Theory or Practice? Look, See, Pray

Theory is great. It’s an idea to be played with, debated, discarded or adopted.

Moving from theory to practice is different. As I watched the para-gliders taking off over the Alpine peaks and valleys, I firmly decided this was not for me. Vertigo and perpendicular cliffs don’t really make a good mix.

Some were experts. One was not. Most took off smoothly. One did not; it took several attempts, flailing on the edge. Phew!

Once airborne the para-glider is committed. Presumably they enjoy the adrenaline (and the views are spectacular!)

Christian faith has similarities. We can play it safe, keep it theoretical, and fail to put faith to work. Bet God loves that.

Or we can step out, taking faith for a flight, and believe that God keeps hold of us when we try to fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA prayer for the moment:

Lord Jesus,
I took you at your Word and I’m ready to take off.
My faith is pretty flimsy, though, and it’s a long way down…
Please hold me up and help me reach the end of this flight.

I’d like to ask You to make sure I enjoy the trip.
But I suspect You don’t guarantee that.
You do say that we are working with You
to change the world and bring Love to people everywhere.
That sounds worthwhile, if a bit alarming!
Me? Really make a difference?
Well, me PLUS You- that should be OK.

The hardest bit is taking that first step.
Lord, please, may You Spirit help me find courage
and then determination- I choose to trust You.

Lord, I don’t know what I will see on this adventure.
I don’t know exactly how or when it will finish-
but I think it could be the biggest and best step for me.

You say “Follow.”
I’ll say “Yes.”

Please forgive me when I’d rather say “no” and stay a theoretical Christian… I want to live by Your purpose, and remember that You went all the way to the Cross.

Don’t let me fall… it’s such a long way down.
Here we go, Jesus! Take a good grip, please,
and don’t let go! Amen.

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Stony Road

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So close to Christmas. One more Advent theme to remember: Advent Love.

We can lose sight of Christmas in all the jollity and feasting. There’s nothing wrong with jollity, and feasting is always good to share. Advent lays the foundation for the feast by reminding us of the true cost of Christmas.

Singing sweet carols and looking at antiseptically clean manger scenes may prevent us thinking about the mess, the agony of labour, the presence of animals in the delivery room. The stony road up to Bethlehem giving sore feet and an aching back. No soft option existed for Mary, Joseph or Jesus. A new chapter was written in tears that began to wash away the sins of the world.

God prepared the Way. God paid the biggest bills. Love came down at Christmas… into a mucky confusion of noise and smells and threats. The stony road to Bethlehem foretold a stony road from Jerusalem to Golgotha. Birth and brutal execution begin and end the chapter. Love was willing to pay. Love turns Advent into Incarnation.

The steel Cross in the photograph is on a peak in the Austrian Alps, standing bold over the valley below. Walking up to the Cross is hard and stony- but the view is magnificent from the foot of the Cross. All the world is spread out below- and those who live in the valley look up and see the Cross watching over their village. God loved the world so much He gave His Son. This is Advent Love.

As the final hours of Advent slip away, walk that stony road of love. Walk with Mary & Joseph, walk with those journeying, walk with the shepherds who will shortly be summoned to take a rough road to see a Baby. Love remembers all things, and can see past the tinsel to touch a heavenly Crown. May God bless our journey, and our arising to greet the new-born Son.

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Blue Ice, Red Canoe

Courage- knowing the risks, and taking action anyway.

Visiting Glacier Bay is breath-taking.  Huge rivers of frozen time slide majestically to the sea and the ice displays the strata where debris has been compacted year after year. Noise from the constant stressing and shattering of the ice reverberates in the still air. Regular “calving” of icebergs from tiny to house-sized attract the wonder of onlookers.

Some get closer than others.

Red Canoe Blue Ice 219Glcr Bay July16editThis bold adventurer in a bold scarlet kayak glided through freezing ice-mush and milky water, getting an incredible view- and taking a considered risk. Too close, too bold, and tons of ice could crush the fragile craft.

As the ice rears above, the fissures reveal the deep clear blues of highly pressured, frozen snow that fell perhaps 200 years ago.

The canoeist experienced Glacier Bay in a far deeper way, and was certainly less warm and far less comfortable! I envy that experience.

I like to think that, if given the opportunity, I’d ship out on a kayak and experience this myself.

There’s a little joke about this… A canoeist wanted to go kayaking in Glacier Bay: but decided the chill factor was too extreme for comfort. So he installed a paraffin heater to keep the kayak warmer. Sadly, the paraffin leaked and the kayak caught fire… which goes to prove that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

I really should apologise for that! Christianity is sometimes accused of being dull, humourless, and a soft option for people without the guts to face up to life. I disagree. To follow Christ takes courage. Believers can be criticised, ignored, laughed at, or even attacked. Living the way of Christ requires self-sacrifice, obedience, humility and a radically different set of values and purpose. We should stand out from the crowd.

Jesus sends us into a world that is beautiful and damaged, wonderful and terrifying. “Go into all the world… tell them…” Follow the Way of the Cross… love your neighbour, your enemy, even yourself. It is a challenge worthy of our best response and determination.

Jesus also said we would not be alone on the journey… He will be with us. Up for it? It will take courage, even with such a Friend. Courage is knowing the risks, and taking action anyway. Go on, be bold today!

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Maundy Thursday- the night of preparation and sorrow.

 Maundy Thursday- the night of preparation and sorrow.

into the night

Maundy Thursday marks many sad moments.  As Jesus and the Twelve share the Passover meal, Judas turns away. He has already agreed to betray Jesus. Now he leaves the gathering- as John 13:30 records poignantly“and it was night.”

