Wednesday, 28 December 2011

His Master's Voice

In the end we called it 'The Mall Tour' and what an amazing and humbling experience it was. We had the honour and privilege to sing to hundreds of people in three different locations during the run up to Christmas. A previous blog has already mentioned our first experience, which was at Bluewater. Following this, we spent a Saturday afternoon singing in the Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells. We witnessed the 'miracle' of 'no power' from the designated power point, with the result that we had to transfer all the gear to another location higher up the mall, which gave us the opportunity to broadcast the sound of the choir and the readings to a much greater area. One of the conditions of our singing was to raise money for two local charities. Whilst we felt that our primary calling was to spread the Christmas story in words and music, we were very happy to also seek to raise money for Hospice in the Weald and for the Bridge Trust, a charity dedicated to helping the homeless. Our programme consisted of four 30 minute slots; during that time people generously gave us over £350 towards the two charities.

Then, the following Saturday found us at Beales Department store, strategically situated near the entrance to Sainsbury's, so we were really performing to two stores! This time we were working with the Rotary Club of Tonbridge, who were raising money for 6 local charities. Again, we were so encouraged by people's response to the singing and the readings. Now, at this last presentation, Bluewater seemed such a long time ago; the weeks had passed so quickly. The experience showed us what a deep spiritual hunger there is and that people do respond to the Gospel. At all three venues we had the opportunity to distribute material to adults and children. Steve, our artist in residence, had a number of opportunities to talk with people about his picture which strikingly adorned our two 6 foot high Absolute Gospel Company banners which stood erect on either side of the choir.

As we have written before, it was highly significant that we should find ourselves at the beginning of the tour outside 'His Master's Voice'. That's what, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have tried to do: speak with the Master's Voice. We pray that it has brought Him glory and in so doing, opened up hearts to spiritual values and invitations. We look forward to the New Year and what we believe are God-given opportunities to speak out the Words of the Master. As someone challengingly said: "Wise men and women still seek Him".

Friday, 2 December 2011

Pizza With Pizzas of Music

The smell was incredibly intimidating, wafting up from below and not just from one place. At times a curious cocktail of aromas surrounded us. Not only that, but the pressure to spend money was all around as enticing wares stared out from lavish displays of merchandise. And we also had what was at times a conveyor belt of people drifting through; old, young, babies - but thankfully no dogs. And we were warm! No rain! This was our first engagement of the Christmas period, in the Bluewater Shopping Mall in north Kent: The Absolute Gospel Choir singing a selection of songs from our musical Stargifts. We also had the wonderful opportunity to read from the Scriptures selections about the Christmas story.

People stopped. Listened. Some turned back to get closer to the sound. Some even wept. It was a wonderful experience for us. The Management team were so hospitable and helpful. Of all the places in the complex, we were next to one of the largest shops: His Master's Voice! God's got a great sense of humour! We were so impressed by the reaction of the people. Many of course walked past, but many others stopped for a considerable while. Thanks to the powerful P.A. system we had the sound travelling through the galleries, bouncing off the high ceiling and reaching much further than we realized.

It seems that the Choir is building up an interesting CV: Singing over the Dead Sea; over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives; on the Sea of Galilee; performing in the central park in Salem, the 'witch capital of the world'; performing to a messianic congregation in New Jersey and so on. We have been immensely privileged to sing at these and other places abroad, but we have also been blessed as we have sung at various venues around this country: in Derbyshire; Essex and Sussex; as well as Kent. In the New Year we shall move into deepest Bedfordshire.

God continues to give us the enthusiasm to preach the Gospel through music and the public reading of His Word. Later this month we sing at another shopping mall in Tunbridge Wells and then we come back to our home town to sing in a large departmental store. Our position puts us right next to the checkouts in Sainsbury's!

The New Year brings further opportunities for the Company's Choir and also its other activities. So we preach while we have the light. In rain, sunshine, wind, small audiences, large audiences. We were told in Bethlehem, where we had the privilege to sing in a small Palestinian Christian church, that we were no longer a 'raggle taggle army' but we were like Jehoshaphat's singers. Bet they didn't have the smell of pizza as they went into battle!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Time Gentlemen, Please

I've often imagined the scene: Standing in front of a large orchestra at the Albert Hall, conducting some of our music. Well, I'm not quite experiencing that, but I have been working with a professional producer who has the most amazing box of tricks. With the aid of computerized technology he can, quite simply, muster up a whole orchestra. What a train set! It's amazing watching him summon up a bank of french horns (beautifully sampled so they really do sound right) with the push of a button, or a set of tympani, without the bother of tuning them.

