Covid 19: Funeral

funeral-services-in-bristol-04

Today I took two funerals at our local crematorium. They were both pre-booked before the lockdown and neither of the deceased contracted Covid 19. 

They were both local families who had requested my services but neither attended the church.

Usually I would meet the family in person at their home a week before the funeral to discuss arrangements, prepare the eulogy, read scripture and pray. If they are willing I would then return a second time to confirm the details (ensuring that I have the correct names of all the Grandchildren etc), read scripture and pray. 

I would then meet the family in the home of the deceased the morning of the funeral for “Family Prayers” before leading the procession (with the hearse) to the end of the road. A Welsh Valley tradition. 

The service and committal are both usually at the Crematorium, (very occasionally at the church). 

In such a close community such as the Welsh Valleys, funerals are very well attended. I have rarely done a funeral with less than fifty mourners (and as many as 2,000). 

Following the service I would receive an invite to the wake (usually at the local rugby club). I do go on occasion – if appropriate. 

The following week I hope to meet the family again with a printed copy of the Eulogy in a card and offer further literature about our church and the hope we have in Jesus.

But in light of the Coronavirus and the national lockdown I can no longer follow this process.

So here are some practical pointers that I hope will be of assistance if you are conducting a funeral service during lockdown.

Before the Funeral

Pray.

This is going to be tough and made even harder under the heightened anxiety of the lockdown.

Prepare everything over the phone

Phone technology is more familiar to older relatives (and friends) of the deceased. Nobody will feel left out. Zoom and other video conferencing apps can cause added anxiety in a potentially difficult situation. I would not use them unless recommended by the family.

Make sure you have contacted all the family and friends that wish to be involved.

Your initial contact may give you all the information you need, but it is worthwhile to call wider family and friends out of courtesy to see if they have anything to add. 

Follow Government guidelines

New regulations limit the amount of mourners that can attend a funeral. Our local crematorium has stipulated a maximum of five guests. Make the family aware that you are up to date with the guidelines. This will save any embarrassment on the day if others wish to come.

Liaise with the Funeral Director about who can come.

Please be sensitive, deciding who can come can cause a family feud at a most difficult time.

Make the effort to contact all those in the immediate family (and close friends) who cannot come because of the restrictions (especially elderly relatives). Help them feel involved by asking for any anecdotes that they wish to add to the eulogy, or simply share with them what you hope to say on the day. Assure them that you will give their condolences during the service. Offer to send a copy of the Eulogy and Order of Service to those who can’t come.

The Funeral Service

The families grief will be amplified by the tragedy of seeing row after row of empty seats. Be conscious of this. 

Arrive as early as possible to give you more time with the family. Expect additional members to attend to view from afar. Make sure you go and speak to them – even if they are five minutes walk away in the car park.

A gentle handshake or a pat on the arm speaks volumes, but this cannot be done. Social Distancing limits our ability to communicate, so more time is necessary to show your support to the family verbally. They will need it.

Thank God for the five in attendance and preach Christ as you would normally to a full house, to quote Rev. Richard Wurmbrand “Preach to the unseen angels”. You will have a small but captivated audience with no where to hide, they are in deep grief and pleading for hope. Jesus is always the answer. Take your time, embrace the silence. 

When it comes to the hymn. Offer the family to stand and simply ponder the words if they do not feel comfortable singing in an empty room. Gauge their response, if they are not singing, remain mute.

At the end of the service

Still respecting ‘Social Distancing’, offer your condolences again to the family then politely and promptly depart, do not linger. 

Wash your hands when you get home. 

Follow up with a phone call over the coming days.

Love them. Pray for them.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Dominion

91jqczH5FaL

Tom Holland is a rare academic in the secular west who (at the least) has the grit to acknowledge that his agnosticism is born from a 2,000 year old matrix of Christian ethics. (A truth that he is not embarrassed by).

Each chapter is incredibly well written and defines an epoch of church reformation, narrated through the life stories of known historical characters and more interestingly those on the fringe of wider notoriety.

We read of the many shocking mistakes of Christendom that further reinforce its doctrines of the total depravity of man. We see how politics and greed corrupted and divided the church and how competing forces (paganism, Islam and secularism) have reacted against it.

