Give Thanks

Psalm 136:1  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.

In this season and time of Thanksgiving, many people say that they don’t know what they have for which to give thanks, for which to be thankful. Well, God is on the Throne and everything is going to be all right. How about a short list to jog your memory:

  • Give Him thanks if you travelled safely to and from work, for He watches over you.
  • Give Him thanks because you have the ability to live and move and have your being.
  • Give Him thanks for the eyes you see with and the ears you hear with.
  • Give Him thanks for the food in your pantry and on your table.
  • Give Him thanks for the air in your lungs and the life in your body.
  • Give Him thanks that you have a local house of worship where you can hear His Word rightly divided.
  • Give Him thanks that He has never failed you and His Word has shown you the path you should follow.
  • Give Him thanks for His living water has been poured out over you.
  • Give Him thanks that His angels have guarded and guided you.
  • Give Him thanks for He has given you the ability to declare that you are more than a conqueror through Christ who gives you strength.

We used to sing a chorus in church, “Give thanks with a grateful heart”; are we grateful for His many blessings? We have so much for which to give thanks; we merely need to remind ourselves of those blessings from time to time.

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Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Borrowed from Bible.org.

Psalm 119 shows us that the Word of God should have top priority in our lives. It stands as the giant among the Psalms–it is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible–176 verses. The psalm is an acrostic or alphabetic psalm, in which there are eight couplets beginning with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus the first eight couplets begin with aleph (= A), the next eight with beth (= B), etc.  Since the Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, it shows us the priority of praise and worship to God. Since Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible, it shows us the priority of God’s Word to God; in fact, this longest chapter of the Bible is ALL ABOUT God’s Word

When God speaks, He does not mumble. The Bible is not a book of “helpful hints for happy living.” It speaks with authority. The terms used as synonyms for the Bible in this psalm convey the concept of authority:

(1) Law (v. 1; the main synonym, used 25x in this psalm) has the nuance of “teaching”; it can refer to a single command, to the first five books of Moses, or to all of Scripture (John 15:25; 1 Cor. 14:21). The law reveals God’s will for how His people are to live. Since it comes from God the law is not just for academic interest, but for obedience.

(2) Testimonies (v. 2; used 10x in the psalm), from a root meaning “to bear witness.” It points to the dependability of the Bible as a witness of things of God. It also has the nuance of warning.

(3) Ways (v. 3; used 7x of God’s ways in this psalm) refers to God’s characteristic manner of acting, as contrasted with our ways (119:5, 26, 29, 59, 168).

(4) Precepts (v. 4; 21x in the psalm) comes from a word meaning to oversee or pay close attention to a matter. Thus it “points to the particular instructions of the Lord, as of one who cares about detail” (Derek Kidner, Psalms [IVP], 2:418).

(5) Statutes (v. 5; 22x in the psalm) comes from a word meaning “to engrave in stone” and thus they “speak of the binding force and permanence of Scripture” (Kidner).

(6) Commandments (v. 6, 22x in the psalm) points to “the straight authority of what is said” (Kidner). It has the idea of giving orders.

(7) Judgments or ordinances (NASB, vv. 7, 13, same Hebrew word; 23x in the psalm) has the idea of justice rooted in God’s character. These are “the decisions of the all-wise Judge about common human situations” (Kidner).

(8) Word (v. 9; 23x in the psalm) is the most general term of all, emphasizing the fact that God has spoken.

(9) Word (v. 11; 19x in the psalm) is similar to the previous term. It is derived from the verb “to say” and may sometimes have the nuance of promise (NASB margin, vv. 38, 41).

(10) Faithfulness (v. 90), righteousness (v. 40), and name (v. 132) are also sometimes cited as synonyms for the Scriptures in this psalm.

The sum effect of these terms is that the Scriptures speak with God’s authority. They are not Reader’s Digest type hints on how to live or suggestions for success. What the Bible says, God says. Obedience is not optional for us as believers.

Psalm 119:105  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

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Leprosy

According to that arbiter of all things intellectual (the internet), leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) is a disfiguring disease that has impacted humanity since Biblical times. It is now known to be not nearly as infectious as formerly thought, but there is still a stigma attached to its diagnosis.

