Whenever I am tempted to think I have everything sorted out, God has a way of reminding me that I’m not that amazing. Sunsets, sea, sand, sky… too vast and marvellous for me to calculate or control. My response is personal, but cannot be separated from the union of worshipping Church through all ages.
So then, Lord God,
this interaction of matter, light, and wonder
humbles my heart before the infinite glory,
telling me there is a Glory beyond Glory.
Infinite Love and Infinite Grace,
Absolute Holiness and Divine Majesty,
You alone are God.
I thank You for the gift of another day,
and praise You for revealing Love
that covers my sins
as the sea scrubs the sand.
Far above the golden air
energised by the Sun
Lifts my soul to contemplate infinity-
yet infinity is wrapped in your Hand
and stars and galaxies beyond sight
glow in the Presence
that has come to Earth
and will reconcile all things to Yourself.
Lord, I am too small
and too flawed
to offer perfect praise-
all I have I give You,
a prodigal son
in a prodigal world,
hardly daring to believe
my Father runs to greet me:
my crucified Christ Rose for me,
Holy Spirit Presence fills me-
For I was lost, and am now found;
I was dead, and am alive in You.
Such Infinite Mercy,
such mystery of grace.
In Christ alone mystery is unfurled
as the Banner over me is Love.
(c) Richard Starling, 2021
Living without hope is soul-destroying. Hopelessness eats at our spirit, our courage, our relationships and even our ability to love. Then we give up. Or we start to try experimenting with ridiculous risks or harmful actions.
“Acceptable social anaesthetics” like drugs, alcohol or sexual indulgence offer temporary relief: but if there is a vacuum at the centre, everything is sucked in and destroyed. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I may seek bigger experiences, zingier worship, allow my faith to collapse- or I can build on my foundation.
WHAT we focus on will affect our day-to-day mood and actions.
WHO we focus on will determine our story’s end.
I count myself blessed to be living near the sea. Autumn means the beaches are mostly empty, and the sunrise and sunsets are a personal art gallery to be enjoyed and cherished. The other day I watched small waves coming in at an angle of about 25 degrees to the shoreline. As they broke there was a long succession of noise as the water curved onto the stones, like a succession dive by a line of synchronised swimmers. It was almost hypnotic- certainly very calming.
Perhaps it is in these observations of the wonder of creation that we can find reminders of God. Combine that with a reflection on God’s revealed Word, and we can find encouragement to strengthen our minds and our spirits.
The grateful heart finds hope in counting these blessings and the solidity of the world- the Faithful God is revealed in the faithful repetition of sea, land and sky. There can be- will be- storms and disasters- but they pass and new days come. So far, I have a 100% record of surviving life… and a growing bundle of joy-filled photos to remind me that God IS… He is LOVE… AND HE IS FAITHFUL.
My choice is important. What and WHO will I focus on? That’s where I will find hope.
Psalm 33:22 (NLT) Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.
Some photographs are planned- some just happen. I waited at Bonehill Rocks above Widecombe-in-the-Moor for the setting sun to break through the cloud: then with little warning, a climber stepped into the light. The traveller was enshrined- his journey over the rocks and wild hills of Dartmoor has been immortalised.
We didn’t speak. He may not even know he was photographed. His evening was all exertion and the warm glow of achievement.
I regard this as a favourite photo. It tells a story- or lets YOU tell a story- about the silhouetted figure against the warm light. Dark clouds and solid granite frame the moment. What does it say to you?
A prayer for all who travel, who make pilgrimage:
“God bless the path you take, and the earth beneath your feet. May God bless your destination.”
May God guide you, protect you, and make your travelling a blessing to others when you arrive.
An almost deserted beach at Aldwick… the sun setting against dramatic clouds far beyond Selsey.
Many of us are isolated, or just with our family, and our days are a strange shape. We have time to endure- or use. Quiet is a gift that we may need to unwrap- modern life has so many distractions and the noise level is generally high.
I offer this photo and prayer as a focal point through which we may seek the Lord.
Look at the picture, and read the words over several times.
Take enough time to let your body relax, and your mind settle from the “inner noise” we all suffer from! Focus on Jesus, give thanks for the day and unexpected opportunity for prayer, then offer your worship and prayer for yourself and others who are of concern to you.
Mysterious and always changing. The light, the tide, the time, the temperature: all impose their weight on the margin of land and sea. Shorelines are places of constant movement and change, yet remain substantially the same for many years.
