Dominion

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Tom Holland is a rare academic in the secular west who (at the least) has the grit to acknowledge that his agnosticism is born from a 2,000 year old matrix of Christian ethics. (A truth that he is not embarrassed by).

Each chapter is incredibly well written and defines an epoch of church reformation, narrated through the life stories of known historical characters and more interestingly those on the fringe of wider notoriety.

We read of the many shocking mistakes of Christendom that further reinforce its doctrines of the total depravity of man. We see how politics and greed corrupted and divided the church and how competing forces (paganism, Islam and secularism) have reacted against it.

But what becomes clear in this book is that throughout two millennia of cultural turbulence a thin veneer of Christian truth is always preserved by God’s brave (yet often weakened) remnant. Each generation has men and women willing to die to protect Jesus’ teaching that all are equally treasured by God and thus have dignity. That power does not come (as in the natural world) by the imposition of terror but in the love of the victim. The Cross is the sign of this revolution that has so greatly blessed humanity.

Tom makes several comparisons throughout history to show that as far as our society drifts away from God it always returns to the truth of the Cross. For it is the very morals derived from Christianity itself that those who mock and undermine the faith use to defend their cause.

The Gay Pride movement, whilst rightly attacking the homophobia within the church seek after the Christian Doctrine (of life-long monogamous marriage) that the early church fathers died to preserve under the Roman Empire.

The feminists who rightly attack bigotry in the church are also calling (through the #metoo movement) for the same self-restraint that the Puritans fought for.

Post-Christian France showed Christian virtue by welcoming Muslim refugees into their secular nation, expecting that they would take the same satire towards Muhammad as Christianity had endured for centuries with Jesus. Yet once the Atheist publication ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was attacked, secular France quickly returned to their Christian virtues to denounce it as wrong.

The much venerated John Lennon sang the Atheist anthem from his 72 acre palace in Bedfordshire “Imagine there is no Heaven-it’s easy if you try”. Baptist Pastor Martin Luther King Jr. was sent to Heaven for crying out “I have a dream”.

Wherever you stand in regards to faith and religion, the wonderful truth that Tom Holland reveals in this book, is that our histories tensions have all revolved (and thus in some way have been influenced by) the Cross! Christianity is in us all!

Although I have tremendous respect for Tom I can’t agree with his gloomy conclusion, that we are in the Shadow of God’s corpse, that just as Birds came from Dinosaurs, new cultural systems will be born from Christian ethics. If anything this book has taught me the very opposite, that throughout history new ideologies come and go, but the truth of Christianity always lives on. Why? Because it is true! If it wasn’t it would have died out long ago!

Christianity is the constant that built the West and continues to transform and liberate the oppressed all over the world.

This book has really encouraged me (as a Baptist Minister).

By God’s Grace our little church is growing but across the UK Christianity is facing extinction. This book reminds us that such decline is just one of many throughout  history. God is still working and His remnant will persevere for the good of humanity. The UK will return to its first love.

“And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).

 

Coming out

Last week Phillip Schofield stole the headlines by “coming out” as ‘gay’. This was a huge shock to me – as I assumed this was the case anyway.

Phillip Schofield has been ever present in my life. As a child I would race home from school to watch him and Gordon the Gopher in the broom cupboard, I loved waking up to ‘Going Live’ on a Saturday morning and I had the privilege of seeing him on stage as Joseph (dressed in his technicolour dream coat).

I have so much respect for him as a broadcaster and entertainer and I pray that this is how he will be remembered.

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I am deeply grieved that Phillip Schofield had to go to the extent of divulging his sexual desires on national TV.  His sexuality is his business and the ordeal must have put such a strain on his family. They have all been in my prayers during this difficult time.

Sadly this is one of the consequences of living in a post-Christian nation. No longer are we defined as equals, image bearers of God, with a shared desire to glorify Him in good works, but rather our identity has become sexualised. Putting unnecessary pressure on those conflicted in such areas.

So, I want to say to Phillip Schofield and to anyone else in his circumstance – however cathartic “coming out” maybe, do not let this experience define you. Because you are so much more than your sexual preference, you are a human being and God loves you (Genesis 1:27), you are of infinite value to Him (John 3:16) and thus greatly treasured by Him (Ephesians 2:4-5). God made you who you are (Psalm 139:14) and He does not make mistakes (Psalm 18:30) and whatever you are going through or whatever experience you have faced as you are finding your way in this life, this does not exclude you from God’s Grace (Romans 3:23-24).

