Music and Worship

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

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

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

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

The appreciation of music is unique to the human experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Christians serve in the Military?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Military Service Biblical?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus was giving life lessons to individuals in society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final points to consider

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

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

The Death of a Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

death

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

 

 

The Honesty of Delta Blues

“You know that people
They are driftin’ from do’ to do’
But they can’t find no heaven”                       

Skip James Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues

 

Today my eldest boy asked me about the blues. A question I have been waiting to hear for many years and one I could never fully answer adequately. I simply delved into a box that had not seen the light of day since my conversion. I pulled out an old CD, blew off the dust on the casing and played it in the car.

Delta1

As we listened I began to weep and my son asked me why? After a contemplative pause my reply was “Christ”.

The Blues (specifically Delta) was once my secret passion, hidden behind my headphones on the long commutes to work.

Before I came to Christ, my identity was lost in the deceit of this world, a pressure that I once revelled in. I would happily hide behind a mask of falsity and would judge myself (and others) based on my lusts, greed and pride (the common drivers of fallen men). The Delta Blues did not fit the arrogance of “my brand”, the “me” I wanted the world to see, so my passion for it remained my little secret.

I listened in solitude and it gave me a welcomed escape.

There is nothing like the Delta Blues, no genre so honest, rough and raw. The recordings are pure and capture not only the instrumentation but the soul of the room. There is no falsity to the music, no added production, special effects or synthesised noise. Nothing between the microphone and my cans, nothing between me and the artist.

After a long day I could be stood cold and wet on a dark winters evening, hungry and tired awaiting for a replacement bus service, but with my eyes closed and simply listening, I was sat in the warm in front of; Skip James, Robert Johnson or Sonny Boy Williams. The recordings I had on my playlist gifted me each breath before a harmonica bend, preserved every crackle of the throat and retained the sound of every finger lifting up from the fret board. This rich honesty captured in sound gave me a welcomed break from my fake life and a bogus world that defines us all by what we consume and produce.

Fast forward to today, by God’s Grace I am now a Christian. I am sat in the car next to my eldest son, listening once more to Furry Lewis and I was taken back to that time of need and the man I once was. A man so far from God and desperate for truth.  I wept under the forgotten yet familiar sound of the Delta Blues. But not because of its honesty, purity, or soulfulness, no! I wept in the understanding that all of this beauty that I was hearing (and all that it once meant to me) is nothing compared to the wonders of what I now have in the God man Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus the Christ is life and serenity, purity and peace, the personification of all that is good, He is the embodiment of mercy, the quintessence of sacrificial love and the light in the darkness of this corrupt word. He is the answer, He is the escape, He is the way and the truth and He is mine.

He is the message of Christianity, a message often ignored by common assumption. Christianity is not a religion, or a philosophy, neither a state of mind, it is not a feeling, or a list of laws and principles, neither is it a corporation or bureaucracy. Christianity is a person, a real person to love and have a relationship with, a person to share and cast your burdens on, a person who gave His all to save you from yourself and this world. A totally unique, historical and living person whose love can flow into the most broken of vessels (such as I) and pour out in such abundance that He can even take hold of you, the reader, through these humble words.

I pray that you will see the world for what it really is and Come to love the one who loved us first (1 John 4:19).

I will leave you with some Furry Lewis (not the song that we heard today, but more fitting for this blog).

The End of the World

This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless” Jeremiah 10:2-3

The world is set to end this weekend, according to David Meade and others who follow him.

This theory has had wide coverage on all of the red tops, TV stations, Facebook news feeds and millions of YouTube hits. If you have not heard about it, you must already be in your bunker!

If I understand it all correctly, the theory is based on “Planet X” hitting the earth on said date in line with the “prophecy” found in Revelation 12.

And in fairness, the movement of the constellations from our relative position on earth, combined with recent natural disasters and world events can match an interpretation of Revelation 12.

The woman clothed with the sun is the constellation “virgo” and the crown of nine starts “leo”. Jupiter’s movement (again from our relative position) is slowly working through virgo at the rate of human gestation (42 weeks) and this could symbolise the pregnancy spoken of in Revelation 12. The apocalypse/rapture or whatever your eschatology is…will then start, on Saturday! Leaving us to do all the ungodly things our hearts desire between now and 11:59pm Friday where we can then repent and be a good Christian just in time! As you can see by my jest, I obviously have great concerns over this theory (and others like it) that I hope to address in this blog post.

  1. The entire theory relies on astrology.

Astrology teaches that the position of natural nuclear fusion reactors (stars), light years away determine whether you will meet the “man of your dreams” today, or what numbers to pick in the lottery. When in truth, short of one hitting the earth or dragging us out of orbit, they have no say in world events or your romantic prospects (see Daniel 2:10 and 27).

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:25

For this reason the Bible clearly teaches against astrology (see Exodus 20:1-15, Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3, 18:10-14,  2 Kings 17:16, Zephaniah 1:4-5, Isaiah 47:13-14,  Romans 1:25, 1 Thessalonians 5:22) and under the guise divination (horoscopes) (see Leviticus 19:26, 1 Samuel 15:23, Isaiah 8:19).

