The Delicate Dance” – Look, See, Pray

“The delicate dance.” Whirling, waving, singing in the breeze. Humble grasses of endless variety grow almost anywhere round the world.

A carpet to walk on, a banquet to creatures great and small. Background colours of restful greens and brown, and all too easy to overlook. We cut it down to make hay, we give our civilised selves a never-ceasing summer of work with scythe or lawnmower. We take grass for granted.

Grass helps protect from soil erosion. It makes a perfect surface for sports and picnics. It helps regulate the atmosphere we breathe.

Our Bibles are full of references to grass; in the beautiful 23rd Psalm of the Good Shepherd, we read “He causes me to lie down in pastures of green grass; he guides me beside quiet waters.”

My photograph today comes from a lakeside in the Zillertal of Austria. A good long walk up the valley led to a gorgeous turquoise-coloured lake. Kindly souls had put a seat with a view across the water to a snow-clad peak. Here, in the peace and quiet, we took our rest, our lunch, and our pictures.

Dancing delicately in the mountain air, these grass seed-heads rustled and swayed to an unheard tune.

Sunshine was followed by gentle showers, and a little later by a brief but dramatic thunderstorm. Our day was enriched by these curious climatic changes. Tomorrow would see the delicate dance of the grass as an encore. The rain makes it all live. Soil is shallow on the hard rocks, and sun and wind dry the grass quickly. It is the living water that gives the life.

A verse to ponder from Deuteronomy, extolling the virtue and value of the Words and Love of God. Be refreshed.

“My teaching, let it fall like a gentle rain, my words arrive like morning dew, like a sprinkling rain on new grass, like spring showers on the garden.” – Deuteronomy 32:2 (Message)

Delicate Dance Zillertal_1899

Faithfulness and Grace- Look, See, Pray

Today was a GOOD NEWS day- for me. I want to shout out “God is good!” which is, of course, true… but I must restrict myself a bit and say only that God has been good to me at this moment in time. This is not to be boastful or claim any special “holy” status, but because God is in His essential nature faithful and loving: and He gives grace not because “we deserve it” but because He CHOOSES to love the unfaithful.

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer this autumn. It was serious enough to require urgent major surgery, and our wonderful N.H.S. acted swiftly and effectively. Getting over the surgery has been painful and seems slow. But today I visited the oncologist about follow up treatment (chemotherapy). My expectation was six months of chemo.

Chemotherapy not required… the doctors think I am 85% likely to be clear of cancer; annual scans will look out for any possible regrowth. You can imagine the relief… the sense of getting your life back, the lifting of the gloomy shadow of fear and doubt.

Many people have prayed for me (I am truly grateful) and practical support and love has been showered on my life. I have felt a sense of God’s presence; and known other dark moments where faith felt like a mouse squeaking in the cellar waiting for the cat to pounce.

This evening I have sent the good news round to friends and family. I looked in the book of Psalms hoping to find a good “praise verse”… and I found this.

Psalm 91:14-16 (NLT)
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honour them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

God is faithful. I do love Him, I trust Him, and I need Him. It’s just that I’m not as faithful in my faith as He is. Do I have any right to say God has blessed me? No, if I am trading with God… “Hey, God, if you scratch my back… and I’ll try to be nice and be good…”

It doesn’t work like that.

I know my own weaknesses, and the things that trip me up. I wish I was 100% perfect but I’m not (yet).

Father God has reminded me this evening that He IS faithful, the One of eternal loving-kindness. He has also reminded me that GRACE is what is given when my faithfulness falls flat on its face. A namesake of mine, St Richard, was Bishop of Chichester from 1244 to 1253 and gave us a prayer that I treasure. It’s my faith-response to the gap between God’s faithfulness and my own.

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.

God has been good to me- and I really want to love Him better, and be more like Jesus. I’m depending on His faithfulness- AND still on His grace. Left to myself, I can, do, and will fail. The reason God has “been good to me” today is that HE won’t take my weakness and failures as the last word. I’m proud of having a Father like that. My hope is that more and more of us will come to know and understand and experience that Fatherly Love.

 

Light Breaks Through

Not a promising sort of day. Cloudy, showery, and cool. Then the light broke through. Dark clouds ripped apart, silver swathe across the sea horizon, and our boat trip suddenly became much more enticing!

