That Loving Feeling…

Halfway through our worship service this morning I realised that I was feeling very happy and content. We were being led by musicians and singers from our youth group and they played well and sensitively.  Jamie engaged us in discovering who we are, and what God thinks of us, and my smile widened.

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that on the other weeks at church I have been miserable! Nothing could be further from the truth. Today was simply a special moment.

I didn’t just know my faith was true- I felt strangely comforted in my heart of hearts, the centre of my being.  Can I explain it? No, not really.  Can I depend on my feelings as a measure of my faith or the truth of Christian belief? No, my feelings can go up and down because of health, tiredness, weather or something that goes wrong and annoys me.

Are “loving feelings” good? YES! If my faith is only knowledge about God, or some hope of a better life after this miserable one… then something is wrong with me!  To know God is to love Him, and to experience REAL love is a distinctive way. Paul writes in Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:3-4 (Message)
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

God’s love is His divine choice. He has set his heart on us. Today was one of those moments where it seemed that he whispered in my ear… “You are loved, and chosen, and I wanted to remind you!”

That loving feeling may not stay forever. But God’s love WILL last forever. Chosen before He dug the trenches for the foundation of the Universe, he has set his heart on little old Earth and those amazing yet exasperating human beings. Jesus came to this world so that we can be reconciled to the Creator, Lover, Sustainer, Provider and Redeemer- the Lord of All. No wonder there was a loving feeling involved! Whatever tomorrow brings, and however this uncertain life unfolds… God has loved US so we can love Him.

That’s the best feeling and the deepest Truth I know. May God whisper love in your ear today!

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The cutest and most lovable Meerkat…

 

Weeds of humble splendour- Look, See, Pray

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. What if we valued them for what they give instead of judging them by our desire?  Plants make this planet breathe- and some flourish in harsh places that would be desolate without them. At the edges of the salt marsh, tough plants make a margin of life. Their gaily waving flowers add charm to the landscape, provide food for insects and birds, and carry a promise of life now and for tomorrow.  A poem that just might be a prayer…  a weed that might be a hero.

weeds of humble splendour

Photo and text copyright Richard Starling, 2018.

Just a yellow rose- Look, See, Pray

One rose… different faces. They say “the camera never lies…” but you may not recognise its truths! 059August11crop This is one rose, with one photograph edited in different ways. The camera sensor digitally records the light falling and being reflected back from the rose. The first picture is the camera’s best effort at realism.  

 

The second picture shows what the computer program can do to try and make the photo look more like what the eye actually sees.

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My THIRD photo is intriguing. The software has attempted to process the image by bringing ALL the digital information “to the surface.” I didn’t expect this result.
The program has “found” blue light reflected in the shadowy parts of the rose.
059August11croplevels
It is ONLY the information “recorded” by the sensor… the blue IS present- but normally filtered out.
Questions and beliefs may seem simple at first sight. There is usually more complexity waiting to be discovered and explored.
Look, see, pray. This is what I am discovering to be realistic: as I look, I learn to see more. The more I see, the more I engage in “conversation” with God through thought and prayer.
What I see is what I pray: what I think about is what I become.
Thank God who created a world of such beauty and variety. May I become more like God in character and motive; and in action.

Sleepless hunter

Chronic pain is something doctors and patients hate because it is hard to treat and often has a cause that has some element of mystery. Some of you may know that I had to retire early because of the “invisible illness” fibromyalgia. I am truly grateful to the NHS for all they have done to help me cope, and for the techniques and medications that help keep the pain under control.

But the illness may flare up at any time.

The photograph is of an owl prowling, flying just above the ground with those flame-orange eyes fixed on food. There is a grace and magnificence about the hunter at work, and yet a primal fear of the merciless efficiency of the predator.  Owls change from total stillness to silent flight in a moment; they are looking for the weak and vulnerable. Their hunting instinct never sleeps.

sleepless hunter 422Birdsprey2July16

This week my “sleepless hunter” has been fibromyalgia, suddenly sinking talons again into muscle and bone. Without warning, like the silently swooping owl, it strikes efficiently. For no apparent reason symptoms flare into life as the wings fan the dormant sparks into fire. It has been a reminder that I can’t take it for granted that the more relaxed life of a retired minister will always keep my hunter away.