Yes, the Bible does speak of the stars. God created and grouped them (Job 9:9 and Amos 5:8), God uses them as illustrations (Genesis 15:5),  and their purpose is for signs and seasons (Genesis 1:14). The Hebrew here for sign, is “Oth” which means to flag, or beacon or token (see Strong’s concordance 226), not sign the end times! The Bible tells us that God made the stars to tell mankind what time of year we are in, so we can ready the harvest, and to help us navigate when crossing the ocean or desert (Matthew 2:2).

I argue that this end time prediction is based more on interpreting the stars than the Bible itself, which means it is Astrology, and thus should not be practiced or acknowledged by Christians. We are to interpret scripture, God’s Word, to know more of the word made flesh, we are not to interpret the heavens!

  1. This is not the first “Christian” prophecy of the “end times” and sadly it will not be the last.

Hundreds of examples of note have been declared throughout history. Pope Sylvester II took the literal interpretation of the millennium and predicted the end in the year 1000 AD – which in fairness was a more plausible idea. In 1843 a Baptist Minister (don’t trust a Baptist*) William Miller predicted from his reading of Daniel 8 that the world would end on October 22nd 1844. This lead to what is known as “the great disappointment” that started on October 23 1884. The consequences formed the seventh day Adventist movement. Charles Taze Russell predicted that 1914 would be the year of apocalypse and with the war effort at the time, a number believed it. This movement lead to the Jehovah Witnesses.

planet x

  1. Adding our baggage to Biblical interpretation

There are many scriptures utilised throughout the Bible, by various people to predict “the end”. Daniel 2:38 is a prime example. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that Daniel interprets. It involved a statue with different layers that symbolise empires or epochs throughout time that is smashed to bits by a rock cut out, not from human hands (Daniel 2:34). The rock obviously being Christ setting up His kingdom that will never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). There are many arguments as to which section means what and predictions often come from this. The Golden Head was Babylon, the Silver Breast, the Persian empire, the Bronze mid section Alexandra the Great (Daniel 8:5). The Iron legs Rome, and then the Iron and clay, post Rome. Which could be today? We still live in a unified Europe, governed under Roman law, economic principles and governing systems, mixed with the clay of all other civilisations entering in. However, other would say that the Iron legs represent Islam, as this was the only power to actually crush the other previous kingdoms geographically (Daniel 2:40). But then again in 1689 when the Baptist confession was being written some would have interpreted the break-up of the Roman Catholic Church as a sign of the end times. The Pope was decreed as the anti-Christ (Chapter 26:4) and they were no doubt thinking the rock would burst through imminently and put an end to the suffering! Yet 500 years on, we are still waiting!

And this brings us back to my concerns.

A lot of these predictions come with the baggage of our relative position in time, space and culture. “We” often make the mistake of applying our predicament or ‘signs’ of our day into the scripture, rather than exegete what the God’s Word is saying. This mistake has caused endless false doctrine throughout history. The western view of history is a lot different to that of an Asian, whose ancestors battled against various dynasties, empires and colonialist, some we would never even have heard of and their scholars would attribute much of the Biblical prophecy to their experience of the world. So who is right?

  1. The Bible code

I have to admit, some of the ‘end time’ theorising is quite clever and it does inspire many to appreciate and love God’s word. But the scripture is clear, we are not to get bogged down into such minutia of prophecy, we are not to get obsessed with “Bible Science” or “Bible Numerology”. As they can distract us from the word made flesh Jesus Christ who said Himself regarding such signs “Do not go running after them” (Luke 17:22).

I am a firm believer that if God wanted us to know the exact date and time of the end, the Bible would have told us plainly. But this is not the Bibles purpose. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself, it is a Historical work, as well as being a guide to living (an instruction manual), it teaches us how to cope amidst trial, how to know and love our God and eachother, it is a rescue plan and a love letter at the same time. The Bible does not hide from the cruelty of this world, the failures of man and it speaks frankly on taboo subjects. If God wanted us to know the date and time of “the end” it would have said. But by God’s Grace it does not, as Christ’s bride, His church (and all the benefits of it) would simply not exist until seconds before said time. We’d all simply carry on in chaos, until the final moment, ready for our death bed repentance.

Yes the Bible does include many prophecies that have been verified and fulfilled and yes it does speak about the end, but such teaching is always given in the context of ambiguity, and this is for a reason! Because we are not to know when and this should impel us as Christians to live as if the end is today, to be as the persistent widow, petition to God, so that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth (Luke 18:1-8).

When Jesus said there will be wars and rumours of wars, persecution, famine and pestilence, nations will rise upon nations and these are the beginnings of Birth-pains to God’s new earth (Matthew 24:8) He was speaking about His return being imminent, as there is not a period in human history where such things have not happened. If Jesus was being “precise” He would not have closed with the statement “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

Ask yourself, if the angels and Jesus (the word made flesh) do not know when the end is coming, ask yourself how unlikely it is that the Father would reveal it to David Meade or anyone else for that matter?

  1. The Christian witness

The shame of it all is that come the 24th September, the Christian witness from those who predict or promoted such “end time” theories will also be undermined. We should all stay clear of such end time predictions, they are murky waters to get into and they unnecessarily hinder the gospel. They undermine our integrity to a world that does not need our help to ostracise us.

  1. Do not fear

Jesus spoke many times throughout the Gospel about not fearing the future. A fear that can be conjured up by such needless predictions.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26

Yes, the Bible teaches us to be aware of the judgement that is to come, so that we can witness to the lost and pray for them with great urgency. But we are not to be distracted from our Saviour, by such prophecy. (Matthew 13:49, Matthew 25:31-33, Acts 17:31, Romans 14:10-12, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27, 1 Peter 4:5, Revelation 19:11). If we are in Jesus Christ, it should not matter to us when the time comes, or what happens after it, because in Him you will be safe.

