Doing things RIGHT.

The Reflectionary

Pisa is famous for one special thing. A bell-tower which started to lean by the time the builders reached the third storey.

And I saved £150 on my car insurance renewal today.

Two unconnected facts. Except for this… the tower was a genuine mistake, a miscalculation of the ground strength which meant the foundations were too shallow.

My insurance renewal was the outcome of a bit of sharp practice by the insurance industry. Without naming names, I received my renewal notice (no claims, no changes) which came in at £364, quite a chunk higher than last year. So I did the shopping for quotes, and bought an identical policy from a competitor. It was £150 cheaper for the same cover. Hmmm.  I rang the first company to inform them I wouldn’t be renewing my policy, and after a few minutes of conversation they made a revised offer that came…

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Ruins, remembering, and restored hope

We saw a lot of history on holiday. Quite a bit of it was broken! Rome has been an important city for over 2,000 years: as a centre of civilisation, military power, and religious influence.

The “Pax Romana” – peace enforced by taxation and the Legions – shaped large swathes of modern Europe and Asia Minor. At its height, Rome wrote its story in large letters.

That legacy is attested by the remnants and ruins of a glorious and cruel past. Statues and temples to forgotten gods and heroes; the shell of the Colosseum which attracts hordes of tourists.

It is a monument to the failure of an Empire.

“Give them bread and circuses” was the bribe to a jaded populace of proud greed and restlessness. To keep the masses quiet, Caesars offered food and entertainment. On the surface, Rome was great and grand. But its policy of conquest eventually failed. Hordes of enemies invaded and drove the boundaries back and back until Rome fell.

The ruined Colosseum hosted the Games. The games degenerated into cruelty: gladiators fought to the death. Those not killed outright were at the whim of the people and the dreaded “thumbs down” signal which meant their death as losers.

Later it became the backdrop for the martyrdom of many Christians: Lions 5, Christians 0. Public executions became a way of feeding the blood-lust of the mob.

Rome fell. In its falling, much of civilisation was lost as the “Dark Ages” shrouded the Empire’s corpse.

The Colosseum stands as a tombstone for Rome’s glory.

As Rome declined, the Christian Church was spreading. Although itself fractured by disputes over doctrine, authority and culture, Christianity “absorbed” some of the best of Roman ingenuity. The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and (for better or worse) dragged the church into the politics of Empire. The fall of Rome led to the division of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic and Celtic… later through revivals, reversals, and reform the Protestants emerged. A history of conflict mixed with a search for “the” truth of churchmanship.

Jumping to our own time, we can see monuments to both success and failure in politics and religion. We live in turbulent times where much is being shaken and disturbed, knocked down and rebuilt. “Christendom,” the establishment of Christianity within politics, is ending. The structures and denominations may be collapsing, but the Kingdom of God still stands. Millions of people throughout the world become followers of Christ every year: and the purpose of God is not defeated by our temporary struggles.

In the prayer of Jesus, there is a phrase worth contemplating whenever the future seems in doubt. Followers of Jesus still pray this regularly… “May Your will be done on Earth, AS IN HEAVEN.”

Almighty God is still the undefeated Sovereign; and the Kingdom of God stills grows. One day Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and the merciful Redeemer. The glory and power belong to Him and is expressed through Christians who are helping build a legacy that will not fall. What is it?

LOVE. Love that is compassionate, freely given, and flowing out of hearts and minds transformed by the Spirit of Jesus.

Lord, may Your will be done in me, in us, today and always- until the King of Kings is crowned and Creation is restored. And then for eternity. Amen.

Carnival! – Look, See, Pray

The Reflectionary

The sun is turning us toasty.  So much hot sunshine comes as a surprise in the usually green and pleasant land of the British Isles. Put your hand up if you HAVEN’T complained about being too hot. You’re  amazing- unless you are fibbing!

A few years ago we visited Malta and were in Valetta for the “Karnival Ta Malta”. We went in on the old ramshackle Bedford buses (now sadly but safely replaced) and joined thousands of happy, hot Maltese on the streets. Instead of the typical pram-based English carnival floats, they really went to town. Colour: eye-watering. Size: Humungous! Variety? Loads.

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Here’s a thought. Why not throw our “British reserve” out of the window, and celebrate the summer in style?

There’s so much political misery and pessimism about; and we can all find reasons to be sad or upset. However, the deliberate act of celebration changes things- and…

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Forever grateful

30 years ago today I had the immense privilege of being ordained as a Baptist minister. This photo is of St Paul’s Monument in Malta, in the bay where Paul was shipwrecked. It seemed appropriate to mark the years of service by referencing the apostle who helped millions to find and grow in Christian faith. When I was baptised as a believer, 29th April 1973, my father chose some words from Paul’s first letter to Timothy to inspire me and help me find a purpose in my life. I have tried to live up to that scripture with God’s gracious help and power. (see below)

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Today I want to bless all those who have encouraged, strengthened, challenged and blessed me: first to Juliet Starling, the wonderful wife God has given me. For putting up with me (and my sense of humour) through health & sickness, blessing and hardship and for contributing so much to my own life as well as “our” churches. Your loving support has been vital. 

I continue to give thanks for my parents, siblings and their lovely families who mean so much- consider yourselves all loved very much!

