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

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What is Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And and this is why….. 

Truth is when word and deed meet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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POEM: 2,000 Christmas Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope to see you there!

6pm Sunday 23rd December 2018!

The Big Arch Abersychan.

(I know the last bit did not rhyme).

Christmas, Golden Rats and Tumours.

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite part of the tree is its base.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So what can we learn from this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A loving reply to an Easter challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Statement/Reply/Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This implication is not made anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

The proof of this (sadly) comes during tragedy.

Take for example the recent terrorist attacks on our shores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can of course have morality without God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all of who had vested interest”.

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

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

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

To quote Charles W. Colson

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

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

Suppressed Judaism as well”?

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

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

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

Says who

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allegedly

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

  1. Jesus really died on the Cross

Romans never crucified on a Cross

 

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

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

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

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

Sadly Crucifixion was a “thing” in Rome.

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

Now there may be a case for this.

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

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

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

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

So Jesus did really die on the Cross.

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

700 years prior to the crucifixion

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

Pre-explicitly (580 bc)

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

  1. Jesus really lived

I agree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Schools Bible Exhibition 2018

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Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

This month our church took over 600 children from Garnteg, Cwmffrdoer and Victoria Village Primary school(s) on a journey through the Bible.

The exhibition (provided by the Open Air Mission) comprised of 18 boards that included pictures, infographics and bite size narrative for the children to follow*.

The first board told the story of creation, the second the Garden of Eden and so on.

The children could see how wonderful the world was when God first made it. There was no death, no pain, no sickness, what a wonderful place to be.

God then made Adam and Eve and gave them all that they could possibly have wanted. With just one rule to follow, “do not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 2:17).

This rule gave Adam and Eve freedom, they now had a choice, to love God or disobey Him.

As we all know the devil entered into the garden as a serpent and convinced Adam and Eve to break this rule and partake in the forbidden fruit.

The children were then invited to share some of their school rules and the punishments they would receive if they break them. (Times have changed).

The children could all see from this simple exercise that (just like in school) God gives us rules for our own benefit and safety. They could also see that God has every right to punish people for breaking His rules (which is what the Bible calls sin).

Adam and Eve sinned, they broke God’s rule. For the first time they knew that they were naked. They felt ashamed at what they had done and were banished from the garden to live in this cold, hard, fallen world.

But in love, we are told that God covered their shame and comforted them with animal skin.

The children could see right at the start of the exhibition (and the Bible) that rejecting or ignoring God’s life giving rules, logically leads to death. God loved Adam and Eve and did not want them to die, so innocent blood was shed, so that Adam and Eve’s shame could be covered.

This theme pointed all of the children forward to the promised Messiah who would fix the problem of sin in the same way by His death.

The display moved on to Noah, then the Tower of Babel, we looked at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel, God’s family whom the promised Messiah would come into the world). The Exhibition took us then to Joseph and his journey to Egypt, the Story of Moses, the Ten Commandments, the Passover and Exodus. Always reaffirming the point that God (who made us) gave us rules to live by so that we could be happy but (just like today) the people in the Bible constantly rejected God and broke His rules (sin) and that such action requires punishment, just like when you break the school rules.

The children could see for themselves that for the guilty to be reunited with our loving God, innocent blood had to be shed, so that God can also remain just in His punishment, whilst at the same time remaining merciful to those who He love who did the wrong.

The exhibition progressed onto Elijah, the Judges, then King Saul and David, the Babylonian captivity, Daniel and the prophets, before ending with Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, explaining again the significance that for the guilty (us) to be reunited with God by grace, innocent blood has to be shed to make atonement for our wrongs, so that God can remain just whilst at the same time being merciful to us.

The display ended with a clear lesson.

Christian’s believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who God sent to deal with the problem of sin (that alienates humanity from our loving Father in Heaven).

Jesus did not break a single rule, He was totally innocent, yet on the Cross He took the just punishment for the sins of all people who love Him. (1 Peter 2:24).

A truth that we asked each of the children to consider.

Volunteers from the church dressed up as characters and spoke through their story (in first person) at different stages throughout the exhibition. The children then had the opportunity to interact one to one with the “heroes of faith” that brought the teaching alive.

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The exhibition gave clear Biblical themes throughout to help the children come to their own conclusions.

The Christian world view was presented to them fairly and in the greatest of love without putting any pressure on them that could damage the witness in the future.

