Friday, February 27, 2009


I wrote in my previous posting these words:

Elijah was taken from Elisha, those who have blessed us on our journey vanish from our sight, but the Son remains, and his hand holds ours for ever.

Another who has blessed us has gone. Ken Hayward, a member of this church all his life, a man who personnified kindness and a gentle unassuming faith and trust in his Lord, is now with his Lord. Brought by his grandmother within weeks of his birth to this church, he missed just last Sunday. I think that really means he was here all his life. He failed four medicals and so didn't even leave during the war years.

For his humour, his gentleness, his helpfulness, his kindness, his whole life and faith there are more people than he knows that are left behind giving thanks for him.

He often spoke of those days before the war when boys who wanted to get into the choir had to sit at the front for six months, waiting their probationary turn. I wonder if he likes the choir where he is now? And if, with voice renewed, he is sitting in the front pews hopefully awaiting selection?

Rest in peace, dear Ken, and rise in glory.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


We began our preparation on Sunday with a trek through 2 Kings 2.1-12, and deepened that journey in our Wednesday Bible Study yesterday. It was such a great journey I thought I'd mark it here.

Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven; he is preparing Elisha finally to assume his mantle (literally) as the Lord had first instructed would happen in 1 Kings 19. And in order to make sure he is ready, they embark on a spiritual journey.

It begins at Gilgal. Gilgal? Joshua 5 is the reference. The people have wandered in the wilderness for forty years and finally crossed the Jordan. None of the men who have been born in those wanderings have been circumcised, and Joshua puts this right as they enter the promised land at Gibeath Haaraloth (Hill of Foreskins - I'm guessing the estate agents worked on changing that name). Then the Lord said to Joshua (verse 9): "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the place was called Gilgal - which sounds like the Hebrew for rolled away.

We all have a past, and voices whispering from it, that bring accusations and reproach. We all need a Gilgal, and a journey there to remind us that the Lord has wiped away that reproach. As Elijah prepares Elisha for a life of service with one final day's worth of reminders, he begins with a place that says that God wipes the slate clean. You'll need to remember this. To start here time and time again. But this place exists. Treasure it.

They go to Bethel. (I'm going - you stay here says Elijah, to see if his protege has the will power to last the course; but Elisha wants the full measure of what his master will show him, he wants to miss nothing, and he refuses to stay behind.) Bethel?

Genesis 28. Jacob has stolen the blessing from Esau. Esau is furious, and Jacob decides to run for it; Rebekah, his mother, tells him to run to family in Haran (way East - Iraq?) & passes it off with father Isaac as a wife getting trip. Jacob runs. At the end of the first day he falls asleep and has a dream - a dream of angels and ladders and God telling him that it's OK if he runs, but he has made a promise & will keep that promise. He will give the land where he is lying to his descendants, like and on the shore, like stars in the sky, and however far Jacob runs, God will stay with him and wait & keep his promise.

Jacob wakes up and says - this is the gate of heaven, the house of God. Beth (house) El (God). Bethel.

Ever run away from anything? Ever been afraid? Then you need to know God's promises and a place where they are made and where they come true. He is with you always. Always. And he will never let you go. Elijah once ran; but God did not abandon him; he passes this on to Elisha for he knows that in life, everyone who would serve needs this one. God keeps his promises, no matter where we run. He is with us. Bethel.

They go to Jericho. Jericho! Walls, trumpets, Joshua fit de battle. But first, before the battle: in Joshua 5.13-16, Joshua sees a man before him with a drawn sword, and he askes him, Are you on our side or theirs? The man replies: Neither. Strange way of putting things. I'm not on your side; you're on mine - I'm commander of this army, you know. Joshua worships him, calls himself his Lord's servant, and in his equivalent of the burning bush moment is told to take off his sandals for he is on holy ground.

We often want God to jump at our command, to sing our tune. But he is God and we are the servants. He isn't on our side. We are on his. That's some difference. If we would serve him truthfully and powerfully and really see victory, we need to learn that. Elijah takes Elisha to Jericho to spell it out. He has had his own victories; they were won when he he raised the cry, Who is on the Lord's side?

