Tag Archive | Out of the Ashes

Let’s do lunch…

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We British have  one or two polite stock phrases readily to hand for those times when we want to say something, but don’t really have anything meaningful in mind at that moment. Apparently they are known as ‘phatic exchanges’.

‘Nice weather we’re having…’ is one, and ‘lovely day isn’t it?…’is another. Also ‘must do lunch sometime’ (when not immediately followed by an invitation), and even ‘how are you?’ is often reduced to a phatic unless we are genuinely prepared to listen to the answer.

In fact, it’s an area we can be inclined to struggle. That whole thing of finding friendly words to fill the embarrassed silence in the lift, in the queue or wherever else we happen to be momentarily stuck in the personal space of someone we don’t know well, can leave us groping for ideas.

But come the first day of December, everyone seems to leap with relieved alacrity on one more:

‘Are you ready for Christmas?’

No-one is actually really interested in whether you’ve wrapped your last present and put the final touches on the Christmas tree, whether your mince pies are made and turkey stuffed; it is simply an observation that at this time of year, all eyes tend to be focussed on the coming festivities, and an assumption is made that we’re all in the same boat, travelling in the same direction. Something to say..

Responses vary from ‘Bah, humbug’ through to a rather smug, and – depending how early in the month it is, perhaps slightly irritating –  ‘Yep… all ready!’

In the UK, recent statistics indicate that only about two thirds of people, who describe themselves as Christians, are aware that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Which leads us to draw the conclusion that the other third of Christians must have absolutely no idea what it’s all about. (Survey conducted by the Evangelical Alliance in 2016).

Slightly worrying.

In another survey, 61% of people expressed a view that Christmas is only for children, and 18% of people expressed a feeling of dread of Christmas for a whole variety of reasons – the primary one probably being that the season brings into sharp focus how isolated and hopeless our lives often feel (ComRes on behalf of Theos).

We have turned Christmas into a noisy, expensive charade that has largely lost sight of what we’re meant to be celebrating.

Let Satan get his hands on anything wonderful and he will ruin it.

The evidence for the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is too strong to be ignored. It happened over 2000 years ago, was documented by the Apostle, Matthew and by Luke, a Greek physician with tenacity and an eye for detail. Both are believed to have written their accounts within living memory of the actual events described. They clearly interviewed many of the people who had witnessed events first hand, and both have since been researched and investigated with the purpose of discrediting their accounts by some pretty weighty historians (A.N.Sherwin-White, Sir William Ramsay). Those who have investigated in any real depth have come to the same conclusions, the accounts of Matthew and Luke are authentic and can be relied upon as fact. Some of our most highly educated and investigative minds have been turned from atheism to profound faith by the simple act of reading the gospels with the intention of discrediting them. Ex barrister, now Anglican Priest, Nicky Gumbel and Oxford Academic and author, C.S.Lewis being two well known examples.

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Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was born in a smelly stable, and laid in a manger. In the style with which He has continued ever since – by appearing in the place we are least likely to look for our saving king.

So, before you lose the real joy of Christmas among tinsel, turkeys, mince pies, silly hats and the huge pressure to look as though you’re having a good time, remember this:

Christmas is not empty…

He won’t be seen among the pomp and the glitter, He won’t be heard among the noise and celebration unless you listen really hard. The birth of Jesus Christ brings real hope, not just for intellectuals or for the crashingly naïve, but hope for everyone, no matter who they are or what age they are.

The magic of Christmas is in the manger. Jesus’ style is gentle, meek and unassuming. His voice tends to be quiet, often felt rather than heard, and we need calm moments to stop and listen.

Or we may miss the greatest gift of all.

 

 

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.

 

Big Knickers and Homework…

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I have strong memories of my first few weeks of secondary school in Dorset. It was a girls’ grammar school, my uniform was, for the moment, smart and new, and I still had a fresh faced optimism for such things as lesson timetables, back-breakingly heavy book bags and homework.

How young I was.

We had a lovely scripture teacher – scripture also being known as BK, RK, BS, RS or RE according to the era you were born in – and the first piece of homework she gave us was to draw a picture of a bookshelf with all the books of the bible laid out on it. Great fun – drawing, colouring in – just right for my scholastic inclinations.

51PCUElPGOLBut then, the next two homeworks were to learn them. Well, I managed the new testament, which, being shorter, she gave us to learn first – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, etc., etc.. But by the time we got onto learning the old testament books, my school uniform had deteriorated to the scruffy, unkempt state that was to prevail throughout my entire secondary education, and my attitude to homework had deteriorated in parallel. That bit of homework never got done.

