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.

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)

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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…

Clouds or Sun? Look, See, Pray

It has been a day of drama and turmoil with emotions and divisions hitting the headlines. Opposing viewpoints divide families, communities, and a nation. Issues of trust and accusations of underhand tactics are sprayed about with little thought of long-term consequences.

Whatever your personal opinion on the current events, I hope you can join me in a prayer that God may bring wisdom, mercy and compassion to us all.

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Lord, in stormy skies and stormy words we are overwhelmed. Please help us to seek justice, mercy, and reconciliation. May Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

Time to Reflect- Look, See, Pray

Getting away for a few days was great. Preaching a different church, meeting up with a bit of family and a couple of friends, using National Trust membership to enjoy a bit of culture, heritage, and beauty.

Now it has been time to reflect.
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I didn’t really notice the reflection of the lily in the water when I took the photo. The pond was beside a path through the woods, and time was limited. When I downloaded to the computer, and put it up on a bigger screen, I had a pleasant surprise. All the gorgeousness of the water-lily was repeated in a reflection.

Without slowing down to download, I would have missed it.

How typical of modern busy living. Tomorrow is Sunday, a day for putting God first, for offering worship, for taking a “sabbath” rest. It will be a time to reflect on faith and look more closely at how to live as fully as Jesus intended (John 10 v10).

I hope to see God a little more clearly.  To notice things I might miss in the rush, and in seeing them to be prompted in prayer and obedience.

May I invite you to make a time and space to reflect on the week just past? Time to “download” and take a proper look. It is a simple thing, and God may “speak” to you through silence, sight, or scripture. Beauty that may have passed us by could have another chance to share the heart of our Heavenly Father.

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Here is beauty- and beauty is God’s gift to a weary soul. Peace and grace be yours! Amen.

Awed into Silence- Look, See, Pray

Yes! I won a prize.  A photographic company invited readers of their Facebook page to submit pictures of their “adventures.” I had a go.

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Imagine my surprise when I had a message to say they liked the photo and had awarded me a £30 voucher to use against their services. OK, not earth-shattering, but an unexpected joy. My winning photo was taken in the Austrian Tyrol, one of the loveliest places I have visited.

One drawback- the prize had to be used in a couple of days.

Let the hunt begin! I decided to put a canvas print on my study wall.  When you take as many photos as I do, there’s a lot of choice. So I tried out several favourites, and had a go at editing and printing a shortlist.

The final choice came down to a memory.

We spent an amazing holiday in 2016 going from Vancouver up the Inside Passage of Alaska. Everything was stunningly beautiful, but one place was extra-special. We entered Glacier Bay and as we arrived the rain stopped- to unveil the majesty of the Marjorie Glacier. I was awed into silence. Awesome colour in the ice, eagles resting on ice floes, and almost complete silence.235Glcr Bay July16 re_edit

Few places have left me silent, awestruck and overcome. This was the most profound quiet: it seemed wrong to make noise.

Look closely at the foreground. Two bright red canoeists bravely exploring- and their size gives a clue as to the immensity of the ice sheet.

This is the photo that will be seen every time I enter or leave my study.  It reminds me of awe. It also reminds me to be concerned with the changing climate: we watched three “calving” moments where tons of ice splintered and crashed into the waiting sea. These glaciers are shrinking alarmingly quickly: the next generation may not be able to see these mighty glaciers. They are melting away and threaten sea-level rises that will impact on the globe.

God gave humanity a responsibility: to care for the Earth and everything in it. What will we say when the Lord asks us how well we did our work?

Looking at this photo can only give an impression of awesomeness. Perhaps, though, we can also look in our hearts to find memories of moment when awe closed our mouths and opened our spirits to the Eternal.

May holy awe touch your life. Thanks for reading.

 

Weeds of humble splendour- Look, See, Pray

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. What if we valued them for what they give instead of judging them by our desire?  Plants make this planet breathe- and some flourish in harsh places that would be desolate without them. At the edges of the salt marsh, tough plants make a margin of life. Their gaily waving flowers add charm to the landscape, provide food for insects and birds, and carry a promise of life now and for tomorrow.  A poem that just might be a prayer…  a weed that might be a hero.

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Photo and text copyright Richard Starling, 2018.

Just a yellow rose- Look, See, Pray

One rose… different faces. They say “the camera never lies…” but you may not recognise its truths! 059August11crop This is one rose, with one photograph edited in different ways. The camera sensor digitally records the light falling and being reflected back from the rose. The first picture is the camera’s best effort at realism.  

 

The second picture shows what the computer program can do to try and make the photo look more like what the eye actually sees.

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My THIRD photo is intriguing. The software has attempted to process the image by bringing ALL the digital information “to the surface.” I didn’t expect this result.
The program has “found” blue light reflected in the shadowy parts of the rose.
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It is ONLY the information “recorded” by the sensor… the blue IS present- but normally filtered out.
Questions and beliefs may seem simple at first sight. There is usually more complexity waiting to be discovered and explored.
Look, see, pray. This is what I am discovering to be realistic: as I look, I learn to see more. The more I see, the more I engage in “conversation” with God through thought and prayer.
What I see is what I pray: what I think about is what I become.
Thank God who created a world of such beauty and variety. May I become more like God in character and motive; and in action.

Birds of a feather

A recent visit to photograph the migratory birds did me good. Fresh air, seeing lapwings, chatting to others watching the displays- all good. Watching the aerial dance has made me think of various friends, colleagues and ministry partners I’ve had the privilege of working with. And, of course, a wonderful wife and a great wider family.

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The members of the churches I have been privileged to serve- I’d have been pretty lonely without their love, time, and support.

Some who were in church leadership teams- I want to say publicly that I was enormously blessed by their quality and attitudes.

Other colleagues of different denomination but similar heart. Others in regional groups, and national teams. Staff in schools, hospitals and funeral directors… the list goes on.

I won’t mention names but I do want to say “thank you all.” Also to those who have taught me, encouraged me, and put me straight when I needed that correction.

I am humbled by the way I have been part of the process of helping others to discover and follow their life-calling, and to see how God uses them to to things I couldn’t do.

To you all I offer the blessing prayer of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NLT)
Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

Thanks for being part of my migration through this world!

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Countless, not pointless

I love walking along the beach at low tide. This morning was bright with silver light and blue sky. Calm weather meant the sea was just rippling in gently across the hidden life of the sand. Uncloaked and glistening, the miniature sand dunes gave up their secrets for a brief while- even as I watched the tide turned and the sea began to reclaim its margins, and hide its secrets again.

Sand ripples stood in stark relief as low sun-rays skipped from peak to peak. Evidence of sand worms was everywhere: cast like sculptures, and gulls probed, looking for breakfast while they could. Stranded seaweed sprawled sunburned, out of its element, mute witness to the storms that passed just days ago. This frond of abandoned oarweed curled, translucent as light glowed through its soft tissues. The colour made a strong contrast to the greyish brown sand, and the regularity of the patterns appealed to my eye.

Then I looked closely at the sand. I could see and feel the grains of sand: but I couldn’t count them. Billions of tiny pieces. The sand stretched as far as I could see in both directions. Tiny lives existed in every pool, every patch. Beyond my ken, but opened out for my wonder. I thought I’d share that wonder with you, though my words and photo do it scant justice.

Here are some words from the pen of the Bible’s best songwriter:

Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT) “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”

God’s love for us is as incalculable as totalling the sands of the seashore or the stars of the galaxies. Some moments we can see love more clearly. Pause, and think about that!

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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