Dear friends, when all that you desire today is gone, all you will have left is God. Happiness can only be found in Jesus and whether you are Rich, Poor, Black, White, LGBTQ+ – the Bibles message is clear – All can come (Revelation 22:17) through the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) and know God’s love, forgiveness and rest.

We continue to pray for the Schofield family.

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The Australian Bushfire – is God to blame?

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We have all been horrified by the disturbing images of Bushfires rampaging through Australia.

At the point of writing nineteen people have tragically lost their lives, three of which are volunteer fire-fighters and there are many more missing and unaccounted for. Over two thousand properties have been damaged with hundreds of families displaced.

Ecologists have estimated a death toll of half a billion animals across 11.3 million burnt acres – which is an area the size of Belgium – in flames!

Millions of people have resorted to prayer whilst others have used the atrocity as a platform to promote their atheist ideology.

Social Media is filled with comments such as…

“How can a loving God allow this to happen” 

“How cruel and spiteful is God”

“What is the use of prayer?”

 “Christianity is B*** s****” 

etc etc.

I have received several messages regarding such comments which I will endeavour to answer as compassionately as possible.

I pray that these answers help the Christian defend their faith amidst such tragedy and that the accuser may accept the love of God in their lives.

The Australian Bushfire – is God to blame?

A loving response……

  1. If God was to prove Himself to you in this instance and miraculously stop the Bushfire would you be in church on Sunday? He has worked many miracles throughout human history that you choose to happily discredit, so why ask God to work a miracle in this case? And what difference will it make to your relationship with God view if He did work in such a way again? (John 12:37).
  2. If God was to come to earth and act out His perfect justice, eradicating all that is against His will (like the Australian Bushfire), how would you fare against such judgement? Would He not have to eradicate you to? Rejoice that by Grace He stays His hand and loves you despite your reaction of Him. (Matthew 7:2)
  3. There are many theories about who or what started the Bushfires; A) arson, poor land management, climate-change or B) natural forces. A) If it had been caused by human negligence (or worse), such actions are condemned by the Bible. If we refuse to listen to God’s guidance, we cannot then blame Him for the consequences. (1 John 2:16). B) If the Bushfires are naturally caused then there is absolutely no warrant for any moral response in a merely material universe. If there is no God (as you claim) and we are merely products of random chance then the Bushfire has no significance, it is just another random natural act. The loss of a third of all Koala’s is yet another cold and heartless example of the Darwinian ideology you wish to promote.
  4. Isn’t it odd that when any horrific event occurs (natural disaster, terror attack etc) millions of people who do not give God a second thought suddenly become theists and “pray” or use the atrocity to attack Christians and blame the God they do not believe in.  I am yet to see anyone on social media blame (or petition) Vishnu, Buddha, Krishna or any other god for that matter.  Why is it that only the God of the Bible gets it in the neck when things go wrong? Is it because it is only when life gets real, when the horoscopes, the Yoga mat and well-being app are proven to be no help whatsoever, that deep down the truth of who really is Sovereign  becomes clear? It is the tragedy of the human condition that it takes such an atrocity to break down our pride to reveal this truth. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The Australian Bushfires have caused a horrific loss of life, and we all grieve this because deep down we all believe (as the Bible teaches) that life has meaning and purpose. The Australian Bushfires further evidence the Biblical teaching that this world is broken and that bad things can and do happen and our natural desire to seek justice and appoint blame points to the Biblical promise of a better future. 

Friends, it is only the Bible that can explain the horror that we are seeing, it is only the Bible that can justify our sorrow and it is only the Bible that can give us the hope we need to get through this difficult time.

I pray that such atrocities will bring you to the Bible for answers and ultimately to the Cross of Jesus Christ, where God turned the pinnacle of human evil and suffering into a gateway of love that will unite all His faithful into a new and better world (Revelations 21:4).

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

#PrayForAustralia

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Who should Christians vote for?

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In the midst of our turbulent political situation I am so thankful that my citizenship is in Heaven. I serve a Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, the perfect Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), who can never lie (Titus :2) or ever let me down (Hebrews 13:5), a leader so perfect and loving that I would never wish to “vote” Him out (1 Timothy 1:17). Hallelujah!