Conclusion

The texts often used to prophesy the end (Matthew 24 and others) actually tell us that each epoch in human history has its own fears and anxieties that people will try to rationalise by reading their experience into scripture. In the west, the reformation five hundred years ago marked “the end”, seventy years ago it was the holocaust, thirty years ago the cold war, sixteen years ago 9/11 and this weekend it is because of planetary movements mixed in with a hurricane, BREXIT and an argument between the Rocket Man of North Korea and the tycoon President Trump.

The sobering truth is that for the victims of the recent genocide in Rohingya, Bangladesh, or those being systematically killed by ISIS militants in the Middle East or those who have died of Malaria in Africa, or those that were lost in the recent hurricanes and floods, or Dave down the road who just lost his battle with cancer, or Margaret who collapsed in town and never woke up. For them, their last day has come (Luke 13:4), they have met their creator and have faced judgement. 

We all could face the same at any moment! None of us know when our time is up!

So the question is….Are you ready to meet your maker? If you do not have the protection of Jesus, I can tell you categorically that you will not stand.

The message of scripture is that we are not to be concerned about when the time will be as these are all distractions that take us away from our saviour (1 Thessalonians 5:3), rather we are to be ready to face God at any moment, trusting that whatever will happen in the future will be for His glory and the benefit of His people the church (Romans 8:28).

I hope to see on the 24th September, worshiping Jesus in church, or in Glory!

A message on Revelation 12

*this is a joke, by God’s Grace I am a Baptist Minister

 

 

 

 

Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp!

EMW Camp

Two years ago at the EMW Aberystwyth conference I was accosted by a dear brother, regarding my potential involvement in the youth camps. He told me that they were “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory).

At the time I was juggling a full time job as well as the Ministry. I politely declined the offer to assist with the promise that if the Lord allowed the Ministry to be self supporting, I would give it a go.

Well the following year, the Lord provided and within days of leaving secular work I was contacted by the EMW (efficient as ever) and I agreed to be a chaplain at this year’s 10-13yrs camp (6).

I did not have a Christian upbringing (at all). Camp is an alien concept and as a result I was terrified. I was sure that my lethargic, miserable demeanour would simply not appeal to the children. I am way out of touch with today’s youth (despite having four children of my own) and I grappled with God for many hours to prepare what I hoped to be relevant messages and studies.

I had already met with the team earlier in the year, at a day conference for the camp. This made me feel a lot better. All but a few of them had grown up together through the camp system (and never left). They were a solid, tight, friendly and professional outfit. I could see that the Lord had blessed me with a unit that was strong enough to support my weakness!

I arrived at the elegant Pentrenant Hall, already exhausted and we began to welcome the families in. As the children settled the parents disappeared. It had begun!

Each camper joined a team and “we” came up with a theme song that would anthem every activity of the week. I was a proud Seahorse!

The typical day started early with a camp officers meeting followed by a time of prayer and devotions. The early bird campers then came down for prayer. Breakfast was served followed by announcements and the odd letter from home publically read (the parents knew this and made them extra embarrassing). After each meal a different team was assigned with the clean-up duty. “Seeeeeeeaaaaaa – horses”!

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We then went into the marquee for the mornings worship. We sang hymns, read God’s word, prayed, the children were recommended books and then I preached. We went through Ruth together looking at identity (more on identity here).

After the service we would invite the children to stay and pray. The officers were always on hand to discuss spiritual matters/concerns with them.

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The mornings worship was then followed by a plethora of activities; craft, swimming, archery, sumo, gladiators, table tennis, table football, pool, air hockey, volley-ball, football and wide games. Split by a healthy lunch that gave us time to rest and regroup before the afternoon shift.

Day trips to the beach, the farm or the lake for water sports were accompanied by a packed lunch and ice-cream/ fish and chips were also provided. The children also enjoyed seminars on biblical inerrancy, mission and Q&A.

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The evenings were spent in dorm groups where camp officers worked through the bible studies I had prepared. All were parables of Jesus that mirrored the morning’s message in Ruth. These intimate discussions gave the children opportunities to open up in smaller groups, among friends, pray and ask questions. We would then all meet up in the marquee for fun and games before settling with a hot chocolate and an epilogue from one of the officers. Then bed and repeat.

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I had to leave camp a day early to conduct the wedding, so I unfortunately missed out on the BBQ and the fancy dress on the Friday evening. You should have seen the costume that I had prepared!

It was a delight to serve the Lord in such a way with an amazing team. The camp leaders were so organised and caring. The officers were all young professionals or undergraduates, with a great heart for the Lord and gospel service. They were all fine role models and their evening testimonies made God’s working in their lives real to the children.

The children’s physical and spiritual wellbeing was of the utmost importance. Officers were staying up until 3am with some children (homesick or simply naughty) and then awake again at 6am, fresh and smiling to begin the next day. On the longer coach trips through the windy country lanes, they were the ones lovingly holding back hair, rubbing backs and scraping the sick from the seats. Whatever situation, they kept spirits high, always singing, playing games and always willing to join in. Despite their love shown, none were “soft touches” and they made clear boundaries so that everyone could have fun in a wholesome manner. All the officers were simply marvelous.

