Fake News and the church

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Since the beginning of time mankind has spun the truth to adhere to the rhetoric of its day. For example, in the first century Octavian lead a propaganda campaign (Fake News) against Mark Anthony in Rome. King Harold died by a lucky arrow through the eye (1066 Battle of Hastings), but in France the report was “William’s brave men slayed the King of England during the heat of the Battle”. The Historians job is then to grapple with the differing accounts of “truth” to actually find it.

We must then acknowledge that all accounts are weighted in the favour of whoever the sponsor/ benefactor maybe and such motives will never change. “Fake News” is here to stay, red top papers will continue to publish scandal and embellish the “truth” to sell more papers and online media will continue to do the same to battle for clicks and advert impressions.

Pope Benedict XVI checks the new Vatican web portal on an iPad device at the Vatican

President Trump’s “Fake News” claim is nothing new, but there has been one significant development in recent times that is worthy of the fuss. “Average Joe” can now broadcast their own versions of the “truth” to the masses, whether in the form of a styled Instagram picture (intended to fool the viewer on the credibility of your appearance), or an uploaded video reporting no seats on a train during rush hour! As a result the plebs view of the world has now been equated with the media elite.

Such constant exposure to endless versions of “truth” (from either the once trusted media  or from random strangers through a hashtag), has made us (the masses) naive, cynical and dismissive of reality.

For decades the West have feared the Orwellian (1984) view of an “information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state”[1] (a threat made real during the Cold war). But such fear has driven us to the Huxleyn view (Brave New World) of a “technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble”[2] (a result of such media saturation).

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It is often said that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” but are these words of truth? Does a picture really tell the entire story? 

A picture can define a moment without context and thus it is more susceptible to manipulation (see above), but a “word” never stands alone! The word is always given in a context and can always be reviewed, critiqued, verified and once written the author is accountable.

As we continue to move away from ‘word based knowledge’ and embrace real-time graphic media consumption, credible broadsheets are going to be replaced by picture filled red tops and image based mediums such as TV or online video. As a result the quality of journalism will continue to decrease and we will have a society filled with people that make “informed” decisions based on the “Fake News” shared by celebrities on Twitter (a benefit of the 140 character limit).

Modern publishers and technology firms have created this Huxleyn predicted society, where questionable imaged based media not only resides in the corner of your front room, but follows you around all day on your handset or tablet. Because the truth is often boring this media saturation has driven journalists and production companies to get creative with reality in order to win more viewing figures,clicks,impressions,shares,likes,retweets etc. “Fake News” is simply an inevitable consequence to this “enlightened age” of technological advancement.

A social condition best described by Neil Portman (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan because everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us … [but] who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?”

Putting my Ministerial hat on for a minute…is the church not the answer to this “Fake News” catastrophe?

The church is a set apart (Holy) people, chosen by God to be a counter-culture from the world (more on this here “Dealing with change – thoughts on BEXIT”). Is it then our generations calling to fight against the sea of amusement, the “Fake News” and stand for truth?

As a church we should be offering an escape from such modernity, a ‘wifi free world’ where “Fake News” is left at the door and replaced by the unchanging word of God! A sanctuary against a world that defines you by what you can produce and consume, a world that at best offers you scandal, lies and death. 

The church should be the place for people to unplug, switch off and come to meet the God of life, love and a truth, a place for people to come and make real meaningful relationships within a humble community of believers who are defined by their fresh start and future with Jesus?

Christian, is this not our calling today? and are we (the Reformed church) not the best equipped for such a task?

For centuries the privileged few manipulated God’s Word so the plebs would follow their agenda’s, they hid the truth behind an elite language (Latin) and supported their “Fake News” narrative behind image based media (stained glassed windows). All until the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago, where the word of truth got out and it was preached FREE from mans sinful agenda (warts and all)!

The reformed church rushed through Europe deposing the priests and began to empower and educate the people to read God’s Word for themselves and ensure those in the pulpit had no other motive than to stick to the Bible and save souls for Jesus!

Christian! In this media saturated world of “Fake News” are we not called to drive against the oppressive forces of modern, meaningless amusements and liberate the lost into the Kingdom of God? Are we not to stand as a counter-culture against such delusion and be ever more resolute to the eternal truth found only the Bible? A truth that does not hide from evil, but explains it, a word that does not hide from the inconvenient truths of immorality from its patriarchs but wilfully admits them, a word with only one agenda, to save souls and bring them into a loving fellowship with God so that they can be a force for good in this world of deceit, corruption and “Fake News”!