With that said, as a Christian, I also know that I am called to be Salt and Light on this fallen earth (Matthew 5:13-16) and thus have a responsibility to render to Caesar what is Caesars (Mark 12:17) and to respect the authorities God has put over me (Romans 13:1), so I take my vote very seriously and I ask that you do the same.

Please think for yourselves, read the manifestos, petition God in prayer and vote on Christian principle.

Do not succumb to the temptation of endless spending pledges and promises of prosperity, rather use your vote to elect the government that you believe can help you be a better Christian, so that you can better serve others.

Do not delegate your compassion to the state, rather vote for the party that will help you be Jesus in your community – because only Jesus can bring love back to Britain.

Vote for Jesus

And whatever the result, be an example of unity.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

 

An Oasis of teenage Christian Liberty – EMW Camps 2019

EMW Camp‘s provide an oasis of Christian liberty to our teenagers.

For one week they can gather together safely and study the Bible with friends, free from the mocking voices they face back in school.

It is such an important week for our campers!

Last year God moved in a powerful way with six campers professing faith (three of which have been baptised since).

You can read more about this week  here Being in the Presence of God

Could we see God move in the same way this year?

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We all arrived at camp a year older (some may say wiser), and exhausted!

Junior officers had just got their exam result and were preparing for university, senior officers had recently bought houses and even got married in the weeks leading up to camp.

I had arrived gasping for breath after dealing with a number of seriously draining Pastoral issues.

We came excited – but were praying for an easy group of kids!

The theme of the camp was “Space” and the team got to work decorating the meeting areas with stars and planets and fairy lights, it looked amazing and the theme did a great job supporting the ministry.

Our campers are often one of just a handful of youth in their church and perhaps the only church attendee in their entire school. For them being a Christian is incredibly lonely. So I wanted to teach Biblical truth that they could take back home with them that would both reassure and comfort in their times of need.

After much consideration and in light of the theme we created an “Intergalactic Prayer Warrior training camp”. We took instructions from Star Fleet Command (Matthew 6:9-13) and over ten messages and studies we could see ‘How great is our God’ and how mind blowing it is to call Him ‘Father’. We studied God’s Kingdom and how to live it out in our daily lives (back at home and at school) and how to deal with temptation, peer pressure, assurance and loneliness.

The theme played right into the content and on Wednesday night they watched Indescribable, a short lecture that again magnified God in the creation of the cosmos and revealed His matchless condescension in the person of Christ.

The campers had a great time going to the beach and Ice-Skating, we enjoyed tournaments, fancy dress and crafts, we even wrote a camp song. But the real joy for me was seeing God work among us.

The dynamic was different this year, our camp sold out within a day of opening. Those lucky enough to get in were from church families. They were all well behaved and studious children. But this presented an array of other challenges. Their questions were deeper and more profound, they knew the Bible and understood the seriousness of their salvation.

But such blessings can create huge stumbling blocks to faith. Those naive to the truth come as blank canvases, others who have grown up in the church are wise to the gospel and question everything.

Church kids often feel that their faith is not as genuine as those around them and as a result lack assurance. They wait for the defining “experience” (which some may get), but until that day comes (if it comes) they question everything at the slightest of doubts.

For these reasons children raised in Christian families are often harder nuts to crack!

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The first half of the week we were overjoyed at the behaviour and ease of the campers, but knew that many were not saved, so as officers we wrestled in prayer. 

It took until Wednesday for God to move among us and this year He chose the dorm studies to make a real impact. The officers excelled this year, they had worked so hard in their preparation and came with many notes and questions for me. It was a delight to see their enthusiasm rewarded.

What I found most interesting was the similarities between those campers who professed faith. They all suddenly became aware of their eternity and feared the reality Hell. This was clearly a movement of the Spirit as “Hell” was not the focus of the week (it was prayer). 

On the Thursday night we were singing hymns by the camp fire and a young man came to speak with me. It was his first time on an EMW camp and at 13 years of age, his last with our group. He told me how shocked he was by our first meeting on the breakfast table where I asked him so bluntly if Jesus is His Lord and Saviour. It made him think all week about the reality of his eternity without Christ. He asked me how He could be saved and I had the great privilege of leading Him to the Lord. Walking back to the dorms our camp leader was having the very same conversation with another young man who was in tears of joy knowing the assurance of God’s love for the first time. 