Today’s post is a plea to us all: please keep your eyes and ears open so we can support and encourage those who are ill, especially for those who suffer the “invisible illnesses.”  It seems easier to care for the ones in hospital, or carrying a limb in plaster. The ones who may look OK on the outside aren’t noticed. Please pray for the people you know with MS or ME, fibro and COPD, with chronic pain or with mental illness.

Tomorrow I may be feeling better again. Or not. Good days are treasured but not guaranteed. Here’s one of my favourite psalms about the God who guards our lives: the “sleepless hunter” faces an unsleeping Guardian. Truly and reverently I say: Thank God.

Psalm 121:1-8 (Message)
I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? My strength comes from GOD, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep. GOD‘s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—  Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke. GOD guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.

 

Autumn’s days- why so sad?

Leaves are beginning to change colour. Some birds have already headed south for the winter. The annual influx of Russian starlings has started- soon we will see the mass murmurations as they flock together at dusk. Migrating wildfowl are joining in aerial ballet, and probing the sands at the local RSPB reserve. The poets are inspired by autumn’s glories: perhaps we can be too.

Why sad Oct 2014_00024Sheffield Park

“Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

There is so much to see, so many photographs waiting for my hungry lens. As the year draws towards its end, it dons glad rags and starts to party!

Autumn is a time of change and fruitfulness: as John Keats wrote, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

The season reminds us of the importance of rest, and the necessary process of preparing for rebirth.

Some of my favourite sayings are found in the Bible.  Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season.”  In Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Embrace the autumn. Rejoice in its splendours. Accept the natural rhythm and find peace in the quieting of the summer days. Let your thoughts turn in gratitude and thanksgiving for the time we are given and the gentleness of rest. Live in this moment, this season, instead of hanging onto the past or rushing impatiently into tomorrow. In the quiet, make space to seek out & find the beauty of NOW and the presence of God in the present.  Leave regrets behind, and use this season to prepare for the unknown future. Seek the dreams of peace and joy.

May sweet dreams and beautiful colours become a vision of what God can do in our lives and, through us, in our communities and world.

Galatians 6:9 (New Living Translation) So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” 

We may be sad for a good reason. Yet there is hope in the changing seasons of life. Sweet dreams!

Grass withers. Life goes on.

Cutting the grass is a thankless task. It grows back.

Watching an Austrian family haymaking under the Gampenbahn (cable car) cured me of moaning (except on really bad days). Operating on a 45-degree slope, 3,000 feet up an Alp, in blistering sunshine; they speedily and apparently cheerfully mowed the high meadow and then, working by hand, dragged the cut grass into piles so the sun could dry it as fragrant hay for the winter stock. It makes my few square feet of lawn seem very insignificant. And my complaining very wimpish. No more moaning for me.

We take grass for granted. Even in this hot summer, the grass has survived the near-drought. With a few splashes of rain, it greened up quickly and reached for the skies!

Grass is temporary. A perfect lawn is a joy to see, but a nightmare to maintain. Long grass in fields is cut off in its prime for silage or hay, or grazed remorselessly by farm stock.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(Ornamental grasses, Eden Project)

It can be very attractive. These ornamental grasses are displayed at the Eden Project, in the wonderful conservation gardens set in a reclaimed Cornish quarry.

The “horsetail” grasses are really rather gorgeous when you look closely. Beauty has purpose- these waving tails are the seed-heads that offer some “immortality” to the grass.

When turned into hay, it is the mixture of seeds, flowers, stalks and herbs that make delicious cattle feed, sweet and fragrant.

Grass always dries up.

What can’t be used, eaten, or stored is thrown away, burned up, or composted. And have you ever smelled the ghastly pong of silage? No grass grows up wanting to be silage.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the writers of several books in the Bible use grass as an example or warning. Politicians and rulers become proud, even arrogant; some “make history” or at least a reputation before they go. Go they must. The world is cursed with very arrogant and loud people who have an inflated sense of their own importance, and not much perspective on how long “history” may be after their contribution has been reaped or discarded. Grass is probably one of the most widespread plant types across Planet Earth. Just like people are the most noticeable (and damaging) species of animal life. Grass withers. What stands eternal?

