On the Falling Tide- Look, See, Pray

Waiting, hoping, needing.
The glue-like mud clings heavily, like lead weights.
We watched the tide go out and the sparkling waters
became a twisting path to desolation.
How strange that, at the lonely times,
the little glory left behind causes disappointment
reminding us only of what we used to have.

Our vision is blurred by the mist of tears
and the plaintive whistle of curlew and gull
draws attention to what we have lost.

Surely the rhythmic tide will come sweeping back?
There are tides, and times, and seasons
but the turning point has delayed so long
that our dreams are ashes, scattered,
and heartache holds our spirit
in the grip of the vice of despair.
How long, O Lord, how long?

Who can tell the lonely ones with the ravaged hearts
that peace flows, like a river, towards the sea of grace?

How long, O Lord? When will mercy come?

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A lament over the state of the Church and the nations.

The last century has seen the tide retreat as faith is devalued, morality has divorced wisdom, and entertainment has become the opiate of a purposeless people.

As God’s people pray, we raise burning candles toward the sky, each one contributing a light to call upon the Light of the World.

If you read this far and your heart is stirred for the nation, please join in prayer: and if you wish, share this post on your timeline in the hope of others also crying out to Christ.

Lord, bring the tide of compassionate love over the mud and sorrow of these days. Amen. May true grace be with you.

 

Text and photos (c) Richard Starling, 2019

Silence and Solitude – Look, See, Pray

The sweet silence of solitude.

Low tide here exposes a stretch of sand which is lovely to walk on. Usually I am here first thing in the morning before the waves of humanity sweep onto the beach. Shared with seagulls and a few deliriously contented dogs, there is a quiet peace. Even the wavelets scarcely disturb the gentleness of solitude.

I’ve been busy this week teaching a short course on personality and spirituality; and another looking at the “Heroes of Faith” who have walked faithfully before us. Great subjects taught to keen people. Fulfilling for me, apparently inspiring for them.

Taking a brief time alone the next morning was so good.  My body was complaining a bit-when I do activities without taking enough rest, then the grumbles begin.

Restoring the soul with silent solitude works because it places me physically where I can encounter Love, becoming aware of the Presence of the Lord.  Busy living has a way of squeezing peace and joy into a sour soup of weariness.  By straining out the twisted fibres of stress, solitude acts as a re-balancing time where grace can sooth the pain.

There was such a peacefulness on the beach today. May we all hear the kind invitation of Jesus to come and share in wholeness.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT2)
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

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Edge of the Storm- Look, See, Pray

Stormy weather- we are on the edge of this storm. To the West and North of us the conditions have been atrocious. Down here, some light damage: roof tiles, tree branches, and localised floods. The bad part is wondering if the storm will get worse.

I suspect quite a lot of people in Britain feel caught on the edge of another huge storm- politics are proving to be exciting (in a bad way). Parliament is ripped apart by the divisive issue of Brexit. Parties are split, the Cabinet is divided, and feelings are running high. The eventual outcome remains unknown, and the way forward is unclear. Trust is being trampled and everyone is blaming “the other lot.”

Fear not! I am not going to launch my political views (as good as they may be, or seem to be to me).

When life has storms, where do we go for help? I hope to encourage you to pray today that God’s will shall be done, here on Earth as it is in heaven.

A little-known prophetic book in the Bible has an author with a name almost as long as the prophecy! Zephaniah means “God has hidden/protected me.” Biblical names, especially in the Old Testament have descriptive meaning. Zephaniah spoke for God in a time where corruption and injustice were rife; and his message is uncompromising. Almighty God stands for justice and integrity, and we are called to stand with Him. Dreadful consequences are spelled out clearly- but at the end there is a comforting hope. Humanity is not left alone- God still cares for us, even though He may need to challenge and correct us. The storm that threatened Zephaniah’s audience became a whirlwind and their troubles became rooted in exile under unfriendly power.

