Clouds lifted – Look, See, Pray

This has been the most unusual three months of my life. It began with a small news item from China- a new illness has been discovered and it is dangerous.

Quickly the story grew. Details of the virus, Covid-19, were passed round at Government level, without much action. Then it all changed. People were getting sick across Europe, in the USA, and almost everywhere connected to the airline networks. Cruise ships were hit hard. Patients in ICU were dying, or surviving on ventilators. In this country, we became concerned that the under-staffed and under-resourced NHS might collapse under the strain.

Folks started to panic buy, and toilet rolls became the new currency. Lock down. Airlines stopped flying.

International Quarantine was imposed; some horror stories emerged from Italy and so it began. Three months of frozen time… and suddenly doctors/nurses, carers, funeral directors, binmen, cleaners and retail staff became heroes.

No end in sight yet. Risks remain, and some selfish people are putting others at risk by foolish behaviour.

Will it end? Probably, if they can develop an effective vaccine.

In the meantime, our priorities have changed. We have a healthier view about who is important- long may that last! We know the VALUE of some things, not just their price. Change is inevitable: the majority don’t want to “go back to the status quo.” Community has become important again. Perhaps, in the longer term, we might see a better kind of people-centred politician emerge. Churches have tried hard to adapt; and it is likely that some of those adaptations will be permanent.

Underlying all this uncertainty is a message of confidence. God has a purpose in this world, and that affects us all.

My photo was taken early one morning as our ship entered a narrow fjord through banks of fog. Good old radar! The Captain knew where we were, and we glided slowly and majestically through the dark waters: hardly a ripple marked our passage. Then the clouds began to lift and the fog dissipated. We had safe passage. We moored in time for breakfast and watched the scenery take on life.

There is a prayer written on the picture. It is a mixture of hope, uncertainty, and eventual confidence. Even when the way is hidden, and peril surrounds us, we can trust that God will be alongside. However difficult the journey, our destination is securely defended. Parts of the trek will be smooth and straightforward. Part will be like the last three months.

One day we will see our destination. The clouds will lift and we will be at peace: more, we will be filled with joy! Until then: here is advice and exhortation from the Apostle Paul.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Reflection of Light – Look, See, Pray

Not every experience, photograph or person has to be outstandingly dynamic. Ordinary is good.

We have become addicted to the buzz of adrenaline. Bigger, better, faster, louder, brighter- and usually more expensive to us as “buyer” and to the ordinary person doing the producing. This is not, in my opinion, a “good thing.” We become greedy, and then dissatisfied when our latest “fix” doesn’t meet our expectations.

So today’s photo is distinctly ORDINARY. Reeds, grasses, water, colour, and a reflection. Not even a duck or dragonfly. It just IS. And that, my friends, is just fine.

Bellamy or Attenborough might get excited about the botany or biology. It’s a habitat but we don’t know for whom. Perhaps Ratty and Mole will pass by, messing about on the river…

Why have I bothered to post it? It won’t excite many people, naturalists apart.

Two theological reasons. First, the Creation narratives in the Bible record one amazing truth. God saw “That it was GOOD.” Everything that existed through the act of creation has divine approval. (We’ve made a mess of much of it, but that’s a story for a different day with different questions!)

Second, the actual reflection. What is it? Light. What we see as a reflection is the light coming back from our subject. Our Sun has flooded the atmosphere with light; it bounces off the grass, reeds and water. Our eyes receive that light and our brain interprets what we “see” in terms of what is there, that which is revealed by the light.

That’s the point, really. The photo is pleasant, colourful, and shapely in an ordinary sort of way. Ordinary things (and people) are GOOD… and defined by the Light they reflect.

My life actually gains its meaning not from my ego or experiences, but the quality and quantity of Light that I reflect. My ordinary daily “being” is defined by how clearly and accurately I reflect the Light of the World: which is of course one of the descriptions of Jesus Christ. I think I should pray next.

Hey, God, just a few words, if I may.