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

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[1] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley

The Llanerch colliery disaster

On February 6th 1890 176 men and boys (fathers and sons) died in a tragic mining disaster at the Llanerch Colliery, Abersychan.

Since its 125th anniversary Councillor Giles Davies has organised a service at the pit head to remember the lost and I have had the honour of leading those gathered in prayer and worship.

An earlier methane explosion  (October 1889) that lead to two casualties, raised concerns about the colliery’s safety. Mine inspectors suggested the use of closed safety lamps, but the Managing Director of the pit approved the use of open flame lamps (December 1889) on the belief that the mine was “well ventilated”. Eight weeks later the explosion happened and 176 men were dead. So severe was the blast that it echoed down the valley and could be heard for miles around. Many of the casualties could not be identified.

The incident itself stripped the local community of an entire generation of men, leaving their widows and family desolate. You can read a list of the deceased here, many are buried in our graveyard at Noddfa.

The inquest ruled the explosion was caused by the men using “naked lights”.  No one in management was found responsible and no one was fined. The mine was reopened and back in business just 13 days after the incident.

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Survivors of the Llanerch Colliery Disaster – “Back to Work”!

At its peak (1918) the Llanerch, Havod Van and Blaenserchan pits that filled this little valley employed 2,060 people. It was a booming place of industry with several pits, furnaces, brickworks, roads, trains and other amenities.

Sadly it all closed shortly after Nationalisation in 1947. Nature has now reclaimed the fair country and all that is left of the pit head at Llanerch is the bottom of the girder that once held the shaft pully.

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During the short service, we prayed, the children, Mayor, MP and Councillors placed daffodils on the pit head and I spoke from the text 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

The men and boys of Llanerch left their wives and children in the early hours of February 6th 1890, fully expecting to be back for supper, but they never made it home. They were taken in an instant. As we remember their sudden deaths, we need to ask ourselves whether we are ready to face our own? As it could come as suddenly! Do you know peace with God? Do you have hope in the risen Saviour Jesus Christ?

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The Llanerch Colliery

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A drone image of the Llanarch Colliery site during today’s service (by Gwyn Jenkins)

 

After the service I then took a welcomed walk around the derelict and dismantled sites through the little valley with friends.

Chris Tew (the Sherriff of Abersychan) kindly guided me through the small valley and told me what went where. A forgotten past hidden amidst the rubble and thorns.

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This often unheard of tragedy is currently marked by a small memorial. The local community are fund raising to build something of more significance that will keep such a dark history in memory. You can find out more about the fund here

A big thanks once again to Giles Davies for organizing such a wonderful morning, including lunchboxes for all the children.

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Stephen Fry on God and why it went viral?

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In February 2015 Gay Byrne (RTE) asked Stephen Fry what he would say to God on their inevitable meeting. Stephen Fry’s answer went “viral” on YouTube.

At the time many people contacted me personally over this video, some maliciously, as if it were evidence that would not only undermine millennia of scholarship and historic study, but would cause me to reject my faith and go back to the man I once was (God forbid).

I chose to respond on an individual basis but I did not want to rebuke publically as I felt it to be a Matthew 7:6 scenario and greater men than I were doing a better job.

But this video has reared its ugly head again two years on and I have seen it on the social media accounts of people I deeply care about and pray for. Members of the church have also come to me and asked my thoughts. So here they are!

Before I start, I want to be clear that I have the greatest respect for Stephen Fry. General Melchett (Blackadder) is one of the finest comedic characters to ever grace our screens, Fry’s work on Qi is marvellous and what I have read of his, I have enjoyed. But being a “fan” does not mean that I have to agree with everything ‘Brand Fry’ says. He is certainly an academic, but I am sure (by his own admission) is not always correct.

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Assuming you have seen the video already, there are few points that I prayerfully wish to make.

The Moral Question.

With all the alleged “scientific” rhetoric that the popular consensus attempts to dethrone God with, ask yourself why, when a direct question such as “what will you say to God when you meet Him” is asked, an ‘atheist’ will always reply with a moral (non-scientific) answer?

