Blog June 22nd “This is not Heaven”

 
“Father I’m in anguish” from Risen! The Musical


“This Is Not Heaven” from the album “Uplifted” featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard recorded and produced by Bob Ross

Two weeks ago in response to the atrocities in Manchester and London I offered the words of two songs “Allow His Loving Arms” and “Oh Lord Hear My Voice.” Since then we have the awful event in Finsbury Park and the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower and it is only natural to ask the question “Why? and to ask that directly of God. In previous blogs I have tried to address the question of why does God allow suffering and it seems appropriate during these most difficult times to revisit a few key thoughts.

First, it is an imperfect world in which we live (the featured song for today expresses the same idea in slightly different words “This is not heaven.”)

Second for love to be genuine people have to have a choice whether or not to love – that is why God gave us a free will – to love and follow Him or not. Without a choice we would simply be robots. When given a choice some will make wrong ones, maybe even ones that could be deemed as evil as the case in Manchester and London. If the tragedy that is Grenfell Towers is found to have been caused by cutting corners on safety, born out of possible greed then that too could be deemed as evil- certainly the consequences of this disaster could demand such a verdict.

Third, it is possible to believe that God is good but that the world is often bad. Jesus lived in a world that was full of hate and persecution and He was eventually killed by people that through fear and bigotry decided His fate. Jesus suffered and so He understands how we feel when we suffer and He is, therefore perfectly placed to hold us in our grief. That is not meant to sound glib and I am not suggesting that singing a song to Him will make everything ok. No the pain of these recent horrific events is raw, as is the many ways in which we can suffer in this imperfect world. Having family and friends to show compassion, kindness, empathy and sympathy is wonderful, but the peace that comes from God is beyond understanding. We cannot avoid the storms of life and it is, I believe wrong to try and pretend they do not exist- no we need to walk through the storms and hopefully come out the other side stronger. In walking through life’s storms it is good to know that God walks with us and is there to comfort and support us – we just need to choose to believe that truth and call on His help.

Anger and revenge are understandable emotions during times like these and I believe it is ok to be angry with God – He is big enough to take it and indeed the Psalmists often displayed anger and bewilderment through their Laments – but more of that next week.

Blog June 15th “Tom Hanks and Co”

As I have said before I enjoy drawing attention to people who are generally regarded as cool and who are also Christians for example, Bear Grylls, Usain Bolt, Jürgen Klopp and Maro Itoje.

On the same theme I thought you might enjoy this video clip showing a number of other “celebrities” who state their belief in God- some may surprise you as they did me, for example, Tom Hanks, Beyoncé, Sylvester Stallone and Rihanna.

Blog June 8th – “Allow His Loving Arms”


Allow His Loving Arms featuring Ross Gill from the album “The Season of Singing” recorded and produced by Ross Gill


“Oh Lord Here My Voice” – featuring Lucy Stimpson- Maynard from the album “Where Would I Be Without You? recorded and produced by Ross Gill

In light of the recent horrific events in Manchester and London I thought it appropriate this week to offer two songs- Allow His Loving Arms and Oh Lord Hear My Voice. Extracts from both are below:

 

Allow His loving arms to wrap around you.

Know his heart has been broken too,

And in the darkest night of doubt and pain,

Let Him comfort you,

Just whisper His Name.

This world and this life,

Lord are so unsafe,

But I know You’re good,

Place in You my faith,

Life’s mysteries I can’t explain,

Yet I rejoice in You all the same.

 

Blog June 1st Tim Tebow


“Still in Tears” from the albums “Uplifted” and “His Story” featuring Lucy Stimpon- Maynard recorded and produced by Bob Ross (Uplifted) and Ross Gill (His Story)

As I said a couple of weeks ago, before featuring the Rugby Union player Maro Itoje, I often draw attention to people who are generally regarded as cool and who are also Christians. Others I have featured include Bear Grylls, Usain Bolt, Jürgen Klopp and Zach Johnson. Today I would like to highlight another, someone of whom to be honest, I had not heard because I do not follow American Football- Tim Tebow. Tim gave the brilliant interview featured today and also began the phenomena now named after him – “Tebowing.”

