Reaching for the sky!

“Reaching for the sky…” using a wide-angle lens at ground level, pointing straight up. A different view of the trees: they become abstract forms of line and colour, and the tree-tops seem so much higher.

0004May 2012 general-edTrees grow upwards to seek the sunlight. They compete for light because light gives life. It sets off the chemical “factories” in the leaves; we call this process photosynthesis. Leaves receive energy from the light, triggering the absorption of water & carbon dioxide; producing glucose and releasing oxygen. The tree “feeds” on light as well as the earth-minerals gathered by the roots.

I want to be a tree! (Sorry, I just remembered early drama at primary school.)

More seriously, our human life in a sense should be like the trees. We are earth-bound, yet we have high aspirations. We need the physical “food” but also the “energy” of true Light. God is Light – and we reach for the light. We are both physical and spiritual beings. Our bodily needs must be met, or we die. Our spiritual needs likewise. We must be rooted AND reach out to the non-physical. A verse in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes always grabs my attention… “God has planted eternity in our hearts…” It’s why humans cannot ultimately be satisfied with physical treasures and experiences. We aspire to something higher. Humans ask the question “Why do I exist?”

This is why. We have a hunger, a need, a desire, to be significant. God designed us this way so we don’t settle for what is good, but press on to that which is BEST. We have an inner homing beacon tuned in to God. Go on, reach for the sky… the stars… and beyond.

“God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

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.

A Dream of New Beginnings

I had a dream last night- one of those slightly strange mixtures of people from the past combined with a feeling of something that needed to be done. I’m sure psychologists could draw meaning out of that… but no need for their expertise. This dream resolved, just as I began to wake up.

The dream involved inventing a game to help employees understand their role in the business. It was quite a good game, wish I could remember the details! But behind the scenes was a bloke I used to work for- nice chap, but Frank liked things done his way, and could be very obstinate about introducing any change he hadn’t decided on himself. (He was the boss, so he could do that! Fair enough.)

It was quite a frustrating job, doing the same things in the same way, when I was reaching an age where I wanted to stretch my wings. So the dream became a little bit annoying because my ideas were being frustrated.

Then it struck me. I DON’T WORK FOR HIM ANY LONGER. He has no authority to spoil MY dream. My dream suddenly became much more fun, and Frank slipped out of the picture. Then I woke up.

0029bluebellSpring14 editI remembered the photo I took last year of new leaves and shoots sprouting from an old tree trunk. Fresh and delicate, they boldly pushed their way out into the world. The tree gave a strong foundation to the new life; and they expressed a joyful new life as they celebrated Spring by growing swiftly.

New beginnings, new ideas, new opportunities. This dream has encouraged me as I think about being “me” in a new stage of life. The past gives strength and influences me now- but I can also stretch my wings. Sounds fun!

Very appropriate for Easter, too. Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus spoke about new life springing out of the old. Today is Easter Saturday- the “waiting room” of the whole narrative. Yesterday was the crucifixion. Tomorrow will bring joy and celebration in Resurrection. New life will emerge, unshackled by the past. Lessons are learnt from the past: and life goes in a new and even better direction. That sounds quite exciting…

Isaiah 11:1-2 (NLT)
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Finding the way… a thought for Holy Week.

The National Trust looks after the beautiful beeches at Dockey Wood, part of the Ashridge Estate. Every year the wood floor is swamped by a flood of bluebells: it’s almost as if the tide has come in! Beautiful blue at ground level, and if you time the visit carefully, a glorious green of fresh new leaves adorns the mighty trees.

A couple of years ago I visited early in the morning, well before breakfast and was rewarded with a lovely soft luminosity as the sunlight filtered through the mist. Sounds were hushed- even the birds sang sotto voce.

There are clearly marked main pathways through the wood. I was taken by this view where there was no path… but the avenue of trees led the eye towards the edge of the woods. Soft mist shrouded the visual details- and a distant bleating travelled down through the trees from an unseen field of ewes with their newborn lambs. Beauty led to a promise of more beauty- but the route wasn’t clear. It was a precious moment of beauty and hope. Let’s use this a guide and as a metaphor for Holy Week.

As Holy Week unfolded, Jesus and his followers were on a journey that only Jesus really comprehended. The disciples knew only that they should follow Him. The crowds of residents and pilgrims in the city saw something, someone, of Beauty and Life, but could not see clearly where this week would end. Gentle illumination guided them forwards with both uncertainty and hope: and many who expected Jesus to do what they wanted became disappointed and frustrated.