1 Peter 1:24-25 
As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.” And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.

It is 2 o’clock in the middle of the night as I type. Sleep has evaded me so far, and rather than disturb sleeping beauty in the bedroom, I am thinking rueful thoughts about the grass I will have to mow later this morning. I suspect the neighbours might be ungrateful if I go and do it now… “Hark, sweet nightingale!  What noisy Flymo is this, larking about in the dark? Sweet motor, desist your whirling rotor that we may sleep in peace tonight.”

Hay-ho. Enough of such whimsy. But in these quiet dark minutes my thoughts turn to what is truly valuable, worthwhile, eternal. Not the grassy stuff, not even the beauty of the flowers, but the One who made it all, and who sustains life as we live it, and who has prepared a future glory and destiny that will outshine our best and hide our worst. The Word of the Lord… the Good News proclaimed in body, speech and action. Jesus who picked corn in the fields, enjoyed the beauty of field and majesty of mountain, and who is reconciling Creation and threshing out the weeds. The glory that is to come, so much more than we have yet seen. That will remain forever- and I’m looking forward to seeing what true beauty and REAL real life will be like. That which WON’T wither.

Sweet dreams! Sleep tight. When you awake, look for what is good, and true, and holy, and wonderful. Because that is what life is really all about. The “forever” stuff.

Words & photos (c) Richard Starling, 2018.

Ruins, remembering, and restored hope

We saw a lot of history on holiday. Quite a bit of it was broken! Rome has been an important city for over 2,000 years: as a centre of civilisation, military power, and religious influence.

The “Pax Romana” – peace enforced by taxation and the Legions – shaped large swathes of modern Europe and Asia Minor. At its height, Rome wrote its story in large letters.

That legacy is attested by the remnants and ruins of a glorious and cruel past. Statues and temples to forgotten gods and heroes; the shell of the Colosseum which attracts hordes of tourists.

It is a monument to the failure of an Empire.

“Give them bread and circuses” was the bribe to a jaded populace of proud greed and restlessness. To keep the masses quiet, Caesars offered food and entertainment. On the surface, Rome was great and grand. But its policy of conquest eventually failed. Hordes of enemies invaded and drove the boundaries back and back until Rome fell.

The ruined Colosseum hosted the Games. The games degenerated into cruelty: gladiators fought to the death. Those not killed outright were at the whim of the people and the dreaded “thumbs down” signal which meant their death as losers.

Later it became the backdrop for the martyrdom of many Christians: Lions 5, Christians 0. Public executions became a way of feeding the blood-lust of the mob.

Rome fell. In its falling, much of civilisation was lost as the “Dark Ages” shrouded the Empire’s corpse.

The Colosseum stands as a tombstone for Rome’s glory.

As Rome declined, the Christian Church was spreading. Although itself fractured by disputes over doctrine, authority and culture, Christianity “absorbed” some of the best of Roman ingenuity. The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and (for better or worse) dragged the church into the politics of Empire. The fall of Rome led to the division of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic and Celtic… later through revivals, reversals, and reform the Protestants emerged. A history of conflict mixed with a search for “the” truth of churchmanship.

Jumping to our own time, we can see monuments to both success and failure in politics and religion. We live in turbulent times where much is being shaken and disturbed, knocked down and rebuilt. “Christendom,” the establishment of Christianity within politics, is ending. The structures and denominations may be collapsing, but the Kingdom of God still stands. Millions of people throughout the world become followers of Christ every year: and the purpose of God is not defeated by our temporary struggles.

In the prayer of Jesus, there is a phrase worth contemplating whenever the future seems in doubt. Followers of Jesus still pray this regularly… “May Your will be done on Earth, AS IN HEAVEN.”

Almighty God is still the undefeated Sovereign; and the Kingdom of God stills grows. One day Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and the merciful Redeemer. The glory and power belong to Him and is expressed through Christians who are helping build a legacy that will not fall. What is it?

LOVE. Love that is compassionate, freely given, and flowing out of hearts and minds transformed by the Spirit of Jesus.

Lord, may Your will be done in me, in us, today and always- until the King of Kings is crowned and Creation is restored. And then for eternity. Amen.