I just came across a very old song, written by John Newton, set to new music by Jamie Barnes of Sojourn Community Church.  The lyrics are very powerful still in the 21st century, although written 230 years ago.

John Newton is probably best-known for his hymn “Amazing Grace”.  His life was a mixture of extreme circumstances – and an overwhelming personal sense of mercy and forgiveness by God – which you can see in his lyrics.

During his lifetime, John Newton was captured and pressed into service by the Royal Navy, and on the receiving end of brutality from a captain (flogged with 96 lashes for attempting to escape the ship) and later from a slave trader’s wife who treated him as badly as the slaves in her household.  He was rescued by a sea captain but on the voyage home to England was again in great danger, as the ship he was sailing in was holed and filling with water.  He prayed, crying out to God for mercy, the ship’s cargo shifted and blocked the hole, and the ship drifted to land.  This was his initial conversion experience, however, he had a fuller spiritual conversion when a year later he fell ill with fever and again cried out to God for help, giving his destiny into God’s hands and for the first time said he experienced peace with God.

After his conversion, he continued for a time in his work as captain of slavery ships – although later he would become a powerful influence for abolition.  He became a minister at Olney, where Samuel Cowper the poet came to live – they became great friends and together they published a book of hymns which contains many classic songs of worship still sung today.

While he was a church minister, the young William Wilberforce met him – and later consulted him about possibly leaving Parliament, to become a minister – but John Newton convinced him to stay in Parliament and serve God there in his work.  Thirty years after retiring from slave trade ships, in 1788 John Newton wrote a brutally honest record of conditions on the slave ships, a pamphlet called “Thoughts upon the Slave Trade” – which he regarded as a late confession.  He had a copy sent to every MP.  A strong ally with William Wilberforce, he lived to see the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807, although dying within a few months.

(If you are interested in finding out more about the UK Abolition campaign, the film “Amazing Grace” (2006) is a good film to view; it tells of William Wilberforce’s life struggle against the slave trade, but there is a memorable scene in which he speaks to John Newton – played by Albert Finney, see photo above this post).

In John Newton’s life, he not only powerfully felt the forgiveness of God, but also passed on that experience by giving millions the words to understand and express it themselves in song.  He was a powerful preacher in the pulpit, and now his songs still carry his message.

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“Atheists don’t have no songs”

Steve Martin: “Religious people have such beautiful music and art, and atheists really have nothing…… until now.”


This is a lovely list song – lyrics made up of a list of categories – in this case, faiths.  Sung with great good humour.

Small note – the Blues is actually based on Black Gospel and deep expressions of faith in trouble…. and from that sprung Rock and Roll so actually, those have been rooted in Christianity too!

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Reconnecting: microphones and liturgy

Is there a special prayer to prepare to use microphones, when speaking in church?  Malcolm Guite, in his column “Poet’s Corner” in “The Church Times” considers this very point.  He comes up with some playful verses:

For putting the rechargeable battery back in its charger:

V: They that wait upon the Lord
R: Shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40.31)


For clipping on of the microphone:

V: I will magnify thee O Lord
R: For thou hast set me up (Psalm 30.1)


And for that discreet little fumble to turn the microphone on:

V: Let not thy left hand know
R: What thy right hand doeth (Matthew 6.5)


However, it is worth reading the whole of the short article* to discover how Malcolm finds, as an Anglican priest, that the deliberateness of preparation for service, and serving eucharist (communion) continue on into the rest of the week.  There is heaven in the ordinary.



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Patience, waiting

One of the first listed characteristics of love in the famous list in 1 Corinthians 13 is patience: “Love is patient….”

God is Love – therefore we can expect that he is patient.  Understanding that is helpful. Unfortunately, some Christians, when asked, believe that God is angry and vengeful, a tyrant impossible to please – the thought of him being patient with them is unrealised.

As we grow up to be more like our Father in heaven, then we will – very gradually – become more patient.  And understanding patience will in turn mean that we understand him better.

Today’s reading helps me:

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!                                                                 (Psalm 27:14)

Waiting is patience.  And that patience is not something scarey and weak – we are to be strong in that, we are to have courage during the waiting, and who/what we are waiting for is the Lord.

In this, we please God.

“The Lord is pleased with those who respect him, with those who trust his love.”  (Psalm 147:11)

If you are waiting for his help today, trusting, know that He is patient.  And He is pleased with you.

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Old to new

Worship – for those who love the rich wordings of old hymns, but who want to use 21st century music styles to engage a modern audience, there are some exciting new arrangements which combine both.  For example, one old and much-loved hymn: “Fairest Lord Jesus”.

Harmony Smith over on Vineyard Records on “The Feast EP” have made a beautiful reworking which brings out every word of the worshipful lyrics.  Well worth a listen at:

In a different style, from Tommy Walker‘s CD “Generations Hymn Live”, a huge choir sings the hymn with added lyrics.


Garage Hymnal sing with the paraphernalia of a rock band, and change the melody greatly, adding a (reworded) part of another hymn at the end, but there is no doubting they are in tune with the feeling of the original song, as they sing:


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Christian Films in the Marketplace

Interesting video essay by Andy Saladino on the rise of the Independent Christian movie, released through major production companies.  Published in February 2016, it is slightly out of date.  But it does point out that the takings at Box Office are better than respectable.

Be interesting to see how “The Shack” performs and what questions it raises in culture.

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Who is this?

Reminder of the Mystery.  Truth-speaker.  Great bridge-builder.  The space of love between everything. Inherent victory.  The welcoming within.


These are just a few of the descriptions which Father Richard Rohr has used to describe the Holy Spirit.  He wrote them when he went on a retreat as he turned 65 years old (what a great idea for a birthday celebration) – and during this time, wrote 65 descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I heard him read these out, in a sermon on Pentecost Sunday, as part of his podcast series “Homilies“, this one on Pentecost Sunday., 4th June 2017.  If you listen to the podcast, you can hear him introduce and read them out, in his deep, calming voice which invites meditation. (Personal note: his voice in audiobooks and recorded talks is a great calmer if you are feeling a little unsettled or anxious – and yet what he says also gently stirs deeper questions and responses)

“The Holy Spirit is not something to be believed intellectually – it must be experienced as a dynamic flow of life and love through your very body.”

– Fr Richard Rohr

He also observes that all the images in the Bible of the Holy Spirit are movement – descending dove, fire, flowing water, wind…..

Here are a few of the phrases he used to describe the Holy Spirit, which he invited those listening to consider which ones rang true in their own experience:

Pure gift of God

indwelling presence

promise of the Father

eternal praise

inner defence-attorney

inner anointing

reminder of the mystery

homing device ticking away inside of you guiding you home

implanted peace-maker

overcomer of the gap

magnetic centre, God compass

inner breath


divine DNA, given glory

hidden love of God

implanted hope

seething desire

fire of live and love

sacred pacemeaker

the non-violence of God

seal of the incarnation

the firstfruits of everything

father and mother of orphans


God’s secret plan

great bridge-builder

warmer of hearts

the space of love between everything

flowing water, wind of change

descending dove, cloud of unknowing

and cloud of knowing

uncreated grace

deepest level of our longing

attentive heart

sacred wounding

holy healing

softener of our spirit

great compassion

generosity of God

inherent victory

the universal sadness

the universal joy

God’s tears, God’s happiness

the welcoming within

the new and eternal covenant

the covenant written in our hearts

jealous lover

holy Spirit, you who are the desiring of God and have chosen to live within each one of us.


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