Category: Culture

Thoughts on following Jesus in the current cultural climate (Pt.1)


I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to Jesus and to the church.

It seems as though laws are being passed, cases are being made and judgements are being served on an almost weekly basis that are aggressively opposed to those who seek to honour God and hold to a biblical worldview. In truth, it is becoming ever harder to live, speak and follow Jesus in our current cultural context. I guess what makes society’s slide into secularism so hard to navigate is the fact that we are sliding out an era that has marked us for so long as a predominantly ‘Christian’ nation. And while most would agree that we haven’t been a ‘Christian nation’ for decades now and that the Christendom in the UK is dead, buried and decomposed, the speed at which things are changing is nonetheless dizzying!

However, where I might be alone in my thinking, or at least in a significant minority, is that I’m not persuaded that it’s an altogether bad thing for the church to be where she is at right now. As I have been studying the signs of our times through the lens of scripture, 7 thoughts/challenges have gripped me, and I’m going to share them in a series of posts over coming days.

Here goes…

1. Recognise our current context

As I alluded to in a recent post, we do not live in a Christian country anymore. Whereas 50 years ago belief in God, church attendance and Bible-based morality were normative, today things are very different! Society’s rules and the rules of engagement have changed. People aren’t asking the same questions that they once were. They don’t have the same frame of reference that they once had.

And that’s what makes the current age so exciting for Christians.

Rather than complaining about the godlessness that surrounds us, or looking back wistfully to the ‘good old days’, we need to be more like Paul whose approach to mission varied dramatically in the various cultures he sought to evangelise. Take a few minutes to consider his different approaches in Lystra (Acts 14 v 8-21), Berea (Acts 17 v 10-15) and Athens (Acts 17 v 16-34). Paul wasn’t lazy and he didn’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to mission. Rather, he was observant, flexible, strategic and courageous.

We need do adopt a similar approach as we consider our current cultural context.

2. Remember the words of Jesus

A friend of mine of mine recently tweeted a comment about the same sex marriage refferendum in Ireland and was quickly given the mutha of all pixelated beat-downs! One of the many comments thrown back at him was something along the lines of

“Take your f***ing faith back to the margins of society where it belongs!”

I have no idea who the author of that comment was, but as far as holding to the teachings of Jesus they were pretty much on the money! Here’s just a few of things that Jesus said to His followers in the gospels:

the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
(Matthew 7 v 14)

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
(Luke 6 v 22)

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
(John 15 v 18-19)

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
(John 17 v 14)

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5 v 11-12)

Now I am not one of those seemingly masochistic Christians who wants nothing more than persecution and grief for for following Jesus, but neither am I blind or indifferent to the scriptures that teach clearly about the cost of following Jesus.

The gospel path is the narrow path.

The unpopular path.

The path of the few.

The way of the cross.

This guy on twitter had essentially condemned and consigned Christianity to the very place where Christianity was custom-built to thrive and flourish – the margins of society! Spend some time in the gospels. Consider the stories throughout Acts. Read Paul’s letters. Listen to the words of Jesus to the churches in Revelation. Study church history. It’s always in times of polarisation and persecution that the church is at her most zealous, most fruitful and most glorious! And while I don’t believe that we are being persecuted in the UK right now, we are certainly being pushed into the margins…and I honestly don’t think that this is a bad thing.

Nominal hypocrisy and compromise will flounder and die in the margins.

Fellowship will be sweet in the margins.

Apathy will not survive in the margins.

Prayer will increase in the margins.

Faith will rise in the margins.

Jesus will be with us in the margins!

And He told us it would be this way!

Part 2 coming soon…

Stop Grumbling and Start Shining


The upcoming general election has seriously done my head in over recent days!

Historically I have always voted as you’d expect a boy from the Welsh valleys to vote – red! However, as this current election campaign has rolled on I’ve found myself increasingly disillusioned by much of what each of the parties have to offer. I’m tired of all the spin and sick of hearing politicians bad-mouthing each other. But I think what has affected me most deeply as I’ve watched debates and flicked through manifestos is the unavoidable, inescapable reality that we are not merely a non-Christian country…we are fast becoming an anti-Christian country!

But with the help of some insightful articles by Andrew Wilson and John Stevens, coupled with some great conversations with my mate Jim, here’s where I have landed…

i) The role of politicians is to represent the people they serve.

