Blog January 13th Prayer (one)

Because of Your Grace featuring Harun Kotch from the album The Season of Singing recorded and produced by Ross Gill

Prayer can be very challenging and I found these words in “Word For Today” most helpful. I hope you do too.
In his book With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray writes: ‘None can teach like Jesus…therefore we call on Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” A pupil needs a teacher who knows his work, who has the gift of teaching, who in patience and love will descend to the pupil’s needs. Blest be God! Jesus is all this and much more…Jesus loves to teach us how to pray.’ If you: a) are not sure God is really listening when you talk to Him; b) don’t understand why some prayers seem to go unanswered; c) wonder if you are praying ‘right’ or generally feel frustrated in prayer; d) are eager to know what to do to feel more connected with God and gain confidence that your prayers really do make a difference, say, ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’ Although there are principles of prayer that apply to everyone, God will lead each of us individually. He wants to take you just the way you are, and help you discover your own rhythm of prayer; to develop a style of prayer that maximises your relationship with Him. He wants prayer to be an easy, natural, life-giving way of communicating as you share your heart with Him and allow Him to share His heart with you. Prayer is so simple; it’s nothing more than talking to God and taking time to listen to what He has to say to you. God has a personalised prayer plan for you, a way for you to communicate most effectively with Him. So begin by saying, ‘Lord, teach me to pray.’

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Blog January 6th Message from Michael and Merilyn Christian-Edwards

Great and Marvellous featuring Lucy Stimpson and The Mustard Seed Girls’ Choir recorded live at the Millennium Concert, Crofton Community Centre, Stubbington

Michael was the Vicar of Holy Rood who led the Alpha course during which I became a Christian on February 22nd 1997. See blogs and
Merilyn, Michael’s wife was also incredibly supportive when I began to compose Christian songs – please see blog
I received a wonderful message from them this Christmas that I have great pleasure in sharing:
Recently we have been watching “Universe” with Brian Cox which shares Hubble telescope glimpses of the Milky Way and beyond, revealing immeasurably extents, immense time scales and the ultimate burn out of our sun. In contemplating it all Brian Cox said “We don’t need to invent imaginary gods to explain the universe- we can replace them with the real thing.”
I wanted to say to him what I said to Richard Dawkins over 50 years ago! (I had a small part in a student mission, a speaker had fallen out and I was asked to second a motion, something like “Is God there?” which Richard Dawkins opposed.) He was not yet a star in the atheistic firmament but I was nervous and inexpert and can’t remember the details, however I did get coffee with speakers afterwards. I said to RD “You look at the universe as if it is a closed system of cause and effect, but it is bigger than you think – your view is too limited! … So is Brian Cox’s!
Genesis 1.1 In the beginning God created … He is outside the box, He made it. He is outside the system, outside all the immeasurables and unimaginables, the wonderful causes and effects that have been discovered. We don’t believe in God in spite of scientific discoveries. We don’t believe in God because of scientific discoveries. We believe because of revelation. We are not inventing something that is not there, but responding to someone who is real beyond imagining, beyond measuring. While creation itself is evidence for God, He is more fully revealed as we celebrate Christmas, In the beginning was the Word … the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – inviting us to give our lives to Him.
And I would add my Amen to that !

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Blog December 30th Tim Downs and In Dulci Jubilo

My good friend Tim Downs, who played baritone sax in the Mustard Seed Soul Band, put this absolutely fantastic piece together – made even the more extraordinary by the fact that Tim is not very well at the moment- so here’s to a speedy and complete recovery in 2022 Tim.
By the way just for your information Wikipedia says:
“In dulci jubilo” (Latin for “In sweet rejoicing”) is a traditional Christmas carol. In its original setting, the carol is a macaronic text of German and Latin dating from the Middle Ages. Subsequent translations into English, such as J. M. Neale’s arrangement “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” have increased its popularity, and Robert Pearsall’s 1837 macaronic translation is a mainstay of the Christmas Nine Lessons and Carols repertoire. J. S. Bach’s chorale prelude based on the tune (BWV 729) is also a traditional postlude for Christmas services.
So, there you have it!!

