Look more closely

What do you see? Look again, look more closely.

The colours are unusual- oranges and pinks are not the most comfortable of companions. Tortoiseshell butterflies are beautifully coloured and patterned, but the background pink is quite overwhelming (in my opinion, anyway). What grabs your attention?

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Have you seen the bee yet?

Busily being a bee, hardly noticed, put in the shade by the competing colours of butterfly and sedum flowers, yet extremely important.

Here’s a lesson about really looking. We are attracted by the obvious, the showy, the spectacular. The colours of plant and butterfly are intended to attract attention. Bees are really not spectacular, especially these honeybees, but they are hugely functional for pollination and producing honey.

Question: do we approach other parts of life by seeing the obvious and not looking further? Forming our impressions of people- the pretty and handsome get attention. The good qualities of others may not be obvious unless we take time and pay attention.

Look. See. Pray. Will you look more closely, pay attention to the important not just the spectacular, and pray for the whole of life?

When reading the Bible, will you look at the details and the less well-known passages? They have much to teach us about God.

Lord, give us the patience to look beyond the obvious, and to find love and truth and worth wherever it may be found. Amen.

(Photo (c) Richard Starling, 2018)

What on earth is that?

We place a lot of trust in our eyes. It can be disturbing when we see something for the first time, or from an unexpected angle. It can also be refreshing when something familiar is seen in a new way.

Today’s photo. What on earth is that?

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I took the picture, and I had to look twice! Is it reflecting on water, or glass? It seems so flat yet I find it intriguing. If you haven’t worked it out yet, it is a purple clematis flower viewed edge-on. The spiky bits in the middle are where all the pollinating goes on; they are in sharp focus, but the petals are not. The background is entirely unfocused.

Time seems in greater supply for me. Well, as a retired minister, I have greater freedom to choose how I use my time. I do the things I want to instead of the things everybody else wants me to. I have time to read, to think, to write. It’s a luxury- I am very grateful.

Looking at God… working on theology (which is knowledge about God). Taking what we do know, and recognising the mysteries- the things we don’t know or can’t understand or explain- is like painting a picture. We have a palette of colours, life is our canvas, and we put down a “picture” of God. It’s partly revelation, and partly exploration. Our picture is a representation of God, not a “photograph” of Him.

How comfortable are you with your picture of God? Does He look the same as always? As children, we see stuff simply. Our squiggles and blotches are OBVIOUSLY what we say they are! I painted it, of course it’s my cat and my house. Can’t you see that? You are silly!

Our willingness to explore new perspectives is vital if we are to grow in understanding and application of faith in our life. Seeing God in our life through troubles or illness; unexpected encounters and joyful moments. Questions answered, and prayers NOT answered.

Are we willing to take the risk of looking harder, in more detail, from a new angle? One thing I am sure of: the better view I have of Jesus, the better I am able to know God and His ways. In John’s Gospel, Chapter 4, Jesus has a fascination conversation with a woman who thinks she knows some things about God. She gets to know a lot more! Then she tells her neighbours, and they are very surprised- but decide to check Jesus out.

John 4:42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Saviour of the world.”

So perhaps the question to leave here is one about Jesus. “WHO on earth is that?” There just may be some new angles, new questions, and more truth to discover. Have fun looking.

 

(c) 2018 Richard Starling

 

Be Gentle

If only “gentleness” could be taken for granted. Headlines rarely mention being gentle. The “go-getters” and the back-stabbers, the driven and ambitious ones are held out as role models. Unspectacular lives lived by ordinary people are not deemed newsworthy. That’s wrong. Celebrity envy is a symptom of an aggressive materialism. I think we are missing a trick…

Some good friends visited at the weekend, and gave us a beautiful potted geranium.

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I went into the garden this afternoon to photograph a hairy caterpillar I’d seen. By the time I grabbed my camera and arrived at its last location, the caterpillar had disappeared. So, rather than waste opportunities, I went looking and found the geranium: spectacular colour and delicate form, with a collection of new blooms breaking out of protective covers and beginning to flourish. So delicate, so easily bruised.

Using a macro lens, I very gently set up the picture. Fresh new life. Worthy of notice, even of contemplation. Here ’tis.Be gentle 007Garden 100518

Working very close to the buds risks damage to them if the photographer hurries or pushes in too carelessly.

Precision focussing is essential to capture the ruffled head of the subject.  Doing the job properly, the flower is preserved for posterity AND has a destiny of sheer beauty as it opens to let the deep inner colour dazzle the world. I rather think that God expects us to be gentle with creation. I also suspect He is gentle with us, encouraging growth so we display beauty to the world.

These flowers are not celebrities, fashionable or trendy. But they’re GORGEOUS.

Few of us are celebrities. We do have beauty to share- if others treat us gently, with dignity, respect and compassion. Imagine the impact on the world if we were all treated with gentleness- and extended gentleness to others in our turn.