Leviticus tells us that there were three main types if leprosy and it could infect human skin, clothing, or houses, with appropriate cleansing procedures in each case. In more modern times, lepers (or persons with leprosy) were often confined to colonies where their contagion could not be spread. However, it is now clear that leprosy is caused by a bacterium and can be treated with appropriate antibiotic drug regimes.

One of the most insidious symptoms of leprosy is the loss of feeling due to nerve damage. As the disease progresses unchecked, toes, fingers, and even noses and eyes lose sensation and do not even feel the pain of accidental injury. This leads to some horrendous disfigurements. However, it should be noted that even after being cured of leprosy, the victim’s nerve damage is not repaired and the loss of sensation is permanent.

So, what does this have to do with me and my friends in a world where leprosy has been essentially controlled and is no longer a factor in most of the world? It impacts every believer in Christ because much of the Church suffers from “spiritual leprosy”.

Just as a victim of Hansen’s disease slowly loses feeling in his extremities and his failing sense of touch no longer protects him from pain and damage, through the never-ending assault upon our Christian sensibilities by the anti-Christian society in which the church exists, we slowly become desensitized and habituated. Our conscience becomes seared to the point where we are no longer pained by the sin around us. The conscience firewall God gave each of us becomes breached by the virus of familiarity and we no longer feel the painful warning of destructive behaviours. Our society has whole-heartedly taken up the banner of “what-ev-er”, and holds that truth is relative and absolutes are non-existent. And the church follows along in lock-step, delayed only by a few years of numbing before espousing the same mind-sets as those outside the church. It has been said that the failure to feel guilt is the basic flaw in the psychopath.

We need to thank God for the capacity to feel both physical and spiritual pain. It provides us with the warning and the motivation to change—to be transformed into the image of our Savior Jesus Christ. In accepting His sacrifice for our sins, we take upon ourselves the responsibility—with God’s help—to diagnose and eradicate the sins that cause the spiritual pain in the first place, to bring us into vibrant spiritual health. We must be careful that the hardness of our hearts does not decline into an insensitivity of conscience that prevents us from seeking forgiveness and repentance.

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Formation to conformity: our formative journey

 

Dictionary.com gives 44 definitions for the word “form”, thirty as a noun and 14 as a verb.  “Form” is a key element of so many words in the English language.  By examining the word “form” and its derivatives, I would like to take you on a seven-step journey, from God’s formative power (whereby God creates and develops, then gives shape to His creation) to man’s ultimate conformity (when we are finally brought into complete harmony and agreement with God’s plan of salvation).

  1. God Forms – To Make a Mold or Pattern (God Creates, calls into being, etc.)

After the formless void was given structure and substance. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God formed man from the dust of the ground, and that He formed out of the ground the beasts and the birds (Genesis 2:19). But, that was just the beginning of God’s formative efforts.  It is God who formed each of us in our mother’s womb (Isaiah 44:24), and He says that He knew us even before He formed us (Jeremiah 1:5). And the psalmist exclaims that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). But God’s forming power goes far beyond the physical. Psalms 33:15 says that it is He who forms the hearts of every man. And the state of our heart is important to God, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (Isaiah 16:7)

Yes, God forms, but then…

  1. Satan Deforms – To Make Ugly, Disfigure or Mar

Satan knows Scripture! He knows the Word of God, but he deforms it (by distortion and by taking the Word out of context) in an attempt to cause God’s creation to fall into sin.  Throughout the history of mankind, Satan has tried to deform man into his own corrupt form. And his favourite tool just might be doubt. After Jesus had been alone and hungry in the desert for forty days, Satan said to Him, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3)  Satan’s deformation (by distortion or misinterpretation) of the Word is an attempt to sow seeds of doubt. Even in the Garden of Eden, Satan was aware of God’s instructions to Adam and Eve, but he deformed that good word by saying, “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1)

God forms, and Satan deforms, but the…

  1. Prophets Inform – To Supply With Information (Teach or admonish)

God has frequently used prophets to inform His people, to show them the error of their ways, to lead them back to a right relationship and the correct path.  Jeremiah (the prophet) informed King Zedekiah that God had promised that he would not die in the siege of Babylon (Jeremiah 34:10).  When King Ahab tried to create an alliance with the king of Damascus, one of the prophets informed Ahab that God was displeased with his disobedience in allowing a defeated foe to live and that his own life would be forfeit in payment. (1 Kings 20:36-42)