The reason is simple; As God by definition is outside of the empirical, he cannot be measured or tested, so to deny His existence is beyond the scientific realm. Such arguments are farcical which is why Fry took another route.

So let us look at Fry’s moral stand against God.

To summaries Fry; ‘If there is a God, I want nothing to do with Him, because He claims to be all loving yet has made a world where unjust things can and do happen. I can’t understand this paradox so I will a) discredit God b) challenge God c) deny His existence.

I believe this a fair summary.

My prayerful response to Fry

Point 1 *

Did you know that Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Relativity contradict with each other (until we find a theory that unifies them)? If our world’s greatest scientific minds took Fry’s approach and dismissed them both because of this current paradox, we would not have mobile phones, tablets, computers or GPS. They all work because both principles are true (despite the perceived contradiction). You can’t discount truth because you do not understand it, it is illogical and incredibly arrogant. It is true that God is all loving and that bad things happen in the world He created. (Point 4 explains how).

Point 2

Without God any moral statement such as Fry’s in this video becomes subjective and thus the argument falls to pieces.

Fry’s moral case against God is a weak one, because if you take God out (as he does) it is no easier to explain why children suffer with bone cancer. In fact, if you take God out your only answer to such injustice is; it’s “natural”. In a godless world, created by chance, with no meaning or purpose then such incidences should not drive emotion or concern or even the question of injustice. A child’s bones cancer is simply natural, it is what it is. Remove God and you are just a collection of randomly evolved proteins, floating on an incidental rock through a cold dark meaningless vacuum, orbiting around a pointless ball of gas for no reason or purpose. As a result you should not have the propensity or desire to care – so why are you angry, why are you concerned with justice? Without God; sadness, grief and love are all simply reactive hormonal responses, so get over it! Pass on your naturally driven selfish gene and die!

This sounds harsh, but it is the truth you preach if you discount God. If you take God out of the equation when faced with injustice, you will have a tougher time explaining your innate desire for justice in a meaningless and accidental universe. Without a God who created our universe with a meaning and purpose, the concept of justice is as pointless as your very existence.

But we do all care, and as we can see in this video even Stephen Fry cares! He cares enough to challenge the injustice. Why?  Well it is because of an innate sense of right and wrong and purpose and meaning that is uniquely human, because we are uniquely made in God’s image, with a propensity to live for Him! Explaining such sentient truths away dehumanises us into accidents. (The hypocrisy of the BHA).

If you remove God, then ‘right and wrong’ is nothing but a personal opinion and as a randomly evolved collection of proteins, “you” are simply time + matter + chance and thus your opinions have no more validity than the chair you are sat on which is equally time + matter + chance, coexisting with you to no end in this ever expanding vacuum.

Some argue that ‘morality’ can exist without a god. They argue that morality has been evolved into the human psyche! But if this is the case, then morality becomes deterministic, a working for the greater “good” of the species. Determinism contradicts the concept of morality itself. If morality is evolved, then a child that is more susceptible to bone cancer should cease to be a moral dilemma, but expected in the grand meaningless process of natural selection, so neither us or the child should mourn the tragedy. – It is what it is! Get over it! (But we do mourn the tragedy, we do love and grieve and seek justice and these uniquely human experiences should prove the argument).

Point 3

As ever, the atheist attack is focussed on the Christian God. I argue that Christianity is more frequently targeted because it is true. Other “religions” have clear faults that can be easily exploited, other religions will seek to kill you for your attack (we are the soft touch) and you can sell more books by attacking Christianity – (money the ultimate driver of a worldly man).

Christianity is hard to accept, which is why a prerequisite of salvation is faith. Christianity is beyond our comprehension because we did not make it up – it is truth from God.

Christianity is uniquely attacked because Christianity has uniquely come from God! More on this here “Are all religions the same?”

It is nice to see Fry’s approval of the Greek gods in this interview, this reiterates his position, as such religious systems are man-made and thus adhere to mans desires and are more palatable to Fry who seeks to justify a godless life, having gods of his choosing and control.

Point 4

The Bible does not hide from the evil of this world; in fact it brings it to the forefront. The fundamental story of the Bible is that the world is not what God intended it to be and it tells you how to escape it! The Bible tells us that in Christ Jesus, God can bring you into a new world of justice and love where bone cancer does not exist. A truth that gives hope to those suffering tragedy such as bone cancer, a hope that is being undermined but such nonsense shared in this video.

