Let there be Light!

Last week we welcomed over 40 local children (many un-churched) to our light themed holiday club.

Each morning began with games around the chapel; from guess what is in the boxes, to blindfolded ‘put the flame on the candle’, shadow puppets, Simon says and activity sheets.

We then gathered to hear God’s Word and I gave a brief message.

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Monday we took the children time travelling, back to the very beginning of everything, where God said let there be light (Gen 1:3). Tuesday I shared my difficulties on going to the bathroom during the night, treading on Lego and tripping over toy cars and doll houses, and how I need a torch to help guide me through safely. The world is a dark place and Jesus is a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:105). Wednesday Peter spoke on the Parable of the ten virgins, digging out an old mining lamp to show the children (Matt 25:3). Thursday I tried to light up the church by putting a lamp under a chair (Matt 5:15) and on Friday I showed the children that a flame on a match casts no shadow, there is no darkness in light, we have nothing to fear in Christ (Psalm 27:1).

After the message, we all conga’d up to the hall for craft, where the children made light/dark plates, lighthouses, lanterns, light jars, sparkly footprints and candle stands.

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We then played various games and had refreshments. 

Each day finished back in the chapel, we’d go through the memory verse (which they all remembered the following day), a quiz and prizes. On Friday the children enjoyed a “treasure hunt” to find logs (brown painted toilet rolls) which were brought back to a fire and we all had marshmallows on sticks during the message.

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We then finished with a presentation back up in the hall. The children all received a copy of Matthew’s Gospel and the parents came in to see their child’s craft and have a cup of tea.

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The week concluded on Sunday with our (light themed) Look Up family friendly service.

These evenings are intended to be a “church taster” so we can build bridges with the community. We sang two hymns, read God’s word and I spoke briefly.

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We welcomed many from the community, most from outside the church. They came into the chapel (a big step for some of them) and I believe we broke down their assumptions that church is a boring and fearful place, but a Christ centered community of love.

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Fellowship continued, where we gathered outside to see the chapel lit up with lazer’s, the children enjoyed sparklers and lanterns were let off into the night sky.

We then retired into the back hall, decorated in fairy lights and LED balloons, where we enjoyed hot-dogs and spent well over an hour getting to know people from the community. The Lord seems to be softening hearts in what is a very dark valley. 

Prayer requests

Please pray for all those who came, that we will see them again. 

Pray for all those that thought about coming, that we may welcome them next time. 

Pray for all those who chose not to come, that they will see Noddfa as a home for people who once thought church was “not for them”.

A big thanks to my loving wife and everyone in the team who helped put on a wonderful week for our local children. May the Lord Bless the seed that was sown. To Him be the Glory. Amen

 

 

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New Term and we are Open for Business.

“Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Ezekiel 37:3

The new academic year has begun and after a long summer break our various meetings are now back!!!! We are open for Business!

All are welcome, you do not have to be a Christian to come to any of the below!

Please take just a few minutes to watch our “Year in Picture” at the bottom of the page to see what you missed last year, and hopefully we can welcome you to join in the fun over the coming weeks.

Noddfa’s week.

Sunday

11am- 12:30pm – Morning service and Sunday School

Take a break from the world, recharge your batteries and enjoy time with you maker. We sing hymns, pray and share a message from the Scriptures. The children are taken to Sunday School during the service, to have a story and craft. Tea, coffee and biscuits after the service for us to chat and meet new people.

5pm (when advertised) “Look Up”

A monthly Family Friendly service, where we sing hymns, share a short message followed by a seasonal activity. (Fireworks, Christmas Party, Valentines Craft, seed planting etc).

Monday

6-7pm Monday Club

For Primary School aged children. A story, quizzes, games and refreshments. Prizes at the end of term and special “cinema nights”. Children”Graduate” after six meetings and receive a Bible of their own.

Tuesday

10am- 12 noon Mothers and Toddlers

Pre-school age meeting for the community, includes lots of fun toys to play with, games and activities, refreshments including toast and fresh fruit for the children, a short story (and a good opportunity to catchup with friends and meet new people from the community). We ask for a £1 donation per child to cover some of the cost.

Wednesday

11:30am-12:30pm Prayer meeting

The engine room of the church, where we meet to hear a short message and to share prayer points, concerns and encouragements. We then set aside quiet time to be with God and pray for the work and the community we serve. All are welcome.

Thursday

10am- 12 noon Mothers and Toddlers

Pre-school age meeting for the community, includes lots of fun toys to play with, games and activities, refreshments including toast and fresh fruit for the children, a short story (and a good opportunity to catchup with friends and meet new people from the community). We ask for a £1 donation per child to cover some of the cost.

Coming Soon……

Friday 9am – Clinic, held at local cafe for people that want to chat over a cup of tea in neutral surroundings.

Friday 7:30pm – Youth group (name TBC) – Teenagers welcome, a safe place to discuss topical issues with of course games (we have a pool table), been bags to sit in and refreshments (probably chips….i like chips).

Sunday 5pm – An informal evening service, Bible Study or DVD and discussion.

And a half term Holiday Club!

