The World is Smaller Than You Think…

shutterstock_518692792You know those times when you’re in a restaurant where the tables are a bit close together, and the person at the next table decides that they’re going to get to know you, get involved in your conversation, and generally make a thorough nuisance of themselves? Well, I’m very sorry, but, although I try to control myself, there are times when that person on the next table has a good chance of being me.:

I promise, I mean no harm; I just like people, and I like getting to know them. Friendly, passing conversation is where community starts.

And community is the backbone of society.

But we’re all getting fewer and fewer opportunities.

A while ago, walking from our hotel to an interview with the lovely Maria Rodriguez on Woman to Woman, at Premier Christian Radio, we made the twenty minute walk using Kevin’s phone sat-nav. Not a single chance to ask anyone the way.

People rushed past, with not a chance of even the smallest bit of communication, because they were all so busy texting on their phones that no one looked up for long enough to catch their eye and exchange the most fleeting of smiles.

File 04-04-2017, 09 51 43Some of my most long standing friends are people who caught my eye, exchanged a smile with me, which, on a second time of passing, turned into a friendly word, and off the friendship went. We were designed for community. We like having friends, people we can trust. It makes the world feel a safer, smaller place.

Some of us are extroverts, and some of us are introverts, but nonetheless community is key to our children growing up healthy and happy. Without community, our country will crumple to its knees.

Which is where I’m getting to. We now have lots of nationalities in our country, and we should be learning to live side by side; our children should be going for ‘sleepovers’ in each other’s houses, learning from each other, experiencing different customs, new games and new foods. We should be going round to each other’s houses, eating together, cooking together, revelling in our differences and our similarities. I can’t wait.shutterstock_450400126 (1)

Today, walking through a particularly troubled bit of Gloucester, I saw a tall, strong-looking, young man walk out onto the pavement in front of me. He was wearing bright red trainers, cut off jeans and a brilliant red T-shirt; I took the risk, hailed him and told him that he looked fabulous…

He turned, asked me what I’d said, and then, when I repeated it, his face cracked into a blazing smile as he walked back toward me, thanking me and proffering a huge hand to be shaken.

Community starts with men and women getting together and chatting.

We shouldn’t complain about the break down of society, until each of us is prepared to risk the exchange of a friendly word with a complete stranger.

Don’t live in fear – live in the safety and security of God’s hands.

It’s a Good, Good Place To Be.

 

File 04-04-2017, 10 22 21

More little grey boxes…

File 17-06-2016, 08 31 24 When we were in Holland just before Christmas, we were giving lots of our little grey boxes of ash away; we talked about ash being what’s left when everything else is used up and burnt out, and we told this story:

A young Jewish boy (for these purposes, we’ll call him Asher) wanted to hear Jesus speak. So he got his mother’s permission to go down to where he’d heard Jesus was going to be. His mother allowed him to go, but with strict instructions regarding the importance of being home before sunset, and how he was to be careful, stay safe and not get into trouble. She also sent him with a small packed meal of fish and bread.

He was so excited – he’d heard that this man, who performed amazing miracles and, unusually, who had time for children in a way that grown ups rarely bothered with, was not far away, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The day exceeded even Asher’s childishly optimistic expectations, and the boy sat taut with anticipation, among a huge crowd of people, each one straining to hear every word that Jesus spoke, and to miss absolutely nothing.

thAfter a day of sitting in the baking sun, there was some discussion among Jesus and his disciples about the fact that everyone present must be hungry, because they’d been there such a long time. Asher had reluctantly been deciding that he probably ought to be heading home, but now Jesus sent the disciples among the crowd to ask whether anyone had brought any food with them. Most people had nothing, but Asher’s enthusiasm took over, as he shouted out excitedly ‘I’ve got some!’.

He was called forward to present what he had to Jesus. two fishes – five loaves.

Looking around at the enormity of the crowd he suddenly felt foolish. What use could the little bit he had possibly be. Someone sniggered in the crowd, and then someone else sent a mocking remark. What on earth had possessed him to stand up and make such a fool of himself? What he had brought with him was going to go nowhere in the face of such a huge crowd of hungry people.

He hung his head as he was called forward, trying to be as small and as unnoticeable as possible as he obediently wove his way to the front of the crowd to meet Jesus. Resentful, mocking eyes were on him. One useless boy, two fishes, five loaves, five thousand people.