This has taken our work to a whole new level and the idea is to produce a symphony of our music and then turn it into a visual/dance/narration/musical presentation. To get the producer in the right frame of mind and help him bring forth these amazing sounds, I suggested he imagined himself standing on the podium in front of thousands of people at a concert hall, waiting to count in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It worked!

The guiding verses for the Absolute Gospel Company are from the book of 1 Chronicles, which include the words: '...every willing man skilled in any craft will help you'. We have a great team of people helping in the work. Some are not Christians, but the Lord in His wisdom provides the skills we need.

Last week we were at an engravers and banner makers, negotiating for two 6 foot high banners with our name and logo on. These will first be used at our outdoor Christmas singing at Bluewater, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge. The choir at the moment is busy rehearsing Christmas music for those venues.

Soon the year will turn and we look forward to projects in the New Year: The continuation of the Bible School; performances of Yeshua Messiah; the feasts; and possibly the Christmas musical Stargifts. We shall see; we don't want to run ahead of the Lord.

Now where's that conductor's baton?

Sunday, 9 October 2011


They were coming straight for us: A flock of Lakeland sheep! There seemed to be 30-60 of them - heading straight for the car! In this modern age they no longer had a shepherd walking humbly with a crook; no, this modern fella had a smart quad bike and was going at some speed. And so were the sheep: Straight for the bonnet! Knowing what stupid animals sheep can be, we had visions of the leader doing a somersault over the bonnet. Imagine that on an insurance claim! However, at the last moment, the flock parted, dividing, it seemed, equally past both sides of the car. When I got out and thankfully found no damage I discovered that the gently rocking sensation as the flock went past, had resulted in a five star polish.

The Lakes looked beautiful. The late summer weather meant that, on some days, the surface of Grasmere was like a polished mirror. The rich autumn colours dripped into the water, burning the reflections into the lake. It was good to get away and have a week chilling out after the busyness of the previous months. The Lakes and Port Isaac in Cornwall are our favourite boltholes. It meant we missed the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah), but we understand it was a very good evening and well attended. This Saturday we celebrated Yom Kippur and next week is the Feast of Tabernacles.

Last Wednesday found Ian, Roger and I in the glorious Bedfordshire countryside, laying the first plans for a performance of 'Yeshua Messiah!' at The Park, Moggerhanger, next August. We will also be busy singing at Bluewater and the Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells near Christmas. In addition, we have been recording incidental music for a performance of the 'Olive Tree' which a messianic fellowship is staging in Essex.

Like that flock of sheep in the Lakes we need to listen out at all times to the Shepherd's voice as He leads us forward in this continuing work.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Autumn Leaves

I have often found a prayer bolt-hole at the beautiful church at Tudeley, resplendent with its complete set of Chagall windows. It is a most austere church inside, apart from those beautiful windows, but on a clear, bright summer's day, the colours from the stained glass wash the floor in many rainbows. One of the best times of the year is in darkest winter, on a crisp early morning; the sun is low and as it shines through the large main window the ceiling is covered with a great palette of colours. Out in the churchyard, sitting on one of the benches, it is possible to see the farmer's year turn from ploughing to sowing to harvesting. Beyond the fields are the gentle hills of North Kent.

People come from all over the world to see this little church, which looks quite plain on the outside; many would have been unaware of its dazzling treasure, until they opened the door and stepped inside for a few minutes away from the busy world. It really is a gem, a quiet place, a place where the Spirit dwells. I love to go there to pray about the work, to seek guidance, to seek encouragement. I'm often struck by the effect that the church interior has on those who come. Their sometimes fussy chattering can be heard as they approach the door, but once inside, most visitors are reduced to a hush or a whisper. God is in the house!

Now, here in September, the work takes us into the autumn - the Feasts of the Lord and singing at Christmas. A group in Essex is rehearsing one of our musicals, 'The Olive Tree', ready for summer performances. The days grow shorter but the work is just as urgent. "Work whilst there is still light" says Jesus.

As I write this, myneighbours' tree is bathed in the thin pale sunshine of autumn. Soon the leaves will turn and fall. and we are all a little nearer to the time of the Lord's coming!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Getting Warmer

It appears things are hotting up. When we look at the increasing frequency of natural disasters, it's beginning to sound like Jesus' description of the end times:

"And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences, and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:11 NKJV)

When disaster strikes, people can react in various ways. Non-believers might put it all down to chance. Or, there is the current favourite - Global Warming. Increasingly, I hear Christians pronouncing that God is punishing this or that nation for whatever it is they have (or have not) done. I don't feel entirely comfortable with jumping to that conclusion, not least because in Luke 13:1-5 Jesus seems to be saying that bad things happen, simply because things are bad, not because God likes beating people up. But it does appear He might be trying to catch our attention!