Yes, God forms and Satan deforms. The prophets inform, but…

  1. Religion Performs – To do, Carry out, to act

Much of what passes for religion today is about performance.  If people perform well enough to mollify an angry deity, then their prayers may be answered, or they may earn enlightenment or an opportunity for a better future life. Scripture gives us many examples of performance. By the power of the Almighty, Moses performed many miracles before Pharaoh (Exodus, chapters 7 to 11). Eventually the Egyptian king was forced to admit that his magicians and sorcerers could not perform the same miracles and had to let the Hebrews leave. Not only did legitimate priests and prophets perform their duties but, we are told that “false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect…” (Matthew 24:24)

Yes God forms and Satan deforms. The prophets inform and religion performs. But there is hope because a Holy God calls sinners…

  1. Sinners Reform – To correct what is wrong, especially by removing some evil or abuse

We are called to obedience and admonished to reform our sinful behaviours, to abandon our wrong and evil ways of life and conduct. This call to reformation, voiced by a Holy God, was frequently through the prophet Jeremiah, who said, “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.” (Jeremiah 7:3).  Much of that entire chapter deals with God pointing out their errors and telling them how to correct their faults.

God forms and Satan deforms. The prophets inform and religion performs. God calls us to reform, but The …

  1. Holy Spirit Transforms – To change into something else (to metamorphose or go through an amazing change)

This transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit (the process of sanctification) is partly through our own efforts and partly through the miraculous intervention of God. Paul encouraged the Roman believers to abandon the influences of the world around them, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Paul told the Corinthians that the veil Moses wore was no longer required. “And we … are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18)  Paul went so far as to say that transformation will go far beyond our behaviour and extend to our bodies. “And we eagerly await a Savior … will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:21)

God forms and Satan deforms. The prophets inform and religion performs. God calls us to reform, and The Holy Spirit transforms. But it is Jesus who helps us to be conformed.

  1. Jesus Conforms – To act in agreement with a standard, pattern (to make similar and to become like Jesus)

God expects a degree of conformity in us, but He desires that we be conformed to Him and to the likeness of His Son, not to a sinful and wicked world.  God chastised Jerusalem for her wickedness, “You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” (Ezekiel 5:7)  Paul said that God predestined some of us to be like Him. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)  Paul warned the Roman believers that conformation to the likeness and Spirit of God was possible only if we first ensured that we were not trying to also be like the world. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)  Peter had a similar warning. “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

So here is our seven-step journey of formation: from God’s formative power (whereby God creates and develops, then gives shape to His creation) to man’s ultimate conformity (when we are finally brought into complete harmony and agreement with God’s plan of salvation and we become one with our Saviour in heaven)

God forms

Satan deforms

Prophets inform

Religion performs

Sinners reform

Holy Spirit transforms

Jesus conforms us…

In the very beginning God created us in His image (our formation).

Part of that image, I believe, is the ability to attain holiness (our reformation).

Even though our holiness is attained though the shed blood of Jesus (our transformation), we must still live a lifestyle which reflects that holiness (our conformation). And this we can do if the ultimate goal of holiness (i.e. heaven) means more to us than anything else this life has to offer.

 

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The Heroes of Hell Island

Just finished a book about the heroes of the siege of Malta in 1942-43; it’s called “Hell Island” by Dan McCaffery (copyright 1998 by Dan McCaffery, published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd, Toronto.)

This is a book about the tiny band of young British Commonwealth fliers (many of whom were Canadian) who overcame impossible odds, sometimes approaching 100 to 1, during the siege of the island of Malta by the German and Italian Axis forces in 1942. Like the medieval sieges of old, this one involved disease, starvation, death and massive losses. However, for me, one of the most striking paragraphs of the entire recounting came in the author’s epilogue. It said…

“I decided to write about the siege of Malta because I feel it tells us a great deal about the true nature of heroism and where it comes from. Like it or not, we need heroes. They are important role models for the young and an inspiration for those of all ages. Unfortunately, it seems to me, our modern world produces precious few genuine heroes, military or otherwise. The brave young man who sailed forth in his propeller plane has been overtaken by a faceless figure in a concrete bunker, poised to press a button that will send a computer-guided missile halfway across the globe. On the civilian front, great inventors like Thomas Edison, who toiled for countless hours in cramped, dingy laboratories, have been replaced by teams of anonymous scientists working in posh glass towers for giant corporations. Bereft of true heroes, we have turned to celebrities instead. It’s sad, really, because while the celebrity may be famous, there is often little that is particularly heroic about him or her. Perhaps even more serious is the fact that the cult of celebrity has diminished the worth of the so-called ordinary person. Worse than that, it challenges the democratic notion that everyone is created equal. While the 1940s generation admired regular folks who stood up to the Nazis and won, today’s society has been reduced to worshipping overpaid professional athletes, musicians and actors.”