But then he found himself at the front of the crowd, looking into the impossibly kind, unbelievably wise eyes of Jesus Christ.

We’ve all felt like this small boy, so many times. Weak, useless and laughably ill-equipped for the task at hand.

But what Asher did next is exactly what each of us needs to do. He looked into Jesus’ eyes, and put everything he had into The Saviour’s hands. A step of faith.

And Jesus performed a miracle. Just as he will with each of us when we are ill-equipped, but are prepared to take that step of faith and hand everything over anyway.a52c69d30e26398dd210c8cf488a2d98

Score: Marketeers 0, Holy Spirit 10.

I used to be marketing director for a small design company; my job was to come up with ways to get companies and their products noticed and thought of in the best light possible. This boiled down to making their services and products look more exciting, more leading edge, better value, more attractive, effective and competitive than the opposition. It’s all about using colour, lights, noise and impact.

shutterstock_372274318

We live in a world of noise – I’m not talking about juggernauts on the road outside our houses, or the noise created by extra runways in airports – I’m talking about the noise we make in order to look bigger, better, busier, more successful, richer, happier than we really are. If I read the marketing material written about Out of the Ashes, I often find myself taking a quick rein check, as I remind myself that this stuff was written by the PR department to make Kevin’s and my musical careers look bigger, better and more exciting than is probably the case.

And, of course, a quick glance at Facebook leaves us in no doubt that everyone else’s lives are busier, happier and more interesting than ours. Everyone else’s holidays are more exciting, their children are more popular, getting better exam results and learning more musical instruments than our own children, and everyone else will probably have a happier Christmas than ours will be, with more friends, more and better presents, and nicer food.

Which leads us to a look at the arrival of Jesus Christ. The biggest, most exciting, most impactful event in the history of mankind.file-05-12-2016-14-11-35

I can’t help imagining the marketing meeting in Heaven, in the run up to His birth. The marketing department will, of course, have laid on fresh coffee and pastries. Gadreel and Hadraniel, the two self appointed heads of marketing are seated around a table with God:-

Gadreel: ‘Lord, we’ve been looking at the marketing plan for Your Son arriving on earth. Can we run a few ideas past You?’

God: ‘It’s all pretty much planned, but what are your thoughts?’

Gadreel: ‘Well, we’ve got a bit of a flip chart presentation here, and some thoughts about events leading up to His arrival. Hadraniel, why don’t you show Him your ideas?’

Hadraniel: Yes, we wanted to start by taking a look at the teaser campaign. We’ve already got a lot of stuff that’s been said by the old prophets, but we thought maybe we could freshen that campaign up a bit. What do you think?’

God: ‘Yes I’m on that already. I’ve got a man called John the Baptist on the case.’

Gadreel (uncertain surprise, quickly closes the flip chart): ‘John the Baptist? Hairy chap? Lives in the desert and eats locusts?’

God: ‘That’s the one’.

Gadreel: He’s err, quite umm smelly isn’t he?

God: He’s exactly right for my purposes.

Embarrassed silence – and then:

Hadraniel: ‘OK, moving on from there. Now, we’re working on the premise that this really is the big event in all history, and therefore budget no object. Not worked up many ideas yet, but wanted to just test the waters with a few initial thoughts to run past you, just to err, as I said… test the waters. So we have some plans on light shows, a bit of pageantry, we thought maybe some angelic armies, choirs, comets, a couple of weather phenomena…’

God: ‘He’s going to be born in a stable.’

Stunned silence…

Gadreel (nervously): ‘Born? Err… Right, right, yeah. Great idea. Emperor travelling through with his entourage… no, actually I’m not really getting the ‘stable’ bit. We’re going to have to give a bit more thought to how we get the emperors wife into a stable to give birth.’

God: ‘Not an emperor actually.’

Hadraniel: ‘Oh right! Great! What… err… what did you have in mind?’

God: ‘A good man. Name of Joseph; and his fiancée Mary’.

Gadreel: ‘FIANCÉE?! You mean… not married yet? Who is this chap? Is he some king spreading it around a bit? There are some chaps of good blood who are a bit wild when they’re young, but…’

God: ‘No. He’s a carpenter from Nazareth – incidentally, you can keep the choir, I like the choir. They can sing to the shepherds on the hill’.

