Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Shopping For Souls

Well, soon we will be off again, to sing in the temples of mammon: i.e. shopping malls. A great feast of tempting displays, all seeking to part us from our money. Glory to God in the high street; bright lights; big city. Where is Christ in all of this? Where is the Christmas message amongst the Father Christmases, the reindeer, the decorations, the snowmen, the.........  Surely the Christmas spirit has left these places?

Yet for us as a choir, last year's 'Mall Tour', as it came to be known, was one of the most moving, emotional and uplifting that we had ever undertaken. There we were, singing material from our 'Stargifts' Christmas musical and interspersing the songs with Bible readings from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and we were overwhelmed by the response. People stopping to listen, hanging over railings, suddenly standing still, all letting the music wash over them. Men moved to tears, people being overwhelmed by the message, knowing in a strange way they were being blessed by something larger than themselves. What a privilege to sing to these people. People with their ears full of shop 'muzak', surrounded by the trappings of a Christ-less Christmas, but listening to the timeless message that echoed in their hearts. It wasn't just the shoppers: At each of our three venues - Beales, Royal Victoria Place and Bluewater - we were treated with kindness, helpfulness and courtesy. No one objected, not even when some of our number were busy giving out tracts.

We realised that amongst all the commercial trappings, people were still willing to listen to the Gospel message. Their ears heard Scripture; for some, maybe, bringing back distant, untapped memories of that time when they went to church. We recognised that God was at work; the Spirit was moving upon people and no amount of 21st century secularism could stop it. There is still an ear of faith out there, an aching search begun by the Spirit. There is still a hunger in people's hearts for a Christ-shaped message of hope, blessing and, most importantly, loving forgiveness. We were humbled.

So, our rehearsing is nearly over and we move on with this Gospel adventure. Bilbo Baggins says in 'The Hobbit': "Adventures are disruptive and make you late for dinner". Well, it may be very intimidating singing surrounded by the enticing smells of coffee, warm bacon rolls and the other many assorted aromas that are carried on the air in these places but, you know, we don't seem to be hungry when we're singing. Afterwards, O yes! But thank you Lord for the opportunities you are going to give us as we sing on the 'Mall Tour'. May we bring You honour and may people be won for the Kingdom. Yes we're shopping.....for souls!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Busking for the Lord

It's amazing how a bus can change the sound of a choir. Singing outside Christ Church in Tonbridge High Street with the choir recently, we were also very near to a bus stop. Every time a bus pulled up our volume doubled, as the sound of the choir and the backing music reflected back at us from the side of the bus. It meant that those walking by and those in the bus queue got a double dose! It was a great afternoon. Our numbers were somewhat depleted due to colds and other ailments; nonetheless we had the right balance of parts and McDonald's opposite was once again treated to about an hour of our singing.

We were also able to give out many tracts and booklets. The old ice cream box in which these were stored was on the ground near the feet of the front row of the choir. Suddenly a young woman who had walked past returned and threw a pound coin into the box. We were now in the realm of buskers! It will be interesting to see how June our treasurer will enter that contribution in the books: income from busking?

We were so encouraged by people's response; they stopped on both sides of the road to listen and an ex-London Transport bus on wedding duty gave us a big hoot. We even had people dancing! People are open to the Gospel!

We are now rehearsing for the 'Mall Tour', plus an evening with an Israeli Messianic pastor who is touring this country. Once again we will be in the midst of Christmas shoppers, proclaiming the eternal message of hope to people laden down with shopping and cares. Perhaps, tho', we should be careful this time where we leave our little box!

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Eternal Sat-Nav

Having been dragged into the 21st century by two daughters persuading me that it is imperative that I have a mobile phone, I have been resisting the temptation to purchase another of those essential pieces of modern technology, the Sat-Nav. I enjoy studying maps and planning journeys. However, the success of these adventures depends on a kind gentleman ensuring that more obscure roads, such as the B6066, are adequately signposted from the A road. Such was the situation on a recent trip to Bournemouth. Duly planned using the mark 1 brain, everything was going fine until we reached the said turn-off for the B6066. Not signposted! It became evident as we made our way gradually west and began running out of town landscape that we had overshot. Back we went and turned towards Bournemouth city centre.

So there we were, surrounded by assorted buses, having tried to negotiate a bewildering one-way system. "Cars aren't allowed here" bellowed a rather officious voice, which I thought was rather stating the obvious, since we had stumbled into a bus station. To cut a long story short, had we turned right instead of left at a certain roundabout, we would have found ourselves yards from our hotel. "Most people get lost trying to find us" were the receptionist's comforting words.

