Sgt Pepper’s homage 2016 – Happy New Year 2017

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All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.” (Isaiah 40:7-8)

It is hard to summarise such a turbulent year as 2016, but the Sgt Pepper’s homage (above) has done this so well.

2016 will be remembered (by the west) for the loss of many treasured celebrities and the political shift from the mundane to the bipolar.

(For more on this read Dealing with Change – thoughts on BREXIT)

I have certainly mourned the heavy blows to our cultural heritage. As the Rev at Ringside, the loss of Muhammed Ali was upsetting (although expected). But out of all the celebrity deaths the most moving (for me) was David Bowie. To us it was a shock, but for him it was not a “sudden death”. The public-eye did not know of his battle with cancer and he orchestrated his departure (as much as possible) around his final album release. The lyrics revealed within gave voice to the dichotomy faced by all who are approaching death without the assurance of a loving saviour.

(For more on this read David Bowie “Look up here, I’m in heaven”).

There were many unsung heroes who also departed this year without any fanfare, such as Dr Donald Henderson who eradicated smallpox, a disease that killed 300 million people in the 20th century. We can also mourn the 1/88 refugees who were lost at sea whilst searching for a better life in Europe, as well as all those who have needlessly died in various world conflicts.

As each celebrity met our maker in the midst of political change and civil unrest, social media flooded with memes about the apocalypse, some suggesting that David Bowie had discovered a new dimension and was hand picking those he wanted to join him – it is quite a guest list!

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The media paints a picture of a most terrible year, but when we put this into perspective with the events of 1916 where the battle of the Somme caused 60,000 British casualties in the first day alone (420,000 across the campaign), the inevitable (albeit tragic) loss of ageing icons pale in comparison.

So what can we learn from 2016?

Well the most obvious lesson is that people die, irrelevant of their wealth, record sales, sporting prowess or comedic genius. Their glory is like the flowers of the field.

2016 is the year that death has been brought back to the forefront of the popular psyche.

Our western culture has somewhat hidden death behind the fountain of youth (consumerism), limiting death to the poor, old and sick. But as we have seen through the falling of many icons this year, death is a reality that we all have to face at different times and in different circumstances (Romans 6:23).

The truth is, death is real and today could be your last!

Even the best times of life bring us all closer to death, there is no escape. The grass withers and the flowers fall.

Politically 2016 gave us more questions than answers, but as we all approach 2017, one step closer to our end, amidst the sad loss of so many much loved personalities, we are left with just one most important question – are you ready for death?  

If (for whatever reason) you were taken tomorrow, do you know where you are going to?

Do you know peace with God through His Son Jesus Christ?

Because it is only in Him that you can be ready for death and thus be ready to embrace life at its fullest in 2017. (John 14:6).

I mourn with Jesus for those who have departed (John 11:35) and my prayers go out to all who have suffered loss and grief in 2016.

I pray that the new found realism of death in popular culture will bring people closer to the living God in 2017.

I pray that the void left by our cultures great flowers of the field will be replaced with a greater love for Jesus Christ “the word (who) stands for ever.

May you all have a wonderful 2017.

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Christmas – How do we harness the wind?

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” William Arthur Ward

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Christmas is a unique time of year for the church. For a two week period we become socially acceptable to the masses (and it is great to see you all).

We have welcomed many new faces to our various Christmas events such as our Sunday School nativity and our first ever Christmas Eve Carol service.

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But to really harness this festive cultural shift (the wind) we had to adjust the sails and think outside of the box!

Around the corner from Noddfa we have the much loved “Big Arch”. It is a listed building constructed in 1879 to assist the British Ironworks close by. Throughout the year the Big Arch plays home to unwanted fridge freezers, but with help from our local Councillors, a brass band, Melin Homes and many other volunteers, we managed to make it hospitable enough to welcome 500 from the community. We prayed at the beginning and at the end of the service, I then proclaimed the Gospel through various anecdotes between the carols, hoping that people will go away with at least something to think about over Christmas.

It has been wonderful to meet so many from the community over the festivities and I pray from the depths of my soul that we will see them all again at Noddfa throughout 2017.

Free Press December 2016

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There are several arguments as to why more people come to church over Christmas, most are based in tradition but I think the reason for our seasonal growth goes deeper than this.

