Thursday, November 29, 2007

another year

After the grand celebrations of last year, this was always going to risk being a let down.

Still, past the decade year. Though as my cousin-in-law Simon says, I will try not to start looking forwards to my next just yet.

The photo is Matty & I in the garden at the end of the afternoon today; we had a good walk in the sunshine this morning, & then I went down to the Millennium Centre in the Bay to enjoy a piano recital (Chopin & Schubert) at lunchtime by Richard Lewis, music director at the big Pentecostal church in Cardiff. (Kirsty asked: which Schubert? Franz, I replied.) Dan, Kirsty, Matthew & Flo Jones joined me there, and Richard was excellent.

On my way down there I popped in to have communion with a parishioner, 92 years old, housebound, suffering from cancer, not on great form. It was lovely to pray with her and to see her visibly perk up as we prayed and as the Spirit touched her. She smiled for the first time as we stopped praying. Bless her, she doesn't deserve this pain.

And on my way back I called at the Heath hospital to see another member of the church, in her late eighties, suffering from some form of dementure and having had a recent hip replacement. Last time I called she had no idea who I was; this time I don't think she could quite place me in time, but she got my name right, and we prayed together - she remembering all the Lord's prayer, and being delighted to see me on my birthday. It quite made my day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Big Band Gospel Video

So here we are!

That's "Everything to Me" from last Saturday's Big Band Gospel concert. Me, Gareth Roberts and the trombones of the National Big Band of Wales. The song is on the "Every Breath" CD, but just with rhythm section and trombone solo; the section writing was new for this concert, and I was quite pleased with it!

You'd like more? Try this:

"Jesus is the Name we Honour", also from "Every Breath, but slightly re-arranged, as the original had an unplayable trumpet part! Well, it was playable by the incomparable Andy Greenwood, and even then on a recording where he took a good run up.

And I think you should see the band without some guy in black out front taking the limelight. Here's "Be Still Me Soul", a Ralph Carmichael arrangement of the hymn tune based on Sibelius' Finlandia. Who said Finns can't swing?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Big Band Gospel

Here I am, singing last night in Cardiff with the National Big Band of Wales, at a concert entitled "Big Band Gospel".

Byron Jenkins, who gets the guys together, is orchestra manager of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and this is the second concert he has organised like this - a big band gig, using members of the BBC NOW plus friends from the Cardiff jazz scene & one or two Salvation Army players, playing swinging arrangements of hymns and gospel songs to raise money for charity. This time the chosen charity was the Isubilo project in Zambia, and the concert raised something in the region of £1200, as all the ticket money goes straight there - everyone performing giving their time for free.

I need to say a few words about Byron. He is a star. Unassuming, humble, effective as anything, his enthusiasm and knowledge of the music is infectious. And his gentle love for Jesus inspires him to share his faith through the music with as many as will listen. Gold-dust. It seemed to me that the guys in the band responded warmly because he never lost his cool or came all heavy, he just got on with things, knew his stuff and did what needed to be done with great grace and good humour.

The band was fabulous. At the second rehearsal I missed a couple of entries cos I was enjoying listening to them so much I forgot to focus on my job! The classical guys - great precision and attention to detail; the jazz guys - adding much of the soloing and the zing in the swing. I love working with such pros - real musicians don't vaunt themselves and tell you how good they are; they don't need to.

It was a total privilege to be involved.

I loved singing with them. Two of my songs were from the "Every Breath" CD - a slightly re-arranged "Jesus is the Name We Honour" (but still with most of that high trumpet part! Thanks Andy Everton et al); and a new arrangement of "Everything to Me" for the whole trombone section, which was a real highlight for me - gentle mid-tempo swing, perfectly placed, doing just what I was aiming at. I loved singing with Byron conducting - so reliable, so easy to work with. A joy. And I felt wonderfully relaxed and able both to worship and perform all at the same time.

Two songs were Denver and the Mile High Orchestra tunes - "Blessed Assurance" and "Jingle Bells". Pure fun. One was a gospel track, "Cabin in the Corner", and finally a standard - "Fly Me To The Moon".

I broke two mike stands. One in rehearsal. One in the show. Oops. I am a very physical performer, you know.

What a joy. What a blessing. The crowd seemed to love it. The band certainly enjoyed themselves. I got to meet some wonderful new people and to have the most fantastic experience of performing with these guys.

And my heart is filled with thanks. Thank you Jesus. Thank you, thank you. Just wonderful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bittersweet? No, just bitter

Going, going, gone.

Out of Euro 2008.

Like many England fans, the thought was bittersweet; I mean, even if it was unthinkable that we should miss the competition, at least surely this way we will be rid of the worst England manager we've ever had?

When the team took to the pitch, it was typical McClaren England. Men out of position, a new formation we've never played for a major match, new players who've not played before in a key game. It had disaster written all over it. My pre-match prediction was 2-1 to Croatia.