Perhaps you've been in discussion about some disaster and you've received the rejoinder: "I can't believe in a God who would allow (whatever it is) to happen". Let us be quite clear about one thing: We have a good and holy God. He cannot tolerate evil; therefore He cannot send it. In any case, He doesn't have to, because evil is already here, as a consequence of man's rebellion and the Fall.

However, God is in control of everything that happens; nothing can happen without His permission, so there has to be an explanation. My belief is that God, in His mercy, shields us from much of the evil around us. But, if people or nations reject His rule and walk in ways that are abhorrent to Him; worse still, if a large part of those who claim to be His, aren't listening and are ignorant of, or even hostile to, His purposes and are just content with playing at Church, can we reasonably expect Him to continue to do so regardless? Or might He start to withdraw His hand?

The tragedy is that men were created to be God's vice-regents, governing the earth on Heaven's behalf. But because of his rebellion, Adam forfeited his dominion over the earth and handed it to the enemy. The problem now is that, because of that contamination that we all naturally carry, anything we touch or do just spreads the contamination. So there is no way that we can redeem the situation by our own efforts, which makes all the struggling and striving of religion utterly pointless.

Ultimately, the only One who can sort the situation out is the spotless, sinless Son of God. The trouble is, many have bought into the 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild' mind-set, forgetting that the Scriptures also portray Him as the victorious warrior King and Righteous Judge. We often hear the phrase: 'Once saved, always saved', but how many of those who thought they had their fire insurance sorted, will find matters rather warmer than they might like? Those who view salvation as just getting their ticket to Heaven need to take note of Paul's words:

"If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Cor 3:15 NKJV)

However, those who are relying on religious observance and ritual, or good works, rather than repentance, need urgently to heed the words of Jesus:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt 7:21-23 NKJV)

Do you know what's really shocking about these words? These are people inside the Church (outsiders wouldn't be saying 'Lord, Lord'), who seem to be doing all the right things and even performing signs and wonders. Yet, when it comes to the crunch, the King disowns them. Time for a policy review, perhaps?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Should Have Gone to Specsavers!

At the front of a book called Epicentre I have scribbled the following phrase: 'Join the dots together and see the big picture'. The book has as its subtitle: 'Why the current rumblings in the Middle East will change your future'. It's a fascinating book and I highly recommend it. On the same page is another piece of scribble: 'The 3rd lens; politics, economics and Scripture'. None of the daily papers or indeed the television will see events through the 3rd lens, the lens of Scripture. As I write, a significant earthquake has hit the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. As I write, the world's financial markets are in a period of great instability. As I write, the Euro-zone is deeply involved in discussions regarding bailing out whole countries to keep the monetary system stable. Two dots are joined: Economics and politics. But there is the third dot, the third lens as it were: God's opinion! Three dots need joining; three lenses need looking through. And the most important lens is spiritual sight.

The European Constitution has written God out of its wording. The United States seeks to dictate to Israel how to draw its borders. As someone wisely said: 'When American foreign policy criticizes Israel and seeks to interfere, watch the American stock market indicators'. God is always proactive, always sending warning signs, always looking for men and women who will endeavour to bring people back to God through repentance.

No, the daily papers will not acknowledge the third lens. So we, who have been given revelation as to why things are happening the way they are, must redouble our efforts to speak out the Word of the Lord, like the silver trumpets of old. We must work whilst it is still light; the river is rising and it will take the world unawares. Some say these are the days of Elijah; they are not. These are the days of Noah! Remember, marrying and giving, feasting and dining. We must bring people to the 'Ark' of God's Word before the flood engulfs: Not water, but a flood of fire next time. God is not mocked, but He is merciful. Right up until the time that the door closes and it's too late.

Should have gone to Specsavers!

Monday, 8 August 2011

What's Up, Doc?

Have you ever stopped to wonder why there's so much fuss over Israel? A country that's so small - around the size of Wales and barely a couple of percent of the total Arab lands - that many people would be hard-put to find it on a globe of the world? With the torrent of condemnation and abuse, you'd be forgiven for thinking that most of the occupants had horns and cloven hooves. Having been there, I can assure you this is not the case (but don't take my word for it; go and see for yourself).

So why, then, does Israel attract so much controversy and opposition? Can they really be guilty of all that they're accused? That abuse seems all the more hypocritical when you consider the records of some of the accusers. However, I'd like to suggest an explanation: God's greatest works attract the greatest opposition. The world is against the things of God and behind the world is Satan himself and if that's unpalatable, just read the Scriptures.

"Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4)

Satan pulled out all the stops to kill Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), not realising, 'till it was too late, that in so doing he was fulfilling the Father's master plan. When 'Plan A' failed, he set about trying to destroy God's chosen people, to prevent Yeshua's (Jesus') return and the destruction of his kingdom. The progression can easily be charted through the Holocaust: Denunciation; de-legitimisation; de-humanisation. And now we're seeing it all over again. Whatever happened to the vow: "Never again"?

One thing we need to get our heads around is: What God starts, He finishes, otherwise He profanes His own Name. The prophets make it abundantly clear that the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are firmly and indelibly on His heart:

"How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?" (Hosea 11:8)

He has also made certain binding promises to them and that includes restoration to their land (actually, God calls it His land):

"For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers." (Jeremiah 16:15)

And there are many other scriptures that could be quoted. So, if an eternal God makes an everlasting promise, what should we expect? Christians like to sing about Him being an unchanging God, one who keeps His promises. If He can't be trusted over any one promise, He can't be trusted over ANY promise, so poof goes our hope of salvation!

Those who oppose the Jewish state, who claim the UN vote that led to its re-creation was a historic mistake, are going to have a problem. As I've already said, what God starts, He finishes. And, whilst we might expect the world to be antagonistic, it's truly terrifying how many people within the church seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation, boycott and divestment. It's perhaps worth pondering that when Jesus uttered the words:

"...inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren...inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these..." (John25:40&45)

- He was standing in the midst of a crowd of his Hebrew brothers and sisters. Do they think that when the judgement comes, God will simply overlook such rebellion?

What's truly heartbreaking is the thought of all the destruction and mayhem that the opposition to God's purposes is going to cause. Am I trying to say that Israel is perfect? Of course not: They're a bunch of sinful human beings just like the rest of us and they need the Saviour as much as we do. However, a bit of love, care and understanding from the Church would go a whole lot further towards their salvation, the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the hastening of Jesus' return than all the abuse, bombs and bullets currently being thrown at them.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Hello - Can Anybody Hear Me?

A regular feature of life in the village where we live is the hot air balloon. They launch from a well-known castle, a few miles away and often pass quite near and sometimes right overhead. Over the years, we've been treated to some impressively low passes - the sort where you can hold a conversation with people in the basket without having to raise your voice - when the pilot has attempted to put his craft down in the field behind our house and has had to abort at the last moment.

One Saturday afternoon, my wife and I had been on a shopping expedition and were returning home. It was autumn time and the weather was damp and fairly still and time was drawing on. As we came to the village centre, several balloons could be seen hanging in the air around us, like great multi-coloured fungi. Instead of making the final turn for home, I continued up the lane towards a cluster of them and could see one particular balloon much lower than the others, coming across the chicken farm to our left. It wasn't difficult to read the pilot's intentions: He was aiming for that field behind the house and he was low enough and close enough to hear the stream of Anglo-Saxon coming from the basket. Things did not seem to be going quite to plan!

My wife said to me: "Let's drive underneath him" and I can remember an almost immediate check - not, perhaps, an audible voice, but certainly a strong impression: "Not a good idea". I replied: "No, things sometimes fall off" - and halted a few yards from where I estimated the balloon would cross the road. It cleared the farm fence, crossed the road, clipped the boundary hedge to the right, then rebounded and landed squarely in the middle of the tarmac, less than two cars' lengths in front of us. At that range it's impossible to take in the size of one of those things, without getting a serious crick in the neck!

At this point someone wearing a DJ and bow tie leaped out and started dancing in the middle of the road, yelling: "Come and hang on! Come and hang on!" By this time, two or three more cars had drawn up to watch the circus, so we all dutifully trotted over, took hold of the basket and walked it to the verge, whereupon the pilot collapsed the envelope over the hedge, into the field. A few moments later the chase crew arrived, packed the thing away into its trailer and the drama was over.

It would have been interesting, trying to explain that one to the insurance company: "Your car was written off by what, sir?" I like to think it was the Holy Spirit's prompting and, fortunately, I took notice, rather than being taken up with the moment. The Scriptures refer to the Spirit as 'counsellor' and 'teacher'. Some have tried to argue that He is no longer active, no longer needed perhaps, as He was in the times of the early church, but I see nothing in the Scriptures to support that viewpoint. I believe he still wants, as he always has, to teach, to lead, to advise the believer. But are we listening? Or are we all so busy with all our noise and activity that He can't get a word in edgeways?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

I'd like to meet St Swithin and ask him why he is associated with rain! We got lots of it on Sunday 17th July, when we staged 'O for a Thousand Tongues' on the Castle Lawn in Tonbridge. Unlike 2008 when the sun shone, we did not get 1000, but we did attract about 350 hardy souls who worshiped with us as the heavens opened and clouds on the horizon carried back the empties. The Castle Lawn is a great amphitheatre for events and the powerful P.A. sent the message in song and Scripture way out over the battlements, down the High Street and into adjoining homes. Our speaker, Andrew Marsh, from Christian Concern, gave a wonderful Address, disproving the point that Christians can't speak of their faith and concerns in the open air. Someone is conning them!

