Trusting in princes? Look, See, Pray

Who’s in charge? Take me to your leader!

It is both humbling and sad to see the state of the “Mother of Parliaments.” Who leads? A good question! Does a job title mean more than a label? Passionate disagreements have split friendships, alliances, and public opinion. Personal ambition and hidden agendas lurk in the dark corners. Who can we trust? Where should we turn?

There is nothing new under the Sun and stars. History is littered with the relics of ideas and ambitions. Some conquer by brute force- but fade away. Some float lofty ideals and aspirations- and are brought back to earth. Playing “piggy in the middle” are the ordinary people caught up in struggles beyond our ability to influence very much.

Relying on human authorities is unwise. Praying for those in positions of authority is required of Christians because there IS a Higher Authority. In Psalm 146 we can read a lovely and realistic expression of a Hope that will not fade. “Don’t put your trust in princes! Put your trust in the Lord your God… Look at what God WILL do…” He reigns as the True Sovereign over heaven and Earth.

Pray today. Pray now. Pray that God will somehow guide and direct so that righteousness, mercy, and justice are the benchmarks of our society: that extremism on all sides will be tempered by calm thinking and peacemaking. Pray that God may do what only He CAN do. Pray for the peace and security of our richly diverse society so that all are valued by the worth God places on them- God who loves the world SO MUCH that He sent Jesus, the Christ, to rescue and redeem us. Pray NOT that God be on “our side” – rather pray that WE might be on God’s side, so that we may be peace makers and peace bringers. Joyful are those who have God as their helper.

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Praise the LORD ! Let all that I am praise the LORD. I will praise the LORD as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath. 

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the LORD their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. 

He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are weighed down. The LORD loves the godly. The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked. The LORD will reign forever. He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations. Praise the LORD !

   Psalm 146

Edge of the Storm- Look, See, Pray

Stormy weather- we are on the edge of this storm. To the West and North of us the conditions have been atrocious. Down here, some light damage: roof tiles, tree branches, and localised floods. The bad part is wondering if the storm will get worse.

I suspect quite a lot of people in Britain feel caught on the edge of another huge storm- politics are proving to be exciting (in a bad way). Parliament is ripped apart by the divisive issue of Brexit. Parties are split, the Cabinet is divided, and feelings are running high. The eventual outcome remains unknown, and the way forward is unclear. Trust is being trampled and everyone is blaming “the other lot.”

Fear not! I am not going to launch my political views (as good as they may be, or seem to be to me).

When life has storms, where do we go for help? I hope to encourage you to pray today that God’s will shall be done, here on Earth as it is in heaven.

A little-known prophetic book in the Bible has an author with a name almost as long as the prophecy! Zephaniah means “God has hidden/protected me.” Biblical names, especially in the Old Testament have descriptive meaning. Zephaniah spoke for God in a time where corruption and injustice were rife; and his message is uncompromising. Almighty God stands for justice and integrity, and we are called to stand with Him. Dreadful consequences are spelled out clearly- but at the end there is a comforting hope. Humanity is not left alone- God still cares for us, even though He may need to challenge and correct us. The storm that threatened Zephaniah’s audience became a whirlwind and their troubles became rooted in exile under unfriendly power.

Yet there is still hope. Please read this verse slowly and carefully, and take from it the eternal Truth of God’s Love and mercy. While we still have breath, we can turn to God. Turning to Him lifts the edge of the storm away from our shoulders. The promise in reinforced in the New Testament, where Jesus is titled “God who is with us.”

Zephaniah 3:17 “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

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Do not fear the storm- trust the Saviour who brings calm. Lord, may Your will be done. Amen.

Light through the darkness- Look, See, Pray

Ask a photographer “What would make your day?”

Their probable answer?  “Good light.”  Few things are as disappointing as being in a good location but having dull lighting. That often results in “flat” photos without contrast or drama. Ironically, having too much light intensity makes photography equally difficult.

It was early-ish, about 8 o’clock, and the morning was shrouded in heavy mist. There were signs it might lift, so the eternal optimist packed some kit and headed off in search of elusive perfection.

Bognor is blessed with a beautiful park. It seemed a good possibility for pictures. Hardly had I parked and started lurching along, when this happened.

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Glorious sun burnt through the mist, and the trees became scaffolding for drama. As light filtered through the trees, its rays carved a transient sculpture of delight. Just at the right moment, a bloke walking his dog came and stood in a great position, adding a mysterious figure barely visible through the brightness.

Though I was almost blinded by the light, I was no longer alone.

An old hymn has the line ” ‘Tis only the splendour of Light hideth Thee.” When we look for brightest light, we find holiness and glory that exceeds our understanding, but satisfies the ache in our soul.

The verse from the New Testament reminds us that God is Light, that Light overcomes darkness, and that this Divine Light is able to shine even into our innermost darkness. Many Christians can testify that the dawning realisation that Jesus Christ brings the smile of heaven to our lives is a moment of dramatic beauty. In the darkness, suddenly Light is there, blinding and yet welcoming- and revealing the Face that makes us aware of  Love that seeks the lost, rescues the struggling, embraces the lonely, and accepts even me.

