Tag Archive | God

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.

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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.

Grief…

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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.

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White Jackets…

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The very desire of my heart…

IMG_20150204_202756He had given me the very desire of my heart. And in doing so, he gave me my life’s work.

So what has given me this heart for running a gospel choir and getting people to sing? I’ll tell you.

I come from one of those hatchings, matchings and dispatchings families. You know the kind? It’s ok to write ‘Church of England’ on application forms, but for heaven’s sake don’t talk about it or get involved.

Well, in spite of my mum’s reservations, when I was sixteen I started going regularly to one of those other kinds of churches with a school friend. This was my first real experience of what most people would have described as a ‘happy clappy’ church, where people talked about Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, my mother remained tight lipped. I loved it.

One night about six of us were crammed in a car, travelling home after the service and I realised that my friends in the car were discussing a rehearsal for a band. I asked what they were talking about and was told that they were planning to start a band playing Christian music.

File 18-05-2016, 09 19 19Now… understand this, I was sixteen, and gawky with a gummy grin. Not a girl with street credibility – and this sounded so cool!

Well, the only instrument I’d ever played was the violin, which I’d had to give up because those that loved me couldn’t stand the dreadful noise I made when I practiced; my brother and sisters had always assured me that I couldn’t sing – so – well, not exactly excellent qualifications. Anyway, I muscled my way in with my eye on the spot of backing vocalist – I had plans on the back row, boogie a bit and no real responsibility – thus achieving a level of cool in my own eyes that I’d never hoped to see in my whole life.

That is until the first rehearsal – when my lack of talent became abundantly clear to all of us.

The rest of the band – bless them – probably felt quite a degree of responsibility for what might happen to my spiritual wellbeing if they gave me the sack, and they were clearly in an uncomfortable dilemma. Should they get rid of me and lose the dreadful noise in the back row? Or should they give me a tambourine, take away the microphone and reduce my impact on the sound as much as possible? Looking back, I feel for them.

I remember how I felt, and I promise you, it was painful. I knew what the situation demanded – I needed to admit my shortcomings and leave the band graciously; but that would mean admitting to all my other school friends the truth about my lack of ability – The gawky sixteen year old had just achieved some small level of cool and now I was about to lose it again.

I needed help desperately.

So I prayed like I’d never prayed before, asking God to help me; It never occurred to me to pray to be able to sing, it never crossed my mind that it might be on the ‘shopping list’ so to speak; instead I prayed for courage, humility, honesty. All the things I didn’t have and knew I needed. I realised that my only way through this maze was to hand it over to God completely. To let everything go.three

So, for the first time in my life, I experienced that amazing release that can only be found when you completely lay something at Jesus’ feet. During the following week I didn’t sing once, I just prayed and handed over, again, and again, and again.

And God worked. First of all, He showed me that His plan is paramount. That in accepting His plan, I was accepting something that was made just for me; a plan not to harm me, but to prosper me. A plan for which I was perfectly and wonderfully made. It was a life changing lesson.

The next rehearsal found me sitting in an arm chair, watching my friends practice, without feeling any of the familiar resentment that accompanied the thwarted desire to take part myself. I felt joyfully grateful, completely in His hands, completely in His will. Peaceful.

Later on in the evening, there was an interruption in the rehearsal, resulting in only a few people being left in the room. It seemed that the leader of the band suddenly became aware of my presence and in that brief moment of ‘nothing to do’ he took the opportunity to hear some of the songs I’d been writing. “Come on …” he said, “let’s hear what you’ve been up to…”.

I sang through a couple of ditties I’d put together. He looked at me quizzically. “Sing this” he said, giving me one of the songs the band had been working on. And then “sing this”, and then again “how about this one?”.

There was no other way of looking at it. My voice had changed so much as to be beyond recognition. God, given my complete submission to His will, had given me not only what I had asked for…

I am reminded of Abraham, who asked to put the precious sum of all his loves, hopes and ambitions, in the form of Isaac, onto an altar of stones for sacrifice to God, was prepared to do so, thus giving God the trust that enabled the birth of a nation.

He had given me the very desire of my heart. And in doing so, he gave me so much more than I could ever have dreamed.

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When we do our bit…

It’s time to come clean with you all – or maybe, it’s more about being honest with myself – I am a singer of only moderate talent.IMG_5978

Also, whilst in the general run of things I’m fairly intelligent – when I speak, I regularly make more noise than sense. And my ability to work hard enough to fill in for my own shortcomings is unquestionably lacking. But, in spite of our copious shortcomings, I’m delighted to say, that God is using me as part of His plan.

