Wildflowers, honey, and a praying camera – Look, See, Pray

Some sensible person on the local council has planted a bee & butterfly meadow in the park. All sorts grow- borage, marguerite, poppies, salsify and stunning blue cornflowers. It is wild and civilised all at the same time!

When I take my camera out to pray, I am obliged to slow down and really look. Wildflower meadows are challenging because it looks lovely in a very untidy way. Quick photos end up as a blur of mixed colours, and are rarely worth your attention.

Slowing down and concentrating makes me pay proper attention- and I start to see the insect life, the bees and bugs which are fascinating. Without the bees to pollinate flowers and crops, we would all die from hunger. And we’d be without honey!

Honey is a health food, with antibacterial properties and soothing qualities as well as its delicious sweetness. Honey can make you feel better. I found this quote from “Winnie the Pooh”… I think we’ve all felt a bit Pooh sometimes, and a good friend like Piglet can work wonders. Perhaps we can be Piglet for someone we know?

 

Tea and honey Pooh

Getting back in touch with our soul is helped by those honey moments and the friends who care.

If I hadn’t stopped to look… if I hadn’t taken the time to see what was in front of me… my day would have been different and somehow less than it turned out to be.

You might think it fanciful- but I think God played the role of Piglet for me. The wild flowers, bees, and the promise of honey made me feel better. My soul was restored.

God told the Israelites enslaved in Egypt that He would lead them to to a land of “milk and honey.”  A place of plenty instead of the wilderness, a place of hope replacing the slave whips. It shaped the whole outlook of the Israelites for centuries- “We were prisoners and slaves, but God set us free and provided for our needs.” There is a very real sense in which that represents what God wants for all of us- a life of hope, rest, and goodness. Fancy taking a camera for a walk, and seeing what God may show you? I’d like to hear about it if you do that. Have a truly blessed day.

Perhaps this post may bring you “tea and honey” and help you reconnect?

Dear God, thank you for the Piglet moments, the love and care of a good friend. Thank you for caring about us: thanks for a world of flowers, bees and honey, for cameras that help us pray, and for all those moments which restore our souls and reconnect us to Your amazing grace and love. Thank You- in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Peace and Quiet?

Quiet morning. The air is still, and cooler today. I love to walk round the garden and see the changes to the display. Today the “Lady of Shallott” is providing a perfect rose for my delight- so I thought I’d share the gift. I hope you like the colours, you’ll have to imagine the glorious scent.

Quiet mor…. no, no so quiet after all. Thor, our local black-and-white cat, decided to make a late breakfast of a black-and-white magpie. Mayhem ensued! A mad scramble and scurry with squawking “geroff-of-me-s !! ” as cat chased bird, who donated some feathers but just managed to get clear. I think the bird was thor, too. Cat last seen climbing tree after bird with an increasing volume of “Scrakkk” and “Kchckk!” noises from the magpie and its family.

As I resume my wanderings, a buzzard circles above with several seagulls loudly persuading the buzzard to buzz off.

Such a quiet morning… the news is full of political rows, rumours, resignations, and MPs are revolting (some of them, anyway). Others are decent human beings. Bless them, Lord.

The wonderful rescue of the trapped kids in Thailand is overshadowed by the sadness of the death of a very brave man indeed- he gave his life that others might live. Joy for many, grief for his loved ones.

Football beckhams… sorry, beckons, again tonight. Will England defeat Croatia and make me very happy? My wife’s boss is French, could be awkward next Monday… Poor Belgium, narrowly beaten by France, facing a day of disappointment. So much going on on this “quiet” day.

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“In this world you will have troubles.

But I have overcome the world.”

(Jesus, in John 16 v33)

Lord, You bear the Name of Prince of Peace.
Thank you for the promise of true peace,
showing that the world has a purpose- and so do we.
In our quietest moments troubles arise
and we need the reassurance of Your faithfulness.
May we live every day as fully as we can,
love and care about others at all times,
and be signposts of hope in a world of troubles.
Jesus, Prince of Peace,
grant us peace in our troubled days.
Amen.

Beauty and Danger

Some of the most beautiful creatures are also among the most dangerous. Consider the sheer elegance of the big cats, sheer bulk of an elephant, or the toxicity of jewel-coloured tree-frogs. The speed with which this cheetah moved from dozing to alertness was impressive. Lunch was on the way and it would be unwise to get in the cheetah’s way!

Beauty conceals threats. Even the most lovely landscapes contain insects or reptiles that can hurt or kill. It isn’t a safe world. Domesticated animals are not entirely safe either. Come between a cow and calf and you will see how quickly a placid slow-moover can turn testy.

The most dangerous creature is humankind. We are the most inventive, most creative, exploitative, most co-operative & competitive tool-using killers ever. Humans can be casually cruel- and maliciously vicious.

psalm 121 v6-7 Cheetah 064whipsnade1212 edited crop2

Unsurprisingly the Bible contains praise for the beauty: and wisdom for the trials. One repeated theme is the promise of God’s protective justice. In particular the Psalms have songs that deal with perils, persecutions and promises. Psalm 121 is only short but it makes a great prayer when the dangers overwhelm the beauties.

If your world is not safe right now, there is only one sensible action. Reach out and trust God; commit your path to Him and look for His protection.

Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)
I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

Text & photograph Copyright (c) 2018  Richard Starling. Bible verses from New Living Translation (2nd Ed.)

Trusted by a Robin

Gaining the trust of a wild creature takes time and patience. I am partially responsible for the feeding of a family of robins, a brood of blue tits, a gather of great tits, a pair of blackbirds (+ chicks in nest) and a few others- sparrows and warblers- who attend the food dispensary at irregular times. Having started, I cannot stop feeding them- at least until all broods have disbanded.
 
Robin crop1 002Garden 040518This robin is the tamest of them all. It’s cupboard love, I know, but he is willing to get close so he gets first dibs on the suet sticks and mealworms. His partner sometimes arrives too, but I think she is still on the nest for most of the time. I hope the fledglings will pop in for breakfast in due course.
 
Having started, I cannot stop… to be honest, I don’t want to stop! I love seeing the birds, and hearing their songs, and want to encourage the natural wildlife of my patch of creation. The trees nearby offer shelter to squirrels, woodpeckers, and all sorts. Today I saw Common Blue butterflies- so small and pretty- and as the sun sank lower martins and swifts were performing aerial ballet as they trimmed the local insect population ( with squeals of delight).
 
I sometimes wonder why I have such an interest in wild life. My parents certainly helped, and Grandad Clark, a nurseryman who grew soft fruits and could identify every bird by song. Then I was given a book when I was still quite young: “Marvels and Mysteries of our Animal World” published by Reader’s Digest in 1964. I still have and read it. A gift that keeps on giving! It was one of the reasons I took up photography as a hobby: I wanted to be able to take great pictures of all creatures great and small.
 
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Nature gives pleasure and provides wonder. So much variety, so much beauty, so many complex questions we cannot answer. So much to enjoy, so much to learn.
 
“Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it …” Job 38 v4 (Good News Bible)
 
The book of Genesis tells us that humankind has a responsibility to care for Creation: we are to be stewards of God’s Earth. We don’t do that too well. Every little contribution helps. Every kindness matters. And I believe that God notices and cares about what we do.
 
Be grateful. Be careful. Be thankful- and our actions will be a prayer and an act of praise.

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?

look more closely

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.