Misty 0038bluebell Spring14In the bluebell wood, as the day ended and the darkness gathered its gloomy curtains, the pathway became harder to discern. Likewise, in Jerusalem, the charm and ethereal loveliness gave way to a confusing maze of broken hope- and fear. To be lost in the woods in foggy darkness has no charm, and brings much apprehension. Where should we go? Which way?

Fear is often expressed emotionally as anger and hatred. Holy Week, which began with such high hopes, became darker and more threatening. Night began to fall and people lost their way. The ending was unjust and brutal.

But one person kept to the Way… in fact, He was the Way- and the Truth, and the Life. His journey into the dark marked out a trail where footsteps and blood led to a Cross- a Tree of Death- but then onward to a fresh Sonrise, a Resurrection of Life.

This week- take the journey with Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. See the beauty and the hope of the Way- and walk into the gloom in their company. They will lead us through the Dark and out into the New Day. We best appreciate the Light when we have been in darkness and have felt lost and alone.

May God guide us through, and bring us safely to Easter Sunday when we can celebrate Joy and see our Way ahead. Bless you.

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Snow hope?

Two outbreaks of snow in mid-March is quite unusual. The “Beast from the East” and its smaller cousin, the Lesser Beast, have been and are now almost gone. In my part of Sussex the snow was an inconvenience rather than a major threat- but we’re still happy to see the thaw.

I remember years ago- probably 40 years ago- that a small group of keen friends decided it would be OK to go camping at an early Easter. Despite the forecast, we went anyway; taking a group of about 25 teenage boys. We had proper gear, and a small marquee to cook in. We had a whale of a time! Snow that is two inches thick on the tents is quite good insulation.

One unforgettable memory: I was cooking breakfast. There is nothing like the smell of frying bacon to get people up on a cold morning. I sat in my big greatcoat, on one of those fold-up camping chairs with metal tubing as the frame, and set the big frying tray on the gas burners in front of me. Sizzling is such a satisfying sound. Slurping tea from my big orange mug, I stirred the bacon thinking “What a great job…”

Strangely, the bacon seemed to be getting taller and harder to reach. This became puzzling as I couldn’t reach the pan to stir the bacon! Looking down, I discovered the chair frame was sinking six inches deep into the mud. Oh the joy of roughing it!

One reason we went camping was to share our Christian faith with the young men in the group. We drank tea, and shivered in the marquee, and talked. We sang a bit- trying to play guitar wearing gloves is tricky- and described what Christianity was all about. Our focus was on Jesus, and since it was Easter, the cross and resurrection were central. Several of those young men decided to become Christians. I wonder where they are now…

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Our message was one of hope. A better love, freely given by Christ, leading to a better way of life. A purpose and a challenge. Some answers, but also loads of questions to wrestle with throughout life. Some truth revealed, some mysteries left open. My photo is of a snowdrop near to home. It survived the first cold blast, and was poking out of the snow that came this weekend. Snowdrops are a sign of hope: winter is leaving.

Psalm 62:5 (NLT)
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

That’s a good Bible verse to ponder on a chilly day. Patience and hope often go together. Soon it will be full Spring and we will celebrate life. Let’s remember to look for the signs and reminders that life is stirring- and the Life-Giver is still faithfully loving us all.

Worth Looking

Went out again this afternoon on my e-bike. Riding against a headwind seemed likely to be challenging, but hey, that’s why it has a battery. I ended up taking a couple of detours (one on purpose!) that worked out well. First I came across a lovely bank of crocus clumps.

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Then my “accidental” detour took me the longer way round- but on the way came within 10 feet of a resting buzzard, and a bit later a fishing heron flapped out of the ditch beside me. To crown the detour, skylarks serenaded me as I worked out how to get from C to B without going via Chichester or back to A.

A quiet ride into the Bersted Brooks Nature Reserve gave me time to reflect and listen to robins and blackbirds singing. It was great.

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Going home was really easy. The wind was behind me, and the ground was pretty flat. By the time I reached home, a mug of hot tea was VERY welcome.

Most of the today’s route is one I use quite a bit to access the main shopping areas. Usually the car is necessary! Carrying big bags on a bike is not too clever.

