Time to celebrate!

Somehow the idea has grown that God is serious and dull. This really points the finger at the human worshippers of God- we have made a bad mistake if people look at us and see God only as boring or threatening.

Reverence does matter: but it is possible to be joyfully reverent. We don’t always have to be sombre to be holy. There are times to be serious, and we shouldn’t treat Jesus as our “best mate” and go round whipping up shallow emotional responses. But we SHOULD be rejoicing when we remind each other of what the Lord has done.

The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is not exactly light reading. There is history and detailed instruction as to how Israel should behave and believe. It may surprise us that in Leviticus the Almighty God tells His people to party! Go on, read it.

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Willows in Spring plumage!

When Israel came out of slavery, they spent long years as travellers. Food & water were sometimes scarce, or just monotonous “manna”. They lived in tents and shelters made from skins and branches.

God looked after them.

By the time the book of Leviticus was written, the nation was getting used to the idea of a new permanent home.

It was a challenging but exciting era; and they needed to remember all of their past. So, what did God tell them to do? Cut leafy branches, collect willows, and PARTY for seven whole days. “Rejoice” in God’s presence. Remember the deliverance from Egypt. Remember the tough days in tents and booths, and rejoice in the NOW of celebration and blessing.

I don’t think it a coincidence that the first public miracle in the life of Jesus was… wait for it… to change water into wine!  To help a wedding go with a swing, laughter, some good food and loads of dancing.

Life is tough. We all know that. Yeah, well, life is tough- but God is good! (cue the song by Randy Stonehill). When the willows burst out with their fluff-ball buds, and the sunshine warms our shoulders, and remember that God has got us out of many troubles… it’s time to party. What, for seven days? We’re out of the habit!

We invite people to “come to church” for an hour or so, and we sing and pray and listen and preach… for an hour or two. I wonder what our neighbours would say if we invited them to join in a week-long big bash of celebrating and rejoicing? Whatever that would be like, it wouldn’t be dull or boring. The message of Jesus is called GOOD NEWS on purpose.

Enjoy the Spring that is bursting out in daffodils and pussy willows. Every time you see some, let it be a reminder that God looks after us. Think back over what He has done- and start partying!

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

 

A Wasted Day?

Probably a reaction to being busy yesterday- but today has been a bit of a flop. I don’t like that. I have no objection to “wasting time” on purpose if that means being deliberately  un-busy to relax. Quite happy to spend time on reading, watching the birds in the garden, or to make a choice of doing unimportant stuff. A day wasted: not so good.

I’ve had to get used to my mind and body going on strike. Fibromyalgia does that sometimes, and accepting that as a fact is important. Otherwise frustration and anger boil up and makes things worse. Some days are bad days. I suppose what irks me today is that I had planned to do some interesting things, and ended up in a blind alley instead. Could I have managed my day better? Yes, I think so. That’s the other reason I’m disgruntled, and unhappy with myself. I am responsible for my bad choices.

 

 

So I’m consoling myself with these photographs. The bee was hunting nectar in my rosemary plant last summer, and being very bee-like and buzz-nesslike.

044Garden 020417ed1sqcropThe thought of successful activity, gaining a sweet reward, is rather inspiring. Persistence pays off!

My woodpecker picture was taken last week when the snow and extreme cold (well, extreme for Sussex!) meant the birds from all round the fields and trees came looking for food to survive. Purposeful activity, even in the face of difficulties.

That sounds good too.  Woodpecker 017Birds 020318

So tomorrow is a new day. A new beginning.

I don’t know how it will go.  But I’d better make a better start than today. I’m sorry for a day wasted, and my part in wasting precious time. So I’m glad of some inspiration!

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The Bible often uses word-pictures to convey truth and inspiration: for example, Jeremiah was given a message that is a play on words regarding the use of “almond” and God’s “watchfulness” and faithfulness. (It’s a kind of Hebrew pun.) Out of all the trees in Israel, the almond tree blossoms the earliest, prompted by the changing of the seasons to be the first to bloom. Likewise, God will soon bringing extraordinary events to pass, and He wants His people to follow the anticipation of the almond tree and be alert, watching carefully for what God is about to do. Jeremiah is sent to remind Israel that God is at work. Life is never just random. Time is our way of measuring God’s purpose.