They go on to the Jordan. (Elijah: I'm going alone. Elisha: Not blooming likely!) Where the people of God entered the promised land. But the language isn't about that... on that occasion, though they crossed the river, the way it is described bears no resemblance to the way Elijah and Elisha cross. Here, the water parts and forms a wall to the right and the left, and though physically they stand at the Jordan, in fact they are taken to Exodus 14.21-22, to the Red Sea, to Moses, to a place where there is an Egyptian army behind them and an impassable ocean before them - but God provides a way.

An army behind, a sea before; how often do we face defeat at the hands of life? We need a deliverer, a rescuer, a redeemer. And we have one. Elijah shows Elisha that there will be days when it is impossible to carry on; but God will provide a way. 2 Kings 6 sees Elisha surrounded by the army of Aram - and having learnt the lesson of the Jordan on this day.

Elisha walks with his master, takes in the places and their lessons. We too have a past and places and lessons to remember. And Elijahs to learn from - people who have gone before us and passed on their faith to us. Elisha asks for a "double portion" of Elijah's spirit, not asking to be twice the man Elijah has been, not being greedy or overreaching, but following Deuteronomy 21.17, asking to inherit the first born's right - the full inheritance. From whom have we inherited such a double portion? Whose faith has birthed and blessed and taught and nurtured our own?

But Lent is not simply a time to look back and be thankful. We look forwards. We grow on in our lives with Jesus, ever aiming at the cross and resurrection and the life of the Spirit that they guarantee. And standing with Elijah on a mountain top, Peter, James & John saw the greatest prophet of Isreal fade and the Father's voice remind them: "This is my Son; listen to him." And the Son never fades. Elijah was taken from Elisha, those who have blessed us on our journey vanish from our sight, but the Son remains, and his hand holds ours for ever.

If we would serve him, we would do well to learn the lessons of Elijah and Elisha's journey; Gilgal - reproach rolled away, Bethel - promises made & kept by the always with us God, Jericho - we are on the Lord's side and not the other way (which truth brings victory), Jordan - facing defeat we find a deliverer who will rescue us and provide a way out. But we take those steps holding Jesus' hand, which will never let us go.

Friday, February 20, 2009


A gentle doffing of my captain's hat to chief pirate Jones for the Landlubbers children's club which has run throughout this week. You can see her here, with daughter Flo, our youngest recruit, right at the end of everything. We saw 40-50 kids every day come to the club - an amazing achievement - and they had a great time, playing, making stuff, singing & learning about Jesus.

For a church of our size to put on a club like this, I am so delighted. Kirsty is an absolute star. Her volunteers worked like Trojans too, and evertime I popped my head around the door there was a palpable buzz of joy in the hall.

Thanks to all for helping. And hats off to the pirate chief: blessing families around here with great fun, a purpose to the holiday mornings, and above all that, sharing the good news of Jesus, Kirsty - you do a wonderful job. Thank you!

Very Refined

The other day, Sam sent me an email which does the rounds from time to time, a reflection on Malachi 3.3. It is quite lovely, and in case you haven't read it, I'll print it here.

Malachi 3:3 says: 'He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.'

This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining Silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: 'He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.' She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, 'How do you know when the silver is fully refined?'

He smiled at her and answered, 'Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it.'

If today you are feeling the heat of the fire , remember that God has his eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.
Pass this on right now. This very moment, someone needs to know that God is watching over them.

It's a lovely story, but I wanted to know if it was true. So I emailed Rauni Higson, a silversmith in North Wales, who has made some beautiful silver articles for us here at St Catherine's. The chalice and paten in the picture at the top are hers. I asked her if the story rang true.

This was her reply.