Judas went into literal darkness and into spiritual desolation. It was night.

For Jesus too- after the meal they go out to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the darkness of night, the Light of the World tends to the dread of what is to come. Jesus goes into the night… and we should not minimise the pain and sorrow in his heart. His humanity must not be undervalued.

The terror and horror of the Cross stands in front of Him. The first nail was betrayal by Judas. Now Jesus wrestles in prayer, preparing Himself. The Eleven cannot stay awake- not even Peter, James & John– Jesus is alone. The submission to His heavenly Father’s Will is costly- sweat “like drops of blood” is a testimony to the suffering.

Armed guards arrive to arrest Jesus, and He is taken for trial by both Jewish and Roman authorities. The night seemed endless- but before the dawn, there is one more sharp nail to be driven home.

I do not know HimPeter, who had boasted he would NEVER deny Jesus, is brave enough to go to the palace courtyard- but not brave enough to hold firm when challenged.  Three times Peter is asked to identify with Jesus- and he denies Him. “I do not know the man.”

The flickering light of the fire illuminates the distraught face of Peter as he hears the rooster crow. The day of desperation dawns.

Peter went out into the darkness in tears.

This night is an opportunity to reflect on our own promises to Christ; to repent from our sins; and to remember the love of Jesus who faced whip, thorns, and nails for the sake of the world.

Reflect. Repent. Remember.

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018

Finding the way… a thought for Holy Week.

The National Trust looks after the beautiful beeches at Dockey Wood, part of the Ashridge Estate. Every year the wood floor is swamped by a flood of bluebells: it’s almost as if the tide has come in! Beautiful blue at ground level, and if you time the visit carefully, a glorious green of fresh new leaves adorns the mighty trees.

A couple of years ago I visited early in the morning, well before breakfast and was rewarded with a lovely soft luminosity as the sunlight filtered through the mist. Sounds were hushed- even the birds sang sotto voce.

There are clearly marked main pathways through the wood. I was taken by this view where there was no path… but the avenue of trees led the eye towards the edge of the woods. Soft mist shrouded the visual details- and a distant bleating travelled down through the trees from an unseen field of ewes with their newborn lambs. Beauty led to a promise of more beauty- but the route wasn’t clear. It was a precious moment of beauty and hope. Let’s use this a guide and as a metaphor for Holy Week.

As Holy Week unfolded, Jesus and his followers were on a journey that only Jesus really comprehended. The disciples knew only that they should follow Him. The crowds of residents and pilgrims in the city saw something, someone, of Beauty and Life, but could not see clearly where this week would end. Gentle illumination guided them forwards with both uncertainty and hope: and many who expected Jesus to do what they wanted became disappointed and frustrated.

Misty 0038bluebell Spring14In the bluebell wood, as the day ended and the darkness gathered its gloomy curtains, the pathway became harder to discern. Likewise, in Jerusalem, the charm and ethereal loveliness gave way to a confusing maze of broken hope- and fear. To be lost in the woods in foggy darkness has no charm, and brings much apprehension. Where should we go? Which way?

Fear is often expressed emotionally as anger and hatred. Holy Week, which began with such high hopes, became darker and more threatening. Night began to fall and people lost their way. The ending was unjust and brutal.

But one person kept to the Way… in fact, He was the Way- and the Truth, and the Life. His journey into the dark marked out a trail where footsteps and blood led to a Cross- a Tree of Death- but then onward to a fresh Sonrise, a Resurrection of Life.

This week- take the journey with Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. See the beauty and the hope of the Way- and walk into the gloom in their company. They will lead us through the Dark and out into the New Day. We best appreciate the Light when we have been in darkness and have felt lost and alone.

May God guide us through, and bring us safely to Easter Sunday when we can celebrate Joy and see our Way ahead. Bless you.

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The Lamb of God

Passover was a bad time for lambs. Our experience of lambs is probably limited to the sight of tiny woolly gymnasts bouncing and bleating on the farms. The distance from the field to the Sunday roast is a journey we don’t think on too much. Unlike the farmers, we can be idealistic about enjoying the cute antics and adorable faces.  They aren’t pets, though- and lambs live and die on purpose.

Smoke on the skyline of Jerusalem would have been almost permanent during the Festival. Everyone and their sheep came to the city for the priests to make sacrifice in the holy Temple of Almighty God.

It is nearly time. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. He does not call Jesus a hero, a ruler, or a prophet. Jesus is the Lamb, the One who will take away the sin of the world. Lambs live to die. Jesus will be THE great Passover Lamb, the final, complete, and perfect sacrifice Who fulfils the Law and the Prophets by sharing in the mystery of Death. But Death will not hold Him. We too were originally created to be eternal- and Jesus will be Victor over sin and death, and the Risen Champion who will unseat Satan from his stolen throne.

To fully understand the Atonement may be beyond our ability until all is revealed in our face-to-face with Jesus. Holy Awesome God of Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the One who Created and Sustains, is also Saviour, Redeemer, and is our True Lord.

Lamb of God_Ashridge SheepToday is a time to remember the fire, the smoke, and the blood of Passover. Jesus remembered that with his closest friends: they held the Passover Feast, and Jesus began to suffer as the traitor crept into the shadows of betrayal. The last meal of Jesus… bread and wine to celebrate the death of the Lamb.  Until He returns. Your sins, my sins, all the sordid sin of history consigned to the Altar. For see, THIS is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Think on that- with tears and joy.

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018