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

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.

Green Welcome

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

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

Undermining Ishtar

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

This is yet another poor attempt to undermine the Bible and ignore God’s love for the world.

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

History

It is true that the Romans did bastardise Christianity to align the “religion” to their state ideal and they did adapt various pagan attributes into their festivals to allow them to win the hearts and minds of other cultures. The use of Rabbits and Eggs at Easter could be an example of this as both were used in pagan traditions to symbolise new life and fertility over the spring season.

But such symbols have nothing to do with the Biblical account of Easter.

Church

Christians celebrate Easter every week at church.

We gather to thank God for His incarnation, atoning death on the Cross and the new life given in His victorious resurrection. We do this every Sunday without eggs and bunny’s. They are simply seasonal novelties.

ishtar-bas-relief

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

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

Just because things sound similar it does not mean they are the same thing.

Language

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

Pesach or Pascha sounds nothing like Ishtar.

Constantine would not have known what the word “Easter” meant. It is just a coincidence that the word sounds similar to modern ears.

Learn, Love, Share

It is remarkable how so many have an opinion of Christianity yet know very little about it.

So, to those who promoted the Ishtar meme (and others like it), I warmly invite you to come to church this Easter and learn the wonders of the Bible for yourself.

You will see that Easter has nothing to do with Ishtar, rather it is a celebration of God’s victory over death, His personal offer of a fresh start in His resurrection and His overwhelming love for you!

These are all amazing and life changing truths!

Easter is a celebration that reminds us that every human being is valued by God. He

loves you (to death) and treasures you and wants to know you as His child.

Do not let these silly cultural myths cloud your relationship with you Father in Heaven. Come and see what Easter is all about!

For more info www.NoddfaChuch.com

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!

The Church of Tesco

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!

People are weary of the church because:

1. It is thought of as a man-made institution that seeks to make money.

2. Nobody wants to miss out on a morning in bed 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 and they have spuds to peel!!!

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 (give my lot a bit of a break from me).

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 their “morning in bed” 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 money 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 in Heaven 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 ‘morning in bed’. 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, free parking, disabled access 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 to have a relationship with God (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 or in bureaucracy, so every penny donated goes directly into the community through our various ministries. (Including Mothers and Toddlers Groups, Primary School clubs, Youth groups, charity services, family support, job clubs, 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. I also understand that 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!

Life is like riding a Bicycle….Welsh Velothon

VelothonRiders762

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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