Picture the scene:
It’s late October 2012. The sun has set and the amber glow of the street lights are all we have to find our way. A group of burdened Christians have made the trek from all over Carmarthenshire to CrossHands, to an old chapel, to pray for what might become a new church in the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley. The rain is lashing at the windows, the fluorescent tubes are humming, but both sounds are drowned out by the singing and prayer of those who have made the journey.
That WAS the scene when we called our first ever prayer meeting in CrossHands, and it was the scene when I was given the opportunity to properly address those who were thinking about forming the core of our new church. Travelling in the darkness to reach the chapel, the promise of warmth that the light spilling out the chapel windows gave to those who approached, it all stirred my spirit to speak some very Biblical imagery. Darkness and light.
Think about the contrast between darkness and light in Scripture…even at the very beginning.
In Genesis 1 we begin with darkness. Nothingness. A complete void. Where God has yet to create there stands darkness. And as God creates, as He intervenes in the nothingness, as He lays His first fingerprints across creation…LIGHT! And not just light but a real, significant change to creation. From nothingness to something which is actually, positively ‘good’.
From the very start of God’s Word we get a sense that without God’s fingerprints, without His involvement and intervention all we have is darkness. And it isn’t good.
As God’s Word unfolds, as He reveals more of Himself through Scripture, we discover that darkness isn’t simply something devoid of God, but it becomes a symbol of His judgement.
In Ammanford Evangelical Church we recently made our way through the book of Exodus. In the early chapters you come across a number of plagues. The plagues build to a crescendo, to a final most gruesome and terrifying plague of the blood of the first born, yet as it’s about to reach that crescendo you first get the plague of total and utter darkness, darkness so all encompassing that it can be felt!
The darkness was a sign, a symbol of God’s judgement and the disharmony that exists between God and those who have chosen to reject him. This kind of palpable darkness, a symbol of separation is seen and felt most clearly at the Cross of Jesus.
You’re familiar I’m sure that for 3 hours Jesus hung in total darkness and that the darkness engulfed the entire world.
Continue through scripture and the picture unfolds even further. Darkness becomes synonymous with the state of not knowing Jesus. In Acts, as Paul is recounting his commissioning by the risen Christ, he recollects how Jesus sent him to a people who are in darkness. In Ephesians, as he writes to encourage and teach a church of Christians he reminds them that they “were once in darkness.”
And Peter too, in 1 Peter ch2, says that those who know Christ were “called out of darkness.”
But what of the light? Light is what God called good. Light was what happened when He was there, when He was involved. Light was what dispelled the darkness. Light is what comes after darkness in Exodus and at the Cross, when God’s judgement has passed.
Light is what Paul was commissioned to turn the people who were in darkness towards. It’s what he told the Ephesians that they now lived in, in opposition to their previous dark state. It’s what Peter uses to define what God has done in making them Christians, “Calling you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.”
But what does any of this have to do with planting a church in CrossHands or indeed anywhere in the South Wales Valley?
Not long ago one of the elders in Ammanford Evangelical Church preached on Hybel’s Law, a formula for ‘Maximum Impact’ as Christians. I understood it as a law or formula for making us highly effective evangelists. As a church whose mission statement is ‘to make and mature’ surely we want to be a people of maximum impact don’t we?
At one point he took us to Jesus’ words to His followers in Matthew chapter 5 were He said, “You are the light of the world. Don’t hide your light! Rather let your light shine before others.” What a fantastic encouragement, we are the light of the world. What a glorious task, to let our lights shine.
But what on earth does it mean?
I think Paul sheds light (pun intended) on this in 2 Corinthians 4 as he describes this ‘ministry’ of all churches and Christians. His language is awash with the imagery of darkness and light.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”
The light that we have which Jesus instructs us to shine? It is the Gospel. It’s the knowledge of the Glory of God as seen through the face of Christ. THAT is our task. THAT is our calling. To go to those who are still in darkness and lay plainly before them God’s glory in Jesus Christ.
Wales is a dark place. Carmarthenshire is a dark place. Cross Hands and the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley are dark places.
The Cwm Gwendraeth Valley is home to somewhere near 25,000 people and growing! 25,000!?!? People who for the vast majority know nothing of the Glory of God as displayed in the Son, Jesus Christ.
To switch metaphors for a moment, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, pray that the father would send workers!’
But, thanks be to God that there are lights shining in the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley, that God does already have His people, His churches, His ministers of light in this very dark place. Very early on we identified churches and individuals who are doing just as we are commissioned to do. And as we dig deeper and explore further we are finding more and more people shining a light in this Valley.
Yet the darkness is still great. Even with 20, vibrant, bright, Gospel proclaiming, Gospel living, Gospel enjoying churches, they would be ministering to at least 1,000 people each! (And there aren’t 20 by the way)
By Gods grace I pray that we haven’t planted ‘in opposition’, trying to shine a different light; but that we are joining with their lights and shining even brighter in this dark valley; shining so brightly that no one could say that they hadn’t seen or heard or experienced something of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.
There are many dark places in our nation and God is calling Ammanford Evangelical Church to plant in this one. I truly pray that as we answer that call, that through encouragement we could stoke the flames in other lights, fan perhaps the smouldering wicks. But mostly my prayer is that God would set aflame new lights, fresh lights, more and more people who know the Glory of God through Jesus. More and more people who can count themselves among those who Peter describes as giving praise to God, the One who has called them out of darkness into wonderful light.
My prayer is that the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley and all the Valleys of South Wales (yes even yours!) would be filled with new lights being lit.
You can follow the progress of Hope Gwendraeth (formerly CrossHands Church) on the web hopegwendraeth.com, on twitter @hopegwendraeth or on facebook www.fb.com/hopegwednraeth
the attached picture is used with permission from Crabchick http://www.flickr.com/photos/crabchick/