After my last message on the Friday morning I asked all those who had heard God speak to them this week to meet me after the service. Fourteen stayed behind…!

Fourteen soul’s who had either felt great assurance or had committed their lives to following Jesus for the first time. Hallelujah.

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Friends, what you see above is the power of the EMW camps! They are intense weeks of Christian liberty where God truly blesses souls with assurance and salvation!

As churches we need to remember that our youngsters are the first generation for a millennia to grow up in a non-Christian culture. The EMW Camps offer an oasis of  for these kids and I do not believe that any of us truly understand how much they need (and appreciate) the week.

The commitment and love for Jesus shown by many of our campers is of such great encouragement, the church has a bright future ahead of us, but more can be done to support this amazing work!

As we plan for next year I pray that you can support the EMW Camps by ensuring that the youth in your church come and even ask the unchurched youth in your community to join us. It is a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel.

I want to close by saying a huge thank you to our camp leaders, officers and cooks who worked so hard during the week. 

Another great privilege of being a camp chaplain is to see them mature and grow spiritually each year and use their gifts to glorify God.

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.” Psalm 85:10-13

Anti-Christian? We are just as much to blame!

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Every time I have had the misfortune to switch on the TV to ‘Good Morning Britain’ a Christian has been publicly humiliated on it.

The well-meaning (but often misguided) Christian is on live TV, against a panel of media professionals, in front of millions of viewers, they are a lamb lead to the slaughter.

The most complex and emotive questions of the day are then posed to them in the expectation of a ‘yes or no’ answer. No time is given for a proper explanation. 

Frustrated and confused by the interrogation the Christian resorts to a fundamental stance (that the panel were looking for all along) and then they ridicule their extreme position.

It is heart breaking to see that some of the most significant questions of our generation (questions that the Bible speaks directly into with such love and sensitivity) whitewashed over in cold-blood for the entertainment of millions on national Television.

Nobody wins in such an altercation, but the overwhelming loser is Christianity – ironically the historic backbone of the “tolerant” west.

But we (the church) are just as responsible for the lambasting that we receive.

Why do we (as Christians) get ourselves into such situations?

Whether on national TV or on Social media, or at work or in school?

Ask yourself how many people have come to church because of an argument with a Christian?

Even if you have the acumen to skilfully win a debate against our cultures beliefs, has your victory ever brought anyone to Jesus?

Friends, the church is in massive decline and we are losing the war of love. This is because we are getting involved in our cultures semantics. We are spending too much time arguing our moral position rather than sharing the beauty of the Gospel.

We need to get our priorities right!

Nobody in human history has ever been saved by their view on abortion or gay marriage, or euthanasia, they have all been saved by their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).

So why do we (Christians) feel that the best way to get our message out is by commenting on such divisive issues?

We are fighting the wrong battles and we are getting publicly destroyed in the process. Culture is no longer on our side.

We are allowing ourselves to be perceived as bigoted, immoral and judgemental, when this is of course not true.

For us the Bibles teaching is God’s revelation on how to live according to His will (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and we work this out in community (the church) as we journey through life together (Philippians 2:13). But for those who are not Christians, none of it makes sense.

Without the love of God, the world will never appreciate our moral position. So why waste time debating it with the unregenerate?

Let us not lead the charge on moral platforms that divide, but rather on the one who so beautifully reconciles. Jesus.

When asked by the Pharisees what to do with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:5). Jesus directly challenged the law givers, showing love to the woman before correcting her moral stance (John 8:11).

We see the same in all of Jesus’ interactions. with the lost. He loves them and corrects only when they come into relationship with Him.

As Christians it is our duty to do the same. To live and uphold the Bibles teaching (Matthew 5:13-16) and to reach out to the lost in love, meeting people with the Gospel rather than in moral judgement (1 Corinthians 15:10).

If the call ever came to appear on Good Morning Britain and I was asked about the Bible’s view on a “divisive issue” my response will be:

“This is a are very serious question that the Bible speaks clearly on, but you will never understand it correctly outside of the context of God’s love for you, do you know God’s love for you?”