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Is the North American church related to the Nicolatians?

A couple of times in the second chapter of Revelation, God states that He hates the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolatians. However, the identity and background of this mysterious group is not explained; in fact, the name appears nowhere else in Scripture. So who were these people of false doctrine?

Some scholars (as gleaned from the writings of some of the early church fathers) suggest that these are followers of a fallen deacon, Nicolas (Acts 6:5). This is a very tenuous claim, however, and some suggest that the group was named after another Nicolas, perhaps even the son of the deacon Nicolas, who later became bishop of Samaria.

If one of these two individuals was in fact the founder of the group that bears the name, what exactly was wrong with their doctrine?

Nicolas of Antioch was ordained as a deacon (Acts 6:5) and described as a “proselyte”. That means that he forsook his pagan roots and embraced Judaism. Subsequently, he changed his mind (and his religion) again and began to follow “The Way”. It has been speculated that if this individual was so adept at switching religious allegiances, perhaps he carried a lot of the old pagan beliefs and practices along with him. Those deep roots in paganism may have given him a tolerance for occultist practice, perhaps even leading him to believe that these things were not so dangerous or damaging. Such a liberal view would encourage people to stay connected to their old world of sin, hedonism, and occult beliefs. In Revelation 2:14-15, we are told that this Nicolatian practice is compared to that of Balaam, who placed a stumbling block before the people, causing them to sin.

The doctrine of the Nicolatians promoted and encouraged compromise, and that compromise of faith resulted in a weakened and powerless form of Christianity. Some say that this is exactly what has happened to the western church; we’ve become irrelevant because we have compromised our faith and give more heed to the ways and mores of the world than to what The Word teaches we should do and say and believe.

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Paul and the Fortune Teller

Had an interesting discussion this week about the passage in Acts 16 that describes the Apostle Paul becoming annoyed with a fortune-telling slave girl and commanding the demon within her to depart.

Acts 16:16-18 (NIV) Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

I had read this passage many times, but usually I rushed on to the part about Paul and Silas being imprisoned, and tended not to think much about the situation surrounding the slave girl. However, the discussion with my bride encouraged me to dig more deeply, and raised several questions (there are lots more questions, but these will suffice for now).

  • Was God directing Satan’s minion to proclaim the truth?

First, one thing must be made absolutely clear; God does NOT need Satan as an ally and supporter! If God wanted a supernatural pronouncement in support of Paul and Silas, then He would have provided it Himself; He has no need of assistance from the evil one.

  • Why was Paul so perturbed about this girl’s pronouncements, were they untrue?

Paul was not annoyed at the girl, he was annoyed at the loud and persistent demon within her. The pronouncements seemed true, but if Paul accepted them and said nothing it would have appeared that he was linking the gospel with demonic activities. It has been speculated that the girl was actually proclaiming the truth in a mocking manner, similar to those who mockingly greeted Jesus with “Hail! King of the Jews”. Perhaps she was not referring to the same “God Most High” that Christians assume; in Philippi Zeus was the supreme god.

  • And, why did Paul wait for several days before taking action?

It is unclear why Paul waited for several days before taking action and commanding the demon to depart. Perhaps he had been waiting for an opportunity that would not endanger the girl or the disciples, or antagonize the local officials. Additionally, Paul was concerned for the girl’s well-being and safety (she was used and objectified by her owners); demon possession cannot be ignored. Perhaps Paul was waiting for Holy Spirit direction on dealing with the situation. Whatever his original thinking, it seems obvious that a tipping-point had been reached and he was willing to proceed regardless of the consequences.

  • Why was Satan (the girl was demon possessed) promoting the way of salvation?