The exhibition takes just one hour out of the school day and is interactive (so the children stay focused throughout). Head teacher Garnteg Primary School Susan Roche said: “The whole week last week was great as it gave the children something different. It combined very important aspects of the curriculum like RE, history and the humanities and brought it together in an interactive way which made it very meaningful.

We can thank God that many children still know the key events of the Bible today; from the fall to Passover, David and Goliath to the birth of Christ, but the exhibition illustrates superbly how all of these historic events fit together as one big story of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

 

 

At the end of the exhibition the children filled out a quiz, which volunteers from the church marked. The following week the Mayor, local councillor and the press joined us to present prizes to the children.

Each child was rewarded with an information pack that includes games, treats and information about the church.

We hope that such outreach will inform the children and their families of the many services that we provide for the community and that through this outreach the elect would come to church, hear the gospel and know a changed life that will glorify God.

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Read the Article online here

 A huge big thank you to the wonderful volunteers at the church who gave up significant time and resources for this to happen and to the OPEN AIR MISSION for their support.

*Narrative by JP Earnest (Field Operations Manager) Open Air Mission

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

The Death of a Christian

Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? 1 Corinthians 15:55

Sunday afternoon I entered the room of a dear brother in Christ. He was in bed surrounded by family who were coming to terms with the inevitable. His wife was sat next to him, hand in hand as she said her goodbyes to her husband of 64 years.

There was a sense of relief as his long battle with Parkinsons was coming to an end.

I read from the book of Revelation (21:1-5) which gives us an amazing window into eternity and a taste of the wonder and the glory of what is next for a Christian when we meet our end (in this life).

John was told to write these things down for these words are trustworthy and true. So we have every right to get excited about them. Paul speaks of his confidence in the truth of what is to come, in 2 Corinthians 5: 8 where he declares that when we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord.

It is a certainty then (if you are a Christian) that when you depart from this life, your next conscious experience will be with the Lord Himself.

So I can say in full confidence, knowing of my late brothers Christian profession and faithful witness to Jesus Christ through the pangs of Parkinsons, that today he will be in paradise (Luke 23:43).

By the Grace of God, our brother has now heard the words “well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). He has now seen the Lord face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and now knows more about Jesus, more about the Bible, more about the profound truths of existence than any preacher, theologian or seminary professor ever will (in this life).

Our brother is no longer under the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4), his Parkinsons has gone and he is with Christian friends and family from every tribe and nation (Revelations 7:9) bathing in the glory and wonder of God.

Our brother is now in eternity, worshiping the Lord (Revelations 22:3) and in constant rich and fruitful learning (Ephesians 3:18-19, Colossians 2:3).

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (Revelations 22:14-15)

I write with such enthusiasm and certainty about our brother’s current state because of the Gospel that puts salvation in the hands of God and not in the works of humanity.

We are confident because it is Christ who has the victory over death and it is in Him we put our trust!

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart that Jesus is the Christ, God the Son, who left the glory of His Fathers embrace to take on this world at its worst, being born in poverty and living a life despised and rejected by His own people.

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart that on the cross Jesus took the consequences for the failures (sin) of His people and buried them in His death.

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart Christ’s resurrection as evidence of life after death and assurance of a fresh start.

Our brother had faith that Jesus was His substitute, mediator, Prophet, Priest and King and as a result he did not fear death, knowing with certainty that the Son of God was with him (Psalm 23:1). Christ Jesus was his anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19)

As Christians, we know, that in Christ “we are chosen, predestined, and sealed with the Holy Spirit guaranteeing our inheritance to God’s Praise and Glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14). This truth allows us to live a life in this corrupt and fallen world (that is ever increasingly hostile to our beliefs) in the utmost joy and contentment.

Whatever trial, disease, heartache or mocking that we may face we know that we need not fear, for God is with us and will strengthen us (Isaiah 41:10).

In God’s hands, we cannot be beaten, for if God is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31).

This truth goes someway in explaining why us Christians are joyful in our trial, because we have nothing to fear, not even death, for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)! And when the worst this world can through at you is of absolutely no consequence, it is truley liberating! Believe you me!

So liberating, that when sat at the bedside of a dying man, we were not in deep mourning and grief (as you see from those lost in the world). No! in Christ we could gather together in utter peace around the word and prayerfully praise God because of the certainty of our brothers future.

As Christians we can all face the last enemy without fear and this gives us greater freedom in this life.

Yes the enemy is fierce, so fierce that the richest most powerful person alive today cannot defeat it (try as they might)!