Sometimes the world is dark enough to foster despair. All news is bad news… in the words of Private Fraser “We’re doomed. We’re all doomed…” That is when we most need to hear and see hope- and hope shines with unearthly Light. When the darkness is near, remember the Gift that God has given:  2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)    For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

May you shine with true Light this day.

Simply Love- Look, See, Pray

Father Pedro Arrupe’s prayer about falling in love with God was shared with me this week. Here it is- enjoy. 

Nothing is more practical than

finding God,

than falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination,

will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,

stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

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Seeking Peace- Look, See, Pray

Psalm 34:14 (NLT) Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how fed up are you with watching the news? Every headline is dramatic, every event is a potential crisis, and what wouldn’t we give for a bit of peace and quiet?

Mild February days are rare enough to be treasured. This afternoon I cycled down to Pagham Harbour, my local nature reserve. I was surprised to find the tide was right in: the mudbanks usually hosting a convention of wading birds were covered in blue and gold water.  I settled down to absorb the peacefulness of the scene, and watched the available wildlife action: a short-eared owl quartering the reed beds, and then the explosively noisy eruption of hundreds of Brent geese who left their farm field and came down to the water. After a short while, quiet took over again.

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One of the best-known and powerful images in the Bible is found in Psalms.

Psalm 23 speaks of “still waters” and water symbolises life, cleansing, and renewal.

This is a beautiful theme. Without water, we could not live.

Psalm 34 v14 instructs us to search for peace, and when we find it, work to preserve that peace.

Searching for peace in a wearying world may seem a fruitless task.

Perhaps this week, you could find- search for- a peaceful place, near water if possible, and take time to enjoy it. Reflections and ripples can inspire thoughts and prayers.

Silence and beauty restore our soul. In this world of strife and noise, we are called to be peacemakers, peace-bringers, servants of the Prince of Peace. In the quiet and calm of our restored souls, we may find strength and grace to share peace and preserve it.

How might God speak?

Communication- sight, sound, touch. We learn through experience and effort, through resting and remembering. When I see the crocus peeking through the grass, how does my soul respond?  Two short quotes to consider:

Sacred writings are bound in two volumes—that of creation and that of Holy Scripture. —Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274)

Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity—however invisible—have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made. —Romans 1:20

Today- look out for something that will speak to you of God and His love. The one who seeks, will find.

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Mischief!

Reading “Alice in Wonderland” is an exercise in exploring the strange imagination of the author – and recognising people you know in the characters. Our local park has this wood-carving of the Queen of Hearts that caught my eye and made me chuckle at memories of the book. It is very strange tale.

It made me wonder how comfortable we are with whom we are. Looking in mirrors, real or metaphorical, can make us aware of things we’d rather change. That might be our physical appearance, or a flaw or quirk in our character.Most of us would like to change something.

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A good friend paid me a compliment this week. David attended a very good regional retreat/conference down in Cornwall, and emailed to say I’d been missed. (I left the south-west several years ago, so am no longer eligible for that conference.)

David even suggested my sending a video would have been good- naturally, I probed to find out what exactly he meant. That’s when he paid me what I took to be a compliment. Had the missing ingredient from the conference had been my sparkling wit (no)… or amazing musical talent (er, still no)… or my deep psychological insights and deep spiritual maturity. (Sadly, NO.) Without me…

There was not enough MISCHIEF.

Mischief! Some of you may be shocked to think that ministers (or even Christians in general) might ever be mischievous.

Is it my fault that I was put in charge of handling the visual projection facilities for several years? Is it my fault I have a warped sense of humour and a large collection of jokes, video clips, and the like? I suppose it might be inferred that I took advantage of such opportunities as came my way…

Humour has sometimes got me into a bit of bother. Or other people into a sticky spot. It also made others relax, laugh, and shed some stress.

I am quite comfortable with humour, mischief, and laughing. There is a time and a place, of course, but hey-ho. It’s funny!

A few years back I had a deeply significant experience in a prayer/encouragement meeting. The conference leader was praying over individuals round the room. To be honest, I didn’t expect much (he didn’t know me at all) but when he stopped in front of me, John began chuckling. Oops, I thought… what on earth… Then John said “I sense the Lord is telling me you are a joker- and that your humour is a special gift. Use it wisely.”

We’d never spoken before. He was an Anglican, I’m a Baptist. We lived hundreds of miles apart. John didn’t know me from Adam.

His words were an affirmation to my soul. Jokes and pranks are not always the obvious “tools of the trade” for pastors, and I had been criticised from time to time. To be told this was a valuable gift meant so much. The way my character is shaped is not a mistake, or something to be ashamed off. I am comfortable in my own skin. (I’m far from perfect- I should carry a sign saying “please be patient, God hasn’t finished with me yet.”)

God accepts us as we are. Even mischievous me, a work in progress. Even you, also a work in progress. That should put a smile on our faces.

A vicar, rabbi and Baptist minister walked into a bar. OUCH, they said in unison.

Just be glad I have better jokes than that, and may just try a spot of mischief…  See you at the next conference, David. Sleep well!