Planting in hope- Look, See, Pray

From the Garden- Lesson 2: Patience! Planting in hope… the basic optimism of gardeners.

This is a strange time in the garden- flowering is almost at its peak, but the cold wet Spring meant the wallflowers lasted longer than usual. I steeled myself to the horrid task of uprooting flowers that have given a long and bright burst of colour (I struggle with the ruthlessness of it, but it has to be done.)

Hidden in the mass of leaves and seed-heads were the rather scrawny anemones which I planted in hope several months ago. Anemone corms aren’t very impressive. Small, wrinkly, dark, dead-looking! On the packing was a glorious picture of floral splendour, but I hadn’t seen any signs of life yet. I wasn’t even sure they were where I thought I’d planted them.

Optimism is the belief that hope is worth it.  Hope is the expectation that what you plant is what you get later on.

Patience is the boring bit where you hold on to hope. My first gardening as a small boy was radishes and lettuce. Mum gave me a small bit of ground for “MY garden” and I eagerly did exactly what I was told. Next day, apparently, I was back on the plot digging them up to see if they were growing yet! Patience has improved… in fact, gardening is a brilliant way to learn patience.

Anyway, patience is paying off. The front garden now has anemones in whites, blues, and red.

In theory, they should be a good habit now. Having been planted, survived, and blooming they are perennials which should grow every year at the end of Spring.  Just like discipleship: the good habits and practices of prayer, worship, Bible reading, shared life and mission become a GOOD habit, a fact of life.

Paul writes about patience, endurance and hope-  it might be a letter about gardening!

Romans 5:3-6 (NLT) We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Glory of Light- Look, See, Pray

The early Sun shining through the edge of the woods of Ashridge Estate

Walking in woodland is wonderful. If you move quietly and respect the life around you, the sights, sounds and smells are invigorating. They even prompt the human brain to produce the happiness hormones, and reduce stress levels.

This photo came from an early morning walk through dense woods in Buckinghamshire- I got lost. All the trees looked the same, and I took a wrong path. I was never in any danger: but being lost is unsettling and inconvenient.

I knew that if I walked in the general direction of the rising sun I should find my vehicle and the road home.

Gradually the light grew stronger and I could see the edge of the wood.I felt instantly better, and could confidently enjoy the woods again.

Luke 2 gives the narrative of Christmas. A favourite part is when angelic messengers awaken shepherds in the dark hills above Bethlehem: the Light of the Glory of God bursts into their quiet reality. A message of HOPE sends the men off to see the new-born child. No longer lost in the dark, their way becomes clear.

It’s almost Christmas Eve. I’m going to be reflecting on that holy Light that came to the world- because we sure do need some brightness and hope! Ponder these words and apply them to your own situation: Luke 2:14 (NLT) “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Have a wonder-filled Christmas.

Finding Hope – Look, See, Pray

Sunset over the Selsey Peninsula

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.

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

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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.

Looking for Hope – Look, See, Pray

Politics is currently depressing. After yet more blatherings from people who demonstrate a self-confidence far in advance of the evidence of their efforts in public office, I confess myself unusually low about the prospects of progress. The age of soundbites cuts the throat of intelligent discourse; volume outweighs substance.

Where are the outstanding candidates for office?  People of good character, a moral compass, a servant heart? Cynicism tars all politicians with the same brush, but that is unfair. It is also difficult to avoid. Self-promotion and naked ambition are encouraged because they make good stories for the media and satisfy a public attuned to Twitter. Minimum syllables and catchy slogans are used to judge matters that require deep thought and rational debate. It does not bode well for sensible government.

I was looking at the Book of Proverbs this morning and found some apt advice for anyone who dares to read it and put it into practice.  Proverbs 27:2 (NLT) “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth-  a stranger, not your own lips.”

“Image” is overrated. Reality has a way of disclosing itself eventually: and what is in a person’s character will be revealed in time.  Proverbs 27:19 (NLT) As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.

I found hope in two places. First, in taking a photograph of this beautiful lily- colour, perfume, the signs of its purpose-  and secondly in familiar words from Psalm 136. The continual refrain of this ancient prayer-song is a strong statement of confident hope. Whatever else may be in life, God’s faithful love endures forever.

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I think some time meditating on this psalm will be a tonic for the soul. Using this psalm’s confident hope as a basis for prayer reminds humanity that there IS a God, who is GOOD, and who cares deeply about justice and compassion, truth and mercy. And it reminds us to pray for those who seem to be ignoring God yet think themselves fit to lead others.

Today is a great day to remember to be thankful to God: His faithful love endures forever. 

Life is but a moment in the morning of my day – Look, See, Pray

Listening to the news media is quite troubling. So many hot topics are controversial. Opinions get polarised and then debate is degraded into hostility. Where are the level heads and honest counsellors?

