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

 

Feed me!

Performing for food- is it limited to the zoo and Sea Life?

Imagine you are standing at the front of a church. Everybody is looking at you and expecting a brilliant, brief, barnstorming message that will equip and excite them- until next time. Fancy that for pressure?

Jesus fed thousands with bread and a few fish – a miracle. He also taught listeners with loving and challenging words – and some lives changed. Another miracle.

What do seals and sea-lions have to do with Christians?

Sea-mammals are meant to catch their own food in the wild. Performing in captivity is not the best life purpose, even if it may be the most appropriate circumstance for some animals.  I don’t know how to write the noise sea-lions make. “Arf! Urf! Woofff!” maybe?

The cry “Feed me!” can be heard loud and long from the church’s big mouth, and the “keeper” has to dig down deep to find enough fish fillet to fill it. Funnily enough, Christians are also supposed to feed themselves. Jesus described himself as the Bread of Life. The Bible is complimented as having a sweet taste. Coming to church is not a performance for preacher or congregation. Worship is a gift, a sacrifice we offer to God; and it is the way of learning together how we can best love God and follow in His ways.

When I became a pastor & preacher, I didn’t volunteer to keep a zoo. I followed a call to teach, train and equip the saints for service. And I thank God for the many marvellous saints I’ve met, and for the quirky ones, the normal ones, and even the awkward squad who have helped me grow up (sometimes the hard way). It’s been a GOOD life.

I am preaching on Sunday about being Hope-phil and Thought-phil ( from a chunk of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, hence the -phil bit).  Hope-philly people will come eager to be fed by God, not expecting the preacher to do it all for them- for then we will truly worship together. I’ll do my bit in preparing, hope-philly God will feed my soul so there is “food on the table” to share. Just don’t be fish-ious if you don’t like the dinner.

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“Oi! Bung us a fish!”

Question: if you find yourself saying “Feed me!” or “I don’t get fed in this church” will you go and take a long, hard look in the mirror? There you will see the person who is responsible for your feeding, growing, and growing up. God is on our side. Church is there to help. Preachers try their hardest. Bibles are most helpful when open and read. God even gives us His Spirit to re-make from the inside out.  “Feed me!” is something we should say to the Lord Himself… and probably a bit more politely.

How hungry are you? What are YOU going to do about it? May God feed us all so we’re fit for purpose and can get on with our jobs.

 

 

Deep, deep calm

One bonus of being chauffeur for my wife going to school- I can go home via the beach and sit quietly watching the beautiful world go by. Today was glorious. Gorgeous blue water, almost flat calm, as the tide was beginning to come in.Ocean Love txt 413Glcr Bay July16edit.jpg

It reminded me of a different sea, on the other side of the world, where wavelets barely disturbed the surface of the Pacific. Majestic mountains were the backdrop that day. God’s presence was the link. On both occasions I could sit and think, gaze and breathe, and be transported into an awareness of Almighty God: being quiet, and just listening.

As I watched the water I found myself thinking about the deep, deep calm of the ocean. Depths that I can never know: life I will never see. The sheer abundance of water was awe-inspiring. I could take a ship and sail all round this amazing planet; I would see different aspects of the ocean. There would be raging storms, whales breaching, dolphins leaping for fun… and so much more.

Today was calm. Deep, deep peace.

Love, vast as the ocean, is found in the Father heart of God. I invite you to find or make a time to be quiet and receive calm peace, loving acceptance and reassurance that the God who made heaven and Earth truly is the Love and the Lover of the world.

On a busy, maybe crazy day, take shelter in the deep, deep calm of the Lord your God.

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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A Long, Wandering Walk

“Let’s go for a walk…” quickly followed by the “Do we have to?” response is a conversation many families have. As a nipper, I was strongly on the side of “do we have to?” Assurances that “you’ll enjoy it” seemed rather optimistic.

A funny thing happened on the way to the South Downs- I discovered the joys of nice long walks in the country. Sussex was replaced by Derbyshire- long walks across the Peak District. Derbyshire was traded for Devon- long walks across wild, beautiful Dartmoor and the lovely coast. Then came Luton.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Chiltern Hills and Ashridge woods gave scope for wonderful exploration.

Over the years, trips abroad featuring Alpine walks and visits to wild country acquired a special place in my heart.

I discovered I loved it. Walks became a time for solitary thinking, or an opportunity for quality time with special people. Walking even became a prayer-place of real importance.

Slogging up steep hills with a loaded rucksack as the rain trickled down my neck… the sheer “joy” of sleeping in a small tent and having to pull on rain-sodden trousers the next morning… those moments, not so much. Sore, hot feet. Aching back. Running short of water. Getting slightly lost… Sounds amazing… “Do we have to?”

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” – Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT)

Learning the discipline of walking, acquiring the skills of navigation and map-reading, breaking in new boots, and yes, even the hardships are worth it. A satisfying weariness sat in front of a nice fire, with a cold drink and some good food- priceless. (And no credit card necessary!)

Austrian tourist maps are interesting. They are more of a loose guide that allows interesting discoveries. Often they have “helpful” notes about the ease/severity of the various climbs and “strolls.” Bear in mind these are penned by local experts who are possibly half-goat and were born with an Alpenstock in each hand. Be aware (which should shortened to “BEWARE”).

The photo today comes from the smooth, flat path between Bovey Tracey and Lustleigh (South Dartmoor). It used to be a railway until savaged by Dr Beeching. Lovely beech trees overhang the track, the river sparkles and gurgles nearby. Birdsong beats any “canned” music and peace descends. Blissful.

Journeying to the wild has become an essential ingredient for my wholeness. Body, mind and spirit find freedom. Yes, there are still “tired hands and weak knees” but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Walking becomes a pilgrimage through a natural cathedral. God seems close by: the things you see and hear communicate eternity. Walking become a metaphor for discipleship.

I’ve missed long walks over the last couple of years. My health severely limits the distance I can walk; and difficult terrain becomes impossible. However, the disciplines learnt over the years, and wise choices of destination, mean I can still visit “my” cathedral. I make my “smooth paths” by driving the car or riding the e-bike to reach safe places. Guess what- God is still close by, and eternity still knocks on the senses.

It’s not the distance that counts, nor the difficulty of the road. The willingness of the mind, heart, and spirit will still unlock the door and let me in.

Fancy a walk? Willing to find your “own” cathedrals? God awaits. Go take a long, wandering “walk” alongside.

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