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.

gender

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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POEM: 2,000 Christmas Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope to see you there!

6pm Sunday 23rd December 2018!

The Big Arch Abersychan.

(I know the last bit did not rhyme).

Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

I recently went on a rare trip to the cinema to see Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice. (a fitting end to our Superhero Training Academy)

I do enjoy the DC and Marvel films; they give me everything I want from a cinematic experience; however I do not take them seriously enough to delve into the myriad of back stories and cross-over’s between characters.

This nonchalant approach to the film could have caused some difficulties on the night, fortunately I went with a dear friend who has an extensive knowledge of such things and my son who is a Marvel/DC geek. They both kept me updated throughout the film so I did not miss a thing.

I am sure there are plenty of online forums filled with “comic book guys” currently critiquing the film, but with my limited knowledge on the subject, I must confess that I loved every minute of it!

(Before reading on, if you have not seen it yet – SPOILER ALERT)

batmanvsuperman-xlarge

The film was filled with Christ symbolism, openly in the script and suggestively in various scenes.

If my memory serves me well, Superman was referred to throughout the film as the chosen one, the saviour, divine power, sent from above, the hope of the world. People would crowd around him just to touch his garment (Mark 5:27).

superman2

At Superman’s ‘death’ we see him weak and lifeless cradled in the arms of Lois Lane with his dearest around him, mourning amidst the rubble of his sacrificial fight with evil (embodied in the monster called Doomsday).

At this moment on the top left of the screen, steel girders remain from fallen buildings that make the shape of three crosses on a hill subliminally reinforcing the Christ-like imagery. The scene reminded me of the below painting by Rogier van der Weyden (Pieta).

pieta

This constant association throughout the film between Superman and Christ gave me mixed feelings.

Many watching may be inspired by the film to seek the realities of the historic person that it alludes to, God in the flesh Jesus Christ. Or, I fear, people will assimilate the clear fiction of Superman and apply it to the historic person, God in the flesh Jesus Christ and thus dismiss Him as such. I pray it is not the latter.

superman1

There is a scene in the film where Lex Luthor (the villain) meets Superman face-to-face on a helipad overlooking metropolis. In typical Hollywood style Lex divulges his evil plan to Superman.

Lex shows Superman pictures of his kidnapped mother, the cost of her release, Batman’s head.

The film continues to its conclusion and I will not divulge anymore.

What caught me during this dialogue between Luthor and Superman was the below statement:

If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good, and if he’s not all powerful he can’t possibly be god.” Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

lex luther

This line resonated with me throughout the film as I feel it is a rather succinct way of putting across what many people have against religion.

What Lex is getting at here is essentially a point of view that many share.

“If God is sovereign He can’t be all good all the time, because at some point He will have to make an unpopular decision.”

What we have here is the ‘ye olde’ paradox of Love and Justice that has baffled unregenerate humanity throughout history. (1 Cor 1:25)

“If God is love how can He send people to Hell? If God is just how can He forgive sin?”

Mercy or forgiveness is the opposite of Justice, how can God be both? “If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good” Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

Religions throughout history have tried to deal with this conundrum by creating rites of passage or levels of; piety, status and wealth, alongside many other deeds that mankind can work towards to please said deity and thus remain just in their site. This way condemnation would be justly given to those that do not follow suit, so, it is argued that their god remains loving (but only to those who deserve it).

But this man-made, man-up ‘religion’ remains illogical in the face of the paradox that Lex Luthor puts forward so perfectly, as it limits the love of God.

If salvation could be earned there would be no need for Mercy, there would be no need for God’s Love.

If God only showed love to those who deserve it, then He is not a loving God.

Love is not based on a reward system (Matthew 5:43-48).

Love patient, love is kind, it is not self seeking, love keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Think about it.

If we had to meet the standards of an all powerful god, we would all fail, because none of us are ‘all powerful’ and if we came to that all powerful god that only rewarded us for his decreed works, then he would not be a loving god at all and because we could not achieve said works anyway (none of us are perfect), we would all be doomed. – Make sense?

So the question remains;

“If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good” Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

“If God is love how can He send people to Hell? If God is just how can He forgive sin?”

Well there is an answer!

An answer so perfect that it could only come from God Himself, because mere men could never have dreamt it up! And it is unique to Christianity (because Christianity is uniquely from God).

The answer to this paradox is found on the Cross on which the Prince of Glory died.

On this Cross we see God’s Love and Justice meet….and it all makes perfect sense!

On this Cross the illogical becomes logical.

On this Cross the paradox is perfectly fulfilled in God the Son Jesus Christ.

Why?

Well because on this Cross God remains perfectly just, because the sentence we deserve for our crimes was issued and the punishment was carried out in full.

And

On this Cross God remains perfectly loving because He sacrificially took the sentence (which we deserve) on Himself (God the Son).

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” 1 Peter 3:18

In faith of this truth, you are saved.

“If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good”. Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

Well Lex, yes He can, in Jesus Christ.

Look to the Cross.

Christianity is not a religion of works, it is not a philosophy or a moral law, neither is it about what we can do to please God. Christianity is about having faith in the historic fact of what God has already done for us, so perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel! Join us on Sunday to find out more

The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Romans 6:10

Jesus

Image sources (in order)
From Google Search
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice/
http://comicbook.com/2015/12/01/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-sneak-peek-detailed-analysis/
http://screenrant.com/batman-v-superman-zack-snyder-cut-dark-scene/
http://moviepilot.com/posts/2867036
http://www.comicbookmovie.com/batman/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-a127760

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