October Roses- Look, See, Pray

Fewer rosebuds in the garden now October is here… the ones that survive the winds and rain are even more precious. Here is “Double Delight” which is blessed with a rich fragrance and creamy petals flushed with sumptuous raspberry pink. Gorgeous. Worth its place in any garden, in my opinion anyway.

Autumn chills and weather presage the coming of winter, when colour in the garden is rare and hard to find. Roses sometimes keep flowering into December- a lovely gift.

I have built two gardens from builder’s mudheaps- and restored two neglected gardens. Roses have ALWAYS been the plants that I use as the centrepieces of the borders. Despite the pain of thorns and the months of dormancy where roses are just aggressive sticks, I pay the price for their majestic colour, shape and scent willingly. The eruption of the new buds fills me with joy.

There are one or two strange gardeners who don’t like roses. Perhaps I’m biased, but I think they’re a lost cause!

The objects of our ambitions can take many forms. Some collect stamps, others strive for profit. Others are never satisfied, and cannot find contentment. What we choose to search for, to value, defines who we are. Jesus addressed this problem of identity and ambition, essentially by asking “Who are you?” and “What is your life purpose?”

Two questions that continue to nag at the heart of a society built on the acquisition of wealth and power… and with many people who want more than they have. So, rich or poor, powerful or not- what do we really want?

It seems people choosing wisely are as rare as rosebuds.

Jesus never said “Come to Me, and I will give you stress.” The offer He makes is “rest” – peace in a reconciled relationship with God.

How much do you think that’s worth?

Glimpsed in a Pool- Look, See, Pray

When you’ve seen one low tide… you look for a fresh angle to make a different photo!


This photo is the seafront houses reflected in a tide pool. It’s a glimpse, an interpretation of the reality in front of the lens. There is a contrast of the natural water course of sand/pebbles: and the partial, tantalising view of the buildings beyond. The picture “works” because it intrigues me.

John Bunyan’s classic “Pilgrim’s Progress” details the journey towards the Celestial City: with Pilgrim hindered or helped by people met and moral challenges encountered. Thousands of readers have been inspired on their own pilgrimage: they enter into the story.

Jesus also painted word pictures to inspire his audiences. “The Kingdom of God is like….” He used metaphors such as a mustard seed, a treasure, a magnificent pearl. These image-stories helped the listeners to discover truth for themselves, instead of “just” being told what to believe. Truth we determine ourselves sticks in our minds better.

So- “The Kingdom of God is like a city glimpsed in a tidal pool…”

We are rooted on the beach, we see the water, stones, the sand and seaweed. We can see something reflected… windows… walls… a flag pole? Or is it a streetlight? We need to look harder… We can only be sure if we get closer to the REAL image, not settle for an obscured partial view- which is upside down anyway! Well then, let’s walk up the beach to find the city. Then we’ll KNOW.

The 12 disciples had a privilege; they could ask Jesus to tell them more, to explain. We can read the New Testament for ourselves and study the insights of generations of followers. Do we really want to know, to understand?

Jesus often teaches us via stories, glimpses, visions, circumstances and life in general. Much of our heart-learning is gained on the journey. This is what changes us- it becomes Light on the inside and life that wells up within us.

The Kingdom is come among you. That is the reality: Jesus came to bring us the Kingdom where He will reign. One day we will see it clearly. If we want to.

When the tide came in on this beach, the glimpse vanished. Don’t leave the looking too late. Instead, let it become your vision.

Difference- Look, See, Pray

One white petal. It’s the only white petal on this dahlia in three years. Does it spoil the flower? Not in my eyes. I love the warm apricot and crimson shades of this dahlia: but the white stands out symbolising purity and innocence, and with a touch of sadness.

Appropriate for today.

As I looked at this beautiful flower through the camera lens, the difference of the one petal made me think about the tragedy of history and the need for peace and justice. So often we allow “differences” to become excuses. They’re different- so we can insult, exploit, fight, kill… Then those who have suffered hurt and loss seek vengeance… and the cycle of hatred fans flames again.

I am meditating on three Bible passages. The first is a “9:11” …. describing life for humans.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 (TNIV)
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

The second is taken from Matthew’s Gospel. These verses (from a King James Bible) were found at Ground Zero, and the page had somehow been fused to the rubble.

