents partiality to justify and reinforce their own personal stance and life choices. 

Those who oppose an absolute moral position (God) in favour of a relative “truth” (their own position), are the first to judge other individuals viewpoints. Thus hypocritically enforcing their “higher” truth on other relative positions (Matthew 23:13-39).

We truly live in a faithless and perverse generation (Matthew 17:17) where experts are undermined and data is irresponsibly interpreted so that “truth” can now be manipulated to adhere to the agenda of the influencer. Morality and law are no longer principles set higher than any individual, but have now been relegated to the scrutiny and subjection of personal choice. In the UK truth has become relative and chaos looms.

Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem faced the same issue. It was occupied by the pluralist Roman Empire, lead by a materialist Temple Priesthood and politicised by the Pharisees and Sadducees. All competing over their versions of “truth” and just like today, the outcome of this relativism created an unfair, unjust and deeply polarised society. 

God heard the cry of His people and in His Son Jesus Christ, He entered into this murky world of darkness, deceit, corruption and decay, with a foray of light, love and life. And throughout His ministry many came to Him to seek His approval on what really is the “truth”.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus on; taxation (Mark 12:13-17), the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14), Divorce, (Matthew 19:1-12), Fasting (Luke 5:33-38) and class (Luke 5:32). The Sadducees asked Jesus about Marriage (Mark 12:18-27), the teachers asked for Jesus’ opinion on life priorities (Mark 12:28-34), The Priests challenged Jesus on authority (Matthew 21:23-27) and the Romans asked Him about Power (John 18:37). All in a pursuit to see who really holds the truth!

What is interesting is that Jesus never answers their questions as they intended. When presented with the options of right and wrong, Jesus always answered with Himself. Jesus always points those seeking “truth” to God (John 10:30). 

Jesus knew that in our fallen and broken state humanity can never own the truth independent of God. Because of our rejection of the absolute truth, when faced with what is right and wrong, we can only choose between the lesser of two evils. Jesus’ challenge then to those who pursue truth, is to liberate ourselves from our imperfect, fallen and preconceived notions of “truth” (John 8:32) and simply follow Him (John 14:6). For Jesus is the absolute truth.

And and this is why….. 

Truth is when word and deed meet.

Christ is the embodiment of God’s word and deed (John 1:1). There can be no higher truth! Jesus came into the world to testify to God’s truth (John 18:37) and on the cross Jesus took all of God’s promises throughout human history and actioned them in the most profound and sincere way by His death. The person of Christ is the absolute bedrock of truth.

Every word Jesus spoke was met in deed. Jesus did not simply tell us to help the poor and sick, He Himself did it (Matthew 4:23).    Jesus did not simply tell us to love one another but He Himself did it (John 13:5). Jesus did not simply tell us to love our enemies but He Himself did it, pleading to His Father in Heaven for their forgiveness, as they brutally hammered nails through His ankle bones into hard splintered wood (Luke 23:34). Even at a point of most intense pain and hardship, Jesus’ every deed met His word. Jesus said He will rise again (Mark 9:31) and He Himself did it (Luke 24:6). So when Jesus says that He loves you and is preparing a place for you, trust me, He means it!

Jesus is the very embodiment of truth, He is truth incarnate and this is why His message of love, peace and unity still offends so many people in the west today. Because the secular west would rather exchange the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25) to justify our own life choices, only loving those they want to love and helping only those we want to help.  This is not freedom, this is not truth.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. John 10:36-38

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POEM: 2,000 Christmas Cards

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Down slippery steps and up hilly climbs,
On dark wet streets at Christmas time.
Walk the people of Noddfa – young and old,
Carrying a message of the greatest story ever told.

A message of Mercy,
A message of Grace,
A message of light to those in a dark place.

Of a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son,
To die in our place so that justice could be done.
And in His resurrection He gives us the power to change,
To live with greater purpose and meaning away from a life of heartache and pain.

Each Christmas card has been posted, sown with tears,
Yet they have often been received by mocking voices and jeers.

But if you believe our message is false and we are here simply by chance,
Why do you exchange gifts at Christmas and sing carols and dance?
Why do you hang decorations and put up a tree?
For none of this behaviour happens naturally.
If there is no God and we are just sentient apes,
Why bother hanging stockings up on your fireplace?
The Christmas lights and tinsel are all well and good,
But without remembering the birth of Jesus,
My friends, Christmas is misunderstood.

For it is only in Christ you can know true joy,
Not in the short-term pleasures of unwrapping that new toy.
For it is only in Christ you can know God’s Fatherly protection,
And receive the gift of eternal life in His Son’s perfection.

Yes Father Christmas is fun, a myth and a game,
But the story of Jesus is true and not quite the same.
Whilst Santa Claus is checking his list and checking it twice,
Jesus gifts you Grace – regardless of whether you have been naughty or nice.

You see the secret to a happy Christmas, one filled with good cheer,
Is to have Jesus at its very centre, we pray that you do not let him disappear.

So when our Christmas card is posted through your door,
I pray you do not use it to line your rabbit hutch floor.
Neither tear it or fold it or chuck it straight in the bin,
Rather take a moment and read the message within.
A personal invite for you to come,
to Noddfa church and celebrate with us the birth of God the Son.

We’ve posted 2,000 of these Christmas cards across our valley with love.
2,000 Christmas cards containing a message of peace from God above.

We’ve posted in the cold and the rain and the dark,
so you can have an invite to Carols Under the Arch.

We hope to see you there!

6pm Sunday 23rd December 2018!

The Big Arch Abersychan.