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Blog December 22nd Does the Bible Claim that Mary Was A Virgin

In The Beginning Was The Word from the unpublished album “His Story Live” featuring the Lord Is Truth Gospel Choir recorded and produced by Ross Gill

I came across this interesting and very topical article by Karen Murdarasi which discusses the Bible’s attitude to the Virgin birth. The article was from Premier Christian Media and I thought worth sharing with you.
Along with Jesus’s resurrection, the virgin birth is one on Christianity’s wildest – and most disputed – claims. But did the Gospel accounts really tell us that Mary became pregnant before she ever had sex, or was it all just a case of misinterpreted Greek?
”The Virgin Mary had a baby boy” the song tells us, and at this time of year (Covid regulations permitting), children up and down the country wear tinsel around their heads and act out the familiar scene: the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she is to have a miracle baby. But this is also the time of year when the claim starts to appear on social media that the Bible never really claims that Mary was a virgin, and that this outlandish idea was added by Christians later to sprinkle the fairy dust of a miracle onto a perfectly ordinary conception.
Obviously, virgins do not get pregnant. Therefore, either the Bible is claiming that a truly astounding miracle happened, or Christians have been reading it wrong for centuries. The debate centres around the word translated ‘virgin’, and what it meant in the original language. We have two accounts of Jesus’ conception in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke and, on the face of it, they both seem to say that Mary was a virgin when she conceived. But do they?
Matthew 1:23 quotes a verse from Isaiah 7:14, saying that Jesus’ birth fulfils the prophecy: “’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” That appears clear enough, until you examine the original verse from Isaiah more closely. The Hebrew word used for ‘virgin’ is almah, and while it can certainly mean virgin, it doesn’t have to; it could just mean ‘young woman of marriageable age’. Also, from the way it is phrased, it is not clear whether this young woman/virgin is going to conceive while she is still unmarried. The prophecy speaks of the future, and it could be that the virgin/young woman in question is soon going to get married and conceive her son naturally.
Matthew’s Gospel is written in Greek, not Hebrew, so the word he used was parthenos. Parthenos was the word used to translate almah in the Septuagint (the standard Greek version of the Jewish scriptures) and, again, it means virgin or young woman – or, to be more accurate, both. The closest parallel in English is probably maiden, which means a young woman but has unmissable connotations of virginity (a women’s hymen was known as her ‘maidenhead’). Even so, it still leaves open the possibility that Mary was an ‘unmaidenly’ maiden who was already sexually active.
But fixating on the word parthenos means missing the places where the Gospel writers tell us much more clearly that Mary was not sexually active. In Luke’s account, when Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become pregnant, modern translations usually render Mary’s question to him as something like: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) but the Greek actually says: “since I do not know a man.” Mary is delicately referring to her lack of carnal knowledge, not saying she has never met a male human. Her question makes perfect sense: as someone brought up in an agricultural environment, she knows the facts of life and doesn’t see how she can become pregnant without having had sex. Gabriel’s answer is that the Holy Spirit will accomplish it, concluding “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) It is clear to Mary, and should be to the reader also, that the angel is talking about a miraculous, not a natural, conception.
Another look at Matthew’s Gospel makes the case even clearer. Joseph’s reaction to the pregnancy is to dissolve the relationship, because (it is implied) he assumes that Mary has been unfaithful. That rules out the possibility that Mary had been having sexual relations with him. Once Joseph had been assured in a dream that the unborn child was “from the Holy Spirit”, he agreed to take Mary home but not have sexual relations with her. Here, Joseph’s (in)action is variously translated as ‘he kept her a virgin’ or ‘did not consummate their marriage’ until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1.25). But it’s the Authorised Version that gets closest to the original Greek: “he did not come to know her [carnally] until she had given birth to her firstborn son.”
None of this is going to convince anyone who thinks the Bible is a book of fairy stories, and, as with most events in history, science can tell us very little. There were no DNA tests in first-Century Judea. But when it comes to the argument over the historical evidence, there is no wriggle room: the biblical accounts tell the reader, without any ambiguity, that Mary conceived miraculously, without ever having had sex. The Virgin Mary did indeed have a baby boy.

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Blog December 16th Brother Jack (again)


The Fire of Sacrifice featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album Precious recorded and produced by Ross Gill

Nine days to Christmas- a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus and also a time for families to enjoy being together- so last weekend I drove up to Hucknall to see the legend that is my brother Jack and his lovely wife Eileen. I wrote a blog about Jack in celebration of his 90th birthday back in June,2021
Driving up there were problems on the M40 and A43 with many diversions – I knew I was going to be late when I was diverted to “Hinton in the Hedges.” Now I had heard of places called “on the water” “on the moor” or “in the marsh” but “in the hedges” that had to be a first.
Anyway, I eventually got to my bros. Now our dad had been a gymnast and had taught Jack how to swing “Indian clubs.” Dad had not, however taught me (very wise was dad) but sometime previously Jack had kindly acquired two clubs in order for me to carry on the club swinging tradition. I found it totally impossible – more difficult than I could have ever imagined and much more difficult than a hole in one in golf!
Anyway, just out of interest I wanted to see if Jack still had the skill and so I took a video of him

I hope you agree his performance is fantastic, however not quite as good as his performance some fourteen years ago when he “club swung” to the whole of Village People’s YMCA at our mum’s 100 birthday party. This is the first of today’s featured videos – the second is of my cousin, Pete dancing with Eileen at the same birthday bash -not sure what Craig Revel- Horwood would have said but we all thought it was “Ama zing!

