Being in the presence of God – EMW Camps 2018

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

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

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

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Australia was the camp theme

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

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

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

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

To summarise the weeks teaching;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God was with us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples.

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Bala Ministers conference

I have just returned from the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales) Bala Ministers conference at Bryn-y-Groes. The theme this year was “the Glory of Jesus Christ in His Person and Work”.

Stephen Clark gave the three title addresses, Andy Pitt spoke on our identity in Christ, Lindsay Brown on Calvin the missionary, Mark Barnes on the current views held by non believers, Adrian Brake preached on the life and Ministry of William Williams, Pete Campbell lead the prayer meetings and I spoke on Tuesday evening on what God can do with a little oil (2Kings4).

I do not wish to go into too much detail regarding the programme, just to say that it was well thought out with a real concern for the current needs of the delegates. I was greatly encouraged and stimulated by the content. As a speaker, I stuck out like a sore thumb among such titans of the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales).

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I do not wish to elaborate anymore on the programme for two reasons.

  1. I scribbled so many notes down that this review would soon turn into an essay if I went any further.
  2. I feel it helpful to distance the programme from the conference, because as good as it was (and it was excellent), it is the other attributes that make the three days truly special.

There are many conferences that offer the high level seminars akin to those expected at the Bala Ministers. They are all well organised, valuable and of course offer great discounts on books! However, the Bala Ministers conference is unique! For reasons you can only understand if you come! Yes, it shares in all the benefits of the aforementioned learning but it was packaged in a gentleness and sincerity that I had not experienced elsewhere.

The prayer meetings were fully attended each morning; the more academic material was not coldly presented but given in the love of Christ, the discussions (that included strong rebukes and challenges) were shared in a spirit of unity.

This was more than just a conference; it felt like a family reunion, young and old gathered together from all different circumstances, some had been coming for decades, others were there for the first time, but we all loved each other as brothers in the Gospel.

I shared meals with men who will go down in church folk law as bastions of the faith, I discussed philosophy and theology with leading and respected academics (embarrassingly asking them to sign copies of the books I purchased after the discussion), I enjoyed coffee with young prodigies set to take on the mantle for tomorrows church. We were reminded of old truths, and given new ideas to meet the needs of a changing world.

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This week battle weary brothers had fun together, we enjoyed each other’s company, we walked, we debated and we relaxed in the idyllic setting of Bala lake.

We were all cared for so wonderfully by Gwydion, Catrin and the team at Bryn-y-groes, they truly are called to serve in such a way. The food was tremendous, you could almost taste the love that went into its preparation. Nothing was too much trouble for them to ensure our stay was as comfortable and beneficial as possible. Thank you!

In conclusion

You can pay for the Carson’s and the Keller’s, you can hire out a room, book a hotel and prepare a programme. The content will be good, and the time worthwhile. But what other conference do not give you is the spirit of love, care and gentleness that I received from Bala Ministers this week.

We were not professionals meeting, we were broken men seeking our saviour and He came and met with us and bound us together in love.

By God’s Grace I hope to see you all next year!

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence,  nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Time Flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EMW Aberystwyth Conference 2015

I have just returned from what was my sixth EMW Aberystwyth Conference. I am pleased to say that I left with a filled head and a heavy heart. Praise God!

EMW Aberystwyth Conference

EMW Aberystwyth Conference

Those that attend Emmanuel Evangelical Church (Newport) would know from previous reviews (exclusive to their gazette) that I do not attend the conference in its entirety. By God’s Grace I am the head of a young family with four children (all under 8yrs), so it is simply not possible to go to all of the seminars, workshops and prayer meetings throughout the week. Neither would it be fair on my children who spend the rest of the year waiting for me to finish my study or sermon prep before we can play together. To us (well until the kids grow up) the Aber conference is the perfect complement to a family holiday in West Wales! A holiday that I would certainly recommend.

We left home on the Saturday before the conference, and in keeping with tradition we met up with friends at Bwlch Nant for a picnic . Below is our annual picture of all the children (the group continue to grow in size and number).

Bwlch Nant

Bwlch Nant

We then arrived early afternoon to our cottage just outside of Clarach (Penybont). A spacious, modern and clean place to call home for the week! Soft beds, big sofa’s, hot pressured showers, a dishwasher, washer/dryer and Sky TV! Very Happy and great value!!! We have booked it for next year already (sorry), but there are some B&B spots available next door.

On Sunday, we went to Capel Morfa and heard a powerful word from Dave Gobbet (Lead Minister at Highfields church). “Preach Christ, Die and be forgotten about”. The crèche out the back was filled with children. Very encouraging in these dark times.

We enjoyed the rest of the day with dear friends, eating a superb roast dinner on campus at Aberystwyth University. The evening came and we returned back to Capel Morfa to hear Chris Rogers preach a clear Gospel message on the cleansing of Naaman.