“The most amazing claim of the Bible is not in its stance on such a divisive issue, but in the promise of a new and better world, something I am sure all of your audience desires?”

“The Good News that I have the privilege to share with you all this morning, is that whatever your stance is on this matter today, Jesus invites you to follow Him and know the joy of a new and better way of life where all of these questions will become clear”.

I pray this helps!

Generation Z – Transgenderism in the Church

For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever”  Isaiah 56:4-6

Michael* was just ten when he moved in with his foster family. He was a victim of neglect and arrived with many behavioural and developmental issues. He was a very quiet and incredibly vulnerable child. 

He loved coming to church, especially our Friday club. He would engage in the discussions and Bible teaching and asked many questions. Michael made many friends at the church but was reluctant to get too close to anyone. He would sit on his own for much of the time building cars out of lego. Our church windowsills were often filled with his creations with “keep off” notes attached.

Michael progressed well through school and due to the great work of his foster family and wider support team, he caught up in many aspects of his life. It was a joy to see. The church loved him dearly.

At the age of 15 Michael came to speak to me in private. He wanted to tell me something that he was yet to share with his social workers, parents, teachers and foster family. I was the first to know and very touched by this. But what he told me was surprising.

Michael wanted to identify as a woman (Michelle).

With Michael’s consent I prayed with him.

I explained to Michael that God made him (Psalm 139:14) and that God does not make mistakes (Psalm 18:30) and yes, this may mean that God made Michael as a male who (at that present time) feels happier as a female (Matthew 19:12), but this does not exclude him from God’s Grace (Romans 3:23-24). I understood that such feelings are real and in direct contradiction to his biology and that having to live with such an inner conflict must be very hard for him. I told Michael that he was very brave and that I was very proud of him. Michael knew that we all loved him.

I explained to Michael that God wants him to be happy within himself (Hebrews 13:5) and what we learn from the Bible (as in life) is that changing who we are externally is unlikely to provide the inner peace that we all desire (Matthew 23:27-28). The root of any internal conflict is caused by our separation from God and thus cannot be resolved until we are reunited with Him again by faith (Romans 5:1). I reminded Michael of the good news of Jesus Christ. That because of His perfect self-sacrifice on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) every human-being can now come to God just as we are (Revelation 22:17) whatever age, race, sex or class. No matter what we have done in the past, no matter what inner conflicts we are burdened with, King Jesus has made it possible for everyone to come and unite and know God in the most beautiful and intimate way. We do not have to change anything external to know God. We just need to come to Him, openly and honestly and trust in Him (Psalm 51:10).

I reminded Michael that as a Christian I believe with all my heart that he is an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:27) and thus of infinite value and greatly treasured (Ephesians 2:4-5).

I pointed Michael to Jesus (as I would any person whatever their orientation). And I made it clear to Michael that whatever he decided to do, he will always be loved and welcomed, just like everyone else.

The following week I was in discussions with the foster family. The school and the local authority were alerted and Michael started to come to church as Michelle. She had a new outfit, wavy hair, contours on her cheeks and lipstick.

As the months past Michelle became very popular and outgoing. As a church we had to accommodate in certain ways, the hardest part for me was getting used to the name change.

That Christmas all the youth received their daily devotionals for the following year, and Michelle got to chose whether she wanted the one for girls or boys (she chose the Girl’s version). Michelle grew in confidence and asked many questions about the LGBT+ movement.

 This allowed me to share what I believe is a “better love story” (the Gospel) with the wider group.

Michelle’s willingness to come to church offered us a wonderful opportunity to speak into our changing culture and challenge many assumptions of what the Bible teaches on the subject of transgenderism and LGBT+. It gave us the opportunity to share with Michelle’s peers that God and His church value you beyond your sexual orientation, that God’s message in the Bible is one of grace and His precepts are given for the benefit of human flourishing, that salvation is based on nothing else than your relationship with Jesus and thus Hell is full of proud heterosexuals who have dismissed God’s love for them. We looked together at how other (unchristianized) cultures treat the LGBT+ community (in most cases horrifically) and we thanked God for their safety in the UK.

Although Michelle did not make a profession of faith (that I know of) she was a real pleasure to have in the group, a catalyst to discussion and a tangible testimony of the Church’s  love and welcome to all people.