But what becomes clear in this book is that throughout two millennia of cultural turbulence a thin veneer of Christian truth is always preserved by God’s brave (yet often weakened) remnant. Each generation has men and women willing to die to protect Jesus’ teaching that all are equally treasured by God and thus have dignity. That power does not come (as in the natural world) by the imposition of terror but in the love of the victim. The Cross is the sign of this revolution that has so greatly blessed humanity.

Tom makes several comparisons throughout history to show that as far as our society drifts away from God it always returns to the truth of the Cross. For it is the very morals derived from Christianity itself that those who mock and undermine the faith use to defend their cause.

The Gay Pride movement, whilst rightly attacking the homophobia within the church seek after the Christian Doctrine (of life-long monogamous marriage) that the early church fathers died to preserve under the Roman Empire.

The feminists who rightly attack bigotry in the church are also calling (through the #metoo movement) for the same self-restraint that the Puritans fought for.

Post-Christian France showed Christian virtue by welcoming Muslim refugees into their secular nation, expecting that they would take the same satire towards Muhammad as Christianity had endured for centuries with Jesus. Yet once the Atheist publication ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was attacked, secular France quickly returned to their Christian virtues to denounce it as wrong.

The much venerated John Lennon sang the Atheist anthem from his 72 acre palace in Bedfordshire “Imagine there is no Heaven-it’s easy if you try”. Baptist Pastor Martin Luther King Jr. was sent to Heaven for crying out “I have a dream”.

Wherever you stand in regards to faith and religion, the wonderful truth that Tom Holland reveals in this book, is that our histories tensions have all revolved (and thus in some way have been influenced by) the Cross! Christianity is in us all!

Although I have tremendous respect for Tom I can’t agree with his gloomy conclusion, that we are in the Shadow of God’s corpse, that just as Birds came from Dinosaurs, new cultural systems will be born from Christian ethics. If anything this book has taught me the very opposite, that throughout history new ideologies come and go, but the truth of Christianity always lives on. Why? Because it is true! If it wasn’t it would have died out long ago!

Christianity is the constant that built the West and continues to transform and liberate the oppressed all over the world.

This book has really encouraged me (as a Baptist Minister).

By God’s Grace our little church is growing but across the UK Christianity is facing extinction. This book reminds us that such decline is just one of many throughout  history. God is still working and His remnant will persevere for the good of humanity. The UK will return to its first love.

“And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).

 

Coming out

Last week Phillip Schofield stole the headlines by “coming out” as ‘gay’. This was a huge shock to me – as I assumed this was the case anyway.

Phillip Schofield has been ever present in my life. As a child I would race home from school to watch him and Gordon the Gopher in the broom cupboard, I loved waking up to ‘Going Live’ on a Saturday morning and I had the privilege of seeing him on stage as Joseph (dressed in his technicolour dream coat).

I have so much respect for him as a broadcaster and entertainer and I pray that this is how he will be remembered.

0_Phillip-with-Gordon-the-Gopher-on-The-Broom-Cupboard

I am deeply grieved that Phillip Schofield had to go to the extent of divulging his sexual desires on national TV.  His sexuality is his business and the ordeal must have put such a strain on his family. They have all been in my prayers during this difficult time.

Sadly this is one of the consequences of living in a post-Christian nation. No longer are we defined as equals, image bearers of God, with a shared desire to glorify Him in good works, but rather our identity has become sexualised. Putting unnecessary pressure on those conflicted in such areas.

So, I want to say to Phillip Schofield and to anyone else in his circumstance – however cathartic “coming out” maybe, do not let this experience define you. Because you are so much more than your sexual preference, you are a human being and God loves you (Genesis 1:27), you are of infinite value to Him (John 3:16) and thus greatly treasured by Him (Ephesians 2:4-5). God made you who you are (Psalm 139:14) and He does not make mistakes (Psalm 18:30) and whatever you are going through or whatever experience you have faced as you are finding your way in this life, this does not exclude you from God’s Grace (Romans 3:23-24).

Dear friends, when all that you desire today is gone, all you will have left is God. Happiness can only be found in Jesus and whether you are Rich, Poor, Black, White, LGBTQ+ – the Bibles message is clear – All can come (Revelation 22:17) through the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) and know God’s love, forgiveness and rest.

We continue to pray for the Schofield family.

PhillipSchofield0702v3

 

The Australian Bushfire – is God to blame?

