An Atheist Mother’s Day

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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!

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

 

Rev at Ringside

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Many of you may know that I am passionate about boxing.

Do not be alarmed! Many ministers are, it is a Saturday sport for a start and like church, boxing gyms  are often run by volunteers that all have a heart for serving the community. Boxing offers many benefits that include; positive personal and social development, as well as psychological and physical improvement. It is a wonderful sport of control, discipline, respect and community.

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I am too delicate for the ring myself, but enjoy the sport as a spectator, living vicariously through my son who has followed his father’s passion. My other children will no doubt follow suit when they come of age, my youngest (daughter) calls boxing “hand ballet”.

We go to Torfaen Warriors Amateur boxing Club where I am on their committee and try and support the work as much as I can. The club was founded in ’93 and has since had over 60 Welsh Champions, 5 British Champions, 12 British finalists and 26 Gold Medalists in World Tournaments.

My passion for the sport goes outside my children’s interests as I take in many local shows and try to support the sport as much as I can at the grass root. I am often heckled as “the Rev” or “John the Baptist” – but I do not mind, it is a witness at least.

At one local show I noticed a young lad praying at ringside. His father asked him, “What are you doing?” “Praying” said the young man. The father again questioned from his corner as he fitted the head guard, “what for and who are your praying to?” The young man replied “I do not know”. At that point I could see the need for a “Rev at Ringside” and contacted Sports Chaplaincy UK to see if they could assist. I have since completed training with them and have now become the only Boxing Chaplain in Wales – and I am here to help!

What is Sports Chaplaincy?

A Sports Chaplain is someone that can assist your gym, simply as another pair of hands (John 13:1-17), but can also be there as a life coach for the men, women, boys and girls involved in the sport.

Coaches will all know that if the athlete is going through personal problems or simply feels down, their performance in the ring will suffer. A Sports Chaplain is there to be onsite as a third party, to support the pastoral needs of the sportsperson and simply come alongside for them to talk to in confidence.

Boxing is an extreme sport that comes with great pressures. Competitors train hard, causing great physical and mental stress to themselves. They usually have to train at unsociable hours affecting their family lives.

All sports people have to cope with the roller-coaster lifestyle of living with great victories and coping with failure.

Off season (or when retired), the highs and lows of competition can often be replaced by unhelpful excessive behaviors that often lead to addiction in things such as gambling, alcohol and drugs, if not managed properly.

So much is shared through sport, it is the idol of our age, yet sportsperson’s rarely have someone impartial to share their difficulties and pressures with. They have nobody independent to help them remain; humble during their victories, positive when performance lacks and someone to advocate a clean living lifestyle outside of the season or following retirement from the sport. This is where a Sports Chaplain comes in!

As the “Rev at Ringside”, boxing chaplain to Wales for Sports Chaplaincy UK, I am based in Torfaen Warriors (Cwmbran) who are fully supporting this initiative with a genuine concern for the total wellbeing of all who come – body and soul!

This service cannot be forced on anybody, neither is it Bible bashing! I just want people to know that I am here if a need arises.

Whether you (or someone you know) are going through a crisis and need to talk, they may be dealing with a bereavement, or simply seeking answers to life’s many questions feel free to contact me (pastor@noddfabaptist.co.uk). You do not have to be a Christian to speak with me, I am here for anyone and everyone that needs a chat, as someone that understands the sport.

Sports people are real people to, with real needs that by God’s Grace I hope to support.

cus

 

 

Church of Gym

I was recently sent this by my agnostic, gym going brother-in-law and it got me thinking…….

Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name. The gains will come, thy will be done, on a bench, at a 45 degree incline. Give us this whey, our creatine and amimos and forgive us our curls, as we do them in the squat rack. And lead us not into crossfit, but deliver us from cardio. For these are our gains,the muscle and the veins, forever and ever. Amen

My brother-in-law, like the majority of people in our society are horrified by the concept of coming to church on a Sunday morning. 

They view the church as a money making institution, seeking to exploit people in their weakness, and in return the naive members sit amoungst judging eyes of the congregation, whilst being shouted at by a scary man, telling them they are sinners and instructing them how to lead a better life and “live for ever”. 

Our modern society views us Christians as crazy religious freaks. We live a life quashed by our religion, waisting many hours exersicing our faith, waking up early to pray and digest the Bible whilst attending regular meetings at church.

I can see where they are coming from and somewhat sympathise with many of these views, if in fact church was anything like what they claim (which it is not). 