The difference today was amazing. Usually my eyes are occupied with traffic, and the 30 mph speed limit is quite fast enough to mean I miss a lot of detail in the surrounding countryside. Oh good, you say! Keep your eyes on the road !!!

Today was worthwhile- I could stop and look. There was time for a few photos. I could apologise in person to the heron and the buzzard for disturbing their lunch. The skylark choir received the attention their melody deserved. The sights and sounds were simply beautiful. It was truly worth looking.

The things I see and hear are triggers for remembering the big picture, for taking a wide perspective on life, for allowing my mind and spirit to sort stuff out and see what is truly important. Having more time to do this is a privilege: and I wonder, if I had made more time to do this, would my life and ministry have been better balanced and more fruitful? We are surrounded by the crushing pressure of “busy” and find ourselves being shaped from the outside. Surely that is the wrong way… the core of life WITHIN should shape me and take priority over the world’s patterns.

It all tied in rather well with what Jamie was preaching this morning. Time to look, to see, and to pray… my ride reinforced what God was getting across to us in church. We like to put structures and rituals in place, and end up serving them instead of letting God mould us from the inside out. Look and learn. Listen and learn. Live the life we are meant for.

Thank you, God, for a second chance. It was worth the second look.

Romans 12:1-3 (NLT)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice- the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Happy Surprise

Loved this young Meerkat… it’s the gentle smile as his/her head & paws stick out from the shelter. It reminds me of those community moments where people hang out to catch up. Resting on a half-door, a gate or a fence, it is just lovely to chat about everything and nothing. Meerkats are very curious creatures, and happily watch the watchers. They find pleasure in the happy surprise of a new face, a new food, a new game. They’re fun.

Now stick my head in a box, or a set of stocks. (Use your imagination rather than DO it…)

This is Maltese hospitality… well, historical tourist feature. Juliet and I couldn’t resist.

Anyway, take the smiles and work with me for a minute…  Today I had a surprise smile on my face. An unexpected joy!  I recently bought an e-bike:  bicycle with an electric motor and battery. Today the sunshine meant it was time to try it out. Sunshine along the beach in Bognor, so the waves gleamed, the gulls soared, and Richard smiled.

Some of you may know I had to take early retirement because of fibromyalgia (for more about that illness, see the “Invisible Illnesses” article on my blog). The problem with that illness is you need to keep active, but pain and stiff joints can make movement difficult and very uncomfortable. Walking is slow and short distance, even with a stick. Swimming can help in warm water. Sports and even gentle movement/stretching exercise can be impossible. Anything that puts “impact” into exercise is a no-no. Treadmill, stepper, cross-trainer, walking/jogging… all are a BAD idea.

Enter the e-bike. Taking advice from the dealer about upright posture, gear set-up, handlebars, etc., I tried out the recommended machine. Astonishingly, my back did NOT hurt. My hips and knees didn’t object. My shoulders felt fine. So I took a flyer, and bought one. Today I rode it for the first time properly- and it was the most fun I’ve had in months! Bognor Regis is blessedly flat, but even so a four-mile round trip would have been unthinkable before. I used to cycle a lot, and played football & cricket. The e-bike doesn’t do it all for you- there is still good aerobic exercise- but the power takes the strain off and gives an “insurance policy” that the bike can get me home if I am totally cream-crackered and run out of muscle energy.

Today is the most and best exercise I’ve been able to take for three years. And I don’t hurt. I’m so happy I didn’t even mind going to the dentist at 5pm (though I have to go back next Weds too… ). So I shall be scaring the natives of Bognor on sunny days, doing my impression of a low-flying Zeppelin, gradually getting fitter and helping shed some pounds. Did I tell you I’m excited, happy, and raring to go?

Anyway, I’m finishing my day on a high. I’m grateful to the genius who stuck a motor on bicycles. I’m grateful for sunshine and flat ground for a first flight. And I glad that meerkats look cute and put smiles on faces. In fact, it isn’t hard to finish today with joy in my heart and thanksgiving to God for a really good one. They won’t all be good days. But you can tell me to remember to say “On yer bike!” regularly to myself, and to share the smiles around when the best days come. I think I may sleep better tonight too.

Lord, watch over me, my loved ones, and the people I meet. And please share a bit of grace and peace to everyone who goes through the mill because of some rotten illness. May there be happy surprises to balance out the tougher times. Amen.

