Musical Excellence and Doctrinal Rigour is Awesome

Awesome Cutlery
10publishing. £10

For many people, child-friendly Christian music is something to be at best tolerated rather than embraced. But what if instead of twee tunes and theological fluff there was a group that was actually producing musically excellent and doctrinally rigorous music enjoyed by adults and children alike?

Thankfully, three years after the release of their debut album, Gareth Loh and Dan Adams are back with a new collection of songs which will richly serve Christian families and the local church.

Bible truths addressed…

One of the great strengths of Awesome Cutlery is their commitment to addressing a broad range of biblical themes, including some that kids’ song writers are tempted to neglect. Songs about God’s eternity and eschatology, faith union and humanity, natural theology and pneumatology, can all be found on All Together Now alongside a quartet of songs focussed on the life and work of Jesus.

… and grounded

Eponymous heroes Captain Awesomeness and Cutlery Boy are on hand throughout, in a series of brief comic sketches, which provide an opportunity to ground the biblical truths.

As with their debut album, there is certainly a handful of songs that will immediately translate comfortably into use within the local church. The opening track ‘Lift Up Your Voices’ is an energetic God-glorifying call to worship that would be at home at the start of a church service, while the standout track of the album ‘We Are The Church’ overflows with rich allusions to Ephesians throughout. I firmly expect that All Together Now will soon be on repeat in homes across the nation, using catchy tunes to embed God’s truth into the minds of God’s people!

Stui Chaplin, Pastor of Bush Hill Park Community Church and Keswick Convention Kids Team Leader

Sudan: Christmas ban ended

Sudan’s new Minister of Religious Affairs attended the Christmas Day service of a long-persecuted church.

The Sudanese government had announced Christmas as a public holiday for the first time in eight years. Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr al-Din Mufreh accompanied senior government officials at the service of Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church – a congregation that the previous Islamist government had harassed for years.

Sudan has also repealed the strict sharia law that controlled how women acted and dressed in public. Under the previous regime of former President Omar al-Bashir, women could be thrown in prison for letting a little hair show or for travelling on a bus without a man to accompany them.

In a tweet in November, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok paid tribute to women who had ‘endured the atrocities that resulted from the implementation of this law’.

Barnabas Fund is helping fund a prison ministry in Sudan to aid Christian women who were jailed, often with their children, for infringing the laws on public conduct.

At a press conference after visiting several churches in Khartoum on Christmas Day, Nasr al-Din Mufreh sent a strong signal of religious coexistence to Christians in a country where they suffered for their faith under al-Bashir.

‘I tender my apology for the oppression and the harm enforced on you physically by [the prior government’s] bulldozing your church buildings, arresting and falsely imprisoning your church leaders and raiding your property,’ Mufreh said, according to Radio Dabanga.

The government-run Sudan TV on Christmas Day broadcast the services of various churches in Khartoum, including the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church, whose members had been subject to arrests on false charges. The church is part of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, which has been embroiled in property disputes, with the government appointing a government-run committee to assume control of the denomination.

In light of the advances in religious freedom since al-Bashir was ousted in April, the US State Department announced in December that Sudan had been removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). It had been added to this list of countries which engage in or tolerate ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom’ in 1999.

Morning Star News/Barnabas Fund

Last Word: Rest

The lights are back in the loft. The tree has been recycled. The Christmas holidays are long gone. The New Year is but a blur. 2020 has begun in earnest. Do you need another rest? Did you get a good enough rest?

For me it was the constantly reoccurring (and somewhat trying) question of this January – ‘Did you have a good rest?’

How did you answer? What constitutes rest for you? Did you achieve seasonal rest because you managed to read a whole novel, or because your mobile was on silent for a few days? Or was rest realised in the watching of It’s a Wonderful Life at 3pm in your pyjamas? Or is true rest more than all that?

In the opening of Psalm 62, we read, ‘Truly my soul finds rest in God’ or, as the English Standard Version more poetically renders it, ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence’.

Here is a rest that is not just seasonal. Rather, here is a rest that rides above the amount of sleep we had last night and the number of films we watched at Christmas. For in that first verse – penned by King David – we read of a soul at rest.

A modern restlessness

And the lure of this Davidic soul is undoubtedly great. For we live in deeply rest-less times. Indeed, 2020 has already been marked by a restlessness. Whether it be within the Middle East or within the Royal family, it has not been the most peaceful start to the year.

Are we surprised? At the end of 2019 medical researchers spoke of cases of anxiety in the West continuing to rise. According to the education psychologists, in 2019 more British teenagers spoke of fretfulness than ever before. Even the modern interior designers tell us that our souls are craving peace. The American colour experts, Pantone, decided that the colour of the year for 2020 would be a calming shade of azure. The home magazines, hence, tell us to paint our bedrooms ‘anti-anxiety blue’.