But in Christ we can say with confidence “Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55

If you are reading this and are not a Christian, please consider our late brothers faith that got him through life’s trials and let it be an example to you as you remember the shortness of your days and the certainty of your end.

Do not wait until your death bed before accepting the reality of God.  Do not let your pride cause you to meet the end of yourself, before getting to the beginning of God.

Come to Him now! It is the perfect time! Come to God today and accept His Son Jesus Christ as your Saviour!

Come to God today and know the most profound joy, meaning and purpose, that goes beyond anything this corrupt and fallen world can tempt you with.

To find out more about this most amazing truth…..come to church…it is great! There is no place like it on earth! You will meet people of all ages and backgrounds that are bound in the total unity of God’s love. You will be fulfilled as you grow in Grace and see your life transformed as Jesus builds you up, giving you meaning and purpose in the body of believers. A community of sacrificial love.

I leave you with the lyrics of In Christ Alone (see below)

death

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm,
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save,
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again,
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny,
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
Songwriters: Keith Getty / Stuart Townend

 

 

The Honesty of Delta Blues

“You know that people
They are driftin’ from do’ to do’
But they can’t find no heaven”                       

Skip James Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues

 

Today my eldest boy asked me about the blues. A question I have been waiting to hear for many years and one I could never fully answer adequately. I simply delved into a box that had not seen the light of day since my conversion. I pulled out an old CD, blew off the dust on the casing and played it in the car.

Delta1

As we listened I began to weep and my son asked me why? After a contemplative pause my reply was “Christ”.

The Blues (specifically Delta) was once my secret passion, hidden behind my headphones on the long commutes to work.

Before I came to Christ, my identity was lost in the deceit of this world, a pressure that I once revelled in. I would happily hide behind a mask of falsity and would judge myself (and others) based on my lusts, greed and pride (the common drivers of fallen men). The Delta Blues did not fit the arrogance of “my brand”, the “me” I wanted the world to see, so my passion for it remained my little secret.

I listened in solitude and it gave me a welcomed escape.

There is nothing like the Delta Blues, no genre so honest, rough and raw. The recordings are pure and capture not only the instrumentation but the soul of the room. There is no falsity to the music, no added production, special effects or synthesised noise. Nothing between the microphone and my cans, nothing between me and the artist.

After a long day I could be stood cold and wet on a dark winters evening, hungry and tired awaiting for a replacement bus service, but with my eyes closed and simply listening, I was sat in the warm in front of; Skip James, Robert Johnson or Sonny Boy Williams. The recordings I had on my playlist gifted me each breath before a harmonica bend, preserved every crackle of the throat and retained the sound of every finger lifting up from the fret board. This rich honesty captured in sound gave me a welcomed break from my fake life and a bogus world that defines us all by what we consume and produce.

Fast forward to today, by God’s Grace I am now a Christian. I am sat in the car next to my eldest son, listening once more to Furry Lewis and I was taken back to that time of need and the man I once was. A man so far from God and desperate for truth.  I wept under the forgotten yet familiar sound of the Delta Blues. But not because of its honesty, purity, or soulfulness, no! I wept in the understanding that all of this beauty that I was hearing (and all that it once meant to me) is nothing compared to the wonders of what I now have in the God man Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus the Christ is life and serenity, purity and peace, the personification of all that is good, He is the embodiment of mercy, the quintessence of sacrificial love and the light in the darkness of this corrupt word. He is the answer, He is the escape, He is the way and the truth and He is mine.

He is the message of Christianity, a message often ignored by common assumption. Christianity is not a religion, or a philosophy, neither a state of mind, it is not a feeling, or a list of laws and principles, neither is it a corporation or bureaucracy. Christianity is a person, a real person to love and have a relationship with, a person to share and cast your burdens on, a person who gave His all to save you from yourself and this world. A totally unique, historical and living person whose love can flow into the most broken of vessels (such as I) and pour out in such abundance that He can even take hold of you, the reader, through these humble words.

I pray that you will see the world for what it really is and Come to love the one who loved us first (1 John 4:19).

I will leave you with some Furry Lewis (not the song that we heard today, but more fitting for this blog).

The End of the World

This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless” Jeremiah 10:2-3

The world is set to end this weekend, according to David Meade and others who follow him.

This theory has had wide coverage on all of the red tops, TV stations, Facebook news feeds and millions of YouTube hits. If you have not heard about it, you must already be in your bunker!

