Tag Archives: God

All change

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It’s a strange place to be: at home in the manse surrounded by the normal things of ministry, not sick, not on holiday but not working.

I’m beginning a Sabbatical, not unique among Methodist ministers but still rare enough that people get confused about it and wonder if I’ve been send to the subs’ bench or the naughty step.

Others of course smile broadly and declare: “Three months holiday, eh! It’s all right for some.”

Well, there’s some rest time, of course. There is also some work-related activity and we are encouraged to do something that stretches us spiritually. Sabbaticals are a gift from the Church to refresh and reinvigorate our ministries.

I’ll be working on my hymn-writing and we’ll make a couple of trips including one overseas visit that I’m really excited about, but mostly it’s about being quiet and trying to hear God.

That’s all change from the frenetic pressure of a diary and a helpful one too.

A hymn for Methodist Covenant services

This time of the year in the UK is when many Methodist churches hold their Covenant services: to celebrate God’s constant faithfulness and pledge their own lives in God’s service.

I wrote the following hymn some years ago and the words seem appropriate for the service.

It is best sung to the tune Morgenlied which was set in our 1932 hymnbook to the Harvest hymn Now the year is crowned with blessing.

Lord of ages past remembering
Lord of ages yet to be.
Hope of every generation,
yours the grace that sets us free.
Thorn and cross your battle tokens
symbols of a life laid down,
as the hope of all the nations
dies to claim us for his own.

So for this our generation
hear us as we bow the knee.
Shape our witness to our neighbour,
send your Spirit, set us free!

For the lives where hope lies bleeding,
for the homes where love has died,
for the victims of injustice,
raise, O Lord, a battle cry.
Bread and wine your passion’s tokens,
symbols still of hope restored.
In the sacrament we offer
we proclaim our dying Lord.

So for this our generation …

Make your Church a pilgrim people,
challenge our complacent ease.
Then, because your truth disturbs us,
Father, bring us to our knees.
Lives renewed your gospel tokens
symbols of the Spirit’s call.
As the world that you have ransomed
hears the truth: You died for all.

So for this our generation …

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG

Taylor made

Theology pops up in unexpected places and it’s up to us to spot it. I often wonder if that’s how God prefers it.

In the last week it’s sneaked up on me in the new album from the utterly-brilliant James Taylor. Before This World is his first collection of new material since 2002 and, of course, is superb.

Taylor’s observant eye JTpaints pictures of life in an America that I’ve never experienced but feel as though it fits his warm vocal tones perfectly.

You get the sense that he’s so at home with his woodshed, quiet cup of coffee and simple trip into town. It’s about as far away from pop’s life in the fast lane as you could get. He sings in You and I Again about a wish that “I could slow the whole thing down”.

You were tending your own fire
We were biding our time
Both of us waiting for the moment when our backs would come together
You and I

I see how fierce You are
Never this world would drag us down
How serious You are
Standing on Holy Ground

And so Although I know we are only small
In the time We have here
Maybe We have it all

It’s not entirely an album of simple reflection. Far Afghanistan is a tough listen, about young Indiana troops facing the young Afghan soldiers in an age-long battle that goes back to Alexander the Great. He sings:

No matter what they tell you all soldiers talk to God
It’s a private conversation written in your blood
The enemy’s no different, badass holy wind
That crazy bastard talks to God and his God talks back to him

God pops up more than once, most memorably in the first single from the album, Montana, a song that will sit in the list of Taylor classics.

It’s both a eulogy to Montana and a reminder that sometimes it’s enough to celebrate what we have rather than strive for more.

I’m not smart enough for this life I’ve been living
[a] Little bit slow for the pace of the game
It’s not I’m ungrateful for all I’ve been given
But nevertheless just the same

The acceptance of what’s around us and the refusal to run beyond it to find the latest new thing is a golden thread spun through many of Taylor’s songs. It roots him in an America that believes better, even when the reality doesn’t always deliver it.

It’s a vision that looks up and sees God is the grandeur of where he is set and the variety of people he is set among.

Who can imagine the scale of the forces (that)
Pushed this old mountain range up in the sky
Tectonic creation erosion mutation
Something to pleasure God’s eye

The world is a wonder of lightning and thunder
The green of the ground as we fall from the sky
The old and new faces the tribes and the races
Thousands of places to try

Oooover the ocean from here
Oooover the mountains from there

While Taylor may sing of down home US of A, he has never had a narrow vision. His hope is always expansive, welcoming of The old and new faces the tribes and the races, Thousands of places to try. A powerful lyric for a world where it’s proving too tempting to sit at home, drink our own coffee and shut out everyone who is not like us.