Here is an explanation taken from extracts from Wikipedia:

Timothy Richard Tebow (born August 14, 1987) is a former professional American football player, playing quarterback. He played college football for the University of Florida, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and appearing on BCS National Championship-winning teams during the 2006 and 2008 seasons. Tebow was selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and spent two seasons with the team. He also played for the New York Jets in 2012. Additionally, he had preseason stints with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and 2015 respectively

“Tebowing” is a neologism for the act of kneeling on one knee in prayer specifically with one’s head bowed and an arm resting on the one bent knee, when kneeling, a form of genuflecting. It is derived from Tebow’s propensity for kneeling and praying. The origin of the phrase is credited to fan Jared Kleinstein, who posted a picture with friends on Facebook, in which they mimicked a pose of Tebow following the Broncos’ comeback overtime victory over the Dolphins on October 23, 2011. The popularity of the picture led Kleinstein to set up a website showing pictures submitted by people depicting various interpretations of Tebowing all over the world. After two-and-a-half months, the site received 20,000 photograph submissions and 20 million page views from 2 million unique visitors. The New York Times wrote “it can be hard to tell whether [people tebowing] are celebrating or mocking [Tebow] for his virtuous ways.” Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl “tebowed” as part of a bet with the mayor of Denver following the Broncos playoff victory over the Steelers in 2012. On October 9, 2012, Tebow was awarded the trademark to Tebowing after winning a legal battle with two fans who had expressed interest in trademarking the name.

In December 2011, the life-sized wall graphics company Fathead released a “Tebowing” sticker that became the company’s best-selling product in two days.

Tebowing was included as a feature in the Madden NFL 13 video game

I am not what you think of kneeling to pray before, during or after a game or of crossing oneself or looking up to heaven after, for example scoring a goal, however please watch today’s featured video clip. In it Tim explains how he wore references to biblical verses on his eye black and in the 2009 BCS Championship Game, he wore John 3:16 resulting in the verse being the highest-ranked Google search term over the next 24 hours, generating over 90 million hits.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. “

 

Blog May 25th Risen! The Musical – 2nd Anniversary of Risen! The Musical featuring The London Touring Cast

Last weekend was the 2nd anniversary of the first professional production of Risen! The Musical. Here are extracts from the blogs of two years ago that described the day and how it came about:

The Risen! CD was mastered by Andrew Bourbon, a Senior Lecturer at the London College of Music (LCM) which is part of the University of West London based in Ealing. Andrew was so impressed with the show that he told his friends in the Performing Arts Department.  I met one in London, Niamh Mcguckin, who Lectures in Voice (which means singing too) and she too was so impressed that she has taken it upon herself to form a cast from LCM students and post -graduates together with fellow professionals. She has acquired the use of the LCM facilities (which are amazing) for rehearsals and intends to have a least 10 rehearsals on Wednesdays and Sundays before the Pentecost production.

So finally, after more than four years of writing, recording and piloting Risen!- The Musical premiered at the Coventry Pentecost Festival on Saturday, May 23rd.  It was an unforgettable day, the cast from the London College of Music were absolutely brilliant, not just in their performance but also for being such a great bunch of people to be with. So a huge thanks from me to them for everything that made the day so special – the “flash mob” in the Lower Precinct – Jodie managing a great performance even though poorly sick- the impromptu singing of “Jesus is My Lord” in the Marquee, with that pretty much straight after you arrived after a two and a half hour journey.  I will never forget the way that “jaws dropped” when people heard Leah open up the song – they obviously had no idea of how good the cast would be but they certainly found out in those opening few notes! And of course all the commitment, patience and good humour in rehearsing with such a short time available – oh and I nearly forgot, for helping me drink a few glasses of Prosecco!

Tremendous thanks also for the amazing organisation that took place from the Festival Organisers “Hope for Coventry” – Andrew , Angus, Matthew and of course my great mate Darren- Bovis Coulter. Also to Jo the Manager of Holy Trinity Church’s Prayer House ; some parts of this inspiring building  were built in the 15th Century and the cast had the privilege of using it for their changing rooms. Just behind us was Coventry Cathedral, which is so impressive with the new building standing side by the side with the original that was bombed in World War Two.

Biggest thanks, however must go to Niamh McGuckin, our brilliant Director who also played Mary Mother of Jesus. With very little time to rehearse she worked tirelessly to ensure that the production was of the highest possible quality.  Her humility was also really apparent when she looked so shocked when the cast presented her with a bouquet of flowers in thanks for all her efforts.