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Blog December 9nd Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover (Elvis Presley)

The other day I read another great message from “Word of Today” and have to share it:
John Wesley said, ‘We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.’ Why did Jesus say, ‘Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly’? (John 7:24 NLT). Because He had experienced the pain of rejection and misunderstanding. ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not’ (John 1:11 KJV).
The apostle James writes: ‘How can you claim to have faith in…Christ if you favour some people over others…give special attention…to the rich…but…say to the poor…“Stand…there, or…sit on the floor”…Doesn’t this discrimination show…your judgments are guided by evil motives?…If you favour some people over others, you are committing a sin’ (James 2:1, 3-4, 9 NLT).
The story is told that when country singer Lonzo Green’s nephew Jimmy asked him to tune a friend’s guitar, he agreed. The problem was Jimmy’s friend was from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ and Jimmy’s parents wouldn’t allow him inside their house where Uncle Lonzo was visiting. So, they decided to meet outside. As the kid approached, Lonzo noticed his self-consciousness and sideways glances at the upscale neighbourhood. Lonzo, who had experienced poverty and discrimination in his own life, tuned the boy’s old guitar, played a few songs, and taught him some chords. The young man thanked him and left with a warm memory he would carry throughout the rest of his remarkable life. Eventually that boy crossed the tracks for good with his guitar and soft, polite drawl and hesitant smile, and was never unwelcome again. That’s because the boy who wasn’t allowed in the house that day was – Elvis Presley!
Just in case you have not heard of Elvis Presley (!!) I have included a video of him singing “Jailhouse Rock” which was released in 1957 when he was aged 22- of course it reached No 1.

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Blog December 2nd Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sonheim

My old friend Martin Connor who lectures at the prestigious “Guildhall School of Music and Drama”” invited me to see his students perform the musical “A Little Light Music.” I did not know the show and remember not being particularly impressed until about half way through the second act when I heard the instrumental intro and then the words “Isn’t it rich- are we a pair” and from then on, I was captivated and “Send in the Clouds” became one of my favourite songs.
And as I am sure you are aware the composer was Stephen Sondheim who died this week aged 91. Here are some extracts from his obituary in The Guardian.
Sondheim was a leading light of musical theatre over the course of more than six decades, from the moment in 1957 when he achieved renown as Leonard Bernstein’s lyricist for West Side Story he went on to establish a place for himself with intelligent, unconventional works such as Company (1970), Sweeney Todd (1979)
“Send in the Clowns” was his most famous, song, recorded more than 500 times – notably by Frank Sinatra in 1973 – and then in 1975 and 77 by Judy Collins. (Today’s featured song is sung live by Judy while she was in her eighties!)
Born in New York, Stephen was the only child of a comfortably middle-class family. His mother, Janet (nee Fox, and known as Foxy), a dress designer, and father, Herbert, a clothing manufacturer, were partners in a New York fashion business. They divorced when Stephen was 10, and he ended up disliking his mother so much that in 1992 he did not go to her funeral.
Foxy was friends with the wife of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (of “Rogers and Hammerstein, South Pacific” fame.) After her divorce Foxy and Stephen moved to live near the Hammerstein’s, on a farm in Pennsylvania. During his adolescence, Sondheim would look to Hammerstein as a substitute father.
Sondheim had started playing the piano by ear from the age of four, before studying the piano and organ sporadically at school. Ravel was one of his early musical discoveries, which he eagerly shared with Hammerstein.
He wrote a musical called “By George,” and showed it to Hammerstein, who said it was terrible but talented, and showed him where he had gone wrong. This process turned into an unofficial yet fundamental course on which Sondheim learned to write musicals, adapting various plays, working on non-dramatic narrative and creating an original story. While many musical-theatre creators specialise as either a composer or lyricist, Sondheim excelled at both.
The Queens Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue was renamed in 2020 by Cameron Mackintosh as the Sondheim Theatre and Macintosh said on hearing of Sondheim’s death “The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers.” Andrew Lloyd Webber called him “The musical theatre giant of our times, an inspiration not just to two but to three generations [whose] contribution to theatre will never be equalled”.