Croatia were 2-0 up in 15 minutes. We were dire.

But when we eventually equalised I was ecstatic. Blow McClaren. I am an England fan. I want us to qualify. I want us to be at the championships next summer. Beckham back in the team, things starting to work, belief rising -

Then wham.

The third Croatian goal.

I hope McClaren goes; I'm sure he's a great guy - just a hapless England manager. But the hope that he goes does not make this result bittersweet.

I'm an England fan. It is still just bitter.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Past & Present Touching

I love this photo, from The Times.

Marking HMQ & the DofE's Diamond Wedding celebrations, they have found two photos that mirror each other perfectly. Though it seems to me that HMQ was less sure of herself in her younger days and rather more in control now!

And knowing some are quick to speak of failings in a public union, I do feel that we who are far from the depths and heights of any other person's intimate lives should refrain from a temptation to judge others; I find this emblem of commitment and love strangely touching.

Tracing Rainbows

Reading JD Walt's blog I came across a link to another blog by Mark Benjamin. I met Mark in Asbury Seminary a couple of years ago; he led worship the day I preached in chapel there.

This article brought tears to my eyes. I found it profoundly moving. Have a read and see if it speaks to you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Good Day

A good day!

Bruce Collins, from New Wine Cymru, came to preach here this morning, and brought some friends to pray with people during (and after) the service.

I do like Bruce - though his style occasionally scatter guns provocative thoughts round the room without pausing to check the damage (I could sense odd gasps from one or two folk), his focus is pure gold. And he gave us a great sense of expectancy in coming to Jesus for a touch of his Kingdom breaking into our lives today. Not just when we die - but real change, real healing, real authority here and now. On earth as in heaven.

His simple and engaging manner is wonderfully unthreatening, and people genuinely warmed to him. Those who queued for prayer took me by surprise - not just the usual suspects. And at this evening's service, four people spoke of real answers to those prayers - two healings, there and then (both back related - and even if they prove to be temporary relief, that was great; I hope we will see more than that) and two more inner concerns, but again met by a deep sense of the presence of God touching them and meeting them as they prayed.

To see this in our 11am service was wonderful. I always feel that a basic rule of thumb as to how much people have sensed God in a service is how quick they are out of the door: if they all run, it wasn't great; if they linger, it is because they sense Jesus here and can't bear to go. We finished way over time, and no-one left.

Though I did suggest to someone who came late and and whose car may have been blocking people in that they stayed for prayer, so that may have had an effect...

Afterwards, one couple who came with Bruce told me of two images they had about the life of the church here, and I record them on this page as much for my memory as for your information. But both struck me deeply.

The first saw the church held in cotton wool, and wondered what this was. They thought it might be that we needed care, and then saw it as showing what a place of care and gentleness the church offered.

But when they looked again, they saw that the cotton wool was in fact ermine, the base of a crown, and that this gentleness was also authority given and the power of the Lord to bless.

All through the service they had been struck by the love of the Lord in this place, and the way God's love shone through the worship. I pray that we may indeed be a gentle place of power, the Lord's servant heart shining through us to do his work here. And we will cast our golden crowns down before him, for he alone is worthy.

The second image was of a herald standing on the altar, raising a trumpet to his lips, and proclaiming God's Kingdom in our midst. We then, as a congregation, lifted the herald up, and took him out of the church into the streets of Pontypridd.

Well, I think that the lady who told me this probably wasn't aware that my head was going - that's a great understanding of euaggelion, the Greek word from which we get our word "Gospel". In St Paul's day, the "Gospel" was the announcing by a herald of the reign of a new emperor, and the idea that we have that reign proclaimed in our midst as we worship, and then we take that out from our corporate worship to our daily lives to see people affected by the reign of God around us - this is the mission of our church.

Worship, evangelism (euaggelion), compassion.

So I've been wrestling with stuff, as regulars know. But that Jacob story has blessing in it; and so, my friends, does mine.

Waiting for Heroes - a life in microcosm

So it's Wednesday evening and I'm waiting for Heroes to start on BBC3. We're near the end of the first season, and it's getting all exciting as the story starts to warm up to its finale.

I've enjoyed the ark of the tale, the development of characters, the basic premise and especially the pacing which has really increased in the last few weeks.

But as I'm waiting there is a programme about kids doing a talent show for aspiring classical musicians, and despite myself I get caught up in it, It's the final. There's a basoonist (like she stood a chance), a guitarist (the definition of geek in the musical world), and a pianist with a long green dress, long red hair, and a deft, romantic touch at the keyboard.

Hardly a fair competition.

Anyway, the pianist played the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto - or at least we got to see edited highlights. Very well edited too. And I simply fell in love with the piece. There's a ballet suite by Shostakovich I love - I think it's number 4, the introduction is one of my all time favourite pieces - but on the whole I hardly rate him as someone I'd go out of my way to listen to.