IMG_2261

We have all been horrified by the disturbing images of Bushfires rampaging through Australia.

At the point of writing nineteen people have tragically lost their lives, three of which are volunteer fire-fighters and there are many more missing and unaccounted for. Over two thousand properties have been damaged with hundreds of families displaced.

Ecologists have estimated a death toll of half a billion animals across 11.3 million burnt acres – which is an area the size of Belgium – in flames!

Millions of people have resorted to prayer whilst others have used the atrocity as a platform to promote their atheist ideology.

Social Media is filled with comments such as…

“How can a loving God allow this to happen” 

“How cruel and spiteful is God”

“What is the use of prayer?”

 “Christianity is B*** s****” 

etc etc.

I have received several messages regarding such comments which I will endeavour to answer as compassionately as possible.

I pray that these answers help the Christian defend their faith amidst such tragedy and that the accuser may accept the love of God in their lives.

The Australian Bushfire – is God to blame?

A loving response……

  1. If God was to prove Himself to you in this instance and miraculously stop the Bushfire would you be in church on Sunday? He has worked many miracles throughout human history that you choose to happily discredit, so why ask God to work a miracle in this case? And what difference will it make to your relationship with God view if He did work in such a way again? (John 12:37).
  2. If God was to come to earth and act out His perfect justice, eradicating all that is against His will (like the Australian Bushfire), how would you fare against such judgement? Would He not have to eradicate you to? Rejoice that by Grace He stays His hand and loves you despite your reaction of Him. (Matthew 7:2)
  3. There are many theories about who or what started the Bushfires; A) arson, poor land management, climate-change or B) natural forces. A) If it had been caused by human negligence (or worse), such actions are condemned by the Bible. If we refuse to listen to God’s guidance, we cannot then blame Him for the consequences. (1 John 2:16). B) If the Bushfires are naturally caused then there is absolutely no warrant for any moral response in a merely material universe. If there is no God (as you claim) and we are merely products of random chance then the Bushfire has no significance, it is just another random natural act. The loss of a third of all Koala’s is yet another cold and heartless example of the Darwinian ideology you wish to promote.
  4. Isn’t it odd that when any horrific event occurs (natural disaster, terror attack etc) millions of people who do not give God a second thought suddenly become theists and “pray” or use the atrocity to attack Christians and blame the God they do not believe in.  I am yet to see anyone on social media blame (or petition) Vishnu, Buddha, Krishna or any other god for that matter.  Why is it that only the God of the Bible gets it in the neck when things go wrong? Is it because it is only when life gets real, when the horoscopes, the Yoga mat and well-being app are proven to be no help whatsoever, that deep down the truth of who really is Sovereign  becomes clear? It is the tragedy of the human condition that it takes such an atrocity to break down our pride to reveal this truth. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The Australian Bushfires have caused a horrific loss of life, and we all grieve this because deep down we all believe (as the Bible teaches) that life has meaning and purpose. The Australian Bushfires further evidence the Biblical teaching that this world is broken and that bad things can and do happen and our natural desire to seek justice and appoint blame points to the Biblical promise of a better future. 

Friends, it is only the Bible that can explain the horror that we are seeing, it is only the Bible that can justify our sorrow and it is only the Bible that can give us the hope we need to get through this difficult time.

I pray that such atrocities will bring you to the Bible for answers and ultimately to the Cross of Jesus Christ, where God turned the pinnacle of human evil and suffering into a gateway of love that will unite all His faithful into a new and better world (Revelations 21:4).

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

#PrayForAustralia

IMG_2260

Who should Christians vote for?

_109749652_p07vgly0

In the midst of our turbulent political situation I am so thankful that my citizenship is in Heaven. I serve a Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, the perfect Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), who can never lie (Titus :2) or ever let me down (Hebrews 13:5), a leader so perfect and loving that I would never wish to “vote” Him out (1 Timothy 1:17). Hallelujah!

With that said, as a Christian, I also know that I am called to be Salt and Light on this fallen earth (Matthew 5:13-16) and thus have a responsibility to render to Caesar what is Caesars (Mark 12:17) and to respect the authorities God has put over me (Romans 13:1), so I take my vote very seriously and I ask that you do the same.

Please think for yourselves, read the manifestos, petition God in prayer and vote on Christian principle.

