Generation Z – Transgenderism in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

Michael wanted to identify as a woman (Michelle).

With Michael’s consent I prayed with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generation Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We continue to pray.

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

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Romania – The Sky, the Land and the Blood 

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Village boy outside of his home

Last year a dear friend introduced me to Pastor Dorin Dumitrascu. Neither party was aware of my Romanian ancestory. I was delighted to meet with him and enjoyed comparing notes. During the conversation I mentioned that my Grandfather was from a very small town over to the east of the country, on the river Danube, a place called Braila. Dorin was amazed as his church is based in the neighbouring city of Galati (just 10 minutes drive away). I explained that my Great Grandfather lived in Galati.

The coincidence was incredible and we could see God’s providence in our coming together. Over the past year Dorin and I have become great friends, he came to see us in Wales and we planned a visit to Romania so that I could explore my family roots and more importantly see the church.

I have just returned home from my trip and I was not disappointed. 

Like my Grandfather, the Romanian people are wonderful, caring, sincere, hardworking and amazing cooks! The history of Romania is fascinating as well as the geography and I was incredibly excited to see what God is doing in the church through my dear friend Dorin, his brother (Pastor Mihai) and everyone at Biserica Crestina Emanuel.

Pastor Dorin, me and Mihai

Pastor Dorin, John and Mihai

This blog will describe my trip in three sections that correspond to the meaning of Romanian flag. Blue – The Sky (the Heavens), Yellow – The Land and Red – The blood shed (the people).

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Yellow – The Land 

The Dacian Kingdom was rich in Gold, Silver and other mineral deposits (including oil) and was first exploited in 275 AD by the conquering powers of Rome, naming  the people “Romania”. 

For centuries various neighbouring powers such as the Austrian-Hungary, Soviet and Ottomon Empires fought over the mineral rich region, splitting it into the principalities of Transylvania, Moldova, Dobrogea, Muntenia and others. 

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Romania became an independent Kingdom in 1878 headed by an Anglo-Deutsche Monarchy that gave the people great support and investment from the worlds biggest empires. The monarchy united the Romanian people and modernised the country. 

Romania became powerful and conquered bordering nations creating “Big Romania”. Their ambitions of further growth were quickly quashed by impending world wars that saw the land overrun by Nazi Germany and then handed to Soviet powers in 1947. The King was forced to abdicate. 

Under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s brand of communism, Romania remained independent. It imprisoned up to 80,000 of its own people (Many Christians) and imposed horrific suffering across the nation. The revolution began in 1989 (which resulted in 1000 deaths), but from it Romania became a free market economy and welcomed large investment from the USA. Their transition to the west was completed in 2004 joining the EU and NATO. 

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Galati from the TV tower

These massive political fluctuations mirror the nations natural extremes from the wondrous peaks of the Carpathian mountains in the North West to the thousands of square miles of flat grass lands and marsh on the Danube Delta. Romania endures long cold winters and satisfyingly warm summers, rich with diverse Fauna and Flora. The land is rich and produces much grain and a variety of fruit and wines for EU consumers.

Journeying three hours east from Bucharest I was surprised by the immense poverty. The east of the country is yet to be impacted by the EU and remains in soviet living conditions. 

The villages have dirt track roads, open sewage, outside toilets and many of the people are living ‘hand to mouth’ through home grown vegetables and perhaps a cow or some pigs. The homes are heated by woodburners.

In the eastern towns and cities the roads are desperate and the pavements broken with potholes, exposed pipes, cabling and many wild dogs. 

The vast cultural transitions over recent decades have left an urban legacy of poorly maintained infrastructure that the successive governing forces would not take responsibility for. In just a short walk through Galati you can see surviving vestiges from the thriving days of the Monarchy, a skyline ruled by communist tower blocks, soviet swimming baths and factories reduced to rubble and creeping through the  decay and cracks of such long departed regimes the odd Lidl and H&M sign glows.

Since the revolution successive governments have allowed assets and funding to be mismanaged and some parts of Galati look more like Aleppo than a peacetime European city. However, in the defence of Galati, I visited at aesthetically the worst time of year. They had another a brutal winter with lots of snow. All the grass and plants had died, everything was cold, wet and brown. In the summer when the vines and trees bloom, what appears to be a derelict city can be transformed into a tuscan paradise.

EU legislation has protected the people and helped them to manage their funds better. But their membership has also inflated prices and wages have not caught up. Fuel and other goods are the same price across the EU but the average Romanian teacher (for example) earns just 400euros a month. The country was hit extremely hard by the 2008 crash and has not recovered.

This economic pressure has forced many to return to more subsistent living and 17% of the population (30% of all 18-30 year olds) have migrated into Western Europe for increased income. 

Although they do send money home (which helps the local economy), this economic migration has caused a demographic catastrophe as many young workers (who could maintain the buildings and infrastructure are now absent). Many much needed skills in rural communities are dying out with the ageing population.

Red – The Blood

As discussed the Romanian people have shed much blood as Empires (including our own) have fought over finite resources across the continent. This culture of occupation has made the Romanian people rather fatalistic. There is an old tale of three Romanian Shepherds. One became successful, so the other two plotted his death. One of the sheep heard of their plans and reported it back. On hearing the news the successful shepherd wrote his will and testament. That is the end of the story! No fight back, no heroism, just resignation.

The nation has endured years of oppression resulting in a tired, melancholic people (voiced perfectly through the unique style of their beloved poet Eminescu), even the Romania national anthem is in a minor key. 

The Romanian’s perspective of history is also quaint. In just one generation the country transformed from a Kingdom to a communist state and then to a secular western democracy. Such dynastic cycles would take centuries to unfold in the UK.

Such suffering, exploitation and disorder has built a society of deep and philosophical thinkers who are wonderfully generous, honest, hard working, kind hearted, gentle spirited and welcoming beyond all measure.

Driving through the city streets you are confronted with rows upon rows of corrugated iron sheets and tall gates. Hidden behind each are beautiful bungalows and houses where the people live. At first you would assume that such guarding would be because of a high crime rate but this is not the case. It comes from years under the soviet regime where your personal space was invaded by the state. People barricaded themselves into their homes in response to this and out of fear that there actions (however appropriate and inoffensive) maybe reported to the security services. All perimeters are covered owing to a nationwide distrust of a neighbour. But behind these tall gates lay beautiful gardens, vegetables, chickens, orchards, pigs, grapes, wells and watermelons. Every inch is productive and worked organically and sustainably.

Westernisation has brought many problems, namely the aforementioned demographic crises. Romania is filled with economic orphans whose aspirational parents have migrated west leaving them at home with ageing family members.