Life is like riding a Bicycle….Welsh Velothon

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It is often said that “Life is like riding a Bicycle”…..all you need is; a bit of balance, keep yourself strong and healthy to get up those tough valley climbs and be prepared for the dangers ahead. Keep on peddling and you will get to the finish line and all will be fine!

But sadly life is not all that simple, the road often gets bumpy and you can lose your balance and fall off, or the hill is too steep and you have to give up, or at the slightest distraction the dangers ahead pop up before you notice them and CRASH you are out of the race.

We have all fallen off at some point and have suffered life’s cuts and bruises as a result.

The truth is, by our very nature we cannot cross that finish line in our own strength, the course of life is too difficult, none of us are perfect.

Even the greatest men of the Bible fell off their “bikes” at some point.

Adam disobeyed God, Noah a drunkard, Abraham lied, Moses a murderer, Gideon an idolater, David an adulterer, Peter denied Christ three times and Paul persecuted the church. Yet the Bible tells us that they all got to the finish line! Not by their own strength and ability but by trusting in their Saviour, Jesus Christ the Son of God, who by His Grace lifted them up when they fell, washed away their dirt and guided them safely through to the finish line.

The church at Noddfa does not claim to be a home for the yellow jackets, although those who know Christ have been given His.

Noddfa is a place for those of us with scruffy knees, bent frames, flat tires and sore limbs who keep falling off and are looking for help. Noddfa is also home for those who think they are doing fine, peddling in their own strength, but are simply lost and seeking a purpose and direction in life.

If you want to find out more about Jesus Christ and how He can help you get you through life’s Velothon, why not come and join us at Noddfa?

Because of the road closures for the Velothon we have a shared service at High Street Baptist Church (Abersychan) 11am.

If you can’t usually make Sunday mornings but are now stuck at home with nothing to do it is a great time to come and have a taster of church! Come as you are, all are welcome!

though we may stumble, we will not fall, for the LORD upholds us with his hand” Psalm 37:24

We look forward to welcoming the Welsh Velothon back to our village (Aberyshcan) despite the seeming inconvenience of having many of our congregation out, because the race that has divided our county has brought two churches closer together .

 

 

 

 

Well Done Giles

Let me start by stating clearly that I follow King Jesus. I am not a proponent of “church and state,” neither is the below piece intended to show any favouritism or indeed affiliation toward any political party. With that now said… let us begin!

It was over a year ago now that I was asked by Councillor Giles Davies to join Rev. Martin Freeman as his chaplain during his tenure as Mayor of Torfaen. I was flattered and put it to prayer.

I agreed and by God’s Grace the year has been a real blessing. Giles has given me the opportunity to meet and engage with people in the community that I might otherwise not have had the chance to.

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The role began at Giles’ induction (May 2015) where I was brought in before the Council to accept the commission and pray for the new Mayor, a daunting task that ended with a rather serial applause from the council – I get myself into some crazy situations!

A few weeks later I received a call from Giles, inviting me to join him at the Blaenavon World Heritage Carnival. This was simply to show support (in his guise as Mayor) and for a walk around the shops for a meet and greet. I dressed accordingly (jeans and a short sleeved shirt). To my surprise, I ended up leading the parade down the high street alongside the Mayor and our MP. As I walked past the many faces in the crowds lining the road I was told to wave and smile, I felt so out of place in my casuals and could not hide my embarrassment, repeating Isaiah 61:10 in my head as I walked. To my horror, later that week, a picture of us all appeared in the Free Press, front page! It was a privilege to be part of such an occasion.

Pastor John with Mayor of Torfaen, Mayor of Blaenavon and Welsh Labour MP for Torfaen

Pastor John with Mayor of Torfaen, Mayor of Blaenavon and Welsh Labour MP for Torfaen

Another duty of the Mayor is to go to parliament and it was a pleasure to accompany Giles. I had a great day walking the halls where many a hero such as Oliver Cromwell, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Nye Bevan once walked. I was humbled to sit in the viewing area to witness our democracy in action (you can read more about the day here – A day in Parliament). To the “enjoyment” of the Mayor and Mayoress, the car journey to and from London was filled with theological debate with my Methodist brother Rev. Martin Freemen.

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Together we have judged painting competitions in Pontypool Park, shares a cream tea in the museum, enjoyed garden parties, fireworks at the Golf club where Giles arranged for Folly Tower to be lit Purple (in support of Pancreatic Cancer UK), we have supported and been part of local concerts, memorial services, school plays, fundraisers, memorial services and pub quizzes. I have had a chance to meet and work alongside Churches and Ministers from across the county, something I longed to do.

All of this was just the tip of the Iceberg of the Mayor’s role. Between the Ministry and secular employment I simply could not accompany Giles to everything, my entire year’s service could be compressed to just one of his active weeks, he truly embraced his opportunity to be the first among equals of Torfaen.

The year has not been easy for Giles. He has been one of the faces of a council faced with great austerity; we have both campaigned vehemently to save our local Victoria Village School and Brynteg Nursery (that has not been easy and put him in an awkward situation at times).

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Giles has had to balance his work as Councillor for Abersychan as well as Mayor (alongside the “day job”). This left little time for his family, including his wonderful daughter, who has supported him all the way. I am surprised Giles has not burned himself out with the workload and I have prayed that God would uphold him. A prayer answered.