Months went by and Michelle grew in confidence, church was her safe space and a number of her friends were joining her as a result.

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One Sunday Morning

Ten minutes before the service started a member from Michelle’s foster family came into the church. At first I was delighted, but I could see she was upset and had not come for the service. She asked me to follow her home “It was an emergency”. Michelle was dead, suspected suicide. She had just turned 16. 

It was so hard to preach that morning. As I spoke I could barely look into her young friends’ eyes, knowing the tragic news that awaited them. By God’s grace the message was fitting for the circumstance.

After the service I took the teenagers outside and told them, whilst our elder prayed with the congregation. There were many tears over the following weeks and several visits made to Michelle’s family and friends.

Owing to Michelle being in foster care we had little say in regards to the funeral plans. The birth family had a right to decide but knew nothing of Michelle’s new identity and roots in our church community. Would she be buried at her place of birth, and who would they bury? Michelle or Michael?

We had to do something as a church regardless, for the sake of Michelle’s friends and foster family. We held an open air service with all of her favourite food and drinks. Her friends read poems, performed songs, we sang hymns and shared memories and I gave a short gospel presentation to those who gathered.

Two borough councils were involved in the funeral proceedings as well as the parents, foster family (who were amazing), school and the police. They all agreed that the funeral should be held at our church, but that Michael/Michelle be laid to rest at his/her place of birth.

The service was difficult to plan. We were saying our goodbyes to a transgender minor, in the care system, who had tragically cut her own life short. Owing to the birth family’s history the police were to be present and we were expecting many school children. But God worked in such a powerful way through this process. The church grew closer to many in the community that we would not have reached otherwise. I spoke on “David and Goliath” and the giants in life that we all can overcome by God’s Grace. The Lord was present.

The last five years of Christian teaching that I had given Michael/Michelle and her friends were now being put into practice. In their suffering and grief our teenagers could see God’s love tangibly expressed through His church and it has grafted them in. Most now come every Sunday and several are moving on with the Lord.

This entire experience has brought me close to many teenagers in our community and I have listened to them (Proverbs 18:13) and reevaluated my approach to youth ministry. In the extremes of this ordeal they have taught me many lessons. I hope the below findings help.

Generation Z

Today’s youth (Generation Z) are growing up in a unique time where Christianity is seen as all but dead. Without the “absolute” of God, nothing in their culture is certain, not even their gender. Without a Christian moral framework, relationships often break down, the family unit is fluid and unstable. Generation Z has the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, but little stability to build anything on. With the ‘death’ of Christianity there is no longer an absolute truth, so everything is free to question, but this has made Generation Z surprisingly open to ideas of the miraculous. For this reason they are less interested in apologetics (compared to Generation X, Y and the Millennials). 

Generation Z are incredibly compassionate but also very lonely, their relationships are mainly digital, aesthetical and superficial. They are isolated from their wider community and have limited multi-generational influences. This has starved them of the opportunity to learn important social skills (such as patience and empathy) that you would naturally develop when engaging in mixed groups (church). They have been bought by a material culture, and define themselves by what they own or consume. Generation Z crave sincere togetherness (church).

They have been taught that Christianity is an archaic and bigoted institution and directly opposed to their liberated secular world. Generation Z do not feel that they can be ‘good citizens’ and ‘Christians’ at the same time because of such false assumptions.

This is the new challenge of our youth work today. To break down these assumptions!

We do not need to argue or justify the virgin birth or undermine neo-Darwinism with Generation Z (as we needed to with the millennials), rather show them the better love story that we have (1 John 3:18).

Our nation’s youth desperately need to hear that they are not simply products of chance in a meaningless universe, they need to know that they are not defined by their mere sexual desires or by the products that they own.  They need to know that their self worth is not measured by how many instagram followers they have or what clothes they wear. Our nation’s youth desperately need the stability, consistency and accountability that church uniquely provides and most importantly they need to hear that they are eternally valued by a God who loves them to death!

When these truths are taught and practiced by the church, God’s love (revealed to us perfectly in Jesus Christ), will become as irresistible to this lost generation as it was to ours.

We continue to pray.

*The names have been changed to protect all those involved. I have received permission from the foster family to publish the above in the hope that it will help other churches and build bridges with the LGBT+ community.

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

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).