Category Archives: Worship

El-Shaddai

This entry is part 15 of 15 in the series Fiona

Fiona and I always shared an irreverent sense of humour. And, despite having lost her, my sense of humour is still just as wacky 🙂 Our outlook on life has always been free and flippant! Because we were (and are) both completely secure in our relationship with Father, we felt free to make jokes about our faith, sometimes to the consternation of other churchy types who were nearby – although to be fair, we didn’t usually use that type of humour in the presence of those who would not understand, because it would have made them uncomfortable. I sometimes think that people are afraid of God, despite 1 John 4:8, which speaks about perfect love driving out fear… sadly, then, there are many Christians – and people from other faiths too – who declare that ‘God has a sense of humour’, but whose ensuing fake laughter usually belies that belief. Lolz.

But not Fiona and I. We were wacky all the way, in ways I won’t share here because, well, I suppose you had to be there…

Now, here’s another worship song from our youth – El Shaddai, sung by the legendary Christian artist Amy Grant. And, for us, this song has a wacky story behind it. We first saw this song in the Dales Bible Week songbook for the 1985 Dales Week, entitled ‘Enthroned on High‘. But we didn’t actually hear the song at that time.

The ‘foreign’ words in the song are just some of the Hebrew names for God, and because of the sense of humour Fiona and I shared, and in the way that we always made irreverent jokes about absolutely everything, we decided for definite that the song was put in that Dales songbook in order to enable people who didn’t ‘speak in tongues’ to sing something that sounded foreign enough to pass as ‘tongues’. Some won’t find that funny. We thought it was bloody hilarious. And this is the first time I have made that public knowledge 😉

And then we heard the song a couple of years later on a worship tape, if I recall correctly, and we loved it immediately.

I’ve put it in Fiona’s series on my blog, because it reminds me so much of the time we had together, the worship we shared, Fiona’s wacky sense of humour that complemented mine so well, and the great times we had singing it together, with me on piano and Fiona’s tremendous vocals. She was a lady of great talent and, over the months, I have sorely missed her pure, wonderful singing voice, and her gentle spirit coming through in her music.

And the song is indeed beautiful, and is well worth hearing. Released in 1982 on Amy Grant’s breakthrough album ‘Age to Age‘, this song was one of the numbers that made her famous. Here it is, with its lovely arrangement, great dynamics and excellent chord emphases along with Amy’s brilliant talent.

Enjoy!

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonia,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
We will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.
 
Through Your love and through the ram,
You saved the son of Abraham;
Through the power of your hand,
Turned the sea into dry land
To the outcast on her knees,
You were the God Who really sees,
And by Your might,
You set Your children free
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonia,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
We will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.
 
Through the years You made it clear,
That the time of Christ was near,
Though the people couldn’t see
What Messiah ought to be
Though Your word contained the plan,
They just could not understand
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of Your Son
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
I will praise You ’til I die,
El Shaddai
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
I will praise You ’til I die
El Shaddai.

– Michael Card/John W. Thompson

I’ll also relate another humorous story about this song. Fiona and I were once in our Church in Leeds when there was a guest lady who’d come in to perform an expressive dance, and she did it to El Shaddai. And she did it really well; it was very moving and expressive and spiritual and all that. Right up to the point where she slipped and did a spectacular comedy-accident fall, through the drum kit if I remember correctly, to the accompaniment of crashing cymbals et al. She was ok, but boy was it funny, and Fiona’s irreverent sense of humour came to the fore and I’m convinced she only narrowly avoided serious internal injury due to her attempts to suppress her laughter. I know it sounds bad to laugh at that sort of thing, but the young dancer was fine, as was the drum kit, and it was even funnier because of all the knights in shining armour who gallantly leapt to the young lady’s rescue, almost causing a further accident in their haste to render assistance.

And to the lady’s complete credit, she got straight back up again and carried on with the dance, bless her 🙂

Anyway, there we go. A lovely song with lots of happy and funny memories for me. Fiona loved it 🙂

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With Eyes For Only You

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series Fiona

The other day I heard, for the first time, a song that has utterly blown me away: My God and King written by Shauna Chanda and sung beautifully by her on Terry MacAlmon’s worship album, The Sound of Heaven.