It's easy to witness when the sun is shining, but what was amazing was the perseverance of the Absolute Gospel Company team and, indeed, the spectators. Down came the rain and up went the smiles, even with the water trickling down the back of the neck and soaking programmes. As an American once remarked: "England would be a great country if you put a roof on it"!

We were reminded of the last time we toured in Israel. We seemed to bring the rain with us; rain for a dry land. Standing and singing on Masada, above the Dead Sea, we saw rain clouds over distant Jerusalem. Visiting Nazareth Village, we took shelter in the synagogue and sang, whilst the rain poured down. By Galilee, in the safety of our snug kibbutz, we saw the thunder clouds roll out over the lake and when the group visited the Golan Heights, there was the rain again!

I guess Jesus was out in all weathers; certainly the Gospels seem to bear that out. Storms at sea, hot noonday sun, Israel seems to get a good variety. In our number-obsessed western faith, we forget He spoke sometimes to one, two, a group, hundreds and thousands. All seem to bear fruit. Were umbrellas in use then, or an ancient version thereof? Certainly the eastern shepherd experienced all weathers. So did the sheep. Indeed Jesus said weather watching was pretty intense.

Raindrops have indeed fallen on our heads on a number of occasions when we have been singing. We've also felt the cold winds blow and the searing sun beat down. We've sung in the cool of the evening and the bright air of a baptismal morning, on the banks of the Jordan river. Oh, yes and we've also sung in the safety and warmth of a church. "Go ye into ALL the world".

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

God's Left a Message on the Answerphone.

I have a very old friend who has a lovely speaking voice. Sometimes, and certainly on occasions when I am in need of encouragement and he happens to ring me, I ask him to read a passage from the Bible over the 'phone. He doesn't know I'm feeling low and I wouldn't tell him, so he has no idea what his gentle voice does for my spirit. The way he reads the Scriptures really speaks to me.

Significant contributions to our culture, 'phones, aren't they? You can give completely the wrong impression on the 'phone. It's all in the tone of the voice. If only people realised what they appear to convey when they answer. Some people drop their voice when they hear yours, giving the impression you're not important, or you've interrupted their day. Other people greet you warmly. All with a bit of plastic technology held in your hand. Phones come with news like a bolt out of the blue. Some conversations stick in the memory. I remember the last conversation I had with my father, the night before he died. I was half listening to him as I was watching 'Match of the Day', little realising that would be the last time I would hear his voice on Earth. I can remember ringing the number of a friend and putting on a funny voice to announce the birth of our first daughter. Down the wire came the stern voice: "and this is Swanley C.I.D."! I'd got the right number, but dialled the wrong code and ended up at Swanley police station. Such is life.

'Phone calls can bring healing or, sadly, the fracturing of relationships. They are one of the most powerful instruments for communication. Today, as you walk down the High Street it seems that nearly every young person is on the 'phone, or texting. I watch my younger daughter's fingers speed across the keyboard and I feel totally inadequate and....old.

By the way, God's got a 'phone number. Only takes a second; never engaged; and the call's free. He longs to hear from you and the message you get will always be for your good. Jeremiah 333: Look it up. Better still, dial it. He's always in.

This Saturday we celebrate a great message from God: The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, in the beautiful setting of the 13th century church at Leigh in Kent. The following Sunday, we are seeking to send out a message from the castle lawn in Tonbridge, Kent: 'O for a Thousand Tongues' we are calling it and encouraging a thousand people to come and sing out the message of salvation. That message has been on God's answerphone for two thousand years. Am I stretching the metaphor a bit? Maybe. Just get on the 'phone!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Back to the Future

Have you ever experienced that numbing sense of loss that comes with the death of a loved one? Or perhaps the crushing sense of shame that results from being caught out doing something that you know you shouldn't have been doing, but thought you could get away with? You've just had the tiniest foretaste of Hell.

The problem is: Most Christians don't realise just how bad Hell is, so it's not surprising that, if they don't realise what they've been saved from, they're lukewarm about what they've been saved to. I've heard Christians say things like: "I don't want to go to Heaven without my family; I'd rather go to Hell and be with them". Bad choice.