So many people said such kind things about Risen!- The Musical  but here is a quote from Andrew – one of the organisers:

“Risen! – The Musical” was a wonderful climax to the Coventry Pentecost Festival -we were treated to an uplifting portrayal of the story of Holy Week to Pentecost through amazing songs, word, action and dance by a highly professional team who conveyed the hope of the Gospel very powerfully. We felt truly blessed and privileged to host the premiere of this inspirational musical and everybody I spoke to was blessed by it. We wish you all God’s blessing in the future, and that “Risen!” will bless many thousands of people in the months to come.

CAST
Jesus – Mikey Wooster
Mary Mother of Jesus – Niamh McCuckin
John- Andrew Dovaston
Mary Magdalene- Jodie Quirke
Peter- Kieran Lawson
Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus – Claire Hutchinson
Thomas- Adam Valentine
Mary wife of Clopas – Leah Godbold
James- Johnny Fitzharris
Cleopas- Benny Bright
Cleopas’ friend- Coby Collins
Judas – Ennio Ficiur

Director and Mary Mother of Jesus: Niamh McCuckin

Blog May 18th Alpha


“Give Us A Heart on Fire” proceeded by “All Authority” featuring the Original Cast from album Risen! The Musical recorded and produced by Joffy Girling

Last blog I said that I often draw attention to people who are generally regarded as cool and who are also Christians- for example Bear Grylls, Usain Bolt and Jürgen Klopp. I then went on to feature another -the Rugby Union player Mara Itoje.

In that list is the adventurer Bear Grylls who no one on Planet Earth could suggest is anything but a pretty cool guy. He is at present fronting the Alpha Course which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions. It is described as “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life.” Alpha courses are run in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and a wide variety of other locations. The Alpha website states that the course has been run in 169 countries and 112 languages, with over 27 million people having taken part.

I should add that it is not the only course introducing people to the Christian faith – there is for example also the excellent “Christianity Explored” which I will look at on another occasion but Alpha had a great influence on me and it was during a course some 20 years ago that I became a Christian. Here is an extract from a blog I wrote some years ago describing the experience:

It starts off with me accepting an invitation from by dear friend Bob Milliken (Mr Mill) who was the Head of RE at Crofton School where I was Head of PE. After many years of refusing invitations to his church I eventually said yes and went to a Service at Porchester Baptist Church with my son Chris, who was about 12 at the time. Here I met Mr Mill’s father who had been a missionary in the Belgian Congo. At the end of the service I asked Mr Milliken if his wife, who had died two years previously, was in heaven and I was astounded by the simplicity and absolute belief by which he replied with a very simple but firm “Yes.” I took Mr Milliken back to his sheltered accommodation in Titchfield with Chris and we listened in awe to his stories of being a missionary.

The next day I rang Mr Mill to say how amazing I thought his dad was – he of course agreed with me. I told Mr Mill that I felt I wanted to go to Midnight Mass that evening and would he come with me. Mr Mill said that his church did not do Midnight Mass but that he would go with me to the church near Crofton School – Holy Rood.

Now often on Christmas Eve I would be down the local pubs having more than a few beers with ex- students so I was rather embarrassed about missing out the Red Lion and Cuckoo Pint and going to Holy Rood. Nevertheless I thought it would be worth it as the heavens would, no doubt, open up for me and I would experience something “spiritual.” However nothing very exciting happened in the Service but at the end a member of Crofton School’s Senior Leadership, Paul Knight, told me he was doing an Alpha Course and would I like to go. I thought “No Way!” Paul is now a close friend but at that time he was simply a member of the Senior Leadership Team so there was no chance of me going to an Alpha course led by him.

All that Christmas holiday I kept bumping into Paul – every time I was invited to a mince pie afternoon he would be there and each time ask the same thing – would I go on an Alpha Course? It turned out that he was not actually leading the course – just attending. He also said that my old mate Paul Hiscock of the Tech department was going so I did soften a bit but not enough to say “Yes.” At the final mince pie afternoon Paul asked me again and exasperated I said “Paul I can’t make Wednesdays – I am coaching Basketball” He replied “It’s on a Tuesday.” I was speechless – I had run out of excuses and so found myself one Tuesday passing the Red Lion and praying (well not really) that I would not be seen going into the Church opposite to my first Alpha night.

I was greeted by a smiling person (obviously a “Do Gooder” I thought) and presented with a badge with my name on it. I expected everyone to be wearing Jesus sandals and when I saw that someone actually was I decided to beat a hasty retreat. -however I then I smelt the curry. Now curry is the staple diet of PE students and teachers so I decided to delay by escape until after I had sampled the Korma.

