Reflected splendour

Our worship this morning was great. Enthusiastic, well-led, and with a stimulating and challenging message to send us into a new week. It gave us glimpses of God, of eternal love and compassion and left us positive and hope-filled.

Result!

But there is so much more. Not even the best of our efforts, not even the strongest and most honest response can ensure that we “see” God in His fullest glory and splendour.

The other morning I stood on the beach before the crowds were about. A still sea, a clear sky, and the fantastic blaze of the sun pouring light and energy into our world. I couldn’t look directly at the Sun- the blast of Light could have damaged my eyes permanently. What I could do was use the camera to selectively record the light reflecting on the silent ocean- and take away an impression of the Sun’s presence and power. The sea turned silver, sparkled with radiance, and testified to the reality and greatness of the Star which Earth orbits.

I suppose that’s what we did in church today. We reflected some of the splendour of God’s glory. Our changed priorities and changing hearts testified to the power and Presence of the Living God. We sparkled like silver as we reflected the light of the Son. It is said that when Moses came down from the Holy Mountain, from meeting with Almighty God, Moses’s face shone with reflected glory so much that they could not bear the sight- that much holiness and love was too much for the people to see. Moses had to cover his face.

This week, I hope that my life, my character, my face will all reflect something of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Saviour. People may not be able to look directly at God- maybe they will be able to bear the reflected splendour in those who worshipped today.

That will be a real result!

Beauty and Danger

Some of the most beautiful creatures are also among the most dangerous. Consider the sheer elegance of the big cats, sheer bulk of an elephant, or the toxicity of jewel-coloured tree-frogs. The speed with which this cheetah moved from dozing to alertness was impressive. Lunch was on the way and it would be unwise to get in the cheetah’s way!

Beauty conceals threats. Even the most lovely landscapes contain insects or reptiles that can hurt or kill. It isn’t a safe world. Domesticated animals are not entirely safe either. Come between a cow and calf and you will see how quickly a placid slow-moover can turn testy.

The most dangerous creature is humankind. We are the most inventive, most creative, exploitative, most co-operative & competitive tool-using killers ever. Humans can be casually cruel- and maliciously vicious.

psalm 121 v6-7 Cheetah 064whipsnade1212 edited crop2

Unsurprisingly the Bible contains praise for the beauty: and wisdom for the trials. One repeated theme is the promise of God’s protective justice. In particular the Psalms have songs that deal with perils, persecutions and promises. Psalm 121 is only short but it makes a great prayer when the dangers overwhelm the beauties.

If your world is not safe right now, there is only one sensible action. Reach out and trust God; commit your path to Him and look for His protection.

Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)
I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

Text & photograph Copyright (c) 2018  Richard Starling. Bible verses from New Living Translation (2nd Ed.)

Interrupted

Sea sparkling. Seat comfortable. Music inspirational. It was great. Part of my routine is to go to the beach on the way home from the school run. On warm mornings I wander along the pebbles and listen to the wavesong. On cooler mornings (like today) I stay warm in the car, window rolled down, and inspirational music playing gently to help me focus my thoughts and prayers. I was nicely settled, appreciating the view, and starting to think about the day ahead KABOOMMMMM!!!! Traffic News Jingle!!!! The A27 is busy at Arundel… slow on the A259 roadworks for the cyclepath… and on and on with tidings of misery and commuter heartbreak.

I didn’t need to know that. I didn’t want to know that. I wanted to be doing the important business of concentrating on God. This was supposed to be my holy bit, for heaven’s sake! I wasn’t even driving!!!

Sound familiar?  The very time you are trying to be holy and do the God-stuff is when the phone goes, the microwave explodes, or the cat poos on the carpet.

That never happens to the vicar, does it. Or to Jesus. I mean, nobody ever interrupted Jesus when he was doing holy stuff, like a group of lads knocking holes in the roof to lower a mate down on a stretcher, for example… Ah.

Interruptions are everyone’s problem. I’ve even been known to interrupt myself and be my biggest distraction! It’s a miracle this post actually got written- I am only 90 minutes late starting it because of – well, if I’m honest, I let myself lose focus and did other things. But I got here in the end.

We can’t avoid interruptions. Sometimes they are just annoying! Other times they can be windows of opportunity. We can’t control interruptions- but we can choose HOW we respond to them. My interruption this morning led me to write this- perhaps just for you. When Jesus was interrupted by the roofing crew, it led to a desperate man being healed and many more people being astonished by godly compassion and power in Jesus.

006StormBrian1017rainbow
Rainbow, Bognor

Another day at the beach was interrupted by a storm; as it cleared, there was a gorgeous rainbow.

Life has sun and storms. Moments of concentration and distraction. God is ALWAYS there in all of life- even the inconveniences.

Spend a few (uninterrupted) minutes thinking about those highs and lows.

Remember the truth that God is Sovereign over all. Trust Him with your life, interruptions and all. They may be more important than we thought! Here are some words of wisdom by CS Lewis: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”    ― C.S. LewisThe Collected Works of C.S. Lewis

 

 

 

Distorted Reflections

Water makes reflections that make beautiful photographs. I was idly sipping tea and photographing the birds feeding their youngsters. Here’s a blue tit and fledgling. Cute!

Feed Me 010garden 0618As well as food, the birds appreciate clean water. So there is a bird bath with a shallow dish for bathing and drinking. The bird bath has the famous quote about being “nearer to God in a garden.” (Often true!)

A flash of bright green in the corner of my eye- I looked round to see that the breeze was fluttering leaves so they reflected from the water. Brilliant sunlight shone through the leaves, so the reflection glowed with vivid colour.