Do not succumb to the temptation of endless spending pledges and promises of prosperity, rather use your vote to elect the government that you believe can help you be a better Christian, so that you can better serve others.

Do not delegate your compassion to the state, rather vote for the party that will help you be Jesus in your community – because only Jesus can bring love back to Britain.

Vote for Jesus

And whatever the result, be an example of unity.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

 

Political Polarisation

I write this blog after much prayer, hugely concerned by the ongoing polarisation of our society.

Many blame the current political situation, but I think this is too easy to do.

Our nation has always been divided over politics, but never have I seen such disdain and hatred for those ‘on the other side’ of the debate.

Something of real significance has changed in our cultural psyche, as a nation we have forgotten how to empathise and we have forgotten how to compromise for a greater good. 

Politics has become dangerously personal and I am genuinely terrified as to where we are heading.

So what has changed?

Some say the rise of individualism, other’s blame the advancement of technology?

Both have isolated the masses into virtual groups of shared opinion, with little interaction with those who think differently.

But I feel that such theories overlook the most significant change in our society for over a millennia – the decline of Christianity.

file-20190513-183096-712xq8

The Christian world view is built on the fundamental belief of our Trinitarian God – Three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) yet totally one.

Less than one generation ago millions of us would meet in our local churches every Sunday and worship the God of  both ‘diversity and union’.

We were all taught values (albeit not exclusive to Christianity) of Grace and Mercy, humility and empathy and we were called to follow Christ’s example and love the unloveable, defend the weak, seek justice and love our enemies.

Church played a huge part in building the tolerant and prosperous society that we all once lived in and there is no coincidence that the tragic decline in church attendance has led to opposite social outcomes.

But to what end?

We can of course look to other monotheistic religions whose deities are of singular personhood (and thus hinder any diverse expression), or we can collapse under the self-indulgences of polytheism?

We can continue to experiment (as we are) with secularism, but this has never ended well. Historically Atheist regimes unite their people under tyrannical oppression, or they simply collapse under the inevitable lawlessness of hyper individualism.

So what are our options?

I suggest coming back to church.

177200705_IFhero

Friends, I am not arguing for a theocracy, neither am I declaring a perfect state under a Christianised culture (we are all sinners). I am just highlighting the obvious social problems that follow when the God of the Bible is rejected and His church neglected.

History will tell you that Christianity builds a healthier society, it promotes both “Unity not uniformity, Diversity not disorder” and it does this because it is uniquely built on the truth of who God really is.

It is only in Christ that we can begin to love our neighbour as ourselves, (whatever their difference) and reverse our social decline.

Bear with each other and forgive one another, if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:13-14

An Oasis of teenage Christian Liberty – EMW Camps 2019

EMW Camp‘s provide an oasis of Christian liberty to our teenagers.

For one week they can gather together safely and study the Bible with friends, free from the mocking voices they face back in school.

It is such an important week for our campers!

Last year God moved in a powerful way with six campers professing faith (three of which have been baptised since).

You can read more about this week  here Being in the Presence of God

Could we see God move in the same way this year?

68680195_10156228381831922_8802804939400151040_o

We all arrived at camp a year older (some may say wiser), and exhausted!

Junior officers had just got their exam result and were preparing for university, senior officers had recently bought houses and even got married in the weeks leading up to camp.

I had arrived gasping for breath after dealing with a number of seriously draining Pastoral issues.

We came excited – but were praying for an easy group of kids!

The theme of the camp was “Space” and the team got to work decorating the meeting areas with stars and planets and fairy lights, it looked amazing and the theme did a great job supporting the ministry.

Our campers are often one of just a handful of youth in their church and perhaps the only church attendee in their entire school. For them being a Christian is incredibly lonely. So I wanted to teach Biblical truth that they could take back home with them that would both reassure and comfort in their times of need.

After much consideration and in light of the theme we created an “Intergalactic Prayer Warrior training camp”. We took instructions from Star Fleet Command (Matthew 6:9-13) and over ten messages and studies we could see ‘How great is our God’ and how mind blowing it is to call Him ‘Father’. We studied God’s Kingdom and how to live it out in our daily lives (back at home and at school) and how to deal with temptation, peer pressure, assurance and loneliness.

The theme played right into the content and on Wednesday night they watched Indescribable, a short lecture that again magnified God in the creation of the cosmos and revealed His matchless condescension in the person of Christ.