These children all have the best clothes and iPhones sent home from the shopping Malls of Milan, the London Arcades and the boutiques of Paris by well intentioned parents, but this has created a generation of children needy for attention and hungry for western treasures – a dangerous combination that can be easily exploited. 

Galati and Braila have outrageous figures when it comes to sex trafficking. I was told of many incidences of bribery and kidnap of young girls and I was horrified to see the below advert in the local shopping mall brazenly recruiting young women to perform on online chat rooms. The potential weekly earning is astronomical for the average Romanian and such work is increasingly seen as empowering and thus accepted.

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Blue – The Sky.

The spiritual state of East Romania is remarkably similar to the Welsh valleys. Both are on the borders of the EU, both have lost their industries and have been let down politically for generations. Unemployment is high, the ambitious youth have departed to find work elsewhere. Galati is still heavily influenced by Nicolae Ceauşescu’s ideology. There is a deep seated atheism, contrasted with a nominal patriotic support for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Evangelical Christians are seen as a cult. I met two young men in the church that had both been assaulted by Priests (on separate occasions) as they evangelised the villages. One incident let to police intervention as the Mayor and the Priest supported by hired thugs came in force to close the village church down.

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The Eastern Orthodox Church claimed 85% support but recently suffered an embarrassing shock at a recent referendum. The constitution (written decades before the LGBT movement) states that marriage must be between two “partners” (assumed heterosexual) but progress was made to define this legally stating “man and woman” exclusively. A referendum was called and support for this amendment was at 90% (Praise God), but only 20.4% of the population voted, below the required 30% needed to write the change into law. If 85% of the population were in support of the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Church (as claimed), then they would have voted accordingly and the motion would have past. Sadly, Christianity is lower than 20% in Romania and 2% attend Evangelical church (most of which are in the west).

The real enemy of the church in Romania is consumerism (just like in the UK) and this week I had the opportunity to share the gospel into it. Speaking at the Friday evening Fusion meeting where most of the twenty teenagers are unchurched and again at the Valentine youth meeting. I was greatly encouraged by the professing Atheists who came. Unlike our teenagers who would simply dismiss any worldview other than their own, the Romanian teen is far more philosophical and engaged. They want to hear other opinions and make educated decisions for themselves.

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School in Romania is split in two, the younger children meet at 8am to 11am then the older children use the same classroom 12-6pm. Whilst the parents are at work they are left to their own devices. “Generatia cu cheer la gat” the children of the (door) key around their neck. 

Biserica Crestina Emanuel saw the need in this situation and built Proveritas. An after school club that caters for such “economic orphans”, improving their behaviour and study. Through word of mouth they now welcome over forty children, many from horrific living conditions to very wealthy sons of state officials. This work allows the church to influence many families with the Gospel. Proveritas also goes into local school to speak on the dangers of trafficking and drugs all with a Christian ethos. I had the privilege of teaching in this school during the week and got to meet several of the children. Like the Gospel, maths has no language barriers.

I enjoyed visiting a number of churches in the area. I went to the village of Schela, where I visited a church that was built overnight during the communist times. The people gathered and worked tirelessly to avoid officials. On inspection the Mayor was shocked to see a building that was not there the day before. They did not have the resource to demolish it at the time, but the church elders were severely penalised for it. It survived the regime and now welcomes 80 people from the village each week.

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I also spent some time with Vlad who came to the UK as an atheist to work in 2008 (during the crash). He was influenced by his flatmates and became a drug addict. Eventually Vlad found work through a muslim family in Liverpool, he was tasked to clear out and renovate a building for them, he lived onsite.  He found a Bible in the mess and began to read. He was saved and came back to Romania (drug free) and now Pastors a church in Braila. 

Saturday evening I was taken to one of the many village church plants to preach. They could not get a licence to build a church, so they bought a house, that they are secretly converting. I prepared a 15 minute message allowing for the translation, hoping to be finished within 30 minutes. I was rebuked quite sharply. The  small group were risking so much to be in church and wanted to be taught the Word of God, anything under an hour will not satisfy their craving – I had to quickly change plans on the drive up. 

We sang hymns, psalms, prayed and discussed the scripture, we were one in Christ despite the thousands of miles that divide our culture. It was a beautiful experience.

On the Sunday morning I was invited to preach at the main service at Biserica Crestina Emanuel. I was encouraged to see so many people, over three hundred gathered. The singing lifted our hearts to God and the people were so welcoming to the word. It was the first time I taught the Bible with translation you can see the message here.

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Biserica Crestina Emanuel is a pentecostal church based in the centre of Galati, prime location to serve the needy and witness to the influential. They are under tremendous cultural pressure, but under Pastor Mihai and Dorin the church is thriving, it is alive and well, filled with deeply committed Christians who fast and pray and long for the word. Under such pressure they put the church in Wales to shame.

“Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.” Exodus 34:10

This word came to me in my devotions during my stay in Romania and I pray that it will be so for both Wales and Romania as we fight together in the name of Jesus in the boarders of our secularised continent.

During the trip I worked with Dorin to build a business plan to gain funding to turn Proveritas into the first Christian school in the East. To achieve this goal they just need $250,000 dollars over four years – a relatively small amount to impact an entire city for Jesus. If you wish to prayerfully support their amazing work please visit our website at www.NoddfaChurch.com and we can arrange to send more details to you and collect funds on their behalf.

I would like to thank my dear brothers Dorin and Mihai Dumitrascu, Pavel Trifu and the team at Biserica Crestina Emanuel for their warm welcome. I also want to thank my adopted Romanian family Dan and Mirela Tanase who hosted me for the week and went above and beyond to show me the city and the culture. They are the most beautiful warm hearted people I have ever met and now friends for life.

God has blessed me with a week I will never forget, I have seen how a church can thrive under cultural and economic oppression far worse than what we face in the Welsh Valleys. I pray God will use me in the same way. #PrayforRomania

Crazy love?

Many people ‘believe’ our cultures myth that science has disproved God.

The roots of such dogmatic atheism does not come from academia, neither is it a scientific statement. It is a mere ideology born from our monotonous western materialism.

Our societies obsession with ownership (or the appearance thereof) has caused us to collectively reason that if something cannot be seen, touched or measured it is false.

This view has lined the pockets of many and relegated Christianity (the world-view that brought us grace, compassion, freedom and charity) into a remnant of delusional fantasists.

Is this your view?

Do you discredit the existence of “God” because He exists outside of the constraints of our cultural norms?

Do you believe God does not exist because He cannot be seen, touched or measured?

If so, I would like to ask you to think very carefully about how you will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year….because a (godless) material world view dictates that love is simply the release of testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin from the hypothalamus.