I remember being in New York city in the back of a yellow cab, being taken down to visit the Twin Towers, two weeks before they were hit. Our confidence in the Puerto Rican driver was not helped when he stopped and started consulting the A to Z! I can also remember being on board a late night taxi bus climbing the winding roads of Mount Carmel in Israel, seeking to find an address after the driver had said he was lost. It's even worse when you're flying over the Lake District in a light plane and the pilot suddenly tells you he's lost! My father gave me good advice when he said: "If you find yourself lost, ask a local".

I am reminded of the poem quoted by King George the Sixth during his Christmas broadcast in 1939, just after Britain had entered the Second World War:

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown".

And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way".

  As a Company, we go into the future putting our hand into the hand of God, seeking through our ministry to speak to those who are lost on life's highway. The Bible, life's Sat-Nav to eternity, is there for all: timeless, eternal words of hope. As we go into our autumn programme, we pray that God will allow us to proclaim the Light who is safer than a known way.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Be Careful Who You Sit Next To!

This coming Saturday Jenny and I, together with two friends, will have the rare luxury of sitting in an audience for one of our musicals, without having to do anything but watch! As I think about it, I cast my mind back to the chain of events that led to this....

We were sitting on a bench looking out to sea, taking in the view that included the graceful sweep of Tintagel Head. Jenny and I are great fans of the television series Doc Martin, which is set in the sleepy, quaint Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac (called Portwen in the programme). Gazing to my right I noticed another couple; the man was reading a copy of the Times. I try to read this newspaper daily, since I believe it always contains a better class of weather, but there you go. My eyes were drawn to the headline that had something to do with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Leaning across to this stranger, I commented about the headline. "He's my boss" came the reply. The stranger turned out to be a vicar, David Haigh by name. Within a few minutes we were talking about the Last Things and Israel. We mentioned our latest musical Yeshua Messiah. The trail then continued with David inviting us to perform the musical in Romford, which then led to a performance in Loughton, which then led to a Messianic fellowship asking if they could perform another of our musicals called The Olive Tree - the musical we are going to see on Saturday. Be careful who you sit next to!

It reminded me of a further occasion when we were flying down to Barcelona. Approaching the Pyrenees, we began to experience turbulence. A man opposite me looked across and said: "Do I look frightened?" Not wishing to send this man into a pit of despair I replied: "You do just a little." I then went on to say that it was only in the summer that Europe really started to cook and send warm thermals upwards to contribute to unstable air. "Are you a pilot?" he asked. I replied in the negative. He continued to look very worried as the turbulence got worse. I decided to change the subject slightly and asked him what job he did. I was amazed buy his reply: "An air steward" he said. Be careful who you sit next to!

I remember some years ago flying over the Lake District in a light aircraft. As we took off, I found that I could not close the door. Frantically I kept pulling until finally I got the pilot's attention, having beheld Carlisle, some 2000 feet below, through the large gap in the door. "Don't worry - we'll level out at three thousand feet and then you won't have any wind resistance" he said stoically. Thankfully he did and I pulled the offending tail of my coat from the bottom of the door! We continued on into the heart of Lakeland, sweeping over the plunging edge of Wastwater with the famous Screes diving almost vertically into the dark depths of England's deepest lake. At that point, having got some great photos, the pilot calmly announced: "I'm lost!" I looked at him incredulously. You see, as you rise high above the lakes, they disappear into the valleys, so that all you see are peaks and ridges. "Right" I said, "let's find a lake I can recognise and we'll navigate from there". Sure enough, the great ribbon of Windermere soon appeared. "Turn left" I said "and follow it to its head, then we'll find Rydal Water, then Grasmere, then Thirlmere and then Derwent Water, where we turn north west towards Carlisle". We landed safely, but it cost me more because of the diversion! Be careful who you sit next to!

But I'm glad I sat next to a vicar called David Haigh. Roll on Saturday!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

It's Time

It had been a sad day. We'd just got home from a memorial service for Rev Michael Cohen, who collapsed and died in Israel at the beginning of May, to discover that our dear friend and previous Chairman of The Absolute Gospel Company had passed away this morning. Then also in May, we'd lost another great Christian friend, Brian, who lived in Germany; and it was only just over a year ago that that great man of God, David WIlkerson, was killed. It started to feel as though a whole 'layer' of Christian leaders was being stripped away.

Mulling it all over, the thought came, quite simply, that for too long other Christians - and I can hold my own hand up to this one - have been content to bask in the reflected glory of these men of God, whilst merely cheering from the sidelines. It is time for a new team to step forward, take up the baton and contend for the faith.

Monday, 11 June 2012

69p Per Week!