We have no way of knowing the whys of Satan’s involvement, but we can speculate. Perhaps there is at work here some of the same interaction between God and Satan as described in the account of Job (Satan had God’s permission to act). Perhaps, as the liar and father of lies, Satan is attempting to start a process that would eventually discredit the gospel and/or its messengers (a process thwarted by Paul’s exorcism). Perhaps the demon was constrained to speak the truth in the same manner that Baalam could only bless Israel, not curse them.

  • What is more important in this situation; the proclamation of truth, or the source of the proclamation? Is truth from an evil source still truth?

Matthew’s gospel states that good cannot come from an evil source, that good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:16-18). So, it would seem that the girl’s pronouncements were in fact NOT good, NOT truthful (as they seem). Perhaps Paul discerned something that is not immediately obvious to us (i.e.; not referring to God but to Zeus). In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul said, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

I really like it when someone points out something I had previously missed in Scripture. However, I must be careful because I have a tendency to get caught up in the trap of trying to analyze every nuance of Scripture. But scripture itself cautions us to not have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people“ (1 Timothy 6:4). So, with that in mind, I think that although these exercises are fun (and usually enlightening), it is safe to say that if it were really important, if God felt we needed to know the details, it would have been spelled out more clearly for us.

 

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Welsh Pentecostalism

Debate/presentation in the National Assembly for Wales, 25 Nov 2015, concerning Welsh Pentecostalism by Darren Millar, a member of the assembly and an ordained Assembly of God minister.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to lead this short debate in the Senedd on the topic of Welsh Pentecostalism. This year and next, Pentecostalism in Wales is celebrating some centenary celebrations. In doing so, this branch of Welsh Christianity confirms its place as one of the most significant parts of our Welsh religious heritage. But Welsh Pentecostalism has not just had an impact here in Wales; its influence has been keenly felt worldwide. As Pentecostal history continues to grow and Christianity continues to grow, so too does the importance of our Welsh Pentecostal heritage. Before going any further, I should put on the record that earlier this year, I was ordained as a minister by the Assemblies of God denomination, the largest of the Pentecostal denominations worldwide, and that one of my staff members, Tim Rowlands, is also a minister of the Assemblies of God denomination. So, you can call us both ‘Reverend’ from now on if you want.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘Pentecostalism’, perhaps I should attempt to define it. Pentecostalism is a stream of mainstream Christianity that is Protestant, evangelical, relational and experiential. In more accessible terms, Pentecostals believe: firstly, that salvation comes only through grace and faith in Jesus Christ rather than by our own human efforts; secondly, that they have a faith that is good news and worth sharing with others; thirdly, that everyone can know God and can have a personal relationship with him; and fourthly, that all Christians can experience God through the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which empowers believers to live the Christian life for themselves. Of course, it is this distinctive that sets Pentecostals apart from other streams of Christianity. It is perhaps because of these beliefs that congregations in Pentecostal churches are generally very lively and exuberant in their worship, and that they reach out so effectively in mission and care for their local communities.

Pentecostalism is so called because it associates itself with the events recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles, where on the day of Pentecost, some 10 days after Jesus’s ascension into heaven, around 120 disciples experienced an infilling of the Holy Spirit, which fuelled their ministry and birthed the worldwide church that we see today. While the American Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in 1906 is generally considered as the origin of the modern Pentecostal movement, many would argue, myself included, that the 1904 Welsh revival was the catalyst that prepared the way for Pentecostalism to take the world by storm. Interestingly, from its beginnings, Pentecostalism has always been inclusive regarding the role of the women in the church, with some very high-profile women minister such as Maria Woodworth-Etter and Aimee Semple McPherson. Importantly, because of the pioneering role of William J. Seymour, the African-American minister who led the meetings of Azuza Street, Pentecostalism has also managed to successfully build bridges across numerous racial divides. But early Pentecostalism was not embraced by all. Those who experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit were often rejected by the churches they attended, and it is this that caused new denominations to emerge. Thankfully, these divisions did not last long, and now many people in other denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Baptists have all embraced the Pentecostal experience for themselves. Such people are often referred to as ‘charismatics’, and from its humble beginnings, Pentecostalism now represents the fastest-growing form of Christianity in the world. One piece of research estimates that one in four of all Christians worldwide are Pentecostal or charismatic, representing 8 per cent of the global population.

As recently as August this year, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, stated that engaging with Pentecostalism was especially important, as Pentecostalism has become, and I quote,

‘the second-largest reality in Christianity after the Catholic Church.’