Hell isn't some one-star version of Heaven: A bit tatty around the edges and you have to provide your own breakfast; neither is it a non-stop riotous party, whilst 'the redeemed' sit around on clouds, playing harps and getting bored out of their skulls, as you sometimes see it portrayed. Hell is the absolute opposite of Heaven. Where Heaven is light, Hell is darkness; where Heaven is peace, joy and security, Hell is strife, anger and insecurity; where, in Heaven, the love of God pervades everything and everyone, Hell has only that gut-wrenching regret and realisation that it could have been so different, but it's now finally and permanently too late to do anything about it. That'll be the real torment.

It used to be said: "If you find the perfect Church, don't join it". The point is, of course, that your imperfections will spoil it and make it less than perfect. And that's the problem God has with Heaven. If He were to let in anyone who was less than absolutely perfect, Heaven wouldn't be Heaven anymore. To quote a line from our musical 'Yeshua Messiah!':

"God is a God of love, so He wouldn't send anyone to Hell, would He? I mean, we'll all end up in Heaven eventually."

In reality, God doesn't have to send anyone to Hell. Ever since The Fall, Hell has been the default option, the place you end up unless you do something about it. And it's no good raging at God and claiming it's all His fault, because it isn't: It's entirely mankind's.

What people are really saying is: "Never mind how much of a mess we've made, it's Your responsibility to sort it out and let us in". Well, actually, He has. Sorted it out, that is. Jesus said of Himself:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16 NKJV)

Later He confirmed that, saying:

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". (John 14:6 NKJV)

The problem is, most people don't like the prescription: Repent i.e. turn around and see and do things God's way; believe the Good News that, in His death and resurrection, Jesus has done everything necessary to make you fit for Heaven; and be baptised, as an outward symbol of the inward change.

So, I'm not advocating a return to the old-fashioned 'Hell fire and damnation' style of preaching. We want people to run to God because of His love, not scare them into Heaven solely on account of the alternative. Sometimes, though, a bit of perspective helps.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Standing Next to Jaws.

I've never seen anything quite like it. Taking my daughter Naomi to London for a birthday visit to the Globe theatre for some Shakespeare, we decided to spend the time beforehand visiting Westminster Abbey. This required a walk down Whitehall and it was there the fun began. As we got nearer to Downing Street, the police presence increased dramatically: Motor bikes, vans, helicopter, it seemed everything was out. We realised that Mr Obama was in town.

Having arrived at a spot opposite Downing Street, I found myself next to the tallest policeman I have ever seen. He must have been seven foot at least and built like a tank; almost a double for the Bond villain 'Jaws', except this one had his own teeth and they were enamel and not steel! I suggested that Mr Obama was inside, but was told that he hadn't arrived yet. There was some confusion as to whether he would come in through Whitehall, or take the back entrance through St James' Park. 'Jaws' then cryptically remarked: "But I guess, sir, if you're the most powerful man in the world, you wouldn't come in through the back door". We moved on to the Abbey, but were told it was closed as the President had just laid a wreath.

We were about to cross the road in Parliament Square when abruptly, from our right, appeared a police motorcycle, which promptly held up the traffic. We could have easily crossed the road because no one was in front of us. Suddenly there was the sound of whistles going off from all directions. Subtle it wasn't! I turned to Naomi and said: "I think the big man is coming". Sure enough, the column appeared: 3 cars, then the President's car, then two more cars, then the dummy car, then three more cars, then an ambulance, and then finally a Range Rover, covered in SWAT teams, who looked like they would shoot first and ask questions afterwards. For his visit to Britain his entourage comprised a staff of 500 including: 200 secret service agents, 4 speech writers, 6 doctors, the White House chef and kitchen staff and 12 teleprompters. Each of the two armour-plated cars weighed 8 tons; each colloquially known as 'The Beast'. One got stuck on a hump in Ireland!

Last week we performed the musical 'Yeshua Messiah!' in the beautiful village of Herstmonceux. The modern hall was packed to capacity, as we shared the message of the Gospel: The message that, through the Blood of Christ, access to the Father in His name is unrestricted. No security; just you and Him. And no very tall policemen.

This week, as a Company, we celebrate the Feast of Weeks: The coming of the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Now there's real power!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ode to a Slice of Treacle Tart

It really was the most delicious slice of treacle tart I think I have ever tasted. Just melt in the mouth stuff. Sitting at lunch with friends, swapping stories, including an amazing true one about a man, his son and his dog walking on water!