I know I’m pretty ordinary. I shall never be a Dad or grandad, but I love all my family. I’ll never play football for England, I’m not going to be the best preacher in the world, nor the best photographer. I can make the effort to be the best “me” possible- if You give me some help! – and I can stay as clean as possible, inside and out. Then I will reflect Your Light. It won’t make me famous, or rich, or really successful, ‘cos I’m ordinary, and I’m not sure I’d do well with too much fame or celebrity status. So please give me a Hand to be kind, decent, holy and a help to others: and let Your Light shine on me so I can reflect Your love accurately and well. Thank You for giving me a lovely wife to share my days, for allowing me to serve a bit in churches and the community, and giving me the wit and willingness to know that ordinary is good. Not just “good enough” but actually GOOD, the way You intended me to be.
I’m sorry I haven’t always managed to be “me” very well- and the regrets and repentances of my life are best left to Your grace-filled mercy. When those mistakes and sins have hurt other people, Lord, please comfort and heal them: and I trust Your promise about forgiving and being forgiven, so I also want to say that I forgive the people who have been less than kind or helpful to me.
All in all, Lord Jesus, please let me reflect Light all my days- and to enjoy You and Your gifts, always. Then I reckon You will look at the reflection I am, and say that’s good too. You will even see Your own Face reflected in me- and that’s the highest honour I could ever, ever have. Amen.

If any of that reflects who you are, or how you feel, reflect on that for a bit… and may God shine the Light of His smiling face on you too. God specialises in making the ordinary “good” and, in His eyes, special.

Grebe Expectations- Look, See, Pray

“Grebe Expectations,” a lesser known book of birds by Charles Dickens. (No, Richard, be serious!) “Grebe Expectations” is what I got when I photographed this Grebe at Pagham reserve. I packed my lens and headed for home, eager to see the bird immortalised.

“Big Disappointments” was the sequel. The grebe was too small, and my focus was not sharp. Yet I had a strange reluctance to bin it- the memory of sharing a few priceless minutes observing its world, trying to guess where it would surface after each dive… I was invested in Gregory Grebe’s existence.

So I played with the technology.. and the picture took a texture, a form that suggested Grebes without claiming to own one. A brushstroke filter added a touch of artistry. Then the poet’s muse dived in the lake…

More odious than ode, words took their place as I tried to capture a visual moment in solid prose, or poetry of a kind.

What is its worth as a photo, a poem, a thing? To me it is real, the securing of a past moment that touched my soul. No-one else may share my pride of creation: a daubing with doggerel, a whimsy whispering in the evening light.

There is, however, a parable in this Grebe.  A man went out to seek beauty, and finding a grebe fishing, prepared his camera for a trophy. Attainment did not equal inspiration, and a failure was clear to see. “Not good enough!” cried the critics. Shamed and blamed, the photographer told himself what he should have done.

But the colours enticed, and the grebe WAS there. So the creative urge did a surge, the program offered a new possibility, and a poem was born on a failed canvas.

Then the Great Artist looked and smiled, for His child had pinned a clumsy picture on the fridge door of Heaven, and smiled with tremulous eyes at his Father’s face. “It’s for You, Dad. I’m sorry it isn’t as good as I hoped…”

Smiles beamed from the Throne Room. “That’s fine, my boy- I made that Grebe for you, to fill your mind and soul with the wonder of Creation. And I love your picture, because you created it for Me.”

God of the second chance… Lord of the gracious heart. Father of the child who fails, and tries, and loves as best he can.

Truly, “Grebe Expectations” has given me a prayer of thankfulness tonight. May you see the beauty, the wonder in this world, and offer what you see to the Father who loves us.

Disappointments can be gateways to renewed joy!  Nice one, Gregory Grebe.Grebe artist 007Pagham 030518

Juggling Otters – Look, See, Pray

1973. That’s the year I was as damp and as happy as this lil’ juggling otter.

Why? Because the 29th April 1973 was the day I publicly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour through believer’s baptism. For those who may not know, Baptist Christians are baptised by full immersion on their profession of faith, repentance, and committed obedience to God. Imagine a pool about 3 metres x 2 metres and about 1.5 metres deep. My Dad was the pastor who joyfully baptised me and two friends on 29th April 1973. So it’s an anniversary.