What is fascinating is the part that Wales has to play in this exponential growth, and the role it has played in the past. The influence of the 1904 Welsh revival cannot be underestimated. As a forerunner to global Pentecostalism, the work and ministry of Evan Roberts was significant. Born in 1878 in Loughor, near Swansea, Evan Roberts spent his early adult years as a coal miner. But it was while studying for the ministry in September 1904, at a chapel service in Blaenannerch, that a supernatural experience changed his life. Following this, on Halloween of 1904, at Moriah Chapel in Loughor, Evan Roberts began to hold a series of meetings that ignited a spiritual awakening that spread the length and breadth of the country. Within just two years of those meetings, it’s estimated that 100,000 people were added to the churches and chapels of Wales. Chapels were filled from morning until night, marriages were restored, families were reconciled, long-standing debts were settled, the crime rate plummeted and, in some parts of Wales, judges wore white gloves because there were no cases to try. It’s even reported that pit ponies refused to work as the swear words that used to command them were abandoned by the miners whose conversions caused them to abandon their foul language. One legacy of the revival that continues to feature strongly in our modern culture is the singing of hymns at national rugby matches.

Reports of the awakening in Wales soon spread across the world, both in printed form and by a new wave of converts who became passionate Welsh missionaries. From India to Madagascar, and from China to Patagonia, the stories of Welsh revival burned wherever they were carried, and Evan Roberts himself inspired those who became leaders in the Azusa Street movement, encouraging them in correspondence to seek a similar awakening for themselves. They did, and it led to the Pentecostal revival that has now reached every continent on Earth.

Two of the children of the revival in Wales, as converts are often called, would become pioneers of the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Christmas Day 1904 saw the conversion of Daniel Powell Williams, or D.P. Williams as he is more often known, and this turning point in his life took place under the Ministry of Evan Roberts at Pisgah chapel in Loughor. Following his conversion, D.P. Williams experienced his own personal Pentecost in 1909, and in January of the following year, he joined a small church in Pen-y-groes, south Wales, which was opened by a group of people who’d been impacted by the 1904 revival. Under D.P. Williams’s leadership, in the January of that year, the Apostolic Church in Wales denomination—. In January 1916, rather, the Apostolic Church in Wales denomination was formed, with its headquarters based in Pen-y-groes, which also became home to the first Pentecostal college in the UK. Today, with its headquarters now in London, the Apostolic Church, with more than 15 million members, will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary next year.

A fortnight before the conversion of D.P. Williams, on 20 November 1904, two brothers from Nantyffyllon, Maesteg, Stephen and George Jeffreys, attended a service in Siloh chapel, during which they were both converted. George was just 15 years old at the time and in very poor health. Few could have predicted that he would become, as that prince of Welsh preachers Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones has reckoned, the most outstanding British evangelist of the twentieth century. George was baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1910, during a meeting in Sunderland, and soon gained a reputation as a popular evangelist and preacher. After participating in an international Pentecostal convention in Sunderland in 1913, he took up an invitation to preach in Monaghan, Northern Ireland, and it was during these meetings, in January 1915, 100 years ago this year, at the Temperance Hall in Monaghan, that George Jeffreys formed the Elim Evangelistic Band. A year later, at the site of a former laundry in Hunter Street, Belfast, the first Elim church was opened, and a place for washing clothes became a place for washing souls. Under George’s leadership, the fledgling Elim movement went from strength to strength, with new churches being established in most major cities in the UK, including Cardiff City Temple here in the capital. Elim is now in its centenary year. It’s a denomination of almost 600 churches in the UK, and 9,000 churches worldwide, operating over 40 different nations, founding hospitals, orphanages and schools.