Ynyslas

Ynyslas

The fellowship continued as we spent Monday (as we do every Aber Monday – come rain or shine) with friends at Ynyslas. We played cricket, paddled in the sea, climbed the dunes and buried our children. After a brief stop off at the cottage for a shower and tea, I went on to the first evening meeting of the conference. Phil Hill (WEST) gave a most sincere message on ‘Grace’, through the illustration of Christ’s restoration of Peter (John 21). “Our God is watching the horizon, waiting for the disobedient to turn and come back to Him”. Our God is gracious and so should we be to our backslidden family.

The following day, after breakfast we returned to the conference. We settled the youngest two in Tiny Tots to burn off some steam, and dropped the older two off at Holiday Heroes where they had a week of fun and learning. My wife and I then went to the ‘great hall’ to sing to the Praise of God with 1500+ brothers and sisters. We then had the pleasure of David Meredith preach the first of a four part series on “the ultimate occupy movement”. We opened Joshua 1 and heard of Joshua’s ambition for God.

After the service, the sun still had its hat on, so we returned to Ynyslas to play cricket, paddle in the sea, climb the dunes and burry some more of our children. In the evening we returned to the conference to hear Paul Tripp talk on the “now-ism” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:18-39). His Grace can be tough, uncomfortable, unstoppable and redeeming! Grace = God for us! He was certainly with us that evening.

On the Wednesday morning David Meredith continued his series opening Joshua 9, looking at the deceit of the Gibeonites and Joshua’s discernment. God gave Joshua the wisdom to be gracious because their deceit came from a just fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).The afternoon was spent again with dear friends. My wife however left us for a better offer! She was treated by the EMW to a “Pastor’s wife’s lunch.” This came as a welcomed opportunity for her to meet and share with other great women who support their husbands calling. We returned to the conference to again hear Paul Tripp who took us through the miracle of Jesus walking on water, during a storm, to meet the disciples in their boat (Mark 6:45-52). Jesus injects Himself into the moment of need. Sometimes we need the storm to see His Glory! Are you hardened to His glory? Are you like a child at Christmas who rejects the gift to play with the box?

Thursday! The Sun is still shinning (let us not forget we are in Wales). We drop the kids off to their clubs (no walk of shame yet) and we hear what for me was the jewel of the week. David Meredith preached on Joshua 17 (in the context of Numbers 27), the suffering church. The challenge to us was great, the message had both spiritual and practical application. We are not local Christians, we are world Christians and the world is sick! Be gracious! help others, let the suffering find rest and relief in the family of God! The message left me weeping and frustrated for the lost souls who would not hear such a most profound word. The word David shared was from God and one I will never forget! Thursday was another “beach” day, but this time down on the front of Aberystwyth. The boy’s ‘body boarded’ in the sea whilst we looked on. We took in the view, visited the shops and ended with fish and chip supper by the peer.

Chish and Fips

Chish and Fips

We returned to the conference to hear Paul Tripp’s final message on Psalm 27 (read by a rather suspicious Character below). We where were reminded to stop looking horizontally for what we have been given vertically. We have the power of Christ to get us through the reality of living through this cursed world! Paul finished by setting us homework! Each day we must; “Gaze” upon the beauty of the Lord (Isaiah 40), “Remember” you are a child of God, “Rest” in God and “Act” on your identity as a child of God.

Pastor John @ EMW Aber Conference

Pastor John @ EMW Aber Conference

Friday morning, the children were sad, they could see that the end of the Holiday Heroes is nigh. They had a wonderful week, met new friends and enjoyed learning more about Jesus. We also enjoyed another week free from “the walk of shame” to Tiny Tots. – My kids earned their ice-cream! A big thanks to all those that looked after them.

David Meredith finished with Joshua 18 (in the context of Deuteronomy 12 and Joshua 19). What makes a good day? Reminding us of the importance of church unity. “Unity is not the same as Uniformity”. “The Christ in me witnesses to the Christ in you”. Be gracious, be united, do not let fear triumph over faith!

The afternoon and evening was spent avoiding toddler meltdown, it involved another walk across the sea front where the kids enjoyed their ice-cream and then an early night. (Unfortunately missing the final address by Paul Gamston – available online).

We departed this morning, the three hour drive was spent pondering the teaching (to the background of a sleeping family refreshed by an active week). The theme of the conference was Grace and the application of it. I am both challenged and grateful to God for what has been an amazing week.

I say this every year, but it is true, this conference was the best one yet.

If you have a family with children, I could not recommend it enough. Do not be put off by all the sessions, you can come and go as you please, there is lots to do for the entire family and the crèche facilities are brilliant.

The Aber conference truly gives us a taste of Heaven, we spend a week surrounded by hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ, learning the ways of the Lord, singing His Praise and thanking Him for His Grace.

For more information on the conference click here

Post Aberystwyth Sermon