We Are Worship & SongShare

I’ve recently signed up to WeAreWorship.com, which is an excellent website with free chord charts and weekly mp3 and sheet music downloads.  I strongly recommend signing up – I’ve particularly enjoyed hearing worship songs each week that I maybe didn’t know before.

They also have a SongShare section where unsigned artists can upload their own songs.  I’ve uploaded three of mine and one has been chosen as a Staff Pick.  If you get chance, check it out and please share it further!

“Life, love and praise” at the Strand Church, Dawlish

The following message was given by me during the “Life, love and praise” worship evening at the Strand Church, Dawlish on Friday 18th September 2015.

In our worship we’ve been focusing on who God is, the characteristics of God and His personality. Many of these we can relate to: He is the good, good Father; He loves and is loved; He is deeply relational; He is a Creator God, delighting in making things and giving life; He is emotional, feeling righteous anger and unbounded joy. We relate to these because we share these characteristics with God to some extent. Theologians refer to these as the communicable attributes of God.

On the other side of this coin, however, are the incommunicable attributes – characteristics that are very different when comparing God and man – and these often have long words to describe them. God is omnipotent, all-powerful, whereas our powers are very limited; God is omniscient, all-knowing, whereas there is much that we don’t understand; God is omnipresent, everywhere in space and time simultaneously, whereas our lives are bounded spatially and temporally; God is a trinity, three Persons in one Being, whereas we are only one person.

These incommunicable attributes are much harder to relate to and it can be useful to try to describe them by analogy. One model for the Trinity, for example, is that a triangle is made of 3 lines, each distinct but each equally and intimately forming a single triangle, and without any one of which the triangle ceases to exist. This explains in a sense how three things can be one object, but with all such analogies we get a better grasp on one attribute by minimising another: in this case our triangle is spatially bounded, for example. Ultimately, God is God and our limited experiences and language are insufficient to describe Him.

Arguably the attribute most difficult to grasp is God’s omnipresence. The difficulty is less the idea that God is present everywhere spatially – air is a little like that – but that God is everywhere temporally. More precisely, every moment is the present for God.

Understanding this solves many of the objections about how God acts in the world. For example, free will isn’t violated by God watching what you do in the future as you do it – it’s just that for God, that moment is as much the present as our “now” is. In this sense then, God stands outside the great vista of space and time whilst seeing it all and acting in it at every moment simultaneously.

And this again is where language fails us, because our very language of action is bound up in actions taking a certain amount of time and happening at specific moments in time. However, this cannot be true of God’s own actions as He stands outside of time. In a very real and literal sense, God is even now creating the world, and dying on the cross, and rising from the dead, and winning the final battle because He is acting presently in every moment in time and space.

We see therefore, for example, how the creation narrative in Genesis is imperfectly described by human language – because it doesn’t take God any length of time to do anything – but is also perfectly compatible with the scientific evidence for evolution. Both statements – either that God took 6 days or 14 billion years to create the universe – are equally wrong and fail to comprehend God’s omnipresence and the way in which He acts.

My favourite picture for the way that God acts in the universe is like a painter placing brushstrokes on the vast canvas of space-time, or perhaps a potter shaping the universe. Each interaction affects the past, present and future as space-time is moulded according to our Creator’s will. And as we live through it, God is dynamically creating his masterpiece, to which He is, even now, putting the finishing touches.

Unlike the characters in a painting, however, we can choose to cooperate with or oppose the will of the painter. If we let Him, God will patiently, painstakingly add the layers of detail that will result in us becoming that perfect image of Christ we are designed to be. But if we oppose Him, we will look grubby, smudged, crude and destined ultimately to be painted over as God completes His final heaven and earth. The choice is very much yours.

Bible genealogy

There is a wealth of historical data in the bible and as I teach network theory, I thought it might be fun to try to plot some of the genealogical data presented in the bible.  I have focused mostly on Genesis, 1 Chronicles, Matthew and Luke using the WEB translation and used graphviz to code the tree and to determine the layout.  There are probably lots of errors, misinterpretations and omissions, but as the product of a few evenings’ work, I am pretty happy with it!

You can view the .svg file at http://xianity.me/media/bible2.svg

P.S. It is very big, so you need either to zoom way out or scroll to the bottom when the page loads.

Worship songs released on bandcamp

I regret that the songs indicated below are currently unavailable – I hope to be able to release them again soon …


I have been working with David Mackie over the last year to record and piece together a small selection of our worship songs.  These are now available to listen to and buy from:

https://praise-aloud.bandcamp.com/

We hope to be able to record and release some more songs as soon as possible (in between work commitments and all!).

If anyone wants a copy of the lead sheets for the songs, then let me know and I’ll send them to you or post them online.

Happy listening!

Stoke Canon Christian Fellowship

The following message was given by me at Stoke Canon Christian Fellowship on 14th June 2015. The accompanying reading was Colossians 1:12-20 & 2:6-13.

The letter to the Colossians is a masterly and majestic piece of literature. It is only short, so if you haven’t read it from beginning to end in one sitting, then I strongly encourage you to do so later this evening. It was written, scholars believe, in about AD 62, 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when Paul was in prison in Rome.