There is an interesting thing about trying to photograph reflections. Light waves distort the image. You can either focus on the stone OR try to focus on the “apparent” image of the leaf. These two are at different effective focal lengths. (Go and try it for yourself!) It is most noticeable when the reflected object is at close range.

End result- an “impression” of what the leaf looks like with a sharply focused stone bath; or a sharp focused leaf in a blurry out-of-focus birdbath. (You can get the same effect taking pictures of reflections in puddles- try it if you don’t believe me.)

On a bigger scale the effect isn’t as noticeable. Large scale reflections in landscapes benefit from the longer focal distances and the compression factors of lens apertures and depth-of-field. Sorry for the physics. Enjoy the picture below: early morning in Norway…

Norway25th_0489
Norwegian Fjord near Olden

A similar effect is causing me some bother with new glasses. Variofocals are brilliant when they work well, but my new pair have to be completely re-made. I can’t read with them! There is no focal point that meets for both eyes at the same time. So they are being done again with changes to the gradation between near vision and long vision. I hope the second attempt will be better than the first attempt.

How do we “focus” on God? Paul talked about “seeing as in a poor mirror” but one day being able to see and be seen clearly (1 Corinthians 13 v12). So many things distort our understanding and vision of God. We form impressions, we see some things, we can interpret other things to help- but perfect vision eludes. The Bible helps us to get the “big picture” – and sharing our faith, questions, and doubts with others is helpful.

Our clearest knowledge comes as we get to know Jesus better. An ancient prayer by St Richard of Chichester (who died in 1253) puts it beautifully. Pray it today if you wish:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.
Amen.

A Blessing for the Exhausted- by John Donohue

054early May013 Ashcrop
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
The light in the mind becomes dim.
 
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laboursome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
 
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
 
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
 
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
 
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
 
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
 
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
 
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of colour
That fostered the brightness of day.
 
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
 
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
 
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
 
by John Donohue (c)

Solitude

There are two kinds of solitude in the Bible. The good kind, where a person seeks God and in solitude discovers that the Lord Almighty is willing to engage with a sincere searcher.

Then the other solitude- the loneliness of exile, judgment and despair.

Owls feature only a few times in the Old Testament, and usually as a representation of the second kind of solitude. (This owl was in captivity… appropriately!)

zeph 2 v14 owl

The little-known message of Zephaniah is a message of judgment and encouragement with three major reminders:

  • 1) God is sovereign over all nations.
  • 2) The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be vindicated.
  • 3) God blesses those who repent and trust in Him.

It seems that solitude is an inevitable part of life. Either we willingly seek out God, or we risk being “quarantined” and watching all our accomplishments be overrun by the wild.

Listening to world news and international politicians is worrying. It may be an over-simplification, but society has discarded its faith-roots and fallen into a moral decay. This is not unique to our time. Human nature throughout history has been a rollercoaster of civilisation and collapse. Our ultimate and only hope is that the Sovereign Lord God will deliver us; Christ “ushered in” the Kingdom of God and we wait and work for its promise to reach fulfilment.

What should we do?  Pray with sincere hearts for our world and its leaders.

Secondly: decide personally whether we wish to choose solitude to discover God- or suffer the solitude of banishment. That could be considered the “naughty step” where we go to think about our conduct and attitude in the hope we might be forgiven and rescued.

Owls tend to be quite solitary creatures. They say owls are wise. What would they say privately in the ear of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and public servants?

Read Zephaniah in full- it is only short- and take in the promise of justice alongside the hope of mercy.

Trusted by a Robin

Gaining the trust of a wild creature takes time and patience. I am partially responsible for the feeding of a family of robins, a brood of blue tits, a gather of great tits, a pair of blackbirds (+ chicks in nest) and a few others- sparrows and warblers- who attend the food dispensary at irregular times. Having started, I cannot stop feeding them- at least until all broods have disbanded.
 
Robin crop1 002Garden 040518This robin is the tamest of them all. It’s cupboard love, I know, but he is willing to get close so he gets first dibs on the suet sticks and mealworms. His partner sometimes arrives too, but I think she is still on the nest for most of the time. I hope the fledglings will pop in for breakfast in due course.
 
Having started, I cannot stop… to be honest, I don’t want to stop! I love seeing the birds, and hearing their songs, and want to encourage the natural wildlife of my patch of creation. The trees nearby offer shelter to squirrels, woodpeckers, and all sorts. Today I saw Common Blue butterflies- so small and pretty- and as the sun sank lower martins and swifts were performing aerial ballet as they trimmed the local insect population ( with squeals of delight).
 
I sometimes wonder why I have such an interest in wild life. My parents certainly helped, and Grandad Clark, a nurseryman who grew soft fruits and could identify every bird by song. Then I was given a book when I was still quite young: “Marvels and Mysteries of our Animal World” published by Reader’s Digest in 1964. I still have and read it. A gift that keeps on giving! It was one of the reasons I took up photography as a hobby: I wanted to be able to take great pictures of all creatures great and small.
 
Robin crop 3 024Garden 040518
Nature gives pleasure and provides wonder. So much variety, so much beauty, so many complex questions we cannot answer. So much to enjoy, so much to learn.
 
“Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it …” Job 38 v4 (Good News Bible)
 
The book of Genesis tells us that humankind has a responsibility to care for Creation: we are to be stewards of God’s Earth. We don’t do that too well. Every little contribution helps. Every kindness matters. And I believe that God notices and cares about what we do.
 
Be grateful. Be careful. Be thankful- and our actions will be a prayer and an act of praise.