The campers had a great time going to the beach and Ice-Skating, we enjoyed tournaments, fancy dress and crafts, we even wrote a camp song. But the real joy for me was seeing God work among us.

The dynamic was different this year, our camp sold out within a day of opening. Those lucky enough to get in were from church families. They were all well behaved and studious children. But this presented an array of other challenges. Their questions were deeper and more profound, they knew the Bible and understood the seriousness of their salvation.

But such blessings can create huge stumbling blocks to faith. Those naive to the truth come as blank canvases, others who have grown up in the church are wise to the gospel and question everything.

Church kids often feel that their faith is not as genuine as those around them and as a result lack assurance. They wait for the defining “experience” (which some may get), but until that day comes (if it comes) they question everything at the slightest of doubts.

For these reasons children raised in Christian families are often harder nuts to crack!

68995821_1175337252666570_1249432086922657792_n

The first half of the week we were overjoyed at the behaviour and ease of the campers, but knew that many were not saved, so as officers we wrestled in prayer. 

It took until Wednesday for God to move among us and this year He chose the dorm studies to make a real impact. The officers excelled this year, they had worked so hard in their preparation and came with many notes and questions for me. It was a delight to see their enthusiasm rewarded.

What I found most interesting was the similarities between those campers who professed faith. They all suddenly became aware of their eternity and feared the reality Hell. This was clearly a movement of the Spirit as “Hell” was not the focus of the week (it was prayer). 

On the Thursday night we were singing hymns by the camp fire and a young man came to speak with me. It was his first time on an EMW camp and at 13 years of age, his last with our group. He told me how shocked he was by our first meeting on the breakfast table where I asked him so bluntly if Jesus is His Lord and Saviour. It made him think all week about the reality of his eternity without Christ. He asked me how He could be saved and I had the great privilege of leading Him to the Lord. Walking back to the dorms our camp leader was having the very same conversation with another young man who was in tears of joy knowing the assurance of God’s love for the first time. 

After my last message on the Friday morning I asked all those who had heard God speak to them this week to meet me after the service. Fourteen stayed behind…!

Fourteen soul’s who had either felt great assurance or had committed their lives to following Jesus for the first time. Hallelujah.

69594114_10156253210256922_959048278593241088_n

Friends, what you see above is the power of the EMW camps! They are intense weeks of Christian liberty where God truly blesses souls with assurance and salvation!

As churches we need to remember that our youngsters are the first generation for a millennia to grow up in a non-Christian culture. The EMW Camps offer an oasis of  for these kids and I do not believe that any of us truly understand how much they need (and appreciate) the week.

The commitment and love for Jesus shown by many of our campers is of such great encouragement, the church has a bright future ahead of us, but more can be done to support this amazing work!

As we plan for next year I pray that you can support the EMW Camps by ensuring that the youth in your church come and even ask the unchurched youth in your community to join us. It is a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel.

I want to close by saying a huge thank you to our camp leaders, officers and cooks who worked so hard during the week. 

Another great privilege of being a camp chaplain is to see them mature and grow spiritually each year and use their gifts to glorify God.

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.” Psalm 85:10-13

Anti-Christian? We are just as much to blame!

Good-Morning-Britain-presenters-t

Every time I have had the misfortune to switch on the TV to ‘Good Morning Britain’ a Christian has been publicly humiliated on it.

The well-meaning (but often misguided) Christian is on live TV, against a panel of media professionals, in front of millions of viewers, they are a lamb lead to the slaughter.

The most complex and emotive questions of the day are then posed to them in the expectation of a ‘yes or no’ answer. No time is given for a proper explanation. 

Frustrated and confused by the interrogation the Christian resorts to a fundamental stance (that the panel were looking for all along) and then they ridicule their extreme position.

It is heart breaking to see that some of the most significant questions of our generation (questions that the Bible speaks directly into with such love and sensitivity) whitewashed over in cold-blood for the entertainment of millions on national Television.

Nobody wins in such an altercation, but the overwhelming loser is Christianity – ironically the historic backbone of the “tolerant” west.

But we (the church) are just as responsible for the lambasting that we receive.

Why do we (as Christians) get ourselves into such situations?

Whether on national TV or on Social media, or at work or in school?

Ask yourself how many people have come to church because of an argument with a Christian?