 

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Moments of any contention were few and I put this down to the food. I must have gained at least a stone in weight. Each meal was two courses, cooked in love. How they kept to budget I will never know. The meals were of the highest possible quality and offered a balanced diet with amazing desserts. They really went beyond the call of duty and there was little waste – the kids loved it. With filled tummy’s, the children had no room for arguments, and their minds could focus on the spiritual food.

The camp gave me several fantastic opportunities to speak with the children. Although having to sit in a minibus, facing backwards, through those country lanes, whilst answering 20 questions to some very inquisitive young ladies, did cause my stomach to turn.

During the down time, I was often sat with a book in the grounds, but this did not stop the children coming across to ask questions about the message, the Bible study, their life and their faith. We would pray, encourage one another and lift up Jesus together. The outings gave us all a real opportunity to bond and share. Often walking around in groups I had endless opportunities to speak and engage with these young minds at a deep spiritual level.

What shocked me the most was how tough it has become for these children to practice their faith today. Many said they were not willing to commit (although they did believe) because they felt that they would have to let Jesus down at some point to survive school. Others confessed that they were bullied at school for attending church, others were mocked publically by their RE teachers for believing in the Bible. Many told me how other religions were “tolerated” and thus respected and encouraged in their school, but this was at the cost of Christianity and as a result they did not feel comfortable enough to profess their faith in Jesus to their friends.

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Such conversations were a huge wake-up call! They brought me to my knees! For the first time I began to realise the utter importance of this ministry. These children that I had the privilege of spending a week with are our future! They are tomorrow’s church members, deacons, elders, missionaries and Pastors and they are already being ostracised and undermined by the world. Their faith is already being tested to its limits.

The EMW Camps are a most important provision for our next generation. They should never be viewed as secondary to any other ministry. They give such a unique opportunity for ‘our future church’ to take a week away, to rest in the Lord, to make memories and be with friends their own age who share the same trials. The camp allows ‘our children’ unrivalled access to spiritually mature Christians who can answer the questions they may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask at home or in church. The week equips campers with answers to take back to school, it strengthens them as they face hostility and I pray it encourages them to share the gospel with their friends and family outside of the kingdom.

In the second letter to Timothy (2:1-2) Paul tells Timothy to take what he has heard (the gospel) and pass it on to reliable people for them to tell others. Paul is preaching with four generations in mind. For the survival of the church and the gospel witness in Wales, we must prayerfully do the same. We must embrace the EMW camps, pray for the work and financially support it.

We need to make every effort to send our children and encourage their friends to go with them, and if you have no children (or they are grown up) please help others send theirs. It is simply an unrivalled opportunity for these young minds to come and know the Lord as their own, for them to hear the gospel and share it with others back home, so that one day they may tell.

We can rejoice that by God’s Grace those who came to camp professing faith, left in greater assurance and those far off, grew closer to God in Jesus. By God’s Grace…camp works!

The day after camp, I went down to my study, I began to prepare my notes for Sunday, but I could not resist browsing through the uploaded pictures of the week. I was quite emotional as I realised that I was already missing the team and the children. Camp was truly “better than the best thing I could ever think of” (this side of Glory). I have clearly caught the bug! 51 weeks to go!

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Random Open Air service on the Beach

Identity Crisis

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Sadly today’s youth are being raised in a secularized society that has widely dismissed God and the church community.

From a young age our children are taught that human beings are simply randomly evolved accidents. The concept of human ‘soul’ has been widely discredited and replaced with a consumerist ideology that defines happiness with ownership and material/physical pleasures.

Hunger for such vanity drives a culture of constant change; as a result people are becoming more insular and divisive. We are already seeing evidence that this dissatisfying environment of endless instability has limited the secular child’s capacity to lay down roots for themselves and build support networks (real friends).

Our nation’s youth cry out “who am I and why am I here?

Our post-Christian society answers “you are defined by what you consume or produce, in a godless world, void of meaning and purpose”.

It is fair to say our modernity has created an unnatural period in human history.

Church attendance has dropped to below 2% of the population and as a result we are seeing the breakdown of family. The number of children raised outside of marriage has increased by 29.7% in the last decade and there are over 2 million children in the UK growing up in single parent homes. There is no coincidence that in this same period, prescriptions of anti-depressants have increased by 50.4% as humanity wrestles to define ‘self-worth’ and ‘community’ in our godless nation.

The world moves so fast today, anyone would struggle to identify themselves with anything. Nothing in life is certain; not marriage; a home, even your gender is now up for debate. There is no such thing as a job for life; music, fashion, politics and technology are all rapidly changing to meet the demands of our culture of consumption.

With no real community to align to and no real meaning given to their existence, our youth are at a loss. Change is the only constant and as a result everything is perceived as interim.

Our youth are growing up in a world that offers; instant, on demand gratification. As a result they will never be content, their relationships (sexual or platonic) will become empty, vain and un-trusting and their decision making defined not by morality, but by the democratic desires of a virtual community.

So what is the answer to this gloomy diagnosis?

In short – the Gospel!

Our nations youth have been born into a unique age of constant flux and we have a responsibility to share with them the eternal and unchanging word of God, the solid foundation of the word made flesh (Jesus Christ) and the real love and community found in His bride the church.