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Blog November 26th Kes

What More Could You Do Lord? featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album Precious recorded and produced by Ross Gill

When delivering In Service Training to teachers and coaches I would often show a clip from the film “Kes.” Here the PE teacher famously takes a football lesson practicing just about everything that a teacher should not do (although I have to say there were times when I would join in with a 5 a side game as “George Best or Bobby Charlton!)
The acting of Brian Glover as the PE teacher is absolutely brilliant (I hope he was acting!) and I would have shared the clip before but I thought I would have to show the whole film. However, one of my all-conquering Testbourne School football team, Clive Wanless, shared this clip-on social media and it is priceless. BTW I say all conquering football team because that’s what they were! I was in my first year of teaching at Testbourne (then called Whitchurch School) and was given the job of “managing” the Year 1 (now Year 7) football team. I had the usual “trial” with about 50 turning up- each one apparently a centre forward. At the end of the session the Head of PE, George Garner, asked me what they were like- of course I had no experience of taking a team before so I simply said that they looked pretty good to me- I would just have to let them know that they could not all play centre forward.
Back then matches were played on Saturday mornings and we won our first game about 15- 0 and after discovering that this was not a fluke, as we won every local game by the same margin, we entered the Hampshire Cup and won that too. A great team indeed and I was so chuffed when a number of the team tracked me down which resulted in me having some great reminiscing phone calls to many of the team who are now located as far away as Australia.

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Blog November 18th Alpha Taster

Bathe Me In Your Light featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album I Look Up To The Heavens recorded and produced by John Hodginson

Alpha is introduction to the Christian faith and from October 19th to November 9th 2017 I shared my experiences of Alpha with you- and my experiences were absolutely great. Later, however when I have been involved in helping to run Alpha courses, I have realised that after the first week “Who is Jesus” things get quite a bit more challenging for those in the early stages of their faith. “Who is Jesus” was easy because it is not too difficult, based on the weight of evidence, to accept that Jesus is an historical figure. Week 2, however focuses on why He died and can include theological ideas such as redemption, atonement and justification – pretty heavy stuff in week two especially if you are just coming to grips with the idea that there is a God!
So, starting Alpha from further back in the journey – exploring whether or not we can believe in God makes sense and that is exactly what Richard England, the Holy Rood Vicar did on Monday for an Alpha Taster evening.
It is our featured video and really is worth a watch.

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Blog November 11th Sir David Attenborough

There’s More Than One Way Of Saying I Love You- featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard and the Mustard Seed Soul Band from the album Uplifted recorded and produced by Bob Ross

First an explanation of why COP26 is so called – COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and was attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994. The 2021 meeting was the 26th meeting, which is why it’s called COP26.
Sir David Attenborough addressed the recent conference and concluded with the following words:
It comes down to this. The people alive now, the generation to come, will look at this conference and consider one thing. Did that number stop rising and start to drop, as a result of commitments made here? There’s every reason to believe that the answer can be yes. If working apart, we are force powerful enough to destabilize our planet, surely, working together, we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you and why you are here.
Sir David is an amazing 95 years of age and for so long has focused on the wonders of the natural world and more recently been vocal in support of environmental causes. Being so involved in the life of our planet I wondered what his religious believes are – it turns out that Attenborough considers himself an agnostic so he neither believes nor disbelieves in God or a god or religious doctrine. Agnostics assert that it’s impossible for human beings to know anything about how the universe was created and whether or not divine beings exist. I suppose another way of saying it is that an agnostic is someone who says that they don’t know whether there is a God or not. On the surface that would seem a very reasonable stance – not sure whether to be a believer or an atheist, so sit somewhere between the two.
Interesting, however what Stephen Gaukroger says of agnostics in his book “It Makes Sense” says of Agnosticism:
Either there is a God or there isn’t – one or the other. To the question “Are you married?” the answers “Yes” or “No” are the only two options. “Possibly” is a nonsense answer. The atheist could be right – those who believe in God could be right – the agnostic is bound to be wrong!
Imagine for a moment you are drowning at sea and two boats come to rescue you. You know that one of the boats has a bomb on it and will explode within minutes but you don’t know which. Because you know only one of the boats can be trusted you choose to stay in the “safety” of the water. Sure, enough one of the boats blows up and sinks like a stone while the other sails off to the safety of a harbour – meanwhile you drown! You were so right that only one boat was safe but so wrong to stay in the water. The option was 100% doomed to failure. At least in one of the boats you had a 50/50 chance of success. Permanently ignoring the only two options an agnostic is condemned to making the wrong choice.

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