Ian (who heads up the technical team) and I were at Moggerhanger Park, a delightful, beautifully restored Georgian house in Bedfordshire. The house has connections with the Clapham Set, which included William Wilberforce - famous for bringing before Parliament the act to abolish slavery. We were there to talk about the possibility of staging the 'Yeshua Messiah!' musical in the grounds and as a result, we were shown some of the exciting plans they have for the park, including an open air theatre. It looks like we could be part of a proposed camping weekend next summer: A sort of festival, maybe, when we shall be presenting the musical on the Saturday night of the August Bank Holiday weekend. We were shown around the grounds and in particular, admired the lovely walled garden, a possible site for our concert if the theatre isn't ready.

This meeting came off the back of an exciting weekend, when we presented the musical in Loughton, Essex, to some 360 people in a school hall. About 25% of the audience were not Christians and there were also some 50 Jewish people too. Some Jewish people even sang in the choir with us. It was a wonderful, uplifting evening. I met David Winter of Revelation TV, so it looks as if there might be an opening there, as I have to write to him in the next few days.

And so on to Herstmonceux where, on June 4th, we shall be presenting the musical in the heart of the beautiful Sussex countryside. But I shall miss that amazing tart and so will have to patient and wait until next summer for some more!

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Only Way is Essex

The M25 is a wonderful motorway when it works. It's the victim of its own success: If I had a pound for every time I've travelled it I would be a rich man. It's a gateway to the west and the north; nearly every long journey involves this motorway. The beauty of England and Wales opens up from this starting point.

I remember the first time I travelled it alone: It was the occasion of my father's death. I hadn't long passed my test and with some trepidation I set out for Essex on a late, cold evening in December, when the mists seem to hug the motorway as I drove through the night. That was my introduction. Twenty-five years and many musicals later, we take the 'Yeshua Messiah!' musical to Loughton in Essex.

An awful lot has happened in the world since that first lonely journey, but the message of the hope of the Gospel remains intact. And that gives a strong sense of perspective. My father and mother have been prayed into glory; that's the best gift I could pray for them. They both made late decisions, but they're there! As I write this, I am listening to John Rutter's version of the spiritual 'Deep River' which includes the words:

"Deep river my, home is over Jordan,
O don't you want to go to that Gospel Feast,
That promised land where all is peace."

Many times I've crossed the Dartford Crossing into Essex, the county that I grew up in. And though many of the 'old familiar faces', as the poem says, have passed on, there burns in my heart a desire to share the hope of the Gospel. That we will do on May 14th when we present the musical together with Jewish and Messianic singers, having crossed over the 'deep river' of the Thames.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Flying on Cloud 9

I remember it distinctly: Flying in the jump seat, situated just behind the pilots in the cockpit of a Ryanair 737, inbound for Dublin at night. Those were the days, before 9/11, when if you had the right contacts, you could ride in the cockpit. So here I was, on the second trip of the day to Dublin. The previous flight had been in daylight, but this was an instrument job; flying blind, as it were, through cloud with only the instruments to navigate by. Curiously, I noticed the aircraft seemed to be surround by a winking pinkish light, which confused me until I realised it was the reflection of the orange and red navigation lights bouncing off the clouds. It was an eerie experience. Suddenly, we came out of clouds and there before us, some five miles away, was the bright white ribbon of the runway lights. In no time we were safely down.

The following week I rode in the cockpit again, this time to Pisa. We landed at night, running in over the sea, no sign of the leaning tower. I got out of the plane, walked around it twice to stretch my legs and got back on. That was my trip to Pisa!

I understand from a pilot friend of mine that if you fly through clouds in a light plane and rely on your feelings as to your orientation, it is possible to come out of the clouds upside down! We all go through 'clouds' in our lives. Flying blind as it were, relying solely on the instrument panel of God's Word: His promises. I feel like that at the moment. Flying through cloud, unaware of quite where I am going. I think the psalmist felt like that quite a few times. In fact his feelings are there for us all to be encouraged by. 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?' is his cry.

I remember once flying over the Lake District. We turned over the magnificent screes of Wastwater and then the pilot announced: "I'm lost"! You see, when you're up at 3000 feet, all the Lakes disappear into the valleys and all you can see are the mountain tops and the many ridges. "Find me a Lake" I said "and we'll navigate from there." We found Windermere. I directed him north over Grasmere, Thirlmere and Derwentwater and then we turned north-east to Carlisle airport. We landed safely: A little knowledge goes a long way!

Sometimes in life, we fly blind for a while. Then God brings us out of the cloud, showing us that He was there with us all the time.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Another Seismic Shift

We have all watched with horror the events that have unfolded in Japan. The sheer scale of the devastation, the power of nature and the incalculable suffering as a result, is beyond our experience. Watching ships, carrying people, just being turned into matchwood in a few seconds and watching a dark tide engulf whole areas, is something that we have never seen before, since 2004 when the word tsunami first entered the common language. The power of nature seems wholly indiscriminate and unstoppable. The phrase 'seismic shift' takes on a whole new meaning when we see its outworking so dramatically and tragically.