Jeremiah 1:9-12 (NLT)
Then the LORD reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.” Then the LORD said to me, “Look, Jeremiah! What do you see?” And I replied, “I see a branch from an almond tree.” And the LORD said, “That’s right, and it means that I am watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans.”

Please, God, help me not to waste tomorrow: and keep my eyes open to see Your clues and signs in nature and in scripture. I don’t want to mess it up tomorrow.

 

There will be Thorns- Look, See, Pray

There will be thorns… A perennial “weed” in my new garden is proving troublesome. Brambles are growing through the established shrubs- we even had a few decent blackberries in the autumn!  The previous owner of the house had become too frail to keep up with the gardening. It doesn’t take long for the brambles to grow and many other weeds to thrive.

Careful gardeners wear strong gloves. There will always be thorns, or splinters, or sharp stones… So it is the whole of life. For every flower, there is a weed; for every rose there will be thorns. I’d love to jump straight to the glorious Resurrection of Jesus- but there are a list of lessons to learn. Peter, John, James and Thomas all struggled with what Jesus began to teach on the road to Jerusalem. There will be stones in their shoes and thorns in their feet before they experience the deepest joy of meeting the Risen Christ.There will be thorns Lent 2018

Mark 8:31 (NLT)
Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.

Lent gives us time and opportunity to consider the reality of being a Christian disciple.  Most of us would welcome some assurance that our life is safe and secure. We may even start to believe that all trouble should pass us by- after all, did not Jesus promise to bless us and keep us? Yes, on the Way of the Cross. Discipleship means sharing the sufferings of Christ: they will come to those who faithfully witness to the Good News of the Kingdom.

Challenge those wishful thoughts of an easy road, today, as a Lent meditation.  Jesus suffered literal thorns- the crown of mockery- in order to fulfil His purpose of bringing in the Kingdom of God. He warned that we too would face trouble and even persecution because we follow the Way of the Cross.  He also warned that we might suffer as a consequence of our own faults and sins. So… how shall we respond?

Although we do not welcome the “thorns”- troubles and pain- can we, will we, accept thorns as a fact of our reality instead of blaming God?  Secondly: can we think of some “gardening” we need to do in our souls to pull out the brambles and weeds that are spoiling our walk with the HOLY Christ? Gardens that are well-tended have fewer nasty surprises. Some troubles and suffering will come to us. If we allow dark corners and overgrown tangles of self-centredness, pride, or impure thinking, that is where the thorns will grow.  We can, with care and Spirit-led humility, avoid the self-inflicted scars that afflict the unwary.

Thank You for the honesty of Jesus who warned us of the cost of discipleship. Lord, grant me patience and the spirit of humble repentance. Amen.

 

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018

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!

An Obvious Symbol

Some things are obvious. So are some people, and their legacy stands out clearly. High above the valley of the Stubaital in the Austrian Tyrol stands a stainless steel Cross. It is anchored in concrete, and supported by steel hawsers to resist the savage winds and storms that strike the Alps. This cross can be seen for miles and miles; there is a pathway from the Schlick cable-car, and walkers can sit and gaze out over a glorious panorama.

It is an obvious symbol of the Christianity that has influenced Europe for untold generations. The cross cannot be missed. People may ask for an explanation or reflect on its message- but if they come here, they cannot miss it.

Today another obvious symbol, a 99 year-old preacher, has died. Billy Graham spent his entire adult life pointing to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. His words were clear, his character transparent, and his reputation unsullied. Billy Graham preached to more people than anyone else in history; untold numbers of people were challenged about their life-purpose and their need for the forgiving and accepting love of God. Many who are now Christians were converted under Billy’s ministry.

His faith and assurance have been a wonderful witness to God’s grace. Billy once said:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” – Billy Graham

Billy Graham has been a man I admire greatly, whose courage and obedience to the Lord make him a hero in my eyes. His whole life was spent shining the Light of Jesus Christ to anybody he could reach, anywhere he could go.

I thank God for Billy Graham. I will try to let my light shine just as boldly and as obviously as I can. I hope others will take courage from Billy’s example of active faith.

Rest in peace- and Rise in Glory!  For Billy Graham and for us: a blessing of peace, guidance, and hope.

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Celtic Christian stone Cross on Dartmoor, near Moretonhampstead.