Even if you have the acumen to skilfully win a debate against our cultures beliefs, has your victory ever brought anyone to Jesus?

Friends, the church is in massive decline and we are losing the war of love. This is because we are getting involved in our cultures semantics. We are spending too much time arguing our moral position rather than sharing the beauty of the Gospel.

We need to get our priorities right!

Nobody in human history has ever been saved by their view on abortion or gay marriage, or euthanasia, they have all been saved by their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).

So why do we (Christians) feel that the best way to get our message out is by commenting on such divisive issues?

We are fighting the wrong battles and we are getting publicly destroyed in the process. Culture is no longer on our side.

We are allowing ourselves to be perceived as bigoted, immoral and judgemental, when this is of course not true.

For us the Bibles teaching is God’s revelation on how to live according to His will (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and we work this out in community (the church) as we journey through life together (Philippians 2:13). But for those who are not Christians, none of it makes sense.

Without the love of God, the world will never appreciate our moral position. So why waste time debating it with the unregenerate?

Let us not lead the charge on moral platforms that divide, but rather on the one who so beautifully reconciles. Jesus.

When asked by the Pharisees what to do with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:5). Jesus directly challenged the law givers, showing love to the woman before correcting her moral stance (John 8:11).

We see the same in all of Jesus’ interactions. with the lost. He loves them and corrects only when they come into relationship with Him.

As Christians it is our duty to do the same. To live and uphold the Bibles teaching (Matthew 5:13-16) and to reach out to the lost in love, meeting people with the Gospel rather than in moral judgement (1 Corinthians 15:10).

If the call ever came to appear on Good Morning Britain and I was asked about the Bible’s view on a “divisive issue” my response will be:

“This is a are very serious question that the Bible speaks clearly on, but you will never understand it correctly outside of the context of God’s love for you, do you know God’s love for you?”

“The most amazing claim of the Bible is not in its stance on such a divisive issue, but in the promise of a new and better world, something I am sure all of your audience desires?”

“The Good News that I have the privilege to share with you all this morning, is that whatever your stance is on this matter today, Jesus invites you to follow Him and know the joy of a new and better way of life where all of these questions will become clear”.

I pray this helps!

A love letter to the West

My dearest West 

Thank you for our freedom, thank you for our rights, thank you for our jobs that keep the lights on at night.

Thank you for our safety, thank you for our schools, thank you for our healthcare and social benefits, democracy rules! 

We don’t go hungry, we never thirst, surrounded in relative luxury, our desires always come first.

But

You have forgotten the book that built you and the God who once knew you and have chained yourself to the lies of this world. This is not progression, but regression, back to the darkness before the Gospel was told.

We once valued piety and peace from above, but you have exchanged this for debauchery and the lies of free love. 

Our women were once sacred, respected and cherished, equal in value, betrothed without blemish. 

But your new age has made them objects of sex, giving rise to the #MeToo movement in a secular context. 

You have forgotten the book that built you and the God who once knew you and have chained yourself to the lies of this world. This is not progression, but regression, back to the darkness before the Gospel was told.

We all used to meet together in love and humble reverence, but you have replaced this with cultural severance.

Church made us one in His Holy sacrifice, now the shops are full and our communities  are paying the real price.

What’s happened to marriage? That committed the two? Now a privilege to just the Christian few. 

You have replaced it with brokenness and absent dads, with millions of lonely children glued to their iPads. 

What’s happened to morality? And the fear of God? You have replaced it with knife crime, trafficking and city streets running with teenage blood.

Rich or Poor, Gay or Straight, Black or White, whatever our state, we were all once equal in our need of God’s Grace.

But you have split us into consumers, and diced us into abusers and have subdued us with content on our phones.

You say Religion is archaic, but without it we are a divisive mosaic, thousands of likes but we all now feel alone.

We were once all children of the divine, made by his hands and part of his wonderful design. 

But you listened to Darwin, Dawkins and friends, who claim all is meaningless with no purpose in the end. 

Now all is material and there is no hope of eternity, humanity is just an evolved accident,  desperately lost in a spiral of anxiety.

You have forgotten the book that built you and the God who once knew you and have chained yourself to the lies of this world. This is not progression, but regression, back to the darkness before the Gospel was told.

But not all is lost, a remnant still stand, on our knees we are praying for our once Christian land.

