Category Archives: Daily Thought

Daily thought: borrowing days

This is the final Daily Thought for BBC Radio Solent during Holy Week.

Resurrection Of Jesus


There is an old Scottish and Shetland proverb that the last three days of March are “borrowing days”. These are supposed to be unusually stormy, and March “borrows” them from April in a last-ditch attempt to influence the spring weather, before March winds give way to April showers.

The same story crops up in a Spanish folk-tale: a shepherd promises to give March a lamb if he will reduce the strength of his winds, protecting the flocks. But once March has done so, the shepherd refuses to pay up. In revenge, March borrows three days from April, and produces even fiercer winds to pay back the shepherd for his deceit.

Borrowing and lending always has its consequences, I guess.

Today is Good Friday and I want to mention someone closely involved after the crucifixion of Jesus, an event the Christian Church marks today.

Joseph of Arimathea is described in the Bible as a rich man, a disciple of Jesus and a respected member of the Jewish council. We also know he didn’t support the council’s decision to call for Jesus’s death.

He watched as Jesus was crucified and then Joseph took Jesus’s body and, according to Matthew’s gospel, laid it to rest in a tomb in his own garden.

On Sunday, Christians will celebrate the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead, so Joseph’s act of extraordinary generosity was only needed for a handful of days.

But that doesn’t diminish his gift. After all, who expects a borrowed grave to be returned with grateful thanks – by the occupant?

 

Advertisements

Daily thought: smoke and mirrors

Day 3 of my week of Daily Thoughts on BBC Radio Solent, for the Julian Clegg Breakfast Show was about the arrest of Jesus.

640px-Jerusalem_Gethsemane_tango7174Gethsemane. By Tango7174 – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26323542


It seems there’s a special day for just about everything now. Apparently today is worldwide Smoke And Mirrors Day. I kid you not! Every March 29th we are meant to dedicate some time to the art of fraudulent cunning.

The phrase ‘It’s all smoke and mirrors’ refers to the way magicians use distraction to ensure the audience misses what’s really going on. The more complex things are, the more successfully the magician gets away with it.

We are in Holy Week, the decisive week for Christians as we near Good Friday when Jesus was crucified. In the Bible we see that the more Jesus revealed about himself as the Son of God the more those who opposed him accused him of trickery.

In the very last hours before he was arrested and tried, Jesus found a quiet spot to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his disciples; for those who would believe in him because of his coming death and resurrection and even for what would happen down through the ages when those who followed him told their stories of faith.

Then, when soldiers came to take him away, he was waiting in the open. “Why are you coming mob-handed?” he asked. “I’m not using smoke and mirrors to hide from you. I’m here in plain sight.” And they took him off to be tried for his life.

Tomorrow is Good Friday but, for the moment, I’m going to try some trickery of my own. I’m going to see how quickly I can make a breakfast disappear!

Daily Thought: Blessed is the king …

Today’s Daily Thought on BBC Radio Solent draws a parallel between the events in Alabama 53 years ago and Jerusalem around 2,000 years past.

&"

Civil Rights Movement Co-Founder Dr. Ralph David Abernathy and his wife Mrs. Juanita Abernathy follow with Dr and Mrs Martin Luther King as the Abernathy children join the front line, leading the Selma to Montgomery march.

It’s exactly 53 years ago today that Dr Martin Luther King led nearly 25,000 people to the steps of the state capital of Montgomery, Alabama, to highlight black grievances. This five-day march had started in Selma and closed a month of civil rights protests.

The BBC report described troops surrounding the capital and army helicopters hovering overhead as Dr King addressed the protesters.

He described the trek as one of the greatest marches in the history of America and said the aim was not to humiliate and defeat white people, but to win friendship and understanding. Dr King tried to present a petition of black grievances, but Governor George Wallace refused to meet the delegation.