The answer (as always) can be found in scripture.

Just after the nativity scene in Luke 2 the “baby Jesus” was brought to the temple where a righteous and devout man called Simeon met the young family.

Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:34-35)

These are strong words! Especially when you consider he is saying these things about a newborn baby, to a young mother.

As we know Simeon’s prophecy was proven to be accurate. Thirty years after our reading Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6. To be the Christian’s loving saviour, Jesus must then also be a stumbling block for those who reject Him. The salvation offered to all, causes many to fall.

At Christmas, we remember God as a baby, the miracle of the incarnation! As a baby God is perceived as cute, cuddly and can be held as He was by Simeon.

As a baby (I argue) God is not seen to be a threat to the lifestyles of our seasonal visitors and is thus believed to be more akin to the god of their choosing, so they are happier to return to church to hear all about “him”. But when the church begins to preach the harsh truths (that Simeon shares with Mary) of what this baby came to do, people grow uncomfortable and then distance themselves from the church once again.

We see this same pattern every year and it is evident of what we know to be true. That when we meet Jesus (the word made flesh) through the word preached, His perfection reveals to us our own failures and our own guilt before our loving God. Such conviction pierces our souls and drives us to change.

People do not like change, especially if it undermines their current worldly lifestyles and privileges. It is this conviction to change that drives people away. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many”.

People do not like to hear that they cannot come to God on their own ‘pic and mix’ terms, but on His terms as revealed to us in the Bible, the terms of the Cross – the sign that will be spoken against. So the masses fall away again and follow the materialist gods of the world that do not question their lifestyle but keep them consuming…until we meet them again next year when God is once again presented as a helpless babe.

This phenomenon is nothing new, Jesus Himself faced it. When He met the physical needs of the masses, thousands followed for a free meal (Matthew 14:13-21), but when He challenged their Spiritual condition and asked them to live a godly life, they all fled (Matthew 15:9).

When Christ fulfilled what He came to do; take the punishment His faithful deserve for our failures (sins) on the Cross (the sign that will be spoken against), He was left with just a penitent thief suffering next to Him, His mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and the Disciple that He loved. The rest of His followers had left Him for dead, or had gone into hiding.

As numbers inevitably dwindle post-Christmas we can take solace that the world has not changed since Christ’s death and resurrection. People still have to deal with the same ailments presented in the Bible (hate, greed, lust, pride etc) and they still reject the cure – Jesus Christ.

Please pray that the seeds sown over our Christmas outreach will bring more into Noddfa to hear the sound of the Gospel and know the Love of God. Let them see that church is not just a great opportunity to meet new people, learn and love, but an act of direct rebellion against a world that defines you by what you consume and produce.

Pray that those touched by the Gospel  in recent weeks will come to rest in the Love of God who looks beyond the worlds labels and desires your heart this season.

 

Break in at Noddfa brings out the best

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You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

I had just arrived home from our church Christmas meal, well fed and ready for a lazy evening (thanks Gabby’s). Sadly this did not happen! Long story short; the Mothers and Toddlers fund had been stolen from the church and the perpetrator(s) had broken out through my office window.

We keep nothing of worldly value in the building (1 John 2:15) , other than a (well hidden) box that contains the Mothers and Toddlers collection. The fund goes towards toys, books, biscuits, drinks and snacks for the children. At the end of term the surplus is then spent on a party and goody bags for those who come.

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I do not want to go into too much detail, but, we have been told that the extensive movements of the perpetrator(s) throughout the church building left many clues for Crime Scene Investigation who are hopeful.

With Police support we published what had happened on our Facebook page. The community quickly rallied around their local church, setting up a crowdfund page that has raised nearly £600 in less than 24 hours. As a church we are terrifically humbled by this gesture and thank all those who donated, offered their support, encouragement and prayers. We are so blessed to be in such a community, surrounded by so much love and generosity.

We are just a small independent church supported by our members. We are not part of a larger denomination, we do not have fancy ornaments and relics to maintain, and you do not see me walking around the village with costly ministerial garb (more like trainers, jeans and a Parker jacket). The little money we take in during the Sunday collection goes on the facilities maintenance and bills, to ensure it remains a safe and welcoming place for all those who come throughout the week. The rest of the funds go towards serving the local community God has given us.