(I know the last bit did not rhyme).

Christmas, Golden Rats and Tumours.

I was asked by the local primary school to come in the week before Christmas to give an assembly. 

This year I called upon some (incredibly excited) young volunteers to come up to the front and help me build and decorate a Christmas tree.

Each child told me what their favourite part of the Christmas tree was; some said the tinsel, others the lights, some said the ball balls, most said the star at the top.

I then explained to the children what my favourite part of the Christmas tree was.

It is often seen as the most boring part of all. It is often overlooked and hidden away, it is ugly and unglamorous. Yet without it, the entire tree, with all of its glitter and gold falls down. 

My favourite part of the tree is its base.

I then removed the base of the Christmas tree and to the shock of the assembled classes, it fell (timber), crashing to the floor and was left in a messy pile.

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The point I was making became very clear to the children. Without the foundational message of Christmas, the love of God made profoundly tangible in the incarnation of Christ, all the glitz and glamour that the festivities have now become will fall. 

Without the Gospel message all the tinsel and bright lights become a meaningless mess of materialism. Without the Gospel message Christmas is an all-consuming catastrophe.

Seeing the felled tree in all of its tragic sadness was the perfect symbol of Christmas without Christ and it made me think of the fallen statue of Dagon in 1 Samuel 4-7.

Dagon, was the god of the Philistines and father of Baal and is believed to have been the god of grain, other historians argue fish, either way Dagon was a god of worldly provision, a god that represents the same consumerism and materialism that ‘Christmas’ has now become in the west.

Like the Christmas tree at the school assembly, Dagon once stood tall on a pedestal in the Philistine home of Ashdod. Like the Christmas tree in our assembly, Dagon was a symbol of plenty and prosperity, with gifts laid at its feet. 

But one morning, the Philistines found Dagon face down on the floor, broken and in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly. 

So what happened?

Well, in 1 Samuel 4 we read of a great war between Israel and the Philistines.

Israel had been badly beaten, so they brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle. 

The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred gold covered chest with two cherubim on its lid and resided in the Holy of Holies. It was very precious, no human being could touch it and live.

The chest contained the ten commandments, Aarons rod and a golden jar of Manna and it represented God’s presence on earth.

The Israelites brought their sacred Ark to the battle field, it was their ace card. God’s presence on earth. How could they possibly be beaten with the Ark of the Covenant fighting alongside them? 

Even the Philistines believed they were done for, they showed fear at the presence of the living God on the front line (1 Samuel 4:7).

The battle raged on with the Ark leading the charge, but alas, it made no difference. The Philistines beat the Israelites again and captured their precious artefact. 

They took the Ark home and placed it before Dagon (their god of worldly provision). 

The next day we find Dagon where we began this story, flat on his face, in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly. 

Before the Ark of the Lord, Dagon (and all that he represents) could not stand on its own, it had to be propped up by mere human hands (1 Samuel 5:3).

Dagon fell like our Christmas tree in the assembly and the Philistines began to suffer for their mistake, they faced plagues of rats followed by tumours. All was taken from them because they valued worldly grain over the bread of Heaven. 

Through their suffering they could see their mistake. But rather than give up their materialism, they made preparations to send the Ark away, back to where it came from. 

Ironically they used their wealth to build gold rats and tumours to give to God as a guilt offering in an attempt to pay Him off and lift the curse. (Imagine receiving a Gold tumour for Christmas – not nice).

The Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart and attached two calves who had never been yoked, to it (1 Samuel 6:7). 

The calves knew no trails to follow and would naturally seek their mothers breast back home. But governed by the Sovereign Lord, they were directed back to Israel. 

In this act God proved once again that He is Sovereign Lord of all and worthy of primary position in our lives.

Like the Christmas tree in our school assembly, Dagon had fallen and with it all the wealth and prosperity he symbolised and the God of the Bible proved Himself as sovereign Lord of All.

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So what can we learn from this?

Well God’s people (the Israelites) were guilty of using the Ark of the Covenant in much the same way as the Philistines used their idol Dagon. They wanted God to work for them. They thought if we bring the Ark to battle, God will have to step up and win the day for us.

As Christians we often do the same at Christmas, the festive season has become our ace card. We all know that for one month a year, society welcomes our message and we make every effort to capitalise on it. 

We hold carol services, Christmas parties, nativities, dinners and pray that the Lord will bless the outreach because of our efforts. And just like the Philistines who feared the Ark when it was on the front line, during the festive season, the world buys into it to! Many people will be captivated by our message and will claim to fear the Lord. But when they take the Ark home it will sit at the feet of Dagon before being sent on its way again.

Church, we must not make the same mistake as the Israelites did with the Ark and approach Christmas as an ace card.

Yes we must fight the good fight of faith and hold the events and capitalise on the season, but we must do this remembering that God is Sovereign and His supremacy over this world is independent of us and our festive gimmicks to get bums on seats. 

The real message of Christmas, the real base that keeps the tree standing, is not simply that God came to earth in flesh as the historic person Jesus of Nazareth to redeem us (as mind blowing as this is). The real message of Christmas is that God is sovereign in all things and we should be utterly amazed and grateful that in His absolute power and supremacy over this world, He had the Grace and love and the desire to come and save us, independent of our efforts.

So this Christmas, I pray that in God’s strength we can keep our eyes focussed on Him in the battle for souls and not put our hope in the excitement of the festivities and the opportunities they bring.

God is Sovereign and He will win the day on His terms, not ours. Pray that it is His will to do so this Christmas.

 

 

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.

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