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.

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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.”

 

 

Ancient Verities

Mist and mountains go together.  The sheer weight of a mountain is incalculable (to the ordinary person anyway). Solid strength and dramatic shape makes a mountain awe-inspiring, and to our eyes, often beautiful.

Through most of human history, mountains have been places of danger where wild weather and wild animals threaten the traveller. It is only in relatively recent times that increased leisure and travel have made mountains a tourist attraction.

In the photograph, trees cling stubbornly to near-vertical edges. Life finds a way.

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Mountains stand tall – yet face the enemy of Time itself. Wind, water, sun’s heat and cruel ice whittle away. Rivers and tides erode the rock, sculpting the drama of cliff and waterfall.

These ancient sentinels have stood for thousands of years, largely unchanged through the whole span of human civilisations. Observable change is generally slow and they stand tall as if to declare that only Time can stand against their harsh hardness.

Mountain have a place in the great story of the Bible. God meets with Abraham, and with Moses, and great unshakeable covenant promises are made.

In the life of Jesus, the Transfiguration happens on a mountain, and when Christ ascends he is taken from view into the clouds and thence returns to the heavenly Throne room until the end of Time as we know it.

As you think on this, meditate on these words from Isaiah. Even if the ancient verities of geology are gradually eroded, God’s covenant faithfulness is unshakeable.

Isaiah 54:10 (NLT2)
“For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you.

Lord, have mercy; keep Your Promise and give us the solid Rock to stand on as we trust in Your compassion and faithful love. Amen!

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!

Solitude

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!)

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The little-known message of Zephaniah is a message of judgment and encouragement with three major reminders:

  • 1) God is sovereign over all nations.
  • 2) The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be vindicated.
  • 3) God blesses those who repent and trust in Him.

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.

Trusted by a Robin

Gaining the trust of a wild creature takes time and patience. I am partially responsible for the feeding of a family of robins, a brood of blue tits, a gather of great tits, a pair of blackbirds (+ chicks in nest) and a few others- sparrows and warblers- who attend the food dispensary at irregular times. Having started, I cannot stop feeding them- at least until all broods have disbanded.
 
Robin crop1 002Garden 040518This robin is the tamest of them all. It’s cupboard love, I know, but he is willing to get close so he gets first dibs on the suet sticks and mealworms. His partner sometimes arrives too, but I think she is still on the nest for most of the time. I hope the fledglings will pop in for breakfast in due course.
 
Having started, I cannot stop… to be honest, I don’t want to stop! I love seeing the birds, and hearing their songs, and want to encourage the natural wildlife of my patch of creation. The trees nearby offer shelter to squirrels, woodpeckers, and all sorts. Today I saw Common Blue butterflies- so small and pretty- and as the sun sank lower martins and swifts were performing aerial ballet as they trimmed the local insect population ( with squeals of delight).
 
I sometimes wonder why I have such an interest in wild life. My parents certainly helped, and Grandad Clark, a nurseryman who grew soft fruits and could identify every bird by song. Then I was given a book when I was still quite young: “Marvels and Mysteries of our Animal World” published by Reader’s Digest in 1964. I still have and read it. A gift that keeps on giving! It was one of the reasons I took up photography as a hobby: I wanted to be able to take great pictures of all creatures great and small.
 
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Nature gives pleasure and provides wonder. So much variety, so much beauty, so many complex questions we cannot answer. So much to enjoy, so much to learn.
 
“Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it …” Job 38 v4 (Good News Bible)
 
The book of Genesis tells us that humankind has a responsibility to care for Creation: we are to be stewards of God’s Earth. We don’t do that too well. Every little contribution helps. Every kindness matters. And I believe that God notices and cares about what we do.
 
Be grateful. Be careful. Be thankful- and our actions will be a prayer and an act of praise.