In a godless world love is not a beautiful emotion that transcends physical limitations and can drive humanity to do wonderful selfless acts, rather it is an instinctive impulse evolved (with no meaning or purpose) over billions of years whereby you secrete hormones caused by external triggers.

Ask yourself – is this all that love is?

Our materialist culture has relegated Christianity into stupidity, at the same time as encouraging you to go out and buy; cards, roses, chocolates and jewellery to add meaning and purpose to what they believe is meaningless and purposeless. Can you see how ridiculous this is?

Without God your life is just chance, you are of zero consequence and “love” is just a chemical secretion from a soulless organism (you), so why bother celebrating it (or anything else for that matter).

If there is no God, why write love letters, why go on romantic trips, why get married? It’s all hypocrisy if you are an atheist!

Now we all know deep down that love is so much more than just a chemical reaction. – don’t we? This is why the world celebrates “Love” on Valentines day.

Because love is transcendent, love is beautiful and love is powerful.

So, if I may, I would now like to now park the atheist world view of what love is and get real with you!

Below is what the Bible says about “love”.

As you read it I would like you to ask yourselves which description more accurately describes what you know to be true of love.

A mere chemical imbalance of an advanced shaved ape (you) or…..

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...”

Is the Bible’s definition of love more in line with what you believe to be true?

Does the Bible’s description of love more truly represent the wonderful truth of what we all know and celebrate on Valentine’s Day?

If you have answered “yes” to the above, then you have accepted that the Bible is correct in this case and that their is truth that exists outside of the material world.

1 John 4:7 says “Let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

God is love and just like Love, God cannot be seen, He cannot be touched and He cannot measured. Just like love, God can be felt and He is very real and should be celebrated and worshiped. (Now here comes the best bit 👇👇👇👇)

In the same way that you express your feelings to your beloved by giving them gifts this Valentine’s Day. The Bible teaches us that God expressed His immeasurable love for you in the gift of His Son – Jesus of Nazareth.

In love, God the Son left the Glory of Heaven to take on the likeness of human flesh as the historic person Jesus. So that He could experience this fallen world for Himself and come alongside us in it and live (on our behalf) the perfect life that we cannot on our behalf.

Then in the greatest act of love Jesus willingly presented Himself to die the death we all deserve (for rejecting the God of love), so that on the cross God’s justice could be satisfied and God’s Love revealed.

In the greatest act of love Jesus gave every part of Himself on the cross for those He loves, all so that we can be reunited with God, despite our willing rejection of Him.

Romans 5:7-8 says ”Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus is the very pinnacle of loves expression, He is the full embodiment, the full revelation of God’s love to us and He offers all of Himself to you this Valentine’s Day.

Friends life is not simply material, there is so much more to it. The Atheists are wrong and how they celebrate “love” proves their hypocrisy. They give cards and roses to give meaning to what they claim is meaningless.

Love is not simply a Chemical reaction, it’s crazy, and you know it!

Just like God Himself love is beautiful, powerful, immeasurable and defies all logic. But isn’t it the most amazing of truths.

This Valentine’s Day the source of all love, Jesus Christ, calls you to follow Him.

Will you continue to live in the lie of our culture, or will you choose a greater joy that can set you free from our cultures material constraints?

Find out more www.NoddfaChurch.com

What is Truth?

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It should not surprise us that at this time in history when God has all but been forgotten, secular media has coined our era “post-truth”.

Rather oddly, “truth” is no longer defined or determined by an absolute (God), but by popular consensus (irrelevant of the facts). Any person can now publish their version of “truth” to wide audiences who can engorge themselves in the contents partiality to justify and reinforce their own personal stance and life choices. 

Those who oppose an absolute moral position (God) in favour of a relative “truth” (their own position), are the first to judge other individuals viewpoints. Thus hypocritically enforcing their “higher” truth on other relative positions (Matthew 23:13-39).

We truly live in a faithless and perverse generation (Matthew 17:17) where experts are undermined and data is irresponsibly interpreted so that “truth” can now be manipulated to adhere to the agenda of the influencer. Morality and law are no longer principles set higher than any individual, but have now been relegated to the scrutiny and subjection of personal choice. In the UK truth has become relative and chaos looms.

Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem faced the same issue. It was occupied by the pluralist Roman Empire, lead by a materialist Temple Priesthood and politicised by the Pharisees and Sadducees. All competing over their versions of “truth” and just like today, the outcome of this relativism created an unfair, unjust and deeply polarised society. 

God heard the cry of His people and in His Son Jesus Christ, He entered into this murky world of darkness, deceit, corruption and decay, with a foray of light, love and life. And throughout His ministry many came to Him to seek His approval on what really is the “truth”.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus on; taxation (Mark 12:13-17), the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14), Divorce, (Matthew 19:1-12), Fasting (Luke 5:33-38) and class (Luke 5:32). The Sadducees asked Jesus about Marriage (Mark 12:18-27), the teachers asked for Jesus’ opinion on life priorities (Mark 12:28-34), The Priests challenged Jesus on authority (Matthew 21:23-27) and the Romans asked Him about Power (John 18:37). All in a pursuit to see who really holds the truth!

What is interesting is that Jesus never answers their questions as they intended. When presented with the options of right and wrong, Jesus always answered with Himself. Jesus always points those seeking “truth” to God (John 10:30). 

Jesus knew that in our fallen and broken state humanity can never own the truth independent of God. Because of our rejection of the absolute truth, when faced with what is right and wrong, we can only choose between the lesser of two evils. Jesus’ challenge then to those who pursue truth, is to liberate ourselves from our imperfect, fallen and preconceived notions of “truth” (John 8:32) and simply follow Him (John 14:6). For Jesus is the absolute truth.

And and this is why….. 

Truth is when word and deed meet.

Christ is the embodiment of God’s word and deed (John 1:1). There can be no higher truth! Jesus came into the world to testify to God’s truth (John 18:37) and on the cross Jesus took all of God’s promises throughout human history and actioned them in the most profound and sincere way by His death. The person of Christ is the absolute bedrock of truth.

Every word Jesus spoke was met in deed. Jesus did not simply tell us to help the poor and sick, He Himself did it (Matthew 4:23).    Jesus did not simply tell us to love one another but He Himself did it (John 13:5). Jesus did not simply tell us to love our enemies but He Himself did it, pleading to His Father in Heaven for their forgiveness, as they brutally hammered nails through His ankle bones into hard splintered wood (Luke 23:34). Even at a point of most intense pain and hardship, Jesus’ every deed met His word. Jesus said He will rise again (Mark 9:31) and He Himself did it (Luke 24:6). So when Jesus says that He loves you and is preparing a place for you, trust me, He means it!

