Happy New Year -A review of 2015

As we look forward to what the Lord has in store for us all in 2016, I am reminded of His many blessings over 2015! We have welcomed hundreds in from our Valley throughout the year to our ‘Look Up!’ Family friendly services, our Sunday attendance has doubled, children’s ministry tripled and we have had the privilege of Baptising six saved souls.

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Such a blessing of numbers that we have seen and welcomed at Noddfa over 2015 is akin to Jesus’ own experience in John chapter 6. The chapter starts with Jesus feeding the five thousand. This count (as we are told in verse 10) was just the men, not the women and children who were most likely with them, so their could have been at least double the people, perhaps around the population of our little valley that we are called to serve (10,000).

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In John Chapter 6:5, we are told that Jesus “looked up” (Look Up!) and He saw a great crowd coming towards Him. With just a few morsels, a bit of bread and some fish, they were all fed with leftovers! The people were amazed (John 6:14-15) and gathered in force to support Jesus. You would have thought this was an answer to prayer, but such ‘people power’ is dangerous and not what we as a church are looking for either. We do not want numbers, for numbers sake, we do not want people power, we want God Power! Bums on seats could start a revolution, perhaps for good in many ways. But if God’s Glory is not the motive then I’d rather close the church. He has kept Noddfa since 1846 and it is for Him that we are here, not for our own desires or motives. Jesus in His eternal wisdom saw the crowd and withdrew to the mountain.

The disciples were then sent on a boat to Capernaum. On route Jesus met with them on the water (as only He could). The disciples arrived on the otherside of the lak, the crowd eventually caught up with them (John 6:25). Jesus met with them and in love was clear with those before Him, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” People in our community are equally amazed that our small church are prepared to feed them all, “very truly, they come to Noddfa for the free Hotdogs and fireworks but not to hear the Gospel”. The people’s response to Jesus was encouraging, they wanted to know what to do to please God and Jesus tells them to believe in Him!

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Not content with the miracle of being fed with mere morsels of fish and bread the people asked Jesus for yet another sign, like the one their ancestors received in Exodus. Bread from Heaven, Manna, that kept their bodies alive in the wilderness. Jesus replies with some very famous words. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”” (John 6:51). Many grumbled under the sound of the Gospel, just like people do today. They thought Jesus was asking them to be cannibals, to eat His actual flesh. The Gospel sounded too gruesome for them to stomach. It was too odd for them to accept. They did not realise that our Lord was speaking in a spiritual context. Those far from God, far removed from the spiritual truth, cling to the physical and were disgusted by these words of Jesus. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). ““This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:52). As a result most of them walked away.

outsideApproximately ten thousand people came to Jesus that day. They came for many reasons; for physical food, to look for a leader that could rise up against the oppressive state of Rome; perhaps to be seen to be associated  with His movement, perhaps they agreed with His moral principles, or perhaps just to give themselves an easier life? Yet at the end of Jesus’ clear Gospel teaching to them, He (The Son of God) was left with just twelve before Him and one of them Judas.

2015, with all its ups and downs has been a Biblical year. By God’s Grace, we have brought people in, with little time and resource (mere crumbs of bread and a few fish) and an ageing church with a small membership. When 120 people came from the community for Look Up in November, we may have thought like the disciples and asked how can we feed them all? The church kitchen was working double time! But they were all fed, physically and spiritually with the Gospel that night, just as the 10,000 were in John 6.

monday clubJesus welcomed ten thousand in, He fed them physically and spiritually, but in the end was left with just 11 disciples who could say “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). I thank God for the hundreds who have come into Noddfa this year (we would love to see you all again). I thank God for those that have stayed and can now say the same as Peter does here.

As we have journeyed as a church in 2015, between the well attended events, and as a small group of disciples escaping the crowds. Weekly rowing our boat towards the Glory of Christ, we can thank God that throughout 2015 He has come across the divide to meet with us through His word preached.

full churchAs a church in 2015 we have shared the Gospel to the crowds, just as Jesus did, unashamedly so, in all its gruesome truth. We have preached the truth of Sin and salvation in Jesus Christ alone and inevitably many people have been offended by it. Just as they were with Jesus in John chapter 6, this should encourage us as a church heading to 2016 together.

We are God’s chosen; we should be prepared in 2016 to continue to feed the 10,000 in this valley with the morsels that God gives us. We must be prepared to have times on a rocky boat in isolation and we must not be ashamed of the Gospel and its presentation (however weird it all may look to the world). If the truth we hold dear as a church offends people (and I say this in love) then good, because we know we are preaching the Gospel as Jesus did, and at least our neighbors  have now heard it! The same heat from a stove can harden an egg, but can also soften a potato! Or to quote Spurgeon “The same sun which melts wax, hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins” The conviction of the Holy Spirit will drive many away in 2016, but as we have been privileged to see throughout this year, it can also soften hearts to God, and bring the elect home.

Let us push on forward into 2016, prayerfully doing all we can to share Jesus. We must do all that is possible and trust in God to do what only He can (the impossible) and save souls.

Happy New Year and a big thanks to all who helped, volunteered and came to our church events, meetings and outreach. We hope to see you all again in 2016.

Pastor John

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Tim 1:15

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Christmas Outreach

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This week we are distributing 1000 Christmas cards around our community, introducing our neighbours to the church and inviting them to our various Christmas services.

This is a huge investment of both time and resource for our little church and we are praying that the Lord will bless the outreach during the festivities. As we prepare to hit the streets Psalm 126 (see below) spoke directly to me.