Contemplate this geranium’s splendour and potential. Be aware of the Giver of beauty. Consider the attitude we show to others. Someone once said the measure of a person is how they treat those who are not wealthy, influential or powerful. St Paul told his protege Titus to teach believers to live peaceably and respectfully:  Titus 3:1-2 
Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Be gentle. Offer those small acts of generosity and kindness that allow others to blossom. Be willing to be different, to stand out from the crowd, to go against the harsh shallowness of a selfish culture. Be gentle. Be… like Jesus.

Photographs & text (c) Richard Starling, 2018

You renew the face of the Earth

“When you give your breath, life is created, and you renew the face of the earth.” – Psalm 104:30 (NLT)

new shoots 044Slindon 280418Over thirty years ago, the “Great Storm” carved its way across southern England leaving a broad scar on the wooded landscape as ancient trees uprooted and crashed.

Today I went on a bluebell hunt in Slindon woods and, as well as some lovely bluebells, I photographed these fresh shoots. They were springing up from the moss-draped carcass of one of the forest giants wrecked in the storm. The new leaves are fresh, soft, and perfectly shaped. Life has been renewed.

Mysteries exist- and our understanding of how our planet works is patchy. If there is a Creator, whatever processes were used, life itself stands as a true wonder. The Christian Bible, with its roots far back in beginning of civilisation, does not explain everything. The ancient writings describe, question, and marvel: and consistently affirm that God is the Giver of Life.

The quoted verse from the book of Psalms offers tremendous hope and confidence. God created, breathing Life so life exists; and God is constantly renewing Life, healing the scars of history’s storms and making new life.

These fresh leaves and the bluebells shown below could be described as the fingerprints of God on His artwork. Reflect on this: the stump has lessons to teach, the renewed shoots testify to the power of Life, and the bluebells suggest that such beauty could only come from a Creator with a beautiful heart. Think on those things, and as you do that- you will be praying and maybe praising. And I surely hope you will be grateful for the gift. Peace and grace be with you!

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Prayer with our Senses

Praying with our senses makes sense. Why limit communication to words?

That which we may see, hear, taste, touch, or smell can be a direct route to God’s Presence. Some of us may lack one or more of these senses: I lost my sense of smell forty years ago, and I would dearly love to enjoy the perfume of a rose again. Those who are blind, or deaf, or otherwise restricted can still use the senses we enjoy. If we are made in the image of God, do you not think that our appreciation of a sunset, a symphony, a meal, a fragrance and a texture is a gift from God to His children?

God created a world that is sensual, physical, and beautiful. Allow yourself the treat of a sensual prayer. Go and find something to enjoy with your senses; remember who is responsible for the existence of what you enjoy. Then with whatever means seems most appropriate, make it prayer.

This is a short prayer I penned after enjoying cherry blossom, photographing it, thus thinking God’s thoughts after Him as a tribute of worth. Lord, these blossoms are GOOD, and gorgeous, and offer the hope of future fruit. What a great God You are. Amen.

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Photograph & words (c) 2018, Richard Starling

Spiritual issues and physical causes

I’m not always as smart as I think I am. (Before you snigger, that’s probably true for you too!)

It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter. I began to notice that I had a “pick up” every year round about April. I laughed more, was less moody, and generally enjoyed living more. I prayed better, and read the Bible more and was “up for God.”

If I wanted to pretend to be really super-spiritual, I’d probably say it was all to do with the Easter experience. Resurrection re-ignited my rejoicing… and so on.

That’s partly true. The resurrection of Christ IS seriously GOOD NEWS. Bound to have an impact on me. Or I’m in a real mess!

psalm 146 v2_3 063Country190418 edited.jpgYesterday I saw these technicolour tulips, backlit by the spring sunshine. Seeing them struck me with joy. I could have done a little dance, a jig, and shouted honking great hallelujahs. The beauty of these flowers filled me up and made me grateful to God for being alive.

Back to the beginning. “It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter…”  Spring sun and colour simply thrills me, delights me, and makes me feel better. I’m excited. I feel alive. I begin to turn my attention to God again. This is a simple but profound principle: our physical bodies and our experience of the climate & season will be linked to our spiritual well-being. My sense of closeness to the Lord is stronger. My ability to live my faith increases.

We are physical beings as well as spiritual. Bad health, tough circumstances, stress, horrible experiences (etc) are likely to have a knock-on effect. Realising this means we can be better prepared and geared up for the battle. I do love the experience of the prophet Elijah, who after amazing triumphs then abruptly crashes down with exhaustion and depression. We find Elijah in a cave, asking God to finish his life. What does the heavenly doctor prescribe? Sleep, eat, rest, and carry on like that until Elijah’s sense of purpose is renewed. “Spiritual” issues often have a physical root cause.

Diagnosis and prescription:  Enjoy the colour of these tulips. Get ready to laugh just for joy. Jump up and down if you like. Stop beating yourself up for being physical, and remember Elijah. Rest, recover, renew- and get ready to rejoice. Be grateful to God for the wonderful triggers He has put in us, the physical things and beauties that remind us we aren’t “only” physical. We are reborn in Christ, renewed in the Spirit, and reconciled to our Father. We have an eternal destiny and a purposeful life. God has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy! God bless you and give you a mouth full of laughter. 

(Read Psalm 146 v2-3)

Photo (c) Richard Starling, 2018

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.