As a church we love everyone in our valley just as Christ loved us (1 John 4:19). We long for opportunities to show this love, by sacrificially giving and supporting the community we have been called by God to serve (1 Peter 4:10).

This is why I am so horrified by such a crime and pray deeply for the perpetrator(s).

I grieve for them and for the desperate situation that they must be in this Christmas, to risk so much for such a small collection box. If they had simply come in to see us, we would have rallied around them and supported as best as we could. They simply did not need to break in.

So, on behalf of the church I would like to reach out to the perpetrator(s) and say:

  • We understand that everyone faces difficulties in their lives and that these often lead to misjudgments and mistakes. I have made several myself (1 Timothy 1:15)! The Bible tells us, that this is human nature, none of us are perfect (Romans 3:10).
  • Please know that church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. We are not a place of duty driven religious nuts, but a loving community of grace who gather in thanksgiving.
  • As we gather knowing that none of us are perfect, we do not judge anyone who comes in (Matthew 7:1).
  • Our unlikely unity as a family of all ages and backgrounds, is a unity unseen by worldly institutions, radiating from the love of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
  • For these reasons we welcome all who wish to come, whatever the circumstance and this means you to!

During this festive season we remember how low God came, in love, to raise the weakest of us up. He (Jesus) left the glory and perfection of Heaven to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). He chose to be born into the lowest of families, spending His first night on earth in an animal feeding trough (Luke 2:7). He grew up to live a life of poverty (Matthew 8:20) and suffering that peaked in the most unimaginable pain of crucifixion. Where on that Cross He took on Himself the justice we deserve for our failures, the consequences for our sins and gave us His perfect life despite our imperfections.

By accepting that God has done the “religion for you” (In Jesus Christ) and repenting of your ways, seeking to follow Christ’s example, Christians can know a fresh start. A clean slate that we as a church offer (by God’s grace) to you today! What a gift this Christmas  (John 3:16) .

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25.

As Christians we do not come to a God who cannot sympathies with life’s difficulties that you maybe facing, because in Christ Jesus, He faced the world at its very worst! (Hebrews 4:15). In Christ, we do not come to a God of judgement but one of love and compassion (Psalm 145:8). The God who by His grace (not by our merit) forgave us for our failures (Ephesians 2:8-9) and in this same strength, we as Christians can forgive all those who have caused us pain to.

This is the real meaning of Christmas! Hope, in our loving God, who paid the price for our failures.

It is a shame that such profound love that we are reminded of at ‘Christ-mas’ has been replaced by a big red man that shows no mercy to those on his naughty list. It is a greater shame that Christmas has driven such social pressure on families that some have had to go to extreme lengths simply to fund the season.

If the perpetrator(s) is reading this, we have a number of events going on over Christmas and you (as well as all the community) are most welcome to come and join us to find out more about a love that you will not receive anywhere else, a love that can forgive and forget all things. (1 John 4:8).

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Come Lord Jesus! A Biblical Theology of the Second Coming of Christ

Come Lord Jesus! A Biblical Theology of the Second Coming of Christ by Stephen Motyer APOLLOS (IVP) London 2016

This well researched study has been a companion of mine for the last few weeks, taking in a chapter at a time when the moment allows.

The book attempts to stimulate thought on what is a contentious (and thus often neglected topic), the Lord’s second coming.

Motyer achieves this ambition in a surprisingly accessible way, inviting all to come to the relevant scriptures (fourteen passages in total), putting their millennial dispositions aside and letting God’s Word speak for itself without influence.

The book is honest and conversational in approach with helpful footnotes to explore. The study is split into two parts; the first sets the Biblical foundations of the subject in the Old Testament, the second part progresses the applications and foresight of Jesus’ second coming found in the New Testament.

There are many key themes throughout the study that are applied to the selected scriptures. In particular the ‘meaning of time’ and how to interpret the various visions, either as Chronos (‘time’ on a watch) or Kairos (we had a great ‘time’).

Motyer helpfully welcomes into the discourse various views from renowned scholars such as Augustine and Martin Luther to the more contemporary Dale Ralph Davies and N.T. Wright, attentively explaining any misguided exposition in a respectful and considered manner.