Whatever you’re political or personal view of the man, I can say he worked hard for our county and I am pleased to call him friend.

Giles brought the office of Mayor into the 21st century, being the first in history to have a twitter account desiring to be both transparent and approachable through all communication channels; he worked with the greatest sincerity aiming to achieve the impossible task of pleasing everybody.

Giles took his duty seriously (with his heart on his sleeve) and whilst out on engagement would always seek to support local businesses, purchasing goods (from his own pocket) to buy anything from cheese platter’s to commissioning paintings from local artists. He worked with a humble spirit and saw his position as a privilege and raised thousands of pounds for his chosen charities; Alzheimer’s, Llanerch Disaster Memorial fund, British Heart Foundation and Pancreatic Cancer UK.

Folly Tower World Pancreatic Cancer Day

Giles has regularly supported the outreach at Noddfa, attending special events in a personal capacity and in his guise as Mayor, for that I am grateful. The last function he attended at the church as Mayor was the Queen’s birthday party where he and Gwyneira shared my vision to bring the local churches together and show our unity in Jesus.

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Giles would be the first to admit that his efforts were could not have been achieved without his team, I did not have the pleasure of meeting them all, but would like to thank them all especially Hywel (chief advisor, security, chauffer, guardian of the chain, comedian and all round legend) and the wonderful and hardworking Chris Slade.

Sadly I could not attend the handover as I have just returned home from a family holiday, but delighted to hear that the baton of “Chaplain to the Mayor” has now been past onto another Evangelical Rev Johnny Raine at Pontrhydryrun Church.

I will continue to pray for Giles and all the other Councillors, as well as our new Mayoress Veronica Crick, may the Lord bless you in your service.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1-3

Eastern Valley Superhero Holiday Club

But Jesus said,Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

The Gospel witness in the Eastern Valley is close to extinction, in our own community of around 10,000 people it is safe to assume that less than 100 of them attend church regularly (1% of the population). The majority of which are elderly in small congregations (I hear as low as three people) across a handful of churches. Without God’s intervention, we can assume that most of this witness will not be with us in the next ten years. Now is the time to Sow with Tears!

When the Lord brought my family and I to Abersychan just two years ago, Noddfa seemed to be coming to an end. It had just fifteen members, all (bar five) were in their 70’s and over, some were even too frail to make church on a Sunday.

Regular readers will know that since then the Lord has blessed us. Last year we had six baptisms and the congregation has grown significantly made up of all ages, matching the demographic of where God has called us to serve.

The auxiliary ministries have also grown; Sunday School, Monday Club and the Mothers and Toddlers have welcomed a five-fold increase. By God’s Grace we are now in a healthier position.

We have tried many different activities to reach out to the community over the last two years, all with mixed results; family friendly services, BBQ’s, Firework nights and this week we put on a holiday club for the children.

Unlike the other evangelistic meetings (that I have forced onto the community), the holiday club was different, we were asked by the community (at the school gates) to run it, so we joyfully obliged.

The theme was a Superhero Training Academy and the lessons were based on Ephesians 6, the Armour of God.

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The children would register each morning before starting a ten minute sing-a-long. The groups were then split into two. One would stay in the chapel to learn the memory verse (Ephesians 6:11), then hear a story (relevant to the days piece of Armour). Then the children would take part in a treasure hunt, quiz, word searches or colouring in.

Meanwhile group two would be in the back hall building craft (the Armour of the day) and enjoying a drink and biscuit.

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Then after 45 minutes, the two groups would swap (via a conga line) and we would repeat.

For the younger children, we provided a crèche area for the parents who wanted to stay.

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At the end of each day we asked the parents to join us for a recap of what was taught and gave out the worksheets and prizes for the children to take home with them.

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(To avoid copyright issues) Monday was ‘flying-black-rodent-man’ utility belt of truth, Tuesday was ‘Viking-Thunder-god’ helmet of Salvation, Wednesday was Sword of the Spirit (there is no Superhero I know of with a Sword, so I wowed the children with a perfectly safe replica). Thursday was ‘Captain star spangled banner’ shield of faith and we finished on Friday with ‘Ferrum-man’ Prayer in the Spirit.

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On Friday the children all went home with their Armour of God (modeled below) and a keep sake book with all that they had learned this week.

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I have to admit that I did very little towards this week. I currently have to balance the ministry with secular work, so I could only be there on the Wednesday. All the hard work was done for God’s Glory by church members and some of the mum’s (you know who you all are – thank you so much).

The Wednesday Team

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I also want to thank Councillor Giles Davies for his support and promotion, Emmanuel Newport for their prayers and Ebenezer Cwmbran for all the Superhero decorations – the church looked great!

My wife is now looking forward to putting her feet up for a day or two after a busy week, but the fun has only just begun! We welcomed over 30 children over the course of the week and now we seek to build on these relationships with them and their families, so they can feel welcome to join our other activities and ministries and Noddfa.

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When we were planning this week, we wanted to get the parents involved as much as possible. We did not want to fall into the trap  of providing a drop off centre for children but give ourselves the opportunity to interact with their wider family as much as possible.