The story works quite well. The details are basically accurate, but of course it glosses over some technical aspects that might get in the way of the flow! It's talking about melting silver in a crucible, I think, which does get rid of impurities for sure, but it's not quite refining in a metallurgical sense... The bits about the hottest part are quite right. You also need bellows to get the fire hot enough, another reason why it requires constant attention and tending. The fire will burn away plenty of impurities alright, but not every one. I think the reflection of the image, is referring to when the silver becomes liquid; at first it has a kind of crinkled crust, then it suddenly becomes mercurial, and the surface is totally reflective, flashing and rolling in the heat. It's very beautiful.

So - the Malachi image may or may not be referring to this kind of refining; but this picture of careful purifying rings true, and the beauty of the reflection of the refiner being made clear at the point of purity is a wonderful and striking image.

You may not have needed the detail; but when I use this illustration, I shall do so now knowing that it is more than a pretty story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Understanding Finance

US President Obama has signed his economic stimulus plan in Denver, after the American Congress approved the $787bn package last week. Read the BBC account here.

$787billion. Wow. That's a lot of money. But how much, exactly? Let me help you understand.

If you had started spending $1,000,000 a day the day Jesus was born, (that's right - a million dollars a day, every day, working on a 4BC birthdate) you would still have another 143 years to go before you had finished spending $787billion. That's how much money it is.

My Beloved

In May 2007 JD Walt & I spent a day together in London, along with Tory Baucum. JD asked me what I felt was missing in contemporary worship songs. "Simple songs," was my answer. We have so many complex songs now, that the great discovery of the early Vineyard music - that worship can be intimate and simple and holy and deep - has almost been lost.

Last week, as JD and I chatted on the phone, he reminded me of that conversation as he told me of this song which he had written, My Beloved. It's available as a bonus track on the iTunes version of Chris Tomlin's Hello Love album (reviewed here, here)- but not in the UK, alas. When I listened to it, I fell in love with it, and put together these simple images for our Sunday worship this last week. I hope it blesses you, for this is one beautiful song, and I look forwards to it becoming a part of our worship vocabulary here.


When the retired head of the spy service says that Government policy is too secretive and anti-libertarian, it's time to sit up and listen. Oh yes, you'd been thinking I'd not passed any civil liberties comments for a while.

Stella Rimmington, erstwhile spy and now novellist, is reported in the press today as being extremely critical of the Government's policy during the "War on Terror", saying that their policies were in fact at risk of helping the aims of terrorists by reducing us to a police state. Read more here.

There is a certain irony in this coming from such a bastion of the Establishment as the Telegraph; and part of me feels that if powerful public servants felt so strongly when they had power, it's amazing that they felt so powerless to express such sentiments or act upon them. Civil liberties versus pension plan? Hmm.

I'm being picky. The more people like this join with the International Commission of Jurists in questioning policy and practice of our elected representatives, the better. There's an old song, which played us into my aunty's funeral - It's not where you start, it's where you finish; but actually, as a Christian, it's how you get there, and that's why we should care about these things. Freedom, respect, decency. Treating people like people. Loving our neighbours, not (glory, that this comes from MI5) spying on them & locking them up for being different.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

God is Good

56 letters. There were 56 letters, not 17 as I was told on Tuesday, and I reckon at least 40 of those were from the church. I was misled. But God is good, and his people are wonderful.

Esther was super at the planning meeting, simply explaining what our children's work was, and how many kids come. The neighbours were lovely and kind, and those who came from church were so encouraging. Aled spoke clearly about the role of faith communities, and their recognition in society and law. I simply told of our gratitude for support from Kim Howells & the Archbishop of Wales, and how we had a letter from the Homeless shelter thanking us for our support. I spoke about how we cherish our children, protect them with all we can, and how we want the council to do the same.

Then councillor after councillor, starting with the redoubtable Mike Powell, added their agreement to our cause.

The RCT legal officer told them they did not have to consider child protection (both inaccurate and unwise) and the council unanimously voted against the proposal to turn the office next door into a drug unit.

We got our miracle.

Though, because they voted against the planning officer's recommendation, we have to go back to planning committee in four to six weeks' time and do this all again. So: we keep praying.

And we keep praying for CRI, who wanted to put this centre in this place. They want to help people, and I applaud that. I pray with all my heart that they will find the right site for their work in Pontypridd. And if there was anything practical I could do to help, I would do it.