But what is more shocking in light of such rhetoric is that many people with such a view attend a gym!

The fitness industry (unlike the church) is ran by multinational corporations, in the UK alone it is worth £4.4billion and welcomes 9.2million members. Many go religiously, exploited by their weakness, to exercise among the judging gaze of the sculpted few. Whilst being screamed at by a personal trainer, telling them they are not good enough. They work hard in vain to live a healthier life, to fit imposed image ideals and to fight against the aging process. 


Each day gym enthusiasts religiously get up early to prepare meals for specific calorie intake and to digest PROTEIN. They regularly attend sessions throughout the week at the gym to make the most of their extortionate membership fees and may even take in a medative yoga session to!


I understand I am generalising the “church of gym”, just as many generalise the church of Christ. I suppose this is my point, as I try to highlight the hypocrisy.

I do not write this post to be cynicial, but out of a genuine concern for all those who have gone to the gym this weekend and  have not attended church, those who have chosen to deny God in their vain plight to delay death. Because at Death they will meet God, and despite their regular attendance at the “church of gym”, they will not be able to stand under His judgement and will consequently be damned by their choices!

God does not care about how many bench presses you can do, but where your heart is! You may be able to run marathons, or have 5% body fat, but without Jesus Christ in your life, at your inevitable death, you have no hope.

Please know that I am not condeming a desire to keep fit and healthy, it is a wise thing to do and biblical, but this should not be done at the cost of your soul! 

If you are willing to live your life religiously serving the idol of your body at the “church of gym”, coming to church for just an hour a week to learn about how your creator God can give you life eternal in Jesus Christ is certainly worthwile!

Bridging the gap – a humanist funeral

I was recently asked to take a funeral for a very popular young lady who died tragically in a motorbike accident.

This request came as a surprise!

The husband was going to get a humanist in to do it (as he did for his fathers funeral), but owing to our links with her wider family they thought it was appropriate to ask me.

This request did come (initially) with some strict stipulations! We were to have no hymns, no Bible reading, no prayers, no church, no God!

I know many ministers at this point would have said “no thank you”. But I felt a strong compulsion to do it.

As a result I spent many hours with the family, preparing a eulogy to fill the 50 minute slot at the crematorium. The eulogy was then to be split with (popular) songs that had significance for the family.

As the family shared their memories with me I quickly realised that there are times where it is best to show the love of Jesus by simply being there and giving the Biblical view on the world when asked.

The family allowed me to pray at the beginning of the service and at the end committal (where I shared the comfort offered by God in Christ Jesus).

The Eulogy was well received and it was presented as a thanks giving service to God for the life that we were all gathered to remember.

I did not compromise doctrine at any point, whilst also being of loving service to the family.

The community were extremely grateful for our involvement and support during this tough time. Some estimates for the funeral attendance went as high as 700 people, easily achievable by the sea of people we were greeted by on our arrival. This young lady was very popular.

During one of the songs, I tucked myself away in the pulpit and came to God in prayer (not for the first time in regards to this situation).

I asked “Lord should I be doing this? Is this truly glorifying you?  The Lord instantly responded and gave me the words of John 2 ‘the wedding of Cana’ to ponder and I have done so ever since.

Here are some thoughts ……

I understand that this reading talks of a totally different situation, a celebration of marriage, rather than mourning a tragic death.

But there are some clear lessons that we can learn from this passage and apply to the situation of taking a humanist funeral and wider community engagement.

A wedding in the time of our reading comprised of a great feast, which in the tradition of the day, meant dancing and heavy drinking that would often last for days. Not the environment that you would expect a pious Christian to visit, let alone the Son of God.

But we are told in John 2:2 that Jesus went, and not only did He go, but He was obviously involved in the proceedings to some degree. I do not think that it’s much of a coincidence that the wine ran dry shortly after the disciples arrived (John 2:3). The bridegroom must have been checking Mary’s +1 invite to see how the disciples got in and fishing is thirsty work!

The point is, Jesus was there at the feast, in the community at a special time in their lives. Jesus was involved in the celebration of the wedding, just as He was involved with the mourners (who did not believe in Jesus either) at His friend Lazarus’s graveside (John 11:40).

Jesus got out there and was involved in people’s lives; our God is a missional God, a lesson for every Christian!

