Seeking Peace- Look, See, Pray

Psalm 34:14 (NLT) Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how fed up are you with watching the news? Every headline is dramatic, every event is a potential crisis, and what wouldn’t we give for a bit of peace and quiet?

Mild February days are rare enough to be treasured. This afternoon I cycled down to Pagham Harbour, my local nature reserve. I was surprised to find the tide was right in: the mudbanks usually hosting a convention of wading birds were covered in blue and gold water.  I settled down to absorb the peacefulness of the scene, and watched the available wildlife action: a short-eared owl quartering the reed beds, and then the explosively noisy eruption of hundreds of Brent geese who left their farm field and came down to the water. After a short while, quiet took over again.

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One of the best-known and powerful images in the Bible is found in Psalms.

Psalm 23 speaks of “still waters” and water symbolises life, cleansing, and renewal.

This is a beautiful theme. Without water, we could not live.

Psalm 34 v14 instructs us to search for peace, and when we find it, work to preserve that peace.

Searching for peace in a wearying world may seem a fruitless task.

Perhaps this week, you could find- search for- a peaceful place, near water if possible, and take time to enjoy it. Reflections and ripples can inspire thoughts and prayers.

Silence and beauty restore our soul. In this world of strife and noise, we are called to be peacemakers, peace-bringers, servants of the Prince of Peace. In the quiet and calm of our restored souls, we may find strength and grace to share peace and preserve it.

Peace and Quiet?

Quiet morning. The air is still, and cooler today. I love to walk round the garden and see the changes to the display. Today the “Lady of Shallott” is providing a perfect rose for my delight- so I thought I’d share the gift. I hope you like the colours, you’ll have to imagine the glorious scent.

Quiet mor…. no, no so quiet after all. Thor, our local black-and-white cat, decided to make a late breakfast of a black-and-white magpie. Mayhem ensued! A mad scramble and scurry with squawking “geroff-of-me-s !! ” as cat chased bird, who donated some feathers but just managed to get clear. I think the bird was thor, too. Cat last seen climbing tree after bird with an increasing volume of “Scrakkk” and “Kchckk!” noises from the magpie and its family.

As I resume my wanderings, a buzzard circles above with several seagulls loudly persuading the buzzard to buzz off.

Such a quiet morning… the news is full of political rows, rumours, resignations, and MPs are revolting (some of them, anyway). Others are decent human beings. Bless them, Lord.

The wonderful rescue of the trapped kids in Thailand is overshadowed by the sadness of the death of a very brave man indeed- he gave his life that others might live. Joy for many, grief for his loved ones.

Football beckhams… sorry, beckons, again tonight. Will England defeat Croatia and make me very happy? My wife’s boss is French, could be awkward next Monday… Poor Belgium, narrowly beaten by France, facing a day of disappointment. So much going on on this “quiet” day.

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“In this world you will have troubles.

But I have overcome the world.”

(Jesus, in John 16 v33)

Lord, You bear the Name of Prince of Peace.
Thank you for the promise of true peace,
showing that the world has a purpose- and so do we.
In our quietest moments troubles arise
and we need the reassurance of Your faithfulness.
May we live every day as fully as we can,
love and care about others at all times,
and be signposts of hope in a world of troubles.
Jesus, Prince of Peace,
grant us peace in our troubled days.
Amen.

Snow hope?

Two outbreaks of snow in mid-March is quite unusual. The “Beast from the East” and its smaller cousin, the Lesser Beast, have been and are now almost gone. In my part of Sussex the snow was an inconvenience rather than a major threat- but we’re still happy to see the thaw.

I remember years ago- probably 40 years ago- that a small group of keen friends decided it would be OK to go camping at an early Easter. Despite the forecast, we went anyway; taking a group of about 25 teenage boys. We had proper gear, and a small marquee to cook in. We had a whale of a time! Snow that is two inches thick on the tents is quite good insulation.

One unforgettable memory: I was cooking breakfast. There is nothing like the smell of frying bacon to get people up on a cold morning. I sat in my big greatcoat, on one of those fold-up camping chairs with metal tubing as the frame, and set the big frying tray on the gas burners in front of me. Sizzling is such a satisfying sound. Slurping tea from my big orange mug, I stirred the bacon thinking “What a great job…”

Strangely, the bacon seemed to be getting taller and harder to reach. This became puzzling as I couldn’t reach the pan to stir the bacon! Looking down, I discovered the chair frame was sinking six inches deep into the mud. Oh the joy of roughing it!

One reason we went camping was to share our Christian faith with the young men in the group. We drank tea, and shivered in the marquee, and talked. We sang a bit- trying to play guitar wearing gloves is tricky- and described what Christianity was all about. Our focus was on Jesus, and since it was Easter, the cross and resurrection were central. Several of those young men decided to become Christians. I wonder where they are now…

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Our message was one of hope. A better love, freely given by Christ, leading to a better way of life. A purpose and a challenge. Some answers, but also loads of questions to wrestle with throughout life. Some truth revealed, some mysteries left open. My photo is of a snowdrop near to home. It survived the first cold blast, and was poking out of the snow that came this weekend. Snowdrops are a sign of hope: winter is leaving.

Psalm 62:5 (NLT)
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

That’s a good Bible verse to ponder on a chilly day. Patience and hope often go together. Soon it will be full Spring and we will celebrate life. Let’s remember to look for the signs and reminders that life is stirring- and the Life-Giver is still faithfully loving us all.

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

 

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!