I dunno exactly what percentage of the UK would be Christ following, Bible-believing Christians, but it’s probably somewhere between 1% and 5% of the population. Let’s be optimistic and go for 5%. Basic mathematics tells me that 95% of the UK don’t follow Jesus and are not led by the teaching of Scripture. I also dunno how many of our MPs are Christians, but it’s probably a similar percentage. Therefore, why in the world should we be surprised that so much recent legislation and political decision making is at odds with a gospel worldview?! While 95% of our nation shakes a fist in God’s face and opts instead for a society that is free from the ‘shackles’ of antiquated religion, I think it’s fair to say that our politicians are doing a great job of representing the people they serve!

ii) The role of the church is to offer salvation to the people.

God’s people have always had a mandate to be part of transforming the lives of those around them. Israel was established to be a blessing to the pagan nations that surrounded her, which they generally sucked at! One of my favourite passages in Scripture is Ezekiel 36 where God promises to cleanse and restore His rebellious people.


Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord (v36)

Similarly, when Jesus gathered His disciples around Him to teach them on a mountainside, He gave them this charge:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5 v 14-16)

Furthermore, Paul encouraged the Philippians with these words:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2 v 14-16)

These verses in Philippians are especially poignant at a time when there is such disillusionment with politics and politicians. Imagine if one of the things that set God’s people…including me…apart from the 95% right now was that we chose to stop grumbling and start shining. To live, love, serve and speak as those empowered and impassioned by the gospel that is still the power of God for the salvation of all who believe!

iii) The politics will change when the people change

So if the role of politicians is to represent the people they serve. And the current political direction of our country is uncomfortable and undesirable for the 5% then PRAISE GOD because with the gospel in our hands and on our lips we have the power to see serious, seismic change because the gospel changes people and people change politics!

I love the story of Jonah the runaway revivalist. When he eventually rocked up to Nineveh, he didn’t tell the people that change could only come by rising up and dethroning the king who ruled over them. Instead he preached an 8 word gospel nugget to the men and women on the streets who responded in repentant faith, and such was the scale of the transformation on the street-level that word soon reached the king, who in turn brought in sweeping new laws that honoured God! (Jonah 3 v 6-9)

In conclusion then, let’s not allow the dire social mess and bleak political landscape that confronts us to steal our joy or rob us of hope. Rather, let’s see it as a divine moment to rise up as the people that God has commissioned and conditioned us to be. Let’s stop grumbling. Let’s start shining. Let’s step out with a fresh urgency to be on mission with Jesus to seek and save the lost.

Let’s see what God can do with five faithful percent who are on fire for Him!

And by God’s grace, let that change start with me!

A Valley Boy’s Response to MTV’s The Valleys

Last month I travelled to Kent to take a wedding ceremony for a friend. I arrived the evening before and stayed in a local B&B. As I was settling down for the night I had the TV on and an advert came on that I really wasn’t ready for. To me, it was vulgar, sexually explicit, degrading and offensive. But what blew me away was what it was for – it was advertising a new show that MTV have just launched called The Valleys. You might have heard of it by now. Anyway, being a proud valley boy (Pooler born, Pooler bred and when I die I’ll be Pooler dead!” I was intrigued as to what the dickens this show was all about. (Pooler is short for Pontypool, in case you didn’t know!)

So here’s the general idea – MTV locate a bunch of young people from the Welsh valleys (though they’re not all from the Valleys…but that’s another story) who apparently have aspirations to ‘make it’ in the music industry and who think their only chance of making it is to leave the Welsh valleys and try their luck in the big city (Cardiff). These are some of the things that the cast had to say about the Welsh valleys:

“There’s nothing in the valleys!”

“There’s no jobs.”

“I’m sick of the fresh air, the hills, the sheep and the pound shops. Get me out of here!”

“There’s no opportunities there for us at all.”

For those of us who live here, those sort of statements are hardly new, and not entirely out of place, especially regarding employment. However, having spent 12 years of my life in Cardiff I can safely say that there are plenty in the city who would also lament the lack of jobs, and who would say that they’re sick of the smog, the concrete and the stray dogs! In other words people seem to be discontent wherever they are.

But all that said, I still have a BIG problem with MTV’s The Valleys.

I could simply bang on about the drunkenness, immorality and irresponsible attitudes towards sex and relationships that the show clearly portrays, but that would be too easy, so I’ll leave that for all the legalists to kick off about! Besides, it’s that stuff that sells the show and people mouthing off about it is only going to generate greater morbid curiosity. Similarly, I’m not going to slam it for painting the Valleys in a bad light. Do everyone in the valleys behave like those guys? No. Do some? Yes. The same can be said of anywhere in the UK. But here’s the thing, I don’t think that anyone would really think that this show paints a true picture of what ALL people in the valleys are really like.

