Wonder Woman a social commentary

ww

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ww3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ww2

 

My visit to Auschwitz

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

Why visit Auschwitz?

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

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

IMG_7205

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

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

IMG_7294

Evidence

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

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

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

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

IMG_7251

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

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

IMG_7262

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

IMG_7284

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The point of Natural selection

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

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

IMG_7277

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this reasoning not metaphor for today’s culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

auschwitz

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

 

General Election 2017: Who should you vote for?

We were all surprised to hear that Theresa May had called a general election, but not surprised that she found inspiration in the Welsh hills. The beauty of the Welsh countryside allows for peaceful reflection and the grandeur of the environment births grand ideas (whether you agree with them or not).

I have since been walking the hills of our Welsh valley pondering the situation and have written the below guidance from a Biblical perspective (although not exclusively for the Christian to take heed to).

As I have said before; it is best to keep politics out of the pulpit, so I will seek to remain impartial throughout, refusing to reveal my own persuasion. I do not want to alienate anyone from the Gospel because of my political opinion, especially when such concerns have little significance in the light of eternity.

With that said, as Christians we have a responsibility to give to Caesar what is Caesars and I believe this also means that we have a duty to vote! (Mark 12:17)

We must then take time to consider carefully the best possible option, in the understanding that all human institutions are not perfect (Romans 3:10).

We must also be willing for the Lord’s sake to submit to the elected authority whoever that may be (1 Peter 2:13).

Polling_station_6_may_2010

So the question remains who should you vote for?

Every candidate will be telling you over the coming weeks that they are the most deserving of your vote. Admittedly they all have various positive attributes (depending on your world view) and I am sure all run with the best possible intentions.

The Green Party’s message may resonate with you because of the Bible’s teaching on being good custodians of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28) and Labour’s taxation policy may share Biblical principles on giving (Proverbs 19:17). Many Christian would say that the Tories uphold certain conservative values that align more with Biblical teaching (Romans 13:1), but you can also argue that the Liberal Democrats best follow the Biblical view on social justice (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). Many Godly people may see the Bible reflected in one of the national party manifesto’s (Plaid Cymru, SNP, UKIP etc) and vote for them, or Christians may want to witness their “saltiness” and cast a protest vote (1 Peter 1:16) (Matthew 5:13-16).

The truth is, no party fully adheres to the Bible’s mandate, for perfection lies only with the Lord and in the Kingdom of Heaven (Psalm 145). Even if we had a National Christian party, we’d probably all feel that they do not adhere to our specific denominational view and find closer adherence to one of the secular bodies.

So the choice must come down to the party that you feel best reflects your Christian conviction.

There are wonderful guides that are made available for this, I highly recommend the Christian Institute dossier (when it is released), they (usually) summaries each manifesto pledge alongside Biblical principles, so you can make an educated choice.

My humble input for your prayerful reflection is that you consider not just what the party can do to make the world a better place, but how they can help you make the world a better place. (How the party can help you serve God’s Kingdom in the Christian context).

I make this point out of a genuine concern.

I have seen a growing trend in recent years of people delegating their social duty to the state (and what is more concerning Christians delegating their Christian duty to the state).

Joe Bloggs now feels that by voting Green he has done his bit for the planet whilst burning carbon through his various technology apparatus, vehicles and extra long hot showers.

Erika Mustermann equally thinks she has done her bit for our societies poorest by voting Liberal Democrat, but you never see her volunteering down at a soup kitchen, or donating funds to the local foodbank.

Alice and Bob vote Tory because they support the entrepreneur but never buy anything from the local shop.

Walter Plinge feels strongly for elderly care and votes Labour but would never think of visiting a local care home one evening a week to talk and play chess with one of the residents.

Yes! The government’s job is to drive a fairer society that gives opportunities to all, our governments duty is to keep us safe, healthy and educated but your vote does not delegate your social duty to your fellow man. Just like typing “Amen” under a Jesus meme on Facebook does not make you a Christian! Get up off your sofa on a Sunday morning and go and support your local church!

As you decide what box to tick, I pray that you will take your vote very seriously and thank God for the freedom you enjoy in our land to partake. But as you diligently contemplate your candidate’s appeals, do so under the lens of how they can help you do more for those in need as God’s means of Grace. Such a view will surely drive change and our Christian witness in our community!

Christian, vote for the party that would protect your rights to worship, to read your Bible, to pray, to meet together and evangelise.

Christian, vote for the party that would allow you to be economically better off, under the conviction of being better able to financially support your local church.