"I dread to think how much this lot is costing." This was the remark I heard from a workman at the site of the Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace. I was surrounded by cables, rigging and all sorts of paraphenalia as great efforts were being made to have the venue ready. The Victoria memorial was encased in a great crown-like structure: would she have been amused, I wonder? There was a great sense of anticipation in the air. Flags and bunting and giant pictures by the Thames: red white and blue everywhere. In a few days time these relatively sedate streets would throng with the voices of thousands of people with many millions watching on television.

I remember watching the Coronation on a giant screen in glorious black and white, watching Meteor jets whizz across as part of a mass flypast - my first introduction to a fascination with flying. Then there were the weddings: Princess Ann, Charles, Andrew, Edward. I remember being in the Lake District pulling into a pub car park as part of the Lower 6th on a geography field trip and listening to the wedding of Princess Alexander. I confess to being a Royalist. As someone wisely said it's not the power the Queen has, it's the power she denies. Gary Barlow, he of 'Take That', remarked in a recent article that the Queen's power is a warm, benevolent power, unlike some leaders he has met where he has detected an aura at times of darkness that goes with the abuse of power.

Last Sunday, in our local parish church there was a combined thanksgiving service celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The vicar spoke using two chess pieces, a king and a queen. The king of course represented King Jesus and the queen our monarch. He drew comparisons between the two, the most striking being that King Jesus' Kingdom will never end and will be characterized by justice, peace and love.

Our Queen is a very shrewd and wise lady with a strong Christian faith. It is often forgotten that at her Coronation she made a solemn promise to the King of Kings that she would defend the protestant faith and her Christmas broadcast last year reminded us that we all need a Saviour.

The workman I mentioned at the beginning of this piece had missed the point. "Have you thought how much in billions she contributes to the national purse through tourism?" I had replied. Apparently (goodness knows who works these things out) the Royal Family costs the taxpayer 69p per household per week. There's bit of trivia for you!

The word of God says:

"Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; all you who have no money, come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk, without money and without cost." Isaiah 55:1

Our salvation is free, but it will cost us our whole lives. May God bless our Queen, A lady who has given 60 years of continuous public service with a quiet but strong Christian witness.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Payment Please!

It was so embarrassing! The queue was quite long; the diesel was in the car. Out came the wallet. The wallet was opened. No card. Or rather, the wallet was full of cards, but not THE card - the one I needed for payment. There were all sorts of other cards which, for purposes of payment, were useless. Not valid. Membership of the Vulcan to the Sky Club; Teacher's Theatre Preview Club; library card; swimming pool card. There may have even been an old rail ticket and possibly a receipt.

As I stood there waiting for the floor to swallow me up and waiting for the faint murmur of frustration from the innocent, card carrying, cash carrying people behind, I tried to put together a reason why I couldn't pay. None came! Limply I stumbled out some words that loosely meant I would park the car at the garage and summon help. I felt totally impotent as I went out the door head lowered so as not to make eye contact with a queue of honest people.

Parking the car in a position that would not block all traffic, I frantically tried to think of where that pesky card might be. I was well and truly stumped. I left the door of the car open as I sat in the seat, aware that the cashier was watching me out of the window, perhaps thinking I might do a runner! I felt like one stupid boy!

I started to pray. Who could I ask to pay a £48 fuel bill, in the words of Tommy Cooper: 'Just like that!' I rang our neighbour; She had just arrived at work. Half an hour earlier she could have helped, she said. After several minutes I thought of another friend. I was about to dial when my neighbour rang back. She had got release from work and would be with me in half an hour. Half an hour in which to look innocent - and honest!. How do you look honest, guv?

So, thirty minutes later, thanks to the kindness of my neighbour who popped her wonderful working card into the machine and saved my bacon, I was able to pursue the hunt for the card. It turned out I had left it in a machine in a large department store whilst buying a present.

The moral of the story? One day we will all stand before the Lord. A payment will have been needed to enter Heaven. No wallets; no cards. Just our heart decision will be all that is necessary. Have we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour?  If we answer positively it will allow us to enjoy His presence forever and the endless wonders of Heaven. He is still the friend of sinners, the One who is always there in an emergency. The One who rescues. No embarrasment for us, just deep joy and thankfulness. His precious Blood has been the payment. Bless the Name of the Lord.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Forgiven - Too Poor to Pay

Recently a dear friend sent me one of those slips from a tear off calendar with a verse and comment. The verse was from Peter's first letter, chapter 1 verses 18-19:

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down from your forefathers but with the precious Blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect."