Psalm 126 was sung by the post exilic Jews as they ascended back home up to Jerusalem from their captor Babylon. 

As Christians we are much like these weary travelers, currently in exile, captive in an alien land. As we journey home (to Heaven) we thank God for all He has done in our lives and how our Salvation is secured in the death and resurrection of His Son, King Jesus!

Despite our many, many failures, we can come to Zion with “mouths filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” because there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).

God’s Grace surpasses anything that I have done or could do wrong. On the Cross Christ paid the debt for my sin in full! Whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It is not our deeds that have saved us; it is faith in God’s own work in His Son Jesus Christ! This is why we Christians can sing with the Psalmist “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

In verse four the Psalm turns us away from rejoicing in our own salvation to prayer.

The Psalmist asks the Lord to “restore our fortunes, like streams in the Negev”. The Psalmist is saying let the streams that were dry fill back up with water. It is a request to God to restore the fortunes of His church, to fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit, to wash us clean and let the Gospel flow out to the lost in our community.

Is this not what every Christian in Wales is praying for this Christmas?

These exiled Jews were singing praises to God as they walked home to Jerusalem, they were “filled with joy”, but God gave them a burden to look back and think of the lost, their families and friends whom decided not to follow them to Zion. Those who “the Lord has done great things for” look back and cry out for those who are far from Him.

The final two verses follow on from this picture.

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

The Psalmist gives us an illustration of a farmer sowing seeds. To understand this illustration fully, we must remember the context it was written in.

Remember the timing of this Psalm, the exiles were not journeying to Solomon’s wealthy Jerusalem lined with gold. They were returning home post exile. Jerusalem had fallen; burned down by the Babylonians, it was in a mess, broken, dilapidated and derelict. It had been left to crumble and had little arable land, so food was very scarce.

These Exiles who walked to Jerusalem rejoicing were also poor and desolate. All they had was but a few seeds in hand to start a new life. So when they planted them it was with tears!

Why?

Because everything (and I mean everything), relied on their next yield! If the crop failed they would have nothing to eat, they would die and so would any hope for Jerusalem.

Is this not a picture of the church in the Welsh Valleys today?

As we walk up to our old churches as these exiles were ascending to Jerusalem. We see huge buildings that once thrived with life, but are now empty and aging and incurring greater costs to maintain.

Yet, like these exiles we still gather in a small but faithful group, an aging group with limited resources.

With just a handful of seeds between us we pray no differently to those who originally sang this Psalm.

Yes, God has blessed us, as he did these people who with joy walked to Jerusalem. But once they got there they were still in a serious situation!

As a small Valley church we thank God that the lights are still on, but where is the Christian witness in the Welsh Valley towns going to be in a decade, when the core members are with the Lord and there is nothing left to keep the doors open? Humanly speaking, the Christian witness in the Welsh Valleys will be extinguished!

We are at a point in our church history where everything (and I mean everything) is totally reliant on the next yield! Society is not pushing people in for us anymore and we can’t rely on the children of the faithful, for they have all grown up and moved away.

We are not living in Solomon’s Jerusalem, rich with harvest! The land that was once rich to farm has fallen, it has now grown over, filled with thorns and stones.

But all is not lost!

In Psalm 126 the returning exiles were not starting from nothing, they had legacy and belief, they had the rubble that once was Jerusalem and faith that it could return to former glory.

Many of the churches in the Welsh Valley’s gather in single digits, but we can rejoice that we still have some input in today’s society. We are still called upon to hatch, match and dispatch those in the community and at Christmas people do still come in! Praise God!

We might be farming in the rubble, but at least we are not left with nothing!

So, what are we going to do about it?

For the church to rebuild again it needs some exile attitude! Faith in God and some serious elbow grease to cultivate the land again!

We are in the rubble of a post-Christian society, and we are totally reliant on the next yield for survival!

We must work the land! We must sow the seed! (In our case 1000  Christmas cards!)

Yes! It is going to be a hard graft, especially with all the hills, steep roads and bad weather. Yes! We are going to face opposition and dogs attacking our fingers through letter boxes!

We are going out to sow in barren land, filled with rubble and thorns. But the Lord is good! He tells us that “Those who go out weeping,  carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them”

What a promise! It should drive us to service!

This Christmas

I urge you to pray for all the small Valley Churches as we seek to use the festivities to evangelise to the lost! Pray for every card, poster, flier and leaflet, and pray that they will be read and retained.

We must not sow seeds as if it was a marketing exercise, it is not a mere numbers game! We must “sow them with tears” because of a God given burden for the lost. We must “sow them with tears” understanding that the church in the Welsh Valleys is in such a desperate state, we must “sow them with tears” knowing that we are but one generation from extinction, we must “sow them with tears” leaning and trusting totally on God, the Lord of the Harvest.

Those that can’t climb the hills and sow the seed in great numbers, remember it is better to cultivate one seed that brings forth fruit than sow hundreds that do not. You maybe old and infirm, but you still have a duty to pray for the work and use the relationships you do have in the community to personally invite those the Lord has burdened you with into His church.

We are God’s means and we must do the possible why we still can so that He can do the impossible and revive His Church!

For those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy,  carrying sheaves with them.

 

Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

    we were like those who dreamed,

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,

    our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us,

    and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,

    like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow with tears

    will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping,

    carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy,

    carrying sheaves with them.