If the offer of more bank holiday’s are appealing, ask yourself will you give those days to God?

If a church of 70 people took the four extra days offered (per annum) for Kingdom work, it would give the same man hours to the Gospel as a full time worker!

Critiquing one party for their policy on the NHS whilst smoking in a small room with children is hypocritical.

Voting for a party because of their environmental policy whilst incinerating your old car tires in the garden is hypocritical.

Putting a poster up promoting a party of alleged unity when you do not get on with your neighbours is hypocritical.

Voting for a certain party does not make you more caring and charitable, if you are not caring or charitable.

Do not outsource your social duty to imperfect leaders, but vote for the party that best allows you to be a force for the Gospel wherever the Lord has placed you to serve.

I will leave you with the thoughts of Jesus’ brother James

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  James 2:14-26

 

Undermining Ishtar

It is that time of year again where Facebook is filled with memes about Ishtar, claiming this pagan god is the source of Easter.

The main grounds for this “theory” is based on shared symbols and that “Ishtar” and “Easter” sound similar.

It is true that the Romans did bastardise Christianity to align the “religion” to their state ideal and they did adapt various pagan attributes into their festivals to allow them to conquer other cultures.

But it is also true that reformed churches ignore such traditions and symbols (like those shared with Ishtar) as they are not biblical.

We celebrate Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection every Sunday at church. 
ishtar-bas-relief

There are so many other discrepancies with this theory but I will deal with the most ridiculous today. “Ishtar sounds a bit like Easter”.

My name sounds a bit like the Olympian Sally Gunnell, but I am neither a woman and cannot run the hurdles.

Constantine, the Roman Emperor who adopted “Christianity” did not speak English, he lived hundreds of years before the language. To him “Easter” was called “Pascha” in Greek or Pesach in Hebrew.

Pesach or Pascha sounds nothing like Ishtar. Constantine would not have known what “Easter” meant. It is just a coincidence that they sound similar.

To those who share/agree with the Ishtar meme….

If you really want to know what Easter is about, why not come to church and learn the facts for yourself?

Learn how the cultural elite and the worlds super powers tried to keep God hidden behind a stone, so you (the masses) can try and fill the godless void in your hearts by spending money, keeping them wealthy and in power!

Do not be fooled by our cultures consumerist ideology that takes you away from the contentment found only in Jesus Christ.

Have hope in the truth that Jesus came forth from the grave!

Easter has nothing to do with Ishtar!

Easter simply means….God wins!

An Atheist Mother’s Day

md

This morning (Mother’s Day), my doting sons woke up early to prepare a wonderful surprise (within their adolescent capability) for my amazing wife. Breakfast in Bed!

The eldest nominated himself to be the culinary whiz, whilst the middle son made a wonderful card.

Placed awkwardly on a tray, they tip-toed up the stairs and presented it all to their sleeping mother. (The kitchen was left in a total mess!)

The front of the card had a smiling face, with rosy cheeks, bright eyes and long brown hair (it was my wife). The face was framed in a two layered heart, the inner a bright purple and the outer pink. It was beautiful. Inside my son wrote, “To Mummy, Happy Mother’s Day, Love” (and then their names).

My wife was overcome by emotion; she could see the love, effort and care that had gone into making such a card. She embraced my grinning sons who appreciated the gratitude for their labours. It was quite the scene!

It all got me thinking! What if my wife had viewed this cherished gift in the same atheistic ‘world view’ that most of our society share today?

What if she ruled my son out of the equation and assumed that the picture (however beautiful) had simply arrived by chance over billions of years? The heartfelt words would become meaningless, discarded as haphazard weathering on the page. How would my son feel?

What if my wife, instead of thanking my son, did a chemical analysis on the crayons and ink to find out their source, or carbon date the paper to find out its given age, or take a core sample of the dust that gathered and take it back to the lab?

The once loving Mother’s day exchange would become a cold and meaningless affair.- would it not?

My wife would have lost that moment of love with her son and my son would be mightily concerned with his mum’s lack of appreciation with his craftsmanship! The relationship would be broken!

This world view gives us the very same problem today with our creator God.

He has given us a world that screams out the hallmarks of intelligent design. From the intricacy of our DNA to the great and purposeful forces of nature, from the fine tuning of billions of factors required to support life (let alone sentient life) to the improbability of our very existence. He even resides in our own (and unique) ability to love, create and share, even at times that are counterproductive to our very survival. All such things that we experience each and everyday, that we often take for granted, but are all signatures of the love, provision and grace of our creator God.