So what am I blogging on about?

Here’s my main concern about this show – it promotes laziness, cowardice and escapism. The idea that if somewhere is tough then you need to leave that situation rather than change that situation. It’s easy to be a thermometer (taking the temperature of how things are). Anyone can do that! But to be a thermostat (actually changing the temperature of how things are) requires significantly more energy, creativity and courage. It’s so easy to identify and criticise what’s wrong and, to be honest, many people in the valleys do. It is far more costly to actually do something about it.

Let’s assume that these young people all make it in Cardiff, will they then return to the valleys? I very much doubt it! What do I base that on? I base it on the use of the word ‘just’ on their promotional video:

“Will they make it in Cardiff or will they just end up back in the valleys?”

JUST end up back in the valleys!! That’s SUCH a derogatory statement. That word ‘just’ sums up my problem with this show. For what it’s worth, I left the valleys, got a degree in Cardiff, served in several fantastic local churches and made a shed load of fantastic friends. Would I go back if God called me? Yes! I love Cardiff. But God told me to go back to the valleys. And do you know what? The problems up here are exactly the same as they were in the city! Guess what? Both the valleys and the cities of Wales are full of broken people trying to make sense of life in a broken world. I haven’t JUST ended up back in the valleys. I’ve come home. Pontypool might not have huge multiplex cinemas, a vibrant nightlife or bendy buses with TV screens onboard. But we do have EPIC countryside, genuine community spirit and a tidy accent!

On top of all that, here’s my view as a Christian. Cardiff has some HUGE and active churches that are doing a great job of making Christ known there in the city. Up here in the valleys, with a few exceptions, there is not an abundance of growing, gospel-preaching churches. In other words, what we have up here is a PHENOMENAL mission-field! Shortly before I moved up to Trevethin, a friend in Cardiff told me that I was crazy for leaving Cardiff to go live on an estate that no one’s ever heard of! He said that I would have far greater influence if I stayed in the city and that my ministry would be more widely effective. But God told me to go to Trevethin, and His vote wins!

Is it easy seeking to make Christ known up here? No! Sometimes it’s painful and frustrating and hard! But we have seen God do some wonderful things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been obedient to come. Have we seen enough? Not by a long shot! But I’m not going to jack it in and join in the chorus of discontented voices that are determined to tell us how crap the valleys are. I’m going to fulfil my ministry and not stop in my task of being part of effecting gospel change here in the Welsh valleys, whatever the cost.

So a word to all my fellow valley commandos (especially the ones who love Jesus) and who are thinking stuff the valleys, the city is where it’s at: If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, perhaps you should water your own side rather than jumping over the fence in the hope that the next field will be a more blessed place to be. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer!

Rant over.


XY Tour

On Wednesday 8th February 2012, I’m buzzin that my good friend, Dai Woolridge is making his way to Trevethin as part of his XY Tour.

Dai is a phenomenally gifted and creative communicator whose one-man shows are a rare blend of comedy genius and powerful presentation of truth. The XY Tour promises to be no exception.

Here’s what it’s all about:

“There are stack loads of men in the Bible, most of them with great intentions but bar one, none of them perfect. How can we learn from these more hairy, gassy and less able to multi task members of the Bible? How can their choices teach us (both chromosome types), to be better men and women of God today?”

The XY tour is being hosted by Hill City but is open to all. The event will be taking place at Cold Barn Farm, Trevethin and will start at 7pm. Entry is free and a collection will be taken. Refreshments will be provided, including (as you’d expect) quality coffee!!

Copies of Dai’s new book Poetry in Motion will also be available on the night.

Here’s a clip of what to expect:

[vimeo 24824662]

Hopefully see you there.

Why I said ‘No’ to the BBC

Last week I mentioned on Twitter that I had been approached by BBC Wales to ask whether or not I would be interested in taking part in a forthcoming documentary series. What it was going to entail was 12 months of filming, which would not have been daily, but would certainly have been frequent.

I was very honoured to be approached and the opportunity it presented to preach the gospel wasn’t lost on me, but after consulting my wife, my friends and above all God – in the end I felt I had to say no.