Teaching the Gospel should never be reduced to simply a children’s activity, parents need to hear about Jesus to, so we worked very hard to invite them in and get them involved as much as possible (even if it was just at the end). All in the hope that they will see that church is not just for the very young or for the very old, neither is it boring, but it is a welcoming place of learning and of family that radiates the love of God.

As fun as we tried to make this week for the children we need to remember that what we are teaching them is not simply moral lessons, but serious truths that have eternal consequences.

Our Valley is arguably ‘post-Christian’, we are back to an Acts situation. We can no longer rest on society to bring people to us, neither assume Bible knowledge on those outside the church – the Gospel is simply not getting taught anymore.

People need to hear afresh that there is a God and that He loves them, He is worthy of their time and worship, His Word is truth and that the Bible is not simply about good moral teaching but an important message of Grace needed to be heard by all, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  1 Tim 1:15.

A super huge big thank you for all those who helped and came along, you made it a very special week for us all. (We are hoping to do another in October).

We run a similar ministry every Sunday Morning during the service (11am-12noon) for the children feel free to come and join us for some quiet time under the teaching of God’s Word.

For more information visit our website: www.NoddfaBaptist.co.uk

 

Time Flies

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

I have just returned back from the EMW Theological Training Course (TTC) in utter disbelief that it was my final session. I have a summer of essay’s to write and then we are all done, the last four years have passed in a blink of an eye.

The course runs in a four year cycle (A-D) with the Systematic Theology and Biblical Studies working alongside the chronology of church history. I was fortunate enough to start in year A, so have had it all in order, learning from the revelation and mistakes of our forefathers to get my doctrinal ducks in a row.

This final session was most enjoyable as it brought everything to a rounded conclusion. We went through the 19th and 20th century church (with Roger Welch), covering world mission and (my favorites) Spurgeon and the good Dr! Stephen Clarke took us through an in depth study of Eschatology, Chris Bennett gave us great insight into Colossians  and both letters to the Corinthians. Phil Swann lectured Pastoralia where we discussed Cultural Context in Evangelism and Spurgeon’s sermons to win soul’s.

The evening discussions looked at the New Testament in the Old Testament and Dispensationalism, the Pastoral issues and battles with Pornography and we closed on the Thursday evening with the usual question and answer session  (a debate that usually continues to the early hours).

I went to Bala in the final stages of what was a bad bout of the flu, it had me bed bound for the week before. I was exhausted so had to manage my time better. I went to bed earlier and woke up later than usual and rested in the afternoon break, this included an advised Sauna in the local leisure centre (to clear my chest) in Phil Swann’s trunks that he kindly lent to me. This strategy paid off as I got to Thursday without feeling like my brain was in a cement mixer.

I have said this in previous ‘write-ups’; The TTC offers a study like no other I have experienced, in that it is not just head knowledge but also heart knowledge. This is tremendously challenging because as you grow in the knowledge of Christ, your failures and imperfections become clearer. The conviction you undergo at times can be unbearable, yet you leave feeling refined and strengthened in the Lord as His Grace overflows.

I have enjoyed the four years of the course; the challenge of the lectures, the fellowship with my brothers (and their families) I have made friends for life, the discipline of writing the essay’s and working through the quality reading lists.

The TTC has been a real journey, knowing what I know now, I can look back and see how young I was as a Christian when I started, how worldly and skewed my reasoning was. But by God’s Grace this course has knocked me into shape. These four years have given me a better understanding of Scripture which has had wider ramifications in both my ministry and in my home life.

As Harriet and I have grown in head and heart knowledge of Christ together, because of His love we love each-other more today than I thought possible and the children are also flourishing as a result.

With that all said, I must be clear the job is far from done, I am still a baby and need your prayers!

I started the TTC paddling in the shallows, still with dry sand from the beach life I left behind stuck to my knees. The course has done an excellent job in giving me the confidence to brave deeper waters and its lecturers and mentors have taught me the basic swimming strokes. I do now feel more at home in the water, but remain humble as I look out at a deep dark ocean of life long study, filled with dangers and threats. As I begin to think about leaving the shallows, in faith I go out to swim holding onto verses like Isaiah 41:10.

I want to publicly thank my wife for her love, support and grace as we have worked through the challenges of this course together, Pastor Bernard for his constant support and regular meetings, all at Emmanuel and Noddfa for your prayers, support and for all the book donations (you know who you are).

Please continue to pray for all the men that remain on the course and for their families, also for the hosts Gwydion and Catrin Lewis who have been so loving and welcoming in their service at Bryn-y-Groes.

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David Bowie “Look up here, I’m in heaven”

As a young sprog (over twenty years ago), my Auntie Jeannette (Jean Genie) introduced me to the work of David Bowie – I instantly fell in love. A passion for his art stayed with me through my adolescence, teenage years and into adulthood. The man’s talents were remarkable and I was looking forward to hearing his new album “Black Star” released on his 69th birthday.

As we now all know, just two days after the album’s release, David Bowie died after an 18-month battle with cancer.

This period of David’s life must have been agonizing as he came to terms with his pending fate (one that we will all have to share). But to us “fans” David’s death was “sudden,” as nobody knew about  his diagnosis. Such secrecy (you could argue) gave David time to plan his affairs outside of the media gaze and made his death, in many ways, a final artistic expression.

