Only an also-ran?

Cheetahs used to be an also-ran (if you’ll pardon the pun!) as far as I was concerned. Tigers are still my favourite big cat, but I have become much more fond of cheetahs. A simple reason. When we lived near Whipsnade Zoo, the cheetahs were more co-operative subjects- so I spent time photographing them. The other big cats were often sleeping or hiding out of sight. But the cheetahs had an accessible enclosure and often sat out in the open.

Their grace and beauty won me over. Their coat is lovely, and the expression in their eyes entranced me. Cheetahs look at the horizon ready to streak after a passing lunch. They seem to look through visitors with an expression of dignified distain. Obviously, we humans are not worth chasing… but we are welcome to give our adulation as is proper to ALL cats. Cheetahs pose to be admired by the passing plebs.

In this photo, the sun was burning through a misty morning, and just as the cheetah stirred, a gorgeous back-light highlighted its fur in pure gold. A much better picture than the hoped-for but dozing lion hidden in the long grass well away from my lens!

Someone asked me recently about getting to know God better. I don’t know any real shortcuts- patience and desire are key. One thing I have discovered… The more time I spend seeking out holy ways and knowledge, the closer I come to God. Perhaps I have found a way to “cheetah” after all… 

Much as I fell in love with cheetahs by default and opportunism, I have come to love Jesus Christ because He has put himself into my path by many small revelations and experiences. I have come to recognise His voice and ways by encounter rather than some lofty pietism which puts the object of faith out of reach. Too big, too distant, too important to be bothered with a mere human like me.

The truth is that God’s heart is set on us, and the Father sends the Son and Holy Spirit to draw us closer. His goodness and holiness are available to us through faith and obedience. Don’t forget the parable Jesus told about a “prodigal son” whose Father REJOICED in the rebel’s return. We are welcome in God’s presence because He has made a Way.

Two short scriptures to meditate on:

James 4:8 (TNIV) Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded… 

Proverbs 18:24 (TNIV)  One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.033ZSLfauna0316adj

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.

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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.)

Solitude

There are two kinds of solitude in the Bible. The good kind, where a person seeks God and in solitude discovers that the Lord Almighty is willing to engage with a sincere searcher.

Then the other solitude- the loneliness of exile, judgment and despair.

Owls feature only a few times in the Old Testament, and usually as a representation of the second kind of solitude. (This owl was in captivity… appropriately!)

zeph 2 v14 owl

The little-known message of Zephaniah is a message of judgment and encouragement with three major reminders:

  • 1) God is sovereign over all nations.
  • 2) The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be vindicated.
  • 3) God blesses those who repent and trust in Him.

It seems that solitude is an inevitable part of life. Either we willingly seek out God, or we risk being “quarantined” and watching all our accomplishments be overrun by the wild.

Listening to world news and international politicians is worrying. It may be an over-simplification, but society has discarded its faith-roots and fallen into a moral decay. This is not unique to our time. Human nature throughout history has been a rollercoaster of civilisation and collapse. Our ultimate and only hope is that the Sovereign Lord God will deliver us; Christ “ushered in” the Kingdom of God and we wait and work for its promise to reach fulfilment.

What should we do?  Pray with sincere hearts for our world and its leaders.

Secondly: decide personally whether we wish to choose solitude to discover God- or suffer the solitude of banishment. That could be considered the “naughty step” where we go to think about our conduct and attitude in the hope we might be forgiven and rescued.

Owls tend to be quite solitary creatures. They say owls are wise. What would they say privately in the ear of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and public servants?

Read Zephaniah in full- it is only short- and take in the promise of justice alongside the hope of mercy.

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.

Wolf offers peace…

Wolves have a fearsome reputation. This one was “safe” although not tame. He was part of a small pack at the zoo, and in the large enclosure it wasn’t hard to see the hunter in his genes. We leave wolves alone, and don’t provoke them. In the right setting they are magnificent. In the wrong one they are deadly.

I selected this photo to celebrate the better news from Korea. Two national leaders have met, negotiated, and offered hope of a reduction of the nuclear threat.

Wolf lamb 012whipsnade1212Pray that this new state of political agreement will last, and become stronger. Isaiah, that great spokesman of hope, foretold the day when the predators would be at peace with their normal prey. Part of the purpose of God is to bring reconciliation through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God and Prince of Peace.

Naturally enough, we worry and pray when international tensions are high. We should also pray with thanksgiving at every small step towards peace and the dawn of the Kingdom of God.

There is more hope today than there was yesterday. Give thanks and commit to being a peacemaker. Our prayers make a difference!

The odd one out…

Swans on the Thames at Windsor… with an odd one out. A single Canada Goose mingling with the majestic and elegant swans.

I was a strangerBeing the odd one out can be very uncomfortable, even threatening. God’s instruction is clear: those who claim to follow Him have a duty to care for the strangers, the refugees, the elderly, the orphans. The Old Testament reasoning was straightforward: care for the stranger, because YOU were once a slave in Egypt. As they were liberated, so they were to be liberators and welcome the “others.”

Jesus upped the stakes. Every time you give water to the thirsty… you are doing it to ME. The exiles, the suffering, the poor, hungry, prisoner… the odd one out.

Strangers need to be welcomed, accepted, and loved. It’s what Jesus would do.

Challenging, isn’t it.

Matthew 25:35 (NLT)
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”

Every day is a gift

Every day is a gift.
Every day is an adventure.

Help me, O Lord, to grasp the new day with courage and faith.

Open my heart as well as my eyes so I may recognise You.

May every new moment, new sight, new friendship, excite me.

May my soul rejoice and worship, because You are with me.

Should the gift feel heavy, or the adventure seem too frightening,
Remind me that You will ALWAYS be with us,
on good days and the difficult ones too.

Come, O Holy Spirit, touch my life and my lips
so I may praise God my Father wholeheartedly,
and love my fellow pilgrims as Christ has loved me.

This gift is what I can give to You:
the obedience of love and the trust of my heart,
the thoughtfulness of my mind,
the determination of my will to subject myself to You.
For You are my everything since You gave all for me.

Such grace, mercy, and joy lead me always back to You
even when I have wandered and strayed.
As a prodigal child, I seek Your faithful forgiveness,
As a wayward one who should know better
I place my life into Your welcoming arms.

Bless the Name of the Holy Three-in-One,
the True and Living God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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