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.

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Being in the presence of God – EMW Camps 2018

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

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

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

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Australia was the camp theme

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

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

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

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

To summarise the weeks teaching;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God was with us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples.

Pray for Manchester 

The world is calling us to #prayformanchester in light of the atrocities – and as Christians we must! 

Many have woken up this morning having to face the loss of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins and friends. Your neighbours may not be directly affected but are scared, anxious and distraught by such awful events. We must pray for them all and pro actively  love, sympathise, empathise and sacrificially serve all those affected as best we can. We need to pray to God asking for His strength so that we can be Christlike in our community and pray that He will give us the right words to say during this painful time.

Whenever humanity witnesses such irrational hatred and evil, we have no other alternative but to turn to God. Made in His image we all instinctively run to Him in crisis. This collective desire to #prayformanchester should then remind us all (churched or otherwise) of our transcendence; innate love, humility and compassion, the very things that make us uniquely human. This is exactly why it is so important for us all to pray and appreciate the reality of God (and His character imparted to us as His image bearers) in our daily lives. 

We can see from the worlds response to such atrocities (the request for prayer) that secularism cannot provide the comfort we need, dismissing God does not fill the vacuum or stop the killing of innocents, neither has modernity made prayer redundant. Prayer is uniquely human, it is uniquely helpful, because we are uniquely made in God’s image.

The terrible events in Manchester once again prove the total depravity and fallen nature of mankind and that we live in a cursed world, where terrible things can and do happen. Christian, we must weep with those who weep today and prayerfully love and help those in need and show them (amidst the horror of such events) that there still is hope, because there really is a God and He has a rescue plan for us… found in the person Jesus Christ of Nazareth! In Christ we have meaning in such trial, light in the darkness, we are made stronger in adversity and carry a sure hope of a better future whatever evil is thrown at us. Our desire to  glorify God with our compassion and gospel love (even to our enemies) is our best weapon against such hate.

As a church we should be on our knees today mourning with those who mourn, praying for all those affected by this act of hate and praying that God the Son, who also lost loved ones and faced injustice and death HIMSELF on the cross will be of great comfort and strength for all those suffering in grief and injury. 

May God’s Grace be sufficient in our weakness as we seek to support all those affected and may He be of help to those who have lost loved ones and are suffering today.


Pray for Paris – What does this mean?

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I was scrolling through Facebook over the weekend and saw nothing but support for France in light of the atrocities they’ve had to suffer at the hands of ISIS.

It has been a tremendous display of solidarity. Many people have changed their profile pictures to show the French flag as well as give various messages of support. One such popular message is “Pray for Paris”. I have seen many of my non-Christian or nominal “friends” on Facebook share this meme and it is a wonderful gesture. But this does beg the question, why are those that have little to do with any religion at any other time suddenly have a desire to pray? And what does “Pray for Paris” mean to them?

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we are told that “God has put eternity in the heart of man,” because of this we (human beings) are all aware of the divine, we are all sentient beings, we are both body and soul. Which is why in times of crisis even the most ardent atheist has the propensity to look up and call for help.

The act of prayer in itself is an acknowledgment of God (otherwise who are you talking to?) The act of prayer assumes that the gap between yourself and our creator has been bridged and that He has the capacity to hear and answer your prayers (and the millions of prayers He receives every minute of every day). Prayer is also an admittance of your own powerless state in a situation and the hope you have in God to help you.

By the very act of praying for Paris, you are making huge assumptions that God will be listening, be empathetic and has the ability and desire to answer you. In affect the very act of prayer is an affirmation of the Gospel.

Why?

Well it is only in the Gospel that we are told that in love God became flesh  (John 1:14).

It is only in the Gospel that we are told that God walked with us on this cursed earth and is thus empathetic to our trials (Hebrews 4:15).

It is only in the Gospel that we are told  that God died for us, and in His death on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:1) “bridged the gap” and reconciled us with Himself (Romans 5:10-11).

It is only in the Gospel that we are told that God mediates for us (1 Timothy 2:5).

It is only in the Gospel that we are told that God listens (1 John 5:14) and He can listen because He lives (Revelation 1:18).

Various religions and cultures pray, but only the Christian Gospel meets the assumptions made by its very act.

Please continue to Pray for Paris and keep praying for all those that are suffering. The Gospel is “the Good News” that you do not have to wait for a crisis to happen to speak to God. In Jesus Christ, God has made a way for us to speak with Him whenever we want to, what a privilege and a blessing. Enjoy it and Embrace it.

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

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