90 Minutes

90 minutes till the planning meeting. Aled Edwards has come through - a genuine big gun on our side, a real answer to prayer - and we have a space for him to speak, thanks to Lesley Wilson who wrote in asking to speak, and has given her slot to him.

O Lord, please grant us a miracle.


Till then - something glorious from the Vivaldi night to calm the nerves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Please Pray

I'm asking for prayer. I've just been prayed for by my good friend JD and I think that at this time I would like to ask all regular readers here to pray.

We have a problem with a planning application going through our local council to put a drugs rehabilitation unit next to our children's centre. Normally I would be completely supportive of any initiative that exists to make people's lives better. I am delighted that we have had, over the years here, a slow trickle of people on different rehabilitation programmes. But putting a unit distributing methadone next to our toddler groups is something that I cannot stand for.

In a way, I am touched that some of the members here, some of the really committed and godly people, have not been able to get on board with my call to be firm over our children's work. But I guess I'd ask them to think what they are saying when they ask me if we are "here for everyone", and perhaps wonder how often my kitchen gladly plays host to people with drug problems without comment or judgement. And it might not be a coincidence that the Home Office, the Welsh Assembly, the Archbishop, the chairman of Cytun & I all agree that drug rehabilitation programmes are good: putting them next to kids is bad.

The local council has ignored legislation that protects children. I have taken it to them repeatedly, showing them a remarkable range of neglected laws from Cardiff and Westminster; the Archbishop penned a magnificent letter of support. You'd think that would make a difference. It might.

I was pretty devastated this afternoon when I learned from the council that no more than a dozen church members had written in to them about this, though losing this battle could endanger our whole children's centre. (I got a stunning email today from the head of children's services in RCT; it made clear that such a loss was a conceivable result of this planning application - and totally acceptable to him.)

I can't give you the whole picture - it's too convoluted; but I can ask you to trust me and to pray. To pray what?

That God does something wonderful that blesses everyone. It's always right to pray that everyone is blessed.

What that might be I am not sure.

In my mind, possibly I see that the people who are proposing the drug unit might suddenly find a better site. One we can support. One that does not threaten our children's work. One that allows more work in our community amongst more vulnerable people to happen, not one that makes a choice - this or that. I don't want to say they can't or shouldn't come & do their work; I do want to pray they don't come to their currently proposed site, because it puts an unacceptable risk on the children over whom we have care. We want to grow our work in an open and welcoming environment, not with security locks, fences and fear.

And I want to pray that whatever happens, happens by Thursday afternoon so that these guys retract their application for planning permission - or that the Planning Committee of the local council rejects it. This will take a miracle. But as God is God, so I ask you to come before him with me and I would rather seek a way to bless as many people as we can.

Don't send comments: just pray. I won't be adding comments to this. This church and its work in this place is my life, and I can't abide the thought of what we have to lose here. I just ask you to join me in praying for something wonderful, and that this planning application as it stands not be granted, though at the moment it seems inevitable.


Monday, February 09, 2009

The Shack

My new cleaner has almost finished her first shift. I know, but in the old days, there were a whole host of full-time servants here. I think I am quite restrained.

And you should try living in a shack like this.

O - you thought this was going to be about a certain book, did you? A little novel that makes God out to be like Guinan on STTNG? Right. Well, for those of you wondering about the latest must-read Christian publishing phenomenon (that doesn't have my name on the cover), Gary Smith puts his thoughts here. And for something at more of a remove, Ben Sternke on his blog has a recommendation for Michael Spence's one paragraph review of Roger Olson's 'Finding God in the Shack'."

Becky, my new cleaner, is still trying to find anything in this shack.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Let it Snow!

Dances with Snow Dogs...
The much awaited sequel to Dances with Spaniels. Can you tell what the weather here has been in the last day or two?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Baroque Videos

Here is the finale from the Double Cello Concerto at the weekend's concert with the Welsh Baroque Orchestra. A request from Mark! So there you go, we aim to please.

And then a final word for now - Amen!