And here I am, waiting for Heroes, sci-fi on TV, and finding one of the most beautiful things in music I have ever come across via a talent show.

If only it had football and Jesus in it it would be my life in microcosm.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wrestling - further thoughts

I think I dismissed a comment from Richard too quickly the other day. He made an analogy with Wayne Rooney going through a goal drought in games but scoring freely on the practice pitch, and his point was that if we walk with Jesus day by day in the private place - if we wrestle with God when & where no-one sees - then everything else will follow. Wayne Rooney started to score again in matches.
And I am grateful for the prayers of friends and for a nature that is stubborn, and for a God more stubborn still who does not let go.
In my private moments I am reading "The Way In is the Way On", a collection of John Wimber writings to mark the tenth anniversary of his death this year. He remains I think my favourite Bible teacher, and I commend this super little book. I am only two chapters in, but I am so restored by what I am reading I cannot say. He faces my weaknesses and failings head on with a humanity and wisdom that is wonderfully godly and biblical, seeing into my heart and giving me sight of how to walk forwards from here.
To paraphrase a couple of the things which have so far struck home:
A pastor's call is not to succeed but to serve.
I got here by being forgiven, and I'll only get any further by the same route. The way in is the way on.
The book is filled with simple truths simply taught with great authority. I loved listening to John Wimber in person when I had the chance, and this book is reminding me why. He brings me closer to Jesus than most other preachers I know, and he does it be opening the Scriptures wide and clear. I miss this voice, and this book is a treat, the treat I need just now.
By the way - Richard is right. And Wimber makes the same point, though he uses more straightforwardly Biblical language and doesn't refer to Wayne Rooney:
"The results of our abiding haven't been tallied yet; however, they are being developed. The tabs are being taken daily... Day by day, week by week, and year by year, God is making something beautiful out of you and me. He is producing in us the character, qualities and fruit of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ...
"This is not primarily a theological discussion, but an active decision and habit of the heart."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Little Glimpses of Heaven

So I went to see Harry Connick Jr in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Enormously pricey tickets. Great seats. Jazz has never looked so expensive - I mean, this is how jazz looks in the movies, but not in real life! Perfect spotlights cutting through the general blue haze around each soloist and putting the rest of the stage in darkness, with Harry in a follow spot so well drawn it was cartoon-like.

And jazz it was - unlike Buble who puts on an easy-listening set with his faux-big band, Harry's slightly smaller line-up (nine horns, upright bass, drums, Harry at the piano and a guest trombone soloist) was simply a very classy jazz gig. I think probably to the shock of some of the crowd - cos the CDs recently get a bit on the pop side. But even the most contemporary tracks on the CD get a makeover "live" and become jazzy, or jazz-funky, or even slightly avant garde...


Because it was great. Fantastic playing, immense soloing, good band work (occasionally swamped by a mix that was piano heavy) - and then Harry.

Not here the sheen and flawless perfection of Buble. But the flaws are part of the joy. The quality is in the character. The depth of musicianship. The understanding & intelligence of it all. Little glimpses of heaven in the constant riches of layers of musicality and brilliance. I loved it.

Highlights? Come By Me, Sleepy Time Down South (wow!), a frenetic Bourbon Street Parade, and then after the band had left the stage a typical encore - just the bass and the tenor sax and Harry's voice for It Had To Be You (well, it had to be, didn't it?) and stripped bare we had everything we needed and a nostalgia trip added as a bonus.

It will be a while before I see gig this good.

The video clip is from Canada three years ago. But you have to see the guy in person. Film does not begin to convey the magic. And if you have the chance - take it. I would go again right now.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Jacob wrestles with the angel. He is across the river from his wives and people. Some don't notice. Some gawp. Some feel the separation. One or two pray for him. One or two are embarrassed.

He is by himself with God, but not alone. Never so solitary and never so supported. Afraid and loved. He will now always bear the mark of this encounter in his body and in his naming. People will call him differently because of this struggle. (Though few - that day to this - will comprehend what went on or why.)

I am preaching regularly about commitment; about the God who calls and supplies the needs of the ones ones he calls; about the blessing of a pure and a whole heart. And as I speak the Lord tells me words I need to hear.

I do not prepare sermons for my own benefit, but I hear them.

For I am wrestling. Why? I know God is good and his ways are best. I am not fighting him; I am fighting that my life be his in every part, with integrity and honesty and without exception. That my worship not be a matter of words and music alone but of deeper harmony of life and soul and bone and marrow.

I find myself often to be basically Christian, and I do not find that to be enough. So I am wrestling. And it is lonely. And it hurts. And it is confusing. And I am not sure I always prevail. I feel like Jacob, struggling across a river from my friends, who probably have no idea how I feel or why.

I don't know why I feel this way either. But with God's help, I'm not giving in.