Friends our God is gracious, our God is Kind, loving the marginalised and giving site to the blind. 

He says come back to me as He did to the Prodigal Son, all is forgiven, on the cross Jesus won.

So please dear West, I beg of you turn from your ways, give up greed for charity, philanthropy always pays. 

Seek to be Holy, seek to be free, come away from the vices that drive you into this modern captivity. 

Grasp God’s word again and see, that He loves you and has revealed a way for a better society. 

Generation Z – Transgenderism in the Church

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever”  Isaiah 56:4-6

Michael* was just ten when he moved in with his foster family. He was a victim of neglect and arrived with many behavioural and developmental issues. He was a very quiet and incredibly vulnerable child. 

He loved coming to church, especially our Friday club. He would engage in the discussions and Bible teaching and asked many questions. Michael made many friends at the church but was reluctant to get too close to anyone. He would sit on his own for much of the time building cars out of lego. Our church windowsills were often filled with his creations with “keep off” notes attached.

Michael progressed well through school and due to the great work of his foster family and wider support team, he caught up in many aspects of his life. It was a joy to see. The church loved him dearly.

At the age of 15 Michael came to speak to me in private. He wanted to tell me something that he was yet to share with his social workers, parents, teachers and foster family. I was the first to know and very touched by this. But what he told me was surprising.

Michael wanted to identify as a woman (Michelle).

With Michael’s consent I prayed with him.

I explained to Michael that God made him (Psalm 139:14) and that God does not make mistakes (Psalm 18:30) and yes, this may mean that God made Michael as a male who (at that present time) feels happier as a female (Matthew 19:12), but this does not exclude him from God’s Grace (Romans 3:23-24). I understood that such feelings are real and in direct contradiction to his biology and that having to live with such an inner conflict must be very hard for him. I told Michael that he was very brave and that I was very proud of him. Michael knew that we all loved him.

I explained to Michael that God wants him to be happy within himself (Hebrews 13:5) and what we learn from the Bible (as in life) is that changing who we are externally is unlikely to provide the inner peace that we all desire (Matthew 23:27-28). The root of any internal conflict is caused by our separation from God and thus cannot be resolved until we are reunited with Him again by faith (Romans 5:1). I reminded Michael of the good news of Jesus Christ. That because of His perfect self-sacrifice on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) every human-being can now come to God just as we are (Revelation 22:17) whatever age, race, sex or class. No matter what we have done in the past, no matter what inner conflicts we are burdened with, King Jesus has made it possible for everyone to come and unite and know God in the most beautiful and intimate way. We do not have to change anything external to know God. We just need to come to Him, openly and honestly and trust in Him (Psalm 51:10).

I reminded Michael that as a Christian I believe with all my heart that he is an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:27) and thus of infinite value and greatly treasured (Ephesians 2:4-5).

I pointed Michael to Jesus (as I would any person whatever their orientation). And I made it clear to Michael that whatever he decided to do, he will always be loved and welcomed, just like everyone else.

The following week I was in discussions with the foster family. The school and the local authority were alerted and Michael started to come to church as Michelle. She had a new outfit, wavy hair, contours on her cheeks and lipstick.

As the months past Michelle became very popular and outgoing. As a church we had to accommodate in certain ways, the hardest part for me was getting used to the name change.

That Christmas all the youth received their daily devotionals for the following year, and Michelle got to chose whether she wanted the one for girls or boys (she chose the Girl’s version). Michelle grew in confidence and asked many questions about the LGBT+ movement.

 This allowed me to share what I believe is a “better love story” (the Gospel) with the wider group.

Michelle’s willingness to come to church offered us a wonderful opportunity to speak into our changing culture and challenge many assumptions of what the Bible teaches on the subject of transgenderism and LGBT+. It gave us the opportunity to share with Michelle’s peers that God and His church value you beyond your sexual orientation, that God’s message in the Bible is one of grace and His precepts are given for the benefit of human flourishing, that salvation is based on nothing else than your relationship with Jesus and thus Hell is full of proud heterosexuals who have dismissed God’s love for them. We looked together at how other (unchristianized) cultures treat the LGBT+ community (in most cases horrifically) and we thanked God for their safety in the UK.

Although Michelle did not make a profession of faith (that I know of) she was a real pleasure to have in the group, a catalyst to discussion and a tangible testimony of the Church’s  love and welcome to all people.