As Christians we must prayerfully embrace every opportunity to share the Gospel with young souls, and give them time, so they feel comfortable to ask us the question “who am I and why am I here?” so that we can answer with great purpose and meaning “You are a child of God and here to glorify Him.

To have an identity in Jesus Christ means total contentment and a better life. He is eternal and His work unchanging, Calvary cannot be undone!

Only Jesus can fill the void caused by today’s social ideology and only He can offer the stability, permanence, purpose and community of love (the church) that every human being needs to thrive.

Knowing Jesus will be of the greatest benefit to today’s youth, as they grow up in this ever changing world and it is our job to tell them the Good News!

Gird up your loins!

 

Wonder Woman a social commentary

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I finally got my act together and went to see the long awaited and much anticipated film, Wonder Woman.

The DC franchise is my favourite. ‘Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice’ raised the bar, it was superb and had several philosophical and theological themes under the narrative that I discuss in more detail in the link above (for those that are interested).

I think I am the last person in the world to have seen Wonder Woman, so a “spoiler alert” is probably not necessary.

Wonder Woman (played by the phenomenal Gal Gadot), is Diana, princess of the Amazons, who lived a privileged and protected life on a tropical island created by Zeus, where despite (her mother) the queens restraint, trained to be an unconquerable warrior.

An American pilot (Captain Kirk – Chris Pine) crashed into this closed ecosystem by chance whilst escaping from ‘ze Germans’. He then informs Diana of World War 1. Convinced that Ares god of war is behind the atrocity, she feels it is her destiny to stop the threat. Diana leaves her home for the first time, fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, where she finally discovers her full potential and true destiny as the “god killer”.

David Thewlis is one of my favourite actors and I was surprised to see him in the film. Knowing his type cast, it sadly made the “twist” predictable. He played the aging freedom fighting politician and supporter of Wonder Women’s crusade – but he turns out to be…….you guessed it!

The film was excellent, but I did leave disappointed as the obvious plot made it somewhat slow. (It still gets a 9.5/10).

There were some idiosyncratic moments where Wonder Women questions the American pilot during a bathing scene on how “men are governed by such a little thing” referring to his watch and of course the obvious “no-man’s land” triumph. But there was a more profound theme (outside of the justifiable women’s lib comments) that I would like to discuss.

The film is about Wonder Women’s personal journey to find out her destiny. She embarks leaving the protection of the island to save mankind from evil (echoes of Christ’s condescension). Wonder Woman fights in a ruthless war alongside a band of misfits (an Apache Indian an Arab and a Scott) and learns about the reality of evil. To her surprise it does not simply come from a single source (Ares god of war) but is innate to every single human being. (Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:10).

Wonder Woman quickly learns the tragedy of the human condition. Those fighting against the evil of ‘ze Germans’ are also the very same people that were committing awful genocide to the Apache’s kin. She witnesses geopolitical effects of evil in the gassing of a town and the ramifications of evil to self, in the deceit of Sameer (Arab) and the social problems of Charlie (the Scott).

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Throughout the journey Wonder Women witnesses the total depravity of mankind, but during this turmoil experiences love from the pilot, charity from the Apache, sacrifice from Sameer and a chorus from Charlie. She learns that these uniquely human qualities are worth saving despite our innate evil. This realisation drives her on to battle Ares, who takes the opposing view that creation would be far better off without the human race. Wonder Women wins the battle, but the fight for evil continues!

As a viewer I was bought in (momentarily) to Wonder Woman’s naive view of evil and faced the same dichotomy shared by all humanity. That evil is not simply from a single source but innate to every human being, even the best of us.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts this innate sickness of man perfectly in his book the Gulag Archipelago.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

The film reminds us of the truth of our total depravity which contradicts our capacity to love. This paradox is beyond our comprehension so as a species we deal with it in mythology, telling stories that try to articulate the spiritual truths of our very being in a digestible way.

This is why millions of people flock to the cinema’s to see such tales unfold, because they express the reality of the complex battles within. Battles that secularism does not and cannot answer, as they are beyond the empirical, they are metaphysical. Which is why when we (as a society) face the reality of such paradoxes, during times of crisis, where good meets evil, it is the church that is often turned to, and prayer that is requested, because secularism does not have the answer. The atheists worldview of existence being time+matter+chance cannot explain love and grief.

The truth of our inner conflict between; the physical and spiritual, determinism and morality, love and hate and our fight for justice cannot be justified without divinity, a being who created existence for a purpose. For if there is no creator, there is no meaning, so concepts such as justice, morality, love, fear and grief do not exist, they are as much fiction as Wonder Woman herself, meaningless conditions evolved from the complex neurons of advanced apes.

So why adhere or uphold them? Why pay to see such concepts materialised in film?

Like all superhero films, Wonder Woman conjures up such mythology and audiences have rushed in to see it because they are based on a truism. Yet our churches who battle with the very same story of good versus evil each week will remain empty this Sunday….why?

One of our countries greatest academics (and former atheist) C.S. Lewis answers this question.

If I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story (such as Wonder Woman) I didn’t mind it at all: If I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself/herself. . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: the idea of a dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) moved me, provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant’. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.

What C.S. Lewis was saying is that the fiction of Wonder Woman is enjoyable because it demands nothing from you the viewer, you simply pay your money and be entertained by her victory against immorality (portrayed to be beyond your grasp), meanwhile the truth of her battle (good vs evil) lives on in your personal journey and in the world around you.