Which has caused me odd twinges of regret from that day forward. Not the life changing regrets endured by some over their wasted youths, just an odd niggle of self-irritation every time a sermon from the old testament is to be read in church. There are ’piety points’ to be earned here; but while every one else knows exactly where to find the reading of the day in their Bibles and turns to the correct place with smooth experience, I am left fumbling, rather too randomly, through Chronicles, Amos, Psalms, Ezekiel and all the rest as one might search for a needle in a haystack.

In fact, until quite recently, The Old Testament has remained obscure and often irrelevant to me – but not any more.

I’ve been working through ’Bible in a Year’ by good old Nicky Gumbel, with all his supporting notes, explanations and contextuallisation. I’m being encouraged to read and make some sense of a rich store of poetry and prophecy, and a much bigger chunk of history; and yep, Im finding that when I truly get involved with this stuff, and give it the time it deserves, its authenticity and relevance become undeniable.

Maybe piety points don’t matter that much. Maybe its just taking real time to study it that matters.

Either way, with affection and respect for my long suffering, and eternally kind RE teacher, Mrs Stevenson, whose faith was palpable and who clearly had a real desire to set a bunch of bolshy girls on the right road, I would like to present our new single ’In The Bible’. Its lyrics might not solve any problems when trying to find something in ’The Good Book’ in a hurry, but in writing them, they have at least helped me piece together some of its key events in the order in which they happened.

Hey-ho, you have to start somewhere.

‘In The Bible’ is released on August 21st 2015.

Just next door around the world…

Just next door around the world…

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I’d like to introduce you to two of my children. Their names are Musa and Anahi and they are thirteen and eleven years old respectively.

Musa lives in Tanzania with his Grandmother who is a subsistence farmer; his mother died of HIV/AIDS when he was seven years old, we have never been told what happened to his father. Anahi lives in Bolivia with her mother and father and a baby brother. Anahi’s father manages to get occasional agricultural work. Both children have been identified within their communities as being in special need of support due to their circumstances of extreme poverty and vulnerability – they are now sponsored through Compassion. They are part of the hope to break their communities out from the cycle of poverty.

When we first signed up to support Musa and Anahi, I remember thinking “it’s not very expensive, it will just be a bit of money coming out of my bank account each month”; I clearly remember not being convinced I’d be very good at getting down to writing letters to them. I suspected that we’d be represented by some money arriving where it was needed each month and that our commitment probably wouldn’t exceed that. Little did I know how much I would treasure their letters and how much I’d want to know about these children and their lives. The letter writing turned out to be easy.

Musa’s performance at school fluctuates between average and good; we receive a report each year, telling us how well he does in maths, English, Kiswahili, social science, art, history and geography. He has, in the past, expressed a desire to become a teacher.

I haven’t seen a school report for Anahi, but occasionally I get letters from other members of her family as well as the letters we get from her, and they tell me she does well, especially enjoying literacy; she sends me drawings of herself holding my son Jamie’s hand.

It’s strange, in this communication age, not to have ever spoken to two children that I have known for nine years and have come to care about so much. It can feel strangely distant and, at times, frustrating as I struggle to get to know these two people, to give them the time and energy that they deserve, and to satisfy my longing to be closer. I keep every one of their letters, and I have all their photographs…

Musa always has his photograph taken on Christmas Day. He stands stiff to attention in second hand clothes that have just been bought for him with the Christmas money we have sent, and, luxury of luxuries, shoes. His clothes are always ridiculously large because they MUST last for at least a year, and on the floor at his feet are the other things that will have been purchased with any money left over – a ruck sack for his school books, some carrier bags containing sugar, rice or beans, a blanket and, one year, a much treasured sugary fizzy drink in a plastic bottle.

I have a series of photographs of Anahi in a rather pretty lemon dress with bows on the shoulders, I have no doubt that it was second hand; it has been the same ’best frock’ for the last few years, miles too big at first, just starting to fit now.

Without my paltry £25 per child a month, I know that Musa and Anahi would not be able to receive the education, healthcare, vocational support, social/emotional and spiritual care that they need; I know that there is a strong possibility that Musa would have been engaged in forced labour, and I shudder to think of Anahi’s future as a young woman with no education in a poverty stricken community; but the thing that spoke personally to me, was Musa’s ’thank you’ letter after we sent him money for his first Christmas present. He said he was really excited because his grandmother had promised that there would be enough left over for them to be able to buy both beans and  rice for their meal on Christmas Day.