In 2020 we may enjoy more days of more seasonal vacation than King David ever dreamed of, but our souls’ search for rest is just as pronounced as his. So where does David’s soul find rest?

Of all the places where men and women seek rest, David finds his rest in the God who made him and saved him. In fact, David not only finds rest in God, but David finds rest in God alone. Truly – he writes – my soul finds rest in Him alone.

An unattainable rest?

As a result, it is rather tempting for many of us to just leave the Psalm there in disappointment. For we recognise that these words are not ours. And, in one sense, of course they are not. They are David’s words. The words of an exceptional king anointed by God. The words of an exceptional man after God’s own heart. The words of an exceptional boy, who famously went to war for God with a peashooter and a few pebbles.

Consequently, it is tempting to think that true rest in God may only be discovered by the super-keen Christian – the bright and bookish Bible study leader, the theological student, the godly pastor, or the remarkable missionary. It is, therefore, tempting to think that this Psalm (and this rest) is not for us.

Yet if we look at the context, we discover that this Psalm may be ours. For although the exceptional David writes it, the often-neglected verse before it tells us that it is for the choir master, Juduthun, who is evidently to play it before the assembly (v. 8).

Hence this song may be the echo of every heart that knows God.

The soul made by and for God

This should come as no surprise. After all, every human heart has been wired by God – has been made for relationship with God. The soul’s rest is found in the maker of the soul.

As the great hymn-writer, John Newton, put it: ‘God formed us originally for Himself, and has [therefore] given the human mind such a vastness of desire, such a thirst for happiness as He alone can answer. And therefore, till we seek our rest in Him, in vain we seek it elsewhere.’

God is not only the resting place for the exceptional Christian’s soul. In fact, God is not even the resting place of just the everyday Christian’s soul. But God – and God alone – is the resting place for every soul.

For, as Newton says, without God we seek rest in vain. Without God we trudge through every year bleary-eyed, desperate for a bed for our souls. Metaphorically we go through our days with this infuriating whirring noise in the background. Only the soul made by Him may find silence.

And so, what a delight to be able to truly rest in God, because of Christ. Wasn’t He the seasonal rest you unwrapped again this year?

‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matt. 11:28-29).

Jonathan Worsley, Editor

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London

El Salvador: faith on the frontline

file_pd5tjfa4kxhasrxruwr7c5qkihlazv2wJosué Sánchez, 32, from El Salvador, knows all about risk.

‘I grew up in the most dangerous town in Central America,’ Josué said. ‘There are violent gangs who fight for territory and will kill for no reason. Everyone in El Salvador faces this every day. It’s a matter of knowing how to survive. It’s like: “Welcome to the jungle”.’

Josué was introduced to Christ as a child when a classmate invited him to his house, and the family invited Josué’s mother to church. ‘We started going together, and three years later, I accepted Jesus as my Saviour.’

Aged 17, he committed to serving Christ in a ministerial capacity. At the time, he was in Panama on a short-term mission trip with Operation Mobilisation (OM). Josué volunteered with OM for three years, serving with short-term teams in Central America. He earned a degree in communications, studied English, and worked with a local ministry in El Salvador for nine years, all while serving at his church. He had his own home and owned a motorcycle. It was a fulfilling life.

Trusting God

Then God asked him to give it all up.

It started simply. One day after nine years of ministry, Josué realised he needed a break. ‘I took a two-year sabbatical and worked in a call centre. But in 2018, I felt like God was calling me back to ministry. So, I contacted a friend with OM in Costa Rica and joined them on an outreach to an indigenous jungle tribe.’

At the end of the trip, he was asked to join OM in Costa Rica for three months.

‘I quit my job that week,’ Josué remembered. ‘For the next two months, I translated for short-term teams, and during that time, the support came in for my trip.’

While in Costa Rica, Josué helped with logistics for the arrival of the OM ship Logos Hope, as well as other ministry tasks. Then he was asked to consider joining OM in Costa Rica to help with communications. It was the ultimate risk for Josué. ‘At first, I was afraid to leave everything. I owned a lot of things in El Salvador – my bed, my motorcycle, my washing machine, everything I needed. In Latin American culture, it’s not often for someone to leave their parents’ house and live independently, but I’d been living by myself for almost eight years,’ Josué remembered. ‘I prayed for two weeks, and eventually decided that if the Lord needed me in Costa Rica, He would show me the way. I started fundraising, sold my possessions and God provided everything I needed. Now I’m here for one year, but it could be longer.’