Have guitar, will challenge. Taylor’s quiet manner and subtle style hide lyrics that carry messages we should listen to.

The album – his first in a decade and a half – went straight to the top of the Billboard album chart in the States so the man still has creative pull … and great depths.

Hymns for the harvest

It’s Harvest time here in the UK. The leaves are starting to turn from green to gold and, in the places where agriculture is still a way of life, crops are being gathered.

Churches still celebrate harvest although the old-style services, with mountains of fresh produce, have largely been replaced by tables groaning with gifts for the community foodbanks, often run by Christians. Whoever said that the church is out of touch has never seen the engagement of Christians with the poorest and most deprived people in our communities – made visible today through gifts of pasta, tea and toilet rolls as well as ongoing debate with politicians as to why people have been shoved to the bottom of the pile in this way.

Yet still, because God has promised there will always be a harvest of the field and the sea, the church celebrates God’s goodness in song.

Here are two hymns, written not simply for harvest but as reminders that the riches of all we see around us come from our heavenly Father.

The first, From sandy cove and surfer’s wave can be sung to the familiar tune Repton. The second lyric, Heaven’s heart is pulsing, goes most comfortably with the tunes associated in the UK at least with Who is on the Lord’s side?, so Rachie or Armageddon.

From sandy cove and surfer’s wave
to sun-kissed cliff and moor;
From farmer’s field to rambler’s path
and seagull’s cry to children’s laugh
the whole creation sings
the whole creation sings

Creator God, your name is heard,
in every wind that blows;
in summer breeze and sailor’s gales
we hear of love that never fails
and all creation sings
and all creation sings

From great cathedrals’ soaring praise
To voices cracked with age;
from chapel pulpit, market hall
our lives will echo one and all
that all creation sings
that all creation sings

To you, who spoke the Word of Life
and saw Creation grow;
to you who heard the new world ring
we offer all that we can bring
‘til all creation sings
‘til all creation sings

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG http://www.songsolutions.org

Heaven’s heart is pulsing
to Creation’s hymn:
as the Father speaks, the
new world starts to sing.
Light and love are radiant –
everything is good.
All the world is ringing
with the song of God.

Say among the nations,
‘let the earth rejoice,
for the Lord is worthy
of our highest praise’.

Golden on the hillside,
shines the evening light.
All of heaven’s palette
shades the infinite.
Every life is marked as
God’s own work of art:
won, through cross and suffering;
saved and set apart.

Say among the nations,
‘let the earth rejoice,
for the Lord is worthy
of our highest praise’.

Now Salvation’s rhythm
moves our feet and hands:
‘do the works of justice’
is the Grace command.
Make us more than singers
in redemption’s choir,
so the lives around us
see our hearts on fire.

Say among the nations,
‘let the earth rejoice,
for the Lord is worthy
of our highest praise’.

Tunes: Rachie, Armageddon (Who is on the Lord’s Side)

Copyright © 2011 Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG http://www.songsolutions.org

Unravelling or completing the picture?

The interaction of music and image is a powerful way of helping us reflect on significant moments in life.

How does it feel to be a parent watching your child; to fall in love; to witness the majesty of Creation? What is it like to wrestle with the break-up of relationships or the fact of death?

Manchester band James have released their 13th album La Petite Mort this week and, in a BBC Breakfast interview, they explained that it was the result of battling through tough times including family deaths. As a part of the interview we saw a clip from the video that goes with the single Moving On.

 

Image

It’s a beautiful piece of animation, picturing the multi-layered hope and heartache of life’s endings and beginnings. It’s from BAFTA-nominated animator, writer and director Ainslie Henderson and provokes a number of questions.

The underlying imagery about death is that, as we near the end, everything unravels, no matter how much we try to hold it together. In the end we have to give in the inevitable: we have to let go and let it all fall apart. The film has a beautiful parallel of new life being “knit together” (Psalm139?) so that we are in life at the same time as we are in death.

But I’m left with a question … no bad thing there. Is death the unravelling of everything or actually the completion of part of our story?

As a Christian, my future hope is that there will be more than an unravelling when I draw my final breath. My reading of God’s promise in Jesus is that death completes what is being stitched together in my life to a pattern of God’s own design: death is not losing but winning. The victory of the cross is that Jesus went through death and emerged triumphant into a new life where what had appeared to have unravelled was actually reshaped into God’s extraordinary design … and the promise of a new design for every one of us.

As Dylan Thomas wrote: “Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”

Three hymns for Christmas

If you’re planning worship over Christmas, here are three contemporary hymns you may want to consider. As usual, they are written to go with known tunes, although there is an original tune written for Mary in the stable waiting.