The Bible teaches us that all mankind sin, but all can find forgiveness in Christ.

The greatest heroes of the Bible committed moral atrocities, yet in the depth of their perversion God showed grace and love and brought them back in Christ Jesus and as a result they became a force for good in this poisoned world.

The Bible is God’s rescue plan for humanity! Deny its truths and you are godless.

Without God, this world is all you have and it is dying.

Without God you are left alone in a world that defines itself and you by mere physical attributes.

Without God you are simply your sexuality, your habits and your desires.

Without God you become what you consume and you are rewarded by what you can produce.

Without God this world that allows for injustice and inequality is all you have!

Without God at best you are dying in a world run by an evolved ape driven by an amoral natural force of greed, lust and pride, for no reason or purpose. What a gloomy state to be in!

The Gospel gives you an escape from this. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16.

In this interview Stephen Fry said that he would not come to God on his terms and would rather put his trust in this world with all its aforementioned benefits such as bone cancer.

Fry clearly has misunderstood God’s terms, which are ones of Love and Grace to save us from such ailments that Fry protests against.

Why did it go viral?

I want to close asking why such a video went viral? What drove people to share it?

If God is non-existent then why promote His non-existence? Carry on living as you wish, unchallenged, guided by your purposeless subjective morality and leave us “nutters” to it!

If we are wrong, you have taken hope from those who are suffering.

What are you defending by sharing this video? A meaningless universe? Why?

I forget who came up with this quote but credit to them!

“There are two things you can be sure of an atheist 1. They believe God does not exist 2. They hate him.”

Why do you hate Him? Or the idea of Him?

Is it because His morality undermines yours and highlights your failures (as it does mine)? Is it because you will have to change? Is it because you feel you have better things to do on a Sunday morning than go to church, and refusing to believe in God is simply more convenient for you?

Are you using “brand Fry” to then justify your convenience?

If a rant from a popular “academic” is all that is keeping you away from the joy of God, I can raise you 64.5% of Nobel prize winners in the last century (modern science) who are all professing Christians. I can introduce you to Francis Collins who decoded the Human Genome and came to faith during its process, or Werner Heisenberg a pioneer of Quantum Mechanics who famously said “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you”? Or even better, I can introduce you to Jesus Christ, God Himself, the ultimate academic -He knows everything! Jesus welcomes you with a love and grace beyond what this world can offer and despite who you are and what you produce and consume, He says  “I love you, come to me and live, come to me and have purpose in your trial, whether it is bone cancer or simply feeling lost. I am here to rescue you from the injustice”.

Sin, is evident in the world, if you do not believe me turn on the news and see what man is doing to God’s creation.  The Bible does not hide from the cruelty of suffering, Jesus Himself suffered injustice and immeasurable pain on the cross and in doing so offers you an escape from the endless death and subjection from this world.

The concept of a perfect God may be hard to understand amidst injustice, but this does not mean He does not exist. Sharing ‘Fry’s’ video will not help you understand it either, neither will it help a child with bone cancer. It may give short term satisfaction as you seek to justify a “convenient” godless life, but without God you cannot explain anything!

I hope the above puts some holes in the argument and that you see the love that has gone into this reply. I am chief of sinners myself, I followed Fry’s argument for much of my life before Christ saved me. What a joy it is to know God! I am just a blind man, showing other blind men where to find bread!

If this blog has caused a chink in your armour and you can accept by your very humanity that there is a deity – but confused by all the “Religions” claiming to know Him – read my blog Are all the Religions the same? I pray that it will be of help.

 

(* This point is not of my own, but one I heard from a Rev. Stephen Clarke – one of the wisest men I know!)

 

 

 

Are all religions the same?

I have noticed in our ever increasing secular world a growing desire for the spiritual.

But in our generation of individualism and great consumerism, those who naturally long for such wish to fill the void as a customer.

Today’s attitude towards religion is one of a spiritual shopping trolley, where you can select the bits you like from each (or simply drive-thru at Christmas) and create a bespoke system that works “for you”.

A “personalised religion” that comes with a god who does not question your lifestyle and choices, a god of your choosing, who works around you and on your terms, essentially a god of self creation.