Through this process, Josué learned a powerful lesson: ‘You grow up thinking that by a certain age everything will be figured out, that you will be financially stable, will get married and will have your own house, your own things and things you worked hard for – things that prove that “you can do it”. And then God says to you: “I want to break you down. Come over here and focus on me”.’

Finding fullness in Christ

But Josué said: ‘God has been there and has had my back through it all. Before, I found security in money. But now I have found security in God. We all have bills to pay, things we need or want to buy, or maybe we want things we can’t purchase, like a relationship. It’s natural for us to want these things. But we need to find our fullness in Christ first, and after that, everything will be added to our lives.’

God taught Josué that he doesn’t need earthly possessions. ‘I only need Him. My full mind needs to be concentrated on Him and what He has for me, and He will provide the rest. I lost everything I had, but I gained more than I could ever have on my own, because I am denying myself everyday so Christ can live in me. I might not ever have the means to build a house on earth, but I know I will have a really sweet home in heaven.’

Josué is amazed about the love God has shown him through Christ. ‘I just cannot stop sharing Him with others. Now it’s a matter of showing with my actions what it means to follow Jesus and to love Him.’


Tracing the theme of rest

Sabbath Rest for the People of God
By Graeme Goldsworthy
Authentic Media. 143 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 788 930 277

Graeme Goldsworthy is a wonderful exponent of biblical theology. His forensic attention to detail coupled with his ability to show people the rich tapestry of inter-weaving biblical ideas makes all his writing valuable and interesting.

Homeward Bound is certainly in this vein. It is a very accessible, thorough and masterful exploration of Sabbath in its fullest sense. This book is not about what can and cannot be done on a Sunday (or a Saturday) which is what I had expected as I began to read. It is in fact a tracing of the theme of Sabbath, running from Creation to New Creation. A theme bigger, fuller and more central than we would think.

To explore this idea of Sabbath the author takes the reader on a journey through Scripture, showing that this key biblical idea extends well beyond taking one day off a week. In fact for Goldsworthy Sabbath is primarily an eschatological event rather than a temporal observance. It is only in the New Jerusalem, the eternal city, that humans will finally be home and finally be at rest. This whole journey centres on the completed gospel work of Jesus Christ who secures this rest, and then the second coming of Christ that ushers in this consummated eternal rest.

This is by no means a dry academic thesis. This book at times seems to be going in a slightly tangential direction but for the one who perseveres everything is tied neatly together by the end. Within its rich gleanings it is very pastoral and fills the reader with a deep sense of both longing and excitement instilled by Goldsworthy’s efforts to see Sabbath writ large across the pages of Scripture. In a restless, relentless world this book is a good tonic. In a world where there is a vain ‘quest for rest’, this book continuously lifts the believer’s eyes above the tumult to the promised rest to come.

This is an interesting book for anyone wanting to explore the theme of rest in the Bible as well as being a useful book to stretch people in the discipline of Biblical Theology.

Jonathan Gemmell, Director of Conferences
and Resources at the Proclamation Trust

Saving Valley Chapels


In a chapel in the heart of the South Wales valleys a coffee morning is in full flow. A handful of retired men are in attendance. Like most weeks numbers are relatively low. But for the minister who has organised it, the Revd Robert Stivey, it is still something of a triumph.

Just over a year ago, the Calfaria Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Porth was shut and was awaiting demolition. However, Stivey stepped in, purchased it for under £40,000 of his own money, and then re-opened the vestry once more.

For the Lord

Over the past decade, Stivey has bought twelve chapels across the valleys, spending roughly £200,000 of his own savings. His aim is to re-open them all, or at least keep them in safe hands until the congregations return.

‘I am intent on attracting new fellowships,’ Stivey said. ‘Spreading the gospel and using these chapels not as museum pieces, but centres of worship. This project is not about me or even the chapels. This is about the Lord.’

Stivey frequently attended Sunday school until his personal faith was cemented at the age of 16. He then married and had five children. One of his children died and another who was involved in a traffic accident was left quadriplegic, with just the use of his right limb.

‘We thought he would die,’ Stivey said. ‘But there was a lot of praying by his bedside and he survived. Now he comes down from London in his wheelchair and helps me run the chapels.’

In his 60s Stivey left his career as a chartered surveyor, and began working as an ordained minister in Islington. At the same time, he began spending time in South Wales. It was during this time that he saw the opportunity to save the dilapidated church buildings.

Terminal decline?

In its heyday, the valleys boasted roughly 2,000 chapels. The number was high because there were so many different non-conformist denominations. But by the 1920s and 30s, a steady decline was under way.