So, How many times have you felt – there’s sometimes no other word for it – useless?

How many times have you felt, in a given situation, that you can see what needs to be done, but you aren’t the man, or woman to do it?

How often have you looked in a mirror and seen someone of limited abilities, who’s too old, or too young; too feminine or too masculine; too black or too white; too privileged or too poor; too smart or too stupid? How often have you allowed yourself to believe that you’re not the right person for the job?

The Bible is littered with examples of heroes who, according to the world’s values, would have been better to stay at home and keep their heads down; David, Ezekiel, Moses, Jonah, The Disciples of Jesus, Paul, to list but a very few – they all had plenty of reasons to make their excuses and shuffle off to the pub.the-widow-gives-her-tithe.jpg

Well, strangely enough, rather than talk about all those heroes of the Old Testament who wanted to ‘leg it’ in the face of God’s commission, I find my attention drawn to the story of the widow’s mite. We can find it in Mark Ch.12 and Luke Ch.24. Jesus saw a poor, largely unnoticed widow, who came into the temple, and put two tiny coins into the collection. He pointed out to His disciples that she’d just given more than anyone else had, because she had given everything she had; regardless of how small it was, she felt it was worth making the trip to the temple and putting it in. She had given her whole livelihood.

Now, I’m sorry, but this is where I get really excited, because I’ve spent my whole life thinking that all this passage is about is money. Now, I realise that it’s also about me, and my limited abilities, as well as me and my money.

Yes! Jesus loves us to be generous with our money, I don’t want to belittle the importance of financial giving. But Jesus is also saying so much more. He is telling us that when we give everything we have, in every sense of the word, he sees. And loves us for it. And will honour us.

So, all those times that the devil is telling us that we’re not good enough, and we might as well not bother; because we’re too weak, or too stupid, or too poor, or too old, or too young, or we’re the wrong sex, or the wrong race… we need to think about our poor widow with her mites, and ask ourselves ‘what does Jesus say?’ Did He remark that it’s all very nice, but she probably shouldn’t have bothered? Did He make sage remarks about it being the thought that counts? Did He observe that she’d have been better to stay at home and watch Coronation Street? I don’t think so.

So, when you hear that ‘don’t bother’ voice in your head, listen more carefully; because there will also be another voice, one we need to learn to listen to, we need to learn to hear our Father God saying ‘don’t listen to him, listen to Me! Get in there! There’s stuff that needs doing and I will equip you!’

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On those occasions when we are prepared to give it a shot, we find that God turns up, in spades. When we are prepared to put our heads up above the parapet and hand over our little bit; when we act according to His will, and give Him all that we are, no matter how small, or puny, or lame, or damaged, or uncool we might feel, He will fill in the gaps for us.

When we sing the notes, God produces a masterpiece. When we pick out the tune with one hand on the piano, God brings in the orchestra. If we are prepared to take tiny little steps of faith, God gives us seven league boots.

All He needs is our faith – and he’ll do the rest.

Meeting Aunt Rose

Rose was an ageing friend of the family who I never got to meet. Up until I was about ten years old, there would be presents from Rose, every Christmas, for my two sisters, my brother and myself. Nothing big, but dutifully chosen every year, reliable as rainfall. Until she died…IMG_1161 (3).JPG

I never saw a photograph of her, but I used to picture her with sensible old-lady-shoes and thin, knobbly ankles, in a printed cotton dress and a pink hand knitted cardigan. Don’t ask me why I imagined her like that, it’s just the way it was. I knew she existed, because I had to write a ’thank you’ letter to her every January – but that was where our relationship ended.

Distant, unknowable and would probably have liked more contact from me had it ever been offered.

And now, having regularly said that I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Christian, I realise that up until I was about fifteen years old, in spite of calling myself ’a Christian’, my relationship with God bore remarkable similarities to the one I had with Aunt Rose. I was pretty sure that he existed – with a fairly classic image – old man, long white hair and long white beard, blue ankle length gown, sandals and staff – a kind of Gandalf with a throne and lots of angels. .

GODI also had definite experiences of His presence in times of dire need; I had some comprehension as to the nature of faith, and I liked what I knew.

But, if I’m honest, I didn’t really ’get’ why Jesus had died, or that Jesus IS God, and what that meant to me. I found Good Friday thoroughly moving, without ever experiencing the joy of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday was about chocolate eggs.

What a muddle.

And if I hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as the saviour who gave His life for me, then how could I call myself a Christian?

But no one had ever told me that.

And don’t even go there with The Holy Spirit. I was an old fashioned Anglican and no one had ever even suggested that gifts of The Spirit were anything other than theoretical outside Pentecost and the book of Acts. Maybe I thought that He was something weird that happened up near the alter – probably involved incense – either way, I was certain He didn’t involve me.

