Unfolding Promises

Slightly warmer weather, some sunshine, and the twittering of tiny beaks. One week after Easter and the British are donning their gauntlets and sharpening the mowers.  Gardening has started.

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Seeing the daffodils out in full splendour is the cue for the Next Big Step of the year. Garden Centres and plant nurseries.

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Ornamental cherries are glowing with Nesquik pink. Some early apples and nectarine trees are showing blossom. This flatters to deceive… those trees have been in warm glasshouses for the winter, and anyone planting them out now will be disappointed when the flowers drop and no fruit sets. It’s still too early in the year. Patience is required, and if planted at the right time, success will follow.

It struck me that this parallels the experience of the early followers of Jesus. Witnesses to the Resurrection, there are signs of hope and confidence- yet still Jesus waits with them. Appearing to different individuals and groups, sharing food with some, and the word begins to circulate. Jesus is back. What happens next? WAITING.

There is so much waiting in the Bible! I like to jump in and get the ball rolling. Jesus takes his time, and waits for the RIGHT time. I wonder who knows best?

Acts 1:3-4 (NLT) During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.”

The Promised Gift is the available Presence of Holy Spirit within the Church and the world. Pentecost will mark the giving. Power will fill the believers to be effective and fruitful witnesses.

I love the springtime, the flowers, the colours, the warmth. They promise much. Later comes the season of summer growth, then the cascade of flowers that set seed for the future and bring fruit to the world. The apple blossom in the garden centre promises luscious fruit: the tangy juiciness, the crisp crunchiness of a perfect English apple. Fruit can’t be rushed. There is waiting to be done before the feasting can begin.

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How will we use these waiting days? 

Feed your soul with the certainty of the Resurrection. Jesus spent 40 days teaching about the Kingdom- he appeared several times, and they became more sure that this was True truth.

Seek the Lord– pray for the promises to be unfolded again, so that Pentecost this year will remind us of the Power and Presence of Jesus Christ, so that we will be effective witnesses and bold believers. Our lives can be fruitful as our characters become transformed- more like Jesus- and we display the fruits of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT): “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

Learning to wait is an important skill for a Christian to learn. God unfolds His promises at just the right time. Be patient- but not passive. Be passionate about the Kingdom and its King.

Of course it’s safe… he’s sleeping

“Is that wise?” followed by “Are you sure it’s safe?” mark interesting conversations between people who take very different views on risk.

This tiger was safely penned in at London Zoo.  He seemed perfectly relaxed and fast asleep; regular deep breathing with a hint of a snore-like rumble. His paws don’t seem quite so relaxed though… those look distinctly like claws to me. A little part of me would have loved to stroke that handsome head, run my fingers through that thick fur- to experience a tiger like an oversized kitten. Every now and then news breaks of someone who foolishly enters animal enclosures- bad endings. The zoo helpfully had signs up pointing out that the tigers viewed the spectators as food- just meat on feet.

dare to fly.jpgDanger has an appeal. Risk is enticing- the thrill of successfully negotiating the hazards and getting an adrenaline rush. It’s why the big cats are so popular, it’s why theme parks have terrifying rides, it’s why white-water rafting sells tickets.

It’s why maniacs like this bloke paraglide from mountains in Austria! The thrill is a huge reward.

We’re equipped with mental and physiological tools for assessing risk: and for weighing up the balance of fright to euphoria. My brain says “Do NOT jump off mountains- EVER.” But a little bit of me would love to know what it would feel like.

After the Resurrection of Jesus, lots of people were assessing risks. The authorities hoped Jesus was still dead. The disciples were being challenged by His re-appearance. Risks require response and (ideally) reward.

If Peter and John and the others saw only the risks, it would be madness to follow Christ. Unless, of course, HE really WAS alive. In that event, the rewards outweighed the risks… One of the best proofs of the truth of the Resurrection is the changed character of the disciples. Even at risk of death (several were martyred) they believed that Jesus had changed everything. Therefore Jesus was worth every risk. They changed the world.

Today, we seem to want to turn Jesus into a sleeping tiger instead of a roaring lion. If He sleeps, he is safe to approach, safe to follow. (Actually if Jesus sleeps, in other words stayed dead, it would be safe to follow Him- but pointless.)

Living, glorified, triumphant: this Jesus is not tame, nor dull, nor powerless. A living Christ who has won the victory over death and who brings the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth, this Jesus is worth every risk, every obedience, every decision to love.

Easter may be finished in the shops. It never finishes wherever there is one person, one church, one community, willing to take the risk of saying YES to Jesus.

Do you settle for a tame, safe tiger? Or get all your thrills in theme parks, wild sports, cheap relationships, horror movies, computer games, addictions and selfishness.

Get a life! Make a difference. Look for the Risen Jesus, and take a risk on Him.

 

At just the right time

At just the right time…
Bank Holiday Monday… and it’s raining. How very British of the weather! So I can’t get out in the garden, I can’t gloat over the shed I built which is still standing despite the weather. I can’t – er, won’t – go out for a bike ride. So I’m looking at photos.
I thought this picture was a “noble failure.” I caught the wave breaking at just the right time- but the horizon wasn’t level and the colours were muted. But five minutes in an editing program and I like the end result. Just at the right time.
Yesterday was Easter Sunday- Resurrection Day. I had a really good morning worshipping with our new church family, all about the “Really, really Good News.” That’s what Easter is all about- the amazing lengths to which God will go in order to love and be reconciled to human beings. Paul, the great theologian of the Early Church, summed this up rather well.
This is the REALLY Good News for all of us- at just the right time. That’s NOW. Please don’t throw Easter away with the boxes of the eggs. As nice as it is (was?) chocolate is not the best bit of Easter.
Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

A Dream of New Beginnings

I had a dream last night- one of those slightly strange mixtures of people from the past combined with a feeling of something that needed to be done. I’m sure psychologists could draw meaning out of that… but no need for their expertise. This dream resolved, just as I began to wake up.

The dream involved inventing a game to help employees understand their role in the business. It was quite a good game, wish I could remember the details! But behind the scenes was a bloke I used to work for- nice chap, but Frank liked things done his way, and could be very obstinate about introducing any change he hadn’t decided on himself. (He was the boss, so he could do that! Fair enough.)

It was quite a frustrating job, doing the same things in the same way, when I was reaching an age where I wanted to stretch my wings. So the dream became a little bit annoying because my ideas were being frustrated.

Then it struck me. I DON’T WORK FOR HIM ANY LONGER. He has no authority to spoil MY dream. My dream suddenly became much more fun, and Frank slipped out of the picture. Then I woke up.

0029bluebellSpring14 editI remembered the photo I took last year of new leaves and shoots sprouting from an old tree trunk. Fresh and delicate, they boldly pushed their way out into the world. The tree gave a strong foundation to the new life; and they expressed a joyful new life as they celebrated Spring by growing swiftly.

New beginnings, new ideas, new opportunities. This dream has encouraged me as I think about being “me” in a new stage of life. The past gives strength and influences me now- but I can also stretch my wings. Sounds fun!

Very appropriate for Easter, too. Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus spoke about new life springing out of the old. Today is Easter Saturday- the “waiting room” of the whole narrative. Yesterday was the crucifixion. Tomorrow will bring joy and celebration in Resurrection. New life will emerge, unshackled by the past. Lessons are learnt from the past: and life goes in a new and even better direction. That sounds quite exciting…

Isaiah 11:1-2 (NLT)
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

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