During this Holy Week, we mark a parallel event towards the end of Jesus’s ministry on earth. He didn’t march with 25,000 people but entered the capital Jerusalem to cheers and acclamation sitting on a donkey.

The crowd waved palm branches and greeted him as a king and Saviour while Jewish religious leaders watched on in horror.

The scale of Dr King’s support on the Selma march almost certainly hastened his assassination. The crowds in Jerusalem chanting “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” definitely spurred on those who were out to have Jesus arrested and tried.

And, despite all the crowds, Jesus soon finds out that the road to the cross is one he has to travel alone.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: FRIDAY

RCA Studio B sign
The signpost outside RCA Studio B

I’ve been talking this week about our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee – and one of the places we knew we had to make a pilgrimage to was the historic RCA Studio B on Music Row, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel.

The studio was opened by RCA Records in 1957 and played a major role in establishing Nashville as a premier recording centre. The list of hit records that started out there is mind-blowing. Elvis himself recorded more than 250 hits in this one small building.

IMG_1239
The ‘Elvis board’ inside the studios.

As well as the King, there were Floyd Kramer, the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Bobby Goldsboro, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves … I could fill my time just listing musical stars.

Dolly Parton was so nervous on her way to record at RCA Studio B that she crashed her car but didn’t tell anyone until the recording session was over!

Everthing in the place reeks of history and musical quality. The grand piano has been there since the day the studio opened. Jerry Lee Lewis has played it. Dean Martin has leaned on it!

RCA studio B grand piano
The grand piano, played by all of the stars who recorded at RCA Studio B.

As a writer, just to stand in the same room and think of the catalogue of hits was almost enough to make me hang up my notebook and guitar, but then I remembered an encounter from the last days of Jesus.

The disciples had lived through the crucifixion and then met the risen Jesus who told them it was their job to keep telling the world of God’s love, just as he had done. It didn’t matter if they thought they weren’t up to the task – he believed in them.

“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he told them.

If we have a God-given gift we are called to use it. Make sure not to squander your opportunities today.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: THURSDAY

12284181-4C25-4480-8202-525FA4E07B84
Top left: Joy with the Elvis and Roy Orbison guitars on Music Row; top right: the Carter Family and Johnny Cash guitars; bottom: Joy sitting at the Buddy Killen piano statue.

During our sabbatical trip to Nashville, Tennessee, we had a wonderful highlight – thanks to the BBC and the long-distance kindness of strangers.

Nashville is known as Music City, USA, and the home of Country Music. The downtown area is alive with bars and streets areas that simply rock with country. If you’re not a fan when you get there you surely will be when you leave.

We visited the Grand Ole Opry, of course, and we went to the Ryman Auditorium, known as the Mother Church of Country but which actually was built for a revivalist Methodist preacher who hated, among other things, alcohol, low-cut dresses and bicycles. Yes, I know!

Beyond that, we didn’t have much of a clue, so before we flew out I sent a cheeky email to legendary BBC DJ Bob Harris who I knew regularly visited Nashville. While we were in the astonishing Country Music Hall of Fame, a series of texts and emails from Bob’s office resulted in an amazing evening.

The one place we had really wanted to see was the iconic Bluebird Café where songwriters play, often singing in the round. But it’s such an intimate venue and tickets disappear so quickly we couldn’t get in.

IMG_1247
The Bluebird Cafe with Ben and Crissie from The Shires in the centre and Sam Palladio on the left (white shirt).

Suddenly, after being on the outside, we were not just on the inside – we were on the guest list for an evening which included British Country duo The Shires and Sam Palladio, the star of the TV series Nashville. Sam grew up about 10 miles from where we used to live in Cornwall.

It was a glorious evening, made possible by someone who didn’t know us and didn’t need to be generous but chose to. Acts of spontaneous generosity make such a difference. Maybe you can offer somebody your generosity today.

