How might God speak?

Communication- sight, sound, touch. We learn through experience and effort, through resting and remembering. When I see the crocus peeking through the grass, how does my soul respond?  Two short quotes to consider:

Sacred writings are bound in two volumes—that of creation and that of Holy Scripture. —Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274)

Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity—however invisible—have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made. —Romans 1:20

Today- look out for something that will speak to you of God and His love. The one who seeks, will find.

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Last Rites of Winter? Look, See, Pray

The Reflectionary

The last few leaves remaining on the beech tree. A few survived the autumnal cull, a few more clung on through the frostiest nights… but now it is all over bar the final flutter.

New buds and shoots are forming in the longer light and warmer airs. They will put fresh pressure on old joints, and the “old guard” are already colourfully crisp and comatose. Out with the old, and in with the new!

100150219 Hotham Pk editA strange dignity still attaches to the persistent remnant. Cracks may be showing, but the colour is bold in the warm Spring-like Sun. Bright copper flags salute the change of seasons; a bit like the Chelsea Pensioners, whose courage and colourful garb is also a  testimony to brave history.

Soon the fresh bright greens and bronzes of new shoots and buds will herald a resurrection of the tree. Birds, insects, squirrels and kids will riotously greet…

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Mischief!

Reading “Alice in Wonderland” is an exercise in exploring the strange imagination of the author – and recognising people you know in the characters. Our local park has this wood-carving of the Queen of Hearts that caught my eye and made me chuckle at memories of the book. It is very strange tale.

It made me wonder how comfortable we are with whom we are. Looking in mirrors, real or metaphorical, can make us aware of things we’d rather change. That might be our physical appearance, or a flaw or quirk in our character.Most of us would like to change something.

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A good friend paid me a compliment this week. David attended a very good regional retreat/conference down in Cornwall, and emailed to say I’d been missed. (I left the south-west several years ago, so am no longer eligible for that conference.)

David even suggested my sending a video would have been good- naturally, I probed to find out what exactly he meant. That’s when he paid me what I took to be a compliment. Had the missing ingredient from the conference had been my sparkling wit (no)… or amazing musical talent (er, still no)… or my deep psychological insights and deep spiritual maturity. (Sadly, NO.) Without me…

There was not enough MISCHIEF.

Mischief! Some of you may be shocked to think that ministers (or even Christians in general) might ever be mischievous.

Is it my fault that I was put in charge of handling the visual projection facilities for several years? Is it my fault I have a warped sense of humour and a large collection of jokes, video clips, and the like? I suppose it might be inferred that I took advantage of such opportunities as came my way…

Humour has sometimes got me into a bit of bother. Or other people into a sticky spot. It also made others relax, laugh, and shed some stress.

I am quite comfortable with humour, mischief, and laughing. There is a time and a place, of course, but hey-ho. It’s funny!

A few years back I had a deeply significant experience in a prayer/encouragement meeting. The conference leader was praying over individuals round the room. To be honest, I didn’t expect much (he didn’t know me at all) but when he stopped in front of me, John began chuckling. Oops, I thought… what on earth… Then John said “I sense the Lord is telling me you are a joker- and that your humour is a special gift. Use it wisely.”

We’d never spoken before. He was an Anglican, I’m a Baptist. We lived hundreds of miles apart. John didn’t know me from Adam.

His words were an affirmation to my soul. Jokes and pranks are not always the obvious “tools of the trade” for pastors, and I had been criticised from time to time. To be told this was a valuable gift meant so much. The way my character is shaped is not a mistake, or something to be ashamed off. I am comfortable in my own skin. (I’m far from perfect- I should carry a sign saying “please be patient, God hasn’t finished with me yet.”)

God accepts us as we are. Even mischievous me, a work in progress. Even you, also a work in progress. That should put a smile on our faces.

A vicar, rabbi and Baptist minister walked into a bar. OUCH, they said in unison.

Just be glad I have better jokes than that, and may just try a spot of mischief…  See you at the next conference, David. Sleep well!

Thick-skinned?

A frosty morning at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo found me watching the rhinos. The animal version of a battle tank, they have short sight and often short tempers. Rhinos also have very thick skin. One of them had a magpie attacking it, pecking away at wounds in the surface of its hide.

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A closer look at the photo shows this more closely.

What a mismatch! Magpie against Tank. The rhino even seemed to tolerate the bird’s attention.

I suppose the rhino is pretty helpless. All its power and weight is useless against a small, quick, mobile opponent- even though the pecking must have been painful.

Zoo staff explained that the birds are actually helping the rhinos. Ticks and bugs can burrow into the thick hide; cuts and scratches can become infected. The magpie was doing a clean up in exchange for a chewy dinner.

So what? What does this have to do with us?

Consider this. Even the thick-skinned, tough types of people and institutions have faults and vulnerabilities. We may think we’re too small, too insignificant to make a difference. Yet our prayers and actions can have a vital impact on the health and well-being of our “targets”.