Matthew 5:38-39 (TNIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

My third verse is from the ancient prophecy of Micah, pointing out that our hope of true justice and peace is found in God, not the wisdom and folly of humanity. I have chosen the “Message” translation of this verse, because it catches the mood using very down-to-earth modern phrases.

Micah 4:3 (Message)
He’ll establish justice in the rabble of nations and settle disputes in faraway places. They’ll trade in their swords for shovels, their spears for rakes and hoes. Nations will quit fighting each other, quit learning how to kill one another.

A prayer:
Lord God, may that Day come soon. And until then, help all of us to be peacemakers, healers, forgivers, carers, and devoted to Love and Justice for all. Amen.

Shortcuts? Look, See, Pray

“Bowerman’s Nose, on Dartmoor. “Pastels on canvas” finish

Shortcuts are very tempting.

I used to dabble with painting before I became more interested in photography. Mostly, I used oil paint, pastels, or acrylics. Every now and then, I get the urge to “be arty.”

Now, though, I have a computer and I can take shortcuts. Instead of hours of work, constant practice, and achieving mastery of the medium- I can click a mouse button and select “Artistic Filters.”

Here is a picture I “art-ed” tonight.

One version is pretending a pastels finish on “canvas.” Another is a “watercolour” version; and the third is a JPG version of the original photo taken on real film about 20 years ago.

Watercolours… sort of…
Scan of the original photo taken on 6×4 film, Mamiya 645 camera

If I’m honest, none of them do justice to the film… or to the glorious Dartmoor landscape (Bowerman’s Nose, an ancient natural rock formation allegedly looking like a head with a prominent nose).

Shortcuts- they don’t always work out so well.

Growing as a Christian disciple is often long, slow, and painstaking. There are books and talks in plenty offering “perfection in 5 easy steps” – but none of them actually work out. Shortcuts can’t replace the time taken to develop relationship, to learn to depend on God, to discover deep truths from the Scriptures and Holy Spirit. Acquiring skills such as learning to pray, or to offer worship, or the arts of community (getting on with other believers without screaming too often!).

None of my pictures are a worthy substitute for visiting Dartmoor, walking through heather, listening to the wind hissing over the gorse… Sun on the face, and rain down the neck!

They may strike you as nice, possibly inspirational, or naff.

Bowerman’s Nose in the “I-can-touch-the-granite” sense is the best way to experience its reality.

I am learning- still learning after 66 years- that the authentic is worth seeking out. Taking time, making the journey, travelling with reliable guides and map: this is the best way, if not the SatNav approach of “Finding the Fastest Route.” To reach Bowerman’s Nose, you will explore Devon lanes, walk over wild and rugged land, and experience Dartmoor weather. Blisters are likely.

Jesus invites me to walk with Him; to be an apprentice, learning to imitate His life, accepting His authority, and choosing to obey. Shortcuts, though tempting, have sold me short.

Back, then, to the invitation of Jesus: Matthew 11:29 (Message) “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.”

Peachy! – Look, See, Pray

Peaches on sale at a Fruit Market, near the Spain/Andorra border

A rare treat as a child- tinned peaches with evaporated milk. Delicious!

Discovering FRESH peaches was a whole new experience. I still like the tinned ones, but fresh… yes please.

The market we visited on holiday was an adventure. Being on the border of Spain and Andorra, the stalls sold everything- and especially the stuff that was hard to get in one or the other place. A glorified swapping system! You bring your cloth to market, we’ll bring our fruit.

I was enchanted by fruit displays: the colour and size of these peaches was irresistible to my camera. The lens was drooling. The light contrast was tricky, very bright in the sun and very dark indoors; but the colours glowed and with a little bit of tidying up in the photo editor, a picture fit for a banquet. Can you (almost) taste the tangy sweetness of the juices as your teeth sink into that yellow-pink fruit?

That’s the test. It’s not just how good something looks. Does the taste match the promise? Bright colours and perfect shapes don’t guarantee anything. You have to put it to the test.