To walk here is to enter a theatre where the scenery changes yet the script is written without words. Except, perhaps, for the words we bring with us: the thoughts and cares, the questions and the yearning for that which is truly Other. This is a panorama of meditation, a palace of prayer, a cauldron of wonder.
Where is God? He is here. The question is really “How do I become aware of Him?”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Lord God, source of all Holiness and Purity, make my heart clean. As I confess my need of a Saviour, I acknowledge that I need to honour a Lord. You alone are worthy of such devotion, You alone are Good and full of loving-kindness.
Meet me in the private place of inner truth, walk with me along the margins of this world and the heavenly realms. Open my eyes that I may see; open my heart that I may believe and trust; and open my mind to be renewed through Your Holy Spirit. Then, O Lord Jesus Christ, I will be aware of You and worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.
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.
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.
“Why me?” Good question. We often ask it when life falls apart in some way. Life’s like that. Usually there is no easy answer to the question, and we don’t always like or want the harder answers. Sometimes there is no real answer at all, just the pain of it. Everyone knows this experience.
We could ask the same “why me?” question when good things happen- and the answer-choice would be much the same.
For over 45 years I have been given the enormous privilege of talking about (and on behalf of) God. Starting in Boys’ Brigade bible classes, doing school assemblies, youth clubs, and then as a pastor-preacher in churches.
This morning I spoke at a church near Portsmouth. They said nice things to me afterwards (which is always encouraging!).
A year ago I retired from full-time work as a pastor. I still do a bit of speaking, perhaps 8 times in this last year. Although I’ve been doing this for so long, I am still amazed that I have been given the privilege. It is an awesome responsibility to speak to others about God. Why me? There are many worthier and more capable people God could have sent. Why me? Answers on a postcard please!
I’m not alone in feeling like this. Most if not all preachers have times when they would willingly give up. Does my life match up to my words? Do I speak out of love and compassion? Do I know what I’m on about? Do I know God, or just know stuff about Him?
Paul the apostle wrote about this: Ephesians 3:8 (Message) “When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities. And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.”
Today I simply want to thank the churches, schools, community groups and individuals who have been kind enough and patient enough to listen. Then I need to say a reverent “thank You” to God who has been willing to accept me, love me, and save me; then give me a purpose for living and speaking and writing. I still think “Why me?” but I appreciate the opportunities to see heavenly Love transform people’s lives- including my own. I’m not perfect, and won’t be in this lifetime. Jesus IS perfect and can even use an ordinary man or woman to do stuff that matters for eternity.
Can I ask for one thing? Pray for preachers, pastors, and the people in churches who dare to speak and serve in the Name of Jesus. Pray for them, appreciate them, encourage them, (and sometimes forgive them because they are human too). They may be feeling “yuk” OR “wow”…. or could be struggling with life and the “why me” moments. They speak because God has put a responsibility on their shoulders, and a fire in their heart. Please fan the flame. You will benefit too!
Our worship this morning was great. Enthusiastic, well-led, and with a stimulating and challenging message to send us into a new week. It gave us glimpses of God, of eternal love and compassion and left us positive and hope-filled.
But there is so much more. Not even the best of our efforts, not even the strongest and most honest response can ensure that we “see” God in His fullest glory and splendour.
The other morning I stood on the beach before the crowds were about. A still sea, a clear sky, and the fantastic blaze of the sun pouring light and energy into our world. I couldn’t look directly at the Sun- the blast of Light could have damaged my eyes permanently. What I could do was use the camera to selectively record the light reflecting on the silent ocean- and take away an impression of the Sun’s presence and power. The sea turned silver, sparkled with radiance, and testified to the reality and greatness of the Star which Earth orbits.
I suppose that’s what we did in church today. We reflected some of the splendour of God’s glory. Our changed priorities and changing hearts testified to the power and Presence of the Living God. We sparkled like silver as we reflected the light of the Son. It is said that when Moses came down from the Holy Mountain, from meeting with Almighty God, Moses’s face shone with reflected glory so much that they could not bear the sight- that much holiness and love was too much for the people to see. Moses had to cover his face.
This week, I hope that my life, my character, my face will all reflect something of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Saviour. People may not be able to look directly at God- maybe they will be able to bear the reflected splendour in those who worshipped today.
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…)
In the stocks, Malta 2011
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.