Yet there is still hope. Please read this verse slowly and carefully, and take from it the eternal Truth of God’s Love and mercy. While we still have breath, we can turn to God. Turning to Him lifts the edge of the storm away from our shoulders. The promise in reinforced in the New Testament, where Jesus is titled “God who is with us.”

Zephaniah 3:17 “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

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Do not fear the storm- trust the Saviour who brings calm. Lord, may Your will be done. Amen.

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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Come to the Quiet- Look, See, Pray

Quietness found beside the restless sea… The weather forecast had suggested a heavy swell propelled by a cold front moving down from the north, but here on the south coast  all was calm and the slow, low ripples scarcely made a sound.

Cold? Oh yes, it was cold. The breeze blowing off the land betrayed its parentage, slicing through my thin jacket. A distant, bundled dog-walker moved faster than the dog wanted to go! Central heating and a cup of hot tea was the desire of a thick-coated human, whereas a thin-coated dog explored sand, seaweed, and sea-strand with pleasure.

My imagination kicked in. Did Jesus stand on the sea shore on a cold morning, watching the sky-veil torn asunder? Do the angels pause on their journeying, taking in the fresh beauty at the start of a new day?

When the world began, and the Spirit of the Lord hovered broodily over the waters, was it this quiet and peace that drew the morning words “It is good…”

Here is a short prayer, an invitation to rest in the shalom-presence of the Eternal Lord.

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May the Peace of Christ be with us, always. Amen.

Another point of view…

Another point of view… seeing the prayer on the top of the breakwater.

Lord, that wooden post has been there years. Every day the sea floods it, covers it, bashes it and abandons it. What kind of life is that?

Barnacles, seaweed, a limpet or two. Nobody pays attention unless they happen to scrape their leg on it! What kind of life is that?

Seagulls stand on it, crabs walk round it. Dogs pee over it after chasing the seagulls away. Waves crash into it. What kind of life is that?

Resistance is futile, says the sea- we will assimilate you.
Not while I’m standing, says the post. I’ll break your waves!

Looking down from above, the photographer sees form, shape, and colour. The stubbornness of not giving in. A post with a purpose, a duty to fulfill. A home for tiny creatures with tiny urges of their own, just as stubborn as the post and clinging to life with all its trials.

I wonder if I looked at other people from a different point of view… what would I see? The stolid patience of daily living, the refusal to be battered into submission, still clinging to life and hope- knowing storms come and storms go.

Would I care, or notice, or walk away? What kind of life is that?

Lord, if you looked down on my life, what would you see?
“What kind of life is that?” says the angel, looking askance.

“A life with a purpose, and someone I love” says the Word who spoke Life to the world.

I guess we do matter, after all.

Countless, not pointless

I love walking along the beach at low tide. This morning was bright with silver light and blue sky. Calm weather meant the sea was just rippling in gently across the hidden life of the sand. Uncloaked and glistening, the miniature sand dunes gave up their secrets for a brief while- even as I watched the tide turned and the sea began to reclaim its margins, and hide its secrets again.

Sand ripples stood in stark relief as low sun-rays skipped from peak to peak. Evidence of sand worms was everywhere: cast like sculptures, and gulls probed, looking for breakfast while they could. Stranded seaweed sprawled sunburned, out of its element, mute witness to the storms that passed just days ago. This frond of abandoned oarweed curled, translucent as light glowed through its soft tissues. The colour made a strong contrast to the greyish brown sand, and the regularity of the patterns appealed to my eye.

Then I looked closely at the sand. I could see and feel the grains of sand: but I couldn’t count them. Billions of tiny pieces. The sand stretched as far as I could see in both directions. Tiny lives existed in every pool, every patch. Beyond my ken, but opened out for my wonder. I thought I’d share that wonder with you, though my words and photo do it scant justice.

Here are some words from the pen of the Bible’s best songwriter:

Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT) “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”

God’s love for us is as incalculable as totalling the sands of the seashore or the stars of the galaxies. Some moments we can see love more clearly. Pause, and think about that!

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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.