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Meerkat

 

Finding Wisdom on the Beach

It will be officially Spring on 1st March. Someone should let the weather know. We have snow forecast this week; a cold north-east wind is bringing Siberia to Sussex.

Despite the plunging temperatures, I am finding a benefit of living near the sea. It is a great place for wandering, pondering, and clearing the mind. I’m not the only one. This guy was walking towards the sunset as the tide pulled back. I’ll never know who he was. He was searching the sand and the breakwaters. I don’t know if he found anything, or even what he was looking for.

When I wander with my teeth chattering and my fingers freezing I find a sense of peace. Even when the ice or gales make for uncomfortable walking, the beach offers a myriad of interesting things. The tracks of seabirds, the colonies of shellfish, the patterns in the sand: the light picks out different features. Breaking waves and the sound of water retreating across the sands, with a chorus of gulls plaintively calling. Why do gulls sound so alone?  Sunset skies dye the wet sand in glorious technicolour. The Sun, the Moon, and sometimes the stars, shimmer their fractured reflections across the restless waters. It’s so beautiful. It has become a holy place for me.

Day or night, it helps me to sense the closeness of Almighty God: all this is His, and still He cares for His children. God makes Himself known in and through this world. People of faith have known this for centuries. The prophet Amos spoke of this: “It is the LORD who created the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. He turns darkness into morning and day into night. He draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land. The LORD is his name!  Amos 5:8 (NLT)

I find myself taking opportunities to detour down to the beach. The long way home from the shops, the bank, our church. Ten minutes in the morning after dropping Juliet at school. An hour with the camera, looking for new ways to record the wisdom of God’s self-revelation in Creation. Time to reflect and pray for people and situations; time to filter out all the inner noise and confusions, the anger and irritations of an imperfect life.

Maybe tomorrow I will get to chase snowflakes into the sea. Perhaps the frost will laminate the pebbles. And just maybe, the quieting of my soul will allow the wisdom of God to touch my mind and change my heart. It is wise to search: to search is to find.

The Lord is His Name!

Frost that chills the Soul

Frost that chills the soul Lent 2018The period from now until Easter is known as Lent. It is traditionally a time to consider our hearts as a preparation for the festival that follows.

In the U.K., Lent fits into the transition between winter and Spring. The weather changes daily. Yesterday was gale and driving rain; today is gloriously and warmly bathed in sunshine. A few days ago we had a sharp frost. I took this photo of frost-encrusted bramble leaves before the rising sun melted the icing. Frost enhances the shape and pattern of each leaf, and adorns it with a delicate sculpture of tiny ice crystals. Beautiful… but bitterly cold.

Taking this shock of icy cold as a starter, imagine what the Twelve felt like as Jesus spoke boldly and confrontationally about the true cost of discipleship. As He spoke, I suspect that a frost chilled their souls… “What have we let ourselves in for?”

Reflect on the following Bible passage- Mark 8:34-38 (NLT)

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Immediately after this came the Transfiguration. After that, Good Friday looms. Then will come Resurrection.

Lent reminds us that before we get to the glory and celebration, first comes the frost that chills our souls. Only when we fully understand the cost can we fully enjoy Resurrection Life.

Take the time to feel the chill… and then embrace the hope.

Focus on the crocus!

Today has been good. Cold, but sunny- so I went for a walk round the green spaces near home.  At last, Spring is nearly here. Crocus blooming, a few daffodils waving merrily, snowdrops nodding.

It isn’t just the flowers that cheered me up. It was being able to go for a walk (or slow ramble, if you like). I set no records for distance or number of steps- but I did get out for a walk. That’s a win in my book.

Focus on the crocus! A simple thing, but gorgeous.

Seeing simply in a complicated world is a great discipline to learn. I could have stayed home in the warm, but I ventured out and in the simplicity of spring flowers I sensed the joy of God!  I didn’t sort out any problems, or solve a world crisis. But I was aware of God, and He is able to look after everything beyond my scope. As someone put it, as Christians we “are in sales, not management.”  We are walking adverts for grace and love- God must handle the big stuff.  If me walking round with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart made any difference to anyone I met, that’s all I can take credit for. All because of a crocus or two.

Today- focus on ONE simple delight. Be grateful, and thank God. Leave the rest to Him.