I listened to a CD track, “Sweet Emily” by Randy Stonehill, and one line caught my attention. It’s a song about the loss of a sister, and the sure hope of faith. “This life is but a moment in the morning of my day.”

God of Peace, you have made a world with purpose.
Our lives are precious, and each person matters.
Thank you for assurance
that circumstances are not permanent-
You are reconciling the world to Yourself through Christ.

With that hope in our souls, we remember
today is not the last word in politics.
Our experience now is but a small part
of the glory that awaits in eternal day.

Help us pray with wisdom and compassion
for all who hold authority and influence,
that they may be guided in Your ways.
Lord, we do not have all knowledge or insight.
So we ask that Your vision of justice and mercy
will reign sovereign over the affairs of Mankind.

Today is but a moment- may the True Day,
the Eternal Good, be the perspective through which we view the whole of history, the present moment,
and the future that is yet to be.

May this moment be a gateway to the Perfect morning
when Christ is crowned as King of Kings, Lord of Lords,
and Master of human destiny. Lord have mercy on us.
Amen.

life moment LSP

Photograph taken at dawn approaching the coast of Italy, near Florence. Copyright Richard Starling, 2018

Living in the struggles – Look, See, Pray

Camellias have a tough time in British winters. They often set bud early, and can flower from January onward. Luscious blooms glow gorgeously in the low-angled sunlight, and the bushes bring vibrant colour to dark days.

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Then the snow comes, and the frost bites.  Today’s pictures were taken in the garden just a few hours apart. A beautiful golden evening led into a freezing cold night and a smattering of fine snow. Harsh conditions for a delicate-looking flower. Despite the cold, the plants survive. Blooms may turn brown and drop (always a sad sight) but the bush fights on. Next year it will flower again.

A life lesson from camellias. Keep on with the struggles- as a wise person once said “This too shall pass.”  We can’t “give” a bush human qualities, but if vegetation can keep going, surely so too can we- or at least, we can try.

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We can choose to exercise trust.

God shows himself to be good, holy, and loving. The supreme revelation of His character is seen in the character and actions of Jesus.

Now then: Jesus may have lived perfectly but He still struggled with the “winter” of hostility. Warm words and appreciation turned to damning lies and yells of hatred.  The truly Beautiful was scarred, betrayed, judged unfairly, and executed brutally.

On the third day… Resurrection!

Even more wonderful, Jesus overcame the power of Death for all. Because He died and rose, we have a hope that is everlasting.

When all seems lost, when the fight is on, the frost is biting… remember the faithfulness of God.

Hold onto what you know. This too shall pass. We may have questions, doubts, tears. But we still have hope- the confident expectation that Jesus will do as He has promised.

Apparently next Monday, the 21st January, is called “Blue Monday” because the scientists have calculated that is when we are most miserable after Christmas:  we are short of cash, overloaded with calories, and regretting the resolution to join the gym.

Try this instead- go and look for a camellia, or snowdrops, or an early daffodil. Gaze at it, appreciate it, value it- and take it as a marker of hope. Remind yourself to actively choose to trust God’s love and faithfulness, His compassion and mercy.

May the God of hope grant peace, joy, and eternal blessing to you today.

 

Grasping at Straws? Or sharing hope?

I’ve been thinking about life in this world where so much is chaotic and painful. Feeling deeply grateful that faith in Christ reminds us that we can have a hope that transcends the weight of the news, politics, homelessness and lovelessness that bombards our senses every day.
 
Every year the farmer sows in hope of a harvest. Those seeds experience dirt, cold, heat, rain, drought, storms, bugs, light and darkness. Yet still they grow and bring comfort and sustenance… after being bashed, threshed and baked! They give life to others: and some seeds who avoid the baker will be re-sown for the harvest the year after. Life wins!
 
Quote from Henri Nouwen: “Our mortal bodies, flesh and bones, will return to the earth. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says: “Everything goes to the same place, everything comes from the dust, everything returns to the dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). Still, all that we have lived in our bodies will be honoured in the resurrection, when we receive new bodies from God.
What sorts of bodies will we have in the resurrection? Paul sees our mortal bodies as the seeds for our resurrected bodies: “What you sow must die before it is given new life; and what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, of wheat I dare say, or some other kind; it is God who gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it, and for each kind of seed its own kind of body” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). We will be as unique in the resurrection as we are in our mortal bodies, because God, who loves each of us in our individuality, will give us bodies in which our most unique relationship with God will gloriously shine.”
 
Love wins.
Those who hold to this hope can make a difference in this life for those who are desperate for any harvest. Nations with wealth have responsibility to help those who have nothing. A real hope of eternity surely leads to working towards positive change.

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.