Jesus is the very embodiment of truth, He is truth incarnate and this is why His message of love, peace and unity still offends so many people in the west today. Because the secular west would rather exchange the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:25) to justify our own life choices, only loving those they want to love and helping only those we want to help.  This is not freedom, this is not truth.

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

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. John 10:36-38

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POEM: 2,000 Christmas Cards

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Down slippery steps and up hilly climbs,
On dark wet streets at Christmas time.
Walk the people of Noddfa – young and old,
Carrying a message of the greatest story ever told.

A message of Mercy,
A message of Grace,
A message of light to those in a dark place.

Of a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son,
To die in our place so that justice could be done.
And in His resurrection He gives us the power to change,
To live with greater purpose and meaning away from a life of heartache and pain.

Each Christmas card has been posted, sown with tears,
Yet they have often been received by mocking voices and jeers.

But if you believe our message is false and we are here simply by chance,
Why do you exchange gifts at Christmas and sing carols and dance?
Why do you hang decorations and put up a tree?
For none of this behaviour happens naturally.
If there is no God and we are just sentient apes,
Why bother hanging stockings up on your fireplace?
The Christmas lights and tinsel are all well and good,
But without remembering the birth of Jesus,
My friends, Christmas is misunderstood.

For it is only in Christ you can know true joy,
Not in the short-term pleasures of unwrapping that new toy.
For it is only in Christ you can know God’s Fatherly protection,
And receive the gift of eternal life in His Son’s perfection.

Yes Father Christmas is fun, a myth and a game,
But the story of Jesus is true and not quite the same.
Whilst Santa Claus is checking his list and checking it twice,
Jesus gifts you Grace – regardless of whether you have been naughty or nice.

You see the secret to a happy Christmas, one filled with good cheer,
Is to have Jesus at its very centre, we pray that you do not let him disappear.

So when our Christmas card is posted through your door,
I pray you do not use it to line your rabbit hutch floor.
Neither tear it or fold it or chuck it straight in the bin,
Rather take a moment and read the message within.
A personal invite for you to come,
to Noddfa church and celebrate with us the birth of God the Son.

We’ve posted 2,000 of these Christmas cards across our valley with love.
2,000 Christmas cards containing a message of peace from God above.

We’ve posted in the cold and the rain and the dark,
so you can have an invite to Carols Under the Arch.

We hope to see you there!

6pm Sunday 23rd December 2018!

The Big Arch Abersychan.

(I know the last bit did not rhyme).

Christmas, Golden Rats and Tumours.

I was asked by the local primary school to come in the week before Christmas to give an assembly. 

This year I called upon some (incredibly excited) young volunteers to come up to the front and help me build and decorate a Christmas tree.

Each child told me what their favourite part of the Christmas tree was; some said the tinsel, others the lights, some said the ball balls, most said the star at the top.

I then explained to the children what my favourite part of the Christmas tree was.

It is often seen as the most boring part of all. It is often overlooked and hidden away, it is ugly and unglamorous. Yet without it, the entire tree, with all of its glitter and gold falls down. 

My favourite part of the tree is its base.

I then removed the base of the Christmas tree and to the shock of the assembled classes, it fell (timber), crashing to the floor and was left in a messy pile.

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The point I was making became very clear to the children. Without the foundational message of Christmas, the love of God made profoundly tangible in the incarnation of Christ, all the glitz and glamour that the festivities have now become will fall. 

Without the Gospel message all the tinsel and bright lights become a meaningless mess of materialism. Without the Gospel message Christmas is an all-consuming catastrophe.

Seeing the felled tree in all of its tragic sadness was the perfect symbol of Christmas without Christ and it made me think of the fallen statue of Dagon in 1 Samuel 4-7.

Dagon, was the god of the Philistines and father of Baal and is believed to have been the god of grain, other historians argue fish, either way Dagon was a god of worldly provision, a god that represents the same consumerism and materialism that ‘Christmas’ has now become in the west.

Like the Christmas tree at the school assembly, Dagon once stood tall on a pedestal in the Philistine home of Ashdod. Like the Christmas tree in our assembly, Dagon was a symbol of plenty and prosperity, with gifts laid at its feet. 

But one morning, the Philistines found Dagon face down on the floor, broken and in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly. 

So what happened?

Well, in 1 Samuel 4 we read of a great war between Israel and the Philistines.

Israel had been badly beaten, so they brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle. 

The Ark of the Covenant was a sacred gold covered chest with two cherubim on its lid and resided in the Holy of Holies. It was very precious, no human being could touch it and live.

The chest contained the ten commandments, Aarons rod and a golden jar of Manna and it represented God’s presence on earth.

The Israelites brought their sacred Ark to the battle field, it was their ace card. God’s presence on earth. How could they possibly be beaten with the Ark of the Covenant fighting alongside them? 

Even the Philistines believed they were done for, they showed fear at the presence of the living God on the front line (1 Samuel 4:7).

The battle raged on with the Ark leading the charge, but alas, it made no difference. The Philistines beat the Israelites again and captured their precious artefact. 

They took the Ark home and placed it before Dagon (their god of worldly provision). 

The next day we find Dagon where we began this story, flat on his face, in bits, just like our Christmas tree in assembly. 

Before the Ark of the Lord, Dagon (and all that he represents) could not stand on its own, it had to be propped up by mere human hands (1 Samuel 5:3).

Dagon fell like our Christmas tree in the assembly and the Philistines began to suffer for their mistake, they faced plagues of rats followed by tumours. All was taken from them because they valued worldly grain over the bread of Heaven. 

Through their suffering they could see their mistake. But rather than give up their materialism, they made preparations to send the Ark away, back to where it came from. 

Ironically they used their wealth to build gold rats and tumours to give to God as a guilt offering in an attempt to pay Him off and lift the curse. (Imagine receiving a Gold tumour for Christmas – not nice).

The Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart and attached two calves who had never been yoked, to it (1 Samuel 6:7). 

The calves knew no trails to follow and would naturally seek their mothers breast back home. But governed by the Sovereign Lord, they were directed back to Israel. 

In this act God proved once again that He is Sovereign Lord of all and worthy of primary position in our lives.

Like the Christmas tree in our school assembly, Dagon had fallen and with it all the wealth and prosperity he symbolised and the God of the Bible proved Himself as sovereign Lord of All.

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So what can we learn from this?

Well God’s people (the Israelites) were guilty of using the Ark of the Covenant in much the same way as the Philistines used their idol Dagon. They wanted God to work for them. They thought if we bring the Ark to battle, God will have to step up and win the day for us.

As Christians we often do the same at Christmas, the festive season has become our ace card. We all know that for one month a year, society welcomes our message and we make every effort to capitalise on it. 