But somewhere along the line, I got involved with other Christians from other churches, who talked about Jesus more often than at Christmas and Easter, and The Holy Spirit has got involved. At nineteen, I was told by some friends that it was time for me to baptised ’properly’, and was thus lovingly dunked, fully clothed into a bath in Oxford. Somewhere before that, I distinctly remember my first experience of praying in tongues. I discovered that without Jesus Christ, and without The Holy Spirit, a relationship with God can be uncomfortably theoretical. Uncomfortably close to ’religion’.

There’s been more over time. Rich years, lean years. People that I’ve loved and lost, all sorts of personal difficulties and life events; some ups – some downs. Times when God was so present as to seem physical, and other times when there has seemed to be an unbridgeable void keeping my prayers from being heard. Through some of those lean periods I had brief moments of feeling His presence, but more often, I just felt the loss of something that I knew I missed and longed to feel again.

Learning that there can permanently be something more has taken yet more time. I used to stand on the sidelines watching enviously as my friends seemed to bathe in His presence, wondering if they were being ’real’ in their joy. But now I’ve learned to pray every day to invite The Holy Spirit to fill me again. I stand amazed at how remarkably small my daily steps toward my Father can be, in order to feel the full richness of His joy and hope filling my every waking moment.

Strangely enough, my visual image of God has faded as time goes by, and any number of hunts through family albums have never turned up a photograph of Aunt Rose. But whereas, with the absence of regular Christmas presents, Rose has become more distant, and perhaps, less relevant over the passing years, my father God has become closer, and clear enough in my heart that it doesn’t matter what He looks like any more.

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Faltering Steps…

The thoughts behind the song ‘Two Step’ in our new album ‘Love can be a Bumpy Road’.

It’s time I made a confession to you all: Everyone else seems to be so much more spiritual than I am…

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So many people I know are able to come up with the right Bible verse for every situation. Every day, they clearly spend significant amounts of time in silent meditation, studying their Bibles (which are large, floppy, black, and thickly populated with copious notes), and receiving guidance from God, who finds them so much more accessible than He must find me.

All these people clearly spend hours on their well worn knees in diligent prayer. But, I’m sorry to say, the same cannot be said of me.

My prayer life is shakily unreliable. I remember, from time to time, to bask in God’s unwavering love, but oh so much more often, I shoot Him frantic ’arrow’ prayers, searching for assistance in the dark hours of the night or the heat of an anxious day.

I subscribe to a set of Bible notes that I am meant to read daily; I am not very good at maintaining the suggested program. Most days I will read some of it – and occasionally I will read all of it, but on an awful lot of days, I have to admit that life just takes over.

Some weeks are better than others. There are times when I long for His presence, and will seek Him out accordingly. Sometimes I will really begin to feel that I’m getting it – that deep spirituality that other people seem to have.

Only to find, a few days later, that I haven’t progressed as much as I would like to have done. Life asserts itself again with tiresome inevitability.

But in spite of this…

He treasures me. He shows me new joys and wonders each day. He speaks to me, and I am learning to recognise His voice. He uses me in His plan (what an extraordinary God of patience He is). He holds me and ministers to me; He teaches me new songs. I am blessed with untold Grace by this glorious Lord to whom I do not give the honour He is due.

My life is a dance – two steps forward and one step back.

I am reminded of the truism about the amount of water we drink. Apparently, we need in excess of two litres of water, every day. That is, nice clean water, unsullied by tea, coffee, cola, squash and any of the other things we buy to make our most basic nutritional requirement palatable. However, many of us drink little or no pure water in its true form at all; with the result that we spend most of our lives in some degree of dehydration, which brings all the inevitable side effects that entails. Often, we are so bad at recognising our own thirst, that rather than taking on water as our body requires, we think we are hungry and eat instead.

However, once we start making a habit of ensuring we drink enough, it all begins to come together; we start recognising that nothing else quite ticks the right boxes, and as we drink more of the right thing, we move inevitably toward a more healthy lifestyle. A positive, habit-forming cycle.

I suspect that I will find the key to more mature spirituality in a similar manner – if I start to ensure that I get enough time in God’s company, rather than seeking comfort in the business and distractions offered by the world, I will start to recognise that nothing else quite ticks the right boxes. A positive, habit-forming cycle.

My ’two steps forward’ will become more certain.

 

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

Checkout our new album, now available for download from iTunes, and Amazon. Or if you prefer a CD, order it from our website http://www.outoftheashesmusic.uk