At the moment, I can’t listen to this song without my heart bursting with worship, and often even weeping with the sheer weight of glory that falls upon me. Only three or four times in my life so far has a song had this effect on me, (the main one I can remember being When I Look into Your Holiness in 1983) and this song, My God and King, is one of those songs. It’s been a long time since a song has had such a profound impact in me; I can feel the Spirit reaching in to the deep places of my heart as I sing or listen to it, and I feel Him minister His deep healing of the wounds I have received over the last three and a half years of Fiona’s illness and her passing. This song stirs up the deep spirit of worship within me like no other I have ever heard, and in that worship is my healing in God’s Presence.

Fiona at our son’s wedding, September 2009

I love how the song describes that, for the worshipper, to see God face to face and to be with Him would be their dream come true. And this is partly why I have included this in Fiona’s series – because indeed her dream has come true and she now sees God face to face, and worships Him there. Her heart longed to be with Him. She never heard this song on this earth, but I bet she’s singing it right now! I can imagine her lovely soprano voice singing it; she would have loved this song, it’s exactly the kind of song she loved best. A beautiful love song of worship where I declare, and live out, that I have eyes for only my Jesus, my God and King – even, and especially, through the storms of life.

So, with this in mind, here’s the brilliant Shauna Chanda singing her song, with the inimitable Terry MacAlmon on piano. It is my prayer as I write this that this song will bring healing to you too, in whatever area you need it:

 

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

I have eyes for only You

– Shauna Chanda

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The Heavenly Perspective

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series Fiona

To be honest, I was at a loss for what to write for my regular 25th-of-the-month article about Fiona. Over the three weeks or so before writing this piece, (which was actually written about ten days before it was published), I have been quite fed up; I’ve certainly not been my usual buoyant, optimistic self! It’s mainly because a number of occurrences and circumstances have together reminded me especially of the permanence – at least for this life – of my loss of that amazing lady. We were very close and we shared everything. And so, I am missing her so much, and there is this huge gap that she left in every area of my life. And of course there are the huge gaps in the lives of all the people who loved her. We lost a real treasure on that day, seven months ago today.

And yet, as I have shared previously, I know she is in the presence of her Lord Jesus. She is in an amazing place where she has her animals, she can worship the Lord face to face – and she is most likely part of that great crowd of people in Heaven that I mentioned in my previous post*.

Let’s look at them again:

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev 15:3-4)

Those are people who can see that God’s purposes in History were all part of His Great Plan, on a level and of a complexity that we cannot even begin to fathom. As I’ve said before, we can only gain an inkling in this life of how that all works, what the answers are to Life’s Big Questions. But these guys have what you might call the Heavenly Perspective – they can see what’s really been going on all this time, and, like I said before, they worship God in response to what they have seen!

Now, think of it like this: I too – and you – are also in that great multitude. And so,  you see, it means that we too can live today from within that Heavenly Perspective that our ‘future selves’ will know. Part of bringing the Kingdom into today, part of our eternal life in the here-and-now, is surely to bring that Heavenly Perspective into our lives, and the lives of others we meet, today. Jesus said that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). This meant that wherever Jesus was, so there the Kingdom was. He was bringing forward, into the lives of the people around Him, the glories and benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven. And because Jesus lives in us by His Spirit, that same Kingdom is here with us right now, in our everyday lives. All we really need to do is to realise this!

Now, we know that one day we will be singing with that great crowd, in the full knowledge of God’s huge creative and redemptive genius throughout history, where we will see that even those things that bother us now were but a part of that huge tapestry of interconnected events that all worked out in the end. We will in fact have that Heavenly Perspective. We too will see how it all worked; how that great Plan happened and how it all came together.

And so, because we will see that perspective then, why not pre-empt that and live in that knowledge now? We know even now that, one day, we will know in completeness what everything was all about (1Cor 13:12) like those in that great crowd, why not today join with our ‘future selves’ in their knowledge that it’s all great, and actually just fine and dandy. You can imagine our ‘future selves’ thinking wryly (because there will be no regret in Heaven!) “Oh if only I’d had that perspective back then!” But we can indeed have that perspective right now!

I hope this makes sense; it is a bit metaphysical, and I know as well as the next guy that it’s hard to maintain a ‘Heavenly Perspective’ when life is burning us and we are still in the flames of whatever troubles we are going through. Believe me, I have been through the fire these past three years; I have walked the walk, and the talk I am talking is based on what I have learned over that time.

But, you know, the Scripture speaks of ‘Treasure in jars of clay’ (2 Cor 4:7) – something immeasurably valuable in ordinary human bodies. It speaks of us having the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, a downpayment if you like, to guarantee the things that are to come (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). This is what powers the Life in the Spirit.