If I understand it all correctly, the theory is based on “Planet X” hitting the earth on said date in line with the “prophecy” found in Revelation 12.

And in fairness, the movement of the constellations from our relative position on earth, combined with recent natural disasters and world events can match an interpretation of Revelation 12.

The woman clothed with the sun is the constellation “virgo” and the crown of nine starts “leo”. Jupiter’s movement (again from our relative position) is slowly working through virgo at the rate of human gestation (42 weeks) and this could symbolise the pregnancy spoken of in Revelation 12. The apocalypse/rapture or whatever your eschatology is…will then start, on Saturday! Leaving us to do all the ungodly things our hearts desire between now and 11:59pm Friday where we can then repent and be a good Christian just in time! As you can see by my jest, I obviously have great concerns over this theory (and others like it) that I hope to address in this blog post.

  1. The entire theory relies on astrology.

Astrology teaches that the position of natural nuclear fusion reactors (stars), light years away determine whether you will meet the “man of your dreams” today, or what numbers to pick in the lottery. When in truth, short of one hitting the earth or dragging us out of orbit, they have no say in world events or your romantic prospects (see Daniel 2:10 and 27).

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:25

For this reason the Bible clearly teaches against astrology (see Exodus 20:1-15, Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3, 18:10-14,  2 Kings 17:16, Zephaniah 1:4-5, Isaiah 47:13-14,  Romans 1:25, 1 Thessalonians 5:22) and under the guise divination (horoscopes) (see Leviticus 19:26, 1 Samuel 15:23, Isaiah 8:19).

Yes, the Bible does speak of the stars. God created and grouped them (Job 9:9 and Amos 5:8), God uses them as illustrations (Genesis 15:5),  and their purpose is for signs and seasons (Genesis 1:14). The Hebrew here for sign, is “Oth” which means to flag, or beacon or token (see Strong’s concordance 226), not sign the end times! The Bible tells us that God made the stars to tell mankind what time of year we are in, so we can ready the harvest, and to help us navigate when crossing the ocean or desert (Matthew 2:2).

I argue that this end time prediction is based more on interpreting the stars than the Bible itself, which means it is Astrology, and thus should not be practiced or acknowledged by Christians. We are to interpret scripture, God’s Word, to know more of the word made flesh, we are not to interpret the heavens!

  1. This is not the first “Christian” prophecy of the “end times” and sadly it will not be the last.

Hundreds of examples of note have been declared throughout history. Pope Sylvester II took the literal interpretation of the millennium and predicted the end in the year 1000 AD – which in fairness was a more plausible idea. In 1843 a Baptist Minister (don’t trust a Baptist*) William Miller predicted from his reading of Daniel 8 that the world would end on October 22nd 1844. This lead to what is known as “the great disappointment” that started on October 23 1884. The consequences formed the seventh day Adventist movement. Charles Taze Russell predicted that 1914 would be the year of apocalypse and with the war effort at the time, a number believed it. This movement lead to the Jehovah Witnesses.

planet x

  1. Adding our baggage to Biblical interpretation

There are many scriptures utilised throughout the Bible, by various people to predict “the end”. Daniel 2:38 is a prime example. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that Daniel interprets. It involved a statue with different layers that symbolise empires or epochs throughout time that is smashed to bits by a rock cut out, not from human hands (Daniel 2:34). The rock obviously being Christ setting up His kingdom that will never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). There are many arguments as to which section means what and predictions often come from this. The Golden Head was Babylon, the Silver Breast, the Persian empire, the Bronze mid section Alexandra the Great (Daniel 8:5). The Iron legs Rome, and then the Iron and clay, post Rome. Which could be today? We still live in a unified Europe, governed under Roman law, economic principles and governing systems, mixed with the clay of all other civilisations entering in. However, other would say that the Iron legs represent Islam, as this was the only power to actually crush the other previous kingdoms geographically (Daniel 2:40). But then again in 1689 when the Baptist confession was being written some would have interpreted the break-up of the Roman Catholic Church as a sign of the end times. The Pope was decreed as the anti-Christ (Chapter 26:4) and they were no doubt thinking the rock would burst through imminently and put an end to the suffering! Yet 500 years on, we are still waiting!

And this brings us back to my concerns.

A lot of these predictions come with the baggage of our relative position in time, space and culture. “We” often make the mistake of applying our predicament or ‘signs’ of our day into the scripture, rather than exegete what the God’s Word is saying. This mistake has caused endless false doctrine throughout history. The western view of history is a lot different to that of an Asian, whose ancestors battled against various dynasties, empires and colonialist, some we would never even have heard of and their scholars would attribute much of the Biblical prophecy to their experience of the world. So who is right?