I thank God for faithful friends and co-workers through the years. Spurgeon’s College gave me a great start and a number of lifelong friend-colleagues for which I am eternally grateful. Whatever I have done that is good and helpful is and has been dedicated to God’s glory; for my mistakes, failures, and struggles I thank God for forgiveness and for the fact He is not limited by my limitations.

Where I have hurt or failed any of the people in my family, friends, churches or communities, I ask forgiveness and pray that Christ will heal and restore them. Jesus is so much better and more loving than I have ever been.

For the immense privilege of sharing lives in joy or sadness, exceptional and ordinary circumstances, I praise the Lord- and thank Him for allowing me to help others explore what it means to be a Christ-follower. It is my hope that in “retirement” I may continue to learn, to grow, and to serve. The “good news” of Jesus, Lord and Saviour has been at the heart of who I am since my early years. That will not change, and I believe the best is yet to come. May God bless all who read this with love, peace, and fullness of life.

1 Timothy 6:11-16 (ANIV) 
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no-one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.

Ride the wind!

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by. (poem by Christina G. Rossetti)

Trees in a breeze. Useful to note how the wind is blowing. I take note of wind strength and direction when planning my exercise. Cycling down here on the south coast is made more interesting by the wind. Lots of sea breezes, a few gales… and seven times out of ten it blows straight in your face! It makes sailing seem simple. (Although I may be wrong!)

Ever tried telling the wind which way to blow? Epic fail. On the other hand, if we set our sails to CATCH the wind we will go far and fast. Watching the windsurfers yesterday proved the hardest part was actually getting upright on the board. After that, it was a question of adjusting balance and the angle of the sail. Speed… exhilaration… great physical workout… Sheer fun!

Ride the wind 051Bike220718cropI wonder if life could be more “fun” if we choose to “wind”surf to the breezes of God?

Jesus spoke about the action of the Holy Spirit as akin to the wind. Hear it- yes. Observe the effects- yes. See it? No.

We can’t control the wind, and we can’t control God. We can see how, when, and where God is working. Our best response is to join in- to set our sails to catch the Heavenly wind. To go against the wind is hard. To refuse to try is wasted opportunity. To see God at work and get caught up in the wind’s energy- wonderful beyond description. On another HOT day I suggest you go catch the refreshing breeze- and go God’s way.

John 3:8 (NLT)
“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

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A prayer of the small to the Majestic One

Kind and gracious Lord,
Thank you for supplying my needs.
I will “rest in the meadow grass” and drink from still streams.
Thank you for strength of body and spirit
that helps me serve You;
I will seek to love and serve You in all things.
Even in the dark and troubled days and nights,
where grief and despair search for my heart,
You keep me safe and guide my footsteps.
Enemies seek to hurt and destroy,
but You give hope like a banquet for my soul.
You accept me in gracious compassion,
show kindness to the unworthy,
and promise a place of secure Eternal Love.

Psalm 23v2 ladybird 201_hatfieldhouse15crop18Lord, I am so small,
and You are so great;
be with me in every day,
every moment,
and every experience
throughout my life.
My soul will praise You;
may my life honour You.
Amen.
(Photograph and Prayer (c) Richard Starling, 2018, based on Psalm 23 as written in the Living Bible.)

Head for home…

The RAF display team, the Red Arrows, featured at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend. World famous and superbly skilled, the nine crews went through a routine of dramatic formation flying. At the end of the show, they split and scorched away at low altitude – one flew almost overhead, streaming smoke to mark passage.

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At such high speeds the timing of every manoeuvre has to be calculated to a fraction of a second – and practised for hours to remove error. Mistakes could be lethal for pilots and spectators.

Watching such high-speed flying is thrilling and edge-of-the-seat stuff. The crews make it look easy. Only the best of the best get to fly in the Red Arrows.

How would we like it if the Airbus flight to Tenerife was piloted like this?

Pilots don’t push their planes and skills to the limit all the time. Only for special occasions or in life-or-death combat.

We live in an age suffering from “hurry sickness.” Permanently on edge, rushing from panic to deadline, and suffering dreadful levels of stress as a result. Even pastors and churches rush around too much and “put on a good show.”

It’s been almost a year since I retired. Years of busyness and caring for people meant my body was cracking up. I don’t blame anyone else: I did what I could for as long as I could, and should have done some things differently. I’ve slowed down, and my health has improved to some extent. Oh boy, though, the year has zipped by!

I am gradually working out what I can and should do in retirement. I am very grateful that I can exercise by riding my e-bike, even if I still can’t walk very far. Photography and gardening, reading and  study keep my brain active, and I am taking opportunities to mentor and support others. There are some exciting possibilities coming up!

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I’m also trying to continue the life-long process of becoming a better human being and becoming a bit more like Jesus Christ. Some of the struggles are still there: my faults, failings and dumb choices still inflict damage on my peace of mind. Perfect, I am not!

Going slower helps. Dallas Willard, a writer and wise mentor to many, advised that those who wanted to live a significant life should do all they could to eliminate hurry from their lives.

Like the Red Arrows, I aim to finish the remainder of my days by flying the big finale to leave the audience gasping… but now I am flying for an audience of One, and not at permanent breakneck pace. Then in due time, heading Home, with the work done and spirit at peace.

I hope to help others to live to a better rhythm and at a sensible speed. I discovered Eugene Peterson’s lovely translation of Matthew 11:28-30 and heartily recommend spending some time to take it on board. Let it sink in, then accept Jesus’ invitation.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”