Here I am stuck indoors while it rains. I want to celebrate! Celebrating may have to be limited to baking some naughty but nice condensed milk biscuits. I’ll share some with you, if you like, as long as you can tell me how to WhatsApp them across.   My inner otter also approves of my diet, since I’m having salmon for dinner to balance the biscuits!

Forty-seven years ago. 47. Yes, nearly fifty years, and I have the silvery-white beard to prove it. Doesn’t seem possible! I don’t look old enough (and some might say “or behave well enough” but I am a work in progress).

Any regrets? No. Some bruises and sadnesses, some questions still without answers, some hard lessons, but no regrets. Happy about it? Oh yes! So many joys, memories, friends, experiences. My life has been shaped forever by that Sunday evening dunking. I cannot imagine having lived any different life than being loved by God and finding out how to love Him back.

Why the rather tenuous connection with a juggling otter photo? Well, I wanted to mark the anniversary with something joyful, fun, and irrepressible. That pretty much spells “otter.” They play enthusiastically, work with dedication, love generously, and move with graceful elegance (which is where the similarity stops. I am about as graceful as a T-Rex on skis).

Some people give the impression that being a Christian is dull, serious, goody-goody, and possibly hypocritical. It has been my intent to disprove that theory! I can be serious when necessary. But I love to laugh, tell jokes, play and sing… in fact doing the things that Jesus did. Really important things are learned through laughter… and some only learned through tears. Jesus talked about giving us LIFE IN ABUNDANCE.

That otter… totally focussed on the moment, juggling a stone, full of the joy of being alive!

Me too. I love otters, dolphins, hummingbirds, swallows and pretty much anything that looks happy as it goes about living each brand new day. The promises I made 47 years ago are still binding: and that gradually-growing relationship with Jesus is the reason I am smiling.

I’m far from perfect. Jesus is working on that. So, perhaps, are you. Thank you to my family, my friends, my fellow-believers, and those I have served with and worked alongside. Too many to name, but not forgotten.

Finishing with an anniversary “joke” of sorts: If ever my love for God and for my neighbours should grow cool, I know I can simply ask the Lord to ……. make me a little ‘otter.

Be blessed on my anniversary day! Be blessed on your special days too.

Row for glory – Look, See, Pray

stamina sculls 0121Oct2013misc

Easter Day was so different. We joined our local church family online: very grateful for technology, but missing the human contact. But YES – Jesus is Risen from the dead. Hallelujah!

What now? Imagine the disciples (minus the dead betrayer, Judas Iscariot) gathered together coming to terms with all that happened.”We saw Him… He spoke to us…” Fresh from their amazing encounter, the two from Emmaus rushed back to Jerusalem only to find the others already knew Jesus was alive!

Thomas speaks for many of us- he needs to be convinced… that’s a tale for another day. Jerusalem was in turmoil- rumours are circulating and the authorities are scared and furious.

Jesus has a timetable. His appearances continue to surprise, encourage and challenge. “Wait until Pentecost” – the next great feast-day. In the meantime, the disciples are supporting each other and learning to depend on the Risen Christ without His constant physical presence. They are also learning more of each other as they begin to consider the future. “Team Jesus” is being prepared.

Like the disciples, these days after the Resurrection present a challenge. What do we do with this astounding Good News?

Waiting on the Lord is a good start: we too need Pentecost power, and the annual reminder and refreshment is vital. Let’s seek Him now, wholeheartedly.

Some time back Juliet and I stayed in a hotel by the Thames. An early morning stroll beside the river was notable for a speedy pass by a racing rowing team. Smooth as silk, precise as a machine, their oars rose and dipped as the fragile boat sliced through the water.