Hadraniel, (weakly, head in hands): ‘Shepherds?’

I could go on.

Throughout the birth, growing up, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ, He did the exact opposite of ‘bigging it up’ every single step of the way. God incarnate, who created all of Heaven and Earth – lived, died and rose again as Jesus – quiet, understated, gentle, with breathtaking humility and no attention whatsoever to a conventional marketing strategy.

For me, it’s perhaps one of the greatest marks of authenticity in the Bible – written by forty different people, over a period of 1500 years and using three original languages. Without the slightest nod to marketeers or advertising, it continues to be the number one, worldwide best seller, outstripping other books by such a long way that most lists don’t even bother to mention it, Christianity spread like wildfire from those first years after Christ’s death and continues to grow to this day in spite of oppression of one form or another in most parts of the world.

As I say, score: marketeers 0, Holy Spirit 10.

The thoughts behind our new single ‘So Silently’ from the album Fear, Secrets and Lies which was released on the 18th November 2016.

Come on! Jump! …

One of my favourite games, when my son James was small, was to get him to jump, or ‘tip off’ small distances, from a chair, table, side of a swimming pool, in fact, anywhere a little bit higher than me, so that I could catch him. It is a delightful game of trust, that has been played by parents, with their children, down through the entire history of parenthood.

Tip off.jpgInitially, the risk taken by the child is small, as they tip gently, on much coaxing, into our outstretched hands. But gradually, as their confidence grows, they will leap with abandon from all sorts of inappropriate places, leaving us begging that they would ‘Please!! Check that I’m looking before you jump!’.
I remember the first time that God asked me to do something that involved an element of perceived risk on my part. I was attending church, about half way through a service, and I felt that I was being prompted to go up to a complete stranger and give her a ‘word of knowledge’. I was to tell her that God knew how excluded and isolated she felt, and that He wanted her to know how precious she was to Him, that He wanted her to ‘come in from the cold’, and to learn just how loved and wanted she was.

I was terrified. One of my biggest fears has always been about making a fool of myself, and sticking my neck out to speak where my words might be wholly unwanted absolutely terrified me. As the service came to a close, I had asked for all sorts of confirmations that I really had heard His voice, and wasn’t just inventing the instruction in my fanciful head; I made all kinds of excuses as to why I shouldn’t do it and I worked hard in my mind to ignore the persistent voice, sending me where I didn’t want to go.

But hard as I tried, the prompting wouldn’t go away.

In desperation, I asked the Lord to get the young woman to look as though she was waiting for someone to speak to her, and to give me an easy opportunity to go and talk to her. Ultimately, I knew that the persistent urging wasn’t going to go away, and I didn’t like the idea of going home with the knowledge that I hadn’t passed on an important message.shutterstock_377273392

Obeying the call felt like jumping off a cliff to certain disaster; but watching her face light up, hearing her tell me of her broken relationship, struggle as a single parent, and how she’d come to church that night, not really expecting to be welcomed – and then, her joy at being given that message at the end of the service, was, for me, like being caught in a safe, loving embrace just as I reached terminal velocity.

I don’t know whether I was put there for her that night, to bring comfort and love, or whether she was put there for me to start growing my embryonic faith. All I do know is that the joy resulting from that little step of faith, and other moments like it as my life has progressed, is joy quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

Since then, I’ve been encouraged to take all sorts of ‘risks’, in terms of saying or doing things, and thus being God’s hands here on earth. I have often persisted in that same initial reluctance, followed by a rather wobbly step of faith; I now realise that the best way to become sure of God is by taking those very moves into unknown territory, where He gets the opportunity to back us up, and thus enables us to do amazing things. My faith continues to grow.

Each time that we tip off the table into His arms, our bond of trust grows and flourishes in the certainty of His love, until, eventually, like Todd White, Robbie Dawkins and Jackie Pullinger, among numerous others throughout history, we learn to take giant leaps of faith across the craggy rocks of life, and we become mighty warriors in Jesus Christ.

The story behind our single ‘Tip Off The Table’ from the album Fear, Secrets and Lies due out 18th November 2016.