The letter to the Colossians was written to counter a range of philosophies and ‘New Age’ ideas that had arisen about Jesus and who He was, and as such there are many parallels with the culture and ideas we see today. The Roman Empire of the time – although this would change dramatically only a couple of years later – was largely permissive and liberal with respect to religious belief. What you chose to believe in the comfort of your own home was largely up to you, provided you obeyed the rule of law. The empire was a melting pot of philosophies: worship of the old Greek and Roman gods for every occasion; eastern mysticism; Greek philosophies promoting ideals such as wisdom, stoicism, epicureanism, hedonism and anarchic tendencies. Judaism was a minor established religion and Islam was still several hundred years from being founded proper.

Into this heady mix came Paul and Christianity, and Paul wasn’t prepared to play the game of religious relativism – that might be true for you, but not for me. Paul steps in with an absolute conviction in a truth centred on the person and life of Jesus that was non-negotiable and would set the world free. It was and remains a joyous message – it is ‘good news’ – but to a world that does not want to hear that it is living a lie, it is also offensive. As such, Paul upset a lot of people and got into a lot of trouble, resulting in imprisonment.

In Colossians, Paul confronts us squarely with the central dilemma of faith: will we humbly accept all that Jesus is?  Or do we refuse to let go and try to mould Jesus to our worldview?

Today, and back then, there are many who would neuter Jesus, rob him either of his divinity or his humanity, tame him, or present his as a protagonist for their own favoured philosophy or movement.

Let’s look then at the Jesus that Paul describes in his letter to the Colossians.  Paul asserts that He is perfectly God and perfectly man:

He is the perfect likeness of the invisible God … He exists before everything else, and everything else holds together in Him … It is in Christ that godhead in all its completeness dwells in bodily form.

Paul emphasises that there is no other means of salvation than Jesus:

It was God’s decision to effect through Him an act of universal reconciliation to Himself of everything in heaven and on earth, and it was through His death on the cross that God did bring the whole universe into a right relationship with Himself … You were dead in sins; but God made you alive with Christ for He forgave us all our sins.

Paul talks about the transformation that marks out a true believer:

It is in your union with Him that your own life reaches perfect completeness … stripping off your lower sensual nature, for that is the circumcision which Christ effects on you.

Finally, Paul describes the hope we have:

In baptism you were buried with Him, and in baptism you were also raised with Him from the dead through your faith in the power of God, which was operative in raising Him from the dead.

What then is the application of this message for our lives today? First, I hope that everyone here knows Jesus as Paul did and can say ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Amen’ to each of the fundamental statements:

  1. Jesus is perfectly God;
  2. Jesus was perfectly man during His ministry on earth;
  3. Jesus is our only means of salvation;
  4. A true faith in Jesus transforms lives;
  5. In Jesus is our hope of a new, resurrected life.

If there is any point there that you are not sure of then please talk to me or my colleagues after the service – it is too important to leave to another time.

Second, we need to take a leaf out of Paul’s book and be bolder at stepping up and correcting those whose beliefs are at variance with those Paul affirms.  We have all been guilty of staying silent when listening to someone explain their faith or beliefs about Jesus, simply because we don’t want to cause trouble or upset – that wasn’t Paul’s way, or Jesus’ way, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

Finally, this message is the difference between life and death – it is our duty to make our lives a little less comfortable and to proclaim the ‘good news’ to our neighbours.  Don’t leave it to someone else – their salvation depends on it.

Christianity is not a ‘personal choice’; it is not something we practise behind closed doors at home and in church.  Our lives must be a witness to our faith in Jesus.

Gender equality in the church

I belong to an evangelical church with a fairly conservative tradition. Recently the Senior Leadership Team have been deliberating over the role of women in the church. At present, women are permitted to lead parts of the service, such as prayer, worship (music), the children’s slot, junior church, but they do so “under the authority” of the man who is leading the service itself. Women are not permitted to preach, lead communion or be a service leader.

As I understand the theological debate, the present position is based essentially on the Pauline doctrine espoused in 1 Timothy 2:12 “I allow no woman to teach or have authority over men”, but it seems that any argument from insistence on the literal interpretation of scripture falls to the charge of hypocrisy when one reads the second half of that same verse: “she is to remain in quietness and keep silence in religious assemblies”.

Whilst I concur that the bible is the inspired word of God, I would argue that it has to be substantially reinterpreted in recognition of the differences between the cultures in the first and twenty-first centuries AD.  In his evangelism of the Roman empire and in light of the considerable Jewish heritage and makeup of the early Christian church, I can see perfectly well how Paul’s ever-practical approach ensured credibility in a hostile culture that equated women in ministry with temple prostitution. But do we really contend that those social norms hold today?

So, ultimately it comes down to a matter of interpretation – where you draw the line. But surely, the only correct response to the question “Where should we draw the line on gender discrimination?” is that we should not be drawing a line at all.

Music Recommendation, 27th February

One Sonic Society – Almighty God

The world can be a scary place sometimes. So much stress and pain. Maybe you often feel, like me, like you’re drowning not waving. God is there to protect and guide you. Always: Matthew 28:20. Just ask Him to draw near to you in your troubles.

Music Recommendation, 16th October

Amy Grant – Don’t Try So Hard

Time is the enemy these days. We push ourselves hard to achieve in every aspect of our lives. Often we can’t see the wood for the trees. We feel like we’re on the hamster wheel of life, working ourselves into the ground to get everything done. God sets us free from this daily grind. Just remember that He loves you simply for who you are: so you have His permission to chill out.