We hold carol services, Christmas parties, nativities, dinners and pray that the Lord will bless the outreach because of our efforts. And just like the Philistines who feared the Ark when it was on the front line, during the festive season, the world buys into it to! Many people will be captivated by our message and will claim to fear the Lord. But when they take the Ark home it will sit at the feet of Dagon before being sent on its way again.

Church, we must not make the same mistake as the Israelites did with the Ark and approach Christmas as an ace card.

Yes we must fight the good fight of faith and hold the events and capitalise on the season, but we must do this remembering that God is Sovereign and His supremacy over this world is independent of us and our festive gimmicks to get bums on seats. 

The real message of Christmas, the real base that keeps the tree standing, is not simply that God came to earth in flesh as the historic person Jesus of Nazareth to redeem us (as mind blowing as this is). The real message of Christmas is that God is sovereign in all things and we should be utterly amazed and grateful that in His absolute power and supremacy over this world, He had the Grace and love and the desire to come and save us, independent of our efforts.

So this Christmas, I pray that in God’s strength we can keep our eyes focussed on Him in the battle for souls and not put our hope in the excitement of the festivities and the opportunities they bring.

God is Sovereign and He will win the day on His terms, not ours. Pray that it is His will to do so this Christmas.

 

 

Commitment in the 21st Century

In todays culture the concept of commitment seems nonexistent. We are in a pic’n’mix, individualist society where our ‘Freedom of Choice’ has become our god. Today’s concept of loyalty could be redefined as ‘committed only when convenient’ or “I do, until something better comes along”.

The tragedy is, we are applying this consumer ideology to our human relationships, sacred life-long unions such as marriage are now disregarded 42% of the time. We jump from person to person to get the best deal we can find. The word of the ‘enlightened’ secular citizen can only be trusted 58% of the time. We move house more regularly, change jobs, cars, phones, pets and schools, as we constantly try to satisfy our vacuous soul’s to seek the elusive concept of ‘happiness’. As a result nothing remains constant and nobody is ever content. It is no wonder that we have become such a litigious nation, nobody can be trusted in a world of constant flux. 

Our societies post-Christian ideology teaches that ‘happiness’ can be found in freedom from the shackles of commitment. But this fickleness is clearly not working. NHS Digital reported a 108.5% increase in antidepressants being dispensed in just ten years, in 2016 this cost the NHS £9.2bn. Our post-Christian society clearly causes conflict with our wellbeing. Despite what car we drive or what iPhone we own we are not happy.  The human condition needs; real relationships, real accountability, unrivalled love and commitment. Queue the church!

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The church should be the counter-culture of such fluidity. It should be the home of patience, endurance and sacrifice (1 Corinthians 13). Church should be the one place in our modern society where you can guarantee commitment. A place where our Yes’ means Yes and our No’s mean No (Matthew 5:37), a place of loyalty and trust as we come together to worship an unchanging, eternal God, who stuck around even when things got tough (Ephesians 5:25), who keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5) and committed Himself to you in a covenant of His own blood (Matthew 26:26-28).

Sadly 21st century fickleness is creeping into the church and many excuses are given by Christians to justify a non-committal stance in regards to membership. I hope to lovingly address these points in this paper to encourage the saints to unite and commit to each other so that we can fight the good fight of faith against our divisive superficial society.

The main objection I hear about “church membership” is that the term cannot be found in the Bible?

Well neither can the term “Trinity” but we do not doubt it. We come to the conclusion that God is three and one because the scriptures tells us so. It is very dangerous to justify any position by whether it was explicitly argued for or against in the Bible. Jesus never spoke directly against Pedophilia but we all know that it is wrong based on the many other principles Jesus taught that would directly appose such a vile crime. In the same way the term “church membership” is not clearly mandated in scripture but there is clear evidence to support the process in the application of what was achieved by the early church.

Paul’s letters were all addressed to churches (Philippians 1:1), local bodies of believers that were all in one mind (Philippians 2:2), someone needed to be responsible to receive them and to distribute to people within the church (members). 

The scriptures show a clear distinction between those who are in the church and out of it (Romans 12:15, 2 Corinthians 6:14), people were chosen from within the church for special tasks (Acts 6:3)  and we are told that their numbers were being added to (Acts 2:41 and 47).

Now you may say that such tasks can all be achieved by a congregation without a formal list? Well Jesus keeps a list (Revelation 20:12) and a good shepherd counts His sheep (Luke 15:1-7, John 10:14).

Without such formalities as church membership, the microcosm of the local church and thus the wider body, would be in the same chaos as the world. Nobody would know who is in or out affecting pastoral care, teaching, mission and accountability.

In scripture we see the local church collected funds (Philippians 4:15-16) and distributed them to other local churches (Acts 11:29-30). We know that gifts were brought to the leaders and recorded (Acts 5). Local churches sent out teams to support other local churches (Acts 12:22), and they welcomed transfers between local bodies (Romans 16:1-2). Local church made provision for widows (Acts 6:1-6) and organised meetings and feasts. They created an administration (1 Corinthians 12:28, Titus 1:5) and had clearly defined functions within (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12:28). They had leadership (Hebrews 13:17) who were accountable to the local body (1 Timothy 5:20). People were met with ordered discipline (Matthew 18:17) and were also cast out (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Church leaders were given responsibility (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 4:2, James 3:1) to ensure the spiritual health of the flock and members were encouraged to meet (Hebrews 10:25) and respect those God has called to care for them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:7).

This would all be impossible to manage without any administrative formalities such as a membership list of believers, who were willing to commit to the church, following Christ’s example by sacrificing their individual needs for the greater good of others (Romans 12:5, Titus 3:12-14). 

As a church Elder and Pastor I know first hand the security and benefits such commitment from the saints brings to the local church. Having committed members that you can rely on allows the ox not to be muzzled as he treads out the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4), but this is not the reason why I write this today. It is out of genuine concern for the souls of those missing out on the joy of church membership.

Living in exile is desperately unhealthy for the Christian soul. By not joining a church you are living in direct conflict to the Bibles teaching (which is God’s letter to church). The Bible is full of information of how to relate to each other and to the world outside, it shows us how to corporately love and care for one another. The message of the Bible is about having life together, sacrificially loving each other through trials, sickness, sin and pain, building each other up as we walk in Christ’s footsteps to the eternal church that is Heaven. 