Grief…

shutterstock_363373049

I’ve talked about grief before. The grinding, end-of-world kind of grief that shatters lives. No promises are made to contrary – the one thing we can all know is that there will be pain,, hardship, suffering. The best we can hope for is that we might be spared it for long enough to reach our adult years unscathed…

But all too often, that’s not the way it goes; recently, I attended the funeral of a friend who had died suddenly while on a kite surfing holiday in Morocco. Apparently he’d just sat down on the beach at the end of a fabulous day of doing what he loved, had a massive heart attack and was found dead some time afterwards. The funeral was a heartbreaking exposure of the grief of his much loved wife and their three teenage children.

In the crematorium and at the reception afterwards, there was one word hanging over us all, often unspoken, but, none-the-less ever present… ‘why?’

Why do our loved ones get taken at what, so often, seems to be the peak of their life?

To the best of our knowledge, my friend was healthy and had everything to live for; he had been vibrant with energy and zest for living. He was loved and needed.

shutterstock_182053358Among his friends and family, the question ‘why?’ was followed by largely unspoken accusations against the capricious God who had stolen their loved one away without just cause or warning; others saw it as unwelcome proof of the absence of a god at all.

As a Christian, those that know me, and know my reliance on Jesus Christ, will at some point ask me all the questions and point some of the accusations that they are burdened with in my direction. I have no answers except this…

Along with all the much wiser people who have gone before me, I have no explanations for suffering and the brutalities of loss. All I know is that Jesus Christ never claimed, for one moment, that a life in His presence would be a life unburdened by hardship (John 16 v33), though He did promise to bring us comfort to help us bear it all (Matthew 11 v28).

And of one thing, I’m absolutely sure – I wouldn’t want to go through any of the pain that I see in my friend’s family – and that, at other times, I’ve experienced in my own – without Jesus by my side, bringing me comfort, lighting my way, and making my feet more secure on the craggy rocks of life.

shutterstock_444029017

 

 

I love the beach, but I’m afraid I don’t like the sea at all…

20160826-120211-largejpg

When I was about ten, my father fulfilled a personal dream by buying himself a small sailing boat, to keep moored at Portland Harbour, a few miles from where we used to live.

The idea of the boat filled me with excitement. I loved the idea of being able to go and travel somewhere on the water. The very thought filled my imagination with romantic notions. I danced around, begging to be taken along when he used to go.

It took me quite a long time to recognise that what I had in my mind’s eye, and what sailing in a dingy was actually like, were not quite as congruous as I might have hoped. I found that, actually, I was terrified of the sea; anything beyond the most polite ripple in a small harbour would have me clinging to the edge of the boat and whimpering in abject fear.

If my father were still alive today, I would feel it incumbent on myself to apologise for my insistence on going with him on those hard earned days off. I turned out to be allergic to sea water, which would quickly bring my face out in weeping sores, I whined in non-stop terror from the beginning of the jaunt to the moment when he would gratefully take me home and rid himself of me, no doubt planning strategies for sneaking off without my persistently clinging presence next time.

All these years later, my antipathy for sea water has never changed. I will, under duress, wade in it – no higher than my knees – and I will happily climb on rocks near it, but my favourite is to sit by it, reading a good book.file-07-09-2016-10-20-25

Seaside holidays are such a great way of spending family time. In the past, Jamie, Kevin and I have spent weeks at a time in some thoroughly inclement weather; Jamie and Kevin going rock climbing, body boarding, and, more recently, surfing, while I have cowered in horizontal rain, behind a series of well-hammered-in wind breaks, wearing a waterproof coat and reading a damp book.

img_0711This year we are camping down at Porthleven, in Cornwall, with two good friends Sarah and Phil. We go just along the coast to Poldhu, where Jamie has surf lessons, and when he comes back he behaves like a wet dog and gets sand and sea water everywhere. Sarah reads books and Phil…

Well, Phil (nearly 50) builds sand things. Tuesday a head(!), yesterday a boat, today a set of steps (yes really), tomorrow a…?

file-07-09-2016-09-35-11Lots of planning and discussion goes into these works of art; he limbers up first, wielding his plastic spade as he prepares physically and mentally for the coming creative outburst. And then there is a flurry of activity, as his plans become gradually less ambitious: commencing with Darth Vader, or perhaps a giraffe, or maybe a turtle, and gradually reducing to more achievable subjects, such as a cream sponge, an Eccles cake, a hole in the ground. Eventually, he sits back exhausted but happy; proud of his achievement, king of all he surveys.