Imagine the hassle if just one lost rhythm… if an oar clashed, or a backside slipped! Graceful and vigorous, this team was serious about their race. Their sheer committed energy was thrilling and exhausting to watch! They were preparing now so they could WIN when it counted.

In these days of lockdown we can’t do “team practice.” But we can use our time and the changed social patterns to prepare. Some of Christ’s followers are carrying the burden of the NHS, of food supplies, of caring, emergency services- these key workers will need a hero’s reception and a rest!

The rest of us? The stay-at-homes. How will the Kingdom of servant-witnesses emerge from the days of restriction? Will we crawl out, blinking like moles in the sudden sunlight? Or might we come out strengthened, built up, spiritually sharpened and Spirit-filled? Taking living Good News into a community that is finding out now that life is more than wealth or status. Discovering people eager to pray, to seek a reality beyond what we had in our fractured society.

The Kingdom of Christ spread from Jerusalem in a pandemic of LOVE, telling stories of grace, hope, and justice. Signs of the Kingdom followed as words and actions combined in Christ-like positivity. What will the history books say about the way church in our generation emerges from the darkness of Covid-19 fear and loss?

May they read Jesus in our eyes, ears, hands, and hearts- and words of everlasting life. The race is on…

Time to endure- or use. Look, See, Pray

Quiet Prayer 029Bognor Beach1117

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.

Peace and grace to us all today.

Living Water- Look, See, Pray

Walking in the Pyrenees in the midday heat, looking for a reason to stop… how glad my eyes became when this stream offered a shady rest and a good excuse!  Fast running water- needs a slow shutter speed to make it look realistic. Too fast, and every droplet will freeze in time, a spray of molten diamonds. Too slow, and the water will blur so much it will lose form completely.

Add the complication of high contrast between open sunlight and deep shadows. That’s got to be worth a few cool, quiet minutes in the shade to think about technique (and enjoy a bite of lunch). Hope the resulting photo pleases you!

Andorra is a tiny land-locked country between France and Spain. The mountains offer ski slopes in the winter, and great (steep) walking in summer. Such precipitous slopes run water off quickly, and the streams dash briskly down into the valley below. Even in high summer, the water was icy cold- refreshing for weary feet and dry tonsils.

It helped me understand the frequent image in the Bible- streams in the desert, wells and springs, life for the parched hills and thirsty pastures. The land of Israel and its neighbours know all about thirst and the value of pure running, living, water.

Isaiah the prophet brought a message of hope to a people in difficult times: “For I will pour water on the thirsty ground and send streams coursing through the parched earth. I will pour my Spirit into your descendants and my blessing on your children.”  – Isaiah 44:3 (Message)

Andorra Waterfall DSC_0267
Mountain stream, Pyrenees, in Andorra

Later, Jesus stood in the middle of the Jerusalem worshippers and pilgrims: On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.”    John 7:37-38 (Message)

The nation who KNEW the value of water “in a dry and thirsty land” and who regularly witnessed the ritual use of water for cleansing (physical and spiritual) were instantly faced with a shocking fact. Jesus- the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ- is claiming to be the fulfilment of all the Bible promises of Life, forgiveness, cleansing, purification… a prophetic and life-changing proclamation. With the best will in the world, the religious practices and traditions of Israel only partly satisfied the need. People were THIRSTY for revelation and hope, for redemption and rescue. Jesus says- “Come and drink.”

There is nothing quite as satisfying as pure, cool water when you are desperately thirsty.

Not just a drink, says Jesus: but Living Water will well up inside those who trust-and-believe: just as promised in the Old Testament.

Right at the end of the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation, the final visions show this River of Life running from the Throne of Almighty God:  Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations…”   Revelation 22:1-2 (Message)

To be thirsty, spiritually thirsty, is a deep privilege. Come to Christ- drink your fill, be re-born, be immersed in Holy Spirit life and power. Saint, sinner or seeker- come as you are and let the Living Water transform your life.  Come on, drink deep…