When the news broke the media was filled with tributes.

His face was all over the National Newspapers. The Sun, the Star and the Daily Express were of particular interest to me as they referenced on their front pages a lyric from David’s new track “Lazarus”, where he sang “Look up here, I’m in heaven”.

Some have said this track is a “goodbye” from David to his “fans”. It is clear that the mind behind such a track was obviously in turmoil, dealing with the truth of eternity and the vanity of life. Again something we will all have to ponder at some point.

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In truth none of us can say where David Bowie is today. His public life (and his work) did not allude to any saving faith. With that said, the Lord could have graciously met with David in his final moments (as He did the thief on the Cross). With repenting heart David could have put His trust in Jesus Christ and thus now be in Heaven as an adopted Son. I pray (for his sake) that this is the case.

What has encouraged me through this shared experience of mourning is how; in an age where churches are at best poorly attended and even closing, where Christianity is ostracized and atheism praised, the papers where still happy to publish “Heaven” on their front pages and that there has been no retaliation from the public ( in light of David’s sad passing). Several known figures from the world of entertainment and politics have also publicly shared their condolences and have  agreed with the concept of David now being in “Heaven”.

It would seem that “Heaven” is clearly still accepted by general consensus to be a reality. (Praise God).

The same people who would otherwise reject the teaching of Jesus Christ and His church, who would dismiss me at any other time as being “a nut” for believing in the Bible, are now all in chorus agreeing with the Biblical concept of Heaven.

Yet, this should not surprise me, human beings are body and soul, we are all spiritual beings and the Bible does tell us that God has put such knowledge in our hearts.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end“(Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).

David’s death has once again proved that at times of sorrow and in times of grief, the general populous do concede to this knowledge and this is because it is true.

However, we do also learn (with great sadness) that the general populous believe that everyone (including themselves) will be joining David there, without thinking through the logic of such a position.

Yes! They are right, Heaven does exist and  it is a perfect place. So why (you may ask) do they then think they have any right to go there?

None of us can claim to be perfect? Paul himself writes “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

If we all went to Heaven, our imperfections would be amplified throughout eternity, Heaven would cease to be perfect, because we are in it! Your very presence would ruin it!

If you (rightly) judge yourself not to be perfect and are by your own admittance an imperfect judge. How damming do you think the verdict will be against you when you come to meet the perfect God, who has perfect judgement?

Where do you think He would put you? Heaven? I don’t think so!

I know I am not perfect, I know that I do not meet the standard to enter Heaven. So before God, I could never sing in my own strength as David did, “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. It is illogical and un-Biblical!

This is the sad state of man! We are lost by our very imperfect nature!

BUT! There is some good news! The same book that tells us of Heaven also tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

It continues … “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned

Hope! Hope in our imperfections!

In Christ Jesus we can sing “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. Because in faith, in Him my sins are forgiven and forgotten.

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

Jesus lived the perfect life that I never could and He took the punishment, the justice I deserve for my crimes against God on the Cross.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17

This should be front page news today and every day!

By coming to Jesus, repenting of my sin and asking Him to save me, I can  go to the mercy seat saved and justified. Not because of my good deeds, but because of His, Jesus Christ. For God the Son is my advocate before my Father, it is in Him that I trust my salvation. I mourn my failures, my crimes against God and  I know there is no way I could get to Heaven without Him.

What blessed assurance we have in Jesus!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

In our sin, none of us have any right to sing “Look up here, I’m in heaven” but in Christ we can and we will!

What is for sure is that David Bowie has met his maker, as we all will one day. I pray He had Christ with Him at the time.

From the Welsh Valleys to the Calais Jungle

A few months ago my wife and I felt compelled to assist the Refugee Crisis. Like most of the country we were horrified to see pictures of a young Syrian child washed up on a beach and it drove us to action.

I put pen to paper and wrote “Refugee Crisis! What must we do?” . This blog was widely shared in the community and through it I was introduced to Torfaen Aid for Refugees (TAR).

After a few Facebook messages we agreed that Noddfa Baptist Church would become a collection point for the North of Torfaen. We were inundated! Many from the community had donated, we even had people come up from Cardiff as their centres were full.

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It was wonderful and humbling to be a part of such acts of kindness. It compelled me further to see this through on behalf of the community that the Lord has called me to serve. So, I volunteered to take the donations to Calais.

The work had only just begun!

A few weeks later a group of local volunteers collected the goods from the church. The clothes had to be sorted into type and sizes, bagged and labelled. All to ease distribution at the other end.

Each week my wife checked in with the distribution centre as well as local/national news to see when was the best time to go. Meanwhile the items for women and children were taken by TAR to Manchester and shipped to where they were needed most, on the borders of Eastern Europe.

In light of the Paris attacks (see blog Pray for Paris – What does this mean?). We decided that now would be a good time to depart for Calais as security was on high and the distribution centre had space!

I picked up the van early on the Thursday morning and drove to Thornhill Community Centre (Cwmbran) where the donations, once sorted, were stored. I met Mark Price (who heads up TAR) and Dave Daniels (Councillor for Lantarnam), who kindly helped to fill up the van in what seemed to be a monsoon, we were soaked through.