When we see things that trouble us, political or economic woes, injustices and a lack of compassion- we can act to highlight the issues. Our “rhinos” may bellow a bit, the pecking may sting! Even the thick-skinned need a bit of careful attention and constructive action.

Who or what has attracted your attention or given you a dose of righteous indignation? Will you pray? Write, email, or visit the person involved? Will you act to make a difference? Our rhinos might just be grateful… and some bugs controlled. Have a peck… do it carefully and in a controlled way. Prayer pecking, if you like!

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a magpie who cleaned the hide of a rhinoceros… and stopped the rhino from being driven to violence by the biting irritation of its bugs…”

 

Mercy, mercy

Regular readers will know I love living near the sea. Ever-changing light, weather and waves fascinate me and provide camera fodder in generous measure.

The other morning I went down to the beach at Aldwick after a night of blustery weather. Endless ranks of waves were coming ashore, and as the crests broke the wind was just strong enough to whip the tops into spray.

A simple thought occurred to me. Nothing could turn back the waves: as every one threw itself against the shingle and rushed into its end, the next surge was following on. The stones and sand swallowed water and pushed back- each defeated wave drained slowly into the maelstrom, and added its weight to the incoming surge.

How like the endless mercy of God! A vast, measureless reservoir of grace flinging itself on to the hard stone of the shoreline. We cannot turn back the tide- it moves to a deeper rhythm and responds to the ceaseless wild wind. However hard our life, our circumstances, the mercy of God keeps pouring over our heads and hearts: we cannot control His love, but we can respond to it even in the storms.

There is a verse in Luke’s Gospel that I have never really noticed before today: a paraphrase of  Luke 1:50 reads like this-  “His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him.”  It comes in the middle of Mary’s great song of exultant praise as she and Elizabeth rejoice in the children they will bear through God’s choice and miraculous action. These women face life changes of a huge scale, but can see the favour of God on them and towards the struggling world.

We cannot exhaust the mercy and grace of God. His love is more vast than any ocean. Think on that, and be at peace! Imagine yourself at the edge of the sea of compassion…

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Living in the struggles – Look, See, Pray

Camellias have a tough time in British winters. They often set bud early, and can flower from January onward. Luscious blooms glow gorgeously in the low-angled sunlight, and the bushes bring vibrant colour to dark days.

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Then the snow comes, and the frost bites.  Today’s pictures were taken in the garden just a few hours apart. A beautiful golden evening led into a freezing cold night and a smattering of fine snow. Harsh conditions for a delicate-looking flower. Despite the cold, the plants survive. Blooms may turn brown and drop (always a sad sight) but the bush fights on. Next year it will flower again.

A life lesson from camellias. Keep on with the struggles- as a wise person once said “This too shall pass.”  We can’t “give” a bush human qualities, but if vegetation can keep going, surely so too can we- or at least, we can try.

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We can choose to exercise trust.

God shows himself to be good, holy, and loving. The supreme revelation of His character is seen in the character and actions of Jesus.

Now then: Jesus may have lived perfectly but He still struggled with the “winter” of hostility. Warm words and appreciation turned to damning lies and yells of hatred.  The truly Beautiful was scarred, betrayed, judged unfairly, and executed brutally.

On the third day… Resurrection!

Even more wonderful, Jesus overcame the power of Death for all. Because He died and rose, we have a hope that is everlasting.

When all seems lost, when the fight is on, the frost is biting… remember the faithfulness of God.

Hold onto what you know. This too shall pass. We may have questions, doubts, tears. But we still have hope- the confident expectation that Jesus will do as He has promised.

Apparently next Monday, the 21st January, is called “Blue Monday” because the scientists have calculated that is when we are most miserable after Christmas:  we are short of cash, overloaded with calories, and regretting the resolution to join the gym.

Try this instead- go and look for a camellia, or snowdrops, or an early daffodil. Gaze at it, appreciate it, value it- and take it as a marker of hope. Remind yourself to actively choose to trust God’s love and faithfulness, His compassion and mercy.

May the God of hope grant peace, joy, and eternal blessing to you today.

 

Great Expectations? Look, See, Pray

The Reflectionary

It’s January. Cold. Worse weather likely before long. I’m not looking forward to that.

About three years ago we were “blessed” with bitterly cold north-easterly winds which proceeded to drop snow all over Dunstable Downs. Feeling a martyr to my hobby, I thought I should go up and see if there were nice photos to be garnered. As soon as I left the warmth of the car, the wind lazily sliced straight through me- it couldn’t be bothered to go round- and as my eyes watered I thought “This is a mug’s game” and prepared to go home for hot chocolate and warm slippers.

Shame prevented me. Having come so far, I ought to give it a chance. Sliding out of the car park and into the lee of the cafe, I coaxed my reluctant camera out into the light, and shivered for a few minutes as the lens demisted.

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