During the meal I spoke to a lovely lady called Margaret who asked me what I was doing there and when I had difficulty in answering he reassured me that she too was unsure why she was there.

Tasty curry over – perhaps I should give the Vicar a chance? He looked a pretty cool guy and was not wearing a dog collar – not that I had a problem with that – So here we go to the ice cold pews for a boring sermon on Christ dying for my sins just like my past experiences as a choir boy. Actually no not at all! We went upstairs in the Church Centre to a warm and pleasant room with sofas – all rather nice and relaxing. The Vicar, Michael Christian- Edwards (appropriate name I thought) who has also become a dear friend started off with a joke and quite a good one at that – the laughter relaxed everyone and then Michael talked about whether or not Jesus really did exist. I really enjoyed the talk and even more the opportunity to ask questions afterwards- which I did in abundance. What about this and what about that – Michael answered all my questions with patience and great knowledge. I went home thinking I wonder? But there was no way really that I could ever become a Christian – what would my mates say? I would be a laughing stock – “Jesus Freak” and “Bible Basher.” However I went back the next week and then the next and then the next and then, and then – well the rest as they say is history.

Blog May 11th “Maro Itoje”


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

I remember full well being concerned with the names I expected to be called when my friends found out that I had become a Christian. “Bible basher” and “Jesus freak” are two names that spring to mind. I certainly remember that being a Christian was not considered cool by the people I associated with. However to my surprise in turned out that there was no need for me to be concerned as I don’t remember any name calling (well not to my face anyway) and if there was -so what?

Nevertheless in my blog I have often drawn attention to people who are generally regarded as cool and who are also Christians- for example Bear Grylls, Usain Bolt and Jürgen Klopp. Today I would like to highlight another -the Rugby Union player Mara Itoje.

Maro was born in England to Nigerian parents. He made his England Rugby Union debut in 2016 and his 12 caps have included two Six Nations titles – including a Grand Slam in 2016 – plus a 3-0 series whitewash of Australia down under last summer. He has just been selected for the British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand this summer. At 22 he will be the youngest tourist.

In a recent interview with the BBC Maro talked of his Christian faith. He said

I feel as if everything I have – everything I have been fortunate to have been given -and the position I am in is a result of God.

Everything I am doing is not through my power but is through God’s power.

I am very fortunate and very happy that God has put me in this position. For me it is about giving the glory and the praise back to Him.

Maro is six foot five inches tall and weighs 18 stone and 4 pounds so I for one am not going to argue with him!!

You can watch the short interview with Maro for BBC by clicking on this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/39838606

Blog May 4th “Can We Believe The Gospels? Part 2”

“Walking with Jesus” featuring The Mustard Seed Soul Band from the album “Heart and Soul” recorded and produced by Ross Gill

So I have been looking at whether or not the Gospels are true or fairy- stories and this week I wish to draw on the book “The Case Against Christ” by John Young to consider the procedure for assessing the reliability of the New Testament. Young says the procedure is the same as for assessing any ancient document and is founded on two vital factors both of which depend on the discovery of copies of the original:

  • The first factor involves the number of copies which have been found
  • The second concerns the age of these copies, the time lag between the original document and the copies which now exist is very important.

The problem is how can we tell that the copies which have survived are accurate copies of the original? We can be confident an accurate record is possessed when we find several copies which are basically similar and the copies were penned fairly near to the time that the original document was written.

The date of the original document of Caesar’s Gallic War was AD 58-50 BC, the oldest surviving copy AD 850 (a gap of 900 years) and there are 10 copies in existence today For the Gospels the date of the original documents would have been AD 65- 90 with the oldest surviving copy dated less than 300 years later and with over 2000 copies in existence today. (In fact one fragment of a manuscript is dated only AD 130.) So the wealth of manuscripts and the narrow interval of time between the writing of the original and the earliest existing copies make the New Testament by far the best attested text of any ancient writing in the world.

Young quotes Professor FF Taylor

There is much more evidence for the New Testament than for any other ancient writings of comparable date.

And Dr. M C Tenney

In spite of the numerous possibilities for error, the New Testament s probably the most trustworthy piece of writing that has survived from antiquity.

 

 

 

Blog April 27th “Can We Believe The Gospels?”