What does this life look like? Well, I have written a piece on this here, but I will summarise by saying that there is joy, there is healing, there is power, there is love, there is freedom from bondage, freedom from religious Rules, freedom from the power of sin, freedom from addiciton, freedom from the fear of death; there is the overriding sense of God’s Presence that gives this immense ‘peace that passes understanding’ (Phil 4:7) – a peace that is beyond understanding because it cannot be explained in terms of worldly circumstances. And beyond all that, there is this:

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” ” (John 11:25-26)

Sounds as if Jesus is contradicting Himself, doesn’t it? But He’s not. He’s using the old Hebrew poetry device where two concepts are matched together to reveal a deeper truth. What He meant was that when we die, we will still live. He’s talking about the ‘afterlife’, if you like. And He reinforces this by saying that when a living person like you or I believes in Him, we will not die, since He has already explained that we will still live even after death. So, in a totally real way (not just ‘in a sense’, as I was going to write), this means that once you believe in Him, your life will be one amazing, long walk with Him through this life and, without pause, into the next. Jesus says it quite plainly, in fact, in John 5:24, where He says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”. Did you see that? A believer has already crossed over from death to Life! It happens now. This is the assurance that Christians have. This is the assurance that Fiona had, and now knows in full measure. This is the Gospel, or at least a huge part of it. Passing through the veil of death at the end of a believer’s life here on earth is merely the moving on into the fuller, complete life we have been just starting to get used to, during our lives here. This is simply amazing stuff; it’s the sort of thing you can build your entire life on (Matthew 7:24).

This is the inheritance of the Saints (that’s you and me and Fiona) – eternal life beginning now, and continuing for ever. How’s that for Good News! Of course, the thing with an inheritance, remember, is that it’s something you get in this life because of Someone who has died. Go figure!

So, as the old hymn goes:

“Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine and ten thousand besides!”

Wow!

And so, in the light of my opening lines here about being fed up, even just writing this piece has buoyed my spirit again. It has reminded me once again of all the mighty promises in God that are mine – and yours – to hold and to use. I needed to regain that perspective. And I have.

Even now, for the things I have already seen in my life and in the lives of others, I can still worship God for what He’s done already, very much like those people in Heaven.(Psalm 145:4).

So, I am asking God to increase my awareness of the Heavenly Perspective, like the one that Fiona and our ‘future selves’ have. It’s very much a foretaste of what is to come!

And for such great things as these, what better response than worship? Let me leave you, then,  with a great song based on the words those saints are singing – The Song of Moses:

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb
Saying Great, great and marvellous are Your works, Lord God Almighty
Just and true are Your ways Lord, O King of the Saints
Who shall not fear You O Lord

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb
Saying Great, great and marvellous are Your works, Lord God Almighty
Just and true are Your ways Lord, O King of the Saints
Who shall not fear You O Lord

Hallelujah, O Hallelujah!

Be blessed!


Header picture shows Fiona on the South-West Coast Path overlooking St. Mary’s Bay, Brixham, on a glorious Devon spring day. We are so blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country, and Fiona always loved this walk. If Heaven is anything like Devon – and I believe that everything beautiful on this earth is a pale reflection of the glory and reality of Heaven – then it will be glorious indeed.


*I know that the Book of Revelation is not intended to be taken entirely literally. But there are still passages in that book that nevertheless show a glimpse of things indescribable to the human mind, through the use of metaphysical imagery. Basically it’s the best that John (the writer of Revelation) could do given the limited descriptive powers at his disposal – the same limits that you or I would come up against even today, were we to try to describe the inexpressible things he saw in his vision. And so, I have no problem in setting aside some of the more weird imagery in that book until such a time as Holy Spirit makes its meaning clear to me, while at the same time getting to grips with those parts – like the passages in this piece – for which I feel I have sufficient revelation (no pun intended; I hate puns!) to make a decent case for my insight in this piece.


[Edit: Not long after I wrote this post, there was a terrible terrorist suicide bomb attack on a crowded arena in Manchester. It was at an Ariane Grande concert; 22 people at least lost their lives and many more were injured, many of them young people and children. I don’t know why these things happen. But it is my sincere wish that people from such bereaved families find this post and take comfort from it. It’s easy to say this now, but, believe me, one day it will all make sense. I say that not from a callous heart but from one that has been through the same kind of fire. Jesus loves you. God loves you. Rest in the knowledge that your loved one(s) are being held gently in God’s arms. If you want to contact me about this, please do so and you’ll find the contact link in the menus at the top of the page. Or post a reply below.]