God Himself is in community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by a covenant of redeeming Grace He has saved us to commit to His bride the church (Ephesians 5:25-33,  2 Corinthians 11:2, John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:2,9-10). Many of the Bible’s commands for the Christian can only be fulfilled in the context of the local church. If you are a Christian and not involved in a local church, how are you knowing the joy of breaking bread (Acts 2:46), evangelising, baptising, teaching, discipling (Matthew 28: 16-20), sharing and caring (Matthew 25:40), giving (2 Corinthians 9:7), serving (John 13:1-17) and submitting and praying for elders (Hebrews 13:7), how are you being fed by the word? (1Peter 2:2), how are you corporately praying? (2 Corinthians 1:11), how are you subjectively sharpening iron with iron? (Proverbs 27:17), how are you visiting the sick? How are you meeting with Jesus? (Matthew 18:20). You are missing out on so much joy in the Christian life, you are missing out on significant family time!

There is no getting away from it, “church” is the vehicle of human fulfilment, ordained by God to be the bride of Christ Jesus. If you are living the Christian life as an individual, in isolation, I weep for your soul, as no Christian would choose to live out their faith in solitude. Those to sick and infirm to come to church long for visitors and in areas of mass persecution, Christians are risking their lives to attend private meetings, just to have a taste of fellowship that we in the west so easily take for granted.

Choosing to live out your faith alone, choosing to not be accountable to other believers (however flawed and broken we maybe), is the same call for independence in Genesis 3. It is a desire to seek and define the knowledge of good and evil on your terms and not on God’s terms. For your own wellbeing, you need to join a local church. It is the constant your soul needs to survive in a world of constant flux.

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Now some will agree with all of the above but say “I can’t find a church that is right for me”. Well to be ruthlessly direct, church is not about you, it is about God. Do not let such consumer ideology creep in! Yes, you have to make sure you are going to a church that can cater for you (to some degree). If you have children, do they have a Sunday school? Is it a Bible church (5 Solas) and does the ministry grow good grass for you to feed on? These are the questions you should be asking. But if you are waiting for the perfect church, you will not find one, because they are all filled with imperfect people. Yes there will be difficulties and heartbreak but this is family life and in it we share in all the joyous experiences to.

Friends, the local church is biblical and has a significant part to play in God’s redemptive plan. Christ is returning publicly to take His bride, we are the one body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:27) that He is coming for.

I pray that this blog encourages you to formally commit to your local church and become a member. I pray that you will stick with it through times of trial just as Christ has stuck with you. And let the witness of your commitment to the church, be a witness to the gospel in our superficial and chaotic times.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Hebrews 10:24-25

Being in the presence of God – EMW Camps 2018

I am broken, exhausted and emotionally drained as I write to you all. This last week has been both a battle and a joy.

Last year I wrote a blog on my first camp experience as chaplain and the blessings we received. I encourage you to read it if you are thinking of supporting or getting involved in the camps. “Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp

This year I am not going to write about all the great activities we did with the campers, as far greater things were done by God.

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Australia was the camp theme

I enjoyed my time with the campers last year and listened to their pains and anxieties as they struggle to live the Christian life amidst the hostility of our secular age.

I hoped to address these issues this year with the theme of “Assurance”. 

I arrived on the Saturday afternoon with my notes and Bible studies prepared.

Every morning and evening we would go through each of the Beatitudes and study how salvation is expressed.

To summarise the weeks teaching;

  • Those who know their own spiritual poverty, grieve their sin and hunger and thirst for God are blessed. 
  • Those who have dealt with conflict at the cross and have made peace with God and who face persecution for living for Christ are blessed.
  • Christianity is expressed by inward reflection, outward action and outside reaction (we even had dance moves for this).

The officers seemed encouraged by the notes and came loaded with several questions. I am grateful for how seriously they took the task in hand.

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The first service felt lifeless, the wind was heavy on the tent and was distracting those who needed no encouragement. The projector fell mid way through the message and I knew I had lost them. 

The first few days were restless, their was conflict, tears and tiredness between the campers. The Devil was clearly attacking! It was going to be a tough week!

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This years camp was different in many ways, but the most significant was in prayer.

From the first night we all met as officers and leaders to pray for God’s blessing upon the week, we prayed for each child until the early hours and then we woke and met again to do the same.

Camp leader (Joshua Slade) lead the morning devotions taking the officers through Colossians. We prayed right up to the breakfast bell each morning and could have gone on all day.

Last year I was encouraged by the handful of campers that came to the early morning prayer meeting (comprising mainly of duty bound ministers children), but this year the early morning prayer meetings peaked at 21 souls desperate to see God work.

We prayed as officers again before the dorm Bible studies and at the very end of the day after the officers epilogues, when we were all exhausted, the officers and leaders still all met to pray again until the early hours ……..and the Lord was pleased to answer!

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As I have already said, the first couple of days were incredibly challenging (the enemy knew what was coming). But from Monday evening (where we truly felt God’s presence in our late night prayer meeting) things began to change.

I had preached earlier that day on Matthew 5:4, using the illustration of a life boat. “Only those who mourn their sin, know the desperate situation they are in and will accept the offer of rescue.”

This analogy struck a chord with a number of the campers, several stayed after the meeting to pray.

As we continued through the Beatitudes we could see a change in the Spirit of the camp, a number of the difficulties were ironed out, foes became best friends, the restless began to sleep and prayer was being answered.

God was with us!

At meal times, we were not singing dorm theme tunes or popular music, but Hymns to God’s glory. 

During the activities, campers were reading their Bibles, whether they were on the beach, or sat on the floor in the crowds at the zoo. They could not get enough of God’s word.

After each morning service half of the campers stayed to pray for the lost, one young girl even wept in utter confusion that there were campers who could leave the service seemingly unaffected. (This challenged me greatly)

Throughout the week we could physically and tangibly see God move through the campers.

In total we welcomed nine professions of faith (compared to zero last year) and several showed clear signs of growth and have gone home assured.

What excited me the most was that each profession was made secretly, personally and reverently.

None of the children were following the crowd, but spent days praying and speaking to the officers to make sure in their own hearts that they were not riding a superficial wave.

One young lady was walking back from the day trip to the farm on her own, praying I would retreat to her so she could discuss her conversion. She was not seeking attention, far from it, she distanced herself from the crowd to speak with me alone. She knew she was saved and had everything in Christ.

One young man who was not in the prayer meetings at the beginning of the week, started coming by the end. I asked him why? To which he proclaimed “Christ died for me”. I would not have known about his conversion if I had not asked. 

None of the converts were attention seeking, neither were they appeasing me. They called officers aside individually to share what had happened to them and although humbled in Spirit all were excited to return home to share their good news with friends and family.

Camp veteran and leader Joshua Slade said he had never known a camp like it.

We had all the fun of previous years, but the spirit of unity (that came out from a potentially difficult week) was clear. 

God drew these young souls to Him through the entire team on camp, every officer had a significant part to play as commitments were being made. Grace (our ladies leader) spent many hours with our young ladies.