  1. The Bible code

I have to admit, some of the ‘end time’ theorising is quite clever and it does inspire many to appreciate and love God’s word. But the scripture is clear, we are not to get bogged down into such minutia of prophecy, we are not to get obsessed with “Bible Science” or “Bible Numerology”. As they can distract us from the word made flesh Jesus Christ who said Himself regarding such signs “Do not go running after them” (Luke 17:22).

I am a firm believer that if God wanted us to know the exact date and time of the end, the Bible would have told us plainly. But this is not the Bibles purpose. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself, it is a Historical work, as well as being a guide to living (an instruction manual), it teaches us how to cope amidst trial, how to know and love our God and eachother, it is a rescue plan and a love letter at the same time. The Bible does not hide from the cruelty of this world, the failures of man and it speaks frankly on taboo subjects. If God wanted us to know the date and time of “the end” it would have said. But by God’s Grace it does not, as Christ’s bride, His church (and all the benefits of it) would simply not exist until seconds before said time. We’d all simply carry on in chaos, until the final moment, ready for our death bed repentance.

Yes the Bible does include many prophecies that have been verified and fulfilled and yes it does speak about the end, but such teaching is always given in the context of ambiguity, and this is for a reason! Because we are not to know when and this should impel us as Christians to live as if the end is today, to be as the persistent widow, petition to God, so that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth (Luke 18:1-8).

When Jesus said there will be wars and rumours of wars, persecution, famine and pestilence, nations will rise upon nations and these are the beginnings of Birth-pains to God’s new earth (Matthew 24:8) He was speaking about His return being imminent, as there is not a period in human history where such things have not happened. If Jesus was being “precise” He would not have closed with the statement “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

Ask yourself, if the angels and Jesus (the word made flesh) do not know when the end is coming, ask yourself how unlikely it is that the Father would reveal it to David Meade or anyone else for that matter?

  1. The Christian witness

The shame of it all is that come the 24th September, the Christian witness from those who predict or promoted such “end time” theories will also be undermined. We should all stay clear of such end time predictions, they are murky waters to get into and they unnecessarily hinder the gospel. They undermine our integrity to a world that does not need our help to ostracise us.

  1. Do not fear

Jesus spoke many times throughout the Gospel about not fearing the future. A fear that can be conjured up by such needless predictions.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26

Yes, the Bible teaches us to be aware of the judgement that is to come, so that we can witness to the lost and pray for them with great urgency. But we are not to be distracted from our Saviour, by such prophecy. (Matthew 13:49, Matthew 25:31-33, Acts 17:31, Romans 14:10-12, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 9:27, 1 Peter 4:5, Revelation 19:11). If we are in Jesus Christ, it should not matter to us when the time comes, or what happens after it, because in Him you will be safe.

Conclusion

The texts often used to prophesy the end (Matthew 24 and others) actually tell us that each epoch in human history has its own fears and anxieties that people will try to rationalise by reading their experience into scripture. In the west, the reformation five hundred years ago marked “the end”, seventy years ago it was the holocaust, thirty years ago the cold war, sixteen years ago 9/11 and this weekend it is because of planetary movements mixed in with a hurricane, BREXIT and an argument between the Rocket Man of North Korea and the tycoon President Trump.

The sobering truth is that for the victims of the recent genocide in Rohingya, Bangladesh, or those being systematically killed by ISIS militants in the Middle East or those who have died of Malaria in Africa, or those that were lost in the recent hurricanes and floods, or Dave down the road who just lost his battle with cancer, or Margaret who collapsed in town and never woke up. For them, their last day has come (Luke 13:4), they have met their creator and have faced judgement. 

We all could face the same at any moment! None of us know when our time is up!

So the question is….Are you ready to meet your maker? If you do not have the protection of Jesus, I can tell you categorically that you will not stand.

The message of scripture is that we are not to be concerned about when the time will be as these are all distractions that take us away from our saviour (1 Thessalonians 5:3), rather we are to be ready to face God at any moment, trusting that whatever will happen in the future will be for His glory and the benefit of His people the church (Romans 8:28).

I hope to see on the 24th September, worshiping Jesus in church, or in Glory!

A message on Revelation 12

*this is a joke, by God’s Grace I am a Baptist Minister