What a marvellous verse! The comment that went with it was headed: 'Forgiven - too poor to pay.' and was illustrated by the story of a Christian surgeon who lived some 100 years ago in the United States. Each patient he treated was, at the end of the treatment, handed a bill for his services.

When he died, his account book was opened and the readers were intrigued to see that across a number of the bills, some of which were very substantial, was written in red ink: 'Forgiven - too poor to pay.' His wife decided that she would take matters to court, where she would endeavour to recover these unpaid bills. The Judge opened her case and, examining the evidence, threw the case out saying: "There is no facility in American law that requires the paying of a bill once the word 'forgiven' has been written across it."

What a wonderful illustration to show that we, sinners, unable to pay the cost of our redemption, have a Saviour who has purchased it with His precious Blood: 'Forgiven - too poor to pay'. What an encouragement to share the Gospel! We shall continue to pray the Lord in His good time will open doors for us that we may proclaim the Good News.

Incidentally, we are very excited about a Messianic fellowship in Essex producing one of our past musicals: The Olive Tree'. This will be performed in July and it will be a wonderful privilege to sit in the audience, without having to be a part of the production!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Tin Hat Time

One of the classic remarks to come out of World War 1 was from a Royal Flying Corps pilot who had his aircraft badly shot up by the Germans, forcing him to crash-land on a beach, not far from Ostend. After he and his observer had extricated themselves from the wreckage, fortunately no more than badly bruised, he remarked:

“The trouble with this war is that it’s so b***** dangerous!”

And so is spiritual warfare but, with the casual way some Christians approach it, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. We may not be able to see the bullets and bombs raining down around us, or the rows of body bags, but things are no less deadly.

In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul highlights a believer’s spiritual armour, using the image of a Roman soldier. Many believers pray through this passage: “I put on the belt…I put on the breastplate…” etc., but it’s worth looking at these from a slightly different angle.

The belt of truth. If you’re not living in a truthful and transparent way, if you are living a lie, then you have no belt to stop your clothing flapping open, getting in your way and exposing you to embarrassment.

The breastplate of righteousness. None of us is perfect and our true righteousness comes from our position in Jesus, not in what we do but, if you are knowingly behaving in an unrighteous way, you can step out from under His protection and leave your vital organs at risk.

The shoes of the Gospel. Jesus said to his disciples:

“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

So, if you’re standing back, unwilling to do as the Master has commanded, your own walk could end up being pretty uncomfortable!

The shield of faith. Faith itself is a gift from God but, if you’re not exercising it, you’ve nothing to deflect all the missiles that the enemy will throw at you. Lack of faith leaves holes in your shield.

The helmet of salvation. If you haven’t repented and sought God’s salvation, your mind is wide open to anything and everything that comes along.

So what matters is not so much what you say, but how you live. I believe Paul is really saying: “Be honest; behave with righteousness and integrity; be prepared to share the Good News; have faith; and above all, seek salvation; for in these things you will find your spiritual protection”.

War isn’t a game and it’s foolishness to go around looking for trouble; it’ll come looking for you soon enough! But whilst you’re waiting, it would be sensible to check over your armour and remedy any deficiencies.

Friday, 6 January 2012

First Things First

So our PM, David Cameron, thinks we should return to Biblical values. When I heard of his comments, rather than jumping up and cheering, I felt vaguely uneasy and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to work out why.

What does he really mean? I doubt that he’d champion the repeal of all those un-Godly laws that have been enacted over the years in the name of ‘human rights’, so I can only assume the ‘return’ goes no further than being ‘awfully nice’ to all and sundry, even if they’d wipe you out, given half a chance! But that’s treating the Bible as just a book of rules for an arcane Sunday club. Unless those rules carry authority, we’re down to arguing one group of people’s good ideas against those of another. To be relevant, the Bible - all of it - must either be the Word of God, or it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. And if it is the Word of God, it has ultimate authority, which means you can’t treat it as a ‘pick ‘n mix’ counter, only selecting the ‘sweeties’ you fancy.

When questioned about the commandments, Jesus said:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22v37-40)

Note the order: Love God first, then you’ll be in a proper state to love those around you. But there’s another aspect to all this: The reformer John Calvin said:

“Though indeed God alone is sufficient witness to himself in his word, nevertheless that word will obtain no credence in the heart of man if it be not sealed by the interior witness of the Spirit…”

In other words the Bible, without the illumination and interpretation of the Holy Spirit, is just a dead letter and attempts to follow it will soon result in legalism. However, the indwelling of the Spirit is only granted to those that have repented and accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour. So, the only way to truly return to Biblical values is to return to the One who inspired those values. Then they are lived out from an intimate relationship with Him, not as a set of rules applied like a sticking plaster to try healing a sick society.