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Then off to Newport to pick up donations from local company “Global Business Intelligence (GBI)” who were also supporting the trip alongside TAR and members at Noddfa Baptist Church. The CEO of GBI, colleague and friend, Lee Williams, joined me on the journey.

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We made good progress on the motorway and arrived in time at the Eurotunnel, I was very impressed by its efficiency.

In France the rain was still pouring down. The depot was just 10 miles from the Eurotunnel but it took hours for us to find it. We asked many people for directions, to my surprise few spoke any “Anglais”at all.

We asked one young man “Thomas” who happened to be Australian. He was just coming back from “the Jungle” where he had been teaching the Refugees English and was walking to the distribution centre. It was dark by this time and still raining; he jumped into the van and directed us.

We got to the centre at 17:30, relieved to find it open. There was no time for pleasantries, the volunteers were working hard, a few came out to assist as we had a huge transit full to bursting. They showed us where we could collect roll cages from and where in the warehouse to drop certain things off.

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The picture above, does not do the scene justice! The warehouse was vast! Lee referenced the warehouse scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark and he was not far off.

We unpacked the van into different cages for; clothes, bedding, shoes, coats, towels, non-perishable food, toiletries, tents, cooking equipment and miscellaneous. We then worked to get them to the right places in the distribution centre.

It was an eerie place to be. I felt I was on the set of an apocalyptic movie, where the last of humanity were rallying together. Volunteers were working so hard, unified in a common cause, yet little was said in light of the tragedy that lay just 10 minutes drive away from us.

There were huge mountains of much needed winter clothing that could potentially save many lives. But to us, we were simply sorting out peoples old clothes.

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It was a sombre moment as we came to terms with our own perceptions of such goods. To us, they were leftovers, junk, things we did not need in our excess, but they were going to people who would view such a coat as a matter of life and death this winter.

I spoke with several volunteers and it warmed my heart to see so many from other churches. I asked them about the “Jungle” and shared my desire to see the church within it. They all looked shocked when they realised I meant tonight, but did say it was perfectly safe. I asked Thomas to be our guide and he was happy to venture back in.

Welcome to the Jungle

We entered the Jungle and I instantly regretted my decision to go.

Nothing could have prepared me for the desolate squalor that was set ahead us. Instantly we were greeted by a harsh, deep, pungent smell which I am sure would have been worse if the days torrential rain had not washed a lot of the effluence away.

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We drove in and up a stone path, to my surprise, within the huts were shops, hotels, mobile phone charging centres, free houses and places to rent bicycles.

I managed to take a few pictures on my phone as we slowly drove through, before being warned by Thomas not to take pictures. “The men in the camp would rather not have their pictures taken and can get quite aggressive if you do”. So away went my phone! Just as well, as we drove further in towards the Afghanistan district of the camp, some trouble had just happened and a crowd of people were gathered.

We had no choice but to drive through them, our guide got out in front to ask them to move aside. At one point we were totally surrounded, a conservative estimate would be around three hundred men in the road, many shouting “line, line?” Essentially asking whether the van had donations and  should they queue?

We continued to drive on.

The strategy was clear, someone volunteered to purposely walk slowly in front of the van (to slow us down) why others tried to open the back.

As we came straight from the distribution centre I forgot to lock the van door and could feel the vibrations under my seat of footsteps behind me in the truck. I was terrified. We were in a transit, in a separate cabin at the front, so relatively safe. I pushed on through to the church, rather than getting out there and then. We parked up, got out and opened the back doors, telling everyone to get out. To my relief they all had smiles on their faces as if it was just a joke, a bus lift to the top of the hill.

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To my disappointment, the church was locked owing to the previous incident that caused so many to gather further down the path. Our guide walked off and started speaking to various gangs of people, explaining that I was a Pastor of a church in Wales and would like to go inside. Many made calls to find “Solomon” who had the key. We were told to wait for ten minutes.

Many people came to the van asking “line, line”? Others walked right up to us to see what we were wearing. (Lee regretted coming in Gucci shoes and a Ralph Lauren shirt).

Most of them spoke English (better than the French people we asked for direction when in Calais). They told us that their main need was for footwear, the ground was simply wet mud and stone, their shoes were getting chewed up. I spoke to others who said they were Christian, I said I would pray for them and asked for their names.

A number walked past us to pray quietly at the doors of the church.

I am pleased to report that nobody that we saw there was emaciated. I also saw several women and one boy around ten years old. There maybe more but it was night time and many would have been in their tents, so unsure of the real demographic. Certainly male dominated.

We were told of the tear gas that they claim the  French Police had been using on them and that 200 tents had burned down days before, so morale was low.

We had also heard that some volunteers had set up a free canteen for residents, but this week it had been held up three times (it is assumed by the owners of the shops that were charging).  So they had to close.

We spoke to one gentleman who told us that he was involved in the running of the church and said that Solomon would be another 30 minutes. To my shame I could not wait any longer. As more people gathered i felt uneasy, I just wanted to get out. I gave the man many copies of John’s Gospel for them to use as a church. We got back into the van and drove through the crowds once more (this time with the van all locked). As we came out of the camp another scuffle was kicking off and I was relieved to be out of there.