Stephen, George’s brother, went on to become a highly successful evangelist with the Assemblies of God denomination, of which I’m a member. That was formed in 1924. It now has more than 67 million members around the world. So, the three main Pentecostal denominations in the UK all trace a link back to Wales and, as such, we should be doing much more, I believe, to celebrate and profile this rich and unique part of our Christian heritage, including through the Welsh Government’s faith tourism action plan and any other work that is being carried forward from that. After all, it’s a heritage that draws thousands of visitors to our shore every year, many of whom see Wales as something of a spiritual fatherland. But, regrettably, this heritage is sometimes overlooked. Just a few years ago, Pisgah chapel faced demolition, in spite of its association with Evan Roberts, who oversaw its construction, and its being the place where D.P. Williams was converted. And the Bible College of Wales in Swansea, which was established by Rees Howells, and where Pentecostal evangelist Reinhard Bonnke trained for the ministry, was closed, and it faced a very uncertain future. But, thankfully, as a result of the generosity of Cornerstone Community Church in Singapore, both of these important parts of our Chris0tian heritage have now been rescued and restored. A heritage centre has been established also at the Bible College of Wales, which was officially opened by Edwina Hart on behalf of the Welsh Government earlier this year. Its collection includes a commemorative item of the 1904 revival that was kindly donated by the Deputy Presiding Officer.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Here in Wales, Pentecostal churches continue to do great work, with churches running volunteer projects for young people, supporting older people and reaching out to help the vulnerable. There can be no doubt that, without them, many people would be much worse off. Just last week I held a number of meetings with the leader of the Assemblies of God in Great Britain, the Reverend John Partington, to discuss how as a denomination they can improve their impact and engagement in Wales. It was a positive discussion with a sense of purpose for the future. Here in Wales, of course, there are some excellent examples of Pentecostal churches that are adding value to their local communities. From Hope Church in Newtown, led by the AOG area leader in Wales, the Reverend Alan Hewitt, which my colleague and fellow Assembly Member Russell George attends, to North Coast Church in Tywyn, led by the Reverend James Buckley, where I fellowship. Communities of Pentecostal believers are making a real difference and we should do much, much more here as legislators in the Assembly to acknowledge them.

Indeed, I was very pleased to host a visit to North Coast Church in Tywyn with Carl Sargeant, when he was the Minister for Communities and Local Government, and he saw for himself the tremendous work that that church is doing with young people, parents and older people.

To summarise, then, Wales has a very rich Pentecostal heritage that has had an enormous impact on Christianity here in the UK and around the world. We need to do more to protect and commemorate and to celebrate this heritage, and we certainly need to promote it, particularly amongst the hundreds of millions of Pentecostal Christians around the world. We also need to do more to engage with Pentecostal churches and groups in our own constituencies, and to acknowledge the ongoing and positive contribution that they make to the Wales of today. Thank you for listening.

 

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JC Ryle (1816-1900)

My frugal self (read cheap) has prompted me to seek the best buys in terms of the most/best reading material for my e-reader. I have collected (but not yet read all) works by Spurgeon, Calvin, Edwards, Milton, Finney, Moody, etc., all of which tend to be quite inexpensive. I have recently been reading “Top 7 Classics on Holiness” by some familiar authors, but it also includes works by names with which I was unfamiliar.

One author in particular has caught my attention; that being Bishop J.C. Ryle, (1816-1900), the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool (J.C. Ryle). His book, “Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots” , written in 1877, is included in this anthology. The book’s 21 chapters constitute an amazingly thorough treatise on Holiness, but, if you are strapped for time, I recommend reading Ryle’s own introduction to the book. It will surely open your eyes to some of the greatest theological thinking of the nineteenth century.

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Rediscovering Holiness

I have been out of town for a few weeks and missed my daily explorations of the J.I Packer Classic Collection, a sampling of excerpts from some of Packer’s most loved writings. This little snippet was extracted from his book Rediscovering Holiness.

Rediscovering Holiness – J.I. Packer

Colossians 3:5 (ESV)  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you

Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

“How do we form the Christlike habits which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit? By setting ourselves, deliberately, to do the Christlike thing in each situation. We should think out our behavioural strategy with difficult situations in mind. Thus, we should think of:

  •  Love as the Christlike reaction to people’s malice.
  •  Joy as the Christlike reaction to depressing circumstances.
  •  Peace as the Christlike reaction to troubles, threats, and invitations to anxiety.
  •  Patience as the Christlike reaction to all that is maddening.
  •   Kindness as the Christlike reaction to all who are unkind.
  •  Goodness as the Christlike reaction to bad people and bad behaviour.
  •  Faithfulness and gentleness as the Christlike reactions to lies and fury.
  •  Self-control as the Christlike reaction to every situation that goads you to lose your cool and hit out.”

I struggle frequently with some of these things, but pray that even I might become more Christlike in my dealings with the people I encounter daily.

 

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