BBC RADIO SOLENT DAILY THOUGHT: WEDNESDAY

I mentioned yesterday that I had the gift of a sabbatical earlier this year. As part of it Joy, my wife, and I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

One reason was to meet a man I had only ever known on social media. Dean (pictured) had for 17 years been a champion of the hymns I write. As the head of worship for the United Methodist Church in the US he had put them on their website and helped get two of them into a church hymnbook.

Version 3Three years ago, I had been due to speak at a hymnwriters’ conference in the US but was unwell and had to cancel so this trip was our first opportunity to finally meet.

He was a generous tour guide, taking us around Nashville in his car and introducing us to his city, even though he was struggling with a heavy cold. Then, on the last day he insisted on taking us to our airport hotel and inviting us to share a family meal to celebrate his father’s 98th birthday.

Although we had never met, there was something precious about being part of the worldwide family of 80 million Methodists while we were in Nashville.

In the Bible, when Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission tour, telling them that wherever they went they should learn to be good guests: to accept the hospitality people offered, eat whatever food was set before them and learn to be comfortable in unusual places.

Dean’s welcome certainly made Nashville a good place to be and made me reflect on how I could be a better host to those I encounter.

BBC Radio Solent Daily Thought: Tuesday

Earlier this year I enjoyed a three-month sabbatical: a break from the pressure of a daily diary with space to think and be a bit more creative.

For a number of years, I have been a published hymn-writer and it’s not always easy to marry writing with the usual work of being a church leader but the sabbatical was a real blessing because those creative juices began to flow again.

I have a picture that I treasure from that time. It’s of a bench in the corner of our garden where I used to sit in the sunshine with my Bible, my songwriting notebook, a commentary on the Psalms and a cup of tea – of course!

IMG_1447

Sometimes, because I had time and space, I sat there for ages and wrote nothing. Sometimes I managed to work out a troublesome rhyme or half a verse. Sometimes I simple fell asleep!! But, because the church had given me the gift of time all of that was OK.

One of the Psalms – possibly the oldest songbook in the world – says: Truly my soul finds rest in God.

I know that not everyone has the luxury of three months’ paid leave and I don’t treat it lightly. However, finding a little soul space in your week is a really valuable discipline for all of us: a moment of rest in a frantic world where we always seem to be hurrying from one thing to the next.

Now I’m back in work I need to remind myself to do the same … now, what’s the next thing in my diary? Oh yes, must rush …

On the radio: panto and Pontypool

Panto pioneering (Thursday)

Church leaders like me have to handle a number of different tasks, like public speaking, leading worship and organising events, but until I worked in one particular job I had no idea it included being the Wizard of Oz!

For a few years, I worked as a Pioneer Minister – doing church with people who don’t do church – in a community where there were no Methodist buildings. It meant I had to build links with the community through other means and so Joy and I decided to join the local panto group.

We’d spotted a poster advertising the start of rehearsals and nervously walked in one evening. We needn’t have worried. Instantly we were welcomed in, ‘adopted’ by a friendly group member and helped through our first visit. When we went for the second rehearsal we were greeted with a delighted: “you came back!”

We were part of the society for three years: performing in the chorus, playing in the band and, yes, I was the Wizard of Oz! There are even a couple of embarrassing photos on Facebook. Now, even though we don’t live in the area, we still keep in touch with people from the society and go back a couple of times a year.

I learned a huge amount from the panto gang about how churches can be better at welcoming and keeping people. We were simply accepted for who we were and what we could offer, encouraged to offer our best and challenged to grow. We were welcomed back every time and reminded about the core purpose – to play our part and get the show on stage.

Although only one of the company had any kind of church connection, a number began to refer to me as “our minister”. It felt as though I was doing my job too.

 

Pontypool rugby (Friday)

This time of the year is one of my favourites. It’s got nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the Six Nations Rugby tournament which this year is turning out to be one of the best in a long time.

