Generation Z – Transgenderism in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

Michael wanted to identify as a woman (Michelle).

With Michael’s consent I prayed with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gender

One Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generation Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We continue to pray.

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

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POEM: 2,000 Christmas Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope to see you there!

6pm Sunday 23rd December 2018!

The Big Arch Abersychan.

(I know the last bit did not rhyme).

Are all religions the same?

I have noticed in our ever increasing secular world a growing desire for the spiritual.

But in our generation of individualism and great consumerism, those who naturally long for such wish to fill the void as a customer.

Today’s attitude towards religion is one of a spiritual shopping trolley, where you can select the bits you like from each (or simply drive-thru at Christmas) and create a bespoke system that works “for you”.

A “personalised religion” that comes with a god who does not question your lifestyle and choices, a god of your choosing, who works around you and on your terms, essentially a god of self creation.

On the contrary I am delighted that my faith does not always work for me. I rejoice that I do not come to a god who bows the knee to my whim, or one that changes to fit my lifestyle choices, as this “god” would be no better than me, in fact this god would be submissive to me and thus not a god at all!

Yet, this nominal religious view continues to trend and has caused the popular psyche to amalgamate what ‘they know’ of religion and fill social media with infographics such as the one below.

religions1

There are a few points I wish to prayerfully make about such a graphic and what it is teaching.

The argument raised here is that “every” religion essentially shares the same “primary” teaching.

There is some Biblical truth to this.

We are told in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that God put eternity in every human being and it says in Genesis 1:27 that we are all made in God’s image. So it is logical that humanity would naturally and collectively seek the divine. Equally it is expected that such an innate aspiration would manifest itself in various ways, yet share common truths, just as we share in a common humanity.

With that said one of the main issues I have with the above (and other meme’s like it) is that they often include just nine “religions” out of many thousands practiced today.

If you are willing to state that all “religions” are essentially the same, then you are also placing them alongside those that practice; the mutilation of girls genitalia, the sacrifice of children, Satanism and the occult, religious discrimination (by race, age and sex), mass poisoning and drug taking, suicide pacts and of course the Jedi knights.

No reasonable human being would be in support of such practices, so I assume that what is being concluded by the above infographic (and similar memes) is that the “big 9” religions essentially share the same ethos? Am I right?

If this is the case, the inclusive religious ethos advocated by this graphic, has in fact excluded and eliminated many thousands of other “religions”.

The practicing Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu for that matter) is then mocked as “bigoted” for following one path exclusively, when all they have done is simply add another eight religions to the many thousands you have already culled.

There is no denying that loving your neighbour as yourself is a key Christian teaching.

Jesus did say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind this is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:40)

For the aforementioned reasons I also concede that such teaching is echoed across the “big 9”.

However, my dispute is with the commonality implied.

The problem

We (humanity) live in a foreign town of death (we all die – you can’t argue with this), yet we all have an innate understanding of eternity, we are sentient beings who know of the past,can imagine the future and perceive the immeasurable, such as love and grief. This is because we are body and soul.

Our souls are eternal and thus we are all aware of our immediate danger! We all understand that we need to leave this town and get home before it is too late! But the journey home to safety (God) is long and arduous and it can only be achieved by car (Religion)!

If loving others was the core teaching of all the options to escape, you could call it the engine of every “religion”. Now if my understanding of God’s revelation is wrong and embracing this truth was all you needed. Then congratulations you have your engine! It is now sat on your driveway!

But as the town begins to collapse you will soon realise that the “engine” (by itself) is of no help, you can’t get anywhere with just a lump of metal sat on your driveway can you?

The engine is useless without a frame, wheels, lights, seat and a steering wheel. For this reason we have millennia of academia and scholarship, philosophy and theology, supporting and justifying the need for the other parts.

Now you may think you could pull different parts from each car that you like, but this will not help you either. The wheel of one car will not fit the frame of the other, the gear box from a smaller car will not drive the momentum of a larger vehicle.

Eventually your worldly logic maybe able to build something out of the spare parts, but it will not last the journey home to God. Nothing of this world will, only a divine carriage will suffice!

So, we are left with a garage of eight attractive automotives, all promising the ride of your life, comfort and great attention! Which one will you choose to take you home to God?

The Budhism or Hinduism options are of course very attractive, however you will find that as you drive around you will always come back to where you started, doing endless laps in vain, in different forms, around the crumbling neighbourhood, you get nowhere and the problem remains! Rein’car’nation.

The New Age “Eco” model is an exciting mystical option, but yet in itself superfluous as it teaches “god” lies in your own higher consciousness, so despite your innate desire to journey home to your maker and escape the inevitable death, you are not going anywhere, just put the air-conditioning on and practice your meditative breathing whilst the town crumbles around you!

You may go for Islam or other works based religions (like Catholicism), big engine and all you could possibly need for the journey, but it comes with a huge car manual. Solid and reliable build, very popular, however  by its own admission, God is divine and home will always be beyond the reach of the vehicles lifespan however well you drive it.

So what do you do? What vehicle do you choose?

religions2

None offer real salvation from this fallen world. God (by definition) is divine and perfect, we are not and our imperfections have lead to death. We need to escape, but how?

Well notice I only mentioned eight fancy cars in the garage – we are missing one of the Big 9?

Christianity!

Christianity is unique to all the rest, because it is primarily not a teaching, neither is it a philosophy or a legal principle, or an order of law for you to follow. Christianity is a person (Jesus Christ).

Christianity is not a “religion” in the context of the others listed, as there are no works that need to be done to achieve salvation. – it is simply down to a matter of faith. Trust in God the Son.

