Just Wait – Look, See, Pray

just wait butterfly

So what am I supposed to do today? Yesterday was Good Friday. I reflected on and, as every Good Friday, remembered the horrifyingly cruel and unjust suffering of Jesus on the Cross. The worst that humankind could do to the One who loved us unconditionally with His arms stretched wide open. Deep grief with a strange sense of thankfulness: “It is finished” were words that declared the end of the beginning.

Tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday, Easter Day, when we will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ- dead, buried, cast aside, then gloriously vindicated through the death of Death, the outpouring of glory and the Beginning of new Beginnings. Wonder, gratitude, laughter, tears- He is Risen! Disciples coping with the unthinkable. “We have seen the Lord” the greeting that lit flames of hope in broken hearts.

Today? Holy Saturday. What am I supposed to do?

My photo today comes from a butterfly hatchery where assorted shapes and sizes of chrysalis hang silently on their frame. Just waiting. Inside, an astounding transformation is taking place. No longer caterpillar, not yet butterfly…

Waiting is essential. It takes as long as it takes. Any attempt to “help” them along will kill or maim- even when they begin to emerge, the actual physical struggle is vital to develop and strengthen their wings. Haste will destroy them or condemn to a land-bound crawling weakling existence, doomed to an early end. Just wait, and watch. The process cannot be hurried, the outcome more beautiful than we expect.

It begins… the new insect arrives, the shell is discarded. When out of their cradle, butterfly wings of beautiful pattern unfold. Brown, with exquisite “eyes” and coloured markings… the best is yet to come. At the right time, the wings open and a richly spectacular vibrant blue announces a joy-bringer has come to the world! Whoever sees this butterfly will be gifted with beauty beyond imagining. A brown “lump” has become a work of art!

Holy Saturday. Just WAIT.

I shall get on with my day. Whatever activities may require my attention, whatever pleasant distractions come my way, whatever pain or sadness is in “my” world, I am waiting.

Waiting for LIFE to be announced afresh. For a certainty of forgiveness, reconciliation, purpose. To echo the cry of nearly two thousand years- “Christ is risen- He is Risen indeed!”

God’s Love came down to Earth. Now He rises to open the gates of the New Creation and invite us within. For now… today…

Just you wait.

Lent: free download “Meditations”

Download from here:  lent meditations 2020

Designed for use on the Fridays in Lent, this collection of photographs and reflections guides a way through the journey towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The meditations are accessible from the top menu of the Home page, or you can download the pdf file (free) to your device or to print out.

Like a rose Lent 2018

May the Lord guide and bless you in this time of spiritual renewal.

Richard

 

Love of a Different Kind

I’m ready to enjoy Christmas. It will have a particular resonance this year.  For over thirty years I have celebrated a “professional” Christmas:  yes, I believe in the message and meaning of Christmas, but when my role was to enable others to understand and live Christmas it could become repetitive or stale. I’ve always tried my best, because I love Christmas and enjoy it myself!

This year is different. A couple of months ago I was brought up short when the doctor suggested some extra tests. In no time at all (well done the NHS) I was face to face with a surgeon who explained I had cancer in the large intestine… and then set out the risks involved in treatment. Stark truth!  The alternative would be no treatment, and sooner or later I would die.

Now then, I am not just a “professional” Christian, a minister who teaches others about faith. I really do believe and trust in the good news that Jesus proclaimed. It isn’t “just” a religion, it is a living experience that has demanded (and still does) an active obedience which has shaped the whole of my adult life.

But to be confronted with “This could kill you” makes things very real, very quickly.

Surgery went well, although the recovery took longer than expected, and now I am home in time for Christmas. The long, lonely & noisy hours on the ward shared with seven very sick men became a time to think about life, faith, and mortality. Helplessly subject to the regime of the hospital, it would be easy to despair. That way is dangerous. I am truly thankful that I kept hoping and trusting.  I wish I could say it was a deeply spiritual experience. Honestly, it was a dark road… but illuminated by shafts of light and gradually moving toward a clear sky and a hope-filled future.

The experience reminded me of a song I wrote 15 years ago. “Love of a Different Kind” tries to relate the first Christmas, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, to the rest of His life- and even to His death and resurrection. When we sing carols about the angels, the Star, the Baby, and those humbly obedient human beings (Joseph, Mary, the shepherds…) we are declaring that what the human race needed and needs is a love of a different kind. No ordinary affection, no pretty story, no fictional hero- but TRUE love. God proving that He is always involved in the life of this tiny planet set in a vast sea of stars. As Graham Kendrick memorably wrote, “the hands that flung stars into space” are the hands that were crucified.

Surely, after the year we’ve all had, the song of love to Man and peace on Earth is one we should all listen to with open hearts.  May we all have a memorably lovely Christmas.

 

When shepherds came, and angels sang “Glory to God!”
Who would have thought this was the night when history changed?
What can this mean? Love of a different kind!

The baby grew, as babies do, love in his heart.
No-one has seen a love like this- so is it a dream?
What does it mean? Love of a different kind!

The Light that shone in heav’n above is shining now.
The world is full of darkness yet hope lingers on.
What can it mean? Love of a different kind!

Two arms out-stretch’d, a crown of thorns, beginning or end?
The song is sung of love to man, and peace on Earth.
It’s not a dream! Love of a different kind.

A Saviour’s song, that fights the pride, which keeps us away:
But what a price to find the lost did Jesus pay!
Glory to God! Love of a different kind.

© 2004, Richard I. Starling.

Love different kind 018Austria2013nikon

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stony Road

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

Margerie Glacier 221Glcr Bay Starling small file

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.

Trusted Pathway 0001Ashridge220411Q

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