I stopped the van several times to check, check and check again that nobody was hanging on or underneath.

We swiftly got back to the Eurotunnel and asked by the UK boarder Police where we had been. Their expressions changed when they were told.Lee had also lost his passport (which did not help matters).

We were ushered to the side for a full search and drug swab. As we waited nervously, Lee found his passport which eased the situation and we were eventually allowed to go.

We drove home in silence, shocked of what we had seen. We crossed the Severn Bridge in the early hours of Friday morning with a huge sigh of relief. I told Lee (Bilbo Baggins) that I did not want to leave the Shire again.

Final thoughts

I have left Calais with more questions than answers.

The news does not give justice to the awful conditions that these poor people are living in and I must stress they continue to need our support.

With that said I was also surprised by their ability to survive so long under tarpaulin surrounded by effluence and rubbish.

In my brief time in the camp I can’t conclude whether these people were fleeing war or were simply economic migrants. What I will say is, whatever their motive, their move must be out of utter desperation for them to wish to endure these conditions.

Many if not all wish to come to the UK, they have been sold a dream that makes waiting in the cold winter nights, all worthwhile.

Hindsight

I have now defragmented my brain from yesterdays experience by writing the above and can thank God for His Grace.

I was terrified in that camp, but in hindsight, we did get out in one piece, with not a single mark on the van (just a few hand prints).

Although the “Jungle” has become tribal and self policing, they all have a shared respect for those helping them. There has not been one reported attack on any volunteer. I saw one young western female volunteer simply walking through the crowds on her own! Some of them even stay within the camp itself!

Perhaps my fears were born out of what was an alien situation rather than any risk to self?

With that said, I think I have made clear that it was an awful ordeal to experience and I would strongly recommend to the faint-hearted wishing to go, not to! Please use your resources donating funds instead! The volunteers are hard working and committed individuals and although would welcome anyone with open arms, are stretched as it is and do not have time for tourists.

I was most surprised by how people were simply getting on with it, and many were dancing to music and quite jovial. Despite my horror of the conditions they were getting on with life, it was normal for them. They are resourceful, many have started businesses and offer services within the camp.

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The sad truth is, what I saw in the Jungle is the normal life experience of humanity. 2.8 Billion people in the world survive on less than $2 a day, 1.2 Billion people on less than $1 a day. By God’s Grace we are a fortunate few. We have received freely by birth a better life of much privilege, so have a duty to freely give to those less fortunate.

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Acts 20:35

A big thank you to; Torfaen Aid for Refugees, the members of Noddfa Baptist Church  and Global Business Intelligence (GBI) who made the trip possible and a super big thank you to all those who donated.

Purple Lights of Hope

We are very blessed in Abersychan to have such a committed and active Councillor as Giles Davies. He does so much for our community and his drive to make a difference to the area has not deteriorated since he took office as the Mayor of Torfaen earlier this year. Giles continually seeks to support all those in the area to the best of his ability, he is always out serving the community and I thank God for him.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Giles Davies Mayor of Torfaen and Pastor John FunnellSo, when I get a phone call from Giles, asking to support, I jump at the chance (and we all should)! I do not do this simply as assistant Chaplain to the Mayor, neither as a friend, but in gratitude for his efforts to improve the lives of all of us in the community. Giles has sacrificed a lot of his time and resources supporting his charities this year, and has worked incredibly hard to raise awareness for “World Pancreatic Cancer Day” (13th November 2015). I was humbled and excited to be part of the proceedings.

The charity event started at Pontypool Golf club where we met to see the Folly Tower lit up purple, it could be seen for miles. (I believe this is the first time it has been lit up since the millennium).

Folly Tower World Pancreatic Cancer Day

The lighting of the Tower was launched in spectacular fashion with the best firework display I have seen this year (courtesy of Pendragon Fireworks).

We then moved on to St Cradoc’s Church, Trevethin, for the “Purple Lights of Hope Service” given by Canon Brian Pippen. Prayers were said, candles lit to symbolise ongoing prayer for those suffering with Pancreatic Cancer and a well chosen reading from Romans 8:18-26.

The reading from Paul’s letter talks about present suffering in a fallen world and the hope of Glory to come in Christ Jesus that will far outweigh our current pain and suffering.

Then we enjoyed an evening of fantastic entertainment.

Howard Jackson sang from his heart (full of welsh pride), a mixture of traditional gospel songs and some classics to. Marvelous!

Howard Jackson

Howard Jackson

Mandy Jones, spoke on her experiences with Pancreatic Cancer, losing her husband just six days after diagnoses. She bravely shared some horrifying statistics and gave an insight into the human tragedy. I will be praying for Mandy and her family as they continue to grieve their loss (John 3:16). Mandy heads up the charity in Torfaen. “Supporting the Fighters Admiring Survivors and Honouring the Taken and Never Give up Hope.”

Mandy Jones

Mandy Jones

We also had a scene from “AdHoc” dramatic group from their upcoming Christmas Carol show and a poem from Alex Wharton.

Alex Wharton.

Alex Wharton.