Jesus used this principle to help us distinguish between good and bad in people. Outward appearances, though important, are secondary. Carly Simon summed it up perfectly in the hit song “You’re so Vain” (if you’re too young to know Carly Simon, look her up on YouTube and have a listen.)

But it isn’t just about testing others. How do I measure up? When Jesus looks me in the eye, will that a positive or very embarrassing moment??? Hey, Lord- help me become sweet fruit, not sourplease!

Matthew 7:16-23 (NLT)
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws’.”

Final thought: the riper and sweeter the fruit, the more easily it is bruised. Perhaps when we are full of the love and grace of Jesus, we need to expect a bit of mistreatment. Love makes itself vulnerable for the sake of the ones who are loved. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us- and that’s good to remember during Lent. It will soon be Good Friday.

Walk the Margins – Look, See, Pray

Mysterious and always changing. The light, the tide, the time, the temperature: all impose their weight on the margin of land and sea. Shorelines are places of constant movement and change, yet remain substantially the same for many years.

To walk here is to enter a theatre where the scenery changes yet the script is written without words. Except, perhaps, for the words we bring with us: the thoughts and cares, the questions and the yearning for that which is truly Other. This is a panorama of meditation, a palace of prayer, a cauldron of wonder.

Where is God? He is here. The question is really “How do I become aware of Him?”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

014beach 040719margins

Lord God, source of all Holiness and Purity, make my heart clean. As I confess my need of a Saviour, I acknowledge that I need to honour a Lord.  You alone are worthy of such devotion, You alone are Good and full of loving-kindness.

Meet me in the private place of inner truth, walk with me along the margins of this world and the heavenly realms. Open my eyes that I may see; open my heart that I may believe and trust; and open my mind to be renewed through Your Holy Spirit. Then, O Lord Jesus Christ, I will be aware of You and worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

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.”

mark 6 v31_32 aldwick beach

 

 

Eugene said “Slow Down…”

Eugene Peterson had a stated purpose to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same. Eugene died this week.

There are some people I would love to have met. He is definitely one of them. Quite probably I would have been reduced to embarrassed mumbling and shamefaced excuses, because Eugene Peterson had a way of getting to the heart of big issues. That encounter would have exposed my shortcomings and excuses. Alongside that dread, I get the strong impression he would have been gracious and understanding: and would have done his best to help and encourage me. Peterson knew God and His ways: and he would have blessed me as I know he blessed many who did encounter him directly. He lived to bring Christ to many. His books helped me.

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I first read his book “Contemplative Pastor” at a time when the crazy pressures of ministry were burning out my soul. Complex problems needed solutions I couldn’t find, and rushing from A to B to X was grinding my heart to dust.

It wasn’t about losing faith, and there were blessings around in plenty. But… there was just too much of everything, and I needed help. Christian ministry is a calling that draws on the deepest part of the heart, and if we are not wise we can find that we are drying up on the inside. Preaching in the name of Jesus is a joy and a heavy responsibility. Pastoring people is a huge privilege and challenge. You get to share the whole gamut of human experience.

The emotional and spiritual cost of pouring yourself into the blender where real life mixes with heavenly Truth, and then trying to distil precious living words so others may draw closer to the Lord, is terribly high. Faced with the expectations of the congregation, the community, yourself, and what you think God expects- the spirit reels in shock and dread. I needed to learn that God is more gentle and patient than expected. He is also utterly Holy, amazingly gracious, and awesome beyond words.

There is a very unfunny “joke” about ministers only working one day a week. If people only knew how much that “joke” makes pastors want to throttle the jester! It is an act of grace to smile gently and refrain from applying the “right knee of fellowship.” (Let the reader understand!)

Most ministers I know work too long, too often, and too hard. It’s because we know that our words can be life or death. We don’t want to let anyone down. God called us, and we said “Yes.” It demands commitment of a high order.

“Slow down.” Recover the heart of your calling. Seek God for Himself; seek God because of love given and received. Seek God, because apart from Him we can do nothing.

Jesus took time out to be with his Heavenly Father. Jesus went into the wild places, the mountains, the lakeside. When He came back to the disciples and the crowds He knew His Father’s will- and obeyed it totally.