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All The World He Made Is Good

Here’s a lovely song by my favourite Gospel singer, the brilliant Don Francisco. No prizes for guessing what it’s about 😉

In beginning was the Word
And He spoke and made the world
Then He filled the sky with light
And He saw that it was good

Land and sea then living things
Teemed and swarmed and multiplied
And all of life lived as it should
And God said that it was good

Yes He said that it was good
Bird and beast and rock and wood
Let this truth be understood
All the world He made is good

Man and woman stood serene
Walked with God in gardens green
God blessed all His hands had made
And called it beautiful and good

Yes He said that it was good
Bird and beast and rock and wood
Let this truth be understood
All the world He made is good

(Instrumental)

Sit very still and look around
See the colors, hear the sounds
Let all His love come shining through
‘Cause your Father made it all for you

And He said that it was good
Bird and beast and rock and wood
Let this truth be understood
All the world He made is good

And He said that it was good
Bird and beast and rock and wood
Let this truth be understood
All the world He made is good

(Extended instrumental outro)


So much of Christian theology explains the state of the world – the disasters, the poverty, the cruelty of man and nature – as being because the world is somehow ‘bad’. And that the ‘badness’ is explained because of humanity’s ‘Fall’ in the Garden of Eden. The thing is, for me, the Eden story is part of the Jewish creation myth that was never intended to be read as actual history – and I don’t believe that the world is bad like that theology asserts. Yes, that’s going to annoy the Biblical literalists, but that’s not my problem. The part I do believe is that, because God is good (and in Him there is no darkness [evil]) (1Jn1:5), then I believe He created the world as good as well – in Genesis 1:31 it says that ‘God saw all that He had made, and it was very good’. And I believe it is still very good.

Without going into detail about why bad things happen (I do examine these ideas a little in this article about ‘Life’s Big Questions’), I also think that the first and the last books of the Bible contain two symmetrical ideas.

Let me explain. In Genesis 1:31,  we saw that ‘God saw…that…it was very good’. In Revelation 15, there is a great crowd in Heaven who can all see the great things God has done, and how He has worked things out according to His purposes. All things have come to their conclusion, and the huge and mighty wisdom of God, through the ages of history, has been revealed. Here’s what they sing:

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev 15:3-4)

As I have previously written in this article, they can see all of History in its vast sweep and scale, with all its hatred and horror, with all its triumph and joy, and still they sing that song. They see how everything has worked out for good for those who love God and have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) – and that His righteous acts have been revealed.

So, bringing these two symmetrical threads together – Yes, the World is Good, and Yes, somehow God works His purposes out despite – and through – all the bad things that happen. The world was good in the beginning, and somehow, because God is working His purposes out, the world is good now as well.

Ok, this might all seem a bit nebulous in the light of international bad things that happen like tsunamis, famines, ISIS and Donald Trump’s presidency. And it is indeed a kind of Rabbinic teaching concept, where opposite views are held in tension in order to find the truth somewhere in between. But taking the two arguments from Genesis and Revelation together, we can see that actually things are good, God is (somehow) working His purposes out, and it will all fall into place – and make sense – in the end. What a day that will be!

Right, I have thrown a pile of ideas at you, none of which probably makes any coherent sense – but that means it’s now time to go and meditate on it. Think about it, let the Spirit guide you into all truth (Jn 16:13). If what I’ve written helps, great; if not, just discard it and enjoy the music 🙂


I chose the header image because it is a combination of a cloud-covered Earth, an eclipsed Sun with the ‘diamond ring’ phenomenon and with the Moon’s shadow projected onto the cloudscape, and the backdrop of our own Milky Way galaxy behind. Even the huge scale of the objects represented here is miniscule compared with the beyond-incomprehensible size of the Cosmos. All the world indeed is good. And God is bigger than all that and yet He – the Creator of the Universe – chooses to live in us. How awesome is that?!

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My Glory and the Lifter of My Head

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Fiona
“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” – Psalm 3:3 (KJV)

I have had a new breakthrough in the area of worship.