So here they are, Musa loves to play football, Anahi loves to sing and play with her doll. Each of them brings a different dynamic to our family lives, but first of all they remind Kevin, Jamie and me, who have so absurdly much, what it is to have nothing.

This Saturday, 26th April, Out of the Ashes and the Beacon Gospel Choir are going to be performing in St Andrew’s Church, Churchdown in aid of  Compassion. If you can be there, we’d love to see you.

Tickets available on 01452 712154 or on the door. Doors open 7.30pm.

For further information about child sponsorship with Compassion UK please follow this link.

 

 

 

REBEL

REBEL

I know this…

It is by Grace that I am saved, that today I don’t need to feel guilty or condemned, no matter how frustrated I get with my own failings. I have received His free gift of righteousness through faith in the saving blood of Jesus Christ. And I know that no matter how hard I try, I can never deserve what My Lord has promised me, I will always fall short of His glory.

But…

Someone once said to me that every time we sin, we are hammering a nail into Christ as He suffers on the cross.

Now, my intentions are good. I really try to be obedient to God. But, I have to reflect that there’s a rather uncomfortable saying… the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I don’t pray enough; I almost never fast; I don’t study my Bible as much as I should.

And that’s barely the beginning of how I fall short. I am not as grateful as I should be; I am impatient; when I’m over-tired I’m horrible; unless well motivated, my sense of duty is sadly lacking; and whilst my mouth does occasionally say the right thing, it also rarely consults my brain before launching full tilt into something that, all too often, I’ll later regret.

And in Matthew 25:40 it says this: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Surely I have to assume that this applies in the negative as well as the positive?

And, bearing in mind how much He loves me, how much He gave up for me, and how perfect He is, how could I possibly not want to emulate Him? To do my best for Him?

I know that on those occasions when I’m not giving someone the time that they really need, those moments when I could have bitten my tongue rather than come out with the angry retort in times of stress, and at those times when I give less than my best, I’m hurting Christ most of all. And, whilst I’ll kick myself afterwards, just like Peter when he heard the cock crow for the third time, I just don’t seem to be able to learn. Sometimes, it feels like a little imp inside me who takes control and makes me let myself and my Lord down.

And I know that I need to take responsibility for my actions… I can blame the Tempter when I fail, but the truth is… it’s me who let’s me down… I’m still kicking against the traces, biting the hand that feeds me… there’s no escaping the cold fact… I’m still a rebel.

To get a free copy of our new single, Rebel, Click Here.

 

What does my being a Christian tell you about me?

What does my being a Christian tell you about me?

What does my being a Christian tell you about me?

Christianity.

It means so many things to so many different people.

It means extremists murdering those who believe something else.

It means boring Sunday services, in dusty churches that haven’t seen change in hundreds of years. It means ritual, habit, or maybe happy-clappy and a bit embarrassing. It means something you put on your passport or school application forms. It means corrupt priests who abuse children. It means someone telling you how to live your life when actually, you’d like to play football on a Sunday morning, or even just stay in bed after getting blind drunk on the Saturday night before. It means something you did as a kid, but not any more as you have grown up and stopped believing in fairy tales now.

At best, it probably looks a bit foolish, at worst, controlling or corrupt.

All of which means that I must be a bit strange if this Jesus person has such an impact on my life.

And very few people mention it to me, in the same way that we don’t refer to each other’s disabilities or hideous birth marks… it just wouldn’t be polite, would it?

So I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you why.

Quite simply, God changes my life.

I’m not saying God changed my life once and now I just carry on with new habits, or new friends and I’ve kind of stuck to it.

I mean that day by day, if I am close to Him, I see the world differently. It’s like seeing things with greater clarity, more colour, more vibrancy.

More joy. Quite genuinely, my heart is full of joy.

Don’t get me wrong, I still feel pain, stuff still goes wrong and I still experience grief and disaster.

But in the bad times I have a loving comforter to help me through.

And the rest of the time, when I am close to Him, every day is pregnant with anticipation for the purpose he has worked out just for me. When I am not close to him, life returns to grey… with it’s fears, lack of purpose, earthly concerns.

And emptiness.

So, the closer I get to him, the closer I want to get, because I’ve learnt the difference now, and, honestly… this feeling when Christ is in my life…

There’s nothing like it.