Christianity is not a car you can drive! Because no car you have can provide the escape needed, however comfortable or glamorous it seems. They will not survive the journey home, and your own imperfections will cause you to get lost on the way anyway.

Christianity is about having faith in God Himself to save you. Essentially Christianity is calling a taxi!

A taxi may not be beautiful, it may get messy at times and you may have others sharing the ride with you. But with God Himself (Jesus Christ) at the wheel, you know His perfection will get you home safely.

The ride may get bumpy, you may have to sing along to whatever the driver chooses to put on the radio, but you get to meet new people who share the ride with you. Who will not judge you for not having a fancy car of your own, for they are in the Taxi with you. If you make a mistake, or want to take a wrong turn, Jesus is behind the wheel and can get you back on track!

OK John – Nice analogy, but the Taxi fare would be extortionate to get to God. What if we can’t pay?

Well this is the beauty of the Gospel! The driver of the Taxi (Jesus Christ) already paid your fare in full, on the Cross at Calvary. The only thing you have to do is jump in the wagon and trust that He will get you home.

Christianity is totally unique in that it is about humble acceptance of your own unworthiness to get home and accepting in faith God’s condescension in Jesus for you. He drove into the crumbling town and is offering a free ride to escape! Will you jump in? Or continue trying to build a car of your own choosing that will get you nowhere?

Love, Love, Love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” Luke 15:9-17

On Saturday I had the privilege of marrying my first couple at Noddfa. As you can imagine, I was incredibly nervous throughout. This was their special day, one that they would remember for the rest of their lives and I did not want to put a foot wrong.

The couple had come to me earlier in the year and was surprised to hear that as a church we would simply accept a donation for the wedding, there was no set fee (outside of the organist and registrar). Without the risk of sounding cynical, I understand that other denominations make a living from such a ceremony. But for me, I see it as an opportunity to reach out to the couple regularly, to share the Gospel with them and discuss the Biblical principles of marriage.The couple regularly attended services on the lead up – and we pray they continue to do so.

Noddfa Wedding

Noddfa Wedding

The other huge opportunity from the wedding was of course with the invited guests.

Over seventy people were invited from the community, most had never stepped foot in Noddfa before, and now know where we are and have now all heard the Gospel. Praise God!

The service was traditional, short  and simple, the message afterwards unashamedly evangelistic and (Praise God) it got them thinking! (Whether they remember it post celebration is another thing!)

After a few pleasantries and a laugh, I asked them all quite directly why is church now reserved only for the special occasions? “Hatched, Matched and Dispatched” Is it because you see church simply as a tradition? Or is it because you believe that God does not exist?

What makes people believe that God does not exist? Well the common and most obvious answer is because you can’t see Him, touch Him, or scientifically measure Him. This is why people choose to relegate His church to just one visit a year?

Unsurprisingly the majority at the wedding acknowledged this to be their viewpoint.

I believe this is the common thought of many throughout our Valley, and I argue this stance is simply illogical. Especially when those who maintain such thinking are quite happy to join us at a wedding ceremony without argument. As a wedding is a  time to see two people contradict nature and give themselves to eachother for the rest of their lives. “In sickness and in health, until death do they part.” The entire ceremony is a symbol of love! Love, Love, Love!

Love (like God) can’t be scientifically measured; love can’t be seen or touched. Yet none of our visitors doubt that love exists! If they did, why bother to come?

By the same logic that our guests judge the unlikelihood of God’s existence, they would have to dispute the very thing that they had come to celebrate! Love! Can you see the double standards in the logic?

So, if you can accept love as a reality, without being able to see it, or measure it. Why then do you doubt the reality of our loving God?

God is love! Like Love, He can’t be seen, He can’t be measured! But yes, He is real! Without Him, weddings would not happen, we would have no propensity to love and we would live like the rest of nature, without morality and in absolute chaos.

Just like the wedding day was a physical representation of the love that cannot be seen or measured! This church lives by God’s commands as a physical representation of what you cannot see or measure. So, if you accept love, I argue, you must then by the same logic accept God.

The comparisons do not stop there! Like God, love is not of this world, because Love is from God! Love is unselfish! Love, loves in times of sickness and in times of poverty and at times of sadness and death. Love stays with you through the tough times. Love stays with you long after the looks fade! (I am living proof of this).

God is real and because we are created in His image we have a propensity to love!

Noddfa Wedding

Noddfa Wedding

Jesus is love, Jesus is our example! 

In love, God left the glories of Heaven, to be born a babe, not in a palace, but in a stable. In love God Himself took on flesh in the historical person of Jesus and lived a life of poverty. In love God came low, to be rejected by the world, (just as He is today), He was mocked (just as He is today), He was ignored (just as He is today), He was dismissed (just as He is today), He was beaten and eventually nailed to a cross where He slowly died in the most horrific way in the heat of middle east Why? So that come the day of judgement, those who He loves, those who He has chosen, who know Him as Lord and Saviour, and are obedient to Him, will not face judgement.

This is what we came to celebrate together! That in a cursed world, of wars, of social deprivation, of economic turmoil, of death and tragedy, by God’s Grace we still have people that reject the ways of nature, and do not do whatever their selfish genes tell them to do. Instead they sacrificially give themselves to each other just as Jesus gave Himself for us..

Just like God, Love is real and it contradicts everything that this world is teaching you!

Rejoice today.Thanking God, that in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have the ultimate source of Love, that His death on the cross is sufficient to pay for the Sins of those who know Him, and that all that love Him can defeat the curse of this world and live in Love.

Noddfa Wedding

Noddfa Wedding

Amen