You can include them in your CCLI returns as well.

Mary in the stable waiting.

hears again the angel’s voice:

‘favoured one the Lord is with you,

all Creation sings: ‘Rejoice!’

Mary waits, and heaven wonders,

at the Prince of Glory’s birth

from her womb, inside that stable,

heaven’s waiting room on earth.

 

Shepherds waiting on the mountain,

Wise Men searching for a sign,

hear that outcasts can be welcomed

at the baby Jesus’ side.

So the earth’s unlikely pilgrims

find themselves upon their knees

and a teenage mother watches

as they hail a refugee.

 

Son of God and hope of heaven,

with the waiting ones on earth,

we expect a world of diff’rence

when your justice comes to birth.

So the world is waiting, hoping

for the promised day to dawn;

when our longings find fulfilment

through the babe in Bethlehem born.

Metre      8.7.8.7.D

Recommended tune: The Carnival is Over, Scarlet Ribbons or an appropriate traditional tune

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

 

The mystery of God on high

lies wrapped in frail humanity.

The Word of truth is now revealed

and echoes in a baby’s cry.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

As shepherds bring their gifts to him

who left behind his majesty,

the shadow of a cross is seen

against the star-lit eastern sky.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

Glory and grace are laid in straw

while hosts of angels testify.

A stable for the Son of God:

his mother sees and wonders “Why?”

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

The paradox of Bethlehem

is captured in that mother’s sigh.

As God, who brought a world to life,

must learn to live and then to die.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

 

And all the dreams we dare to own

find refuge in this baby’s eyes;

we see the truth of God revealed

in one who laid his glory by.

Here as we celebrate and sing

Be born in us, our Lord and King.

Recommended tune: Companion

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

 

We do not look for angel choirs

or visions in the sky,

but simply pray that peace on earth

comes nearer through the Christ child’s birth

in Bethlehem for us,

in Bethlehem for us. 

 

We do not look for frankincense

or wise ones at our door

but simply ask our prayers be heard

and that our restless hearts be stirred

by Jesus’ newborn cry,

by Jesus’ newborn cry.

 

We will not rest until we know

that God makes all things new;

until our search for answered prayer

transforms the lives of all who dare

to put their trust in you,

to put their trust in you.

 

But still you send us songs of peace

and wisdom whispers near.

You call us to the way of Christ,

that in our living hope will rise

from Bethlehem to here,

from Bethlehem to here.

Recommended tune: Repton

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

Don’t run on too far

I was trying to resist once again telling you about my favourite Christmas track but then Radio 2 went and played it on Sunday, so any excuse …

Hardeep_singh_kohliHardeep Singh Kholi (left) was interviewing Deacon Blue’s frontman Ricky Ross on Good Morning Sunday and dropped into the conversation that HIS favourite was Calvary, a track from Ross’ solo album Pale Rider. The track very definitely has nothing to do with the crucifixion – the whole point is about celebrating the baby and not trying to rush past the birth to seeing all that Jesus would accomplish on the cross.

It’s a failing of many of us that we want to point at the stable and say: “There you are. The Saviour of the world, destined for a cross.”

But surely one of the most stunning things in human history is to understand that lying in a manger is the Word made flesh? Also, the Incarnation is the way in which God identifies with us and shows his commitment to helping us live “life in all its fulness”, so Ross (right) sings:

One child grows and people noticeRicky Ross
he’s breaking chains
and making poor folks’ lives so heavenly
(the way it’s meant to be)

What a story – God made human and vulnerable and small and surprising and available to us.

The implications, however, are not small at all. A child destined to break chains demands a people who will continue that work – speaking up and living a life where everyone has value.

Night falls, still a broken step
this old mule’s legs
will take you many days from here
Tired limbs and ruddy cheeks
will bandage up your aching hands and feet

I don’t need to know what everyone sees
different roads can take you where other paths lead
I’m not even trying to get as far as Calvary

The challenge is in not running ahead too quickly but allowing the stunning reality of Immanuel – God with us – to shape our Christmas celebrations and affect the way we live beyond the festive period.

The digital story of the Nativity

People grumble about over-use of the online world and perhaps there’s something about that. But when it’s used well and with creativity there are wonderful possibilities of communicating holy truths in exciting ways.

Today we went to a nativity that told the age-old story of God becoming human for us in Jesus. Children were important to the cast and the looks on their faces as they help draw us in were great.

But those who planned looked for something extra and used technology to take us further: with a TV ad to remind us that giving is important and a superbly-creative use of Twitter, Facebook and much more to tell the Christmas story in a very different way.

You can see the Digital Story of the Nativity here. Please do, it’s terrific.