Reading “Contemplative Pastor” was refreshing if challenging. It was a lifeline to a weary soul because it put my hand back into the hand of Jesus. My mind was opened again to the dynamic rhythm of the Psalms and the Gospels. I re-learned the importance of retreat, of quiet, of silence and solitude. I discovered that there is a loving Father awaiting the “prodigal pastors” who run off to do God’s work for Him… and then find out they can’t and weren’t intended to. (I realise I have to be careful here- please don’t think I intended to draw a parallel between pastoring a church and tending the pigs!!!) 

Eugene’s life work taught many of us to slow down, not to be caught up in the folly of rushing, competing, or manipulating. He pointed me to Jesus again. Through Jesus, the Open Gate, I was able to come into the Presence of Holy Almighty God, Father, Son and Spirit.

One day I hope to thank Eugene Peterson. It will be a long queue!  Thank God for this fellow-servant, this deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom, and for the writings that still point to Jesus.

Oh yes- this advice to “slow down” doesn’t just apply to pastors. How is your rush-ometer doing? Seek God. Here is Eugene’s paraphrase of  Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Slowing down… sounds good to me!

 

 

Head for home…

The RAF display team, the Red Arrows, featured at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend. World famous and superbly skilled, the nine crews went through a routine of dramatic formation flying. At the end of the show, they split and scorched away at low altitude – one flew almost overhead, streaming smoke to mark passage.

001RedArrow 0718square

At such high speeds the timing of every manoeuvre has to be calculated to a fraction of a second – and practised for hours to remove error. Mistakes could be lethal for pilots and spectators.

Watching such high-speed flying is thrilling and edge-of-the-seat stuff. The crews make it look easy. Only the best of the best get to fly in the Red Arrows.

How would we like it if the Airbus flight to Tenerife was piloted like this?

Pilots don’t push their planes and skills to the limit all the time. Only for special occasions or in life-or-death combat.

We live in an age suffering from “hurry sickness.” Permanently on edge, rushing from panic to deadline, and suffering dreadful levels of stress as a result. Even pastors and churches rush around too much and “put on a good show.”

It’s been almost a year since I retired. Years of busyness and caring for people meant my body was cracking up. I don’t blame anyone else: I did what I could for as long as I could, and should have done some things differently. I’ve slowed down, and my health has improved to some extent. Oh boy, though, the year has zipped by!

I am gradually working out what I can and should do in retirement. I am very grateful that I can exercise by riding my e-bike, even if I still can’t walk very far. Photography and gardening, reading and  study keep my brain active, and I am taking opportunities to mentor and support others. There are some exciting possibilities coming up!

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I’m also trying to continue the life-long process of becoming a better human being and becoming a bit more like Jesus Christ. Some of the struggles are still there: my faults, failings and dumb choices still inflict damage on my peace of mind. Perfect, I am not!

Going slower helps. Dallas Willard, a writer and wise mentor to many, advised that those who wanted to live a significant life should do all they could to eliminate hurry from their lives.

Like the Red Arrows, I aim to finish the remainder of my days by flying the big finale to leave the audience gasping… but now I am flying for an audience of One, and not at permanent breakneck pace. Then in due time, heading Home, with the work done and spirit at peace.

I hope to help others to live to a better rhythm and at a sensible speed. I discovered Eugene Peterson’s lovely translation of Matthew 11:28-30 and heartily recommend spending some time to take it on board. Let it sink in, then accept Jesus’ invitation.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

 

The odd one out…

Swans on the Thames at Windsor… with an odd one out. A single Canada Goose mingling with the majestic and elegant swans.

I was a strangerBeing the odd one out can be very uncomfortable, even threatening. God’s instruction is clear: those who claim to follow Him have a duty to care for the strangers, the refugees, the elderly, the orphans. The Old Testament reasoning was straightforward: care for the stranger, because YOU were once a slave in Egypt. As they were liberated, so they were to be liberators and welcome the “others.”

Jesus upped the stakes. Every time you give water to the thirsty… you are doing it to ME. The exiles, the suffering, the poor, hungry, prisoner… the odd one out.

Strangers need to be welcomed, accepted, and loved. It’s what Jesus would do.

Challenging, isn’t it.

Matthew 25:35 (NLT)
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”