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

First I would like to express my sincere thanks to Alex E. Serban who works for the Romanian Christian Cable TV company Credo. Not only did Alex translate the whole of Risen! The Musical into Romanian but he also produced the promo video which is featured today.

Last week I said that I would look at whether or not the Gospels are true or fairy- stories. In fact the blogs of July of 2015 dealt with this subject in some depth drawing in particular on the book “The Case For Christ” written by Lee Strobel, however the main points that I would like to raise are as follows:

  • The traditional view is that it was Matthew, the disciple and ex- tax collector who wrote the Gospel that bears his name.  Mark is believed to largely consist of the preaching of the disciple Peter arranged and shaped by his close associate John Mark who features in the Book of Acts as a companion of Paul and Barnabas. His mother had a house in Jerusalem which served as a place of communion for the disciples (Acts 12:12) Many think he was the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51) Traditionally John’s Gospel has been attributed to the disciple John, brother of James and son of Zebedee who may have been a cousin of Jesus. Luke, the author of the third Gospel was a doctor and historian who had, in his own words, carefully investigated the life of Christ. He was also a close companion of Paul who although not one of the twelve disciples is still regarded as an apostle as he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus.

 

  • What would be the purpose of these four writers making it all up- what would they have gained expect perhaps some notoriety? Peter was crucified upside down for his faith, John was exiled into hard labour, Paul was beheaded and tradition has Matthew also martyred. Why would anyone go through such ordeals to uphold a story that they had made up?
  • The Gospel stories are honest – in fairy- tales usually the heroes are made out to be more than they are but for example Peter is shown to be someone who badly let Jesus down – disowning Jesus three times on the night of His arrest. I have made the following point before but it is something that can be easily overlooked – if the Gospels were made up then they would surely have written that Jesus was first seen alive after the crucifixion by a man and not a woman as, at that time in Israel, the testimony of women was considered to be virtually worthless and was not even admissible in court.  In the words of John inRisen!- The Musical  “No there’s only one reason why first appearing to a woman would make any sense and that is if it were true and it is I can assure you there is no pretence.”
  • There were other books written about Jesus and some were indeed fairly – tales written centuries after His life on earth. Over a period of time the Church decided what was “canon” e. what is considered to be authoritative scripture. The word canon comes from the Greek κανών, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick. For it to be “canon” the author had to be an apostle or have apostolic authority? The book could not contradict the Old Testament and the work had to be accepted by the early church.

And there is more – but that’s enough for this week!

 

Blog April 20th “Did Jesus really die on the Cross – Part Two”


I Know Its The Start Of The Day from the album Risen! The Musical featuring the Original Cast recorded and produced by Joffy Girling

Continuing on from last week, classic arguments disputing the Resurrection include 1) the disciples hallucinated 2) that Jesus did not really die on the cross but recovered in the tomb 2)   that the disciples stole the body.  The simple responses to 1) are that one person can hallucinate and “see things” but a whole group of people cannot hallucinate and all see the same thing.  To 2) the sudden flow of blood and water which occurred when Jesus was pieced by the soldier’s spear (John 19:34) would have come from Jesus’ pericardium and heart and was, therefore a sure sign that He was dead.  To 3) quite simply what would the disciples have gained from stealing the body of Jesus?

Another argument is that the whole story of Jesus’ Resurrection is a fairy story, but for that to be true the authenticity of the Gospels would have to be disproved- I’ll have a look at this issue next blog but I just wanted to say this week how amazing it was that Risen! The Musical was broadcast five times over the Easter weekend in Romania. Credo TV broadcast it on Easter Saturday at 10.00 pm, which I am told is the absolute prime time in Romania,- also on Easter Sunday at 6.00 am and 12.00 noon. Alfa- Omega TV broadcasts were on Easter Sunday at 5.30 pm and 3.00 am on Easter Monday. My apologies to anyone who tried to watch any of these after reading my Facebook posts – I forgot to add that Romania is 2 hours ahead of the UK in time and so I personally missed the broadcasts until I realised what was happening – I then watched a live stream of the 3.00 am Easter Monday broadcast at 1.00 am!!

Both Credo TV and Alfa- Omega TV broadcast far wider than just Romania and live stream all over the world including USA. It is amazing to think of how many people may have watched Risen! The Musical this Easter.

Credo TV posted a promo with Romanian subtitles which I will share with you next week.