Motyer’s conversational approach and personal references throughout made me feel as if he was guiding me through the study, rather than presenting his findings. With that said, despite the enjoyment of the journey, it was not a ‘page turner’ that could be read in just a few sittings. I say this not as a criticism; the magnitude of the topics discussed should be digested slowly and devotionally, if we are even to begin to comprehend the profundity of God’s redemptive plan.

Motyer has been exceptionally honest and loving in his approach. His exegesis is superb and I believe that he met his own challenge of writing a biblical theology of the second coming that is true to scripture without excluding or offending readers from whatever eschatological positions that they may have.

Motyer does extremely well to tackle the hugely complex and profound subject matter of the second coming and packages the content in a way that is not restricted solely to the scholarly elite. But I do feel the book is better suited for the Pastor’s shelf rather than the broader Christian market. I certainly gained a lot from this book and I am very grateful to Motyer for his prayerful insight.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” Revelations 21:5

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Rev at Ringside

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Many of you may know that I am passionate about boxing.

Do not be alarmed! Many ministers are, it is a Saturday sport for a start and like church, boxing gyms  are often run by volunteers that all have a heart for serving the community. Boxing offers many benefits that include; positive personal and social development, as well as psychological and physical improvement. It is a wonderful sport of control, discipline, respect and community.

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I am too delicate for the ring myself, but enjoy the sport as a spectator, living vicariously through my son who has followed his father’s passion. My other children will no doubt follow suit when they come of age, my youngest (daughter) calls boxing “hand ballet”.

We go to Torfaen Warriors Amateur boxing Club where I am on their committee and try and support the work as much as I can. The club was founded in ’93 and has since had over 60 Welsh Champions, 5 British Champions, 12 British finalists and 26 Gold Medalists in World Tournaments.

My passion for the sport goes outside my children’s interests as I take in many local shows and try to support the sport as much as I can at the grass root. I am often heckled as “the Rev” or “John the Baptist” – but I do not mind, it is a witness at least.

At one local show I noticed a young lad praying at ringside. His father asked him, “What are you doing?” “Praying” said the young man. The father again questioned from his corner as he fitted the head guard, “what for and who are your praying to?” The young man replied “I do not know”. At that point I could see the need for a “Rev at Ringside” and contacted Sports Chaplaincy UK to see if they could assist. I have since completed training with them and have now become the only Boxing Chaplain in Wales – and I am here to help!

What is Sports Chaplaincy?

A Sports Chaplain is someone that can assist your gym, simply as another pair of hands (John 13:1-17), but can also be there as a life coach for the men, women, boys and girls involved in the sport.

Coaches will all know that if the athlete is going through personal problems or simply feels down, their performance in the ring will suffer. A Sports Chaplain is there to be onsite as a third party, to support the pastoral needs of the sportsperson and simply come alongside for them to talk to in confidence.

Boxing is an extreme sport that comes with great pressures. Competitors train hard, causing great physical and mental stress to themselves. They usually have to train at unsociable hours affecting their family lives.

All sports people have to cope with the roller-coaster lifestyle of living with great victories and coping with failure.

Off season (or when retired), the highs and lows of competition can often be replaced by unhelpful excessive behaviors that often lead to addiction in things such as gambling, alcohol and drugs, if not managed properly.

So much is shared through sport, it is the idol of our age, yet sportsperson’s rarely have someone impartial to share their difficulties and pressures with. They have nobody independent to help them remain; humble during their victories, positive when performance lacks and someone to advocate a clean living lifestyle outside of the season or following retirement from the sport. This is where a Sports Chaplain comes in!

As the “Rev at Ringside”, boxing chaplain to Wales for Sports Chaplaincy UK, I am based in Torfaen Warriors (Cwmbran) who are fully supporting this initiative with a genuine concern for the total wellbeing of all who come – body and soul!

This service cannot be forced on anybody, neither is it Bible bashing! I just want people to know that I am here if a need arises.

Whether you (or someone you know) are going through a crisis and need to talk, they may be dealing with a bereavement, or simply seeking answers to life’s many questions feel free to contact me (pastor@noddfabaptist.co.uk). You do not have to be a Christian to speak with me, I am here for anyone and everyone that needs a chat, as someone that understands the sport.

Sports people are real people to, with real needs that by God’s Grace I hope to support.

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