That’s the thing about Light. It has immense power to overcome darkness. It is the light and energy of the Sun that powers the weather on the planet, not the clouds that shroud and dull our days. Sooner or later, Light breaks through.

It is less than two weeks to Christmas. The familiar Bible stories and Christmas carols will remind us of angels, of a mysterious Star, of a lamp breaking the darkness as a baby takes breath- and the cosmos celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ.

I was awake early, and sitting with a cuppa waiting for daybreak. Picking up a Bible, and turning to the Letter to the Philippians, I found myself marvelling at the words that Paul used to describe unity and Christlike-living, setting it against the background of the attitude of Jesus. Son of God, yet born in total humility, and living a selfless life of obedient faith. The Light broke through for me- THIS is the message of Christmas!

Philippians 2:1-14 (ANIV)
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing…

In the slow lane – Look, See, Pray

Given a choice between travelling on the M25 or a quiet English canal- which you would take?

Motorway driving sums up modern imperatives. Get there faster. Do more. Hurry up. Manners disappear in the exhaust fumes, every delay becomes a crisis. Contrast this with life in the slow lane-  traditional narrow-boats chugging steadily at walking pace; gliding through open countryside, taking turns to navigate the locks.

206stoke bru 10 19

These canals transformed industry in Britain. Heavy cargoes could be shifted easily and links between factories and raw materials were clear and direct.  Ingenious engineering solutions built canal lifts, flights of locks, tunnels and bridges. It may have been slow, but it WORKED.

As I observed the “traffic” going through the Stoke Bruerne waterways centre, I was impressed by the friendliness of these commuters. They stopped to talk, waited patiently for their turn in the lock, did what was necessary but didn’t rush. It was a throwback to a simpler age. Expectations were lower, and luxury likewise! It wasn’t a perfect life back in those pioneering canal days: but the pace was definitely slower.

Changing colours in the shrubs and hedgerows spoke of Autumn’s onset. Bright red leaves shone in the dull light of a damp October day- and for a few hours, my rhythm settled into a slow and refreshing glide. I became an observer and ruminant. What my eyes saw, my mind enjoyed- and my spirit calmed and became open to noticing the small signs of life’s design. Swans and fish acted out a bit part in a slow-burn drama. Dogs took owners for walks in peaceful places. People lived in the slow lane- and loved it.

There is a short and simple psalm worth meditating on if the desire for life in the slow lane strikes an echo in your soul. Be still, be quiet, and meet with the God who has no need to rush.

Psalm 131:1-3 (NLT)
LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORDnow and always.

 

Wind Power – Look, See, Pray

Yesterday’s storm blew over during the night. Calmer air greeted the small group of watchers and walkers wandering the sands in the cool morning. Looking out to sea, the wind turbines were rotating briskly as squalls processed along the horizon. Power being harnessed from the wind.

john 3v8 161beach 300919

Clever engineers constructed the turbines, and linked them to shore-based power grids. But the wind itself is beyond their mastery.

John 3:8 –  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Jesus used this mysterious wind power to illustrate the sovereign work of God. Even with our modern satellites and weather computers, we cannot forecast with any accuracy more than a few days ahead.

The Spirit (or “Breath”) of God is completely  beyond our control. The Lord works when and where He Wills: and with whom He chooses.

Standing and watching the power of the wind was quite humbling. The high tides and strong winds had smashed the waves into and over the sea defences. Stones, weed, and seashells left a trail of its passing. Out there in the Channel megawatts of power were still being generated to light homes, heat houses, even run my computer as I write.

When Jesus described the “Wind of God” as a life-breath, a bringer of new birth and new beginnings, he both highlighted our limitations and proclaimed our potential. The power of the wind is immense. Just imagine… Almighty God “breathing” life across the sea and land, touching lives unexpectedly, and generating fresh hope and purpose.

God specialises in wind power. May that Breath of Life generate living grace in you today.

 

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.

 

Time to Reflect- Look, See, Pray

Getting away for a few days was great. Preaching a different church, meeting up with a bit of family and a couple of friends, using National Trust membership to enjoy a bit of culture, heritage, and beauty.

Now it has been time to reflect.
LSP 207hols 300819edit

I didn’t really notice the reflection of the lily in the water when I took the photo. The pond was beside a path through the woods, and time was limited. When I downloaded to the computer, and put it up on a bigger screen, I had a pleasant surprise. All the gorgeousness of the water-lily was repeated in a reflection.