Dr Gethin Matthews, senior history lecturer at Swansea University, said: ‘After the 1905 revival, there came a general decline in organised religion. The valleys were hard hit. Not only was there depopulation (as mines shut) but many of those who came back from World War One became disillusioned with the chapel message that it was a “just” war.’

Who will go?

The Porth church has a weekly service, free coffee mornings, a ladies’ group and a children’s club. The number of people attending these events, however, is rarely out of single figures and they all take place in the vestry, or hall, with the chapel itself lying empty and abandoned upstairs.

The purchased Siloam Welsh Baptist Chapel, in the village of Penderyn, closed after worshippers fell to single figures. But the church building is in near-perfect condition. ‘This one could be opened tomorrow,’ said Stivey.

This all leads to an inevitable question: will he ever be able to accomplish his mission – to reignite the congregations and spread God’s Word? Locals are ambivalent – there is certainly support for the minister but also a hard view of practical realities.

Norma Seldon’s view at the chip shop is typical: ‘We all went to chapel on a Sunday and it’s sad they are closing. No-one wants to see them turned into flats, but I’m not sure who will go?’

‘Some people don’t think you need a chapel in every town anymore,’ Stivey says, ‘but we need to provide for the local community a place where the Bible can live. I am never daunted by the scale of the project. The Lord will provide.’

BBC Wales

Editor’s Note: Evidently, there needs to be men who are willing to minister in such areas. Could one of the many church planters become a church revitaliser?

Loving the creator’s work

One of the topics now dominating public discussion is climate change. From Extinction Rebellion protests to BBC wildlife programmes, we are continually reminded that there is a real issue here.

Even Jeremy Clarkson, in the new Grand Tour series for Amazon, has admitted that climate change is a genuine threat to the environment and human existence. Clarkson, not known for sympathy with anything that would get cars off the road, conceded the point while filming on the Mekong river in Vietnam. Dramatic falls in river levels, destitute fishermen, absent rainfall, are all observed – leading Clarkson to admit there is an environmental crisis.

What to do about it? ‘I could run around the world on carbon-fibre yachts, shouting and yelling or wailing … or, you can just acknowledge it, and then behind the scenes start working on how we address the problem.’ For Clarkson, the hope lies in scientists – not in protestors.

As Christians we have often been on the sidelines of these issues. Sometimes that may reflect the healthy scepticism our faith has towards the secular prophets. All through history we have been warned of a catastrophe round the corner, only to find we have been misled. At other times, Christians have been wary because environmental concerns seem a distraction from the gospel. If we are preparing for a world to come, why take care of this one? A third reason for a lack of engagement is the fear that environmental ethics have been taken over by a new brand of paganism with an idolatrous view of mother earth.

However, thoughtful Christians have always had a concern for our treatment of the environment which stems from a biblical concern for God’s creation.

Schaeffer’s example

Francis Schaeffer, one of the great missionaries of the 20th century, provided a model for many Christian apologists. Long before this was a mainstream concern, Schaeffer realised that evangelicals had lost sight of the value of the natural world. He wrote about plastic in the ocean and deforestation long before this was a trendy thing to do, and he wrote one of the earliest evangelical books to plead for Christians to show concern for our treatment of the environment. Pollution and the Death of Man, published in 1970, remains a great example of thoughtful evangelical apologetics.

Schaeffer identified a truth in the largely non-Christian hippy movement around him; ‘The hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture and the church should have been fighting it too … More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature’. The hippies were right not only to care about creation, but to resist the devaluing of the natural world.

But Schaeffer also went further than this. He sought to analyse the philosophical reasons why people might care for creation. And he concluded that only a Bible-based worldview provides coherent grounds for environmental concern. The problem with non-Christian environmental ethics is they may end up either deifying nature or merely treating it as a tool. The biblical worldview gives us an adequate basis to care for creation (it is declared objectively good – Genesis 1) while also making use of creation in a sustainable way (examples are written into the Law – Deut. 20:19; 22:4, 6-7, 10).

Schaeffer emphasised the integrity of creation as good in and of its own right, regardless of its functional value.

We should care about the oceans or a tree because God has made them and declared them good, not just because of their functional value in regulating the earth’s atmosphere. Schaeffer said he affirmed creation ‘because I love God – I love the One who has made it! Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing He has made’.

Fifty years ago Schaeffer recognised the importance of an evangelical response to the ecological crisis, our apologetics have been weaker for failing to take these concerns seriously.

Chris Sinkinson

Chris Sinkinson is the D.L. Moody Lecturer in Apologetics, Moorlands College.