Resilient Love – Look, See, Pray

My resilient red rosebud- complete with scars

A red rose- the flower of romance. This little bud shows off the best quality of real love- resilience. Despite shocking weather for July (strong winds and heavy showers) it has blossomed boldly. The scarlet is intense, the fragrance delightful. Entirely suitable for a romantic gift to my sweetheart.

Yet if you look closely, you see the scars that it bears. The outer petals have been marked by the onslaught of the elements. Discolouration and ragged edges prove this rose is not just for a passing fancy. More than romance, this red rose speaks of true love.

Our constant flirting with romance and sensuality can cheapen our appreciation of real love. Lovers bear scars from the rough edges of life; lovers have learned to go through troubles and survive them. None of us can control the circumstances we will face over the years- but to be accompanied with true love means we face life with renewed gratitude for the good things, and shared sorrows for the sadness and loss that comes to us all.

For Juliet and I, a red rose brings back memories. We became acquainted through our church, and began the journey of discovery and joy that led us to our wedding. I wore a red rose in my lapel.

There is a deeper love that we have shared: it’s the Love we have discovered through Jesus Christ. It would take too long to tell our story; and some parts of it we will keep private. However, we can say that through our 33 years of marriage, there is a golden thread that binds us, and leads us to the Presence of the Christ that has been with us in joy, sorrow, confusion and uncertainty. Health issues have cropped up, and scared us silly. Believing in God, and trusting Him, is not a red carpet walk to dreamland! It’s about real life, real people, and continuing to trust whilst holding onto promises made and received.

When I was a kid, bumps and bruises could be sorted by getting Mum to “kiss it better.” Adults don’t qualify for that therapy! But sharing the best and worst of times, committed to holding each other up, and knowing that the greatest Love the world could ever know is a present Reality… well, there are scars but they are marks of triumph as well as suffering. The Christian good news is of a Saviour with scars, a Lord with the bruises of battle. Death and Resurrection… the first sounds so final, until you realise that Jesus defeated Death- and in His Resurrection, he triumphed for eternity.

To wonder if Jesus toyed with the idea of running away from the Cross… then to understand He embraced its cruel kiss. This is where the scars came from. If God were to sent you a red rose- would you reject it because its scarred marking, or rejoice in the resilience of True Love?

I wish I could give God a rose to say “Thank you.”

I don’t think He’d mind if it showed a few blemishes, some scars from the journey. I’m learning to be resilient, to keep on getting back to my feet after I stumble. I keep visualising an Arm across my shoulders, hearing an encouraging whisper in my ear, and picking up a fragrance that makes even the reddest rose seem not quite heavenly. Yet.

Thank You, Lord, for a resilient rosebud that taught me a valuable lesson today. Amen!

Row for glory – Look, See, Pray

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Easter Day was so different. We joined our local church family online: very grateful for technology, but missing the human contact. But YES – Jesus is Risen from the dead. Hallelujah!

What now? Imagine the disciples (minus the dead betrayer, Judas Iscariot) gathered together coming to terms with all that happened.”We saw Him… He spoke to us…” Fresh from their amazing encounter, the two from Emmaus rushed back to Jerusalem only to find the others already knew Jesus was alive!

Thomas speaks for many of us- he needs to be convinced… that’s a tale for another day. Jerusalem was in turmoil- rumours are circulating and the authorities are scared and furious.

Jesus has a timetable. His appearances continue to surprise, encourage and challenge. “Wait until Pentecost” – the next great feast-day. In the meantime, the disciples are supporting each other and learning to depend on the Risen Christ without His constant physical presence. They are also learning more of each other as they begin to consider the future. “Team Jesus” is being prepared.

Like the disciples, these days after the Resurrection present a challenge. What do we do with this astounding Good News?

Waiting on the Lord is a good start: we too need Pentecost power, and the annual reminder and refreshment is vital. Let’s seek Him now, wholeheartedly.

Some time back Juliet and I stayed in a hotel by the Thames. An early morning stroll beside the river was notable for a speedy pass by a racing rowing team. Smooth as silk, precise as a machine, their oars rose and dipped as the fragile boat sliced through the water.