Dismissing all He has done for us as our creator is like dismissing a handmade Mother’s day card from an adoring son.

Dismissing God from His creation turns life into a cold and meaningless affair.

Thank God this Mother’s day, that despite our rejection of the obvious, through His Son Jesus Christ, He has provided a way back to Him. Happy Mother’s Day!

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

 

Giving Teenagers a lifeline

This academic year we at Noddfa have revamped our youth ministry, moving it to a Friday evening and expanding it across two age groups.

The first session is for primary school aged children (6-7pm). They all come into the hall and get to pick the games or crafts they want to take part in and are rewarded with points for behaviour, achievement and creativity. We then gather together for prayer and a 10 minute Gospel message, then a warm snack, a final game and then home time.

kids3The older group join us later (7:30-9pm). The format is the same, but the games are more mature, we have a Wii, a pool table and beanbags for those that wish to just sit on their phones and be miserable.

We gather together for prayer and a 10 minute Gospel message (that usually extends to 30 minutes with the Q&A). We break for a warm snack and then the young people can either continue with whatever they want to do, or join me for a more in depth Bible Study.

By God’s grace the evening has become very popular and we have built trusting relationships with the young people and their parent/guardian(s).

I have been able to counsel many of them one to one (from a Biblical perspective) on various issues they are facing, from bullying, peer pressure, drug use etc.

I have created the below sheet for our young people and their parent/guardian(s) that I will be handing out to them as a practical guide to help them get through such difficult situations.

I pray that it will be of use to any of you reading this.

Explanation of hand out

We Christians often find ourselves in sticky situations, we go astray with the same temptations as anyone else. But Praise be to God we have an escape! The Cross (x) of Christ Jesus!

At The Cross (x), in the greatest act of love known to man, Jesus Christ took the punishment we deserve for all the things we have done wrong, His wounds have healed us, so that we can return to our Holy God without fear.

Every time that we feel tempted or pressured into doing something we do not feel is right Christians can look to the cross where we are reminded of Jesus’ love for us and the price He paid for our sin.

The Cross (x) encourages us to distance ourselves from such temptations and gives us a place to seek forgiveness when we fail.

As a teenager have you ever found yourself in uncomfortable circumstances where you feel pressured to join in?

Have you taken part in activities that you knew were wrong, but did so because you could see no other way out?

Well at times such as these, think of the Cross (x) of Jesus Christ and type “x” into your phone and send it to a group message to your parent/guardian(s).

The “x” is just one letter, nobody will notice that you are sending it, or ask why. If they catch you, they will not know what it means anyway!

When your parent/guardian(s) receive the “x”, they are to call you immediately stating an emergency and that you need to come home quickly, they will explain all later.

(This is not a lie, the situation you are in is an emergency and you need to get out of it).

After the call, run home, you are free from danger!

Please use this only at times when you feel necessary, for this to work you need to maintain trust, do not cry wolf with your parent/guardian(s)!

Parent/Guardian(s).

As Christians come to the Cross (x) to receive forgiveness, when you’re young person sends you the “x” follow the aforementioned steps and do not ask them any questions about it when they get home.

Such interference might hinder them using your service in the future and who knows what they could get themselves into. Simply thank God that they had the sense to call upon you for help when the situation got too much for them.

Please be clear with your young person that they do have a duty of care to their fellow humans and must call the police if they know of anything criminal and that you are always available to support them through this process if they are willing to share.

Feel free to print and use the below…

phonex

If you are in danger think of the Cross (x) of Jesus Christ and type “x” into your phone and send for help.

‘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.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray, ’but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 2 Peter 2:24-25

I am totally indebted to Burt Fulks and his excellent blog for this idea!

Stephen Fry on God and why it went viral?

stephen-fry_3183239b

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

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

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

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

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

gen_melchett

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

The Moral Question.

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

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

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

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

I believe this a fair summary.

My prayerful response to Fry

Point 1 *

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

Point 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point 3

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

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

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

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

Point 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did it go viral?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Are all religions the same?

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

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

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

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

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

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

religions1

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

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

There is some Biblical truth to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, my dispute is with the commonality implied.

The problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

religions2

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

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

Christianity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sgt Pepper’s homage 2016 – Happy New Year 2017

sgt-peps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

maya1

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

So what can we learn from 2016?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you all have a wonderful 2017.

Christmas – How do we harness the wind?

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

ssnativity

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

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

carols-christmas-eve-2016

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

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

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

Free Press December 2016

archpaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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