On the contrary I am delighted that my faith does not always work for me. I rejoice that I do not come to a god who bows the knee to my whim, or one that changes to fit my lifestyle choices, as this “god” would be no better than me, in fact this god would be submissive to me and thus not a god at all!

Yet, this nominal religious view continues to trend and has caused the popular psyche to amalgamate what ‘they know’ of religion and fill social media with infographics such as the one below.

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There are a few points I wish to prayerfully make about such a graphic and what it is teaching.

The argument raised here is that “every” religion essentially shares the same “primary” teaching.

There is some Biblical truth to this.

We are told in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that God put eternity in every human being and it says in Genesis 1:27 that we are all made in God’s image. So it is logical that humanity would naturally and collectively seek the divine. Equally it is expected that such an innate aspiration would manifest itself in various ways, yet share common truths, just as we share in a common humanity.

With that said one of the main issues I have with the above (and other meme’s like it) is that they often include just nine “religions” out of many thousands practiced today.

If you are willing to state that all “religions” are essentially the same, then you are also placing them alongside those that practice; the mutilation of girls genitalia, the sacrifice of children, Satanism and the occult, religious discrimination (by race, age and sex), mass poisoning and drug taking, suicide pacts and of course the Jedi knights.

No reasonable human being would be in support of such practices, so I assume that what is being concluded by the above infographic (and similar memes) is that the “big 9” religions essentially share the same ethos? Am I right?

If this is the case, the inclusive religious ethos advocated by this graphic, has in fact excluded and eliminated many thousands of other “religions”.

The practicing Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu for that matter) is then mocked as “bigoted” for following one path exclusively, when all they have done is simply add another eight religions to the many thousands you have already culled.

There is no denying that loving your neighbour as yourself is a key Christian teaching.

Jesus did say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind this is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:40)

For the aforementioned reasons I also concede that such teaching is echoed across the “big 9”.

However, my dispute is with the commonality implied.

The problem

We (humanity) live in a foreign town of death (we all die – you can’t argue with this), yet we all have an innate understanding of eternity, we are sentient beings who know of the past,can imagine the future and perceive the immeasurable, such as love and grief. This is because we are body and soul.

Our souls are eternal and thus we are all aware of our immediate danger! We all understand that we need to leave this town and get home before it is too late! But the journey home to safety (God) is long and arduous and it can only be achieved by car (Religion)!

If loving others was the core teaching of all the options to escape, you could call it the engine of every “religion”. Now if my understanding of God’s revelation is wrong and embracing this truth was all you needed. Then congratulations you have your engine! It is now sat on your driveway!

But as the town begins to collapse you will soon realise that the “engine” (by itself) is of no help, you can’t get anywhere with just a lump of metal sat on your driveway can you?

The engine is useless without a frame, wheels, lights, seat and a steering wheel. For this reason we have millennia of academia and scholarship, philosophy and theology, supporting and justifying the need for the other parts.

Now you may think you could pull different parts from each car that you like, but this will not help you either. The wheel of one car will not fit the frame of the other, the gear box from a smaller car will not drive the momentum of a larger vehicle.

Eventually your worldly logic maybe able to build something out of the spare parts, but it will not last the journey home to God. Nothing of this world will, only a divine carriage will suffice!

So, we are left with a garage of eight attractive automotives, all promising the ride of your life, comfort and great attention! Which one will you choose to take you home to God?

The Budhism or Hinduism options are of course very attractive, however you will find that as you drive around you will always come back to where you started, doing endless laps in vain, in different forms, around the crumbling neighbourhood, you get nowhere and the problem remains! Rein’car’nation.

The New Age “Eco” model is an exciting mystical option, but yet in itself superfluous as it teaches “god” lies in your own higher consciousness, so despite your innate desire to journey home to your maker and escape the inevitable death, you are not going anywhere, just put the air-conditioning on and practice your meditative breathing whilst the town crumbles around you!

You may go for Islam or other works based religions (like Catholicism), big engine and all you could possibly need for the journey, but it comes with a huge car manual. Solid and reliable build, very popular, however  by its own admission, God is divine and home will always be beyond the reach of the vehicles lifespan however well you drive it.

So what do you do? What vehicle do you choose?

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None offer real salvation from this fallen world. God (by definition) is divine and perfect, we are not and our imperfections have lead to death. We need to escape, but how?

Well notice I only mentioned eight fancy cars in the garage – we are missing one of the Big 9?