Without slowing down to download, I would have missed it.

How typical of modern busy living. Tomorrow is Sunday, a day for putting God first, for offering worship, for taking a “sabbath” rest. It will be a time to reflect on faith and look more closely at how to live as fully as Jesus intended (John 10 v10).

I hope to see God a little more clearly.  To notice things I might miss in the rush, and in seeing them to be prompted in prayer and obedience.

May I invite you to make a time and space to reflect on the week just past? Time to “download” and take a proper look. It is a simple thing, and God may “speak” to you through silence, sight, or scripture. Beauty that may have passed us by could have another chance to share the heart of our Heavenly Father.

244hols 300819

Here is beauty- and beauty is God’s gift to a weary soul. Peace and grace be yours! Amen.

Float like a butterfly? Look, See, Pray

“Useless flutterbys” in the words of a grouch. Dazzling flying jewels according to a fan.

Why do butterflies exist? Whatever the reason, I’m glad they bring their colourful aerial dances to the party. Something of a luxury item in an age of austerity.

I have an “inner butterfly” in my personality. I can be distracted, chase too many ideas at once, start more projects than I can finish…  Must be very frustrating for people who thrive on order and systems. Perhaps I should apologise!

On the other hand, wouldn’t the world be a sad place without butterflies?

Butterflies live on quite simple terms. They hatch from tiny eggs, tramp many jackbooted feet all over the plants they eat, enter a mysterious chrysalis- and emerge as delicate masters of flight, enjoying sunshine, and content to produce the next generation.

Our complicated technological/digital society worships productivity and efficiency. People or things that don’t contribute profitably are devalued and denied space. We even want to educate children without full access to art, music, nature-  maybe a few token lessons, but not the funding or staff to give the arts proper priority.

We are so busy with five-year plans, exams, and expecting schools to make up for the discipline and respect that (too often) isn’t given in home life. Three rootless generations struggle to find meaning.  We teach children to exist. Do we teach them to live?

It has become unfashionable to talk about BIG questions:  Who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going, what is a person truly worth…  We drain colour and vibrancy from life!  We substitute virtual reality through gadgets, games and apps. We entertain and amuse ourselves into stagnation and apathy. Bored and disillusioned.

O for the frivolity of a butterfly’s life!  An innocence with purpose.

Perhaps a short time of meditating on the purpose of our lives would be in order. Why do I spend my time, energy and resources as I do? What is really important? Have I yet discovered a God-given purpose that adds meaning and value to my days?

Ephesians 5:15 (NLT)
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Eph 5 v15 083PaghamHarb1017ed

 

Looking for Hope – Look, See, Pray

Politics is currently depressing. After yet more blatherings from people who demonstrate a self-confidence far in advance of the evidence of their efforts in public office, I confess myself unusually low about the prospects of progress. The age of soundbites cuts the throat of intelligent discourse; volume outweighs substance.

Where are the outstanding candidates for office?  People of good character, a moral compass, a servant heart? Cynicism tars all politicians with the same brush, but that is unfair. It is also difficult to avoid. Self-promotion and naked ambition are encouraged because they make good stories for the media and satisfy a public attuned to Twitter. Minimum syllables and catchy slogans are used to judge matters that require deep thought and rational debate. It does not bode well for sensible government.

I was looking at the Book of Proverbs this morning and found some apt advice for anyone who dares to read it and put it into practice.  Proverbs 27:2 (NLT) “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth-  a stranger, not your own lips.”

“Image” is overrated. Reality has a way of disclosing itself eventually: and what is in a person’s character will be revealed in time.  Proverbs 27:19 (NLT) As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.

I found hope in two places. First, in taking a photograph of this beautiful lily- colour, perfume, the signs of its purpose-  and secondly in familiar words from Psalm 136. The continual refrain of this ancient prayer-song is a strong statement of confident hope. Whatever else may be in life, God’s faithful love endures forever.

Ps 136 lily sq crop 002home 280519

I think some time meditating on this psalm will be a tonic for the soul. Using this psalm’s confident hope as a basis for prayer reminds humanity that there IS a God, who is GOOD, and who cares deeply about justice and compassion, truth and mercy. And it reminds us to pray for those who seem to be ignoring God yet think themselves fit to lead others.

Today is a great day to remember to be thankful to God: His faithful love endures forever. 

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