And who are we to cast mirthful scorn. This small Cornish beach is a seething mass of humanity, jockeying for their little piece of British seaside. Each of us putting down beach towels, erecting barriers and marking territory, without a cross word being spoken by anyone. A more good natured, easy going bunch you’d struggle to find.file-07-09-2016-09-32-40

Here we are, in an age when so many families don’t even get to sit down together once a week to share a meal, but looking around on this beach, it is packed solid with families, sometimes with three generations all present, playing cricket, building sand castles, exploring rock pools, chatting and enjoying one another. There is not a computer game, an iPhone or a tablet among them.

We look on, and, at the moment, the sun shines.

Oh… And just out of interest… they sell hot chocolate in the kiosk.

White Jackets…

Band 2

I never cease to be amazed at how God loves to bless us.


There are times that He comes through for us when we’re desperately in need – like when a single mum friend of mine couldn’t find the money for her severely damaged front door. A few church friends, who knew there was a financial problem, decided to hold a collection to give her a bit of help. What we didn’t know was exactly how much money was needed, so when she opened the envelope of cash and found exactly the right sum for the bill, to the penny, we all knew that it was God coming through for her, rather than us..

And then, there are those times that there’s no desperate need, but He just wants to delight us with His blessing and affirmation.

At the end of March, we were booked into a great little café called Smokey Joes, to shoot a video for our song ‘What Love Can Do’, (other cafés do exist, but not quite like this one). All sorts of talented people were giving their time, and we wanted to do it right.

The outfits for the girls were sorted already, but we wanted to find something equally suitable for the guys in the band. Our era for the video was kind of ‘fifties’, so the obvious thing was to find ‘Teddy Boy’ drape jackets, drainpipe trousers and crepe shoes. Fine in principle, until we started investigating hire costs. It wasn’t going to work.

Girls 2

It occurred to me to talk to a local wedding hire shop, who’d helped us deal with school dances in the past. A quick phone call was all that was needed for the manager to establish in his mind that he wasn’t going to make much money from us, but even so, he started thinking of ways he might be able to help. He asked if I knew what Nehru jackets looked like, told me that he thought he might have some unwanted ones in the stock room downstairs, and that if we wanted those, we could either hire them or buy them absurdly cheaply.

So I went off to google Nehru jackets, and he went off to find out what he actually had in his stock room.

Ten minutes later, I’d found pictures, and he’d phoned me back to tell me that they only had three in the stock room after all; the others had been sold off. My disappointment must have been palpable over the telephone, because he then suggested that there was, after all, just a small glimmer of hope that he still had some others in his garden shed at home – what kind of garden shed does this man have?! He promised he’d check over the weekend and call me back on Monday.

Well, Monday came along and I’d spent the weekend fruitlessly scouring the Internet. I now knew that the men in the band needed every size from 36 short to 48 tall and various random sizes in between.

At 9.30am on Monday, I received a phone call from Nigel at the hire shop (first name terms by now), telling me that he’d found a further six jackets in his shed. He listed the sizes he now had and, amazingly, in spite of how few jackets there were, and the wide variety of the sizes I needed, he actually had them all, with an extra unwanted 44”. The chances of all the sizes being met had seemed so remote, but here we were.

I collected them on Tuesday, they were tried on, and they all fitted perfectly. Thank you Lord.

Dave 1

And then, in the post on Wednesday morning, quite out of the blue, we received a cheque. Now, I’d like to stress the point that we’ve been so blessed and provided for in so many ways, and gifts of money through the post have, previously, been neither received nor expected. But now, here we were, with a cheque in our hands, accompanied by a note to tell us that they had decided that they wanted to bless the Out of the Ashes ministry.

The amount was, to the penny, exactly right for the full purchase of all of the jackets.

God has blessed us, well beyond our needs or expectations. He’s an amazing, loving father, who likes to be involved in every aspect of what we’re doing. He loves to bless us, just as we love to bless our children, with unexpected gifts – sometimes big ones, sometimes small ones, and always astonishing and precious.

So, when you see OOTA play, or look at the video of ‘What Love Can Do’, and you see those white Nehru style dinner jackets that the boys are wearing, just remember – God provided those.

Or you can put it all down to coincidence, and you’re probably right. But as J.John so aptly puts it – when we pray, coincidences happen. I think it’s all down to love.