Imagine the hassle if just one lost rhythm… if an oar clashed, or a backside slipped! Graceful and vigorous, this team was serious about their race. Their sheer committed energy was thrilling and exhausting to watch! They were preparing now so they could WIN when it counted.

In these days of lockdown we can’t do “team practice.” But we can use our time and the changed social patterns to prepare. Some of Christ’s followers are carrying the burden of the NHS, of food supplies, of caring, emergency services- these key workers will need a hero’s reception and a rest!

The rest of us? The stay-at-homes. How will the Kingdom of servant-witnesses emerge from the days of restriction? Will we crawl out, blinking like moles in the sudden sunlight? Or might we come out strengthened, built up, spiritually sharpened and Spirit-filled? Taking living Good News into a community that is finding out now that life is more than wealth or status. Discovering people eager to pray, to seek a reality beyond what we had in our fractured society.

The Kingdom of Christ spread from Jerusalem in a pandemic of LOVE, telling stories of grace, hope, and justice. Signs of the Kingdom followed as words and actions combined in Christ-like positivity. What will the history books say about the way church in our generation emerges from the darkness of Covid-19 fear and loss?

May they read Jesus in our eyes, ears, hands, and hearts- and words of everlasting life. The race is on…

Just Wait – Look, See, Pray

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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.

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Precious Silence- Look, See, Pray

Holy Week is generally full of the hustle of frenetic activity. Jesus entered Jerusalem to be acclaimed as a King. He stirred up a load of trouble when He cracked the whip to drive out the cheats and exploiters from the Temple:  “This should be a House of Prayer!”

The end of the week is full of betrayal, heart-breaking prayer, injustice and a Cross.

Squeezed in the gap is the one day where it seems silence reigned. The Gospels don’t say anything much about this one day. As far as we know, it was a day of quiet for Jesus.

Silence and growth go together. The glorious tulips bloom without fanfare. New leaves break out of tight buds. In silence.

A world full of noise and words need to draw breath.

Silence is an invitation to listen for the Presence of God. In the rush of Holy Week, Jesus has moments of quiet reflection and prayer- he prepares himself for what must happen.

Others use the silence to conspire and prepare trouble. Who knows what was going through the mind of Judas? Pilate? Caiaphas? Herod?

“We need silence to be able to touch souls” said Mother Teresa as she served the poorest and most abandoned people on the streets. Actions speak louder than words when we share love with the helpless.

Will this silence touch MY soul? Will silence prepare me to love with compassion? When all the drama ends in the silence of an empty tomb, will I be more or less in the Presence and Awareness of God? When my lips convey the message of hope- He is Risen! – will my soul- and yours– have been in that quiet still place where silence has proclaimed Truth?

For we speak of Christ crucified, and shown to be Saviour and Lord, through His death and resurrection. For the sake of our souls, let us grasp silence and learn to grow. Amen.

Teresa silence leaves

 

 

“My Diary” by Thomas the Twin

Really, what could go wrong? Off to Jerusalem in the morning, going up to the city for the festival. Jesus is going to ride a donkey. I expect some will mock the “Teacher from Galilee” but that’s nothing new.

Jesus insisted, he said it was important to go this way.

If you ask me, we should have gone home instead. There’s trouble brewing, you mark my words. Perhaps if we can keep Jesus out of the crowds all the fuss will die down.

Somehow I don’t think that’s the plan. Jesus had a glint in his eye, and he’ll probably preach, so that will upset Caiaphas and the Temple crew. I don’t think Jesus minds stirring people up a bit. He tells some pretty pointed stories – and some folks even started saying “Messiah?” when they heard him.

It will be alright as long as the “Blessed is the King” song doesn’t catch on. That would really be the end.

I wish I hadn’t said that thing about going and dying with him…

Extract from the diary of Thomas, a friend of Jesus and a man of great faith… some of the time…

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(Words & photo Copyright 2019 by Richard Starling)

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.