Rules. Useful? Or annoying? Discuss…
According to the “rules” often given to artists and photographers, pictures that have the subject matter divided into thirds will work. And if particular subjects of interest are placed on or near the intersection points along the horizontal and/or vertical “thirds” the human brain finds this pleasing.
This photo is taken with foreground, middle ground (sea) and sky divided into thirds. There is a single buoy near the left-side intersection point- and the eye seems drawn to this quite small object. So the photo obeys the rules. But do you LIKE it? Would you want to put it on your wall? It reminds me of the rather bland “inoffensive” art frequently hung in not very expensive hotels.
It does a job and doesn’t upset the punters. Is that enough?
Just following the rules may not be enough for greatness. We can tend towards liking a rule-based religion (especially if the rules we know about aren’t too challenging!). Jesus lifted the bar. “If you love someone who helps you and is a friend, what good is that? Love your enemy… do good to those who hate you…” Now that presents a challenge.
The story of the traveller robbed by highway bandits makes a vivid point. The religious-rules people walked by just so they didn’t have to touch a possibly dead body (strict rules in Judaism about that). An outsider from a despised group rescued the victim, cared for him, and provided for convalescent treatment… Not according to the rules, but out of compassionate love.
We could do with a bit more of that going beyond the “rules” to care. Refugees and asylum seekers, immigrants, deprived people, those with disabilities, and people down on their luck- what they NEED is to be given human dignity, compassionate support, and practical help.
Jesus said that when we love them, we love him. Going on from that, and paraphrasing what Jesus said, when we oppress the needy and poor, we might as well knock another nail through his hands.
Maybe then our lives will paint beautiful pictures, not limited to the basic “rules”.
So here’s something that is simply beautiful, a flower just to inspire us. It doesn’t go against the rules or natural laws, it transcends them- and hopefully gladdens the heart. Its beauty comes from within itself.
I’d like to think I could be beautiful from the inside too. I think Jesus would like that- a lot.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. Lewis,
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!
As 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…
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.
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!)
The little-known message of Zephaniah is a message of judgment and encouragement with three major reminders:
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.
White water cascades over this rugged cliff in a Norwegian fjord. Constant streams of cold abrasive water, wrestling with the solid rock, and gradually carving a pathway that might one day become a new valley.
Life cannot exist without water. Yet in the wild outdoors, water is an agent of change and trial. The endless roar of this waterfall gradually numbed the senses, until wind caught spray and woke those same senses up again with shocking cold. But it was fascinating to be there, to watch and experience, and to enjoy raw power in the eternal conflict.
It’s a picture of life and faith. We need solid rock to stand on, and living water to enliven us in the daily struggles and conflicts.
This psalm speaks of the contrast: trouble weaves patterns through circumstance, and hope sounds a clear rallying cry- God IS with us!
Psalm 42:7-11 (TNIV)
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.
Take courage in the everlasting sign of the rainbow. This photo was taken a few hours later as a squall passed. The rainbow rested briefly across the broken mountainside as late sunlight basted the slopes with warm light.
Sometimes we simply need to do what the psalmist suggested. Even when things are hard and conflict steals our assurance… “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
There is hope and peace eternally.
May the Almighty Lord God bless your soul with peace this day. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.