Since losing my lovely wife Fiona to cancer last October, my soul should have been downcast (Ps 42:5). But, as I have said in a previous post, yes I have been grieving, and yes there have been heartbreak and tears, but my soul is not downcast within me. That which is ‘me’, my personality, my ‘self’, has not been destroyed. It is well with my soul! My worship life; my closeness to the God of all Comfort, has kept me afloat, kept me sane, kept me in joy. Not that I can claim credit for that; I have to say that the worship is my natural response to His closeness; the initiative, as it were, lies entirely with Him. It’s my choice to worship in response to that love, of course, but how can I not? Being surrounded and, yes, almost ‘padded’ by that Love, what other response can I possibly make?

As a worship leader from the Charismatic renewal era, I have led/sung (and still do!) certain types of song hundreds of times: those that express a longing, a hunger for God, for His presence. I suppose they are, for me, an expression of the longing in my heart for more of Him. Because, for me, He is the Centre of everything, I just want more and more. And yet He’s always right there, all the time. I suppose I just mean with those songs that I never want that Presence to leave me. It’s quite interesting in that God is so ‘present’ (although I know He’s ‘everywhere’) in the places where it appears that there is no God. So, in tragedy, suffering and heartache of all kinds, He’s right there. What we need to do is to develop a consciousness, an awareness, of that Presence.

A couple of months ago, someone at our Lifegroup (housegroup) said, “How can you lead worship like that after all you’ve been through?” And the answer is, really, “how can I not?” Worshipping Jesus has kept my focus on Him and that’s been my lifesaver. And so, like in the story I linked to above (here it is again), I have had those heavenly worship times where everything just fades into the background in the Light of His Presence. The troubles and grief are still there, but they are put into the correct perspective by the worship; I am reminded again of the primacy of Jesus and the sovereignty of God; I know He is in charge and this is just so profound.

But now, the worship seems to be taking a new course. Rather than simply affirming the worship of Heaven in my life, and showing me in some small way what Fiona is experiencing in the Presence of God, He’s now letting me see more and more of who I am in Him, Who He is to me, what He’s done for me and what I have in Him. 2Pet1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”. And He has. He gives power for life, He gives freedom from sin, He gives the peace that passes all understanding. He’s lifted my head, and He continues to do so. All the things that happen in my life now, I face from a place of complete rest and confidence in Him. This is the state of Grace; where God’s undeserved favour (in that I have had to do nothing in order to ‘gain’ or ‘earn’ it) is present in blessing and Divine Presence.

And He is the one Who is indeed the Lifter of my head. When the grief and the sadness make me want to drop my head, chin to my chest, He’s the One Who lifts it back up again, to let me gaze on His Face. He’s the One Who lifts my aching heart and fills it with such indescribable joy, bubbling over; the reassurance of His Presence. And this is all so real to me; it hardly seems fair that one man should be given such blessing. As a friend of mine said a few years ago, we had such a life-changing experience of God in our early Christian lives that for Fiona and I, this was the norm. When worship was happening, we were in the thick of it. The Presence of God is so real, so tangible, it’s simply amazing.

And so I want to share this brilliant Terry MacAlmon song, My Glory and the Lifter of My Head. Especially magnificent in this song is the spine-tingling solo by Liz Gustafson, “When the terror of the enemy | Seems to rise all around me | Still I, I will not be afraid | Oh, For there is One greater | He’s my shield and my defender | And He will stand beside me till that day!”

For the reader who does not yet know what it feels like to be in God’s Presence, may I encourage you to ask Him to make Himself real to you today. Be a part of this. Enter into this joy that is just so available to you. Let this song minister the truth of the reality of God into your spirit; let Him breathe his new life into you.

Here we go, then. This is a really great song. Be blessed as you listen!

You’re my glory
And the lifter of my head
You’re my glory
And the lifter of my head
For Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me
My glory and the lifter of my head

When the terror of the enemy
Seems to rise all around me
Still I, I will not be afraid
Oh, For there is One greater
He’s my shield and my defender
And He will stand beside me till that day

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The Grey Rain-Curtain

This entry is part 9 of 15 in the series Fiona

This is another ‘spontaneous’ post; one written and then published straight away, like the one I did on what would have been Fiona’s and my wedding anniversary.

I don’t normally ‘do’ calendar festivals; I don’t particularly think of any day as being ‘special’, whether Christmas, Easter, my birthday… but sometimes these ‘recognised’ festivals do get me thinking along the lines of the things they are trying to ‘celebrate’ on those days. Which, when you think about it, is probably a fair part of the idea.