In contrast the reality of the historical person of Jesus the Nazarene and His real defeat of evil on the cross requires you “the viewer” to grasp this battle (Matthew 16:24), you have to change, you have to love your enemy, you have to commit yourself to helping the poor and sick, you have to live a life of faith, go to church and worship, you have to be a force for good in your world – which seems to be too much effort, especially on a Sunday morning for the masses!

Wonder Woman highlighted the propensity of evil in mankind, an undeniable truth that can only be logically explained (in light of the paradox of our ability to love) by humanities transgression from a loving creator, an explanation given clearly in the Bible.

In the final clash Ares god of war tempts Wonder Woman with the beauty of a world without humanity (echoes of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness Matthew 4:1-11). This was a final attempt to convince her that our innate evil warrants our extermination. As Wonder Woman delivers her final blow she says “only love can save the world”. This is a truth that we all embrace and know deep down, it is not based on fiction, love does conquer all. And I can tell you in light of this reality that love did save the world!

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this,that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

It is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:17-18)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)

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Bala Ministers conference

I have just returned from the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales) Bala Ministers conference at Bryn-y-Groes. The theme this year was “the Glory of Jesus Christ in His Person and Work”.

Stephen Clark gave the three title addresses, Andy Pitt spoke on our identity in Christ, Lindsay Brown on Calvin the missionary, Mark Barnes on the current views held by non believers, Adrian Brake preached on the life and Ministry of William Williams, Pete Campbell lead the prayer meetings and I spoke on Tuesday evening on what God can do with a little oil (2Kings4).

I do not wish to go into too much detail regarding the programme, just to say that it was well thought out with a real concern for the current needs of the delegates. I was greatly encouraged and stimulated by the content. As a speaker, I stuck out like a sore thumb among such titans of the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales).

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I do not wish to elaborate anymore on the programme for two reasons.

  1. I scribbled so many notes down that this review would soon turn into an essay if I went any further.
  2. I feel it helpful to distance the programme from the conference, because as good as it was (and it was excellent), it is the other attributes that make the three days truly special.

There are many conferences that offer the high level seminars akin to those expected at the Bala Ministers. They are all well organised, valuable and of course offer great discounts on books! However, the Bala Ministers conference is unique! For reasons you can only understand if you come! Yes, it shares in all the benefits of the aforementioned learning but it was packaged in a gentleness and sincerity that I had not experienced elsewhere.

The prayer meetings were fully attended each morning; the more academic material was not coldly presented but given in the love of Christ, the discussions (that included strong rebukes and challenges) were shared in a spirit of unity.

This was more than just a conference; it felt like a family reunion, young and old gathered together from all different circumstances, some had been coming for decades, others were there for the first time, but we all loved each other as brothers in the Gospel.

I shared meals with men who will go down in church folk law as bastions of the faith, I discussed philosophy and theology with leading and respected academics (embarrassingly asking them to sign copies of the books I purchased after the discussion), I enjoyed coffee with young prodigies set to take on the mantle for tomorrows church. We were reminded of old truths, and given new ideas to meet the needs of a changing world.

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This week battle weary brothers had fun together, we enjoyed each other’s company, we walked, we debated and we relaxed in the idyllic setting of Bala lake.

We were all cared for so wonderfully by Gwydion, Catrin and the team at Bryn-y-groes, they truly are called to serve in such a way. The food was tremendous, you could almost taste the love that went into its preparation. Nothing was too much trouble for them to ensure our stay was as comfortable and beneficial as possible. Thank you!

In conclusion

You can pay for the Carson’s and the Keller’s, you can hire out a room, book a hotel and prepare a programme. The content will be good, and the time worthwhile. But what other conference do not give you is the spirit of love, care and gentleness that I received from Bala Ministers this week.

We were not professionals meeting, we were broken men seeking our saviour and He came and met with us and bound us together in love.

By God’s Grace I hope to see you all next year!

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence,  nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

My visit to Auschwitz

I concede that I write this post out of selfish necessity. A week has gone by since I visited Auschwitz and I need this output to fully digest the horror. I write this blog with the heaviest of hearts. I warn you it is not for the faint or sensitive.

Why visit Auschwitz?

I was invited alongside twelve other Ministers in Wales to attend the European (Christian) Leaders Forum in Poland with a view to setting up a “network” in Wales.

I will write again about the Forum, so I will just say that it was a wonderful learning experience; we lived like Kings for a week, all thanks to the generosity of the American backers. We are all very grateful to them.

The forum was just two hour’s drive away from Auschwitz, so before the conference started we all went.

I knew that I ‘should’ go as it was on our doorstep, but in truth I was dreading it. Being away from home is hard enough, especially for a week of study that convicts the soul. Did I need to start the week on such a low?

Arrival

When we arrived outside Auschwitz (I), it was a bit like a theme park, coaches and buses filled the car park with hundreds of people queuing outside the gates. The mood was oddly jovial and it lifted my spirits. This turned into a cruelty that allowed me to fall from a higher peak when I walked through the gates and was exposed to the horrors.

Our group pre-arranged a tour guide who took us through the entrance gate with the words “Arbeit macht frei” written in the iron arch (I will come back to this later). Jewish captives would walkout under this gate each morning to the sound of an orchestra, as they began their day of hard labour.

