Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oul Hymns

We're in the studio again, recording a track for a promotional CD. We've been invited to do "Shall We Gather At The River", a great old hymn written in Pennsylvania by Robert Lowry. Some say he was of Scotch-Irish descent. I'll go with that - he wrote many classics that the Ulster-Scots should claim if we can! (eg anyone who can write "Christ Arose", "We're Marching to Zion", "All the Way My Saviour Leads Me" and "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus" is someone we should definitely claim!!)

It's made me think about oul hymns and how expressive many of them are. The beauty of their language can be stunning. They tend to float into my head FAR more often that any of the Mission Praise youth fellowship fluffy singalongs we used to sing 20 years ago. People throughout the years have consciously, with the very best of intentions, tried to keep Christianity relevant to their generation, and music has been "modernised" many times to try to reach out.

However I wonder if this approach - rather than modernise - might actually trivialise? In fact, maybe the Low Country Boys are trivialising the gospel too. Or maybe I'm just getting oul masel. But the MP favourite "Father God I Wonder" has always troubled me as there is no mention of Christ in it! Christianity without Christ??!! And these triumphant "Days of Elijah" style "praise and worship" songs also concern me. "Days of Jeremiah" would surely be far more appropriate for the present age.

Here's one from the Believer's Hymnbook (the Brethren Sunday morning book). It has always humbled me:

I hear the accuser roar
Of ills that I have done,
I know them well - and thousands more
Jehovah findeth none.

Though the restless foe accuses
Sins recounting like a flood.
Every charge our God refuses;
Christ has answered with His blood.

Here is one with some absolutely magnificent wordplay, written in the mid 1800s by the old Anglican vicar Samuel Whitlock Gandy. (sometimes this is added to the one above)

His be the Victor's name
Who fought the fight alone;
Triumphant saints no honour claim,
His conquest was their own.

By weakness and defeat,
He won the meed and crown;
Trod all our foes beneath His feet
By being trodden down.

He Satan's power laid low;
Made sin, He sin o'erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.

Bless, bless the Conqueror slain,
Slain in His victory;
Who lived, who died, who lives again
For thee, His church, for thee!

When the power of those words sink in - wow! So we're thinking about recording a CD of hymns from the Believer's Hymnbook (vocal-only of course). Feel free to make some suggestions of some you'd like us to include.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Life of Brian

No, not the Monty Python satire (or blasphemy, depending upon your p.o.v.), but rather the life of a friend and former colleague of mine. Brian Richmond was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the pancreas a few weeks ago.

(This is a hard post to write. I will probably come back to it and change bits here and there over the next few hours and days, to try to express myself better.) He has been given about 6 months to live (maybe 3, maybe 12 or so). It's not long.

Brian and I used to spend hours every week in GCAS talking about old American music, international politics, and the mission halls that we both grew up in. Brian's was a Woodvale/Shankill urban Belfast childhood - whilst mine was Low Country/rural. He grew up, as we would say, "under the sound of the gospel", but has yet to find salvation.

I think its fair to say that he doesn't believe there is any hope of physical healing, or indeed that there is life beyond this world. I believe in both. Not in a weird, exploitative, "holy roller" Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland give-me-your-money-and-I'll-trick-you-into-believing-you've-been-healed nonsense. I believe in a God who is ultimately in control, who is equally just and merciful, who holds our breath in his hand. I believe that God can reach, heal, and save Brian. If Brian is reading this I know he'll understand my sentiment.

I spent a lovely time with Brian, his wife Terry and their 7 year old son Matthew last Friday evening and Saturday morning, at their home outside Moville in Inishowen, Donegal.

I would ask you to remember Brian, Terry and Matthew in prayer. When my time is up, I hope have the grace and calm that Brian has. When Brian finally passes on, be it this year or in 30 years time, I hope he has the Saviour that I have. Christ is my Saviour through nothing special I have done for Him, but through my simple faith in what He has done for me.

You can read Brian's blog here