On the last morning a number of the converts (and those who were significantly strengthened in their faith) came to me for an unplanned prayer meeting before they went home. I read from Mark 4.

“You can return home assured, knowing that you are in the lifeboat, but storms will come and Jesus will seam silent, but know that He is in the boat with you, have faith that He can calm the storm” 

The reality of the blessing we shared this week has already been evidenced by the storm, with various attacks that I have returned home to. I would value your prayer……

I asked the campers to write where they were at with God on Day 1.

I asked them to answer the same question on the last evening.

Here are some examples.

A loving reply to an Easter challenge

I have been handed back one of the cards that we (as a church) have been distributing to the community over Easter.

The card was sent out with the standard invite and warm welcome with a Bible verse and some points of interest.

This year I listed eight verifiable historical facts that support the gospel truth. Hard data that I hoped would assist people to at least question what they know to be true.

I accepted the returned card with great joy as it came with additional notation, giving me valuable feedback from the mission field. I am sure that this one voice represents thousands of people who feel the same. All of which I have a deep respect for although we would not agree on this matter.

In the greatest love I wish to address these comments. Not for a tit-for-tat debate on whether God exists, (the Bible is clear that we cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom).

I simply hope to show that our Christian world view is as logical, rational and evidenced as any other alternative (I assume atheism for the purpose of the blog).

Neither is this an attack on the author of the responding notes. I am sure that he/she is an intelligent, wonderful human being, doing the best they can to make sense of this crazy world like everyone else.

I respond simply to show a wider audience who may think the same as the Author and hope to show that Christianity carries a lot more weight than it is given credit for today.

The data

Just as the “primordial soup” theory has been dismissed and Darwinism is now being questioned, the argument for intelligent design continues to be explored across all academic communities.

Many of our greatest minds debate endlessly such fundamental truths as to why and how we got here. All of them have the same expertise behind them, they all review, test and contemplate the same data but they all come to different conclusions.

My case to those that take the same data as we do but disregard God owing to “the alleged lack of evidence” is that they contradict their argument simply by agreeing with many other non-empirical truths.

Those that disregard God still get married, they still have funerals (humanist or otherwise), they shun wrong doing and live for meta-physical concepts such as hope, dreams, ambition, love, grief, morality and justice. They support various ideologies, including atheism – which their is no conclusive evidence for either.

None of these concepts (that define personage) can be quantified in a lab, yet everyone attests to them. You can measure the release of Oxytocin, but you cannot measure the wonder of love and its application in our lives. You can’t measure your sorrow when grieving the loss of a loved one.

If you were to apply the same “lack of evidence” arguments that you quite happily hold against God to your own existence, you would cease to believe in the emotions that make youhuman.

To quote Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

 

Statement/Reply/Response

  1. The resurrection gives hope and meaning to 2.2billion people around the world today.

Assuming here we are talking about people who identified themselves as Christians including those coerced into Catholicism. Bit of a stretch to say the resurrection gives hope and meaning to all those. The majority of whom don’t attend any type of church.

The figure states that 2.2billion (or 31.2% of humanity) associate themselves as followers of Christ. Statisticians predict this will grow to 2.9billion by 2050 – I pray for even more.

These people come from all different cultures and far more advanced social, economic and academic societies than our own.

Christianity is booming in places such as South Korea (home of Samsung), Silicon valley (home of Google and Facebook) where billions of dollars are being made, but the spiritual void is not being filled.

Countries that are developing have seen huge growth, such as China where despite great persecution from a secular state there are 115 million protestants attending underground churches.

In 1979 there were estimated less than 500 Christians from Muslim backgrounds in Iran, today there are over a million.

They all identify themselves with a saviour who beat death and evidences eternity in His physical resurrection.

Whether Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Pentecostal, their hope is based on the same truth.

It is sad that many do not come to church or worship services, despite the Bible’s explicit teaching to do so. But this is not the point. I was reasoning a shared hope, not a roll call.

Furthermore, there are many professing “atheists” that when faced with tragedy deny their belief system and start praying. “There are no atheists in foxholes”.

When we come to the end of ourselves, we usually find the beginning of God.

The argument raised also implies coercion among these numbers, as it were a cultural indoctrination into the faith?

If a Hindu is only a Hindu because they are Indian, a Muslim because they are Iranian, then you could argue that “your” atheism has been born out of our secular, consumerist, post-war culture.

If you desire to undermine ones truth based on cultural inference, you undermine your own stance.

  1. Jesus’ teaching has defined our culture’s morality that we all live by today. Love, justice, charity and forgiveness.

Implying those outside this concept have no morals????

This implication is not made anywhere.

The Bible teaches us that bad people go to Heaven and there are lots of good people in Hell. Being a Christian is not about being good (although this is a welcome bi-product – read James 2:18). Those who think their good deeds put them right with God are misled and are not following the Bibles teaching (read Ephesians 2:9).

Christianity is not about being good, it is not a philosophy, neither an ideology or a system of governance. Christianity is about a person, whose followers can be in relationship with Him despite their failures.

Christianity teaches of a God who has revealed Himself in a Messiah who bridged the gap between God and Man and redeemed a people for Himself by faith. Morality does not come into salvation. It is all about Grace!

With that said, shared morality from a “higher source” is vital for human society to function. Without it we have chaos because nobody would have any authority to define or impose right and wrong on others.

Western culture is just about holding together through a thin veneer of a shared concept of consumerism and a “try not to kill anyone” ideology. But when tested, a godless society falls.

The proof of this (sadly) comes during tragedy.

Take for example the recent terrorist attacks on our shores.

Our cultures secular atheism, if taken to its logical conclusion would state that the lives lost were meaningless accidents of a natural selection process, that any trauma caused was simply a chemical imbalance in the brain, of no meaningful consequence.

But this viewpoint does not work. Everyone agreed that the needless loss of life was tragic, everyone seeked justice and for that moment secular atheism was abandoned as we all got on Twitter to #prayfor…..

Our society’s ideology that “Truth is relative” is simply an oxymoron as the statement itself is an ‘absolute’ and thus a contradiction

A ‘relative truth’ simply sounds nice as it works for people in the short term, because it justifies a life without the challenge of their being an absolute judge (God).

This argument is not a modern phenomenon, it is innate to the human condition, and can be best explained in Genesis 3.

To quote one of our finest academics C.S.Lewis

““All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

You can of course have morality without God.

But without God, you have no higher authority to defend or protect a view of right or wrong (whatever that may be).

If truth is relative to the individual, how good is good, how bad is bad? If a paedophile is not hurting anyone, do their thoughts become ok? If someone did something “bad” to you, but they felt it was “good” how can you defend the injustice if morality is subjective to personal opinion and not a higher authority?