But it occurred to me a few moments before beginning to write this blog, that there is another seismic shift taking place: One that will have dire consequences in the days to come. We are seeing a shift away from Christian values and, like that invidious wall of water that invaded, so ruthlessly, large areas of the east coast of Japan, its steady progress will see the erosion of many of the values that have anchored Western civilization. In the courts and in the media we are seeing a growing number of cases of Christians being vilified, prosecuted and disciplined, in a way that only a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable. There is a different kind of earthquake taking place in the West. It is extending over a longer period of time; there is no Richter scale to measure its force; yet it will bring about the fall of Western civilization as we know it.

Recently I watched the historian David Starkey speaking on television. I disagree with a lot of what he says, but I defend his right to have an opinion. He said this: "We are seeing the appearance of a new form of tyranny. An intolerance every bit as powerful as that which it seeks to replace." He is right. So-called tolerance has an invidious and prejudiced flipside and what we have been told would be the benefits of multiculturalism, has turned people who hold Christian beliefs into intolerant criminals. Moral and social confusion is following in its wake and the 1984 Orwellian thought police are on the trail of anyone who holds beliefs contrary to what society in general holds. It is a new form of inquisition and the tsunami is growing taller and more powerful. We have been warned, in God's Word, by Jesus Himself, that these days would come.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Everyone Needs a Break (Brake?)

I can always remember the first and thankfully, only time it happened. Coming down a hill and putting my foot on the brake, only to find that the pedal went straight down on the floor. A quick change down the gears avoided disaster and, thankfully, the car in front was way in front! Then it was a case of nursing the car slowly home, anxiously pumping the pedal from time to time to get pressure. A car without brakes is a lethal machine. Apparently it was air bubbles in the fluid; the car had been serviced, but not well enough, it seems.

I thought of it rather as a metaphor for what we are trying to do in the Company: Getting people to put the brakes on, before they head for eternal disaster. Putting the brakes on the direction of their lives and heading in another direction. I suppose if I had the time and inclination, it would be an interesting study to see how many times I applied the brakes on a journey to central London. We do it instinctively of course - brake, I mean. It becomes second nature. We drive with the security of knowing that our brakes will work - until they don't, and then our whole mind set changes.

This weekend we spent time presenting the 'Yeshua Messiah!' musical, urging people to 'put the brakes on.' Anyone living without Christ is living in a state of false security. They will only find out when the brakes don't work!

This blog was inspired, if that is the right word, by the experience of Ian, who heads up the technical team: Brake failure on a hired van carrying equipment back. It brought back memories! Perhaps that's one way of looking at the Gospel: Make sure your brakes are working!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Lesson 12: 'How to Land Your Plane'

Recently I flew from San Fransisco airport, over the Golden Gate Bridge and the old prison of Alcatraz and, after 20 minutes, returned to the airport. If I said that I never left the ground, you would understand that I was flying a simulator. My family indulge me from time to time, with birthday and Christmas presents that are air related. Consequently, I have found myself in a helicopter over London, a microlight over the Thames estuary, in the open cockpit of a Tiger Moth and a memorable flight in a glider, having been air-towed to 2000 feet over the South Downs. The only thing I've never done is a balloon flight, which doesn't really appeal to me - too slow.

I love the whole experience of flying and, to add to the aforementioned experiences, I have also found myself on the flight deck of a RAF VC10, watching 12 jets refuelling: It was like watching an aerial ballet. I also had the privilege of flying in the cockpit of a 737 twice, to Dublin and the following week flying down to Pisa. I particularly remember the sight of the full moon on the Alps. Add to this my various excursions into Vulcan, Hercules, Shackelton and Buccaneer cockpits and you can see I am a real air 'saddo'. Which brings me to the point of this blog.

Apparently, it is possible to learn to fly by correspondence course. However, the story is told of one company involved in this who sent out, stage by stage, the course manuals. But they failed to send the final manual entitled: 'How to Land Your Plane'. Just think of the consequences! I used that story as part of the programme notes for a musical called 'Heaven'which we presented some 11 years ago. I based the musical on an airport where there were only two destinations, Heaven and Hell. There were no incoming flights!

Recently I listened to a tremendously inspiring sermon by my preacher hero, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, entitled 'How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?' So how many people are there out there flying the plane of their life, unable to land? I hope I haven't stretched the metaphor too far.

We are looking forward to preaching the Gospel again this Spring, through the 'Yeshua Messiah!' musical, telling people the right place to land!