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We visited various buildings of significance throughout the camp, where the Nazi’s used to house and work the Jews and POW. We saw the firing wall where they shot women, this was next door to their dorms (notice the blacked out windows so nobody could see ). We saw the offices of the Nazi generals with Hitler’s picture still hung on the wall, the “courts” (a paradox in themselves), the gas chamber and furnaces (to burn the bodies) and Rudolf Hoess’ house, where he lived with his wife and children in perfect luxury next door to the torture.

As you can imagine the camp was well enforced with imposing wooden turrets, barbed wire electrified fences and large bleak concrete walls.

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Evidence

We were then taken through various displays that evidenced the atrocities. This is where I broke down.

Amidst a room of hair taken from the prisoners (estimates of about 50,000 scalps) I saw the blond plats of a young girl, she could have been no older than my daughter and it suddenly became personal. Tears running down my face we went on to see piles of glasses once used to read poetry and love letters, pots and pans used to share a family meal, and stacks of tins containing Zyklon B (the killer gas). There were photographs of deformed and starving people experimented on in the name of “science and progression” and various other logistical and bureaucratic records, showing how far these poor people were shipped in from.
The tour guide was very clear in regards to the evidence throughout. She stated the factual and told us with great honesty what was assumed knowledge. There was clearly a belief that some would doubt the horror (or the level of it), so the information was presented candidly for us to understand for ourselves and come to our own conclusions.

We went back to our coach, our heads face down and in silence.

We took the short drive to Auschwitz (II) Birkenau. I did not think it could get any worse…..I was wrong.

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In the middle of nowhere you are greeted by an imposing tower of the camp entrance where cattle trains drove people, human beings, in like cargo.

Nothing could prepare me for the size of the compound. It was huge!

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All that is left of most of the buildings that housed the Jews are the superfluous chimneys either end of what was a wooden structure. These lifeless towers of despair stretched in their hundreds all the way to the trees on the horizon, on either side of the track. The camp was surrounded by viewing posts and electric barbed wire fences.

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The original Jewish arrivals were re-homed in these buildings. The conditions were awful but at first there was some provision for them. These first families were welcomed and told it was a short term arrangement during the war effort.

This “testing period” was not a gracious one, but callously conjured for PR purposes. These unsuspecting souls, men women and children, once accommodated for, were told that they could write postcards home welcoming their friends and relatives to come and join them with nothing to fear but hard work… they did write, and they did come, by the hundreds of thousands.

Many people died on the journey. They were crammed into a carriage like cattle from all over Europe enduring extreme temperatures and suffocation.

On arrival Men got off the train and were placed on one side of the platform and the women and children on the other. They were greeted by POW  in striped pyjamas who took their belongings off them “for the time being”.

The men walked up the platform ramp on one side and met Nazi doctors who chose (at most) eighty from every five hundred, fit enough to work, the rest were sent to the “showers” to get “cleaned up”, along with the women and children on the other side of the platform. They were all stripped, and sent into the “showers” under false pretenses and were gassed to death.

The deceased would then be taken from the chamber by the Jewish prisoners, often numbering some of the eighty men and boys “saved” from their party earlier.

During the murder of their kin those deemed healthy enough, had been marched down to collect their striped uniform and immediately sent to work, their first task was to be reunited with their family (whom moments before they had left on the platform alive) and now had to endure pulling out the gold teeth from their lifeless bodies and then drag them into the incinerator.

At peak times, it would take just thirty minutes for people to be turned into dust, from landing onto the platform to the incinerator. Jewish slaves would then spread the ashes on the surrounding fields as fertiliser.

The point of Natural selection

The ‘surviving’ slaves lived in extreme conditions, with little food, no fuel, poor facilities and thin clothing, in a punishingly cold environment. Among their many tasks was to conduct the extermination of their own and destroy the evidence. They themselves had a life expectancy of about two weeks, before being subject to the same fate; killing eye witnesses meant that nobody could speak of the horror afterwards.

When the war turned against Hitler, the Nazi’s began to destroy the evidence, the gas chambers now sit as rubble.

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Thoughts

This was clearly not a normal historic tour, it was grim with an air of evil and I am grateful to God that I experienced it with some of the wisest and loving men I know. We spent the week in deep philosophical debate trying to come to terms with what we had seen.

I could hear many comment on the “business-like” process of the camp; it was a production line of death. But it was far more than that. If this killing was just a business, it would have been deemed insufficient to transport two Jewish people all the way from the Channel Islands to die in this camp. The expense and resource required to achieve this slaughter when fighting battles on both fronts was unwise and probably contributed to the Nazi demise. No, this was beyond the coldness of business, it was beyond the evil of war, the force driving this “extermination” was of biblical proportions, it was a glimpse of the Horrors of Hell.

Now I know some would say, “how could twelve Ministers, who preach a God of love, take Him seriously after visiting such a place of evil?” I do answer such a question in a previous blog which I hope is helpful (Why does God allow evil – an answer to Stephen Fry). All I would like to say at this point, is if we went with the alternative world view and denied God’s existence, Auschwitz still happened.

Without God, we are in a meaningless universe of chance, where according to Darwinism the best equipped species survive and at this time and place in History, it was the Nazi’s. The Nazi’s had the power to commit these atrocities, so in a godless world view, the question of immorality should not even be considered, these events should simply be regarded in much the same way as natural history. It was one natural force outbidding another for the success of their “selfish gene”. But as we all know such a viewpoint is utter nonsense.