The Nazi’s thought they were right to commit genocide and if you apply a Darwinian world view to Auschwitz then they were! An external observer (with no moral compass) would simply see one “animal” dealing with a perceived threat to its survival. More on this here

Now you could argue that morality has evolved and is a natural consequence of our advanced brain. But again this is a philosophical contradiction as evolution by definition is deterministic and morality is not.

You could also say that we can uphold moral principles in law without the need of a deity, but history would disagree.

Chairman Mow tried this and killed 45million of his own people in just four years, Stalin did the same and killed 25million. When humanity becomes the product of natural accidents, the powerful can dispose all those who cease to be productive without any moral consequence.

Furthermore I politely request that you read your history books before any generic comeback that “religion causes death”. Statistics say otherwise and it is humanity that causes death, because of the very ideals that the Gospel seeks to free us from.

  1. Over 500 witnesses saw Jesus resurrected and stood by their testimony even unto death

all of who had vested interest”.

Becoming a Christian today in our liberal democracy is hard. We are mocked and disrespected. Professionals, politicians and academics are discredit because of their faith – where is the vested interest? Being a Christian is hard!

History tells us that the early Christians lost their homes, families, jobs, they were imprison and tortured, fed to beasts, turned into human candles, placed on hot seats and giant frying pans to be cooked alive.

Even today we are the most persecuted people in the world with an estimated 90,000 murdered each year, for our faith. Where is the vested interest?

To quote Charles W. Colson

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

  1. Rome spent 300 years suppressing Christians when all they had to do was present Jesus’ body (that they were in charge of) to the end the church. Jesus’ body was never found.

Suppressed Judaism as well”?

Yes, but in the time that Jesus walked with us, the Jews did have freedom to worship and freedom to demand from Pilate that Jesus was Crucified.

Christians were an offence to Rome for three centuries as they would not bow the knee to Caesar. The church (and all of its problems it caused the state) could have vanished if they simply presented the body that they were in charge of.

  1. The Stone was moved and the tomb really was empty

Says who

Well the Bible. Without going into a rant about its inerrancy, it is the source text of our faith and for much of human history. It is supported by innumerable archaeological, scientific and third party evidence. Outside of the miraculous, the dates, the kings, the battles they all add up. The Bible is used continuously as source material for other historical events during its time that you would never question.

The New Testament was written in the lifetimes of the eye witnesses and authors, so they are considered as primary sources. Compare that to any written account of Muhammad that did not occur until (at best) 70 – 200 years after his death (secondary sources).

The written evidence for the Battle of Hastings is based on a few lines in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1066 and part of a letter sent by William of Normandy in 1070.

William of Malmesbury, gives a better account in the Deeds of the Kings of the English, but this was written in 1140, 70 years after the event took place.

I am not questioning whether the battle of Hasting happened, just showcasing the treasure trove of evidence we have to support the Christian claim.

  1. Jesus’ body was buried, secured and guarded by the worlds superpower (Rome).

Allegedly

The previous answer covers this. You can also read, non-Biblical, non-Christian historical accounts such as Josephus “Antiquities of the Jews”, Tacitus “Annals” , Pliny the Younger, the Babylonian Talmud, Lucian of Samosata and many others that support the Bibles claims.

  1. Jesus really died on the Cross

Romans never crucified on a Cross

 

This is the most surprising reply of all, because they did.

Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus crucified 6,000 as reported by Appian.

In the Dolaucothi Gold mines in Wales have evidence of Roman Crucifixion.

Roman Emperor Constantine banned crucifixion in the 4th Century that proves it was functioning prior.

Sadly Crucifixion was a “thing” in Rome.

But, the issue may not with be the torture but with the cross itself? By this I mean the cross as depicted in Christian artwork throughout history?

Now there may be a case for this.

The Bible does not describe the cross, and no Christian claims that renaissance art has an authority on this matter.

What we know, is that the cross could have been two planks of wood crossed in the centre “crux immissa” (X) or as traditionally assumed a “crux commissa” (T) or even just one poll. The ankles could have been affixed on the front plank, or to the side, the hands pierced above the head or horizontal to the body.

The term for such a punishment (however delivered) was “stauros”, or stake, known and translated as the Cross.

The cross is not described in detail in the Bible because it was a known colloquialism for the punishment. We can guess it was crux commissa (T) because of the practicalities of the sign. In John 19:21 it states that “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.”

So Jesus did really die on the Cross.

However this torture was administered, His death by the collective means known as “the cross” fulfilled many distinct prophecies that predated the event.

700 years prior to the crucifixion

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,    stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5.

Pre-explicitly (580 bc)

“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” Psalm 22:16-18

  1. Jesus really lived

I agree

I am pleased. To deny Jesus’ existence would be to deny all historical figures of that era. The question then is, is Jesus who He claimed to be?

If He is not, then you have to justify how an impoverished Palestinian carpenters son, who spent His first night on earth in an animal feeding trough in Bethlehem, who grew up in a relatively unknown village in the deserted Middle East, with no formal education and was homeless at the age of thirty, a person who clearly had severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia and Dissociative identity disorder and died a criminals death…how did this person come to change the world? Explain that!

Why are we talking about Him 2,000 years on, 6,000 miles away in our remote Welsh Valley?

Why does His message of love, grace and forgiveness still cause so much of an offence?

How has His teaching built our legal system and our cultures morality (that allows for atheism)?

How has His ministry caused billions of human beings (that can’t all be crazy) to give up the trappings of this world to follow Him?

How has He convinced rational, educated people from all cultures to give up everything to travel across oceans to share His good news?

For me these are far bigger questions that need to be answered if the truth of the Gospel is rejected.

Why does His teaching cause millions of people who reject Him to give up their time debating well meaning people who are at least motivated to share His Good news?

To quote Professor Lee Strobel “To continue in atheism, I would need to believe that nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I simply didn’t have that much faith.”

Conclusion

What I wrote in this card were the cold hard facts of the Easter events, I left out the spiritual or circumstantial, yet they still caused offence.

To dispute our claim that Jesus is the Son of God who in sacrificial love gave all for His people, this is one thing, but to deny the historic evidence is another. With that said, I thank the author of the comments for it.

As I said, I cannot debate anyone into the Kingdom, this blog could push you away or raise further questions and rebukes.

Only God can draw you in and without His sovereign work in your life, we can never agree on this subject, although I am sure we would on many others. So I wish any doubters every success and pray that you will one day share in the joy that I have received by Grace in Christ Jesus.

Music and Worship

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

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

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

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

The appreciation of music is unique to the human experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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