But it is clear from scripture that His involvement did not delve into anything that would jeopardise the truth of who He is, Jesus committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22). As Christians we must follow our Lord’s example in the same way, we must be in the world but not of the world (John 17:16). As Christians we must not shy away from opportunities that allow us to engage with the community that we are called to serve. We must exercise our Gospel freedom, mindful not to go so far as to jeopardise the truth that we know and stand for. A mistake we have all made at some point I am sure! (1 John 1:9).

Jesus was at a worldly feast and yet remained totally obedient to our Father God. I was leading a humanist funeral that I had no business at, but by God’s Grace I was able to be involved, and witnessed the love of God in a way that was palatable to those gathered, no bible, no preaching, no hymns.

We read in John 2:3 that the wedding feast took a turn for the worst; they had run out of wine!

This may seem trivial for us today, as we could just go to the shops and buy some more. But in the historic context of our reading, such a thing would have caused the greatest offence to the guests, grief and shame to the family.

Mary thus pleads with Jesus in desperation to assist, which He eventually does after a strong rebuke (that I will not get into today).

Jesus instructs the servants to fill the jars with water (John 2:7) and then instructs them to pour some out for the master of the banquet (John 2:8) and it was better than the finest wine that they served first (John 2:10).

Notice that Jesus had no direct involvement with the jars, the water or the wine, the miracle was done in an instant, with no showmanship or religious protocol. Jesus simply said to the servants “Fill the jars up with water, and then draw out the wine”.

There was no command from Jesus for the water to change into wine, in the same way Jesus commands the storm to calm (John 4:39) or the demon to depart from the possessed man (Luke 4:35) or when He called Lazarus out of the tomb (John 11:43). We read of no action taken to the water, or the jars by our Lord, we are not told that He touched them in any way, like when Jesus put mud on a blind man’s eyes to heal Him (John 9:6). We are not told that the water touched Jesus, just as the sick woman touched His gown and was healed (Luke 8:45). Jesus did not ask all the guests at the wedding to sit down whilst He publicly offered the water up to God in prayer before the miracle took place, just as He did with the loaves and fish when He fed the thousands (John 6:11). He did not ask the servants to move the jars or change anything that was currently in use (pre-miracle) as He did the disciples who He told to cast their net on the other side of the boat to find them filled with fish (John 5:6). Jesus simply said, “Fill the jars up with water, then draw out the wine”.

The water miraculously changed, instantly, without any showmanship or activity, grand religious gesture, or command. It was done in an instant, which for me gives further gravitas to the miracle. Jesus simply willed the water to become wine and it was. Amazing! He is truly God.

Within the context of the day, running out of wine at a feast would come with the deepest of despair for the host; it was a situation of utter weakness and shame. Yet by simply being there, Jesus not only showed love and comfort in the situation, but transformed a terrible event into one that was far better than what they knew of before. All without the religious protocols that we insist on. The master of the banquet said “You have saved the best till now” (Luke 2:10).

For the miracle to happen, Jesus had to be welcomed to the wedding feast on the terms of the host, under their restrictions. Jesus still went and His Glory was revealed (John 2:11), without the submission to, or insistence of, various religious acts and worship styles. On this occasion God’s glory simply came through our Lord’s presence at this worldly feast.

It is through the Word of God that we are saved and grow as Christians. I am not saying that this passage argues otherwise. A Christians presence in worldly activity, whether marriages or funerals or birthday parties or rugby games is not enough to transform the lost soul, people do need to come under the Word of God. But forcing the un-churched who do not know the Lord, into our formula of religious protocol, to sing hymns they do not know and sit through a message they will not hear, will not save them either!

What Jesus is showing us here in John 2 is that by insisting that a funeral is done “our way” or not at all, at the cost of an opportunity to witness the love of Christ (without Doctrinal Compromise) can be counterproductive to the furtherance of the Gospel.

It is clear that my doubts that brought me to prayer at the funeral were in fact doubts towards the power of the Gospel!

It has made me ask myself; Does my faith lie more in the conduct and place in which a ceremony such as a funeral is taken? Or is my faith in Christ who can turn water into wine simply by His Will at a worldly feast.

In a perfect world, I would love to have held the funeral at Noddfa, read God’s word aloud, sing Hymns with those gathered, to God’s Praise and of course share the hope of Jesus to the 700 people that day. But we are not in a perfect world (Genesis 3:17), we are in a post-Christian society where people no longer know how to sit through a message, do not know the many great hymns penned from our very own land and do not even know who Jesus really is! As a result there are more and more humanist funerals each month that offer no hope to the lost soul.

Is it not better as Christians to be involved in such lawful situations that we have no business to be at, to show the love of Jesus, trusting in His will to soften the hearts of our generation, than to not be there at all?