We know at our core that what happened at Auschwitz is wrong, we know that the victims of such crimes, have souls of unlimited value and this is why we all (even alleged atheists) mourn this tragedy as we do. Because human beings are more than randomly evolved proteins, we are body and soul, we are all transcendent image bearers of God with a propensity to love. So we are upset when we see such suffering and injustice.

My fear is that in our modern western world that continues to reject the God of love, where churches are closing and our popular scientists are fast becoming society’s demigods, driving philosophical thought outside of their remit, the very same thing will happen again in our culture in the name of “science” and “progress”. There is already signs of such dehumanization in our society in regards to the less fortunate, or refugees. We see the very same narratives being used today by politicians that Hitler used initially to gain power.

On that train platform at Birkenau you had the brutality of ‘natural selection’ in action, those fit enough to work survived, those without such desired attributes could no longer exist.

Without God, at best we are dying in a world run (at the moment) by an evolved ape driven by an amoral natural force of greed, lust and pride, for no reason or purpose.

Without God we live in a world where the horrors of Auschwitz happened and will continue to happen and as living accidents of time+matter+chance you have no rational way to explain why it terrifies you, or why you know it was wrong, because there is no such thing as ‘wrong’ in a meaningless (Godless) universe.

However, with God, there is meaning and purpose, a higher morality which can condemn and protect us from such horror and give us hope amidst the trial.

Like God, guilt cannot be seen touched or measured, but it is very real, guilt is the ‘call to action’ for the soul and guilt lead these Nazi’s to run and hide, just like Adam and Eve hid in the garden.

It is this uniquely human property of morality (that we all share as God’s image bearers) that drove the Nazi’s to demolish the camp and destroy the evidence in a bid to evade justice – they knew what they were doing was wrong!

It is this ‘meaning’ or ‘conscience’ that convicted me to tears whilst walking through the camp. I was reminded of my own capacity to have done the very same evil (Matt 5:22). In my weakness I was once  intolerant, at my lowest I sought strength in hate, until I met Jesus who told me “blessed are the meek”(Matthew 5:5) and showed me that strength comes as a servant (Philippians 2:7).

Later investigations proved that there was nothing unique (genetically or psychologically) about the Nazi’s behind the atrocities. They loved their families just like us, they enjoyed relationships just like us, they ate and drank just like us and just like us they had a vein of evil at their very core.

The Bible gives the best explanation for this phenomenon in the account of the “fall”, that caused the total depravity of mankind (Romans 3:10). Our capacity to love is matched with a capacity to “sin”, we are all driven by pride, greed and lust – the fuel of hate! We are all in some way guilty of such evil and this means that we all need a Saviour. Jesus Christ.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts this innate sickness of man perfectly in his book about the Soviet forced labor camp system, The Gulag Archipelago.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

This sickness is in us all, the cure is Jesus Christ.

Final thoughts

What struck me most was how so many were lead to their death in utter compliance. Over 1.3 million people (Jews, Gypsy’s, Poles and POW) were murdered in Auschwitz by just 7,000 SS troops during this period.

Why did they not revolt in great number? If a cruel death was a certainty, the electric fence or being shot in the back would surely have been a mercy that could have allowed others to escape?

Perhaps the dehumanisation got to the Jews themselves, as they were tasked with the barbarianism of sorting through the valuables of their beloved deceased. Did they begin to think that they were not worth saving? That their lives were not worth fighting for?

Or perhaps many of them did not even know that they needed saving? To them this cruelty was short term and relative. Many were grateful for the housing during the war effort, it was no better in the ghettos they had been brought from, perhaps they just thought they should keep their heads down and get on with it?

You will remember from earlier I spoke of the words arching over the entrance of this epicenter of utter evil “Arbeit macht frei”. This translates to “Work will set you free”.

Perhaps the captives genuinely believed this. Each day they bravely battled through their arduous existence, cold and hungry, along with everyone else, not knowing the inevitable cruelty that awaited them.

Is this reasoning not metaphor for today’s culture?

Millions of our kin arduously work through life, not knowing the judgement that awaits them in eternity. Our cultures demigods tell them that there is no God, that you are just evolved accidents here by chance and that your value is defined by your ability to work, you are told each morning as you hit the grind by a televised orchestra of media and advertising that “work will set you free”. “Be slaves to commodity and know happiness,” yet all remain hungry and nobody rebels because all are bought into the lie. It is death by compliance.

It is poignant to note that at a place of most extreme evil, you are welcomed with the anthem of this cursed world “Arbeit macht frei” (work will set you free). The very opposite of the heart of Gospel message that proclaims “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Heaven’s gates read “you have been saved  not by works – but by the blood of the lamb!”

Such evil that I passively experienced and the emotions it conjured reaffirms to me the reality of the Biblical narrative. We are truly in a cursed world and mans propensity for evil is great. Never have I been more inspired to preach the love of God, for only in the Gospel do we have a saviour who chose to come low and suffered the trial and injustice that these Jewish people knew. He can sympathise with their weakness and His grace is sufficient, for He tasted such brutality on His own lips!

Only in the Gospel do we have meaning in trial and hope amidst the reality of such evil. The gospel that says “love thy enemy” is our best weapon against such hate!

In the gift shop I bought the below postcard, a picture of Christ on the Cross scraped into the wall of cell 21.

I wrote on its back the words of John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”.

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To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honour and glory and power forever and ever.” Revelation 5:12