So, today is Easter Sunday, and I have just got back from Church where, as often happens there, I was completely lost in worship. We’d just finished a song, and David, the saxophonist, just continued to play a haunting little riff… and within a few seconds, the congregation were singing in the Spirit, a beautiful sound of blended, harmonised voices, with what could be heard as discordant counterpoints and undercurrents but because of the dynamics (relative volumes) they did not clash but enhanced the whole song. Quite the most beautiful Spirit singing I have heard in a long time, and only really possible with a largeish congregation because of the way the harmonies worked.*

Actually that’s not entirely relevant for today’s article, except that this article is about Easter Sunday. The day where Christians all over the world celebrate that Jesus of Nazareth, having been dead for a couple of days**, is resurrected. He came back to life; not just the same life as He had before He died, but risen to an entirely new kind of life, thus modelling our own resurrections at the ‘end of the age’.

Death had been beaten. Up until then, death was seen as The End. There were a number of ideas floating around like some sort of afterlife, but up until then, nobody had come back again after having been dead for that long. Isaiah 25:7-8 says:

“On this mountain He will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
He will swallow up death forever”

…and this idea is covered again and again in the Bible. The promise that death would no longer be the terror and threat that, up until the Resurrection of Jesus, it had been.

1Cor15:55 says:

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

This is Good News! It means that Death is not the end. I have had close acquaintance with death and its effects, over the last six months since my wife Fiona died. And I have to tell you that death no longer holds any terror, any fear, for me. This is, and has been, my personal experience. Because I know, because God has shown me, that death is not the end. He has shown me what Fiona has now. And I have seen an amazing woman of God face death with utter calm, peace and serenity – because of what she knew to be true – that again death is not the end.

God showed me lots of really deep things of the Spirit last night (I was in the bath, actually!), one of which was that Death is no longer the worst thing that can happen. He showed me that while at the same time pointing to the last six months, where I have lived in a certainty (not simply a denial of the facts!) that there is a life beyond the grave; Fiona is there, and she is safe in Jesus’s company. I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible source of comfort and reassurance that is. This knowledge is, quite literally, a Life Changer.

I’ve always had a great passion for the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien; I have posted before on themes related to his work. Now, the following quotation is indeed from the last of the three epic Lord of the Rings movies ‘The Return of the King’; however, these actual lines were not written by Tolkien himself, but by the scriptwriters for the movie. The scene is in the beleaguered city of Minas Tirith, where the forces of Mordor are about to break down the last gate and destroy everyone within. Gandalf and the hobbit Pippin are awaiting their fate as the gate begins to splinter:

“Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.

Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?

Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.

Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.”

– From the movie ‘Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King’

As I said, the quotation was from the movie, but the inspiration was actually from Tolkien himself. In this first quote, the hobbit Frodo is dreaming in the house of Tom Bombadil, early on in their adventure:

“That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”

– ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘, Book I, Chapter 8: “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”

This is mentioned again at the end of The Return of the King, when Frodo departs on the Elven-ship:

[T]he ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

– ‘The Return of the King’, Book VI, Chapter 9: “The Grey Havens” [emphasis mine]

One of the main reasons why Fiona wanted the Annie Lennox song ‘Into the West’ played at her memorial service was because she saw herself as fulfilling that promise; she would be going ‘Into the West’, with her Jesus. What an awesome thought.

Here then, I re-present the life-memories video that my daughter made for her Mum’s memorial service, with that song in it. This is the life of a great woman of God, whose confidence in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was unshakeable, that He would carry her through the grey rain-curtain and on ‘into the West’:

No, as Gandalf said, “the journey does not end here”. The ‘shroud that covers all nations’ (Is 25:7-8) has been destroyed. Our physical death in this world is simply the transition from our present life into the even greater, fuller, and more complete Life, beyond the veil of death – beyond the grey rain-curtain, if you will – and into the light, love, power and glory of Heaven. The ‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’. How can one fear Death when you realise this sort of thing – despite being quoted from a fantasy story – is real, that it’s true?

I claim that it’s true. How can I prove this? I can’t do it empirically. I can’t, except to give my personal testimony as to what I have seen, what God has showed me. I do hope it comes across as a transferable idea, that is, that you as the reader can derive some benefit from it. I know it’s difficult when it’s someone else’s story, but hopefully the testimony of someone who has been through this fire, and seen all the things I have seen, will help you in some way if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, or indeed with life itself. Let me encourage you that the promise of the Kingdom of God is not, in fact, primarily concerned with the ‘afterlife’ – though of course it does indeed concern that closely – but also and especially it concerns bringing the power and life of that Country into our present world.

