Forever grateful

30 years ago today I had the immense privilege of being ordained as a Baptist minister. This photo is of St Paul’s Monument in Malta, in the bay where Paul was shipwrecked. It seemed appropriate to mark the years of service by referencing the apostle who helped millions to find and grow in Christian faith. When I was baptised as a believer, 29th April 1973, my father chose some words from Paul’s first letter to Timothy to inspire me and help me find a purpose in my life. I have tried to live up to that scripture with God’s gracious help and power. (see below)

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Today I want to bless all those who have encouraged, strengthened, challenged and blessed me: first to Juliet Starling, the wonderful wife God has given me. For putting up with me (and my sense of humour) through health & sickness, blessing and hardship and for contributing so much to my own life as well as “our” churches. Your loving support has been vital. 

I continue to give thanks for my parents, siblings and their lovely families who mean so much- consider yourselves all loved very much!

I thank God for faithful friends and co-workers through the years. Spurgeon’s College gave me a great start and a number of lifelong friend-colleagues for which I am eternally grateful. Whatever I have done that is good and helpful is and has been dedicated to God’s glory; for my mistakes, failures, and struggles I thank God for forgiveness and for the fact He is not limited by my limitations.

Where I have hurt or failed any of the people in my family, friends, churches or communities, I ask forgiveness and pray that Christ will heal and restore them. Jesus is so much better and more loving than I have ever been.

For the immense privilege of sharing lives in joy or sadness, exceptional and ordinary circumstances, I praise the Lord- and thank Him for allowing me to help others explore what it means to be a Christ-follower. It is my hope that in “retirement” I may continue to learn, to grow, and to serve. The “good news” of Jesus, Lord and Saviour has been at the heart of who I am since my early years. That will not change, and I believe the best is yet to come. May God bless all who read this with love, peace, and fullness of life.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (ANIV) 
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.

Ride the wind!

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by. (poem by Christina G. Rossetti)

Trees in a breeze. Useful to note how the wind is blowing. I take note of wind strength and direction when planning my exercise. Cycling down here on the south coast is made more interesting by the wind. Lots of sea breezes, a few gales… and seven times out of ten it blows straight in your face! It makes sailing seem simple. (Although I may be wrong!)

Ever tried telling the wind which way to blow? Epic fail. On the other hand, if we set our sails to CATCH the wind we will go far and fast. Watching the windsurfers yesterday proved the hardest part was actually getting upright on the board. After that, it was a question of adjusting balance and the angle of the sail. Speed… exhilaration… great physical workout… Sheer fun!

Ride the wind 051Bike220718cropI wonder if life could be more “fun” if we choose to “wind”surf to the breezes of God?

Jesus spoke about the action of the Holy Spirit as akin to the wind. Hear it- yes. Observe the effects- yes. See it? No.

We can’t control the wind, and we can’t control God. We can see how, when, and where God is working. Our best response is to join in- to set our sails to catch the Heavenly wind. To go against the wind is hard. To refuse to try is wasted opportunity. To see God at work and get caught up in the wind’s energy- wonderful beyond description. On another HOT day I suggest you go catch the refreshing breeze- and go God’s way.

John 3:8 (NLT)
“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

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Rule of thirds

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.

020beach 0618ed1This 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”.

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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.

 

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!

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.

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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

 

 

 

Deep, deep calm

One bonus of being chauffeur for my wife going to school- I can go home via the beach and sit quietly watching the beautiful world go by. Today was glorious. Gorgeous blue water, almost flat calm, as the tide was beginning to come in.Ocean Love txt 413Glcr Bay July16edit.jpg

It reminded me of a different sea, on the other side of the world, where wavelets barely disturbed the surface of the Pacific. Majestic mountains were the backdrop that day. God’s presence was the link. On both occasions I could sit and think, gaze and breathe, and be transported into an awareness of Almighty God: being quiet, and just listening.

As I watched the water I found myself thinking about the deep, deep calm of the ocean. Depths that I can never know: life I will never see. The sheer abundance of water was awe-inspiring. I could take a ship and sail all round this amazing planet; I would see different aspects of the ocean. There would be raging storms, whales breaching, dolphins leaping for fun… and so much more.

Today was calm. Deep, deep peace.

Love, vast as the ocean, is found in the Father heart of God. I invite you to find or make a time to be quiet and receive calm peace, loving acceptance and reassurance that the God who made heaven and Earth truly is the Love and the Lover of the world.

On a busy, maybe crazy day, take shelter in the deep, deep calm of the Lord your God.

A day that ends in fire and prayer

This day has ended in fire, O Lord,
and we trust You for tomorrow.
We do not know what shall be;
understanding today has been hard enough.
We hold to the words of Jesus our Saviour,
who told us to live one day at a time.
Each and every day will have troubles enough,
as well as the blessings and joy life brings.
 
We pray tonight for those whose fear
will keep them from sleep,
whose anxiety makes faith harder.
We pray for all who live in unquiet countries
where tomorrow is not under guarantee.
We ask for justice and mercy for those in need.
O Lord, may the rising sun bring a better day,
and may hope rise anew in their hearts.
 
Thank you, our Heavenly Father,
for being faithful and for being here and now.
Our day has not gone unnoticed
in the high halls of heaven’s vaults.
With gratitude we offer praise and worship,
more than mere words or habitual noise.
Our hearts and souls and minds are touched
so our body shall kneel in humble love.
 
This day has ended in fire, O Lord.
May Righteousness rise in hope tomorrow.
 
Father, Son, and Spirit rise
to bless and save this world.
Amen.
Words & Photograph (c) Richard Starling, 2018.
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