Simply this – by God’s grace my life revolves around people. I love spending time with my family, I love to share life with the people of my church and I’m blessed to have good friends who I like to hang out with a lot too! In other words, if this documentary was going to paint an accurate picture of my life it would have to involve significant footage with all those people. Frankly, I wasn’t willing to let them do that! My family means the world to me and my time with them is a sanctuary from the pressures of life and the cares of the world. Similarly, me and Michelle decided ages ago that we didn’t want the kids to be scrutinised by the media at such a young age. We want to stick with that decision. Furthermore, Hill City Church is far more than a project to be studied, it’s people who are incredibly precious to me and it’s my privilege and responsibility to care for them. Some have expressed in the past that they were uneasy about media attention. My job is to honour and serve them. Finally, not all my mates were comfortable with the idea and, as with all the others, they mean too much to me to inflict unwanted media attention upon them!

So 2012 will be free of camera crews and personal intrusion. Am I gutted? Not at all – relieved if anything!! My prayer is that God would do such an epic work across this land of Wales again that the BBC would have no option but to make multiple documentaries about it, but that the star of each one would not be an individual pastor or a local church, but Jesus Christ Himself!

Is that likely to ever happen?

I intend to spend the rest of my life loving, living, praying and serving like it is!!

Porterbrook Cardiff

Porterbrook is a theological training course that is all about equipping everyday Christians to embrace everyday life with Gospel purpose, for the glory of Jesus.

Originating from Sheffield, Porterbrook was written by gospel gurus Tim Chester and Steve Timmis and it’s impact has been massive. Porterbrook now has learning sites popping up all over the world, from South Africa to USA, Italy to Australia…and now WALES!!

I’m proper excited to be involved in setting up Porterbrook Cardiff – a brand new learning site that launches in September. Despite being based in Cardiff, Porterbrook Cardiff will serve the whole of South Wales!! We are working towards local groups popping up all over the region…not least in my own backyard – Trevethin!!

If you’re in South Wales and doing Porterbrook sounds appealing to you, please click here for to register your place.

P-O-R-N Statistics

I mentioned on Twitter last week that I was researching internet pomography (spelt wrong deliberately to avoid spam). I was amazed by how many of my Twitter friends and followers were keen for me to share what I came up with for their own sermons, talks, research etc., so as promised – here’s what I discovered:

  • Every second, 28,258 Internet users are viewing pomography and $3,075.64 is being spent on pomography
  • The pomography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink
  • There are 4.2 million pomographic websites, which is 12% of all the websites on the internet
  • Every day there are 68 million (25% of the total) search engine requests for pomographic terms
  • The USA produces 89% of all pomographic web pages
  • 42.7% of internet users view pom
  • The average age of first exposure to pomography is 11 years old and 80% of 15-17 year olds have had multiple hard-core exposure
  • The 35-49 age group is the largest consumer of internet pomography
  • 47% of Christians say that pomography is a major problem in the home
  • 17% of women struggle with pomography addiction
  • Breakdown of male/female visitors to pomography sites – 72% – 28%
  • Adults admitting to Internet sexual addiction – 10%
  • A quarter of men aged 18-24 are worried about the amount of pom they are watching on the internet.

(I can provide the various sources for these statistics if needed.)

If you’re interested, you can listen to the message I preached  on Lust & Adultery here. If you’re struggling with pomography can I encourage you to talk to your pastor or a trusted Christian friend, rather than fighting alone. I’d also highly recommend the book ‘Captured by a Better Vision‘ by Tim Chester.


Know Your Mission-Field

As part of my Acts 29 church planter application process I had to submit a document that proved I had analyzed and understood the socio-demographics of my mission-field – Trevethin. This is an important, albeit challenging part of the church planting process. I had already done a little research into this but last week I came across some new facts and statistics that increased my compassion, prayer and commitment to this estate that I call home.

Check it out:

  • Trevethin is among the 10% most deprived communities in Wales.
  • Trevethin is the most deprived ward in Torfaen.
  • Torfaen is the 2nd most obese ward in the UK (after the Shetland Islands!)
  • Torfaen is the anti-depressant capital of the UK – 11 out of every 100 prescriptions are for anti-dperessants.
  • The top 7 counties for anti-depressant prescription in the UK are all in the Welsh Valleys!
  • Trevethin is trapped in high interest, easy access borrowing via door stop lending, thus reinforcing the poverty cycle.
  • Domestic violence is a significant issue in Trevethin.
  • The percentage of economically inactive people in Trevethin is among the highest in Wales.
  • Trevethin has one of the highest numbers of cohabiting couples with dependent children.
  • In 2017 Trevethin will have one of the highest numbers of children aged 5 and under.
  • Trevethin has one of the largest numbers of children on the protection register in Wales.