Months went by and Michelle grew in confidence, church was her safe space and a number of her friends were joining her as a result.

gender

One Sunday Morning

Ten minutes before the service started a member from Michelle’s foster family came into the church. At first I was delighted, but I could see she was upset and had not come for the service. She asked me to follow her home “It was an emergency”. Michelle was dead, suspected suicide. She had just turned 16. 

It was so hard to preach that morning. As I spoke I could barely look into her young friends’ eyes, knowing the tragic news that awaited them. By God’s grace the message was fitting for the circumstance.

After the service I took the teenagers outside and told them, whilst our elder prayed with the congregation. There were many tears over the following weeks and several visits made to Michelle’s family and friends.

Owing to Michelle being in foster care we had little say in regards to the funeral plans. The birth family had a right to decide but knew nothing of Michelle’s new identity and roots in our church community. Would she be buried at her place of birth, and who would they bury? Michelle or Michael?

We had to do something as a church regardless, for the sake of Michelle’s friends and foster family. We held an open air service with all of her favourite food and drinks. Her friends read poems, performed songs, we sang hymns and shared memories and I gave a short gospel presentation to those who gathered.

Two borough councils were involved in the funeral proceedings as well as the parents, foster family (who were amazing), school and the police. They all agreed that the funeral should be held at our church, but that Michael/Michelle be laid to rest at his/her place of birth.

The service was difficult to plan. We were saying our goodbyes to a transgender minor, in the care system, who had tragically cut her own life short. Owing to the birth family’s history the police were to be present and we were expecting many school children. But God worked in such a powerful way through this process. The church grew closer to many in the community that we would not have reached otherwise. I spoke on “David and Goliath” and the giants in life that we all can overcome by God’s Grace. The Lord was present.

The last five years of Christian teaching that I had given Michael/Michelle and her friends were now being put into practice. In their suffering and grief our teenagers could see God’s love tangibly expressed through His church and it has grafted them in. Most now come every Sunday and several are moving on with the Lord.

This entire experience has brought me close to many teenagers in our community and I have listened to them (Proverbs 18:13) and reevaluated my approach to youth ministry. In the extremes of this ordeal they have taught me many lessons. I hope the below findings help.

Generation Z

Today’s youth (Generation Z) are growing up in a unique time where Christianity is seen as all but dead. Without the “absolute” of God, nothing in their culture is certain, not even their gender. Without a Christian moral framework, relationships often break down, the family unit is fluid and unstable. Generation Z has the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, but little stability to build anything on. With the ‘death’ of Christianity there is no longer an absolute truth, so everything is free to question, but this has made Generation Z surprisingly open to ideas of the miraculous. For this reason they are less interested in apologetics (compared to Generation X, Y and the Millennials). 

Generation Z are incredibly compassionate but also very lonely, their relationships are mainly digital, aesthetical and superficial. They are isolated from their wider community and have limited multi-generational influences. This has starved them of the opportunity to learn important social skills (such as patience and empathy) that you would naturally develop when engaging in mixed groups (church). They have been bought by a material culture, and define themselves by what they own or consume. Generation Z crave sincere togetherness (church).

They have been taught that Christianity is an archaic and bigoted institution and directly opposed to their liberated secular world. Generation Z do not feel that they can be ‘good citizens’ and ‘Christians’ at the same time because of such false assumptions.

This is the new challenge of our youth work today. To break down these assumptions!

We do not need to argue or justify the virgin birth or undermine neo-Darwinism with Generation Z (as we needed to with the millennials), rather show them the better love story that we have (1 John 3:18).

Our nation’s youth desperately need to hear that they are not simply products of chance in a meaningless universe, they need to know that they are not defined by their mere sexual desires or by the products that they own.  They need to know that their self worth is not measured by how many instagram followers they have or what clothes they wear. Our nation’s youth desperately need the stability, consistency and accountability that church uniquely provides and most importantly they need to hear that they are eternally valued by a God who loves them to death!

When these truths are taught and practiced by the church, God’s love (revealed to us perfectly in Jesus Christ), will become as irresistible to this lost generation as it was to ours.

We continue to pray.

*The names have been changed to protect all those involved. I have received permission from the foster family to publish the above in the hope that it will help other churches and build bridges with the LGBT+ community.