You see, when Jesus said, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”, (Mt 6:10) He meant it. And He demonstrated it; by performing all the miracles He did, He demonstrated that in fact the power of the Kingdom can indeed be brought into this life, and our lives can be lived in the knowledge and exercise of that power. Because the fear of Death has been defeated by Jesus’s Resurrection.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something that has been transmitted down the ages as something that is true. Granted, that of itself doesn’t make it true, but there is also the testimony of countless Christian witnesses down the centuries, all of whom have claimed that in fact Jesus Christ is alive and living within their hearts by His Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit within them, and their real consciousness of His presence, convinces these people (including myself) that this incredibly weird, far-fetched and too-good-to-be-true tale is, in fact, completely true. (And when you hear spontaneous, supernatural singing like that which we had in Church this morning, that just adds to the convincing evidence for me).

Just think about it like this: the one greatest fear, the most powerful natural force in history, the one thing that most humans spend their entire lives in fear of – Death – is no longer the power that it was. Its power – its ability to damage, to take away, to destroy forever – has been taken away because Death is no longer the end. Jesus said, ‘The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.‘ (Jn 10:10 KJV)

Living in the truth of that awesome fact – instead of fear of Death, Life More Abundantly – absolutely has to be one of the greatest keys to receiving the ‘Peace of God that transcends [goes beyond] understanding’ (Phil 4:7). This stuff is true; it is real, and I have lived it.

Peace to you.


The header image for this post is Gandalf and Pippin’s dialogue transliterated into the Elvish script known as the ‘Tengwar‘, as developed by J. R. R. Tolkien for his extensive development of the languages of Middle-Earth. You wouldn’t have seen this in the movies, although they were a beautifully detailed (and in my opinion accurate) representation of Tolkien’s fictitious world. There is so much richness in the Tolkien books; a whole world invented by the genius of that one man.


*For a good example of this kind of singing, take a look at this video from about 4:44 onwards.


**Most Christians think of Jesus as rising from the dead after three days. I have a problem with that description of the time gap: Died Friday, rose from the dead Sunday. No way that’s three days…there are a number of different ideas about that timescale which I won’t explore here, but suffice to say He’d been dead longer than a mere half an hour, which is the longest kind of time where we have records of people whom we thought were dead but actually they ‘recovered’. Drowning victims, that kind of thing. He really was proper dead and He was resurrected. Wow.

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Here We Are/Have Your Way

Three years ago, I came back into worship leading, as my ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘ ended. At that time, we led worship at a local Christian conference/retreat centre, Brunel Manor, and we sang the song ‘Have Your Way’. A song that declares complete trust in God to have His way in our lives, to let Him in and let Him have control. This is the life of the Spirit; a life walking in the Spirit.

When I wrote the piece linked to above (here is it again), I declared complete trust and faith in God to handle the healing of my gorgeous wife Fiona, who at the time was fighting inoperable pancreatic cancer. And yet Fiona died of that illness, but even then I believe that this was her healing. I won’t go into detail on this here, but have written at length on my thoughts on that matter in my series ‘Fiona‘ on this blog. Take a look.

In this post, I am showcasing two of Don Moen’s* lovely songs: ‘Here We Are‘, leading into ‘Have Your Way‘. The idea is to demonstrate that worshipping God, drawing near to Him and entering into His presence, and being conscious of His nearness, naturally leads into an expression of trust. So, in ‘Here We Are‘, we worship God and tell Him how much we trust Him. In ‘Have Your Way‘, we put that trust into practical expression by inviting Him into our lives and our situations, however bad those situations may be. Sometimes things work out as we’d hoped (healing, whatever), and sometimes not – as in our case. But still, God is good, and God is worth trusting. It would be great if you can enter in to these songs and let God in, to do the things He’s longing to do with you. Because it will be good!

Here we are, lifting our hands to You
Here we are, giving You thanks for all You do
And as we praise, and worship Your holy Name
You are here, dwelling within our praise

For every answered prayer
For always being there
For love that hears us when we call
For arms that lift us when we call
Oh you have always been right beside us
Leading us all along the way
We’ve made it through because of You

For days we cannot see
For all that’s yet to be
For trials we may have to face
When we’ll be leaning on Your grace
It will be Your strength that saves us
Your love that makes us strong
And through it all, we’ll sing this song

Have Your way, have Your way
Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and have Your way
As we wait, as we pray
Speak Your Word into our hearts, and have Your way.