The star of the show had to be Laura Sidney. You do not expect to see such a talent at a local church in a small Valley town. Seriously world class. I closed my eyes as she sang and was carried away, a taste of heaven and something that she must pursue!

Laura Sidney

Laura Sidney

The night ended with refreshments and fellowship, a great chance to meet many in the community and support a worthy cause.

I ask everyone to please give what you can to the cause – here is the just giving page for Torfaen

A big thanks to Giles, Mandy and all who supported.

Who do you say I am?

The Lord is certainly blessing us at Noddfa, after 18 years of drought we have had the privilege of Baptizing six brothers and sisters this year. Two of which were on Sunday. By God’s Grace I preached on Peters confession in Matthew 16.

In verse 13 of the chapter Jesus asks His disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

I asked the question, why did the people of the day, confuse Jesus the Son of God with such people? What made them think of John the Baptist, or Elijah or Jeremiah when they came into contact with Jesus?

Well, it is clear from Scripture that John the Baptist unashamedly preached sin (Matthew 3:6). He made known the imperfections of the human race and his ministry convicted those who heard him and they followed such conviction with repentance and Baptism. John the Baptist was not a preacher that sugar coated the truth to earn approval from man! He taught the truth of the Bible! Even if it made his hearers feel uncomfortable! Even if by doing so would lead to rejection, persecution or even death! This is why “Some” thought Jesus was John the Baptist. Because when they came before Jesus, they were met with His perfection and these “some” could see (by comparison) their own imperfection! When they came before God the Son, they were convicted of their wrong doing, just as they were when they heard John the Baptist Preach.

Why did they think Jesus was Elijah?

Well Elijah was an Old Testament prophet who worked miracles, by God’s Grace he stopped the rain for three years and six months, he fed people with jars of flour and oil that never became empty. In God’s strength Elijah brought a child back to life. Elijah called to God to make Himself known and fire came from Heaven! Jesus (being God, God the Son) had more than a double portion of Elijah’s gifts! As He walked this earth, the blind received sight, the lame walked, those who had leprosy were cleansed, the deaf began to hear, the dead were raised! And such miracles have not ceased, for we still see worldly men and women profess faith in our living God. This in itself is a miracle.

Why did they think Jesus was Jeremiah?

Well Jeremiah was known as the weeping Prophet! Jesus calls us to weep for our sin! Jesus said Himself “Blessed are those that mourn” (Matthew 5:5). Christ Himself wept, He wept for Jerusalem, He wept for His people, He wept at Lazurus’ tomb, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men. He suffered terribly; He endured humiliation as He bled naked on the cross! People thought Jesus was Jeremiah, because like Jeremiah He suffered, But Jesus did more, He suffered the horrors of Hell, so that us (His chosen) did not have to (Matt 16:21).

The disciples told Jesus who people said that He was; Jeremiah, Elijah, John the Baptist and we have looked together as to why they might have got confused. But notice Jesus’ response. He said “Who do you say I am” (Matthew 16:15).

Andrew - Noddfa Baptism     Robbie - Noddfa Baptism

God’s providence has brought these two brothers together for their Baptism’s. Both have been raised in Christian homes, both have been taught the Bible as Children, both have grown up with the knowledge of Jesus. But up until this point, had any of it saved them? No! Not a bit!

You see our salvation is based on a personal relationship with God. The faith of our parents can’t save us, the fact we were christened as children can’t save us, the fact that we were raised in a “church going” family can’t save us! What saves us is whether we have a personal relationship with Christ, it is whether, we, as individuals trust in Him! On the day of judgement, when you are called to leave this life, it all comes down to your answer to this question of Jesus “Who do you say I am”

When it comes to your eternal salvation it does not matter what the world tells you about Jesus, it does not matter what your family tells you about Jesus, it is all about what you say He is!

Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).

Let us put this amazing confession of Peter’s into context. The disciples are currently in Caesarea Philippi! (Matthew 16:13). A godless society no different to our own! Filled with idols made by man! Just like today, the people of Caesarea Philippi lived a life chasing their desires, chasing things of the world. If they were here today, they would be chasing the new cars, a bigger house, nice holidays, lots of money, wide screen tv’s, gadgets, or the latest fashions. Things that at best, are dying, at best will all eventually gather dust, decay, rot, get thrown away or be forgotten about!

Our society today is no different to that of Caesarea Philippi. People live to gain riches of the world, instead of eternal riches in Christ. They live in death. Which makes Peter’s statement of “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” even more profound!

In our reading we hear that Jesus and just 12 disciples stood alone surrounded by a secular world.

Just like then, we gather as a small church, surrounded by approximately 10,000 that would favour going to the shops to buy rubbish than come to worship their living God. In the midst of this consumerization and ultimately death, we have the privilege of witnessing our two brothers who have come to life in Christ, to declare publicly what Peter said here in verse 16, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. It is on this confession that Jesus has built His church on (Matthew 16:17).

Despite generations of critics, Christians are still being baptised. We have been doing this for 2,000 years! Why? Because the human condition has not changed since the time of Jesus. Despite our modern technology we remain as selfish, as greedy, as pride driven and as lustful as we did back then! As true as these faculties are of us today, is as true as the cure! The Gospel!