Christianity!

Christianity is unique to all the rest, because it is primarily not a teaching, neither is it a philosophy or a legal principle, or an order of law for you to follow. Christianity is a person (Jesus Christ).

Christianity is not a “religion” in the context of the others listed, as there are no works that need to be done to achieve salvation. – it is simply down to a matter of faith. Trust in God the Son.

Christianity is not a car you can drive! Because no car you have can provide the escape needed, however comfortable or glamorous it seems. They will not survive the journey home, and your own imperfections will cause you to get lost on the way anyway.

Christianity is about having faith in God Himself to save you. Essentially Christianity is calling a taxi!

A taxi may not be beautiful, it may get messy at times and you may have others sharing the ride with you. But with God Himself (Jesus Christ) at the wheel, you know His perfection will get you home safely.

The ride may get bumpy, you may have to sing along to whatever the driver chooses to put on the radio, but you get to meet new people who share the ride with you. Who will not judge you for not having a fancy car of your own, for they are in the Taxi with you. If you make a mistake, or want to take a wrong turn, Jesus is behind the wheel and can get you back on track!

OK John – Nice analogy, but the Taxi fare would be extortionate to get to God. What if we can’t pay?

Well this is the beauty of the Gospel! The driver of the Taxi (Jesus Christ) already paid your fare in full, on the Cross at Calvary. The only thing you have to do is jump in the wagon and trust that He will get you home.

Christianity is totally unique in that it is about humble acceptance of your own unworthiness to get home and accepting in faith God’s condescension in Jesus for you. He drove into the crumbling town and is offering a free ride to escape! Will you jump in? Or continue trying to build a car of your own choosing that will get you nowhere?

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.

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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Church of Gym

I was recently sent this by my agnostic, gym going brother-in-law and it got me thinking…….

Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name. The gains will come, thy will be done, on a bench, at a 45 degree incline. Give us this whey, our creatine and amimos and forgive us our curls, as we do them in the squat rack. And lead us not into crossfit, but deliver us from cardio. For these are our gains,the muscle and the veins, forever and ever. Amen

My brother-in-law, like the majority of people in our society are horrified by the concept of coming to church on a Sunday morning. 

They view the church as a money making institution, seeking to exploit people in their weakness, and in return the naive members sit amoungst judging eyes of the congregation, whilst being shouted at by a scary man, telling them they are sinners and instructing them how to lead a better life and “live for ever”. 

Our modern society views us Christians as crazy religious freaks. We live a life quashed by our religion, waisting many hours exersicing our faith, waking up early to pray and digest the Bible whilst attending regular meetings at church.

I can see where they are coming from and somewhat sympathise with many of these views, if in fact church was anything like what they claim (which it is not). 

But what is more shocking in light of such rhetoric is that many people with such a view attend a gym!

The fitness industry (unlike the church) is ran by multinational corporations, in the UK alone it is worth £4.4billion and welcomes 9.2million members. Many go religiously, exploited by their weakness, to exercise among the judging gaze of the sculpted few. Whilst being screamed at by a personal trainer, telling them they are not good enough. They work hard in vain to live a healthier life, to fit imposed image ideals and to fight against the aging process. 


Each day gym enthusiasts religiously get up early to prepare meals for specific calorie intake and to digest PROTEIN. They regularly attend sessions throughout the week at the gym to make the most of their extortionate membership fees and may even take in a medative yoga session to!


I understand I am generalising the “church of gym”, just as many generalise the church of Christ. I suppose this is my point, as I try to highlight the hypocrisy.

I do not write this post to be cynicial, but out of a genuine concern for all those who have gone to the gym this weekend and  have not attended church, those who have chosen to deny God in their vain plight to delay death. Because at Death they will meet God, and despite their regular attendance at the “church of gym”, they will not be able to stand under His judgement and will consequently be damned by their choices!

God does not care about how many bench presses you can do, but where your heart is! You may be able to run marathons, or have 5% body fat, but without Jesus Christ in your life, at your inevitable death, you have no hope.

Please know that I am not condeming a desire to keep fit and healthy, it is a wise thing to do and biblical, but this should not be done at the cost of your soul! 

If you are willing to live your life religiously serving the idol of your body at the “church of gym”, coming to church for just an hour a week to learn about how your creator God can give you life eternal in Jesus Christ is certainly worthwile!