I grew up in Pontypool in the Welsh Valleys, home to the Pontypool Front Row and a whole collection of Welsh internationals. In my teenage years we lived alongside our heroes and on more than one occasion I would travel to school with Terry Cobner, captain of Pontypool and a future Welsh skipper, sitting in the front seat of my Dad’s car.

My own rugby ability didn’t amount to much. The nearest I got was as understudy to Pontypool full-back Peter Lewis … but that was as an actor in our school production of Oliver!

Anyway, back to rugby. I’ve got my Welsh rugby jersey, hat and scarf – I’ve even got some Welsh cakes – and I know which of my Scottish friends I’ll be exchanging banter with on Facebook tomorrow morning before kick-off.

When Wales beat Scotland I will, of course, be generous in victory. Should the unthinkable happen … well, I’m not thinking of it!

Of course, at the end of each game someone chooses the Man of the Match, the player who outshines everyone else.

The Bible tells of how God used prophets and others to try to get his message of love across but in the end needed Jesus to come and demonstrate that love by teaching, healing and ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The salvation of the world needed someone to reflect God’s glory and bear the imprint of God’s character. It needed God’s Man of the Match, living alongside us: modelling heaven’s love on earth and defeating death for all.

Oh, Cymru am byth, by the way!

On the radio: music and medals

This week I’m doing the early morning Daily Thought on BBC Radio Solent’s breakfast show, hosted by Julian Clegg. Each day from Tuesday to Friday at about 6.50am I get 90 seconds to catch the listeners’ attention. Here are the first two.

Music in heaven (Tuesday morning)

It began to dawn on me recently that I really am getting old. Our oldest grandchild had a party for his 13th birthday and my job was to be the bouncer – not so much keeping people out as making sure that his friends were safely inside the hall.

Everything was fine and the evening was a great success. The pizzas went down well, the volume level was constantly at 11 and the music … well, the music was just unknown.

I used to pride myself on knowing my music. I’m still pretty handy with the Solent Secret Sound and do OK in music rounds if we’re at a quiz night … but I only knew two tunes during the entire evening and sadly, one of those was Gangnam Style.

It made me wonder about the music in heaven.

After all, the parade of composers and instrumentalists we have lost just in the last couple of years would give us an event to rival the greatest festival and it would go on for days. Just imagine Beethoven and Bowie comparing notes before going on stage with John Lennon and Nat King Cole.

I’m pretty sure God loves good music and I’m confident too that God doesn’t make the distinction we do between sacred and secular.

The oldest recorded book of songs is the Psalms. In Psalm 96 it says:

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

It’s a call to lift up your voice and sing – whatever is in your heart. That’s a good way to start the day. Just sing. Have a great day as part of the heavenly choir.

 

Missing out and why you shouldn’t (Wednesday morning)

For a number of years before becoming a church minister I worked in newspapers and spent some time as a sports writer in East London.

I used to talk to decathlon hero Daley Thompson every week at the point when he was winning Olympic and World titles. In the summer of 1978 I predicted in the paper that he would win gold at the Commonwealth Games in Canada and then went on holiday to Cornwall.

We stayed up into the early hours of the morning to watch Daley in action on a TV with dreadful reception – it was long before satellite TV – and saw through the fuzzy lines the prediction come true. The next day I read in the paper how Daley, as calm as ever, had received his gold medal, made a phone call and then spent the afternoon reading a book.

When I got back to work after the holiday my editor called me across and said: “You had a phone call while you were away. Daley Thompson rang from Canada with the exclusive story about his gold medal win but wouldn’t talk to anyone else.” I’d missed the biggest story of my career!

Now when Jesus was on the earth, he frequently reminded people that there was an opportunity they didn’t want to miss. The line he used was that the Kingdom of God was near at hand: the opportunity to live in a close relationship with God every day.

As a church leader, I’m glad that’s not an exclusive thing, but available to everyone. Knowing God’s presence in my life has helped me cope with difficulties and not get carried away when things go well.

Mind you, it doesn’t mean I remember everything – I need a diary for that!