One of the really clever things you can do, when embedding a video from YouTube in a blog page like this, is to highlight a portion of the video for people to watch. This is what I have done here, in that you will see that these two songs are simply a small section of the whole video which is actually nearly an hour and a quarter in length. This means that if you would like to view the entire video, you can do that simply by clicking the beginning of the red track indicator at the bottom of the video. Or you can skip to any part of the video by clicking somewhere on the red track indicator.


*Don Moen is the chap in the header picture

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Jesus, Name Above All Names

This is one of my favourite songs from my early years as a Christian – Jesus, Name Above All Names.

I sometimes think that many people, even in the Church, underestimate the importance of Jesus. He’s not only the ‘Author and Finisher of our faith’ (Heb 12:2 (KJV)), but also that ‘From Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things’ (Rom 11:36); “For by him all things were created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…” (Col 1:16) and “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn 1:3). Jesus is the Name before which every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10). His Name is the Name to which all authority has been given, in heaven and Earth (Mat 28:12) Jesus is absolutely central, in all of history, in the Church, in absloutely everything. “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”. (Col 1:18).

I could go on. I could go on declaring the majesty, the holiness, the power and the glory of Jesus…but I will instead pass you over to Terry MacAlmon, worship leader extraordinaire, to lead this lovely song declaring Jesus – Name Above All Names. Sing it in the light of what I have written here today about Jesus, the One Whose Name is indeed above every other name, and in the light of what you know in your heart to be true.

Let your praise be to Him as incense today. Lift up your hands and worship Him!

Jesus, Name above all names
Beautiful Saviour, glorious Lord
Emmanuel, God is with us
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word


If you’re wondering why Terry refers to God’s power moving all over the Netherlands, it’s because this video was taken at a worship conference in the Netherlands in 2010.


A version of this song which would be much more conteporary to my ‘early Christian years’ era can be found on the tape ‘Songs of Celebration‘ on my website ‘VintageWorshipTapes.com

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With All I Am

I love to bless my readers with excellent worship music, and I apologise that I haven’t put a proper worship song on my blog for some time. That’s about to change: here’s the lovely song ‘With All I Am’ (Jesus I believe in You) from Hillsong. Go and sit somewhere quiet, and let your heart fly free in God’s Grace with this lovely worship:

Into Your hand
I commit again
With All I am
For You Lord
You hold my world

In the palm of Your hand
And I am Yours forever

Chorus:

Jesus I believe in You
Jesus I belong to You
You’re the reason that I live
The reason that I sing
With all I am

I’ll walk with You
Wherever You go
Through tears and joy
I’ll trust in You
And I will live

In all of Your ways
Your promises forever

Chorus

I will worship, I will worship You
I will worship, I will worship You

Chorus

 

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Be Exalted O God!

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
 (Ps 57:11)

Any song where God is exalted – that is, He is lifted up in praise by His people – is always going to be a song expressing my heart. One of my favourite worship songs from my early years as a believer is the song ‘Be Exalted O God’, by Brent Chambers. When sung from the heart – that is, when you mean the words you are singing – then God is indeed lifted up; how much more so, then, when eight thousand people in a giant cattle shed in Harrogate are using the song to lift up the Name of the Lord in worship! I’m talking, of course, about the Dales Bible Week…so here, then, is the 1979 Dales congregation singing this gorgeous song. I know the song sounds dated, but if you simply let your heart be lifted up by the worship, and in your turn lift up Jesus in your heart, the Spirit will make the song as fresh as the day it was written.

I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord among the people
I will sing praises to Thee among the nations
For Thy steadfast love is great, is great to the heavens
And Thy faithfulness, Thy faithfulness to the clouds

Be exalted O God above the heavens
Let Thy glory be over all the earth
Be exalted O God above the heavens
Let Thy glory be over all the earth


Track features Ian Frost on piano and David Matthew on the Hammond organ with twin Leslie speakers. David tells me that playing that organ was the musical equivalent of driving a tank; great fun! And a great sound too.

The track, along with all the other tracks from the original tape from the 1979 Dales Week, Songs of Triumph, can be found on my digitisation of the tape, by clicking the image of the cassette inlay card below.

Other songs from this era of worship can also be found at my website, Vintage Worship Tapes.

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