Is it not better to be the light in the darkness, rather than insist that the darkness comes into the light? (John 1:5).

Please pray for the family and friends of the deceased, I hold them in the highest regard, they are wonderful people and close to my heart.

Please also pray for all those gathered at the funeral, that by our very witnesses, they would seek to come to Noddfa to learn more of God’s love, to come under His word and come to trust Jesus as their saviour.

 

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The Church of Tesco

For two years I have had the undeserved privilege of serving our little Valley town. I have met all sorts of people and have invited them to the church.

We have known real blessing over this time. Members have been encouraged by the Word preached and we have witnessed a huge growth in numbers and ministry’s exercised. By God’s Grace Noddfa is once again part of the community!

But for every new face we get through our chapel doors there are hundreds of conversations with people that do not feel like church (as they understand it) is for them.

I can of course understand why they feel like this, it was not so long ago that I would have agreed with them!

1. People are weary of the church, it is thought of as a man-made institution that seeks to make money. 

2. Nobody wants to miss out on a ‘lie in’ to spend a Sunday morning in a big, cold building surrounded by lots of strangers, eager to earn moral brownie points. 

3. People believe church is not child friendly and that the parking is a nightmare. 

4. They have no time for church on a Sunday morning, the in-laws are over for dinner!!!

I of course disagree profoundly with this perception of what church is. But I do accept that this is the view of many in our post-Christian Valley.


The other Sunday morning I was driving to another church down in Chepstow to preach. 

I was surprised to see so much traffic on the road, the queue was much the same as a weekday rush hour. As I crawled through I eventually saw where everyone was going……..the church of Tesco.

I was saddened to see the car park so full on a Sunday morning and wished our church would receive such enthusiasm. I could see families battling for a car parking space all in a mad rush to buy buy buy!

Inside this big grey cold building were hundreds of strangers who gave up a ‘lie-in’ to scramble around for worthless bargains so they can give their hard earned money over to a man-made intuition all in a bid to gain loyalty points. (You can see where I am going with this). 

The people were struggling to find what they “need” under the screams of wild toddlers, it is not a child friendly place. 

I can imagine that they all arrived home stressed and exhausted, regretting how much they had spent. But they will no doubt religiously return next week to go through the same process.

The point I am trying to make is clear, many of the reasons why people in our community do not come to church on a Sunday morning are the very same reasons why they are happy to go to our local Tesco. But what is more frustrating is that their view of church in the first place is way off!

Church is not like a supermarket on a Sunday morning. 

Church is just like visiting your closest family, relations of all ages and backgrounds that come together for an hour to escape from the world, recharge and thank their Father for all He has done for them. 

Church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners who do not judge anyone who comes through the door, but are keen to welcome newcommers into the family.  

We start at 11am, so you can still have that all important ‘lie in’. All are welcome, there is no dress code (unlike Tesco), you can come in your Sunday best or in your pyjamas! 

We have a Sunday school during the message, so the children are entertained. 

Like Tesco the church is a big building, but it is heated, with comfortable seats and fantastic facilities for all.

The messages given each week will teach you about the profound truths of the Gospel that is far better than any promotional offer. 

By God’s Grace you will know peace with Him and eternal life – and it is all for free! All you have to do is trust that Jesus paid the price for you on the cross (no clubcard points required).

After the service (which takes about an hour), people are welcome to stay for tea and coffee (and of course cake) and turn strangers into family and gain a support network within the community.

After the service you go home refreshed, revived in Spirit and Soul ready to take on the world, or at least battle the inlaws!

We do have a collection plate at the beginning of the service, nothing is expected from non-members, we ask people to give a donation as the Lord allows. 

Our church is totally independent, so the money does not get lost in any hierarchical system, so every penny goes directly into the community through our various ministries. (Including Mothers and Toddlers Groups, Primary School clubs, Youth groups, charity services, family support, working with the poor, sick and elderly).

I understand that we are in are in a “post-christian” nation and that some in our valley have no choice but to work on the Lords day. Sunday may be the only time you can get to the shops, but I plead with you not to miss out on the many benefits of church for the chance of a reduced cabbage in the bargain bin, or a BOGOF offer on Daz.

If you can’t make our Sunday morning service, we understand and we do accommodated for such difficulties (just as they did in Acts) and we run services at different times on different days that maybe more convenient for those who wish to come. To find out more click here – Noddfa . We’d love to welcome you!