I know that all our communities in Wales have deep need and as a friend of mine posted on Twitter earlier:

“The greatest problem with our country is not social deprivation but a spiritual deprivation. Its everywhere!”

I couldn’t agree more with that statement as social change without gospel change is essentially cosmetic surgery! However, understanding the issues that are confronting your community opens your eyes to gospel opportunities, stirs your heart to love, stretches your faith in prayer and generates fresh gospel urgency!

That’s been my experience at least!

Can I encourage you to do some research into the issues that are currently confronting your community – your mission-field! It might just inspire you to go deeper, further and braver with the gospel.


Met Her Before

God has blessed His church with such beautiful and diverse gifts.

It never ceases to amaze me how many saints are out there who are just getting on with the business of loving Christ and using their gifts for His glory. With that in mind, check out this video that Michelle found on YouTube this week. [verb]swish is an urban poet whose blatant talent is there for all to see. However, he clearly loves Jesus too! The way in which he teaches the gospel in a creative, compelling, yet clear way really is truly remarkable.

Hope you agree!

A Generation Crying Out For Community

I was on the BBC news website yesterday when I came across a tragically interesting article entitled Young more lonely than the old. In a nut-shell, the article explained that despite being more technologically advanced than ever before, in reality ours is a generation that has never been so fragmented and so lonely! In fact, while loneliness is a problem that is clearly affecting every element of society, it’s the young and ‘most-connected’ that are the most isolated and the most disconnected. The article states that:

“Nearly 60% of those aged between 18 to 34 questioned spoke of feeling lonely often or sometimes, compared to 35% of those aged over 55.”

60% of 18-30s are lonely! That’s nuts!! Nearly every single person in that age bracket has a phone in their pocket that can connect them to the rest of the world. The majority also have access to the internet and are registered with at least one of the thousands of online social networking sites that’s out there (Facebook currently has 450million users!!) They have more expandable income and more opportunity to socialise, travel and connect with others than at any other point in history.

Yet 60% of those connected to the world and surrounded by the crowd are lonely?

That’s so tragic! For me the greatest tragedy is that we were created by a God who is a community (Father, Son, Spirit) to be in community! When God stated that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2v18) it wasn’t just about ordaining marriage, it was about establishing community! Adam and Eve weren’t just the first man and woman/husband and wife – they were the first community too! When sin entered the fray just a chapter later it shattered both our vertical relationship with God and also our horizontal community with each other. We’ve been suffering ever since. Every generation that arises is a generation further away from Eden’s garden, yet the craving for community has never left us!

We crave it.

We look for it.

But we can’t find it!

So what hope is there for us?

Answer: The Church!

God’s answer to a world that has been torn apart by sin was the gospel mission of Jesus to reconcile us to Himself by His death and resurrection. Vertical relationship restored! However, in His grace He also reconciles us to each other by making us a new people who belong to Him – His church! In responding to the gospel we become part of His body, living stones who are being built-up together as part of His glorious Kingdom! Horizontal relationship restored!

Church should therefore be a place where true community is experienced and enjoyed. A place where the lost and the lonely find refuge, hope and belonging in Christ. A place where we are connected to God and to each other in love. So much of what Jesus taught and Paul echoed was the corporate power of the gospel. The “one another” teaching of scripture is a huge subject! We can only serve, honour, bless, greet, consider and love one another if we’re in community!

I guess the challenge is how do our churches fare in this area? Faith has become such a private affair that it would seem many of the 60% are sitting in our midst each week – part of the crowd but not part of the community. If that’s the case, the gospel has not fully taken root! Church is meant to be so much more than a gathering of individuals – we were saved to be a worshipping community on mission together!

By God’s grace while my own church, Hill City, is far from perfect, we are a community. A girl from the estate was saved recently. Interestingly what got the ball rolling for her considering the gospel of Jesus was the dynamic, sincere and inescapable love that she experienced whenever she was around the saints of Hill City. It was, in her words, unlike any other sort of love she’d encountered anywhere else! It instigated a process that ultimately led to her crying out to Jesus for salvation! Who saved her? Jesus! How did He reveal His love to her? Through His people!

We got to be part of it!


The beauty is that now she’s saved she’s part of the family. No awkward “how do we help her get her head around the weird ways of church.” It was the church that attracted her, so it only makes sense that now she’s part of it – she’s loving it!

God please help us as your people to be the answer to the prayers of a generation crying out for community!